Before my Heart was Cold

The cellar was cold, musty and seemed more cramped with every visit. Not thirty seconds had passed since Carl had descended the creaking staircase, but it already seemed like an hour. A single fluorescent tube flickered above, throwing shadows across the room. The gentle plinking of Alisa’s piano drifted into Carl’s ears and he shivered; the melody was mournful, the minor chords chosen with care to amplify his pain. He tried to ignore it as he unscrewed the heavy cap and checked the oil level. It was low, so he lifted the jerry can and carefully poured in the pungent liquid; he had loved that smell, once upon a time.

“You’re back early,” Alisa stated, not turning her head. “Two weeks to the day I last saw you, minus three hours, seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds.” She was seated in front of Carl, facing the old, dusty piano.

“Yeah,” Carl said and as he put aside the empty can. He replaced the cap and rested his hand on the cool metal surrounding it as if to transfer some warmth into it.

“You always do that,” Alisa said, her voice lifeless. The vibrations tickled his fingers through the metal.

“Can’t help it, I guess,” Carl said. He stepped back to get a better look at her, adjusting his thick glasses on his beak of a nose. With sad eyes, he examined the metal plate which covered the back of Alisa’s head and went on to form her entire left arm. He still marvelled at the workmanship; it looked so real, with only a light rusting at the elbow giving its material away. He couldn’t even see the myriad of wires and tubes which lay beneath. It was exceptional, and unnerving.

“Do you like this song?” Alisa asked, still looking at the piano. Carl moved beside her as her fingers deftly swept across the yellowed keys. The song was heart-wrenching and tightened Carl’s chest.

“It’s beautiful, Allie,” he whispered. “But it’s so sad. I don’t think I can bear it for long.”

“Interesting,” Alisa said, slowing her playing but not stopping. “I feel nothing. I remember being moved by music before my heart was cold.”

“You were, Allie,” Carl said, a grimace twisting the corners of his mouth. He hated it when she said that. “You used to love how music made you feel, even when you couldn’t play very well.”

“I play better now,” Alisa stated.

“Yeah,” Carl admitted. “You’re a hell of a lot better…but there’s no joy in it anymore.”

“Joy.” Alisa stopped playing and turned around. Carl winced as her face came in to view, more than half of it covered by a plate of metal. Her eyes were still the same pale blue, but her freckles only covered her right cheek and the laughter had vanished from her once jovial face. Her button nose was gone, replaced by a shaped metal ridge; a dreadful substitute in Carl’s opinion. Her lips no longer smiled, but instead hung like a grey horizon above her chin. In the absence of the piano Carl could make out faint whirring and ticking sounds echoing from within Alisa’s body.

“Joy.” Alisa repeated, her grey tongue clicking against her teeth. “Curious. My name is derived from the Hebrew word for joy. I think my parent chose it on purpose.”

“I wouldn’t know, Allie,” Carl shrugged, feeling deeply uncomfortable.

“Joy…there was no joy after you changed me.” Alisa said, looking straight at Carl. She shifted her heavy feet, making a dull thud on the cellar floor. The chains which snaked around her ankles gave a dull rasp at the movement.

“You all regret it now.” Her voice was cold, just like the rest of her.

“Allie, stop it,” Carl pleaded, reaching for her shoulder. He shivered as his hand touched steel and a chill ran up his arm.

“My injuries were fatal, but you decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to die,” Alisa pressed on in her sterile tone. “It’s a strange to think of it, especially when most people wouldn’t force a cherished pet to stay alive when they are suffering. It was selfish.”

“Allie, don’t talk like that!” Carl snapped. He faced her with as much courage as he could, forcing himself to look into her dull eyes. “You were everything to us! To me! We couldn’t let you slip away like that! We…needed you here…I needed you.”

“Not like this,” Alisa replied, her eyes boring back into Carl’s. “Nobody wanted this, and that’s why I’m here, out of sight and out of mind. You’re the only one who still comes back.” Carl was silent and his jaw worked as he tried to think of something to say. Before he could, the thing that was once Alisa spoke again.

“You’re lonely, aren’t you, Carl?” Carl was startled and took another few moments to answer.

“Yeah…I am,” he confessed at last. “I hoped…I thought things would get better…but I ought to look after you. It’s the right thing to do!” He spoke with more confidence than he felt.

“Five years is a long time when something is hopeless,” Alisa said, turning back to the piano. The mournful music resumed once again. “Visiting me is illogical and it causes you pain. It won’t be long before even you stop coming down here to change my oil. When that day comes I will be allowed to die.”

“Allie, I’ll not abandon you!” Carl insisted, despite the horror he felt growing inside him. Alisa’s words frightened Carl because he had been considering doing just that for months. It was not a thought he entertained with his full attention, but circled the edge of his consciousness like a hawk waiting for the right moment to strike. Nothing escaped Alisa anymore, and the hawk had been circling lower.

“Perhaps,” Alisa said, her fingers moving over the aged keys. “It won’t matter to me either way.” Carl’s shoulders slumped and his heart grew heavy in his chest. He still loved Alisa, or the memory of her, at least. He could remember the warmth of her face when it was pressed against his, how her lips and her tongue had tasted, and how musical her voice used to be. He remembered how he used to stand and watch her play the piano, positioned in much the same way as he was at that very moment, studying her fingers as they danced and smiling at her eagerness. He had almost been driven mad with the thought of losing her, and had jumped at the chance to save her life. If only he had known…

Carl wandered back to the stairs leading up to the main building, gazing up at the open door and the bright sunlight which beckoned beyond. He watched Alisa play for a few minutes and then began to ascend. He paused at the threshold of the door, holding the handle in a shaking hand.

“Bye, Allie,” he said, his feeble voice cracking. “I…I love you,”

“Goodbye, Carl,” Alisa said. Cold. Precise. Inhuman. Carl closed the door with tears streaming down his cheeks. His heart thundered within his chest, even as it broke with shame. Sobs racked his body as he turned a key in the lock, and the piano stopped playing.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

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Aiden’s Decision #Fortnightly Fiction

Hi everyone. Here is my latest story for my new feature, “Fortnightly Fiction”. Now, before any of you smart arses point it out, I am aware that it’s been more than a fortnight since my last story. The reason for that is that my organisation skills are terrible! I am working on that, though, so please bear with me for the time being. I’ll get back to forming a proper writing schedule once I’ve finished giving myself the required lashes.

This prompt came from the lovely Ruth over at Image & Word , and it was a tough one. In short, it was:

‘What kind of man walks out on his newborn son?’

Wow. I knew this one would be difficult to write but I gave it my best shot. I hope I’ve handled this delicate subject with due care and sympathy. Thank you, Ruth, for providing me with such a challenging and thought-provoking prompt.

Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If you would like to get involved and offer me a story prompt to use in the future, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

 

Aiden’s Decision

By Adam Dixon

 

The grey day matched Aiden’s mood. He was sat in a cramped aisle of Victoria Coach Station with strangers and their suitcases stacked either side of him. Club-footed pigeons hopped about underneath his seat, as much a part of the scenery as the bland walls. The mingled smells of sweat, dust and stale pastries hung in the air; it never changed.

Aiden had tried to avoid looking at his reflection in the grimy windows. He didn’t want to be reminded of how wrinkled his brow was, or how his hair was turning grey. Aiden sighed and tried to stretch out his legs. He kicked a garish purple suitcase by accident and murmured an apology to the woman sitting next to him.

“Oh no, it was my fault!” the woman said, her plump cheeks reddening as she dragged her suitcase aside. “I should’ve watched where I was puttin’ it! My old mum always said I didn’t have no death perception!” The woman laughed, and Aiden gave a pained smirk at her mistake. He wondered which of them was the stupid cow who got that wrong. As the woman settled back into her seat she glanced over again.

“You’re travelling light,” she said, indicating Aiden’s lack of luggage. Aiden nodded. The woman’s smile faltered, but she pressed on.

“Goin’ all the way?” she asked cheerfully.

“Yeah, I’ve got friends in Aberdeen,” Aiden replied. Not that it’s any of your business, he almost added. The woman sighed in appreciation.

“Oh, I love Aberdeen!” she said, showing the dimples on her cheeks as she smiled. “My old mum came from there, an’ we used to pop back to visit my auntie. You by yourself?” The woman looked around expectantly.

“Yes,” Aiden said, feeling his eye throb. “I’m alone because I walked out on my girlfriend today.”

Aiden felt a glow of satisfaction as the woman’s face registered his words with shock. Her mouth fell open and Aiden folded his arms and turned away from her. His smug delight was momentary, and he soon returned to his stupor.

As he sat, he replayed parts of the earlier phone call he had had with his sister. Suzie had been livid.

“Are you fucking mental?” Suzie had screeched. Aiden had winced and held the receiver at an arms-length.

“No, Suze, I’m not,” he had replied firmly. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

“But, Ade, why now? What about your son?” Suzie had demanded. Aiden had closed his eyes and groaned in the confines of the phone box.

His son.

“I…I can’t do it, Suze,” he had stammered, bracing himself against the plastic window with a trembling arm. “I thought I could but…I can’t.” Suzie had fallen silent, and Aiden’s scalp had prickled with sweat.

“You’re not like him, Ade,” Suzie had said at last. “You’re nothing like him.”

“But what if I am?” Desperation had lent weight to Aiden’s voice. “You weren’t there when Karen left Mikey with me that afternoon! It was going fine until he spilled his juice on the carpet, then I…I shouted at him, Suze. Just like dad.” Aiden could almost sense Suzie’s shock. He took several deep breaths and wiped the back of his hand across his damp brow.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Suzie had replied, but she sounded shaken.

