A – Z Challenge Day 10

It’s the tenth day of this April’s Blogging Challenge and sees the final prompt from Kate’s dazzling sequence! Thanks for all your help, Kate, you’ve suggested some wonderful and often taxing prompts and through them I’ve written stories which I am quite pleased with!

Today’s word is “JACKASS”. Now, this one really gave me a hard time! I just couldn’t think of anything that I liked the sound of, or anything that didn’t sound obvious or cheesy. However, I’m not one to throw in the towel so I put several thinking caps on and came out with something I’ve deemed worthy of this Challenge. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks again, Kate, you rock!

JACKASS

By Adam Dixon

Lawrence sat in his cell, lost in his thoughts. Introspection was all he had to while away the long hours of his imprisonment, but thankfully he was an expert at it. He sat on the edge of his bed in his orange overalls, caressing his broad, scarred knuckles with his huge hand as he stared into space. He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself, he knew why he was in prison; it was to be expected when you killed a man, after all. No, Lawrence was reflecting on the events that had led up to the man’s death and wondering where it could have been prevented. A few moments stood out, and Lawrence saw with the clarity of hindsight what an emotional fool he had been.

Lawrence had always been emotional, ever since he could remember. It came with growing up as a large male in a backwards, masculine society. He was often cajoled and ridiculed for his size when he was a child, with the other children and their parents sniggering and calling him “Bigfoot” and “Ape-boy”. He thought that it would end when he grew up and became a man, as his size offered him prodigious strength and intimidation. To his dismay he found that it had had the opposite effect as the men around him felt the need to prove themselves against him, usually with their fists. They would seek to provoke him wherever he went, attempting to find a weak chink in his armour. Because of his size they thought he was stupid and that he could be riled up with ease, but Lawrence rarely gave them the satisfaction. He knew how to control his emotions, especially his rage. Rage was an emotion he knew well, they were almost like old friends and he found its fiery presence strangely comforting whenever it welled up inside him. It made him remember that he was human, despite what the idiots threatening him would insist. But that night, he couldn’t control it.

There you are! C’mon, you big fucker, you! Fight me!”

The man’s voice echoed in Lawrence’s ears as he replayed the events of that night in his mind. It was one of the thugs he had thrown out for being too drunk at the bar, and by the looks of things he was still angry and wanted to settle a score. He’d stood in front of Lawrence’s car, an already beaten-up Ford which was now sporting two flat tyres and a smashed windscreen. The man wore an idiotic sneer, his eyes bloodshot and daring him to make a move. He wasn’t small, but he wasn’t as big as Lawrence either. Exactly the kind of man Lawrence was forced to tangle with on an almost daily occurrence. He had stared at the drunk for a moment before turning around and walking off. The guy wasn’t worth it, he’d walk home.

You deaf and stoopid? Fight me!

The man had staggered after him, yelling abuse and waving his fists. He’d had a small group of buddies with him who were jeering and shouting encouragement. Lawrence had kept walking, doing his best to shut out the man’s voice by concentrating on the sound of his footsteps on the gravel. He breathed in the humid air of the summer evening and pushed on.

Fight me, you big ape! Or are ya scared?

The man’s friends had howled with laughter at that one, praising their friend for his bravery. It was an oldie but goodie, Lawrence supposed. It rarely bothered him though, he actually found it funny too. As if he’d be afraid of a lowlife like that? The man probably couldn’t string a coherent sentence together without injecting a curse word! Lawrence strode on, feeling rage’s familiar fingers snaking up his chest. He had it under control.

C’mon you fuckin’ oversized jackass!

Lawrence didn’t know why that word had made him snap. Perhaps it was because his father, also a big man, had often called him that as a child. Perhaps it was simply the final straw laid upon his back following his resistance to everything before it. Or perhaps it was the breath-taking lack of imagination the man had displayed in choosing it, who knew? All Lawrence did know was that because of that word a man was dead and it was his fault.

