Nessie (462 words)

“You’re new,” the girl said, looking Maggie up and down. Not a statement, not a question: an accusation. The girl wore a sneer like Maggie’s dad wore his favourite jacket. It was ugly, but a perfect fit. And, just like her dad, this girl wasn’t about to take it off because Maggie didn’t like it.

Maggie considered all the various responses on the sarcastic spectrum, before settling on a neutral, “Yes”. This morning, over breakfast, she’d given Dad her word she would try her very best not to get expelled, not on the first day, anyway. It was a promise she intended to keep. This time.

The girl nodded, and continued to size Maggie up. There was a lot to take in, as Maggie was all too aware. She was tall for her age, and she felt as awkward as she thought she looked. Her size always drew the attention of people with something to prove, bullies and teachers alike. Being self conscious about it never helped: they could smell weakness, they thrived on it. Jenny, her last psychologist, said not to worry about it, she would grow into her body. Whatever the fuck that meant.

“Where you from?”

“Totnes, “ Maggie said.

“You Scottish?”

“Do I sound Scottish?”

“I don’t know. Never met a Scottish, before.”

“You still haven’t. I’m from Devon. Totnes is in Devon.”

“Hey! Anna!” the girl called over Maggie shoulder. “This one’s a Scottish! From that place with the monster.”

Maggie opened her mouth to respond, but another girl – presumably Anna – stuck her head in her face. Bright green sparkling eyes stared into Maggie’s brown ones.

“Looks like they’ve mislaid the monster, to me,” Anna said. “You are fucking huge, Nessie.” There was something in the way she spoke, in her smile, in her general manner, which stopped Maggie from punching her. Despite the words, there didn’t seem to be any malice.

Anna’s smile widened and she stuck her hand out, like her dad did when he was introduced to someone for the first time. “My name’s Anna,” she said. “What brings you down from Scotland, Nessie?”

Maggie found herself duplicating the strange girl’s smile as she shook her hand.

“I’m not Scottish,” she said. “Your friend, here, obviously doesn’t pay attention in her geography lessons. I’m from Totnes. My name is Maggie.”

“Don’t pay no attention to Dips,” Anna said. “She thinks the world ends at the M25. Never been out of London, have you Dips?” Dips shook her head, nearly – but not quite – dislodging the sneer.

“I know Totnes,” Anna continued. “Spent last summer at my cousin’s house, in Paignton. Went to Totnes for a day. Full of hippies and crystal shops. You’re well out of it, Nessie. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the others.”

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Careful What You Wish For (1217 words)

 

The barista is a dead woman, or she soon will be. As she prepares his coffee, he sees a bug crawl out of her empty eye socket. It scuttles down her cheek, dislodging a piece of flesh. Rotting meat and bug fall with a plop into the coffee she now offers him.

“Anything else?” she says, smiling. Or at least, Brett thinks she is smiling. It is hard to tell, what with the lower jaw hanging at that odd angle. Yes, he considers saying. Stop serving coffees for the minimum wage, and the occasional tip. Go and experience life: enjoy yourself, while you still can. Life is short. For some – for you – it’s shorter than you could possibly imagine.

But he doesn’t say this. There is no point.

“No, thank you,” Brett says, taking the coffee. He hands over a note, waves away the change. “Keep it,” he says.

He sits at a table, in the corner. There is a mirror on the wall and by sitting with his back to the coffee shop he can use it to see what people really look like. What they look like right now, rather than how they will appear in exactly three hundred and seventy two days time. The woman who served him, he sees now, is an attractive twenty something. She looks healthy enough, no sign of illness. He wonders how she is going to die. By the state of her future self, it will be in the next six to nine months. A car accident, perhaps? A victim of a crime? Wrong person, in the wrong place. She glances over, catches his eye in the mirror, smiles. He looks away.

He takes the wooden stick – a poor imitation of a spoon – and half-heartedly stirs the coffee. There is no bug, no decomposing piece of cheek, floating in the dark liquid. It doesn’t work like that. It was an illusion. He knows this. But he looks anyway.

Brett doesn’t really believe in curses – although he acknowledges that part of him must do for it to work – but there is no other explanation he can find to better describe what happened, so he chooses to accept it.

