The Banshee and The Raven

by Mrellan Harahan

The last echo of the banshee’s wail faded as a raven took wing and flew across the face of the full moon. An old woman’s moon, the country folk called it. They said the full moon was a wise, old woman, and God help the man who laughed at her, for she would curse the rest of his days with misery. They said the next day the neighbors came to check on the old woman and she was not there. They said nobody ever saw the old woman again. For weeks a great raven, so black that it shone blue in the sunlight, sat on the lantern hook by the front door. They said the old woman was a witch and when she died, she turned into that raven. The old Irish folk tales still live, and strange things happened out on the Connemara.

***

Sure as I know, my Christian name is Margaret Mary, between the howling of the wind of the ocean, on that cold, clear March night, I heard the banshee wail for the first time. Ma’am said I listened to too many stories and believed the silly old songs sung around the fire in the wintertime. Nevertheless, I know what I heard. I would have known even if no one told me. It was a death wail.

Everyone who knew the old woman either feared or cursed her. Heathen was what they called her. She didn’t have a Christian name. Her name came from the old Celts and the fairy folk they said.

Ytha is what she told me to call her that first day I saw her. I was playing hide and seek with the old herding dog down the lane. I climbed the wee stonewall to see where the dog had gone. When I looked up, there she was.

She wasn’t near as tall as ma’am, all bent over with a heavy black shawl wrapped around her head and shoulders. Her black skirt was ratted and ragged at the edges. Her shoes were so old that they were not even black anymore. Her hair was gray and matted like it was rarely brushed. But the thing I really noticed was her eyes. I never saw eyes like that before. They were a ghostly color of white-gray, like no color at all. Ma’am said she was blind. I’ve never been around someone who was blind.

When I came over the wall, she just stood there, about three foot away from me. Her face turned in my direction, but I knew she didn’t see me. Somehow, I knew right away she couldn’t see. Her nose twitched, as a rabbit does when it senses danger. She was leaning on an old tree branch that was almost as twisted and Bent as she was. I froze when I saw her; she was the most fearsome thing I had ever seen. I just knew she was a fairy witch and I was going to get a curse on my head. Her voice sounded like a rusty hinge on the big oak front door.

“Who’s there? Speak up I say, who’s there?

The dog barked. I was so scared. I fell off the wall and landed on a pile at her feet. I picked myself up, fast as I could, and answered her in a squeaky little voice that didn’t even sound like me.

“Tis I, Margaret Mary O’Halloran. I live down the lane, and I was just playing with the dog.

The dog barked again as if confirming what I told the old woman.

“Well, if you must be here, come in and help me make tea. You can slice the brack for me.

I just stood there staring at her. Somehow she knew that.

“What are you looking at child?” she asked in a voice that didn’t seem so raspy now

“They all say you are a fairy witch. Is that true?”

She just snorted as she turned around and started feeling her way back to the cottage. “Believe anything you hear do ya? Don’t be a fool. Let’s get out of this wind before it cuts ya to bits.”

The one-room cottage wasn’t near as big as my ma’am’s kitchen and parlor.

Once whitewashed walls were now gray-streaked from coal and peat that burned continuously in the little hearth at the far end. A hand-made rocking chair sat to one side of the hearth. A little cot, covered with a dingy sheet and coarse wool blanket hugged the wall. Her clothes hung on a roughly carved peg, hammered into the wall above the bed. At the other end of the room was a small sideboard, a table with a plain chair and a three-legged stool. She shuffled around the room putting the teapot on the hook, in the hearth and getting dishes and a loaf of brown raisin brack out of the sideboard.

She picked up a cracked and crazed teapot from the dry sink and threw in a handful of tea, from a box, which had a faded picture of biscuits on it. “Don’t just stand there staring,” she said impatiently. “Slice that brack and spread it with that butter in that tub.”

I couldn’t get over the fact that although she was stone blind, she knew my every move, even when I was just standing and staring. The kettle over the fire began steaming, and she took the edge of her skirt and fetched it off the hook.

The smell of tea and peat filled the room as she sat in her rocking chair, she munched on the brack and took great slurps of the strong, black tea. A shaft of sunlight streaked across the room from one of the two windows. I watched hen feathers zigzag down from the roosting basket hanging in the rafters as I chewed the dry brack. Maam would have thrown it out to the pigs rather than giving it to us. Even the raisins were tough and hard. The tea tasted strong and bitter, and I wished I had some milk in it. I was too scared to ask the old woman for milk, or sugar either, and she didn’t offer. Maybe she was too poor to have any long twisted strands, I thought.

It seemed she had forgotten I was even there as she stared into the fire with those horrible unseeing eyes. I wished I could leave, but I didn’t know how to do it and be polite. Suddenly she coughed; it was a great, loud, wet noise. She brushed long twisted strands of hair away from her face and turned to me. “Be a love and pour me some more tea, child. These old bones pain me terribly every time I stand.”

I jumped up, and my foot caught the edge of the chair and tipped it over.

“You sure are a clumsy child. Just like a calf who aren’t used to being in a stall. See if you can pour that tea without breaking the pot.” She grumbled at me, but I could see just a hint of a smile around the edges of her mouth.

“Yes ma’am,” I said, being very careful as I poured the tea. Her hand brushed against mine as she took the cup back. It felt cold and rough. I reached into the old wooden box by the chair to get turf for the fire, but the box was empty.

“Would you like me to bring in some turves for you? The box is empty, and the coal bucket is almost empty.”

Yellow, broken teeth showed through the smile that was higher on one side of her face. “Bless you, child, I would like that. It is so cold, the wind makes even this ugly old face hurt.”

It took several trips, but I filled the box with turves. By the time the coal bucket was full, the sun was already sinking back into the choppy gray waters of the Atlantic. The stone fences in the field between the cottage and the bay cast black shadows that crisscrossed like giant tic-tac-toe games.

“I guess I best get headed for home before my Maam starts worrying about me. Thanks for the tea and brack,” I said with my best Sunday manners. She didn’t hear me though. Her head drooped between her hunched shoulders, and the rhythmic sound of her weasy breath told me she was asleep.

The next day was Sunday. After Mass, we all piled into Da’s little car and went to Gran’s for dinner. It was dark when we came home. Da had to drive by the old thatch to get to our place, and I saw the fire light dimly shining from the window. When I said my prayers that night, I silently asked God to take care of the old lady, even if she was a witch. I was sure that God loved witches as much as he loves good Catholic girls.

Monday after school I ran all the way home, changed out of my uniform before ma’am told me to, and fed the chickens.

“Maam, I did my chores. Can I go play now?” I yelled through the open door.

“Margaret Mary, what has gotten into you today? Are you sure you’re done? It usually takes twice this long to do your chores.”

“I’m all done Maam. Can I go play now?” I said impatiently, wanting to be off across the rocky field.

‘All right, but be home before dusk. There is a storm brewing, and I don’t want you out in it. And don’t forget your cap and scarf.”

“Yes, Maam.”

I could see smoke curling out of the chimney when I climbed over the stonewall. I stepped over a skinny, orange tomcat and knocked on the door.

The old woman opened the door with one hand and grabbed her shawl around her with the other. “Who is it?” she crackled, “and what do you want?”

I wondered what had possessed me to want to see her, “Tis Margaret Mary. I came to see how you are.”

“Tis more likely you came to eat the rest of my brack! she said. “Come in if you must, but I’ve already had my tea, and the cat ate the last crumbs of brack. It was stale anyway.”

She shuffled over to her chair and fell into it with a grunt.

“Throw a handful of coal on the fire and pull up that stool. No sense in being cold when I pay that outrageous price for coal.”

She just sat in her chair and rocked for the longest time, her face turned to the hearth to get every bit of warmth the coal would give.

‘So why did you come?” Children are usually afraid of me and stay away. I think you are too, but you came anyway. Why. What do you want of me?”

“I don’t know,” I said, afraid to lie. I knew if I lied, she would know. Maam always did. I swallowed hard and went on. “I don’t believe you are a mean, old witch. I came to see how you are and to talk to you, I guess.”

“I’m a blind old woman, the cold makes my bones hurt, and the smoke from the coal makes it hard to breathe. I feel terrible, and I am miserable! Even the cat would rather be outside than sit in my lap these days. So if that is all you wanted to know maybe you should just go home.” Her shaking hands rearranged her shawl. A grimace crossed her face as if even this small motion caused her pain.

I didn’t move, mainly because of fear, I guess, but something inside me said, she’s just a sad old woman. My heart reached out to her. Her next words scared me, and I jumped.

“Don’t feel sorry for me, you foolish girl! If you really do care, fill that turf box, so that I don’t have to.” Her voice softened a little.

I filled the box and checked the coal bucket, and then sat back down on the three-legged stool, and tucked my feet under it. Resting my chin on my upturned hands, I stared into the fire.

“Fires have great magic, you know,” said the old woman. This time it did not scare me that she could read my thoughts.

