Category Archives: Short story

Accept or Decline?

Alistair’s phone pinged on the bedside table.  His sleepy arm groped for the device and Alistair squinted, trying to focus on the message.

You have a friend request

He had to read it three times.  A friend request!  He hadn’t received one of those in a long time.  It was part of the problem.

He lay back and rubbed crusty sleep from his eyes.  Light washed over his face as he held his phone aloft like the lamp on a dentist’s chair.

Who on Earth would be sending me a friend request?

There was, he knew, only one way to find out.

He swiped the notification aside, thereby opening his email app.

To respond to your friend requests, please log into your MyLife account.

Alistair pressed the link.

MyLife… He thought he’d deactivated that account years ago.  Oh, well…

The MyLife log-in page filled the screen.  Alistair typed his email address into the username box, having to redo it three times until his fingers work up and gave their full cooperation.

Please enter your password

Oh.

Damn it.

What the hell could that be?  How was he supposed to remember every goddamn password?

He tried the usual.  He tried variations of it.

A warning flashed red:  You have one more log-in attempt before your account is locked

Shit.

Alistair admitted defeat and pressed the ‘Forgot password?’ option.  He had to re-enter his email address and wait for a reset link to come through to his inbox.

Two minutes later, it did.

Now, what to choose for the new password?  Did it matter, he reflected?  It’s not like I’m going to need it again.

He typed.

Goodbyecruelworld

It was rejected.

Passwords must contain at least one numerical character

OK.

Goodbyecruelworld69

Please confirm your password

Alistair obliged.  The box disappeared and his MyLife homepage swelled to fill the screen.  Alistair felt a surge of recognition as he scrolled through names and faces, pictures of people he used to know.  So-and-so’s eldest had just graduated.  Such-and-such was getting pissed in a Majorcan nightspot.  Whojimmyflop was ‘feeling annoyed’ and, evidently, craving attention.

Ha ha!  They were all there, still living their lives, still chronicling every event, every mood swing, every cup of coffee.

Alistair was tempted to give the odd post his approval.  Would anyone remember him?  Would he be able to forge anew links with old school chums, distant relatives and his erstwhile friends?

His thumb hovered over the update button.

How’s YourLife? the screen prompted him.

Alistair shook his head.  It all came flooding back, the reason why he’d sought to distance himself from social media in the first place.

None of it was real.  Nobody really gave a shit.  People just keep posting edited versions of themselves, photos filtered, to show how great a time they were having, to show that they were still living.

Oh, So-and-so has checked into a fancy restaurant.  Such-and-such is at his kid’s football match.  Whojimmyflop is debating getting a haircut and is canvassing opinions.

Big deal!

Who are all these people?

Alistair would bet they weren’t all as happy as they pretended.  He’d bet So-and-so was overweight and that’s why all his selfies are taken from a high angle to hide the chins.  He’d bet Such-and-such only got to see the kids every other weekend and only then with supervision.  He’d stake his house that Whojimmyflop was a shut-in who spent all day in his pants, pounding at the keyboard, posting gifs of kittens and trolling celebrities.

No, I’m better off out of it, he decided.  Better off out of everything.  He had come to that decision long ago when pulling the plug on social media had resulted in his total isolation and crippling agoraphobia.

He reached for the bottle of pills.  Time for some real deactivation, he thought grimly.

But the bottle was empty.  Puzzled, Alistair sat up and leaned over – perhaps he’d knocked it over and all the pills were on the floor… He couldn’t remember taking them.

In his hand, the phone buzzed insistently.

You have a friend request

“All right!  All right!”  Alistair tapped the glowing icon of a little person waving hello.

You have one friend request from Saint Peter. 

ACCEPT or DECLINE?

hand

 

 

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Father’s Day

“It is Father’s Day, Taryn, the twenty-first you have seen.  Therefore, you must come forth and take your place in the chamber.  This is an honour bestowed on only the very few.  It is the moment for which you have been prepared your entire life –”

Taryn crumpled the letter and tossed it into the hearth.  The flames seized it hungrily, turning the parchment bright orange and then black as it was devoured.  If only that were an end to it, thought Taryn.  If only things were that simple.

