Minor thoughts from Mr. G. Forbes Stewart

The Interview

Katharina Aspero’s smugness erupted like a lanced boil as she drove her Range Rover Evoque through the quickly burgeoning puddle at her electric gates.  So pleased was she with her lot, that she didn’t notice the ensuing gush of water engulf the small figure hunched at the doorbell control in the wall.

As the gold tipped wrought iron gates slowly closed behind the car, Rachel Whinnie shook herself down and pressed the buzzer again.  She was there to be interviewed as the new housekeeper. The agency had warned her about Katharina back in the office.

“Rachel, there’s no way to put this politely,” the Agency Head had said, “This client is one of our best customers, she always pays on time, has been with us for years, and doesn’t skimp when it comes to tipping, but…”

Rachel knew there was a but coming.

“… She’s a complete nightmare.”

“Go on” Said Rachel, “I’m ready,”

“Well, I mean nightmare in the literal sense.  She thinks she’s dead.”

“What?”

“She’s completely convinced that she’s a ghost. She doesn’t want to scare anyone though, so she tries to keep it under wraps.”

“Keep it under wraps, what on earth are you on about?”

“She has quite a number of different staff members to manage her affairs for her.  All of whom she contacts through mediums other than talking. And by mediums, I actually do mean Mediums.  You know, people who can contact the ‘other side’.”

When the Agency Head had said ‘other side’ she used her fingers as quotation marks.  Rachel had stared at her unbelievingly.

“Are you taking the mick? You’re telling me that you are sending me off to a house, where the client thinks she’s dead, there’s a load of staff all playing along, and I just have to pretend that it’s normal?”

“If you want to get paid, and get paid handsomely I might add, it’s a 24/7 triple time contract, then yes, you play along.  Just keep your head down, do the job.  And don’t, whatever you do, make any suggestion that you think it’s all fake.  Do that, and you’re done.  You have been warned.”

The rain was coming down in buckets now.  Rachel pressed the buzzer in five short angry bursts.  A dry, droll voice clicked through the intercom.

“Yes. Aspero Residence.”

Startled, Rachel blurted, “Hello, I’m here for the job.”

After what Rachel was sure was a sigh, there was a long silence.  She was about to press the buzzer again when suddenly the gates began to slowly swing open and the intercom clicked into silence.

The rain abruptly stopped.

Unsure of what to do, Rachel gingerly walked through the gates, along the Chusan Palm lined path and towards the old Palladian house.  As she reached the stone steps to the front door, she could hear the gates close behind her with a sickening crunch.

Rachel raised her hand to grasp the ornate brass knocker, but before she could reach it there was a loud creak, and the door swung open.  Standing on the doorstep, all she could see inside was a murky gloom.  As her eyes accustomed to the darkness beyond the front door, she could hear the crisp clip-clop of footsteps approaching.  Then, out of the darkness, appeared an astonishing figure.

Dressed in a blood red brocade floor length housecoat, a tall, ashen, bony man, now stood before her.  Atop his avian, hook-nosed head, sat a bejeweled satin turban. The sort, Rachel thought, that you see in story books from the 1950s.  Wide, piercing blue eyes, were staring sharply back.  Rachel looked him up and down.  Peeking from beneath the hem of his cloak there emerged two golden velvet slippers which came to a point at the toes with the flourish of a merlot pompom.

“You’re wearing slippers.” Rachel said abruptly.

“Mah-dam?”, came the response.

“And there’s a carpet.”

The man regarded her imperiously.

“Oh its funny, I was sure I could hear footsteps just a moment ago.” A nervous Rachel was a garrulous Rachel.

Ignoring her, the tall man haughtily proclaimed, “Her ladyship has been expecting you.”

He turned and walked back inside to the unmistakable sound of a Cuban heel on marble. “Follow me”, his grandiose summons of a flicking finger over his shoulder elicited a giggle-snort from Rachel. The man stopped and peered back at her, slowly craning his head around to see her more clearly.  Rachel composed herself and fiddled with her rings like a naughty schoolgirl.

