Flash Fiction story number 9 in my 100 story series. There’s no particular order to the stories I’m posting other than their eventual place in the full collection later in the year.
I Managed to keep this one at a shade over 500 words (511). It’s a theme that’s been explored in other stories (and films) but I’ve tried to give it a new slant here. Hope it brings you a smile …
The world was in a mess, no doubt about it. People were reluctant to turn on the TV for fear of another of the almost hourly newsflashes popping up, informing the public about the latest terrorist outrage or of yet another pre-teen shooting half his classmates with a high-powered rifle. And on those rare days when no such atrocities took place, the regular news would be giving us the latest statistics on climate change, air pollution, and the imminent collapse of the economy.
A lot of people though had stopped worrying or even caring, convinced that it was only a matter of time before one of the bickering world leaders took umbrage at the latest social media insult and irradiated us all in a giant mushroom cloud.
Such fears weren’t helped by reports that the eastern dictator, Ting Wee Dong, had scheduled another nuclear test, the exact time and date to be kept secret. And just to show the West wasn’t to be outdone, the western dictator Donald Blair Bush had tweeted to the world that he too had ordered a nuclear test of the biggest and baddest bomb ever made, the exact time and date to be kept secret.
“I told you before, I want you to stop playing that game,” a mother was telling her son.
“But …” the young boy started to protest.
“No buts. I told you, it’s way too violent. The makers have allowed far too many psychopathic characters and guns and bombs and all sorts to spoil it.”
“But it’s at a really good bit now. Can’t I just play a little longer?”
“Why don’t you start a new game, one where people aren’t getting killed all the time?”
“Cos this one’s more fun. But I probably will start another one soon; this one keeps crashing every time the two sides start fighting or blow something up.”
At precisely 12 noon GMT the next day, the two most destructive weapons of mass destruction ever conceived were exploded simultaneously on opposite sides of the world. The earth literally shook. The combined blast of the two bombs had knocked it several degrees of its axis, along with opening up a ten mile crack in the earth’s crust that was getting longer with each passing hour. It had also done something to the magnetic core, causing our planet to stop spinning. To put it bluntly, we were all well and truly fucked!
“Are you still playing that game?” The mother called to her son.
“I was, but it’s crashed again. It’s stopped working all together now. I’m going to erase it and start again like you said …”
A trillion light years away in a different dimension where a million years was as a second to the beings who inhabited that place, a little boy and his mother had lost patience with us …
The lights went out, and our world ceased to exist …
A flash of light and a Big Bang … hopefully, we would do better this time around?
Flash Fiction short story no:7 (only 93 more to go). This will 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:
Anna Dawson listened to the reading of the verdict. The words not guilty would ring in her ears for the rest of her life.
The 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.
Mr 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.
Flash 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 stories 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.
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 around 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.
It’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.
Sanctuary 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.
He’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!
Flash 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.
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!”
“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.”
“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.”
A little longer this time but at under 850 words, still well within the accepted limits of flash fiction …
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 when 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 promise 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 donors 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.
One 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.
Suzie 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.
After the warm reception my last two flash fiction pieces received I thought I’d dash off another for one of my upcoming 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 …
It 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 demise 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 merely 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?
After 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.
A 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.
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 construction, thus protecting its population 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.
This is a flash fiction piece I wrote in response to a 100 -word story 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.
“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 cool 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.
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.
A 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.
The 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 …
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.
Another 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.
“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.
“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 …
Another taster story from my upcoming anthology of ‘rat’ themed stories … comments/suggestions most welcome.
My Little Friends …
Little 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?
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 …
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.
Over 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.
Terry 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.
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.
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.
You’re Not Alone …
Ian D. Moore & Friends
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…
An 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 …
* 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.