“When I could see, that was one of the things I loved most to watch. I still love to watch the flames, but now I have to look with my heart.”

I could see the reflection of the flames on her face and I understood what she was saying.

I stared into the flame. “What is so magical about a fire?” I asked, not really believing her, but hoping that she was right.

“No magic is going to work unless you believe in it,” said Ytha. “The first rule of magic is: magic is only as powerful as you believe it is. But then you are a good Catholic girl, so you don’t believe anything I say anyway.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I changed the subject, “Have you always lived here?”

“No, not always,” she said. Her hands relaxed in her lap and the tension left her face. “I once lived in town. That was back in the days when they believed I was useful. Back before I got old, and the children called me a witch. People respected me then. I was the town midwife.”

Her voice had that far away sound that all grown-ups get when they talk about the old days. As she stared unseeing into the flames, her voice lowered almost to a whisper. I scooted my stool closer to hear the old woman’s tale.

***

‘Back then, I birthed most of the babies here about. I had a little carriage and a sturdy gray poney, and I even went out into the wilds of the Connemara. Once I was called to birth a baby not too far from her. I had been to that house three times before but still there had never been a bairn in the crib by the fire. Always, the babies died in a few hours after birthin’. The young couple seemed so loving and kind. I wondered what they did to displease the gods so.

I wanted to cry when that bairn came out. That child too had the curse upon it. The mother knew as soon as she held her. She was so tiny and fragile. Her lips were the blue of a baby bewitched with the chill of the soul. It broke my heart to see the tears run down the mother’s face and she begged me to do something for the child.

That evening when I was sitting by my fire, I heard a wee voice singing. Right out of the flames, stepped a fairy. He wasn’t much taller than that stool you’re sitting on. He was dressed in a fine brown suit with a belt of gold holding the jacket closed. A matching cock hat tipped to one side over his ear, and he had bright gold buckles on his shoes. He just stood on the hearth just looking at me for the longest time. When he spoke, he said he knew about the baby I birthed that day. Now I know that a fairy never does nothing without getting paid for it.

“What is your price sir?” I asked.

‘I ask only the usual payment,” he replied, with a self-satisfied smirk. “I must have the bairn to raise as my own. You will tell the parents that the child is dead.”

I told him no. I told him how the parents already lost three babies, and I feared that the young mother’s heart could not bear the loss of another. The fairy just looked at me and kept smiling. “Would you be willing to pay the ransom for the child?”

“Ask what you will, and I will consider it. I say.”

The fairy tapped his foot and scratched his head for a minute, and then he says, “I will give you the child’s life if you give me your eye-sight.”

Now that shocked me so much I didn’t know what to say. “You have one day to think about it,” he said. “I will be back tomorrow night for your answer. “ With that, he jumped into the air and disappeared.

The next day I visited the mother and child. The child was worse. She quaked as if her very soul was frozen, and her breath came in little gasps. She would not nurse, and she was even too weak to cry. Her mother held her in one arm and counted the beads of a rosary with the other. I knew her prayers would not work.

That night I told the fairy I would accept his offer. “you would do that for someone who isn’t even kin?” he asked in amazement. “Why?”

“Because I know the heartbreak of never having a child,” I told him.

‘Yes, so do I,” he said. “All the women in my clan are barren. There have been no babies for many years. That is why I wanted this one. It is fairy law that I give you a chance to bargain. I will accept your eyesight as a ransom for the child. You will not go blind until one year from this day. On that night I will visit you and take you sight.” Then he disappeared.

The child, of course, lived and grew to be a healthy and beautiful girl. Her parents worshipped her, and she was the joy of their life.

A few months later, I moved into this cottage. The fairy returned as he promised, but before he took my sight, he told me that his clan had been so impressed with my love that they had offered to help me by teaching me the herb craft and helping me begin my garden. That garden served me well for many years. They must have put an enchantment on it because the plants grew and bloomed all year round. Even at Christmas, I could pick fresh dill, rosemary, thyme, and mint. Folks thought I grew my plants inside, but I never did.

For some years, I would load up my buggy every Saturday, hitch up the pony, go into the town market, and sell my wares.I always carried my medicine box and put it under the counter of my booth. It contained the special herbs and potions that the wee folk taught me to make for ailing children. I gave mothers with babes a lot of croup tea in those days.

Then one Saturday, in the spring, I was coming home, and I heard some young boys yelling and calling me names. They threw stones at the pony and me. The pony panicked and ran into the ditch. It broke its leg, and the cart turned over on me. Your own Da found me and brought me home. I was hurt bad, and what with arthritis I never got out again. How was I to go out? My pony was shot, and the cart was in bits.

For these past few years, the wee folk is the only ones who cared for or visited me. Even the tinkers stay away from my door. That is ‘til you and that infernal dog decided to climb my fence.’

The old woman sighed deeply, wrapped her knurled fingers around the arms of her chair, and forced herself to her feet. “It must be getting on toward dark now. You better get home before your Maam starts worrying about you,” she said, Bending to put more coal on the little fire grate. “Tomorrow I’m making fresh brack, so I suppose you’ll want to come and get your share.”

“Thank you, Maam. I’ll come if I can,” I wrapped my scarf around my neck and pulled the wool cap down over my ears. I could hear the wind whistling threw the little stonewall across the field, even before I opened the door.

The next day Maam had company for tea and she hardly even noticed when I asked to go outside. She only repeated her instruction that I wear my cap and scarf.

I could smell the freshly baked brack as I knocked on the old woman’s door. She opened the door with a big grin on her haggard old face. “Ah, sure as flowers bloom in the spring, I knew you couldn’t resist the smell of sweet bread cooking. Come in, come in, child.”

That afternoon, as we sipped tea and ate the bread, she told me more stories about how she had delivered most of the babies in County Galway.

My Da is from a family of ten children. Old Ytha had brought most of them into the world. She told me people paid her with jars of jam and pots of thick, brown stew. I loved to sit by the fire and listen to her stories, but she always seemed to know when it was nigh on to sunset, and she would chase me out the door just before the first stars appeared.

For the rest of that winter, I went down to old Ytha’s cottage every chance I got. One afternoon, a week after Patty’s Day, I climbed over the wall and didn’t see any smoke coming from her chimney. I thought that was strange because it was still cold enough for me to wear my heavy jacket outside. I knocked on her door and heard no answer. I got scared that something had happened to the old woman. I ran all the way back to my mama’s kitchen.

“Maam, you have to help me,” I said between gasps of air. “The old woman down the way, Ytha, she won’t answer her door, and there’s no smoke coming out of her chimney. Maam, she must be sick or hurt! We have to find out.”

“Calm down, child. When your Da comes home, I’ll have him go check on her. Now hang your coat on the peg and set the table for me.” She calmly went about fixing the dinner without another word about the matter.

I knew not to argue with her. Da always says Ma’am is the stubbornist woman he ever knew.

Soon as Da’s car pulled up in the driveway, I shot out the front door to tell him.

“Well now what is all this fuss,” he asked, holding out his arms to catch me and give me a hug.

‘Da, I think old Ytha is sick or hurt. She won’t answer her door, and there’s no smoke from her chimney. Maam says you would go down and see. Can I come with you Da? She is my friend.”

“Now, now,” he said, opening the front door and motioning me to go in first. “Let me kiss your Maam before I have her mad at me.  I’ll go down and check on Ytha, but I think you should stay here and help your mama get dinner ready.”

It seemed as if Da was gone a very long time and when he came through the back door, his face was real serious, like when his sister got hurt in a motor accident. He didn’t say anything to either Maam or me. He just walked over to the phone and dialed a number.

“Dr. O’Flaherty, this is Ullick O’Halloran, out at Boley Beg. Could you come out and look at Ytha-the old woman who lives down the lane from me. She appears to be pretty ill.”

A little while later, the doctor’s black Rover pulled through our gate and parked behind Da’s car.

“You stay here, Margaret Mary, give the doctor a chance to examine the old woman.” I watched the light from their torches bob up and down as they crossed the field with its great ghostly rocks and shadowy fences. I crossed myself and silently asked God to make Ytha better.

They didn’t come back until I took my bath and put on my fuzzy, flannel nightdress. Maam said I could sit in the parlor and wait for Da and Dr. O’Flaherty. When Da came back, Maam met him at the door, and I could hear them talking low, in the entry. Like they didn’t want me to hear what they were saying. Da came into the parlor, sat down beside me, and put his arm around me. “Margaret Mary, Ytha is very, very sick. The doctor says she may not live much longer.”

I felt the tears burn in my eyes and roll down my cheeks. “Oh, Da!” was all I could say. He hugged me while I cried for the strange old woman. After a few minutes, he wiped my tears with his handkerchief and told me I could go see her after school the next day.

I ran all the way home from school and Maam met me at the door. She already had her coat on, and she held a soup pot wrapped in a towel. “I’m taking this soup down to Ytha. Please get the loaf of bread from the kitchen counter.”