To be fair, when they first met, Divina said she was a witch. Brett laughed, spraying beer out of his mouth and nostrils.

“It isn’t funny,” she said, her lower lip sticking out, the beginning of a pout enhancing her cuteness. “I’m a good witch. Although, if you cross me, you’ll regret it.” He stopped laughing, then. Not because he believed in her threat, but because it was obviously important to her, and, he realised, he really wanted to sleep with her.

It took eight weeks of hard work (romancing not coming naturally to him, Brett experienced it as such) and tongue biting (her pseudo-hippy-pagan-occult beliefs irritated his scientific-sceptical-atheist brain) before he managed to get her into bed. Weeks became months became a year and he found love had replaced lust (or that’s what he told himself), and they were living together.

One morning, a week before her twenty ninth birthday, he found her crying on the floor of the bathroom, a pregnancy test in her hand. Although Brett was shocked to see the test – he assumed she had been taking precautions, and had no wish to be saddled with a child – he sat down next to her and took her in his arms. Divina sobbed salt water and mucus all over his clean shirt. It took fifteen minutes before he could understand what she was saying. It would have been her Grandma’s birthday, today, a week before her own, she said. Grandma had been a witch too (her head buried in his armpit, Divina would not have seen Brett rolling his eyes at those words). Before she died, twenty years ago, she told Divina she would find her love of her life, but would be alone and childless by the age of thirty. With a year and one week to go she was worried that the prophecy would come true.

“I promise I will never leave you, my love, and we can try for a baby, if that’s what you want,” he said, checking his watch. He was late for work, and wondered if he had time to iron another shirt.

Promises are easily broken, especially when temptation, dressed in a short skirt and low cut top, calling herself Eloise started work in Brett’s office, the very next day. Of course, Eloise wasn’t to know Brett had a girlfriend. Brett kept that information to himself, as he found divulging such facts tended to spoil his chances of sleeping with beautiful women.

Brett finally told Divina he was leaving her, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, not for any other reason than he had been seen kissing an obviously pregnant Eloise by one of Divina’s girlfriends and was given an ultimatum: you tell her, or I will, you lying, cheating, little shit.

Contrary to Brett’s expectations, Divina did not breakdown into a teary, snotty, begging, mess, nor did she shout, scream, punch or kick.

She simply said, “You promised.”

“That was a year ago!” he said, knowing, even as he said it, the excuse was weak to say the least.

“One year, and one week,” Divina said.

“I couldn’t predict what would happen. No one can see into the future, no one can see what will really happen a year and a week from now,” Brett said. And then he said the words, that would come to haunt him: “I wish I could, but I can’t.”

Divina smiled.

When she arrives Brett is still stirring his coffee. It is cold, now, and bitter tasting.

It is ten years since he saw Divina last. He is single, and despite the loneliness of his situation, he survives. Eloise left him with a stinging face, the final straw a casual observation that she would still be a fat hog a long time after she’d given birth. He has had few dates, and no real relationships since. It is simply impossible to say the right things when you are looking at the image of what someone will look like in three hundred and seventy two days time. He is jobless, but he gets by, thanks to an inheritance: his mother dying, the only luck he has had recently. He lost his job, the same week Eloise threw him out, through unwise, and unkind, comments made to customers.

Brett wants to be normal. Not just for his sake, not anymore. Brett is pleased that Eloise is with Paul – a kind, decent man – he treats Brett’s child as his own. But Brett would like to be a good father to his son.

Brett is a better person, now, he admits to himself. A humbler person. A person who considers others feelings before his own. Most of the time.

Brett is here to ask forgiveness, to ask for the curse to be lifted. When Divina sits down opposite him, the smile on her face as warm, and sweet, as his coffee, he isn’t surprised to see she looks no older than the day they met.

 

Just One Of Those Days (1353 words)

(Warning: very bad language, violence)

 

The old man’s flat already smells like someone has died there. The stench of rotting flesh comes mostly from the overflowing kitchen waste bin, Mylo can see from the doorway, although he thinks the white pus oozing from the ulcers on the old codgers skinny white legs play their part.

