Tag Archives: humour

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Good.”

“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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Superfinger

“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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Rat in the Kitchen

“I can’t BLEEP believe this!” Stewart Gibbons, celebrity chef, ran his hands down his craggy face.  “A BLEEP rat!  In the kitchen!”

The restaurateur squirmed.  “It is a little unconventional—”

“It’s BLEEP unhygienic!” Gibbons roared.  “I’m appalled.  Never in all my years have I come across something so BLEEP disgusting!”

“Actually,” the head waiter piped up.  “Rats are rather clean animals.”

The restaurateur nodded.  “Intelligent too.  They get a bad rap.”

“Because they live in the BLEEP sewers,” Gibbons shook his head.  “Get that rat the BLEEP out of here, give this place a deep clean, and then we’ll talk about what’s wrong with your BLEEP menu.”

“Er,” the restaurateur demurred.  “That’s not going to be possible, I’m afraid.”

Gibbons couldn’t believe it.  “Oh, this is the part of the show where you’re still a bit stubborn, a bit bold?  Trust me, as soon as I make a couple of changes, you’re going to change your tune.  Now, get that rat out of here or I’m calling the BLEEP exterminator my BLEEP self.”

“Mr Gibbons,” the restaurateur wrung his hands.  “There is something you don’t understand.”

“I don’t give a flying BLEEP.  I understand the restaurant business and that’s all I need to know.”

“The rat stays, Mr Gibbons.  That’s all there is to it.  Change the napkins, rearrange the tables, if you must.  But the rat stays.”

“Then we’re done here.  My show has a formula we stick to every episode.  I come along, get appalled, shout a bit, throw my weight around.  You stand up to me (or try to) but I eventually win you around, the customers are delighted, business is booming, fade to black.”

“I have seen your show, Mr Gibbons.  I applied to have my restaurant featured on it.”

“So, do what I BLEEP tell you and we’re good as gold.”

“No, Mr Gibbons, it is you who must do as he is told.”  The restaurateur nodded.  The head chef stole up behind the TV presenter and whacked him across the back of his head with a rolling pin.  Gibbons’s eyes rolled back and he crumpled in a heap.

The chef lifted off his toque, revealing a bright-eyed rat with an ironic expression twitching its whiskers.

“Oh, dear,” said the rat, surveying the scene.  “Well, at least with him out of the way, we can see about realising my dream of having a chain of rat-chef restaurants all over the world. Now,” he rubbed his little pink paws, “we can’t have bodies lying around in my kitchen.  It’s BLEEP unhygienic.”

Everyone laughed—or at least the rats under their hats and toupees did.

Fade to black.

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Coming soon, in time for Christmas

Coming soon (November 11th, 2021, to be precise) and exclusive to Kindle, all my Christmas-themed short stories collected together for the first time.

Trees, presents, myths… they’re all here, along with lashings of dark humour and more than a sprinkle of gruesomeness. Not for the fainthearted, TWISTED CHRISTMAS is an antidote to all the clichés that are trotted out year after year.

Available at a bargain price, too!

Get your pre-orders in now!!

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Wheatley’s Restaurant

“You see it’s not all pointy hats and warty noses,” Sharon laughed.  She took another gulp of Chardonnay.  “Modern day witching is breaking away from the stereotype.  I mean, you see it everywhere, don’t you?  Especially at this time of year.  The tall pointy hat, the black cat, the broomstick.  Frankly, I find it offensive, to me and to my beliefs.”

Across the table, Walter’s smile was wearing thin.  He had demolished the bread from the basket and was beginning to regret agreeing to this blind date.  He cast around for the waiter.  What was taking so long with the starters?  The sooner this evening was over and done with, the better.

This one calls herself a witch!  Ha!  It would be funny if Walter wasn’t so desperate.

“I mean, look at this,” Sharon was leaning forward and holding out her pendant necklace.  Walter played his part and feigned interest in the nondescript lump of whatever-it-was dangling from the slenderest of chains.  “This is my lucky crystal,” she announced proudly.  “As long as I’m wearing this no harm shall befall me.”

Walter nodded.  “It’s nice,” he lied.  It wasn’t; it looked like fossilised cat shit.

Sharon refilled her own wine glass.  “I mean, you seem like a nice fella, so I’m going to do you a special deal.  Free, gratis, and for nothing.  On the house!  Any little problem you want fixing, I’ll sort it for you.  Least I can do after this lovely meal — if it ever comes.  I think that waiter’s got lost.”

She laughed, like a cockerel being electrocuted.  Walter sent a look of pained apology to the couples at the neighbouring tables.

“So, come on then.  Let’s have it.  Don’t be shy.  Any little problem.  Anything at all.  And I’ll be happy to get it sorted.”

