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/Lost Fairy (Continued)

Today’s story was prompted by my fellow blogger and friend, Nathalie from arwenaragornstar. Nat wrote a thought-provoking story back in August called Lost Fairy, and when I stated my desire to know how it ends, she suggested that I find out and use it as my prompt. I thought this was a wonderful idea and I was excited to be writing with such vibrant, ponderous material. Thanks again, Nat, and I hope I’ve done your story justice!

Please check out Nat’s story before reading mine. It’s rather good! I hope you enjoy what I’ve been able to come up with as well.

P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a prompt for me to use on another Thursday, please feel free to do so by leaving a comment. I’ll give anything a try! Thanks again for visiting.

 

Lost Fairy (Continued)

By Adam Dixon

The fairy sat upon the low concrete wall and watched the humans with sad, green eyes. How they moved to and fro with such haste! It was as if stopping to take a deep breath and relax would ruin their rigid plans for the day. Not that they would want to, as the air was heavy with pollution. It made her feel dirty inside and outside and she flicked her once-shimmering wings in disgust. The humans hurried over to their cars and darted away into distance, adding to the unclean air. She didn’t see a single smile. What a cold, uncaring world to exist in.

The wind blew stronger as time wore on, snatching at her hair and wings. The fairy shivered and pulled her legs up under her chin. A distant rumble of thunder confirmed her fears but she didn’t have the will to fly away as the first raindrops fell. In all of her years the fairy had never felt so wretched and she wept bitter tears.

The fairy didn’t know how long she had sat upon the wall when she became aware that something had changed. She wearily lifted her head and saw a young boy watching her from the window of a car. The car was sat idly in a parking spot just outside the supermarket. For a long moment her blank, disbelieving expression mirrored that of the child’s. Then, scarcely daring to believe it, the fairy raised her arm and waved. It was a pathetic movement, just a slow gesture from left to right, but it had the effect of dropping the boy’s jaw to his lap. The shining screen of his tablet was forgotten as he pressed his hands and face against the glass, eyes boggling. The fairy found his reaction amusing and invigorating. She began to feed off of the boy’s amazement and drank it in like it was nectar. Her wings fluttered and she began to feel hope rekindling in her breast.

“Oh, sweet little boy,” she whispered, a smile touching her lips for the first time in what seemed like decades. “Aren’t you magnificent!”

The child was captivated. His open mouth revealed a missing tooth at the front and his cheeks were smooth and healthy. His brown eyes gleamed with excitement and the fairy rejoiced at the sharp burst of life that it granted her. The fairy beckoned, projecting her relief and assuring him of her good-will. The boy hesitated for the barest of moments before dropping out of sight. The car door clicked and swung open and the boy peered out of the car with one scuffed plimsoll on the ground. He wanted to go to her, but he was anxious about the driving rain. The fairy stood up on wobbling legs.

“Come closer, sweet child!” she called, her voice less musical than she remembered. She had been away from the Forest for too long, it seemed. “Do not be afraid!” The boy paused for a moment longer before leaping from the car and hurrying towards the fairy. The rain lashed down, spotting his white polo-shirt with grey splotches which consumed the fabric like a virus. His feet splashed in puddles and were soaked through but the boy did not seem to mind. He shook rain from his short, frizzy hair and smiled playfully at the fairy, who grinned back. He approached her wall and stood before her, his eyes drinking her in.

“Hello there,” the fairy said. She pushed her wet hair from her eyes and blinked water from her lashes.

“Hi,” the boy said. His voice was breathy with wonder and his hands twitched by his sides. “Are you a pixie?”

“No, child, I am not a pixie,” the fairy said, chuckling at the mistake. She had never been so thrilled to be called a pixie before! “Although they are very like me, and I expect that I currently look like one.” She gestured at her dirty dress with a sigh. “I am a fairy.”

“A fairy?!” The boy’s eyes grew impossibly wide and an open-mouthed grin spread across his face. It was a delight! The fairy shivered in appreciation. “Like in my books? Like Tinkerbell?”

“No, no, sweet boy, Tinkerbell is a pixie!” the fairy laughed. “There is a world of difference, but that is a lesson for another time. Please tell me, what is your name?”

“I’m Ayo,” the boy replied. He stood still, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. “I didn’t think fairies or pixies were real.”

“Oh, we are real, Ayo. I am proof of that, aren’t I?” The fairy turned around in a full circle, fluttering her diaphanous wings as she did so. The movement sent rainwater cascading gracefully over them, with the amber of a streetlight reflecting in them for a moment. Ayo gasped at its beauty.

“You’re so pretty…” he breathed. The fairy laughed and her soul lifted at the sound.

“Thank you, Ayo!” she replied, suddenly feeling shy. “You are very kind to say so! Tell me, why are other children not like you?”

“What do you mean?” Ayo frowned and scratched his head.

“The other children cannot see me,” the fairy said sadly. “Neither can the adults. They all seem so…distracted. Nobody smiles and they are all in such a hurry.”

“I dunno,” Ayo said, shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe they don’t have time to see fairies and pixies.”

