The Kicker

“I’ll leave you to it then, Mrs.”  Mrs Scratch lingered at the back door.  “You will look after them flowers, won’t you, Mrs?”

She nodded at the kitchen table.  Tabitha smiled.  “Yes, I will.   It was such a lovely touch.  To brighten up my first day in the new home.”

“Are you sure, Mrs?”  Mrs Scratch looked troubled.  “Are you sure you don’t want to come back into the village with me?  I hear the Red Lion’s got some lovely rooms.”

Tabitha laughed.  “Now, why would I want to stay in a country pub – no matter how lovely it may be – when I’ve got this entire manor house to myself?  You’ve been brilliant, truly.  But I’d like to be left to get on with it, if you don’t mind.  Get settled in, get my bearings, you know how it is.”

Mrs Scratch chewed her lower lip.  “I’ll be back in the morning, Mrs.  I’ll bring milk and bread from the village.”

“There’s no need, honestly.”

“We looks out for each other in these parts.  It’s only neighbourly.”

“I didn’t mean to offend but –”   Tabitha was cut off by the sound of a thump overhead.  Both women looked at the kitchen ceiling.

“Oh, Mrs, I’m begging you!  Come back with me!  You can have my sofa if the pub ain’t to your liking.”

“Nonsense!  It was probably just a box falling over.  The removal men weren’t exactly fastidious.”

“Mrs, please!”

Tabitha marched across the room and held the back door.  “Goodnight, Mrs Scratch.”

Mrs Scratch shook her head, her lips pursed like a cat’s backside.  But she left, limping down the path.  Tabitha shut and bolted the door.  Daft old boot – well-meaning, she supposed, but Tabitha had no time, for superstitious claptrap.  She had heard the stories connected with the old building, stories of brutal murders, people kicked to death, the killer uncaught – the stories had worked in her favour; the house was surely worth much more than she had paid for it.  There had been other potential buyers but they had all pulled out after seeing the place.  More fool them, thought Tabitha, sipping the tea Mrs Scratch had made.  They had missed out on the bargain of a lifetime.  And now the place was all hers, to get down to finally writing that novel she’d been thinking of for years.

Tabitha spent a couple of hours, straightening things out in the master bedroom.  It was not long before she was ready to turn in.  In the morning, she would stroll down to the village, have a look around, fetch her own milk and bread.  Perhaps a spot of lunch in the ‘lovely’ Red Lion…

The door opened with a creak.  Startled, Tabitha sat up in bed, holding her breath.  She felt foolish.  These old places, they all had their quirks, their strange noises; she just needed to get used to them.  She lay down, amused by her jumpiness.

Thump!

Something was there!  In the room with her!  Tabitha froze.

Thump!  Thump!

It was getting closer.  It was approaching the bed!

Thump!  Thump!  Thump!  It was slowly advancing.

Tabitha sat up, clutching the bedclothes to her chin.  She thought about reaching for the bedside lamp but remembered she had yet to unpack it.

Thump!  Thump-thump!  Thump-thump-thump!

Tabitha screamed.

The next morning, Mrs Scratch let herself in via the front door.  “Cooee!” she called up the main staircase.  “It’s only me, Mrs.”

She listened.  There was no answer.  Smiling to herself, Mrs Scratch moved through to the kitchen and placed her wicker basket on the table.  She lowered herself onto a stool, feeling the familiar twinge of her prosthetic leg.

Before long, there was a thump-thump-thump down the stairs.

“In you come, my darling,” Mrs Scratch cooed, as a disembodied foot hopped into the room.  “There ain’t nobody going to take over this place while there’s still breath in my body.”

She used a tea towel to clean the blood from its toes, before kissing the foot and placing it lovingly in the basket.

“This place will be ours again, afore long,” she vowed with a chuckle.  “Ain’t that the kicker!”

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Junior’s Nightmare

Daddy Dragon hurried to his son’s cave.  He found Junior sitting up on his bed of gold, panting.  Plumes of smoke shot from the youngster’s nostrils.  Daddy blew on a candle, setting it alight.

“Now, Junior, what’s all this noise?  Another bad dream?”

