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.

 

 

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Ibiza (470 words)​

I find the water’s edge, easily: it glitters in the light from the moon and the stars. The sand against the skin on my back is warm, soft and I push my feet through it, until I feel the cool water lick my toes. A tingle runs up through my body, and I smile, watching the stars above dance in time to the pounding beat of the music from the bar, far behind me.

The smell of a cigarette tells me I am no longer alone. On a Saturday night in Playa d’en Bossa, you’re never far from someone. I turn my head towards the scent, and see the silhouette of a man sitting beside me. I see moonlight reflected in his eyes, and the glint of his teeth as he smiles.

“Hello”, he says. He is English. From the North I think, but I am no good with accents so can’t be more specific. He offers me one of his cigarettes. I take one and as he leans in to light it I catch the scent of his aftershave. It’s not one that I recognise; pleasant, delicately spiced, possibly expensive.

“What’s your name?” he asks, as I inhale deeply, letting the smoke trickle through my nostrils.

I shake my head, to free my hair of sand. He blinks against the flying grains.

“Sandy,” I say, and laugh. He laughs too. “And yours?”

“My name is Ibiza,” he says.

“No man is an island,” I say, and laugh again. There is a glimmer of a smile and I realise it would not have been the first time he’s heard that line.

“I am,” he says. “Like this island I am full of contradictions: popular, tacky and obvious like San Antonio; classy and rich like Ibiza Town; and I have isolated spots of beauty hidden from those who don’t know where to look,” he pauses to stub his cigarette into the sand, and carefully puts the butt in a tin. ‘This island is in my DNA,” he says, “I was conceived here. Eighty-eight: the second summer of love.”

We share more cigarettes, stories and jokes. We sit here, on this beach for what seems like minutes, but it might be for hours. It might even be forever.

Overhead, something roars. A plane, coming into land at the nearby airport, flies so low I can see the detail on its undercarriage. A shiver runs up my spine into my brain. A cheer erupts from the people on the beach around us: they wave and shout woo hoos, come ons and let’s ‘ave its into the nights sky, welcoming the latest bunch of party people to our island.

I leap to my feet.

“Come on, Ibiza,” I say. “We need to dance.”

He takes my hand and we run back up the beach.

As Tears Go By (2949 words)

Imelda walked slowly up the wooden pier, listening to the music surrounding her. Each painful step was a beat of a bass drum, accompanied by the natural rolling percussion of the waves below. The squawking gulls argued with the regular squeak-squeak-squeak of the wheels of the shopper trolley, she pulled behind her. The wind snatched at the sound of the creaking boards beneath her feet. There was music everywhere. Her legs might not work as well as they used too, but there was nothing wrong with her hearing. Nor her imagination, for that matter.

Imelda had always loved music. Not that awful tea dance nonsense, not Vera Lynn nor any of the other sing-alongs she’d had to endure at the Autumn Years Club, her friend June had dragged her to a few months ago. What made them think that people her age wanted to listen to that kind of music? She was born during the war, had lost both parents to it. But those songs were not her songs. They were not part of her history.

Her music was real music: rock and roll. The rockier the better. Stones, not Beatles.

One of the reasons she got involved with this church, was the music. None of the dull, mournful hymns she remembered half-heartedly singing as a child, accompanied by an out-of-tune organ. Imelda didn’t believe God would think himself praised by those dreary dirges. John – the preacher – would lead them in joyful song, his electric guitar plugged into a small but surprisingly powerful amplifier. Sometimes they had a full band: bass, drums, the works. On these occasions the church would shake with the power of sound and she couldn’t help but smile.

Her destination, the battered old building at the end of the Pier, had not only been the pride of Humpbuckle-on-Sea but had once been hailed as “South East England’s Number One Nightspot: Theatre! Dance Hall! and Restaurant!”. Imelda knew this, not only because a tattered poster proclaiming the fact still clung to the wall of the foyer, but because, a lifetime ago, it had been here that much of her youth had been misspent. The end of the Fifties and the beginning of the Sixties had been an exciting time for the young. Even here. The Stones had played here, on this very pier – in sixty two, or sixty three – Imelda couldn’t remember the exact date. They were called The Rollin’ Stones, then. The ‘g’ had been added later.

