Monday, 28 October 2019

One Last Job (Extract) by Ian F White


Winston Powel sat on the edge of the bed in the dark motel room, staring out through the grimy window at the low moon. The window was slightly open and a cold night breeze stirred the thin curtains and cooled his skin.
He refocused his vision and assessed his reflection. Black skin, white eyes, black suit, white shirt, and black tie. He smiled. White teeth too.
The night was not quiet; police sirens blared far off in the city, a dog barked and its owner cursed down in the parking lot, and the phone in the next room rang and rang. His smile faded.
He felt a vibration next to his chest and reached into his jacket pocket. Pulling out the phone, he pressed a key and read the words on the screen.
"INTERVIEW CONFIRMED. 2AM."
Putting away the phone, he stood up. Turning on one heel, he snatched up the car keys and overnight bag from the bed and headed for the door. Taking a quick look back into the room, he nodded in satisfaction, opened the door and walked out into the narrow corridor beyond, letting the door swing shut behind him.

The Motel owner's wife, Marilyn, sat behind the reception desk, her full figure held precariously in check beneath the flowery dress. Her horn-rimmed spectacles were pushed up high on her head, snared in the mass of lacquered hair.
She glanced up from her magazine as she heard a door open and her lips formed a wide smile as Winston entered the lobby. He returned the smile and approached her desk.
"Hello, Mister Powel. Is everything all right?" Marilyn asked in her sweetest voice as she smoothed down her dress.
"Uh yes... Thanks Missus Clayton... I'm checking out. How much do I owe?" Winston asked as he pulled out his wallet.
Her smile broadened if that was possible. She just loved his British accent–'East End', he'd called it. But he was checking out. Her smile slipped a little and she slid over the plain black register book. "Oh, okay. Well, let me see..."
She flipped over a page of the register, tapped a few numbers on a calculator, and quickly wrote out a receipt - all the while talking to herself. Then she looked up at him again and smiled. She found herself smiling a lot when Mister Powel was nearby. "Um, that will be... seventy five dollars all together please, Mister Powel."
Winston dug out the necessary bills handed them to her and took the proffered receipt in return. "Thanks."
"Will you be coming back this way?" Marilyn asked hopefully.
"Maybe… I'm not sure yet."
"Well, we can always find you a room at short notice if you do. I hope your business deal goes well."
"Me too," he smiled, tucking the paper into his inside pocket. He picked his bag up, nodded at Marilyn and turned to leave the reception.
He had only taken two steps when the plate glass door suddenly opened and Davey Clayton backed in, dragging his Doberman with him. The dog pulled on its restraint, barking repeatedly at something outside.
"Shut it, Jim, you god-dammed idiot!" Davey yelled and tugged hard on the leash. The dog cleared the doorway and the door slammed shut.
Cursing under his breath, Davey turned to see Winston and his wife looking at him. Jim stopped his barking when he saw Winston and sat down at his master's side, staring up at the black-suited Englishman.
"Oh, sorry about that, Mister Powel, Jim ain't too friendly with the locals," Davey shrugged and his whole flabby body shook in sympathy. "There was a guy with a guitar case hanging around in the car lot. Jim scared him off."
Davey dragged Jim aside. Winston nodded and reached for the door handle. In seconds he was out in the parking lot.
Jim began his barking again, so Davey slapped him hard with the loose end of the leash. ""Shut Up. You stupid mutt!" The dog yelped and went silent.
Marilyn regarded them both from the safety of her desk. "You ought to get a muzzle for the damn thing. Better still, get rid of it; it's scaring the customers away."
Flustered, Davey span around and shouted back. "You can stop your yapping too.". As soon as the words left his lips, he cringed inside.
She glared at him for a moment.
"Right well in that case, you can do your own god-damned reception work."
She closed the reception register, picked up her magazine and stomped towards a side door.
Never one to know when he'd gone too far, Davey dug a little deeper, "Yeah? Well, there's plenty people could do that. Might even set Matt on; give the lay-about son-of-a-bitch something to do"
Marilyn paused in the doorway and slowly turned to look at Davey. "Oh, so I'm a bitch now? You've blown it this time Davey!"
She barged through the door and slammed it shut behind her.
Realizing his predicament, Davey rushed towards the door, dragging Jim with him. "Aw hell, Marilyn! I'm sorry, I didn't mean nothing, I was just... Marilyn, honey, please..."