Lawrence grimaced and looked down at his hands. Those large, strong hands which served drinks at a cocktail bar and had carefully turned the pages of countless books. The same hands which were always gentle when shaking another hand or touching a woman. The same hands which had gripped the thick neck of a grown man and lifted him from his feet as he struggled and choked…those same hands had crushed the life from another human being…

All it had taken was one word. Two syllables had cost Lawrence his liberty and in a few short hours also his life. Lawrence wondered whether or not he should have accepted the man’s invitation for a fight back in the bar, or even in the first instance outside. He would have easily bested him, and his lick-spittle cronies wouldn’t have had the gall to get involved. He could even have called the police and had them move the man on, rather than having him hang around until closing time. So many ways he could have avoided this outcome…

When the time came, Lawrence stood and walked out of his cell and down the hallway in dignified silence. He was flanked by a large group of prison guards, all of them on high alert should the ape-man decided to make a run for it. Lawrence would show them. He wasn’t an ape, he was a man, a good man. He’d just had enough one day, that’s all…

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A – Z Challenge Day 9

Today sees the beginning of another week in the April A-Z Challenge! I’m both excited and terrified at the prospect of writing six more stories in six days, so let’s get started!

Today’s word comes once again from the inestimable Kate. Now, I know you’re all getting sick of hearing about her wonderful contributions, but don’t worry, she only has one more after this! I for one, am extremely grateful for her help as she has suggested a dazzling sequence of words for my challenge this month. Today’s word is no exception, as it is “INKLING”. Another one to give me pause, but I eventually came up with an idea which I think works quite nicely.

I hope you enjoy my latest supernatural tale.

INKLING

By Adam Dixon

“Welcome, dearly-beloved, one and all,” the bald, skeletal chaplain began as he stood behind his lectern. “I invite you tonight to join me in celebrating the life of Harold Fisher, and in welcoming him into his next one.” Constable Nicola Macmillan was sat on a pew, frowning. An odd choice of words; she had never heard the chaplain start a funeral service that way before and it only deepened her feeling of unease. Something had disturbed her ever since she had driven to the funeral home and entered the small chapel, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She had thought that it was due to her intruding on the service in order to conduct her investigation, but she knew that it was more than that.

“Indeed, Harold’s life among us was a rich one,” the chaplain continued. “Rich not in terms of wealth, but rich in the love and respect of those who knew him well. Even those who did not have the pleasure of knowing Harold personally were impressed by his character, his charm and his wit.” There came a few approving nods and smiles from his audience. It all seemed normal, but there were aspects of the service which didn’t sit right with Nicola. Firstly, it was late for a funeral as it was past ten o’clock in the evening, and secondly that there were so few people present. It was only a sleepy little town and the librarian’s death had been widely mourned, but only twelve residents had bothered to pay their respects. Something was amiss, but what? Shortly after sitting down, Nicola had put her finger on the transmitting button of her walkie-talkie. As long as she held it, the station would hear what was going on. She was probably being paranoid, but still…

“Ah, but he was a wonderful man, of that I’m sure we are all agreed,” the chaplain smiled, gesturing towards the open coffin with his bony arm. Harold Fisher was laid out in a beautiful mahogany casket and he looked very fine for a corpse. His iron-grey hair was swept back from his high forehead and his mouth showed a ghost of a smile. In fact, he looked as if he were merely sleeping. Whoever had seen to the preparation of his body had done a sterling job, even hiding the terrible wound that poor Harold had sustained to his neck before he died. It had been a nasty one, and Nicola had been the officer who had been sent out once he had been found. Nicola was always being called out for animal attacks in the forest near the town; something was out there and it was dangerous. Looking at Harold’s remains, Nicola shuddered. He looked too good, almost…

“A wonderful man who touched the lives of everyone around him before his untimely passing, but tonight is not a time for grieving, dear friends, but rather a time for exaltation!”  The chaplain’s eyes gleamed and he leaned forwards, peering into the faces of his audience. “Harold’s old life has come to an end, but tonight, his new life will begin! Brothers and sisters, let us bid Harold welcome!”