A knock at the door startled him.  It was Vestus, the priest.  “Are you decent, boy?” the old man cooed from outside.

Fuck off, Taryn cursed under his breath, along with several other indecent thoughts.

“The hour is upon us.”  Vestus pushed the door open.

“Hoi!” Taryn protested.  “I’m getting dressed!”

Vestus kept his milky eyes averted, a smile bending the wrinkles of his cheeks.

“To think that one of mine, one of my own, should be chosen!  It is a miraculous thing!”

Huh, thought Taryn, pulling the white robe over his head.  This is what being a good student gets you.  This is what knuckling down brings.  This is where bettering yourself gets you.  Bloody ‘chosen’.

Vestus risked a glance.  “You look – radiant, my boy!”  The eyes began to water.  “People are going to remember you for all time.  The radiant one, they will call you.  The golden boy.”

“Father Vestus…” Taryn sat on the bed.  “What if – what if I don’t feel like it?  What if I don’t want to go?  What if –”

The old priest’s knotted claw seized Taryn’s hand.  “You are bound to be nervous, my boy.  It’s perfectly natural.  But once you have drunk of the sacred elixir, all that will vanish.  All doubt will evaporate like the morning dew – which reminds me: we have to get a move on.  We cannot keep the elders waiting.”

He shuffled to the door but before he could reach it, Taryn flung himself at the hunched back and brought the priest to the floor.  Taryn clasped his hands around the old man’s bony neck and squeezed the life from him.

Minutes later, in Vestus’s hooded garb, Taryn shuffled out of the hut and through the streets.  The crowds were gathering for the annual sacrifice to the Father.  It was all Taryn could do not to run.  He kept his head down and his pace slow and made his way to the city gates.  They were unguarded – everyone and his dog was heading for the temple.

Taryn slipped out and took his first breath of freedom.  It would not be long before the alarum was raised.  Someone would find the old man’s body when they came to investigate the delay.

Taryn quickened his step.  Over the mountains lay another city, another life.

And the first thing he would do upon arrival would be to inquire what were the local customs when it came to Father’s Day.

temple

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The Mantle of the Bat

I approach the boy with caution.  I say ‘boy’ – recent tragic events have shown him to be more of a young man.  Emphasis on the ‘young’. I have to say.  He is not ready for this.  No one is ready for this.

He is sitting at the desk, slumped over the blotter.  He has tilted back the head of the bust of Shakespeare and his finger toys with the red button exposed by the Bard’s decapitation.  He presses it again and again.  Behind him, a door disguised as bookshelves slides open and closed, open and closed.

I clear my throat and make a suggestion of soup to keep his strength up or perhaps a cup of tea.  He barely registers my presence.  Beneath his mask, his eyes flicker.  I wait.  Eventually, he straightens and looks at me.

“People will know,” he says.  “After all this time, how careful we were – Everyone will know.”

I know at once what he is talking about but I act as if I do not, just to keep him talking.   Saying anything is preferable to the quasi-catatonic state he has been in since it happened.

“With him – and Bruce – disappearing at the same time, never to be seen again – People have come close before.  They’re bound to put two and two together.”

I want to say I can’t see how that matters and perhaps it is time his guardian’s efforts to keep the city safe are recognised.  But I hold my peace.

The boy – he is the young master now, I suppose – pushes away from the desk as though repulsed.  He strides around the study, yellow cape swirling behind him.

“They’ll come for me!” he stops in his tracks.  “They will know who I am and they will come for me.”

He launches himself at me and seizes the lapels of my tailcoat.

“Alfred!” he urges, spittle spraying onto my pencil moustache.  “You’ve got to get me away from here.  I can’t stay here – like – like a – like a – sitting robin!”

A bell chimes.  The front door.  I glance at the grandfather clock.  The mail!

I leave Master Dick and cross the hall to receive the delivery.  There is no mailman on the doorstep, just a package, a box wrapped in red ribbon.  There is no label but two slashes of red, curved to make a broad and grotesque grin identify the sender.

That diseased maniac…

Gingerly, I pick up the parcel and remove it to an outhouse at the far end of the grounds, wary that it might explode in my face at any second.  So, he has worked it out already.  Others would not be far behind.

