Sick Day

Hello, everyone. I’ve been slacking a bit lately with regards to my blog, but before you seize the boiling tar and feathers, I shall explain. I’ve been devoting a lot of time this month to preparing for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, as I realised with panic that November is nearly upon us. So I have been scribbling ideas for characters, plot and interviewing people in the know in order to get something which resembles an outline before I begin. As a result, I have not been concentrating on my short stories, and for that I apologise.

Today, I would like to share with you a story which I wrote quite recently. I wrote and submitted it to a competition and although it didn’t get anywhere with it I am still quite pleased with how it turned out. The prompt was the first line: “I took a deep breath and knocked on the door…”

I hope you enjoy it, and I will have finished my next story in time for next Thursday.  Thank you for you patience.

P.S. Are any of you lovely lot taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? If you are, please let me know. Maybe we could be writing buddies!

Sick-Day

“I took a deep breath and knocked on the door-”

“Hang on a sec, why did you do that?”

“Excuse me?”

“You knocked. You said you could hear your wife moaning, so why did you knock?”

“I…don’t know. I suppose…I didn’t want to see them…at it. It was bad enough hearing what they were doing, let alone witnessing it. I suppose I wanted them to…stop.”

“Okay, Mr Carling, please continue.”

“Well, they stopped. There was silence on the other side of the door, followed by panicked whispering. She’d have had no idea that I was home as I wasn’t due back until the evening.”

“Why were you home early, Mr Carling?”

“I’d been sent home. I hadn’t felt well that morning and I probably shouldn’t have gone in at all, to be honest. But I’m rather proud of my unblemished record, you see. I’d not taken a single sick day in four years until that morning.”

“Rather convenient, wouldn’t you say?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I just find it quite strange that the one day you come home early in four years just happens to be the day your wife is playing around.”

“What are you insinuating, detective?”

“Nothing yet, I’m just remarking on the facts as they appear.”

“Then would you kindly let me finish before you begin your accusations?”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, Mr Carling, please continue.”

“Hmph. Well, I stood outside the door with my hand raised above the handle, but I couldn’t go in. I knew that I’d caught her but I couldn’t will myself to enter that bedroom and face her. I suppose…I don’t know! I knew that if I saw her in that situation then our marriage was over! I didn’t want to have to admit that…”

“I see…then what did you do?”

“I turned around and I left the house.”

“Do you remember what time that was?”

“I left work just after nine-thirty and arrived home at about ten-fifteen. I left the house probably ten minutes later.”

“Where did you go?”

“I don’t really know, I just got into my car and drove around. There was too much going on in my mind, I barely remember any of the places I drove to.”

“Barely is not completely, so could you please tell me the places you remember?”

“Erm…I drove back towards my place of work. I suppose that was by force of habit. Then, erm, I carried on into the city. I remember passing Marble Arch…later on I drove past the Stoop in Twickenham. That’s all I remember.”

“Can anyone vouch for you? Anyone who may have seen you?”

“I don’t know! Umpteen thousands of tourists, maybe! Like I said, I didn’t know where I was going! Although…I did stop at service station and buy a sandwich…I think it was near Gatwick…then I just drove and drove until I ended up back at the house.”

“Okay, we can have our staff check into that, thank you. What time did you return home, Mr Carling?”

“It was nearly half-past three. I remember looking at my watch and wondering how the time had flown.”

“Alright, then what happened?”

“Well, I was still in a bit of a daze, although by that point it may have been because of my illness. I’d calmed down a great deal, though, and I felt ready to talk to Jacqueline.”

“Mhmm. What next?”

“I took out my keys and walked to the front door. I remember thinking that it was odd that it was ajar, but I put that down to my state of mind when I’d let in the morning. That was when I saw the footprints…the bloody footprints.”

“Go on, Mr Carling. Please.”

“I…stared at them…it was as if my mind wasn’t working. I followed the prints backwards, across the hallway and up the stairs. There were…smears…on the banister and on the walls. I followed them to my bedroom door and…and…”

“I know this must be difficult, Mr Carling, please take your time.”