“Not seen you before,” the old bastard says, wearing nothing but a knee high dressing pink gown.  “Where’s Jeanette? I thought it was Jeanette’s day. I like Jeanette,” he peers into Mylo’s face. “You’re not foriegn are you?”

Mylo smiles his best reassuring I’m-not-here-to-rob-and-murder-you smile. “No mate, British, through and through, me.”

“You speak funny,” the old man says. Clearly he is unconvinced.

“I’m from the Midlands,” Mylo says, pushing past the old twat, with his leather bag and his smile still fixed to his face.

“That’ll be it.”

Mylo had canceled the real nurse, of course.  He had phoned up and pretended to be the old git’s nephew: his only living relative, or at least the only one that gave half a crap about the old sack of bones. Research and planning is key to not getting caught – that and moving about, changing your M.O. and not leaving D.N.A. lying about (Mylo watches a lot of crime series on the telly). After the early afternoon nurse visit, there are no other visits planned for the day, not until teatime when his nephew will pop around for half an hour.  Plenty of time to kick the crap out of this duffer, rob the place and leave.

Mylo doesn’t always resort to violence, and has only killed a handful of his previous victims, although he admits that the urge to finish the job is stronger, each time. He never hurts women, of course. That’s wrong. It is against Mylo’s Code. Apart from that one time, but that wasn’t his fault. That dirty old bastard in Crewe had a bird, from the care home round the corner, in bed upstairs, he didn’t know about. It was unforeseen. It wasn’t Mylo’s fault. After he’d finished with the old boy he’d found her in bed, clutching her duvet to her neck, like it was some kind of fucking magic shield. He could smell that she had shat herself –  a common enough occurrence in Mylo’s line of work. He’d had to smother her with a pillow when she started screaming. It was just one of those days.

No, Mylo doesn’t alway hurt them, the old fellas. Sometimes he just scared them witless. But this one has it coming. He reminds Mylo of his grandad. Has the same sneer-for-a-smile. The same mean glint in his eye.

Mylo waits in the hallway, by the kitchenette with it’s vile stinking bin, for the old man to lock the front door. He notes the keys are left in the lock. He lets the old man lead him into what might be called the living room. Dying room, more like. Mylo stifles a giggle. It’s like any one of the fifty or more other places he’s robbed, up and down the country. A TV stands pride of place, next to the heavily curtained window. Even though it’s lunchtime, and the sun is shining brightly outside, the curtains are drawn. The room is brightly lit from a single bulb suspended from a cord in the ceiling. Facing the telly is one brown chair abused with the stains of TV dinners, and next to it a sofa, that might once have been cream-coloured. On the mantlepiece are three photos: one, Mylo recognises from his research, is of his nephew with a girl, not bad looking, but not a stunner, neither; another is an old picture of some woman, presumably his dead wife,  and the third is of the old geezer, younger though, much younger, with some other bloke. They look like old time East End gangsters. Next to the photos are three urns. So, there are at least three dead people in the room. Well, let’s make it four.

Mylo is wearing gloves – part of the uniform of a community nurse – so he doesn’t have to worry about leaving prints anywhere. Not that he has any desire to touch the filthy surfaces. Mylo can’t believe how some people live, although he is no longer surprised that people who live like dirty pigs have large amounts of cash hidden about their stys.

Mylo lets the old fucker sit down, as he’ll be more vulnerable (most of these old twats take five minutes to get out of their chairs at the best times) before opening his bag. Inside are the tools of his trade. Not the usual tools you’d expect to see in a nurses bag, of course. Obviously, there’s Nelly – his favourite knuckle duster – sitting on top of an old sock with a pool ball in it (his lucky number eight). There is also a crow bar and bolt cutters.  He lets his fingers walk over the various objects – eeny meeny miny moe – and then settles on the sock eightball combo, which he swings out of the bag and smacks the old bastard in the side of the mouth. Blood sprays over the already filthy furniture and something falls out of the old man’s head. Dentures. They glisten with red-tinged saliva.

“Right you old cunt,” Mylo says, pushing his face as close as he can get to the old bastard’s without actually touching the fucker. He tries not to breath in the old man’s stench. His voice is soft and clear. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” It’s a cliché, but Mylo likes it. It gives them the illusion that there will be an easy way.

