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/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/A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

Another Thursday and another story! This week I was provided with a prompt from Jason over at Aethereal Engineer. Jason has given me some great prompts before and he has done so again. His suggestion was that “a person discovers a portal to ‘somewhere else’ in their closet. What happens?” I thought that was a pretty good one!

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

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use another day, please let me know in the comments.

 

A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

By Adam Dixon

Jerry Mackintosh was drunk again, but this time he was angry too. He had slaved ten years away at the local mill only to be replaced by a machine. Jerry had walked out of the gates clutching his final wage packet and straight into the pub, and had proceeded to spend half of it on stout. Upon staggering home, he had worked himself into a foul, dangerous mood.

“Jerry, keep your voice down!” Mary, his petite wife pleaded. “You’re frightening the children!”

“Oh, I am, am I?” Jerry sneered, casting about in search of the brats. “Mustn’t do that! Can’t scare the ungrateful little sods, can I?”

“Jerry, don’t, they’re not ungrateful,” Mary said, wringing her hands together. “They don’t like it when you come home late and start shouting, that’s all…”

“I’ll do whatever I bloody well like!” Jerry shouted, balling his hands into fists. His watery blue eyes were bloodshot and angry. “I’m the man of this house, and by God you’ll all know it!” Jerry swung and punched Mary in the stomach. She doubled over, the breath whooshing from her lungs. Jerry followed it up with a backhanded swipe which knocked Mary to the ground. He towered over her, swaying and breathing heavily. Mary began to sob and curled herself into a ball; she knew this part all too well.

“Where’re those fucking kids, anyway?” Jerry cried, his voice hoarse. “I’ll get those little brats! Teach them some respect!” He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and reached for his belt. He then realised that he hadn’t worn it that day and cursed aloud. Jerry stalked up the rickety old staircase and into the tiny master bedroom. Wrenching open the wardrobe he began searching inside it, throwing moth-eaten trousers and dresses onto the single bed. He knew it was in there somewhere! Growling and gnashing his teeth, Jerry took a step forward and tangled his foot in a pair of stockings. He bellowed as he fell, bracing for the impact of hard wood against his head.

He was stunned when he landed sprawling on the ground. He lay blinking and felt gravel under his fingers and an unpleasant smell under his nose. He raised his head and glanced around him. He appeared to be in a small village, surrounded by people bustling to and fro, all of them wearing strange, dirty clothing. Jerry got to his feet with some difficulty as his anger gave way to confusion. It had been dark when he’d gotten home, so why was the sun burning down on his bald patch? Glancing around he saw wooden houses with thatched roofs leaning against one another and cobbled streets littered with straw and excrement. Jerry rubbed his temples. He didn’t realise he was that drunk!

Jerry’s attention was drawn by giggling nearby. He turned and saw two grubby children, a boy and a girl of roughly the same age, dancing around in a puddle. Jerry’s confusion was forgotten as his rage rose up once again like dead leaves touched by a flame. Sod the belt, he was going to give those brats a good hiding! He snarled and lumbered towards them. As his shadow fell across them the two children looked up. If Jerry hadn’t been so drunk or so angry he might have realised that both children had brown hair, whereas his children had blond hair. But he didn’t, and he cuffed them on their ears, knocking them into the murky puddle. Jerry heard gasps from people close by but he ignored them.

“Take that, you little shits!” Jerry said, towering over them as they sat up. The boy was rubbing his head and staring at Jerry in disbelief and the little girl began to cry.

“Don’t you give me those crocodile tears, young lady!” Jerry raged, seizing the girl by her hair and hauling her upright. The boy protested, getting to his feet and clinging to Jerry’s wrists. Jerry knocked him down again with his free hand and held the girl with ease.

“Ha, that’ll teach you!” Jerry said. “You’re not a man yet, sonny-Jim!”

“Oi, what d’you think yer doin’?” A voice called. Jerry turned, still gripping the young girl’s hair. A woman in a dress which may have been yellow once was staring at Jerry, her eyes wide in shock. There were other women in similar dirty clothes next to her, wearing the same horrified expression.

“None of your bloody business!” Jerry retorted. “Stay out of this, whoever you are!”

“I shan’t!” the woman replied. “Who d’you think you are to come waltzin’ in our village with yer fancy clothes an’ beatin’ our children? You wait til Big John hears about this!”

“You’ll shut your mouth if you know what’s good for you!” Jerry said. He turned back towards the children but was caught by surprise when a skinny man with a white beard stepped forwards and shoved him in the chest. It was a weak shove by all accounts, but Jerry was so drunk that it threw him off balance and sent him stumbling into a fence. He gripped the fence and eyed the old man with contempt.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, old fella!” he said. The old man swept his bony arms around the children and hugged them tight. His mouth was a thin line of anger and his eyes blazed.

“I dunno who y’are, stranger, but no-one attacks my grandchildren!” the man wheezed, gritting his blackened teeth. “My boy’ll have yer guts for this!”

As Jerry’s stout-addled brain tried to process this information, a huge man with a black beard and a leather apron came charging towards him. Jerry had just enough time to stand up straight before he was lifted from his feet. Jerry was a tall man, but this brute was almost a giant. He choked as a gloved hand gripped his throat and lifted him two inches off the ground. He was brought close to the face of the bearded man and looked into furious green eyes.