“Thank you…I approached my bedroom, seeing bloody handprints on the opposite wall, and I felt cold. I was so frightened…I pushed open the door…that’s when I saw the body.”

“What did you see, Mr Carling? Your first thoughts, please.”

“I saw…golden hair matted with blood…a torso lying on the floor with legs still in the bed…I saw blue eyes staring out at me, accusing me…”

“Was there anything else you noticed about the crime scene? Anything at all, this is very important.”

“I…I saw the bat…”

“The bat?”

“Yes…I bought a baseball bat and kept it under the bed…for protection…it was lying on the carpet covered in…Christ, remembering it makes me want to vomit!”

“Thank you, Mr Carling, we’ll move on now. How long was it before you called the police?”

“Hmm? Oh, possibly five minutes, no more than ten. I just couldn’t take my eyes from the body…it sickened me but I couldn’t look away…that strong, athletic frame drenched in blood…”

“I see. Well, I believe that is all we require from you for now, Mr Carling. We will contact you if we need any further information. Unfortunately, your house is still a crime scene so I will ask that you do not return there for the time being. Is there a relative or a friend you can stay with?”

“Yes…my brother lives at the other side of town. About half an hour’s drive from here.”

“That’s good. Feel free to use our phone to contact him. We will-“

“Detective, what about Jacqueline? I…I can’t believe that she…”

“I have my best officers out there looking for her, Mr Carling, we’ll find her. In the meantime I’m going to have another officer escort you to your destination and remain nearby. We can’t be too careful at this stage.”

“I understand…thank you, detective.”

“You’re welcome, Mr Carling, and thank you for your cooperation.”

 

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Fiction Fursday/A Trip to Belgium Part One

Hello, friends! It’s been a while, and it’s also late and I for that I apologise. I reckon I’ve got a writing routine sorted out once again and I’m feeling positive about my various projects. I’m actually gearing up to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, which is exciting!

Today’s story was prompted by Esther Newton. Esther suggested that I write a story where a man goes to sleep and wakes up 100 years in the past. What happens to him and whether or not he returns was to be left up to me. Well, the historian in me awoke with excitement at the prospect and I started brainstorming right away! As I began writing out my ideas, I soon came to the realisation that the story could not be contained to one blog post, and so I plan on writing it in three parts. The subject matter will be dark at times, and I will do my best to treat it with tact and research my ideas as much as I can. So, thank you, Esther, for such an inspiring prompt!

Here is Part One of my story. I hope you enjoy the beginning of this tale.

P.S. If you would like to get involved and suggest a prompt for me to use in the future, please feel free to do so and leave a comment below!

 

A Trip to Belgium

Part One: 1916

By Adam Dixon

 

Derek draped his red tie over the back of his chair and stretched. He was pleased with his day’s work and he had no doubt that his client would be too. He could almost hear the old crone rasping down the telephone in delight once he told her that her accounts were all in order. Then would come the much-deserved praise and Derek would once again justify the hefty quarterly bonuses he was receiving. He rubbed his stomach, thinking of the fine meals he would soon be enjoying, courtesy of the company, of course.

“I’ll have to get on with it and book a flight, soon,” Derek said to himself, sitting on his wide bed as he undid his trousers. He kicked off his expensive shoes and wriggled out of his clothes, lying back luxuriously with a deep sigh.

“Where to this time?” he mused, scratching at his five o’clock shadow. He’d see to that in the morning, it didn’t pay for his clients to see him unshaven. “I can’t believe Rome was five months ago already!” He smiled at the thought of his holiday, remembering the bustling streets with their exquisite architecture and the fragrant restaurants beckoning to him. He stared up at his custom light fittings and ran a hand through his greying hair.

