Haunted

Bobby ran to his mother’s room, sobbing.  Janet wrapped her arms around him until the storm subsided.

“He was there again!  That man!” Bobby sniffed.  “Standing there, watching me while I was in bed.”

Janet smoothed the boy’s hair.  “I’m sure it’s just a dream, darling.  Nothing but a dream.”

“But I wasn’t sleeping.  I sat up and I watched him, watching me.  He looks so sad, so sad.  I wish I could help him and then perhaps he’d go away.”

“Now, darling; you must stop this nonsense.  From now on, you shall sleep in here and I shall take your room.  Let him show his face to me, this man of yours!  I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”

“He’s not scary, not really.  Just sad.”

“Hah!” said Janet bitterly.

“Who is he, Mummy?  Why does he keep coming back?”

“Never you mind,” Janet tucked Bobby into her bed.  She pulled on her dressing gown and kissed him on the forehead.  “I’ll go to your room; you’ll be all right.  He won’t dare to come in here!”

In Bobby’s room, the man sat on the bed and sobbed, burying his face in his hands.  Sometimes he could sense his son’s presence.  The room was exactly how it had been before –

Sometimes, there was a definite chill in the air – like now.  As if some malevolent entity had come in.

“If that’s you, Janet,” he spoke to the empty room, “I’ll never forgive you!”

There was no answer.  The man went down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea to dispel the chill in his bones.

I ought to leave, he thought for the thousandth time.  But how can I?

It was in this house my wife killed our boy and then herself.  And I will never leave him alone with her again.

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The Man in the Spotted Tie

“Yes?” Mrs Fliss opened the door and frowned at the man on her doorstep.  He was holding a key and scowling at it.

“Sorry, darling,” he said.  “My key doesn’t seem to work.”

“Why should it?  Look, whatever it is you’re selling, I’m not interested.”  Mrs Fliss tried to close the door but, laughing the man, pushed his way in.  His puckered lips aimed for her cheek but she dodged them just in time.

“I’ve always loved you for your sense of humour,” the man laughed.  He dropped his briefcase at the foot of the stairs and, loosening his spotted tie, headed for the living room.

“Excuse me!” Mrs Fliss scuttled after him.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The man was on the sofa, kicking off his shoes.  “What’s it look like I’m doing?”

“It looks like you’re making yourself at home on my sofa; that’s what it looks like.”

“No flies on you, Susan.”

Mrs Fliss bristled.  “How did you know my name?”

“Any tea going?” the man sat back.  He aimed the remote at the television.

“Get out of my house,” Mrs Fliss growled.  “Or I’m calling the police.”

The man turned up the volume.  On screen, a green triangle moved along a row of rectangles.

Then, he pressed ‘mute’ and a graphic showing a loudspeaker with a line through it appeared.

“Oh, god.  I’m so sorry.  It’s happened again, hasn’t it?”  He fumbled his shoes back on and hurried from the house.  He left the front door open behind him and ran down the path.

By the time Mrs Fliss got to the doorstep, he was gone.  She closed the door.  It was only then she realised he had left behind his briefcase.

“Oh,” she said.  She stood looking at it, chewing her lip, and deciding what to do.  Perhaps there would be something in it that said who he was.  Perhaps she’d be able to phone him to tell him he’d left it…

The briefcase was stuffed with files.  Mrs Fliss looked at the first page of the first folder:

ROBERT FLISS – Slipping between universes, a scientific proposal.

She flicked through the papers and could make neither head nor tail of the diagrams and endlessly complex mathematical calculations.  She was still poring over the folders when a key turned in the lock and her husband let himself in.

“Hello, darling,” he said, loosening his spotted tie.  “I’m home.”

tie

 

 

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Dolly

Sophie woke up screaming.  Within seconds, Mummy was there, flicking on the big light.  She sat on the bed and hugged her daughter, patting her back and stroking her sweat-soaked hair.

“There, there, darling,” she cooed.  “It’s all right, it’s all right.  It was just a dream.”

Sophie’s tears seeped through her mother’s nightie.  She sniffed wetly and shook her head.

“No, no, it wasn’t, it wasn’t!” she sobbed.  She pointed a finger across the room to the rocking chair in the corner.  Propped against a cushion was a curly-haired doll, staring back implacably.  One of its eyelids was jammed half-closed, giving the doll a sinister, calculating expression.

“It was Dolly!  It was Dolly!” Sophie repeated, becoming hysterical.

