Author Archives: echoesofthepen

The Fixer – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicFlash Fiction short story no:7 (only 93 more to go). This a1FlashFictionwill probably be the last one for a week or so while I catch up on some long overdue book reviews. Happy reading, writing, reviewing, and blogging. Whatever your passion, enjoy …

 

If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:

IASD Micro-fiction

*

The Fixer

Anna Dawson listened to the reading of the verdict. The words not guilty would ring in her ears for the rest of her life.

justice3The man who had raped and killed her daughter was about to walk free from court. She didn’t blame the jury, the police, or prosecution for that matter; it had been slim enough evidence to start with. And with such a convincing alibi they weren’t left with much choice but to let the monster walk. It was hard to argue with the sworn testimony of over thirty people, each one of whom was willing to testify that Harry Tilsley was hundreds of miles away drinking with friends when her daughter, Jackie, met her death.

Harry Tilsley flashed a smile at her before showing a thumbs-up gesture to the jury, almost like a mock ‘thanks.’ He knew Anna was in court. The wry smile and gesturing were all directed at her, a reminder that his money made him virtually untouchable.

*

“Hello. Mr Jacobs, it’s Anna Dawson here,” Anna said.

“Write down the following directions. Do exactly as I tell you, and I will meet with you in three days,” the voice at the other end of the phone answered. There were no polite formalities, not so much as a hello or goodbye from the voice, just the lengthy instructions followed by the crackle of the line going dead.

She followed the directions and instructions to the letter. It was an odd place to meet, she thought. Still, it was better that than the cliché flash of headlights in a deserted underground carpark.

justice5Mr Jacobs was not at all like she expected. Actually, she hadn’t known quite what to expect, except that with his gangster fedora and cigar, and the whole seedy smoke-filled nightclub in a less than respectable part of the city, this wasn’t it. The entire place, the people, it was like a jaunt back in time to a Sam Spade movie – she wouldn’t have been surprised to see Humphry Bogart walk through the door with his trademark raincoat turned up at the collar. The man that did join her though wasn’t that far off the mark.

 

“You’re the man who arranged Harry Tilsley’s alibi,” were the first words out of Anna’s mouth when Mr Jacobs approached to join her at the table she had been instructed to sit.

Mr Jacobs nodded his agreement with her statement. If Anna had been expecting denials, excuses, or justification, she was going to be disappointed.

“But I understand you’re not here to recriminate with me, so, to business then,” Mr Jacobs continued.

“No, I’m not. I want to employ your services. I don’t have the same money as Harry Tilsley, but I’ve raised a sizeable amount, and I’m willing to work for you to make up any shortfall,” Anna replied, handing him a note with the figure she had raised. He looked at it and mouthed a barely perceptible smile. Mr Jacobs passed it back to her, nodding his agreement of its acceptability.

 

Anna no longer hated Mr Jacobs and his organisation for what they had done. Had Harry Tilsley not employed their services, yes, he would have gone to prison.  But would he have got the punishment he deserved, that was another matter. With his money, he would probably have got the charge reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Any actual prison time would have been in some cushy minimum security place, and likely for no more than a few months.

     This was better, she thought, much better indeed!

*

Anna made Harry suffer. Surprisingly, she opted not to kill him. Leaving him as ‘half a man’ was much more satisfying. It wasn’t all bad for Harry though; with modern medicine and advanced surgery, there was every likelihood of being able to reconstruct some sort of artificial penile tube for urination. And perhaps those little rubber implants to at least give Harry the illusion of him still possessing his balls might be a comfort too. Looks wise though, he was left with a face not even his own mother could ever love again despite all the reconstructive surgery his money could buy.

Anna now owed Mr Jacobs her lifelong loyalty should he decide to act on her offer to work for him. It was a small price to pay, she thought.

*

Naturally, as the mother of the girl Harry Tilsley had been accused of raping and murdering, Anna was the authorities’ first port of call in their investigations. They quickly dismissed her as a suspect though; she was still too distraught from Harry Tilsley having been proved innocent at his trial to barely think straight, in their opinion. And when they checked her alibi, Anna Dawson was found to be hundreds of miles away drinking in a seedy smoke-filled bar, drowning her sorrows with friends – over thirty people were willing to testify to that.

 

The Hunter – Flash Fiction no:6 (of 100)

IASDpicFlash Fiction short story no:6 (of 100), under 700 words this time. I’ve been inspired to look again at some of my past abandoned storiesa1FlashFiction following a recent flash fiction challenge in the IASD writing group. Along with compiling many different stories from the group for an IASD anthology in the near future (news of which to be featured in a forthcoming blog post), I hope to publish my own collection of flash fiction too.

*

The Hunter

Jeez, I love what I do! It’s no mean boast, but I’m probably the best in the world. I’ve a room back home full of trophies and awards. A few years ago, I shot the last white rhino. Before that, I was the first to bag one of the few white tigers to have successfully survived in the wilds of the Indian jungles. To do what I do requires all the stealth and cunning of the wild animals I track. Only my peers and contemporaries can ever truly understand the thrill, the adrenalin rush, that sense of achievement that comes after days, weeks, and even months of tracking and stalking your prey until you finally corner it into position.

My latest quest is the most ambitious yet. Rumours of its existence have been floating liger2around the net for years. The biggest liger ever seen, or so the locals say. Yes, that’s right, a cross between an Asiatic lion from the Gir forest in India, and a Bengal tiger.

No one knows quite how this wild liger came about. Tigers are jungle cats while lions are found on the plains. But India has both, so it’s not impossible.

 

liger1It’s started attacking domestic livestock from the outlying villages surrounding the forest. That’s how its existence has been confirmed.

With the intimidating size and strength genes of a tiger and the ferocious fighting skills of a lion, it’s a truly magnificent beast. It’s reportedly 12 feet tall on its hind legs and possibly 1000 lbs in weight – heavier and taller even than Hercules, officially the biggest cat in the world. It could be the crowning achievement of my career. I’m determined to have it!

 

After my arrival at Keshod airport, it was still another 3-hour drive to the area just beyond the southern outskirts of the Gir forest where the liger was last seen.

After a few days preparation, I begin my hunt. It was last spotted nearby in the Gir National Park, probably in the hope of mating with one of the Asiatic lionesses, so that’s where I start.

Possessing twice the size and strength of a regular lion, it’s difficult to imagine any of the alpha males fighting off the intruder to the resident Prides.

Three days I lie in wait, shrouded in natural camouflage, smeared with the local vegetation and scent of the plains. The Park authorities are aiding me in my quest, appreciative of the publicity my success would bring to their tourist business.

It’s a dangerous spot. Being the only sanctuary in the world for the Asiatic lion, there are lots of them about. These are no tame, domesticated varieties you might find in a city zoo.

ligers4Sanctuary or not, these are dangerous wild animals that hunt, kill, and rend their prey limb from limb to satisfy theirs and their cubs’ hunger; human flesh would be a more than acceptable alternative to their more usual diet of zebras and giraffes.

I remain aware of the danger. But from years’ experience, I know how to protect myself. I focus instead on the job in hand. I finally spot my prey. I’m staggered by the size of it, even from two hundred yards away. It’s like some monster from the id, more like an image of a prehistoric Sabre Tooth than a modern-day hybrid.

liger3He’s in the cross-hairs of my telescopic sight now. A headshot I decide. I take aim. I’m hoping it will turn to face me. To capture that glint in its eyes, that moment of recognition between the man and beast, there’s no other feeling quite like it.

Turn will you, turn, I urge silently. He does. He’s magnificent. He’s mine!

*

‘Best photo of the year,’ said the New York Times.

