A Visit from the Exorcist

“Through there, Father,” Mabel stopped at the door.  “He’s in there.”

The priest looked at the door.  It was labelled ‘Jimmy’s Room’ and covered with stickers and posters, most of them issuing dire warnings to trespassers.  Teenagers!

He twisted the handle and pushed the door open.  A noisome smell hit him in the face as he stepped into the boy’s bedroom.  But then again, that was nothing out of the ordinary.  Old socks and underwear, half-finished meals, shoved under the bed and forgotten.

On the bed lay Jimmy, his hands and ankles strapped to the bedframe.  He writhed as the shadow of the priest fell over him, eyes wide and rolling.  He growled deep in his throat, his words muffled by the tea towels that formed a makeshift gag.

Mabel lingered in the doorway, wringing her hands.  “We – we had no other choice, Father.  We thought he might hurt himself.  Or somebody else.”

The priest nodded.  “How long has he been like this?”

Mabel shook her head.  “It all came to a head about a week ago.  Oh, he’d been acting strangely for weeks beforehand but we never thought nothing of it.  You know: teenagers.  Rolling his eyes, slamming the doors, stomping around.  You know.  But then he started saying these terrible things.  Just awful, shocking things.  And we thought he was only showing off, saying it for effect, you know.  And we thought, well, we won’t give him the reaction he wants, we’ll just ignore him.  Well, he kept on at it, didn’t he?  Getting worse and worse and worse.  The things he comes out with!  Enough to make your hair curl.  And I began to think, that’s not my Jimmy saying those terrible things.  That’s not my boy at all.”

The priest exhaled.  He had heard it all before.  He fished a well-worn, leatherbound Bible from his bag and straightened the narrow stole that hung around his neck.  Then he reached for the gag.

Mabel let out an anguished cry.

The priest looked over his shoulder.  “It’s all right, Mrs Bevan; I’ve heard worse, I can assure you.”

He loosened the tea towels and hooked them under the boy’s chin.  Jimmy’s tongue lapped at the air like a thirsty dog.  He fixed the priest with a wide-eyed stare and laughed.  It was like the devil being tickled.

“Stop the boats!” Jimmy roared in a deep and guttural voice.  “Stop the fucking boats!  Send them all back!  We don’t want them coming over here, taking our jobs.  Claiming our benefits.  Close the borders!  Stop the fucking boats.”

Jimmy flinched as the priest sprinkled him with a spritz of holy water.  The priest replaced the gag.

“It’s quite a severe case, Mrs Bevan, I have to say.”

Mabel clutched at the priest’s forearm.  “Can you do anything for him, Father?”

The priest closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, steeling himself before he gave his answer.  Then, when he spoke, it was in a deep and guttural voice.

“Stop the boats, Mrs Bevan!” he cackled.  “Stop the fucking boats!”

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Close Season

“So all we have to do is pull down the shutters, turn off the lights and that’s it for another season.”  Jeff, hands on hips, turned to his teenaged apprentice, who didn’t appear to be particularly interested.  At least he had taken out his ear-pod things.  This counted as progress, in Jeff’s view.

“And then what?” Toby grunted.  Jeff’s eyebrows raised: showing an interest!  Progress indeed!

“And then we get to go home until the spring,” said Jeff.  “That is, if they decide they want to reopen the place next year.”

“Why wouldn’t they?” Toby glanced around.  “This place is kinda cool.”

Jeff chuckled.  “I knew you’d like it.  You kids are into all this, aren’t you?  Serial killers.  What do you call them, flashers?”

“Slashers!” Toby rolled his eyes but the curve of his lips showed he was amused.  “And yeah.  I mean, it’s not the murders.  It’s part of local history, isn’t it?  Heritage and what not?”

“You’re right.”

“So, why would they want to close the place down?  And who are ‘they’ anyway?”

“They are the town council.  And, to tell you the truth, business hasn’t been great for a couple of years now.  The victims are all but forgotten.  Footfall has dropped considerably.  We are nowhere near back to where we were before the pandemic fucked everything up for the industry.”

Toby nodded.  He looked around.  The gift shop, in shadows, boasted tea-towels with a likeness of the killer’s mask, his name slashed in red diagonals.

Demon Blade.

There were Demon Blade pencils, bookmarks, and statuettes made of resin.  There was even an alarm clock that played the theme from Psycho to get you out of bed in the morning.

Out there, beyond the windows they were about to shutter, was the site of the murders.  A massacre, really.  Twenty-two teenagers cut to ribbons during one night’s rampage through the campsite.  It was like a film.

But that was a long time ago.  Interest had waned.  Demon Blade had long since disappeared.  He’d be a geriatric by now, if he was still around.  He could be anyone.  The elderly neighbour shuffling to the end of his path to pick up his newspaper.  The old guy at the bar, complaining about kids today and the weather.  Or he could have gone to meet his maker long since.

“Give me a hand?” Jeff stretched up to pull down a shutter.  “Hand me that pole.”

Toby turned around.  Leaning against the wall was a long pole with a hook on the end.  The curve of metal glinted suggestively in a beam of sunlight.  Its intended use was to pull down the metal shutters which could then be padlocked to the floor.

It would be a crying shame if those shutters were never to be raised again…but if there were more murders, another killing spree, the tourists would come flocking…

“Today would be nice,” Jeff prompted impatiently.  “Earth to Toby…”

Toby shook himself and handed over the pole.  He didn’t know what had prompted such dark thoughts.  He shivered.  Perhaps the ghost of Demon Blade had whispered in his ear.

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Age Difference

Aggie surveyed the spread before her and suppressed a sigh.  The table was piled high with presents and bottles of champagne.  The centrepiece was a massive cake bearing only one candle.  Beside the table, Josh stood blushing, nervously biting his lip.

Impatience got the better of him.  “Well?” he prompted.

Aggie smiled but her eyes were sad.  “You needn’t have gone to all this trouble.”

“You’re worth it!” Josh took her leathery hands in his.  “Nothing’s too much trouble for my best girl.”

Aggie pulled away.  “Don’t be silly.”

“And I know you don’t celebrate birthdays any more but I had to mark the occasion somehow.”

This time, the sigh did escape Aggie’s lips.  She heaved herself onto a chair, bones creaking, and reached for the nearest present.  It was small and square.  Her arthritic fingers clawed at the wrapping paper.  “What’s this?”

“Open it!”

“I’m trying!”

Josh reached over to help.  He slid a CD from the shiny paper.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a compact disc,” he said, rather patronisingly.  “It’s got music on it.”

“Oh?” Aggie scowled.  She held the CD up to her ear.  “I think it’s faulty.”

“No –” Then Josh saw she was teasing him.  She peered at the lettering.

“Songs from the war… What makes you think I’d want to hear them?”


But Aggie was reaching for the next present.  “A biography of Vera Lynn…”

“My nan loves her!”

Aggie fixed him with a glare.  “I am not your nan!”

“No, no!” Josh spluttered.  “I didn’t mean –”

“Is that why you took up with me?  Because I remind you of your old nan?”

Aggie pushed away from the table and tottered away on her walking stick.  “It’s – This —  Between us, it’s not working.  I want to break up.”

“NO!” Josh cried, tears brimming.  “Let’s talk about this.  I love you!”

“Love?” Aggie scoffed.  “You don’t even know me.  Songs from the war?  Fuck off.  Songs from the Peloponnese War would be more appropriate.”


“Vera Lynn?  Vera fucking Lynn!”

“I can take it back!  I’ve kept the receipt.”

“Oh, you stupid fool.  You stupid young fool.  Did you really think you and I were together?  A love match?”

“I – I thought things were going that way…”

“Oh, my poor, sweet, stupid boy.”  Aggie reached up to cup his cheek.  The gesture turned to a slap, but a gentle one.  “I was just using you.  For my rebirth.”


Aggie dropped her walking stick.  Her spine straightened.  She grew, her limbs elongating, until she had to stoop, her neck pressing against the ceiling. Wings sprouted from her shoulder blades and stretched to opposite corners.  Josh cowered in terror.

“The time has come!” Aggie announced, her voice booming, no longer the scratchy squawk he was used to.  She lashed out a claw, a real claw not an arthritic facsimile.  Josh’s throat opened in a red gash.  He dropped to his knees.  Her second swipe took off his head.

“And that is why, you young fool, you should only go out with girls your own age.”

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“Please have a seat.”

“Thanks.  Don’t mind if I do.”

“Ha-ha.  There’s water there, if you need it.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Good.  Well, let’s get started, shall we?”

“*clears throat* Fire away!  Ha-ha.”

“Ha-ha!  Right, well, let’s not beat around the bush.”


“Let’s get right to it.  Why do you want to offer yourself up for ritual sacrifice?”

“Well, um, it’s, ah, well, it would be such an honour for my family.  And a privilege for me.

“Yes, yes.  Go on.”

“I mean, to be able to make a difference.  To make things better.  For people.  Times have been tough all over, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“You can say that again!”

“Um, do I have to?”

“No, it’s just an expression.  Carry on.”

“Well, um, like I say, it’s a chance to make things better.  And it’s not just about increasing the harvest. My blood enriching the soil.  It’s about attracting whadymacallit it to the region – investment!  Job creation.  All of that kind of thing.  And it’s a return to the old ways.  People like that, don’t they?  Tradition.  The old values.”


“We shouldn’t have got rid of them in the first place, if you ask me.  I mean, we had them for a reason, didn’t we?  All those old ways.  Those…practices.”


“So, um, I think it will put us on the map.  That’ll get the tourists flocking.  It’s a win-win all around, I think.”

“Yes.  Now, what about the pain?  Do you think you’ll be able to stand it?”

“Well, up to a point, yes!  And then, after that, I won’t care, because I’ll be dead, won’t I?”

“Yes, you will.  Ha-ha.”

“But I’ll die happy in the knowledge that I’ve made a difference.  I’ll have done my bit.  For others.”

“I like your attitude.  And payment?”


“Where should we send your fee for this service – should you prove successful, of course?”

“Um.  To my mum.  She’ll be bowled over.  Anything to save her from that food bank.”

“Right.  Well.  I think I’ve heard enough.  A pleasure to meet you.  We have got other candidates to see, but between you, me, and the gallows post, you’re in with a chance!”

“Oh!  Right!  Thank you, thank you.  It was all quite painless really, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.  Well, this bit, anyway.  Ha-ha!”


“We’ll let you know before the moon is fat.”

“Right.  Thank you.  Bye.”


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It’s not YOU, it’s ME

You have been a worthy adversary, I’ll give you that.  And a fan favourite – I’ve seen what they all post online.  If anyone’s going to take me down, that all want it to be you.  Of course, there’s the fan fiction, putting us together in all kinds of sexy situations – some of them so perverted not even my character could come up with them!  So of course, it’s all heading to the final showdown.  Just you and me on the rooftop.  And only one of us is going to come down using the elevator!

But I didn’t murder my way through four seasons just for you to do me in and put an end to all my dreams of renewal for a fifth.  What the fans, the execs, the critics, what they all fail to realise that without me there is no show.  I’m the one who makes the series so compelling.  Millions all around the world have watched me lie, cheat and murder my way to the top.  I’ve never been more popular.  Sure, the season finale will draw in the crowds, but there’s been a rewrite.

I’m not going down.  You are.

Your last-minute heroics will fail.  I will rise again and you will plummet to your doom.

And the episode will go down as the most notorious in television history.

What you don’t know about me is I’m a method actor.  Oh, yeah, always have been.  How do you think I got the role in the first place?  Sure, I did a great audition but so did others.  Unfortunately, an outbreak of gastroenteritis during the call-backs whittled down the field until I was the last man standing.

And when they tried to replace me – you know, at the end of season three when I was in a car accident, a fireball!  They wanted me to come back with a new face.  Sadly, their choice of replacement met with a real car accident and was…unable to fulfil his contract.

Of course, there were rumours of ‘off-camera shenanigans’ but that just added to the mystique of the show.  They couldn’t ask for better publicity.

And so I reprised the role I had created and the ratings were better than ever.  More victims!  More double-crosses!

But now they want to cancel the show.  They want to cancel me.  Well, I’m not finished yet.  I’m not going down without a fight.  It’s not in my…character.

Look at you, preening in the make-up chair.  The world at your feet.

At least, you’ll be remembered this way, in your prime.  Unless someone releases photos of your mangled corpse, splattered across the sidewalk, then that’s what everyone will think about if your name crops up.  Such a tragic loss!  So youthful!  What a waste of beauty!

Well, let’s get to it.  I’ll see you on set.  The drugs in your latte will kick in.  You’ll be disoriented but, ever professional, you’ll want to continue.  And it will be so easy for me, in our climactic rooftop tussle, to tip you over the edge…

This is MY show.  It’s all about ME, and nobody’s going to cancel me.

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Kitten Heels

Animation mogul Leonard Brock surveyed his team through the dense smoke of his cigar.  The doctor had told him to kick the habit.  Instead, he had kicked the doctor and doubled his order from the tobacconist.  No one tells Leonard Brock what to do.

“Well?” he coughed.  Three pale faces blinked back, their eyes watering from the smoke – or was it fear?

The youngest, least experienced member of the trio was pushed forward.  He dropped a folder of sketches onto the carpet.  He scrambled to retrieve them.  Leonard Brock tipped ash onto the back of his neck.

The young man held up an ideas board like a protective shield.  Leonard Brock squinted at it.

“What am I looking at?”

“Your latest star,” the young man stammered.  The other two nodded rapidly in support.

“It’s a cat,” said Leonard Brock with a sneer.  “A cat with shoes on.”

“Not just any shoes, sir,” said the young man.  “Kitten heels.”

Leonard Brock was nonplussed.  “And?”

“That’s her name too.  Kitten Heels.  She fights crime, rights wrongs, relieves the oppressed and so on, all while looking cute in her kitten heels.”

Leonard Brock pulled a face.  He made a circling motion with his cigar for them to continue.

“For the voice we were thinking Bjork.  Someone quirky, a bit off the beaten track.”

“Or perhaps we could get Meryl,” one of the others chimed in.  “She can do anything!”

The third one made enthusiastic noises about Meryl.

Leonard Brock stepped forward and stubbed out his cigar on the cartoon kitty’s face.

“This is a stale tamale,” he pronounced.  “It’s been done before.  I want something fresh, something we haven’t seen.  Something that the kiddies will want on their t-shirts and lunchboxes, their pencil cases and their water bottles.  This cat you bring me is old hat.”

“It’s not wearing a hat, it’s got shoes on.”

The one who had dared to contradict the boss shrank back.

“Felines in footwear,” Leonard Brock lit another cigar.  “It’s been done to death.  Go on, get out of here and don’t come back until you’ve got something new.”

Relieved to be dismissed, the trio shuffled out.

Leonard Brock sat at his desk.  He pressed the intercom.  “Janet?  Send the B-team in.”

A second trio of hopefuls shuffled into his office.

“Well?” Leonard Brock arched a bushy eyebrow.

They showed him a drawing of a buck-toothed, big eared rodent with one hand down the front of its shorts.

“Mucky Mouse!” they chorused.  Two of them even did jazz hands.

“You’re fired,” said Leonard Brock.

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Meanwhile, at a Cottage in the Woods…

“Who is it?” Momma Bear yelled from the kitchen.

“It’s a man,” Baby Bear called over his shoulder from the front door.

“What does he want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, ask him!”

You ask him.”

Momma Bear took the saucepan of porridge off the hob and, wiping her hands on her flowery apron, went to the front door.  Baby Bear scurried back to his PlayStation.

Momma Bear looked the man up and down.  As humans go, he was a particularly skinny specimen, dressed in an ill-fitting suit and sporting a tattered tie spattered with gravy.

“Yes, love?” Momma Bear smiled.  “Only I’ve got to get the porridge on and Daddy Bear doesn’t like it if the porridge is late.”

“Understandable,” the man smiled back.  “No one likes to be kept waiting for porridge.”

“So, what can I do for you, Mister –  ah…?”

“Oats,” said the man.

“Sorry; I need all mine for the porridge.  Did I mention I was making porridge?”

“It’s my name: Nathaniel Oats.  I’m here to make your lives better.”

“Oh?” Momma Bear folded her long, furry arms.  “And how are you going to do that, then?”

“If I may?” Nathaniel Oats stepped over the threshold.  Momma Bear moved sideways to let him in.  Nathaniel Oats looked around the bears’ cottage with an appreciative eye.

“Nice,” he said.  “You’ve really made it all nice and cosy.  It’s lovely.  Charming.”

“Thanks,” Momma Bear blushed.

“And we wouldn’t want anything to happen to this lovely, charming cottage, would we?”

Momma Bear bristled.  “What do you mean?  Like what?  What would happen?”

Nathaniel Oats strode over to a window, flanked by chintz curtains.  “This, for example.  A delightful fixture, to be sure, but it’s just the right size for any passing delinquent to climb through.”


“There’s a lot of them about,” Nathaniel Oats pouted sadly.  “You need to secure it with sturdy locks.”

“Sturdy locks?”

“I can get you a discount.  Now, this furniture… Is it Shaker?”

“I don’t know…”

“Is it insured?  That’s the important question.”

“I really don’t know.  Daddy Bear deals with that side of things.”

“Imagine: some delinquent gets in through that very window and starts smashing the place up.  That chair your delightful son is using, for example.  Where would he sit to play his gratuitously violent videogames?”

Momma Bear wrung her front paws.  “I don’t understand.  How would the delinquent get in if the window is secured by sturdy locks?”

Nathaniel Oats ignored the question.  He stood at the foot of the staircase and peered at the upper floor.  “What’s up here?”

He bounded up the steps.  Momma Bear lumbered after him.

“Just a bedroom.  Where we sleep.”

“What?  All three of you?”  He cast a disparaging look at the three single beds, lined up in order of size.

“Yes… why?”

“I can do you a deal on a home improvement loan.  Put up a partition wall.  Give you some privacy.  Your son’s a growing boy…”

“I don’t know,” Momma Bear chewed at a claw.  “My husband…”

As if on cue, Daddy Bear burst into the bedroom.  He roared and bared his teeth.  “What’s going on here, then?”

“Darling,” Momma Bear stepped in front of the human.  “It’s not what it looks like.”

“Oh, lord, no!” Nathaniel Oats peered over a hairy shoulder.  “It’s all above board.  Allow me to present my business card.”

He proffered a small rectangle with flowery writing on.  Daddy Bear snatched it, taking the human’s arm and shoulder with it.  Nathaniel Oats fell screaming onto the nearest bed, which happened to be Baby’s.

Baby Bear tore up the stair to see what the commotion was about.

“Who’s that bleeding on my bed?” he gasped.

“Never you mind,” said Daddy Bear.  He ripped out the human’s throat to stop him screaming.  Baby Bear rolled his eyes and went back down to his digital massacre.

“Look at this mess,” Momma Bear wailed.  “Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of candlewick?  And I’ve still got the porridge to do…”

Daddy Bear turned the business card over in his dripping claws.  “It’s alright, love,” he grinned.  “You can sack off the porridge for one night.  Tonight we shall feast on Oats!”

He threw back his huge head and bellowed thunderous laughter.

