A – Z Challenge Day 26

It’s finally here! The final story for this April’s Challenge! I can hardly believe that it’s over, it has been a fantastic month! I’ve really enjoyed taking part and I am rather impressed with myself for managing to write as often as I did. I’ve had a couple of stumbles along the way, but I’m here on the last day with my twenty-sixth short story so I am pretty bloody pleased with that!

This prompt is once again from Viki, who has been a fantastic help. The word she chose to end my Challenge is “ZANY”. I don’t know about you lot, but whenever I hear that word I automatically think of Dr. Seuss and his wacky creations! My idea for a story is significantly darker than the friendly Cat in the Hat, just as a warning!

Anyway, here is my final story for this April. Thank you to everyone who has been following my progress and a bigger thank you to everyone who has found the time to give me feedback on my stories. As a side-note, my previous story which I uploaded earlier today was my 50th post since starting out WordPress, which I am really pleased about. Thank you, everyone, for helping me to keep doing what I love.

ZANY

By Adam Dixon

Rosie heard the music before her sister did. It filtered into her dreams, the beautiful, haunting melody of the simple pipe dissipating her innocent imaginings like a breeze through smoke. She allowed it to gently caress her senses and pull her slowly towards wakefulness. Once awake she lay still in the darkness, listening to the lonely pipe calling to her very soul. After a few minutes, Anna begin to stir in the bed next to hers and soon they were staring at one another in excitement.

“It’s him!” Anna breathed, smiling sleepily. Rosie nodded and sat up. Her neatly-trimmed brown hair was in disarray and she had been dribbling as she slept. Wiping her freckled face clumsily with the back of her hand Rosie got out of bed and hurried over to the window. Anna joined her a moment later, jittery with nervous anticipation. They stared out at the fields beyond their village, trying in vain to spot the source of the music. They could not, and Anna looked at Rosie expectantly. Being the Big Sister, it was Rosie’s job to make the decisions when Mummy and Daddy weren’t around. Rosie drew herself up to her full height of four feet two inches and assumed an important pose.

“Well, Anna, we’ll have to go and find him!” She said, nodding for emphasis. Anna gasped and clapped her hands together.

“Oooh, we’re going to have an adventure!” She yelped, bouncing up and down. Rosie clamped a hand over Anna’s mouth, eyes wide as she listened to the sounds of the house. She could hear nothing from their parent’s room, only the distant playing of the pipe.

“You need to keep quiet, Anna,” she whispered, removing her hand. “We can’t wake Mummy and Daddy up! They wouldn’t let us go and see him!”

“But we promised!” Anna replied, pouting. “We promised the Colourful Man that we would come and visit him if he played his pipes! Mummy and Daddy always say that we should keep our promises!”

“Yes, they do,” Rosie agreed, putting on her slippers and searching for Anna’s. “But they wouldn’t like it if they knew we were doing it at night time! Give me your feet, Anna, you need to put these on. Find your coat, too, it will be too cold for just a nightie outside!”

Rosie and Anna busied themselves for the next few minutes as they gathered provisions for their exploit. Soon, they both had coats, slippers and woollen hats on, and Anna held a plastic bag containing a packet of crisps each and half-empty bottle of fruit juice which they had saved for a midnight snack. Rosie put the spare blankets and pillows under their bedsheets just in case their parents looked in on them. It was unlikely, but she judged it to be a good idea nonetheless.

“Right!” Rosie stood, hands on hips as she observed Anna and the bedroom. She smoothed down her stubborn hair with her hand before attacking Anna’s darker curls with a brush. “Off we go then! Make sure you tiptoe past Mummy and Daddy’s room, Anna, and watch out for the creaky steps on the stairs!” Anna nodded eagerly, brimming with excitement. The two girls carefully moved through the house and down the stairs, unlocking the front door and stealing out into the night. The low amber glow from the few streetlights guided their way as far as the edge of the village, and from there Rosie used her Barbie torch to light their path. She held onto Anna’s hand tightly, whispering to her that the Colourful Man would be so pleased to see them.

***

Less than a mile away, hidden in the nearby wood, the Piper stopped playing. He knew that the girls would reach him soon, his pipe’s magic always saw to that. He stretched his arms and legs out as he sat on the tree stump, scratching his long white beard and yawning. His colourful robes were dulled by the darkness but he would still be easy to spot because of them. The children had been captivated as he had put on his ridiculous act for them at the village fete, jumping, twirling and juggling for them. He even told nonsensical stories in order to make them laugh and had howled along with them like a wolf. They enjoyed his clownish persona, and they always wanted more. He would wait until their parents were distracted before whispering into their ears that they would be able to play together again if they only promised to come to him when he played his pipe. The children readily agreed, completely ignoring the “Stranger danger” ethos that their parents had drilled into their heads. They were just as gullible now as they had been a century ago.