“Ssh, darling!”  Mummy grabbed the doll by its arm and presented it to her daughter.  “Dolly’s here for you.  It’s all right.”

Sophie screamed.   The doll dropped to the floor.  Its lazy eye winked slowly.  Sophie screamed again.

Mummy could feel her patience ebbing away at a rate of knots.  She got to her feet.   “Lie down now, darling,” she snapped.  “Lights out.”

“No!  Mummy, please!” Sophie’s face was red, tears coursing down her cheeks from eyes wide, imploring, beseeching.  “Don’t leave me with her, don’t leave me with her!”

“Enough nonsense now!” Mummy roared.  “Go back to sleep, you silly girl.”

She snapped off the light and stormed out, slamming the door.

Sophie snivelled.  She hugged her knees and wept.

“Good girl,” came a voice from the floor.  A tiny plastic hand reached up to the bedsheet.  “Keep still and it will all be over very soon.”

The next morning, Mummy barged in, bad-tempered from interrupted sleep.  “I’ve told you twice,” she growled.  “Your breakfast is ready.  Get dressed now!”

But Sophie wasn’t in her bed.

“Oh, you are up!” Mummy’s hands were on her hips, a sure sign she was cross.

Sophie was in the rocking chair, propped up by a cushion.  She was staring blankly ahead and one of her eyelids was half-closed.  Behind her, the curtains fluttered at the open window.

“…Sophie?”

But there was no response, and of Dolly, Sophie’s favourite toy, there was no sign.

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Meanwhile at the Palace…

The Prime Minister was greeted at the door by the Chamberlain who told her that the weekly audience with the Queen was cancelled.  Her Majesty was under the weather, he said.  The Prime Minister heaved out a sigh.  Her Majesty was under the weather a lot lately.  Mind you, she was over a hundred years old and had been on the throne since the age of three.

“Can’t be helped,” said the Prime Minister.  “There was only one matter I wished to discuss.  I’ll leave the report with you; perhaps Her Majesty will be kind enough to peruse it at her leisure.  When she’s up to it, of course.”

The Chamberlain glanced at the first page.  “The Depletion of Helium supplies and its impact on the Health Service.”

“Yes, I know,” the Prime Minister read his expression.  “Dry as hell but it’s vital.  Without helium to cool the magnets or something, those MRI scanner thingies can’t do their job.  People will die.”

“And what do you expect the Queen to do about it?”

The Prime Minister shrugged.  “Damned if I know.  But with her birthday coming up, she could set an example.  No more helium-filled balloons.  That stuff just escapes into space, you know.  The world is running out.”

The Chamberlain scowled.  He took the Prime Minister by the elbow and steered her into a nearby storage cupboard.

“Now, listen here,” he hissed.  The Prime Minister recoiled from a spray of hot spittle.  “Nothing is going to mar Her Majesty’s birthday celebrations.  It could well be her last.”

“We’ve been saying that for twenty years but the old bird keeps hanging on.”

“This time I’m serious,” the Chamberlain’s jaw set grimly.  “No one outside the palace knows but Her Majesty had a fall, incurring a head injury.  We don’t know the scale of it yet.  We’re awaiting test results.”

The Prime Minister nodded.  “An MRI scan…”

“Exactly.  We’re keeping this quiet.  What with all the bad news lately, it is felt that the country couldn’t take a Royal death at this point.  And so, you must oversee the national celebrations to keep morale high.”

The Prime Minister wailed.  “Why me?  She hates me; I’ve always known it.”

“Nonsense.  Her Majesty would not let any personal opinions affect her duty and neither should you.  I suggest you use the time freed up to you by the cancellation of your audience to make a start on the party plans.”  He thrust the helium report into the Prime Minister’s hands.

“Right,” said the Prime Minister.

She returned to Downing Street, chewing her thin lip all the way.  The country was falling into wrack and ruin and that stuck-up snot of a Chamberlain thought all that was needed was a shindig on the grand scale.  Bet that old trout put him up to it.  Just after we stumped up the cash for a new yacht and refurbishments of three of her residences.  How much longer was she going to be a drain on the public purse?  Why doesn’t she kick the bucket already?  Let her son and heir have a go.  The Prime Minister knew he was already more sympathetic to environmental concerns.  Silly cow!  With no helium left, she won’t be able to get her head looked at!

She paced the floor of her office.  Her eyes fell on the report.  She snatched it up and fed it into the shredder and then pressed a button on the intercom.

“Lionel,” she addressed her P.A.  “Call a press conference.  I want to make it known that for the Queen’s birthday everyone in the land is to be given a helium-filled balloon.”