I hurry back to the study.  Master Dick has changed into sweater and slacks, looking all the younger because of it.

“You have to help me pack, Alfred,” he paces the rug in front of the fireplace.  “I must leave the country and live the life of a fugitive.”

Ka-BLAM!

The sound of the shed blowing up rattles the windows and sets the chandelier aquiver.

“Already?” Master Dick pales.  “I must leave!  Now!  You can send my things after me.  I’ll send you a code – my coordinates.”

“Master Dick!” I snap, getting his attention as surely as if I had slapped his face.  I move to the Shakespeare bust and press the button.  “Just one more sighting of the caped crusader will put everyone off your scent and then you may remain here at Wayne Manor in peace and unmolested.”

He frowns.  He’s not getting it, but I am already embracing the fireman’s pole like a koala in a eucalyptus, ready to descend to the subterranean cavern, the hub of the late master’s endeavours.

Master Dick’s eyebrows lift.  “Holy sacrifice!  You would do this, Alfred?  For me?”

“Why, yes!  And for Master Bruce and for everything he stood for.  I shall put myself about a bit, rough up a couple of ne’er-do-wells, that sort of thing.  The time has come,” I announce dramatically, “for me to assume the mantle of the Bat!”

And do you know what?  I’m rather looking forward to it.

bust1

In memory of Adam West 1928 – 2017

 

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Quilp’s Quest

“Are you sure you were not followed?”  Professor Quilp’s eyes darted up and down the narrow street before he closed the door, bolting it and turning the hefty key in the lock.

I gave him every assurance that I had stuck to his instructions to the letter, doubling-back, zigzagging my way through the bustling souk, even turning my coat inside out at one point.

He nodded but I could tell he was too agitated, too worked up to be satisfied.

He ushered me into a darkened study; the only illumination came from a green-shaded desk lamp.

“Did you bring it?”  The prof was practically salivating.

“Of course!” I felt in my pockets.  Panic struck me.  I patted myself down while the professor trembled with anticipation.  Then I remembered my coat was inside out!  Seconds later, the item was produced.  Quilp snatched it from me and held it under the lamp.

“What is it?” I had to ask.  To me it looked like a worthless washer of the kind you can buy for a dime a dozen at any hardware store, but the professor was smacking his lips with delight.

“This, my boy, is the next part of the puzzle.  This is the ring from the staff of Amon-Ra.  This ring enables the staff-bearer to direct unfathomable power!”

“Oh.  Cool, I guess.  And where is this staff or Eamon Holmes, or whoever?”

“Amon-Ra,” the professor gave me a sour look.  “The staff is the ultimate prize of our quest.  First, we must translate the markings on this ring.  There’s a man at the British Museum who is mustard at that sort of thing – but he has, alas, been kidnapped and it falls to us to release him from his captors; we are not the only ones interested in acquiring the staff.  Then we must secure transport to Cairo, where a contact awaits with the other half of the map that reveals the location of the sacred daggers we shall need to fight off the demonic, hound-headed sentinels who guard the submerged temple of Bastet, which contains the scroll with the incantations to summon an army of scarab beetles that will devour our rivals and lead us to the Valley of Peril where we must solve the riddles of the Sphinx in order to pass through to the Forbidden Realm.”

He paused for breath.

“Gee, I don’t know, Professor,” I rubbed the back of my neck.  “It sounds like an awful lot of work to me.”

Our eyes met for a moment.  I thought Professor Quilp was going to yell at me or at least tell me how disappointed he was in my attitude.

Instead, he gave me a sad little smile.  He tossed me the flat little hoop.

“You’re right.  I’m far too old for this kind of thing.  Go, boy, into the kitchen.  I think you’ll find that doodad is just the thing for fixing the dripping tap.”

egypt-clipart-clipart-best-egyptian-clip-art-1229_2388

 

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Fuggoff

Dwight exited the landing craft with caution.  He waved to Delilah to stay back.  “No signs of life,” he scanned the shoreline.  “And under no circumstances lift your visor.  The air…” he paused to check, “…is toxic.”

Delilah didn’t care to be left behind.  She defied the orders of her commanding officer and stayed close behind him as Dwight picked his way across a grey and ashy beach.