“But you have time,” the fairy said eagerly. “That makes you different. That makes you special.” Ayo fidgeted, but he was pleased with the compliment.

“I hoped you were real,” Ayo said, glancing up at the fairy again. “Everything is more fun if magic is real!” With those simple words, the fairy found her former strength returning. She stood up on her tiptoes, lifting her face to the sky and hardly feeling the fist-sized raindrops driving against her delicate features. The boy’s words sent a warm, happy feeling oozing through her veins like a river being fed by streams.  She closed her eyes, sighed and spread her wings to their fullest. She felt radiant and alive.

“Are you okay?” Ayo was alarmed, and he reached for the fairy before stopping himself. The fairy opened her eyes and looked him, resplendent in her joy.

“I am well, dear child,” she said, her voice as sweet and delicate as birdsong. “And I have you to thank. Bless you, Ayo.” Ayo looked relieved and was about to reply when a sharp, angry voice sliced through the air.

“Ayo! Get back in the car, you naughty boy!” Ayo jumped and turned around with a guilty look on his face. The fairy saw a large, attractive woman with the same frizzy hair as Ayo standing by the open car. She clutched four shopping bags laden with provisions and her car keys, and she looked furious.

“But Mama, I saw a f-“ Ayo began sheepishly.

“AYO! GET. IN. THE. CAR!” There would be no excuses. Ayo’s shoulders slumped and he sprinted back towards his mother, stealing a glance over his shoulder. The fairy smiled and raised a hand in goodbye. Ayo waved back and clambered into the car. Both he and the car seat were soaked from the rain, and his mother was not at all happy.

“Ayo, what were you thinking?” She was saying as she dabbed at his face and hair with tissues from her handbag. “Look your shoes, and the car! Oooh, you are a naughty boy, sometimes!” She pulled the door shut with a snap, muffling Ayo’s protests. The fairy felt a pang of regret at having gotten the boy into trouble, but she also sensed no ill-will from his mother. She was merely concerned at having found her little one wandering alone during a shower. She could sympathise, as she had her own children to hurry back to.

“Thank you, dear Ayo,” she whispered as she beat her wings. She could almost see the myriad of flowers of the Enchanted Forest; she could almost smell their perfume and feel the grass tickling her toes. She sighed and took flight, spiralling into the air higher and higher and laughing as she soared with the wind. She was going home!

 

 

 

Fiction Fursday/First Contact

This week, my writing prompt comes from my long-suffering partner in crime, Samwise. Her suggestion was that I write about a world where humans do not exist. I think this is a great prompt which gave me a several ideas right away. In fact, I may revisit the prompt  another time because there are lots of stories I’d like to write from it!

After some thought, I decided to give the subject a sci-fi twist and take some of the focus away from the human-less planet. I hope you enjoy what I’ve managed to come up with.

P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the future, please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

 

First Contact

By Adam Dixon

When the shining rock burst out of the sky and crashed into the ocean the dolphins hurried to see it. Its landing had been terrifying; it had slammed into the ocean and tidal waves had erupted from the depths like roused giants fleeing for the shore. It took them many days to swim from their respective territories across the world, but the rock had remained inactive during that time, floating and steaming silently. Bobbing upon the warm waves near the shores of southern Spain, the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas clicked and screeched to one another in agitation as they waited for…something. They couldn’t explain it but they knew that the appearance of the rock was only the beginning of something incredibly important. Some parted the seawater in smooth movements as they circled the huge floating object, not quite knowing what to make of it. It appeared to have been crafted by hand and so was not simply a rock after all. It was unlike anything the Simian-Builders could hope to produce and the workmanship far exceeded them. The material was smooth and gleaming in the sunlight, and they could not understand its buoyancy. It was too large and heavy and its surface area too oddly-shaped to allow it to float, but float it did. It had caused a panic when it had been spotted as a ball of flame tearing across the sky but soon the animals’ fear had given way to curiosity. Finally, the combined minds of the Intelligent Species had identified it as some kind of great shell, most likely containing a living thing. That idea alone was enough to send ripples of awe and apprehension through the ranks of the world. A living thing which came from beyond the sky! What did it mean?

The dolphins were nervous and squeaked in excitement as the front of the shell began to hiss, seeming to break open and push a small section away from the main bulk. The score of apes in attendance grunted and whooped on board their sturdy wooden barge. The barge was lashed to the back of a great whale, who occasionally saw fit to spray its passengers with discharge from its blow-hole. The hulking gorillas ignored the action but the chimpanzees and monkeys leapt about, screeching their annoyance. Eagles, hawks and other majestic birds of prey circled overhead, watching the proceedings with keen eyes and ready talons. They, at least, would not be slaves to their emotions. White smoke billowed out from the shell, followed by the dim silhouette of a large, hunched creature.