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Nick & Pete

“Not this again!” Nicholas sighed.  “Shift over.”

Peter groaned but he moved from the driving seat, sulking in sullen resentment.  Nicholas climbed into the sleigh.  “Cheer up,” he snapped.  “It’s Christmas.”

Peter grunted and told Nicholas where he could stick his Christmas cheer.

Nicholas cracked the reins.  Four pairs of reindeer began to trot.  Seconds later, the sleigh lifted into the sunset-streaked sky.

“Look,” Nicholas said, “it has to be like this.  It’s tradition.  I drive the sleigh.  I give out toys to the good ones; you give out coal to the bad.”

“Huh,” Peter crossed his arms.  “Just once, I would like a change.”

“Tradition forbids it,” Nicholas said smugly.  Using the stars to navigate, he steered the sleigh south.  They would work their way up the country and be back home in the north in time for breakfast.

“Tradition, my black arse,” Peter complained.  “Just once, I want to leave the toys and you can leave the coal.”

“Not going to happen,” said Nicholas.  “Now, cheer up, and let’s have a good night of it.”

But Peter had a piece to say and would not rest until he had said it.  “Tradition!  Tradition says you reward the well-behaved, and I punish the bad.  I know it’s supposed to introduce the kids to the idea of eternal reward, heaven and hell and all that malarkey, but you keep undermining my role.  You leave toys for every kid no matter what they’ve been up to.  I never get to leave a single piece of coal.”

“Well,” Nicholas shrugged.  “It’s Christmas.”

“It’s getting so bad that I’m being edged out of the picture.  Lots of kids have never even heard of me.  So don’t talk to me about tradition.  You’ve whitewashed me out of it.”

“Bloody hell,” Nicholas rolled his eyes.  Crystals of ice where forming in his bushy white beard but they only served to accentuate the twinkle in his eyes.  “Stick to the plan.  I’m reward and you’re punishment.  That’s why I’m dressed like a pope and you’re done up like a devil.  You can’t tamper with that – it would give out a mixed message.”

“Bah,” Peter grunted.  He remained in the sleigh, muttering to himself while Nicholas made his deliveries, climbing in and out of chimneys and humming Jingle Bells.

Their final stop of the night was an isolated cottage, deep in the northern forest.  An old woman lived there, her children long since moved away, her grandchildren in the city strangers to her.

“Bottle of sherry, I think,” said Nicholas, “that should keep the old dear warm.”

But before he could reach it from his sack on the backseat, Peter sprang from the sleigh, his own sack on his shoulder.  He skipped across the roof and tipped his whole supply of coal down the chimney.  Black stones rained into the old woman’s fireplace.

Peter strolled back to the sleigh, whistling Jingle Bells.  He folded his empty sack and put it in his pocket.  He dusted his hands together and leapt into his seat.

“How’s that for a mixed message?” he laughed.

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Killer in the Snow

“And that is why you must never build a snowman in our backyard,” Trevor looked serious.  He was perched on the edge of his little brother’s bed.  Pulling the covers up tight to his chin, Timothy shivered, his eyes wide with fear.

“Goodnight!  Sweet dreams!” Trevor jumped up.  He flicked out the light and went downstairs to enjoy an evening of gaming undisturbed.  Charged with babysitting duties while their parents were at the neighbours’ Christmas party, Trevor felt pretty pleased with himself for getting the little brat out of his hair early.  Little Timmy was scared good and proper.  There was no way he’d set foot out from under his duvet before morning.  Job done!

And, Trevor reflected, I’m pretty much a genius!  I should write it all down, the story I told him.   Yes, it was all based on fact, on actual events, and they didn’t take much embellishment to weave into a scary story.  It was well-known around the town that years ago, the house had belonged to an infamous serial killer.  It was the reason why his parents had bought the place so cheap.  Out there, in the backyard, the killer had been gunned down by the police, staining the white blanket of snow red – Trevor had been especially proud of that detail.  If you build a snowman in our backyard, it will be possessed by the spirit of the murderer and it will come into the house and add you to his list of victims…

Haha!  He wouldn’t hear a peep out of Timothy tonight!  Little kids could be so gullible, so credulous.  Evil snowmen!  Possessed by a serial killer!  Priceless!

Even so, Trevor drew the curtains.  A fresh fall of snow made the backyard pristine.  Beautiful, in fact.  Impossible to think that years ago, it had been the scene of such horror…

He went to the kitchen to gather snacks; he was hoping for a good few hours before Mom and Dad came back, during which he hoped to kill a few noobs and get to the end of the game.