Junior sobbed and held out his arms for an embrace.  His little wings flapped anxiously.  Daddy perched on the edge of the pile of riches and hugged Junior until his sobs subsided.

“He – he was after me again!” Junior’s shoulders heaved.  “He was on horseback and he had a long, long lance.  He was going to run me through.”

“There, there,” Daddy patted Junior’s scaly back.  “He’s gone; you’re awake now.”

“But you know what day it is tomorrow.  It’s his day.”

Daddy sighed.  They went through this every year on April 23rd.

“Look, son, it’s late but, in the morning, I’ll show you how to defend yourself against knights in armour, OK?  You’re big enough now.”

Junior perked up a little.  “Will you show me how to blast him out of his saddle?”

“Yes.”

“Will you show me how to melt his lance?”

“Yes.”

“Will you show me how to cook him in his metal suit?”

“Yes!  Now, get some sleep or you’ll be too grouchy to do anything in the morning.”

Junior snuggled down on the horde of treasure.  Daddy bent over him to kiss his brow.

“Hey!” said Mummy Dragon, coming in.  “He should be asleep.  Keeping him up at all hours.”

“He had a bad dream,” Daddy protested.

“And you’ve been filling his head with nonsense again, I suppose?”  Mummy produced a large book, leather-bound and chained.  “Time we sorted this out once and for all.”

She leafed through the pages until she found the one she wanted.  “Look, son.  You have nothing to be scared of.  This George idiot never even came to England.  He was from here, do you see?  A place called Turkey.  Then he moved to Palestine and was too busy spreading his religion to bother about saving people from dragons!  He’d have a hard time of it if he came to England today – if they even let him in the country.”

“Did he carry a lance?”

“No.”

“Did he wear a suit of armour?”

“No.  Once again, he wasn’t even English.”

“But – but –” Junior leapt off his bed.  “The English celebrate him every year.  They go mad for it.  What if he comes over to join the celebrations?”

“He won’t!  Get back to bed.  Listen, honey, people believe all sorts of crazy things.  Saints don’t exist, but we do.”

“That’s right,” said Daddy, “and, lucky for us, nobody believes that.”

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Shelley and the Professor

“Open up, Professor!” Shelley hammered on the laboratory door.  “Please!”  Her words trailed off into a mixture of sobs and screams.

Professor Snark paused his frantic calculations on the chalk board.  He listened.  The fool of a girl was making a lot of noise; it could only attract them, and now was not the time.  He wasn’t ready.

He strode across the floor, littered with papers hastily tossed aside, wrenched the door open and yanked the girl inside by the sleeve of her tight-fitting sweater.  He threw her to the floor and slammed the door.  He shoved a hefty workbench against the door.

“Quiet, you silly goose,” he spat.  “Do you want to bring them straight to us?”

Shelley whimpered and thrust her wrist into her mouth.  Mascara streaked her face, like a watercolour raccoon.

Snark returned to his calculations, muttering to himself.

“Can you do it, Professor?” Shelley whispered.  “Can you reverse the effects?”

Snark ran his hands through his unruly hair, making it wilder still.  “I – I have no idea if this will work but we have to try.  To the roof!”

“No!” Shelley clung to a lab stool.  “I won’t!”

Snark seized her roughly by the elbow.  “Now, listen, you idiot.  This is bigger than you, bigger than me.  Bigger than the both of us.  The future of the entire world is at stake.”  He pulled her to her feet.  Shelley struggled to stay upright on her nine-inch heels.

The professor dragged her to the staircase.  Shelley resisted all the way, gasping and squeaking, but the professor was relentless.  He kicked open the door to the rooftop.  The sky was darkening as foreboding clouds congregated overhead.

“No!  No!” Shelley clung to the doorframe – and fingernails be damned!  “I won’t do it!  You can’t make me.”

Snark wrested her free.  “Get dressed, you moronic girl!  And get gyrating!”

He thrust a large plastic bag at the weeping young woman.  Lightning cracked, startling them both.

