I love second-hand bookshops, and one’s just opened up around the corner from me. I live in an area full of hipsters and over-priced vegan cafés. It wasn’t like that when I first moved here. It’s changed over the years, and to be honest, I like it. I’m as happy to pay over the odds for a decent flat white as any hipster, and if it means more second-hand bookshops, then bring it on!
Anyway, my friend Mo and I went to the bookshop last weekend. It’s in an absolutely tiny corner building, so with social distancing, they only allow two people in at a time. Mo was still drinking her pricey takeaway coffee.
‘You go in’, she said. ‘I’ll wait and take care of Kerry.’
Sorry, I should have told you – Kerry’s my little Highland terrier – an absolute sweetie, but she suffers from separation anxiety.
‘Oh, she won’t stay with anyone. I’ll take her in with me.’
Two minutes later I was rushing out again. Yes, really, despite everything I said about loving second-hand bookshops.
‘Mo’ I said ‘we need to call the police. There’s a body under the floorboards in there!’
‘What?’ she said. ‘Have you gone crazy?’
‘No. It’s Kerry. She knew straight away. There was a tartan rug on the floor, and Kerry wouldn’t leave it alone. She was pulling at it, chewing it, trying to get underneath it. It was so embarrassing. So I joked with the owner, “Have you got a dead body under there?”
‘What did she say?’
‘She winked at me!’
‘Oh wow! Mo laughed. ‘So she’s got the same sick sense of humour as you.’
‘Oh no, Mo. My Kerry is a very wise dog. She wouldn’t miss something like a dead body. I’m calling the police right now!’
© Maisie Bishop
In 2012, I spent a summer in Bonn. Knowing how I loved music, my hostess presented me with a DVD. She said it was the music of a new group of ten instrumentalists and one solo singer, who had become very popular in Germany. They were performing for free on the banks of the Rhine next evening.
I listened to the DVD several times during the day. The voice of the singer was enchanting. Whether it was a romantic song or a humorous ditty or a semi-classical melody, those silver tones echoed in my mind all day.
The next evening, I arrived at the venue where the band was to perform and found a seat in the front bench, which gave me a close view of the musicians. The singer was a young slender thing, with curly shoulder-length hair and a charming face. There was pin drop silence in the crowd whenever she belted out her songs. She noticed me looking up at her, and our eyes met for a moment before she moved away to another part of the stage. But she was back again with her next song and she winked at me with a smile. I could feel the flutter in my chest. I wanted to meet her. Perhaps she’d oblige me with a selfie.
But even before the music ended, she vanished from the scene much to my disappointment.
The next afternoon, I was biting into my burger at McDonalds when someone slipped in beside me.
“Hullo! You were at our performance last night.”
“Good God!” I could have died of shock.
The singer was a boy after all.
“Disappointed?” he asked, as he swung an arm over my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll want a selfie as a keepsake.”
© Eva Bell
“He comes in most nights.” I sighed and slurped the Albanian merlot. “Sometimes he looks as if he’s been in a fight.”
“Really? Is he injured?” Charlene ran an idle finger round the rim of her glass.
“He won’t submit to a thorough examination. He runs off the minute I let go of him. I do love him but he’s been getting worse.” I drank some more wine. My mouth puckered with tannin.
Charlene patted my hand. She was used to my moaning about Jasper, so poured herself another glass. Ken would be pleased; it had been a bad buy.
“What does Ken think?” she asked.
“You know Ken. Anything for an easy life. He suggested we lock him in at night. But he’s not the one who is disturbed by Jasper trying to get out.”
“Mimi stays in every night since I got her that heated blanket. Expensive but a godsend. I have trouble getting her out of bed now,” said Charlene.
I shook my head. “Jasper’s never been like Mimi. Be honest, he won’t even stay in the same room as you.”
Charlene nodded. “Mimi will go to anyone, a bit of a slut really. Sometimes I wish she’d be more like Jasper.”
