Sophie and the forest chapter 2

Chapter two: a storm and a squirrel


Sophie was on her way to visit her Gran who lived in the forest. A summer storm had sprung up and she was getting soaked. She met someone who offered to help her get shelter in an old house- it was a squirrel.

“You are not mad, silly human. I talk, so what? You got a problem with talking squirrels?” He asked, looking angry and holding tightly to the bag of peanuts.


“No… no, I don’t have a… problem with talking squirrels…am I still asleep? That’s what happened… I didn’t wake up earlier. I am having a lovely nap under that big tree, and the last hour or so has been a dream…” Sophie mumbled.


“You are awake. This is why I don’t talk to humans so often – they act all crazy like this. The last human that I spoke to jumped into a pond when I asked him for the weather forecast. Honestly, it’s like they think they are the only ones on the whole planet who can talk.” The squirrel grumbled.


“Oh, um, so I am awake, and this is real… and squirrels can talk English… sure, why not?”


“Ok, Mr Squirrel, so do you own this house? Because I am getting very wet, and I would like to get inside and have a lay down.”


“First, my name is not Mr Squirrel, is your name Miss Human? Huh? And secondly, no I do not own the house- you think banks give mortgages to wildlife now? Goodness me. But I can open the door for you, see? Then you can have a lay down on the sofa for as long as you like, ok?”


“Oh, ok. Sure, do you have the key?”


“Do I look like I have pockets?” He rolled his eyes. “No, but the door is on a latch, and I can sneak into that small gap in the door and unlatch it for you. Do you want me to, or do you want to spend the rest of the day chatting out here?”


“Y… yes please, do open the door… I would be most grateful.” Sophie swallowed nervously. She had never spoken to a squirrel before and wasn’t sure of the etiquette.


“Sure, no problem, Miss Human.”


The squirrel squeezed into a small hole at the bottom of the wooden door, and a few seconds later, it squeaked open on rusted hinges.


“Oh, thank you so much, here are your peanuts!”

Sophie ran into the old house, nearly soaked to the bone, but grateful to escape the storm.


“See you later then, human, and thanks for the nuts.”


The squirrel ran up a tree, bag of peanuts firmly clenched in his teeth.


Sophie sat down on the old leather sofa in a daze.
After a minute, she looked around. The house had obviously not been lived in for a long time: there were spiderwebs everywhere. The furniture was covered in dust. There was a small fireplace, and next to it, a book. Besides the sofa, there was a rough-looking table with two rickety chairs, and in the kitchen a stove that looked like it came out of the 19th century – a black one that needed a fire. Also, a table and a sink. A couple of plates and cups sat near the sink, as though someone had been doing the washing up before they decided to leave the house and never return. There were no electric lights – just a few candles dotted around the room. There was also another door that she assumed lead to a bedroom.


“Hmm, I wonder who owns this place,” she said to herself, “I think there is probably an interesting story here.”


Behind the door was a small bed. Underneath a grimy window, she could make out a wooden writing desk and chair. The desk had a pad of paper and a pencil. She read the paper – it said:


20 November
Difficult night. Getting low on firewood – going to have to cut down another tree soon. Don’t feel happy about leaving the clearing. It feels like I am being watched.


Oh dear, that didn’t sound good.


Sophie walked through the kitchen and opened the back door – it had a key still in the lock – and saw a small outhouse and a pile of firewood in the ‘back garden’ area. Another rumble of thunder, and two seconds later, a flash of lightning. The rain was barrelling down. It obviously used to be a clearing, but nature had encroached and there were thick brambles and weeds. The outhouse, Sophie knew from stories that her Gran told her about her childhood, was a small outdoor toilet. They were used before running water was installed, many years ago. The toilet didn’t flush – it was just a deep hole in the ground – a long-drop. Sophie thought that there must be a well nearby too, unless the owner used to visit the river for their water.


Sophie went back into the house. She snuggled up on the sofa, underneath a blanket that she found. She felt wiped out – as though she had been walking through the forest for days. After a rest and some food, Sophie managed to find a box of matches, and got a small fire going in the hearth. She took off her outer clothes and hung them up on the fireguard to dry off. While they were drying, she looked at the book.


“Carpentry for beginners. Sounds fascinating.”