The Piper didn’t know why he had lived for so long, but he suspected that it had something to do with his diet. He grinned as he sharpened his skinning knives with a whetstone; young children were simply so nutritious!

 

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A – Z Challenge Day 12

Day twelve of this April’s Challenge and my suggestion for today comes from one of my Twitter followers. Sakina Hussain and I have only been following each other for a short while, but she has given me some great encouragement with my writing and was kind enough to provide me with a few suggestions for this Challenge.

The word she suggested for today is “LEGERDEMAIN”.

Yes, that’s right, LEGERDEMAIN. She went right ahead and slapped me with a word I had never heard of before! Kudos to you, Sakina!

After looking it up I decided that I would use it, and this is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

LEGERDEMAIN

By Adam Dixon

“Ahh, but good, sir, a magician never reveals his tricks!” The old man flashed a broad grin at the bemused businessman and winked at his wife. Sweeping off his garish feathered hat and bowing low, he looked up at the assembled crowd.
“Would anyone else care to test the finesse of my fingers?” He asked dramatically. “I may look old and indeed I feel it during these cold winter months, but my dextrous digits are just as nimble and and eager as when I was a lad! How about you, sir? Perhaps you and your friend there would care to challenge me? Or you, madame? May I say what a fine coat that is? It is such a privilege to be entertaining a person of high quality this morning! Alas, no offence intended to my other guests, of course!” The small crowd gathered around him chuckled at the joke and a few of them agreed to test his skill.
“He can’t possibly win every time,” one man in a suit whispered to his lady friend. “Just watch, my darling, I’ll show the old fellow up!” The woman giggled and nuzzled him in encouragement.
Unbeknownst to them, a little girl who could scarcely have been more than ten years old moved among the crowd like a wraith. The girl was constantly surprised at how easy it was to distract people in the city. Here she was with her blond hair shining like a beacon amidst a sea of greys and browns, yet no-one saw her as she delved into their coats and purses. All it took was one charismatic old geezer with a silly hat and a few sleight-of-hand tricks and she could pilfer their valuables as easily as breathing. Of course, she had to have quick hands herself in order to do so, so at least the old man’s teachings had been worth the time.

The crowd oohed and ahhed as the old man made cards and coins disappear and reappear under the hats of his spectators. They cheered loudly when he began juggling first three balls, then four, then six, then eight and so on until their jaws hung low and their eyes were trapped following the whirling spheres. That trick was also a signal to the young girl; it was his final performance, so she had better hurry up. She swiftly stole a few more handfuls of coins and pound notes before backing off and striking up the same awed expression of those around her. Not a moment too soon, either.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have been an excellent crowd!” The old man panted as he bowed low and flung out his hat, neatly catching all the falling balls in it one after the other. The crowd gasped and applauded, and the man bowed lower still.

“Thank you, thank you! You are most kind!” The man exclaimed, beaming at his audience. “I shall be performing for your pleasure here again for the following two mornings, so be sure to inform your friends and relatives!” The people were murmuring amongst themselves good-naturedly as they began to disperse, and not one of them noticed how light their pockets were. The young girl walked away slowly and turned the street corner. A few minutes of walking led her to a small churchyard, and she stood reading the cracked gravestones as she waited for the old man. She closed her eyes and breathed in the moist air of the morning, tasting flavour the old earth which wafted up to her nostrils.

“Well, how did we do this time?” The girl opened her eyes to see the old man standing next to her. She never heard the wily old sod approach and she had given up trying.

“Quite well,” she responded flatly. She held out the bulging pillow case containing her hoard and frowned as he snatched it away. After leafing through its contents and nodding, the old man looked up at her sharply.

“Can I trust that you’ve not squirreled some coins away about your person?” he asked suspiciously. She shook her head, knowing full well that it wouldn’t be enough. The girl didn’t blame him, really. One thief could never fully trust another. The old man seized her with his bony fingers and subjected her to the humiliation of forcing her mouth open to peer under her tongue and down her throat, as well as lifting her ragged clothes to check her undergarments. Such a display was indecent to say the least, and not at all befitting an older gentleman in Victorian society, but they were alone there and the girl was powerless to resist. Satisfied, the man released her.

“Mmmhmm, good,” he said, stooping to pick up the dropped pillow case. “You’re doing wonderfully, my dear, and I shall pay you your share once I have counted this up properly. You stick with me and we shall both be rich!” He cackled and strode away, not bothering to wait for her to reply.

The girl sighed and rubbed her arms where his fingers had gripped her. He still had strong hands for one so old, strong as well as fast. A small smile crept along the girl’s lips as she opened her palm to reveal a beautiful golden pocket-watch. It belonged to the old man, and he had coveted it ever since he had stolen it from a passing politician. The girl would sell it that afternoon and the man would simply believe that he had lost it somewhere.

“Your fingers are still quick, old man, but not as quick as mine!” The girl grinned to herself as she walked back towards the market. One day she wouldn’t need the old man anymore, and that day was fast approaching.