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.

Fiction Fursday/Night Terrors

Today’s story prompt was provided by my beautiful, long-suffering partner, Samwise. She has been trying to come up with a prompt for me since I started these Fiction Fursday posts, and she finally came up with a good one. She suggested that I write a story where “a person is hiding in their wardrobe from an intruder and his/her phone rings”.

This sounded like a great one to me, but I was determined not to write anything too obvious. I reckon I managed it, as when Samwise read the first draft she said “Well, that’s not really what I meant!”. I’m hoping that’s a good thing and I hope you all enjoy the tale I have come up with.

P.S. If anyone would like to provide a prompt for me to use in the future, please leave your suggestion in the comment section. Thanks!


Night Terrors

By Adam Dixon

Maggie awoke shivering from the cold. She closed her eyes and tried to drift back to the warm retreat of sleep, but she could not. Rubbing her eyes she crawled from her bed and staggered over to window. It was closed. She stood for a moment, scratching at her bed-hair and creasing her round face in confusion.

“Bit chilly for June…” she mumbled, moving with groggy steps towards her large wardrobe. She passed her desk, barely registering the birthday cards which sat there. “34 and Ready for More!” a pink one proclaimed, a gift from her neighbours. Next to it was her mobile which she scooped up and activated the torch app. She began rooting around inside the wardrobe, pushing blouses, dresses and cardigans out of the way.

“In here somewhere…” she said, still not fully awake. She knelt down and crawled inside the cupboard, thrusting aside sensible shoes and suitcases. Her fingers closed around the soft fabric of her dressing gown and she smiled in triumph.

Her bedroom door creaked open. Maggie froze, her eyes widening as she came awake in an instant. It was not the gentle creak of a breeze but the sound of the door being pushed. Maggie had always lived alone. A single footstep announced the arrival of an intruder. Then another. Another.

Maggie crawled further into the wardrobe, careful not to knock the sides as she turned around. Lucky for her it was large and she was able to sit against the back of it with her clothes hanging down over her face.  She shut off the torch on her phone, praying that whoever was in the room didn’t see it. Her mind raced as she tried to figure out what she should do next. Should she make a run for it and call the police? She didn’t even know what was happening! Should she stay where she was? That seemed like the best idea for the time being, but what if the intruder looked in?

Maggie tried to control her breathing as her panicked mind began throwing up suggestions as to who her intruder might be. It was that thief who escaped from the nearby prison the week before! It was one of those psychotic murderers she had learned about on TV! Or maybe it was a vampire, like in that scary book she was reading…She resolved to keep silent and not move at all…

Maggie’s phone began to ring. The high-pitched screech of her basic ringtone cut through the silence and Maggie’s heart leaped into her throat. Scrabbling furiously, she lifted it and prepared to swipe right to reject the call. She looked at her phone and her pounding heart seemed to freeze over. Her bulging eyes threatened to burst from their sockets and the blood drained from her face. The caller I.D. informed her that “Mum x” was calling…Maggie’s mother had been dead for seven years.

The clothes covering Maggie’s head were ripped from the railings with a vicious tug. Maggie screamed in terror and curled into a ball, waiting for the first blow of an axe or the sting of fangs on her throat.

“Margaret, there you are!” a voice hissed. A familiar, impossible voice… Maggie opened her eyes and forced herself to peer up into the darkness . Standing before her, as white as snow and dressed in mouldy clothes, was her mother. A strangled cry was torn from Maggie’s throat.

“Mum?!” she whispered. The phone was still ringing in her hand.

“In the flesh!” her mother replied, with a harsh cackle. That wasn’t right, Maggie’s mother had never cackled. “Or as near as I can be!” More cackling raised goose-bumps on Maggie’s skin. Her phone stopped ringing.

“But…how? You’ve been…”

“I know, I know,” her mother waved a hand with impatience. Her skin was translucent and Maggie could see her flowery wallpaper through it. The thin, pinched face of Elizabeth Goodwin looked just the same as it always had, except for the unpleasant smile stretching from ear to ear. Elizabeth had rarely smiled.

“I should be a rotten mess by now, eh?” Elizabeth grinned, her eyes wide and alight with madness. She struck a dramatic pose with her hand against her forehead.

“Oh, but I ought to be returned to the dust from whence I came, hadn’t I?” Elizabeth moaned. “Alas, my child, that was not to be my fate!” Maggie blinked rapidly and shook her head. Elizabeth had never made jokes either.

“I must be dreaming…” she said. “This is a nightmare…” She scrabbled for the rosary beads around her neck.

“Oh, you’re not dreaming, my dear,” Elizabeth rasped, crouching before her terrified daughter. She stabbed a ghostly finger towards the beads. “And that trinket won’t protect you! The nightmare is mine, not yours, I am the punished one here!”

“Punished?” Maggie’s head whirled. “What do you mean? You were so pious when you were alive!”

“Wrong God, my dear,” Elizabeth said with a sneer. “Devote your life to the wrong God, and the real one is quite unforgiving! The chains…oh, the chains! Would you believe it, Dicken’s was almost right!” Elizabeth stood again, throwing her head back in a shrill laugh. The noise echoed around Maggie’s small bedroom, bouncing off the walls and lancing into her ears.

“Dickens…what do you mean?” Maggie asked, struggling to stand. Her legs were trembling and her heart was hammering in her chest. She felt as if she were on the verge of fainting.