Scuttling in behind him, and once inside, she was greeted by possibly the most domestically majestic hallway she’d ever seen.  The central staircase split into two at the first floor, turned in on itself and then rose again to a second floor.  The walls were covered in ancestral oils and a central unlit crystal chandelier chinked gently in the light breeze from the open door…which promptly slammed shut. Rachel let out a little yelp and then quickly collected herself again.

Around the edges stood grimy busts and jardinières cradling overgrown ferns and aspidistras. Dust devils sat around the tall pine skirting boards. They didn’t need a Housekeeper thought Rachel, the place needed to be given to the National Trust.

The tall man walked toward a particularly impressive set of mahogany doors, and upon waiving his hand in their direction, they silently opened onto an equally grand library with a hearty fire burning in the hearth. “Wait here” instructed her guide and with that, he disappeared back into the shadows.

Rachel took her cue and headed straight in.  Once in the room, the polished oak doors closed behind her with a loud click. Rachel jumped again and for the third time since pressing the buzzer at the gates, had to quickly compose herself.   She removed her still dripping coat and laid it on a chair by the entrance.  Like a moth to the flame, she went over to the warm fire and dried her hands and trousers while she waited.

“You are heavy Dear.” Croaked a voice from the corner.  Rachel nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Um… Excuse me?” Rachel looked around frantically, and there, in the corner, neatly tucked away between two rampant ferns on particularly decorative baroque stands, sat a crumpled form, smoking a long- stemmed pipe.

“Heavy” they repeated.

“Now just one minute.” Threw back Rachel, “I’ve come here for an interview, but if this is the sort of treatment…”

“Heavy with promise my dear” interjected the wrinkled mass from the shadows.

“Oh, well, it’s still not very nice to be taken by surprise,” and with that, Rachel took a step towards the figure.

“Stay Back.” The shout made Rachel recoil and she stopped in her tracks.  As she did so, the person slowly lifted to their feet as if suspended like a marionette and caught her in the icy stare of her brilliant blue irises. Rachel was transfixed. They were the same blue eyes as the man who had met her at the front door.

“Are you the lady of the house?”

“Indeed I am child”.

“I’m 32.”

“Oh, don’t be offended, all others are children in my eyes.  You see, I am hundreds of years old.  Or at least, I have been here for two centuries past.”

Rachel remembered what the Agency Head had said to her back at the office.  She started to play along.

“The Agency explained about the position, did they?” Continued the old woman.

“Yes, Madam.”

“I am Ms Katharina Aspero.”

“Pleased to meet you Madam.” Rachel curtseyed, and immediately admonished herself for such a belittling cow tow.  Ms Katharina Aspero seemed to be equally ill-at-ease with the move.

“Well.” She began, “Let’s move on. You’ll be acquainted with our rather unique household then?”

“Yes.” The less said the better thought Rachel.

“And it doesn’t worry you?”

“No, not at all.”

This was a lie.  The longer Rachel stayed in the mausoleum of a house, the less she wanted to be there at all. She felt a well of anxiety rise in her belly and words tumbled out of her mouth unexpectedly.

“In fact, I rather like a good ghost story.”

“A ghost STORY?” The old woman’s eyes narrowed and a broad, ungracious smile, appeared on her face. With that, the room began to shudder and darken.  The flames in the fire snapped violently and glowed a hot blue. Rachel had to steady herself on a nearby Chaise Longue.

The long stemmed pipe dropped to the floor and shattered and the old woman began to grow in front of Rachel’s eyes, her arms and legs elongated and the features on her face stretched and contorted. Rachel didn’t know what to do, her eyes widening in terror.

“What did you say?” came the ear-splitting roar from Katharina’s now overgrown mouth.  Her lips were stretched across her teeth like the skin on a tom-tom drum.