“WELCOME, HAROLD!” All twelve people stood up and raised their arms towards the coffin. Nicola was astounded and confused, and suddenly afraid. She pressed her finger on the button so hard it hurt. Wide-eyed, she followed the gaze of the residents and stared at the coffin. After what seemed like hours, but was more likely a few tense seconds Harold moved! His face twitched. It was unmistakable: his lips pulled down in a grimace and his eyebrows knitted together. Nicola blinked. She must have imagined that! The next thing to happen dispelled any doubts and brought forth a scream from her throat. Harold sat up.

The congregation and the chaplain cheered loudly, rushing forward to help Harold as he got unsteadily to his feet. Nicola stood up and made to run from the chapel, but two large men intercepted her. They were grinning at her with fangs! Nicola screamed again and tried to change direction, but was stopped short by old Mrs Quinn who had appeared out of nowhere. The dotty, white-haired old dear smiled at her, and Nicola watched in horror as her gleaming white dentures were forced from her mouth by two sharp fangs, yellowed with age, slipping down from her gums. Strong hands seized Nicola and she was carried screeching towards the newly-risen dead man. Harold Fisher looked confused as he laid eyes upon her, but when his nostrils flared and he caught Nicola’s scent, something else crept into his eyes. It looked like the hunger of a starving beast.

“Go on, Harold!” The chaplain cried, revealing his own razor-like incisors. “Give in to your urges and accept our offering! You are one of us now!”

Harold’s eyes widened and all trace of hesitation fled. He gave a guttural roar and sank his teeth into Nicola’s neck. She screamed, thrashing against the hands which held her as her own hot blood poured down her body. She flung her arms up and tried to beat her attackers off. It was no use. The life began to fade from Nicola and soon she was weakly convulsing as Harold clumsily drained her.

Constable Macmillan? Do you read me? Over!”

“What’s that?” The chaplain snapped, looking at his congregation suspiciously.

Repeat, Constable Macmillan, do you read me? Are you alright? Over!”

“Oh, I see…” the chaplain sighed as he wrenched Nicola’s walkie-talkie from her belt. As he held it, the crackling voice spoke again.

Remain where you are, back-up is on-route! Over!”

“Well, well,” the chaplain said with a hideous grin. “I do believe that we shall all be feasting tonight!” He began to laugh as he and the rest of the townsfolk moved to hide either side of the chapel doors. Soon, the wailing of approaching sirens could be heard, and their collective excitement rose.

A – Z Challenge Day 5

Day 5 is here! With it comes my next prompt from Kate, and once again it is a brilliant one. Today’s word is “EFFERVESCENT”. You probably reacted the same way I did: a raised eyebrow accompanied by an appreciative nod. An excellent suggestion which stumped me for a little while. An idea formed once I decided to think slightly outside the proverbial box, and a sinister little narrative formed in my head.

So, consider that a brief disclaimer. THIS ONE IS DARK! Based on true events, too.

Here’s what I came up with.

EFFERVESCENT

By Adam Dixon

It’s just like the fizz from a glass of champagne, that’s all. John tried to fix that thought into his head as he continued pouring and the hissing filled his ears. Yes, just like champagne. The lovely, crisp bubbles that make it such a wonderful drink. What’s that word that fellow from the golf club used to describe it? That’s right, ‘effervescent’. Capital word, that one. I must use it more often! Beastly chap, though. Must avoid him in the future…

John continued holding the image in his mind as the noise from the within the oil drum intensified. It served the dual purpose of distracting him from what he was doing as well as motivating him to keep going. Think of the bubbly, John old boy, that’s the ticket! He also daydreamed of the next few meetings at Cheltenham and Ascot, and he noted that it wouldn’t be long until the Derby came around again, either. He could almost smell the cigarette smoke in the stalls, almost hear the excited babbling of the commentator and the thundering of hooves…

Eventually, the smell became unbearable and John was forced to vacate his workshop. The putrid odour of burning flesh had crept past the barrier of his gas mask, stinging his nostrils and making him heave. At least he’d finished pouring the acid this time; he was certainly becoming very efficient with his tasks. This time it had all been so easy! Well, practice makes perfect, Haigh old boy! John smirked behind the mask and moved away from the drum, scooping up the valuables he had liberated from the corpse. Mrs Durand-Deacon had certainly been a decadent old crone; he held in his hands three jewel-encrusted gold rings, a beautiful pearl necklace and a Persian lamb fur coat. He had, of course, relieved her purse of its contents as well and to the merry tune of several pound notes and a handful of shillings. A fine haul, indeed!