“NO-ONE TOUCHES MY LITTLE’UNS!” the man said, tightening his grip. Jerry struggled and gasped, catching the sooty smell of the man’s apron and the sweat on his brow. The man grunted and threw him across the street. Jerry bounced off the cobbles and landed in a heap next to an empty wooden trough. He tried to stand but the man beat him to it again, hauling him to his feet. Stars exploded in Jerry’s eyes as the man hit him hard in the cheek. He felt the skin tear and was dimly aware of blood flowing down his neck. Jerry grasped the man’s wrists with shaking hands.

“No more!” he said, suddenly sober through fear. Like all bullies, Jerry was a coward when challenged. He knew he was in big trouble.

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE A MAN!” the man said, punching him again, this time in the ribs. Jerry thought that his chest would cave in if he had to endure another hammer-blow like that. The man walloped him on the other cheek before dragging him down the village, his feet drawing meandering lines through the straw.

“You’re goin’ to the Town Watch!” the man said, throwing in another punch for good measure. “That’ll teach you! Beat up my little’uns, will ya? Yer a disgrace!”

 

An hour later, Jerry was lying in a dark, smelly cell complete with iron bars and a pile of straw for a bed. His clothes were ruined, covered in mud, dirt and his own piss. He stank, his cheek and ribs ached and his head was raging with a hangover. He had never felt so miserable and he still didn’t know what was going on. He wasn’t dreaming, he knew that much; you couldn’t dream pain so vividly.

“Why did I go into that bloody wardrobe?” he groaned, massaging his head. He knew perfectly well why and as he sat in the cold and the dark, a familiar feeling began to creep into his heart. It was an emotion which had dominated his life ever since he realised that he drank too often, ever since that frightened look had appeared in his wife’s eyes. Jerry drank to stifle that emotion but that only made it stronger the next day. That emotion was shame.

“Oh God, what have I done?” Jerry said, burying his head in his hands. He began to sob and tug at his hair, promising the cell that he would mend his ways if he could only get home to Mary and the kids.

“Do you mean that, wretch?” a sibilant voice whispered from the darkness. Jerry almost yelped in fright and scanned the cell for the source of the noise.

“Hello? Who’s there?” he called, shrinking back against the wall.

“Your cell-mate, wretch,” the voice replied. It was coming from the other side of the cell, not three steps away. “I’ve been watching you since the Watch tossed you in here. You are in a sorry state, aren’t you?”

“I deserve it,” Jerry said, wiping snot from his nose with his sleeve. “I…I’ve shamed myself with my behaviour.”

“But you wish to make amends, do you not?” the voice said. There was a scuffling of straw. “Perhaps…I can help you.”

“How?” Jerry asked, squinting. He could make out a shape nearby, but he couldn’t see any features. “Come closer.” There was a moment of silence before the figure slid closer. As the meagre light from the window fell upon it, Jerry saw with relief that it was just another prisoner like himself. The man was thin with sunken brown eyes, his clothes were ragged and filthy and he stank of stale sweat. He was grinning at Jerry, revealing a dazzling smile which contrasted weirdly with his dishevelled appearance.

“I can send you home!” the man hissed, his eyes widening. “I can see you are not from this world: that much is plain. I have met a few wretches like yourself and I have helped to send them back.”

“You…you can get me home?” Jerry’s mind raced. He wasn’t sure what the man was talking about, but he was so desperate to get out of the cell that he was willing to believe anything.

“I can,” the man said, running a dirty finger along his stubbly chin. “For a price…”

“I don’t have anything to give!” Jerry said, on the verge of tears once again.

“Your shoes,” the man replied, pointing.

“My shoes?” Jerry was perplexed.

“Yes, the Watch did not deprive you of them, but I would like to,” the man said. “The leather is very fine, better than anything I may find in this village. Give me your shoes and I will send you home.” Jerry almost twisted his ankle as he tore his shoes from his feet and thrust them towards his cell-mate. The man received with a smile, running his emaciated fingers across them lovingly.

“Ahh, many thanks, wretch,” he said. “These will aid me more than you realise…”

“Now send me home!” Jerry whined. The man nodded and placed the shoes on the ground. He stood up and walked over to the corner of the cell. Jerry couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard a low chanting in a strange language and the padding of the man’s feet. A blast of cool, fresh air struck Jerry in the face, raising goose-bumps on his flesh and sending loose straw scurrying across the cell like fleeing insects. A glowing rectangle stretching two metres high light up the man as it pulsed on the wall of the cell. The man turned towards Jerry and flashed his smile.

“It is done,” he said. “Pass through this doorway, wretch, and you will return from whence you came. Farewell.” Jerry stood on weak legs and shambled towards the doorway. The pale glow hurt his eyes after so many hours in darkness, but he didn’t care. He moved as fast as he could and passed through the wall with a cry of desperation. A warmth seeped into his body, rejuvenating his aches and lifting his soul like a hot bath. For an instant, Jerry was blinded by intense light and at bliss…

Jerry hit the floorboards with a thud. Winded and shocked, he looked up. His heart leapt as he recognised his bedroom. He twisted round to look behind him. There was the wardrobe, with its doors flung open and clothes strewn on the floor. Jerry kissed the wooden floor and scrambled to his feet.