Shelley sniffed and resigned herself to her role in saving the world.  She took the costume from the bag and stepped into it, one foot at a time.  She thrust her arms into the sleeves and the professor assisted with the zipper at the back.  He handed her the headpiece – an ovoid helmet-type piece with antenna.  The bulbous, compound eyes were trimmed with long lashes.

“One last touch,” the professor pulled out a lipstick and applied it to the costume’s mouth.

Just a couple of blocks away, buildings were tumbling as the giant ants continued their rampage through the city.

“Now, dance, girl!  Dance as though your life depends on it!  Get those buggers within range and I’ll zap them with the shrink ray.”

Shelley waddled to the edge of the roof and steeled herself.  Either this would work or she’d be carried off to the monsters’ radioactive nest in the desert.

“Five, six, seven, eight!”

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The Refugee

Brother Almo shuffled along the paved walkway.  Even through the soles of his sandals, he could feel the coolness of the stone slabs.  He thrust his hands into the wide sleeves of his habit and, huddled against the breeze, hurried to the front gates.  The caller was pulling the bell rope with mounting impatience – and no wonder at it, thought Brother Almo, on an inhospitable night such as this, I can fully appreciate the desire to be inside and warm.

He pushed back the heavy bolts and lifted the bar that lay across the doors’ centre.  He pulled open the gate and peered into the night.

“Good evening, stranger?” he called, although he could see no one there.

Old fool!  Had he imagined it?  Had he dozed off during his watch and imagined the bell?  Father Krimp would laugh with dismay when he heard about this…

But then –

“Help me,” gasped a small voice from the shadows.  Brother Almo squinted and could just about discern a hooded figure, about three feet tall in the darkness.

The figure sounded weak, struggling for breath.  Brother Almo stepped out just in time to catch the stranger, who collapsed into his arms.

Brother Almo backed over the threshold, pulling the stranger with him.  “Ho!”  he cried.  “What ho, within!”

Minutes later, other members of the order came running, barefoot, pulling on their habits, rubbing their eyes and yawning.

“What is it now?” complained one.

“It’s Almo,” said another, as though that explained everything.

“Brother Almo!” boomed Father Krimp, suddenly arriving and towering over the scene.  “What is the meaning of this brouhaha?”

Brother Almo gestured to the stranger, slumped against the wall, face hidden by a hood.

Father Krimp gestured urgently to the others to keep back.  “Brother Almo,” his voice was low and filled with foreboding, “What.  Have.  You.  Done?”

“I answered a cry for help,” Brother Almo swallowed hard.  “Is it not written that –”

Father Krimp cut him off with an imperious hand.  “It may not be too late.  Turn this – thing – outdoors and pray for your soul!  Do it!”

“But – but –” Brother Almo protested.  “We are bounden to do what is charitable.  We must take in the infirm and the needy.”

Father Krimp shook his head.  “You have brought a stranger within our walls.  At night!  You know of the creatures that infest this area.  You know how they take advantage of the weak and simple-minded, how they take human form and finagle their way into people’s homes.”

Brother Almo scoffed.  “Foolish, superstitious claptrap!”

Father Krimp bristled and drew himself up to his full height.  “You will remove the thing from the premises at once.  If it – he or she – is still there in the morning, then you may take it to our hospice.  You know the rules.”

He turned and marched back indoors.  The other brothers followed, some of them smirking over their shoulders.  Others sent Brother Almo looks of concern.  But they all left him to it, just the same.

Alone with the figure, Brother Almo dithered.  What to do?  If he turfed the stranger out again, the morning might be too late.  But if he disobeyed Father Krimp – if Father Krimp was correct… Brother Almo had let a hellacious creature into the monastery, endangering the lives and immortal souls of everyone in it.

He stooped to peer closely at the refugee.

What am I going to do with you?

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Hunting for Votes

The MP was sweating.  It occurred to him that tweed had been entirely the wrong choice for the studio.  The lights were beating down on him like so many suns and he was sure his ruddy complexion, rather than signal a hale and healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle, was making him look like a beetroot being tortured in a sauna.  He ran a finger beneath the collar of his checked shirt.  He could feel the face powder they had dabbed him with clagging in every crease of his weather-beaten face.  He became aware the presenter of this godawful Sunday morning ordeal had asked him a question.  He blinked and ransacked his mind for any trace of media training.  A fallback answer sprang to his rescue.