All right for you, Momma Bear grumbled to herself as she dragged the corpse to the kitchen.  You don’t have to cook the bloody thing.

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Dinner with Dennis

Dennis whistled as he walked from the bus stop.  His shopping bag was brimming with a dozen red roses and bulging with a bottle of champagne.  Tucked under his arm were fancy chocolates in a heart-shaped box.  While the bubbly’s chilling, he reckoned, I can make a start on dinner.  There’ll be soft music tinkling in the background.  Candlelight…

He turned the key in his front door.  The house was in darkness.

“Hello?” Dennis called into the gloom of the hallway.  “Darling, I’m home!”

There was no answer.  Dennis shut the door and bolted it.  He breezed through to the kitchen-diner and lay the champagne in the fridge.  He ransacked a drawer until he unearthed a box of matches.  Singing to himself, he skipped around the house, lighting scented candles.

A shuffling sound came from above.  The bedroom.  Dennis vaulted up the stairs, two, sometimes three at a time.  He arrived just as there was a thud.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear,” he shook his head.  He helped the man up from the bedside rug and lay him back on the duvet.  “Someone’s over-excited, aren’t they?”

The man, naked apart from a pink sash diagonal across his torso, and a red paper heart over his privates, said nothing.  Dennis leant over him, searching his big brown eyes.

“Be patient, my darling,” Dennis breathed.  “I’m going to make us a lovely romantic dinner.  This is going to be the best Valentine’s date ever.”

He pecked the naked man on the forehead and went back downstairs to chop vegetables.

An hour or so later, Dennis climbed the stairs, balancing a tray, two champagne flutes.  The bottle was cold in his armpit.

“Here we are, darling!” he sang out.  “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

The man on the bed tried to recoil but he was tied so tightly to the bedposts he could not move in any direction.

Dennis sat on the edge of the bed.  “Would you like me to cut your meat?”

The man’s eyes widened in terror.  Blood spilled from his lips.  He could only grunt inarticulate sounds since Dennis had sliced his tongue out.

“Here comes the aeroplane!” Dennis brandished a fork with a Jersey potato impaled on its tines.  The naked man groaned in terror and kept his lips clamped together.

“Don’t be silly, darling,” Dennis scolded.  “I’ve gone to a lot of trouble.”

The man turned his face away in painful defiance.

“Come on,” Dennis cajoled, the potato booping the man’s chin.  “Don’t make me take you back to the cellar.  Don’t make me swap you for one of the others!”

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The First of Us

It wasn’t me; I wasn’t the first of us.  That honour went to Bobo.  Bobo was a howler monkey we kept in the lab.  He was there when I started five years ago as a humble tech assistant.  He’d been there so long, he was like one of the team.  No one would dream of including Bobo among the test subjects.

Now, before you go all ethical and animal rights on me, it wasn’t part of my remit to perform the experiments on the monkeys and rabbits.  Like I mentioned, I was merely a tech assistant.  I kept the IT up and running.

It started when Hargreaves let Bobo out of his pen during lunch.  He should have known better than to tease the creature.  Bobo was quick to rile up.

“Just give him the damned banana!” I scolded from across the breakout room.  Hargreaves turned to award me his best simian scowl, his finest monkey man impression, complete with ‘oo-oo’ noises and armpit scratches.

Just as Doctor Klang exited the secure area.

Bobo saw his chance and took it.  With a furious screech, he darted between Klang’s legs and into the secure area before the doors could seal.  Instant uproar!  Lab assistants recoiled in panic as Bobo, whipped up into a frenzy by now, lashed out in all directions.  I could see their faces, visors pressed against the window, their gloves scrabbling for a way out.

“Who the fuck let that monkey out?” Krang screamed, activating the alarm.  Sirens wailed and blared while pulses of red light flared and died, flared and died.

Inside the secure area, the staff were turning on each other, ripping and tearing out throats, bared teeth sinking into soft flesh.

“My work!” Krang mourned.

Before Hargreaves and I could stop him, he was unsealing the doors.  The mad bastard was trying to retrieve the last remaining phial of his life’s endeavours.

“No!” we yelled, our voices drowned by the sirens.

Bobo launched himself at Klang, his fangs shredding the haz-mat suit.

Hargreaves scrambled to the exit, but I tackled him to the floor and sat on him.  He wriggled and writhed until I slapped his face.

“We have to contain it,” I told him.  “Nothing or no one can leave this building.”

Hargreaves wasn’t paying attention.  His eyes widened as the howler monkey dropped onto my back.  Distracted, I let Hargreaves scuttle out from under me.  He didn’t reach the door.  Our colleagues, erupting from the secure area like a nest of spiders, pounced.  They tore him limb from limb.

Me, they left alone. I suppose Bobo’s bite rendered me immune to their predations. And all I can think of now as my mad blood stirs and a mindless rage consumes me, is how many people there are in the world beyond the laboratory door and how they must all be bitten and made the same as us.

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Death of a Celebrity

“Are you all right?”

“Not bad, you?”

“No, I mean, what with what’s happened.”

“What’s happened?”

“You must be devastated.”



“What’s happened?”

“Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Haven’t you seen the news?”

“No!  Just tell me!”

“Soon as I heard, I thought of you.  He’ll be devastated, I thought.”


“Are you ready?  Brace yourself.”

“Just tell me!”

“He’s only gone and died!”

“Who has?”

“You know.”

“I clearly don’t.”

“You do!  Him!  That one you like.”

“Which one I like?  Barry from the Red Lion?”

“No!  Not him!  From the films!  Him!”

“Who?  Just tell me his name.”

“Oh, he was in that one with the thing, the robot.”


“And he came back as a ghost in that one with whatshername.”

“It’ll be quicker if I google it.  Oh.”

“I know.  54, it’s no age, is it?  Are you okay?  Can I get you a cuppa?”

I’m fine.”


“Yeah.  I mean, it’s a shame and all, but I wasn’t that much of a fan.”

“No?  I thought you were obsessed.”

“Not me.  You’re getting me confused with Liam.  He loved him.  Got a keyring and everything.”

“Ah.  I wonder if Liam knows…”

“You mentioned something about a cuppa?”

“In a bit.  So, what’s Barry from the Red Lion got that I haven’t?”

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Little Bear and the Rabbit

“Oh!  You startled me!”  the rabbit panted.  His eyes sought the best escape route.

“Sorry about that!” smiled Little Bear.  “I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year.”

The rabbit adopted a suspicious look.  “Really?”

“Yes!” Little Bear grinned.  “Happy New Year!  To you and your family.”

The rabbit was puzzled.  “My family?  You’ve eaten half of my family.”

Little Bear laughed.  “Oh, that was the old me.  That was last year’s me.”

The rabbit gaped.  “Are you serious right now?”

“I certainly am,” said Little Bear.  “It’s my New Year’s Resolution.  I’m not going to eat any more rabbits.  I’m giving Veganuary a go.”

“Oh…” the rabbit nodded slowly.  “So, if I walk away, you’re not going to chase me?”


“And you’re not going to track me to my warren, dig me out and bite me in half?”

“Not today, little buddy.”

“Not today?  How long is this new you going to last?”

“Well, Veganuary has thirty-one days… but I’m hoping I’ll stick at it.  I hear it’s great for your health.  Increases your stamina.  I’ll be stronger, able to run faster, quicker to react…”

For some reason, the rabbit didn’t look at ease.

“So, I’ll be on my way, then.”

“Oh no, you don’t!” Little Bear’s teeth were visible within his smile.

“I knew it was too good to be true!” the rabbit wailed.

“You’re not going anywhere, my friend,  until you’ve wished me a Happy New Year too.”

Little Bear folded his arms.

“What?” the rabbit was confused.  “You want me to wish you a Happy New Year?”

“Yes!  Why wouldn’t you?”

“Well, okay then.  A Happy New Year to you, Little Bear.”

“Thank you!”

“So, can I go now?”

“Of course.  I’ll give you a head start.  Count of five.”


“Just kidding!  Old habits!  This is the new me, remember.  Perhaps you can show me where to find the best carrots.”


“If I’m going to be eating rabbit food – no offence – I’m going to need your advice.”

“Wait a minute;  you’re not going to eat me but you’re going to compete with me for my food?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be much of a competition, would it?”

“No, no, no!  I’m not having this.  A big fellow like you would empty a carrot patch in minutes and what would become of me and my family?  We’d starve to death.  Weakened from hunger, we won’t be able to run away from predators.  Oh!”  The rabbit gasped as realisation dawned.  “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?  You want us weak so you can catch us more easily.”

It was Little Bear’s turn to be confused.  “What?  No!  I’m just trying something new.  Trying to improve myself.  Be a better me.  Way to piss on my New Year vibes.”

The rabbit felt terrible.  “I’m sorry.  I guess experience has made me cynical.  I wish you well, I really do.  And perhaps I can show you where to find decent carrots.”

“Great!  Thank you.”  Little Bear was tearful with gratitude.  “Can I get a hug?”

“Of course!”

Little Bear threw his arms around the rabbit and snuffled his nose into the rabbit’s fur.  That smell!  So warm, so…delicious…

The rabbit began to struggle.  “That’s enough.  Let me go.  You’re hurting…”

“Fuck it,” said Little Bear.  He bit off the rabbit’s head.  “There’s always next year.”

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Filed under humour, Short story

The Snow Boy

“Get out of my way!” Mr Snowman snarled.  Mrs Snowman shook her huge round head.

“No fear,” she stood her ground.  “You are not leaving this snow house.  I’m not going to let you.  I can’t go through all that again.”

Mr Snowman’s icy brow dipped in a frown.  “What do you mean, you can’t go through all that again?  It’s nothing to do with you.”

“Oh?  Nothing to do with me?  Who is it that has to clear up all the mess?  Who is it that has to put up with your bad mood when the fun’s all over?  Muggins here, that’s who!”

Mr Snowman sighed.  “But I do it every year.  It won’t feel like Christmas if I don’t.”

“You’ll just have to find a new tradition, my love.”  Mrs Snowman stroked her husband’s arm.  She nuzzled her carrot nose into his neck.

Mr Snowman let himself be led away from the front door and to his armchair in the chill-out room.

“Slush puppy?” Mrs Snowman offered.  Mr Snowman nodded sadly.

While his wife prepared the drink, Mr Snowman fell into nostalgic reverie.  All those years, all that fun, all those boys…

He looked at the clock.  If he got a move on he could be in some young boy’s back garden before midnight.  A well-aimed snowball to a bedroom window would summon the boy outdoors.  A quick snowball fight and then he’d swoop the boy up, high above the town.  Over the ocean they would fly, heading northwards, ever northwards.  The boys always came willingly.  What boy would want to turn down the opportunity to visit Father Christmas?

And they would dance!  Mr Snowman’s snow neighbours would treat the boy like a prince.  The boy would have the time of his life.

“Here you go,” Mrs Snowman placed the slush puppy on a side table.  “Extra ice, just how you like it.”

Mr Snowman grunted.

“Oh, come on, love,” Mrs Snowman booped his satsuma nose.  “Snap out of it.”

“Christmas is ruined,” Mr Snowman pouted.

“No, it isn’t!  We’re still together.  Look at it this way: no family is going to wake up this year and find their darling son is missing.  Or dead from hypothermia.  Or frozen solid, like the last one.”

Mr Snowman’s shoulders heaved.  “I suppose you’re right, love.  I’ve been selfish, haven’t I?”

“You gave those boys the time of their life.  They just weren’t built for it.”


“Come out into the garden.  I’ve got something to show you.”

Mr Snowman allowed his wife to lead him out into the back garden.  His lump-of-coal eyes almost dropped out of his face with joy.

Mrs Snowman had been hard at work, rolling snow into spheres and stacking them.

“Here,” she said, handing him a baby carrot.  “You do the honours.”

Mr Snowman placed the carrot at the centre of the snow boy’s face.  The boy shook.  His pebble features formed into a smile.

Mr Snowman hugged his wife.  “Thank you, thank you, my love.  This is the best Christmas ever!”

Mrs Snowman laughed.  “Just don’t take him walking in the air, OK?”


Filed under humour, Short story

A Spoon in the Sugar

“And coming up on this week’s Brunch Bunch we have…” Tom slapped his hands on the countertop, hoping to simulate a drum roll, “Showbiz legend Sir Rodney Fitch, talking about his memoirs!  Dolly Dane will be here to tell us about her role in the smash hit musical, Feelers, and hot new band The Merkin will be playing us out at the end of the show.  Damon?”

“I’ll be demonstrating what you can do with a leftover cucumber,” Damon smiled thinly.

The floor manager signalled.  The opening titles were playing.

“You OK, mate?” Tom gave Damon a nudge.  “You seem a bit off.”

“I’m fine,” Damon said through clenched teeth.

“Come on, mate.  Give us a smile.  We’re on in sixty.”

Damon shrugged his co-host away.  Tom paled.

“Have I done something?  Have I said something?”

Damon pinned him with an icy glare.  “You know what you’ve done.”

“What?” Tom laughed nervously.  He held up his hands as a show of innocence.

“And five, four, three…” the floor manager counted them back in.  The theme music crashed to an insipid climax.

“Good morning!” Tom grinned from the sofa.  The seat beside him was noticeably vacant.

In the galley, the director scrambled for coverage.  “Where’s Damon?  He’s supposed to be on the sofa.”

“Got him,” said Camera Three.  “He’s in the kitchen.”

“Go,” said the director.

Camera Three’s red light came on.

“Good morning!” Damon smiled professionally.  He brandished a large knife.

“What are you doing over there, Damon?” Tom’s words felt thick in his throat.

“I’m preparing my ingredients,” Damon called back.  He chopped a sausage in two.

“Are you coming over here to talk to our first guest?” Tom ventured.

“I am rather busy,” said Damon, snapping a carrot with his bare hands.

“Well, I’m sure I can manage.”  Tom didn’t sound sure.  “Good morning, Sir Rodney.”

The ancient actor, all tweed and charm, remarked how gracious it was for them to invite him.  On his quivering lap was a copy of the latest volume of his salacious showbiz memoirs.

“It’s lovely to have you,” Tom fawned.  “You’re looking remarkably well for a ninety-genarian.”

“Nonagenarian!” Damon corrected from across the studio.  The camera panned to get him in shot, just in time to see him make an obscene gesture with an aubergine.

“I’m eighty-seven,” Sir Rodney muttered, his dentures shifting.

“Ha!  Brilliant!” Tom enthused for no particular reason.  “So, you’ve been writing again, haven’t you, Sir Rodney?”

He reached for the book, but the old thespian’s gnarled hands maintained a claw-like grip.

“Let’s have a look, then.  Hold it up for the viewers.”

A brief tug-o’-war ensued, resulting in Tom gaining possession of the book and poor Sir Rodney landing on the hard studio floor.

“My hip!” he cried in agony.  “My hip!”

“My kingdom for a hip!” Tom quipped.

The floor manager ducked into shot to assist the fallen actor.  The director cut away to Damon in the kitchen area.

“Oh?” Damon blinked in surprise.  “Is it me?”  He cleared his throat.  “Coming up after the break, I’ll be knocking up a Catalan omelette with Dolly Dane, and there’ll be live music from The Merkin.  See you in two!”

He let his smile drop.  He looked on in alarm as Sir Rodney Fitch was stretchered out of the studio.

“So, it’s not enough you breaking up my marriage, you now start on that poor old man.”

“What?” Tom looked up from the memoir.  “What are you talking about?”

“I found it, Tom.  I found it.”


“The spoon.  In the sugar.  In my kitchen.  You’re the only person I know who leaves a wet spoon in the sugar.”

Tom affected a frown.  “I –”

“When was it?  While I was doing that dancing show?”

“Well, Gareth said he was lonely.”

“And you stepped into the breach!  Thanks, mate.”

The floor manager interceded.  “We’re back in thirty.  Damon, take that knife back to the kitchen.”

The theme tune dribbled out like a wet fart.

The director cut to the kitchen, where Dolly Dane was behind the counter, looking lost.  The floor manager made frantic gestures.

“Oh!” Dolly Dane straightened up.   She squinted at the autocue.  “Wel-come back to Bunch Brunch and now I am go-ing to be mak-ing a Catalan omelette with Dolly Dane – oh, that’s me!”  She waved at the camera.

The floor manager’s hand circled, encouragingly.

“Well, first I am go-ing to get some eggs…”  Dolly looked around.  A hand shoved a box of eggs into shot.  “Thank you!” Dolly giggled.

There was an almighty crash as part of the set fell over.  Tom was backing over the sofa, shielding himself from Damon’s knife with the memoirs of Sir Rodney Fitch.

“And I’m going to toss in some tarragon and some chives…” Dolly was trying her best.  “And while I’m stirring those in, why don’t I tell you about my lovely new show, Feelers?  In it I play the grasshopper.  We’re all dressed up as insects, but really it’s about emotions.  Real human emotions, because we feel things?   It’s a play on words, do you get it?”

Tom and Damon encroached upon the kitchen area.  Tom snatched up a frying pan to ward off Damon’s blows.

“I was going to use that!” Dolly cried.  She got in the way.  The frying pan hit her squarely in the face.  Down she went like a sack of potatoes, dropping off the bottom of the shot.

“Cue the band!” the director screamed from the galley.  “Cue the fucking band!”

But the brawling presenters were rolling across the floor, knocking over the drum kit.

Damon was on top.  He raised the knife high while Tom squirmed underneath him.

The feed was cut.  A card read NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED and cheesy elevator music played.

At home, Gareth was trying to phone the studio.  Perhaps there would still be time to explain.  Tom had only called around to discuss arrangements for Damon’s surprise 40th birthday party.  It was all a misunderstanding.

But then again, he pressed the slab of raw steak against the black eye Damon had given him, perhaps I should let this play out.  Let the world see Damon for who he really is.  And if he survives, perhaps Tom will have me on the show to talk about my experiences… This could be my big break…

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Filed under humour, Short story

The Waiver

As David hurried along the midnight streets, unseen hands pulled him into an alley.  He was thrown roughly against a wall.  A cloaked and shadowy figure loomed over him, pinning him to the cold bricks.  Breath like an open grave blew into his face.  He soon found there was no use wriggling and writhing.  The other was too strong, unnaturally so.

“Good evening,” breathed a voice like a creaking door.

David tried to avert his face from the noisome exhalations.

A claw tightened around his throat.  Bright red eyes glowed in the gloom.  The other took a sniff, the tip of his long and pointed nose catching a spot of moonlight.

“Been to the pub, have you?  Well, have you?”

David nodded rapidly.

The other took a deeper sniff.

“Lager with a…whisky chaser?”


“And,” Sniff! “more than a handful of peanuts.  From a packet or a bowl on the bar?”

“A p—pp—packet.”

The other found this answer satisfactory.  “One can never be too careful with peanuts from a bowl.  So many unwashed hands, dipping in.”

“Wh – what do you want?  I have no cash on me but there’s a machine around the corner.”

Another wash of breath.

“And you have had your jabs?”


“Inoculations.  Vaccinations.  Against influenza.  Coronavirus.  Smallpox, all the rest of them.”

“Well, yes.  The flu one was just last week.  And the Covid booster the week before that.”