“Germany this time? No…France? Yeah…France would be nice! Or Belgium! I could visit Antwerp again, maybe with a trip to Bruges somewhere along the line!” He chuckled at the thought of the raised eyebrows when he told his colleagues his choice. They would have chosen Paris, or continued on to Spain. Derek liked to be different; he thought it made him seem interesting. For a moment, Derek’s mind slipped and he wondered if he should invite Sandra to come with him, but he dispelled it angrily. He traced the ring-less finger on his left hand, blocking out the wounds which were still hurting even after five years.

“I ought to do something for mum, too,” Derek thought, refusing to think about Sandra. “Maybe I’ll pay for her to get her roof fixed…I ought to have done that weeks ago…” Derek felt guilty and promised himself that he would do just that on his next payday. Yawning, Derek shuffled around until he had slipped under his duvet. Sleep claimed him quickly, and he didn’t bother to turn out the light.

 

“Derek Webley, get up this instant!” A shrill voice shouted in Derek’s ear. He jerked awake, squinting as daylight poured in through the open curtains. Confused and a little afraid, Derek sat up. An old woman dressed in simple clothing of a woollen blouse and a long, ragged dress bustled about his room, her slippers scuffing the floorboards. Floorboards? Derek’s room had a cream carpet…

“You left the bleedin’ candle on as well! You’ll set the house alight one of these days!” the woman continued, gesturing towards a melted stump of candlewax on his desk. Derek frowned. How had that gotten there? He noticed with shock that his room looked completely different. It was the same large size, but the walls were missing the decadent paintings and the tasteful blue wallpaper. His bed was smaller too, the duvet replaced by a single, creased blanket and the memory-foam mattress gone in favour of an inch-thick monstrosity of discomfort. Derek was perplexed, and then he recognised the intruder as she turned towards him.

“Mum, what are you doing here? What’s going on?” Derek spluttered. His eyes flicked towards her clothes. “And what are you wearing?!”

“None of your lip now, Derek!” his mother scolded, wrenching open his wardrobe and pulling out a shirt and trousers. “Here you are, put these on. Quickly!” She tossed the clothes at Derek, who was staring in disbelief. He touched the clothes and snorted.

“I can’t go anywhere dressed in these!” he said, smirking. “I think these clothes went out with Queen Victoria! Where did you get them from? A joke shop, maybe?”

“I said no lip, Derek!” his mother snapped, placing her hands on her hips and tapping her foot on the floorboards. “Now get up, get dressed and get yourself down to the town hall! I’ll not have any son of mine shirking his duty!”

“What are you talking about?” Derek swung his legs from his bed and started in surprise at his long woollen pyjamas. “What am I wearing?!” He was aghast. “Who dressed me in these? Why didn’t I wake up?”

“Derek Henry Webley, get your backside out of bed and put those clothes on this instant!” His mother spat, her face the picture of frustration. Derek obeyed, wondering which one of his friends had thought up this elaborate prank. Whoever it was, they had done a sterling job getting his no-nonsense mother on board! As he pulled on the moth-eaten trousers and starchy shirt he wondered whether or not he was dreaming. He followed his mother out of the bedroom and onto the landing, where he let out a cry of astonishment.

“The house! What have you done to it?” he asked, staring wildly at the plain flooring and bland wallpaper. “This is getting ridiculous now! How’ve you managed this while I’ve been asleep? It looks like something out of the 1920’s!” Derek’s mother stopped at the top of the stairs and turned to face him. She did not look impressed.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, sonny,” she said with her lips curled in distaste. “I know exactly what you’re doing! I’ll not have you pretending to be mad in order to get out of your duty! The law’s the law and everyone who can hold a gun has do their bit, so don’t even think about it!”

“Mad? Gun? What are you talking about?” Derek said. His mother tutted and seized his wrists, dragging him down the staircase. Even that was different: he had been rather proud of the blue carpet which had run over the steps like a soft, comfortable ocean. It was now bare and in quite desperate need of a varnishing. How had they managed it?