Mom and Dad would be drunk.  They’d stagger in and of course they’d want to know how Timothy had behaved himself.  No trouble, Trevor would say, and they’d pay him the promised fee.  Mom would be extra soppy and try to hug him.  Embarrassing!  Trevor decided he needed fortifying against an onslaught of maternal affection.  He decided he was old enough and man enough to sample his father’s whisky.

Up in his room, Timothy heard his brother open the fridge, looking for ice cubes for his illicit drink.  Timothy held his breath and listened, straining his ears.

He heard Trevor scream and drop his glass.  Timothy heard his brother gasp and choke as arms made of snow reached out from the icebox and squeeze the life out of him.

As soon as his parents had told him he’d be left in the care of his bully of a big brother, Timothy had known he had to take steps to protect himself.  Half an hour gathering snow in the backyard before Trevor came home was now paying dividends.

snow-man-killer

 

 

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Christmas Tree Planet

Daddy Fir unhooked the human from the roof rack.  He waved to Baby Fir who was pressed against the window.  Mummy Fir stood on the doorstep, looking anxious.

“A real one, darling?  I thought we were going plastic this year.”

Daddy Fir scoffed.  “Plastic?  Not in my house!  Real is the only way to go.  It’s traditional.”

“But they make such a mess.  Shedding hairs all over the carpet.  It’s all right for you; you don’t have to clean it up.”

“It’s not that bad,” Daddy Fir hitched the unconscious human onto his shoulder.  “Where’s your sense of the season?”

Mummy Fir crossed her branches.  “It shrivelled and died the moment you brought that thing home,” she sniffed.  But she stepped back so Daddy Fir could bring the human indoors.  He carried it through to the living room.  Baby Fir looked on in awe.

“I’ve got the pot ready, Daddy!” he pointed at the corner of the room.

“Good boy!”

With a grunt, Daddy Fir stood the human in the pot.  The human flopped forward.  Daddy Fir straightened him up and leaned him back against the wall.  “He’ll perk up with a bit of water.”

It was true.  The human woke up and looked around in horror.  “Where am I?” he cried but his words were ignored.

“We’ll get a good couple of weeks out of him,” opined Daddy Bear, “before he dies.  Then the Council will take him away and shred him.”

“Be careful on that stepladder, sweet!” Mummy Bear cried from the doorway as Baby Fir climbed up, holding a string of lights.

“I’m not a sapling anymore!” Baby Fir protested.  He draped the lights around the human’s shoulders.  Daddy Bear spread the human’s fingers.

“You can hang a bauble from each of these,” he suggested.  “And a star from that dangly branch thing down there.  Spruce him up a bit.”

While her menfolk decorated the human, Mummy Bear busied herself in the kitchen, making a batch of compost pies.  Perhaps a real human wouldn’t be so bad.  She wasn’t going to pine for a plastic one any longer.  And what was a bit of mess if it made Baby Fir happy?

With the pies in the oven, she nipped up to the loft.  If you can’t beat them…

“Ta-dah!” she sang, joining her husband and son in the front room.

“What have you got there, Mummy?” Baby Fir tried to peer into the box she had brought down from the attic.

“We used to put these up when I was a shoot,” she laughed.  She pulled out a garland of human eyes and ears.  “They’ll look lovely across the window.”

Daddy Fir’s branches curled around her trunk.  “Merry Christmas, darling,” he smiled.

 fir-tree

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Christmas Comes Early

“Hurry up, Mummy!” Claudia was jumping up and down in the hallway.  “I don’t want to miss it.”

“Just a minute!” her mother called from upstairs.  In the bathroom, Helen pouted, from annoyance with her daughter and in order to apply lipstick.  The child was becoming insufferable and with Christmas fast approaching, she was getting worse.  What am I talking about, ‘fast-approaching’?  Christmas is still five weeks away, for crying out loud.  People need to slow down and stop tearing around like mad things.  Already, Claudia was pestering her to get the tree.  Helen had snapped, “There are only twelve days of Christmas and none of them are in bloody November.”

She looked at her reflection and supposed it would have to do.  You never know who you might meet at these events.  Perhaps some hunky single dad – or better yet a singleton who hadn’t found the right woman…  If only she didn’t have Claudia in tow – but then, without her I wouldn’t bloody be going to see the bloody Christmas bloody lights switched on, would I?  Sometimes I wish – I wish she didn’t exist!  How’s that for a bloody Christmas wish?

