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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First Date (273 words)​

They met at the vernissage of an art installation called “Mirrors in Scarlet”. Supposedly “a three dimensional critique on the use of reflection in The Scarlet Letter”, Dave thought it was actually just a load of bollocks. Red lights, scarlet ribbons dancing in currents of air (produced by two large men dressed as Pilgrim women each pumping a pair of massive bellows), mirrors of various sizes, and shitty atmospherique music, did not make what he considered to be art. There were, of course, the requisite number of beard-stroking hipster types, nodding appreciatively, as they quaffed the free champagne. And some dreary bloke (presumably the “artist”) wanking on about imagery, symbolism and other bullshit to a crowd of sycophantic hangers-on.

He watched Diane as she contemplated the scene. He couldn’t read her expression: did she actually like this crap? It had been her who had suggested meeting here for their first date: her friend had given her tickets. Dave hoped her friend wasn’t the dreary bloke or one of his simpering groupies. He really liked Diane: online chats, and the five minutes they had spent chatting outside, had shown she was funny, intelligent and cute. But he was fairly sure he would end up insulting someone if they didn’t leave soon.

Diane mouthed something. Dave raised an eyebrow, not quite sure if he’d understood. She moved close to him, and whispered in his ear.

“Let’s go to the pub,” she said, her breath tickling his lobe. “Before I end up punching one of these arseholes.”

Dave smiled, and they linked arms as they left the room. They were going to get on just fine.

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.

 

 

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.