Walter blushed.  His shirt collar seemed tighter.  “I – uh –”

Sharon winked.  “I get it.  Say no more!  Say. No. More!”  She gave the side of her nose a conspiratorial tap.  “When I’m finished, you’ll never need to send off for those little blue pills ever again.”

Walter was aghast.  Frightful woman!  He would get up and walk out right then if — if only he weren’t so desperate.

“What will you do?” he squeaked in a strangulated voice.

“Well, that’s trade secrets!  But I will divulge that I shall be burning a few herbs and wafting them about by moonlight.”

“And that will do it, will it?”

“You’ll have no complaints.”

“And what if — No.”

“Go on, love; you may as well say it now.”

“What if my problem were of a more serious nature?”

Sharon’s shoulders and somehow her face shrugged.  “Like what?”

“Like, I don’t know, say, I’ve got a demon that needs banishing to the infernal realm.”

Sharon frowned.  “Are you taking the piss?  Because if you are, I can hex you right on the spot.  And don’t think I won’t.”

“No, please!” Walter reached for her hand, but she snatched it away, nursing the Chardonnay to her chest.  “I don’t know where else to turn.  I’ve read up on it.  It seems the only way is to offer a human sacrifice, and then the demon will go back whence it came.”

Sharon’s nose wrinkled.  “You’ve been watching too much telly, sunshine.  Like I said, modern witching isn’t like the films.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the little girls’ room.  Give that waiter a hurry-up while I’m gone.”

She trotted out to the toilets, seriously considering climbing out of the window.

When she came back, the restaurant was silent.  Blood was everywhere.  The other couples were slumped in ungainly postures, their throats ripped wide open.  At the centre of the carnage was Walter, shirt off, his torso awash with the blood of his victims.  He turned his yellow eyes to Sharon.  A forked tongue darted between his lips.

Sharon screamed.  The waiter appeared at her elbow.

“Is there a problem, madam?”

“No, not really,” she said, tipping him a tenner.  “It just would be nice to meet a man who wasn’t possessed by one of Satan’s ravenous horde.”

The waiter wrapped her coat over her shoulders.

“Don’t say that!” he laughed.  “If it wasn’t for you enticing them here, we’d soon go out of business.  Are you sure you won’t stay for the feast?”

“Nah,” said Sharon.  “I phoned an Uber while I was in the bog.  Broomstick’s in for a service. See you next week.”

He held the door open until she had gone.

Shadows crept from around the room.  Figures formed, beasts of horn, and fang, and claw.  They set to feeding on the newly slaughtered humans.  At the centre, a bewildered Walter whimpered.  The demon had left him.  Now if he could just tiptoe out before anything noticed him…

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Scream Again!

Children’s author, WILHELM SCREAM, has been at it again. He has also written his second book, this time turning his attention to werewolves. The follow-up to BAD BLOOD: A Tale of Two Vampires is PARDON MY WEREWOLF! A Hairy Story — and it’s available now!

When lowly kitchen boy Luca Turnspit is recruited by the Queen to be a companion for her lonely son, he learns the Prince’s dark secret in no time at all. The pair strike up a friendship but their hopes for the future are endangered by the arrival of a man from the past and by local cat-owners who have genuine concerns and flaming torches.

A fast-moving and funny story that is only a little bit gruesome, PARDON MY WEREWOLF! is suitable for readers of all ages.

Available in glossy hardcover, floppy paperback and on Kindle, for all you technological whiz kids.

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The Return of Morgana

“The time has come!” Morgana’s green eyes flashed.  “Time for me to return to the surface and resume my rightful place as queen.”

Her maidservant dithered.  “Um, Your Highness,” her fingers wrestled with each other as her tongue wrestled with words.  “How can you be sure?”

“You question me!” Morgana’s nostrils flared.  “How dare you!  Do you think I am unable to count?  Fifteen hundred years I have spent in this hellhole, this underground chamber, banished here by that fool Merlin.  But even his magic has its limits.  I have been patient, served my time, I have watched and I have waited.  And now, the curse is lifted.  Come, bring me my cloak of midnight.”

“Um,” the maid hesitated.  “Right away, Your Highness.”

She scurried to the antechamber.  She had been using the cloak of midnight as bedding.  She shook it out, dislodging centuries of biscuit crumbs.

She carried it reverentially to Morgana and draped it over her narrow shoulders.

“Excellent!  And now, my diadem of doom!”

“Um, at once, Your Highness.”

The maid darted away, to the rudimentary kitchen.  She had been using the diadem of doom as a biscuit cutter for all these years.  She blew away flour and wiped the crown on her apron.  She carried it to Morgana, walking slowly, the way she had seen the Archbishop do, at Arthur’s coronation, oh so long ago.

