THE SHED by Val Portelli
The author’s pen name Voinks began many years ago. It started as a joke then gradually spread through the family, so it was an obvious choice when her first book was published. Despite receiving her first rejection letter aged nine from some lovely people at a well-known Women’s magazine, she continued writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy.
The completion and publication of her first full length novel helped to save her sanity during those difficult times, and saw the start of her new career. Now firmly hooked, a second traditionally published book gave her the confidence to self-publish her third. In between writing her longest novel to date at over 100,000 words, she publishes weekly stories for her Facebook author page and web site.
Although her novels tend towards modern fiction with a hint of Romance, her short stories cover various genres including her trademark twist of ‘Quirky.’ From having unfulfilled days, she is now actively seeking out a planet with longer hours, to have time to write all the stories waiting to be told.
She always appreciates reviews as they help spread the word, and sales bring in cash to pay for food for the Unicorns she breeds in her spare time.
THE SHED by Val Portelli
‘It’s about time we cleared that old shed out. It’s been a dumping ground for too long, and goodness knows what’s in there. Next weekend, no excuses, I need you to help me with it.’
‘Couldn’t we leave it until the Spring? The forecast doesn’t look too good, and I’d half arranged to meet the boys for a drink.’
‘You’ve been saying that for months. Anyway, I want to make room to put some stuff in there. With everyone coming for Christmas the spare room needs sorting.’
‘Yeah, OK. What’s for dinner?’
Typical. He was a good man really, but when it came to helping out around the house it was always left to me. It was his family that wanted to stay over, but he didn’t back me up when I mentioned about the B ‘n B just up the road.
‘No reason for them to pay out good money when we’ve got room. Mark can sleep on the couch, Mum and Dad can have our bed, and we can go in the spare room. It’s only for a couple of nights.’
‘There’s only a single bed in there. We can’t both fit in it.’
‘Stop worrying, woman. I’ll find the put-you-up. It’ll be fine.’
‘OK, but I still want the shed cleared out.’
Saturday turned out to be one of those glorious winter days, chilly but with bright sunshine to warm your heart. At first the task looked daunting, but once we started, it became a challenge to finish it, despite every muscle aching. I’d prepared black bags and boxes, and as the pile accumulated began sorting the wheat from the chaff. Rusty tools, lengths of wiring, old cardboard boxes, broken chairs and other “it might come in useful one day” items were added to the junk pile.
How had we accumulated so many tins of paint? Most had hardened, but one or two were still unopened so might be salvageable. Plastic packing boxes, old but good toys, and practically new sports and exercise equipment were added to the charity box. Even Mike seemed to have caught my enthusiasm and I left him repairing a gap in the roof while I attacked the spare bedroom. Boxes of ornaments, books and spare crockery needed careful packing before being added to the donations pile.
‘Come and look,’ Mike called as I carried the last box down the stairs. The garden appeared magical as I made my way along the brightly lit path to the shed. ‘I found an electrical socket behind all the junk, and surprisingly the exterior lights still work. What do you think?’
With all the rubbish cleared out, the shed looked enormous but cosy. Apart from the camping gear and lawn mower neatly stacked in one corner, it could have been a holiday cottage.
‘That’s fantastic, Mike. Perhaps we could let the in-laws sleep in here and keep our own bed next week.’
‘I know you’re joking but it’s possible. I’ve tested those electric radiators and they all work. Perhaps I should leave them on for a bit to air the place out. What’s for dinner? I’m starving.’
‘I’m too tired and grubby to cook. How about you order a take-away while I have a nice, long bath?’
‘Great. When you’ve finished I’ll have a quick shower, then meet the guys at the pub for an hour or so. I think I deserve it.’
‘Only on condition you go to the dump tomorrow.’
‘Deal. As long as you do the charity shop run if I help you load up the car.’
The following week was a round of cooking, cleaning and shopping ready for the big day, but I took the time to visit “the chalet” as I now called it, to enjoy the fruits of our hard work. I even moved a couple of easy chairs up there, thinking it would make a perfect reading room come the summer. After a few days something felt odd, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on exactly what it was. The shed was warm, even though the heaters hadn’t been switched on again, and the cushions on the chairs didn’t seem to be where I had left them. Perhaps a cat or fox had moved in, but they wouldn’t have been able to turn on the heaters.
Snow at Christmas is less usual than we believe, but that year proved the exception. The weather took a sudden change for the worse, and the night before Christmas eve saw the first snowfall, accompanied by bitterly cold winds.
‘I hope they don’t have a bad journey tomorrow,’ Mike said as he peered out the window. ‘The weather forecast doesn’t look good.’
‘They’re due in at one, so we should back around two. I’ll give them a ring in the morning to make sure they got off OK.’
By eleven, the coach which was scheduled to leave at nine still hadn’t departed. So much for all my planning. Would they still want lunch, or should we go straight into the buffet supper I had intended? After all the rushing around I found myself twiddling my thumbs, unable to concentrate. Finally we received the message the coach was on its way, despite the blizzards that had hit the area where they lived.
‘I think I’ll set off early to collect them,’ Mike said. ‘It’s not so bad here, but I don’t want to be late after they’ve had a long journey.’
‘Fine. Give me a ring when they get in so I know when to dish up.’
He rang me at five to say they were half an hour away, so it was logical to serve dinner as soon as they arrived. With an hour to kill I wandered up the garden to put the peelings in the compost bin. The snow was thick underfoot but it took me a minute to realise I could see more clearly than just the reflection should allow. Had the light been on in the shed? No, it was in darkness. The cold wind soon had me hurrying back to the warmth of the house.
The next few hours were a round of “Merry Christmas,” “How was your journey” “Have some more, you must be hungry,” and the discovery that for some reason the Internet didn’t work in the living room, only upstairs.
‘Perhaps it’s the weather causing interference?’ I suggested to Mark, knowing teenagers couldn’t survive five minutes without their phone connection. ‘Look, why don’t you share with Mike and I’ll sleep on the settee? Then I won’t disturb you, and you can access your games.’
After a few mild protests they all went off to bed and I sat down to enjoy a few minutes’ peace after the hassles of the day. Using only the back illumination on my Kindle, it was peaceful without the main lights on, and I felt my eyelids dropping, until a sudden glare brought me wide awake. There was someone in the shed! My watch told me it was gone midnight. Should I wake everyone up or explore on my own? I would feel stupid if it was only a short circuit, or headlights from a passing car, so plucking up my courage I slipped on some shoes and prepared to investigate. The last thing I expected to see was six large animals contentedly munching away on some carrots, while a man with a long white beard, dressed in a red suit, sorted through some sacks. I recognised some of the contents as the toys I had donated to the charity shop, except now they looked brand new.
‘The elves have been working very hard, but there’s a shortage of raw materials so we appreciate you giving us something to work with,’ he said. ‘For children in some countries these will be perfect. They don’t want much, like that little fellow in the corner there.’
Following his pointing finger, I saw the carrycot I remembered from my childhood. It was surrounded by birds, squirrels, foxes and other wildlife, all gazing at the new-born child quietly sleeping in their midst.
“Away in a manger, a cot for his bed.”
‘Wake up, sleepyhead. Breakfast is ready and we’ve got a long day ahead. I’ve put some carols on to set the mood. Merry Christmas.’
It must have all been a dream. But then why did I find carrot tops hidden in the snow, and straw in the crib when I went to check the shed?