“Dickens, girl!” Elizabeth said. “Jacob Marley! He returned from the dead with great, heavy chains wrapped around him! Well, Dickens was close, oh so close! But his chains would be better than these…”

“Chains? Where?” Maggie cast her fearful eyes across her mother’s body.

“Chains in here,” Elizabeth tapped her temple with a pale finger. “Too much…such awful suffering…it drives you MAD!” Maggie recoiled at the shouted word, pressing herself into the wardrobe again. Elizabeth took a step forwards with a rictus grin on her face and hunger in her eyes.

“But I can throw them off…just for one night….seven years from the day….” Elizabeth was muttering now, not talking to anyone in particular. She reached out towards Maggie, who slipped down the wardrobe and into a whimpering ball once again.

“Mum, no, please!” She begged. “Whatever you’re doing, please stop!” Elizabeth continued walking towards her, muttering again.

“Just one night…one night to make them stop…” Elizabeth paused, her hands inches from Maggie’s face. A horrible light gleamed in her eyes. “By the way, happy birthday for yesterday, dear!” She barked a laugh and lunged.

“Mum! NO!” Maggie screeched as Elizabeth’s cold fingers gripped her face. Elizabeth’s back straightened and her head swung backwards, her eyes rolling and her mouth going slack. Maggie’s world exploded into horrific, blood-curdling noise. She heard the screams and whimperings of men, women and children, old and young alike. She heard moans and shrieks, cries of anguish and shouts of pain. Each voice followed the other, as one reached its end the next one started; there was no respite. No single voice was the same, but the screams were united by one emotion: fear. Maggie bellowed and dug her fingers into her ears in a desperate attempt to block out the noise. The wailing continued unabated.

“What’ve you done?” Maggie shouted, barely able to hear herself over the noise. “MAKE IT STOP!”

Elizabeth stood still, gazing around the room in wonder. She touched a hand to her forehead and smiled.

“They’ve gone…” she breathed, relief clear in her voice. “I can’t hear them anymore…it worked!”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?!” Maggie cried, squeezing her eyes shut against the torrent of suffering. Elizabeth glanced down at her daughter and smiled without a hint of sympathy.

“What you are hearing is my punishment,” she said, matter-of-factly. “You are listening to the final, terrified screams of everyone who has died or is dying in this world. Once upon a time I would have felt awful about doing this to you, Margaret, but not now. Tonight, you are my saviour!”

“MUM, MAKE IT STOP!” Maggie began to writhe around on the floor as the screams continued their relentless assault. Elizabeth cackled and swept out of the room with the contented sigh of a free woman, leaving Maggie alone.

The living cannot hope to cope with such torment. That night, Maggie’s mind broke down and she was driven insane by the incessant screaming. Her terrified neighbours awoke to her cries and called the police, fearful of a violent attack. The police arrived and found Maggie writhing on the bedroom floor, sobbing and begging incoherently. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital and sedated, but to the horror of the staff she carried on screaming even whilst unconscious. She continued to do so until the first rays of dawn, which brought with it a blessed silence. However, Maggie’s mind never recovered. She was duly sectioned and spent her remaining years staring into space and babbling to herself. She would be heard muttering “chains”, “Dickens was close” and “Mum, why?” over and over again. This would continue, and once every seven years her screaming would begin anew…

A – Z Challenge Day 17



Today’s prompt comes from the brilliant Geoff Le Pard. Geoff has written some very interesting posts about London during this challenge, and he has been kind enough to provide me with two prompts for mine. The theme for my own challenge has been heavily influenced by Geoff, as he wrote a short story every single day last November for NaNoWriMo. I was astounded to learn of this feat and have been inspired to have a crack at something similar ever since!
Geoff’s suggestion for today is “QUISLING”. This is a great word which I have only come across a few times and it presented a fun challenge. Thanks again, Geoff!

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


“You would bite the hand which feeds you, woman?” Captain Siper asked as he stared at Alesia over the top of his clasped fingers. The inside of his command tent was cramped with the huge wooden desk and two burly guards flanking him. The air inside was stuffy and smelled of sweat and leather. Alesia shrugged, irritated by the question.

“That is why I am here, is it not, captain?” she replied, folding her arms and raising her chin. “The people in this village have done nothing good for me in the last year.” Her angular face was held with pride despite the dirt covering it. Captain Siper found this behaviour extraordinary.

“So it would seem,” he said slowly. He leaned across his desk, splaying his hands over the rough maps of the surrounding area as he peered into Alesia’s face.

“Tell me, woman, is there any truth to the rumours my men have heard about you?” He asked, an unpleasant smirk curling his mouth. “They have learned that you were once a respected woman within the village, and a favourite of the local lord, no less. They also learned that you were tossed aside like a soiled blanket once a fairer, younger maiden was made ready for said local lord! Could this be the reason for your traitorous scheme?”

Alesia’s eyes blazed with fury and her breathing quickened. Oh, how she would love to hit him right in his smug, self-satisfied mouth! She stood straighter and her voice was cool as she answered him.

“They are not quite true, captain,” she said, narrowing her eyes at Siper’s stoic guards. They were watching her with same alertness as a fox would watch a rabbit.

“I was indeed favoured by the local lord, as I was once his mistress,” she continued. “But that time has passed, as you may have deduced by my slovenly appearance. I was not “tossed aside” as you so delicately put it, but there was another woman embroiled in my fate and that was the lord’s wife. She has seen fit to wield her influence on these simple-minded villagers, and suffice it to say my fortunes have declined of late.”