“Mary!” Jerry called, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Mary! Kids! Where are you?” He staggered towards the doorway and descended into the kitchen. Mary was standing at the bottom, looking up at him with wide, relieved eyes.

“Jerry!” she said. “Where have you been? It’s been three days! Where are your shoes?”

“I’ve been away, Mary,” Jerry croaked, reaching the bottom of the stairs and pulling his astonished wife into a tight embrace. He breathed in the soapy scent of her neck and felt the flour dusting her cheeks.

“Jerry!” Mary said in surprise as he nuzzled her neck. “What’s gotten into you? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Mary,” Jerry said. “I’ve just realised what a brute I’ve been. But no more, I’m a changed man. I’ll never hurt you or the children again, I promise.” Mary was taken aback by the emotion in Jerry’s voice. She returned the hug, patting his back with a bewildered expression.

“That’s wonderful to hear, Jerry,” she said, pulling away from him and smiling. Jerry beamed at her and held on to her hands.

“Where are the kids? I need to tell them I’m sorry.”

“They’re at school, Jerry. It’s nine o’clock.”

“Oh, good. I’ll tell them later, I need to tell them.”

“Of course,” Again Mary was stunned by the depth of Jerry’s emotion. She fidgeted as she thought of something to say.

“Jerry, I know about the mill,” she said at last. “I’m so sorry to hear about that, really I am. But there might be a job for you in town. There’s a man who has just moved here, a stranger, and he’s set up a shop near the baker’s. He said he’s looking for hard workers to get his business going, so maybe you could speak to him?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll go right away!” Jerry said, grabbing his wellington boots and shoving them on. He walked out into the murky morning and breathed a long sigh of relief. He was home again, and now he realised what was important to him. He walked into the town, greeting astonished neighbours who had been worrying about him and assuring them all that he was very well, thank you very much. As he approached the town centre, he saw the new shop. It was a cobblers, with a freshly-painted sign boasting “Shoes of Fine Leather Inside!” Jerry smoothed his clothes before pushing the door open. A merry jingle filled the cool interior as the bell above the door was jostled. Jerry looked around and saw shoes of all sizes stacked on shelves and the almost-pleasant smell of leather filled his nostrils. He walked to the back of the shop and rested his hands on the counter, searching for the proprietor.

“Hello?” he called. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but my wife told me that you are looking for workers. I would like to offer my services.”

“Ah, I think I might have some use for you!” a voice hissed behind him. Jerry whirled and was stunned to see a familiar face. The man rubbed his now clean-shaven cheeks and flashed his dazzling smile.

“It is very good to see you again, wretch!” the man said. He threw his head back and laughed as Jerry stood dumfounded before him. He wasn’t sure what to make of this development, but it had to be better than sharing a cell. He swallowed and shook the man’s hand. For better or worse, he was a changed man now and he intended to prove it. He couldn’t help wondering what other surprises his life had in store for him now.

 

Fiction Fursday/Flossy’s Chance

It’s Thursday again and time for another short story. This week my prompt comes from the Ben Kenobi to my Luke Skywalker of short stories, Geoff Le Pard. By the way, did you lot know that he’s published his Nano stories in a collection? Well then, now you do and you can visit the Amazon page and take a look! Go on, they’re very good!

Geoff’s suggestion is an interesting one. He challenged me to write a story in the 2nd person involving a rescue dog. Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever written a story in the 2nd person before so I’ve taken on the challenge with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I hope it turned out okay! Thanks again, Geoff!

P.S. If any of you lovely people would like to challenge me to write a story one week, please feel free to leave a comment and let me steal your ideas!

Flossy’s Chance

By Adam Dixon

Do you remember when they first brought you home? The word hadn’t prompted feelings of security or solace before, only thoughts of misery and pain. The big place with the cages hadn’t been much better as you had missed your old master terribly despite all he had done. You liked the new humans a lot, in fact you believed that you loved them, but you weren’t sure about “going home” again. Your fears were allayed almost immediately as soon as you stepped into their house, your three legs quivering. It was much, much bigger than the last one you lived in and it smelled better too. It smelled cleaner, more inviting, with barely a hint of alcohol anywhere. It smelled of happiness and comfort, without the pervasive taint of anger and bitterness. The two little boys even gave you a new name to signify your new life: Chance. It was a good name and you loved it.

Do you remember when you saw Flossy for the first time? You were quite a shock to her as well! The old black cat was extremely put-out by your arrival, viewing you as an invader to her home of peace and pampering. You were frightened of her to begin with, but then again you were frightened of everything back then. Flossy resorted to passive-aggression anyway: she would hiss at you if you approached her food bowl and she would demurely ignore you whenever you sniffed her but she would never touch you. You grew confident and happy with that thought in mind and began to truly enjoy your new home. The young boys would take you out for your daily walks, laughing merrily as you hobbled along to keep up. You would cower whenever another dog drew near, whimpering as they tried to greet you. You even ran from adoring strangers who wanted to stroke you and call you a good boy. You were so frightened of everything, but you knew that you were safe with your new family nearby.

