Penny Babies, by Melanie Benn
I love to dream, whether I’m asleep or looking out of a window. My dreams range from the mundane, as if sifting through a cupboard of the day’s events, to something more arcane. Sometimes I see an image or a scene, coupled with a strong emotion.
Once I dreamt I was standing on a shore at night, surrounded by rocks and watching tiny mouths in the water, gasping for air. I tried to scoop them out by turning my skirt into a cradle. I struggled to save them.
Some time later a local BBC radio station runs a competition and offers up the first line of a story: ‘Even now, the local historians speak of strange occurrences at St. Mary’s Church, Reculver’. I remember seeing the tall towers of this well-known landmark, standing next to the sea and I go off to do some research. I find reports of it being haunted, something more than wind sweeping round the church walls but babies crying. I remember my dream and the second line comes to me: ‘sounds of crying or cooing they say, depending on your state of mind’.
Soon I start to weave the tale of shipwrecked babies, floating on the tide. ‘When they washed up on the shore they looked just like dolls,’ my Grandmother told me. ‘Like penny babies. Their bodies white and shiny, like alabaster, tied up in those long thin strips of cloth; not much bigger than the apron on my dress.’
The story’s chosen and broadcast and then later produced for a stage version by a storytelling group in London. It occurs to me that our minds do more than just function when they are able to make connections; they begin to create. We’re able to move from just making sense of everyday events to exploring the unconscious.
Robert Moss, a writer and fascinating dream weaver says that dreams provide an ‘open vista’ of possibilities and for me, the way a story can come together feels like magic! But maybe it’s also the ability to re-imagine that holds the key. My dream brought with it an incredible feeling of sadness as I tried in vain to help the young lives drowning in the water. It spoke to me on another level and started me on a path to transform that feeling. A short story is just one way we might use our imagination to fuse different ideas together and bring something forward.
Melanie has an MA in Writing for Children and has been a previous winner of the London Writer’s Competition. She’s published in several anthologies and Penny Baby is now available to download from the short story mobile platform, Ether Books.