Guest Page

An occasional page where guest writers join us for a story or two. The following is from Alan Bowie from Dunfermline, and is his Picture Prompt entry for January 2018


‘Not my fault’

Toby stood at the edge of the drive looking at what really was now a stately pile.  A pile of stones, a pile of charred wood, a pile of pigeon poo; essentially a pile of junk!

What had once been his ancestral home was now a charred mess.  And it was all his fault.  He would deny it, of course, in the same way that he denied everything in life.

Toby made a lot of mistakes but he always, always made it out to be someone else’s fault.

He stopped at the windows at the bend in the track.  It was no longer a drive.  Where once it had been immaculate tarmac, with neatly trimmed edges and colourful borders, it now had no discernible edge and grass growing along it.  The tarmac had been eaten by the garden.

Toby wanted to get close to the windowless window to look in but it was pretty disgusting.  Who knew what was down there, lurking in the undergrowth.  Poo was there for certain and there was no way Toby was placing his nice new shoes on that!

He wandered round the building, losing count of the ‘dangerous’ signs.  How apt they were now!

There were beams and flooring joists sticking up and hanging down like stalactites and stalagmites.  Floor boards were burnt.  Some looked secure, it was just you had to cross a wasteland of burned, charred, rotting wood and other debris to get to them.

Toby looked at what walls he could see.  Nothing remained of the family portraits and artworks that had once adorned them,

‘Wasn’t my fault’,

He said, trying to reassure himself.

He carried on round the building, pulling up short when he came to the boot room door.  He smiled.  That was the door they used the most often.  How many times, as a child, had Cook made him strip off there before coming into the house?  How many times had he run naked from there to the shower, his clothes being scooped up and thrown into the washing machine?

It was also here that he, with Hamish the gamekeeper, presented his first rod caught salmon to his father and Cook.  He also showed off his first stag at this door.  So what he fainted when Hamish started to butcher it but no one need know about that, least of all his father.  Not his fault he had a weak stomach!

Toby cringed at one memory.  He had explained the naked runs from the door to Sophie, the only girl he brought home.  He was shocked at her suggestion of repeating the run and was shocked that she was naked and in the bedroom before him.  After that he realised that he didn’t like girls.  When he first suggested a race to Daniel, Daniel refused.  He was worried enough about the weekend as it was.  And he was right to be, that was when things started to go wrong.

His father didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t accept that his only son and heir was gay.  Didn’t listen when Toby tried to explain about same sex marriage.  Wouldn’t listen when Toby told him about adopting a baby so there would be an heir.  Father shouted continually when Toby talked about a surrogate for the child.

Toby lost it.  He kept shouting,

‘It’s not my fault.  It’s not my fault’.

Daniel tried to calm things down but both father and son yelled at him to keep out of it.  Daniel took it literally and left, slamming the door behind him.

Father and son continued to yell at each other.  Who knows what was actually said except Toby was repeatedly told to ‘Get out’, ‘You’re not my son’ and to ‘Go away’, in amongst a torrent of abuse.

Toby turned to leave.  His father yelled at him,

‘Go on, get lost.  Run, run away.  Just like you have always done.  Get out of my house, get out of my life …’

Toby had reached the boot room door.  He saw red and he saw an old training shoe sitting at the door.  He picked it up and threw it at his old man.

Toby, never good at cricket or any sport for that matter, missed his father by a country mile.  Toby and his father stood, mouths agape as the training shoe slowly rotated across the room, laces flying loose, until it hit an occasional table sitting near the window.

The table shuddered, and then came to a standstill.  Both men breathed a sigh of relief until slowly, ever so slowly the leaf of the table started to move, started to fall, the candle sitting on it started to move, almost in slow motion, onto the rug.

The rug wasn’t slow though.  It ‘whooshed’ like a fire in a cartoon and the little candle flame grew thousands of times higher, brighter and warmer.

This new flame met the drawn curtains and together they made a bigger flame.

Toby and his father stood stock still as they watched the flames grow and move quicker across the room.

‘Dad, dad, get out’, Toby yelled.

His father pointed at the ceiling,

‘What about the sprinkler system you had fitted, for the insurance?’

Toby’s eyes widened, his mouth fell open further and he started to cough with the smoke as he reached for the door behind him,

‘It’s not finished.  The company never came back, I asked them, not my fault’.

His father started towards the door, the flames getting higher, the smoke thickening, the flames fuelled by the now open door.  Both men were choking now.

‘You bastard…’

Toby’s father collapsed onto the floor, clutching at his chest.

Toby looked at his father then at the open door.  Toby started towards his father then turned and ran out the door.

Ten years have passed since then.  If you met Toby in a bar or coffee shop he would tell you he had been travelling.

To be fair, he had read the BBC Travel magazine every month whilst residing courtesy of Her Majesties Pleasure and at a selection of penal establishments across the country.

It wasn’t his fault that the judge at his trial was a friend of his fathers.

Was that justice, is that what happened though?


Did Toby’s father get out the house?

Did, with no mobile phone signal at the house, did Toby start running towards the village to get help?

Did Toby run into a low branch on the dark drive and knock himself out?

Did Daniel return, see the flames, rescue Toby’s father then call for the help?

Did one of the staff hear the commotion or see the flames and call for help?

Did Toby really get sent to prison or, disowned by the family, did he go travelling?

You, dear reader, can decide…