Tag Archives: William Stafford

Meanwhile, in the presidential office…

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

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

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

The figure in black didn’t move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s this?  A blank sheet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door was kicked open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Malcolm goes home

Malcolm waved Brian’s hand away and downed the last of his pint.  “No, not for me,” he shook his head.  “Better make a move.”

Brian waved his own empty glass.  “Just one more for the road.”

“Sorry.”  Malcolm pulled on his coat.  “Early start tomorrow.”

Despite the protestations of Brian and his other co-workers, Malcolm left the pub and headed to the bus stop.  He was glad to get away from their incessant football chat, their ogling of the bar staff and female clientele, their off-colour jokes, and nasty-minded political views.

On the top deck of the bus, youths were playing competing hip-hop tracks out loud on their phones.  Malcolm tried to shut his ears to the tinny, monotonous tss-tss-tss of the beat and the aggressive boasting of the vocalists.

Walking down the street where he lived, Malcolm was splashed by a passing car.  He couldn’t be bothered to make an obscene gesture for the benefit of the driver’s rear-view mirror.  Malcolm stamped his way up his front steps and let himself in.

In his hallway, he shrugged off his coat, dropping his briefcase next to the umbrella stand and ignoring the growing stack of fast food leaflets and special offers on conservatories that was building up on the floor.  He kicked off his shoes and waddled to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

While he waited for the water to boil, he moved through to the living room.  He grabbed the remote control from the coffee table and aimed it at the television.  The news channel winked into life.  More bad weather, more toxic patriotism, more lying politicians.  Malcolm flicked through the channels until he found some cartoons.

Back in the kitchen, he made tea and thought about food.  Brian and the others would no doubt be planning kebabs about now.  Malcolm’s stomach flipped.

From the fridge he withdrew a couple of protein packs.  He tore the foil wrapper from one and bit off a chunk as though it was a bar of chocolate.  Instantly, he felt better.  He put the protein onto a tray and put the tray into the oven.  While it was cooking, he went upstairs to change.

In the bathroom, Malcolm’s fleshy exterior dropped into the bath tub in wet clumps.  His skeleton dissolved under the shower.  Malcolm sighed in relief.  The likes of Brian complained about having to wear a tie.  They didn’t know the half of it!

Able to relax at last, Malcolm oozed down the stairs.  One tentacle opened the oven door to check on his dinner.  Another snaked into the living room, seeking the remote control.

His calculations told him he need only work at his thankless job for another forty Earth years.  By then, he would have saved up enough human currency to be able to afford the supplies he needed to repair the communication device.  Then, at long last, others of his kind would come and collect him.

How do Brian and the others do it?  Malcolm liquefied, spreading to cover the entire living room floor.  How do humans tolerate it, surrendering the best years of their short lives to such slavery and exploitation, and then when they grow too old to work, they just wait for death?

There are other ways to live.  Malcolm knew this for sure.  And as soon as his kind came to pick him up, he’d go back home and live one.

And that was a more satisfying prospect than any post-pub kebab.

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Lost Cat

“Hello?” the old woman frowned at the couple on her front doorstep.

“Hello,” smiled the woman of the pair.  “I’m Cosy.”

“And I’m Twee,” said the man.  “May we come in?”

The old woman hesitated.  “I – What for?  What is this concerning?”

“Concerning this!” the man produced a sheet of paper from behind his back.  He placed it on his ballooning beer belly.  The old woman leaned forward and squinted.

“That’s my Attila!” she gasped.  “I put those posters up all over town.  He went missing three weeks ago, you see.”

“Ah, well, that was your first mistake,” grinned Cosy.  “Cats can’t read.”

“And your second mistake was this scattergun approach,” grinned Twee.  “When what you should have done was come to us.”

“Come to you?  Why?  Who are you?”

“We’re Cosy and Twee,” said Cosy.

“Private investigators,” added Twee.

“Oh…” the old woman was nonplussed.  “Perhaps you had better come in.”