A few minutes later Derek was being led by the hand through the street as he scratched at his uncomfortable trousers. Derek’s eyes were wide and his mouth was agape at its transformation. There seemed to be fewer houses and there were no cars on the road. The air smelled clean, lacking the pervasive odour of exhaust fumes. Derek was sure that he could detect a whiff of manure, too. He stared at people who were dressed in similarly dated clothes to himself. The majority of the men were sporting moustaches and wore hats, and the women wore long dresses and sensible shoes. Derek couldn’t see a hint of make-up on a single face! Strangely, he also noticed that there were no young men around. Lots of men, to be sure, but all of them older than himself, walking with grim faces and troubled expressions. He became convinced that he must be dreaming; no prank could be that elaborate!

“Come on, Derek! Don’t dawdle!” his mother said, tugging at his wrists. “You must be on time and you must look keen!”

“Mum, why were you in my house?” Derek asked. He’d had lucid dreams before but he couldn’t recall ever feeling so immersed in one. He thought he’d try to make some sense of it before he woke up.

“Hark at you! Your house, indeed!” his mother snorted. “It’s a bit late to start putting on airs, my lad! Now shut your mouth and stop dilly-dallying! Maybe today you can prove to me and that harlot, Sandra, that you are a real man!” Derek blinked in shock and complied, more confused than ever. His subconscious was certainly giving him a beating this time! They approached the town hall, a grand old building which, incredibly, looked brand new. Its grey stones and red bricks were clean and its doors were wide open, admitting and ejecting streams of men like twin rivers. Derek’s mother shoved him through the door and into the bustling foyer. There was no opportunity to admire the resplendent interior of the building due to the amount of men barging into one another. The air was filled with the sounds of shouting, cursing, coughing and an occasional bray of laughter. Derek was jostled to and fro by several disgruntled people before being confronted by an aging man in an Army uniform. He appeared to be one of several such men in the building and they were all clutching sheaves of papers and pencils. The man’s face was red and his voice was hoarse as if he had been shouting all morning.

“You there! You look game enough, who are you?” The man pointed a wrinkled finger at Derek, his steely eyes sizing him up.  Even his white moustache looked irritated. “Name, age and occupation!”

“Erm, Derek Webley,” Derek said, bewildered. “42 years old. Erm, I’m an accountant.”

“Hmph! What took you so long to join up, Webley? It’s two months since the law changed, have you no shame, man?”

“I’m sorry, but I’ve no idea who you are or what you’re talking about,” Derek said, smiling in what he hoped was a friendly, embarrassed way. The thin man’s face contorted and he shook with fury.

“This is no time to act the fool, Webley!” he shouted, jabbing at Derek’s chest with his skeletal fingers. “Our boys abroad need support and that means they need your help, God save ‘em! I am Major Harold Beaumont and it’s my job to make sure spineless idiots like yourself get out there and provide it! Now, your address and dependents, Webley!”

“Dependents?” Derek frowned.

“Yes, man, dependents!” Beaumont cried, his eyebrows knitting together like angry clouds. “Do you have a wife or children to keep?”

“Erm…no, sir,” Derek said, probing his ring finger again. “And..erm…I live on 42 London Road.” Beaumont nodded and wrote the information down on a form in neat, efficient handwriting. He cast his eyes over Derek once again.

“Do you have any physical ailments, Webley? Bad knees, poor eyesight, weak chest, that sort of thing.”

“Erm, no, sir, I don’t think so. Bit of an expansive waistline these days, if that counts!” Derek attempted another smile. Beaumont’s stony face made it clear that it did not count.

“So, you are unmarried, you have no children to support and you are in fine physical condition for a man of your age. Good God, Webley, the Army is crying out for men like you and if my eyes didn’t deceive me you needed to be dragged here today by your mother! You’re a bloody disgrace, man!”

“Now hang on a minute!” Derek said, his irritation growing. “I’m unused to be spoken to in that tone, Beaumont, and I don’t much appreciate it!” Beaumont barked a hoarse laugh.

“Ah! Perhaps you do have some spine then, Webley!” he said with a wry smile. “That is a relief! But if my remarks upset you then you’d better prepare yourself for a good hiding during your training! Man alive, the drill sergeants will have grand time with you!”

