A – Z Challenge Day 14

We’re past the halfway point of this April’s Blog Challenge! Hooray! Let’s keep the momentum going and keep enjoying ourselves!

Today’s word was suggested once again by my Twitter pal, Sakina, and the word is “NORTH”. Now, this word has proven to be deceptively simple, as it didn’t lend itself to any solid story ideas right away! I needed to sit and think for a while, so well done, Sakina! A sneaky choice!

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


By Adam Dixon

“How can I explain it?” the scruffy man spread his arms across the bar, tapping his calloused finger on the wood as he frowned in concentration. The other patrons of the tavern droned on behind him, chatting away about their labours that day and how good it was to sit by the warm hearth.

“Listen, you’ve heard of birds flying south for the winter, right?” The barmaid nodded, her fair hair sweeping across her forehead. “Well, it’s like that for me, only it’s in the opposite direction and winter never ends.”

“Plus, you’re not a bird!” The barmaid laughed, winking at him as she brushed her hair from her eyes. The man smiled sadly and nodded once. He lowered his head and gazed thoughtfully at his drink as if he could divine some answers from its depths. The barmaid’s smile faded as she watched him. He was a strange one, there was no doubt about that, but there was something appealing about him as well. Whilst the whole world was mired in uncertainty, here was a man who actually had a purpose.

“So, you really don’t know where you’re going?” She asked, looking at him seriously. The man glanced up, his kindly blue eyes matching hers.

“I’ve got no idea, miss,” he shrugged, opening his palms in resignation. “Since I asked that wizard to help me find my happiness, I’ve felt something tugging at me, urging me to get moving, and always to the north. All I know is that I have to keep going. Maybe I’ll know once I get there, but who can say?” He scratched at his beard for a moment before lifting his tankard and draining his drink. The floor creaked and groaned as he pushed his stool back and stood upright, smiling at the barmaid once again.

“Well, I’d best be off, miss,” he said, plucking his drooping hat from the bar and placing it on to his head. “The lonely road calls!”

“Wait!” the barmaid called as he moved away. He stopped and glanced back, surprised. The barmaid felt herself blush as she fidgeted with her apron. She didn’t know why she had called out to him, but something had compelled her to.

“You could stay here, you know,” she began nervously. “I mean, we might be able to clear a space in the hay loft for you…erm, maybe you could sleep down here? Sometimes the mistress lets the regulars do that, if they’ve drunk too much to stand…” She trailed off into an embarrassed silence. The man stood watching her, smiling.

“Thank you, miss, for the kind offer,” he said, bowing his head and placing a hand on his heart. “But I think your lack of room tonight is another sign that I need to keep moving. That poxy wizard didn’t plan on making this easy for me, it seems!”

“Oh,” the barmaid was crestfallen. “But, what about bandits? We get lots of reports every day about them causing trouble outside of town, especially at night!”

“I’ve got nothing to offer them, miss,” the man chuckled. “Look at me! I’m wearing a battered old coat, I haven’t shaved in days and my boots are nearly worn out; any bandits marauding along the road will take one look at me and realise that I’m not worth the bother!” He laughed heartily, and the barmaid couldn’t help but smile too.

“Besides,” he continued, a far-away expression crossing his face. “I don’t think that wizard gave me this opportunity only to see me die at the hands of petty criminals. No, I believe I’ll be just fine. Thank you all the same, miss. You have a good night, now.” He turned away from the barmaid and strode towards the door.

“Farewell, sir!” the barmaid shouted to him with tears in her eyes. “I hope you find your happiness!”

“Aye, me too, miss,” the man waved but did not turn back. He opened the door to the tavern and disappeared into the cold, windy night. The door slammed shut behind him, and the barmaid felt tears rolling down her cheeks.

Bad For Business

Bad for Business

By Adam Dixon

George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.” A few seconds later the phone receiver crackled and a confused, high-pitched voice barked a reply.

“A visitor? Who is it, George? I’m not expecting to see anyone until tomorrow.”

“A tall gentleman with a large moustache and a bowler hat, Mrs. Whitfield,” George responded patiently. “He hasn’t give a name, he said that you would know him from that description. Shall I send him in?” The response was barely a heartbeat in coming this time.

“Oh, good Lord! Yes, George, send him in at once!”

George smiled at the man standing in front of him. He was in his fifties, his face impassive and his eyes steely grey orbs floating above an enormous walrus moustache. He stood erect with both hands clasped behind his back, his long black coat giving him the look of a funeral director.

“Mrs. Whitfield will see you now, sir,” George said, gesturing towards the door to his right. “Please go ahead and let yourself in.” The man gave him a curt nod before striding resolutely towards the door. His back was straight and his eyes were set dead ahead. As he passed, George’s smile faltered and a shiver ran up his spine. He smelled…strange. It was a musty scent yet somehow acidic, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Whoever he was, he gave George the creeps. The man opened the door to Mrs. Whitfield’s office and without a word he entered her inner sanctuary, slamming it behind him.

George sat at his desk staring after him, bewildered. Who on earth was that? He thought to himself. Mrs. Whitfield had seemed rattled, and that made George uneasy. This man was quite different from the usual suspects who dragged themselves into his employer’s office, seeking her legal aid concerning matters malignant and benign. For one, he seemed very sure of himself, whereas most of the people who passed through George’s line of sight were either quivering wrecks or hopeless optimists.