‘Simply Superb’ was the verdict of the Association of Professional Wildlife Photographers’

And my favourite – ‘Another breathtaking glimpse at the majesty of nature, from Nature Magazine.’

Jeez, I love my job!

ligers5

House Sitting Surprise – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicFlash Fiction story no:5. This one comes in at a shade over the 900-word mark. Just another 95 more stories to go till I reach the magic 100 figure for publication.   

                         a1FlashFiction

House Sitting Surprise 

Henry Abbot had grown tired of the local louts shouting abuse at him, throwing rubbish in his garden, even trying to break in a couple of times. Mostly it didn’t bother him. He was a sturdy old boy, but he wasn’t getting any younger. He needed a holiday, just to get away for awhile, he thought.

 

Dutch and Jonesy were two of Henry’s training recruits from his time as a Colour Sergeant in the army. That was a long time ago, and they had long since matured into two of the toughest squaddies ever to grace a drill square. In Henry’s eyes though, they were still his lads, and he was looking forward to seeing them again.

In ‘his lads’ eyes, he was still the NCO they would walk over hot coals for to hell and back.

*

Mick and Gazza were always on the lookout for a night’s grafting, though not an honest night’s one like driving a taxi or manning the local 24-hr gas station. Their idea of a night’s work was to go out and rob someone. A ‘good’ night’s work was not getting caught. Their usual victims were the frail and elderly, those who wouldn’t be able or likely to put up much of a fight should the two robbing scumbags be discovered mid thieving.

 

“Hey, Mick, that house on the corner opposite the post box, I just been past it, and it looks like they’ve left one of the downstairs back windows open.”

“That’s that old boy from Rozzerman street’s house, the old git with his polished shoes and the regimental blazer.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I remember a few years back him telling me to quieten down when I was yelling at some old girl. I’ll give the old bastard ‘quieten down,’ see if I don’t.”

“So, what’s this about an open window?”

“Yeah, back kitchen window by the looks of it. There’s no lights on, and his car’s not there. He might have fucked off somewhere for the weekend. 

“And left an empty house and an open window … nice!”

burglars

“I think we might have company,” Dutch silently mouthed the words to his mate.

Jonesy nodded his agreement. They both silently sidled up either side of the connecting door between the dining room and the kitchen, waiting for the two intruders to come through.

A moment later, the door opened. Mick and Gazza crept quietly into the dining room; they may have possessed the practised stealth of seasoned burglars, but they were rank amateurs compared to Dutch and Jonesy.

It was the last ‘creeping’ either of them would ever do again. The only sound they might have heard in those last few moments of life was their own or each other’s muffled screams through constricted airways. Both Dutch and Jonesy had big powerful hands, easily strong enough to squeeze the life out of the two robbing scrotes in Henry’s house.

Dutch and Jonesy would have preferred the quick and immediate method of a knife thrust just below the heart or for a few extra minutes of painful gasping for breath drowning in their own blood, a strike to the lungs. But they had Henry’s recently cleaned carpets and new sofa to think of, it just wouldn’t do to go messing up Henry’s front room when they’d promised faithfully to look after his house while he visited family abroad.

Between them, they soon had the two intruders sliced and diced and ready for disposal, and all without a trace of DNA evidence to show the two scumbag burglars had ever been near the house.

 

“They might be a couple of thieving bastards, but they’re young and healthy; all them mineral-rich nutrients in them would have done wonders for the Sarge’s garden,”  Jonesy remarked.  

When he wasn’t soldiering, Jonesy was quite the environmentalist – and yes, he was also the camp comedian among his comrades, and no, being dead now, the two intrusive burglars could hardly still be called healthy.

“Can we save the jokes, till later, eh?” Dutch replied, a slight tone of reprimand in his voice given the seriousness of the matter, “and no, we’re not burying them in Henry’s garden. We’ll stick to the woods we reccied earlier.”

digging1        bodies    digging2

*

“How was yer holiday, Sarge?” Jonesy asked, greeting Henry on his return.

“And the family, hope they were good?” Dutch added.

“Had a smashing time thanks, lads. And yep, the family were all good too. Them grandkids of mine are shooting up fast, I tell you,” Henry replied, adding: “And thanks too for stopping over and looking after my place. I know it meant giving up some of your leave so anytime there’s anything I can do for you, you’ve just to ask.”

“Was a pleasure, Sarge, “ Dutch said.

“What he said,” Jonesy agreed, waving a thumb at his mate.

“And those two louts I told you about, you had no grief from them, did you? I was sure they’d break in if they saw my car was gone and the lights out,” Henry said.

“No trouble at all. We kept the downstairs lights on most of the time, so they knew there were people in,” Dutch lied.

“I heard that they’d had some grief of their own with some rival scumbags elsewhere. Maybe you won’t have any more trouble with them if that’s the case,” Jonesy lied too.

“But you can always give us both a call if anyone else bothers you,” Dutch said.

“Cheers lads. Now let’s all go inside and have us a few beers.”

Repentance – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicA little longer this time but at under 850 words, still well within the accepted limits of flash fiction … a1FlashFiction

Repentance

Not a day went by when Richard Dewsbury didn’t regret what had happened. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, but when you’ve just robbed a bank, you’re not too fussed about speed limits or safer driving. He never saw the little girl midway across the road when he took that last corner trying to shake the cops off his tail. She never had a chance whenprison the car he was driving catapulted 9-year-old little Suzie over the bonnet. She died instantly. The ten-year prison sentence Richard received was nothing compared to the guilt and torment he’d had to live with ever since. He would have given his life to turn the clock back, but there was nothing he could do to bring the little girl back. He swore though he’d do whatever it took to make amends

*

At exactly 11:00 just one week after his release, Richard Dewsbury walked into the transplant and dialysis department of the nearest hospital. At 11:15 he set about making good on the promised he had made to himself all those years ago …

“Hello, nurse?” Richard Dewsbury said, trying to catch her attention.

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“Probably not, but …” Richard replied, extending his hands to display his now bleeding wrists.

 “Ahh, Wh …What the … Stay right there; I’ll get help,” she replied, clearly shaken by the unexpectedness of the sight.

There was nothing they could do of course. Richard had cut too deep and waited just a little too long. Normally a simple blood test and the appropriate blood-type transfusion might have saved his life. But Richard was far from being normal. In fact, he was practically unique, and being so had almost certainly signed his death warrant.  He remained calm though. It was the death sentence he should have got when he knocked down that little girl, he thought. He was doing the right thing, he told himself.

“I can tell you now, it’s no use, you won’t have my blood group in your blood banks,” Richard began telling the doctor who had just arrived.  The doctor was busy trying to stem the blood flow from Richard’s wrists as he and a hospital porter wheeled him towards the elevator to take him up to surgery.

“Let us worry about that; you’re in good hands,” the doctor replied.

 “My inside left-hand side pocket, there a letter and a card, “Richard struggled to tell the doctor, the loss of blood and oxygen to his brain and other vital organs quickly taking their toll now.

“Yes, all in good time. Now, try not to talk.”

 The doctor wanted Richard to conserve his strength, but he knew it was a losing battle, he was dying. Richard never made it as far as the elevator. The blood loss had been too fast, accelerated by the several aspirins he’d taken an hour beforehand to thin his blood.

“Time of death, eleven thirty-one,” the doctor stated. The nurse accompanying them nodded her agreement.

“Let’s take a look at that card and letter he was referring to,” the doctor said, remembering Richard’s words from a few minutes earlier.