Then, the incident happened. You remember it well, although I’m sure that you wish you didn’t. You had been playing with the boys and had retreated out into the garden as they chased you. Barking with delight, you had stumbled into the grassy paradise eager for more. The boy’s mother had called them back, however, so you were left to amuse yourself. You knew that you shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the wall, but curiosity got the better of you. You approached the low wooden structure and after sniffing about you scented your neighbour. Too late. With a bark more akin to a roar, the gigantic hound from next door leaped over the fence and stood in front of you, his eyes alight with fire. You were so frightened! You had heard the nightly declarations of the great beast for months, listening to him boast about his strength and cunning and of how he could tear any of the local dogs apart. Staring up at his bared fangs you believed it completely. The big dog mocked you with his laughing growl and approached with deliberate menace. You whimpered and begged, crouching as low as possible because fleeing was futile. Your almost-forgotten memories of the beatings and the cruelty came flooding back and you almost died of fear then and there.

The last thing you expected was for Flossy to get involved. You were dimly aware of the sound of the cat-flap bursting open and before you knew it a black streak of fur sailed over your head and struck the big dog. The dog yelped and leaped backwards, bleeding from deep scratches on his face. Flossy stood between you and the beast, her hackles raised and her tail erect like a sword, spitting and hissing furiously. The big dog was shaken by the sudden interference and stared down at the old cat in disbelief. Flossy screeched and charged, her claws extended. The big dog yelped like a new-born pup and scrambled back over the wall in a panic. Flossy nimbly jumped on top on the wall and hurled more abuse at the hound as he raced away. You were saved!

From that day on, Flossy rarely left your side. It’s strange, isn’t it? The way Flossy saw herself as your protector after months of dislike? Clearly it had all been an act and you had never been happier to realise it. Your new-found guardian angel stalked a few feet behind you whenever you hobbled into the garden and could be spotted watching you play in the park with the children, calmly licking her fur but keeping a wary eye on everything. Feeling her watchful green eyes on you at all times made you feel as if you were wearing armour. Nobody and nothing could touch you when Flossy was around!

Sadly though, Flossy was an old cat…her death hit you hard, didn’t it? You knew that she hadn’t been well for a long time and tried to stop her from following you when her legs were aching. Flossy ignored you and followed you anyway. She was a stubborn old thing, wasn’t she! She never shirked one day from her duties as your protector, did she? It was heart-breaking for you when she passed during the night and your piteous howls of pain awoke the family to share in your grief. It was a dark day when Flossy the Super-Cat wasn’t watching you anymore…

You’re still going to lie there, then? Ever since she was buried under her favourite apple tree you’ve spent hours lying there in the evenings. Do you mean to watch over her as she once did for you? If so, you’re a very sweet dog. Flossy would be happy knowing that you still cared. But it is getting dark now, so perhaps you had better come inside. There’s a good boy.

Fiction Fursday/The Boy and the Oak Tree

Hello, everyone! It’s Thursday again, and time for another story! This week’s offering was prompted by a fellow blogger and fiction writer, Sarah. Sarah suggested that I write a story about a ghost who is haunted by a human who won’t leave them alone. Well, I thought that was a bloody brilliant idea and so I went for it. Thank you, Sarah!

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

P.S. If any of you lovely readers out there would like to suggest a story for me to write on another Thursday, please tell me so by leaving a comment. Thanks!

The Boy and the Oak Tree

By Adam Dixon

“Heaven preserve me, not again!” Catherine groaned as she saw the boy approaching. She’d had it up to her undead neck of his gawking but she could not dissuade him from returning night after night. She considered vanishing from sight or disappearing into the gnarled oak nearby but dismissed the thought. The cursed lad would only hang around anyway! So instead she was forced to wait until he had crested the grassy hill and strode eagerly towards her. He looked like a hound loping towards his master. Idiot boy.

“So, here you are again, boy,” Catherine sighed, resting her hands on her hips.

“Course I am, Cathy!” the youth squeaked, his pimpled face lighting up. He was roughly eleven or twelve years old, rather small and bespectacled. “I told you I’d be back, didn’t I? I don’t like to think of you being stuck here by yourself.”

“I have managed perfectly well for over a century, thank you very much!” Catherine snapped.

“Yeah, but now you don’t have to!” the youth said. He brushed aside lock of lank, greasy hair as it strayed across his eyes and winked at his pale companion. “I’ve got your back, Cathy!”

“Will you stop calling me Cathy!” Catherine shouted, her neat hair springing loose from beneath her bonnet. “Really, young man, you are far too familiar! A woman of my station should be addressed as “my Lady”, never by her Christian name, or by any ludicrous shortening of it! If you must insist on invading my solitude then you must learn to address me correctly!”

“As you wish, my lady!” the lad chuckled and bowed low, sweeping his right arm around in a flourrish. He glanced up from his stoop, frowning at Catherine.

“By the way, Cathy,” he asked. “What’s your station, anyway?” Catherine raised her eyes to the sky and wondered what she had done to deserve such a tiresome companion.

“In life I was the Lady Catherine Seymour of Somerset, boy,” she replied, standing straight and regaining her poise. “I did not suffer fools then and I do not intend to begin doing so now! Consider yourself warned!”