“Something is coming!” the king of the Arctic Ocean squeaked. “And it has fire in its shell!” His fellows angrily bade him to be silent. They could not afford to become overexcited. Their coal-black eyes watched as the creature shuffled forwards through the smoke and revealed its form. It was a huge being, reaching seven feet tall despite being bent almost double on three hind legs. Its legs were muscular and hairless, with its dark blue skin shimmering in the light like scales. It had two long, tree-like arms which ended in sharp, tough claws. It had no visible neck, but it had one large, yellow eye at the front, left and right side of its head. Wide below its eyes appeared to be nostrils, but the animals could not see a mouth or a snout anywhere on its face. A sour, unnatural smell emanated from the creature, raising hackles and ruffling feathers in disgust. It was certainly not a smell known to animals, not even to their ancestral memory. The significance of the meeting settled on each creature like a leaden shroud.

“What is it?” the queen of the Pacific Ocean asked, her clicks subdued in wonder. No-one answered her.

It stood on the threshold of its spacecraft, taking in its surroundings. The planet’s nearest star was close enough to provide ample warmth but the glare forced it to squint its eyes. That had been a mistake; it should have calculated for such an inevitability. If the hunter’s vision was impaired, then the hunter lost its prey. It took in careful sips of air, sampling its flavours. The air was clean and unpolluted with plenty of oxygen, although it would have more comfortable with extra nitrogen. It began attempting to identify the various creatures attending it via their strong, individual scents. The water covering the landing spot had an almost overpowering scent of salt which made differentiation a challenge. Another potential hindrance to a hunt, it noted. The damp, silky beings were the closest and one of them swam towards it.

“Strange creature,” the queen of the Indian Ocean chattered, raising herself up to her full height in the water. “I bid you welcome to our domain. You are being addressed by the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas, alpha-mammals all and elected spokes-creatures for all life. Close by are representatives of the gallant Sky-Creatures and the Simian-Builders. Please identify yourself. Be you animal, vegetable or mineral? Do you come for a home, for a mate or for prey?” She flicked her tail to remain in her proud position, staring intently at the creature. The other dolphins bobbed in silence, waiting for any response. The creature gazed out at the assembled lifeforms impassively, turning its body to encompass them all in its wide field of vision. The tension from the animals was as palpable as the warmth of the sun and the caress of the wind on their skin, fur and feathers. The creature made no indication of understanding, it merely stood in its shell with its nostrils flaring as it tasted the air.

It was good to feel an atmosphere again, despite the frivolity of such desires. The creature counted fifty-four lifeforms in its immediate vicinity, including those in the sky. It concluded that it had been reckless to expose itself to three potential angles of attack, but it had been curious. Curious and bored. It had been a long journey to reach this small blue planet, and its orders were to scout for information, after all. But a hunter did not reveal itself to the prey, a hunter waited. It had failed this most basic lesson…

“I repeat, please identify yourself,” the queen of the Indian Ocean squeaked, her pitch betraying her impatience. Still the creature said nothing. A guttural hooting came from the whale-barge, and one of the gorillas, a proud silverback, was calling to the dolphins.

“I think the Simian is correct, my queen,” the king of the Atlantic Ocean clicked. “The creature doesn’t appear to understand us.”

“Hmmph! Perhaps!” the queen of the Indian Ocean snapped. “But tell that brute to keep his opinions to himself! He and his kind have our blessing to observe, not to make suggestions, sharks take them all!” The silverback was swiftly remonstrated and attention swung back to the alien. What was it, and what was it doing there?

It watched the collection of species before it with great interest. There were a wondrous variety of creatures on the planet, some of which appeared to be bound completely to the ocean. It was impressed by the ingenuity of the large, hairy beings who had braved and conquered the seas, albeit with the aid of a lesser, but gigantic, species. That indicated great potential. What of the aquatic creatures, though? They had attempted to communicate with it, that much was certain. Its tiny ears were hurt by the high-pitched calls of the individual which had addressed it. That one was clearly their leader. It would have to watch with caution. What else? Judging by the way that all of the creatures stared at its spacecraft it deduced that they had not seen metalwork before. They also did not possess any form of ground-to-air defences; it had simply coasted onto their planet at its leisure! So, they were primitive despite their obvious intelligence and were many generations away from space-travel yet. That was a pity, as perhaps they would have provided the challenge its people sought otherwise…

“I shall try to communicate using echolocation,” the queen of the Indian Ocean declared, swimming gracefully in a circle in order to look at each of her subjects and fellows. “It will not work as effectively on the surface, but it’s worth a try, I believe. Stand by…”

What was the leader doing now? It had moved through the waves with the ease of a great hunter, casting its eyes on the others gathered around it. Such an effective adaption; those creatures would prove difficult to best in the water. Something was about to happen, and the alien stood calmly as it waited. It reared up in alarm and pain as an assault of noise sent shock-waves into its skull. What was that?!

The animals screeched, yelled and chattered in astonishment as the creature made its first reaction since appearing to them. Most of them could only just make out the high-pitched series of clicks the dolphin was making, but they saw that the alien could not bear it. The combined racket of the animals only made it worse. It thrashed its huge arms wildly and stomped its three feet, producing a clanging noise from the strange shining shell. Overhead, the leader of the eagles perceived the burst of movement as a display of aggression and shrieked its battle-cry. Spreading his wings wide, he dove down towards the distressed creature, two of his fellows joining him and stretching their razor-like talons.