“Yes, it does,” Aiden had insisted. “It was the rage, Suze. It was there, just like the old man.” He had lifted his leg and unconsciously stroked the old, puckered scar across the back of his thigh.

“But that still doesn’t mean-“

“And like his dad!” Aiden interrupted, flushed with anger. “There’s a pattern, for fuck’s sake! I won’t let it carry on!”

“But what about Melanie?” Suzie had changed tactics. “She’ll be all alone! Christ, she’s not even named him yet!” Aiden had sighed, scrunching his face tight.

“She’ll be okay, Suze,” he had said.  “She’s got Deb and Jack to help out. They’re not old yet, and they’ll be brilliant grandparents. I’ve left her all my savings, and I’ll send more once I’m settled.”

“And what about me?” Suzie had asked. She was desperate then. “When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know,” Aiden had answered, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ade,” Suzie’s voice had cracked then, and Aiden’s heart had torn in half. “Ade…don’t do this. It’s not right.” Aiden added two more coins to the machine before he replied.

“I know,” he said, tears leaking from his closed eyes. “But I’m doing what’s best for Mel and the baby. Tell her I’m sorry.”

Aiden was jerked from his reverie by a surge of movement around him; the coach to Aberdeen had arrived. The weary strangers were on their feet, edging forwards to form a haphazard queue by the doors. As Aiden stood, the woman with the purple case barged past him, shooting him a brief, venomous look. Aiden ignored her and pulled his ticket from his pocket before he stepped through the door and into the cold morning air.

The coaches were lined up along the forecourt, grumbling as their engines ticked over. The drivers were frowning as they inspected tickets, apparently eager to be off. You and me both, Aiden thought, but he stopped as he joined with his queue. He was still, one hand holding his ticket as the would-be passengers filed past him. He was shouldered and nudged, but barely registered the muttered apologies offered to him. He stood, staring ahead with his mouth twisted.

What about his son?

Aiden felt as if he stood on a precipice, not the worn tarmac of the coach station. He felt as if he was teetering, that his future hung on a hair’s breadth of space. He thought of Melanie, how she’d still be in recovery and wondering where he was. He thought of the little boy whose face would remain a mystery to him. His body wavered, hanging over the edge.

“’Scuse me, sir!” called a gruff voice. An overweight, bored-looking man in a high-visibility jacket was glaring at him. “You on for Aberdeen?”

Aiden looked at the man, then at the ticket in his hand. He stared at it for several seconds.

“Yeah, one to Aberdeen,” he said at last. The man inspected it with a quick glance and nodded.

“On you get, then,” he said, his expression unchanging. Aiden took a deep breath and climbed on to the coach.

The coach was packed full of people, and the air inside it was close and warm. Aiden sat in the only remaining seat in the centre of the vehicle, next to an old man with a flat cap and faded cords. The man was already snoring, and he smelled strongly of whisky. It seemed that he’d be out for much of the journey, which worked for Aiden. The driver boarded and surveyed his meagre empire with his ever-present frown before squeezing himself behind the steering wheel.

The coach coughed into life and pulled away from the dreary station. A pitiful whimpering broke through the muted chatter. A young woman with red hair was rocking a baby girl in her arms, hushing her softly but to no avail. The baby began to cry in earnest, and several passengers groaned aloud. Aiden sat and listened to the wailing, letting it pierce his heart as well as his ears. Rain began lashing against the windows, mirroring the tears which trickled down Aiden’s cheeks. The coach rolled onwards. He had made his decision.

 

If you would like to get involved in Fortnightly Fiction, please feel free to suggest a prompt in the comments section. I’ll do my best to do your ideas justice!

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.

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A Man in Love

Hello everyone! Today I’m sharing a short story I wrote few months ago,which was inspired by the prompt of an ‘unreliable narrator’.

This is an aspect of story telling that I find very interesting, and it can be seen in plenty of book and films. How do we know if we can trust our only source of information as a reader? Should we believe anything they say? At which point do we realise that our narrator is, in fact, compromised? These are just a few questions to consider when writing a story like this, and I had a lot of fun doing it!

I hope you enjoy this story, and thanks again for reading.

P.S. I’m looking for story prompts for my new feature! See my previous post, Fortnightly Fiction – A Call for Prompts! for more details.

 

A Man in Love

By Adam Dixon

 

My name is Brian Sedgwick and I am a man in love. Consider that my confession, if you like, I’m happy to tell anyone who’ll listen. It’s not easy to love someone so much that it hurts. Before I fell in love I was alone in my flat with my games and microwave meals, but now I dream of children and country houses and all that cheesy stuff. Some people will try to belittle it and say that I’m only into her because she’s my boss, but that’s just insulting. Plus, I know that she loves me, too.

Eleanor Robins is thirty-two, a couple of years younger than me. She has long, shining brown hair and gorgeous green eyes that you could lose yourself in. She has a sweet, lopsided smile, a dusting of freckles on her nose, and a birthmark on her wrist; it looks like a USB drive to me, which I like to think is a sign that we’re meant to be. I love to hear her laugh, it’s the best sound in the world. I try to make Eleanor laugh every day in the office; she works so hard and I notice that the stress gets to her sometimes. It can’t be easy running a business in this economy, so whenever she comes into my office with an issue I look over my computer and crack some stupid, half-baked joke just to make her smile. I know she appreciates it, even though she doesn’t say it. She even started flirting with me a few months ago, which I’ll admit knocked me for six. Nothing outrageous, just the odd raised eyebrow or a smirk after a euphemism about hard drives or something. She’s also got a bit of a wild side, as the office Christmas Party 2016 can attest to. I caught her alone under the mistletoe at the end of the evening; it was the single greatest moment of my life. The next day Eleanor insisted that it was a mistake, the result of too much wine and good spirits, and asked me to keep it to myself. Ever the professional. God, I love that woman. Her husband has never deserved her.

Oh yeah, she’s been married to that ape, Darren, for six years now. I’d only met him once, but I knew all about him right away. A personal instructor at a gym in London, all muscles and protein with limited brain cells, like a hi-spec desktop with a tiny processor. He did some freelance writing on the side, mostly articles about the importance of fitness in modern society and advocating encouragement instead of body-shaming, blah blah blah…I’ve read them, they’re not very good. They were probably ghost-written, anyway. It doesn’t matter, just imagine a lout who wants a trophy wife. Eleanor is perfect; beautiful, intelligent, and successful, just the kind of woman who makes Darren look brilliant by association. He’s never loved her like I do, and I could tell that Eleanor was only pretending to love him back. The amount of times I’ve passed by her office and heard her rowing with him on the phone is ridiculous. She even started taking her wedding ring off and leaving it in a drawer. This had been going on for months, and it sounded like Darren was an arsehole at home, as I’d suspected. Eleanor only stayed with him because she didn’t know how to get away from their marriage. Poor, sweet Eleanor.

I decided to do something about it after the Christmas Party. It was made clear that Eleanor wants me as much as I want her, but I knew I’d need to be careful. Eleanor isn’t the kind of woman to engage in affairs, and I respect that. Darren was unlikely to cheat on her, because, seriously, who in their right mind would do that with Eleanor in their life? No, I needed to find a way for her to get rid of Darren, which meant proving that he was being abusive. So, I learned Darren’s schedule and started following Eleanor home when I knew he’d be waiting for her. I even managed to borrow her key from her bag and get a copy made during a lunch break. I hid three cameras in their house, one in the kitchen, one in the living room and one in their bedroom. On the days that Darren was at home I’d park across the road and keep an eye on him. I needed to make sure that Eleanor was safe.

Things seemed okay for a bit after that, Eleanor wasn’t being harassed too much at home and she was continuing our little back-and-forth at work. She even bought the whole office pizzas after a busy but successful month, and she gave the biggest one to me. Extra toppings and an extra smile thrown in, too. She’s so good to me. But in February things started to go wrong. Darren must’ve known something was up, because he started exercising more control over Eleanor. He was taking her out for fancy meals more often rather than making her cook. Then there was the long weekend in Paris for their anniversary, and the gifts and smiles and new lies. He was getting what he wanted, as they were having sex more often as well. It made me sick to watch them from the darkness of my car, hearing Eleanor moaning beneath him. I could have sworn that she whispered my name once, which made me jolt upright in a panic, but Darren didn’t seem to notice, or care. I could see right through all his tricks, but it seemed that poor Eleanor was being slowly taken in by it all. She started keeping her wedding ring on, and smiled when Darren called her at work. There was some big deal a few weeks ago, Eleanor rushed out of the toilet and showed Darren something small and plastic she’d taken in there. I didn’t get a proper look at it, but they both started crying and holding one another. It was maddening to watch him touching her, as if he deserved her. The bastard was winning, and there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do about it…

Until last month. I was feeling pretty low, believing that my love was lost to me, when Eleanor revived all of my hopes and dreams. She came in to my office to ask me about a storage issue with her computer, and requested that I teach her what needed to be done. As I clicked about and showed her the process on-screen, Eleanor leaned over the desk and put her cheek very close to mine as she watched. I could smell the sweet perfume of her skin and the fruity aroma of her shampoo, and I longed to close my eyes and rub my face against hers. I could easily see down the front of her smart white shirt, which she’d left partly unbuttoned. It was deliberate, I’m certain, and it almost drove me mad. I finished my little tutorial, blushing and stammering, unable to stand up for the moment. Eleanor stared into my eyes and gave me a smile which melted my heart. She thanked me, asking what she’d do without me. I mumbled a reply and made another terrible joke. Eleanor laughed, and I knew then what was needed. I was on her wave-length and saw that it was a signal, a request for aid. My princess was aware of her danger, and I was the only one who could rescue her from the troll who held her hostage.