“No, you don’t,” I pushed my glass aside. “You’ve never had to deal with the vomit, the blood…” I shuddered at the memories of other bodily fluids.
“Then get him a litter tray and keep him indoors,” said Charlene, ever the voice of reason.
Where would I put a litter tray? There was no way I could fit one in the downstairs loo. And I couldn’t contemplate it in the kitchen or living room. I had no choice. The heated blanket it was.
Ken wouldn’t be happy. It meant one more case of internet merlot.
© Liz Berg
All it had taken was one wink, and I had willingly danced into the intriguing world beyond. Everywhere bright lights, magic and mystery; my old world quickly forgotten in the face of this shiny, enchanting one.
A stranger I might have been, and yet everyone had warmly invited me to play my part in the spectacle, as though I had always been there.
And maybe I had.
After all, I have worn many faces since it all began.
It was one particularly normal day, and I was on my way home, taking my steps in a repetitive rhythm of malcontent. Everything was oppressively damp and grey, and my attention was caught by a mesmerising shimmering in the corner of my eye, dancing like a frosted summer breeze.
I turned to follow, and found myself embarking on a spontaneous trail in the gloom; compelled towards these diamonds in the dark.
My mind was taken over, and I didn’t care to take it back, as I journeyed on and became one of their own.
I swallowed the medicine they gave me with pleasure; a sweet nectar which opened my eyes to how sick I truly was.
I came upon a pale tent, and saw lights and lawlessness peeking through, beckoning me on. A presence pushed past me. That was when it happened, and everything became clear.
I accepted her dare, and allowed myself to be carried in, never again to step out.
I gave myself over, body and soul, to the circus. I would leave all behind, and take on my new identity.
What does it matter of the lost memories and missing hours? I have chosen.
You ask me why did I bind myself to it all?
I can think of only one reason I was lost.
‘She winked at me.’
© Esther Lamin
The ageing bikers were gathered around the old moss-covered wooden table in the Beer Garden of ‘The Joiners’. Pints in hand, sun on backs, adored bikes safe in the car park – life felt good!
They met up most weekends in the Summer for a run along the country lanes, enjoying the throb of the engine, the roar of the exhaust, the camaraderie and the adrenaline rush of the body moving as one with machine. Of course, it always finished with a well-deserved pint, possibly pie and chips and a hearty chinwag before returning to their respective abodes and humdrum lives.
The talk was always of bikes; current ones, past ones so missed, and, of course, the ones they desired the most. They spoke passionately and knowledgeably, as if these mechanical beauties were their latest lover.
The woman watched from the other side of the garden. Slowly and deliberately, she stretched out her long shapely legs, ruffled her long wavy locks, and licked her rosebud lips. This scenario was right up her street, and she felt like having a little excitement!
“She winked at me!” whispered Marvin.
“Don’t be daft man, she winked at me” replied Olly.
“Nah! It’s me she fancies!” rumbled Brian.
“Come off it! Who’d look twice at you, let alone wink! The wink was at me, I’m going over!” declared Denis
“No…. I am!”
As the volume increased, and fists started clenching, faces reddened and testosterone soared, the woman rose, smiled wryly to herself and strode quickly to her own trusty Harley Davidson. Securing her precious bottle of “Pandemonium” safely in the saddlebag and fastening her helmet- War sighed with satisfaction- she absolutely loved her job.
© Hilary Taylor
It was our third date so I thought we were ready for the roller rink where we could skate side by side and hold hands. It was the smartest decision I ever made. After a wobbly start and one fall on her fanny, Debbie never let go.
Afterwards, we got in line for the photobooth while we waited for Debbie’s mother to pick us up. Inside the darkened booth she ran her hands over her hair and straightened her collar. Debbie looked so cute as she primped herself in the glowing light that I couldn’t stop myself from leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. That’s when the first flash went off. The next three flashes caught us with big, blushing smiles on our faces.