Despite the intense ringing inside its skull, it still saw the approaching creatures. There was no doubt as to their intentions. It spun and struck out at the winged beasts, its claws tearing into one of them in mid-flight. The creature fell into the ocean with a splash, crimson blood darkening the water and torn feathers decorating the surface. Talons raked across its broad back and above its central eye, ripping open the tight, hardened skin. It staggered in pain and surprise; not even its prey on advanced worlds had managed to break its hide with such ease! So, the planet did have warriors after all… Cool purple blood seeped into its eye and down its back as it took a defensive stance and awaited a second attack. The surviving beasts wheeled and rose high into the air once again. This was more like it!

“Stop! Stop!” the dolphins keened in unison. The creature flinched and the entire gathering of Sky-Beasts halted their lethal dive, pounding their impressive wings to hover a few meters above it. A few seconds later and they would have engulfed the creature. The apes were screeching and leaping about in a fury, smelling the acrid blood of the stranger and roaring their challenges to it. The whale beneath them became agitated, rocking the platform violently in an attempt to dislodge the barge. The apes panicked and tried their best to calm the whale with soothing ululations, clambering down the side of the platform to gently pat its glistening skin. The great beast stopped rocking, but sprayed water in agitation. The dolphins took stock of their surroundings, making sure that everything was once again under control before turning to face the creature. They were dismayed to see the creature lumbering back inside its shell and it closing up behind it. The oddly-shaped thing hummed and whirred unnaturally and a maelstrom of foam and heated water spun beneath it as it began to lift off from the sea.

It flicked switches and touched flashing screens with its pointed claws, irritated by the red blood which was smeared across the controls. It had underestimated the earthlings, which had been a grave error considering how hopelessly outnumbered it was. It had refused to give in to its blood-rage and had recognised the need to flee, but it had learned plenty during the brief visit. The creatures it had seen were intelligent and would make worthy adversaries, but it had concluded with certainty that the planet was not ready for interstellar combat. It glanced up at the preserved skeletons of defeated creatures from across the universe; grisly trophies which decorated every single ship of its people. They were warriors and lived for the thrill of battle, but they did not wish to engage in combat with creatures of lesser worth or prowess. No, this Earth was not yet ready. But it would be, and when its people returned in force…those would be glorious days! It closed its eyes as its craft sped through Earth’s atmosphere, imagining with longing the war to come. Soon, they would return…

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/Death Vision

Today’s story prompt was provided by JustAnotherTeenager over at Solitary Haven. The prompt was to write about characters who know that they are going to die, but not how they will die. I thought this was quite an interesting one so I dived right in. I ended up gravitating towards a fantasy story this time, which I’m always happy to to be writing. Thanks, Teenager! 🙂

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

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to let me know via the comments section. I am using any and all prompts, so don’t be shy!

P.P.S. I currently have enough prompts lined up for four more weeks, so don’t be dismayed if I don’t use one of yours right away. I will get round to it, I’ve got a list and everything!

 

Death Vision

By Adam Dixon

“I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday,” the old man said, his rheumy eyes misting over. “You certainly gave your mother a hard time! Ten hours of labour and nothing the witch-doctor did seemed to make you want to hurry up! Ah, but you were always a stubborn one!”

“That’s great, dad, now will you give me a hand, please?” The young woman was painting an intricate warding spell on one of the bare walls of the small room. The paint was blood red and bold against the grey plaster. The old man sighed and placed the jug of water he was carrying on the windowsill. He leaned down and picked up a brush, completing the warding with ease. The room was not ventilated and the pungent, nauseating smell of the paint was strong. It didn’t help that it was so warm in the room, either, and the old man began to feel dizzy. The woman regarded the warding and nodded, brushing a loose strand of blond hair from her eyes.

“Great, thank you!” she said with relief. “You always had a better eye for these things than me.”

“Your mother taught me the difficult ones,” the man replied, rubbing the small of his back. The woman poured herself a glass of water and drained a huge gulp through a straw before picking up her paintbrush again.

“I’m going to miss you, Jennifer,” the old man said, his eyes brimming with tears. “I wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Dad, it doesn’t!” Jennifer turned on the old man. She had a wild look in her eyes borne of desperation and determination. “I’m not going to die today, stuff what the doctor says!”

“Jennifer, I know it’s hard to accept,” the old man said, resting his hands gently on her shoulders. “Believe me, your mother and I barely accepted it ourselves, but the witch-doctor is never wrong. He tasted your blood the day you were born and we’ve known ever since. Why fight it?”

“Why not?” Jennifer retorted, glaring at her father. “I can do so much good in the world, so why shouldn’t I try to stay alive? Because some blood-drunk freak had a vision twenty-four years ago?”

“That’s exactly why, Jennifer, and you know it!” the old man said. “The witch-doctor’s Death Vision is never wrong, and it’s been that way for centuries! In a way, it’s a blessing to know when our lives are due to be over, that’s what your mother always said.”

“Yes and you didn’t try to save her either,” Jennifer said, shrugging off his hands and returning to her painting. The old man stared at her, deeply hurt.