“Sure thing, Cathy!” the lad winked again and sat down on the grass. Catherine longed for the dawn and wondered if all modern children were as irritating as this one. She grumbled to herself and stalked over to the other side of the oak, wishing that the boy would leave her alone.

 

A few years passed and the boy continued to return. Catherine’s annoyance had lessened somewhat but she still found strong words to say to him.

“Young man, why in God’s name are you wearing that awful shirt?” she demanded, her stern face darkened by a frown. The boy glanced down at his t-shirt. He had grown a few inches taller and had the feeble beginnings of a moustache growing above his lip.

“It’s just a band shirt, Cathy,” he replied, scratching at his bony elbow.

“It has the image of a lunatic displayed on it!” Catherine protested.

“Oh yeah, they’re called Iron Maiden, and that bloke’s their mascot. They’re awesome! I’ll bring my iPhone next time and play you some of their music!” The lad was grinning with excitement.

“Hmph!” Catherine said, grimacing. “Keep your ridiculous fashions to yourself, please!” Catherine folded her arms and sat down beside the oak. The lad sighed and settled on the hill next to her. After a few moments of silence and picking at blades of grass he spoke again.

“Cathy, I’ve been reading up about ghosts,” he said. “And it’s got me thinking. I reckon you’re a lost spirit, held here because of unfinished business during your life.”

“Fascinating.” Catherine replied, rolling her eyes. The moon was full that night and she enjoyed the way her ethereal form seemed to absorb its lunar glow. She almost felt beautiful..

“I was thinking that if we can find out what yours is, we can help you move on. You know, to the afterlife!” The lad’s eyes shone behind his spectacles. “You could finally rest, Cathy!”

Catherine tutted and glared at the lad.

“Do you think that a few books will reveal the mysteries of the afterlife to you?” she said. “I am bound here because of the life I led and the manner of my death, nothing more. God has not seen fit to allow me into Heaven and this is a reality I must accept. Clearly, you have been guided towards me as part of my punishment!”

“Oh, don’t be like that, Cathy!” the lad looked hurt. “Come on, there must be something we can work with? Maybe your death! How did you die, anyway?”

“I took my own life on 8th June 1867.” She turned her head, her ghostly eyes meeting the lad’s shocked ones.

They did not say anything for the rest of that evening.

 

“Hi, Cathy,” the lad said, although in truth he was no longer a lad. He had grown tall and his body had filled out leaving him looking healthy and strong. His pimpled face had smoothed and his cheeks boasted the stubble of a man. He looked rather fetching, although Catherine would never tell him that.

“Hello again,” she said, scratching her nose with pale fingers. “It has been a month since your previous visit. I was beginning to believe that I had finally gotten rid of you.”

“Ha! Never that easily!” the man chuckled. He became serious and stepped closer to Catherine. “Listen, I’ve been reading more on unfinished business,” the lad’s voice had taken on a bass rumble which reminded Catherine of father. She found the faded memories it evoked unsettling.

“Have you, indeed?” She asked, inspecting a translucent nail.

“Yeah, I have,” the man replied. “I think it’s time you moved on, Cathy. All the books I’ve read tell me that you need to move on soon or you’ll lose what’s left of your mind. You’ll end up like a wraith. Now, I’ve spoken to a local reverend who can talk to spirits as well and I think he can-“

“No!” Catherine said, quivering with sudden rage. “I refuse to be examined by any priest! It is bad enough that you are still visiting me! No, I forbid it!” The man sighed.

“Alright, alright,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders. “No priests. But I’d still like to help you, Cathy. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I found you here.”

“Your concern is neither desired nor appreciated!” Catherine lied. She had warmed to the man over the years despite her better judgement. She found his drive to help her to be sweet, if rather annoying at times. If only she had received that level of dedication from her family…

“You’ve still got such a way with words, Cathy,” the man laughed and shook his head. Catherine turned her back on the man, hiding a smile as it crept across her face.

 

“I think it’s time, Cathy,” the old man said. Catherine had watched the man shamble up and over the crest, feeling pity overwhelm her excitement. By then she openly looked forward to his visits, although she couldn’t remember when that had occurred. She found a sense of solace in his company which she had lacked during the century she had stood alone.

“What do you mean, young man?” she asked. She still insisted on calling him “young man” despite his physical seniority over her, her trump card being that she had existed for almost two centuries and him not quite one.

“I’m dying, Cathy,” the man wheezed, mopping at his sweating brow with a tissue. He looked terrible: his eyes were sunken in purple pits and the pallor of his skin was akin to Catherine’s. Catherine gasped, moving towards him.

“What? But…you can’t!” she spluttered. “You can’t die! I…how will you visit me?”

“I won’t, that’s the real kick in teeth,” the old man replied, a wry smile tugging at his lips. He closed his eyes and grimaced, a hand over his heart. Catherine reached out to touch his hand. Her arm passed through his body without resistance and in that moment she became aware of the weak fluttering of his pulse. It was like a fly struggling against the paper which held it stuck.

“Ooooh, don’t do that, Cathy!” the man laughed, pausing to cough. “I’m cold enough in this bloody gown!” The hospital gown was already grass-stained and it rustled gently in the wind. Catherine withdrew her arm, desperate for something to say.

