The bell rings above the bar. The lights are dimmed. Glasses clink as they are stacked together, and chairs begin to scrape under tables. A mutter of discontent from the clientele, as they down their drinks to the last dregs. “Last orders! time to drink up, ladies and gents!”
Slowly, they leave the pub, out into the chilly night air, following the amber glow of streetlamps like moths to candle-flames. All except one. A solitary figure, by the jukebox. A regular, who reads the paper over a drink until the doors are shut. He’s almost become part of the furniture, though nobody knows his name.
The landlord explains with a sigh to his new barman:
“He comes in most nights.”
He sits by the jukebox until the clock chimes eleven, when the landlord clears away his glass and tells him it’s time to go home. He stares silently with dark, night-owl eyes, and without a word rises from his seat. He looks old, but perhaps it’s just a trick of the light. His clothes are plain, grey and dusty. He walks toward the door, without offering a goodbye.
The landlord shivers, watching the figure of this strange pilgrim disappear into the night. Something about him just doesn’t feel right. A missing part to his whole, an absence that cannot be ignored. And yet, he knows nothing about the man. Nobody does.
No moon in this sky tonight. An inky expanse of nothing, stars choked out and blind. The unknowable man looks up into the night, and smiles. He raises both hands upward and begins to soar. A trail of starlight follows his ascent. He finds his place in the firmament; and now, in the once darkened sky, a full moon hangs brightly. The man in the moon has come home.
‘Excuse me, what are you doing with my cat?’ Elspeth was not happy to see Daphne Jones from down the road cuddling the rather rotund Tortoiseshell Benny.
‘What do you mean, your cat? He spends all day with me. I feed him and he sleeps on the back of the sofa by the window. He likes the sun. It’s his favourite spot.’ Daphne held Benny closer.
‘He’s my cat and I feed him. And I pay for his injections and even bought him a collar.’
‘Oh that.’ Daphne was scathing. ‘It was too tight. I took it off.’
‘How dare you. I want it back, and Benny too.’
The two women glared at each other. Elspeth had suspected that Benny had found another billet, but had no idea it was with Daphne Jones so close by.
‘So,’ Daphne challenged: ‘If he’s with me all day when does he live with you?’
‘He comes in most nights.’ Elspeth replied. ‘He has his supper then he sleeps next to the radiator.’
Daphne thought for a minute, then made a suggestion.
‘How about we share him? I’ll feed him one week and you do the next, because he is getting rather fat.’
‘Alright,’ Elspeth agreed. ‘And you can stump up for the next vet’s bill.’
Benny purred contentedly. He could keep his two comfortable homes, but he hadn’t yet twigged there would no longer be two sets of meals.
Suzanne knocked back the tequila and gasped, squeezing her eyes until the burning sensation ebbed.
“Another,” she said, slamming the shot glass down on the sticky bar counter.
“Are you sure?” the bartender asked. A hefty woman of middling years known as Big Pam. She tilted her head to one side, thick hands working a grubby bar towel along the counter, “You don’t look like you’re enjoying it.”
Suzanne frowned. As much as this festering swill hole repulsed her, she wanted to get wasted without anyone she knew interrupting. I was dumped AND fired today; it literally couldn’t be any worse.
“Another,” she said firmly.
Big Pam shrugged, “Alright.”
Suzanne flung it back as soon as it was served, grimacing at the sick warmth in her belly. She shifted on her bar stool as a man sidled up next to her.
“Uh, hello,” a cursory glance told her he wasn’t dangerous but disabled in some way. Half his face hung as if melted like some Halloween mask, the left eyelid sagged and wept.
“Teq-tequila!” he grinned, the movement twisted his face even more and his head spasmed with every syllable. Big Pam served him a beer with a sad smile,
“Here you go, Fred. That’s the last one tonight, ok?”
“Ye-ye-yes! Th-Thank y-you,” Fred said, his head jerking as he shuffled away to a small table in the corner. He sat there alone and proceeded to talk animatedly to himself. Suzanne tried not to stare.
Big Pam sighed, “He comes in most nights.”
“Did something happen to him?”
“Motorbike accident after too many drinks. His helmet saved his life but… well, he’s never been the same since.” She nodded at Suzanne’s empty glass, “Another?”
Suzanne licked her lips, “Um, no thanks.” Maybe my day could be worse.