She stepped back.  Cosy and Twee both tried to go through the doorway at the same time and got stuck.  They laughed like drains.  Twee stepped back and Cosy staggered into the hall.

“Oh, you!” she giggled.  “What is he like?”

“A barrage balloon?” ventured the old woman.

Cosy breezed through to the living room.  Twee shut the front door. 

“Could I trouble you to put the kettle on?” he bounced his belly off the old woman, bumping her in the direction of the kitchen.

When the tea was made and poured, the old woman tried to get down to business.  “So, you think you can find him, then?  My Attila?”

“Piece of cake,” said Cosy.

“Ooh, yes, please!” said Twee.

“Ignore him,” Cosy advised.   “Honestly.  It’s like working with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

“Your poster mentions a reward?” Twee prompted.

“Well,” the old woman fretted, “I can’t afford to pay much, but Attila means the world to me.”

“Aww,” Cosy simpered.  “We’ll do it just for expenses.”

“You will?” the old woman chewed her lower lip.  “That sounds… expensive.”

Twee laughed for no apparent reason.  He heaved himself out of the armchair.  The upholstery audibly sighed its relief.

“Have you got a more recent photograph, love?” he smirked.

Cosy swatted at him with the back of her hand.  “Buffoon.  We’ll get your cat back where it belongs, Mrs.  Don’t you worry.”

She bundled Twee to the door.  “Can’t take him anywhere,” she rolled her eyes.

When they were gone, the old woman double bolted the door.  She sat in the armchair, staring at the television’s blank screen.  She had put the posters around town, hoping someone would come along and provide a little company.  It can be a lonely life for the elderly, with the spouse long gone and your contemporaries dropping like flies.  If she’d known the only ones to take the bait would be that couple of arseholes, goofing around like they were on a daytime TV drama, she wouldn’t have bothered.

Perhaps I really should get a cat after all, she wondered.

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Josie’s Valentine Surprise

Josie pulled her front door closed behind her and quickened her step.  The next-door neighbour was in his front garden and Josie was hoping to get past him, out of her gate and along the road before he noticed.  It would mean going the long way around the block to get to the bus stop but it was worth it to avoid one of Mr Davies’s interminable monologues, which often bordered on racism and invariably were entirely pointless.

“Morning!” Mr Davies spun around, a malevolent gleam glinting off his spectacles.  He had heard the latch on Josie’s gate.

“Er, morning,” Josie muttered, avoiding eye contact.  “I’ve got to um—”

“You haven’t seen my kitten, have you?  Little Dorrit?  He’s a bit young to be out on his own.  But he’s a bit of company and –”

“No!” Josie cut him off.  Deciding that was a little harsh, she forced a smile.  “I’m sure he won’t be far.”

Mr Davies nodded.  Then his face broke into a grin. “I expect he’ll be along soon.”

“What?  Who will?” Josie could have kicked herself for engaging.  She gestured down the street.  “My bus…”

“The postman,” Mr Davies wiggled his eyebrows.  “Probably that’s what’s keeping him.  Struggling under the weight of all the cards he has to deliver.”

“What…”

Mr Davies gasped in mock horror.  “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what today is!”

“Um… Monday?  Look, I really have to –”

“Valentine’s Day!” Mr Davies declared.  “And the postman’s late because he’s struggling to carry all the cards to your door!  I bet you get tons, don’t you?  Cards.  From admirers.”

“Not really.  Now, I really must be going.  If I’m late again, my boss will be giving me my cards all right.”

Mr Davies chuckled.  “Good one.  I like that.  Give you your cards.  You’re a very witty young lady.  Not just a pretty face, eh?  Eh?”

“Bye!” Josie hurried away.  There was no point going the long way around now.  There were only seconds to spare before the bus was due.  She hooked the strap of her bag higher on her shoulder, trying not to imagine Mr Davies’s gaze crawling all over her as she strode away.