“I…but…you can’t…” Catherine had never felt so terrified. She had become familiar with her solitude in the previous century, but the time before she knew the boy seemed aeons ago. She was afraid to go back to those long lonely nights. Horribly, mind-numbingly afraid.

“It’ll be alright, Cathy,” the old man said. He lay down and ran a skeletal finger across his white moustache.

“But why…are you here?” Catherine managed to ask. “You’re sick…surely you ought to be with a doctor, or at least a family member or a friend?” The old man smiled weakly.

“I was, but I managed to give them the slip,” he chuckled briefly before a series of racking coughs stopped him. Catherine’s heart wrenched with every one, her eyes widening in alarm as spots of blood flew from the man’s lips and decorated his gown. He finally stopped and rested his head again, panting.

“I…had to see you…again,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. His eyes flickered towards Catherine. “One last…visit.”

“But what shall I do without you?” Catherine wailed, feeling wretched and helpless. “You brought light to my existence when all I could see was darkness! My family and friends never cared a whit for me, not like you do!” She cast her head about to and fro, as if her denial could prevent the inevitable. “I never even asked you your name!” She cried, half in disbelief. Had she really never asked him that?! The man smiled again and spoke, his voice barely audible over the sound of the blowing wind. Catherine leaned in close, afraid that the jealous breeze would snatch away the man’s words.

“Can still…help…unfinished…business…” the man’s eyes closed and his final breath stumbled from his throat as a rasping sigh. Catherine stared down at the body of her only friend, aghast and dumbstruck. She felt the unbearable weight of loneliness crashing down on her ghostly form, twisting her heart into painful knots which could not be untied. She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears which would have flooded her face if she still had the capacity to weep.

“Damn you, boy!” she croaked, her throat constricted with emotion. “You have abandoned me…just like everyone else!”

“Oh, don’t be like that, Cathy!” A voice squeaked behind her. Catherine whirled and stood facing the spectral apparition of a young boy. Her boy! There he stood, looking as scrawny and puppy-like as the day they had met, with the familiar huge grin on his face. He scratched at his elbow and laughed as Catherine stood agape.

“What? How…?” Catherine stammered. She looked behind her to confirm that the body of the old man was still there. It was, and it lay peacefully under the oak tree.

“Unfinished business, Cathy,” the boy replied, winking at her. “All those years you sneered at the idea and here I am!” Catherine stared at him.

“But…what business have you left unfinished?” She asked, her mind a mess of confusion. The boy stepped towards her and touched her hand. Catherine gasped as she felt his cold fingers encircle hers.

“You, Cathy,” he said. “I still need to help you move on, remember?” Catherine trembled with emotion, startled by the first feeling of contact she had had in so many years.

“I figured out what’s been holding you back, too,” the boy said, taking Catherine’s other hand. Catherine looked deep into his eyes, marvelling at how beautiful they were now that they glowed with pale light.

“You never found anyone who cared about you enough,” he said. He moved a half-step closer and slid his arms around Catherine’s waist. He embraced her fondly, resting his head on her chest. “Well, now you have” he whispered, as if to a lover. Catherine’s eyes opened wide. The bubbling cauldron of emotion within her spilled over and she threw her arms around the boy, trembling.

“Oh, it is you!” She said. “After all this time waiting and it has been you all along!” She wanted to say more but could not find the words. Instead she held the boy tightly, not daring to let go. They stood for a several glorious minutes, clinging to one another like reunited sweethearts. Finally, the boy looked up at Catherine.

“It’s time,” he said with a smile. He took her hand and begun to lead her away from the oak. Catherine was afraid again, feeling the first beginnings of panic flare in her breast as she glanced back at her death tree. It had been a solid, stalwart reminder of her past for countless days and she felt uneasy about leaving it. But one look back at the boy’s eager face banished all of her doubts. The boy released her hand and made an exaggerated bow.

“After you, my lady!” he said. Catherine laughed long and loud, the joyous sound echoing into the night. She moved confidently towards the moonlit field beyond, taking the boy’s hand once again. In an instant they had disappeared together, their ephemeral bodies vanishing like smoke before a breeze. The wind blew through the now empty field, and even the old oak tree seemed to sigh. Catherine Seymour had moved on at last.

 

Fiction Fursday/The Animals’ Advice

Today’s Fiction Fursday story was prompted by my wonderful blogger friend, Kate. Kate gave me a flurry of excellent prompts during my A-Z Challenge in April, so I knew that she’d suggest something brilliant for my new weekly project! Her suggestion was for me to write a story where a bloke who is down on his luck sneaks into a zoo and tells the animals about his problems. I loved the idea from the start and was excited to get writing! Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

Also, if any of your would like to suggest a prompt for me for my Ficiton Fursday posts, feel free to do so in the comments. It could be a single word, a first/final line or even a theme. Use your imagination and to kick-start mine!

The Animals’ Advice

By Adam Dixon

“She just wouldn’t listen to reason,” Bob sighed, taking a slow swig from his beer can. “She wouldn’t listen, then she left me…just walked out the door…haven’t seen her in four weeks now…” Bob lowered his head as a tear forced its way through his closed eyes. “Oh, Xena, what am I going to do?” Bob looked pleadingly at the sleek lioness in her enclosure. She sat as still as a statue, watching him with amber eyes and flicking her tail to and fro as he spoke.