“There is no evidence to support a contrary view,” he intoned.  It was the presenter’s turn to blink.  He even gaped as well.

“Minister, are you or are you not telling me you support a repeal of the ban?”

“Yes,” said the MP.  “Listen, let me be clear.  The ban should never have been imposed in the first place.  Well-meaning but ill-informed do-gooders, meddling in things they do not understand.  Urbanites.  Townies.”  He shuddered, “Liberals.”

The presenter nodded his ‘I’m listening’ nod.  The MP straightened, getting into his stride.

“The ban is contrary to British values.  These hippies bleat on about cultures and what-not but what about our culture, our traditions – that’s what I want to know.  Eh?  Eh?  That’s why I shall be voting in favour of the repeal.  And so will any level-headed, true blue, red-blooded Englishman.  And even, some of the women, what!”  He laughed.  The presenter smirked and then arched an eyebrow.

“Since the ban there have been unconfirmed reports of illegal hunts, unregulated and unmonitored.”

“All the more reason to kill the ban and get things out in the open, like the good old days.  Then the authorities can keep an eye on proceedings and prevent any unnecessary brutality.”

“You admit then, there is brutality.”

“Well, that’s a loaded term.  The practice is time-honoured, part of the weft and weave of country life.”

The presenter consulted his clipboard.  “The young taken from their mothers, chased across open country for miles before being torn to pieces –”

The MP harrumphed.  “Emotive language for what is, at heart, simply a matter of pest control.”

“But surely there must be other methods of ‘pest control’.  Something more humane.”

The MP shook his head.  “You have never seen one of these young animals caught in a snare or shot in the belly, crawling away, slowly bleeding out.  Or coughing its guts out from poisoned bait.  No, the hunt is the only way.”

“Critics say that these young are bred specifically to satisfy the bloodlust of the ruling class.”

“Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of sport at the weekend?”

“Sport!  That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?  A bunch of over-privileged psychopaths getting their jollies by causing the grisly death of a defenceless creature.”

The MP smiled in a patronising manner.  “Look,” he said with a kind of forced patience.  “Something has to be done to control these vermin.  Without the hunt, the population grows unhindered.  Is it my fault the poor keep breeding?  Is it Her Majesty’s fault her subjects lack responsibility?  No.  I say it again, hunting with foxes is the only way these people can be curbed.  Listen, we are not monsters.  The parents are allowed to keep their spawn for seven years, then when the child is able to run at a decent lick, they are released, free to take their chances and, frankly, if they are unable to outwit a team of ravenous foxes, society is better off without them, what!”

“Thank you, Minister.”  The presenter looked directly into camera two.  “That’s all the time we have for this week.  Join me next time when I’ll be asking the Archbishop of Canterbury why straight men are barred from joining the clergy.”

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Thunder Hits the Road

Thunder McPiston was nervous before his first big race.  His engine rumbled and he felt sick.  Not that he could actually be sick; he didn’t eat.  His fuel was administered through the cap on his flank.  How did I come to this, he wondered?

Well, came a still, small voice inside him, what else would you do?

It was a car’s greatest dream to be a racer.  Other vehicles could only watch from the stands: the pick-up trucks, the minibuses, the tractors.  You’re a lucky young motor, McPiston, he had been told countless times, with your sleek red paint job and your go-faster stripes.  You should be all revved up and raring to go.

A buggy like a golf cart, trundled up and asked if he needed one last buff before the chequered flag.  Thunder shooed him away.

Something was wrong.  Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

I shouldn’t be here – he was convinced of it.  Things shouldn’t be like this.

Feelings of alienation crowded his mind.  Panic rose beneath his bonnet.  Everything felt wrong.  The whole world felt wrong.

His headlamps flashed as he looked from side to side.  If he reversed out quietly, he could back out and hit the open road.  And go where?  Anywhere!  Nowhere!  It didn’t matter.  All he knew was he had to get away.