“What?” the old man says, through his damaged lips. “Speak up, young man, speak up.” His hearing aid has popped out of his ear, probably with the force of the blow.

Mylo tries again. “Tell me where you hide your fucking money!” he yells into the wax encrusted earhole. He stands back and looks at the old man as he pulls Nelly out of his bag of tricks and on to his fist, ripping the glove as he does so. Bollocks. The old git doesn’t seem to be as scared as he should be so Mylo gives him a clout. Nelly makes contact with his nose. There is the satisfying sound of the crunch of cartilage. More blood.

Mylo has to hit the old bastard three more times before he whispers, “Ashes,”. His eyes, surrounded by blue swollen flesh are looking in the direction of the mantelpiece. Mylo stands up and looks at the urns. One of them, the big one in the centre does look a bit different, now he looks at it more closely. Bigger than the other two. Christ, they hide their money in all sorts of places these days. Mylo remembers that old boy, in Margate, who had a roll of fifties stuffed inside a hollowed out dildo). Mylo smiles and peers at the urn. It has a small round hole near the top, something glints within.  Mylo turns around when he hears the old man laughing.

“Smile,” the old tosser says, his mouth a smear of red on his wrinkled face. “You’re on Candid Camera.” He chuckles. “You’ve been framed, arsehole.”

Mylo turns back to the urn and pulls off the top. Sure enough there is a camera and what looks like bits of a phone, including a SIM. An LED flashes until Mylo pulls the cable from the battery. The bottom half is full of ashes. The old bastard has a fucking Granny Cam.

“While you stand there gawping like an arsehole on poppers, my nephew’ll be sending pictures of your ugly face to the coppers, you young twat,” the old man says, from the chair. “So the question is, who’ll find you first? The pigs, or my old mates? ‘Cos you’d better hope it’s not my friends. Now, fuck off out of my house.”

 

The sound of the old man’s crusty laugh follows Mylo, as he fumbles with the keys. Unlocking the door, he leaves.

 

 

A thief from the Night (410 words)

This story is also available in audio format on Soundcloud

 

Night began as a whisper: a rumour of shadows at the very edges of the Day. But once started, it quickly gathered pace.

Leba knew Day would fail soon. The dark cracks would spread, tendril-like through its foundations. Inevitably, Day would split, shatter, and crumble into the sea.

And when Day failed she would too.

As she ran, Leba risked a glance, back, towards the Waghorn. Immediately, her breath was sucked from her lungs, pulled back back towards the dark rocky outcrop. Despite this sign – this symptom – they were not following.

Not yet, anyway.

The tide was coming in fast, threatening to cut her off from her friends. The hungry sea licked at her feet. It tasted her. It wanted to consume her. Her feet sank a little deeper into the wet sand with every stride. A moment of doubt overcame her. She had left it too late. She would be swallowed by the sea, or the sand. Or the Night.

No. She could make it. She would make it. She had to.

Leba knew her friend’s waited for her, but could not see them. The distance and the diminishing light made that impossible. Over the sound of her breathing – in….OUT….in…OUT –  and the pounding of her heart and feet, she fancied she could hear them shout. Encouragement? Warnings? She couldn’t tell.

She could feel the sharp edges of the stolen object cutting into the palm of her left hand. The pain gave her comfort, strength even. Pain meant it was safe.

She could see them now, her friends. Emaj was jumping in the air, hands and arms all over the place. She could hear him, too. His words, shouted over the sand, distinct and clear: “You CAN make it Leba: come on!” Nimos was standing statue-like beside him. She could see he was not looking at her, but straight behind her.

She would not look back. Not now. She had seen them before and had no desire to see them again. She could feel their icy presence, as they closed on her, cold fingers at her neck. Emaj was yelling for her to HurryUpForFuckSake! She was close enough to read the expression of terror on Nimos’s face, to see the dark stain of urine crawl down his breeches.

She was nearly there. Emaj had stopped jumping and was reaching down, his strong hands reaching for hers. She was going to make it.
And then the Night came.

Ten Minutes Later (393 words)

Tick…

Tock.

Tick…

Tock.

Tick…

The sound, regular and clock-like, was comforting: something to focus on, while she tried to work out what the hell had just happened.