To pass the time, George decided to speculate on who this mysterious stranger could be. Perhaps he was an old client who needed help again, or he was a former adversary of Mrs. Whitfield’s? She had practiced law as a barrister several years ago, and this man had the look of a professional about him. Maybe he had crossed swords with Mrs. Whitfield in the past, and had come back for some personal reason. Embittered by a sound defeat at her legal prowess, possibly? That was interesting enough, he mused.

He could be Mrs. Whitfield’s estranged husband! He thought with excitement, his earlier discomfort vanishing. She had separated from Mr. Whitfield before starting up her own business, and perhaps he had come back wanting a slice of the cake. Perhaps he is an acquaintance of Mr. Whitfield, he thought, coming here on his behalf. Very juicy, that notion. He’d have to share that nugget with Debra from accounts. Maybe he was her lover? This one made George chuckle and he dismissed it immediately. Mrs. Whitfield was, although charming and attractive in her own way, completely asexual. Besides, the man George had let into her office didn’t exactly look like a man incensed by desire. No, come to think of it, he looked more like a man intent on doing some harm.

This last thought made him uneasy once again. George chided himself for considering such groundless notions, but he couldn’t help turning to stare at the office door, regardless. He sat in silence, straining his ears in the hope of catching a hint of the proceedings within. All he could make out were the muffled voices of Mrs. Whitfield and the stranger. It didn’t sound like they were arguing, so that was a relief. Soon, George’s curiosity got the better of him, and he gingerly picked up the phone receiver and held it to his ear. Mrs. Whitfield often forgot to toggle off the call button, which meant that George could eavesdrop on her meetings. Not a particularly noble, or indeed legal, thing to do, but it passed the time on slow days. Listening in on some of those conversations was like hearing a radio broadcast of The Jeremy Kyle Show. But this one wasn’t like that at all.

“I trust you realise why I’ve come to you now,” the man was saying, his voice a deep bass rumble.

“Yes, yes, of course I do,” Mrs Whitfield’s usually chirpy voice held an edge of tension. “But…does it have to be now? I’ve just gotten my life readjusted and my plans are secure. Things are going very well at present.”

“My dear woman!” The man laughed unpleasantly. “One could hardly expect this moment to come when it is convenient, could one? No, you have had ten years of success to this very hour, and now the payment is at hand. You must come with me!” The man spat the final sentence, and George could have sworn that his voice had become a rasping snarl for a moment.

“No, I will not!” Mrs. Whitfield was defiant. “Stay away from me!” George had no idea what was going on, but he had the feeling that things were about to turn ugly. He sprung out of his chair and rushed towards the office door. As he reached it, he heard a blood-curdling screech emit from within the office. He froze, unable to process what he was hearing. He then forced himself onwards, wrenching open the door and stepping inside.

The scene which greeted him defied all his expectations. The short, slightly plump Mrs. Whitfield was standing in the centre of the room holding aloft a large wooden crucifix. Her eyes were wild and there seemed to be a strange glow emanating from her hands. Backed against the wall, cowering and still screaming, was the strange man. He glanced past the arm which was shielding his sight, and George saw with horror that his eyes had turned blood-red. Half of his face was horribly burned and smoking skin was barely clinging to his skull. His walrus moustache was smouldering, the stink of burning hair and flesh filling the room.

“You ungrateful whore!” The man bellowed, his voice rasping again. “We had a deal, bound in blood! I will not be denied!” Mrs. Whitfield took a step towards the creature, brandishing her crucifix like a blazing torch.

“Yes, we did,” She glared furiously at the figure huddled against the wall. “But I’m a lawyer, dearie, and I always find a way out!” She flung out her right hand and a small glass sphere filled with water flew across the room. It struck the creature on his arm, shattering instantly and soaking it from head to foot. The creature bellowed in agony, and layers of skin began searing off its face and hands. Its moustache fell away as it burned, the impressive spectacle obliterated in seconds. At this final insult, the creature pointed a trembling finger at Mrs. Whitfield.

“You’ll pay dearly for this, woman!” It spat, baring its teeth in fury and pain. It straightened up, clasped its hands together as if in prayer, and abruptly vanished with a blinding flash of light. The after-image of the room still showed the purple silhouette of the creature before it had disappeared. George stood by the doorway, blinking rapidly and trying to make sense of what he had seen. He looked at Mrs. Whitfield, a dozen questions rendering him tongue-tied. Mrs. Whitfield lowered her crucifix and gave him a level stare.

“Well, that takes care of that pest, for now at least.” She said, matter-of-factly. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, dearie, but it can’t be helped.” She frowned at the wet patch of carpet. “Hmmm, my contacts omitted to tell me whether or not Holy Water stains carpets. How irritating…” She trailed off, shaking her head. She smoothed her grey suit jacket absent-mindedly before glancing back up at George.

“Well, George? What are you still doing here?” She asked, somewhat dismissively. “Don’t you have some files to be checking for me? A few for Mr. Black’s wrongful imprisonment case, I believe?”

“I…Yes, Mrs. Whitfield, I’ll…erm…I’ll get on those right away.” George responded, dumb-founded. He turned around and walked with shaky legs back to his desk. He leaned heavily against the wooden frame for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.

“Oh, and George?” He started as the phone receiver crackled. He could almost see the amused smirk on her face by her tone. He pressed the call button.

“Yes, Mrs. Whitfield?” George replied, shaken.

“Be a dear and don’t mention that little incident to anyone, will you?” She asked nonchalantly. “Demons in the workplace are terribly bad for business! Many thanks!”

With that, the phone was silent, leaving George staring at it in astonishment.