Sophie wondered whether she should text her Mum to let her know that she wasn’t at Gran’s yet, and had got stuck in a storm, and that a talking squirrel had helped her get into a spooky old house…


“No, maybe not. I’ll text Mum when I actually get to Gran’s. That way she won’t worry.” She told herself.


After a while the storm moved on and the rain slowed to a drizzle.


She went back into the garden to look for the well – her water bottle was nearly empty. She spotted it in a tangle of brambles. How was she going to get to it without being scratched to shreds by the thorns? She looked around and found an axe near the firewood pile, as well as some wet gardening gloves. She put on the gloves, that were too big, and chopped at the brambles, trying to make a way to reach the well. Pouring with sweat, Sophie finally hit bricks. Thankfully, there was a bucket on a rope with which she could reach the water – she just hoped that it wasn’t full of mud. She drew up the water, and it wasn’t too bad, besides a few leaves and a water boatman, which she threw onto the grass. Remembering a survival show that she had watched once, she thought it would be better to boil the water before drinking it, so that she didn’t get a tummy bug.


She looked in the kitchen cupboards and found a battered pot, which she filled with the well water. She lit the kitchen stove and boiled the water. Once it had boiled, she let it cool a little before having a drink. By this time, she was very thirsty so gulped it down gladly. With the remaining water, she filled her bottle. She needed the toilet, so braved the outhouse. It was full of cobwebs.
I should probably get going now, she thought, Gran will be expecting me. Maybe I should write a quick note though.


Sophie went back to the bedroom and wrote on the paper that she had found.


I used your house today to escape from a storm and drew some water from your well. Thank you. I know that you weren’t here to ask, but I do appreciate it. I hope that you are ok.
Sophie (age 12)

Sophie felt her clothes – they were nearly dry, so got dressed and carefully put out the fires in the living room and stove. She didn’t want to accidently burn down the house. She saw that the rain had stopped, and the sun had come out.
She switched on her phone to check for any messages and took a photo of the living room, mostly to prove to herself that it hadn’t been a dream. She had a quick look at the map of the route to Gran’s house. She still seemed to be heading in the right direction. She tried to pick up a GPS signal to check her location, but it didn’t work, and her battery was now at only 3%. She switched the phone off again.


“Goodbye house,” she smiled as she left, pulling the front door shut behind her. She looked for the grumpy squirrel but couldn’t see him.


Sophie set off down the path, hopeful that there would be no more problems, or talking animals, on the way.


It was well into the afternoon now, and she was hoping that she would get to her Gran’s house before sunset. Her feet ached. She sat in the shade of a twisted tree which had the initials AH + JB scratched into its trunk. She wondered who those people were. After a few minutes, she got up and kept walking. Sophie started to worry that she might be lost – she had taken a path off the main track a while ago, thinking that it was a shortcut. Now she wasn’t sure.


“Stay calm, Sophie. Everything is ok. You have no reason to be scared. It’s just a forest. With talking squirrels.”


After a while, she passed an old tree – it seemed familiar. Was that… initials scratched into its bark? She looked closer. AH + JB! Oh no! She had been walking in circles! Sophie sat down. It was time to text Mum. She switched on her phone, planning to send a quick text. The phone lit up, asked for her password or thumbprint, and just as she pressed her thumb to the screen, the phone switched off. She tried again- as soon as she switched the phone on, it switched itself off again.

“Argh!”


Sophie put her head on her knees and sobbed.


“Are you ok?”


“Not really,” Sophie sniffed, looking up. “Oh wow, you’re a crow. A crow is talking to me. Why am I even surprised?”



That’s all for today. Join me soon for the next chapter. Have you ever met a talking bird?
For more literacy resources for families, go to www.SwindonStories.org.uk

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Christmas memory baubles

It was 7 days until Christmas, and Leila was extremely excited. She loved Christmas. She loved the presents, she loved the crafts, but most of all she loved having all of her family together and eating too much.


Leila’s Mummy and Daddy had put up the Christmas tree, and Leila and Mummy were making some more decorations for it. They had already made some paper snowflakes and painted some wooden cutouts of the Nativity scene. Now they were working on baubles. These were no ordinary baubles though: they had little photos of their family members inside them. Mummy was cutting out the photographs and Leila was adding decorations like small sparkly stars and glitter, to make them look snowy. It was quite messy.