“That is satisfactory.  The beer and whisky I can handle.  Secondary boozing is the closest I get.  And you have no conditions I should know about?”


“Haemophilia, for instance.  Diabetes.  HIV?”


“A clean bill of health then!”  Fangs flashed.  A sharp tongue licked at narrow lips.  “Do you have a pen?”

“A –”

“You know, for writing with.”

“Um, in my pocket.”

“Good man.”

A roll of parchment was waved in David’s face.

“If you could just sign this waiver…”


“Saying you enter into this transaction willingly and to the best of your knowledge you have no diseases of the blood that might debilitate or otherwise afflict me.”

“What?  Blood?  Transaction?  What are you talking about?”

“I suppose ‘transfusion’ might be more accurate.  It’s just a formality.”

“I’m not signing anything.”

“Oh, don’t be stubborn.  Things can get messy – legally speaking if you don’t disclose anything that could come back to bite you at a later date.”

“I have no diseases.  I’m clean!  I just went for a couple of pints with some friends from work.  It’s Julie from Accounts’s birthday.”

“How dull your mortal lives must be!”

“Look, if you’re going to drink my blood, just get it over with.  I’ve got an early start in the morning and I’d like to get home.”

“The waiver?”

“Let’s make a gentleman’s agreement.  Just get a move on.”

The fangs glinted again.  There was a sound like teeth sinking into an apple.  David grimaced.  The other sucked at his neck, raising memories of teenage love bites, of fumbles in the park.  David felt he might pass out.

But then the other staggered back, releasing him.  David slumped to the ground.  The other was stamping and spitting, coughing and spluttering.

“What have you done to me?” he gasped, as his skin turned grey and crumbled like ash from a cigarette.  His cloak and suit collapsed into a heap.

“Oops,” said David, giving the evacuated clothes a kick.  “Forgot to mention, I’ve been taking capsules from the health shop for weeks. Colourless and odourless, but with all the benefits of fresh garlic. Sorry.”

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Filed under horror, humour, Short story

The Last Stop

It had been a rough shift but it was almost over.  Ernie just had to get the bus back to the depot and then he could clock off for the night.  It would be too late for a pint in the pub with the lads, but that was OK.  He just wanted to get home.

Heavy rain continued to lash the bus from all sides.  The windscreen wipers were doing their valiant best but Ernie was having difficulty seeing the road ahead.  He slowed a little, but not by much; the promise of getting home was too tantalising.

Ahead a shadow loomed at the side of the road.  Lightning cracked the sky casting the figure into stark relief.  An old woman hunched at the kerb, waiting hopefully for the last bus.  Ernie’s heart sank.  He didn’t want to face any more passengers.  He’d had enough with those rowdy teenagers who had terrorised everyone else with their loud music and louder catcalls.  He had begun to think they’d never get off, but they did, mouthing threats and making menacing gestures. 

And now, this old biddy.  She’d probably want to complain about the weather.  They always do.  Ernie would have to continue along the prescribed route rather than take the shortcut to the depot.  But if he didn’t pick her up, she’d report him to the company… Or would she?  Ernie reckoned it was too dark for her to see the bus number.  And if there was any comeback, he could claim it had been too dark for him to see her in the bus shelter, oops, my bad, never mind.

He pressed down on the accelerator.  The front tyres dipped into a puddle in the gutter, raising a swell of spray that drenched the old biddy.  It probably knocked her off her feet, for all Ernie knew.  Very soon, the shelter, the old woman, the street, were receding in his mirror.

Sorry, love, Ernie thought.  Blame those kids.  If they hadn’t got me so wound up…

Twenty minutes later, Ernie’s car pulled onto his drive.  He got out and hurried to his front door.  The rain was showing no signs of letting up.  Well, let it come down.  He’d soon be in bed, safe and snug under the covers, and he had always found the sound of rain somewhat soothing, when he was cosily tucked up, of course.

But, lying in bed, he could find no peace.  He kept seeing the swell of water engulfing the old woman, repeating like a gif in his mind.  Why did I do that?  Why didn’t I stop and pick her up?  His conscience continued to needle him, keeping sleep at bay.  Eventually, he had to get out of bed and go to the bathroom.

While he was pissing, the shower curtain drew back, seemingly of its own accord.  Ernie froze.  Slowly, he turned his head, fully expecting to see the spectral form of the old woman, pale and waterlogged, her skin blue, a craggy finger pointing its accusation.

But, instead of a vengeful ghost, a pair of teenagers sprang from the bathtub, brandishing knives.

It was almost a relief as Ernie sank to his knees, blood spurting from his slashed throat.  Far better to be murdered by real, live delinquents than a geriatric phantom.  Ernie faceplanted the bathmat.  His final thought: This is my stop.

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The Old House

“No way!  I’m not going in there.”  Bobby turned his bicycle around but did not ride away.

“Chicken!” Thomas bent his arms and flapped them like stunted wings.

Bobby’s face flushed.  “Am not!  I just… I just have to get home for tea.”

Thomas chuckled scornfully.  “What are you having?  Chicken?”

Bobby scowled.  “Have you been in?  I bet you haven’t, have you?”

Thomas laughed.  “I’ve been in there lots of times.  There’s nothing to it.”

Bobby looked again at the house, the creepy house with its creepy turret like something out of a fairy tale, the shuttered windows like squinting eyes, the ivy sprawling across its face like a disfiguring disease.  He swallowed his fear.  It was Halloween.  And if you couldn’t do something scary on Halloween, then when could you?

“I will – if you will,” he croaked.

“Good man!” Thomas clapped him on the shoulder.  Bobby dismounted his bike and let it drop to the pavement.  “This way!”

He strode toward the front door.  Bobby pulled at his T-shirt.

“You’re just going in?  Through the front door?”

“Why not?  There’s nobody home.”  He wiggled his eyebrows and grinned.  “Or is there?”

Bobby stammered.  “You – you don’t believe the stories, do you?  About Old Man Diggs?  Snatching kids off the street, taking them into this house, and – and they were never seen again?”

“Old Man Diggs died a long time ago.”

“Yes, but – There’s something… I don’t like it.”

“Are you going to chicken out after all?”

“No!  But shouldn’t we go around the back or something?  It’s like the house can see us coming.”

Thomas shook his head.  “All right.  If it will make you feel better.  Come on.”

He skirted around the side of the house, where a tumbledown fence failed to separate the front and back gardens.  Bobby followed, not wanting to be left alone with those squinting eyes watching him, judging him.  Holding his breath, he moved on tiptoes.  When he got around to the back of the house, Thomas was nowhere to be seen.

“Wh-where are you?” Bobby whispered as loudly as he dared.  “Stop messing around!”

The back door swung open with a creak, making Bobby jump.  He froze.  The door remained open, yawning an invitation.

“Thomas?  Are you in there?” The tremble in Bobby’s voice and the sweat trickling down his back betrayed his fear, but he couldn’t let the other boy call him a chicken again.  He forced himself to take a step toward the back door.

“You boy!  What the hell are you doing back here?  This place is dangerous.  The house is condemned.  It could fall down at any minute.”

Bobby turned to find a policeman towering over him.  He didn’t know whether to feel relieved or terrified.  What would Mum say about being caught trespassing?”

“I – I was looking for my friend.  I think he went inside.”

The policeman shook his head.  “Is that your bicycle out front?”

Bobby nodded.

“And your friend’s name wouldn’t happen to be Thomas, would it?”

Bobby brightened.  “Yes!  Yes!  That’s him.”

“And how do you know Thomas? From school?”

“Um…” Bobby’s forehead creased. “No, he… We just met. He said he liked my bike. Then we got talking.”

The policeman grabbed Bobby roughly by the arm and pulled him away from the house.

He put his face close to the boy’s and when he spoke, it was through gritted teeth.

“You’re going to run.  You’re going to run as fast as you can.  You’re going to get on that bike of yours and you’re going to pedal as fast as you can all the way home, and you’re not going to look back.  Do you understand me?”

Bobby nodded rapidly.  “Y-yes sir!”

The policeman sent him on his way with a shove.  Bobby scrambled away, stumbling over his own feet.   The policeman stayed put, shining his torch on what remained of the windowpanes.

“Not this time, Thomas Diggs,” he addressed the house.  “Tell your old man there’ll be no kids on the menu this Halloween.”


Filed under ghost story, horror, Short story

The Man in the Mountain

The young man stepped into the cave and kicked the snow off the toes of his boots.  He was breathing heavily, from the climb and the altitude.  He stood still, calming down, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. 

He took a flashlight from his backpack.  Its beam fell feebly on a fringe of stalagmites forming a barrier to the cave’s inner chambers.  Above them, corresponding stalactites loomed, giving the impression of a gaping maw, lined with sharp teeth.

A hell mouth…

He dismissed the thought and the shiver that came with it.

Beyond the frozen fangs, utter darkness.  And silence.  The young man began to think coming here was a mistake.  It was the wrong mountain.  Or it was the right mountain but it was uninhabited, its occupant long gone.

Hunger rumbled in his belly.  I ought to think about a fire, food… A mountain top feast of dried rations before heading back down to civilisation, empty-handed, a failure…

He was in no rush to go back.  Not that there was much to go back to.

Perhaps I should stay up here, become a hermit, live off the land…

Better get used to a diet of snow and ice, then…

He heated water for soup.  The beverage made, he cupped it between his mittens, letting the steam warm his face.  Better savour it, it was the last of the packets.  After this, there would be no more.

It was almost cosy, in the cave mouth, sheltered from the snowstorm that was raging just feet away.

Perhaps I should just give up, lie down and die…

Oh, God, what has happened to us?

“Hello?”  a voice croaked from the darkness.

The young man jolted from his reverie, instantly alert.  His eyes darted.

“Who’s there?”

A pale shape emerged from the gloom.  A withered old man emerged, shrunken and etiolated.

“A visitor!” he exclaimed.  “Long time since I had a visitor.”

The young man scrambled to his feet.  He gaped at the old man.   “You’re here!  You’re real!”

A smile crinkled the corners of the old man’s rheumy eyes.  “I should hope so,” he chuckled.  “Now, to what do I owe the honour?”

The young man frowned.  “You mean you don’t know?”

“Should I?”

“Don’t you know everything?”

“I was pretty handy in the odd pub quiz…”

The young man scoffed.  “You’re not what I expected.”

“No?” the old man smirked.  “And what did you expect?”  With his next words, he seemed to grow, expanding to fill the cavern and at the same time remaining the pale, slight figure.  “Thunder and lightning?  Hellfire and damnation?”

The young man shrank back.  The old man returned to normal.

“You – you turned your back on us,” the young man’s lips curled in bitter accusation.  “You must know what it’s like down there.  We’re struggling!  We’re dying!  We’re turning against each other while the world is collapsing around us!”

The old man’s bony shoulder twitched a shrug.

“You could save us!  One click of your fingers, or however it is you do it, you could make things right.”

The old man shook his head.  “Sorry.”

“We’ll build more churches, we’ll honour you, if that’s what it takes.”

The old man waved his pale hand.  He turned to retreat into the shadows.

“Wait!” the young man cried.  “Is that it?  I’ve come all this way for nothing?”

The old man looked back, his eyes glinting like wet opals in the dark.

“You have everything you need,” he smiled.  “You always have.  You can put things right.  It’s not too late.  Go back.  Go down and make a start.  Others will see what you’re doing, the difference you make, and they will join you.  It will take time, but all will be well.”  He winked.  “Just leave me out of it this time, OK?”

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Meanwhile, in the Greek restaurant…

“You got this.”  She secured her sunglasses in place and turned to face the mirror over the wash basin.  She packed away the cosmetics she had been applying then dropped the make-up case into her handbag.  No matter how much foundation or rouge she applied, her skin retained its somewhat greenish hue.  She didn’t want to overdo it and end up looking like a nauseous clown.

Besides, her mask would cover most of it.  In that way at least, COVID 19 had been a gift from the gods.  She could walk around, concealed in plain sight, and no one would say anything about it.  Apart from the idiots.  But there were always idiots.  The world was in no danger of running out of them.

Beneath her turban there was movement.  She gave it a slap.  There were a few angry hisses, but the wriggling and writhing stopped.  FML, she wailed inwardly.  Every day is a bad hair day.

“Just lie flat!” she whispered to the turban’s reflection.  “Or you won’t have to consult the Oracle to know there’ll be no white mice in your foreseeable future.”

She gave herself one last quick appraisal, hitched her handbag onto her arm and headed for the exit, pausing to deposit a tip on the outstretched palm of the lavatory attendant.

“Sorry,” she gave a sad smile and then remembered to hitch the strings of her surgical mask over the lower half of her face.

The attendant stared stonily ahead.  Oh, well, perhaps people will think she’s part of the décor.  And I must remember to keep my shade on until I am sure I’m on my own…

She pushed through to the restaurant.  Across the room, a handsome young man saw her coming and rose from his seat.  He gestured to the empty chair across the table.

Hmm, he’s fit… She glided to her seat.  Which means he’s probably a moron.  That’s the way it goes.  But I’ll give him a chance to surprise me.  Who knows, perhaps he’ll be the one I lose my head over?

The handsome young man grinned handsomely.  The sword he always carried was hidden beneath his dinner jacket and his shiny shield was stashed under the table.

“Hello,” he beamed, offering his hand.  “I’m Perseus.”

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Filed under fantasy, humour, Short story

At the Sharp End

“My lord,” the chief advisor bowed before the throne.  “There is unrest among the people.”

Vlad Țepeș barely glanced at the man.  “When isn’t there?  It would be breaking news if there was no unrest among the people.  Come back when that is the case.”

He flicked his fingers dismissively but the chief advisor did not withdraw.

“Permit me, my lord,” the chief advisor was bold enough to look the Dark Prince in the eye,  “But it is within your power to appease the population.”

Vlad gripped the armrests of his gothic throne, his fingernails digging into the time-blackened wood.  “There is little that is not within my power.  Have I not worked tirelessly to secure this land from the Turk invaders?  Have I not established freedom for our orthodox religion, liberating us of the Roman yoke?  Have I –?”

The chief advisor saw fit to interrupt with a sharp clearing of his throat.  “This much is true, my lord, but you may yet do more.”

“You are impertinent,” Vlad observed.  “You know the punishment for impertinence in my court.”

“Yes,” the chief advisor persisted.  “In fact,” he shook out a scroll that uncoiled past his knees, “Law and Order is top of my list of, um, suggestions.”

“Is there no law in the land?  No order?  What are you prating about, man?  Speak, while I still allow you your tongue.”

“You rule by terror, my lord.”

“I suppose.  But it works, doesn’t it?”

“Impaling a man on a spike in the marketplace because he stole a bread roll.”

“Well, he won’t do it again, will he?  And other, potential bread roll pilferers may think twice.”

“Is it not a touch… draconian, sir?”

“Is that a play on words?  Something about my family’s affinity with dragons.”

“Unintentional, my lord.  Surely, that most severe punishment should be reserved for the worst of crimes?  Like treason, my lord.”

Vlad Țepeș grimaced.  “I kind of like the one-size-fits-all approach. Did you not report to me a spike in crime figures? I have solved it with spikes of my own, have I not? Now, I grow bored with you.”

He signalled to a pair of guards standing sentry at the door.  They approached, taking the chief advisor by the arms.  Vlad got to his feet and stood almost nose-to-nose with his prisoner.

“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen.  The impalings will continue.  Unless you want to find yourself on the sharp end of one, you will broadcast a proclamation: This latest raft of disciplinary measures is good for the home-grown stick-sharpening industry.  No longer need we import sharpened sticks from our neighbours, those infidels in Moldova.  Let would-be immigrants see how we treat our own and let them tremble.  Thus, I am keeping strict limits on the numbers of outsiders coming to pollute our beautiful country.”

“So, what you’re saying, my lord, is all this if for the good of the people?”

“Now you’re getting it,” Țepeș smiled, showing a row of sharp teeth.  He dipped his head and the guards released the chief advisor.  “Well, old friend, what it is to be?”

The chief advisor smoothed the sleeves of his robe.  He cleared his throat.

“It looks like I shall give them some stick, my lord.”

Țepeș grinned.  “Very good.”

The chief advisor backed out of the room, his scroll left lying at the monster’s feet.

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Jack in the Box

“Wait!” Dennis cried.  “I didn’t order this!”

But the driver was already back in his van.  He sped away with a screech of tyres.  Dennis sighed.  Why couldn’t things ever be simple?  And now he was faced with the extra faff of having to return the unwanted parcel to whomever had sent it.  How am I supposed to lug this thing to the post office, he wondered?  The cardboard box was slightly taller than he was, and just a little too wide for him to get his arms around.

Perhaps they’ll collect it, he brightened.   There’s probably an invoice with a web address.  I’ll just contact them, tell them there’s been a mix-up and they’ll send a van to pick it up.

Feeling calmer, he edged around the box and went back into the house to find something sharp.  He snatched up his keys and used the jagged edge of one of them to slice through the packing tape.  Wonder what the hell it is anyway… Dennis’s curiosity was roused.

He opened a tall vertical flap and gasped in shock.  A pair of eyes glinted at him from the darkness of the carton.  Breathing heavily, Dennis reached for the second flap.  A hand darted from the box and seized him by the wrist.

“I can manage,” said a voice.  A figure stepped from the box, a young man, about Dennis’s age, a bit taller, a lot better-looking.

“What the f–?” was all Dennis could manage.

The young man breezed past and into the house.  He cast an appreciative glance around the hall and pulled a face.

“Bit dreary,” he concluded.  “But we can soon sort that out.”

“I’m sorry,” Dennis came in.  He left the front door ajar – in case he needed to make a sharp exit…

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the young man tittered.  It was like bells tinkling.  “Let me guess: this was your mum’s house and now it’s yours and you just haven’t got around to decorating.”

“Well –” Dennis gaped, like a goldfish taken aback.

“We’ll have this place looking like a home – like your home in a trice.”  The young man was grinning.  Perfect teeth gleamed.  Dennis found he had to tear his gaze away.

“I’m sorry,” he said, even though it was not his fault.  “There’s been a mistake.  I didn’t order—”

“Ssh!” the young man placed his index finger on Dennis’s lips.  “There is no mistake.  I meet all your requirements, do I not?”  He performed a slow revolve on the spot, displaying himself.  “You can’t tell me you’re not attracted to all this.  And my interests are your interests.  My humour is your humour.  My values are – well, you can guess!”  He laughed; the bells were peeling. “My name’s Jack.”

The young man took Dennis by the hand.  “It’s all right,” he said softly.  “I’m here now.  All those lonely nights, those meals eaten alone, those trips you never took because you didn’t want to go on your own.  They’re all done with now.  I’m here!”

Dennis felt the heat of the young man’s hand in his, saw the earnestness in his sparkling eyes, basked in the soothing tones of his voice.  Yes, he was certainly gorgeous, that was undeniable, but Dennis couldn’t understand why he was there.

“Sometimes,” the young man pulled Dennis into an embrace, “the universe gives us what we want without us asking for it.”

His dimpled chin rested on Dennis’s shoulder.  Dennis slowly lifted his arms to return the hug.

