The following piece is published as part of our TLM Young Writers series, a dedicated section of The London Magazine‘s website which showcases the work of exceptional young talent aged between 13-21, from the UK and beyond.

Joshua Phelps

Private Matters

A peaceful crackling accompanied the amber glow that melted Blackwell’s dark vision. The warmth licked his face like a big friendly dog. A heavy quilt trapped, absorbed, and spread heat across his entire body, gifting him with a sedative comfort that would’ve lulled him back to sleep had he any idea where he was.

Blackwell held the quilt to his chest as he sat up, failing to recall his arrival at this place. The clinking of fine china didn’t register in his dulled ears until the old man carrying a tea-set on a tray shuffled in through the doorway.

He had an easy smile. ‘Ah, you’re finally up. How’re you feeling?’

The old man’s hunch protruded through his shirt as he placed the tray on the wooden coffee table. He lowered himself onto the weathered sofa in the same manner. He lifted the teapot and poured out one cup, then hovered it over the next.

‘Care for some tea? It’s chamomile, good for colds, nerves, skin, etcetera etcetera.’

‘How did I get here?’

He poured Blackwell a cup anyway, ‘Well when someone’s passed out in a wet ditch on a stormy November morning, it’s hard not to take pity on them.’

‘Right.’ He veered back as the steaming cup came towards him.

‘I tried my best to keep you warm,’ He motioned to the fireplace behind Blackwell, ‘So hopefully you won’t flake out on me anytime soon. My name’s Morris.’

Blackwell darted between Morris and the cup before he caved into his thirst and cautiously accepting the offer.

‘Blackwell.’ He didn’t have the energy to come up with anything else.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Blackwell.’ Morris closed his eyes as he took his first sip, Blackwell didn’t.

‘So, what’s your story?’

‘My story?’

‘How’d you end up in that ditch?’

Blackwell turned away in shame, ‘I… was mugged.’

‘Mugged?’ Morris was saddened. ‘I never thought these simple country lanes could host such a terrible thing!’ He stood up and hobbled to the dining table. ‘Perhaps it was that escapee, from the prison a few miles west of here.’

Blackwell swallowed.

‘There were searchlights and bloodhounds out all night, I hardly got a second of sleep.’ He picked up a bundle of muddy, creased clothes on the table, ‘Although, perhaps that’s partly why this was strewn about not too far from you.’

Morris shook the bundle and it unfurled into a navy jumpsuit; the legs dangled just short of the floor. Blackwell looked down at himself, just now realising he lacked proper clothes himself, wearing only a vest and boxer shorts. He furrowed his brow, then raised it.

‘Of course, they probably stole my clothes and left the jumpsuit to blend in once they got to the nearest settlement.’

‘There’s a village about half a mile down the west road.’ Morris threw the jumpsuit back onto the table, considered Blackwell’s theory, then grabbed a neater, cleaner bundle and brought it to him, ‘But that’s no longer a concern of ours. Wear this, if you like, and I’ll show you around, if you like.’

*          *          *          *          *

‘Do you have any family, Blackwell?’

Blackwell sat opposite Morris at the dining table, tucking into a hearty home-cooked supper of roast duck, potatoes and vegetables. The clothes fit him too well to belong to Morris; he wondered if anyone else lived here.

Blackwell rushed down his mushy mouthful. ‘No. I was an only child, and my parents passed when I was young. There was nothing left for me at home, so I started travelling.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. I understand how it feels to lose someone important to you. My wife passed away a few years ago.’

‘Have you been living alone, since?’ Blackwell saw his opportunity.

‘My daughter and son-in-law visit one weekend a month.’ Morris took a photograph of them from the mantelpiece and handed it to Blackwell, smiling, ‘If it wasn’t for them, I’d be downright miserable. That’s actually one of his shirts you’re wearing.’

Morris’s daughter was clearly pregnant in the photograph, but Morris never spoke of any grandchildren.


*          *          *          *          *

The shed window offered a perfect view of Morris’s bedroom window. The must of damp sawdust forced Blackwell to breathe through his mouth, but it was dark enough to spy from and offered refuge from the frosty morning air.

Morris asked a favour of Blackwell after a full English breakfast.

‘Winter’s well on its way and I’m running low on firewood in the house, but there’s plenty waiting to be chopped up inside the shed. If I lend you my coat, will you go out there, find the axe, and slice up a dozen-or-so chunks?’

He was at his desk, writing a letter, with a stern expression that didn’t suit him at all. Why had Morris chosen to begin writing after sending him out? Because he was hiding it from Blackwell. What kind of letter needed to be hidden from Blackwell? He knew what kind of letter needed to be hidden from him.

Blackwell had locked eyes with a gorgon and turned to stone.

Did Morris know?

*          *          *          *          *     

‘I’ve got something for you.’

The beef stew trembled as Morris shifted his chair backwards and ducked underneath the table, his hunch surfacing like a beluga as he pulled a hefty rucksack onto the table. He smiled and slid it toward Blackwell, nodding at him to open it.

   ’Consider it a parting gift.’

Towels, tinned food, a thermos, spare clothes, a bowl and cutlery, and an entire sleeping bag. Morris had graced Blackwell with everything he could need in his travels. Morris was a kind man. Even if he knew, he wouldn’t betray Blackwell. Would he?

   ’I’m sorry, Morris.’ Blackwell looked up but averted his guilty eyes, ‘I lied to you.’

*          *          *          *          *

’I’m going into town, to send a letter.’

Morris stood in the doorway, already wrapped up in his coat, and stuffed the envelope into his front pocket. Blackwell froze.

‘Who’s the letter for?’ He didn’t try to be sly about it. He needed to know.

‘My daughter.’ He didn’t smile.

‘What’s it about?’

‘Private matters, that I am not at liberty to share.’

Blackwell took a step closer. He wasn’t going back. ‘Show me the letter, Morris.’

‘I’m not going to do that.’

He couldn’t take any risks. He wasn’t going back. ‘Show me the letter.’

‘It’s nothing to do with you.’

He wasn’t going back.

‘You have to show me the letter.’

‘That’s enough! I expect you to be gone when I return, Blackwell.’

Blackwell was motionless behind the sickening slam of the door, like the axe, exactly where he left it yesterday.

He wasn’t going back.


Joshua Phelps is an 18-year-old Creative Writing and English Literature student at the University of Greenwich.



To discover more content exclusive to our print and digital editions, subscribe here to receive a copy of The London Magazine to your door every two months, while also enjoying full access to our extensive digital archive of essays, literary journalism, fiction and poetry. 

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.