At the top of the building a plastic banner slapped against the old wooden sign. The bottom cords had worked loose, again. The words ‘The Kingdom Come Church’  could be seen briefly before it flapped upwards against the roof. Faded weather beaten letters could just be made out if you knew what to look for: “The Bell on the Pier”.

Joe – her grand-nephew, a good boy – had bought her a tickets to see the Stones at Hyde Park later this summer. She had introduced him to the music of the Stones, and a host of other bands too. As a boy Joe, had spent hours flicking through her vinyl collection, admiring the artwork of the covers as much as the music within. She had taught him how to care for the records, wiping each side of the album carefully before putting it on and gently lowering the stylus, and, when finished with, another wipe before putting it back into its sleeve. Joe now had his own collection, and sometimes brought her albums he thought she might like to listen to. She had helped shape his music taste, he said. Without her, he might have never discovered music. Or worse be a One Direction fan. He owed her, he said, big time. And these tickets were his way of paying her back. A real treat, for both of them. The coach trip from here was included. It would be a laugh. Bring back memories. Perhaps she’d bump into some of the old crew. He could try and find them on Facebook, if she wanted.

She wasn’t going. She had told him he didn’t want an old codger like her cramping his style. He should go with his friends instead, enjoy the day without her dragging him down. She wouldn’t be able to manage standing up for that long, not with her legs. He had said he’d thought of that: he was bringing chairs. And a picnic, they’d make a day of it. She had said no, had been a bit short with him, then. She felt bad about that. Just a bit. She kept remembering the look on his face. It’s OK, he had said. If she changed her mind, all she had to do was ask. There was even a spare. She could bring a friend.

Imelda didn’t really have any friends. Not like she used to. Time and marriage and life in general had got in the way.

The truth was that she was scared. She was afraid to leave this little town, even for a few short hours. Joe said something about her not wanting to get out of her comfort zone.

The door of the church was shut. Brian was late. Or if he was there he hadn’t opened up properly. She felt a mixture of feelings: annoyance and a strange rush of elation: she knew he would let her down – let the Church down, rather – and, once again, she had been proved right. He wasn’t a bad man, Brian. But his heart wasn’t in it, he wasn’t dedicated enough.

Imelda tried the handle on the large wooden door. Locked. She sighed and reached into her shopper trolley and pulled out the set of keys. The large key slid easily into the lock. There was a bit of a knack to unlocking it: she inserted it all the way, half-turned and then pulled the key out a quarter of an inch before completing the turn. The lock clicked and Imelda opened the door.

She felt for the light switch and then waited for the florescent tube to stop flickering. She tutted when she saw the blackboard was not leaning against the wall where it should be. Someone’ probably Josie, had left it on the far side of the foyer. Always in a hurry, that Josie: forever rushing home to look after one of her GrandKiddies, as she called them – much to Imelda’s irritation – or nipping off early to put on the tea for her husband, “‘cos he has to get down the pub early this evening for the Match”. Never mind that others had to work twice as hard.  Imelda wedged the door open with the wooden peg (thankfully hanging where it should be) and pulled her shopper troller in through the door. The blackboard was awkward to move, she had to drag it across the floor and out through the door. She set it up so it would be visible to anyone venturing along the pier, and read through it to see that all of the lettering was intact:

kingdom come blackboard.jpg

Satisfied that nothing had been rubbed off, or added (the local kids loved to doctor the sign, once an entire week had gone by before someone spotted one of local wags had changed the name of the church to “Condom Cum”) , she went back inside and trundled her trolley through the foyer, down the corridor to the kitchen. Located at the back of the Church, the kitchen was large, poorly lit and probably dangerous. Imelda didn’t think the electrics would impress the local Health and Safety Officer. She filled the large kettle and took it over to the old gas cooker. Like the rest of the building Imelda could feel the past ooze from the walls. Almost half a century ago this kitchen would have been crowded: chefs churning out chicken or scampi for theatre goers, hungry for culture and fried food served in a basket.

