Richard Cudlow

Author, Radio Presenter, Champion of "Our Kind Of Music"

Richard Cudlow

Short Story Page

On this page, regularly, there will be a new short story for your enjoyment. When you've finished there will be a button that will take you to my website. I hope you will be able to browse through it and that you find something of interest.

If anyone would like to submit a short story for consideration for inclusion on this page, please feel free to email me r.cudlow@mail.com.

You will, of course, be afforded full credit and recognition for your entry.


The Longest Night Of The Year

Richard Cudlow

Corporal Ted Stenning was not a happy man. Here he was in the guardroom of RAF Habington at 3 o'clock in the morning on the last Sunday in October.

"Bloomin' rich innit" he muttered aloud, "lumbered with Orderly Corporal on the one night the blinkin' clocks go back".

He was convinced that the extra hour he would have to do before being relieved was deliberate on the part of the RAF authorities.

He adjusted the clock on the wall so that it now read 2am and slouched over to the table in the corner. "Refreshments, airmen for the bloomin' use of", he muttered as he surveyed the various items of tea making equipment.

He picked up the stained kettle and filled it from the tap over the sink. Returning to the table he plugged the kettle in and waited for the noise from the heating water that told him it was working.

"Now where's me bloomin' mug?"

Glancing round he noticed the offending receptacle on the desk where he'd left it. He strode across the room and reached it just as the phone rang.

"Blinkin' marvellous" he moaned, "I can't even get a cup of bloomin' tea".

He sat down heavily and let the phone ring while he prepared his telephone voice. Lifting the receiver, and in what he believed was a refined tone, said
"Guardroom, RAF 'abington, Horderly Corporal speakin' ".

After a pause a timid voice said "is that the Guardroom?".

Corporal Stenning rolled his eyes to the ceiling and thought 'isn't that what I blinkin' said'.
"It is", he replied, "hoose that speakin'?"

"This is 687455 Leading Aircraftwoman Wilson speaking".

Well get on with it he thought but instead said "L.A.C. Wilson, what can I do for you?"

"Oh, Corporal", she said, "all the lights have gone out in the WAAF block and I'm stood here talking to you in the pitch dark".


During these events the camp was being patrolled by Senior Aircraftman Graham Nicholls. He was the duty fire picket and a man who took life seriously. His job was to patrol the camp looking for fires and he would consider it a personal failing if he didn't find one.

As he turned the corner of the Airmen's Mess SAC Nicholls stopped short. He could see the Guardroom, with its lights blazing, and, he was certain, white smoke pouring from the window. He immediately broke into a run and aimed for the fire bucket hanging just outside the door. Without breaking his stride, he grabbed the bucket and threw himself through the entrance.

Corporal Stenning was explaining to LAC Wilson that the duty electrician would be summoned when the door flew open with a mighty crash. Instinctively, he threw himself back in the chair, his eyes fixed firmly on the column of water hurtling through the air towards him. His right knee banged the edge of the desk just as he took the full force of the icy cold torrent. Letting out a ferocious roar Corporal Stenning crashed to the floor followed by various sodden items from the desk. The final indignity was the telephone, tinkling its bell, as it struck him on the head, momentarily removing all sense of reality.

SAC Nicholls stopped in his tracks as the scene unfolded before him. He looked around the room for the flames and spotted the violently steaming kettle. As if in a trance he followed, with his eyes, the path of the steam from the kettle spout to the ceiling and across to the window where it vented to the outside.

His attention was quickly drawn back to the tangled mess on the floor as Corporal Stenning groaned and began to move. Cold and wet, with an aching knee and pounding head, he raised himself painfully to his feet and glared at Nicholls.

"You stupid little airman" he roared, "I'm gonna have your guts for garters. I'm gonna make you wish you'd ....".

SAC Nicholls slowly backed out of the door then broke into a run as the irate Corporal crash to the ground once more with the telephone wire coiled round his ankles. He didn't stop running until the Guardroom was no longer in sight and when he did stop, to catch his breath, he found himself outside the WAAF block.


Leaning on the pillar by the block entrance SAC Nicholls bent forward, with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. As the pounding in his chest began to subside he heard a noise in the doorway and deftly stepped behind the pillar to avoid being seen. To his surprise he saw Flying Officer Butterworth, the Orderly Officer, come through the door with his left arm around the immense shoulders of Corporal WAAF Phyllis Bell. SAC Nicholls remembered her being pointed out to him during his first night in the NAAFI at RAF Habington.