John placed his hoard into his attaché case before straightening up and steeling himself for his final task. He marched back to the drum and picked up its heavy lid. He paused for a moment, taking a final look upon the old widow. With her ludicrous hair style and claw-like false nails, Olive Durand-Deacon looked as ridiculous in death as she had done in life as far as John was concerned. He was aware of the strange new fashion trends which had sprung up once the war was over, but he couldn’t see that particular one catching on. People had better things to spend their money on, what with rationing still in place! Better things, like champagne…

John curled his lip contemptuously before slamming the lid down. He dusted his hands off, enjoying the squeak his rubber gloves made as he did so. He’d return in two days and poor, dotty Olive would be just a drum of sludge, waiting to be poured onto the adjoining patch of ground outside his workshop. The rains would then come and wash away every last trace of her. He’d try to make the money last a bit longer this time; he had gotten rather reckless with the capital he’d gained from the deaths of the Hendersons…

John unlocked the doors to his workshop and strode out into the street, pulling his mask off and breathing in deep lung-fulls of the chilly February air. The air cooled the sweat on his brow and the damp patches under his arms; moving the old crone had been hard work despite her short stature. Moving the dead weights was always the most strenuous part. He stood for a moment, ridding the smell of the burning woman from his nostrils and methodically removing his gloves and apron. As he did this he thought about all the places he would be visiting shortly with Durand-Deacon’s money in his pocket. First and foremost, he would be paying his pawnbroker a call. The rings alone ought to fetch a fine price! John thought gleefully. He’d checked them once he was out in the light to make sure that he hadn’t damaged them; he had been forced to pry them from the dead woman’s swollen fingers with his teeth. They were perfectly alright, sparkling gaily in the meagre winter sun. John smiled and walked to his car, whistling a merry tune as he did so. My thanks to you, dear departed Olive! John thought as he started the engine. I’ll raise a toast to your memory very soon! With that, John stepped on the accelerator and drove back in the direction of London, feeling very pleased with his afternoon’s work.

 

A Dangerous Man II: Merlin’s Wrath

This story contains a character whom I created back in January. If you’re interested, the link for his first appearance is here: https://adamdixonfiction.com/2016/01/09/a-dangerous-man/

 

A Dangerous Man II: Merlin’s Wrath

By Adam Dixon

The Man sat on the hard wooden stool, the light from the crackling fire dancing on his spectacles as the witch scurried around the cave. She was a plump woman and her pleasant, feminine face was flushed with anxiety. She had a light blue dye in her short hair and she appeared to be no more than thirty years old, but the Man knew better; she was much, much older. She was searching for something, rearranging a collection of jars here, discarding a pile of yellowed scrolls there and all the while muttering to herself. The Man sat in silence and allowed himself an amused half-smile. Finally, the witch found the object she sought.

“Aha! I knew I ‘ad one!” she exclaimed, her delicate French accent filtering through her triumph. She brandished a cast-iron flask decorated with ancient runes in her left hand. In the firelight it was easy to spot that her little finger was missing, and the stump that remained was swaddled in bloodied bandages. There was another long bandage tied around her head which kept slipping over her eyes. She stepped in front of a bubbling cauldron set above the fire and beamed at her guest. The Man leaned forwards, his eyes gleaming.

“Well then, Madeleine,” he rasped, maintaining eye contact. “What’ve you got for me this evening?” Madeleine wilted under his stare, and visibly steeled herself before replying.

“What do I ‘ave, Master?” she said, waving her free arm with a flourish. “Why, I ‘ave the very thing you ‘ave been asking for!” She smiled at him again, looking expectant.

“As fun as it is, you don’t have to call me Master, y’know,” the Man chuckled. “It sounds a bit medieval to me, and I’m all about the here and now!” The witch’s smile faltered.