Just like Richard said, there was a card and a letter. The card he immediately recognised as being a medical one, stating the holder’s blood group and other health details. His jaw dropped when he saw that Richard Dewsbury was listed as Rh-null, the rarest blood group on the planet, the so-called Golden Blood of which there were less than a dozen Goldendonors worldwide, blood that could be given to any recipient in the world no matter what their blood group or however rare. Unfortunately, Richard Dewsbury was dead. Such a waste, the doctor thought. He opened the letter. It looked like a legal document at first glance. Then it struck him. It was a letter of authorisation signed by Richard, his solicitor, and two witnesses. It was a cast-iron statement of authorisation for Richard’s organs and any other part of his body to be used for organ transplantation and research after his death.

Within the hour, Richard’s organs and just about every part of his body were being harvested for those recipients with the rarest and hardest to match blood and tissue types.

transplantOne of those recipients was a Jessica Cambell, a girl estimated to have less than a few weeks to live without a suitable donor transplant heart. Had it been a kidney she needed, her twin sister might have been able to be a living donor. But her twin sister, Suzie, had been killed in a tragic automobile accident years before so that wouldn’t have been an option either.  

*

coffinSuzie and Jessica’s parents stood in attendance at Richard Dewsbury’s funeral, the man they had hated since the death of their young daughter. He had taken one daughter away from them but given them back the life of the other.

They each dropped a flower onto his coffin as it was lowered into the ground, wishing him eternal peace.

 

Oops! – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicAfter the warm reception my last two flash fiction pieces received I thought I’d dash off another for one of my a1FlashFictionupcoming collections; I couldn’t think of anything particularly poignant to write about this time (I’d had a few beers so please forgive me on that) so I decided on something a little more humorous. Enjoy …

 

Oops!

ArmageddonIt was two years before that news of asteroid XT237’s collision course with the earth became public knowledge. Knowing of the world’s soon to be destruction had sent it into a downward spiral of self-destruction. The breakdown of law and order saw neighbour killing neighbour and the emergence of just about every base vice the mind could imagine.

            Not surprisingly, all efforts at recycling and caring for the planet ceased. Anyone with a grudge or who simply enjoyed thumping or killing people didn’t hesitate in acting on impulse. And likewise with individual countries, every minor border dispute that had ever existed erupted overnight into full-scale war.

One small compensation was that the world halted its obsession with the UK’s Brexit vote, realising, at last, it wasn’t that important – all except Tony Blair of course, he was still insisting on another referendum before the ‘end of the world’ deadline.

The more sane members of the human race wondered if the asteroid wasn’t such a bad thing after all?

*

Touristic space shuttleAfter numerous efforts to blast the asteroid to bits with every atomic weapon of mass destruction ever made had failed miserably, along with several attempts by certain entrepreneurs to sneak away in their private space rockets, President Trilp had to accept that his multi-billion dollar personal wealth wasn’t going to save him. After being informed by his advisors that nothing could be done to avert the impending disaster, the President unilaterally decided that if everyone was going to die anyway, he would deprive the enemy, i.e. everybody, of their last few hours of life just for good measure. President Trilp quite liked the idea of outliving everyone on the planet.

Donald Trump Holding Orange BombA short while before the coming end, President Trilp tweeted that he had ordered the launch of the country’s entire nuclear arsenal in a 360-degree spread. The world was used to his online rants though. And with the asteroid just hours away, no one really cared, except the inhabitants of Switzerland that is, whose government took this sort of thing very seriously.

*

Nasa had originally calculated that XT237 would destroy the earth at approximately 17:37 on January 9th, 2020. At 16:11 on that day, those few scientists who had elected to monitor the asteroid’s approach right up to and including impact noticed a slight veering off its course.

There had been a miscalculation. It was clear now it was going to be another one of those near-misses. After a brief collective sigh of relief that they had been wrong and that everything was going to turn out fine, the military turned their attention to the incoming salvo of missiles, launched in retaliation to the President’s premature first-strike. Life as we knew it came to an end at precisely 17:30.

Had anyone been left alive, other than the inhabitants of Switzerland, it would have been recorded that at 17:37, asteroid XT237 sailed harmlessly past the earth.

Oops!

Epilogue

A hundred years later, tens of billions of cockroaches were thriving quite nicely. So too were the inhabitants of Switzerland whose government had wisely insisted that all new houses and public buildings included fall-out shelters. The Swiss being, well Swiss really,  had taken the precaution of ordering its citizens to evacuate to them, if only to justify the expense of constructing them, thus protecting them from the worst of President Trilp’s nuclear tantrum.

            This is a work of fiction. Please don’t immediately all be booking flights to Switzerland.

 

Envy – Flash Fiction story

 

IASDpic

This is a flash fiction piece I wrote in response to a 100 -word sa1FlashFictiontory challenge in the IASD writing group. Obviously, I’ve expanded a little here on the original 100 words but at under 350, it still very much qualifies as ‘flash fiction.’ Following on from my last flash fiction story and several others I’ve written I’m hoping to compile a collection of 100 flash fiction stories by the end of the year.

 

Envy

enzo“Sam stared at the shiny red Ferrari. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his own top of the range BMW, but nothing came close to a Ferrari, he thought. It was his life’s ambition to own such an iconic car

In the adjacent lane, Louise was admiring Sam’s BMW with all its Depositphotos_1146938_originalcool accessories, miffed that she was still driving her battered old ford fiesta. If that snotty cow Becky wasn’t always sucking up to the boss, she’d have got that promotion instead of Becky, and she’d be able to afford a better car, Louise silently cursed.

Cyclist icon, vector simple cycling sign.A passing cyclist, Luke, wished he was old enough to drive. Life just seemed so unfair to him, having to wait another whole year before he could start his driving lessons. Like a lot of youngsters, Luke was wishing his life away as he impatiently awaited the day he could discard his hated pedal bike and symbol of his youth.

Pedestrian symbolA pedestrian on his way to work at the factory envied all the flash car drivers, and even the lad riding his bike; what with rent and other bills he couldn’t afford either, and bitterly resented that he had to walk to a low-paid job every day.

*

On the other side of the road, Danny was whizzing around the park like he was Stirling Moss. He was sure the ‘Go Faster’ stripes really did make him go faster. All he had to do was touch a button, and he could even speed up hills.

            Depositphotos_4235625_original wheelchairThe local community had clubbed together to buy Danny an electric wheelchair. Danny was unlikely ever to ride a bike or drive a car, or even grow to manhood; as well as paralysis of the legs, Danny’s arms were underdeveloped which made it difficult to propel himself in a regular wheelchair. He made the best of his lot though, enjoying life the best he could.

Danny simply loved his new wheelchair and was the happiest any little boy could be, without a care in the world.

I Remember … Flash Fiction story.

I Remember …

I’d lost track of how long the fighting had been going on. The noise and carnage all around made the passage of time meaningless, our only clue to its passing being the sky getting darker or lighter with the setting or rising of the sun, though fire and smoke from the bombardments often made a lie even of that.

artillery3

grey and black cloud with a thick blanket of smoke high in the wAnother deafening blast from an exploding Jack Johnson artillery shell sent us all scrambling for the nearest slit trenches, diving headlong in regardless of the presence of however many others might already be taking shelter. Bodies heaped on bodies, complaints and groans of yet another landing atop those already there.  But no one complained too loudly. And why would they? Another layer of flesh and battledress provided added protection from the countless flying shards of torn metal from the discarded guns and tanks strewn about the battlefield. And even away from the abandoned weaponry, the landing of each additional artillery shell would hurl deadly stake-sized splinters from the shattered wooden fencing that dotted the national borders of the blood-soaked mud and ground for which we were dying, mostly to clutch a few more feet from the enemy. And though the trenches provided some physical protection, they were useless against the billowing black smoke from the shells and even less so from the stomach retching effects of the dreaded gas attacks. The one followed the other as surely as thunder followed lightning, the first to completely confuse and frighten us, making the donning of gas masks all the more difficult after the second.