The old woman looked so pale lying on her cot. More like a shadow than the feisty old lady who somehow knew what I was doing whenever I was in her cottage. I sat on the edge of her bed, my fingers playing with the hem of her blanket.

“Quit fidgeting child,” said the old woman, in a weak voice that didn’t even try to sound mean. “And stop those tears. Death ain’t nothing to cry about. It’s as natural as birthin’, I don’t know why they cry at death. Death is better than life for me now. I have lived a long life, and now I will soon be under the hill with the fairies. Be happy for my child. I will once again see the moon and dance by the bonfire.”

I sniffed and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “But I won’t see you anymore, and I will miss you terribly.”

Her shriveled hand reached from under the covers and found mine. She squeezed it, and her voice lowered to a soft murmur. I Bent down to hear her,  “When you see the Raven, smile, for ‘tis an enchantment by the wee folk, and know that it is a friend.”

Maam shooed me out of the cottage. She said Ytha needed her peace. Before I left, I Bent down and kissed the old woman’s cheek, knowing that I would never see her again.

Later that evening when Maam put our dinner on the table, I saw a tear run down her cheek. “Maam, why are you crying?” I asked.

 She turned away and stood at the sink looking out toward the old woman’s cottage. “Ytha was a midwife. My mama always swore, if it had not been for Ytha I would have died. The old folks say that I was born with the chill of the soul. I couldn’t breathe or keep my body warm. My Maam lost three children before I was born and another one after me. Everyone swore that it was old Ytha and her potions that kept me alive.”

During the middle of that night, I woke to the sound of the banshee’s wail. I sat straight up in my bed and wrapped my blanket around my arms. The full moon shone threw my window. As I sat there, thinking about Ytha, I saw the raven fly across the moon. I smiled, crossed myself, and thanked God for Ytha. Then I snuggled down in my comforter and went back to sleep.

The Inspiration that led to Little Gems

LITTLE GEMS is a collection of short stories that have been inspired by Ray’s involvement with The Story Mint, a New Zealand writing organization for aspiring writers that boasts a worldwide membership. Ray was instrumental in helping to start The Story Mint’s unique serial writing project. These serials, each written by ten separate authors from across the globe, have become popular and have helped new and experienced writers showcase their work.

Several stories in LITTLE GEMS first  appeared as “One Author” serials written by Ray Stone for The Story Mint.

5 survival tips for writers…

Submitted by Suraya Dewing on Thursday 9 May 2019

Persist.

This is surely the most important quality a writer needs. There are many good ideas. But having a good idea, written well that actually touches reader’s hearts is another matter. It takes persistence to keep perfecting a skill and self-belief. Follow the dream. One day it will be reality. This is the key to success.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston S. Churchill.

Have courage…

In the face of rejection and struggle, writers are called upon to have endless supplies of courage. Maya Angelou dared to speak out when more powerful forces silenced less courageous voices. Her famous series, I know why the Caged Bird Sings is so compelling it cannot be ignored.

She says, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Be authentic…

Listen to the quiet voice within. In a world beset by noise and distractions it’s quiet whispering is the one true voice. Heed its wisdom as it is authentic. Readers connect to authenticity, wisdom and sincerity.

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” W.H. Auden

Be creative

Up to this point I have said nothing about writing. Why? Because in order to write well we need to be persistent, courageous and authentic. They are the source of creativity.

They enable writers to take readers somewhere they have never been before. They allow the reader to feel the ache and the joy of being in that place. No-one but you can take the reader there.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Sylvia Plath

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Then be ruthless, really ruthless. Love what you write but never be afraid to murder pieces of writing that add nothing to the story. It hurts to do this sometimes but if they remain they will cannibalise all the good stuff.

A reader is looking for an exciting experience that is easy to read and will add to their lives without wasting their time. Editing out extra words, unrelated ideas and thoughts that add nothing to the story allows the truly exciting, innovative ideas to rise to the surface.

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

One final gem

This final quote captures what the writing journey is all about and it sums up what I have learned over many years of writing.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” Octavia E. Butler

Suraya Dewing is CEO of The Story Mint and creator of Stylefit your clever coach for crafting compelling writing delivered online.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/surayadewing/

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/persistence

https://learnodo-newtonic.com/maya-angelou-famous-poems

https://writingcooperative.com/18-motivational-quotes-to-bring-out-the-writer-in-you-ea3e61c93734

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/editing

A Style that Fits

Almost eight years ago, I read a post by Suraya Dewing on LinkedIn. She was asking for thriller/mystery authors for help in testing an innovative piece of software designed to assist writers in improving creative fiction/nonfiction. At that time, I was working on a thriller and always on the lookout for fresh ideas or new writing aids that might help me, so I answered the post. My association with Story Mint and Stylefit started there and then.

Suraya’s vision was to create an environment in which writers, experienced and inexperienced, in schools and commercial business could improve their writing skills and therefore, for some, the goal of being published and for others, a more professional approach to business communication. The primary key to this ambition was posting work on Stylefit. At first glance, I was looking at a grid of squares. The idea was to post-work into a box and have it automatically analysed. The desired result was to achieve a spot somewhere on the grid, indicating that the work was well balanced and reaching a certain standard. Failure meant that one read the attached report advising how to move the work onto the grid by using or deleting adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and nouns, etc.  This, of course, meant that with revision, a second, and sometimes a third draft was needed to ‘get it on.’ Once approved the analysis also compared the writers style to well-known authors and novels, thus boosting self confidence and enthusiasm, although this was secondary to the real purpose of Stylefit.

I could see the enormous potential of the program. It was decided that the way writers could be attracted to participate in the project would be through a serial program where ten authors wrote a chapter each after the first writer posted a starter. It proved a great success and writers began to improve, not that any of us could see that at first.

Shortly after the initial Beta Test, our first serial, titled ‘The Third Shadow,’ was struggling from start to finish and not a great success, but it did give the writers a chance to air their thoughts and ideas. Between us, we certainly queried just about everything. While the serials were getting underway, Suraya was editing the book I was working on at the time. It did not take long before I realized a couple of things that were happening almost sub-consciously. I had learned a few years earlier at college, while taking a media correspondent course, to condense work to a newspaper column word count without losing the salient facts of the story while still making the article attractive. Stylefit was beginning to show me the same lesson. We had five hundred words maximum for each chapter which meant if we were not on the grid we not only had to think about removing or replacing verbs and adjectives but that had to be done in such a way that we produced a chapter that moved the story on smoothly while keeping to the plot. And all this besides not knowing what the author before us was writing. It was a real test. There were hic-cups, but over a short period, Stylefit became a significant asset in our learning curve. I started using the grid for my own work, the thriller Suraya was editing.

The second lesson learned was a gradual realization that up until I started using the grid for my own work, I was worrying about scoring a bullseye somewhere near the middle of Stylefit. I worried about the word count. I would write a paragraph and then see where it went on the grid. Worry, worry, worry, which just made things worse. As soon as I started putting my own work up, I knew where I had gone wrong with the serial chapters. My thriller chapters were written in the same way that the serial chapters were written. There was a plot, and I would write the chapter within the planned storyline. My thriller chapters scored most times although they were significantly longer. The point was I was not worried while writing the chapter about word count or getting a bullseye place. The lesson was simple. Write as creatively as you want and if necessary, write more than five hundred words. Let the creative juices flow and then put the work into Stylefit for analysis. I found that most times I had an acceptable result that had to be culled. The results were amazing. That did not mean the work remained within the boundaries of the grid, but I found it easier to get a good result and produce a chapter that I was pleased with. Eventually, I got better and better as my confidence grew. As time progressed, I started to notice other writers were becoming more and more skilled at serial writing – not just landing on Stylefit, but their creative writing skills were beginning to show remarkable results. Writers were improving all the time, and within two to three years, those more experienced writers were beginning to give advice and encouragement to the newbies to use Stylefit.

Today, Stylefit is being looked at by educational institutions for use in schools and colleges. Industrial administration and management is also interested. No truer saying is there than “From every acorn, there grows an Oak tree.”

When I look back at the start of Stylefit and think of our collective attitudes – us writers, that is – and the way we collectively rejected, complained, and yes, were at first bemused by the idea of using software to correct and advise us on our work, I smile.

 Using Stylefit is now a matter of course, and one of my most used tools. I cannot imagine working without it. Most of my work goes straight on to the grid, but Stylefit, giving me the odd prod, is a great way to stay on the straight and narrow path to a well balanced and exciting piece of professional work.

After posting this article onto Stylefit, I found it placed a little above and to the right of the center spot – it gave the voice as, Introspective – Emotive – Expressive.