“Nothing.  I didn’t mean to.”  The words were a whimper and lost in the clatter and thrum of furniture and ornaments all noisily clamoring for attention.

From the tips of the hearth flames came a wild wind. It flew straight from the fire and whipped and swirled around Rachel. Its gossamer fingers needling at her body as it lifted and suspended her a foot or so above the oriental rug she’d been standing on.

“You ungrateful wretch.” Screamed the woman.  She was enormous now, taking up more than half of the room.  The skin on her arms began to tear, exposing bone and veins. Her growing body forced her head to be pushed down from the ceiling, pressing her to come face to face with Rachel.

“Aloysius.”  She bellowed, and instantaneously, the mahogany double doors to the room flew open.  A gust picked up Rachel’s coat from the chair at the door and threw it into the fire.

“My coat” screamed Rachel, that’s brand new from TK Maxx.”

Standing in the doorway was a quickly expanding version of the man who’d met her at the front door only minutes earlier.

“She’s not the one.” Bellowed the woman over the uproar, “Help me remove this parasite now Aloysius.”

Momentarily the woman and her servant locked their piercing blue eyes on each other, then moved their heads mechanically to ensnare Rachel in their shared gaze.

“What are you doing?” Yelled Rachel, “I don’t know about these, things, but I don’t think the Agency are going to like this when I tell them how I’ve been treated.”

“Quiet you urchin”, demanded Katharina, “No one disrespects Ms Aspero, DO YOU HEAR ME?”

Rachel whimpered hopelessly and stared unbelievingly as Katharina’s already bulging eyes engorged more.  Her eyeballs were growing so much now that they were beginning to push themselves out of their sockets.  Rachel could see the lenses distort and bend as the bone squeezed at their base. She turned to look at the butler, his eyes too seemed to be escaping their skeletal prisons.

With four foul pops, the bloated eyeballs were now free and, on the stringy tendrils from the skulls of her captors, were moving towards Rachel’s head. The closer they got, the tighter the veins and sinew that once held them in place became.  As the fetid string became like cat-gut on a newly tuned guitar Rachel screamed out.

“Stop… Help me, please Stop.”

“It’s too late now you little brat.” The woman’s hollow laugh terrified Rachel more than anything she’d already seen.  “We’re going to send you somewhere you can’t offend helpless little old ladies anymore.”

As she spoke, the taught threads to all four eyes snapped at once and the eyeballs flew violently at Rachel’s face. Rachel tried to lift her arms to protect herself, but she was pinned in space by the air around her. As the eyeballs made contact with her cheeks they stopped and rolled slowly up her skin, depositing a thick sticky liquid as they went.

Once they reached the top of Rachel’s head, the eyeballs joined together. Their four bright blue irises all pointing downwards as they began to spin and lift off.

Once in the air, a crystal blue light started to shine down.  Imperceptible at first, but quickly growing in intensity.   

Rachel felt a burning sensation from the top of her scalp; her feet and hands were shaking uncontrollably.  She looked down and her fingers had begun to disintegrate in front of her eyes. Small pieces of skin were peeling off and evaporating in thin air.

“Nooooo.” She screamed, and then, “My Shellac! What’s happening?”

Before long Rachel’s forearms and legs had completely vanished, the light above her head was so intense now that she was glowing internally.  Next to go was her torso and shoulders. 

“Good Riddance.” Screamed the old woman and with one last flourishing click of her fingers, Rachel’s head exploded into a billion tiny pieces.

With that the two giant figures gently returned to their normal sizes.  Eyeballs newly intact with a squelching ‘plop’, Katharina gently settled back into her favourite armchair. Aloysius bowed, reached for both handles and gently closed the library doors behind him.

Once alone, Katharina sighed a soothing sigh and reached for the telephone on the stand next to her.  