“Training? Wha-“ Derek began. He was cut off by a wave from Beaumont.

“Yes, Webley, your training,” he said curtly, already scanning the room for other men to berate. “A vehicle will collect you tomorrow at 06:00 hours to transport you to your nearest facility and you will be readied for warfare. In six weeks you will be sent over to France or Belgium, depending on where you are needed. Ordinarily training should take three months, but our boys are being pushed hard by Jerry and we can’t spare the time. Good luck, Webley, and God be with you out there.” Before Derek could offer further protestation, Beaumont had marched off and seized another man by the shoulder, barking into his ear at the same time. Derek stood in the foyer of the town hall and stared after the old man, his mind racing. He hoped he would wake up soon, the dream was feeling a bit too real…

“Derek!” a deep voice called. A familiar face approached Derek in the foyer.

“James!” he exclaimed, reaching out to seize the offered hand. “I’m bloody pleased to see you here! Maybe you can help me clarify this madness before I wake up!”

James Johnson nodded, his usually jovial face creased with worry. James had worked alongside Derek for almost ten years and they were frequent drinking buddies.

“It is surreal, isn’t it?” James said, glancing around the packed building. “I can’t imagine what it’ll be like once we actually get out there. The stories we’ve heard, and the damned lists growing weekly…over by Christmas, they said, and it’s been two years…the world has gone mad, Derek.” Derek was shocked by James’s tone, and he followed him back into the street wondering how to respond. He was feeling uneasy and more than a little bit frightened. He hoped he would wake up soon…

“Derek! James!” another voice called, and a tall woman with raven-black hair came hurrying towards them. Derek smiled at her, feeling relieved.

“Ah, Mary, it’s good to see you here,” he said warmly, amused at her prim attire. Mary Rutherford had often been wearing more revealing clothes whenever Derek had seen her around the office. Her husband, Barry, (another drinking buddy), worked with them and they had gotten to know Mary well through him. What had inspired Derek to dream about her in that way?

“My God, you’ve both joined up, too, haven’t you?” Mary said, her almond eyes wide and her hands clasped under her chin.

“That’s right,” James said with a shrug. “Can’t avoid it these days.”

“I see…” Mary looked at both of them, her eyes brimming with tears. “Well…you two be careful out there, please. I’ve…not heard from Barry in nearly three weeks…he’s never left it this long before and I…I…” Mary broke off, her shoulders shaking with sobs.

“Mary! What’s the matter?” Derek asked, alarmed. He touched her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. Mary looked up at him, blinking tears from her eyes. She managed a weak smile.

“Barry…said he was being sent into France,” she whispered. “Couldn’t say much more than that, obviously…but I fear the worst, Derek…oh Lord, please be careful! G-goodbye and G-god bless!” With that Mary hurried away, her snuffling cries receding into the distance.

“Barry’s not one to make her worry,” James said, rubbing his temples. “That’s not good news…another one gone. That makes four so far. Damned lucky it isn’t more, if you ask me.”

“F-four?” Derek stammered. A tight ball of horror was forming in the pit of his stomach. James nodded.

“Yes, four. I still can’t quite believe that Harry and Paul, are gone…they were so keen to volunteer… Poor blighters…not long out of school, either. David was a shock as well, and his childr- damn, you haven’t heard about David yet! Oh, I’m so stupid!” James smacked his forehead with his palm and looked contrite. “I’m sorry to have to tell you like this, Derek…but Sally and I heard from Deidre last week…she told us that David has been killed in Ypres.”

“D-dead?” Derek whispered. “All four of them?” Harry and Paul had been the enthusiastic graduates they had taken on at their office, and David had been a reliable worker who was prone to making crude jokes.

“I’m still trying to deny it, too.” James said wearily. “I keep hoping that this is all a twisted nightmare and that I’ll wake up soon…” He clapped a resigned hand on Derek’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. Derek could see the anguish in his friends’ face.