If you want to see some of the serials we have written over the last eight years and the work of our team of writers, why not visit and enjoy. https://www.thestorymint.com/story-mintery

A Poet’s Pen

Message of love or a sad heart
Words that bind us or tear us apart
Beautiful words the pen will create
Words that mend and those that break

Poets create and write from the heart
Their feelings pour forth, no plot from the start
Stories of journeys through life’s moving sand
Stories of a poet living in far-flung land

I write this especially for the back cover of my new poetry book that will be published in July and available through Amazon.

In The Law We Trust

A short story from LITTLE GEMS, my book of short stories available on Amazon

Professor Devereux looked pleased with himself, and not without good cause. The interview went well and tomorrow’s papers would carry the story. The abolition of capital punishment was a long way off but still gathering momentum. His views were well-known nationally, and after several months of hard investigative work, he had achieved the near impossible. He was instrumental in proving that the State of Alabama wrongly executed a man convicted on circumstantial evidence of murder. Devereux was a cause celebre.  

Unfortunately, he attracted many enemies along the way including police officers who openly threatened him. Hate mail filled his post box daily. Several times on T.V. the D.A’s office ridiculed him and dismissed him as a crank. He was used to that. The more they threw at him, the more he liked it. They were on the defensive.

Devereux had held center stage at the interview. With overwhelming evidence showing incompetence on the part of the prosecution, the District Attorney admitted that his office got it wrong.

Making his way back to his dressing room, Devereux reflected on his success. The only regret was that Chantelle, his wife, was not with him to share in his triumph. She was a lifelong supporter of abolition, but just as recognition started to come his way, she died, sadly, of cancer, just eight months after diagnosis. It was sudden and a great shock to him. Heartbroken, he retired from his law practice and became reclusive.

It was three years later that some of his old friends insisted he take up lecturing again on the university circuit. His knowledge of the law and the criminal mind made him one of the most respected authorities in his field. After deliberating for a month, he decided to start campaigning again and was soon being quoted throughout mass media.

He sat in a chair in front of the mirror in his dressing room while the makeup assistant, Dana, attended to his face for a few minutes, cleaning off the cream and powder.

“You ought to get a good night’s sleep,” she said, her big brown eyes studying him in the mirror. “Those lines under your eyes are ugly.”

Devereux picked up a comb and held it out for her. “I know, but at least I do not have to look after my good looks, do I?”

She laughed. “Well, I don’t know. You look very distinguished to me.”

“That’s another way of saying I’m going bald and gray.”

They laughed as he got up from the chair.

“Here’s your coat, professor. I think you’re gonna need it tonight. The weather forecast warned of rain.”

After saying goodnight, Devereux made his way downstairs to the reception area. He stood for a moment at the main entrance before deciding to walk home through the park. The exercise would do him good, and in any case, the T.V station was not far from where he lived.

Walking down the steps outside the studio, Devereux felt several light spots of rain on his head. Opening his umbrella and then his stick, he stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and paused, listening for traffic.

Born blind, he was used to getting around the city he had been brought up in. Always preferring the little folding stick to a guide dog, he could travel around Birmingham as quickly as anyone else. The rain increased.

Passing traffic hissed in the downfall. Devereux walked across the road carefully. The Town Hall clock chimed the hour, eleven o’clock. Thinking that he might be in time to catch the eleven-forty newscast, he hurried to be in time to listen to it.

Reaching the park gates, he turned into the pathway that led through some trees to the playground and beyond. The wind blew in gusts, pushing the swings back and forth. They squeaked noisily above the rustle of the leafy trees that surrounded the playground.

A dog somewhere in the distance barked. An impatient driver amongst the night-time traffic on the other side of the park hooted a horn.

Birds rose and flapped out of a tree in front of him, startling Devereux. He stopped and listened intently. Then he heard it. Clearly audible above the blustery wind there came a muffled cough followed by the flip top clack of a Zippo lighter being snapped shut.

Devereux started to walk again and passing the trees at the end of the play area, he smelled smoke. Curious, he wondered why someone would want to stop and smoke in such inclement weather. Perhaps, he thought, it was just a kid.

After another fifty yards, the path sloped gently downward and evened out as it reached the edge of a small lake. Many years before, when Chantelle first brought him to the lake after their engagement, they walked every pathway while she described the beauty of the trees, the flowers, rockeries, and lakes. They sat by the lake many times during the years that followed, eating lunch and relaxing. Now, during Spring and Summer mainly, he sat in their seat by the lake, remembering.

Devereux’s thoughts were ended abruptly. Someone was following. He could not mistake the sound of heavy footsteps on the gravel a short way behind. Whoever it was seemed to be keeping pace with him. He felt a little uneasy and slowed to allow the stranger to catch up and pass. He listened, aware that his heart was beating faster. The follower had stopped. The only sound above the wind was the rustling leaves.

Since childhood, one thing always frightened him. Being followed. Standing quite still, he heard someone cough. Worried in case he was being followed by a mugger, he walked on quickly, tapping his stick from side to side more urgently.

Footsteps crunched on the ground behind him again. He felt like shouting out but thought better of it. If he shouted, he might be attacked before he reached safety. There again he might make a fool of himself. It could be some kid playing around.

Trying hard not to act scared, he hurried on to the park exit opposite the all-night shopping mall. If he could make an exit, he would be safe among the shoppers and late night diners. By now his heart was pounding against his chest, and despite the cold wind, his shirt was becoming damp.

His stick touched the bin near the end of the path. He breathed with relief. A few yards more and he would be at the exit. Relieved at the moment and lost in his anxiety to reach safety, he forgot the protruding stone base of the drinking fountain the other side of the bin. His foot caught the base, and he fell heavily. Grabbing for his stick, he felt the umbrella fly away, captured by a gust of wind. There was a loud cough. He froze, panic welling up inside him.

“What do you want?” Devereux sobbed.

There was no reply. He sat sobbing for a few seconds and then picked himself up. Soaking wet, he rose unsteadily to his feet and made his way through the exit to the safety of the sidewalk. No-one followed him.

Across the street, the mall was busy, mostly with people using the precinct as a shortcut and shelter from the rain. Devereux decided this was the safest thing for him to do. The mall was well illuminated, and once through to the far end, he would be just two blocks from his apartment. From the far end, he could hail a cab.

Breathing heavily, he crossed the street. His clothes were wet with mud and sweat was running down his forehead. Some grazed skin on his hands stung. He stopped just inside the mall entrance and felt a little safer. He brushed his coat and wiped his face with the back of a hand while trying to compose himself.

The thick aroma of burgers filled his nostrils. McDonalds was open and by the sounds of things, very busy. He remembered something and smiled. There were some telephones just inside the restaurant. He would call the Sheriff’s department and get them to send a patrolman to see him home. There was sure to be a squad car nearby.

Devereux felt better for having a plan of action, and walked into the restaurant to find the telephones. He picked up a receiver and called the Sheriff’s department. After explaining his predicament to an understanding and sympathetic officer, he was asked to give his name and address.

There was a pause. Then, “Excuse me, sir, did you say, Devereux, Professor Paul Devereux?”

“Yes, that’s me. I’m on my way home from the T.V. studios.”

The line went silent for a while. Devereux hoped they would send a car.

Moments later the officer was back online. “Professor, I’m very sorry, but unless the person or persons who may or may not be following you actually abuse you in any way, either physically or verbally, there is not a lot we can do.”

Devereux lost his temper, attracting attention from the diners. “Listen, you idiot, I’ve been followed. My life may be in danger. For God’s sake, can’t you do anything?”

“I’m sorry, professor, but our officers are busy right now.” The voice was polite but firm.

“If I were someone else you’d be here in a couple of minutes, you bastard!”

Devereux started to shout. “You don’t like the truth. You don’t like it when you’re shown up on T.V. You wait and see. I’ll make you pay for this.”

There was a click, and the line went dead. Devereux slammed the receiver down and was aware that the diners had gone quiet. Embarrassed, he turned to walk out and collided with someone coming through the door. Customers started to laugh. He was making a fool of himself.

“Sorry,” said a man, “allow me.”

The door opened, and Devereux was guided out into the mall. As the door closed, the man coughed. It was an unmistakable cough. Devereux flushed hot and cold. His hands shook. He had to get away. With stick flailing from side to side, he almost ran down the mall, bumping into people along the way.

At the end of the mall, he turned left and stopped, out of breath. He knew that a covered cab rank which stood a few yards away closed at midnight. His index finger urgently touched the face of his wristwatch. It was eleven twenty-five. Wearily climbing into the back of a cab, he gave his address to the driver. He closed his eyes and silently cursed his decision to walk.

Several minutes later the cab pulled up outside the apartment block. Devereux, by now a little calmer, paid the driver and climbed the steps to the main door of the block.

Once inside his apartment, he made straight for the shower. He ached all over and was shivering with the cold. The exertions of the last hour had exhausted him completely. While he was undressing, he decided to write to the Police Commissioner in the morning and complain about the treatment he had received. He stood under the shower and let the hot water soothe his aching limbs.