Oh, it was quite sweet really, she supposed.  Mr Davies was just a lonely old widower.  Only passing the time of day.  Harmless, really.

And today’s exchange had reminded her of the date.  There was a post box on the corner near the office.  She’d be able to drop in an envelope before she went in for another interminable day of dealing with tedious invoices and requisitions.

As she got off the bus, her fingers closed around the envelope, giving the padding a squeeze.  Good.  There was no way anything was going to leak out.  Josie had put extra tape around it to make sure.

Too late for the Valentine’s post, she shrugged, but that couldn’t be helped.  She wished she could be there when Mr Davies opened it.  She hoped he’d be happy to be reunited with his kitten.  Well, most of it.

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The Scan

“Ah, Mr Probert, come in, come in.”  The radiographer welcomed the patient into the consultation room.  “Pop your coat on the chair and then lie on the bed for me.”

Mr Probert shrugged out of his anorak and shuffled to the bed.  He tried to position himself on it without disturbing the paper sheet that was protecting the upholstery.

“Just lie back,” the radiographer smiled behind her surgical mask, “and lift up your jumper for me?”

Mr Probert did as he was told.

“Now this might be a bit cold on your tummy,” the radiographer warned.   She applied gel to Mr Probert’s exposed midriff.  Mr Probert, ever the stoic, lay still, focussing on the ceiling.

“Right,” said the radiographer, “Let’s have a look-see.”

She pressed the scanner to Mr Probert’s belly and moved it across the pale surface, keeping her eyes on the monitor to the left of Mr Probert’s head.  “Hmm,” she said.   And “errr…”

Mr Probert lay still, fearing the worst.

“There’s definitely something…” the radiographer murmured to herself.  She did a second pass with the scanner.  On the screen, the image became clearer.  Something beneath the surface gave a sudden movement, like a fist beneath a rubber sheet, stretching Mr Probert’s skin.  The radiographer sprang backwards.

“What the hell is that?” she cried, unprofessionally in Mr Probert’s view.

The thing inside Mr Probert continued to cause ripples and stretches.  The radiographer watched, transfixed in morbid fascination.

The skin split.  The thing shot out and attached itself to the radiographer’s throat.  The radiographer flailed around, colliding with equipment and furniture as she failed to dislodge the thing that was gnawing through her flesh.

When it was over and the thing, now sated, returned to its hiding place, Mr Probert rose from the bed.  He popped his burst belly closed and donned a set of scrubs and a surgical mask.  He replaced the protective paper with a fresh sheet.

He opened the door and popped his head into the corridor.

“Who’s next, please?” he grinned.

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Faces and Fortunes

The cameras flashed incessantly, making the movie star squint.  He put a hand up as a shield but the flashes were coming from all directions.  He hurried along the red carpet, ignoring all catcalls and questions.  A limousine was waiting.  The movie star nipped into the back seat and breathed a sigh of relief to be behind the tinted windows.

“Drive!” he urged.

The driver drove.

The movie star’s p.a. was also on the back seat.

“You know, Brad,” she drawled, without looking up from the tablet she was scrolling through.  “You’re going to have to say something sooner or later.  Sooner, preferably.  Throw them a bone.”

Brad looked pained.  He poured himself a generous whisky from the car’s bar.

“It’s none of their business,” he grumbled.  “And why is there no ice in this car?  What do I pay you people for?”

The p.a. pouted.  Her scrolling finger came to a stop.  She tapped on a link.  “Here,” she held out the tablet.  “This is exactly what I’m talking about.  You can put an end to all the speculation by just coming clean.  Yeah, you’ve had a bit of work done.  So what?  You’re just keeping yourself looking your best for your fans.”

Brad shook his head.

“Listen, just admit to a bit of tightening around the eyes,  the occasional face peel.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  You’re just looking after your best asset.  Your face is your fortune after all.”

The limousine pulled up outside Brad’s mansion in the Hollywood hills.

“I’ll think about it,” Brad conceded.  He gave the p.a. his whisky glass before he got out.  “Goodnight.”