“Oops!” Leila cried as a pile of glitter landed on the floor. “Sorry Mummy.”


“Oh dear, not again.” Sighed Mummy, reaching for the dust pan and brush for the third time that morning.


“Glitter is quite messy, isn’t it?” Mummy asked.


“Definitely.” Agreed Leila.


Leila was filling up a bauble with a picture of her Gran and Grandad in it. They had big smiles. She put in extra glitter because she loved them very much.


“Mummy, I wish that Arlo could be with us this Christmas.” She said.


“Me too!” Agreed Mummy, reaching over to give Leila a hug.


“I really miss him.” 


“So do Daddy and I. We think about him every day.” Replied Mummy.


“How old would Arlo be now, of he was still alive?” Asked Leila.


“He would be 2 now. Just imagine, he would be getting his fingers in the glitter, and pulling the baubles off the tree!” Answered Mummy.


“Yeah, I think that he would be very cute, but also a mischief.”


“I think so too.” Agreed Mummy.

“Look, here is a photo of you holding Arlo when he was very little. Shall we make this into a special memory bauble?”


“Yes please. I think that it will be the best bauble ever.” Said Leila.


They had some tiny heart stickers, which Leila added to the outside of the bauble to show that it was an extra special one.


When it was finished, Leila held the bauble in her hand and smiled. 


“It’s beautiful.” Said Mummy.
“Sometimes I feel sad when I think that Arlo is missing out on Christmas.” Admitted Leila.


“Me too darling. But we will always remember him and always love him, won’t we? Do you remember that time that he weed all over Daddy when he changed his nappy?” 


“Oh yes, that was hilarious!” Laughed Leila.


Mummy and Leila hung all of the baubles onto the Christmas tree. They all looked good, but the one of Leila and her little brother was especially lovely. A ray of sunshine came in through the window and made it sparkle.
Mummy and Leila looked at each other and smiled. 


“It’s like he’s saying hello.”

Christmas can be a difficult time for bereaved people. If you have been affected by baby or child loss, here are some places that offer support.

https://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/family-life/bereavement-support

https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org

https://www.sands.org.uk

Autumn and Fluffy and the foggy day

Autumn woke up, yawned widely, showing off all of her sharp teeth, and peeked out of the window.  


“Oh no! The world has disappeared!” She cried.


The young fox ran downstairs to tell her Mummy.
“Mummy, the world has gone, look outside!”

She pointed to what used to be the back garden.
Mummy put down her cup of coffee and looked outside the kitchen window. Autumn was right. The back garden was gone. Instead, everything was all white.


“That’s ok Autumn, it’s only fog.” Smiled Mummy Fox.


“What’s fog and why did it eat our garden?” Asked Autumn, feeling concerned.


“It’s cloud. Thick cloud that is very low. Our back garden and the world is still there. It’s just that you can’t see it.” Explained Mummy.


“Ok. I am going to wake Fluffy, to show him the fog.” Replied Autumn.


Autumn ran up the two flights of stairs to the attic, where Fluffy and her family lived. Fluffy was a hedgehog. 


“Fluffly, wake up! There’s fog!” She shouted into the attic room.

Fluffy sat up in her tiny bed, looking confused.


“What’s fog? Where’s fog?” She asked, rubbing her eyes.


“The fog is outside of course!” Said Autumn.


Fluffy crept to the window and looked outside cautiously.


“Where has everything gone? Why is it so white?” She asked.


“I told you, it’s fog!” Laughed Autumn. “But don’t worry, it’s not eaten the whole world! It’s just a cloud.”


“Oh.” Replied Fluffy. “I thought that clouds lived in the sky.”


“They do live in the sky usually,” replied Mr Hedgehog, who had put his slippers on, and was now looking out of the window too.


“But fog is low cloud. It sits on the ground and makes it difficult to see anything.” He explained.


“Fog, like a stratus cloud, is a cloud which forms when cool, still air is trapped underneath a warm air. Fog normally occurs at a relative humidity near 100%…”         

 “Daddy, that sounds incredibly complicated.” Interrupted Fluffy politely.


“Oh, sorry kids. Sometimes I forget that you are still young and don’t have your science degrees yet.”