***

The sidewalk glistened under the street lights. Rain continued to fall. A cigarette dropped into the gutter with a hiss. From under one of the trees that lined the side of the boulevard came a muffled cough. Brad Miller had been standing there sheltering from the rain ever since a cab dropped him off. He looked up at the block and decided to wait a little longer. A crumpled pack of Camels was poking out of his top jacket pocket. He leaned against the tree, took a cigarette from the pack and lit it with the Zippo.

This would be the third mark in a week and the easiest. No need to follow and then return to break in when the victim was out. The old man was different. Miller did not know how he was going to break in, but it was a challenge that would give him a buzz just for the hell of it. Even if the man did wake up, so what? He could not see anyone so he could not finger anyone. He’d played cat and mouse with the blind man all night and scared him a couple of times, especially at McDonalds. He liked to scare people. It was fun.

Fifteen minutes later he slipped across the boulevard to the apartment block and bounded silently up the entrance steps two at a time. He pulled a thin piece of mica board from his jeans and opened the door in seconds. He crept into the lobby. After feeling along the line of post boxes on the wall, he found what he wanted and smiled. There was a brass plate on one box with the apartment number indented on it. Miller climbed the stairs carefully.

Up on the third floor, all was still. The only noise came from the rain beating persistently on the window panes at the end of the corridor. To one side of the window sat an old wooden chair, placed in the corner. Miller picked it up and positioned it up against the door of apartment 117.

Climbing onto the chair, he reached up to the small oblong window above the door frame. The window was open a couple of inches. Expert hands pushed the window inward and up. With a little piece of cardboard taken from his pocket, Miller folded it into a wedge. This he then put into place on one side between the window and the frame. A gap of eighteen inches was enough to give him access into the apartment.

Holding onto the bottom of the frame, he pulled himself up until he was able to grab a sprinkler pipe that ran along the length of the ceiling. With both hands gripping the pipe, he swung himself up and slid both feet through the gap until his body was halfway into the apartment. With ease, he twisted himself around until his stomach rested on the window frame. The wedge was then removed, and the window returned to its original position as he dropped silently to the floor inside the apartment.

Miller carefully opened the door, picked up the chair, and replaced it to the landing corner. Preoccupied with his work, he did not notice a figure hiding in the shadows of the stairway as he returned to 117. A hand grabbed him from behind. Instinctively, Miller turned and punched his would-be captor hard in the face.

“You son of a bitch!” came a gruff voice.

They grappled with each other, punching and kicking until Miller broke loose. He swung wildly at the other man who, trying to avoid a punch, slumped back against the apartment door. Miller, coughing loudly, kicked the man in the ribs and made good his escape.

***

Devereux woke with a start. A loud crash was followed by someone coughing. His worst nightmare was coming true. He began to shake, his stomach churning. With short, shallow breaths, he sat upright in bed and reached for the bedside table drawer. His hand fumbled frantically inside. His fingers finally felt metal, and he withdrew a long thin-bladed letter knife that he kept there for emergencies.

He slid out of bed and moved to one side of the bedroom door where he could hide if it opened. Trembling, he stood with heart racing, waiting. It was quiet.

Then he heard them.

Footsteps were coming toward him—slow, deliberate footsteps. The door handle squeaked. Devereux tensed, his nerves at breaking point. Terrified, he felt a cold draft of air as the door slowly opened. It was too much for him. He lunged forward with the paper knife.

“There, you bastard,” he screamed hysterically, “take that!”

They both fell to the floor, Devereux plunging the knife again and again. Anger and violence poured from him. Exhausted, he finally lay on top of the body, crying, unable to move. When the moment of initial shock receded, he picked himself up and stumbled into the living room to call the Sheriff’s department.

He remembered his last call to the Sheriff’s office, regretting that they had not been more helpful. If they had, things would have not gone so far. He dropped the knife on the carpet and reached for the phone.

It was ten minutes later that Detectives found Devereux slumped in an armchair. He was covered in blood. The paper knife was laying on the carpet by his feet.

They listened to his story that he was followed home by the intruder. After he had finished, Devereux had to go over his story again to make sure no detail had been overlooked.

Several hours later, downtown, during his interview, Devereux was played a recording of his earlier abusive and threatening call to the Sheriff’s Department, which he’d made because they refused to help him after he reported being followed by a suspected mugger.

As far as the detectives were concerned, there was no sign of forced entry to the apartment block or Devereux’s apartment. As for the intruder laying on Devereux’s floor; after being called by the Sheriff and asked to do a favor, retired deputy, Marvin Tucks, living on the ground floor had looked in to see if the professor was alright.

The detectives surmised that Devereux, annoyed at Tucks disturbing his sleep and thinking the Sheriff’s Department was harassing him, had viciously attacked and slain the deputy in a rage. No other intruder figured in the incident. Devereux, they suggested, was too clever for his own good. Devereux was charged with murder.

***

Brad Miller sat on a bar stool and looked up at the T.V. lunchtime news. A picture of Devereux flashed up on the screen. It was announced that the professor was executed at midnight the day before at Oaksville Penitentiary.

A Gem of a Book

Little Gems
By Ray Stone
Review by Suraya Dewing CEO Story Mint
This set of short stories is indeed a gem. The stories explore themes of corruption, historical injustices, and redemption.
The author capably captures the voice of the era as in Condurrow, a story based on bal maidens working in the Cornwall tin mines in the mid 19th century. Readers learn of the working conditions in Cornwall tin mines while following the fortunes of Arthur Jeddler who inherits a tin mine. 
His research for each story is comprehensive.
Other stories in the collection range from past injustices to futuristic as in predicting a cataclysmic event that destroys life on earth. In another, a man is wrongly accused of manslaughter and gets exonerated soon after getting out of prison. A mother appears to desert her son but the reason for this justifies her actions, as her son finds out many years later. These were the standout stories for me. 
A common theme threads through these stories – corruption or misunderstanding lies behind apparent injustice. 
Ray Stone is an entertaining storyteller with an excellent sense of carefully measured detail. The reader never gets a sense he is unnecessarily padding the narrative. His characters are believable and when they speak, their dialogue gives the reader a deeper insight into the character. The stories are imaginative as well as informative without being a sermon.
Very enjoyable and a worthwhile read. Recommended.
Thank you, Suraya.

Mental Health Stigma

Why is the public-at-large so adverse to people with mental illness?  Perhaps because of the darker side of humanity.  Some heinous crimes are committed by people who are mentally ill.  Those individuals are but a spec of dust in the overall population of people with mental illness, yet they get the most publicity due to their deeds.  It is time to change the perception.

Mental illness is an overall name for 4 major syndromes:  Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Autism and Personality Disorders.  There are many spectrums to each of these major syndromes, and these syndromes overlap with each other.  Some are common amongst family members, while others are an unlucky parental lottery of DNA.  Mental illness is not a choice.  It is caused by an imbalance of naturally existing chemicals and hormones in the brain. Sometimes it is situational (ie: extreme stress will cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.  When the stress is relieved, the brain will go back to normal function), but most of the time it is continual.

With the recent increase in entertainment personalities committing suicide, I think it is important that the dialogue start.  I believe the best people to start this discussion are those who are afflicted. 

Bi-Polar disorder runs in my family.  This spectrum also includes depression.  All my family members have depression.  A few of us have Bi-Polar disorder.  When people hear Bi-Polar, they immediately think of the hyper-mania.  There are also some episodes of deep lows.  The highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  Bi-Polar II has fewer manic episodes, and longer lasting depressive episodes.  Bi-Polar II episodes are not as severe as Bi-Polar I.   I have been diagnosed with Bi-Polar II. 

My manic episodes evolve into OCD cleaning sprees.  Serious sprees of cleaning.  One time I was up for 3 days and nights, every single item in my house came out of cupboards and shelves.  Every item was washed.  All the cabinets and drawers are cleaned, then items placed back into their space with precise orderliness.  All my furniture gets moved, dusted, washed, floors swept and mopped then the furniture goes back (or gets a re-organization.)  Sleep escapes me during these episodes.  My manic episodes happen every few months. 

My struggle is with the depressive episodes.  I don’t sit in a corner and cry.  I don’t feel sorry for myself.  I do not contemplate hurting myself or others.  I call it my hibernation.  I have a serious social phobia.  (Phobias also are on the spectrum of Mental Illness).  I have a strong aversion to socializing.  Socializing of any sort.  One person, or a group of people.  It does not matter.  I will spend days inside my house (thankful that I had that recent manic episode!), and not leave.  There are many days that I do not want to go outside into my yard.  I am thankful that I have dogs- they somewhat force me to get out, even if it is to clean up their daily doody.  I am quite comfortable and not unhappy during these periods.  I am just anti-social.  I exist. 

My friends and children are all aware of this mental illness because I feel strongly about wiping out the stigma.  My circle of support exists because I am not afraid to educate people of my situation.  I do not feel ashamed.  I do not want pity.  I do not want sympathy.  I want understanding.  Mostly, I want people to understand that mental illness is not a choice.  Do not think that if we force ourselves to smile that happiness will follow.  That certainly did not work for the late Robin Williams. 