Today, Wednesday, was not one of her usual days. As she lit the gas, using a match from the box in the drawer with the broken handle, Imelda felt mildly apprehensive. Wednesday, she realised, was an unknown quantity. She knew what would happen on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and (of course) Sundays, the days she was normally to be found at the church. On Wednesday anything could happen. Imelda liked routine: she was very much a creature of habit. Once impetuous, rash – a risk taker, even – she now liked – no, needed – her life to be ordered, predictable and safe. Like the blackboard: everything in its place.

While she waited for the water to boil she opened the cupboard below and took out the box of teabags. She put six in the pot. Her Nana would have slapped her legs twice for that. Once for not warming the pot, beforehand, and another one for using new-fangled tea bags instead of leaves. She had been a traditionalist, her Nana, free and easy with the back of her hand, unwilling to adapt to changing times. Imelda was the same age now as her Nana was when she died. Seventy seven. Had she become the woman she had both loved and hated? Imelda didn’t have a granddaughter to lecture and bully, but she shared other traits with the old woman. Uneasiness when faced with change not the least of them.

Back in the Sixties Imelda had been bold. She felt as if she had been infected by the energy of Mick, Keith and the others. She wanted more. And she wouldn’t find it here. She found a job in London and a room in a bed-sit on the Old Kent Road with three other women. There she found a freedom she had never had under her Nana’s regime. Imelda could almost believe the memories belonged to someone else when she thought about the risks she had taken, back then. In her mid twenties she had been older than many of her London friends. On her rare trips home, her nana told her she should settle down. She was wasting her time, she said, hands on hips. She was getting a reputation. Nice, decent men wouldn’t go near her, if she carried on the way she was going. She was getting old. She was going to be left on the shelf.

She would end up alone, her Nana said, finger wagging.

Imelda met Archie at a Small Faces concert in sixty five. Archie was a roadie with the support act. They got talking at the bar. Archie bought her a drink, and then a bag of chips to share as he walked her home, through the late night streets, right to her door. Before she knew it twenty three years had past. She still grieved for her children: two miscarriages, and one stillbirth. Archie died at the age of fifty five from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer he developed years after he stopped working at the asbestos factory.

Archie was a decent man. Not just her husband, he had been her friend.

She heard hurried footsteps in the foyer. The door to the kitchen swung open. Brian, flushed, breathless and tired looking, stood in the doorway, carrier bag in hand.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said.

Imelda didn’t reply immediately – letting him know she was annoyed through her silence, let it weigh uncomfortably heavy, something else she’d learned from her Nana – instead she poured the now-boiled water over the teabags, stirring them with a long spoon.

Brian came over and set the bag on the counter next to her.

“Sorry, I’m late,” he said, again, louder this time. He probably assumed she was hard of hearing: just another old biddy too proud, or vain, to wear a hearing aid. People were quick to leap to conclusions. People were far too quick to judge.

“Well,” Imelda said, with a sniff, “now you’re here you can make yourself useful.” She indicated her shopper trolley with the spoon. Brian nodded and began to empty it.

“Snap!” he said, as he pulled out a packet of iced buns. He smiled and produced an identical pack from his bag.

“Is that why you’re late?” Imelda said. “Josie told me, she always got the buns on a Wednesday.” She looked at Brian through narrowed eyes. “I caught the early bus especially,” she said.

“No harm done,” Brian said. He was good at ignoring her irritation. Archie had been good at that too. Sometimes it had made her so angry it tipped into laughter. “Means we can eat one before the punters arrive.”

Imelda sniffed again, and went to pick up the pot to put it on the tea trolley.

“Let me do that,” Brian said.