The morning had started off on the wrong note, having forgotten to switch off the alarm, he had been woken at the ungodly hour of 5.30 on his day off! Then, he was subjected to a kitchen full of smelly rubbish his new rescue dog, Billy, had decided needed releasing from the confines of the waste bin……. How he wished he hadn’t had a take -away curry the night before, or just put the containers straight into the outside bin, as there was also the natural doggy consequence of said dog eating the remains of the curry to clear up too! Whoever said that getting a dog was a good idea would be being told!!!…… but then again, Billy was looking extremely sorry for himself, and hiding in a corner only half wagging his tail.
“Ah well, it ‘s early days Billy”, he said, “Come here, I’ll forgive you, but no more emptying my bins…. You’ve got a home now, and I promise I’ll feed you… so no more foraging for my curries!!!” The wire -haired terrier slunk towards him on all fours, unsure if he was still in trouble, then turned over in an act of submission.
“OK son, here you go…. belly rub to make friends!” The dog almost looked like he was laughing at being tickled then jumped up and gave him a very wet lick on the end of his nose, tail wagging so hard it looked like it might drop off!
“Sorry I shouted Billy” he muttered “What was I supposed to do?”
Taking on a dog looked like it was going to be quite challenging, but, as he gazed into the dog’s liquid eyes, he thought that maybe a dog wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“Hiya, Pat, how’s tricks? Just my usual please. No tell you what make it a large one. I’ve had a shit day.” Paula Evans pulled up a bar stool and plunged wearily down onto the seat. Pat handed her a glass of wine. “Here you go sweetheart, enjoy!”
Paula took a deep sip and scanned the near empty bar. “Who’s the big fella, there in the corner? What is he? Some sort of geek? Look at all them books.”
Pat looked over Paula’s shoulder. “Well believe it or not, he works on that housing development down Grafton Street. His name is Rob. I think he’s studying for something.”
“He comes in most nights.”
Paula rolled her eyes and shook her head, “No shit Sherlock. Anyway, I’m gonna have a chat. Let’s see what this mystery fella is all about.”
Paula slid off the stool, and glass in hand, she headed straight for where Rob was sat.
“Hiya, mind if I join you?” Paula picked up a glossy pamphlet titled, ‘Criminology and Criminal Profiling.’ She flicked through the pages. “Heavy stuff here mate, what you studying then?”
Rob pulled over a chair and Paula sat down. They both sipped their respective drinks and studied each other. Rob broke the silence, “Criminology.”
Paula let out a low whistle, “Wow, you must have some brains, so like, what are you going to be when you grow up?”
Rob set his glass down and frowned, “Not sure yet, but something like the Probation Service. Maybe.”
He stared directly into Paula’s eyes, “I had a bit of trouble in the past, you know, did a bit of time, a relationship break up and……” Rob hesitated. Paula, leaned forward, “Go on, what else?”
“Well, we had a baby and it died. Suddenly. Sort of screwed us both up. So, I’m gonna sort myself out. This course is just the start.”
“She winked at me.”
Stuart stared at their reflection facing out of Burtons shop window. Haloperidol had done few favours for Brian’s looks. His fingers twitching, tongue rolling, excessive blinking due to Tardive Dyskinesia.
“Don’t be daft, it’s a mannequin,” Stuart plays it down. Brian often sees things.
“That’s me,” says Brian looking now at the male mannequin dressed in a three-piece suit and fedora. In the crook of his arm is the hand of a female dummy in a formal coat with a black cloche hat.
Brian looks at his suspended hand. “That’s as real as my thoughts.”
Stuart looks at their reflections. He’s been worried about Brian lately; the things he sees and hears, only now he doesn’t look fearful. What he relates is not the scary stuff the depot suppresses; he’s smiling. Until recently, a winking mannequin would have triggered shouting at the window, threatening structural violence and being arrested.
The next morning Stuart wakes early and knocks on Brian’s room door to give him his pills. When there is no reply, he enters the empty room. Now he’s worried. Dressing quickly, he sets out on their usual routes that keep them both occupied all day, every day. Through the park, embankment and shopping arcade he goes searching. At Burtons he notices the mannequin. Only the male now, in the nude. They must be changing the window dressing.
