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word path challenge

posted 23 Nov 2016, 15:08 by Fran Brady
The words: rambling; orchard; glass of milk; strawberry jam; grandmother's cupboard; bell ringing; the path; paddling; fox; the school-bus; echo; dawn chorus; take my hand; over the fence; panting; shoe polish; tightrope; meadowland; card trick; bedtime; mugshot; haircut; water lilies; rail crossing; fishing; under water; shooting the rapids; billiard room. 

The challenge: write a short story using all of these words in order. 

The story:

William is rambling through the orchard, a glass of milk wobbling in his left hand, a chunk of strawberry-jam cake, stolen from his grandmother’s cupboard, in the other. In the distance, he can hear the local bell-ringing group practising for Whit Sunday.


Where the path forks, he hesitates. If he veers left, he will reach the pond for a few minutes’ paddling, although it will be cutting it fine if he is to be back in the house for three o’clock, as he promised; if he veers right, he may just catch a glimpse of the fox, and even of the vixen and her cubs.


Amanda, his sister, who always gets there first, has seen them. She has shown him a photograph, taken with her smartphone. He doesn’t have a smartphone yet. Daddy says that the price of them is ridiculous but it is really because he is afraid William will access porno and gaming websites, or that he will be groomed on a social network site by a paedophile. So, for the moment, he has to use other boys’ phones on the school-bus.


The decision is made for him by a sudden high-pitched squeal. Its echo hangs briefly in the still, warm May afternoon and William sees a large bird soar into the sky, its vicious hooked beak silhouetted against the sun, a small animal dangling from its claws. He loves birds and often sets his alarm to wake him up in time for the dawn chorus, especially in this month of busy nesting, hatching and teaching fledglings. Yesterday, he had sat at his bedroom window for half an hour, watching a stern blackbird father showing one of his chicks how to hop from an overhanging branch onto the bird table. The chick had been timorous, wobbling and pleading: ‘Take my hand, Daddy, please.’ At least, that’s what William had decided it was saying to its implacable father.


He takes the right fork, buoyed up with a sense of purpose. The winged predator may have spotted the vixen and, having polished off the field mouse as a starter, come back for a main course of tender fox cub. He puts the milk and cake down on a crumbling bench and sets off at a run, vaulting over the fence, planting his feet very firmly on the other side to regain his balance in time to tackle the narrow ridge round the slurry pit. Its depths are shiny, like black shoe polish. He imagines he is a tightrope walker and flings out his arms very straight on either side.


He reaches the short stretch of meadowland safely and breathes again. That was a good trick, he thinks, just like the card trick his Uncle Joe taught him last summer. Daddy disapproves of Uncle Joe and he forbade him to teach William any more such ‘decadence’.   William’s protests that he likes decadence – whatever that is – and Uncle Joe’s cries of ‘old stuck-in-the-mud’ had made no difference. Daddy had remained unmoved, so they had resort to clandestine lessons by torchlight at bedtime. Then Daddy had discovered them one night and there had been ructions. Daddy declared Joe would end up in prison one of these days, with his mugshot on file and his wild, afro haircut reduced to a shaved head.


The vixen’s lair is easy to find now. William knows the smell – his dog, Grainger, often comes home, stinking and self-satisfied, after a long, delicious roll in fox-poo. Past a pool of stagnant water, the ugly result of an abortive archaeology ‘dig’ last year, but now redeemed by a clutch of water-lilies; past the disused rail crossing; past the short stretch of river where Granddad likes to play at fishing; past the mini-waterfall where William and his big brother almost drowned themselves one summer, having been under water for several minutes before being hauled out by a big hook. There had been an unholy row about that. Their explanation - that they were just shooting the rapids like they had seen on television – had not been well received. The boys had spent several boring days, grounded, confined to the library by day, not even allowed in the billiard room.


And, suddenly, there she is: Mrs. Fox, barring his path, arching her back, baring her teeth, emitting a low, menacing growl . . .