He had joined a group of airmen who were listening to the exploits of the oldest airman on the station. He was proud of the length of service he'd accumulated and looked upon himself as a father figure to the younger ones. He nudged Nicholls as Corporal Bell walked passed.

"That, my boy, is Corporal Phyllis Bell. Strictly off limits as far as you are concerned. She will only entertain being chatted up by the officer classes".

Nicholls watched her as she passed and for the first time in his service life decided that there was, after all, a disadvantage to being an officer.

She wasn't just amply proportioned, she was a giantess. Much discussion went on about the engineering miracle that must have been achieved in the manufacture of her bra. Nicholls had heard it mentioned that the same engineering principles were used to develop a parachute that would safely deposit two men, in full kit, on the ground at the same time.

Unfortunately it had to be abandoned, such was the wind resistance it came down too slowly.

"Darling Phyllie", said the officer slipping his right hand inside her tunic blouse.

Nicholls couldn't believe his eyes as he watched the officer's arm disappear past the elbow. There was a hell of a risk, decided Nicholls, in trying to get too close to Phyllis Bell's chest. If she coughed you could be seriously damaged.

"I've just got to go to the Guardroom to check with the Orderly Corporal", he said. "Give me an hour and then come to my window in the Officer's Mess. You can get into my room without being seen and we'll spend a wonderful night together. Don't forget to turn the power back on here, will you my sweet?".

"All right, Rodney", said the WAAF, "I can't wait 'till then, kiss me first".

Nicholls bit his knuckles to stifle his laughter as he watched the Officer extract his arm from the tunic and stand on tip-toe to reach with his lips across the gargantuan bosom. 'If she wants to get into his window', Nicholls thought to himself, 'he'll need double patio doors'.

Nicholls decided to follow the Officer. He realised that Corporal Stenning could be in trouble over the state of the Guardroom . He could help if the Corporal would give him time to speak before carrying out his earlier threats.

As he peered through the Guardroom window Nicholls could see the officer standing with his hands on his hips yelling at the Corporal. Nicholls could just imagine what retribution the Corporal was planning for the airman who had rushed in with the fire bucket.

The Officer moved to the door and SAC Nicholls could hear him clearly.

"When you are relieved at oh-nine-hundred hours report to my office. I'm going to put you on a charge".

He slowly shook his head as his worse fears were confirmed, the corporal was in deep trouble.

Nicholls gazed through the window at the wet, dejected Corporal, years of undetected crime was about to end. 'Never mind', thought Nicholls, 'all is not lost'. He had conceived a plan to save them both - as long as the Corporal would listen.

Bravely, Nicholls stood in the doorway looking at the slumped back of Corporal Stenning. He was holding a mop and trying to clear up the mess on the floor. With trepidation the airman cleared his throat. The Corporal spun round and at the same time launched the wet mop like a spear. It thudded into the wall beside Nicholl's head and fell to the floor leaving a dirty stain on the paintwork.

"Corporal", said Nicholls, ducking into the room and darting over to the table, "we can both get out of this if you'll just listen. Butterworth won't dare charge you if you'll please listen".

The Corporal stopped advancing on the pleading Airman and lowered his hands.

"Whadda ya mean", he growled.

Nicholls explained what he had overheard at the entrance to the WAAF block.

"So if we go to his room on some pretext and catch him red handed, he won't want it known that he had a WAAF in his room. He'd get cashiered for that".

Corporal Stenning smiled as the scene was played out in his imagination. Nothing pleased him more than to get one over on an officer.

"So I don't need to send the electrician then", he said. "The swines turned the lights out themselves so 'e wouldn't be seen".

The recent hatred he felt for Nicholls evaporated as he realised he was in the clear.

"'elp me tidy up", said Stenning cheerfully, "then we'll go and get 'im".


A little over an hour later Corporal Stenning and SAC Nicholls were crouching under the wide open window of the Orderly Officer's room. The window had jammed open when Phyllis Bell had eased herself inside.

"Oh my darling Phyllie, your bosoms are so large".

"Yes, and you are so small and dainty".

"Oh, er.... um... try just using your thumb and forefinger, my sweet".

"Ahh, that's better".