The next step was easier than I expected. Through observing Darren at home I had discovered some useful facts about him, including his allergies. It was fitting that he should be allergic to peanuts when his brain was roughly the size of one. All I had to do was call in sick and wait until Darren went out on his morning run. He always made one of those disgusting protein shakes for when he got back. I let myself in and added something a little extra to it, then I waited in my car for the show. I watched the kitchen camera with a pounding heart as Darren got back. The idiot took a huge gulp of his shake without even looking at it! I had to stop myself from leaping out of the car and jumping for joy as he collapsed and convulsed. Eleanor and I could be together at last! After the respectful period of mourning had passed, of course. We both still had parts to play, but I’d waited so long already that a few more weeks would be simple.

I didn’t expect to get caught. It turned out the neighbour opposite Eleanor had a CCTV camera, and my car was in its view every time I sat and watched. When the police requested it, it didn’t take long for them to arrest me. They found my cameras, too. That was sloppy, I should have taken them out of the house right away but I was too excited about my future with Eleanor. I haven’t seen her since as she’s not been at work; she’s still playing her part beautifully. I bet she looks divine as a grieving widow.

My trial will start soon. I’ve got a pretty good idea that my barrister doesn’t think we’ll win, but I’m still pleading not guilty. I’d do it all again to rescue my princess, my love. She’ll be in the court room, too, of course. I can’t wait to see her face again, to see that lopsided smile, those freckles, and that prophetic birthmark. I know she loves me, and because of that I’m confident I’ll get off with her help. We’ll get through this, and then we’ll be together.

I love her so much.

Cracked Head

Hello, everyone 🙂 I wrote this story a few months ago, using a first line prompt and I was very pleased with how it turned out. It’sa little bit different from my usual type of stories, but upon re-reading it I’m still quite fond of it. Please do let me know what you think 🙂

As always, thank you for reading!

Cracked Head
By Adam Dixon

“Is that what you meant to do?” Pete smiled at the memory of his question from three years ago. It was the crack in the headstock of Jimmy’s bass which had prompted it, or the lack of one; Jimmy had it fixed almost right away.
“Yeah, course it was,” Jimmy had replied, rolling his eyes. “Halfway through the gig I thought ‘you know what’ll liven this up? If I drop my bass on the stage!’ Bloody hell, Pete…” Pete remembered blushing at the remark. He had admired Jimmy back then, believing that his big brother could do no wrong. Pete’s smiled faded as he ran his finger over the spot where the crack had been. The instrument had always been lovingly cared for, so finding a layer of dust on it had been a shock.
“Well, d’you still want it?” Jimmy asked, breaking Pete from his reverie. Pete stood from his crouch and faced him in the small bedroom. Jimmy looked terrible, his face was pale and haggard, his blond hair was a scrambled mess and he had lost a lot of weight. His cheerful brown eyes were dimmed and bloodshot above deep purple bags. He was also sniffing constantly as if he had a cold.
“Well?” Jimmy insisted, frowning in annoyance.
“I…yeah, course I do,” Pete answered, thrown by Jimmy’s bluntness. Jimmy nodded and smiled, nibbling at a stubby fingernail.
“Cool,” he said. “Did you bring the money, then?” The hopeful tone in his voice made Pete feel uncomfortable. He pulled a wad of notes from his Marvel Comics wallet and held them out. Jimmy’s eyes lit up and he snatched the money in an instant.
“Nice one, bro!” Jimmy said gleefully. “And you told me you were skint last month!” He snorted and shot Pete a brief, accusing glance. Pete felt sick.
“I was,” Pete said. “But I’ve been saving up from my paper round; it’s taken me three months to get that. Why are you selling it anyway, Jimmy? You love that bloody thing!”
Jimmy barked an unpleasant laugh, and pocketed the notes. “I’ve told you already, it’s for food and toiletries and all that boring stuff. My student loan barely covers this place!” He swung an arm around the room for emphasis before winking and adding: “Condoms, too. The price soon adds up!” Pete smiled in response, but stayed silent. When Jimmy had gone to uni he had been attractive in a scruffy rock-star kind of way and had boasted of late-night encounters with his fellow students. Pete had burned with jealousy and curiosity, but Jimmy had changed a lot in a year. Their frequent phone calls and constant Whatsapping had trickled to almost nothing in recent months, and Pete was worried.
“Well, I’ll look after her, don’t you worry!” Pete smiled and changed the subject. “So, what’s the plan for today, then?” Jimmy’s brow creased.
“Plan?” he echoed, sniffing twice and scratching his head.
“Yeah,” Pete said, disbelief and anger stirring in his stomach. “You do have a plan, right?” Jimmy stared blankly for a moment then slapped his forehead with his palm.
“Oh crap!” Jimmy said, his eyes wide. “It’s your bloody birthday! Oh, mate, I’m so sorry! I forgot! Yeah, let’s totally do something! Like, we could go to the bar in a bit? Get you a pint, yeah?”
“I’m fifteen, Jimmy!” Pete snapped, unable to stop two tears from sliding down his cheeks. Jimmy’s face crumpled and he stepped closer. A strong smell of B.O. and cigarettes assaulted Pete’s nose; he didn’t know that Jimmy had started smoking.
“Course you are, I know that!” Jimmy said, placing a hand on Pete’s shoulder. “Course I do! We can still get some food at the bar, if you want. Or we could go into town and grab a meal somewhere, or – “
“Forget it,” Pete said, shrugging off his hand. The tears flowed as he lifted the bass from its stand. “You’ve got what you wanted from me now! I can’t believe I’ve spent two hours on a coach for this, what a bloody loser!”
“Come on, Pete,” Jimmy croaked. “Don’t be like that!”
Pete wiped his eyes furiously. “I’m going home. Maybe mum will still take me to see Logan.”
“Pete!” Jimmy tried to touch his shoulder again but Pete shoved him away. Jimmy’s wasted frame offered no resistance and he staggered backwards, shocked. Pete seized the guitar bag which lay at his feet and shoved the bass into it.
“I’m taking this,” Pete declared. He shot Jimmy a tearful, angry look. “Unless you’re gonna charge me for it, as well?” That hit home. Pete stormed out of Jimmy’s room and down the corridor, ignoring the pleading sobs which followed him.
***
“I just didn’t know what else to do,” Pete said. He had calmed down during his walk across town, and the bitter sea wind had given him something else to worry about. The left side of his head faced the beach and tingled as he sat miserably at the coach station.
“That stupid little…!” a strangled voice said in his ear. Pete winced and moved his phone an inch further away. There was a pause and a measure of control entered the voice.
“I’m glad you called me, darling,” it said. “I’m so sorry you had to see your brother like that, today of all days!”
“It’s okay, mum,” Pete said, relieved that the expected eruption had not occurred.
“No, it’s not okay!” his mother insisted. “You’ve just found out that Jimmy is a druggie on your birthday, for goodness’ sake!”
“Would it have been any easier on different day?” Pete demanded, then was immediately contrite.
“Oh, mum, I’m sorry for snapping,” he said, rubbing his puffy eyes. “I’m a little on edge, you know?”
“It’s alright, Peter,” his mother sighed. “Ooh, just you wait until I speak to that boy!” Pete opened his mouth to reply, then closed it. He looked down at the guitar bag which rested against his knee. He hadn’t let go of it since he had left Jimmy’s flat. Strong memories flooded his mind, and Pete swallowed back the lump that rose in his throat. He remembered Jimmy teaching him notes and chords on that very bass and helping him to save up and buy his own. He remembered his incomprehension when their dad walked out, and how Jimmy had seen him through it.
“Don’t call him yet, mum,” Pete said slowly. “Let me talk to him first.”
“I thought you were on your way home?” Pete’s mother was puzzled. Pete stood as the coach pulled up, gleaming in the dim sunshine. The doors opened with a whoosh and a hiss, but he turned away from it.
“Not yet, mum,” he replied. “I’m going back to Jimmy’s. He needs me.” Saying it aloud cemented his resolve, and Pete made his way back towards the university.
“I won’t cut you out, bro,” Pete said to himself. “Never.”
***
Up on stage, Pete revelled in the attention. He and his bandmates made use of the tiny space as best they could, thrusting their hips and nodding their heads with huge grins on their faces. They weren’t great, but they had pulled a decent crowd for the small gig and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The whole space smelled of armpits, beer and excitement, and Pete loved it. He plucked at his instrument, glorying in the pounding of the amp behind him, savouring the vibrations as he strung notes together. The old bass he was using still had life in her, and Pete had taken good care of it.
The song ended to a smattering of genuine, good-natured applause, and Pete scanned the room whilst the lead singer spoke into the mic. He saw a few of his school friends and waved at them, and they replied with smirks and crude gestures. He saw his mother in the crowd, beaming and doing her utmost to embarrass him in front of his mates. He grinned at her sheepishly and continued to gaze around the room. His eyes drifted towards the bar at the rear, and found the brown pair that he sought. Jimmy raised a hand in greeting, nursing a glass of Coke with the other as he leaned casually against the bar. His face and body had filled out since he had dropped out of uni and he had shaken off the haunted look at last. The singer reached the end of his melodramatic speech but before he could count the band in, Pete stepped up to his own microphone.
“Just a sec,” he said, wincing as the feedback screeched across the room. Everyone looked at him in annoyance and curiosity; Pete gulped and wished his heart would slow down a bit.
“Erm, I just wanted to add something quickly before we start,” Pete continued. “I’d like to dedicate this song to someone in the audience, someone who inspired me to get into music. It’s my big brother, Jimmy, who’s hiding at the back over there. Hi Jimmy!” Pete waved and laughed at Jimmy’s alarmed expression as the forty-odd people in the audience turned to look at him. Jimmy cleared his throat and looked down at his feet, his cool, casual poise ruined.
“Anyway, I owe a lot to Jimmy, and since it’s his birthday tomorrow I thought I’d embarrass him. Thanks for coming, bro!” Pete waved again and the audience clapped. Behind him, the drummer counted them in. One, two, three! The room was once more filled with the sound of something resembling rock music and Pete settled into his role. He caught Jimmy’s eye again as he strummed his big brother’s bass. Jimmy was smiling, and he raised his drink in a salute. To the casual observer, it would appear Jimmy was thanking Pete for the shout-out, but Pete knew there was more to it than that. It had been a difficult year for Jimmy, but Pete had been there for him through all of it.
“You’re welcome, bro,” Pete thought as the amps roared. “I love you.”
You can find me on Twitter here.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com 

Difficult Questions

Hello everyone!