“That’s ok, Mr Hedgehog. We like to learn all of the facts that you teach us.” Smiled Autumn.


“I have a great idea!” Said Fluffy. “Let’s go and play hide and seek in the fog.”


“Ok  but only after we had breakfast.” Said Autumn. “I’m hungry.”


The friends went downstairs and enjoyed their breakfast.


Fluffy had slugs and snails on toast and Autumn had pickles and chicken on toast. Yum.


Then the friends went outside to play hide and seek. The fog was swirly and white. They couldn’t see much. Autumn held up her paw in front of her face.


“Oh, I can’t see my paw properly.” She said. “I know it’s there, but it looks… smudgy. Like I am a pencil drawing and the artist started to rub me out!”


Autumn giggled. Imagine her being a drawing? Wasn’t that a silly thought? She was a real fox, not just a picture! 


“You hide first, I’ll seek.” Said Fluffy.
“Ok, good luck finding me in this fog!” Laughed Autumn.


“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ready or not here I come!” Shouted Fluffy.


Where could his friend be? He couldn’t see a thing. Maybe she was behind the shed? No. Perhaps Autumn was in the gazebo? Fluffy looked all around it. No, she wasn’t there. Maybe behind the apple tree? Fluffy crept close to the tree and peeked behind it. 


“There you are!” He cried happily.


“It was so easy to hide,” smiled Autumn. “The fog is so thick that I bet you didn’t see me until you got really close, did you?”


“No, not until I was right next to the tree.” Agreed Fluffy.


“Now it’s my turn to seek.” Said Autumn.


The friends played hide and seek for the rest of the morning, until they got too cold and had to go inside to ask for hot chocolate.


Later, they looked out of the window, and the fog had gone. The sun was beautiful and shining.


“Where has the fog gone?” Fluffy asked his Dad.


“The sun warmed up the air and so the fog went. We only get fog if the temperature of the air cools to the dew point, or if the dew point rises to be the same as the temperature of the air, fog will form.” Said Mr Hedgehog. 

    “Ok, thanks for all of the facts Daddy. Replied Fluffy.


“I do hope that the fog doesn’t go on holiday for long.” Muttured Autumn sadly.


“Oh, I’m sure that it will come back soon.” Said Mr Hedgehog.


The end.

My daughter Bethany and I wrote and illustrated this story.

Reading, writing and drawing builds confidence in kids, as well as developing their literacy and imagination.

To listen to stories, and access a great selection of educational activities, have a look at the National literacy trust’s website: https://literacytrust.org.uk

The yellow balloon


Faith had a yellow balloon. It was her favourite balloon because it was yellow. Everywhere she went, she carried her yellow balloon.

She took it to the shops with Mummy. When she went to Granny and Grandpa, along came her yellow balloon. When she went for a walk with Penny the dog, she carried her yellow balloon. Faith could not remember when she got it, and it felt like she had always had her yellow balloon.

One day, Faith and Daddy took Penny for a walk to the park. Faith brought her yellow balloon of course.
It got windier and windier and even windier. Penny ran off after a squirrel, and Daddy chased her. Faith was swept up by a gust of wind, still holding tight to her yellow balloon.


The wind lifted her up, up, up. She floated over Daddy. She swooped over the houses in town.

She soared over the sea. Faith and her yellow balloon flew all the way to the moon! It was beautiful up in space, and the Earth looked tiny.

“Wow! This is the greatest adventure ever, isn’t it, yellow balloon?”

After a while she got scared and wanted to go back home.

The yellow balloon carried her back down to the park safely. When she landed, Daddy was still there with Penny, looking for her.


“Where were you, Faith?” Asked Daddy. “I was looking for you everywhere!”
Daddy was upset because he thought that Faith had got lost.


“I was ok Daddy. My yellow balloon flew me all the way to the moon.” 


Daddy looked at her and laughed.
“Ok darling, but please don’t run away again. I was very worried that you were lost or hurt.”


“Sorry Daddy.” Faith replied.


She took Daddy’s hand and they walked back home. Penny walked beside them, and the yellow balloon was in her other hand.
Suddenly another gust of wind swept the string out of Faith’s hand, and before she knew what was happening, the yellow balloon went flying off. She tried to chase after it, but she couldn’t fly. It flew over the road, over the houses and far away.