*

“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” A voice was asking. I couldn’t make out the exact words; the noise all around was way too loud.

“I’m okay; really I am. See to the others,” I answered weakly, not knowing to who I was talking, or indeed if I really was ‘okay.’

I continued to huddle in the little area of space I had found for myself.

Playing soldiers“It’s okay, Granddad, it was the local kids letting off some bangers and fireworks,” I finally heard a familiar voice telling me. It was Patrick, my 15-year-old grandson. I became aware of him taking my arm, helping me rise to my feet from the doorway in which I’d crouched to take shelter.

“Children? Fireworks?” I questioned, still a little dazed and confused. Soldiers

“Yes. They were playing at being soldiers, pretending the fireworks were the sound of bombs and artillery fire.”

I nodded. Yes, it was making sense now, though I admit it takes me a little longer to grasp things these days. My mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, but my memory sadly is in this case.

It was coming back to me now. All that was a long time ago, November 1915.

It was still November but the year was different now, 1985 I think. 

It wasn’t just the children, it was the people too. Some of them like to start their celebrations a day or two early to coincide with the weekend, Patrick was explaining to me.  He’s a nice lad, kind to me, you know.

His gentle patience was helping me to remember and understand. Yes. It was the same last year, and every year as far back as I can remember.

It was Bonfire Night …

artillery5

 

My Little Friends … Short story.

IASDpic

Another taster story from my upcoming anthology of ‘rat’ themed stories … comments/suggestions most welcome.

 

ratcula3

 

Ratty3         My Little Friends …   Ratty1

a1ArenderLittle Terry Stuart couldn’t remember when the man had put him in the room. He was still too young to have any real concept of time the way an adult has. But it had been long ago, long enough for his mum and dad to be really worried about him. He wondered if they still worried, or if they even remembered him now?

Ratty2

Terry could hear a scratching noise coming from somewhere under his bed. His older brother used to tease him about monsters under the bed, in the closet, and anywhere else they might jump out at you from. He wished his brother was there now; even teasing would be better than what the man … no … he tried not to think about that, what the man did to him, made him do, the man who had locked him in the room and did bad things … no, it was best not to think about that …

Ratty2

The little tan coloured rat didn’t understand what the two-legs did either, but he knew the smaller, younger two-legs didn’t like it, that it hurt him, and that it was wrong. It was hard to understand why the two-legs would do things like that to their young. There were lots of things the little tan rat didn’t understand or like about the older two-legs.

The little tan rat continued to gnaw at the hole in the floorboards beneath Terry’s bed to make it easier to squeeze himself through.

The sound of his own sobs when thinking about his family had drowned the scratching sounds the rat’s gnawing made so Terry didn’t notice when they stopped. Hungry and tired though, Terry curled up in a foetal position under the single thin blanket the man had left him, and fell asleep.

The rat climbed up the bed frame at the end of the little boy’s bed. He kept his distance at the far end of the mattress for fear of startling the little two-legs. It was warm and soft so the rat decided to lay in a more comfortable position himself as he looked up at the sleeping two-legs, the moonlight casting a striped shadow across the little boy’s face through the barred window.

 

It was morning and the light and warmth of the sun on his face woke young Terry. The little rat, on the other hand, was still blissfully asleep, also curled up in the rat equivalent of his own foetal position.

Instead of being surprised or shocked at the sight of the little sleeping rat at the end of his bed, Terry smiled. It was the first time he had smiled in a long time.

He needed to pee, and not wanting to disturb the little animal he gently swung his legs over the side of the bed to get up. There was no toilet in the room, just a wash basin on the opposite wall. For number ‘twos’ the man had left him a bucket that was kept in a cupboard over at the far side of the room which he would take away to be emptied whenever he visited the boy to bring him more food and … other things.

When he had finished peeing and washed his hands, Terry looked back round at the rat. It was sitting up, looking back at him, scratching at his nose and whiskers the same way you or I might rub our eyes upon first waking up.

Neither Terry nor the rat felt any fear or revulsion at the sight of the other, just innocent curiosity. Terry reached into the drawer of his bedside table. There were still a couple of biscuits in it from the packet the man had left the last time he came. Terry broke off half a biscuit and held it out to the rat.

 

“Hello.” Terry thought, still holding out half a broken biscuit. The little rat scurried forward on the mattress and started to nibble at the biscuit the little two-legs had placed down for him.

Seeing how much the rat was enjoying his unexpected treat, Terry placed the other half of the biscuit there for him too while he ate the last one himself.

Terry wondered what he should call his new friend, now that he’d decided the rat was a friend, and all friends had to have a name. He was unlikely to say the name out loud, not having uttered a word since the man had used him that first time, but he could still ‘think’ the name.  

He was going to call it Bill, but not knowing much about rats he didn’t know if it was a boy rat or a girl rat so he decided it should be a name for a boy or a girl. He called it Whiskers.

With just his underpants to wear and a sheet he used to wrap himself in for clothes, Terry climbed back on the bed and pulled the blanket back over him.

Now that Whiskers knew the little two-legs was friendly he scurried up and nestled beside him, allowing the little two-legs to stroke the back of his head.

ratty9Over the next few days, Whiskers came to visit the little two-legs every day, and each day Terry would share what little food he had left from what the man had left him, just crackers, some slices of bread and even a few bits of fruit. Terry never knew exactly when the man would visit again so he ate sparingly but Whiskers was only little so he was happy to share what he had, even when Whiskers started to take some of what he gave him back through the hole in the floorboards under the bed.

Several other rats had also taken to visiting the little two-legs. He would smile and even laugh a little while watching the comic antics of his little friends scurrying back and forth before disappearing in and out of the several new holes they had gnawed in the skirting board behind the cupboard.

Street sewerTerry had long run out of biscuits to give the rats but he offered to share the last of his other food. Surprising to him, the rats stopped accepting it after the first few days. He worried maybe it was because he had upset them in some way and would repeatedly hold out bits of bread or fruit to them. He didn’t know the rats knew he had very little food left to feed himself and were busy exploring the rest of the derelict building for other sources of food that they might bring to their little two-legged friend.

 

Terry had lost all track of time over the past few months so he was never sure exactly how long it was between seeing the man but it was probably about a week after meeting Whiskers for the first time when the man made another visit.

Terry could hear the slow thud thud thud of the heavy lumbering bulk of the man climbing the outside stairs leading to his room. He still had the welts and was sore from the man taking his belt him so knew better than to make a fuss or protest at what he knew was going to happen and simply made his way to the far-side of the room, furthest from the door. He knew, of course, the man would just drag him back onto the bed, it was more an instinctive reaction trying to put as much distance between them for however brief a time.

Whiskers and several dozens more of his kind had also been aware of the man’s approach, somewhat before the noise of him climbing the stairs from when he first entered through a disguised side entrance. It had been their plan to attack the man as soon as stepped in the building but not enough of them had amassed in sufficient numbers yet; it also made sense for them to allow the man to first unlock the door to the little two-legs’ room – it was a thick heavy oak door and it was doubtful if the rats could have gnawed a hole tall enough for the boy to escape through.

Terry became a little panicked at seeing so many rats suddenly coming out from the many extra holes they had gnawed in the skirting board and around the room and through the floorboards beneath his bed. It wasn’t the rats he was scared off though, they were all his friends, but despite knowing what the man was likely to do to him he was more worried for their safety and desperately tried to shoo them back. They darted to and fro, totally ignoring their two-legged friend’s attempts to make them return to their hidey-holes; Terry had no way of knowing his fears for them were unfounded, that the only creature to be in danger was now the man, to the rats, the older and bigger two-legs.