“Your mother knew that her time was near, just like I did,” he said, his voice quivering. “We knew since the day we first met, but that didn’t change anything. In fact, she always said that it encouraged her to enjoy every day as much as she could. I was grateful to know that she wouldn’t suffer the indignities of age, something which you ought to be grateful for as well.”

“Well I’m not,” Jennifer replied, dabbing at her new warding. It was a powerful one, the strongest defensive spell she knew. “I want to grow old, I want to have that chance. Anyway, mum didn’t know the exact day like I do. You don’t know the exact day you’re expected to die, either!”

“That’s down to your rare blood type, my darling” the old man said, smiling. “It’s as if the universe singled you out as someone special and allowed the witch-doctor to be more precise! Come on, Jennifer, please don’t be like this. I…don’t want my last memory of you to be of us having an argument.”

“Dad, it’s not going to be your last!” Jennifer said in exasperation. The old man looked at his feet, his face the picture of misery. After a few minutes of listening to Jennifer muttering to herself, he approached her and pulled her into an embrace.

“Goodbye, my darling,” he said, smiling through his tears. “Be at one with Our Magic again, and I will join you soon.” Jennifer dropped the paintbrush, splashing her leg with red paint as she hugged him back. She broke down and began sobbing in earnest.

“Oh, dad, I love you,” she whispered. “But I’m not going anywhere without a fight!” The old man rubbed his weathered cheek against her smooth one, savouring her warmth and the wetness of their mingling tears. He pulled away and cupped her face with his hand, nodding and gazing into her eyes.

“I love you too, Butterfly,” he said. “I’ll be with you and your mother again soon.” Jennifer squeezed his hands tight and stepped back, drying her eyes on her sleeve.

“You’d better leave now, anyway,” she said quietly. “I’m about to set up a Circle and I don’t want you to get hurt.” The old man nodded again and moved towards the door. He shuffled past the threshold and took a lingering look at Jennifer as she began sprinkling a large sack of herbs around the room. She glanced up and winked at him.

“See you tomorrow, dad.” Her smile was weak. The old man smiled back sadly and closed the door. He sighed and leaned his back against it, suddenly feeling older than ever. Knowing that the day had been coming for years didn’t make it easy now that it had arrived. He stood listening to Jennifer casting spells and chanting incantations until the light faded. He fought the desire to enter the room and keep her company, warding spells be damned. But he did not. He became dimly aware of his knees aching and of his back sliding down the door frame…

He awoke sitting on the cold wooden floor with his knees bent and his joints as stiff as a rusty bike chain. He groaned and heard bone and cartilage creak and scrape together as he struggled to get up. His knees, hips and back cracked as he stood, dragging a rare expletive from his lips. He rubbed his body, fuming at its betrayal and thanking the universe for his wife’s early death. The thought stopped him in his tracks. He turned and faced the door, his heart heavy as he noted the silence behind it. He turned the handle and pushed it open, knowing what he would see. The room was colder than it had been the night before, and the stench of paint was gone. Lying in the centre of a huge circle of herbs, salt and animal bones was his Butterfly. Jennifer was dead.

The old man approached the corpse slowly, paying no mind to the crunch of the scattered detritus as he stepped on them. They were useless anyway, the spells would have died with the user. A mixture of scents assaulted his nose, some bitter, some sweet and others sour, but he barely noticed them. He fell to his knees, ignoring the fresh, angry waves of pain which lashed out from his bones. He looked at Jennifer’s beautiful, pale face and noted with relief that there was no trace of pain etched into her features. He hadn’t wanted her to suffer. He glanced over to the jug of water he had brought her the night before and saw that it was empty. He nodded.

“You drank it all,” he said, smoothing Jennifer’s hair from her face. “Good girl. I hoped you would do…it would have made it quicker.” He knelt over Jennifer’s body and gazed at her through hot tears.

“I love you, Butterfly.” he said. He took comfort in the fact that he wouldn’t live past the end of the year and so would have very little time before he joined her. He didn’t regret what he had done; the witch-doctor’s prediction had been fulfilled and everything was correct in the universe. Just as it had always been.

Fiction Fursday/A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

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

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

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

 

A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

By Adam Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your shoes,” the man replied, pointing.

“My shoes?” Jerry was perplexed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fiction Fursday/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…

Fiction Fursday/Dark Side Debriefing

Right, I’ve been back from my holiday for two weeks now and it is high time that I got back on track with my Fiction Fursday posts. Today’s story was suggested by the lovely Kate McClelland, who is never short of a good prompt! Kate challenged me thusly: an astronaut goes missing for twenty seconds whilst exploring the dark side of the moon…what happened? A great question, Kate, and another sci-fi for me to write!

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

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a story prompt for another week, please do so by leaving a comment below.

 

Dark Side Debriefing

By Adam Dixon

“Is she ready to talk yet, doc?” Captain Anders said with impatience. He turned his steely blue eyes towards the slight medical officer, who wilted under his gaze.

“Yes, I believe so, sir,” was his meek reply as he gripped a handrail to stop himself floating onto the ceiling. It was not an easy thing to accomplish with a clipboard tucked under one arm, but he managed it nonetheless.