He couldn’t relax until he had put several miles between himself and the stadium.  He tore along the deserted highway – all the other cars were watching the race – and didn’t dare turn his lights on full beam until he hit open country.

Perhaps somewhere, the other side of the desert maybe, he would find answers.  Where did I come from?  Where did any of us come from?  Who made us?  What happened to our makers?

The answers would come in time.  But for the moment, Thunder McPiston was content to keep accelerating, pushing himself to the limits of his machinery.  He whooped and hollered with the joy of being alive, his existential crisis for the moment forgotten.

Grit and gravel were churned up by his tyres as he streaked across the landscape.  He whooshed by so fast he didn’t see a faded billboard, bleached by the Nevada sun.  Figures were vaguely discernible, to those who stopped to look, strange, wheelless figures, with stalks like trees, and branches, waving and smiling.

Above their happy heads, lettering announced the advent of the world’s first driverless car.  Let the auto-automobile take the strain from your world, it said.  Sit back and let the engines takeover.

 

car

Image from Disneyclips.com

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Meanwhile, at the Bus-Stop

“Oh, Barry, why have you chucked the lid on the floor?”  The old woman sighed.  Barry, ten years old if he was a day, shrugged.

“Dropped it,” his nose wrinkled, making his spectacles wiggle.

“I bet you did.”

He held out the plastic cup from which he had been spooning chocolate sundae.  “I don’t want no more.”

“Oh, Barry.  You’ve ate less than half – you’ve ate a quarter of it.”

“I’ve ate half!” Barry asserted.  “I need a drink now.”

He began to root through their shopping bags, almost causing them to drop from the bus stop seats.

“Wait until we’re on the bus,” the old woman suggested.

“Ugh!” said the boy.  “That’s ages.  Have this.  It’s sickly.”

The old woman accepted the sundae and began to spoon dollops of it into her mouth.

“Is it nice?”

“Hmm,” said the woman.  “Bit sickly.”

“That bus is taking his time,” Barry observed, squinting along the road.

“You mind I don’t push you in front of it,” the old woman muttered.

Barry rounded on her.  “I heard that, you septic old trout.  You know you can’t lay a finger on me.  It’s against the rules.”

“Blow the rules,” the woman spat, her spittle mixed with flecks of cream.  “This ain’t working out for me, Barry.  I didn’t realise you’d be such a – such a little imp.”

“Should have read the small print than, shouldn’t you?  Are you going to find me that drink or what?”

The old woman pulled a bottle from a carrier bag.  Barry snatched it from her and twisted off the cap.  While he guzzled, the old woman smirked.

You hear about kids drinking weed killer all the time.  Tragic accident.  She couldn’t be blamed.  And he’d done it to himself.  There was no breach of contract.

Barry clutched at his throat and rolled around on the ground, holding his stomach in agony.  The old woman took the contract from her handbag and tore it in two.

When she’d paid for her late husband to come back, she hadn’t realised he’d be reincarnated as a baby.  A decade of running around after him, attending to his every need, his every whim, had reminded her how awful married life with him had been.  Better off alone, she reckoned.  Get some peace at last.

Gasping and gurgling, his eyes bulging even larger behind his glasses, Barry coughed up blood and bile and expired.  The tarmac beneath him cracked open and swallowed him with a belch of brimstone and a flash of flame.

The old woman gathered the shopping bags and got her pass ready.  Bus’ll be here soon, she supposed.

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Meanwhile, in the trendy restaurant…

The waiter, dressed in cycling shorts, helmet and a bright yellow jersey as if he had just won the Tour de France, approached the table with a wary smile.  The couple looked apprehensive and were glancing around with increasing uncertainty at their surroundings.  The restaurant was festooned with bicycle parts: wheels on every wall, oily chains spanning the ceiling.  Handlebars adorned the backs of chairs, the seats of which were uncomfortably shaped like bicycle saddles.

“Do you need a few more minutes?”

The man cleared his throat; the woman looked askance.  The man jabbed his finger at the menu, which was shaped like a bicycle wheel.

“Soup of the day.  What is it?”

“It’s Tuesday.”

“Not the day, the soup.”

“Heh.  Just my little joke.  It’s spicy parsnip.”