Winston opened the rear door of his Buick and swung his bag onto the seat. He closed the door, opened the driver's side door and slid in behind the wheel, pulling it closed behind him.
He looked around the car lot. Most of the spaces were occupied, but it was empty of pedestrians.
He fumbled around in the glove box for a few seconds, and found the pack of cigarettes. There was one left in it, so he tapped it out, popped it between his lips and lit it up with his Zippo. He wound down the window and breathed a plume of smoke into the night.
He started the engine, reversed out and drove around the lot towards the exit.
A dark blue car sped down the street, took the motel entrance with a squeal of tires, nearly sideswiping him in the process, and pulled up in the place Winston’s car had previously occupied.
"Wanker," Winston observed, the cigarette bobbing between his lips as he spoke.
A group of teenage lads jumped out and headed for the entrance doors. Winston recognized one of them as Matt, Marilyn's son.
Shaking his head, Winston pulled out into the night traffic.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Walter's Gun by Chris Lloyd

Walter Cooper had a hand gun
one with his name on it
if you ignored the fact that
an “aitch” was after the “tee”
on the stock.
Walter did ignore that fact.

Walter loved his Walther but
didn’t love anything else.
Except Hetty a long time ago;
he’d given up when she died.
Now it was his gun he adored


He couldn’t remember a day
that passed that he didn’t
fire it. One shot. One death.
Then a complete strip down
and clean. Like his mum did
to him every day. Scrub, scrub
until it was spotless. Scrub, scrub

He’d shot his mum on a Saturday
during the football results.
After he’d scrubbed her clean
with a wire brush he buried her
next to the goat.
He’d hated that fucking goat.
It was Hetty’s and she loved the
goat more than him. His love
for her was never returned.

Still he could say that he did
love someone. He was happy
with that. It was a shame she died
playing with his gun. But he had
told her not to. And he’d already
cleaned it that day. Fuck her.

Walter went through all this
in his head every day after he’d
killed the day’s victim. That
day it was a squirrel  that had
exploded into tiny bits.

Today was in the summer and
Walter and his Walther were
on a hunt. He'd spotted a man
with a big black dog walking
on his land. He'd never seen a 
person on his land before.

They were getting closer to the
man and his dog. Time to be
careful. Walter and his Walther
stopped dead still and watched.
Suddenly the man lifted a gun
to his shoulder and shot a bird.

Walter was shaken.
The man's gun was big and loud;
He knew he had to stop the man
leaving his land so he retreated and
made a plan. He had to get close enough
to stop him using the big gun but near
enough so that he could use his Walther.

They carefully circled round to be
in front of the man, picked a place
where the man and his dog would
have to walk. Walter and Walther waited.
The man and dog were close.

Very quietly he cocked the gun; as soon
as he had a big black dog came crashing
through the bushes, stopped dead at the 
sight of Walter. Then more crashing
and the man stood in front of his dog.
The dog looked up at the man, the 
man knelt down and stroked it.

The man looked at Walter's gun, scared.
Walter saw how much the man and
dog loved each other, like he did Hetty
today and every day and he sobbed. As he did
Walter put the Walther to his mouth and
went to find her.

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Forgotten by Nick Stead

And so here I stand on a bridge between worlds. I’d have been grounded if my parents had known I was even considering coming out here, but that’s not what causes me to hesitate.

The passion and defiance of my teenage years has brought me this far, hormones drowning out any thoughts of the consequences of my disobedience. What do they know anyway? I’m almost a man, almost an adult in the eyes of the law. I am my own person and no one can take that away, family or otherwise. My life is mine to lead, my choices mine to make, and they will just have to learn to accept that.

Strange sounds carry on the breeze, creatures of the night screaming both threats and warnings. If I had any sense I’d turn back. Everything about the woods seems uninviting, yet they also carry a forbidden allure tempting me onwards. One more step and I will cross from civilisation to wilderness. Why is that so hard? I remind myself of the prize within and my uncertainty is swept aside by fresh determination. I’ve come too far to give up now.

My torch beam seems out of place as it punches through the wall of blackness between the trees, hard tarmac giving way to soft earth infested with roots twisting and turning through the soil. Twigs grasp at my clothes as I plunge into this other world, the vegetation apparently come alive with the disapproval of my parents, trying to hold me back. It doesn’t work. Blood only surges faster through my veins, my heart beating stronger with excitement.