Ratty2

Terry stood frozen, listening to sound of the man unlocking the door. It was an old rusty lock so it seemed to take an age for the key to turn, making a grinding noise like the gears of a car crunching before the unlock mechanism finally did its work.

The man entered the room and looked directly at the boy, oblivious to the dozens of rats moving about the floor. His oblivion only lasted a moment. He was about to close the door behind him when Whiskers leapt at him from the bed just two feet away. The rat easily reached him, using its claws to grip the back of the man’s left thigh before stabbing its razor-sharp front incisors through the thin cotton material of his trousers, firmly embedding them in the soft sweaty flesh underneath. The man let out a piercing scream, a combination of intense pain and unexpected shock, no doubt exasperated by the sight and realisation of the black moving carpet of rats about and under his feet.

The man barely had time to catch his breath from the first scream when another rat also leapt at him, this time from the floor but reaching high enough to bite into one of the man’s calves. Again the man screamed, and with pain searing through both legs now, fell to his knees. Dozens more rats swarmed around him, scratching and clawing at his clothing while others leapt at him from all directions and angles – upwards from the floor, down at him from the bed and bedside table, some even headlong off the top of the wardrobe, each finding their target on some part of the man’s increasingly exposed flesh with so many claws and teeth ripping away at the two-legs’ clothing.

Terry still stood frozen in the corner of the room, overwhelmed by what was happening but calmly unafraid, relieved that he was being spared from further pain from the man.

Several of the rats were using their strength and weight of their bodies to push the room door further open. Others were nudging at his feet as if urging him towards it. Terry was still terrified of trying to escape but despite his fear, it was clear the man was in no position to block his escape. More nudging and even nibbling at his toes by the rats convinced Terry it was time to run, and run he did. He ran as fast as he could, down the stairs, and out the side entrance from the derelict building, through side alleys and streets, on and on not knowing or caring where, just anywhere to be as far away from the man as he could get. Eventually he ran headlong into a policeman who stopped the boy.

 

Naturally, the boy was taken into the care of the police to ascertain who he was. They tried to question him but Terry was too traumatised to talk, his young mind finally shutting down for the time it would need to either heal or put up the barriers needed to come to terms with the past few months and the horrific acts he’d been subjected to.

It was several weeks before Terry was able or willing to start to speak. He didn’t know where he’d been held and since he hadn’t said a word the authorities had no idea if he’d been held locally or dropped off in the area.

With no information to go on, for now, the police had no reason to search any of the deserted derelict buildings in the area. It seemed it was now the man’s turn to spend some time in the room he’d held young Terry, subjecting the little boy to such pain and degradation. But he would learn – the rats couldn’t undo the damage the tall two-legs had done to the little two-legs but they would make it seem tame in comparison to what they would do to him …  

*

Three days later …

Whiskers decided to move onto the man’s testicles; they looked soft and succulent, something the rat confirmed as he bit into one of them, enjoying the texture of the soft flesh and the sweet trickle of blood that accompanied it.

The man screamed the sort of scream no other human should ever have to hear. Even Whiskers was momentarily distracted by it, looking up into the man’s eyes. The two-legs was clearly afraid now, maybe even more so than the little two-legged one he’d kept imprisoned in that same room for all those months. It was only a momentary distraction though, and Whiskers returned to nibbling at the testicle … Again the man screamed. This time the little rat paid no attention, more intrigued by the way the little soft balls of flesh were hanging loosely away from the rest of the two-legs’ body. He thought about gnawing through the flesh that attached them and taking one to the newborn beneath the floorboards. They would provide good nourishment for Whiskers’ own young Rittens suckling at their mother’s teats in the space in the walls. Soon though their own tiny teeth and claws would emerge and they would be able to feed off the man too, so best perhaps to leave their food in one piece and in one place – Whiskers was a good father and would be sure to leave the other testicle for them.

There was still a lot of meat left on the man, enough to feed Whiskers and his companions for a long time, enough even for the next litter of newborn Rittens till they were old enough to hunt and scavenge for themselves. But they wouldn’t be greedy or rush their meal.

The little two-legs had been kind to them despite his own hunger and treatment at the hands of the larger two-legs. No, they would keep the man alive for a long time, long enough to feel a lot of pain, long enough to pay for all the suffering he had inflicted. It was good the little two-legs had run, his own kind would take care of him – it would have been too much for his young mind to cope with the screams of the older larger two-legs.

They were careful not to gnaw into any of the major arteries, it wouldn’t have done for the man to bleed to death too quickly. And besides, live flesh and warm fresh flowing blood were so much nicer, the flesh so much softer, not that thousands of tiny front incisors couldn’t have coped with tearing a body apart long after rigor mortis had set in.

The man was now drifting in and out of consciousness, awakened every so often by more tiny bites and scratches eliciting a response from those nerve endings that were still active, so many of them now having already died from over stimulation. The man’s vocal chords too had long given up the battle of producing any kind of sound, the man was now enduring his pain in near silence bar the chattering and gnawing sounds of several dozen rats grinding their teeth, much like having to listen to the excruciating sound of nails being scratched on a blackboard, though one can be sure that would have been a welcome exchange for what was actually happening to him.

Whiskers was pleased that the two-legs had lasted as long as he had. It had screamed almost continuously at the limits of its vocal capacity for nearly seven hours while they gnawed away at his toe and fingernails, exposing the ultra-sensitive areas beneath.

All the two-legs’ blood had long since disappeared along with most of the flesh, and even the congealed stuff after rigor mortis had been devoured too, but that still left a delicious taste and smell residue, an after-taste that clung to the bones, something to be savoured the same way the aroma of a fine wine might be enjoyed by a sommelier or connoisseur.

There was no doubt the two legs had been terrified beyond human or demonic comprehension but that was of no concern to Whiskers or any of the rats – the man hadn’t worried or stopped when Terry Stuart had screamed.  

*

The first police officer on the scene was twenty-four-year-old Lee Palmer, a young man who had been a policeman from eighteen and a half years old. In his six years he’d seen his fair share of shootings, stabbings, and indeed the weeks and months long-dead bodies of those who’d died in their homes only to be discovered when the putrid smell of their rotting remains had alerted the neighbours, so he was certainly no rookie. But nothing in his experience to date had prepared him for the sight that confronted him when he first entered that room, or proved sufficient to enable him not to add to the already unimaginably foul smell by depositing the entire contents of his stomach onto the floor – a man of lesser self-control would probably have added the contents of his bowels and bladder too.  

Lying strewn across the bed were the flesh stripped bones of what was once a human being. Many newborn litters of Rittens had feasted on its flesh and bones since the two-legs’ death.

Short Story – Last Goodbyes

Macmillan5

In 2015 my good friend and fellow author, Ian D. Moore invited members of our FB writing group the IASD (see www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com) to write and contribute original stories for an anthology of short stories on the theme of Relationships in all their many and varied forms. The idea was born out of the author’s personal loss of a much loved close relative to cancer.

Many of the authors, both in this edition and the forthcoming 2018 Macmillan anthology have had personal experience of cancer, either coming to terms with it personally and/or via friends and family.

Even as I post this story, Ian D. Moore and a number of Indie authors are busy editing and formatting the contributions for the 2018 edition, also in aid of Macmillan cancer.  In addition to the adult contributions, a number of younger writers have also contributed to the book.

Needless to say, I will be blogging nearer the time and when it’s finally published. In the meantime, if you’ve not yet read the 2016 edition just click Here for the purchase link to You’re Not Alone.

Youre Not Alone 3d inamge (1)

You’re Not Alone

By

 Ian D. Moore & Friends 

 featuring:

Last Goodbyes

By P.A. Ruddock

“Ready for our adventure, Lucy?” I asked. A gentle squeeze of her hand in mine and the almost imperceptible smile on her lips was all the answer I needed.