Outside the booth we looked at the four pictures and laughed. Debbie suggested I tear the photo strip in two so we each had two pictures as a souvenir. When we looked at the two torn pieces we realized there was only one picture of the kiss. Boy, did I want that picture. Debbie said she wanted it too. I shoved my hand in my pocket and pulled out two more coins. When I tell the story to our kids I like to say, “She winked at me.” Debbie says I winked at her.
I married Debbie forty-seven years ago. We used the old picture of us kissing as the cover of our wedding invitation. Yesterday, at her service, our kids put together a slideshow of images. All eight black and white photos from the booth were mixed with a lifetime of birthday, vacation and holiday pictures. I smile when I remember the date at the rolling rink and the darkened little room that saw we were in love even before we did.
© Steve Stucko
John had already taken the door off its hinges when his wife Janet came into the garage. She sees John using the measuring tape at the bottom of the door. “Don’t forget to make it big enough for Fitzy but not enough for Rex.” John gave her a look that said, “Go away, I got this.” John had not spoken to her since the big fight. It had been another talk about the pets that escalated and got out of hand and left them, if you will, fighting like cats and dogs.
It was John’s dog Rex and Janet’s cat Fitzy. Fitzy would spend his days roaming the property and often would not come in at night when called. “He comes in most nights,” Janet claimed. The fact is that Fitzty often refuses to come in when called and scratches at the door at some point in the middle of the night hoping to be let in. This scratching alerts John’s dog who then barks, thus waking up both John and Janet.
John lined up the electric saw and easily made the three cuts necessary to create the “cat door.” John rehung the door and sat beside his wife. “I’m sorry honey. I shouldn’t have raised my voice like that.” “I’m sorry too,” Janet said. The two held hands and walked down the hallway.
That night Fitzy was left outside intentionally to test the new cat door. Around 3 am the first noises started. The cat and dog had invented a game where they stick their paws through the hole and swat at each other with playful growls. The next night, Rex was kept in an interior room away from the front door. That worked until an opossum came through the cat door and peed all over the kitchen floor.
© Steve Stucko
Working as the night cleaner in the last remaining department store in town may not be everyone’s idea of a dream job but Eve liked it. It allowed her time away from her nagging parents and the peace and quiet was quickly becoming addictive. At first it was spooky; quietly moving around the large spaces, vacuuming, polishing, straightening and buffing, but after a week or so, she began to enjoy it. Caitlyn, her cleaning buddy, had recently given up working on Tuesdays, leaving Eve the run of the shop and the once tempting thought of trying on clothes and wearing the taster make up turned into a weekly fashion parade for her. Wearing clothes was one thing, but her application of makeup left a lot to be desired, she was improving but she still resembled one of the shops’ mannequins.
It was while she was heavily made up and standing near a display doll, dressed in that week’s new clothes that she heard men walking up the stairs.
“Jewellery and leather” one said as if requesting bread and milk from the Tesco around the corner.
“I know, I know!” the other replied.
Eve froze. What should she do? She was going to witness a robbery but making her presence known could mean trouble for her. She flung her arm around the nearest mannequin and stood stock still while the men went shopping, each filling a bag with watches, handbags, shoes and jewels, all under the frightened eye of the night cleaner.
“Let’s go!” the first one called, heading to the stairs.
But the second hesitated and stared at Eve, squinting, mouth open.
“Come on!” came the order and the man hurried away, leaving Eve to breathe easier.
“The mannequin”, he began, “She winked at me.”
© Darren Arthurs
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.
© The Somnambulist Society
‘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.
© Elaine Peters
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.
© Rachel Smith
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.
© Hilary Taylor
“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.”
© Graham Crisp
“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.
© Steve Goodlad
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.”
© Felicity Edwards
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.
© Steve Stucko
‘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.’
© John Quinn
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.
© R.T. Hardwick
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.
© Felicity Edwards
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.”
© Felicity Edwards
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.
© Cindy Pereira
“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.”
© C.E. Tidswell
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.
© Liz Breen