It’s not long before I reach the place I seek. The trickle of water over pebbles sounds unnaturally loud as I draw closer and sure enough I can just make out the ancient structure arching across the stream. I pause then. The stories surrounding it are as many as the stones that give it shape, the legends chilling. I know all about these cautionary tales meant to ward off young fools like myself. Yet I must cross this second bridge if I am to see her.

With a deep breath and a swig of vodka for my nerves, I take the next step. I’ve almost reached the old structure when the artificial beam of light dies in my hand, a dark veil settling over my eyes and rendering them useless. Panic rises and I shake the torch, bashing it against my palm in a desperate attempt to bring back its protective halo, a shield against the shadows and all the dangers of the night. At least, that’s what I would like to believe. The rational part of me knows I am in just as much danger with or without it, but it was a comfort nevertheless, until it ceased to be. Now I am very aware of the fact I am alone and vulnerable, and no one even knows I’m here. I have my mobile with me of course but there’s no signal in the woods. It is as if I have truly crossed from one world to another, and such things have no place in nature’s domain.

A ghostly shaft of moonlight shoots down from the clouds, piercing through a gap between the trees and illuminating the bridge once more. I know I should turn back but I find myself drawn forwards almost as if against my will, enchanted by some kind of magic that goes far beyond youth and lust. So I take another step, and another, until I reach the side of the stream.

A strange sensation of giddy excitement and nauseating exhilaration takes hold in my gut as my eyes pick out her silhouette on the other side. It’s enough to drive away my fears and push me on. I’m almost there now, the bridge all that separates us. But as I begin to cross the ancient stone, my eyes fall on a shape sticking out from under the man-made arch, proof that perhaps the legends are true after all. Icy fear returns, rooting me to the spot. For there is no mistaking that shape even in the darkness, and suddenly I wish I were back in the warmth and safety of my room.

The skeletal grin seems to mock me as I lock gazes with its one dead eye, the other socket gaping empty with the void of death. I think she might have been my age before her life was brought to a cruel and unnatural end, but decay makes it hard to tell. Should I run back towards civilisation and ring the police? I know that would be the right thing to do, yet the thought of my parents’ wrath holds me back. And if I run now my desires will go unfulfilled yet again, my body already aching with longing. I want her so badly it hurts.

My lust wins out. I tear my gaze from the corpse and continue across the bridge. But I can still feel her one eye following me as I push on, sending chills down my spine. I keep my gaze fixed on the feminine outline waiting up ahead and quicken my pace.

Something is wrong. The figure of my affections appears to vanish, melting into the shadows. Confusion brings me to another stop, and a cold breath slides over the skin at the base of my neck, raising the hairs in a tickly wave.

With a whimper, I turn to find myself fixed by that one terrible eye. Greying skin and chalky bone streaked with blood is made all the worse by the half light of the moon, bare jawbones leering with some private joke known only to the dead. Her stare seems accusatory from behind death’s milky shroud, a guttural sound reverberating deep within her throat but the flesh too rotten to form actual words.

I begin to back away, making my own wordless noises. Shock and disbelief numb my brain. I know I should run, but I can’t seem to tear my gaze from this horrific vision advancing towards me, gruesome and impossible.

Skeletal fingers reach for my throat. They wrap around my flesh before I have chance to react and a crazy revelation takes root in my brain. But how can this be? The corpse has clearly been rotting in these woods for weeks, maybe even months or years, and yet she was alive and well last time I saw her in daylight, just hours ago when we arranged this ill-fated meeting. Have I completely lost my mind? I will never know.

It should have been a night to remember, one to leave me feeling so alive and on the ultimate high life has to offer. Yet only the cold of the grave embraces me. The tales are true after all, the bridge cursed. My vision is fading, my heart growing weaker, and as the last of my thoughts begin to die, I briefly wonder if they will find me out here. Or perhaps I will join this forgotten beauty, decaying into obscurity.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Poppies by Vivien Teasdale

 As we are heading towards remembrance Sunday, I thought this might be appropriate. We're just dead heading the last of ours in the garden.

Poppies

An offering in his grubby hand,
scratched where he’d scrambled over stones
to pluck the scarlet flowers,
drinking their claret cup
of summer in the scorching sun;
Imagined joy comforts his lateness.

Going home, jubilant,
face raised for his mother’s kiss.
Her slap scratches where she marks her words
with meaning, scarlet anger brimming over.
Bouquet, drooping in the cruel glare,
cascades burning tears down his grubby fist.