By evening, there is no sign. Outside the Café Royal where Stuart is resting, a taxi pulls up. A dapper looking couple step out. He is wearing a three-piece suit and looks for all the world like Brian; a “normal” Brian. She wears a cloche hat and holds the crook of his arm. Stuart stares at them as they pass, mouth agape, when she winks at him.
The doorbell rang. Alice skipped to open it. A couple stood there. “Hello, can we speak to your Mother?”
Her brow furrowed, “Sorry, Mum has had to go out. She’ll be home soon. Please come in.”
The pair smiled. It was such a pleasure to have a positive reaction to their presence.
The lady fished in her copious bag, brought out a couple of pamphlets, and laid them on the side table.
The front door opened. “Alice, I’m home. Where are you?”
“Mum, I’m in the lounge. There are some people to see you.”
Wendy hurried in as she wondered who it was. The strange couple stood up as she entered.
She looked at them, strangers here in the house with her daughter all alone. Who were they?
The man held out his hand, then drew it back. “Good morning. We’re from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thank you for allowing us to enter your delightful home. Could we leave you these pamphlets which explain more about us?”
Wendy starred open-mouthed for a moment, then smiled. “Thank you.” Turning to Alice, she said, “Alice, go up and get ready. We have to go out now.”
As soon as the front door closed, Wendy rounded on her daughter. “What were you thinking about letting strangers into the house when you’re here alone?”
Surprised, Alice wailed. “What was I supposed to do?”
Wendy drew her daughter close and gave her a big hug. “I’m sorry, love, thank goodness they were only JW’s, but you could have let in a deranged murderer or something.”
Wendy’s shoulders bobbed up and down as she sobbed. “I thought you would be pleased. I thought I behaved like a grown-up.”
Bill dropped another log on the bonfire causing a splash of sparks. He sat down on the chair opposite David with the fire’s smoke as a curtain between them. They had not spoken for ten minutes. “I can’t believe I told you that,” David said, almost to himself. Another silent minute passed. Without looking up Bill said “I would have never guessed. I just...” Silence. He peered through the smoke and caught David’s eyes. “It doesn’t seem like something you would do.”
"What was I supposed to do?" David said, "I had no other choice.” He knew that wasn’t true. Bill poked at the embers in the fire, fixated on the wind-pulled flames. “I can’t imagine, Dave. I mean, I never...” His voice trailed off. David cleared his throat. “If I were put in the same situation, I guess I would have to do the same thing all over again. I know I would.” He looked over the fire to Bill for support.
Bill’s voice shook. “It’s OK Dave. I understand.” He really didn’t. “I still respect you.” He actually now feared him. He wished David had never told him. Now he was a part of it. He could never erase it. David, however, felt a weight off his chest. He was glad he told Bill, even though Bill barely knew the half of it.
‘He comes in most nights.’
‘Three times a week, five… how often did David visit your pub, Mr Evans?’
Liz Evans tottered over on high heels, the cliché landlady from every B movie: big hair, lips and tits, all prominently displayed. She clasped, she hoped, seductively a very large G and very small T. ‘I can help you there, inspector.’ She blanked her husband and stood a little too close to the detective. ‘David was a regular. Here at 7 on the dot every night.’ She nodded her Dolly Parton hair towards her husband. ‘He pours a pint of Ruddles and sits it on the bar, ready and waiting.’
The old detective twitched. He might be collecting his inflation-linked pension next year, but he knew it was this he’d miss: proper detective work. Not watching endless bloody CCTV footage or scrolling through a suspect’s inane text messages. No, this was how you solved cases: talking to real people, knowing when to nod, when to probe and when to go for the jugular. ‘Mr Evans, weren’t you even a little surprised when David didn’t appear on time last Wednesday evening? Didn’t you wonder why his pint of Ruddles sat on the bar, unloved and undrunk?’
‘Don’t be daft, inspector,’ the painted bright red lips were smiling, ‘of course he wasn’t surprised.’
The grey-haired policeman raised one eyebrow nonchalantly, a trick it’d taken him most of his 40s to perfect. ‘Mrs Evans?’
‘Call me Liz, inspector, everyone does.’ She carried on smiling directly at the officer. ‘Well, oh useless husband of mine, are you going to tell him, or am I?’
Mr Evans gulped from his glass of dark rum and coke. ‘See, he couldn’t, could he? Not with his body lying cold on the Guinness in the cellar.’