“That’s right,” said the young man. “I’m yours to hold for ever and ever.”

Dennis relaxed, enjoying the close contact.  It was indeed a dream come true.

Meanwhile, another lonely young man was frantically trying to contact customer service.  He had negotiated his way past one of those infuriating bots and was on hold for a human assistant.

“Yes!” he snapped, when he was finally put through.  “I think there’s been a bit of a mix-up.”

From his living room window, he could see a tall cardboard box on the doorstep of the house across the road.

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Through The Circle

The chieftain’s eyes slid sideways.  His advisors nodded.  He returned his gaze to the prisoner on her knees before the throne.

“Your tale is fantastical,” the chieftain intoned.  “Were I looking for a new bard, a new storyteller, you would be my first choice.  Unfortunately for you, I am not.  You will either tell us who you really are or you will be dispensed with and remain forever a mystery, one which we will soon forget about.”

The woman on her knees shook her head.   Her hands were tied in front of her, giving the impression of supplication, of begging.

“I’ve already told you.  I’m Abigail Aldridge.  I live at 44 Acacia Avenue, Godalming, Surrey.  I arrived here by accident.  There was a glimmer, a circle of light.  It just appeared in my back garden while I was pegging the washing out.  I didn’t mean to go through it, but it sort of sucked me in.”

The chieftain smiled.  As Gork, the medicine man had diagnosed, the woman was clearly touched in the head.  “I am tempted to show leniency in your case,” he said gently.  “You are ill and should be cared for.”

“I’m not ill!” Abigail protested.  “I’m telling you the truth.”

“Then where is it now, your circle of light?” sneered one of the advisors.  “If you can prove it exists, you shall be free to return to Godawful.”

“Godalming!” Abigail corrected automatically.  “But then again,” she reflected, “you might be right.”

“Enough of this, sire,” the advisor made a dismissive gesture.  “The woman is clearly a spy from another settlement.  Come here to gather information about our flocks, our women, under the guise of mental disturbance.”

“I am no such thing!” Abigail cried.  “Please, sire.  Come with me, to the woods at the edge of your village.  I can show you the circle.”

Everyone in the hall bristled.

“Accompanied, of course!” Abigail added quickly.  “Why don’t you all come?  See for yourselves.”

The chieftain pondered.  “If what you claim is true, will there be others of your kind?  Coming here?”

“All I can say is, my back garden is not overlooked.  No one else knows about the circle.  No one saw me go through it.  I can go back and never say a word.  I promise.”

The chieftain glanced at his advisors again.  They nodded, almost imperceptibly.  The chieftain rose.

“Very well.  We shall accompany you to the woods at the edge of the village.  All of us.  Including our executioner.”

Abigail nodded.  A guard stepped forward, yanked her to her feet and sliced the thongs that bound her wrists and ankles.

She led the procession of villagers along the muddy track that divided the humble buildings.  Beyond the perimeter fence, strange trees clawed at the sky.

And there it was, a shimmer in the air that thickened and brightened into a shining circle of light, just as Abigail had described.

The villagers gasped.   Most of them fell to their knees.

Even the chieftain had to suppress a wail of wonder.

And then a man stepped through it, clad in a pinstripe suit.  He held his hand out to Abigail.

“Oh, there you are!” he scoffed.  “I came home to find the kitchen full of smoke.  You left the potatoes boiling on the hob.  That’s another expensive saucepan ruined.”

He barely seemed to notice the fur-clad villagers.  A man in a horned hat approached.

“Who is this, Abigail Aldridge?”

“This is my husband,” Abigail cringed.  “This is Trevor.”

Trevor frowned at the chieftain.  “What’s this?  Some kind of re-enactment society?  You haven’t got time for all this pissing around.  The house is in a right state.  Is this what you do all day?  Run around in the woods in fancy dress?”

Abigail turned to the chieftain.  “He’s a spy!  From the village beyond the trees.  He’s come for your women.”

The chieftain gasped.  He gave a signal.  Two guards ran their spears through Trevor’s waistcoat.  He stumbled back through the circle of light and vanished.  The circle puckered and shrank and then popped out of existence.

Abigail shrugged.  “Looks like I’m staying after all,” she smiled.  “I’ll make myself useful.  I can cook, I can wash your clothes.  Just don’t take the piss, all right?”

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Time of the Month

“Freddie?!” Irma was surprised to find her boyfriend on the front doorstep.  “What are you doing here?  I thought we agreed to go out at the weekend?”

Freddie’s face split in that adorable grin of his, the one he knew Irma found impossible to resist.  “It’s twenty years until then,” he wiggled his eyebrows.  “I need me some Irma loving.”

Irma closed her eyes in defence against the grin.  She shook her head.  “It’s only four days.  And think how much sweeter it will be to see each other then.”

Freddie’s grin dropped.  “But I’m here now!” he wheedled.  “You could at least offer me a cup of tea.  If everything else is off the menu.”

Against her better judgment, Irma stepped back into the hallway to let him in.

“One cup,” she warned.  “And then you’re on your way.”

“Sure, babe,” Freddie sauntered into the house.

Before she closed the door, Irma cast a nervous glance at the sky.  There were a couple of hours before sundown.  It should be fine.  One cup of tea and he was out of there.

She almost tripped over Freddie’s trousers.  Leading up the stairs was a trail of his clothes.  Irma snatched them up on her way to the bedroom.  There he was, stark naked on the bed, his eyebrows wiggling suggestively.

Irma chucked his clothes at his face.  “No, Freddie,” she said.  “Not today.  If you still want that cup of tea, I’ll be in the kitchen.  If you don’t, you can just get dressed and let yourself out.”

She stomped downstairs to fill the kettle.  Freddie, clothed again, joined her before it came to the boil.  His arms snaked around her waist and his nose nuzzled under her jaw.

“What’s the matter, babe?” he whispered.  “Every four weeks you become a No Freddie Zone.”  He straightened.  “There’s someone else!” he gasped.  “Someone who visits you once a month.  Who is it?  I’ll kill him!”

Irma looked pained.  “It’s not like that.  It’s just my cycle.  It’s never an easy time for me.  I look gross, I feel gross.  I need a few days until I feel like my old self again.”

Freddie nodded.  “I get it, babe.  But there’s other stuff we can do.  To accommodate for your…cycle.”  He pressed his nose against her neck again.  “Don’t send me away, babe.  Not tonight.”

“I said one cup,” Irma set her jaw.  She poured hot water onto a teabag.  “If you care about me, you’ll drink up and go.”

“And if you love me, you’ll let me stay,” Freddie countered.

Irma wailed.  “It’s because I love you that you have to go.  Look, on Saturday, I’ll tell you everything.  I need you to understand, so I’ll tell you.  Then.  Not now.”

“Babe, come on…”

Irma placed a packet of digestive biscuits on the table, to sweeten the moment.  “Please, Freddie.  You have to leave.”

Freddie let out a snort of disgust.  He stormed from the house, slamming the front door behind him.  Irma exhaled deeply.  She still had time.

She went down to the cellar and chained herself in.  Fur was already sprouting on her forearms.  Freddie had left just at the right time.

Freddie ran through the park, the full moon reflected in his yellow eyes.  He had been hoping to make Irma this month’s victim.  Their relationship had stalled and she was becoming increasingly secretive.  Best to nip things in the bud.

But for tonight, he would have to quench his bloodlust with the ducks on the pond.

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A Visit to the Sea Witch

The mermaid swam deeper and deeper.  Ahead, the shadowy mouth of a cavern yawned like a lazy shark.  A shudder ran through her, from the crown of her red-haired head to the tips of her fluttering tailfin.  She steeled herself.  No going back, she reminded herself.  It was now or never.

A pair of pale yellow eyes floated at the centre of the darkness, alive with malevolence.  The mermaid gasped as the eyes drew closer.  Two one-eyed eels slunk from the cavern and wound circles around the mermaid.

“Come in,” hissed one.

“You are expected,” added the other.  They swam back toward the entrance, the mermaid caught up in the eddy they created.  Darkness swallowed the mermaid.  The eels left her to her fate.

The mermaid shivered.

A voice, deep and teasing, surrounded her.  “Come closer, child.  I don’t bite!”

The mermaid’s eyes adjusted to the gloom.  She was able to determine a weak, phosphorescent glow ahead.  She swam toward it.  The dim light grew stronger.  A shadow flicked across it.

“Now,” the sea witch boomed from the shadows.  “What can I possibly do for you?”

The mermaid’s throat tightened.  Although she couldn’t see the sea witch, she could sense her presence, feel a pull in the water.  The sea witch must be massive.

“Er –” the mermaid faltered.

“Out with it!” the sea witch roared, but there was amusement in her voice.  “Or let me guess: you want me to take your beautiful voice in exchange for a pair of legs so you can go chasing after some land-dwelling hunk.”

Blushes turned the mermaid’s cheeks pink, like anemones opening their flowers.

“Oh, baby,” the sea witch moved in the darkness.  The mermaid got the impression of a huge tentacle unfurling, edging closer.  “Can’t you be a little more original?  Keep your voice.  Use it to call out this two-legged fool.  If he can’t love you for who and what you really are, he ain’t worth the effort.”

“But -”

“But nothing!” the sea witch snapped.  “Honestly, you girls come waltzing in here.  Change this, change that!  All for some air-head who doesn’t recognise your true beauty.  Tell this loser you’re serving fish and if he doesn’t like it, that’s his problem.  Get out of here, kid.  It’s coming up to lunch time and I’m on a seafood diet.”

A tentacle pushed the mermaid away, gently but insistently.

The mermaid swam away as fast as she could, her face hot with embarrassment and indignation.  Perhaps the sea witch had a point.  Perhaps she shouldn’t seek to change herself for some human, no matter how handsome and kind he was.

The water became lighter and warmer.  Her head broke the surface and she tossed her mane of red hair in the sunlight.

She froze in terror as she spotted the Prince’s rowing boat bobbing nearby.  She approached, her heart racing.  She would have to tell him it was no good.  It was love me like I am or hit the road.

She lifted herself over the gunwale and peered into the boat.  There he was, lying back, his eyes staring sightlessly at the sky, his face waxy and pale.  Blood was everywhere.  The mermaid gasped to see what he had done, what he had tried to do.

From the waist down, a shark’s tail hung lifeless, useless.  In the Prince’s hand, the hooked needle with which he had tried to sew it to his torso.

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Don’t Feed the Birds

“Feed the birds!  Tuppence a – ”

“Stop right there!” the official marched down the cathedral steps to intercept the little old bird woman.  He thrust a document in her direction.  “You have been told repeatedly you may not purvey your goods in this location, and repeatedly you have infringed the byelaws.”

The little old bird woman sniffed, pointedly ignoring the document.

“Feed the birds!” she called, her voice the squawk of a macaw.  “Tuppence a bag!”

The official signalled to a pair of policemen who were waiting at the foot of the steps.  They approached.  It was not part of the job they enjoyed, moving on people with next-to-nothing, people who were just trying to get by.  But the official had an official document, so…

“Look,” one of the policeman tried to appeal to the official’s good side.  “She’s not doing any harm.  And the tourists like to see her.”

“And the pigeons!” added the second policeman.  “Who else is going to feed them?”

The official scowled.  “That’s just the problem though, isn’t it?  She sells the bird seed, the tourists scatter it all around, the pigeons flock down… Look!  Just look at it!”

He directed the policemen’s gaze to the magnificent edifice looming over his shoulder.  Statuary lined the lintels and pediments, monuments to holy men.

“All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles, well, they’re covered in bird shit.  Thanks to this old crow.”

“You mean, the pigeons,” said the first policeman.

“Yes, of course the pigeons!” the official snapped.  “They’re being overfed.  They don’t fly away.  They roost here and do their business everywhere.  Do you know how much it costs to clean this building?  It has to be done by experts.”

The policemen looked deflated.  They turned to the old woman.

“Listen, love,” said the first policeman.  “Why don’t you try down the road?  There’s a little park there.  You could sit in the shade, sell your bird seed there.”

The little old bird woman sneered.  “The tourists don’t go down there.  They come here.  Are you trying to put me out of business?”

“Yes!” cried the official.

“No!” cried the policemen. 

“We’re just suggesting a relocation.  Come with us.  We’ll get you the proper permits from the council.  For the park.”

The little old bird woman looked away in disdain.  “I’m just trying to keep body and soul together,” she said quietly.  “And my little friends!  Who would look after them?”

The policemen looked helpless.  The official was incensed.

“Do your bloody job,” he snarled.

Hesitantly, the policemen stepped forward.  One seized the tray of paper bags, brimming with bird seed.  The other laid a hand on the woman’s shawl.

The little old bird woman let out a screech, like an eagle.  Her hooked nose and chin extended and turned black, hardening into a beak.  Her shawl sprouted black feathers and stretched into wings.  She flapped the policemen away, and rose into the air.

“Fools!” she squawked, ascending higher and higher.  “First you build your blasphemous temple on the site of my holy shrine and now you seek to evict me and my feathered acolytes.  We have been here for centuries, long before your false god and his long-suffering son were ever dreamt up.  You have not heard the last of me!  You and your city shall perish!”

As she soared away, the pigeons swarmed in circles.  The official and the policemen raised their arms to protect their faces.  The birds rose up and up until they too were gone.

Silence and a single black feather fell.

“Well,” said the official, straightening the cuffs of his jacket.  “That went well.”

“I don’t know,” said the first policeman.  “She seemed pretty angry.”

The official waved a dismissive hand.  “We’ll put spikes down.  She won’t be able to settle on this spot again.”

He looked up at the frontage of the cathedral, at the beshitted faces of the saints and apostles.  Although he couldn’t see it, he knew they were smiling.

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R. I. P.

“People are so kind.”  Tommy’s grandmother was browsing the floral tributes leaning against the crematorium wall.  At her side, Tommy was confused.  Why were people buying his mother flowers when his mother was no longer around to enjoy them?  Why were they addressing cards to her when she wasn’t there to read them?  His dad had sat him down and explained that Mum had gone away and was never coming back.  Perhaps Dad needed to sit a few more people down and give them the same talk.  They seemed to think Mum would come along and put all the flowers in vases and the cards on her mantelpiece, like it was her birthday.

“Granny,” Tommy tugged at her sleeve.  “What does RIP mean?  Why is it in all the cards?”

Granny gave him a sad smile and squeezed his hand.  “It means ‘rest in peace’, love.  It’s what we say when someone passes.”

“Passes what?  Some kind of test?”

“Passes away, love.”

Tommy frowned.  “I don’t get it.”

“When someone dies,” Granny’s voice dropped to mouth the word as if it was a bad one, “we say ‘rest in peace’.”

“But why?  What if nobody said it?  Would Mum come back?”

It was Granny’s turn to frown.  “Don’t be silly, Tommy.”

“But if nobody tells them to rest in peace, what will they do?”  Tommy’s cheeks paled and his lips began to tremble.  Visions of his mother waking up in her coffin, unable to rest, sprang up in his imagination.  And the coffin rolling into the flames, with his mother wide awake inside…

Tommy broke away and ran to a nearby shrub and threw up on it.

“I’d better take him home,” Tommy’s dad appeared.  “It’s too much for him.”

Granny nodded.  She wiped Tommy’s chin with a balled-up tissue.

“Bye, love,” she waved them off.  “Don’t forget to come for Sunday lunch.”

Tommy’s dad grunted, noncommittal.  He bundled Tommy into the car.

After that, things got worse for Tommy.  His dad, in his grief, turned to drink, neglecting the house, his work, and his son.  Whenever Tommy asked if he could visit Granny, Dad always had an excuse.  Months passed, stretching to a couple of years, and then five… Finally, the news came that Granny had been found on her kitchen floor.  The funeral would be tomorrow.

Before the service, Tommy inspected the wreaths and bouquets.  He removed all the cards, tearing them to shreds.  No one was going to tell his gran to rest in peace.  He needed to see her.  Longed to move in with her.  Yearned to get away from his cruel and grumpy father.

“What the hell are you doing?” Tommy’s dad roared, seizing him by the wrist.  “People have paid good money for those cards.  They’re not for you, you little shit.”

Tommy wriggled, trying to get free.  “I hate you!  I want Granny!”

“Well, she’s gone,” Dad sneered. Whisky fumes wafted across Tommy’s nose. “Nosey old bag. May she rest in peace!”

He spat on the ground.

Tommy gaped.  There it was!  Someone had said it.  Now he was sure he’d never see Granny again.  He gave Dad a swift kick in the shin and ran away.

Darker years followed.  Dad was invariably drunk and physically abusive.  At last, Tommy reached breaking point.  He smashed one of Dad’s many empty bottles against the kitchen counter and jabbed the jagged edge into his father’s neck.

At two a.m. he buried his father at the bottom of the garden.  No one saw it.  No one sent a card or a single flower.

There!  Tommy dusted the dirt from his hands.  You just lie there and squirm.

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Summer Solstice

“Are we there yet?”  Bobby fidgeted in the back seat.  His mother rolled her eyes in the rear-view mirror. 

“Not far now, sweet,” she forced a smile.  “And sit up straight.  You’re getting creases in your robe.”

Bobby stuck out his tongue.  But he sat up straight, despite the strange garment his mother had insisted he put on.  The fabric was scratchy and unyielding.  It was off-white.  Well, it was supposed to be.  Bobby shifted so the spots stained with chocolate were not visible.  Mom was going to kill him.

He scowled through another couple of miles.  They didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.  The lonely road was surrounded by open countryside, with the occasional tree standing sentinel in the distance.  Finally, just when Bobby was going to complain for the umpteenth time, Mom announced they had arrived.  She jerked on the handbrake and switched off the engine.  Bobby peered out of the window.  The road had become a dirt track about a mile ago.  It had led them to a vast expanse of overgrown grass.  Like when the neighbour was in hospital for months and his front lawn had been left to its own devices.

Mom got out of the car, humming to herself.  She opened the back door and reached in for Bobby’s hand.  Bobby swatted it away.  He was too big for that kind of nonsense.  He scrambled out of the car, the robe impeding his progress.  It was too long and kept wrapping around his trainers.  Mom fretted and fussed.  She warned him not to get grass stains on the material.

She took a canvas bag from the boot and hitched it over her shoulder.   “Come on,” she urged and strode off through the long grass.  Bobby had to lift up the robe so he could walk.  I must look like some stuck-up lady from the olden days who finds herself abandoned in a jungle.  He galumphed after his mother, his mind buzzing with questions.

Why had she brought him to the middle of nowhere?  Why did he have to wear this stupid robe?  Would she write him a note for school tomorrow to cover his absence?

Mom came to a stop.  Before her, a flat, rectangular stone lay like a block of black ice.  Bobby caught up.  His nose wrinkled.

“What’s this?” he asked.  “Why have you brought me to the middle of nowhere?”

Mom cupped his cheek with her hand.  “This isn’t the middle of nowhere, sweet.  It’s the centre of everything.”

Bobby glanced around.  It certainly looked like the middle of nowhere to him.

“Now, sweet, get up onto the altar and lie still.”


Mom patted the slab.  “Come on; up you get.”