“Do you remember the last time we were there, just the two of us?”

She did remember; it had been a glorious weekend, one where we enjoyed all that nature had to offer and lost ourselves in each other’s arms and company. This time though all the immediate family would be joining us: Lucy and me, our two grown-up children Cody and Nicola, and Gemma, Lucy’s younger sister. We knew it would be the last time we would all be all together.

“I’m sure that’s where we conceived our Cody.”  I added with a wink and a wry smile. Cody chuckled at my last remark, old enough now to no longer be embarrassed at the thought of his parents having once enjoyed all the passions of youth that his generation were presently taking for granted. But enough of all that, best be on our way …

We started off at a nice easy pace, no need to tire Lucy unnecessarily, I thought; I mean, neither of us was still in our first flush of youth, leave the mad scrambles to the youngsters, I laughed, not that Cody was likely to move more than a few feet away from us; our six foot two hulk of a son had always been his mother’s boy; I remembered when he was a nipper, whenever he wanted something, needed help, or anything for that matter it was always ‘Mum, can I…’ or mum this, or mum that… and when she wasn’t around it was simply ‘Dad, where’s mum?’ or ‘Dad, when’s mum back?’ I didn’t mind of course, how could I?

Navigating the majestic scenery of Rannoch Moor was something we had all enjoyed many times before, and even though Lucy knew the landscape and features as well as any of us, I couldn’t resist my usual running commentary: “It was like having Scotland’s answer to Wainwright tagging along.” Cody chipped in.

“Mum loves the sound of my voice,” I chuckled in my defence, adding as I turned back to Lucy, “don’t ya Luv?”

I reminded her of every site and feature we’d ever come across, so yes, I probably did sound like some over-enthusiastic tour guide. But it was more than that; what made it special was its proximity to Leum Uilliem, a nearby mountain where I had first proposed, and where we might well indeed have conceived at least one of our two children during subsequent visits.

“I remember that time dad tried to show you how to use a compass, he nearly went mad trying to explain mag to grid, grid to mag, taking bearings, and the differences between grid north, magnetic north, and then true north, that really got you going… ‘So what are you saying, that the other two are untrue’ you would ask just to wind dad up even more.” Cody was saying to his mum.

Nicola smiled, adding: “Yes, I remember that … ‘What you on about? How can you have three different norths? North’s north, it’s like saying there’s three different Glasgows or Scotlands’ you would say.”

“I remember too,” I said jokingly as I turned back towards Lucy: “It was your way of getting your own back for all those times I came back with completely the wrong things so you wouldn’t send me out shopping again, or mixing all the colours when you had me to do the laundry … you knew I hated owt like that.”

“Well, for what’s worth, I was always with you on that mum,” Nicola said defiantly, holding her hand, adding: “I never could see the point of all that map and compass stuff when you can click a button and see exactly where you are on a colour screen.”

“Don’t be daft Nic, we didn’t have all that back then, and what if we had, not much cop if the bloody batteries die on you or you can’t get a signal is it?” 

“Well, that’s made the day complete, ain’t it Luv?” I said to Lucy.

“Sorry mum, sorry dad,” the two of them said with a smile, almost in unison.

“Nowt ta be sorry for kids, I mean, what would a day out be without you two getting into a row over something?” They both smiled.

“Does anyone remember the time we turned up at Corrour railway station and we saw all the camera crews, we thought there must have been an accident?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Um?” Cody grunted.

“Well, it was when they were filming a scene from that film, what was it …Trainspotting … and the catering guys shared some of the film set food with us, and you scoffed three hamburgers.” I said in mock remonstration: “… and then you scolding me for letting him when he was being sick on the walk back later.” I added, turning back to Lucy.

It was nearly midday now, some four hours since the start of our reminiscing adventure, time for a break I thought: “Speaking of scoffing, sarnie and a brew, anyone?” I asked.

“Sounds good to me.” Cody agreed.

“Well, there’s a surprise.” Nicola laughingly added, at which point we all had a chuckle; Cody may have been the youngest but he had an appetite that matched the rest of us put together.

And so it went on, time flying by all too quickly as we swapped stories and memories of our travels together, like when we took the kids wild camping for the very first time; come to think of it, it was only the second or third time Lucy had agreed to camp out overnight as well. The kids, of course, took to it all like ducks to water and had no inhibitions whatsoever when I explained about ‘toilet etiquette’ in the wild.

“Not like you, Luv, I swear the first time we wild camped you thought the countryside would be littered with public conveniences or portaloos.”

Her curt and ‘not amused’ answer of ‘it’s different for men’ was just so funny at the time, especially as just then Cody and Nicola came running past trailing toilet rolls behind them just like the dog in the Andrex advert.

“Oh my god, yes, and Cody planting little flags all over the place to mark where he’d buried his poo.”

“Okay okay, there’s plenty I remember about you as well, Nic.” Again we all laughed.   “And then there was that time when we saw that Brocken Spectre, that was amazing,” Nicola said.

“Brocken Spectre?” Gemma asked. Gemma had never been much of an outdoor sort of person so wasn’t familiar with the phenomenon: “It’s a rare and lovely rainbow and cloud formation you sometimes see on a misty mountainside or cloudbank.” Nicola answered.

“It’s a sort of triangular or circular rainbow with a hazy figure in the centre. The figure you see is actually an optical illusion created by your own shadow reflected from nearby clouds. It’s hard to explain but your own movements can often appear to be reflected by the movement of the figure in the spectre.” I added by way of explanation.

“And you and dad convinced me and Cody all the angels in heaven were looking down and waving at us, and we started calling out to them and waving back,” Nicola recalled as she positioned herself to sit back next to Lucy …

***

Almost fortuitously, it was then that the doctor entered the room. He smiled – not a wide a beaming smile but just one of gentle sympathy. I imagine his manner and sympathetic demeanour was something he had had to perfect over many years but it was still appreciated nonetheless.

There was no need for us to wait for him to ask the question: “We’re ready.” I said. Gemma agreed. A heavy intake of breath and a slight nod of the head from Nicola and a stifled cough and tear-filled flicker of the eyes from Cody told me they were too. Gemma was the first to approach and lean in to take Lucy’s hand and kiss her on both cheeks: “See you again my kind and lovely wonderful sister.”  It had been a wonderful day for us all, just sitting with Lucy as we chatted about our times and memories together. And credit to Cody, it has been his idea to enjoy and share those memories at Lucy’s bedside while we imagined one last great adventure together.

I raised myself from the bedside seat, allowing room for Cody and Nicola to approach Lucy’s bed from either side. It was the first time I had released my Lucy’s hand from mine since I had entered the room early in the morning; it was now half four in the afternoon.

“Bye mum, love you always…” Nicola whispered, just loud enough for those immediately near enough to hear.

“Me too mum…” Cody added, the frailty and softness of his quivering voice totally at odds with the strong young man I knew my son to be: “You’re the best mum in the world, the best anyone could have … I’ll …”

I could sense Cody was welling up and could practically see the lump in his throat. He’d struggled to keep his feelings in check the entire day but now that the moment had come, the tears were rolling. He fell to his knees beside the bed, to place one last kiss on his mother’s cheek. I, in turn, placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, comforted by the return of his own hand to meet it: “It’s not fair, dad, it’s just not …”

“I know, son, I know …

Cody rose to his feet and slowly moved backward away from his mum’s side, not once looking away from her sight until he reached the window, when he finally looked away, supposedly to cough and clear his throat; but what parent doesn’t know every little nuance of their children? Nicola was always more open with her feelings, and rarely tried to hide when she was upset, but Cody, ever since I could remember would rarely let on if something was seriously bothering him, a practiced master of the ‘something in my eye’ ruse. I recognised all too well the truth of the matter; this time there was little disguising his stifled sobs, and I daresay it was probably only my greater years and experience of death that was giving me the strength to hold back my own, at least for now.