In disgust, Bill Georgeson put down his book, The Angry Mountain by Hammond Innes – a ridiculous pot-boiler in which the protagonist took a mule onto a small aeroplane and disposed of a baddie by having Dobbin kick him in the head.
Bill was at the beach with his dog this morning. The wind was so strong his eyes leaked like a punctured hose. He was looking for the dog’s lead that fell out of his pocket onto the sand two days ago. It wasn’t there. Instead, he saw what looked like a dead fish lying on the tideline. The gulls had had its eyes and most of its face but it was no fish. It had a beak. It was a baby dolphin. Bill had never seen a dolphin before. You wouldn’t expect to, not on that beach.
Bill was never the brightest star in the firmament. Forty years before he retired, he was working as a porter in the local hospital. He was very keen on a studious, bookish nurse. He told me later, in his own breathy style:
‘She winked at me.’
That wink was all Bill needed to make his move.
He knew the nurse was fond of poetry, so he borrowed a book of poems by Rupert Brooke and, on some pretext, went to the bonny nurse's room to read some of the poems to her.
She asked him what the poetry was about.
‘It’s by a chap called Ruptured Brook and it’s red-hot,’ said Bill. ‘There’s references to slaking and everything.’
It turned out that the nurse was very keen on Bill. He staggered home some time later, shirt open, cap awry, face covered in lipstick.
‘What happened to you?’ his brother asked Bill.
‘I think I’ve been slaked,’ he gasped.
Ethel sat in the kitchen, crying. Nero had not come for his breakfast. The house seemed empty despite her niece sitting at the table. Ethel imagined dreadful scenarios, the common denominator, Nero dead. Emma said, “Aunt Ethel, when did you last see Nero?”
“Yesterday when I gave him his breakfast. He was sitting like an emperor on the top step, gazing at the other cats. But the moment he hears me putting his saucer of food down, he comes through the cat flap like a shot. The same in the evenings.”
Emma said, “Does he stay after his evening meal?”
“Oh, no, once he has eaten, he is off again.”
“So he spends his time outside?”
Ethel shook her head. “He comes in most nights.”
“But not last night. Shall I phone the vets for you? We can see if anyone has found a cat. Is he micro-chipped?”
The old lady nodded while wringing her hands.
Emma pulled her phone from her pocket and checked with all the vets. The last call yielded a result.
“Yes, somebody picked up a black cat lying near a skip. A car hit him. Are you the owner?”
Emma walked out of the kitchen, then explained Nero belonged to her elderly aunt. “Is he badly injured?”
“No, he is a lucky black cat but has a broken leg.”
Emma blanched. “Will it be expensive to treat him?”
The veterinary nurse said, “As his owner is elderly, we will treat him at pensioners rates. Do you want us to do that?”
Emma told Ethel what had happened.
The old lady sobbed and said, “Whatever the cost, please make him better.”
From then on, following his evening meal, Ethel locked the cat flap. He had to stay home at night.
She stood at the open window, shaking her fists at anyone passing the gate. Her strident voice screamed. “Get away. There are monsters up there.” A group of walkers passed, laughing and paying no attention to her. They were almost past when a shot rang out. A girl screamed, they scrambled out of range. Sitting on the grassy bank, one girl cried. “Why did she shoot at us?”
Alister said, “I’m phoning the police.”
A young detective drove up. “Hi, who reported a shooting? Is anyone injured?”
Alister said, “I phoned. As we passed that house there,” he pointed to the decrepit farmhouse below them, “an old lady was yelling and shaking her fists at us, then suddenly a shot rang out.”
“Was anyone hurt?” Asked the police officer.
“No, we were going for a walk, but now we want to get the hell out of here.”
“Right, stay here. I’ll see what’s going on.”
As he neared the house, the window was flung open. He saw the muzzle of a gun, then an old lady with tousled grey hair shouted. “Get away. The monsters are coming.”
He called back. “Don’t worry. I’ve got them under control for now. How about you come out, then we can get away from them?”
Still carrying the gun, she opened the door. He reached out. “Let me take the gun.”
Subdued, she handed the weapon over. “That’s good. Now let’s get away from here.”
Back at the police station with her safely tucked away at the hospital, his boss congratulated him.
Shaking his head, he said, “She winked at me.”
His unhelpful boss said. “People suffering delusions do strange things, don’t worry, there’s no significance to it.”
I drive a SUV; it makes me feel safe, especially at night when I’m driving home from work. Still, I carry a small gun.