“Her vital signs are stable,” the medic continued. “She has also begun eating and drinking properly, which is encouraging. However, she is still rather shaken, so I would recommend that you keep her debriefing as simple as possible. No stressful questions or anything like that.”

“I’ll ask her whatever questions I damn well please!” the captain barked, releasing a handrail to slam his fist into the wall of the space shuttle. The force of the action sent Anders’ body careening away from the wall and titled him at a forty-five degree angle. Anders cursed and flailed, grabbing another rail and dragging his body back to a vertical position.

“Careful, sir,” the medic said, failing to hide his amusement. “Remember the Academy’s lessons about violent actions in zero-gravity environments.”

“You’d best shut your mouth, doc,” Anders hissed, narrowing his eyes. “Or I’ll bloody show you a violent action!” Again the medic wilted, mumbling apologies as he opened the door to the small infirmary. Anders muttered to himself about smart-arsed medics and their bloody degrees before floating past the threshold. A short drift along a windowless corridor brought him to a sealed door. As Anders held his gaze in front of the retinal scanner, he heard muffled voice from within the room.

“…Forty thousand… yes, yes…back on Earth…agreed…” was all Anders could make out before the door slid open.

“Excellent! Excellent!” A jubilant medic said, hopping about in excitement. Anders pulled himself through the door. The sterile stink of disinfectant assaulted his nostrils and the beeping whirring of equipment echoed strangely after the silence of the corridor. The infirmary was designed to look like a standard hospital ward back on Earth, supposedly to reassure the patients. Anders thought it was a depressing reminder of what they had left behind.

“What’s excellent?” Anders grunted. Christ, he hated medics!

“Oh, Captain Anders! Sir!” The portly medic started and dropped his clipboard. It floated in front of his splayed fingers for an instant before the bespectacled man seized it once again. He looked up sheepishly, his eyes wide and his face flushed. His feet were actually touching the metal floor, being held in place by a smooth magnet which was harnessed to his body. As Anders fought to maintain his stability he seethed at the younger man’s ease of movement.

“I, erm…was just looking at Armstong’s chart, and err…” the medic stammered.

“I need to speak with Armstrong,” Anders said with impatience. “Dismissed!” The medic nodded over and over again as he walked out of the infirmary. Anders considered pulling rank and demanding that he relinquish his harness, but he thought better of it. Instead he looked carefully at the woman in front of him. Strapped down to a pallet bed, was Delilah Armstrong, a young woman with fierce green eyes and blond hair which floated around her head like a golden mane. Armstrong’s torso was not strapped so she was able to sit up and she held herself with dignity despite her haggard appearance. Her skin was pale and drawn and her lightly-dressed body was clearly malnourished. Anders wondered how that could have gotten past the medics before she was cleared for her mission.

“Armstrong,” Anders nodded curtly. “How’re you holding up?”

“Captain Anders,” Armstrong returned the nod cautiously. “I’ve been better. It’s not every day I nearly die of thirst yards from safety, you know?” Anders had always appreciated her wariness, especially when in the presence of a superior officer. He supposed there was a certain degree of entitlement considering her family history, but he approved of that also. It demonstrated a backbone which many of his crew lacked.

“I’m here to debrief you, Armstrong,” Anders continued. “I’d like to hear your account of what happened three days ago, but cut the embellishments, if you please. I’ve heard your reports before and I haven’t got all day.” Armstrong stiffened at his bluntness but didn’t say anything about it.

“Well, sir,” Armstrong said slowly, her eyes drifting as she thought back to a few days previously. “I was out exploring the moon’s Dark Side as ordered. I was alone, with my suit, my jetpack and my comlink as I performed the required scanning of the surface. As I fired up to return to the Echo, my transmissions went cold. I saw…nothing. There was darkness all around me, and even the stars had stopped shining. I was in the dark and the cold for what felt like months, but it must have been two days judging by my dehydration. That’s what the doc tells me, anyway.”

“Never mind what the doc tells you,” Anders snapped. “Worry about what you’re saying to me, and I said no embellishments! I need to get this straight, Armstrong…you’re saying that our temporary loss of contact with you was due to some alternation in time? In science?” Armstrong raised her arms in exasperation.

“Yeah, I think so, Captain!” she said, her face the very picture of indignation. “I’m not sure how else to describe it! All I know is that everything was fine one minute and then I was drifting in darkness for three days!”

“We lost contact with you for twenty seconds, Armstrong, that’s all.”

“Sir, I think I must’ve passed through some kind of warp in time.”

“Oh, what a load of crap!” It was Anders’ turn to swing his arms, which he regretted as soon as he began to spin around in the chamber. “If there were such things out there we would’ve discovered it decades ago!”

“Clearly there are still mysteries in space, Captain,” Armstrong’s tone was ever so slightly mocking and it made Anders very annoyed. He took a deep breath and decided to change tactics.