At that point Corporal Stenning and SAC Nicholls stood up and shone their torches through the open window. The sight that greeted them earned them both free drinks in the NAAFI for months to come.

Corporal Phyllis Bell was sitting on the bed naked from the waist up and somewhat reminiscent of a barrage balloon ready for take off. She screamed and her voluminous bosoms quivered wrenching the arm trapped between them and causing Flying Officer Butterworth to cry out in pain.

The Officer was lying on the bed, naked apart from his shoes and socks. He was extremely thin and pale and the Corporal made a mental note to change his nickname to Olive Oyl. But the sight that earned the drinks, during the re-telling of the tale, was that of Phyllis Bell's thumb and forefinger holding a certain part of his anatomy in the manner of a cocktail sausage at a Buckingham Palace garden party.

She jerked her hand away without remembering to let go. Rodney Butterworth was lifted off the bed by the appendage and let out a blood curdling scream. This caused Phyllis to release the member and the officer crashed to the floor.

"Sorry to disturb you, sir", said Corporal Stenning, "we noticed your window open and was worried that you might have had burglars". They kept their torches shining on the couple who were by now struggling to put on their clothes.

"Turn those lights off Corporal", said the officer, "there's a lady present".

"Ooh, you are a gentleman, Rodney" said Phyllis adoringly.

"I think we'd better keep them on sir, you're trying to put your head and shoulders through the lady's brassiere".

At this point Corporal Bell gathered up what she could, ran out of the room, down the corridor and through the Mess exit. The two airman watched her run over the grass towards the WAAF block and Corporal Stenning couldn't help but wish that she was able to play for the Station rugby team.

'She's unstoppable' he said to himself.

The airmen looked back into the room.

"About our appointment at 09:00 hours, sir, the Guardroom is now back to normal. I don't think we need bother the Station Commander, do you sir"?

The officer paused and glanced up at the two airmen.

"I s…suppose not Corporal", he replied, dejectedly.


Half an hour later, safely back in the guardroom, the two airmen were each trying to drink a mug of tea with tears of laughter streaming down their faces as they relived the events of the night.

"Did you see the way she picked him up"? said Nicholls, trying without success to stifle his giggles. Corporal Stenning had, at that point, just taken a swig of tea which he promptly ejected like an aerosol at the telephone in front of him. As if in protest the instrument began to ring and with great difficulty he attempted to answer it.

"Is that you, Corporal Stenning", said a timid voice he'd heard before.

"LAC Wilson", he replied almost choking, "what is it now"?

"I'm just reporting all the lights are back on now".

"Thank you", he replied. "Should they go out again, knock on Corporal Bell's door. She is now qualified to fix them".

LAC Wilson looked at the instrument she was holding in puzzlement as she heard the shrieks of laughter just before the phone went dead.


Can I have Anything, Mummy?

Richard Cudlow

The decorations and toys piled high on the shelves were complimented perfectly by the strains of ‘Winter Wonderland’ played over the music system. Mary looked around and childhood memories came flooding back. Then she looked at her own little girl, standing in awe as she took it all in.

“In the lane, snow is glistening...”

“Mummy, it’s lovely,” she said, “so many things.”

Mary smiled at her. It had been hard but she'd managed to save since the summer and with a hundred pounds in her purse she brought Emily to see what she would like Santa to bring her.

“He’ll say are you married, we’ll say no man...”

Her smile vanished as she thought of her husband, David. Last year they’d both lost their jobs in the November and Christmas had been a very bleak affair. When he’d landed a better job in February, with more money, they’d promised each other that next Christmas would be one for Emily to remember.

“But you can do the job when you’re in town...”

They couldn’t have known how their lives would change. The cough hadn’t seemed much but it wouldn’t go away. Now he was lying in a hospice bed with neither of them knowing what the future held.

“Promise me Mary. Promise that Emily will have a good Christmas. Get her whatever she wants.

Mary’s eyes filled with tears and the lump in her throat threatened to choke her. She musn’t let Emily see. With all her strength she willed herself to smile and she almost got away with it, but you know what kids are like. Emily spotted her misery and was brought instantly back to reality.

“What’s this Mummy?”

Emily was stood beside a tall, cardboard post box. Bright red and decorated with tinsel.

“That’s a post box, sweetheart. It’s for the children to post their letters to Santa so that he will know what to bring them. When you’ve chosen what you’d like, we’ll come back another day and you can post your own letter.”