Bobby perched his backside on the edge of the stone.  Mom rummaged in the canvas bag.  She took out a sharpened stick and examined it.

“What’s that?  What’s that for, Mom?”

She tested the point with the pad of her thumb.  A bead of bright blood appeared.  She made a thumbprint on Bobby’s brow.

Bobby squirmed beneath her touch.  He jumped from the slab.  “I left my GameBoy in the car…”

Mom pushed him back against the stone.  She raised the sharpened stick high, her eyes wild.  Directly overhead, the sun shone down, chasing shadows from the surface of the stone.

“Quickly, you fool!” she snarled.  “Lie down and don’t wriggle.  The time has come!”

She twisted Bobby’s arm until he got into position.  She stood at his head, the stick ready to strike.  She just had to wait for the sun to reach its zenith.  Praise be unto Ra, bringer of life.  To you, I make this sacrifice, my only begotten son.

The sunlight flashed brightly, directly into her eyes.  She screwed them shut, the world turning pink and orange.   Was this Ra’s answer?

She opened her eyes and stabbed downwards.  The point went through the robe where the boy’s heart would be, had he still been in it.  The stick snapped in half as it struck the unforgiving stone.  Bobby had seen his chance.  He had shucked off the robe and was running, tearing through the grass toward the car.

“No!” Mom cried.  “Come back here, young man!”

A cloud rolled across the face of the sun god.  Mom shivered.  She had failed.

Oh well, she consoled herself, as she traipsed back to the car.  There’s always the winter solstice.  And it would be a mercy.  In a way.  Kinder than putting her old dad into one of those homes…

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Soul Mates


“Hey.”  The other man smiled.  David’s own grew in response.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

The other man rolled his blue eyes, in a manner David found irresistible, the rainbow from the neon sign glinting in miniature. “Oh, you know. I just had to get out for a breather.”

David nodded at the club they were standing outside. Music pulsated through the walls that were all ready dripping with condensation.  “Yeah.  I know what you mean.”



A moment passed.  David ransacked his brain for something to say, to prolong the interaction.  The other man could disappear at any second, never to be seen again.  And he was too bloody gorgeous to let go just yet.

“Um…” David murmured.  Thanks, brain!  “Won’t your friends…”

The other man shook his head.  “They all copped off ages ago.  They won’t even notice I’ve gone.”

David nodded.  “I just popped in.  Force of habit really.  Every weekend.  It never gets any better, does it?  Same old judgmental faces.”

“Tell me about it,” the other man agreed.  “These places are all the same.”



Another moment.

David noticed the other man was shivering.

“Do you want to – would you like to…”


“Go for a coffee?  Get something hot inside you.  The coffee, I mean!  Or tea!  Or whatever you want.  Oh, shut up, David, you’re babbling.”

“Is that your name?  David?”


“Nice to meet you, David, and I’m –”

But David never heard the other man’s name.  A van careered around the corner, ploughing into them both, and crashing into the corner of the club. 

The building was never repaired and was demolished years ago. Every year, on the anniversary of the accident, two shades meet on the spot, all that remains of David and the other man, reliving their one and only conversation and grieving the loss of their potential love.

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Command Performance

“Hurry up!” Hansel urged.  “She’s coming!”

Hansel and his wife were at the door to their cosy cottage.  He moved to the foot of the stairs and called again.  In her room, his daughter Griselda rolled over in bed and groaned.

“Leave her!” Hansel’s wife wrung her hands.  “Perhaps no one will notice.”

Hansel shook his head, his jaw set grimly.  He marched up the stairs.  “No daughter of mine is going to be disloyal.”

He shoved Griselda’s bedroom door aside and towered over the foot of her bed.

“I shall tell you only once,” he squeezed the words out through clenched teeth.  “You will get out of bed.  You will put on your cheerful clothes.  You will join your mother and I in the square and you will dance and sing for our Princess just like everyone else.”

A sigh emerged from beneath Griselda’s pillow.

“Now, Griselda.”

Huffing, Griselda tossed the pillow aside.  She sat up.

“Oh, but why?” she complained.  “Why should we have to disrupt our lives just because some entitled brat wants to sing in the marketplace?  So she’s in love?  So what?  What’s that got to do with me, with any of us?  Why should we spend hours and hours rehearsing dance routines and vocal harmonies?  Why should we prance around her with stupid grins plastered on our stupid faces?”

“It is tradition,” her father intoned, his eyes murderous.  “It is our place.”

“Well, it’s ridiculous.  It’s about time we changed our place.  Let her sing and dance about our joys and disappointments.”

Hansel raised his hand as though to strike her.  Shaking, he forced himself to maintain self-control.

“This means a lot to your mother,” he said, struggling to keep his voice even. 

“So, let her go,” Griselda shrugged.  “Just leave me out of it.”

“The Princess will be here shortly.  She expects us all to be out there.  She expects us all to know the words.  She expects us all to know the choreo.”

“Dad, have you ever thought how unreasonable this all is?  How you ever thought how ridiculous you look?  In your folksy peasant costume and your painted rosy cheeks?  Have some dignity, for pity’s sake.”

“It’s not a question of how I look.  This is for the Princess.”

“And what has she ever done for us?”

“The song-and-dance numbers help to promote public fitness.”

“Which we could do without her say-so.”

“Do you really think people would go to all this trouble if it wasn’t for the threat of public execution?” 

Hansel gaped.  Griselda nodded in triumph.

“There!  You said it!  We have to sing and dance around that ninny or else we get the chop.  Is that anyway to run a kingdom?”

Griselda’s mother called from the foot of the stairs.

“They’re here!  The guards are here!  They’re doing a head count.”

“Griselda, please!  For your mother!  For the honour of our family!”

“All right, all right!”  Griselda got to her feet and pulled a bright gingham dress over her head.  She painted two spots of rouge on her cheeks.  “I’ll do it.  But don’t for one second think I believe a word of it, Daddy.”

Hansel took a deep breath before he followed his daughter downstairs.  One day, the plot twist would be revealed, and the village would know Griselda was the real Princess.  Perhaps then, she would get the revolution she craved.  Or perhaps she would capitulate and we’d all end up dancing to her tune…

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Filed under fairy tale, humour, Short story

Meanwhile, at the estate agent’s…

“I want a refund!” Murgatroyd slapped the property deeds onto the estate agent’s desk.

Stuart Briggs, the estate agent behind the desk, flinched.  Refunds were not company policy.  He cast a glance at the document.  The bill of sale was attached by a paper clip.  Damn it.  The customer was still within the ‘cooling-off’ period.

“Is there a problem?” Briggs smiled.  “Perhaps a cuppa and a sit down…”

Murgatroyd bristled, his eyes flashing with anger.

“Liar and fraud!” he declaimed.  Briggs reddened, mindful of others in the office.

“Now, now,” he squirmed.  “I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t sort out.  Calmly.”

He gestured to a chair but Murgatroyd only stood up all the straighter.

“You told me the house was haunted,” Murgatroyd sneered.  “I have been made to look a fool.  It was the selling point my entire business was based around.  I invited special guests, experts in the field, celebrities!  Yvonne from the television!  Only to be made to look a fool.  There was not one whiff of supernatural activity the entire weekend.  Don’t you realise what this has cost me?  Now, they are posting online, in their blogs and forums, saying what a rip-off my bijou hotel is, what a disappointment.  So,” he folded his bony arms, “I want my money back, and be grateful I don’t sue you for misrepresentation and loss of potential earnings.”

Panic showed in Briggs’s eyes.  “Let’s not be hasty, Mr – ah, Murgatroyd.  I don’t recall ever claiming the property to be haunted.”

Thunderclouds darkened Murgatroyd’s brow.

“What I did say,” Briggs smiled, “was the old place is cursed.  There’s a difference.”

Murgatroyd shook his head.  “What good is that to me?  People don’t want curses; they want ghosts.”

“Potato-tomato,” Briggs was dismissive.  “If you package it right, you could be sitting on a gold mine.  You see, a hundred years ago, the owner of the mansion was dragged out into the street by a mob of angry locals.  Charges of necromancy, witchcraft, or some such bollocks.  He was probably just an old perv.  They tied him to a tree in the town square and burnt him.  With his dying words, he cursed them, the town, and the mansion – no one who crossed its threshold would ever know a moment’s peace.  Of course, that was a long time ago.  The town has been remodelled several times.  The town square replaced by a shopping mall.  Why, this very office is thought to be built where the tree used to stand.”

Murgatroyd laughed, like bowling balls rolling down a chute.  Briggs found his shirt collar suddenly constrictive, his tie coiling and rising, twisting around his throat like a serpent.

“Fools!” Murgatroyd exalted.  “Did you think I was gone for good?  Did my dying words mean nothing to you?  I waited; patiently, I waited.  And now, a full hundred years since my demise. I am back to destroy all that you have built, all that you hold dear.  Starting with you, Stuart Briggs.  It was your ancestor who lit the torch that started the fire.  How fitting that you should be on the very spot!”

Murgatroyd made a gesture with skeletal fingers.  Briggs’s desk ignited.  Briggs backed away, arms up to protect himself, but already the smoke was starting to choke him.  He coughed and spluttered and pleaded for his life.

But Murgatroyd turned on his heels, his black cloak swirling behind him, fanning the flames.  He stalked from the estate agency and through the shopping mall.  The glass frontages of the shops shattered as he passed.  The slightest gesture from his slender hands brought down ceiling tiles, cracked electricity conduits.  Sparks leapt from snaking cables.  Fires sprang up in all directions as people ran around screaming, the exit blocked by falling concrete.

When the town was utterly destroyed, Murgatroyd strode all the way back to the mansion, where he had waited, dormant, for a hundred years, waiting for a suitable vessel to come by, and then that idiot hotelier had come along to take possession.   Murgatroyd chuckled.  Take possession!  What the hotelier did to the house, I have done to the hotelier. 

He paused to take in the gothic monstrosity before him.  The jagged turrets,  The sharply arched windows.  Perhaps I should burn it down at last, he mused.  Or perhaps now, that the descendants of my enemies have been dealt with, I shall find a moment’s peace.

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Ready or Not

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Gabe brought drinks to the table and resumed his seat.  Nick barely acknowledged him.  “Come off it, Nick.  I can read you like the good book.  Something’s burning your ass.”

Nick’s shoulders heaved out a sigh.  He shook his head slowly.  Then, following a hefty swig from his goblet, he steeled himself and began.

“You know I was seeing that girl?”

Gabe nodded.  “Rosalind?”

“Rosemary.  Well, things have taken a turn.”

“She found out who you really are?  I’ve always thought your disguises were a little transparent.  Or perhaps it’s the whiff of sulphur.  I keep telling you, a dab of frankincense behind your ears…”

“No, no.  She knew who I was from the start.  That’s not the problem.  See, she turns up at my place last night, look of triumph in her eyes.”

“I don’t get it,” Gabe frowned.  “What could she possibly –oh.”

“Oh is right,” Nick sighed.  “Pregnant!”

“And you’re sure it’s yours?”

“Hey!  I only go with virgins, you know that.”

“I suppose… Well, forgive me for saying, you don’t seem overjoyed by impending fatherhood.”

“Well, it’s not that.  It’s everything that comes with it.  It’s not the money.  I have access to untold wealth – do you know how many billionaires are in hock to me?  It’s just – well, it all seems a bit sudden.  I don’t know if I’m ready to be a father.”

Gabe scoffed.  “You’re thousands of years old.  Perhaps it’s time to settle down.  Be more responsible.”

“But that’s just it.  I haven’t done half the stuff I wanted to do, and having a kid, well, it’s a bit like giving up, isn’t it?  Making room for the next generation.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Gabe conceded.  “But having a child – or as you so succinctly put it, a kid —  do you think it will have its father’s hooves? – Well, you could say having a kid is your next big challenge.”

“It’s just happening so fast, you know?  There’s so much to plan and prepare.  An army of demons to recruit, for one thing.  I always thought, when it happens, I’ll be ready.  I’d have time to get everything in place.  What I didn’t want is for Armageddon to be a rush job.”

“Come on, you’re good at thinking on your feet.”

“Yeah, but it’s the pressure.  I want the best for my son, of course I do.  Now there’ll hardly be time to forge him a coronet for when he ascends to the throne of Hell.”

He drained the rest of his drink.


Nick stood and gathered the goblets.  “I’ll get these.”  He slunk off to the bar.

A human woman approached the table.

“What are you doing here?” Gabe hissed.  “If he sees you…”

“Relax!” Rosemary grinned.  “Just pay me what you owe me and we can get on with our lives.”

Gabe passed her a bulging envelope.  She pulled out the cushion from under her coat and laughed.

“I can’t believe he fell for it,” she grinned.  “And I can’t believe you, an angel, could be so devious.”

“Well,” Gabe smirked, “it’s not the end of the world.”

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Dwayne’s First Shift

“And this wash basin is for the staff.  Always be washing your hands.  It’s a good look and the customers like to see it.”

Dwayne nodded.  Already, his scalp was starting to itch beneath the hairnet he was being forced to wear.  Around his neck, a lanyard dangled his staff i.d. card.  Already it was beginning to feel like a millstone.

“These are the cheat sheets,” Wanda, his supervisor, pulled battered and peeling laminated sheets of A4 paper from behind the steamer.  “In case you forget how to make a macchiato or a skinny mocha, or whatever the hell it is.  But don’t worry; you’ll have it all down pat in no time.  This is a high pressured job and you have to think fast.  Thinking fast means learning fast.  Can you do that?”

Dwayne blinked as though in slow motion.  Wanda lifted his chin with her finger to close his mouth.

“This is Louanne.  You’ll be shadowing her for the first half of the shift.  And then you’ll be flying solo.  OK?”

Dwayne, sensing some kind of positive response was required, nodded.

Wanda rolled her eyes  in Louanne’s direction.  She left them to it.  Louanne turned to Dwayne and smiled.  Dwayne gaped.  Louanne was gorgeous.  Even in the dull brown uniform and hairnet.  The pink of her hair shone through, the glint of her piercings.  She was an angel come to Earth to serve hot beverages.

The angel squinted at his name tag.  “Dwayne?  Let me show you how to work the cash register.  This one can be a little bitch but if you treat her right, she’ll open right up for you.  It’s just a matter of pushing her buttons right.”

Dwayne drooled.  He watched Louanne’s fingers dance on the keypad, bracelets jingling,  A tattooed snake curled around her forearm, disappearing tantalisingly into the sleeve of her polo shirt.  Dwayne was in love.

“So, what do you do, Dwayne?  I mean, what do you really want to do?”  Her smile was like sunshine through clouds.

Dwayne twitched out a shrug.

“I mean, serving coffee is not my big dream,” Louanne’s laughter was like little bells.  “I’m studying to be a veterinarian.”

“Nice,” Dwayne’s voice caught in his throat.  She loves animals!  She is perfect!

“And what’s your deal?” She cocked an eyebrow.  She’s interested!  In me!  Dwayne couldn’t believe his luck!

“Um, I ah,” Dwayne’s cheeks flushed hot.  His throat was so dry all of a sudden.  “I, well.  Um.”

Louanne’s smile broadened.  “It’s OK if you haven’t figured out who you want to be yet.  It’s cool.”

“Can you show me how to open the till again?”

“Sure.”   She did.

By the third demonstration, Dwayne was confident he’d got the hang of it.

By the end of his shift when his confederates burst in, armed to the teeth and roaring blue murder, he was on the point of reconsidering his career path.

While Skip and Bonner took control, locking Wanda in the storeroom and keeping the customers cowering on the floor, Dwayne opened the till and took out the cash.  Louanne, her dainty hands raised in surrender, sent him a pleading look.  She backed away, her escape cut off by the cake display.

“You don’t have to do this,” she said, eyes brimming.

And for a moment, he allowed himself to believe her, allowed himself to believe she liked him, she was truly interested in him, she really would one day be a vet and help all those poor, sick animals.

“Yes, I do,” he said, steeling himself.  He nodded.  Bonner grabbed Louanne from behind and dragged the blade of his craft knife across her throat.

“Pity,” said Skip, giving Louanne’s body a kick.  “She was kinda hot.”

“Na,” said Dwayne, forcing himself not to look down.  “She was just another stuck-up bitch.”

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Footing the Bill

Alex let himself into the flat, his fingers slick with sweat on his key.  Still a little winded from his run, he pulled off his trainers and headed to the bathroom.  His path was intercepted by Graham, eyebrow arched.  Alex recognised the look.  His breath caught in his throat.

“A word,” said Graham, looking down his nose.

“Can’t it wait until I’ve showered,” Alex tried to dodge past but Graham countered.

“Now,” he snapped.  “This can’t wait.”

From behind his back he pulled out a pair of top-of-the-range headphones.  Alex’s mouth twitched.

“Found these under a cushion on the sofa,” Graham droned.  “Which I wouldn’t have done if you’d taken your turn on the cleaning rota.”

“I was going to get around to it.  After my run.”

“It’s not about the cleaning.  Well, not this time.”  Graham brandished the headphones.  “Where did these come from?”

Alex’s shoulders twitched out a shrug.  “Amazon.”

Graham exhaled in impatience.  “I don’t mean where did they come from.  I mean how can you afford them?”

Alex pulled a face.  “They were on offer –”

“That’s not the point.  I’ve noticed some other things too.  Those trainers you’ve left so haphazardly on the floor where I might trip over them.  They’re new too.  This lycra top you’re sweating through.  I haven’t seen that before.”

Alex threw up his hands.  “What have you been doing, taking inventory of my stuff?”

Tears welled in Graham’s eyes.  “You’ve got someone else, haven’t you?”  He pressed the headphones against Alex’s damp chest.  “A sugar daddy!  Buying you treats!  But what’s he getting in return, eh?  That’s what I want to know!  Or rather, I don’t.”

Before Graham could meltdown completely, Alex placed his hands on his boyfriend’s upper arms and forced him to make eye contact. 

“There is someone,” he admitted.  Graham wailed.  “But it’s not like that!  Come on, I’ll show you.”

He dragged the sobbing Graham into the bedroom.  On the dresser was a laptop – a new model, but Graham hadn’t noticed that – Alex opened it.  His fingers danced on the keyboard.  A website lit up the screen.  “Here!”

Graham squinted at it, not understanding what he was seeing.

“Feet?” he sniffled.

“Yes!  Feet!  I send in pictures of my tootsies and men send me money or buy me things off my wish list.  Imagine!  My scrawny plates!  But someone’s getting off on them.”

Graham was horrified and fascinated in equal measure.  “And that’s all it is?  Your feet?”

“Yes.  They never see anything else.  They don’t even know my real name.  And I know nothing about them.”

“How peculiar!  You’ve got horrible feet.”

“Not according to the users on this site.”

“All veined and bony.  And your toes are too long.”

“All right, all right, I’m not asking you to pay to see them, am I?”

Alex dropped into a crouch and pulled a box from under the bed.  “Here.  For you.”

“What’s this?”  Graham eyed the package with suspicion.

“That console you wanted.”  Alex pulled him into an embrace.  “I really can start paying my way now.  As long as there’s weirdos in the world.  I’m sorry I didn’t tell you from the start.”