One evening we were invited out to an office dinner, so it got rather late. Just as I paused at one of the traffic signals on my way home, another SUV came up alongside mine. This one was loaded with thumping music and men, most likely late-night revellers.
I ignored them, waiting for the lights to change, but their ribald hoots where clearly audible and I glanced at my gun. At that moment, a gust of breeze kicked up dust, sweeping it into my face, and I turned away, blinking my eyes as I powered up my window pane.
The men in the SUV construed this as something else, and one yelled triumphantly:
“She winked at me.”
The lights changed that instant and I took off. Behind the SUV followed, its thunderous music reverberating into the night.
I live at the end of a less-frequented, serpentine street that shoots off suddenly from a busy intersection. If I got there fast enough, I could turn off unobserved – they would naturally take the main road and I would be free of them.
I put ‘pedal to metal’ that night, to place as much distance as I could between us. I reached the intersection and veered off from the main road.
Halfway down the street, I checked my rear-view mirror and sighed in relief. There was no sight of the SUV.
I reached home, quickly parked in the garage and was shutting my door when I heard blaring music again – then from my window I saw the SUV booming down the street. They hadn’t seen me, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
I reached for my gun and waited.
“What was I supposed to do?” The middle-aged woman sobbed to the exhausted officer. The gun had still been in her hands when the police arrived in her blood-soaked living room. The corpse of man lay not yet cold on her floor. The neighbours had heard the shots and called for help. Nobody had tried to remove the weapon from her, though she quickly handed it over. They all knew she wouldn’t fire on them anyway. She was smarter than that. “He broke into my home. I thought he was going to attack me. I panicked.”
“You panicked five times?” The officer grumbled, indicating to the bullet riddled body.
“He took a while to go down.” The woman admitted. “I had to be sure I was safe.”
“That’s all very well, mam.” The officer huffed. “But according to our evidence, this is the third time you’ve ‘panicked’ in the last month.”
“I seem to be a magnet for danger.” The woman nodded.
“One was a dog walker who came nowhere near your house.”
“He could have easily set that dog on me.” The woman scowled.
“The chihuahua?” The officer raised his eyebrow.
“Yes. Vicious little things they are.”
“The one that was still on the leash when you shot him? It seems you shot from him the side too, likely taking him completely unaware.”
The woman sighed and her gaze dropped to the ground.
“You’re not buying any of this, are you?” She muttered.
“Not really, mam.”
“Fine.” She shrugged before stretching out her arms for the inevitable cuffs. “It was fun while it lasted.”
Sharon ran her bar with military precision. The optics and glasses were gleaming. Customers always knew when to go home, there were no locks-ins. Last orders meant just that. The landlady was definitely in charge.
Sharon’s fish pie was stuff of legends. Homemade, with the fluffiest mash and mouth-watering cod, that was tastier than anything you’d be served in a Michelin starred restaurant, or so the local paper quoted.
All the food served was delicious and freshly made. Sharon was an excellent chef and landlady. She was fond of live music and quiz nights and the occasional open mic night. The pub was a social hub and place of fun. Lots of villagers frequented ‘The Randy Badger’ especially Tom Dewberry.
It was a chilly February night, when John Hartman called in to the pub asking after Tom.
‘I hear you’ve seen Tom, Mrs Walters?’
‘Call me Sharon, John’
Sharon took a liking to John, his swarthy looks put her in mind of a film star she couldn’t quite put a name to.
‘He comes in most nights’ Sharon said, leaning forward across the bar, her lust for John barely contained.
‘Tom Dewberry?’ John asked, diverting his eyes from Sharon’s voluptuousness.
‘He sits on that stool over there and sups a pint. Not everyone notices the shadows, or feels the temperature drop, but I do. The lights flicker too.’
John was delighted with his enquiries and told Sharon that he’d definitely squeeze her in to the schedule. ‘Haunted Happenings’ would love to feature her pub and Tom Dewberry in the next series.
Sharon giggled and said she’d look forward to making an appearance on the show.
‘Let’s hope Tom Dewberry makes an appearance too, say a prayer he doesn’t ghost us.’ John said, winking at Sharon.
The slight breeze as I opened the door caused her Earth coloured hair to waft about her face. She opened her cornflower blue eyes and stared a moment. Then smiled. “Ah, you’ve come to collect the plants for Queen Letitia, haven’t you?”