“Mr. Rogers.” The doctor said. I’d almost forgotten his presence. Although it had only been a few minutes since he had entered the room, it was as though a lifetime of memories had come flooding back in that brief time, much like how they describe how your life flashes before you when you’re about to die suddenly.

“I know,” I replied. We all gathered round Lucy’s bed one more time. Just the merest nod was all the final consent he needed to flip the little red switch off the respirator machine, while a nurse simultaneously switched off the various monitors. The cold reality and physical reminders of my wife’s condition seemed to disappear with the extinguishing of the lights and noises of the life-maintaining machinery and assorted apparatus.

“Time of death, 16:47.” The doctor declared. It sounded cold and clinical but I knew he was just following the hospital’s set procedures and other legal requirements.

“It was the right decision, and what she wanted…” I could hear the doctor saying, again his tone and manner caring and sympathetic, just as it had been these past months since the accident. Despite the finality of the moment, there was a sense of peace now, almost of closure for us all, just not for me … not yet …

***

Two weeks later we were once again reunited on the summit of Leum Uilliem, only this time for real as I looked westward to watch the setting of the sun, just as we had so many times before. The gentle breeze that had complimented the fading light had now grown into an angry storm, telling me it was time. I took the small urn and removed the lid; like a celestial carriage waiting to carry my Lucy’s soul to a better place where I knew she would wait for me to join her someday, the raging winds carried and scattered her ashes…

It’s not goodbye, it’s just You leading the way this time…

***

www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

IASDpicAn international group of indie authors, inspired by the personal grief of one, decided to collaborate in the spring of 2015 in a project to create this multi-genre smorgasbord of original short stories, all with the same potent theme – relationships. Some are heartfelt, some funny, some poignant, and some are just a little bit scary – much like relationships themselves. All are by authors fired by the shared enthusiasm to give something back in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Cancer touches us all. It has in some way affected those who have contributed their time and talent here. This is our way of showing that we care.

Indie authors carry forward a revolutionary shift in publishing, which allows the author to be the creative director in their own work. There are many exceptional, experienced and acclaimed writers who have decided to take this bold step in publishing. In producing this anthology we have also had the inestimable assistance on board of artists, graphic designers, and bloggers – all of whom have a place in our acknowledgments. You, the discerning reader, are the other vital part of this equation. By buying this book you are supporting the work of indie authors, as well as discovering their worth. You are also supporting the charity to which we have chosen to dedicate our work. And if you enjoy this book, hopefully you will continue your support in buying, reading, and perhaps reviewing the 2018 edition too …

Sincere Thanks,

P.A. Ruddock

 

* 100% of the royalties earned or accrued in the purchase of this book, in all formats, will go to the Pamela Winton tribute fund, which is in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Old Max – Short story …

IASDpicAnother short story from my upcoming ‘Rat’ themed collection later in the year. This time our little furry rodent shares star billing with one of our canine friends … 

Still early days yet editing wise, so again, just a first draft here … let me know what you think? Thanks … 

***

Old Max …

RatTales1Old Max was as strong and vicious a brute of a dog as no one would ever want to come across; Tom Selby had made sure of that, conditioning the mutt through a sadistic regime of punishment and reward, only in poor Old Max’s case the only reward was whatever the punishment being inflicted at the time coming to a temporary stop. Tom Selby was the meanest and most miserable farmer in the county, and as far as he was concerned, Old Max was a working farm dog, a piece of property to be used in any way he saw fit, and if that included earning a few extra coins on the dog fighting circuit so much the better.

As a pup Old Max had growled and bared his teeth at any and every provocation but there was only so many times a body, and a small young one at that could take the full force of a leather whip cutting through its fur and skin, or a hard leather boot being kicked into its side. Old Max was too smart not to realise strength and ferocity alone wouldn’t ever put an end to his suffering and had long since learned to heel at his Master’s command, to at least play the part of the obedient ‘mans best friend.’

RT8It was inevitable that some of Tom Selby’s cruelty would rub off on Old Max despite him once being the gentlest most adorable looking little pup there ever was, the sort that could melt a stone heart quicker than the morning sun melting a snowflake. But that cute little bundle of furry joy was gone, replaced by a wretched hate-filled creature from hell, the look of which might rival that of Cerberus, the mythical three-headed crazed canine Hound of Hades guarding the gates to the underworld. And just as any man or creature alike approaching his mythical counterpart, anything that still breathed coming near Old Max would be greeted with a snarl, a growl, and flash of rabid drool dripping teeth. Bitter experience had taught Old Max never to show his back to a stranger for fear of what might land across it and to face whatever potential threat head-on, ready to lunge as though his life depended on it as very often it did.

*

Old Max was having a long and lazy snooze in the sun, a rare pleasure he’d been lucky enough to enjoy on account of his Master suffering a bout of influenza; there was no loyal vigil by his Master’s door or bedside, waiting for a yearned or prayed for recovery.

Far from pining for Tom Selby’s return to health, Old Max would gleefully have torn into the man’s throat, ripping fat and muscle from bone and then joyfully bathed in his Master’s blood like a playful puppy splashing and jumping in a mud-filled puddle, not that Old Max had such a happy time to remember.

Still half dazed from his sleep, this was a rare unguarded moment for Old Max. He couldMax3 feel something small and warm beside him, its fur and little whiskers gently tickling his skin, not that it was unpleasant in any way, quite the opposite. But it was equally rare if ever for Old Max to allow another living creature such close proximity except when forced, like when his Master needed extra coin and would pit him against some new opponent in the dog fighting pits.

Looking down he could see a small furry ball-shaped mass clearly asleep and blissfully nestled into his tummy. Old Max’s natural instinct was to spring to his feet and rend the little creature limb from limb to help satisfy his own constant hunger that came from a lack of food other than the few meagre scraps his Master saw fit to throw him from time to time. For whatever reason though, Old Max didn’t stir, content to allow the little furry mass to continue its equally contented slumber.

AMax1 little later he was again awoken by the small bundle of hair beside his tummy only this time it wasn’t the gentle tickling of fur and whiskers that had stirred Old Max from his sleep. The small warm mass, clearly now an infant rat to a fully awake Old Max, was shivering and half starved, obviously trying to snuggle the old dog’s body for extra warmth. Despite his own hunger, Old Max reached for one of the tiny meat scraps lying in his feeding bowl and dropped it near the infant rat’s mouth before starting to lick at its body. The warmth of his tongue and the copious amount of drool soon warmed the little rodent body, even more so when Old Max shifted his position to cosset the rat’s body in a thicker longer part of his fur.

*

They say all good things come to an end, and so it was for Old Max when his Master recovered from his influenza. Those three short weeks had been the happiest time of Old Max’s life, free from the catalogue of abuses or fear of being dragged to the hated dog fighting pits; Old Max knew he wouldn’t survive many more fights – he was still as brave and ferocious as he ever was but the daily beatings and accumulated battle injuries were taking their toll, as was the passage of time, Old Max was indeed becoming ‘Old’ while each new opponent in the pit seemed just a little younger and stronger while Old Max was equally just a little older and not so strong with each additional fight.