                                                                             *******

In a brightly lit, chrome and leather office, sat Julia ‘Jools’ Brentworth, CEO of the Fresh Start Employment Agency.  She was engrossed in a particularly badly written CV that she was enjoying on her lunchbreak while digging into her Black Bean Taco Soup from Pret. She called through to her PA.

“Sheila, you should see this.” She squealed, “This one thinks having a Tic Toc account is Work Experience.”

Her phone burst into life and Jools rolled her eyes, “I’m on my bloody lunch break” she muttered as she picked up the receiver.

“It’s Ms Aspero. She wants to talk to you urgently,” Whispered Sheila.  Jools knew why she was keeping quiet.  Katharina had that effect on people.  You never really believed if she could hear you on silent or not. Jools pressed the connect button on the phone.

“It’s Katherina Aspero Ms Brentworth, can I speak candidly?”

“Great to hear from you.” Chirped Jools, “Of course, how can I help.  Did you like your candidate?”

“I’m afraid I found her… a little flaky.”

Jools thought she heard a small chuckle.

“Oh, I see.  Well, she was one of our top stars here at the agency, but each to their own.”

“Yes, quite.  Do you have anyone else you can send?”

“Well, our books are positively bursting with talent. I’ll have one of our brightest come straight over.”

“Why thank you.  I know I can always count on you.”

Jools replaced the receiver.

“Who have we got spare Sheila?  I think that Rachel bit the dust at Aspero’s.  Shame really, she was a good girl, but what can you do?  When the economy is this bad, what’s better, a life of servitude with nothing to show for it, or a quick trip to Katharina who’ll have put an end to all your suffering lickety-split?”

Jools dived into her Rolodex and pulled out a name.  The card read, ‘Tom Barry. Graduate. Will take minimum wage.’

‘Poor bugger’, thought Jools, ‘Great Aunt Kath will make short work of him.’ 

“Sheila.”

“Yes Boss.”

“I love my job – it’s feels so great to help so many people.”

The End

A matter of death and life

“You can keep a secret, can’t you darlin’?”

Legs together, wearing a gingham skirt with her hands squeezed between her knees, the three-year-old silently nodded.

“You know that it’s our secret don’t you?  If you tell anyone, I’ll hurt your mummy.”

The man’s face was icy.

“Yes” whispered the child through quivering lips.

“I didn’t hear you, say it so you uncle Shuggie can hear you.”

“I promise Uncle Hugh.”

The man rolled his eyes. “For God’s sake, for the last time, call me Shuggie you piece of shit.”

                                                                                                ***

He lay there, warm, but definately dead.  There was noise, someone was crying.  The light seemed to intensify and change hue from a warm yellow to a cold, clinical blue.  Shuggie reached over and held the cadaver’s hand.  It felt waxy and already unyielding. Below Shuggie’s furrowed brow a tear fell silently and collected at the end of his nose.

“Goodbye Dad”.

That night, back in the family home that had never been a family home, the theatre of death was in full swing.  Morose pallors blushing with whisky and soda; hollow laughter drowning in guilt.

Shuggie looked at his watch, an hour had passed since the last guest had arrived. Picking up a fork, he tapped his Glencairn crystal tumbler and the room quietened, almost glad to put their phatic talk to bed.

“I’d like to say a few words”, no-one said anything, no-one dared. Shuggie was a big man and a man’s man.  He was proud of that. It had never occurred to him that his masculinity could be anything other than a strength. He read the fear in the eyes of his sudden audience as respect.

“My father was a complete bastard” Shuggie began. The words were softly spoken, but the clarity of the syllables sharpened them like cut glass. The group shifted uneasily. Eyes frantically darting as they looked for a protector. A sober Shuggie was difficult to manhandle, a whisky soaked one was near impossible.

Abruptly finishing his glass, the ever-garrulous Uncle Andrew stepped forward “Hugh my good man, come and sit down, now’s not the time.”

“Fuck off you fucking…” Shuggie stared Andrew down, the unsaid word an incendiary weapon.