The woman nodded enthusiastically.  “Sounds lovely, David.”

“She’ll have the soup.  I’ll have the uh…” the man’s eyes flicked up and down the list.  “The spring rolls.”

“Very good, sir, madam.  And for second gear?”

“What do you mean, ‘gear’?”

“It’s a gimmick, sir.  Here at Spokes, we have something of a bicycle theme going on; it may have escaped your notice.”

“For mains,” the man said emphatically, “I’ll have fish and chips and Sarah will have the moules mariniere.”

The woman nodded rapidly.

“Right you are,” the waiter jotted a note.  “I’ll just fetch you your drinks.”

He flitted to the bar and came back with a tray.  The man scowled.

“What’s this?”

“Your pint of lager and the lady’s sauvignon blanc.  Is that not right, sir?”

“No, that’s right, but –”

“David!” the woman snapped.  “Don’t make a scene.”

“But look at them!  I can’t – we can’t be expected to drink out of oil cans.  It’s not sanitary.”

The waiter pursed his lips.  “I can give sir every reassurance these cans have been thoroughly, not to mention industrially, cleaned.”

“It’s fine,” the woman smiled thinly.

“Like hell it is,” the man slapped the table.  “What’s wrong with proper glasses?”

“Like I said, here at Spokes we have a theme.”

“I don’t give a monkey’s fart about your bloody theme.  Fetch me a proper glass or you’ll find yourself in need of a puncture repair kit.”

The man grinned as the waiter scurried away.

“There was no need for that,” the woman wailed.  She tried to sip wine from the nozzle of her oil can.

The waiter returned.  “I can offer sir a trophy.  First place, no less.  I can decant sir’s beer into it in two shakes.”

“Fuckinell,” said the man.  “Oh, go on then.”

While the waiter tipped the lager into a gilded trophy with ornate handles, the woman paled.

“Excuse me.  Do all the meals come like that?”

“Like what, madam?”

“On wheels!”

The couple watched in horror as a second waiter carried bicycle wheels flat like platters, dripping sauce from one and gravy from another as he passed.

“Here at Sp -” the waiter tried to recite.

“You have a fucking gimmick!” the man roared.

“But – I ordered the soup!” the woman gasped.  “How will that work?”

“It’ll be fine!” said the waiter.  “Keep the wheel spinning fast enough and the wossname – the centrifugal force – will keep the soup in place.”

The woman whimpered.

“This is ridiculous,” the man got to his feet.  “Come on, love; we’re going.”

The woman winced apologetically and stood.

“We’ll try that new place over the road,” the man said loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear.  “What’s it called, love?”

Snake-in-a-Basket,” said the waiter, holding the door open.  “Good luck to you.”

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Little Black Book

Jason got carefully out of bed, wincing at the creak of the mattress.  He grabbed his trousers from the floor and tiptoed to the bathroom.  Why am I being so quiet, he asked himself, feeling foolish?  It’s my house!

He went downstairs to put the kettle on.  No point making his guest a cup – he was dead to the world.  Jason waited for the water to boil, reliving moments from the night before.

Danny had shown up out of the blue.  Jason had already gone to bed.  “Cold out. Can I stay here?” was Danny’s greeting as he took off his coat.  Jason was more than a little stunned.

“How long has it been?” Danny flopped on the sofa.

“If you mean since we saw each other – too long.  Not since – you know – the accident.”

Danny shrugged.  “Got any beer?”

“I can do wine,” Jason offered.  “If I’d known you were coming…”

“Wine is fine,” Danny decided.  Jason went to the kitchen.

When he came back with a nice pinot noir and a couple of glasses, Danny wasn’t there.  His shoes were on the floor.  And so were his jeans.

Jason smirked.  He took the bottle and the glasses up to the bedroom.

“Remember this?” Danny lifted the duvet.

“How could I forget?” laughed Jason.

Afterwards, there had been sleep – but not much.

The kettle boiled.  Jason made instant coffee for one.  He had so much to do that morning; he hadn’t planned on an overnight visitor.

He filled the washing machine and washed plates from the day before, mindful not to make too much noise.