“I’d best be home, Derek. I…need to tell Sally and the children that…my country needs me…I’ll see you tomorrow, I suppose.” James turned and walked away, leaving Derek speechless. His mind seemed to work in slow motion, his reasoning taking long, sluggish steps as if it were moving through treacle. The horror in his stomach had swollen to the size of a canon-ball and threatened to burst from his chest. No, it had to be a dream, he thought desperately, it had to be a dream

Derek staggered as the full realisation of what was happening came crashing into him like a tidal wave. He wasn’t dreaming! He had woken up in 1916 and had been conscripted to fight overseas! He began to blubber, moving around the streets like a drunk, reaching out to strangers in their strange clothes and imploring them to help him.

“Please, I don’t belong here!” he said, grabbing shocked men and women by their sleeves. “Please, there has been a mistake! I’m from the future! I’m from the future! I shouldn’t be here!”

“Poor devil has lost his mind!” one woman said in a hushed voice to a wide-eyed little boy.

“Hmph! Pull yourself together, man!” barked an elderly gentleman in a grey coat. “This town needs you! I’d be over there too if I weren’t so damned old!”

“But, but…” Derek cast to and fro, seeking any understanding in the faces of those around him. He was met only with anger, embarrassment and amusement. Finally, he hung his head in defeat. Derek trudged back down the unfamiliar-yet-familiar streets towards the home that was no longer his. As he walked, a single thought penetrated his anguished daze and he began to chuckle despite himself.

“I did say I wanted to go to Belgium!” he said with tears in his eyes. “I should’ve kept my big mouth shut! Oh Christ…” His tears fell and splashed onto his itching trousers. Derek shambled homeward, his feet heavy as they bore him closer to hell on earth.

 

 

 

 

Fiction Fursday/Re-blog

I’m afraid to say that I have failed this week in my commitment to writing a new story. I’ve just started a new job and things are still up in the air from my recent move. These are terrible excuses and I am a hypocrite for citing them as they shouldn’t have stopped me from writing, so for that I apologise. I even had a great prompt from the lovely Esther Newton work with, but I still managed to slack off.

However, I still wanted to post something, so I have decided to give an older story a dusting off this week. Last year, I wrote a story which I was very pleased with called “Fair Emma“. Some of you may have read this story already, but those of you who are new to my blog may not have come across it. I enjoyed writing it immensely and got a positive response from those who read it. I will leave a link to the original post and the first two paragraphs below, if you are interested in reading it. I hope you enjoy if you do.

Again, apologies for the lack of fresh material. I will be back on form next Thursday, I promise!

 

Fair Emma

By Adam Dixon

The streets of Whitechapel were deathly quiet that night. The street lamps were sparse and their feeble glow barely penetrated the November mist. There were shadows on every corner, and in one of them lurked a solitary, patient woman. Jackie stood motionless, her eyes on the small lodgings across the street. Standing on street corners had become a familiar occupation of hers of late, but she was not there for her trade. A fellow night-worker was completing a transaction with a client, and they had entered the small house less than half an hour ago. She stood calmly, her gaze boring into the wooden door just yards in front of her.

Soon, a man staggered outside, cursing loudly as he caught his foot on the door frame. He almost tripped, but somehow managed to remain upright and wobbled off into the night, belching out a bawdy song and chuckling to himself. After a few minutes the street was silent once again, and Jackie slowly approached the house. It was in a state of disrepair, with the door a little off its hinges and one of the panes of glass broken in the window next to it. Raising a gloved hand, Jackie knocked softly on the door.

Here is the link to the original post. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I just realised that I wrote this story in order to be featured on Esther’s blog! What a strange coincidence!

 

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…

The Slacker

I wrote this story today on my lunch break. It’s partially inspired by my lack of activity over the last fortnight, for which I feel guilty about. I’d gotten into a satisfying writing routine which made me happy and I will strive to get back on track with it. Unfortunately because I am a hideous slacker there will be no Fiction Fursday story until next week, sorry! Until then, I hope you all enjoy this little tale of a bloke who has a MUCH better excuse for his lack of productivity!