Coughing uncomfortably, Andrew continued, “Now really old boy, it’s my brother’s wake, your father, show some respect.”

“If you want it to be your wake too, I can arrange it.” Shuggie’s eyes were red and fearless.  Andrew stepped away. 

Then, from the back of the room. “Mummy, I need a pee.”

“Oh for Fuck’s sake.” Spit flew from Shuggie’s mouth.  He stared at the ceiling and slowly counted to five. He looked over at his niece and rolled his eyes, the way his father had always done to him when he was disappointed. The memory of it hardened his jaw. The air in the room seemed to crackle with dread.

Shuggie began again, “My father was a complete bastard. And you all knew.  And not one of you, NOT ONE, did anything about it.”

“The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, did it?” whispered Andrew into his empty glass.

“What did you say Andrew?” the terror in the group was palpable.

No-one breathed. The unseen child whimpered quietly behind her mum and crossed her legs to stem the urge to piss.

“I said, ‘he never fell foul with me ’Shuggie’. Look, please sit down, we can all talk about this calmly later.”

“I want to talk about it now Andrew. And YOU, I’ll tell you for fucking free, aren’t going to stop me. Now, someone fill up my drink, or are you all too pissed on the old man’s booze to move your lazy arses?” At this, Shuggie smiled, as if suddenly pleased with something he’d said.

There was a clink as a handful of ice was dropped into Shuggie’s proffered tumbler.

“Thank you, Jean, it’s nice to see that not everyone has lost their manners.”  Shuggie held the glass as Jean poured the amber liquid.  The whole room stared silently, holding its collective breath.

“Don’t stop now hen, I’ll tell you when.”

Jean’s hand was shaking.

“Keep going… good, there, now that’s what I call a dram.”

Shuggie raised his glass.

“To murdering scum.”

Silence.

He raised his glass again, “Did you not hear me?  Murdering scum.” He shouted.

“Scum” said the small child weakly, hoping to appease the juggernaut standing in front of her. The girl’s mother, horror stricken, clamped her hand over the tot’s mouth and stared pleadingly at the red-faced behemoth. A wet patch appeared on floor and the girl began to sob quietly.

Shuggie stared the room down, making sure to lock eyes with everyone.  Then, effortlessly, downed the drink in one.

Again, silence. 

“Is no one going to say anything?”

A smooth curl appeared in the corner of Andrew’s mouth, “I don’t think we need to now.”  He gave Jean a conspiratorial wink.

“And WHAT in the hell is that meant to mean?”

“Do you know what a group of vultures is called Hugh, dear boy?”

“Fuck Off. What?”

“Because that’s what we are you see, a group of vultures.”

“What in fuck’s name are you on about now Andrew?”

Shuggie began to feel hot.  His eyesight becoming fuzzy.  But it didn’t phase him.  He could handle his booze and could easily drink this shower under the table.  Through the fug, a penny dropped.

“That’s why you’re all here isn’t it? To peck away at the bones. To get fat on the old man’s sorry leftovers.”

“It’s called a wake.”

“I know it’s a fucking wake you idiot.” Shuggie was slurring now, “You’re here because Dad’s dead.”

“Maybe you should sit down?” Andrew was walking towards him now, an arm outstretched to place a consoling hand on Shuggie’s shoulder.

Shuggie stumbled backwards, his head beginning to spin, “You can fuck right off Andrew.  What do you think you’re doing?”

“I think… we all think… you need to sit down.  We’ve got something to tell you that you might find, well.” Andrew thought hard about the next words, “… Maybe just sit down.”

Shuggie’s vision was really starting to go now, and his knees were vibrating. Against his will, he slumped into the soft green leather sofa behind him.

“I don’t think you quite get it dear boy.” Andrew began, “You see, a wake is also the name for a group of Vultures.  It’s very fitting, don’t you think?”

