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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!”

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Meanwhile in the antiques shop…

“It was my grandmother’s.”  Miss Prim’s eyes dropped to the gloved hands on her lap, as though she couldn’t bear to see the antique dealer’s hands touch the smooth glaze of the vase.

“It’s old, I’ll give you that,” Jarvis grunted.  He picked up the vase and upended it, peering closely with one eye.  “There are no hallmarks of any kind.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Not necessarily.  It could mean it’s even older than we think.  Hmm.”  The antique dealer fell into silent examination of the piece.  It was delicate work.  Hand-painted.  What they couldn’t do in those days!  The skills, the craftsmanship involved.  All gone nowadays.  Mass production had put paid to work of this uniqueness and quality.  There were figures, watery stains suggesting a line of women coiling around the vase like a procession.  It was beautiful, ephemeral, as though the artist had captured their spirits in a few economic brushstrokes.

He stood the vase on the table between them and clasped his hands together.  “What do you know of its provenance?”

“Like I say, it belonged to my grandmother.  And hers before that, I should think.”

Jarvis nodded.  The woman was clearly a fool; she didn’t know what she had, what it was worth and, if he played his cards right, he’d be in clover before the week was out.   He sucked in his breath.  Miss Prim looked up, her expression pained.

“What do you think?” she ventured to ask, unable to broach the subject of money even though he knew and she knew that was what this visit was all about.

Jarvis puckered his lips.  “I can go as far as twenty.  Twenty five, tops.  Sorry, love.  There’s no demand for this kind of thing.  Market’s all wrong at the moment.”

“Oh,” Miss Prim’s lips quivered.  “Is that all?”

Oh gawd, thought Jarvis.  Don’t turn on the waterworks, love.  Anything but that.  “All right, then.  I’m too kind for my own good some times.  Thirty knicker and that’s my final offer.  Take it or leave it.”

He sat back and crossed his arms as if to say the Big Chief has spoken.

Miss Prim eyed the vase and chewed her bottom lip.  “Well, I suppose…”

“Deal!” Jarvis startled her.  He sprang to his feet and pumped her hand.  Then he reached in his pocket, withdrew a roll of banknotes and peeled off three grubby ten-pound notes.  He pressed them into her hand and ushered her toward the door.  She was out in the street before she knew it, the Closed sign swung in the door behind her and the blinds were down.

“Oh,” said Miss Prim, staggering a little.  Then she smiled.  The smile spread into a grin, a snarl of malevolent victory.  “I’ve done it, Grandmother.  You may rest in peace now.”

In the backroom of the shop, Jarvis tittered with glee.  He’d got one over that dozy cow and no mistake.  What a find!  What a bargain!  He laughed out loud, delirious with the thought that he had suddenly become an extremely rich man.  Ideas bubbled in his imagination, thoughts of holidays and houses, fast cars and faster women.

The lightbulb flickered.  The glass rattled in the windowpanes.  Jarvis gasped.  “Who’s there?” he cried, thrown into panic that someone had come to steal his precious vase.

The next day, Miss Prim returned to the shop.  Jarvis’s assistant let her in, claiming to have no idea of his boss’s whereabouts.

“That’s all right,” Miss Prim smirked.  “I left him a vase for evaluation but I don’t think I’ll sell it now.”

The assistant nodded and fetched the vase.  Miss Prim bade him a good day and virtually skipped out into the sunlight.  She held her grandmother’s vase up to the sky, turning it around and around.  The line of women was there, their number decreased by one.  And at the back, a brighter, newer shape, a man, rendered in the colours the antique dealer had been wearing.

“Rest in peace, Grandmother,” Miss Prim repeated.  “I’m going to treat you to some lovely new flowers.  About thirty pounds’ worth, I should think.  And they’ll look marvellous in your old vase.”

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Demon Drinks

“Having another?” Bexhor hitched himself onto the bar stool next to Cardoom’s.  Cardoom drained the suds from the bottom of his glass.

“Don’t mind if I do!”  He wiped a clawed hand over his pointed chin.  Bexhor beckoned to the barmaid.

“Another one of these for my friend, I’ll have the same.”

The barmaid barely seemed to acknowledge him but she set to fulfilling his order.

“Rough day?” Bexhor clinked his glass against Cardoom’s.  Cardoom grunted.  “Tell me about it.  We’ve never been so busy.  I’m run off my cloven hooves.  I’ve got to go back up there later, do another shift.  But I thought I’d slip in here for a crafty one. It’s not like they can send me to hell for it, is it?”

He laughed; Cardoom didn’t.