The p.a. closed her eyes and shook her head.  She and the driver watched the movie star key in his entry code and disappear through a side gate.  He didn’t turn to wave.

“He’s changed,” the p.a. diagnosed.  “Take me home, Simon.”

Brad marched straight to his wine cellar.  At the back, a secret door gave access to a private room he had had stricken from the plans.  No one knew it was there.

He paced up and down, making the man chained to the room’s only chair eye his progress nervously.

“A little tightening around the eyes!” Brad scoffed.  “As if I’m going to admit to that.  When this,” he circled his hand to indicate his entire face, “is a masterpiece, a miracle of cosmetic surgery.”

The man on the chair hung his bandaged head.

“Listen,” Brad lifted the man’s chin.  “It’s not forever.  I’ll have my guy do the repair job on you.  Then, if you promise not to tell anyone, you can have your old life back.  I’m getting tired of the movie business anyway.”

The man on the chair grunted, jerking his chin out of Brad’s hand.

“I have to be sure,” Brad told him.  “I have to be sure you’ll let me go and there’ll be no repercussions.  I keep telling you it was an accident.  An accident followed by a mix-up.  The doctors thought I was you and you were the nobody who’d crashed his car into the famous film star.  It cost me a fortune to buy them all off.  But I had access to your bank accounts by then, of course.  Don’t worry; I’ve made all that money back and more while you’ve been sitting down here.  Really think we’ve got a shot at the Oscar this year.  You’re on the up and up, my friend.”

With that, Brad turned on his heels and strode from the secret room.

Alone again, the real Brad shrugged.  An Oscar!  Well, well!

He lifted his hand to scratch his mangled nose.  He hadn’t found the right moment to tell his captor he’d been free of his ropes for months.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to go back into the heady world of stardom just yet, if at all.  For the time being, he was enjoying the solitude of this unorthodox retreat.  And he still had the run of the mansion while Fake Brad was out.  And, he conceded, he seems to be doing a better job of it than I ever did.

Let’s see how long we can keep up this charade before the cracks really begin to show…

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Slash!

Ridley was hiding in the closet in her friend’s parents’ bedroom.  Holding her breath, she peered through the horizontal slats.  The room was in darkness, but the moonlight streaming through the window was hitting the bed like a spotlight, illuminating the gruesome sight of Jennifer, lifeless on the duvet, her throat a seeping gash.  Jennifer’s blood had stained the bedclothes a glistening crimson.  Ridley tried not to look at it.  She had to keep her wits about her.

Jennifer had been a friend since kindergarten.  True, she and Ridley had drifted apart during high school, but that had been the point of this evening’s gathering: a chance to reconnect with old friends, to catch up, to have a party while Jennifer’s folks were out of town.  Ridley imagined the horror and grief that were to strike Bob and Sheila Finkel when they got back from the Hamptons, or wherever.  Their only daughter butchered!  They would surely never be able to sleep in this room again.  They would surely want to move house.

There were dead kids all over.  Shona in the freezer, Marek in the garage, Derek behind the couch, and Eva in the washing machine.  All of them slashed to ribbons.  All of them old friends.

I can’t think about that now, Ridley steeled herself.  I have to focus on my own survival.

There’s always one girl left, you see.  Always one final girl who gets out alive.

A silhouette appeared in the doorway.  Moonlight glinted off the butcher’s knife blade.

“Ridley?” hissed a whisper.  “Are you in here?”

The figure stepped into the room.

“Ridley!” Louder this time.  Ridley did not move.

The figure crept around the room, around the horror on the bed.

Wait for it, wait for it… Ridley knew the moment to emerge was near.

The figure was at the window, peering out, a tangled mop of hair gleaming in a silvery halo.  Hah, thought Ridley.  That’s ironic.  It’s the only way you’ll get a halo, Maya, old chum,.  After the way you treated me in high school.  Tur

ning everyone against me.