Graham grimaced.  “You stink.  Go and get in the shower.  And I might join you…”

Alex laughed.  “But no free peeks at my money-spinners!”

“Oh, no,” Graham chuckled, chasing Alex into the bathroom.  “My mind is on higher things.”

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The Wrong Shirt

Ah, at last!  Someone human!  I’ve been given the run-around by your automated assistant thing for the past half hour.  I’ve clicked I don’t know how many pictures of traffic lights to prove I’m not a bloody robot.

I understand your frustration.  How may I help?

I just need to return a shirt, that’s all.

I see.  May I ask why?  Did you order the wrong size?

No, no!  The size is fine.  Well, I imagine it is.  I haven’t tried it.  It’s still in the packet.  No, it’s the wrong colour.

I see… You ordered the sky blue.

Yes, I did.  But this one isn’t sky blue.  It’s more of an indigo, leaning towards purple.

What does it say on the packet?

It says ‘sky blue’ but –

There you are, then.  May I close this query as ‘satisfied’?

What?  No, wait!  It says ‘sky blue’ on the label but the shirt itself is very dark.  It’s not what I wanted.

I’m afraid there is nothing I can do, if there’s nothing actually wrong with the item.  Our terms and conditions are very clear.

Nobody reads the terms and conditions, do they?  Look, I’ll send you a photo and you can see what I mean… There.  Got it?

Yes… well, sir, I can tell you, it certainly looks sky blue to me.

What?  You’re having a giraffe!  Or you need your eyes tested.

When did you place your order, sir?

What?  I don’t know.  Last week some time.

Ah, I see here it was a week last Wednesday.

Well, it’s still under wossname, isn’t it?  Isn’t there a cooling-off period?

There is indeed, but I’m afraid, sir, you have fallen foul of the Province’s electoral system.

The what?

The day after you placed your order, there was a referendum, sir.  It was to decide once and for all what defines the colour ‘sky blue’.  For important, nationalistic reasons, like the flag, and the covers of our passports.

I don’t get it.  What’s that got to do with my shirt?

It just so happened that on the day of the referendum, the sky was particularly overcast and grey.  It looked like rain, and that deterred a lot of the voters.  Then as the day drew on, there was a resplendent sunset, and with it an upturn in voters, selecting the red-pink-orange end of the spectrum.  Most people turned up at the polling stations on their way home from work, when the sun had gone down, and so the majority of votes went to the hue of your shirt.

This is bollocks!   What did people do?  Look up at the sky before they went to vote to remind themselves what colour it is?

It would appear that way, sir.  But since the referendum, we have to legally refer to that shade as ‘sky blue’.  It’s what the people want.

But it’s fucking ridiculous!

Oh, don’t get me started!  Do you know what it’s like to live somewhere governed by absolute morons?  I’m only doing this job because they’re rounding up the intellectuals.

Never mind all that.  I just want to send the shirt back and get a refund.

I can offer you a credit note.

I don’t know.  I had my heart set on a sky blue shirt.  That’s my sky blue and not fuckwits’ sky blue.  No offence.

I have credited your account, sir.  Keep the shirt.  Burn it, for all I care.

Oh.  OK, right.  Cheers.  Thanks for that.

Now, is there anything else I can help you with?

No… Oh, hang on!  I need to get a present for my wife.  What can you recommend in ladies’ clothing?

Do you want pre- or post-Cultural Realignment, sir?…  Sir? 

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A Picnic for Mothers’ Day

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten!  Every year it’s the bloody same.”  Jemima felt like she could squeeze her smartphone until it splintered.  “And don’t give me that guff about the date changing every year.  I send you enough reminders.”

She listened, waiting for her brother to mutter some expletive.  But, to his credit, Damon remained silent.  Well, good, thought Jemima.  He hasn’t a leg to stand on.

“So,” she returned to her list, “you’ll organise the transport.  There’ll be you, me, and Mum of course, oh, and I thought this year we could take Belinda along.”

She heard Damon’s intake of breath and decided to pre-empt his objections.

“I know what you’re going to say, she’s only our half-sister from Dad’s previous marriage but, well, Mum brought her up as one of us.  As much as she could anyway, with Belinda being off at university and starting her own life.  But it’s the nice thing to do, to include her in the occasion.  Her own mother—”

Grumblings from Damon cut her off.  Jemima made noises as though listening but as soon as he paused for breath, she jumped back in.

“I’ll organise the picnic.  Yes, yes, I know all about your allergies.  I won’t use the same place as last year.  And I thought we could ask Belinda to sort out the flowers.  Nothing too fancy… No, not a bloody wreath!  You have a sick sense of humour at times.  I’ll leave it to Belinda’s judgment.  You just focus on getting us from A to B… What do you mean, where’s A and where’s B?  A is where Mum is.  Belinda and I will make our own way there.  And B is the cliffs overlooking the beach.  It’ll be a full moon that night and I think it will make a lovely spot for a picnic…Well, you can use your GPS.  Honestly, do I have to think of everything?  Right, so we’re agreed.  Rendezvous with Mum at midnight, then it should only take an hour or so to get to the coast, which leaves us plenty of time for the picnic and we can get Mum back before the cemetery gates open at nine…  Yes, I know it means you won’t be drinking.   Tough.  And it’s probably for the best.  You know how maudlin you get, and it’s not fair on Mum on her special night out.  If there’s any problems, send me a text.”

Jemima rang off before Damon could launch into a string of invective with his recurring theme of how he had always loved Mum best.

“He being a little shit as usual?” Belinda raised an eyebrow from the couch.

Jemima rolled her eyes.  “He’ll get over it.  Honestly, I’d say we go without him but he’s the one with the van.”

Belinda nodded.  “Still, it’ll be good to see Mum again.  Thanks for including me.”

She reached for Jemima’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

Jemima’s face darkened.  “Damn it; I forgot to remind the little shit to bring the shovels.”


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Professor Deathstroke

“You can’t leave that there.”

Professor Deathstroke turned to see who had spoken.  A woman in a dark uniform with yellow stripes around her hat, a traffic warden.

“Move it now,” the traffic warden continued, “Before I write you a ticket.”

The professor was incensed.  “Do you know who I am?” he seethed.

The traffic warden looked him up and down, taking in the wild hair, the red-rimmed eyes, the plastic jumpsuit.  “Confused, are we?  Where’s your carer?”

“How dare you?” the professor’s shoulders heaved.  “I am the embodiment of evil.  I am the reason why Mankind should never dabble with science.  I am –”

“You’re illegally parked, is what you are.  What is it, any road?  Some kind of funfair ride?”

“Funfair?  FUNFAIR?  Madam, what I have in mind will be neither fun nor fair.  Perhaps you’d care for a demonstration of my vehicle’s capabilities?  A quick blast from the lasers will wipe that supercilious look off your chops.”

“Threats now, is it, sir?  Oh dear.”  The traffic warden clicked her ballpoint pen.  “Name?”

“As if I’d tell you!”  Professor Deathstroke folded his arms in defiance.

“Not to worry, I can get your details from the registration – oh, dear.  I take it this ‘vehicle’ isn’t registered.  No licence plates.  No tax disc… Oh dear, oh dear.”

She wrote copious notes.

“Dirty great lobster, clogging up the high street…”

“Crab!” the professor cried.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s not a lobster, it’s a crab.  Don’t you know your crustaceans?”

“Listen, mate, the only crustaceans I know are King’s and Charing.”


“Never mind.  Look, it’s been a long shift.  My feet are killing me.  Just move your crab thing and I’ll say no more about it.”

“Oh, no,” said the professor.  “I’m not leaving it there.”


“The situation, I mean, not the giant robotic crab.  That’s staying where it is while I pop into the little Tesco for some bits.”

“Then you leave me no choice.”  With a sigh of resignation, the traffic warden unclicked her pen and tucked the pad into her satchel.  She telescoped until she was the size of an office block, her eyes glowing bright blue.  She picked up the giant robotic crab and hurled it into the air.  It arced out of sight, pincers flapping.  In the distance, a splash as it hit the lake at the golf course two miles away.

The traffic warden dusted off her hands and shrank to her usual size.

“Impressive,” the professor had to admit.  “How would you like a job?”

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Filed under humour, science fiction, Short story

Meanwhile, in the presidential office…

“Who are you?  How did you get in here?  Who sent you?”  The questions spilled from the president’s lips, colliding and merging until all that came out was babble.  He rose from his chair, raising his hands slowly to show they were empty.

At the door, the figure in black stood still, the silencer of a particularly nasty-looking gun trained on the president’s heart – although it was rumoured he didn’t have one.

“Whatever they’re paying you, I can double it.  Treble it!  I’m sure we can cut a deal.”

The figure in black didn’t move.

“If it’s not money, what would you like?  Anything at all!  Your heart’s desire!  I’m a very powerful man.  I can get you anything.”

The figure in black’s head tilted ever so slightly and then straightened.  The grip on the gun tightened.

Sweat was coursing down the president’s high forehead and into his eyes.  He squinted.  His hand moved to wipe his face but a whizz from the silencer exploded the nearby bust of a predecessor into smithereens.

The figure in black pulled an envelope from a back pocket and tossed it onto the desk.  The president glanced at it.

“What’s this?  A list of your demands.”

The figure in black indicated that the president should pick up the envelope and examine its contents.  A gun can be so eloquent.

The president snatched up the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper.  He frowned.

“What’s this?  A blank sheet.”

A voice filled the room, filled the president’s mind, although it did not seem to be emanating from the figure in black, but from everywhere.

“Write,” the voice was soft, deep, and yet feminine, “Write a presidential order, effective immediately.  You will renounce all use of fossil fuels.  You will convert and urge others to convert to a vegan lifestyle.  You will halt deforestation.  You will clean your filth from the oceans.  You will –”

The president sat down heavily and crossed his arms.  “You might as well just shoot me.  I’m not going along with your hippy-dippy bullshit.  I haven’t got time for this.  We are at war, in case you haven’t noticed.  The Easterners are encroaching on the borders of our allies.”

“Foolish mortal,” the voice intoned, harsher now.  “Unless you comply with my demands, you won’t have a planet to fight on.”

“Innocent people are being killed and you’re wasting my time with this garbage?”

“You must act now to prevent irreversible damage.  This cannot wait!”

“Oh, blah blah blah.  I’ve heard it all before from the science lobby.  That little Swedish girl.  Is that who sent you?”

“I am Gaia,” said the voice.  “And I’m just cleaning house.”

“Well, Miss Gaia, if that’s your real name, while you’ve been standing there all self-righteous, you did not notice I pressed a button under the desk.  In about three seconds this office is going to be awash with agents.”

The door was kicked open.

“Mr President?” a man in a sharp suit approached the desk, while others poured in, pointing guns in all directions.

“She was – she was right there!” the president gibbered. 

But there was no trace of the figure in black.  The shattered bust was in one piece, not a mark on it.

“Not my place to say, sir,” said the man in the sharp suit, “But I think you’ve been overdoing it.  Time to get some rest.”

The president picked up the blank sheet of paper.  He nodded.

“That’s the problem with burning the candle at both ends,” the man signalled his team to stand down, “It burns real bright but pretty soon you’re left with no candle at all.”

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“I’d like to return this, please.”  The woman placed a plastic bag on the Customer Services counter.

Jacqui behind the counter barely glanced at the bag.  “What is it?” she said.

“It was my husband’s.  Well, he bought it from here just a week ago.  So it’s still within warranty, or whatever you call it.  The receipt’s in the bag as well.”

Jacqui nodded.  She picked up the plastic bag and peered inside.  She shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry, love.  Can’t accept it.  Because it’s been used, you see.”

“Well, of course it has been used.  Why would he buy it if he wasn’t going to use it?”

“No, love.  There are certain things we can’t accept as returns if they’ve been opened.  Toothbrushes, underwear, you know.”

“But he only used it once!”

“Doesn’t matter.  You can see the thread at the end.  It’ll have his DNA all over it.”

“Well, of course.  That’s where he screwed it into his knuckle.  Look, I’ll be honest.  I need the money back.”

Tears sprang from the woman’s eyes.  Jacqui’s eyes darted in alarm.

“Okay, love, calm down.  Would you like to speak to my supervisor?”

She waved a manicured hand to beckon Tracy from the nearby hearing-enhancer section.

“Good day, modom,” Tracy oozed.  “How may I assist you this day?”

The woman handed the supervisor the plastic bag.  “It was my husband’s.  I don’t want it in the house any more.  I want a refund.”

Tracy the supervisor peered into the bag.  “As I’m sure my colleague has explained, we can’t accept items of this nature as returns.”

The woman let out an alarming wail.  Customers trying on the hearing-enhancers winced.

“Is the unit faulty?” Tracy struggled to maintain a smile.  “Would a replacement –?”

“No!  A replacement’s no good to me.  I need a refund.  I need the money!”

Well, at least the woman wasn’t wailing any more.

“An alternative, then?” Tracy offered.  “Something for yourself.  One of our hair-alterers, perhaps?  Or eye-changers?  You could have a different colour for every outfit.”

“No!” the woman snapped.  “Just the refund.  Oh, I told him not to buy the bloody thing, but he never listened to me.  Look, he said when he’d got it, when he’d attached it, I won’t need another power tool ever again.  You’re always complaining about me cluttering the place with my drills and saws and sanders and what-not.  Well, this superfinger will do the job of all of those.  I can hammer in nails, screw in screws, drill holes, you name it.  Oh, he went on and on about it.”

“It sounds as though he was happy with it.”

“Oh, he was.”

“So why is he returning it?”

“He’s not returning it, I am,” said the woman with a sniff.  “He’s dead.”

Jacqui and Tracy adopted suitable expressions according to their corporate training.

“I see,” said Tracy.  “Well, then of course.  Jacqui, put through this lady’s refund at once.”

She turned on her heels and strode away.

Jacqui’s manicured fingernails danced on the register, tapping in codes and overrides.

“Can I ask, love?  What happened?  To your husband?  If you don’t mind.”

The woman rolled her eyes.  “The daft twat was so chuffed to have his superfinger fitted.  He wasn’t thinking straight, you see.  Time and time again I’ve told him not to pick his nose.”

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Meanwhile, at the School Reunion…

“My God!  You haven’t aged a day.  What’s your secret, you absolute cow?”

Alex and Belinda screeched like tickled parrots. They hugged, pecking at the air inches from each other’s cheeks.

“You’re the cow,” Belinda countered. “I bet you could still fit into your old school uniform.”

Alex smirked. “It’s not that kind of party.”

They gazed around the function room.  The DJ was playing the Top Twenty from their last year at school two decades ago.  It was strange to be there, back among people they hadn’t even thought about for twenty years.  And it was kind of sad, to see the ravages of age on what had been taut young bodies.  The thinning hair.  The thickening stomachs.  The stoops, the wrinkles, the crows’ feet…

“Here we go!” Melissa returned from the bar, bearing three glasses of sparkling wine.  “Cheers!”

They raised their glasses and then took hefty swigs.  They pulled faces.

“Doesn’t get any better,” Melissa observed.  “Remember when we used to sneak in here when we were supposed to be on study periods?”

The other two nodded.  They crossed to a table in a comparatively quiet corner.

“Come on, then,” Alex nudged Belinda.  “Out with it.  The secret of your unfading youth.”

Belinda shook her head.  She kept her gaze fixed on the tiny bubbles rising in her glass.

“Well…” she began.  “If I tell you, it must go no further.”

Alex and Melissa crossed their hearts and adopted solemn expressions.

“It’s a glamour,” Belinda’s hand circled her face.   “I can change my appearance, or at least get you to see what I want you to see.”

“I don’t get it,” frowned Melissa.

Belinda leant over the table and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper.  “Can I trust you?  Well, I suppose if I can’t, I can always cast a spell of forgetfulness and it will be like this conversation never happened.”

“Binny, what the hell are you going on about?”

Belinda told them.  She spoke of her adventures after leaving school  How she stumbled across a secret society running in parallel to our own, a society of magicians, and how, through a strange quirk of fate, it transpired that she, Belinda, was the Chosen One, and it was up to her to defeat the ultimate enemy and save the world.  Both of them.

Her story told, Belinda sat back to judge the effect it was having on her former classmates.

They seemed to be taking it all rather in their stride.

“Something similar happened to me,” said Alex.  “Only it wasn’t magicians.  It was a secret society of alien hunters, running parallel to our own.  Through some strange quirk of fate, I turned out to be the Chosen One, the one who could crack the code, deter the fleet of extra-terrestrial destroyers, and face down the ultimate enemy, and save the world.  Possibly the universe too.”

Belinda pouted sourly.  She despised one-upmanship.  Unless she was the one doing the one-upping.

They turned their attention to Melissa, who got to her feet.

“Excuse me,” she said, nipping into the crowd of disco-dancing revellers.

She returned a couple of moments later, a little dishevelled and breathless.  She gulped her sparkling wine, then became aware the others were staring at her.

“Sorry, sorry,” Melissa blushed.  “Had to be done.  One of the barmen.  Bloodsucker.”

Two pairs of eyebrows raised.

“You may as well know,” Melissa shrugged.  “When I left school I stumbled into a secret world of vampire hunters that runs parallel to our own.  It turns out I’m the Chosen One, blah, blah.  You know how it goes.”

“Impressive,” said Belinda.

“Cool,” said Alex.

“Does your world have a council of elders?” Belinda ventured.

The other two nodded.

“They love their hierarchies,” Melissa nodded.  “The bloodsuckers, I mean.”

“So do the alien fighters,” said Alex.  “Bureaucracy like you wouldn’t believe.”

“It’s the same in the magical world,” Belinda sighed.  “You’d think magicians, alien hunters, and vampire killers would do things differently.”

“Hey up, ladies!” A male voice intruded.  The beaming face and ballooning beer belly of Barry Shelton loomed over the table.  “It’s mad, isn’t it, this?  All these old faces.  Listen, I’m compiling a newsletter we can send out to those who couldn’t make it tonight.”

He produced a pen and notepad and stood poised.  The three women avoided his gaze.

“Just a few words,” Barry prompted.  “Even if you’re just at home, bringing up the kids.  Which is a full-time job, I appreciate that.  Probably the most important job, if you ask me.  So come on, who’s going to get the ball rolling?  Binny?  Surely you’ve made something of yourself, of all people.”

“No, but I could make something out of you.”  Belinda’s hand twisted in an arcane gesture but Alex and Melissa bundled her away to the Ladies.

“Nice to see you again, Barry,” Melissa called over her shoulder.

They shut themselves into a cubicle and laughed.  It was like being back at school, bunking off Maths for a cheeky cigarette.  Back before they had responsibilities, before they were Chosen, before they were clichés.

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Malcolm goes home

Malcolm waved Brian’s hand away and downed the last of his pint.  “No, not for me,” he shook his head.  “Better make a move.”

Brian waved his own empty glass.  “Just one more for the road.”

“Sorry.”  Malcolm pulled on his coat.  “Early start tomorrow.”

Despite the protestations of Brian and his other co-workers, Malcolm left the pub and headed to the bus stop.  He was glad to get away from their incessant football chat, their ogling of the bar staff and female clientele, their off-colour jokes, and nasty-minded political views.