Tock.

She blinked.

Tick…

And blinked again in an attempt to clear her eyes of the sticky substance that ran into them.

Tock.

The liquid – her blood, she guessed – began to run out of her eyes, up her forehead, and into her hair (making a mockery of the two and a half hours – and several hundred dollars – she had spent, in the hair salon, this afternoon).

Tick…

Her vision began to clear, along with some confusion. She was upside down.

Tock.

She was in her car, held to her seat by the belt.

Tick…

She blinked again, and was able to focus.

Tock.

The time on the dashboard clock was 00.05

Tick…

Ten minutes had elapsed since they had said their goodbyes.

Tock.

Or, rather, since he had said goodbye – even offering her one last goodbye hug forgodzake – and she had screamed: spitting hate and saliva, into his startled face.

Tick…

She remembered slamming the car door so hard she thought the glass would break.

Tock.

She remembered the squeal of her tires and the smell of rubber. The car driven by her anger, by her hate.

Tick…

She remembered glancing at her phone when it beeped.

Tock.

She remembered seeing he had texted, she remembered throwing the phone against the dash,  she remembered trying to retrieve it from the floor. She remembered looking up to see a transmission tower where it shouldn’t be.

Tick…

She realised she didn’t feel hate anymore. Nor anger, nor pain neither.

Tock.

She didn’t feel anything.

Tick…

No feeling in her legs. Nor arms.

Tock.

What was that noise?

Tick…

It reminded her not so much of a clock, now she was properly listening to it. It was too…

Tock.

… irregular. No. It reminded her of the time she’d had a leak in the basement pipe: that drip-dripperty-drip onto the metal shelf beneath.

Tick…

There was a smell. Familiar.

Tock.

Gasoline, she thought. And what was that other noise?

Tick…

A cracking sound, like a whip.

Tock.

No, it was more electrical.

Tick…

She had just enough time before the explosion to wish she had taken the hug, when it was offered at five minutes to midnight.

 

 

This story was written to the theme of “Five Minutes To Midnight”. An audio version of this story can be found here

 

The Crumpled Note (729 words)

Looking back on that brief summer in France, I can’t help but think how different my life could have been. Regrets are such wretched companions: they nag me, laugh at me and bully me.

I remember the picnic with Peter (how could I ever forget it?), by the tree stump, on the small oak-shaded hill overlooking the vineyards. Insects buzzing around us, and birds of prey swooping down on unsuspecting rodents in the fields around us, we were the only two people in the world that day. Or, at least, that’s how it felt to me.

I had always loved Peter. He had been a dear, dear friend for many years. He could always make me laugh, even when I was in “one of my moods”, in my darkest of days, at university. It wasn’t just the way he spoke, but the way he used his eyes, in the expressions on his face.

It was that day, by the tree stump that I realised that my love for Peter went past that of mere friendship. I didn’t just love Peter: I was in love with him.

I often ask myself what my life would be like now if I had just said it. Right there in the moment, when he was passing me the brie, or later when he used a napkin to mop up up wine, spilt on my shirt.

By this time, the day of the picnic, I had already spent two whole weeks with Peter. If I had realised my feelings for him before that last afternoon, would I have had the courage to tell him?

That night, whilst he slept in the room next to mine, I wrote him a note. A love note for heaven’s sake! Young as I was I was no brooding adolescent. It was short and to the point. I decided I would give it to him at the station, ask him to read it when I was on the train. I remember that I had a ridiculous little fantasy that he would quickly devour its contents and run after the train, like the hero in a romantic black and white film. I would lean out of the window and we would kiss….

We said our goodbyes. Not on the platform: my silly fantasy was dashed upon the cobblestoned pavement outside the station. We hugged and told each other how much we had enjoyed our brief time together, and that we shouldn’t leave it so long next time, and we must do it again soon. Really, we must.

All the time I felt awkward, nervous. Thinking of the note in my pocket.

And then it was time to leave and I stuck my hand in my pocket and searched for the note. I thought it must have fallen out, but no there it was at the very bottom. I took hold of it and…

…and then I ran for my train. The note remained crumpled in my hand, in my pocket.
At first I told myself I would forward the note on. Or rather rewrite it, make my feelings clearer, and on a rather less tatty bit of paper.