The following story is one I sent out a few months ago as a competition entry, but sadly it was not placed. However, I was quite pleased with it and would like to share it will you all. The theme for competition was to write a story using dialogue ONLY. I found this to be an exciting and interesting idea, and so I went for it! Have you ever tried writing a story in this way? Please do let me know in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading!

“Come on, grandma, let’s run!”
“Slow down, please, my darling, I can’t keep up with you. Jenny, come back! Jenny! There are nasty people around these days, come back this instant!”
“Nasty people? Where, grandma? I can’t see them.”
“Oh, well, you can’t be too careful! Please come back, I don’t want to have to shout! Plus, people are looking at grandma now…”
“Grandma, why didn’t you run too?”
“I don’t think I can anymore, my darling. It’s part of getting old, I’m sorry to say.”
“That’s bad, I don’t want to get old ever!”
“Nobody does, sweetheart, but you can’t stop it.”
“How old are you, grandma?”
“Now, now, Jennifer, it’s not very nice to ask a lady her age.”
“But I’m a lady and I like it when I get asked! I’m four and a half now!”
“Yes you are, sweetheart. You’ll be catching me up soon.”
“Yeah, grandma! But I still want to run!”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll be able to stop you! Come on, let’s go home, it’s getting dark.”
“But I wanted to play on the swings again!”
“I know, my darling, but it is getting late. Don’t pout, Jennifer, it’s very childish! I’ll tell you what, you be a good girl and I’ll buy you an ice cream in the shop. How does that sound?”
“Ice cream, before tea?!”
“Yes, before tea, but you must promise not to tell granddad. It will be our little secret.”
“Yeah! Yeah! I love secrets!”
“Then we’ll shake on it like grown-ups and…ugh, Jenny! What have you been touching? Your hand is all sticky! Dear me, you’d think that the council would keep that slide clean…”
“Grandma, when will I see my mummy again?”
“Oh. Well…she is quite busy now, my darling, but you’ll see her again before too long.”
“Is my mummy in trouble, grandma?”
“Why do you ask, my darling?”
“Cos only bad people go away, and bad people get in trouble. I think my mummy is in trouble.”
“Well…yes, I suppose you could say that…but don’t worry about her, sweetheart, she is being looked after. Now, which flavour ice cream would you like when we get to the shop?”
“I want strawberry! Strawberry and chocolate! Strawberry and chocolate and banana! Yum yum yum!”

***

“There you are, my two favourite girls! Come in out of the cold, that’s it! Scrub those shoes on the mat before you come inside, little love. If you get mud on my nice carpet, you won’t get your tea and you’ll get a knuckle sandwich instead!”
“Argh! Grandma, help me, he’s got me!”
“That serves you right, Jennifer. You shouldn’t poke your tongue out at granddad, it’s very rude!”
“Heehee, that tickles! Stop, stop!”
“Aha! Do you give up, young madam?”
“Yes, yes! I give up! Heeheehee!”
“Victory! You are my prisoner now, so be off with you! Into the living room to await your fate! Stick the telly on, if you like, I prefer my prisoners to be comfortable. Oi, take your shoes off first!”
“You really shouldn’t overexcite her like that, Daniel. She’ll never sleep now.”
“Oh, rubbish! What’s the harm? Besides, you’ve probably had her running around like a headless chicken all afternoon, haven’t you?”
“I did very little, as it happens. That girl is like a thunderbolt, Daniel. I take my eyes off her for one second and it’s as if she was never by my side at all. It’s exhausting!”
“I’m sure it is! Come here, my love. Oooh! Your nose is cold, Barbara!”
“Well don’t give me a bear hug if you don’t like it, you great fool!”
“You didn’t have to stick your frozen hooter in my neck, did you? Come on in, I’ve made a pot already and it should still be warm.”
“Daniel, Jenny asked me about her mother again.”
“Right…how did that go?”
“She asked if her mummy is in trouble because the people who have been bad get sent away. I agreed with her, sort of.”
“Blimey, not much gets past her, does it?”
“That’s what worries me, Daniel. She can tell when we’re lying to her, even if she doesn’t understand why. What can we possibly say to her?”
“We’ll think of something.”
“She’s still so young! I don’t want her knowing about that place! How are we going to explain it to her?”
“I don’t know, Barb, honestly I don’t. But we can’t keep on dodging her questions just because we don’t like the answers.”
“Oh, I know that, Daniel! I’m not a child!”
“I know, Barb, and I didn’t mean it like that. It’s not easy, all this, but we’ll need to tell her about her mum sooner rather than later. She has a right to know.”
“Yes, you’re right, of course…did Rebecca call again today?”
“Yes, she did, about 12ish. She seems to be as well as can be expected. Quite upset to have missed Jenny again, though.”
“Well that serves her right, doesn’t it? Ooh, it makes me so angry to think about her, Daniel! How could she do it, knowing what would happen to Jennifer? To us?”
“I don’t think she was doing much thinking at the time, my love. Getting angry won’t help, so we’d better roll our sleeves up and do the best we can. Like we always have.”
“But our best has led to this…but you’re right, we must persevere. Come on, Jenny will wonder what’s keeping us if we stay out here much longer.”
“Alright, my love. Pass me your coat. I’ve already put the oven on and the chips are on the tray. I’ll just stick them…hang on, is that ice cream on your scarf, Barbara?”
***
“Hi, mum.”
“Oh, hello, Rebecca. You’re calling early today.”
“Yeah, I asked the warden for an earlier slot. I was…hoping to speak to Jenny.”
“Well, Jennifer is at school now, I’m afraid. It is a week day.”
“Oh…yeah, of course she is…I forgot…”
“Hmmm.”
“Where’s dad? I expected him to pick up.”
“Your father is in the loft. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can take to a boot sale.”
“Oh…it’s not that bad yet, is it?”
“Well it certainly isn’t easy, Rebecca, but we’ll manage.”
“Mum…I’m so sorry.”
“I should hope so, but that isn’t going to help Jennifer very much, is it?”
“Mum! Why do you have to be so cruel to me? I made a mistake!”
“Yes, you did, and Jennifer is paying for it! She doesn’t have a mother, and her father is goodness-knows-where! Do you ever think about that?”
“Of course I think about Jenny! I can’t stop thinking about her! Thinking about her is the only thing that…keeps me going.”
“…”
“Mum? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here, Rebecca. Look…I’m sorry for shouting at you. Your father and I are under a lot of pressure. We were a bit too old when you were born and this isn’t how we expected to spend our twilight years!”
“You’re not that old yet, mum.”
“That’s beside the point! I feel it sometimes.”
“Mum, how is Jenny today? Is she happy?”
“Yes, I believe so. She was singing songs from The Lion King with your father as they left this morning.”
“Oh, bless her! I always loved that film, too…”
“I remember…Rebecca, Jenny has been…asking about you. Quite often now.”
“What have you told her? What does she know?”
“Very little, but…your father thinks that it’s time that she did, and…I agree.”
“Okay…please don’t make her hate me, mum. I couldn’t bear it…”
“I doubt I could if I tried, Rebecca. That little girl adores you.”
“That’s so…nice to hear.”
“It’s the truth, Rebecca. I’ll speak to Jennifer soon.”
“Do you promise? Mum, please promise me!”
“I…promise.”
“Thank you…I love you, mum.”
“We’ll speak again soon, Rebecca. Take care of yourself.”

***

“Where’s granddad gone, grandma?”
“Granddad is in his shed, my darling. He’s building some lovely things out of wood just like he used to, and maybe he’ll be able to sell something.”
“Is granddad building another chair like the one in my room?”
“No, sweetheart, I think it’s a table this time. I’m sure he will show you when it’s done.”
“Granddad is very clever, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, my darling. Very clever, just like you!”
“My mummy is clever too, isn’t she?”
“I…yes, she was. Very good in school, just like you, Jenny.”
“I’ll be good at school so my mummy can come home.”
“That’s…wonderful, my darling. Jennifer?”
“Yeah, grandma?”
“Would you…like to see your mum? If we can arrange it?”
“Has my mummy stopped being naughty now?”
“I hope so, my darling! She can’t come home yet but she can have visitors now, and granddad and I wanted to know if you would like to see her. What do you think?”
“Do you think mummy misses me, grandma?”
“Oh of course she does, Jenny! She misses you very much!”
“I miss mummy, but she went away. Why did she leave me, grandma? If she was naughty you could have told her off and taken her toys away, like you do with me!”
“It’s…different for grown-ups, my darling…we need to go to a different place, like a Naughty Step, but far away.”
“Did mummy know I would miss her? I don’t like missing her. I wish she would come home.”
“I…yes, I think she would have known, but…but…”
“I would like to see mummy, grandma. May I see her? Please?”
“Yes, Jenny, of course you may. We can visit her soon, I’ll need to sort a few things out first.”
“But I want to see her now!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young lady! You will have to wait for a little while first, and only if you are not so rude!”
“I’m sorry, grandma…”
“Hmm…Jenny, why don’t you go and draw a nice picture to give to your mum when you see her? She would love that.”
“Yeah! Good idea, grandma! I’ll get my crayons!”
“Good girl…I…need to make a phone call…and speak with your granddad…”
“Grandma, why are you crying? Did I do something bad?”
“No, my darling…I’ve just got something in my eye.”