Here’s to getting back on track!

 

The Slacker

By Adam Dixon

John pushed open the door to his office with a shaking hand. His palm left a sooty smear on the white paint and his once-sensible shoes trailed mud and grime across the blue carpet. Pulling out his wheeled chair John sat down heavily and released a pent-up sigh of weariness. He slouched comfortably, content to close his eyes and steal a few moments of peace. He wrinkled his nose as the stale freshness of the room began to flee before his breath-taking stench. He reeked of sweat and ash and blood. Another sigh followed his first, this one of resignation.

It had been a week since he had last sat at his desk. Only a week, John thought in disbelief. What had begun as a perfectly ordinary, mechanical, boring week had spiralled into long, nightmarish days filled with fear, desperation and the struggle for survival. Heroes, too, John thought. He supposed that he could count himself among the men and women who deserved that title. He’d certainly earned it. He opened his eyes and glanced down at the thing in his hand. It was a long tooth, blackened and twisted with a razor-sharp point at the end. It was smooth to the touch despite its obvious age and John grimaced as he thought of the blood it had spilled recently. He could hardly believe that he, John the humble accountant, had proven to be one of the saviours of the world, but the tooth was conclusive evidence. Perhaps it was something to show his future grandchildren now that there would actually be a future to look forward to. John smiled for the first time that week and placed the grisly object on top of his desktop screen. With another sigh John booted up his computer.

The PC whirred quickly into life and beeped at him merrily. For once John found the noise comforting; it was as if nothing whatsoever had changed in the world. Scanning his build-up of unread emails John suppressed a groan and rolled his eyes. He’d received several over the last few days from his most demanding client, a man who had managed to remain short-sighted and irritating even whilst the world was coming to an end. Never mind the fact that John had been pressed into the fight to save both of their lives as well as those of everyone else on the planet, the client demanded a quick response to his tax issues. There were a few choice words flung at John in some of them, the basic gist of them all insisting that John was some kind of over-paid slacker in a tie. That’s not true, John frowned, and I lost my tie four days ago!

John ran filthy hand through his filthier hair and took off his blood-flecked glasses. Ignoring the painful protestation of his wounded leg he stood up and turned off his computer. Nodding curtly John limped towards the bathroom. After all he had been through that week, he figured that he had earned a break. A hot shower with lavender soap and a deep sleep in an actual bed at least. The client could afford to wait this time. John carefully wriggled out of his ruined shoes and dug his aching toes luxuriously into the soft carpet. Oh yes, the client could most certainly wait!

The Dashed Hopes of Kelpto

I wrote this short Sci-fi piece about a month ago and intended it to be sent to a magazine or website. Instead I’ve decided to share it on here with you guys.

I hope you like it.

The Dashed Hopes of Kelpto

By Adam Dixon

 

The trio stood motionless in the Observation Room, gazing down at their stricken planet. Together they represented the highest authorities of the Kelptonians, which is why they were in the relative safety of orbit. But even being such a distance from the chaos below would not keep them safe for long.

“What about the other humans? From Earth?” High Sapien Teflar inquired, staring intently at the scientist. High Scholar Jenvere pushed her glasses up her nose nervously and was about to reply when a gruff voice interrupted her.

“The Earthlings? I’m sorry, sir, but that is ridiculous.” Master General Kle’fir held both hands behind his back and thrust out his barrel chest, the light from the plasma rods above reflecting on his medals.

“I wasn’t asking you, General!” Teflar snapped, his elaborate bone headdress swaying as he turned to glare at Kel’fir. “Now, High Scholar, what about the Earthlings? Could we summon them for aid?”

“Well, sir, theoretically it is possible,” she replied, her voice high pitched and bird-like.

“Theoretically? All of our allies have deserted us, damn it! I don’t have time for theories!” Teflar barked. Jenvere jumped and clutched her notes to her chest, as if they would protect her from his anger.