She came downstairs to find Claudia jumping on the doormat, trying to reach the latch.

“Don’t you dare!” Helen cried, hurrying down the last few steps.  She was too late.  Claudia’s fingers seized on the button, unlocked the door and, before her mother could grab the hood of her coat, was tearing along the garden path to the gate.

“Come back here!” Helen lurched after her.  At the gate, she turned her daughter around and shouted at her.  “You can’t go running off like that.  There’s going to be crowds.  You’ll get lost.”

Claudia sulked.  “We’re going to be late.”

They made it to the bus and had to stand the whole way into town.  The windows were steamed with condensation and the air was warm with bodies in thick coats pressed together and noisy with excited chatter.  Oh, grow up, thought Helen.  It’s only some bloody lights being switched on.

She found herself being dragged by the arm as Claudia raced through the market place, dodging shoppers.  Helen had to admit the arrival of the wooden huts selling German merchandise made the town look rather pretty.  It was just too bloody soon.  Why couldn’t anyone wait until December at the earliest?

The scent of frying onions was so enticing, she paused to take it in.  Perhaps they could have hot dogs on their way back.  Nothing too Christmassy about hot dogs.  Another stall was selling turkey drumsticks.  And people were buying them!  Idiots!  The whole idea of Christmas dinner was to have it on the day, otherwise you spoil the special nature of the event.

“Come ON, Mummy!” Claudia wailed, breaking free of her mother’s grasp.

“Claudia!” Helen yelled but Claudia kept running.

“Having trouble?” said a male voice.  Helen stopped in her tracks and found herself facing a handsome man with bright eyes.  His nose and cheeks were painted red by the chilly air.  “Kids, eh?”

“What, oh no,” Helen patted her hair.  “She’s not mine, she –”

The rest of her sentence was cut short by a loud thud and people screaming.  The crowd moved toward the source of the commotion.  Helen and the man found themselves swept along.

“Call an ambulance!” cried someone.

“Too late!” said someone else.

“Whatever’s happened?” the man next to Helen asked.

“A little girl,” said a woman, her face ashen with shock.  “Ran into the road.  Was hit by one of them lorries delivering pop.  You know, the ‘holidays are coming’ ones.”

Helen’s legs buckled.  She held onto the man’s arm for support.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said, pleased to see the concern in his bright eyes.  “Christmas just came early, that’s all.”

christmas-lights-md

 

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Cecily’s Father

I had not seen Cecily for weeks and so I headed out of London with the express purpose of confronting her father and having it out with him once and for all.  I was certain he was keeping her from me and although my beloved had warned me he might take news of his only daughter’s betrothal badly, I hadn’t expected the blighter to lock her away in their country residence.

A cab took me from the railway station to the gates of the property.  The fellow left me to walk the long drive under my own steam, as it were.  “Well, you needn’t think you shall be getting a tip!” I waved my fist but the carriage was already receding down the lane.

It was dusk and tiny insects plagued my face at every step.  I waved them away, like some determined and intrepid jungle adventurer – and I was reminded Cecily’s old man did something in that line, didn’t he?  Exploration of foreign climes.  Indeed, it was while he was away in deepest, darkest Africa or somewhere equally beastly that Cecily and I had formed our alliance, an attachment that had grown to the extent that I was going to let nothing stand in the way of our marriage.

As I approached the house I noticed what a rundown, shabby old pile it was.  The abundant splashes of ivy seemed to be what was holding the place together!  Cecily had said something about letting the staff go while her papa was away but even so, the building was falling into wrack and ruin.  I saw a way in – to her father’s affections, I mean.  When Cecily and I are wed, my not-inconsiderable fortune will be allied with hers and I would be rather keen to spend whatever it took to get the family seat restored to whatever glory it must once have had.

Cheered by this thought, I approached the wide front doors.  A door knocker fashioned to look like a ring in a lion’s mouth glared at me but I would not be deterred.  I knocked as loud and as assertively as I could then I stood back and waited.

No one came.

After quite an interval had passed, I skirted around to the rear.  Perhaps a kitchen door would permit me ingress.  Aware that this unconventional entry could only cause Cecily’s father’s hackles to rise, I took my chance, slipping in through an unremarkable doorway and into almost total darkness.

Loath to call out, I explored the ground floor, seeking signs of occupancy.  Beneath the grand staircase and a dusty chandelier resplendent with cobwebs, I found a door ajar and voices coming from beyond.  I peered through the crack and saw steps leading down to a cellar and the dim glow of lamplight.