While some people who do criminal acts may have a mental illness, not all people with mental illness do criminal acts.  In large, we are not bad people.  We are people who want to be accepted, not ignored.

PRIMAL LANGUAGE

For Linkedin – Ray Stone

PRIMAL: The Pattern Language that Reveals Human Purpose

Another article on motivation hit my news feed this week, describing ways I could re-energise myself on days I felt discouraged. Maybe you too have moments—or months—when you feel lethargic, uninterested in your to-do list, or in much at all. At times like that, you might tell a friend you’re unmotivated and it’s possible they’ll concur or empathise. Feeling unmotivated is sometimes inevitable, isn’t it?

I don’t think we should accept that.

I think there are things we’re always up for, rain or shine, tired or otherwise. Moreover, I think those things are easy to identify.

I believe humans have an inner will, which seeks to exert its purpose, continually and consistently, and influences everything we do. This force communicates its intentions constantly, in a language I’ve named Primal; we communicate our purpose in this language, including subconsciously, throughout life.

Primal impulses are always driving us to rumble, continuously motivated.

Our actions reveal where we want to have impact.

A hundred years ago, the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie had a lot more money than most of us will ever see. He also knew a thing or two about people. As he grew older, he said he paid less attention to the things people said; he watched what they did.

Actions, Carnegie realised, communicated intention just as eloquently as any spoken or written language, and more accurately.

You’ll easily recall someone who has disappointed you recently; maybe you disappointed yourself. A task that needed doing wasn’t done, or was done late, or parts of it were skimped; you’ve been let down. Perhaps you let yourself down.

All too often, our attention wanders. We start one thing and then think about another. We miss deadlines because something else came up that was more interesting and, almost without thinking, we gave this new direction priority.

Primal impulses exert influence over focus. If we’re driven by the Proposing impulse, for example, we’ll constantly find ourselves Forming Ideas and Advocating their acceptance, regardless of the other things we ‘should’ be doing.

Those other things get left, for seconds or even hours. We might have been lawn-mowing, studying law, or updating spreadsheets. If others demand progress from us, we’ll drag our attention back and do a little more, until the next urge to Form Ideas takes over.

Primal impulses cannot be easily repressed.

Primal impulses communicate their will in patterns

We humans are constantly impacting our environment. We’re driven to do it by internal and often subconscious impulses that cause us to act in support of our beliefs and values.

A Primal impulse is an urge to act in a certain way; it’s a deep-seated inner drive that impels conscious action to fulfil it. The impulses themselves are not obvious; we can’t tell by looking at someone, for example, if their dominant impulse is to authenticate, which is determining reality.

Nonetheless, if we observe how individuals perform at work or interact with others, we’ll see patterns recurring in their actions. The patterns reveal their dominant impulses clearly; together, they form a language. Primal language communicates the way we are driven.  

Six impulses drive all human activity:

  • We propose and promote new ideas
  • We resolve, meaning we decide individually or collectively how ideas could be implemented
  • We initiate new projects or artistic activities; we’ll participate and compete
  • We manage resources and any processes we’ve begun
  • We authenticate the quality or usefulness of our results
  • We luminate, meaning we interpret the significance of our experiences or knowledge, and pass that awareness onto others.

We all have these six impulses within us. Mankind as a whole is continually influenced by them; they drive our evolution.

However, in any one individual, one or two of the Primal impulses dominate. Actions driven by these will recur constantly; the pattern they produce clearly shows that individual’s passion and purpose—regardless of anything they tell you to the contrary.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do. That’s why it’s important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are”Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Our values determine how Primal impulses manifest

In The Linguist, Elvin Jarvis explains how values affect our focus.

“People go after things they want. Let’s think of an example: a guy named Steve, driven primarily by the Initiating impulse. If one of his principal values was An Invigorating Life, which prioritises change, exciting events and stimulation, he might run off to see the world. Steve does have an itch to see South America.

“However, Steve has young children in school. Additionally his most important values are Dedication and Harmony; family stability is important to Steve and he won’t put it at risk.

“Nonetheless, Steve is still driven to Initiate, so he might over-extend himself financially to build a new home in a newly developed area. This is a Pioneering action; he’ll get a thrill from doing something new, which will be literally ground-breaking. But he’s also putting down roots for his family and making a significant commitment.”

In a podcast this last week, Trent Innes—Managing Director of Xero Australia—spoke about a ‘coffee cup test’ that their organisation used when deciding if an applicant was a good match for their team. Observing someone’s attitude towards an empty coffee cup gives an interviewer valuable  insight, Innes believes.

I agree.

If you’re taken to the kitchen to grab your own coffee before an interview, will you offer to take the dirty cup back there afterwards?

“What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary,” wrote Emerson, over a hundred years ago. It’s true today. Every action you take produces a window through which others see your values—and it is your values that ultimately determine how effective you’ll be in any role.

Identifying your Primal impulses

As you cannot ’see’ impulses in others, only the actions they impel, you’ll need to observe behaviour to discover them. It doesn’t take long, however. The patterns created by impulse-driven action tend to make its underlying cause quite obvious after a short time.

Primal impulses can’t be hidden without huge effort.

You can easily detect the dominant impulses in yourself. There are several ways of doing it; from quick and easy methods to long and reflective methods. Inevitably, accuracy is sacrificed for speed, yet even the swiftest methodology – four questions—produces a useful starting point.

Here are those four questions.

Question 1:

Do you prefer a role where desired outcomes are known and the goalposts are fixed, or one where expectations constantly change as new ideas are developed and introduced?

This question contrasts Managing and Proposing impulses. Managers like to focus on organising and structuring—and getting results—new ideas constantly thrown around aren’t helpful.

Compare that approach with a Proposer’s solution to ‘too many balls in the air’, which is likely to include throwing another one up there. Proposers revel in chaos because of the opportunities it produces; a Manager’s entire focus is to make order out of chaos.

Question 2:

In any situation when you have to make choices, can you make a decision on nothing more than gut feeling, or will you generally delay until you are certain you have explored all options and have some evidence you can rely on?

This question contrasts Authentication and Resolving impulses. Authenticators are looking for certainty and will not affirm the state of something until all the available information about it has been analysed.

Resolvers want a decision; they will make one even in the face of doubt. Their drive to move on enables them to dare and risk, actions an Authenticator will avoid.

Question 3

If you discover a problem, do you jump straight in to sort it, because you believe it’s important to keep things going—even with duct tape—or will you take a reflective approach, wanting to understand the full picture before deciding whether intervention is needed?

This question contrasts Luminating and Initiating impulses. Initiators are driven to get going; just say the word and they are off. They are driven to discover the best way to accomplish things through trial-and-error, through exploration and competition.

Luminators don’t ‘try it and see what happens’; they reflect on past experience—theirs and other’s— and use the awareness gained to determine the significance of knowledge.

Question 4

In general, do you prefer to work in a group or team, or on your own wherever possible?

This question contrasts collaborative and independent working styles. Some of us are driven to work in a team; others prefer autonomy. Cooperating with others on a project enables solutions to be found using multiple minds, and implemented with many hands. However, many people feel unshackled when they are able to work alone.

Primal language reveals opportunities

When you’ve defined your Primal impulses, you have a metric about yourself much more useful than most other measures used to define people, like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.

Your CAP—Creative Action Pattern—is the blend of your most commonly-occurring impulse-driven actions. This pattern is unique, like a fingerprint. Millions will have the same dominant impulses, but the actions you take to satisfy those impulses are influenced by your values—and the sum of our values is different in each of us.

Your CAP reveals the way you’re driven to influence and impact. Those who know it know how you’ll inevitably want to act, regardless of circumstances or control.

Your CAP is the essence of your purpose.

Fulfilment, happiness and a sense of accomplishment all come from upholding our values during the current moment. Knowing your CAP enables you to more effectively direct your activities—and enjoy more of those moments.

A set of cards is being developed, which will define all the Primal patterns so far identified. A manual is also in production.

Do you feel a strong Initiating impulse within you?

You can become a foundation member of The Evolving, the tribe using Primal patterns to impact the world.

Send your inquiry to ant@anthonysmits.com

Worth Waiting For

This is an absolute must for authors who want to create a beautiful book cover. Easy instructions even I can follow Great piece that has, YES, been Worth The Wait. Thank you, ENOS Russell – AMAZON.COM

A Ray Stone Review

The Trojan Towers (CH2)

Harry didn’t look up from the newspaper. That was Harry. He knew, saw and felt things going on around him without showing any emotion. Raithe stood on the quay and looked down at him.“Am I going to stand here all day or are you going to invite me aboard?” He tried to sound a little jocular, but the tremble in his voice betrayed the nervousness.