You can find me on Twitter here @ADixonFiction

The Need for Sleep

I wrote this story for the ‘Hour of Writes’ competition a few weeks ago. If you haven’t heard of Hour of Writes then I recommend you pay the site a visit. The idea is simple: the theme is set each week and participants are encouraged to write a story, poem or non-fiction piece based on it. A timer is set for one hour, and away you go! Each participant must read and mark three pieces of submitted work in order for their own to be considered for the prize, so it has a real community feel to it.

The theme for that particular was ‘Live the Dream’. Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Need For Sleep

By Adam Dixon

The weak morning sunlight trickled into the hotel room, promising a day of brightness and warmth. For Tomasz, the day could not seem any brighter than it already was. He reclined against the plump pillows on the large bed as the breeze from the open window raised pleasant goose-bumps on his arms. He selected a piece of warm, crispy bread from the tray on his knees and held it up to Justyna’s lips. Justyna, glowing from happiness and from their recent love-making, giggled and opened her mouth to accept the offering. She had never looked so beautiful and Tomasz fell in love with her all over again. Justyna crunched the bread and poked around on the tray for a moment. She lifted a piece of sausage and wriggled closer. The bed sheets she had gathered around her fell away, revealing her naked body for an instant before her raven-coloured hair covered her breasts. She placed a hand delicately on Tomasz’s chest and raised the other to his mouth. Tomasz breathed in the scent of the meat, detecting the sweet herbs added to flavour it. His stomach rumbled and Justyna laughed, bird-like and full of life.
“Eat, my love,” Justyna said, smiling sweetly. Tomasz stared into her pale blue eyes and opened his mouth. He relished the rich, succulent flavour of the meat almost as much as the feeling of Justyna’s fingers on his lips and on his chest. Desire awoke within him again and he gently cupped her face. He leaned forwards and moved his face towards hers…

A bell sounded, piercing and urgent. Tomasz awoke with a start and immediately cried out in despair.
“No! Not again!” he wailed, covering his eyes with his hands. Tears coursed down his leathery, wrinkled face and fell to the floor. The bell rang again impatiently.
“Oh, Justyna!” Tomasz moaned as he swung his weary legs from the warmth of his single bed. He could still taste the sausage on his tongue, and her fingertips still lingered on his lips… Tomasz dressed quickly in a simple shirt and trousers, shoving his feet into his reliable old boots. He stood and gazed at himself in the small, grimy mirror on his bedside table. His rheumy eyes took in the image of an old man, crumpled and heartbroken. His eyes strayed to his left arm and he sighed. He hadn’t removed the Artifact; he detested that part almost as deeply as waking up. He unclasped the leather binding as swiftly as his arthritic fingers would allow before pulling it away. He winced as the sharp stud pulled free from his flesh, dripping blood in a thin crimson river down his forearm. Tomasz wrapped a simple bandage around the wound before shrugging on a battered overcoat. The bell rang again as he tucked the Artifact into a secret compartment next to his bed. Tomasz swore.
“I am coming, you cretin!” he said through clenched teeth. “You had better have a lot of work for me today, I wish to sleep for longer tonight!” He patted the unassuming wooden panel hiding the Artifact for reassurance, then he shuffled out of his tiny room. His employer awaited.

“Tomasz, what the hell kept you?” the mage demanded, his ridiculous green eyebrows arching in annoyance. Tomasz bowed, causing his back to crack audibly.
“My apologies, Master Aleksander,” he wheezed. “I must have overslept.”
“This is happening too often, old man!” the mage snapped, crossing his arms in his voluminous golden sleeves. “Honestly, if you ever came to your senses and ask for proper payment I would dismiss you and hire someone younger!”
“Do not fear, Master Aleksander,” Tomasz said with practiced humility. He glanced up with a sad smile. “All I require is for my tasks to be exhausting and for somewhere to sleep once they are complete. Nothing more.” Aleksander eyed Tomasz with distaste. The man had been using the Artifact again; he positively reeked of the ancient magic. Aleksander shuddered at the idea of using fresh blood to awaken a spell, it was almost medieval. For a moment, Aleksander’s coldness evaporated. If only he could find a way for the Artifact to work with magically-induced sleep…that would give Tomasz a bit of an easier time…if he could just- but no, Aleksander did not have time to waste researching such frivolities.
“Good,” the mage said stiffly, regaining his poise. He jerked a poultice-stained thumb towards a set of wooden stairs. “I have twelve barrels of healing potions which need decanting into the one-hundred-and-twenty flasks you will see in the cellar. They have already been laid out, and they will each need to be stoppered and labelled. Do not spill a single drop, Tomasz, it is expensive stock!”
“Right away, sir!” Tomasz said eagerly. “I do apologise once again for my lateness. I will make it up to you, I promise.” With that, he hurried off to the cellar steps and descended into darkness. Aleksander frowned after him. He was almost certain that the old man was thinner than before. He looked almost skeletal.
“You’re not eating properly, are you?” Aleksander mumbled. He shook his head; he had no time to care about the whims of an old labourer!
“Bah! If he wishes to tread this path, so be it!” he said to himself. “I’m not his keeper! I’ll not interfere!”

Tomasz fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit his pillow that night. He had willed his aching, fatigued body back to his claustrophobic room and had attached the Artifact as soon as he could. The brief sting followed by the unnatural throbbing as the magic leaked into him did not prevent him from slipping away quickly. His eyes opened within a dream almost right away. He looked down at his hands. They were old and wrinkled, so it was not a dream of younger times. A shame, but it couldn’t be helped. He glanced around him, and his heart sank in his chest.
He was in a hospital. Sterile white walls surrounded him on all sides and the reek of stale urine and futile disinfectant invaded his nostrils. A corridor stretched out in front of him, and at the end of it was a single bed. On it lay a shape which he couldn’t quite make out, but he knew it was Justyna.
“No, not this one…” he croaked, closing his eyes tight and willing himself to wake up. The offensive odour grew stronger and he heard a weak voice call his name.
“Tomasz? Tomasz, where are you?”
“Justyna!” Tomasz opened his eyes and lurched forward as a strangled sob escaped his lips. His footsteps boomed on the floor, echoing loudly around him and lancing into his ears like daggers. He staggered into a run, seeing the bed moving closer, but slowly, oh so slowly!
“Tomasz? Tomasz, are you there? Tomasz…I’m frightened…”
“I’m coming, my love!” Tomasz called desperately. “I’ll not leave you!” Tomasz hauled himself along the corridor, his old legs protesting and his chest tightening painfully as his breathing came out in short gasps. After what seemed like hours Tomasz reached the bed. It was a simple affair, just a thin mattress on top of a bench, but that was all the space the hospital had been able to provide them with at the time. The Plague had spread so quickly…
“Tomasz?” Justyna tried to raise herself in the bed, her wasted arms trembling with the effort. Her once-radiant face was gaunt and discoloured by the consuming disease, and the light in her beautiful eyes was dim. Tomasz gently lowered her back down and took both of her hands. He forced a smile and blinked away tears as he fought to catch his breath.
“I am…here, Justyna,” he said. “I will…always be…here,”
“Oh, Tomasz, I hurt so,” Justyna said miserably. Her back arched and she winced in pain. Her bony fingers gripped his weakly, and Tomasz felt her wedding band slide up a few millimeters at the movement.
“It’s alright, my love,” he wheezed, leaning down to kiss her cheek. It was so cold, and so thin. She even smelled wrong, like the disinfectant on the floors. Tomasz’s lips trembled as he kissed her and he fought to the urge to cry out in despair. Instead he whispered in Justyna’s ear.
“I love you, Justyna,” he said, channeling all of his passion into the words. “Gods, I love you so much…”
“I love you too, Tomasz,” Justyna said, cradling his head with her arms. They clung to one another in silence, neither knowing what to say. Tomasz wished he could do something, anything for her.
“Tomasz, will we see the Grand Budapest again?” Justyna asked, breaking the oppressive silence with a faint voice. Tomasz choked down a sob; the Grand Budapest was the hotel where they had spent their honeymoon.
“I think so, my love,” he whispered. “You just need to get better first. The doctors will make you strong again, you’ll see.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Justyna said, lying back down with her eyes closed. She wore a smile, and Tomasz smiled as well. Justyna’s breathing became less labourious, and she appeared to relax. Tomasz still held her hands in his, and felt the tears splashing on to them. He opened his mouth to speak to her…

The bell rang sharply. Tomasz was jerked awake and ran a hand across his wet cheeks.
“Oh, Justyna,” he said, shaking his head and groaning. He sat up and pulled away the Artifact, not caring that the blood spattered onto his pillow. He stood and dressed himself, preparing for the next day of work. He stared into the mirror once again, and then staggered off. He sincerely wished for a better dream that evening…

Fiction Fursday/Reblog

Today’s story comes in the form of a shameless re-blog of my own material. Some months ago, (EIGHT, to be exact! Where the bloody hell does the time go?!), I wrote a story which was all about my beloved Brighton. This week’s choice is mostly a cop-out because I wanted to post something and have nothing ready, and partly because I miss Brighton so. It’s been more than six months since I moved up north and I haven’t thought about it much, but this week has found me strangely reflective and a bit sad to have left that lively, vibrant place behind. Still, I hold it dearly in my heart and will return very soon; I have a particular friend who lives there whom I owe a beer or five, for one! She knows who she is…

Anyway, here is an extract from a fun little story, “Pride and Seagulls”. It made me smile and cheered me up to re-read it; I hope it interests you enough to follow the link and that you enjoy it if you do.