“You come here at this hour, disturbing my rest, in order to spout this drivel?” she replied. The noise came from within Bob’s head rather than issuing from her mouth and her voice was cold and calculated. Bob fidgeted on his perch on the wall above her.

“Erm, yes…” he replied, feeling sheepish. “I was hoping you might have some advice for me. You know how to deal with your mate and his pride so I figured that you might have an insight I could use.”

“I care less about your trivial relationship problems than I do about tasting your warm flesh, human,” Xena growled, licking her lips. Bob shuffled further away, for once grateful for the iron bars ringing the enclosure.

“It is merely an instinct, human, take no offence,” Xena said with a lazy swish of her tail. “Nothing personal, although I must insist that you take your problems elsewhere. I require sleep or else I shall be cantankerous in the morning; the cubs will not enjoy that. Good evening to you.” With a regal bowing of her head, the lioness turned and gracefully walked away. Bob sat watching her, marvelling at the strong muscles and beautiful fur whilst at the same time feeling quite put-out.

“Yeah, whatever then, princess,” he muttered as he shuffled further into the zoo. He gulped at his beer as he wandered, enjoying the cool breeze and shade offered at night. He had been working there during the sweltering heat of the daytime, guiding packs of sweating tourists around to gawk at the basking animals, making him grateful for the drop in temperature. Gravel crunched under his boots as Bob approached another cage, this one filled with trees and wooden climbing frames. He sat on a wooden bench next to it, cracking open another beer.

“Hello? Anyone home?” he called. There was a rustling of movement within the trees and a dark human-like face ringed with white fur peered out at him. Bob waved.

“Evening, Scamp,” he said. “Aren’t you up a bit late?”

“Could say the same to you! Heehee!” The gibbon replied playfully. Bob raised his can.

“Touché!” He said, and took a long swallow. Sighing, he watched as Scamp swung up to a stronger branch in order to converse with him comfortably.

“Scamp, where’s Ursula?” Bob asked. “I thought you two were always together?”

“Not tonight, she’s resting with our young,” Scamp grinned, his throat-sack enlarging and shrinking as he laughed. “They gave her a good run-around today and now they’re all exhausted! Works for me! Heehee!” Bob smiled and shook his head. Scamp’s voice echoed in his head more resonantly than the other animals, and Bob assumed it was due to their evolutionary closeness. Scamp leaned closer from his high perch, gazing down at Bob. He lifted a horned finger and pointed.

“Say, Bob…could I have one of those?” Scamp asked hopefully. Bemused, Bob pulled a beer can from his pack and tossed it up into the tree. Scamp leaned backwards and caught it deftly, whooping in delight. He snapped open the ring-pull and cackled as foam erupted over his hand. Leaning further backwards he splashed beer down his face and chest as he gulped noisily. He balanced precariously on the edge of the branch for a few seconds before sitting upright once more. Scamp barked a quick laugh and belched.

“Ahhh, thanks! Heehee!” Scamp imitated Bob’s salute, tilting his raised can and nodding. Bob shook his head again.

“That’s alright, I suppose,” he replied, chuckling. “I just hope the guys at security aren’t watching! They didn’t mind letting me in at this hour but they’d have something to say if they saw me giving alcohol to the attractions! Technically you’re a minor, too, so I’d be in loads of trouble!”

“Our little secret then! Heehee! Why are you here, anyway?” Scamp asked, hanging from a branch one-handed as he sipped more beer. “Don’t we get enough of your ugly mug during the day? Heehee!”

“Woman troubles,” Bob admitted. “You’re always happy with Ursula, Scamp. What d’you reckon I should be doing?”

“You could try singing for her, that’s what I do,” Scamp replied, leaping back on to the branch and rubbing his throat-sack with pride. “My Ursula has always enjoyed my singing. Or if that doesn’t work, find another male to fight and prove your worth that way! Rip his fur out and toss him in the bushes with his bottom smacked! Heehee!”

“Hmm…well I can’t sing and I doubt there’s anyone relevant I could beat up,” Bob frowned. “It doesn’t really work like that with humans, anyway.”

“Can’t help you then, sorry!” Scamp laughed and crushed the empty can in his hand. He raised his arm and threw it, whooping with glee when it bounced off the side of Bob’s head.

“Heehee! Gotcha! Can I have another one?”

“No, that’s enough for you,” Bob said flatly, standing up to leave. “I’ll see if anyone else can help me.” He trudged off down the winding path, feeling more and more like he was wasting his time. Why should the animals have any kind of helpful advice to give me? Bob thought, cross with himself. They don’t know how humans behave! After a few minutes, however, Bob found himself leaning over the edge of another enclosure, chatting with a beautiful male peacock.

“So what do you think I should do, Narcissus?” Bob asked after he had explained his situation. He was watching the blue bird strut around and flick his gorgeous feathers to and fro.

“Well, what I would suggest, darling, is that you flaunt your natural beauty to win her back!” the peacock said eagerly. “Flaunt it, darling! Flaunt it shamelessly! Show her what she is missing!”

“Erm…okay,” Bob was unconvinced. “The thing is, I don’t really have a lot of natural beauty to flaunt. The moles and the receding hairline hardly make women swoon, and I can’t say I had better luck when I was younger. My parents were a bit on the plain side, you see.”