“But I ‘ave to, Master,” she said in a serious tone. “By customs ancient and binding I must. You killed my apprentice and defeated me in single combat.” Madeleine grimaced at the memory. “Poor Isolde…she showed such promise….”

“Alright, alright!” the Man barked, irritated. “Call me whatever you need to, just get on with it!”

“Of course, Master. My apologies,” the witch replied, bowing her head. She took a long-handled ladle from next to the cauldron and dipped it inside, scooping up a large helping of the putrid, mottled green liquid. The Man noted that the ladle also had runes etched into it. As Madeleine transferred the steaming concoction into the flask, a single drop fell to the floor. Her eyes widened in alarm for the merest hint of a second before she composed herself; the Man saw it, but said nothing. Once she had filled the flask, Madeleine dropped the ladle and held the potion reverently, turning to face the Man.

“’Ere you are, Master,” she said, her voice a husky whisper. When Madeleine whispered, her voice made grown men swoon, but as usual it had no effect whatsoever on the Man. “This is known as Time’s Bane, and it is most powerful. I was involved in its creation, and I am the only witch left alive who knows the recipe. Drink this, Master, and you shall know youth again!” Madeleine’s eyes sparkled with pride and anticipation. “Each mouthful will return twenty years of strength to your bones and the time will fade from your face in but a moment!” She held the potion out with a solemn bow of her head. The Man said nothing and merely observed her. After a few tense minutes, Madeleine began to perspire, a faint sheen developing across her upper lip and forehead. She cleared her throat nervously.

“Master, is something wrong?” she asked, her hands beginning to shake. “I ‘ave done what you asked, for I am your devoted servant!” The Man snorted and stood up. His long, dark coat covered his body as he rose, and Madeleine was ominously reminded of the cloaks of witch-hunters. He was shorter than her, but the black aura which surrounded him was one which demanded fear and obedience.

“Oh, I don’t doubt it! But…why don’t you take the first sip, Maddie?” the Man said, his eyes glittering and his voice even. “You’ve put in all the effort, so why not take a small reward? Take a couple of months off!” He cackled at the joke, and Madeleine froze. Her eyes were wide and her mouth moved silently like a fish.

“Spit it out, Maddie!” The Man said. “Not the potion, though! You’ve gotta get that bad boy down you!” He laughed again, the sound sending a shiver up Madeleine’s spine.

“But…Master,” she stammered. “This potion, it is not for me! I…I ‘ave already ingested my annual dosage…to drink more would court disaster! It is for you to regain your former strength this night, not I! I crafted it especially for you, and I fear it will not for me!” Madeleine waited, her eyes fearful. The Man took a step closer, glaring solidly into her face. She managed a weak smile which crumbled as quickly as a rose. Suddenly, his large hands snaked out and covered hers as they held the flask. Madeleine yelped with fright and tried to jerk away from him. The Man held her tightly.

“I don’t believe you,” he said in a threatening tone. “In fact, I smell a rat…a stupid, blue rat!” The Man wrenched his hands to the right, sending Madeleine tumbling to the floor and the flask flying across the cave. It struck the jagged wall and the green liquid splashed all over it and dripped to the ground. As soon as it made contact with the surfaces it began to bubble and hiss furiously, burning through several centimetres of rock. The Man advanced on Madeleine, who screeched in terror and flung up her hands. A torrent of fire flew from her open palms towards the Man, who ducked underneath it and ran forward. His boot cracked into Madeleine’s temple and she fell on to her back, extinguishing the jet of flames. In an instant he was straddling her, his stocky thighs crushing her chest and pinning her left arm to her side. As she swung her right hand in a wild fist but he caught her wrist in a vice-grip.

“Now, now, Maddie,” he crooned, holding her with ease as she bucked and writhed under him. “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”

“Spare me, Master!” Madeleine cried, her eyes wide with terror. “I did not mean to-“

“Shut the hell up!” the Man barked. “Spare me your excuses! You tried to kill me, again, and you’ve failed! You really shoulda thought of something less obvious, darlin’.” He reached inside his coat with his free hand and removed the remnants of an ancient bronze spear. The power emanating from it was almost palpable from that distance and at the sight of it Madeleine began to whimper, tears rolling down her cheeks. “You must really think I’m stupid, huh?” He began to run the spear point along Madeleine’s trembling arm, nicking the skin here and there. Tiny droplets of blood seeped down as the blade bit into her flesh.