On the top deck of the bus, youths were playing competing hip-hop tracks out loud on their phones.  Malcolm tried to shut his ears to the tinny, monotonous tss-tss-tss of the beat and the aggressive boasting of the vocalists.

Walking down the street where he lived, Malcolm was splashed by a passing car.  He couldn’t be bothered to make an obscene gesture for the benefit of the driver’s rear-view mirror.  Malcolm stamped his way up his front steps and let himself in.

In his hallway, he shrugged off his coat, dropping his briefcase next to the umbrella stand and ignoring the growing stack of fast food leaflets and special offers on conservatories that was building up on the floor.  He kicked off his shoes and waddled to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

While he waited for the water to boil, he moved through to the living room.  He grabbed the remote control from the coffee table and aimed it at the television.  The news channel winked into life.  More bad weather, more toxic patriotism, more lying politicians.  Malcolm flicked through the channels until he found some cartoons.

Back in the kitchen, he made tea and thought about food.  Brian and the others would no doubt be planning kebabs about now.  Malcolm’s stomach flipped.

From the fridge he withdrew a couple of protein packs.  He tore the foil wrapper from one and bit off a chunk as though it was a bar of chocolate.  Instantly, he felt better.  He put the protein onto a tray and put the tray into the oven.  While it was cooking, he went upstairs to change.

In the bathroom, Malcolm’s fleshy exterior dropped into the bath tub in wet clumps.  His skeleton dissolved under the shower.  Malcolm sighed in relief.  The likes of Brian complained about having to wear a tie.  They didn’t know the half of it!

Able to relax at last, Malcolm oozed down the stairs.  One tentacle opened the oven door to check on his dinner.  Another snaked into the living room, seeking the remote control.

His calculations told him he need only work at his thankless job for another forty Earth years.  By then, he would have saved up enough human currency to be able to afford the supplies he needed to repair the communication device.  Then, at long last, others of his kind would come and collect him.

How do Brian and the others do it?  Malcolm liquefied, spreading to cover the entire living room floor.  How do humans tolerate it, surrendering the best years of their short lives to such slavery and exploitation, and then when they grow too old to work, they just wait for death?

There are other ways to live.  Malcolm knew this for sure.  And as soon as his kind came to pick him up, he’d go back home and live one.

And that was a more satisfying prospect than any post-pub kebab.

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Lost Cat

“Hello?” the old woman frowned at the couple on her front doorstep.

“Hello,” smiled the woman of the pair.  “I’m Cosy.”

“And I’m Twee,” said the man.  “May we come in?”

The old woman hesitated.  “I – What for?  What is this concerning?”

“Concerning this!” the man produced a sheet of paper from behind his back.  He placed it on his ballooning beer belly.  The old woman leaned forward and squinted.

“That’s my Attila!” she gasped.  “I put those posters up all over town.  He went missing three weeks ago, you see.”

“Ah, well, that was your first mistake,” grinned Cosy.  “Cats can’t read.”

“And your second mistake was this scattergun approach,” grinned Twee.  “When what you should have done was come to us.”

“Come to you?  Why?  Who are you?”

“We’re Cosy and Twee,” said Cosy.

“Private investigators,” added Twee.

“Oh…” the old woman was nonplussed.  “Perhaps you had better come in.”

She stepped back.  Cosy and Twee both tried to go through the doorway at the same time and got stuck.  They laughed like drains.  Twee stepped back and Cosy staggered into the hall.

“Oh, you!” she giggled.  “What is he like?”

“A barrage balloon?” ventured the old woman.

Cosy breezed through to the living room.  Twee shut the front door. 

“Could I trouble you to put the kettle on?” he bounced his belly off the old woman, bumping her in the direction of the kitchen.

When the tea was made and poured, the old woman tried to get down to business.  “So, you think you can find him, then?  My Attila?”

“Piece of cake,” said Cosy.

“Ooh, yes, please!” said Twee.

“Ignore him,” Cosy advised.   “Honestly.  It’s like working with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

“Your poster mentions a reward?” Twee prompted.

“Well,” the old woman fretted, “I can’t afford to pay much, but Attila means the world to me.”

“Aww,” Cosy simpered.  “We’ll do it just for expenses.”

“You will?” the old woman chewed her lower lip.  “That sounds… expensive.”

Twee laughed for no apparent reason.  He heaved himself out of the armchair.  The upholstery audibly sighed its relief.

“Have you got a more recent photograph, love?” he smirked.

Cosy swatted at him with the back of her hand.  “Buffoon.  We’ll get your cat back where it belongs, Mrs.  Don’t you worry.”

She bundled Twee to the door.  “Can’t take him anywhere,” she rolled her eyes.

When they were gone, the old woman double bolted the door.  She sat in the armchair, staring at the television’s blank screen.  She had put the posters around town, hoping someone would come along and provide a little company.  It can be a lonely life for the elderly, with the spouse long gone and your contemporaries dropping like flies.  If she’d known the only ones to take the bait would be that couple of arseholes, goofing around like they were on a daytime TV drama, she wouldn’t have bothered.

Perhaps I really should get a cat after all, she wondered.

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Josie’s Valentine Surprise

Josie pulled her front door closed behind her and quickened her step.  The next-door neighbour was in his front garden and Josie was hoping to get past him, out of her gate and along the road before he noticed.  It would mean going the long way around the block to get to the bus stop but it was worth it to avoid one of Mr Davies’s interminable monologues, which often bordered on racism and invariably were entirely pointless.

“Morning!” Mr Davies spun around, a malevolent gleam glinting off his spectacles.  He had heard the latch on Josie’s gate.

“Er, morning,” Josie muttered, avoiding eye contact.  “I’ve got to um—”

“You haven’t seen my kitten, have you?  Little Dorrit?  He’s a bit young to be out on his own.  But he’s a bit of company and –”

“No!” Josie cut him off.  Deciding that was a little harsh, she forced a smile.  “I’m sure he won’t be far.”

Mr Davies nodded.  Then his face broke into a grin. “I expect he’ll be along soon.”

“What?  Who will?” Josie could have kicked herself for engaging.  She gestured down the street.  “My bus…”

“The postman,” Mr Davies wiggled his eyebrows.  “Probably that’s what’s keeping him.  Struggling under the weight of all the cards he has to deliver.”


Mr Davies gasped in mock horror.  “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what today is!”

“Um… Monday?  Look, I really have to –”

“Valentine’s Day!” Mr Davies declared.  “And the postman’s late because he’s struggling to carry all the cards to your door!  I bet you get tons, don’t you?  Cards.  From admirers.”

“Not really.  Now, I really must be going.  If I’m late again, my boss will be giving me my cards all right.”

Mr Davies chuckled.  “Good one.  I like that.  Give you your cards.  You’re a very witty young lady.  Not just a pretty face, eh?  Eh?”

“Bye!” Josie hurried away.  There was no point going the long way around now.  There were only seconds to spare before the bus was due.  She hooked the strap of her bag higher on her shoulder, trying not to imagine Mr Davies’s gaze crawling all over her as she strode away.

Oh, it was quite sweet really, she supposed.  Mr Davies was just a lonely old widower.  Only passing the time of day.  Harmless, really.

And today’s exchange had reminded her of the date.  There was a post box on the corner near the office.  She’d be able to drop in an envelope before she went in for another interminable day of dealing with tedious invoices and requisitions.

As she got off the bus, her fingers closed around the envelope, giving the padding a squeeze.  Good.  There was no way anything was going to leak out.  Josie had put extra tape around it to make sure.

Too late for the Valentine’s post, she shrugged, but that couldn’t be helped.  She wished she could be there when Mr Davies opened it.  She hoped he’d be happy to be reunited with his kitten.  Well, most of it.

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The Scan

“Ah, Mr Probert, come in, come in.”  The radiographer welcomed the patient into the consultation room.  “Pop your coat on the chair and then lie on the bed for me.”

Mr Probert shrugged out of his anorak and shuffled to the bed.  He tried to position himself on it without disturbing the paper sheet that was protecting the upholstery.

“Just lie back,” the radiographer smiled behind her surgical mask, “and lift up your jumper for me?”

Mr Probert did as he was told.

“Now this might be a bit cold on your tummy,” the radiographer warned.   She applied gel to Mr Probert’s exposed midriff.  Mr Probert, ever the stoic, lay still, focussing on the ceiling.

“Right,” said the radiographer, “Let’s have a look-see.”

She pressed the scanner to Mr Probert’s belly and moved it across the pale surface, keeping her eyes on the monitor to the left of Mr Probert’s head.  “Hmm,” she said.   And “errr…”

Mr Probert lay still, fearing the worst.

“There’s definitely something…” the radiographer murmured to herself.  She did a second pass with the scanner.  On the screen, the image became clearer.  Something beneath the surface gave a sudden movement, like a fist beneath a rubber sheet, stretching Mr Probert’s skin.  The radiographer sprang backwards.

“What the hell is that?” she cried, unprofessionally in Mr Probert’s view.

The thing inside Mr Probert continued to cause ripples and stretches.  The radiographer watched, transfixed in morbid fascination.

The skin split.  The thing shot out and attached itself to the radiographer’s throat.  The radiographer flailed around, colliding with equipment and furniture as she failed to dislodge the thing that was gnawing through her flesh.

When it was over and the thing, now sated, returned to its hiding place, Mr Probert rose from the bed.  He popped his burst belly closed and donned a set of scrubs and a surgical mask.  He replaced the protective paper with a fresh sheet.

He opened the door and popped his head into the corridor.

“Who’s next, please?” he grinned.

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Faces and Fortunes

The cameras flashed incessantly, making the movie star squint.  He put a hand up as a shield but the flashes were coming from all directions.  He hurried along the red carpet, ignoring all catcalls and questions.  A limousine was waiting.  The movie star nipped into the back seat and breathed a sigh of relief to be behind the tinted windows.

“Drive!” he urged.

The driver drove.

The movie star’s p.a. was also on the back seat.

“You know, Brad,” she drawled, without looking up from the tablet she was scrolling through.  “You’re going to have to say something sooner or later.  Sooner, preferably.  Throw them a bone.”

Brad looked pained.  He poured himself a generous whisky from the car’s bar.

“It’s none of their business,” he grumbled.  “And why is there no ice in this car?  What do I pay you people for?”

The p.a. pouted.  Her scrolling finger came to a stop.  She tapped on a link.  “Here,” she held out the tablet.  “This is exactly what I’m talking about.  You can put an end to all the speculation by just coming clean.  Yeah, you’ve had a bit of work done.  So what?  You’re just keeping yourself looking your best for your fans.”

Brad shook his head.

“Listen, just admit to a bit of tightening around the eyes,  the occasional face peel.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  You’re just looking after your best asset.  Your face is your fortune after all.”

The limousine pulled up outside Brad’s mansion in the Hollywood hills.

“I’ll think about it,” Brad conceded.  He gave the p.a. his whisky glass before he got out.  “Goodnight.”

The p.a. closed her eyes and shook her head.  She and the driver watched the movie star key in his entry code and disappear through a side gate.  He didn’t turn to wave.

“He’s changed,” the p.a. diagnosed.  “Take me home, Simon.”

Brad marched straight to his wine cellar.  At the back, a secret door gave access to a private room he had had stricken from the plans.  No one knew it was there.

He paced up and down, making the man chained to the room’s only chair eye his progress nervously.

“A little tightening around the eyes!” Brad scoffed.  “As if I’m going to admit to that.  When this,” he circled his hand to indicate his entire face, “is a masterpiece, a miracle of cosmetic surgery.”

The man on the chair hung his bandaged head.

“Listen,” Brad lifted the man’s chin.  “It’s not forever.  I’ll have my guy do the repair job on you.  Then, if you promise not to tell anyone, you can have your old life back.  I’m getting tired of the movie business anyway.”

The man on the chair grunted, jerking his chin out of Brad’s hand.

“I have to be sure,” Brad told him.  “I have to be sure you’ll let me go and there’ll be no repercussions.  I keep telling you it was an accident.  An accident followed by a mix-up.  The doctors thought I was you and you were the nobody who’d crashed his car into the famous film star.  It cost me a fortune to buy them all off.  But I had access to your bank accounts by then, of course.  Don’t worry; I’ve made all that money back and more while you’ve been sitting down here.  Really think we’ve got a shot at the Oscar this year.  You’re on the up and up, my friend.”

With that, Brad turned on his heels and strode from the secret room.

Alone again, the real Brad shrugged.  An Oscar!  Well, well!

He lifted his hand to scratch his mangled nose.  He hadn’t found the right moment to tell his captor he’d been free of his ropes for months.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to go back into the heady world of stardom just yet, if at all.  For the time being, he was enjoying the solitude of this unorthodox retreat.  And he still had the run of the mansion while Fake Brad was out.  And, he conceded, he seems to be doing a better job of it than I ever did.

Let’s see how long we can keep up this charade before the cracks really begin to show…

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Ridley was hiding in the closet in her friend’s parents’ bedroom.  Holding her breath, she peered through the horizontal slats.  The room was in darkness, but the moonlight streaming through the window was hitting the bed like a spotlight, illuminating the gruesome sight of Jennifer, lifeless on the duvet, her throat a seeping gash.  Jennifer’s blood had stained the bedclothes a glistening crimson.  Ridley tried not to look at it.  She had to keep her wits about her.

Jennifer had been a friend since kindergarten.  True, she and Ridley had drifted apart during high school, but that had been the point of this evening’s gathering: a chance to reconnect with old friends, to catch up, to have a party while Jennifer’s folks were out of town.  Ridley imagined the horror and grief that were to strike Bob and Sheila Finkel when they got back from the Hamptons, or wherever.  Their only daughter butchered!  They would surely never be able to sleep in this room again.  They would surely want to move house.

There were dead kids all over.  Shona in the freezer, Marek in the garage, Derek behind the couch, and Eva in the washing machine.  All of them slashed to ribbons.  All of them old friends.

I can’t think about that now, Ridley steeled herself.  I have to focus on my own survival.

There’s always one girl left, you see.  Always one final girl who gets out alive.

A silhouette appeared in the doorway.  Moonlight glinted off the butcher’s knife blade.

“Ridley?” hissed a whisper.  “Are you in here?”

The figure stepped into the room.

“Ridley!” Louder this time.  Ridley did not move.

The figure crept around the room, around the horror on the bed.

Wait for it, wait for it… Ridley knew the moment to emerge was near.

The figure was at the window, peering out, a tangled mop of hair gleaming in a silvery halo.  Hah, thought Ridley.  That’s ironic.  It’s the only way you’ll get a halo, Maya, old chum,.  After the way you treated me in high school.  Tur

ning everyone against me.

While Maya’s back was turned, Ridley gently pushed the closet door open wide enough to slip through.  Soundlessly, she stole across the carpet, pulling the grinning skull mask over her face.

She pressed the edge of her blade to Maya’s throat.

“Surprise, bitch!” she cackled.  “Happy high school reunion!”

Maya didn’t have time enough to scream before the slashing started.

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Life in the Old Dog Yet

Oswald shuffled along the hall to the kitchen.  The door was ajar.  He could hear his daughter and her husband engaged in a heated discussion.

About me, I shouldn’t wonder, thought Oswald, dismally.  Since he’d moved in, his son-in-law had been perfectly vile.  Complaining about everything and nothing.  Making insinuations.  “Oh, I’m sorry, my lord.  We shall have to treat you kindly if we’re to get anything when you’ve popped your slippers.”

It broke Oswald’s heart.  They didn’t know how frustrated he was, being uprooted from his own house, the home he’d shared with Elsie for almost fifty years.  He knew he was an imposition.  He knew he was in the way.  He knew he was a burden.

They’re talking about putting me in a home, I know it.

I’d rather be dead.

But he had to stay put, eavesdropping.  He had to know what he was up against.

“Well,” his daughter, Debbie, was saying, “he can’t help it.  Not at his time of life.”

“Costing us a fortune in bloody air fresheners,” her husband, Damien, countered.  “His guts can’t be right.”

Oswald blushed.  His hands tightened into fists as much as his arthritis would allow.

“And the interminable whimpering and whining,” Damien went on.  “All through the night.  I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t complained.”

“Oh, they quite like him,” Debbie put in.  “He keeps them entertained over the garden fence.”

“Huh,” Damien huffed.  “I don’t find it funny in the slightest.  The children won’t go near him. They say he frightens them. Look, love, he’s well past his prime.  Time to put the old fella out of his misery.”

Out of your misery you mean, you nasty pup.  Oswald sniffed back a tear.

“I mean, it’s disgusting.  He’s weeping out of every orifice, and he moves so slowly now, every step is agony, you can tell.  It’s the best thing for him.  One quick prick and he’s out like a light.  He won’t feel a thing.”

Just like you, you unfeeling bastard.  Oswald wished he’d brought his walking stick from his room.  He wouldn’t go down without a fight.

“Well,” he heard Debbie say, “If you think it’s for the best.”

“I do, love.”  Damien pecked her cheek.  “I’ll see you later.  And we’ll—” he made a whistling noise.  Oswald could imagine Damien drawing his finger across his own throat in a slashing motion.

He waited until he heard Damien’s Ford Focus drive away.  Taking a deep breath, he breezed into the kitchen.  “Morning, love!” he smiled.  “I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?  It’s about time I made myself useful.”

“It’s all right, Dad,” Debbie took the kettle from his shaking hands.  “You have a seat and I’ll make the tea.”

Oswald lowered himself onto a chair at the kitchen table.

“Damien’s out early,” he observed.

“Busy as ever,” Debbie organised cups.  “He’ll see you later.”

Oswald nodded.  While the kettle boiled, he squinted through his spectacles, taking in the kitchen, drinking in every detail as if seeing them for the final time.  His gaze fell on the tatty basket in the corner.  Shep’s basket.  Shep the smelly, dribbly, wobbly old mutt…

A great weight seemed to lift from Oswald’s chest.  He sat up straight and laughed.

They were talking about Shep!

What a silly old fool I am!

“Taken the dog out, has he?” Oswald jerked his head at the basket as Debbie brought the cups to the table.

“Shep’s walking days are over,” she sighed, pulling out a chair for herself.

“It’s funny, love; I heard you talking before I came in.  For an awful moment, I thought you were talking about me!  I am a silly old sausage, aren’t I?”

Debbie reached across the table and squeezed her father’s hand. She gave him a sad smile.

“Of course we were talking about you, Dad.  Shep hasn’t written a will.”

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The Astronaut’s Anniversary

The alarm beeped.  Jeff, who had been lying awake for hours, rolled over and slapped it into silence.  Groaning, he got out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom.  By the time he had shaved and showered, Wendy, his p.a. was already at the door to his hotel suite.

“Morning, Jeff!” she chirped, offering him a coffee-chain cappuccino.  He grunted in response.  Wendy made herself at home, perching on a sofa and scrolling through her iPad with an expensively manicured finger.  “Just want to go through the programme of events for the day.  The car will be here in…three point five minutes.”

Jeff grunted.

Wendy looked up from the screen.  Her jaw dropped.  “You’re not even dressed!” she gasped.

Jeff shrugged; the gesture was lost beneath the folds of his hotel dressing gown.