“Can I have anything, Mummy?”

“Yes, dear. You choose what you’d like and we’ll ask Santa for it.”

Emily looked about her. Other children were noisily trying to cajole their parents into all sorts of toys and games. Emily just stared.

‘Mummy said I could ask for anything,’ she thought.

“Emily, have you seen anything that you’d particularly like Santa to bring?”

Emily was stood beside ‘Maisie’, a large doll that promised to talk, laugh and be your best friend. She looked coyly at her mother and Mary thought, ‘right, that’s it. Maisie it is.’

Back home, Emily helped her mother with the shopping and then went to her room. She got out her school bag and found the exercise book she was looking for. She sat at her little table and began to write.

‘Dear Santa,...’

Mary busied herself preparing Emily’s tea. Joan, her next door neighbour would be in later to sit with her while she visited David.


“You should have seen her, David. She’ll love that doll. It cries, laughs, feeds and talks. So that’s her main present. It’s sixty five pounds but worth every penny just to see her face.”

David’s smile faded as he thought of his little girl.

“Make sure she has it with her when you bring her on Christmas day.”

Mary looked at her husband, not knowing what to say. He seemed to read her thoughts.

“Now, stop that. I’m going to be here at Christmas, don’t you worry about that. I’ll see my little girl, and you and Maisie.”

He tried to laugh but instead he coughed, the pain written on his face as he tried to suppress it. Mary held his hand and watched helplessly as her husband tried to regain his breath. Eventually, he quietened down and she relaxed.

As he saw her leave to go home to Emily, David raised himself on one elbow.

“I’m going to see my family at Christmas, do you hear?”

His words echoed around the room but there was no-one to take any notice.


The following morning as Emily got ready for school, she seemed in brighter spirits. She ate her breakfast without the usual coaxing from Mary and was soon standing by the front door ready to go. Mary assumed it was because it was the last day of term and the Christmas holidays had arrived at last.

“Mummy, after school, can we go back to the shop so that I can post my letter to Santa?”

“We can’t today, sweetheart, but we will do it in plenty of time for Christmas. Have you decided what you’re going to ask for?”

Mary knew from the look on Emily’s face that she’d fallen in love with Maisie but, she hadn’t actually said anything yet.

“I know what I want but I can’t tell you.”

That could be a problem, thought Mary.

“Why not. Mummy and Daddy has to pay for it so that Santa can collect it and bring it to you.”

“No. I was talking to one of Santa’s elves and he told me that I mustn’t say anything, or my wish won’t come true.”

Her daughter seemed determined and Mary had to smile. It was a good job she’d seen the way she’d looked at Maisie.


It was the day before Christmas Eve and David was sitting propped up by pillows as his wife walked in. They kissed and she pulled a chair up to the side of the bed.

“You’re looking better, how do you feel?”

“Not too bad. I couldn’t sleep last night. Did you notice how clear it was. I seemed to spend hours just looking up at the sky, at the stars.”

He paused and they both sat in silence for a while. When he spoke, his voice was softer.

“This can’t be all there is, Mary. You look at the universe, and the world around you. No. This isn’t all there is.”

Mary listened but couldn’t respond. What faith she’d had went away the day he was diagnosed. There was so much for him to live for, it just wasn’t fair. She felt the familiar feelings of despair and with all her willpower she pushed them back again.

“Never mind about that. I have to tell you about Emily. She’s been nagging at me for days to take her back to the shop to post her letter to Santa. The funny thing is she won’t tell me what she wants. It’s a good job I saw what she wanted.”

David smiled. He remembered that Emily could certainly nag. She wouldn’t stop until she got her way.

David pictured her with her tongue protruding in concentration as she wrote.

“Then, when we get to the shop there’s been a fire alarm or something and no-one’s allowed in, the whole place had been evacuated.”

“She must have been heartbroken.”

“Well, that’s the funny thing. She wasn’t. "Never mind," she said. "we’ll post it at home.”

David frowned.

“At home?”

“Well, it’s on the mantlepiece at the moment. When she’s in bed I’ll take it down and say that Santa must have it.”


The following day, Christmas eve, Mary spent on final preparations with Emily. She was quite happy that her letter had gone, although Mary was at a loss. When she’d gone to get it there was no sign of it. She’d looked around the fireplace but could find no trace of it.