*

max2.jpgTom Selby had debts that needed paying. He looked towards Old Max. It had been three months since their last visit to the dog fighting pits, more than long enough for the old mutt to have recovered. He’d heard that a newcomer in one of the neighbouring villages had a couple of angry young Rotties he was desperate to arrange some matches for. He’d also heard they were the most vicious dogs anyone had seen in years with no one that keen to risk their own dogs against them; that might be to his advantage though, he could demand a bigger share of the purse and if Old Max should manage to win one last time it’d make him an even more valuable asset for a few more fights in the future.

Little Whiskers hissed and spat his anger at the huge two-legged creature that was dragging Old Max by some cord around his friend’s neck. Old Max was clearly reluctant to accompany his Master to wherever it was they were going. The tiny rat had never seen a human up close until now. He wasn’t impressed – they smelt and looked funny, and they didn’t appear to have any proper teeth or claws. He wondered why Old Max didn’t simply turn and sink his fangs into the soft exposed flesh of the two-legged creature’s neck, surely it couldn’t be a match for Old Max’s strength and teeth or be able to resist a swipe from one of Old Max’s massive paws with his claw-like nails outstretched. But just as Little Whiskers had never seen a human up close, nor had he yet witnessed the great cruelty and cowardice they were capable of.

Without warning, Tom struck Old Max across the back and side with a riding crop. Little whiskers was startled by the whining yelp that practically exploded from Old Max’s mouth. The force of the blow drained Old Max of his strength, almost causing him to buckle under his own weight.

Again Little whiskers hissed at Tom Selby, and this time several more of his friends emerged from various hidey-holes to dart in and out of Tom Selby’s path. The shock of seeing so many rats at is feet startled him, causing him to drop the leash he was holding Old Max by and stumble back. Seeing the separation between Tom and Old Max, Little Whiskers ran between them, urging Old Max to follow in the direction of the adjacent barn.

max5Together they made their escape from Tom Selby’s sight, disappearing deep inside the barn. It felt good to Old Max being able to slump into the soft warm hay to soothe the still smarting lash of the riding crop. He wondered if he’d done the right thing, following his little friend into the barn. This was the first of his Master’s real cruelty Little Whiskers had yet seen, or that of any human for that matter. He knew his Master wouldn’t let a few rats prevent him from dragging him back on their journey to the dog fighting pits, and upset by the delay would surely take out his anger with further cruelty along the way.

max4Sure enough, Tom Selby appeared in the doorway to the barn, towering over both Little whiskers and Old Max, and all the other rats darting back and forth at his feet. He gave an angry kick with his foot that sent a few of them tumbling away in a rolling motion to the side. He then grabbed hold of Old Max’s leash and tied it to one of the support beams before grabbing the nearest implement, an old heavy manure shovel.

Little Whiskers leapt at Tom Selby’s feet, trying to bite at the ankle area but his leather boots were too high and thick for the little rat’s teeth to penetrate. Tom Selby took a step back and swung out at the creature.

max6The force of the shovel sent the little rat flying several feet into the air before landing in some loose hay at the far end of the barn. Old Max barked and growled his anger at the way Little Whiskers, his only friend had been set upon by the human, straining at the rope around his neck, the hated leash keeping him from springing to the little rat’s defence. He would gladly have endured any amount of pain to tear free from whatever it was he was tied but even Old Max’s great strength and determination weren’t up to breaking the grain of a two-foot thick solid oak support beam. But where brute strength was insufficient, stealth and guile and a thousand little razor sharp max7teeth were sure to do better, the latter busily gnawing away at the individual threads of the rope leash until in its half chewed and weakened state, it gave way to one last determined tug from Old Max, almost catapulting the Old dog towards his hated Master. Tom Selby instinctively raised his arms and hands to protect himself but the sheer weight of Old Max hitting him head on sent Tom crashing to the ground. He tried desperately to shield his face from Old Max’s snapping jaws only to be rewarded with long sharpened fangs lodging themselves firmly in his soft flesh. Old Max was revelling in an inexplicable frenzied joy, at last having the opportunity to indeed tear flesh and muscle from bone, happy indeed for his fur to be soaked in his Master’s blood. It would be no easy task though – Tom Selby was a big man, and a strong one too, strong enough to put up quite a fight against a dog in the twilight of its years. But Old Max wasn’t fighting alone. Little Whiskers and a hundred or so of his kind had amassed round Tom Selby’s body on the ground, each nipping away at the clothing and underlying flesh. Hundreds of vicious bites and scratches stabbed at the farmer’s body from what seemed a thousand different angles and directions, Tom’s high-pitched screams practically assaulting Old Max’s acute canine hearing.

*

max8Living and working alone as he did, no one found what little was left of Tom Selby’s body for the best part of a week. It might have been longer but for a neighbour stopping by to collect some monies owed him. Being a farmer himself, Jim Franklin recognised a farm that had been neglected of its daily tasks for several days at least. At first glance, Jim Franklin thought Tom must have been injured and had discarded some torn clothing among the blood-soaked hay, such was how much was actually left of the body once the rats had had their fill of it. It was true that it was Old Max that had inflicted the injuries that led to Tom Selby bleeding to death more quickly but Little Whiskers and his kind had been just as content feeding on Tom Selby’s dead body as they were feeding on his live one.

max9Like most farmers and other country folks, Jim Franklin was no stranger to seeing the devoured remains of a dead body, just not one almost picked to the bone and even less so a human one. He could see from all the rat droppings nearby that it had been rats that had done this, not that he would have needed such a clue, there was little else that could have stripped a body of every last bit of flesh so effectively.

His attention was distracted by the sight of Old Max appearing in the doorway to the barn but what held his attention was the sight of Little Whiskers by his side. It was a quite a surreal sight, this huge brute of a dog with this tiny rat nestled alongside one of Old Max’s front legs, totally unafraid under the protective wing of his canine friend. Jim smiled. He had a soft spot of Old Max and had always resented Tom Selby’s treatment of him.

Old Max slowly approached him, his teeth discreetly hidden from sight as were Little whiskers’ who was trotting alongside. Both creatures were acutely sensitive to the nature of any given human and decided this particular specimen to be friendly. Jim fell to one knee and held out the remains of a half-eaten sandwich to Old Max before dropping a small part of the offering to the ground for the wee rat. Both accepted the gesture and fed on their unexpected meal.

“Well Old fella, you fancy a new home with me?” Jim asked while gently stroking the back of the ageing dog’s neck. Neither Old Max nor Little whiskers understood the words but the soft kindly tone of his voice was enough to entice Old Max into following Jim to his horse and cart, and to a new home and life in the twilight of his years.

Just before jumping into the back of the cart, Old Max stopped and looked back to where his little rodent friend was still standing. Little whiskers stood on his hind legs and looked back at them. He knew Old Max’s proper place was with a human Master, one that would love and care for him, someone like the man who had just fed them. What he didn’t know was his own place. Rats and humans weren’t exactly natural friends – Would the two legs want him tagging along?

a2RatcoverOld Max looked up at Jim with a tearful glint in those huge brown wide eyes before turning to look back at his little friend, like he was being torn between the two. As well as seeing the warmth and gentleness in Old Max, the first time anyone had seen those qualities since all the time he had been with the now very much deceased Tom Selby, he could see Old Max was loyal too, loyal to the little creature that had obviously befriended him in some way Jim Franklin would probably would never know. Again he fell to one knee and patted the front of his thigh, beckoning the little rat to come and join them.

In the years that followed, Jim Franklin was oddly enough the only farmer for miles around who never had a single problem with rats on his farm.  

***

If you enjoyed this story you may also enjoy a story I posted a while back, Dark Eyes, another short story to be featured in my upcoming collection later in the year …

Click the picture below for the link to it …

Dark Eyes …

 

 

 

IASDpicKeep an eye out too for my upcoming ‘Rat Tales’ collection later in the year – (possible covers)

 

 

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