I nodded, awed to be in the presence of Gaia. She slowly stood up. She was huge, as you would expect an Earth goddess to be. She lumbered about her room, picking up and putting down various bundles of plants. I thought she must be shortsighted as she needed to peer at each container of plants. She muttered. “I know I put it here somewhere.” As I did not know what she was looking for, I couldn’t help at all. This was still the tail end of winter, the plants were not awake yet but not as deeply asleep as a few weeks ago. I looked about at the array of plants, some with just the tip of green showing through brown coverings, but there were others where leaves were already visible. I supposed they were snowdrops and ones like that.
Just then I heard her exclaim. “I’ve found them!” As she picked up a container made from what looked like banana leaves. She held them out to me. “Here take them Letitia knows what to do. Make sure you carry them carefully and don’t tarry, getting them to her Majesty.”
I took the warm bundle and bowed low. “Thank you, for this precious gift I’ll make haste to deliver it.”
She was sitting in her chair again. Her eyes drooped. Soon she would be asleep until the spring when she would awaken with her plants and we could enjoy her bounty once again.
© Felicity Edwards
“This won’t take long” the man said as he stepped onto the short, narrow jetty that led from the choppy waters to the lighthouse. His knees felt stiff as he placed a foot onto the sodden wood, but his blood contained as much salt as the sea and he had a few good years remaining in his joints.
He took a final look back at the small craft and thanked Gordon for bringing him out here at such short notice and wondered if Gordon’s useless son, Henry, had the same desire to spend his days on the water.
The air was cool and damp and the pathway was illuminated by the pale moonlight that made his ascent to the circular building a little easier. Why Joseph, the keeper, had not lit the gas burner meant something was wrong, whether that was the lighthouse or Joseph himself remained to be seen. Either way, it was the man’s responsibility to check.
Gripping the length of thick rope that acted as a handrail that ran parallel to the path, the man looked out to sea, he wondered what ships travelled out there in the darkness, where they had travelled from and what cargo they carried. The world was changing, becoming smaller, new trade routes established, it was a time of much change, but they would still need the warning light from the beacon on the shore.
Upon reaching the small door, the man used his shoulder to gain entrance, shoving the heavy wood backwards and immediately feeling the shift in conditions. The base of the tower was warm and sheltered, circular with a staircase running upwards and around. He placed one foot on the bottom step and hesitated at the sight of a bloodied boot print.
“Joseph?” he called up into the gloom.
© Darren Arthurs
‘You did what?’
‘I already told you, Andy. Mr Thomas rang while you were gone. He said your Friday meeting is re-arranged. I told him you didn’t really want the job anyway. That’s what you said to me. I remember what you said, and I got every word right. You said, ‘If he thinks I’m going to do that then he can stick his job where…’
‘Okay, okay. I remember what I said. I just didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to tell anyone. Let alone my boss. My new boss. The same boss who’s going to be heading my six-week probation interview on Friday.’
‘I’m not stupid. Don’t call me stupid.’
I closed my eyes. Inhaled deeply through my nose as flashing lights behind my eyelids glowed red, yellow, orange. I tried to remember my promise to our mother.
‘You’re not stupid. And I’m sorry for saying that.’
‘Are you angry with me?’
‘No David, I’m not angry. I’m wondering why you picked up my phone. You don’t usually answer my phone.’
‘You said make yourself at home. I always answer the phone at home. I wrote down what he said so I wouldn’t forget. I know sometimes I forget what people say. But I didn’t. I wrote it all down, like you said I should. Right away.
‘What did he say.’
David checked his notes.
‘He said, ‘Andrew, is that you Andrew? Who the hell is this?’
‘No. I mean what did he say after telling him that ‘I didn’t want the job anyway’.’
‘Ummm…,’ he slowly turned over several pages; his huge writing was like a young child’s.
‘I think he said, ‘go figure’, I wasn’t sure I heard that word right.’
‘And then he said to tell you he’d see you first thing Monday…’
© Helen Northey
The letter had triggered it. She encouraged him to believe he had offered to drive her, in case she had a bad turn.
More fool her when she’d opened her mouth and “Do you know where we’re going?” came out.
“Of course, I know. I’m driving us there, aren’t I?”
“When the letter came you said you had no idea where it was.”