“Yes, that much is quite obvious!” Captain Siper barked a short, cruel laugh. Alesia sniffed but maintained her composure.

“Well, will you accept my help or not?” she demanded. “I know that your leader desires this village for its strategic position along the trade routes and you know that the villagers won’t let you take it without fierce resistance. I can help you minimise the losses on your side considerably.”

“Perhaps we don’t require any aid, hmm?” Captain Siper sneered at Alesia, who was beginning to loathe the oily little man. “Our numbers are enough to flatten that miserable village and put every man within it to the sword. We know this and the villagers know it, too.”

“Whilst that is true, you must also realise that it will not be so simple,” Alesia said, with a wry smile of her own. “The villagers have vowed to burn the entire place to the ground if it seems as though your army will succeed. They would rather see their homes burn than fall into your hands. I can help you prevent this from ever being a possibility.”

“Go on,” Siper said, his smile vanishing. Alesia allowed herself a moment of silent triumph.

“I know the schedule of each and every man who will be on sentry duty over the next week,” she said. “In three nights’ time I shall open the main gate for you, so that your men may enter the village under the cover of darkness. You can then occupy it from within and do whatever you will with it and its people.”

“How will you get the gate open if there will be men guarding it?” Siper’s tone was scornful as he sized Alesia up. She was tall and slight, with small hands and feet; she was not a figure which inspired physical prowess in any way. Alesia merely laughed at the implication.

“Oh, captain,” she said, shaking her head and grinning. “If I only ever know three things about men, they are that they believe all women are weak, unthreatening and desperately attracted to them. There will be one guard on duty that evening, a dullard called Thom, who most certainly thinks those things of me. Simply put, I shall kill him and open the gate. Understand?”

“And how, pray tell, would you benefit from this betrayal, woman?” Siper asked, his expression guarded but interest gleaming in his eyes. Alesia approached his desk, and leaned closer to the captain’s face. Her grey eyes were alight with ambition.

“I would benefit by being permitted to rule the survivors!” she replied, as if it were the most obvious question in the world. “That is my condition! I will allow you entry to the village if you will grant me control once it has been tamed.” Siper gave another bark, this time sounding relieved and astonished.

“By the Gods, I like you, woman!” He chuckled. He stood up and extended a gauntleted hand towards Alesia. “On my honour as a man of the Empire, it shall be done as long as you uphold your end of the bargain!” Alesia grasped the offered wrist and shook it.

“Then it is done,” she said, holding his gaze with intensity. “Assemble your men outside the main gate in three nights’ time. The way shall be clear.” She moved towards the tent flaps, but paused as a guard lifted the canvas.

“One more thing,” she said quietly, looking over her shoulder. “I’d like it if you could capture the lord and his lady alive, and then bring them to me. I have…plans…for the two of them.”

“My lady, consider it done!” Siper gave a mocking bow. Alesia exited the camp and stole back to the sleeping village with the captain’s laughter ringing in her ears.



A – Z Challenge Day 3

Third day of the April Challenge already! Blimey, I think it ought to slow down a bit!

Today’s word was once again provided by the wonderful Kate, and the word is “CONCUBINE”. Again, this is a great suggestion and not at all what I was expecting as a prompt, but it began to spark ideas in my brain almost right away. The idea which caught the kindling was that of ancient Greece and their penchant for concubines, and I was able to coax it into a blaze.

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


By Adam Dixon

Cassandra stood at the foot of the marble steps leading up to the palace, closing her eyes to better feel the breeze on her skin. She tilted her head back, enjoying its cool fingers caressing her hair. It had been a long journey from Troy and she was grateful to be back on dry land. She had had some misgivings about travelling to Mycanae, and her main concern had been its queen. Queen Clytemnestra had been awaiting the return of King Agamemnon, and she would surely not be pleased to learn that her husband would be bringing home another woman. Cassandra was Agamemnon’s concubine and had borne him twin sons during the Trojan campaign, but she was essentially just a trophy. Worrying over the queen’s reaction to the news had given Cassandra dozens of sleepless nights during their voyage and she had prayed to all the gods of Olympus that they give her the courage to face her. However, to her great surprise Clytemnestra seemed to already know about her. She welcomed Cassandra to Mycanae warmly and immediately offered her a place to bathe before the feast. Cassandra had been taken aback and had declined with what she hoped was the proper degree of humility. She had remained behind as the King was escorted inside his palace, preferring to collect herself before following him.

As she stood enjoying the breeze, she began to feel as if she were being watched. She opened her eyes and saw a tall, lithe man leaning against a pillar not ten feet from where she stood, staring at her with an unsettling look on his face. Cassandra felt her skin crawl and she cleared her throat loudly before turning towards him. She did not know him, but she recognised him by his description; his cold blue eyes, hooked nose and curled blond hair marked him as Aegisthus, the former ruler of Mycenae. Cassandra wondered why he was there in the first place, since Agamemnon and his brother had jointly forced Aegisthus from the throne years before.

“Good day to you, my lord,” Casssandra said nervously, bowing her head slightly. “I do apologise, I thought I was alone.”

“No apology is necessary, my lady,” Aegisthus replied coolly, his eyes gliding along Cassandra’s hips and thighs. “I am merely taking some air before the celebrations begin. You are the King’s prize, are you not?”

Cassandra frowned and adjusted her robe. She disliked having his eyes all over her, it made her feel unclean.

“I suppose I am at that, my lord,” she answered curtly, hoping she didn’t sound too brusque. Her grip on the politics of Mycenae was slight and she didn’t know how powerful this man was. She would tread carefully.