Harry put the newspaper down on his lap and waved a hand. “Get your backside down here and don’t get cocky, dear boy. You and I have things to discuss.”
Their last face to face meeting had been two weeks before the robbery. Harry warned him not to attempt it. Banks were for idiots, not educated professional thieves like Raithe. The risks were too high. He should have listened.

He climbed down into the well and sat opposite Harry on one of the padded bench seats. Harry’s eyes narrowed behind the thick lens glasses. He pointed a chubby finger. “I waited nine years to tell you what I think of you, and now I can’t be bothered. Have you learned anything? Do you think about the little girl?”

Raithe looked out across the water. “Of course I do. I’ve thought about her every day.” He sighed and looked the other way toward the buildings, avoiding Harry’s stare. “I miss Natalie and Terri, God knows how I’ve missed them.”

“God also knows how much that little girl’s mother misses her too.”

The words stung Raithe’s conscience. His eyes began filling up. He wiped them with his fingers.

“Liberty is a wonderful thing, dear boy. You lost it through ignorance, nothing else.” Harry shifted in his seat and stared hard into Raithe’s eyes. “You didn’t listen to Terri. You didn’t listen to me. You thought you knew best. Ignorance, Raithe, is a terrible thing. Ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand, and you displayed plenty of both. If prison and the shit that is housed in it knocked some sense into you, then I’m glad. Whatever happened to you was nothing more than you deserved.”

Raithe stood up, rubbing his eyes. “I didn’t come here to listen to this, Harry. I’ve been punished enough for Christ’s sake.”

“Punished enough. Your punishment hasn’t even started yet, dear boy. It starts today and every day for the rest of your life. You’re still arrogant…now sit down!”

Raithe sat with bowed head, looking at his feet. “I’m sorry, but I can’t change anything.”

“No, you can’t.” The tone in Harry’s voice changed. “And now you are free, what do you plan to do?”

Raithe shook his head. “I don’t know, Harry. I keep thinking about that little bastard.”

“You mean Danny? I doubt he’s the man you want. He may have fired the gun, but you should be looking elsewhere. Anyway, is that more important than your daughter?”

“No, of course not. I need to find Natalie.”

“Silly boy, you should have known I’d look after Natalie.”

Raithe sighed and sobbed at the same time. “You know where she is? What about Terri? Is she with Terri? I got a card from Spain.” He got to his feet, smiling.

The big man got up and opened the door to the saloon. “Come and have a drink and don’t thank me.”

They moved inside, and Harry crossed to the bar. “Scotch?”

Raithe nodded. “Thanks.” He sat down in one of the armchairs next to the bar.

Harry pulled a bottle of Scotch from the cabinet. “You let Natalie and Terri down, not to mention me. They’re the ones who’ve suffered, not you. I’ve spent a long time trying to understand why you took that job on. It will take me even longer if ever, to completely forgive you.” He pouted. “After all, I taught you, dear boy.”

He placed two crystal tumblers on the table between them and sat down on a large brown leather sofa.

Harry seldom showed emotion, and when he did, Raithe kept quiet. It had nothing to do with intellectual or physical superiority but the respect the man commanded. He was larger than life, always understanding and fair, with a quiet but authoritative voice that one listened to.

“Now get that down you and listen to me.” Harry picked his glass up and took a sip. “You gave Terri my telephone number shortly after you were sent down, as I told you, in case she needed help. She didn’t call until a few months later. Perhaps she thought I was like you and couldn’t be trusted, eh?” He waved a hand through the air. “Anyway, we arranged to meet over lunch one day. She wanted to get rid of the money…your money…from its hiding place. It became a constant reminder to her of the child’s death, not that she needed reminding. That poor girl has lived every day with the memory of the tragedy. A neat and tidy girl, and good looking too. But very unhappy, Raithe, very unhappy. A boy like you shouldn’t do that to a lovely girl. And your daughter too.” He raised his eyebrows and shook his head slowly.

Raithe reached for the bottle and topped up Harry’s glass. “I know about the money,” he said. “She sent me a postcard a few days before my release.” He was silent for a moment, trying to find the right words to say as Harry stared at him, waiting. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever regret anything so much in my life. Believe me, if I could turn the clock back.” He gulped some Scotch. “I have nightmares about it. I miss Natalie and Terri. I’ve missed you all. God, I’m so sorry, Harry.” He rubbed his forehead. “My head hurts with all the worry. I don’t know what to say or do.”

“Well we can’t change the past, but we can make a fresh start.” Harry took a card out of his trouser pocket. “When I saw Terri, she was upset about being pestered by the police and press over the hiding place of the money. More than that, she was concerned about Natalie. The girl was nearly seven, and a couple of reporters took photos of her while she was at school. Then she was stopped on the way home.”

“Bastards.”

“Terri asked me to help her get Natalie into a private boarding school. I was happy to help. She told me they were going away on holiday and it would be nice to get Natalie away shortly after if I could arrange things. I pulled in a few favors and got a place for her at this school. Terri asked me not to tell you where Natalie was. It would have complicated matters, and I agreed. She’s there until her seventeenth birthday.”

Raithe took the card offered. “Switzerland? Harry, I don’t know what to say.”

“Nothing. You say nothing, dear boy. I did it for Natalie. She’s something extraordinary now, don’t you know. A beautiful little girl who calls me Uncle Harry.” His chest rose, and he smiled. “After she’s taken her final exams she’s going to Zurich University to study European Law.”

Raithe’s face creased into a broad grin.

“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” said Harry, lighting the end of a corona. He puffed at it until the end glowed.

“I’m sorry, Harry. It was the thought of her calling you, Uncle Harry.”

Harry ignored the remark. “I think you should go and see her on parents day. The details are on the back of the card. Natalie knows all about the robbery and what happened. Don’t go over it again with her. She doesn’t need reminding.”

Raithe nodded. He wondered what sort of reception he would get.

As if reading his mind, Harry said, “I won’t tell her you’re coming. That way if you get cold feet she won’t be disappointed. If you take my advice, you’ll go. At least give her the chance to make her mind up about you. And she will too, believe me. She’s just like you used to be, very sure of herself but without the arrogance, you had and still have. Here, take this.” He took a photograph from his pocket and held it out. “Beautiful, isn’t she?”

Raithe looked at a beautiful blonde teenager in school uniform and saw Terri. They were so alike. Harry was right. There was a hint of a smile, a look of self-assurance.

Cigar smoke whirled above their heads as he gazed at the picture. The strong aroma reminded him of the back room in the Stepney basement apartment. Peter smoked small cheap cigars all night. In the morning, Terri would throw all the windows open. The smell of stale cigars permeated the air throughout the apartment.

“Terri asked me to take Natalie to the school,” continued Harry. “She was being followed everywhere and scared someone would find out where the school was. We let it be known that Natalie was going to a boarding school in Scotland, and that did the trick. Since then, Terri and I have kept in touch regularly. She wrote to me about things in general and how she was looking forward to seeing Natalie. She visits Natalie twice yearly at half terms and stays for a week each time.”

“Does Natalie write to you?”

“Of course she does, like her mother. She sends letters to me, and I forward them on to Terri. Terri moved a couple of times and letters got lost so I suggested I could send them on to wherever she moved to.”

“I take it she’s living in Spain? That’s where she sent the card from,” said Raithe, thoughtfully.

“Yes, about three months ago, she moved there. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure something was bothering her. I didn’t want to ask, though. She knew she could count on me if she wanted help, so I assumed it might be personal.”

“You mean she was having an affair?” Raithe’s heart sank.

“You should worry about that. What do you think your wife should do, spend her life waiting, and for what? You?” Harry held both arms out dramatically. “She knows you are out and if she wants to see you, she will find you. Natalie is the most important woman in your life and don’t you forget it.” He blew a long stream of blue smoke into the air, then sighed. “You don’t know how lucky you are, dear boy.”

“I’d like to find her before she finds me, Harry. After I’ve seen Natalie, that is. I still love her, and I want her to know that. If she doesn’t want me then fine. At least I’d have shown her I still care.”

“I disagree. You lost the right to expect anything from Natalie, and going after her will only make matters worse. Remember what she’s been through. You must let her decide your future. In the meantime, I want you to do something for me.”

“What’s that?”

Harry rose from the sofa and peered through the saloon window at the quayside. Several little groups of sightseers were ambling along the marina, admiring the line of boats. He finished his Scotch and placed the tumbler back on the table before turning back to look outside.

“I want you to deliver around eighty million in jewelry and art to an old friend of ours in Amsterdam,” he said, casually. He watched the sightseers move past. “That’s after you’ve stolen them…of course.”

Raithe sat with his glass halfway to his lips and momentarily froze, then began to laugh. “No, Harry, I’ve learned my lesson. You don’t catch me out like that. Mind you, if you like I’ll look in my diary and see what I’m doing this weekend. I might just be able to squeeze you in. How do I get into the Tower of London?’ He was still laughing when Harry faced him.