“No! Come back!” Faith shouted. 


But the yellow balloon did not come back.
Faith cried and cried. She had never been so sad in her life. 


“I want my yellow balloon back!” She cried, all the way home.


“I want my yellow balloon back now!” She sobbed in the back garden while Penny looked at her sadly.


“Why doesn’t my yellow balloon come back?” She asked Mummy at dinner time.


‘I’m so sorry, darling. The balloon has gone away now. We can’t ever get it back again.”


“That’s not fair!” Shouted Faith.


Faith went to bed very sad that night. She missed her yellow balloon. Things did not feel right without it. She was still the same Faith, but just a bit sadder. 
That night, she could not sleep. It was very late. She looked out of her bedroom window. The moon  was big and bright. Then, Faith saw her yellow balloon! It was on the moon. She could just make it out, a tiny yellow dot ever so far away. She had excellent eyesight.


“So that’s where you went.” She whispered into the night sky. 
“I miss you yellow balloon.” 


Faith climbed back into to bed. She knew that her yellow balloon would never come back now. But, she just knew that it was safe, up on the moon. 
She yawned and fell asleep. In her dream, her visited the moon and her yellow balloon, and that made her feel happy. 


The next morning, Faith woke up and looked around her room for her yellow balloon. Then she remembered that it was gone forever. She felt sad all over again.


“I feel sad Mummy, I miss yellow balloon.” She told her mum at breakfast.


“I know Faith   I’m sorry. I know what, why don’t I buy you another yellow balloon? Will that help?” Asked Mummy.


“No thanks, I want my yellow balloon, not another one.” Sighed Faith as she ate her toast.


Daddy drank his cup of tea and thought.Penny looked at Faith’s toast and wished that she could have some.


“Why don’t you draw a picture of you holding your yellow balloon?” He asked. “I know that you love drawing.”


Faith chewed her toast and had a drink of orange juice. 
“Ok Daddy, I will.”


After breakfast, Faith went and sat in the garden with her crayons and some paper. Penny came too, and lay down next to her feet.
She drew a picture of her and yellow balloon standing on the moon, because that is where they had their greatest adventure. Penny had a nap and dreamed of squirrels.
When she had finished her drawing, Faith showed Mummy and Daddy. 


“Oh, that’s beautiful darling, well done.” Smiled Daddy.


“What an artist!” Agreed Mummy. “Would you like to put it up in your room?”
“Yes please.” Replied Faith.


So Mummy put the drawing of Faith and her yellow balloon up in her room. Whenever she felt sad, Faith would look at it and remember her greatest adventure with her beautiful yellow balloon.

Dedicated to my niece Lara, who loves yellow balloons.

And my baby son Samuel, who is my little yellow balloon in Heaven. ❤

When Samuel died

We knew that Samuel would not live for long. We found out at my ‘normal’ 20 week scan, which happened to be 3 days after Christmas 2018.

We knew that he would never talk, never take his first steps, never start nursery or school.

The cardiologist told us that the average life expectancy for a baby with his congenital heart defect was 2 days. I hoped for a few more, so that he could meet as much family and friends as possible. Of course, any baby can die during labour, so there was that awareness too.

We and other Christians prayed for a miracle,  but myself and Mike both felt that he was never destined for a long life. We would have gladly taken it, of course. Why didn’t God heal our Samuel? Only He knows. I do know that Samuel’s life is just as valuable as someone who has lived to 100, or climbed Mount Everest or became a millionaire. Every single person is loved by God, and that is not dependent on their looks, education or achievements. I do know that thousands of innocent babies and children die around the world every day, from disease, war, poverty, illness, accident, unknown causes and parental choice. So he is definitely not the only child currently chilling in Heaven. I miscarried before Bethany was born, so he has an older brother or sister with him.

When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and then again at 17 weeks (after completely normal 9 and 12 week ultrasounds that didn’t show any problems); I did hear clearly a male voice in my head saying “There is something seriously wrong with your baby.” I hadn’t been thinking or worrying about my pregnancy at the time either. So I had some warning.

Thankfully we were in a lovely hospice for most of Samuel’s life, called Charlton Farm.

https://www.chsw.org.uk

We had as peaceful and enjoyable a time with him as we could. And it wasn’t just that Samuel’s every need was met. We were looked after as a family too. They were a real blessing, and we will be forever grateful to them.