“To the victor go the spoils,” Aegisthus quoted with a sneer. He stood up straight and flexed his fingers. Cassandra had been around soldiers enough to recognise it as a pre-combat technique, performed almost without thought.

“Tell me,” Aegisthus stepped towards Cassandra, a terrible gleam in his eyes. “Are the rumours surrounding you true? Are you truly a Seer?” Cassandra took a step backwards, moving away from the stairs and back towards the shaded garden.

“They are…my lord,” she said hesitantly. “Mother Hera gifted me with Foresight, although its usefulness has been overstated, I fear.”

“Curious…” Aegisthus took another step closer, scratching at his chin thoughtfully. “I heard that your Talent is often ignored, and at the detriment of those who do so. Is that true also?” Cassandra grew fearful at this line of questioning, and attempted to change the subject.

“So, the King prepares for his feast,” she stammered, looking down at her sandals. “It promises to be a great event, with no expenses spared by the Queen on food and wine.”

“Hmm? Oh…yes,” Aegisthus seemed irritated by the deflection. “The Queen intends to provide a welcome which the King will never forget. It will go down in history, mark my words!” He gave a low chuckle which chilled Cassandra to the bone. As she stood wondering what to say next, a Vision sprung upon her without warning. As though through a blood-tainted window, Cassandra saw the King emerging naked from his bath with Clytemnestra holding a towel nearby. As Agamemnon steps forward, Clytemnestra tosses the towel over the King’s head. The King roars in surprise, for the towel has been weighted down at its corners, blinding and trapping him. A heartbeat later, Aegisthus runs forward from behind a screen wielding a sword which he plunges into the King’s chest. Agamemnon’s screams echoed in Cassandra’s ears and the present world flashed back into sight, the Vision leaving her weak and breathless. She fell to her knees, gasping and looking up at Aegisthus in horror. The man watched her, his smiling growing ever wider as Cassandra’s fear rose like a black flower in her heart.

“Guards!” She spluttered hoarsely. “Guards, help! A traitor is among us! Protect the King!” Aegisthus descended the stairs in four quick leaps and struck Cassandra hard with his fist. She fell onto her back and the world swam as her mouth filled with blood.

“It’s too late, my little whore!” Aegisthus snarled, wiping his knuckles on his tunic. “The events are already in motion and you cannot stop them! Enjoy your last moments whilst you can, for the Queen has plans for you!” He spat in Cassandra’s face before bounding back up the stairs and disappearing into the palace.

Cassandra groaned and struggled to sit up. Her vision was blurred and her limbs were weakened from her Vision. She attempted to call the guards again, but her voice would not obey her. She wept bitterly as she realised that nobody would believe her anyway. Nobody ever believed her…

Minutes later a cry of alarm was raised within the palace, and then the fighting began.

A-Z Challenge Day 1


The day has arrived for me to plunge headlong into the A-Z Challenge this month!

To kick things off, my first prompt has been provided by the lovely Niki, and her word is ‘ABANDONED’. Quite a powerful word right from the start and one which threw up plenty of ideas right away. Here’s what I was able to come up with.

Quick note: As the word suggests, this story leans heavily on the emotional side, so consider yourselves warned!