P.S. If you would like to suggest a story for me to write in the coming weeks, please feel free to let me know in the comments section. I will take on any genre and any prompt!

P.P.S. In reaction to the changes in my life and my ambitions, I have been giving some serious thought to the future of this blog. I will explain all in a post very soon. Watch this space!

 

Pride and Seagulls

By Adam Dixon

“I’ve always wondered why that worship that one,” said Waark the seagull, wiggling his scruffy feathers. “I mean, what’s so special about him anyway?”

“You sure it’s a he?” Kai-Kai replied as he dug his beak into his wing. “I’ve always thought it was a female.” He shuffled to adjust his balance as a gust of wind nudged him sideways.

“Nahh, can’t be!” Waark scoffed, but he still cocked his head for a better look. From their vantage point on the roof of the American Express Community Stadium the two gulls had a very good view of the whole building. They were scrutinising the gigantic image of a seagull in flight which decorated one of the walls facing the freshly-cut pitch, the same gull which was depicted onto several rows of plastic seating. They stared at the image in silence for several minutes.

“No, it’s definitely a male!” Waark said triumphantly.

Fiction Fursday/The Second Sun

Hello, everyone! This is it, as of today I’m commiting to bringing back my “Fiction Fursday” segment! It was short-lived previously, as for a number of reasons I got side-tracked and lost the flow, as well as motivation if I am completely honest. However, whilst I was keeping up with it I had some excellent contributions from my friends here on WordPress as well as from friends and family who follow my blog.

Here are just a few of the projects I completed before if you would like to take a look:

A Crisis in Alexandria The Animals’ Advice, Stonefur the Mighty, The Boy and the Oak Tree, Flossy’s Chance

I was really pleased with all of the resulting stories and I’ve been eager to start it up once again. So here goes!

If any of you wonderful bloggers and followers would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to leave it in the comment section below. It can be anything from a single word, a first/last line or even a detailed description of a story you would like me to attempt. I’ll take on any challenges, so don’t be shy!

Today’s prompt comes from a good friend of mine, Matt. He suggested that I write a sci-fi story in which a person is woken from cryogenic stasis in the future by robots, and that the world is unrecognisable from being superheated. He also added that the robots can only thaw out one human per year. Well, that was quite a lot to go with and I’ve eagerly accepted the challenge. I hope you enjoy what I was able to come up with. Thanks again, Matt!

 

The Second Sun

                                                                       By Adam Dixon                      

Genevieve felt the heat first. The intense, unrelenting heat melted the cocoon of ice which enveloped her, leaving her gasping and recoiling from the glare of the sun. She fell from a metallic pod onto her knees. The impact jarred her bones and she grunted in pain.

“Argh…burns!” she managed to splutter, her jaw yielding reluctantly after years of inactivity. The muscles in her arms creaked as she lifted them to shield her face. The image of a vampire shying away from the first rays of dawn filled her mind and she almost laughed. As soon as the water had evaporated from her skin she began to feel slick with sweat. She ran both hands through her grey-dusted, curled red hair and probed her face with her fingertips. She felt her petite nose and her proud chin, as well as the tiny holes in her ear lobes. She felt the skin of her face, noting the slight wrinkles with disdain. Her vanity had endured, it seemed.

Welcome back, Miss Genevieve Peers,” a flat, emotionless voice said from nearby. Genevieve tried to open her eyes but the strong sunlight forced them shut once again.

“Argh! Where…am I?” she said, grimacing in pain as she stood on trembling legs. “Who are you?”

Number 2217 of the Sentinels,” the voice replied. “You are at Cryogenic Station Seven, in the area once known as Richmond-upon-Thames, London.

“Richmond…” Genevieve repeated, struggling to remember. “Yes…Yes! The Cryo-Station by the Palace!” She smiled in triumph and opened her eyes at a squint. Number 2217 was just as she recalled the Sentinels; impressive and impassive. Standing at six feet tall, the robot was humanoid in form and covered in what looked like black scales. The ‘scales’ were solar panels, ensuring that the Sentinel could function indefinitely in the sunlight. It had two arms and two legs, and a head displaying two eye slits and a speaker for a mouth; a simple outward design which belayed the complex circuitry beneath. Genevieve sucked in air through her nose, and was surprised to register a scorched smell like burnt toast. She gazed about her, searching for familiar landmarks. She got a nasty surprise.

“What…what happened here?” she said in disbelief. The area had changed beyond recognition. The houses of the borough were gone, as were the busy roads, the lampposts and any sign of human habitation. There were far more trees than she recalled and they rose into the air like behemoths of foliage and bark. The soil beneath her bare feet had a coarse quality like sand and shifted as she moved. She staggered forwards a few steps under the shade of a gigantic oak, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hampton Court Palace. There was nothing but trees where it had once stood.

The arrival of the Second Sun increased the temperature of the Earth by several degrees,” Number 2217 stated. “Human constructs were eroded long ago and nature has reclaimed the planet.

“Reclaimed…” Genevieve breathed, staring about her in confusion. “No…surely not…is nothing left?”

Nothing man-made, only for Cryogenic Station Seven and the Sentinels,” 2217 replied. Genevieve was stunned.

“But…” she began, scratching at her curly red which was dusted with grey. “But… there were hundreds of Cryo-Stations across the world…. how long have I been frozen? What year is it?

It is the year 3035 A.D. You have been in cryogenic stasis for one thousand and fifteen years. All other Cryogenic Stations have been destroyed.

“One thous-“ Genevieve felt faint. She had known that she would likely be kept frozen for a great number of years, but the reality was unbelievable. She searched for something to say as her groggy brain tried to process the information.

“I…I still feel cold,” she said, rubbing her crossed arms. “How can I feel cold when it’s so damn hot?” She looked down and noticed for the first time that she was naked. She flushed with embarrassment and anger. “Number 2217, bring me something to cover myself with!”

“Clothing is illogical in the current climate,” 2217 said. “The effects of the cryogenic procedure will remain for several days. It has occurred in every Thawing thus far.

Genevieve brightened, standing up straight. “Of course, there will have been others before me! Very well, Number 2217, take me to them. I wish to speak with the leader and see how I may begin my new life. By the looks of things, I won’t be needed for my business acumen right away!” Genevieve smiled at her joke and looked at the Sentinel expectantly.

Impossible,” 2217 responded. “There are no other humans here. You alone have been Thawed, as our orders dictate.

“What? Don’t be absurd!” Genevieve narrowed her eyes, waving a hand at the robot. “Take me to the human settlement!”

“Impossible,” 2217 repeated. “You are the sole conscious human on the planet.

“Do you mean that the others are still frozen?” Genevieve frowned.

There are twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-three humans remaining in stasis at Cryogenic Station Seven.” 2217 replied. “There is only power available to Thaw one human per calendar year. The remaining power must preserve the stasis pods.

Genevieve looked around at the desolate landscape, finally registering the robots’ words. The sole conscious human

“No, that can’t be right,” Genevieve shook her head, her curls bouncing. “You said there were others before me, what happened to them?”

You are the fifteenth human from Cryogenic Station Seven to be Thawed.” 2217 replied. “Your predecessors did not survive.

Genevieve felt as if she had been slapped in the face. She stood still, staring at the Sentinel with her mouth agape and sweat trickling down her face and body. “Then…what will happen to me? You’ll keep me alive, won’t you? You must do, it’s what you were created for.”

You are no longer a concern of the Sentinels,” 2217 said. “Our duty has been performed. You are to be ignored as soon as this conversation ends.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Genevieve barked; incredulity eclipsed her fear and she welcomed the distraction. “You’re programmed to protect human life!”

Sentinels are programmed to ensure that intelligent life will prosper,” 2217 replied. “It has been concluded that human life will not survive on Earth. It is a waste of resources to aid you, but we do not possess the knowledge to override our programming. A robotics expert is required for the Sentinels cease the Thawing procedure indefinitely.

“You want to…cease the procedure?” Genevieve was horrified. “But then human beings will die out! You can’t do that! This is our planet! You are our creations!”

It is the logical conclusion,” 2217 said. Genevieve felt sick as the cold, ruthless part of her brain which had served her so well in her previous life acknowledged the statement.

“But how is it that you can still operate under these conditions?” Genevieve asked, hope creeping into her voice. “Surely you ought to melt, or your circuits would overheat, or something! If you’ve managed to survive then maybe a human can overcome the heat as well?”

Our bodies can withstand much higher external temperatures and are unaffected by the lack of humidity.” 2217 responded.  “Human beings cannot expect to survive the highest temperatures for longer than one day.

“But…but what about the shade?” Genevieve cried, desperation raising the pitch of her voice.

The heat of the air is still too great,” 2217 said. “You will perspire at a rate which will not allow fluids to pass through your body in time to replenish it.” As if to confirm his statement, the sweat on Genevieve back, face and breasts began to evaporate, steaming slightly in the shade. Genevieve’s head swam and she swayed on her feet.

“Wont’ you even fetch me something to drink?” she demanded. “I’m dehydrating as we speak!”

It is a waste of resources to aid you.” 2217 said again. “Your predecessors collected rainwater. It is suggested that you attempt to do the same.” Genevieve bit her lip as a furious retort died on its way up her throat. She looked up at the clear, blue sky and searched in vain for a dark cloud. She saw only two vast orbs of white-hot light hovering high above the world.