I remember the last full day of his life, Saturday 11 May 2019. It was the weekend, so Connor and Bethany were with us again, after a few days at school (staying with Mike’s parents.) Being a Saturday, more family were able to visit, which was great. My sister in law, Mary, came to visit us in the morning. My sister, Laura, who had visited from Scotland ‘for just a few days’, more than 2 weeks before, was living at Charlton Farm with us, mostly to look after me as I had had a c-section and was fairly immobile. She was an absolute angel to us all, and I can’t thank her enough for being there for us. My brother Vince, and his fiance Anna visited us that afternoon. So Samuel was blessed to have all of his aunties around him on his last well day.

We went for a walk up to see the horses on the farm at the top of the steep hill with Mary and Thalia (Samuel’s nurse for the day), that morning. It was a warm sunny day. The kids played on the very posh private school nearby’s outdoor play equipment. We noticed that Samuel was struggling to poo, which is a sigh that we had been warned about. It was because his heart was failing, and the digestive system is the first thing that struggles to work due to reduced oxygen. He could still breathe fine on his own and wasn’t in any pain.

That afternoon, Vince and Anna arrived. We had a lovely time sitting in the garden while Samuel slept in his pushchair or was held by everyone in turn, and Bethany played in the nearby sandpit. Everything felt so relaxed and happy. I thought at the time that this was going to be a happy memory to cherish. You don’t always know what you will remember, but I just knew this time. Samuel was ok, if sleepy and not hungry. The exact opposite of his brother at that age!

We knew that his time was probably coming to an end, but didn’t know how long it would take. And there is always hope that you will be given a few more hours and days.

That evening as Mike and I watched a film, strangely I can’t remember what it was, we could see that Samuel was starting to physically deteriorate. He was still comfortable and didn’t need any interventions, but one of the hospice’s regular doctors made the effort to came to check on him anyway at about 11pm, long after she had gone home for the day. A trick of his was to creak at you almost like he was trying to communicate. He was also a surprisingly alert baby who stared at people as though working you out. He got more creaky and more pale. We felt calm, but there was sadness as we knew that we would have to face his death soon.

We told the two nurses on night duty to wake us up if there was any concern about his health. I was downstairs in his room, as the trip to the bedrooms upstairs was too tiring and I wanted to be near to Samuel at night. My sister was in the next bedroom. At about 2am, nurse Sophie woke me up to say that they had tried a little medicine, but he was quite poorly. I had a cuddle, and after a while he picked up a bit. About an hour later, they asked if they should wake Mike and the kids, as Samuel was struggling. I agreed, and soon Mike, Connor, Bethany and Laura came into the room. He was very pale and we told the kids that he was going to die soon. The nurses had given him some medication to make him more comfortable. We had some cuddles, and all said goodbye to him. He was in my arms as I sat in bed when he died. It was all so calm and quiet. I think that he had the best death that anyone could hope for.

At about 4am, we had said our goodbyes and the nurses made us all a hot chocolate while we sat in the nurses’ station where Samuel had spent many nights in a nurse’s or my arms. There are sofas and a big window. We watched the sun come up.

Samuel had a happy life and a peaceful death. He was hardly ever in a cot or pushchair as everyone fought over cuddling him. He made such a big impact on our and many other people’s lives in his 11 days on Earth.

We are sad, and sometimes angry; and it is incredibly unfair. We will never stop grieving our son. But what happy memories we have with him. He has helped me to think about life differently: about what is really important.

The beach ball

The rainbow striped beach ball,

Suddenly free from the

Dusty garage, is kicked

Playfully by the breeze.
Round the garden he rolls.
Tumbling over the lawn,
Kissing the daffodils,
Bumping over decking.
Smiling at the sun.
But he misses the child.
He remembers how they
Played, last year at the beach.
The child and he.
“Where is the child?” He asks.
“Inside, watching TV.”
Replies his friend the breeze.
“Ok  I will wait for her here.”
“You don’t need her.” Says breeze.
“But I like her.” He smiles.
The breeze sends him soaring
Into a tree. He falls
Out, bouncing merrily.
“I am ready for the child.
Whenever she needs me.”
Ball and breeze for poem drawing