“I mean,” Bexhor continued, “Things are worse than ever up there,” he nodded at the ceiling, meaning the world beyond.  “I mean, there’s all the usual stuff: the killings and the maimings and the rapes – I mean, that’s what I signed up for.  But it’s all the low-level stuff – it really takes it out of you.  You know what I mean.  All the pettiness.  All the bitching.  I blame the internet – The boss thought it was one of his better ideas at the time but I think even he’s beginning to regret it.  We just can’t cope.  We haven’t got the staff.  Take tonight, for instance.  I’ve got to go up there, find some miserable wanker in a bedsit and inspire him to attack a celebrity for no reason at all.  And what’s he done, this celebrity?  Expressed concern about refugees!  Now, you know me, I can’t abide a do-gooder but that lot – they’re savage.  They shout down any sign of compassion and are up in arms at the first sign of correction.  It’s getting out of hand.  The selfishness, the small-minded, bigoted, xenophobic nastiness – Makes me feel like a spare part, if I’m honest.  Time was you could whisper in an Englishman’s ear and he’d go and rob a bank or drop his chewing gum on the pavement – I love it when they do that – but now, if they get so much as a whiff of brimstone, they turn on you, and it’s piss off, red skin, take your horns and your pitchfork back where you came from.  I’m telling you, if things carry on the way they’re going, I’m thinking of going over to the other side.  That’s right.  At least, up there, you’re on the right side – frankly, I don’t want to associate with British society anymore; I just hope I won’t be fighting a losing battle.  We’re victims of our own success, you see.  Wrong-doing and wrong-thinking has become the norm for them and woe betide anyone who thinks otherwise.  People who deviate from the new norm are the outlaws.  Doing good is the new doing evil.  Makes you think…

“Fancy another?  I feel like staying here and getting rat-arsed, if I’m honest.  That lot can do my job without me.  Hey!  I wonder if we’ll get redundancy?  We should you know, by rights.  Should be more than enough to invest in a set of wings and a halo…  Hey, love, same again.  And a packet of crisps and all.  Cheers.”

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Birthday

A Twitter friend asked me to write him a story for his birthday.  Not sure this is what he had in mind, but here it is!

Ciaran slumped against the living room wall.  Everyone else was singing Happy Birthday to his sister – his twin sister; her face was illuminated from below by the candles on the cake, reminding him of those times, years ago, when she would hold a flashlight beneath her chin and scare him with stories about ghosts and escaped killers.  The flames danced in her eyes as she basked in the attention.  Ciaran scowled.  She always loved attention.

Puffing her cheeks out like a glassblower, she extinguished the candles in one hearty breath and received a rapturous round of applause for her efforts.  Make a wish, the guests urged.  Ciaran watched his sister smile a secret smile all to herself – or perhaps it was for his benefit.

Their mother busied herself with a cake knife and a pile of side plates, carving slices and passing them around the assembled friends and family members.  She was laughing, scoffing at Aunt May’s protestations about being on yet another diet, while her husband surreptitiously filled her glass with more champagne.  Ciaran turned his back on this scene of conviviality.  Keep your cake, keep your champagne, he snarled.  Keep your bloody birthday too, sister dear!

His mother flitted by on her way to the kitchen to replenish the canapes.  She paused for a second and exhaled heavily, blowing a wayward strand of hair from her brow.  Steeling herself, she moved on.  Ciaran followed.  He watched as she transferred plates of vol au vents from the refrigerator to a serving platter, which she dressed with sprigs of parsley for garnish.

He stared at her, willing her to remember, willing her to march back in there and stop the party.

Suddenly, his mother straightened.  A shiver ran down her spine and she frowned.  Then, the moment was gone and she breezed back to the party, holding the vol au vents high as she backed through the door.

In a sulk, Ciaran hovered at the sink.  He could hear his sister calling out for a game.  Musical Chairs was mentioned and so was Postman’s Knock.  Ciaran muttered to himself.  How childish, he thought!  Wasn’t it about time she grew up?

His mother returned.  She poured herself a generous glass of wine and downed half of it at once.  She stood at the sink and gazed at the night sky.  She raised the glass in toast.

“To you, son,” her voice caught in her throat.  “Happy birthday.  Your sister would have loved to have you here.”

Ciaran gasped.  Oh, no, she wouldn’t, he wanted to scream.  But of course, he couldn’t.  The ‘accident’ his twin had arranged had put paid to that, put paid to him forever.

And now all that lovely, undivided attention was hers.

Except for quiet moments like this, when their mother retreated into herself and remembered.

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Finger

“I’m sorry, darling.  There is no other way.”

Cyril gulped, his eyes fixed on the barrel of the gun his wife was pointing at him.  He raised his hands slowly.  “Celia, please –”

“It’s no use.  Now, hand over the finger and I’ll be on my way and no harm done.”

Cyril looked pained.  So that was what it was all about.  That blasted finger.  More trouble than it was worth, he was sure of it.  And they had only escaped from Nepal by the skin of their teeth.  And for what?  So his wife of twenty years could betray him as soon as they got back to their Buckinghamshire mansion?  After all the adventures they had shared?  After all the scrapes they had got into and the fun they’d had getting out of them again?

Not on his nelly.

“Oh, do hurry up, Cyril.  Pull the finger out.”

The chuk-chuk of a helicopter over the house provided the distraction Cyril needed.  As Celia’s eyes flicked to the ceiling, he karate-chopped her wrist.  She fired the gun – blasting a priceless Oriental vase to smithereens.  Cyril twisted her arm and threw her over his shoulder.  A glass-topped coffee table gave way beneath her and the gun flew across the room.