“I’m old,” Imelda said. “Not incapable.” But she let him do it.

“You’re neither,” he said, lifting the pot. His hands shook as he put it down on to the trolley and some tea erupted from the spout. “But you are a lady. And my mother taught me good manners.”

“Some people might describe that as sexist, Brian. I didn’t burn my bra for nothing, you know.”

He laughed. They both did. His laugh became a coughing fit. He pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, one hand over his mouth. Out of the corner of her eye, Imelda saw him check the contents.

“Did you?” he asked, eventually. “Burn your bra, I mean.”

“I was sympathetic to the cause. But I’d bought that bra myself, and knew how much the bloody thing cost.” Another thing she’d learned from her Nana: waste not, want not.

There was a silence afterwards. Both of them began loading the trolley with mugs (something else her Nana would not have tolerated: tea should be drunk from a cup or not at all). Brian began to whistle. He wasn’t very good: tuneless and without rhythm. It took Imelda a few bars to recognise “Paint it black”.

“I saw them play here, you know,” she said, for something to say.

“The Rolling Stones?” Brian said. “Here in this little town? I never knew they played here.”

“Right here in this building. Sixty two, I think.”

Brian looked around him, as if seeing the place in a whole new light. “Wow,” he said. “That must have been some gig.”

“It was the talk of the town, for a while afterwards. The local vicar said it heralded the beginning of the End of Days. Perhaps it did. It certainly changed my life. I wouldn’t have met my husband if I hadn’t come that night.”

“He was a roadie, wasn’t he? That’s what Josie told me.”

“Did she? Well, Josie says a lot of things. But in this instance she’s right. He didn’t roadie for the Stones, though. I didn’t meet him here. It was in London, a few years later. Seeing the Stones here made me want to see more. Do more. Be more. Living in London made that more likely than living here.”

They were silent for another minute. Brian looked pale. Grey even. His hands were shaking again. Imelda cleared her throat.

“Are you alright, Brian?” she said. “Have a seat. You look dreadful.”

For a second, she thought he would laugh it off: thanks very much, with friends like you who needs enemies. The sort of thing Archie would have said.

“No, not really,” Brian said, sitting down on the stall. He took a deep breath and then looked Imelda in the eye. “The reason I was late was because I had my second dose of chemotherapy. I’m alright,” he said , quickly. “I had a small tumour removed and the chemo is just to make sure, the doctors say. To get rid of any stray cancer cells. Make sure it doesn’t spread.  It’s just slowed me down a bit. Knocked me for six, so to speak.”

“I didn’t know. Sorry, Brian.”

“You weren’t to know. No one does,” Brian said. A smile: “I kept it from Josie on purpose.”

They laughed again, this time forced, uncomfortable.

“I guess, it is a good thing,” Brian said, after a moment. “In a way. I think I had taken it all for granted. I am fifty seven, and I have never really done anything. Never been anywhere, apart from Spain on a package holiday. It’s made me think about things. I mean, we’re all terminal when you think about it. All of us are going to die. We just don’t know when. So you have to live your life.”

“Yes, you’re right. Of course you are.”

“I’ve started one of those ‘bucket lists’. You know a list of all the things you’d like to do before you die. I’m going to take some time off work and I’m going to see a bit more of the world. Whilst I can.”

They wheeled the trolley through to the little room, at the front of the building. Chairs were already in place, ready to receive those souls who wanted a free cup of tea, and to talk to a friendly face.

Brian was right. Time was precious, it was foolish to waste it. Imelda had spent too long stuck in the rut of routine. If she didn’t want to become her Nana (and she certainly did not want that) she would have to make more of an effort. She would phone Joe, when she got home, she decided. Thank him, properly and tell him she was going with him to Hyde Park. And if he still had a spare ticket she would buy it for Brian.

 

——————–

This story is part of a series of stories written about people living in the fictional seaside town of Humpbuckle-on-Sea. You can find out more by visiting Humpbuckle.Me

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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