By Adam Dixon

It was cold and wet and Jasper wanted to go home. The wind had picked up, chilling his sodden fur and making him tremble. He tugged pathetically at his lead but it had been tied securely to a fence post. He lay back down and gazed forlornly in the direction his Master had gone.
Jasper didn’t know why his Master had seen fit to leave him alone in the rain. He knew that there must be a reason for, as his Master was not an impulsive Man. Perhaps he had been BAD again…Jasper knew that he was a BAD DOG because his Master so often told him so. He wanted to be GOOD and tried to do all the things that a GOOD DOG should, but he was still BAD and his Master was angry with him an awful lot.
Perhaps this was his Punishment then? When Jasper was BAD he would often be driven from the house and be made to sleep outside. When he had been VERY BAD, like when he had accidentally knocked over the Man-Pup, he had been kicked several times and then locked outside for two days. It was his Punishment for being too big and too clumsy, and Jasper knew this well. He couldn’t help being so big, but he should be more careful, especially around the small Man-Pup.
But what had he done this time? He must have been VERY BAD to deserve this kind of Punishment! Jasper racked his brains but could not think of anything he had done recently which was especially BAD. Perhaps that was the point, and that he once he acknowledged his behaviour his Master would return and allow him to get back into the Car. Then they would drive home once more, and Jasper would be better…
By the third day Jasper was very hungry. He had been able to drink from various puddles of water due to the constant rain, but hunger was gnawing at his belly with the same level of commitment Jasper gnawed at his squeaky Toys. He looked up expectantly every time a Car approached the field, but his was never his Car and so it continued past the unhappy dog. Jasper began to whine softly. He’d be a GOOD DOG if his Master came back soon!
Later that third day, a big Car approached and stopped on the roadside, a few feet from where Jasper lay. It was not Jasper’s Car, so he remained where he was and ignored it. The doors opened and a Man and a Woman climbed out. The Man was short with black hair and a beard, and the woman was tall with blond hair and freckles. Both were dressed in dark uniforms with a blue badge across their left breast. They approached Jasper cautiously, wearing large smiles and speaking in hushed, soothing tones. They moved almost within touching distance before Jasper seemed to finally notice them and shied away, whimpering. Who were these people? Where was his Master?
The Man and Woman stopped and looked at each other. They exchanged some brief words before the Man strode back to the Car. The Woman stayed where she was, crouching in the pouring rain and smiling at Jasper.
“It’s okay, boy,” she was saying softly, looking earnestly at him. “Me and my friend are here to help you! Look at you, you poor thing! Who would leave a lovely big boy like you out here in the rain, eh?” Jasper stood as far away as his lead would allow, shivering and watching the Woman anxiously. The Woman maintained her crouch until the Man returned, carrying a large umbrella. He passed it to the Woman who opened it slowly and shimmed closer to Jasper. Jasper still trembled, but he allowed the Woman to shelter him from the rain. It felt like a very very long time since Jasper had been out of the rain. The Man and the Woman sat at the roadside, holding the umbrella over Jasper, talking to him continually. The Man went back to the Car once more to fetch a packet of biscuits.
Jasper’s ears pricked up as soon as he smelled the biscuits, but he was unsure whether or not to trust these new people. They seemed nice enough, but where was his Master? He began to whine in distress, tugging at his lead and glancing up the road.
“Come on, boy,” the Woman insisted, holding out a biscuit and blinking rainwater from her eyes. “It’s okay, you’re safe now.” Jasper looked at the biscuit, then up at the Woman. He took a tentative step forward, sniffing the offered treat. After another moment of hesitation, Jasper’s tongue flopped out and he stood munching with crumbs falling from his chops. The Woman whispered encouragement and offered another which Jasper accepted readily this time. Then, something happened which hadn’t occurred for three days: Jasper’s great, rope-like tail began to wag. Jasper had decided that these people were very kind and he was glad of their company. He ate biscuit after biscuit as his new friends attempted to fill his empty belly, and they patted and stroked him as he did so.
“I never get used to seein’ this kind of thing,” the Man said sadly as he closed the back of the Car. Jasper had been untied and with a lot of coaxing they had managed to get him into the vehicle. He now sat inside the Car, wagging his tail vigorously.
“Me neither, mate,” the Woman sighed, shaking rain from her hair. “But it’s a bloody good thing that someone called us. This fella wouldn’t’ve lasted much longer. C’mon, let’s get him to the shelter.”
Presently they got into the Car and began to drive away. In the back, Jasper realised what was happening and began to howl. How would he find his Master now?

Pews and Paranoia

Pews and Paranoia

By Adam Dixon

It was October 1979, and Vasily knew that his life was in danger. He had no real proof to confirm it as of yet, but his recent occupations had as good as signed his death warrant. His colleagues and friends called him paranoid, but he knew better. Vasily was a journalist who had made it his business over the years to obtain valuable information and see it revealed to the world. This information was often top secret, and to certain parties it represented power. Vasily was a freelancer, which gave him a great degree of flexibility as he did not need to be chained to one corporation or another in order to ply his trade. Feeling chained down had been one reason why he had left the U.S.S.R. in the first place, back in the ‘50s. 1958, to be exact, the year he had realised how dangerous the Soviet Union had become and how the death of Stalin had done precious little to thaw the Cold War. Nikita Krushchev had ousted his rivals to become its undisputed leader, and that was warning enough for Vasily to flee to Western Europe. Just like the Western capitalists, Vasily saw his former government as bear-like: aggressive and prone to raging destruction. As a young, liberal-minded intellectual, Vasily had been the kind of man whom the authorities in the Soviet Union would have considered potentially dangerous. Inevitably, he had found himself being watched. However, he had cunningly evaded the authorities in Russia and fled to the relative safety of Paris right under their noses. Twenty years had passed, and now it was Leonid Brezhnev who held the reins in Moscow and Vasily was in London, determined to continue working against them.

Vasily was acutely aware of the danger that his line of work could attract. Persistent journalists who refused to be quiet were irritating to governments who had secrets to keep; they were like flies buzzing incessantly around their heads. Sooner or later, though, those flies would get swatted. Vasily knew that only too well, with the frighteningly recent example of Georgi Markov to prove it. Markov had been something of a hero to Vasily. He had admired him on a professional level, seeing as they were both dissenter-journalists, but it stretched further than that. Vasily had found himself inspired by Markov’s unwavering tenacity and his sense of justice; a man to emulate if ever there was one. But now Markov was dead. A tiny ricin-filled pellet on a crowded London street was all it had taken. Markov had believed himself to be safe in London, safe from the tyrants in Sofia. He had been wrong.

It had been a year since Markov’s assassination and it still weighed heavily on Vasily’s mind. He reasoned that Markov had underestimated the reach of the Bulgarian government, but he also reasoned that it would have been impossible for Markov to anticipate the manner of his execution. That was what frightened Vasily the most; he was afraid of the endless invisible agents of his own silencing. It now meant that Vasily avoided travelling via the London Underground whilst alone, he vetted his drivers thoroughly before employing them and he was overly suspicious of any meal he hadn’t seen prepared with his own eyes. Unsurprisingly, he also became nervous around anyone who carried an umbrella. He was aware of how unbearable his paranoia was making him, but he simply couldn’t take any chances. He planned to live to see Brezhnev overthrown, and he hoped to be a helping hand in the process, if possible.

A soft knocking on the door of his study made Vasily start.