He harrumphed and muttered about fool women. She turned her head to the window and stared out at the blustery sky.
The crossing was choppy. The boat struggled to land, the chain winched tight before it was clamped and they were let off.
At the top of the road a police car blocked all exits, its blue lights flashing. Her heart pulsed to its beat. Would he get fed up and turn around? He’d done that when the children were little, refusing to wait even ten minutes for a jam to clear. They’d returned home in tears.
She breathed again as the police cleared the blockage. They turned right at the top, following the road into Stonehouse. Her eyes searched for clues to their destination, desperate for a sign before he snarled at her.
A yellow notice told them to turn right and they were into new territory for them both. The sward of green on her left was welcome as were the town villas on her right. A masked man waved them down and checked their papers before showing them to a parking spot.
At the barricades they were checked again by masked people.
“Waste of time,” he grumbled.
All too soon they were sat in opposite chairs with their sleeves rolled up.
“This won’t take long,” said another masked man.
A sharp prick and it was all over.
“Glad we got our COVID jabs together?”
© Liz Berg
Slowly walking towards the office, I was trying to remember my lines. My hands become sweaty and my face showed trauma, unlike ever before. I forced my hands to knock, and luckily, the door was opened for me, because I wouldn’t have managed that. Shaking with fear, I sat uncomfortably on the chair, hoping it’d end soon. He took a seat, and looking at me, I returned a nervous smile. “This won’t take long” he said, looking towards the clock. It was 1pm, every meeting was limited to 40mins. This cleared out a bit of the stress, and feeling more relaxed, the stressor came rushing back, slamming me in the face.
Turns out, I’d forgotten to turn down my phone. Loudly, Angus Young’s taped-up guitar thundered up the room with Brian Johnson’s sandpaper voice, it seemed to foretell a razors edge. My face went white. “Sorry, it was just in case I didn’t wake up.” The interviewer was clearly intrigued. Why did that happen? How did I forget to off it? My hands began to tremble violently…I quickly switched it off. Embarrassed, I looked up at him, regretting every second of it. It was a very uncomfortable interview. For him, he was wasting his time, and for me, the mortifying moments just kept rolling, like a spool of awkwardness. I tried to prep my mind while he spoke, and so, I didn’t hear any of his questions. He began the interview. “So, tell…..” Alright John, don’t worry about it. He must have forgotten it. Just get on with it. Then, I realized that I missed the question. By his expression, he looked angry. He cut the meeting down to 25 minutes…I knew I blew it. Frustrated, I quickly nicked his pens…throwing them in my pockets. Atleast I got something from it.
© Jessica Ann George
The little girl had been brutalised and flung into the gutter where she died within the hour.
Nevertheless, before the night had been out, the town’s folk had caught the perpetrator, had beaten him up within an inch of his life and had taken him to the police. From there they conveyed him to a nearby hospital, a mass of blood, sweat, spittle and dirt.
As dawn broke and the body of the little girl was conveyed to the same hospital for analysis, the town’s folk gathered in a mass before the building, demanding justice. Back at her home, her half-demented mother wailed, and her father stared vacantly at the ceiling.
While the little girl lay in her dark, silent mortuary, her rapist was handcuffed to a bed within a special ward and a policeman was placed outside the door on guard. He moved aside as a lady doctor walked brusquely into the room to check on the man. She was young and pretty, with a smile that shone right through her eyes. The rapist stared at her as she checked his wounds, his pulse and then his heart-rate
Then she rummaged around a table, and returned with a scalpel in her gloved hand. She smiled at him, ruffled his matted hair and calmly reached under the sheets and beyond his midriff. He looked once more at her, stunned.
“Relax,” she whispered and smiled warmly at his gaping face. “This won’t take long.”
He felt a sudden sharp pain in his crotch and the warmth of blood against his thighs. Then, agony spread across his body, and he passed out. As blood from his groin reddened the sheets under him, the doctor silently left the room with a kidney tray of cotton, concealing the body part she had just amputated.
© Cindy Pereira
It was time to walk Bo. She had been inside all day on account of all the meetings I’d had. Michelle had taken the children for a short break to Martha’s Vineyard. Only I couldn’t find Bo’s lead. Yesterday we had walked across the White House lawn and Bo had run after a squirrel and I’d lost her. I had security go find her, but whilst they were searching, a drone was flown overhead with a mounted camera and pictures of security searching for Bo had since gone viral.