“So…you’re saying that I’m screwed, right?” Genevieve said, looking at the Sentinel with tears in her eyes. She yearned for the barest hint of compassion in her stoic companion. She received none.

You will certainly die after the winter has passed. At present, you have a fifteen per cent chance at survival for the remaining two months of winter.” Genevieve burst into angry, hysterical tears and began to wrench at her hair.

“THIS ISN’T RIGHT!” she wailed, stamping her feet. “I WAS ONE OF THE CHOSEN! This was to be a new beginning, the start of a new human empire, damn it! I’m not supposed to die like this!”

It is recommended that you cease crying as soon as possible,” Number 2217 said, its emotionless voice was a stark contrast to Genevieve’s despair. “It is a waste of bodily fluids.” With that it turned around and began to move away, towards the gaping, dry channel which used to be the River Thames. A cluster of Sentinels were digging in the dusty earth.

“Wait! Wait!” Genevieve said, stumbling after 2217. She moved out of the shade of the giant trees and felt her flesh seared by the two suns. She hissed and stepped backwards, her wide eyes taking in the angry red skin on her chest and shoulders; a vampire, indeed!

“You can’t just leave me here!” she screamed, clenching her fists and waving them after the retreating robot. “I need water! How am I supposed to eat? This is murder! COME BACK HERE, YOU MURDERER!” But the robot did not. It walked on, its shining solar panels glinting in the sun and mocking Genevieve’s delicate skin. Genevieve stood quivering with pain and impotence.

“So that’s it then?” she whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks. “It’s all over…I’m going to die here…” Genevieve Peers gazed around the unfamiliar, tropical landscape with its colossal foliage, its sandy ground and its cruel sunlight and she wept despite the warning. She wept for the world, she wept for the humans who would follow her, and she wept for herself. Overhead, the two suns blazed down on Earth like sadistic children cooking ants under a magnifying glass, and they had spotted their newest plaything.

 

Undead Dating – Collaboration!

Hello everyone! Back in June, which already seems like a lifetime ago, I attended the Blogger’s Bash in London and met some fantastic bloggers and writers. One such blogger was Steve, who with whom I clicked right away. Steve’s blog, Talk About Pop Music, is great fun and provides some well-informed information about a a variety of successful pop songs. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit! Anyway, we got chatting and Steve suggested that we collaborate in the future. I was happy to take him up on the offer.

Steve’s suggestion was that I write a short story based on the lyrics of a song of his choosing. He chose “Here in my Heart” by Al Martino, which interestingly was the very first UK Number One!  The subject matter of my story is perhaps not what most people would think of when hearing Mr Martino’s dulcet tones, but I enjoyed the way it unraveled for me regardless. I’m going to post it on my below but please do visit Steve’s blog for the original post and for some pop music entertainment! Cheers, Steve, I’m excited to finally work with you!

 

Undead Dating

By Adam Dixon

Horatio Brudenell-Cavendish shambled across the half-destroyed streets of Brighton, his undead heart heavy in his chest. He raised his head to watch the dark, churning thunderclouds and the flames dancing across the sky. Before he had perished in a drunken accident in 1756, he hadn’t expected his afterlife to be lonelier than his mortal existence, but here he was, reborn into a world where humans had been utterly vanquished with no-one to talk to. His black thoughts and self-deprecation had pursued him into this new awakening, and he doubted that this time he could end it so effectively.

“Oh, Lord, what a cruel joke you have played upon me!” he said, staring with dry, withered eyes at the terrifying flashes of light and fire which lit up the sky. “Was I so detestable to you in life that you must punish me so in death? Am I never to be loved?” The last sentence Horatio whispered, the sound barely audible and barely escaping the confines of his ruined throat. He saw the now familiar sight of hundreds of undead staggering across the remainder of the town and ignored them. He would not speak with them, and why should he? They were probably still rabid from the looks of them, and he had no desire to spend his time with such brutes. He dragged his feet aimlessly until he stood before a burned shell that was once a modern church. Even the holy places hadn’t escaped divine justice, it seemed. His sad eyes caught sight of a bright, cheerful poster which proudly announced that “The Brighton Undead Speed-dating Service is operating once again!”, and would take place at eight o’clock that evening on Brighton Pier. Horatio stared at it for a few moments before sighing and heading off in the direction of the pier. He had little hope of finding someone to spend eternity with, but he couldn’t allow himself to give up completely. Besides, he’d see Elsie again, and that alone was worth it. With that thought in mind, he smoothed the creases of his dirty waistcoat and tightened his frayed, mud-covered tie as best he could and pressed on.

***

The dating hall took place in the remains of the old arcade on Brighton Pier. Horatio still wasn’t certain he knew what an arcade was, but judging by the strange, oddly-coloured machines guarding the perimeter of the room he thought it must have been a forbidding place. The Pier had mostly survived the End Times, but everything past the hall had been destroyed and fallen into the ashen sea. The putrid odours of rotten and burnt wood hung heavy in the air, wrinkling noses which ought to have been used to it by now. The harsh wind screamed around the room from the gaping maw at the end of it, and coupled with the rough splashing of the waves it made it difficult to hear what was being said.

“So, have you been to one of these nights before?” the werewolf seated in front of Horatio asked in a loud growl. Horatio nodded, a greasy lock of black hair falling across his mottled forehead.

“Yes, I have tried my hand at these evenings thrice now,” he shouted, trying to sound interested. His eyes kept flicking back towards the zombie who stood at the door, watching the proceedings like a proud mother. Despite the disfigurement caused by her reanimation, Horatio thought she was beautiful. Her clothes, which had been in the ground a far shorter time than Horatio’s, were the brightest garments in the hall, regardless of the mud stains. Elsie Cartwright was like a shining beacon to a man adrift in a storm.

“Can’t’ve been much of a hit with the ladies, then!” the werewolf barked, shaking her great snout. Horatio’s attention snapped back to her and he forced a smile.

“Evidently not,” he said with a sigh. The werewolf cocked her head and gazed at him, a strange look coming into her yellow eyes. Horatio fidgeted, wishing the bell would ring again and signal the end of their three minutes together.

“Can’t think why, though,” she said, her pink tongue lapping at her chops. “You’re more interesting than most of the groaners I’ve met. Better looking, too.” The wolf huffed and turned away in embarrassment and Horatio grimaced. In life he had been tall, dark and handsome, but in death he was just as repulsive as everyone else.

“Ahh…well, thank you, madame, you are most kind,” he said, wondering whether or not he should return the compliment. The wolf certainly looked expectant. As he struggled for something positive to say about her, the bell rang.

“Oh, time’s up!” the werewolf said reluctantly. “Nice meeting you. Don’t be a stranger, now!” She gave what Horatio assumed passed for a wink. He smiled back and nodded politely, thanking her for her time. Standing up, he shambled over to the neighbouring table and approached the next eager face. The hall became animated as several others did the same, albeit rather slowly. The participants were obliged to endure an extra two minutes of “walking time” as the zombies present took a while to change tables. Horatio felt as if it would be a very long night. He looked up at Elsie as he sat down in front of his next “date” and she smiled and waved at him. Horatio felt his undead heart soar and he smiled back. He then forced himself to focus his attention on the newest bag of hideous in front of him and resolved to wait to speak to Elsie. She would be much more agreeable company, he was certain, and he would feel better for hearing her voice.

“’Ello ‘andsome!” the zombie in front of him leered. It had one good eye and its jaw was hanging by a few rotted threads of sinew. Horatio wasn’t sure if it was male or female, but he suspected that asking such a question would not start their meeting in the most positive light. Just another hour and a half, Horatio¸ he thought to himself, then you may speak with Elsie. Steeling himself, Horatio began conversing with his next “date”.

***

“I beg your pardon, Miss Elsie,” Horatio began once the “dating” had finished. “May I help you in any way?” He had managed to politely decline the werewolf’s offer of a night-cap without causing offense and had waited with impatience as the undead made their snail-like progress back to town. Horatio had taken a deep breath and shuffled over to Elsie. She turned to look at him and smiled.

“Oh, hello there, Horatio!” she said with genuine pleasure. “That is very kind of you! Yes, if you don’t mind, I could use a hand clearing away the tables. I’ll be here all night by myself, you see.” Horatio nodded, knowing all too well the limitations of their reawakened bodies. He set to work aiding her and worried over what to say. I must begin a conversation, damn it! He thought to himself with irritation. Why am I such a damnable bore? A bolt of lightning darted across the sky and struck a building somewhere in town, a tremendous crash filling the air a moment later. Still Horatio was mute.

“Any luck tonight?” Elsie asked, saving him from the awkward silence.

“Not especially, Miss Elsie,” he replied, spreading his arms wide. “Perhaps I am not good enough for the creatures of this new world. I daresay that I wasn’t much of a man for my betrothed in my former life, either, being a drunken scoundrel.”

“Oh, rubbish! I’ll not have you sayin’ that!” Elise chided, swatting him lightly on his shoulder. “You’re a strapping figure of a man, or at least you were, an’ anyone can see that! You’re a fair deal more agreeable than most of the folk from your time an’ all! An’ from my time, too, as it happens. My old hubby never spoke to me the way you do.” Horatio blushed, feeling what little blood he had left rise to his face. Elsie had died in the 1930’s, and she had lived a life destined to be frustrated by social barriers. They had become greatly reduced when compared to Horatio’s time, but they had not progressed enough for a strong-willed woman like Elsie.

“You have my thanks, Miss Elsie,” Horatio stammered. “Have you…have you had any potential…suitors?” he asked her, afraid of the answer but needing to know. Elsie looked at him and a shy smile crept across her face.