“Look, Armstrong, you’re an exceptional astronaut,” Anders began awkwardly. He wasn’t used to giving compliments. “I guess it runs in the family. But you can’t expect me to believe this story, it’s too…”

“Ridiculous? Impossible? ” Armstrong suggested in a harsh tone. “Or is it simply because I’m a woman that you don’t think I’m capable of a breakthrough discovery?”

“Don’t test me, Armstrong,” Anders warned, his eyes alight with fury.

“Just because you don’t believe me, sir, that doesn’t mean that others won’t!” Armstrong said triumphantly. Her eyes were glazed. “I’ll be remembered for this, just you wait! When the scientists start researching into this new discovery about space and time MY name will be attached to it! I’ll be like my great-grandfather then, a figure of history! There were plenty of people who thought that his Landing was a hoax, they conspired for years, but time proved them wr-“

“Hoax?” Anders interrupted. “Who said anything about a hoax?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Captain. Your refusal to listen to me indicates how you’re thinking.” Armstrong sneered, but Anders was sure that he had detected a note of panic in her voice. It was there for a second and then it was gone, like breath through an airlock. Armstrong continued ranting about the famous Neil and his heroic team but Anders wasn’t really listening. The picture of events became clearer in his mind; the number he had overheard, the medic’s excitement, Armstrong’s physical condition and story on the whole… he had heard enough.

“I think that’ll do it, Armstrong,” Anders said firmly, cutting her off again. “I have all I need to make my report.”

“Very good, sir,” Armstrong said with a frown, no doubt suspicious of the speed of Anders’ decision. “I’m feeling bit faint as it happens. Must be the drugs kicking in.”

“Well then, you’d better rest up,” Anders said as he pulled himself back towards the door. “We’ll need you back on form as soon as possible.”

Anders knew that Armstrong’s story was bullshit, and he had enough to work with. He pressed a button on his comlink and spoke into it.

“Navigator, inform Ground Control that I wish to send them a preliminary report of Armstrong’s debriefing.” He paused for a moment as the Navigator patched him through to a secure channel to Earth.

“Ground Control, this is Captain Anders of the Moon Station, Echo IV,” Anders spoke calmly and precisely. “I wish to summarise my findings concerning our most recent recon mission. Our crew member, Ðelilah Armstrong, was physically unfit to undertake this mission as she was badly dehydrated and malnourished. It is my belief that her medical reports prior to the mission were deliberately falsified. As a result of her physical condition, Armstrong lost consciousness for approximately twenty seconds whilst scanning the Dark Side and she began to hallucinate. I would urge sympathy when she returns to Earth but I would also suggest that anything she describes to you to be considered with this in mind. I will prepare a fuller report once I have launched a thorough investigation of my medical team.”

“Acknowledged, Captain,” a static voice replied. “Your report has been logged. Over and out.” Captain Anders nodded and placed his hands behind his back. He didn’t really know why he had decided to salvage Armstrong’s career despite her atrocious behaviour; perhaps be was becoming sentimental in his old age. More likely it was because he needed every good astronaut he could find, and Armstrong was lucky enough to be one of the best. So she would survive this blip in her career relatively unscathed. Anders didn’t mind putting a scare into the medical team, though. Let them squirm for a while, he thought with satisfaction. Anders stretched briefly before assume his place at the command desk and gazed out at the wide expanse of space. There was still a moon to observe, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Fursday/Pride and Seagulls

Time for my weekly story once again, and this time the prompt comes from the brilliant Viki Allerston. Viki has been following me via email and has been very encouraging towards my story writing. A few weeks ago Viki suggested that because I currently live in Sussex I could write a story about the great annual celebration which is Brighton Pride. She also suggested that I include the American Express Stadium, the home of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club and the stomping ground for many a proud Brightonian. I thought this was a wonderful idea and have crafted a fun tale from the idea. Viki also suggested a few other Brighton landmarks, but I will use those for another story. Thanks, Viki!

Oh, and as you may have noticed, I have included my own Brighton motif…the mighty seagull! I hope you all enjoy my story.

P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a story for me to write in the coming weeks, please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment. I’ll give anything a go!

P.P.S. Just a quick note to say that I won’t be posting a story next Thursday as I will be getting a sexy tan/burning to a crisp in Cyprus. I’ll still read your wonderful blogs though!

Pride and Seagulls

By Adam Dixon

“I’ve always wondered why that worship that one,” said Waark the seagull, wiggling his scruffy feathers. “I mean, what’s so special about him anyway?”

“You sure it’s a he?” Kai-Kai replied as he dug his beak into his wing. “I’ve always thought it was a female.” He shuffled to adjust his balance as a gust of wind nudged him sideways.

“Nahh, can’t be!” Waark scoffed, but he still cocked his head for a better look. From their vantage point on the roof of the American Express Community Stadium the two gulls had a very good view of the whole building. They were scrutinising the gigantic image of a seagull in flight which decorated one of the walls facing the freshly-cut pitch, the same gull which was depicted onto several rows of plastic seating. They stared at the image in silence for several minutes.

“No, it’s definitely a male!” Waark said triumphantly. Kai-Kai flapped his wings in annoyance.