Morgana lowered her head to receive the diadem of doom.

“Perfect!” she straightened.  “And finally, my staff of discord.”

“Um…” the maid cast around.  She couldn’t remember for the life of her what she had done with the staff of discord.

“Why are you dawdling?” Morgana roared with impatience.  “Bring me the staff of discord.”

“Um, I am doing,” stammered the maid.  She bit her lip, her mind racing.  She dashed to the tiny bathroom.  There was the staff of discord, being used to prop up a washing line.  Greying, threadbare underwear dripped into the tub.  The maid unhooked the staff of discord, letting her knickers drop to the floor.

She carried it back to Morgana, who snatched it from her grasp.

“How do I look?” the evil witch rotated slowly. 

“Terrifying, Your Highness,” the maid had to admit.

“Excellent.  Now, up we go.”

She bashed the staff of discord on the floor and shot up and through the stony ceiling.  Up and up she went, through hundreds of feet of solid rock.  At long last, she reached the surface and felt fresh air on her pale skin for the first time in a millennium and a half.

Down below, the maid did a bit of tidying up.  She made a fresh batch of biscuits.  She wrung out the washing.  It would probably need doing again if she couldn’t get it thoroughly dry.

“Those biscuits smell nice.”  Morgana’s voice startled her.  The evil witch had returned.  She sat and took off the diadem of doom and shrugged off her cloak of midnight.

“You’re back early,” the maid observed.

“Well,” said Morgana.  “I went up there to wreak havoc, generate a bit of despair, generally fuck things up.  But I found they’ve already done it.”

“What do you mean, Your Highness?” the maid inched closer.  “Surely there is something you can do to cause a bit of misery.”

Morgana shook her head.  “Like what?  The whole world is in meltdown.  It’s got ten years at most.  And no one seems to care!  They’re all fighting among themselves—honestly, the levels of hatred up there, you would not believe.  The pettiness!  The pollution!  The corruption!  And Merlin thought I was the danger!  Summon him.  Get that old wizard on the crystal.  Tell him I want another five hundred—no, make it a full thousand—years down here.  Give those morons another chance to build an earthly paradise.  And then, oh, then!  Then I’ll go up and ruin it for them.”

She threw back her head and attempted a cackle, but her heart wasn’t in it.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” the maid offered.  “The biscuits will be ready soon.”

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Say My Name

Bartleberry returned to the table and spread his napkin over his thigh.  His date looked unimpressed.

“Where do you keep disappearing to?” she asked.  “Your food will be cold.”

“I’m sorry.”  Bartleberry refilled her glass with wine.  “The men’s bathroom.”

“But that’s twice in half an hour.  Are you ill?  Do we need to take a rain check?”

“I’m fine!”  He smiled to reassure her.  “How’s the fish?”

“It’s good.  Want to try it?”  She held out her fork.  A disconcerted look replaced Bartleberry’s smile.  He got to his feet.

“Two minutes,” he pulled an apologetic face and darted to the men’s room for a third time.

His date sighed.  She put her fork down and summoned the waiter.

Bartleberry came back, looking a little dishevelled, in time to see the waiter helping his date into her coat.

“No!  Helen, please, wait.  Let me explain.”  He slipped the waiter a fiver.  The waiter withdrew, smirking.

Helen sat heavily and crossed her arms.  “One minute,” she conceded.

Bartleberry sat.  “Listen, I have to be straight with you.  My name is not Martin Davies.  It’s—something else.  And whenever someone says my real name nine times in a mirror, I have to go and murder them.  It’s the rules of my existence.”

Helen frowned.  “So, all those times at the cinema when you miss the middle of the film?  That time at my parents’ when you just walked out?”

Bartleberry nodded.  “I was out murdering teenagers.  I’m sorry.”

Helen shook her head.  “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“It just never seemed the right moment.  Except it’s been happening more frequently recently.  They’ve made a new film about me, so all the kids are daring each other to summon me.  And so I have to go and kill them.  It’s playing havoc with my work life too.  I was just about to strike a deal with an important client but I had to excuse myself.  When I came back, he’d stormed out.  This is costing me money.  And it’s causing resentment from you.  I can see that.  But I can’t stop.  It’s my curse, Helen, and you either accept it or move on.”

Bartleberry hung his head and waited for her response.

Helen’s eyes were brimming.  She reached across and wiped a tiny speck of blood from Bartleberry’s cheek with her thumb.

Bartleberry sprang up.

“Again?” Helen wailed.  “I thought we were having a moment.”

“I’ll be right back,” said Bartleberry, striding towards the mirror in the men’s room.  “Someone’s just read this story out loud and said my name nine times.”

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