“Mummy,” she’d explained, “Santa’s got lots of elves to help him. One of them must have taken it to him so that he would get it in time.”

Mary was just thankful that Emily was happy. Where it had actually gone was one of those mysteries that life threw up once in a while.

Mary felt guilty that she wouldn’t be visiting David that day. Her neighbour couldn’t sit with Emily and they had both decided that she shouldn’t bring Emily to the hospice in case it upset her. The only exception was going to be Christmas Day. Then they would both visit and she could spend Christmas with both parents


As the tea trolley was brought round, David sat up higher in the bed. He seemed to be stronger. He was also hungry. He hadn’t felt like this for some time. The meal was soon eaten and when he asked for more the nurse sent for the doctor.

“How are you feeling, David?”

The doctor placed his hand on David’s forehead.

“I feel great. I’ve not coughed since this morning and I feel strong. I feel well enough to go home. What do you think? Can I?”

The doctor looked with concern. David’s last x-ray had shown that the tumour had grown another centimetre. If anything, he should be feeling weaker.

“Nurse, take David to x-ray. I’ll take another look at him.”

An hour later, accompanied by an oncologist from the hospital, the doctor appeared at David’s bedside, carrying the x-rays.

“I don’t know how to explain this, David, and I don’t want you to get your hopes up but the tumour in your left lung has disappeared and the one in your right lung is tiny compared to what it was only two days ago.”

David smiled. He knew how he felt.

“That’s ok doc, I told you I’d beat this didn’t I?”

The oncologist intervened.

“David, remission like this is not unknown but it is unexplainable. It’s also not necessarily permanent. We just don’t know what’s going on.”

David's smile got broader.

“Look at the stars, doc. Just look at the stars and talk to the one who made them. I did. Can I go home tomorrow, for Christmas?”

“Well...”

“Oh, come on doc, you can see how well I feel and how strong I am.”

“Let’s just see how you are in the morning. If it’s ok will your wife come and collect you?”

“I don’t want her to. I’ll get a taxi...I will be able to get one on Christmas morning, won’t I?”

“Don’t worry about that,” said the nurse, “I finish at seven thirty, if you like I could drop you off.”

“Perfect. I’ll be home for breakfast.”


Christmas morning at seven o’clock Mary opened one eye to see Emily stood by her bed. Her face said it all. Something was terribly wrong. Emily would have woken up to see Maisie by her bed. Mary sat up.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart. Did Santa call? Did he bring you what you wanted?”

The child said nothing and walked out of the room. Mary got up and pulled on her dressing gown. She looked in Emily’s room and there was Maisie just as she’d left her when Emily was asleep. Surely she hadn’t misread the signs. She was certain that it was Maisie she’d set her heart on.

Mary saw Emily looking out of the lounge window. What could be wrong? As she looked she saw that it had started to snow. A white Christmas! Mary’s eyes filled with tears. Everything looked perfect but her little girl wasn’t happy. What else could she do? She’d tried so hard doing it all alone.

She walked into the kitchen as if in a daze and put the kettle on. As she prepared to make the tea she started to sob. She felt so angry. Angry at the doctors who had no cure. Angry at her neighbour for not letting her see him last night but mostly, angry at David for getting ill.

Just then she heard Emily scream.

“Daddeeee!”

She rushed into the room to see her waving frantically out of the window. As she looked she saw her husband, grinning all over his face and waving back. She hurried to the front door but was beaten by Emily. As soon as the door was opened she flew into her Daddy’s arms and was lifted high before being hugged to his chest. He held out his arm and Mary moved in to be hugged as well.

Mary hardly dare to speak.

“Wh...what’s going on?”

He gave her a small envelope, wet from the snow.

“This was outside on the path. Look at me. I feel so much better and the x-rays say I’m in remission.”

“Daddy, I knew you’d come, it’s going to be the best Christmas ever.”

David walked in still holding his child and Mary followed behind. As she shut the door she looked at the envelope. She recognised it as Emily’s note to Santa. She opened it and drew in her breath as she read Emily's smudged words.

Dear Santa,

I would have liked to have Maisie for Christmas but I would like you to give her to another little girl who has her Daddy home. I only want my Daddy to get better for me and Mummy. Will you do that, Santa? I promise to believe in you for ever if you will. It will stop Mummy crying. Please Santa. Make Daddy better.

Love

Emily xxx

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