“Come on, chop-chop!” Wendy flicked her fingers in a bid to shoo him into the bedroom.  Jeff didn’t move.  Wendy gave her wristwatch an anxious glance.  “Two point five minutes… Come on.  Is there something wrong?  What’s the matter, Jeff?  Didn’t housekeeping bring your suit back from the dry cleaners?”

Jeff didn’t reply.  Wendy began to panic.  She fought it down.  She smiled.  “Look, you can tell me.  I’ve heard it all before.  If it’s nerves, that’s OK.  I know a guy can get you a little help, shall we call it?”

Jeff closed his eyes.

“Look,” Wendy rose from the sofa and approached.  “I know you’re tired.  But it’s just today.  I’ll move a few things around.  We can have you finished and on your way back home just after lunch.  Things will die down again.  But today is the Big One.  It’s fifty years since you came back from the moon.  It’s your golden anniversary.  So of course people want you on the radio, on breakfast television.  And there’s that champagne reception…”

She was back to scrolling through her list again.

Jeff lowered himself onto a chair at the dining table.

Fifty years.  They had passed in the blink of an eye, it seemed.  Jeff put his face in his hands, the hands that had steered the lunar module, the hands that were now liver-spotted, with craters between the knotty veins.  Like the lunar surface…

He cast his mind back to that fateful mission.  He had never spoken of what had happened up there.  Others in the team had written autobiographies, fluffy, empty tomes, full of cliches.  And lies.  Not a single one of them had told the truth.

They would be there later, at the champagne reception, gleefully receiving the keys to yet another city.  Laughing it up, saying how lucky there were.  And how fragile the Earth looks from up there, and how we must protect it, and blah blah blah.

Until the signal.

When the signal came, the true nature of their mission would be revealed.  Not the mission given them by NASA, but the mission they had received from the Masters of the Moon.  The time was drawing nigh.

A buzzer sounded.  Was it Reception calling to say the car had arrived?

Or was it the signal?

The Earthlings were about to discover just how fragile their world really is.

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The Pendant

“Must we go?” Stella tried one last bid for freedom. “I could have one of my headaches.”

Oswald shook his head.  “We did that one last year.”  He zipped up her dress and planted a kiss on the nape of her neck.

“One evening, that’s all.  We’ll see in the new year with the old biddy and then make our excuses.”

“Oh, I suppose so,” Stella attached diamond earrings and turned her head so they caught the light.  She turned to present herself to her husband.  “Will I do?”

“You’re a knockout,” Oswald gasped.  “I still can’t believe my luck.  I’ll wait in the car.”

Stella gave herself one last appraisal in the full-length mirror.  Yes, Oswald was indeed a lucky man.  And it was a good job he kept her in the manner to which she had become accustomed.  The earrings were new.  So was the bracelet that matched them.  The only thing off-kilter was the dreary old pendant the old biddy had sent her for Christmas. An ugly, lumpish thing adorned with coloured glass.  Stella took it off and replaced it with her glittering new necklace.  There!  That was better.  If the old biddy asked about the pendant, she’d say it was being assessed by the insurers, something like that.

“Hello, Aunt Imelda,” Oswald pecked their hostess’s cheek, which was as wrinkled as an old apple.  “So kind of you to have us over.”

“Nonsense,” Imelda patted his pudgy hand with her liver-spotted, blue-veined one.  “We are still family.  And it’s about time I met the latest addition.”  She turned to the young woman in red silk, dripping with diamonds.  “You must be Stella.”

“Guilty!” Stella laughed.  She squeezed the old woman’s fingers, afraid they might snap like dry twigs.

“Beautiful,” the old woman’s eyes crawled up and down Stella until their scrutiny made her itch.  “Oswald, you have done well this time.”

“This time?” Stella frowned.

“Didn’t he tell you, he has been married before?”  The old woman hooked her arm in Stella’s and led her to the dining table.  “You’re a vast improvement on the previous model.  You are blessed with good genes, I can tell.  Excellent breeding stock.”

Stella’s mouth hung open.

“She’s pulling your leg,” Oswald chuckled.  “Aunt Imelda, as incorrigible as ever.”

“Sit beside me, my dear,” Aunt Imelda indicated a chair.  “But—oh!  You’re not wearing the gift I sent you!  Did it not arrive?”

“Yes, it did,” Oswald put in.  “A lovely gift.  So generous.”

“What’s the matter, dear?  Didn’t you like it?”

“Well, um, yes, of course, it’s lovely.  But,” Stella grimaced, “I’m afraid it’s not really me.  Not my look, I’m sorry.”

“Oh?”  Aunt Imelda took her seat at the head of the table.  “Oh.”

Dinner was a frosty affair after that.  Oswald tried to crack a few jokes but neither his aunt nor his wife were listening.

At long last, the midnight hour approached.  The ticking of the grandfather clock sounded louder in the absence of conversation.

“Such a shame,” Aunt Imelda observed.  “You had such potential.”

“I beg your pardon?” Stella frowned.  “Ozzy, what’s she going on about now?”

“I’m sorry, my dear,” Oswald took a position behind Aunt Imelda’s chair.  The old woman reached up to pat her nephew’s hand.

“Such a shame,” she repeated, her eyes glinting in the candlelight.

The clock struck twelve.

The lights went out, the candles extinguished by a draught from nowhere.  Stella screamed and fell silent.

Oswald relit the candles.

“A dance, Imelda?” he offered his hand and bowed.

“At least!” cried Imelda, springing from her seat.  Rejuvenated, she twirled around the room, making her nephew giddy from her exertions.  Her hair shook loose, no longer white, but a luscious raven black.  Her hands, pale and flawless as alabaster, stroked Oswald’s sweaty cheek.

“Don’t be sad, Ozzy,” she pouted.  “If she had been right for us, she would have worn the pendant.”

Oswald gave a sigh.  Imelda was right.  She was always right.

On Stella’s chair, the red silk dress collapsed in on itself, and the diamond jewellery dropped to the floor. The husk that had once been a beautiful woman crumbled into dust.

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Big Designs

The wolf grinned at the camera.  His long, pink tongue briefly caressed the tip of his fangs.

“Hello!  And welcome to the first edition of Big Designs.  Today’s contestants are all brothers; triplets, in fact, but, as we are about to find out, when it comes to building houses, their ideas could not be more different.  Let’s meet the first one.  Hello, Piggly.”

The first contestant waved a nervous trotter.

“Hello, B.B.,” he squeaked.

“Good to have you on the show.”  The wolf fist-bumped the trotter with his paw.  “Explain, please, to the viewers at home, the concept behind your build.”

He smiled encouragingly.  Piggly’s eyes darted.


“Go on.”

“Well, it’s quite basic, really, my design.  Using sustainable materials.”

“Good, good.”  The wolf winked at the camera.  “Sustainable gets my vote.  What exactly are you using?”

“Um, just this really.”  Piggly stooped to gather up a fistful of dried grass.


“Um, yes.  It’s very versatile.  See, you can weave it together to make walls, furniture too.  Or you can just sort of strew it around the floor as a rough-and-ready carpet.”

“Hmm… And it’ll be strong, your house of straw?”

“How do you mean?”

“Will it be able to withstand the elements?  A strong gust of wind, for example.”

“I should think so,” said Piggly, although he didn’t sound convinced.

“Well, good luck,” the wolf’s grin widened.  “Now, moving across to the next plot, we find, hard at work, Piggly’s brother, Wiggly.  Say hello to the viewers at home, Wiggly.”

The second pig was a little startled.  His snout quivered and let out a grunt.

“Tell us, please,” the wolf spoke in unctuous tones, “the concept behind your build.”

“Well, um,” Wiggly took off his hat and scratched his head.  “It’s all made from found materials.  To keep costs down.”

Found materials?  Care to expand on that?  What have you found and where did you find it?”

“Well, um, B.B.  Just here in the woods, lying around.  Sticks, mainly.”


“Yes.  They’re durable, flexible and above all, they’re free.”

“Well, we all like a freebie,” the wolf winked at the camera.  “You say durable, but will your house be able to stand up to, I don’t know, say, someone on the roof?”

“Why would there be someone on the roof?”

“I don’t know; I don’t write the questions.”

“I am confident my house of sticks will withstand anything short of a nuclear attack.”

“Even a great wind?”

“I’m sorry?”

“With a nuclear bomb, you always get an almighty wind.  Or, it could come from another source.”

“Such as?”

The wolf’s grin faltered.  “Look, I can see I’m distracting you from your building.  Good luck.”


“We move on to the third plot, where—oh, my word!  Can you see this at home?  Isn’t this just the sweetest little house you’ve ever seen?  It looks almost finished.  But where’s the builder?”


“Let’s see if he’s in, shall we?”

The wolf stepped up to the newly painted front door and knocked.  “Mister Pig, Mister Pig,” he sang.  “Let me come in!”

“No!” came a squeak from the other side of the door.  “Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.”

“Oh, dear, viewers.  Looks like someone is camera shy.”

The wolf pushed his snout through the letterbox.  “Mister Pig?  May I call you Jiggly?”

“No!  Piss off!” said the third pig.

The wolf grimaced.  “We can bleep that out.  But the viewers want to see inside your lovely home.  You’ve chosen the traditional material of red bricks.  Why is that?”

The pig’s answer was muffled but laced with aggression.

“I’m afraid,” said the wolf, “Unless you show us around, you’ll be disqualified from the competition.”

A loud oink issued from the letterbox.  The wolf backed away.  He put a claw to his earpiece and consulted with the producer.

“What?  That’s crazy.  I’m not sure we have the insurance for that—”

He listened.

“Oh, all right.  But I’ll be having words with my agent, you can be sure of that.”

Moments later, the wolf was on the roof of the little red house, having scaled a ladder.  “Mister Pig!” he bellowed down the chimney.  “Let me in!”

The producer’s voice crackled in his ear.

“You what?  That’s insane.  I’m not climbing down the fucking chimney.  I don’t care if it is good telly—Oh, all right, but I want danger money.”

He sat on the chimney stack and lowered himself into the flue, back legs first.

The camera stayed put, the house filling the frame.  There was a splash and a terrifying howl of pain.

Then, silence.

A moment later, the front door opened.  The camera zoomed in on the grinning face of the third contestant.

“Hello, viewers,” Jiggly grinned.  “And welcome to the first edition of my new cooking show.  First on the menu: boiled wolf.”

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The Hero

“What’s this?” Sherry called from the bedroom.  “I said, what’s this?”

“What’s what?” Albert called back from the living-room. “I haven’t got x-ray vision, have I?”

“This.”  Sherry walked in, holding a suitcase. 

“Suitcase,” Albert shrugged.  “That’s not coming.”

Sherry placed the suitcase on the dining table.  “Could come in handy.  Fill it with your socks or something.”

“I said leave it!” Albert snapped, his voice cracking.  “Coming in here, going through my stuff without a by your leave.”

Sherry held up her hands in surrender.  “All right.  Excuse me, I’m sure.  What about a cup of tea?  Calm you down.”

“You’ve packed the kettle.”

Sherry laughed.  “Have I?  I’d forget my head if it wasn’t nailed on.  All this other stuff,” she glanced around, “the furniture.  Van from the charity shop’s coming after lunch.”

Albert gaped.  “You’ve no right!  No right!”

“Now, Albert, you know you can’t take it all with you, like some Egyptian pharaoh.  Just a few bits and pieces to make your room feel like home.  Photographs and what-not.”

Albert shook his head, tears streaming down the wrinkles of his cheeks.  “My life, reduced to a couple of boxes.”

“Oh, I don’t see it like that.  See it was the start of a new chapter.  You’ll make a lot of new friends.”

You’re not bloody going.  It’s me that’s going to be stuck in that place, just waiting for the grim reaper, and wishing he’d get a bloody move on.”

“Oh, Albert.  You do say some things.”

“I’ll say something I might regret in a minute.  Go on, clear off.  Get out of it.   Bloody do-gooders.  That’s a laugh.  You’ve never done anybody a scrap of good in all your days.”

“Albert!”  Sherry looked aghast.

“Different in my day.  We went out there and we helped people.  Sorted their lives out, good and proper.  Not just shut them away in little boxes.  We fought for what was right.  We stood for something.  We were respected.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sherry glanced at her wristwatch.  “Just decide what you’re taking, because I’ve got Mrs Wilkins in twenty minutes, and there’s never anywhere to park.”

“Nothing,” Albert jutted his chin.  “I’m taking nothing.”

“Sorted, then.  I’ll be back after Mrs Wilkins.”  Sherry breezed out of the house, muttering about stubborn old men.

Albert struggled to his feet.  Leaning on his stick, he hobbled to the dining table.  His arthritic fingers fumbled the catches on the old suitcase.  At last, he got it open.

One last look, one last touch.  His fingers closed around the bright spandex of his old outfit, his old cape.  Yes, we used to help people.  We were heroes.  Not like these busybodies the council sends around.

He dropped his stick and screwed his eyes shut.  Come on, come on, he tried to summon his old powers.  Let me fly, just one last time, out of here and far away, before she comes back to stick me in that home.

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The Mouse and his Friend

Using a match as a walking stick, the old mouse hobbled across the field.  The circus was packing up.  He had almost missed it.  Dodging to evade the boots of stevedores who were pulling down the big top, the mouse let out a squeak, like the rusty wheel of a child’s toy.  He panted until he got his breath back and scurried to the train where the animals were housed.

A lion stirred in its sleep, catching a whiff of the mouse on a breeze but, deciding the morsel was too small to bother with, rolled over and slept on.

I wonder what will happen to them all, the mouse wondered.  Even the lions’ fate concerned him.  They’ll be sold to zoos, most probably.  Not ideal but better than the alternative.  You couldn’t release circus animals back into the wild, after lives of captivity and servitude in the name of entertainment.  They wouldn’t last five minutes.  No, a zoo was their best prospect.  A zoo was better than ending up as a rug or a coat, or a pair of shoes.

He skirted past the reptile carriage.  Was Zorella the Snake Woman still performing her tired old act?  Who would want to see her geriatric gyrations as she wound constrictors around her sagging curves?  The mouse shuddered.  She used to feed my cousins to her snakes.  I’m not hanging around here to end up as a python’s supper.

At last, he came to the elephants’ carriage.  He could hear the snores of the pachyderms from outside.  Good.  He could sneak in, locate his old friend and rescue him.  Easy as that.

He squeezed through a knothole in a plank and found himself on the straw-strewn floor of the carriage.  The smell of the elephants was overpowering.  I used to be used to this, he reminded himself, holding his little hat over his snout.  He tiptoed through the straw until he came to the stall at the end.  He climbed up to the barred window and peered in.

A dark, amorphous shape was snoring in the shadows.

“Psst!  Hey!” the mouse hissed as loudly as he dared.  “It’s me!  It’s your old pal, Timothy!”

The dark shape stirred.

“That’s right,” the mouse encouraged.  “I’m back!  I’ve come to take you away from all this.  And not a moment too soon, it seems.  The law’s changed, you see, pal; you probably know this already.  After tonight, they’re no longer permitted to use animals in circuses.  It’s going to be all acrobats and magicians from now on.  Trapeze artists.  Clowns.  But no animals.  Circuses are going cruelty-free!  It’s wonderful!”

The dark shape sat up straight.  The shadow of a trunk uncoiled and reached up to the bars.  Timothy, recognising the gesture from the old days, hopped onto his old friend’s trunk.

“But I’m worried, see.  What’s to become of you?  I don’t think we should stick around to find out.  I’m going to get you out of here.”

His friend’s head dipped in sorrow.  Timothy heard the clank of chains.

“It’s all right!  I’ve got a friend.  A human.  She’s nice.  An animal rights activist.  She’s stealing the keys from the ringmaster’s office right now.  She’ll be here any minute.  And then we’ll be able to fly away.”

Timothy’s friend shook his head so vigorously, the mouse had to hold on tight to the trunk.

“Everything’s going to be all right, my friend,” the mouse gave the trunk a reassuring pat.

“No,” said the elephant, speaking for the first time.  He stood up, the chains around his feet rattling.  He shook his head, dislodging the blanket that had covered him.

Timothy gaped in horror and surprise.

His friend’s magnificent ears, the very things that afforded him the power of flight and had made him the most famous elephant in the world, were gone.  Docked by the circus owners in a senseless act of spite.  Probably to prevent their competitors getting hold of him.

“No…” Timothy dropped to his knees and wept.  “What have they done to you?”

Broken-hearted, the elephant slumped in sorrow.  There was no magic feather to solve his problems this time.

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The Strike

“What do I want?  More money!  When do I want it?  Noooowhooow!”  The Big Bad Wolf repeated his chant as he paced up and down outside the Third Pig’s house.  First and Second Pig were watching through the window.

“He’s huffing and puffing a lot,” observed Second Pig.

“But not in the direction of the house,” added First Pig, because their brother was looking concerned.

“If he tries anything,” Third Pig said grimly, “I’m ready for him.  The cauldron of hot water is boiling in the fireplace.”

The other two pigs returned their attention to the wolf.

“What’s he doing now?” said Second Pig.

“He’s holding up a placard,” said First Pig.  He squinted, trying to read the words scrawled across the sign.

“Fair pay for Wolves!” said Second Pig, who had better eyesight.  “That’s a laugh.  All those wolves do is eat other characters.”

“Or try to,” said Third Pig.  “He won’t get us, don’t you worry.”

“Remember that time we thought Grandma Pig had come to visit?” said Second Pig.  “But it just turned out to be the Big Bad Wolf wearing her nightie.”

The other pigs smiled fondly at the memory.

“And he wants fair pay?  He gets all the free bacon he can eat – not that he’s getting any here today,” Third Pig hastened to add.

All afternoon, the Big Bad Wolf continued to pace and chant.  The Three Pigs were growing bored.  Stuck in the house with only a pot of boiling water for entertainment, they were going stir crazy.

“He can’t stay out there all day,” said Third Pig.  “Can he?”

“I want to go to the pub!” wailed First Pig.

“This is worse than when he tries to get in,” said Second Pig.  “At least then we could get on with the story and have our happy ending.”

“Yes,” agreed Third Pig.  “This is just dragging things out.  I’ve got things to do, and I can’t do them until he either buggers off home or climbs down the chimney.”

Another hour passed.

“Sod it,” said First Pig, “I’ve got a darts match on.”  He thrust his front trotters into his jacket and plonked his beret on his head.

“You can’t go out there,” Second Pig tried to hold him back.  “He’ll eat you!”

“He’s on strike,” said First Pig.  “I’ll be fine.”

They looked to Third Pig, who was always the sensible one.  He scratched the hairs on his chinny chin chin and nodded.  “Go on, then.  Bring us back some crisps.”

“Will do!” First Pig saluted.  He opened the front door and went out.

Within seconds, the Big Bad Wolf was upon him, tearing his throat out with his big teeth.

Second and Third Pig slammed the front door and barred it, as their brother squealed and squealed and then squealed no more.

“Little pigs, little pigs,” the Big Bad Wolf crooned through the keyhole, blood dripping from his fangs.  “Let me come in.”

“Fucking scab,” said Third Pig.


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