“There’s one thing you should have learned by now, dear boy. Knowing whether I’m joking or not.” He lent across the table, a look of serious intent on his face. “You are going to get into a vault, but it’s not in the Tower of London.”

Confused, Raithe slumped back in the chair. “Wait a minute, Harry. You must be joking. I don’t find this very funny.”

“I’m not joking,” said Harry slowly. He sat down.

Raithe felt angry. “I’ve been here five minutes, and you’ve given me a lecture on what a shit I am. Now you want me to steal a fortune. The phrase, don’t do as I do, do as I say, comes to mind. What about my daughter? Does she know her Uncle Harry is getting daddy into trouble again? I bet she doesn’t. And what -”

“Of course she doesn’t, and you won’t be getting into trouble if you let me explain. As far as your family -”

“I won’t do it. Whatever it is, I won’t do it. Who the bloody hell do you think you are? You think one letter a month, a suit, and some school fees buy the rest of my life?”

“As far as your family is concerned,” repeated Harry, “they needn’t have suffered if you’d listened to me. You paid nine years for a paltry two hundred thousand. If you’d got nine years for eighty million, I could understand it. As it is, this time, you are not going to get caught. All you have to do is listen and work with me. The reward is enough money to last you for the rest of your life and give that daughter a life she deserves. More importantly, no one except those who deserve it is going to get hurt.”

Raithe looked up at the roof, trying to keep calm. “I’ll be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life, Harry. Every police force across the world will be looking for gems worth that much.” He shrugged. “No, Harry, I can’t do it. I’m not going back to prison.”

“Of course not. No-one will know who took the gems and what’s more they won’t know what’s missing. In fact, I can safely predict the police will find it hard to speak to anyone admitting they have something missing.”

“Okay,” sighed Raithe, slapping both hands on his knees. “Where is this Utopian place full of treasures and dumb idiots?”

“Now that is very funny, dear boy. In fact, that’s a pretty good description of my next door neighbor.” He grinned and flicked a large lump of ash. It missed the ashtray and landed on a beer mat.

“You mean the Excelsior Depository? That place is a fortress.”

Harry grunted and poured some more Scotch. “Of course, it is. If it weren’t, no one would deposit anything in there, would they?”

“I’m not with you. I don’t -”

“Think dear boy, think. What did you do before you broke into a property? What was the first thing you had to do?”

Raithe smiled, remembering the checklist Harry had insisted he go through mentally before each job. “Of course, find the Achilles Heel, the weak point.”

“Precisely. Every building has a weak point. Find the weak point and in you go. That’s the easy part, and this building is no different. The hard part, as always, is getting away.”

He drew on his cigar and brushed some ash from his knee. “Before we go any further, you are going to understand that there are a couple of things that are not negotiable.” Leaning forward, he placed a hand on Raithe’s shoulder. “There will be no guns or unnecessary violence. You will not take anything from the depository other than that which you are told to take. Break either rule, and I will personally make sure you spend the rest of your life in jail.”

Raithe knew he was serious.

“I’m sorry to say that to you, dear boy, but if you take anything not on my shopping list, you will hurt innocent people, perhaps friends of mine.”

Raithe looked puzzled but remained silent. When the man talked business, he expected his audience to listen, not ask questions.

Harry got up and stepped to the center of the saloon. He moved to the window again and for a moment remained silent as he looked across the water. “You’re going to steal eighty million in jewelry from the depository,” he said, eventually, “and then put the stuff back again. Later, after the robbery has been discovered, I am going to walk back into the depository and take it all out again. Within hours, the goods will be stored safely, and you will be on your way out of the country without anyone knowing.”

Raithe tried to understand. Whatever Harry’s plan, it would be meticulous down to the last detail, leaving nothing to chance. But what was the point in putting the goods back once they had been taken?

“My dear boy, don’t look so confused,” continued Harry. “We’ll discuss the details later. For now, let’s discuss the overall picture. You’re too tired to discuss details.” He started pacing up, and down the saloon, cigar held between ringed fingers and head bowed. “We’re going to rob from the robbers,” he said, excitedly, “just for a change. I’m going to teach them a lesson. They’re going to learn they can’t cheat Harry Cohen.”

Raithe sat impassive, glass in hand. Harry always took a long time to come to the point. Whatever it was, it was worth waiting for. It occurred to him that Harry trusted few people and had picked him to do the job. He didn’t doubt that the old man loved his daughter and looked after her out of the kindness of his heart. None the less, some gratitude would be expected in return. There would be no hard feelings if he turned the job down, but it would be the end of their business relationship. He would never be asked to work again.

“Who are ‘they,’ Harry?”

“Criminal scumbags who have cheated me in one way or another over the years, whether it is gems or money they owe or have stolen from my fellow dealers or me.”

Raithe remembered Harry telling him that a small group of international gem dealers was organized to receive and fence beautiful pieces of jewelry and art. They bought from recognized introduced sources and supplied to a select clientele. If a thief wanted to do business with any of them, he would have to be a known professional and come recommended by one of the others in the group. It was a worldwide trade and very profitable. Raithe had been a one-off exception but only because he’d shown he could be trusted. Harry’s reward for Raithe’s act of honesty towards a fellow dealer was to handshake him into the business.

“I want to retire, Raithe. I don’t need the money, but I do need to teach certain individuals in our trade that they don’t steal from their own. This little job will give me a great deal of satisfaction.” He rubbed the side of his nose and smiled broadly. “Now listen and learn. Some of our more unsavory colleagues in London have boxes in the Excelsior Depository. They store their valuable stones and other items of worth in there. I have kept an ongoing record of what jobs have been credited to them and what property has been taken. In most cases, the valuables are taken out of a box and brought to one of my colleagues or myself here in London. If there’s no deal, they go back into the box. At any one time, I estimate there to be around eighty million in their boxes collectively. We are not interested in the contents of any other box except these. I obviously don’t know who owns what box. I do, however, have a list of items that you will look for. When you come across an item listed, you will empty the entire contents of the box it is in. That box will belong to a ‘dumb idiot.’” He chuckled and held his glass up. “Cheers.”

“Cheers, Harry.” Raithe smiled.

“You’re not quite sure about this, are you?”

“I don’t know, Harry. I’ve got other things on my mind, Terri, Natalie and…”

Harry became serious again. Looking absently at the tumbler of Scotch in his hand, he said, “There is a way you can flush out the grass as well, don’t you know?”

“How?”

“It could have only been one of five people, and we can rule out Terri and myself. Personally, I think you can rule out Danny too. There again it might have been someone who had it in for you and made a lucky guess, but I doubt it.”

“Peter or James?”

“That’s right. I guess that it was one of those two. Whoever it was may also have changed the blanks in that gun. How they did it without you knowing, I don’t know. Why they did it is also a mystery.”

“I still think it was Danny. He loved guns. That’s why he swapped with me when we were on our way to the job. I reckon he changed the blanks to live rounds outside the bank. He’s the grass, Harry. He got scared when he found out the girl was dead. The police arrested me the next day. There wasn’t time for a whisper to do the rounds.” Raithe downed the rest of the Scotch in one gulp.

Harry stepped across the saloon and opened the door. “Well, let’s reserve our judgment shall we until we know for sure.”

A thick cloud of smoke drifted out of the door into the sunshine. Harry stood in the well and threw his cigar butt overboard. “I could find out where the others are,” he said, in a disinterested voice.

“Of course you could, Harry. I’m surprised you haven’t already.”

“I didn’t know you’d be interested, dear boy.”

“Yes you did, Harry.”

Harry put his hands inside the pockets of the sou’wester and grinned. “Good, I’ll get to work, and you can get some sleep here.” He stepped back inside without shutting the door. “When you’ve got your head together you can ease yourself into the job by solving one or two little problems. You have to think of a way of balancing on a sloping roof while removing a few tiles. You’re the expert, you can sort that out.” He handed Raithe a piece of paper. “These are the details of the roof.” He scratched his head. “Oh yes, one other thing. There’s twenty thousand in the forward cabin. I didn’t think you’d want all the money at once.”

“Thanks, Harry, that’s fine.” Raithe watched as a sparrow landed in the well and pecked at the decking. “Nice boat.”

“It’s a friend’s. I don’t want us to meet at mine. We have to be careful. Now get some sleep, and we’ll speak again tomorrow.”

“I want to find Danny. I’ll go and see his sister.”

“All right, but be careful. Here, take this.” He handed Raithe a mobile phone. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

“What was the other thing you wanted me to sort out?” asked Raithe.

“The escape, dear boy. You know the City as well as I do, probably better. However you do it, make sure you’re clear of the City within thirty minutes. Your rendezvous is Benfleet Creek, a few miles downriver from here.”

“Thirty minutes to clear the job and the City?”

“Yes, I don’t care how you do it but make sure you are. By then, I shall be helping the police with their inquiries.”

Raithe frowned at him.

“Details, dear boy, details. Don’t worry yourself.”