“I’m tellin’ you, it’s a female!” he said. “Not a very good likeness, I’ll admit, but it’s definitely a female.”

“Well, whatever it is, it hasn’t done anything to deserve the attention it gets,” Waark replied. “The humans worship the blooming thing! They even have its image on their clothes! They come here in their thousands to pay respect to it, and why?”

“They think she blesses their ball game,” Kai-Kai suggested. “Makes sense to me. They must think she’s some Game Goddess or somethin’.”

“Perhaps…foolish humans!” Waark cawed with amusement, shaking his head and hopping from foot to foot. His stomach growled again; it must have been almost twenty minutes since he last ate.

“Why are we still here? There’s a mass gathering towards the ocean today which we need to take advantage of!” Waark said. Kai-Kai looked at him eagerly.

“Mass gathering? Brilliant!” He screeched in delight. “I love it when loads of ‘em come out! Grub for everyone!” The two gulls took to the skies, gliding towards Brighton.

***

“Sweet Doughnuts, there’re a lot of ‘em today!” squawked Kai-Kai a couple of hours later, dodging around a car decorated with multi-coloured flags.

“You’re not wrong!” Waark agreed, scanning the packed seafront for his next morsel. He rode a light breeze and perched on a railing overlooking the seafront. The beach at Brighton was heaving, crammed full of humans who were whooping with delight and charging to and fro in excitement. The streets were just as crowded, with brightly-coloured garments and flags being waved with wild abandon. The usual smells of the seafront were present such as the greasy waft of fish and chips, the salt in the air and the varied scents of dozens of human bodies, but today they were greatly magnified.  Voices were raised in cries of happiness, surprise and pleasant intoxication; the humans were having a wonderful day.

“It’s that time of year again,” Waark said, his beady eyes following a group of cheering men who were dressed only in golden tights. “The Day of the Colours, my old mum used to call it. The humans make a great fuss out of it and flock here from miles and miles away. I think it’s something to do with the males of their species.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Kai-Kai said, watching two elderly men tottering along the beach holding hands and smiling. “Not sure what they’re celebratin’ but it looks like they’re havin’ a blindin’ day!”

“So are we though!” Waark giggled, shaking his feathers and belching. “I’ve lost count of how many chips I’ve managed to snatch! I even got some of that sticky pink stuff from a child on the pier! Oh, but it is divine! Come to mention it, I think there’s still some stuck on my leg…”

“Yeah, it’s been a bloody good day for it!” Kai-Kai said. “I’m stuffed! Although, I could always fit in something sweet…” Without warning Kai-Kai leapt into the air and swooped towards a group of teenagers. The group, three males and two females, all shrieked and ran for cover, dropping the bag they were sharing onto the pebbles. Kai-Kai screeched in triumph and began shredding the paper with his sharp beak. His delicious prize was revealed: five and a half sugar-coated doughnuts, still warm from the oven. Kai-Kai wasted no time and neither did his fellows. Within seconds a flock of gulls had descended, jostling and fighting one another for the contents of the bag. The noise of the competing gulls was terrific, and Waark watched it with great amusement. Less than a minute had passed before the sugary treats had been devoured with not a trace to be found on the beach. The flock dissipated slowly, with Kai-Kai flapping up to sit with Waark once again.

“Ahhh that worked like a charm!” He laughed, his beak coated in a fine layer of sugar. “Shame those others turned up when they did, they must’ve been watchin’ me!”

“Never mind, you got some,” Waark was distracted, turning to watch the bustling town once again. A procession of large vehicles passed by, each one boasting feathers, banners, streamers and flags of vividly bright colours and filled with ecstatically waving humans. Music was blaring from speakers mounted on several of the vehicles, with their scantily-clad passengers dancing and gyrating with glee. The crowd gathered on either side of the road shared the joy of the passengers, returning their waves, blowing kisses and shouting their support. Males were embracing other males in their dozens, pressing their faces together lovingly and caressing each other’s hands and cheeks. It was a curious environment permeated with deep feelings of happiness and acceptance.

“I wonder about this day, you know,” Waark said thoughtfully. “I don’t understand what they are yelling about or what this all means, but it seems like a happy occasion. What do you think?” Kai-Kai raised his wings in the seagull-version of a shrug.

“I dunno,” he said. “Don’t care that much, to be honest. As long as they bring the grub I’m up for any crazy human ritual!” Waark shook his head.

“I had figured as much,” he said, half-amused and half-disappointed. “I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment, but I love the vibes the humans are giving off today. It would almost be enough to experience it without any food on offer.” Waark and Kai-Kai exchanged a glance in silence before bursting out into squawks of laughter.

“I said almost!” Waark said, flapping his wings and chuckling. “Come on then, my greedy friend! I spy a loosely-held bagel! First one to it gets it for himself!” The two birds took to the skies, their cries echoing those of a hundred nearby gulls on the beach. As they pursued their feast, the people of Brighton continued to dance and drink and frolic and celebrate their day. Once again Pride in Brighton was a triumph for everyone.

 

Fiction Fursday/Flossy’s Chance

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

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

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

Flossy’s Chance

By Adam Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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