“W-wel you s-see, sir,” she stammered. “Earth is w-within our t-travelling capabilities, b-but it w-would still t-take far too long to m-make the journey.”

“What do you mean? Speak!” Teflar’s eyes were mad with rage.

“She means,” Kle’fir said calmly, “That sending a party to Earth would take hundreds of years even in our fastest transporters. If they agree to aid us, which is unlikely, it would then take them the same amount of time to be escorted back to Kelpto. We are talking about the passing of almost a millennia.”

“You cannot be serious…” Teflar was dumbfounded.

“I-I’m afraid he is, High Sapien, sir,” Jenvere piped up. “By the time the Earthlings reach us, the war will have been over for centuries.”

“But we can’t just let those six-eyed monstrosities claim our planet!” Teflar fumed, pacing. He was short even for a Kelptonian, so he wore high-heeled boots which clomped on the titanium floor of the spacecraft.

“The Earthlings, they could return and reclaim Kelpto, should we lose it!” he reasoned, gesturing aggressively with his arms, causing his headdress to wobble dangerously.

“Why should they fight for a distant planet which they have never heard of, sir?” Kle’fir’s voice contained the barest hint of mockery. “I doubt we would, were our situations reversed.”

“Because…” Teflar gestured again, his mouth opening and closing as he struggled to find the words.

“Because they court war!” he said triumphantly. “They seek it continually! We’ve watched them for hundreds of years, we know what they are capable of! They are ruthless, efficient warriors and conflict is no stranger to them!”

“Perhaps, but there is also the issue of their ignorance, sir,” Kle’fir added.

“Bah! If it takes centuries to reach them, then they will no longer be ignorant!” Teflar replied hotly. “You’ve seen the satellite videos, General, they are progressing with their knowledge at an alarming rate. If they still are unaware of extra-terrestrial life by then, I see no issue with aiding in their enlightenment. We are losing this war, General, we have no time to debate ethics!”

“The gravitational difference of our planets would also cause some difficulties,” Jenvere began. “For both our people and the Earthli-“

“Problems! Problems again!” Teflar grasped his headdress and threw it at the wall with all his might. Bone shattered against cold metal and fell to the floor in a thousand pieces. He turned his blazing eyes on to the poor scientist once again.

“I don’t want to hear problems from you, High Scholar!” he roared. “I want to hear solutions!” Jenvere stood shaking, her violet eyes wide and her lower lip quivering.

“As for our denser gravity, it might play to our advantage!” Teflar ranted, his voice echoing around the room. “Our enemies aren’t expecting to see human beings over four feet tall, which will provide us with the element of surprise! Tell me that fact doesn’t appeal to you, General?”

“It does, sir, I must admit,” Kle’fir replied, stroking his grey beard. “But they are too many risks for this to be a viable option. A significant one being that if we lose the planet we could not warn the coming Earthlings, and whatever advanced weaponry they learn to use on their journey will no doubt be obsolete, making the whole venture a waste of time.”

Teflar opened his mouth, but the torrent Kel’fir expected did not come. The High Sapien simply closed his eyes tightly, breathing hard for a few moments with his fists clenched. Finally, he released a long sigh of resignation and opened his eyes. The fury inside was replaced by sadness.

“Perhaps you are both correct,” he said softly, running a hand over his shaven head. “It does seem a foolhardy venture when faced with the bare facts…I am clutching at straws, I admit.” The High Sapien of Kelpto straightened up and adopted his usual regal manner.

“Very well,” he said with more confidence than he felt. “Then we shall continue this war on our own. The Earthlings will remain ignorant, and perhaps that is for the best.” He strode up to the large window once again and rested his forehead against the cool glass. “Let’s pray the Great Beyond looks upon us favourably.”

“Yes, High Sapien, let us pray that it does.” Kel’fir replied. The trio once again gazed down upon the planet Kelpto, where fires could be seen spreading across her many continents, and prayed for a miracle.