“Come in.” He called, silently chiding himself for being so jittery. Vasily’s wife, Natalya, came gliding into the room. As always, Vasily’s heart lifted at the sight of her. She was tall, dark and strong-limbed with piercing blue eyes and the permeating will of a tsarina. She was a quite a bit younger than he was, and he still counted his lucky stars that she had agreed to marry him before their flight to Western Europe. He had been in his mid-thirties back then, and she had not quite been twenty. He felt that he didn’t deserve such good fortune.

“Some letters have arrived for you, my husband.” Natalya chimed in her slightly rough accent. “I also bring tea for you.” Natalya smiled and placed a simple stainless-steel tray on his desk. It held a steaming pot of tea, a single mug and a small pile of letters.

“Ah, thank you, my love.” Vasily smiled back and took her hand, giving it an affectionate squeeze. Natalya let her hand remain in his for a few moments before pulling away and moving back towards the door.

“Do not be working too hard, Vasily,” she called, with a trace of humour in her voice. “The world will still be here in morning if you decide to relax for one day.”

“Not if Brezhnev isn’t careful, my love,” Vasily replied, half-joking. The door closed behind him. He sat in silence for a few minutes, musing over his words. Vasily fully believed that Brezhnev was the single greatest danger to the world at present, and that it was imperative that the world became aware of it. People like himself had a duty to cast light on this danger, to illuminate it and force back any shadows of doubt or indifference regarding it. Of course, a large part of the peril was Brezhnev’s repeated baiting of the United States whilst under the pretence of friendship. The United States were hardly innocent or ignorant of the proceedings, however, as they had been playing their own games of guile and forced courtship for decades. Thus the insane Cold War was perpetuated, and smaller countries surrounding the two superpowers were dragged into the maelstrom it created with very little choice in the matter. The world was a vast cauldron set over a raging fire, threatening to boil over at any moment.

Vasily glanced down at the letters on his tray. Most were the uniform tan colour of bills, but one caught his eye. It was a small white envelope, with his name and address printed in standard black typing. Vasily picked this one up and carefully ripped it open. Inside was a single sheet of paper with only three lines. However, the contents of those lines caused Vasily to sit bolt upright in his chair. It was written in Russian.

“It would appear that you were correct. The bear extents his claws to the south. I have something for you. Meet in the usual place at the usual time. Be vigilant.


Vasily’s mind raced. His correspondent was a disgruntled K.G.B. man who had access to highly sensitive material regarding Soviet activities. This man had occasionally seen fit to throw Vasily a juicy bone in the form of government secrets, and those bones had been juicy indeed. The abbreviation “N.S.M.” was how he referred to himself, the letters standing for “New Soviet Man”. It was a term used by Communist ideologists to describe the desired modern archetype among the Soviet people. They were supposed to be intelligent, strong-willed and loyal, among other things. This seemed to be a joke, although from the half-a-dozen times they had met Vasily had become fairly certain that the man did not possess a sense of humour. “The bear extends his claws to the south.” There was no doubt in Vasily’s mind as to what that could mean: the Soviet Union was preparing to invade Afghanistan. Tensions had been building for months surrounding the country and it’s in-fighting, with the capitalists and communists of the world alike looking on with interest. It would appear that matters were not proceeding in the way the Soviets had hoped they would, and that they intended to force an outcome. The Soviets had invested a lot of time and money in Afghanistan and could not afford to let her slip away. An invasion would not come as a surprise for the rest of the world, but revealing their scheme before it happened would undoubtedly have serious ramifications, even if they attempted to supress the article. It would worm its way into the public attention, and it would humiliate the leadership in Moscow. The man had something Vasily could use, a potential rod for Brezhnev’s back. At the very least it could be another small fire to set under his feet.

Of course, that would also greatly increase the frustration directed at Vasily. He could embarrass them this time, and they may not take it lying down. The thought turned Vasily’s blood to ice, and he became aware of a fine sheen of perspiration forming above his eyes and his lips. He wiped his face with the back of a shaking hand and forced himself to calm down. There was absolutely no question of not taking advantage of such a potential game-changer; this was the kind of information that political journalists hungered for. Of course, Vasily would require some hard evidence to support any story he wrote on the subject, but he had faith that it would be provided; New Soviet Man had not let him down on that front yet. “The usual time” was two o’clock in the afternoon. Vasily glanced at his wristwatch; it was a quarter to twelve. He had plenty of time, and he simply had to meet him, even if he was frightened to leave the house.

Vasily stood up slowly, gripping the desk with one hand and holding the letter in the other. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his silver cigarette lighter. He casually flicked open the lid in an upward motion with his thumb before striking the spark wheel as he brought it back down. A flame ignited in his fist, and he paused only for a moment before passing a corner of the letter through it. The flame licked the paper greedily, leaping upwards to consume it like a starving animal. Vasily turned his hand to spread the flame more evenly, strangely soothed by the destruction it caused. He stood watching the flame devour the page before dropping it into the empty waste-paper basket at his feet. There it smouldered resolutely for a second or two before extinguishing itself. Vasily wondered briefly if his next report would have that effect on the U.S.S.R. He smiled to himself, shaking his head at the thought. Foolish for him to be thinking so ambitiously at this stage when he didn’t know what information he would be receiving, or whether anything he wrote would have that kind of tenacity. But still, he enjoyed the thought nonetheless.

Filled with new confidence, Vasily turned to leave, striding towards the door. As he reached out a hand to open it, he hesitated. Glancing back over his shoulder, he looked at the untouched pot of tea on his desk. He should leave Natalya a note, rather than just leaving without a word. He scolded himself for his lack of concern, and moved back to his desk. Pulling out a plain sheet of paper from his desk drawer, he wrote a short message in his characteristically spider-like hand. It was short and to the point:

“My dearest one,

I have left on business. I should not be gone for more than a few hours. The bear sharpens his claws.