The red phone rang. It was Michelle asking if I’d remembered to help Sasha with her school project and it was only then that I remembered that she’d only taken Malia for a “girls weekend”. I couldn’t remember seeing Sasha all day, but I assured Michelle that the school project about the Liberty Bell was in hand. Michelle shouted down the line; “bell hooks” is the project; “Bell Blair Hooks!”. She ended the call and I walked towards the library to locate my copy of Outlaw Culture, then I needed to find Sasha.
In the hall, the black phone rang. I answered it. “Sir, I have Xi Jinping for the scheduled call from Beijing.”
I talked about trade and currency and his forthcoming visit which he reminded me about.
“Daddy, you said we would read bell hooks together”, Sasha appeared from nowhere.
“I did” I agreed. “But that was a very important call from China’s President.
“Did you ask him about human-rights abuses”
“I did”, I lied. The whole point of the call had been cleverly avoided.
“Sir” came an urgent call, “we are due to test emergency procedure on the nuclear button, do you have the briefcase?
I looked at him in askance. “I know I put it here somewhere”.
© Steve Goodlad
I stood there relived at least Emile was finally dead. I knew Merenne would have liked to deal the killing blow. I turned to face the horde amassing hundreds of feet in front of us they were a shambling mass of bones coupled with rotted and rusting weapons. It was their bodies that shocked me, their skulls had purple orbs where their eyes were meant to be, holding it all together in a macabre manner was parchment-like skin. I looked along the lines and there was one being looking more putrid than the others with a tarnished crown. I focussed on it and it raised its crude glaive toward us and the horde charged. It was unsettling, to say the least. I looked further back and I saw another giant creature must be one of the other horsemen. By the retinue in front of him, this must be death himself.
‘Merenne you ready?’ I said
‘Cleansing fire?’ She asked.
‘Of course, you use fire against the undead.’ She gave me a tired look then a wicked smile.
‘This won’t take long.’ Khazak said
‘Aye Lord Khazak. There is nothing like a Mages fury.’ Henry said swinging his axe
Merenne and I shouted the same incantation ‘ignis purgationis’ and a flash of flame from the ground rose in amongst the foul ranks this halted the charge. The smell of staleness permeated the battleground like an old building aflame. I felt the tinge of pain burning down my arm which dissipated into my sword. I had the acrid taste of vomit which I spat out.
After the smoke cleared my resolve seemed to waiver I looked out over the field and I saw several scores of undead fiends still charging.
‘Not Again?’ Merenne said
‘Ignis purgationis’ I replied flames leaping.
© Dean Hodsfry
“Mum, you go and put your feet up. I’ll put the shopping away and make us a brew.” Pamela Hetherington watched as her mother Mabel shuffled gingerly into the lounge. With a deep sigh, she eased back into a large armchair and kicked off her shoes. “I’m whacked. Shopping does me in, hurry up with that tea Pamela, I’m spitting feathers here.”
Ten minutes later the pair were settled in their cosy lounge, sipping hot tea from two china cups.
Mabel gave Pamela a sidewards glance, “Look, do you know what college course Parsons is doing, you know, like what that Johnson woman told us at Myrtle’s wake?”
Pamela’s eyes shot up at the mention of Rob Parsons, “I’ve no idea, probably howtobeatwatology.”
“Pamela! Language, remember I’m still your mother.” Pamela blushed, “Sorry Mum, it’s just the mention of his name makes my blood boil.”
Mabel leaned down and pulled out a glossy looking brochure from her large shopping bag. “Well, I thought you might like to do one, you know, a college course or something. So, I got you this from the library.”
She handed the brochure to Pamela.
“You did what?”
Pamela stared at the cover. ‘The Open University – Courses and Qualifications.’ She glanced inside, carefully studying the list of courses from Arts and Humanities to Sports and Fitness.
“Oh, I don’t know mum, I haven’t done any school work for ages. I’m not sure I could concentrate.”
Mabel looked firmly into Pamela’s eyes, “You were a very clever girl, all the teachers said so. You’d breeze one of these courses. I mean you don’t want to stay as just an office clerk at Morton’s for ever, do you?”
Pamela took a deep sip of tea. She placed the brochure carefully on the table. “I don’t know mum; I’ll have a think.”
Mabel, smiling, drained her cup.
© Graham Crisp