Upstairs: silence.  Jason crept up to the landing and peered around the bedroom door.  There was the man-sized lump under the duvet.  Jason snuck toward it.

Perhaps I should get back in… perhaps we could have a rematch…

Gingerly, he peeled back the duvet.  It collapsed.  Jason pulled it away completely – the bed was empty.

Damn!  Damn, damn, damn!

He reached for the little black book on his bedside table.  He would need a stronger incantation if his boyfriend was to come back for good.  After all, Jason wasn’t going to let a silly thing like a fatal car crash come between him and the love of his life.

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Blocked

Freddie waited anxiously for the post.  He’d taken the day off work, called in sick, because he didn’t want to miss the delivery.  He sat by the front door, afraid to go to the bathroom in case he missed it.  Twice he opened the front door and checked the doorbell was working.  Was it loud enough?  Would he hear it if he went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea?

The phone rang startling him.  It was his mate Robert, calling from work.

“Sup, dawg?” Robert drawled.  Freddie laughed.  Robert was the most strait-laced person he knew, always wore a tie no matter the context.  To hear him appropriating American slang was never less than hilarious.  “You sick, mate?”

Freddie essayed a cough.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” said Robert.  “Honestly, what are you thinking?  HR will be onto you, you know.”

“It’s important.  Look, I’ll see you tomorrow, OK?”

“OK.  You ‘feel better’, OK?”

“Cheers.”

But Robert had already disconnected.  Freddie could picture him at his desk, fretting over being complicit in the lie.  Well, I didn’t ask him to call me, did I?

Freddie was so lost in thought he almost missed the doorbell and the subsequent knocking at the door.

“Parcel for you,” said the postman.  “Sign here.”

Freddie wiggled his finger over the touchpad.  The resulting scrawl looked nothing like his signature but the postman went away happy.  Freddie shut the door and even locked it.  Stupid, he scolded himself.  There’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed of.

He tore open the box and delved his hand into the polystyrene packaging chips.  He pulled out a padded envelope.  He tore that open.  Inside was a small packet, like a sachet of seeds.

“X-B-Gone” it said.  Freddie frowned, disappointed.  Somehow, he had expected more.

He opened the packet and poured a small tablet onto his palm.  “Take one a day” said the instructions, “or whenever you feel the situation requires.”

He swallowed the pill dry.  Nothing happened.  Perhaps it takes a while to kick in…

An hour later, he was outside Debbie’s house.  He hadn’t been there for years.  Not since the break-up.  He’d finished it.  Debbie was a lovely girl, but she was too needy, too over-bearing.  It had taken months for her to let him go.  It had bordered on stalking.

Steeling himself, he rang the bell.

“Freddie?” gasped the woman who answered.

“Hello, Mrs Grant.  Is Debbie in?”

Mrs Grant looked concerned.  “I suppose…”  She backed away.  Freddie shifted his weight from foot to foot.  He heard Mrs Grant call, “Debbie!  There’s – someone – to see you.”

And there she was, still looking great.  She stood on the doorstep, frowning and looking in all directions.  “Hello?” she called out, glancing up and down the street.  Then she shrugged and closed the door.  Freddie heard her say, “You’re losing it, Mum.  There’s no one there.”

Freddie laughed.  It worked!  He was now invisible to his ex!

The next day, he went for after-work drinks with Robert.

“Glad to see you’re feeling better,” Robert said stiffly, “Listen, mate.  I’ve got something to tell you.  I’ve invited someone along, I hope you don’t mind.”

Freddie shrugged.  He didn’t mind.  He was finally free of Debbie and her weird behaviour and that was all that mattered.

“Here she is now,” Robert got to his feet and waved across the bar.  “This is Shelley.  I think you may have already met.”

Freddie gasped.  Shelley!  Of all the girls he’d known, she had been closest to being The One.  Shelley was perfection on legs.  Everything had been great between them.  Beautiful, intelligent Shelley.  How lovely to see her again!  Perhaps she’ll see she’s wasting her time with Robert and will give me another chance…

A chair pulled itself away from the table.  Robert rubbed his eyes.

There was nobody there.

pills

 

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