While Maya’s back was turned, Ridley gently pushed the closet door open wide enough to slip through.  Soundlessly, she stole across the carpet, pulling the grinning skull mask over her face.

She pressed the edge of her blade to Maya’s throat.

“Surprise, bitch!” she cackled.  “Happy high school reunion!”

Maya didn’t have time enough to scream before the slashing started.

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Life in the Old Dog Yet

Oswald shuffled along the hall to the kitchen.  The door was ajar.  He could hear his daughter and her husband engaged in a heated discussion.

About me, I shouldn’t wonder, thought Oswald, dismally.  Since he’d moved in, his son-in-law had been perfectly vile.  Complaining about everything and nothing.  Making insinuations.  “Oh, I’m sorry, my lord.  We shall have to treat you kindly if we’re to get anything when you’ve popped your slippers.”

It broke Oswald’s heart.  They didn’t know how frustrated he was, being uprooted from his own house, the home he’d shared with Elsie for almost fifty years.  He knew he was an imposition.  He knew he was in the way.  He knew he was a burden.

They’re talking about putting me in a home, I know it.

I’d rather be dead.

But he had to stay put, eavesdropping.  He had to know what he was up against.

“Well,” his daughter, Debbie, was saying, “he can’t help it.  Not at his time of life.”

“Costing us a fortune in bloody air fresheners,” her husband, Damien, countered.  “His guts can’t be right.”

Oswald blushed.  His hands tightened into fists as much as his arthritis would allow.

“And the interminable whimpering and whining,” Damien went on.  “All through the night.  I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t complained.”

“Oh, they quite like him,” Debbie put in.  “He keeps them entertained over the garden fence.”

“Huh,” Damien huffed.  “I don’t find it funny in the slightest.  The children won’t go near him. They say he frightens them. Look, love, he’s well past his prime.  Time to put the old fella out of his misery.”

Out of your misery you mean, you nasty pup.  Oswald sniffed back a tear.

“I mean, it’s disgusting.  He’s weeping out of every orifice, and he moves so slowly now, every step is agony, you can tell.  It’s the best thing for him.  One quick prick and he’s out like a light.  He won’t feel a thing.”

Just like you, you unfeeling bastard.  Oswald wished he’d brought his walking stick from his room.  He wouldn’t go down without a fight.

“Well,” he heard Debbie say, “If you think it’s for the best.”

“I do, love.”  Damien pecked her cheek.  “I’ll see you later.  And we’ll—” he made a whistling noise.  Oswald could imagine Damien drawing his finger across his own throat in a slashing motion.

He waited until he heard Damien’s Ford Focus drive away.  Taking a deep breath, he breezed into the kitchen.  “Morning, love!” he smiled.  “I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?  It’s about time I made myself useful.”

“It’s all right, Dad,” Debbie took the kettle from his shaking hands.  “You have a seat and I’ll make the tea.”

Oswald lowered himself onto a chair at the kitchen table.

“Damien’s out early,” he observed.

“Busy as ever,” Debbie organised cups.  “He’ll see you later.”

Oswald nodded.  While the kettle boiled, he squinted through his spectacles, taking in the kitchen, drinking in every detail as if seeing them for the final time.  His gaze fell on the tatty basket in the corner.  Shep’s basket.  Shep the smelly, dribbly, wobbly old mutt…

A great weight seemed to lift from Oswald’s chest.  He sat up straight and laughed.

They were talking about Shep!

What a silly old fool I am!

“Taken the dog out, has he?” Oswald jerked his head at the basket as Debbie brought the cups to the table.

“Shep’s walking days are over,” she sighed, pulling out a chair for herself.

“It’s funny, love; I heard you talking before I came in.  For an awful moment, I thought you were talking about me!  I am a silly old sausage, aren’t I?”

Debbie reached across the table and squeezed her father’s hand. She gave him a sad smile.

“Of course we were talking about you, Dad.  Shep hasn’t written a will.”

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