Husband and wife scrambled for the revolver.  Cyril stamped on Celia’s hand.

“Ow,” she recoiled.  “If only you’d shown this much energy in the bedroom, I might not have had to look elsewhere.”

The remark struck him like a blow to the sternum.  “You’ve been looking elsewhere?”

Celia smirked.  “Might have.  Might not have.  Oh, don’t be such a tiresome bore, old chap.  My lift is here.  Give me the finger and let me go.  I’ve got a buyer lined up already and I’m going to be rich beyond my wildest dreams.”

Cyril reached in his blazer pocket.  His fingers closed around the golden digit, the fabled finger of the Great Cham.  It was said that one kiss of the finger would grant you your heart’s desire.

But there was always a price to pay, a terrible cost.

And now, as he looked down at his treacherous spouse, wiping a trickle of blood from her lip with the back of her hand, he realised what price he must pay.

He dropped the artifact to the carpet.  Celia seized it and laughed in triumph.  She got to her feet and gathered up her bags.  Powerless, Cyril could only watch her go.  It was as though he didn’t know her at all and never had.

“Tell me,” she turned at the door.  “You kissed it, didn’t you?  You kissed the finger.  What did you wish for?”

Cyril sighed.  His shoulders slumped.  “I wished for you to be happy, my love.”

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House Hunters

The young man pinched the bridge of his nose.  It had been a long day, during which the lesson had been reinforced: you just can’t please some people.  He tried to maintain an air of professional patience while his clients, an elderly couple, dithered and prevaricated.

“I don’t know,” said the old woman.

“I don’t know,” said the old man.  “It’s just not ticking the boxes.”

“No,” said the old woman.

“No,” said the old man.  “The last place you showed us was better.”

“Yes,” said the old woman.

“Yes,” said the old man.  “That place ticked a few boxes.”

The young man couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “The lighthouse?” he gasped.  “The decommissioned lighthouse?  You hated it.  You said it was too remote.”

“It was,” said the old woman.

“It was,” said the old man.  “And we’d never get any peace.  All those waves crashing about on the rocks.”

“Ooh, no,” said the old woman.

“Ooh, no,” said the old man.

“Let me get this straight,” wailed the young man.  “You’re saying this eighteenth century coach house is worse than the decommissioned lighthouse – and you hated the lighthouse.”

“Yes,” said the old woman.

“Yes,” said the old man.

“So,” the young man could feel one of his headaches coming on, “Let’s review.  You don’t like this place, you didn’t like the lighthouse.  What about the first place I showed you?”

“Which one was that?” said the old woman.

“Which one was that?” said the old man.  “Oh, yes.  The barn conversion.”

“Ooh, no,” said the old woman.

“Ooh, no,” said the old man.  “It didn’t have the wow factor.”

Give me strength, groaned the young man.

“I think it’s your best bet.  Not too noisy, not too quiet.  You’ll get on with the other tenants.”

“Ooh, no!” cried the old woman.

“Ooh, no!” cried the old man.  “We can’t be doing with that.  We can’t be doing with sharing.”

Despite his best efforts, the young man was wilting visibly.  The old man nodded to his wife and drew the young man aside.

“Listen, sonny.  Me and the Mrs have been together all our lives.  Since primary school – before that, even.  And we’ve never spent any time apart.  It’s always been just me and her, her and me, and that’s the way it’s going to be forever and ever, amen.  They want to split us up, put her in a home.  Well, I’m not standing for that.  Oh, no!  But if you’re not up to the job, if you can’t provide the service we’re paying you for – well, we won’t waste any more of your time.”

The young man closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  “So, what’s it going to be, the lighthouse?”

“No,” said the old woman.

“No,” said the old man.  “It’s been a long day.  We’re tired.  You’re tired.  Here will do fine.”

“What, here? But you –” The young man stopped himself.  They had come to a decision at last.  Best not to question it.

“It’s fine, love,” the old woman smiled.

“It’s fine, son,” the old man smiled.  “As long as we’re together.  That’s what matters.”

“Right,” the young man clapped his hands.  “There is just the matter of my fee.”

The old man swiped his finger across his phone.  The device beeped agreeably.  “Bank transfer complete!”  He showed the young man the screen.

“Right,” said the young man.  “Brilliant.  This is it, then.”

“This is it,” said the old woman.

“This is it,” said the old man.

He reached for his wife’s gnarled hand.  The old couple closed their eyes and smiled while the young man sliced open their throats with a razor.

The old couple slumped and toppled into a pool of their commingling blood.  As they died, the young man took out his phone and checked his bank balance.

“Nice.”

He took one last look around the coach house.  Not a bad place in which to spend the rest of eternity, he reckoned.  Especially when you get to share it with the love of your life.

At the door, he called back to the old couple, wondering if they could hear him.

“Happy haunting!”

 pink-and-white-lighthouse-md

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