“I’ve been a killer all my life,” the Man said, moving his grip up to Madeleine’s hand. “And one thing I’ve learned the hard way over the years is to never…ever…trust a witch!” The Man spat this remark through bared teeth. Spittle flew from his lips and decorated Madeleine’s pale face.

“Please, Master, not again!” She begged as he forced open her hand with his, exposing her index finger. “The Holy Lance, she does not cut like other blades! My wounds, they still bleed! Please, no! I will do all you ask! Non, je vous en prie!”

“Hush, Madeleine,” the Man crooned, touching the razor-sharp edge of the spear to her finger. “You have disrespected me. Accept your punishment.” With one quick, clean motion the Man sliced off the witch’s finger with the blade. Madeleine screeched, the noise reverberating painfully around the cave. Blood poured down onto their clasped hands and dripped on to her chest as she struggled furiously. The Man held her still for a few moments, a manic grin on his face. Finally, he released her hand and stood up, holding the dripping spear at his side. Madeleine hugged her hand to her chest and curled into the foetal positon, whimpering and moaning.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” The Man asked, the glee evident in his voice. “All is forgiven! You can get back to doing as you’re told, now. Isn’t that right, Madeleine?”

“Y-Yes, Master…” Madeleine replied, barely audible. The Man crouched down and rested the wet spear against her throat. She stopped moving immediately and her breath came out in harsh gasps.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear you, darlin’” he whispered, his eyes burning with malice. “I said: isn’t that right, Madeleine?”

“YES MASTER!” Madeleine shouted, gazing fearfully at the lance. The Man nodded and plucked Madeleine’s severed finger from its resting place on the ground. He examined it for a moment, admiring the precision of the cut.

“You know, I had my doubts about this thing,” he said, turning his gaze back to the Lance. “But I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s a real beauty!” He snorted and stowed the weapon in his coat. Using a nail he produced from another pocket, the Man pierced the bloody digit all the way through and slipped it onto a piece of twine he wore around his neck. The grisly object slithered down the twine and came to rest next to two other trophies: a little finger and an ear, both stained brown with dried blood. He cackled as he tucked the necklace back into his shirt and glanced over at the witch.

“Madeleine,” he said quietly. “What is that green swill anyway?”

“M-Merlin’s Wrath, M-master,” stammered Madeleine, still laying on the ground. “A p-potent p-poison. B-burns all creatures i-inside out…”

“Really? Hmm…” The Man stroked his stubble with bloody fingers, leaving smear marks along his chin. He strode over to the cauldron and seized a glass vial.

“Will this hold it?” The Man asked. Madeleine merely nodded, groaning. Lifting the ladle the Man filled the vial with the bubbling green liquid, slamming a stopper securely in place. He shook the vial and watched its contents swirl around inside the glass.

“Y’know, my old Ma used to make stuff like this,” he said quietly, watching the firelight illuminate the murky liquid. “She’d go out at night and come back with all kinds of weeds and flowers in a sack. She’d stink out the back room when she’d cut them up and put them in the tub. She’d spend days making her ’remedies’, as she called them. My Pa told me and my sisters that Ma had a screw loose, but he was deadly afraid of her when she did all that. He never beat her or any of us during those few days…” The Man chuckled again, shaking his head.

“Well now, get a load of me! Talking away like an old housewife!” He said, smirking. “I’d better go, Maddie, I’m hunting tonight. Bigger fish and all that!” He raised the vial in a mock salute to Madeleine and grinned at her.

“Thanks a bunch, sweetheart!” he said, slipping it into his coat along with the Holy Lance. “This’ll come in handy, for sure! Just make sure you’ve got what I ask for next time, or I won’t be so gentle with you.” He strode out of the cave, leaving the mutilated witch sobbing and cursing him as he howled with laughter.