All my love,


Vasily nodded to himself and placed the note gently on the tray. With that, he straightened up and left the room. As he walked through his front door and was embraced by the London air, his fears threatened to come back to him once again. He started, one hand still on his door handle as an old lady pulling a shopping trolley passed nearby. For one ludicrous moment he expected the arthritic, white-haired pensioner to rummage into her trolley and come up brandishing a pistol. She merely tottered past him, oblivious to his wild day-time fantasies. Vasily shook his head, angry with himself and feeling more than a little bit foolish. He pulled the door closed with a resolutely firm thud in order to take control of himself before striding off into the afternoon.

A couple of hours later, after two tense train journeys and a nerve-wracking bus route, Vasily arrived at the rendezvous point. It was an area of quiet countryside, with rolling green hills in the background and ragged woodland nearby. Vasily had trudged through said woodland for a few minutes, actually enjoying the solace it provided. He now stood in front of a small church, which had clearly fallen into a state of disrepair. It was a quaint little building, with the classic weather-worn stone walls and elegant stained-glass windows associated with English country chapels. Although abandoned, it was still a fairly impressive building, with its tower and steeple soaring proudly and defiantly above the landscape. Vasily was not religious, but he still felt a thrill of appreciation whenever he approached a church, which was often mixed with a feeling of sadness at their neglect in the modern age. They were examples of a cultural heritage, and should be preserved in his opinion. Perhaps he would write a paper on the subject one day, if he found the time. He sighed in resignation and set off up the path towards the entrance. As he passed through the graveyard, his mind whispered that the decrepit, moss-strewn gravestones must be an omen of some kind, a thought which he angrily and forcefully dispelled. There was no question of turning back now.

Vasily pushed open the heavy door and was immediately assaulted with a mixture of scents; a trace of spicy incense, a whiff of damp paper and the pervasive odour of mouldy wood. The stained-glass windows generated a soft glow within the church as the light passed through them, and dust motes swirled in front of him as a breeze disturbed them. Vasily walked inside the church, noting how his footsteps echoed ominously around the building. Leading up towards the altar were five rows of wooden pews with a pathway in between them. Vasily’s informant was seated on the second pew from the door on the right-hand side.

New Soviet Man was as Vasily remembered him: large. He was tall even whilst sitting, with broad shoulders and a shaved head. He had intimidated Vasily the first couple of times they had met face-to-face, as he had a dangerous quality about him. He supposed that was to be expected; after all, you could hardly expect an agent of a powerful national security organisation to appear meek. He was also wearing a tan-coloured trench-coat, which was odd. It looked like something out of an American sleuth drama on television. Vasily assumed it was just another example of the man’s strange sense of humour. He approached the pew behind the man, feeling nervous. Previous meetings with him had always been short and sweet, a quick relay of information followed by some form of proof. Vasily hoped today would be the same, as he felt distinctly uneasy this time. He sat down behind New Soviet Man, unsure what to do. The man was slumped forward with his head resting on the pew in front of him, his arms on his knees. He appeared to be praying silently, another surprise to Vasily. He glanced at his watch. It was ten minutes to two; he was early. He decided not to disturb him right away and sat in awkward silence as he waited.

Minutes passed slowly. Vasily began to fidget in his seat. He was sure the man must have heard him enter. He didn’t expect him to stop his religious contemplations right away, but he had hoped that he might hurry it up a bit. They had important matters to discuss, possibly world-changing matters. As the seconds and minutes dragged past, Vasily felt his impatience becoming unbearable. Perhaps his extended residency in Britain had caused him to absorb that country’s culture of excruciating politeness, as he found himself resisting the desire to interrupt the man and seize his attention. In fact, he was certain that five years ago he would have done just that without any such internal dithering. After nearly fifteen minutes had passed Vasily finally forced himself to clear his throat. The soft noise echoed weirdly around the church, reverberating duly off the cold stone walls. New Soviet Man did not move or show any indication that he had heard the noise. Vasily grew angry quickly. He repeated the action, more loudly this time. The man did not move.

“Excuse me, comrade,” Vasily broke the silence with a sharp, irritated outburst in Russian. “I see that you are occupied, but deliberately ignoring me is extremely rude. I have travelled a long way to speak with you and I will not treated in such a manner. Now, kindly end your prayers and tell me what were are dealing with today.” Satisfied, Vasily folded his arms and waited expectantly. Still New Soviet Man did nothing. He simply sat there, slumped forward in silence. Vasily started to feel uneasy again. He leaned forwards slowly, stretching out his right arm.

“Erm, excuse me? Are you listening to me?” Vasily grasped the bald man’s shoulder and gave it a vigorous shake. New Soviet Man’s upper body moved with the motion, his forehead scraping along the pew in front of him. Vasily let go, and watched with alarm as New Soviet Man began to slide to the right. His head lifted from the pew as his body listed sideways and he collapsed onto his side without a word. His eyes were wide open and glazed over, his mouth slack. There was an indentation on his forehead from the pew. New Soviet Man was dead.