“Oh, daaaarling! That is unfortunate!” Narcissis crowed with genuine sympathy. He fanned his own natural beauty for effect. “Then I simply don’t know what to suggest! That course of action always works for me! See how stunning I am! What female could possibly resist?” He spun his feathers with a flourish, sighing with delight as the radiant colours flashed in the night sky. Bob sighed too and thanked the peacock, leaving him to prance about as he walked on. He began to wonder if he should just go home and drink his remaining beers in solitude, but he knew that he wouldn’t. I don’t want to be alone anymore, Bob thought miserably.

Bob came to a wider cage near the end of the park and gazed at the impressive shapes moving around within it. Two elephants were sleeping peacefully in the centre of the cage, a great bull elephant and his calf. The baby, who was nearly as big as Bob, was snuggled up against her father with her small trunk draped over his neck. Bob felt a pang of regret as he stroked the cold, oppressive bars of the cage. The cruelty of their fate upset him profoundly.

“I’m sorry you’re in here…” he whispered.

“The fault is not yours, young man,” a kindly voice said in his head. “Do not assume the guilt for it.” Bob glanced towards another shape as it moved closer to him. The baby’s mother was massive and beautiful, her intelligent brown eyes meeting Bob’s without fear or hesitation.

“I know, Maggie” Bob replied, scratching the back of his head. “But it doesn’t make me feel any better about it, especially not since I’ve been moaning about my life all evening. I don’t have it this bad! Stupid, selfish bastard that I am! At least I’m free!”

“Oh, you needn’t feel too bad, Robert,” Maggie said, her eyes creasing with amusement. “You help us in your own way through your Gift. If you did not come and talk to us all during the day, I am sure we would all have gone beserk by now. Do not be too hard on yourself, my dear.”

“I suppose so,” Bob replied, feeling slightly better. He turned to look at the sleeping baby once again.

“She is growing so fast, Maggie!” He breathed, his eyes widening and a wondrous smile creeping across his face. “Soon she’ll be as big as you are!”

“Oh, hopefully not too soon!” Maggie chuckled. She looked at Bob seriously, her large ears flapping as she frowned.

“Now, Robert, tell me,” she began firmly. “What is all this about you moaning about your life? What is the matter?”

“Oh, that,” Bob scratched his head again nervously. “I…erm…my partner left me. She doesn’t…erm…She wants to get married.”

“Well, that sounds like wonderful news!” Maggie exclaimed. “Why has she abandoned you? Is this how you usually operate? I don’t understand human couplings, I’m afraid.”

“No, it’s not the usual way…” Bob replied, feeling ashamed. “I…erm…it’s my fault. I told her…that I don’t want to get married.”

“I see,” Maggie’s expression became stern as she moved closer to Bob. Her great head moved to within inches of his, separated by the iron bars of the cage. “Why ever not, Robert? Do you not care for her?”

“Yes! Of course I do!” Bob said, hurt by implication. “I love her dearly! I can’t imagine life without her! I don’t want a life without her!”

“Then why do you hesitate?” Maggie asked, holding Bob’s gaze. Bob was flustered as he found himself unable to answer the simple question.

“I…she…oh, I don’t know!” He cried, throwing his arms in the air. “It’s just not something that has ever meant much to me as a concept, that’s all!”

“But it seems to mean a great deal to your partner,” Maggie said, twisting her trunk as she spoke. It was almost like a shrug. “Perhaps you need to consider whether your indifference is more important than your mutual happiness. Take myself and Rameses for example.” She swung her trunk and gestured at her slumbering mate. “Rameses was a wild one, that’s for certain, and he never considered having children before I explained to him how important it would be to me. Putting his pride behind him was the best decision he has ever made; he adores our little one and he would give his tusks for her in a heartbeat.” Maggie turned her gaze back towards Bob. “You must think about what course of action will make you and your partner the happiest. Make your decision soon, whatever it may be, before you regret it.”

Bob rested his forehead against the cool bars of the cage and reached his arm through to stroke Maggie’s trunk. It was thick and strong but full of warmth. Just like Maggie, Bob thought.

“Thank you, Maggie,” he said, tears filling his eyes. “I’ll do that. You are very wise, you know that, right?”

“Oh, it has been implied!” Maggie chuckled and tenderly wiped an escaping tear from Bob’s cheek with the end of her trunk. “But you do not reach my age without learning a thing or two about life! Now off you go, Robert. The dawn will soon come and I daresay that you have a female to speak to.” Bob straightened and wiped his eyes.

“Yes, I suppose I do,” he replied, smiling. “Bye, Maggie. I’ll see you soon.” Maggie raised her trunk in farewell before moving back towards her family. Bob strode back the way he had come, feeling lighter than he had felt in days. Maggie’s words had lifted a great weight from his shoulders and her simple probing had unlocked answers he had kept barricaded deep in his heart. He glanced up at the lightening sky, breathing in the cool scent of the approaching morning and looking forward to the day ahead. He knew what he was going to do. As he passed the Ape Section, Bob whistled and tossed his final beer can into the trees. Scamp the gibbon caught it and his surprised laughter rang out across the zoo, and Bob laughed with him.