But the weeks went on, and I did not write. The crumpled note found its way into a drawer in my writing desk.

Peter wrote to me at Christmas, and after that we exchanged letters. It was before the time of skype, of course, before the time of emails. Communication was slower, more formal.

Some thirty years have sailed past me. The river of my life seems to flow faster and faster. Peter got married. I did not, of course, but I had my fair share of adventures. I received the invitation to Peter’s wedding, But things were difficult for me, at that time, and I didn’t go. We lost touch, after that. My fault, I suppose.

And then a few weeks ago I had a friend request from Peter. His wife died five years ago, cancer he said. He has a couple of children, grown up now. He doesn’t see them as much as he’d like, he said. He still lives in France, he invited me out there. He even suggested we go back to the oak-shaded hill with the tree stump for a picnic.

I still have the crumpled note. Perhaps this time I will give it to him.

 

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You can listen to the author read this story on SoundCloud

This Wretched Boy (641 words)

This story was written as a response to this photo

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Bang! Bang! Bang!

The floor shook with each impact. The table, and chairs heaped upon the trap door moved. But it was enough to prevent him getting in. For now, at least.

Geppetto held on to the axe, more for comfort than protection.

A sudden thought: although the trapdoor was made of metal, the furniture was wood! The virus could infect it through the gaps in the trapdoor. Geppetto looked desperately around the small cellar. An old cheese (past its best), a wheel from a bicycle, a hammer and a collection of old newspapers. There was nothing he could use to protect himself.

He would be torn apart, the virus would escape the house, the carnage would spread. Collodi, his beloved village, would be destroyed! And after that? Who would be able to stop it?

He could see the furniture was beginning to move. Was it independently of the force of the hammering from below?

Geppetto gripped his axe, ready to attack.

To think that the thing he had created with love was reduced to this. The virus, spread by the rare woodworm, Anobium Zombium, had eaten away at his creation’s very being, turning a loving (if not often mischievous) boy into a murderous brain-eating creature.

The woodworm virus had definitely invaded the furniture: the table began to walk towards Geppetto. He raised his axe and quickly hacked at the legs. It fell to the floor. The chairs moved more quickly, Geppetto swung his axe, splintering the first chair, but the second one launched itself at him, hitting him full in the face with one of its legs. Geppetto fell backwards. His axe fell and skittered across the floor. Something in his pocket dug into his leg as he hit the ground.The chair was upon him trying to jam one of its legs into Geppetto’s mouth. He reached out, his hand made contact with the hammer and he swung it at the chair. The chair fell off him. It was not damaged, but Geppetto had time to reach the axe. He turned as the chair came at him, splitting it in two with a single blow. The splintered wood writhed like two halves of a slaughtered worm.

He reached down and rubbed his leg. He felt in his pocket for the thing that had hurt him as he landed. His precious tinderbox. Perhaps there was hope!

The trapdoor had swung open now. Geppetto worked quickly gathering the still twitching wood, and the newspaper.

An arm came through the trapdoor, and then the other. And then it – no, Geppetto corrected himself – HE appeared.

Pinocchio – or at least what was left of him – hauled himself into the cellar. His eyes, once beautiful and blue, were now black pits. Any soul, the poor boy once had, had been long destroyed by the woodworm. His once beautiful face was ravaged by rot, decay and mould.

Pinocchio opened his mouth and a sound came out, if it was words, Geppetto could not understand it. His arms outstretched, an inhuman grin on his face, he took a shuffling step towards Geppetto.

Geppetto muttered a prayer and struck the flint. The newspaper caught quickly and with it the twitching wood from the chairs and table. Geppetto ignored the tortured sounds that seem to come from the wood and dashed to the other side of the cellar. The metal hatch made a crash as it covered the only exit.

Pinocchio lurched away from the fire, now building in intensity, his arms still raised up as if searching for something in the dark. There was an inhuman scream, Geppetto knew not if it was anger, fear or hunger but it broke his heart.

Tears in his eyes, Geppetto opened his arms and took a step towards Pinocchio.

He would have one final hug from his boy.

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