“There’s no birds,” she whispered.  “I can’t hear any birds.”

Something skittered in the undergrowth.  Delilah yipped out a little scream.  Dwight shook his head.  “Keep your stun-stick primed,” he advised.  “No one has heard a peep from them in years but you never know.”

The foliage was sparse, as if it couldn’t be bothered.  Chunks of stone slabs showed greasy between the tufts of green and brown.  The explorers followed the slabs, like stepping stones across a bog, towards the tumbled wrecks of broken buildings, slumped sullenly beneath a lowering grey sky.

“What happened here?” Delilah wondered out loud.

Dwight shook his head again.  “Neglect,” it looks like.  “Just left to rot.”

They ventured further; the broken slabs became the ghost of a path, a square, a highway.

“Do you think they were happy?” Delilah craned her neck to look at the upper storeys.

“Who?” frowned Dwight.

“The – people.  Who lived here.  So far out.  All alone.”

Dwight shrugged and shouldered his stun-stick.  “I don’t give a shit.  Just keep your eyes open.”

“Um – might be a bit late for that, Dwight.”

He spun around to find Delilah with her arms raised.  A ragtag creature with a sharp stick and a wild look in its eyes was holding her prisoner.  Dwight tensed, his stun-stick at the ready.

“Fuggoff,” barked the creature.  “Gerrout oveer.  We doan wancha.  Fuggoff.”

He was joined by others, similar in stature and ragged state.  They were emaciated and filthy, their eyes dull and their expressions vacant.

“Fuggoff,” they repeated, building to a feeble crescendo.  Delilah squeaked with fear and disgust.

“We’re going,” said Dwight.  He reached for Delilah’s hand.  The chanting mob fell silent.  The first one grunted and shoved Delilah from him.

“Fuggoff,” he added.  “Bladdy forrinners.”

“All right!” Delilah hooked her arm through Dwight’s.   “Jesus.”

“I’ll just leave this here,” Dwight said calmly.  He reached into his suit.  The natives tensed.  Dwight withdrew a golden envelope made of plasti-metal and placed it on the ground.

The natives sniffed and grunted suspiciously.

“Come on,” Dwight urged.  He led Delilah back the way they had come, their pace increasing as they drew near to the craft.  Delilah looked over her shoulder while Dwight summoned the boarding ladder.

“Do you think they’ll read it?” she chewed her lower lip.  “Can they still read, do you think?”

“Who knows?” said Dwight, ushering her inside.  “We’ve achieved our mission.  It’s up to them now.   They tried to go it alone, outside of the Federation but, well, just look at it.  What a shit-hole.”

He pulled the door shut behind him and began the take-off procedure.  Delilah, helmet off, shook out her long, pink hair.  She put her arms around him and placed her chin on his shoulder.

“We’ve done our bit.  We’ve invited them back.  They can be prosperous again, if they want it.  It’s their choice.”

“It was back then,” said Dwight with a sigh.

The craft barely hummed as it rose through the atmosphere, away from the derelict world, to reunite with the mother-ship.

blast off

 

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Meanwhile, on the pirate ship…

Doll heard Bart’s familiar footstep tap-tapping across the gangplank.  She wiped her hands on a towel and went up top to greet him, leaving the galley in the capable hands of Reginald the cabin boy.

Her husband was leaning on the gunwale, staring out to sea, his back to the harbour.

“Hello, love,” Doll took a step closer.  Bart did not turn around.  “Love?”

His shoulders slumped.  Flintlock the parrot flew from him with a squawk and flapped his way to the crow’s nest, screeching in protest.

“I tried, m’dear,” Bart seemed to deflate like a punctured bladder.  “But those scurvy dogs won’t give an inch.”

“But – but – what are we supposed to do?  How are we supposed to live?”  Tears sprang to Doll’s eyes.  It was Reginald she felt sorry for.  The lad knew no other way of life.  “You showed them your leg?”

“Aye, that I did, Doll.”

“And?”

“They peered at it, asked how I’d got it, so I told them about that altercation with that shark.”

“And did they say you could claim compensation?”

“They said it wasn’t a work-related injury, what with us being on holiday in the Bahamas at the time, and because we had no travel insurance – well.  They did day I could sell it to an antique collector or some such.  Lovely bit of carving – they did say that, at least.”