“But Papa,” I recognised my betrothed’s dulcet voice at once, “Algernon is an upright, young gentleman!”

I blushed to hear her speak of me so favourably.

Her father’s harrumph indicated his opinion of her appraisal all too clearly.  “Be that as it way,” he said with a sniff, “he is not the man for you – or rather, you are not the girl for him.”

I almost stormed down the steps to join them in the cellar.  Surely a fellow must be permitted to decide for himself whether a girl is for him and, certainly, without question, Cecily is the girl for me.

But my darling’s next words gave me pause and I remained where I was, keen to hear more.

“And the remedy, Papa?  Are you no closer to finding it?”

“I am afraid not, child,” her father sighed; it was enough to crack my heart.  “My last expedition proved fruitless and I have not strength enough to embark on another.  And that is why I cannot permit your marriage to this man, whatever you perceive his qualities to be.  He will not understand and, think on this, it is unfair of you to expect it of him.”

My entire being was flushed with indignation and love for my darling Cecily.  I stormed down the stairs determined to avow that whatever condition, bar or impediment may be the cause of his objection, it would not stand in our way.

“Algernon!” my beloved cried.  She put a hand to her mouth in shock – and I saw then it was not a hand – the hand for which I had come to ask! – but a suckered tentacle extending from the lacy sleeve of her blouse.

Before her stood a creature, hunched and hideous, part-man, part-octopus.  A large, wet eye rolled to meet my horrified gaze.  A revolting sucking sound emitted from its scaly beak.

“Papa, no!” Cecily screamed but already his tentacles were snaking around my waist.

tentacle

 

 

 

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Rosemary’s Dinner Party

Dennis froze as the lowermost stair creaked under his foot.  The landing lit up as the bedroom light came on.  Holding his shoes, Dennis felt foolish.  What was he afraid of?  It’s only the wife.  What can she do?

And there she was, at the top of the stairs, arms folded, brow knitted, eyes glaring.

“Sorry, love,” he offered a smile.  “I was trying to be quiet.”

“Where the hell have you been?” Dennis’s wife snapped.  “And what time do you call this?”

Dennis didn’t know which question to answer first so he merely shrugged.  His wife marched down the stairs and nudged past him.  She barged into the kitchen – to fetch a rolling pin?  Dennis swallowed hard.  He put his shoes by the front door and padded after her, ready to face the music.

“Rosemary, love…” he began.   She was at the sink, filling the kettle.  At the sound of his voice, her shoulders stiffened.  “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, that makes it all right then, does it?” she pushed the words through tightened lips.  “You do know what tonight was, don’t you?”

Dennis wracked his mind.  It wasn’t their wedding anniversary; he knew that much.  He cast a glance around the kitchen.  The used wine glasses on the counter, the dishwasher humming away like a busy bee…

Oh.  Oh, shit.

“I’m sorry,” he moved closer, put his hands on her shoulders. She shrugged him off and shoved him out of the way so she could plug in the kettle.

“You knew how much this meant to me,” Rosemary’s voice faltered.  “You knew I wanted to make the right impression.”

“Oh, love,” Dennis felt terrible.  “I’m sorry.  I truly am.  But I’m sure you did all right without me – probably better off, truth be told!”

She shook her head.  “Don’t try to play it down.  Where were you, you selfish bastard?  Probably down the pub as usual.”

Dennis reddened.  “I only popped in for a quick half – bit of courage, you know –  but you know how it is.  You get talking, someone buys you a pint so it’s only fair you stop to buy them one and –”

“I don’t want to hear it!”  She busied herself with a cup and a tea bag.  “Well, aren’t you going to ask me what they were like?”

“What were they like?”

“Oh, he was quiet.  She gave the impression of being in charge.  The one who wears the trousers.  Under the robes, I mean, of course.  The way she hypnotised the chicken – it was like something off the telly.  It lay there good as gold while he sharpened the dagger.  And – you’d have been proud – they let me lead the incantations.  Me!  My first time!  And I got all the words in the right order!  I thought I’d be tongue-tied but no.  I don’t know, it was like something took over me, some kind of trance.  It was… magical!”

Dennis saw his chance.  He slipped his arms around her waist and nuzzled her neck.

“Will it work, do you think?”

“I hope so, baby,” she kissed his chin.  Her hands clasped his over her belly.  “I think I can feel it.  The seed.  Growing within me.  How lucky we are to be chosen!  The Dark Prince is on his way!”

hen

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