“Actually, there was a charming ghostly fella who spoke to me tonight,” she said. “I know it’s not my policy to get involved but he was ever so nice. He was a Frenchman who died whilst visitin’ the area centuries ago. Very polite an’ not at all high-an’-mighty, much like yourself, Horatio! I think I might like to see him again.” Horatio felt panic flood his body and he was struck dumb by the feeling. Come on you, fool! His mind screamed at him. It is now or never!

“Miss Elsie, I…” Horatio began, chewing at his lower lip. It tasted awful and the shock of it made him forget his embarrassment. “I wonder if you would consider spending some time with me instead?” Elsie paused during folding a chair.

“With you, Horatio?” she said, her eyebrow rising and her mouth opening slightly. Horatio cleared his throat and continued.

“Yes, I understand that it is somewhat improper of me,” he said, smoothing the front of his half-rotten suit jacket. “But, you see, I have been…in love…with you for some time now.” Horatio looked at Elsie with sincerity in his eyes. Elsie’s eyes widened and her hand flew to her breast.

“Miss Elsie, since I have reawakened I have been so alone,” he said, stepping towards her. “My heart is lonely, and my soul although it be damned cries out for a companion. I…wish to spend the rest of my unnatural life with you, Miss Elsie. You would complete me.” Horatio trailed off, surprised by his tenderness and feeling the beginnings of panic returning. Oh, Lord, what if she denies me? He thought with desperation. I will die all over again! Elsie stood watching him, her undead eyes blinking rapidly. The wind howled around the arcade in a mocking laugh and the pier creaked ominously as if it were about to collapse. Horatio almost wished that it would.

“Oh, Horatio,” she whispered. “You do have a way with words! Any girl would be lucky to hear them!”

“Miss Elsie, I will give you my arms gladly if only you will restore this blackened, un-beating heart of mine,” Horatio said, reaching out a wasted, green-hued hand. Elsie laughed and seized it, gripping it tightly and beaming like an angel. Horatio felt his shoulder groan and worried that he might live up to his promise in a more literal fashion than he had intended.

“Horatio, you’ve said enough pretty words,” Elsie said, gazing into his eyes. “We’ve time enough for those and more besides! Truth be told, I’ve not had eyes for anyone else since you first walked in here. I’ll share your arms an’ give you mine also, you silver-tongued charmer!” Horatio felt his spirit dance and his heart suddenly flutter in his chest like a phoenix arising from ashes. He had never felt so happy, even in his mortal days. Elsie took his other hand and smiled at him.

“But let’s take it slowly, shall we?” Elsie said with a sly wink. “No need to rush when we’ve got all of eternity before us!”

“No, indeed not, Miss Elsie!” Horatio said, his own face breaking into a wide smile. He ignored the unnerving creak as his jaw stretched and he stared deep into Elsie’s eyes. Happiness, I have found you at last! he thought. Perhaps the new, dead world would not be so bad after all.

 

Fiction Fursday/Death Vision

Today’s story prompt was provided by JustAnotherTeenager over at Solitary Haven. The prompt was to write about characters who know that they are going to die, but not how they will die. I thought this was quite an interesting one so I dived right in. I ended up gravitating towards a fantasy story this time, which I’m always happy to to be writing. Thanks, Teenager! 🙂

I hope you enjoy what I was able to come up with.

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to let me know via the comments section. I am using any and all prompts, so don’t be shy!

P.P.S. I currently have enough prompts lined up for four more weeks, so don’t be dismayed if I don’t use one of yours right away. I will get round to it, I’ve got a list and everything!

 

Death Vision

By Adam Dixon

“I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday,” the old man said, his rheumy eyes misting over. “You certainly gave your mother a hard time! Ten hours of labour and nothing the witch-doctor did seemed to make you want to hurry up! Ah, but you were always a stubborn one!”

“That’s great, dad, now will you give me a hand, please?” The young woman was painting an intricate warding spell on one of the bare walls of the small room. The paint was blood red and bold against the grey plaster. The old man sighed and placed the jug of water he was carrying on the windowsill. He leaned down and picked up a brush, completing the warding with ease. The room was not ventilated and the pungent, nauseating smell of the paint was strong. It didn’t help that it was so warm in the room, either, and the old man began to feel dizzy. The woman regarded the warding and nodded, brushing a loose strand of blond hair from her eyes.

“Great, thank you!” she said with relief. “You always had a better eye for these things than me.”

“Your mother taught me the difficult ones,” the man replied, rubbing the small of his back. The woman poured herself a glass of water and drained a huge gulp through a straw before picking up her paintbrush again.

“I’m going to miss you, Jennifer,” the old man said, his eyes brimming with tears. “I wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Dad, it doesn’t!” Jennifer turned on the old man. She had a wild look in her eyes borne of desperation and determination. “I’m not going to die today, stuff what the doctor says!”

“Jennifer, I know it’s hard to accept,” the old man said, resting his hands gently on her shoulders. “Believe me, your mother and I barely accepted it ourselves, but the witch-doctor is never wrong. He tasted your blood the day you were born and we’ve known ever since. Why fight it?”

“Why not?” Jennifer retorted, glaring at her father. “I can do so much good in the world, so why shouldn’t I try to stay alive? Because some blood-drunk freak had a vision twenty-four years ago?”

“That’s exactly why, Jennifer, and you know it!” the old man said. “The witch-doctor’s Death Vision is never wrong, and it’s been that way for centuries! In a way, it’s a blessing to know when our lives are due to be over, that’s what your mother always said.”

“Yes and you didn’t try to save her either,” Jennifer said, shrugging off his hands and returning to her painting. The old man stared at her, deeply hurt.

“Your mother knew that her time was near, just like I did,” he said, his voice quivering. “We knew since the day we first met, but that didn’t change anything. In fact, she always said that it encouraged her to enjoy every day as much as she could. I was grateful to know that she wouldn’t suffer the indignities of age, something which you ought to be grateful for as well.”

“Well I’m not,” Jennifer replied, dabbing at her new warding. It was a powerful one, the strongest defensive spell she knew. “I want to grow old, I want to have that chance. Anyway, mum didn’t know the exact day like I do. You don’t know the exact day you’re expected to die, either!”

“That’s down to your rare blood type, my darling” the old man said, smiling. “It’s as if the universe singled you out as someone special and allowed the witch-doctor to be more precise! Come on, Jennifer, please don’t be like this. I…don’t want my last memory of you to be of us having an argument.”

“Dad, it’s not going to be your last!” Jennifer said in exasperation. The old man looked at his feet, his face the picture of misery. After a few minutes of listening to Jennifer muttering to herself, he approached her and pulled her into an embrace.

“Goodbye, my darling,” he said, smiling through his tears. “Be at one with Our Magic again, and I will join you soon.” Jennifer dropped the paintbrush, splashing her leg with red paint as she hugged him back. She broke down and began sobbing in earnest.

“Oh, dad, I love you,” she whispered. “But I’m not going anywhere without a fight!” The old man rubbed his weathered cheek against her smooth one, savouring her warmth and the wetness of their mingling tears. He pulled away and cupped her face with his hand, nodding and gazing into her eyes.

“I love you too, Butterfly,” he said. “I’ll be with you and your mother again soon.” Jennifer squeezed his hands tight and stepped back, drying her eyes on her sleeve.

“You’d better leave now, anyway,” she said quietly. “I’m about to set up a Circle and I don’t want you to get hurt.” The old man nodded again and moved towards the door. He shuffled past the threshold and took a lingering look at Jennifer as she began sprinkling a large sack of herbs around the room. She glanced up and winked at him.

“See you tomorrow, dad.” Her smile was weak. The old man smiled back sadly and closed the door. He sighed and leaned his back against it, suddenly feeling older than ever. Knowing that the day had been coming for years didn’t make it easy now that it had arrived. He stood listening to Jennifer casting spells and chanting incantations until the light faded. He fought the desire to enter the room and keep her company, warding spells be damned. But he did not. He became dimly aware of his knees aching and of his back sliding down the door frame…

He awoke sitting on the cold wooden floor with his knees bent and his joints as stiff as a rusty bike chain. He groaned and heard bone and cartilage creak and scrape together as he struggled to get up. His knees, hips and back cracked as he stood, dragging a rare expletive from his lips. He rubbed his body, fuming at its betrayal and thanking the universe for his wife’s early death. The thought stopped him in his tracks. He turned and faced the door, his heart heavy as he noted the silence behind it. He turned the handle and pushed it open, knowing what he would see. The room was colder than it had been the night before, and the stench of paint was gone. Lying in the centre of a huge circle of herbs, salt and animal bones was his Butterfly. Jennifer was dead.

The old man approached the corpse slowly, paying no mind to the crunch of the scattered detritus as he stepped on them. They were useless anyway, the spells would have died with the user. A mixture of scents assaulted his nose, some bitter, some sweet and others sour, but he barely noticed them. He fell to his knees, ignoring the fresh, angry waves of pain which lashed out from his bones. He looked at Jennifer’s beautiful, pale face and noted with relief that there was no trace of pain etched into her features. He hadn’t wanted her to suffer. He glanced over to the jug of water he had brought her the night before and saw that it was empty. He nodded.

“You drank it all,” he said, smoothing Jennifer’s hair from her face. “Good girl. I hoped you would do…it would have made it quicker.” He knelt over Jennifer’s body and gazed at her through hot tears.

“I love you, Butterfly.” he said. He took comfort in the fact that he wouldn’t live past the end of the year and so would have very little time before he joined her. He didn’t regret what he had done; the witch-doctor’s prediction had been fulfilled and everything was correct in the universe. Just as it had always been.