“But – if you sell it, you won’t have a leg to stand on!”

“Told them that an’ all.”

“Your hook!  Did you show them your hook?”

“O’ course I showed them my damned hook, woman!  But when they heard how I lost my hand in a duel with French Peter, they said I should take the blackguard to court. Only I can’t, can I, seeing as how I sent French Peter to Davey Jones’s locker.”

“Your eye, then!  What did they say when you lifted your eye patch?”

“They – they laughed at me.”

“They what?”

“When I told them I how I come to lose my eye.”

“Scurvy landlubbers!” Doll seethed.

“Oh, come on, love.  It is pretty funny when you think of it.  Me only just having the hook fitted, then ol’ Flintlock shitting in my eye and without thinking I reach up to wipe it off and – well, you know the rest.”

He put his good arm around her and pulled her close, planting a kiss on her brow.

“We’ll get by, love.  We always do.  I’ll just have to do a few more raids, that’s all.”

“But how?  There’s no crew because there’s no booty to pay them with.  You’re only half the man you used to be.  You’re old – I’m old.  Why can’t we retire?”

“Because, my dear, as you well know, when he sank to the bottom of the ocean, French Peter took our treasure map with him.  That was our nest egg, our security.  I never thought of taking out a blasted pension.”

Doll gave up fighting back her tears.  “So, we have to go on working, do we?  Pirates until we drop.”

“Arr,” said Bart sadly.  “It ain’t such a bad life, me hearty.”

But even he did not sound convinced.

“Avast!” roared young Reginald, joining them on deck.  “Don’t cry, Doll.”  He patted the arm of the woman he had come to regard as his mother.  “I say we aim our guns at yon DWP office and blast it off the map.”

Bart tousled the boy’s hair.  “Belay that.  The Department of Work and Pensions has got offices everywhere.  We can’t attack them all.”

Reginald sniffed.  He put his arms around the pirate captain’s great belly.

“Look at us, lily-livered, yellow-bellied landlubbers,” Bart smiled.  “We’ll do fine.  I heard tell while I was in the harbour of the shiny new Royal yacht heading this way.  Plenty of plunder on that particular waste of public money.  We shall be set for life!  Now, up anchor, splice the main brace and set a course to intercept.  There’s life in this old sea dog yet!”

With that, Black-Eyed Bartholomew straightened his tricorn and took hold of the wheel.  The Saucy Susan set out to sea.

pirate ship

 

 

 

 

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Morte d’Arthur 2017

Wounded by Mordred, Arthur lay in the blood-drenched mud of his final battlefield.  He had dispatched the loyal Sir Bedivere to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.  The knight had demurred twice before finally carrying out the King’s orders.  Loth to leave me, Arthur mused.  Afraid he will miss my final breath.

A patch of air shimmered and shone and a silvery apparition stood over the ailing king.

“Sire,” a voice came from nowhere.  The gleaming figure bowed its head.

“Merlin!” Arthur gasped.  “Old friend!”

The shape took on the form of the wizard, beard and hat and staff and all, its edges smoky tendrils like a will-o’-the-wisp.

“It looks like I rocked up just in time!” Merlin chuckled.  “Let’s have look at you.  Tell me, where does it hurt?”

“Where doesn’t it?” Arthur grunted.  “There is nothing to be done for me.  It is finished.”

“Tush!” Merlin scolded.  He stooped over the king’s pronate form and inspected his armour.  “Someone’s opened you up like a can of beans!”

“A what?”

“Never mind.  Listen, Wart lad: I can take you far from here – far from now, to be more precise.  The miracles they can work!  They have no need of wizards and magic.  They’ll get you back on your feet in no time at all.  Then you can return and live out the rest of your reign in peace.”

Arthur frowned.  “Where is this place of miracles?  Or are you spinning me a yarn to distract me from the grim reaper’s call?”

“I’m not blagging you, bro,” said Merlin.  “In Albion, a thousand years hence, there is a place, a host of places, where lives are saved, where bodies are healed, and minds are soothed.  But we must go quickly, for even they cannot bring souls back from the dead.”