Just as Vasily’s mind was feverishly attempting to process this information, he heard the muffled creak of a floorboard behind him. Without thinking Vasily threw himself to the right. As he moved he heard the rapport of a gunshot and a bullet smashed into the pew in front of him, passing through air where his back had been half a second before. The wood was old and belched out a shower of dust and splinters, coating Vasily’s prone body. He rolled to his left and fell to floor between the pews, his heart hammering in his chest. He heard a voice curse in Russian followed by quick footsteps. Vasily lurched forwards in a crouched run, barrelling down between the pews towards the wall. He reached the end of the bench and turned left towards the front of the church. Another bullet shattered the wood next to his head, ripping a cry of fear and panic from his lips. Vasily ducked his head and ran forwards, keeping low. Gunshots fired twice more, with one bullet ricocheting off the wall to his right and burying itself in the floor. Panic flooded Vasily as he ran; it was a trap! New Soviet Man had been murdered and no-one else knew where he was this afternoon. He was in an abandoned church in the middle of nowhere with a gunman on his heels. He should never have come in the first place!

As Vasily reached the front row, he was momentarily wracked with indecision. Now what? The pews had provided rudimentary cover from his assailant, but another step and he would be exposed. The door to the vestry was to his right, but it was securely locked with a padlock. The only thing in front of him was the stone altar, a mute sentinel observing the ensuing chaos with indifference. Vasily whimpered in desperation and ran towards the altar, making himself as small a target as possible. Two more shots were fired. He felt a bullet flash past his left arm, hearing the material of his jacket tear as it was nicked in its path. The second bullet hit him in the shoulder like a tiny freight train. Pain exploded through Vasily’s arm and he screamed. He dove forwards, landing heavily on his right and desperately scrambled behind the altar. Blood seeped out of his now useless arm, rapidly staining his shirt and jacket. He leaned his back against the stone, eyes closed, panting.

There was nowhere else to go. The pain in his shoulder was incredible and he knew that he was going into shock. Footsteps slowly approached the altar. Desperately, Vasily cast his eyes to and fro, seeking something, anything that could help him. He spotted what appeared to be a large piece of wood on the floor next to him. He reached for it, groaning as the movement sent fresh waves of pain through his arm. His fingers curled around the object and he hefted it. Blinking through tears, Vasily brought it close to his face and peered at it. Despite the situation, the realisation of what the object was caused Vasily to laugh weakly. Nestled in his trembling hand was a heavy wooden crucifix bearing a carved figure of the corpse of Jesus. So it had come to this: Vasily’s only hope lay with the physical symbol of a religion he had never believed in, despite the attempts of his parents and his country to force it upon him. He noted the irony of the situation with distaste. Not that it would be particularly effective against a gun, not unless he became impervious to bullets through divine intervention. Vasily judged that it would be somewhat unlikely to happen.

A shadow fell across the wall in front of him and steadily grew larger as the gunman crept closer. With an effort Vasily bunched his legs underneath him and rose up slightly. He groaned as his legs threatened to reject his body weight, but his right hand held the crucifix in a vice-grip. If his enemies wanted him to die, then at least he would not die a coward. God knew that he had nearly been reduced to one recently. But no more.

Vasily waited until the slow, cautious footsteps were right beside him. As a shining black boot became visible past the altar, Vasily sprung upwards, screeching wildly. He spun on his heel and struck out with as much force as he could muster. He had misjudged how close his attacker had approached, and so hit an outstretched arm instead of their skull. Wood struck flesh with a dull thud, and the hands holding the pistol were jerked downwards. The gun went off, punching a hole into the floor between Vasily’s feet. The attacker cried out in surprise and pain, but Vasily barely registered it. He raised the crucifix quickly, this time focusing his full concentration on the head of his assailant. He suddenly noticed that the head was covered with long, shining black hair. The head came up…and Vasily froze. That beautiful face, those hard blue eyes…

“Natalya?” Vasily croaked in disbelief. He couldn’t move. That face darkened, and the gun swung back up. The second-to-last thing to go through Vasily’s brain was a combination of shock, incomprehension and fear. The last thing was a bullet. Blood spattered across the altar, crimson droplets disturbing decades of dust on its surface. The crucifix dropped to the floor from his fingers, clattering on the ground just before his body thumped down heavily. He had fallen backwards, his body forced back by the fatal impact.

Natalya stood over her husband’s corpse. A strange mixture of emotions were bubbling inside her: elation, relief, sadness and pity. However, she did not feel regret. She had loved Vasily in her own way, but she would always follow her orders. Emotions could stand in the way of orders, and so she had learned to block them out. Besides, it had not been her fault that the foolish man had had such grand delusions about publically shaming the Soviet Union. His work had been noticed, and he had become a nuisance. Marrying him had been an ideal way in which to get close to him, to keep an eye on his findings and report back to her superiors. She had known this day would come, and somehow she knew that the task would have fallen to her. How terrifying it must have been for him during those last minutes to realise that he had been right all along, she thought sadly. His paranoia had not been unfounded.

Natalya gingerly felt her left wrist and winced. He had struck her quite hard with that damn cross, there was sure to be some bruising there. Strange how the mild little journalist had proven more difficult to silence than a large, well-trained K.G.B. man. She shook her head. Although she had not once panicked during the confrontation, she had still managed to waste seven bullets before she had managed to take Vasily down. She had not fired so many shots at a target since her very first kill. It had been sloppy work today, and her kind were not supposed to be sloppy. Perhaps it was due to her age – she was not old yet, but forty was old for someone in her line of work. No matter, the job was done. Natalya turned from the body of her husband and walked calmly out of the church. The Soviet plans would go ahead with one less threat. One less buzzing fly to swat. She did not look back.