Sir Bedivere returned to find an eerie light bathing the king.

“My liege!” he cried, drawing his sword and running forward.  But the light shrank to a pinprick and winked out, taking the body of King Arthur with it.  Brave Sir Bedivere dropped to his knees and wept.

“Shit!” said Merlin, dropping to his knees in the car-park, but not from the weight of the dying king in his arms.  “They’ve done it!  Those damnable fools!”

“What?” Arthur grimaced in pain.  “Who?  What has happened?”

Merlin shook his head sadly and lay Arthur on the tarmac.  “I am sorry, my King.  These fools – so capable of wonders and compassion – have done the unthinkable.  They have chosen as their leader an unspeakable hag and she has closed these temples of miracles, these A and E departments.”

The question why formed on Arthur’s lips but he was dead before he could give breath to the word.

Merlin wept.  He turned to light and vanished, taking his friend to the mystic isle of Avalon for burial.

What a waste, he mourned.  What a terrible waste.

Merlin

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Meanwhile at the campsite…

Robert couldn’t sleep.  Beside him, Tony snored like a warthog trying to start a motorboat.  Robert pulled his sleeping bag up over his chin, eyes wide in the darkness.  Outside the tent, something rustled.  Robert held his breath.  What was it?  A plastic bag scurrying in the wind?  A badger snuffling for worms?  Or a psychopathic killer whose shoes didn’t fit?

Robert gasped.  It was a killer, had to be!  The campsite was spotless, there was no litter at all.  And there were probably no badgers for miles – they’d all been culled, hadn’t they?  So, it could only be a psycho on the prowl.  It stood to reason.

Holding his breath was proving impossible.  Robert was certain he could be heard right across the field at the toilet block.  Tony had insisted they pitch the tent in the farthest corner so that ‘we won’t be troubled by drunks stumbling back and forth all night’.  Cheers for that, Tone.  Now Robert’s bladder was brimming and he would have to unzip, crawl out, slip his boots on and traipse across to the breezeblock hovel.  Putting my life at risk.  Bound to get caught by the killer as soon as I open the flaps.  And I’ll piss myself into the bargain.  I’ll be found with my head off and my pants full of piss.  How mortifying!

Or perhaps he’ll catch me while I’m standing at the bucket that passes for a urinal.  Attack me from behind like they do in the films.  And then I’ll spray everywhere, blood from one end, piss from the other.  Robert was amused by the thought.  But there was nothing else for it: when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.

Gingerly, Robert unzipped the bag.  He tipped his boots upside down and shook them.  In case of spiders or scorpions or whatever else might be lurking inside.  He slipped them on, not bothering to lace them up, unzipped the flaps and crawled out.  He stood but remained hunched in order to present a smaller target and protect his vulnerable areas.  He hurried toward the sodium glow of the solitary light outside the toilet block, bootlaces swishing around his ankles.

Come on, come on, come on… With every step away from the tent, attack seemed more likely.  Robert whimpered with terror.  And then the rough walls of the block were in front of him, solid and real, and rasping beneath his fingertips.  Robert breathed out.

Bladder empty, his return to the tent was more confident, as though a corresponding weight had been lifted from his mind.  He walked tall, striding across the grass, past the tents of others, shadowy forms of all shapes and sizes.  It was quiet.  Too quiet?  Robert’s imagination set to work again.  They could all be dead!  Lying on their inflatable mattresses with their throats cut.  The killer could be working his way across the site and our tent is the last in line!

Tony!

Robert froze.  To run toward or away from the tent that contained his best friend?

A man was looming over the tent, standing straight, a silhouette, silver-edged in the moonlight.  Blood dripped darkly from the blade of his axe.

“Oh, you’re back are you?” the man grinned, eyes and teeth glinting.

“T-Tony?” Robert backed away.

“I thought you’d never go for a piss,” Tony approached, both hands on the axe handle.  “Here’s the plan.  I’m going to make it look like you did this, you went on a spree, killed all these people, and then I got you in self-defence.”  He shrugged.  “Sorry, mate, but it’s how I get away with it.”

Robert fled.  His bootlaces lashed out like snakes, coiling around his ankles and tripping him up.  He rolled onto his back as Tony raised the bloodied axe over his head, and the last thing Robert felt was the warm sensation of his underwear filling with piss as his bladder miraculously found one last load to let go.

orange-tent-md

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RIP Raffles

“Hello, Timmy,” David grinned on the doorstep.  “Thought you might need some company?”

Timmy looked puzzled.  “Why?”

“Because – you know – Raffles.”

Timmy nodded.  He beckoned David in.  “I’m all right,” he said.  “Raffles is in a better place, Mummy says.”

“Oh, what’s this?”  Timmy’s mother emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.  “Talking about me behind my back!  Hello, David.  Staying for dinner?”

“Um…”

“You’re very welcome.  There’s more than enough.  Now, you two go up to Timmy’s room and play quietly.  I’ll call you down when it’s ready.”

“Thanks, Mum!” Timmy pounded up the stairs.

David lingered in the hall.  “Is he all right, Mrs Farrell?  I thought he’d be sad.”

“You’re a good friend,” Mrs Farrell smiled.  “And losing a pet can be tough.  Did you know, Raffles was as old as Timmy?  That’s quite old for a dog.”

David did the mental arithmetic.  “Raffles was 70!”

“Yes.  But he’s not in pain any more.  Now, you run along.”

She went back to the kitchen.  David caught a whiff of the dinner to come.  It smelled delicious.

He joined Timmy in his room for a quick game of superheroes, bashing action figures into each other and doing all the sound effects with their mouths.

“Timmy…” said David, toying with a figure of Wonder Hound.  “It’s OK, you know.  If you want to talk about Raffles.”

Timmy scrunched his nose.  “What for?”

“Perhaps you could write it down.  Then you could bury it.  With him.  With Raffles.”

Timmy looked aghast.

“It could help you.  That’s what funerals do.  They help people.  When my gran –”

But Timmy wasn’t listening.  He bombarded Mr Terrific into Blast-o-path, making noises like explosions.  David sat back and watched his friend.  Bottling things up; that’s what Timmy is doing, David diagnosed.  And that’s never good – not according to David’s mother’s magazines, anyway.

Mrs Farrell called them from the foot of the stairs.  Dinner was ready.

“Looks delicious, Mrs Farrell,” David tucked a napkin under the collar of his Fabulous Five T-shirt.  “And it smells – like heaven!”

Mrs Farrell grinned.  “I’m glad you approve, David.  It’s nice to get a compliment.”  She sent a meaningful glare across the table to her husband, who was already tucking in.  “Roger,” she hissed.  “The prayer!”

David dropped his knife and fork.  He had forgotten that Timmy’s family were quite religious and did things David and his family did not do at home.  He decided the best thing would be to close his eyes and bow his head.

“We thank Raffles for the time he shared with us and the love he gave,” Timmy’s father intoned.  David thought he heard Timmy sniff back a tear.  “And we say our final farewell to him with this commemorative repast.  So be it.”

“So be it,” echoed Mrs Farrell.

“So be it!” said Timmy enthusiastically.  “Come on, David.  Don’t let your dinner go cold!”

David looked up.  The Farrells were all smiles.  They made enthusiastic noises as they devoured the meal Mrs Farrell had prepared.  David tried a forkful of the mashed potato.  It was the creamiest, smoothest he had tasted.  Even the peas – and he had never been a fan of peas – were sweet and – and – minty!  David’s mother would never put mint in the peas.  She would dismiss it as yet another of the Farrells’ odd ways.

“Something wrong, David?”  Mrs Farrell gave him a look of concern.  “You haven’t touched your meat.”

“It’s the best part,” said Mr Farrell.

“I always save it until last,” said David.

“Some people have funny ideas!” Mr Farrell rolled his eyes.  “Get it down you.”

Not wishing to appear rude, David sliced the end off his portion of meat.  It was thick and succulent.  It seemed to melt in his mouth.  But – but – there was something else.  David coughed and spluttered.  Mrs Farrell sprang to her feet and began to pat his back.  David pulled a clump of hair from his mouth.  Long, red hair that reminded him of Raffles.

“Perhaps we should let him choke, love,” chuckled Mr Farrell from the head of the table.  “Lad like him would keep us in dinners for a fortnight.”

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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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