Shuggie couldn’t think anything.  His eyes were rolling uncontrollably, and his tongue seemed to be enlarging and filling his mouth. He ham-fistedly grabbed for his mobile out of his trouser pocket and tried to focus on the screen.

“What do you think you’re doing Hugh?  Trying to phone a friend?”  There were low sniggers from the assembled crowd.  

“The drink you’ve just had Hugh, had enough barbiturate in it to kill several men.  You won’t feel a thing.”

“You bastards.” Breathed Shuggie through inflated lips.

“And in a few minutes, it will all be over, and it will look to everyone in the outside world, that the great Shuggie Docherty just overdid it.”

Shuggie could hear the words, could understand the predicament, but couldn’t form a response. All he felt was the raw fury of betrayal.  Trying to focus on his phone, the face recognition software miraculously worked and he struggled to focus on the apps on the homescreen.

“And Hugh, once that happens, your father’s Will defers all his estate to me.”  Andrew was smiling now.  “And when that happens, we all get a share of the spoils.  £10 million in blood money. Only you won’t be around to see it.”

Shuggie could just make out the small pink square on his phone and pressed it.

“You see, the family had to make a stand.  You and your father have killed enough people with your filthy drugs. Your dirty little empire had come to an end.”

Shuggie’s home screen was replaced with a voice recording app.  He hit play.

Shuggies voice boomed over his home Sonos.  There were gasps, a scream and the pissy kid covered her ears.

“This is a message for my fucking beloved family” the recoding began.  “If you are hearing this, I’m either on a plane out of here, or really fucking pissed off.” Even through his drug dosed countenance any idiot could see it was the latter. “I hope you’ve all been enjoying Dad’s drinks cabinet?  In fact, I’ve been dying for you to get it down your gullets for years.”

Another scream as a realization materialized through the room and full glasses were quickly dropped.

“He’s double crossed us.” Gasped Jean.

The booming monologue went on, “You are, if you’re interested, drinking an industrial strength LSD cocktail made by yours truly.  A teaspoon full has enough in it to bring an end to literally hundreds of people. If it doesn’t kill you right away, the after-effects will. You won’t know where you end and the rest of the world starts.” 

Shuggie’s spluttered laugh was as hollow as the bonhomie.

Some people from the group ran to the bathroom.  Fingers forced down throats.  Others just wretched where they stood.  The sickening stench acted like a domino and the room erupted with a maelstrom of gagging and moaning.

Uncle Andrew threw himself at shuggie and grabbed his throat.  “You little fucker, how dare you?” He squeezed as hard as he could. It felt good to watch Shuggie’s eyes grow large and red. 

As Andrew looked down, his fingers began to pulsate and their flesh melted softly into Shuggie’s skin. Shuggie had been right, he couldn’t see where he ended and Shuggie began. His hands and forearms were falling into Shuggie, becoming a part of him, dissolving into him.  He tried to scream but felt his jaw dislocate.  He turned to look at Jean who was still standing next to them, her face was a mask of shock.  As Andrew looked on her helplessly, her eyes began to bulge and a look of terror took her over.  Blood began to pour from her nose and she collapsed in a heap at the foot of Shuggie’s chair.

The pandemonium in the room had reached a fever pitch.  People who weren’t screaming were either vomiting or dry retching. 

The Sonos speaker burst into life again.  “If my timings are correct, most of you will be reaching the final stages of cognitive decline by now.  As you fade away, know this.  I’ve never trusted any of you, my father, the bastard, never even trusted any of you.  I hope you all burn in hell for what you’ve done.”

The sheer mass of barbiturates that Shuggie had ingested became too much to bear.  With one last glottal heave, Shuggie fell back into his seat, his dead glassy eyes still full of fury.

The devastation was putrid.  People lay moaning on the floor, spread eagled in vomit and blood. Some had tried to kill themselves rather than be taken by the drugs.  There were scratches on the locked doors where some had tried hopelessly to escape.  The smell of death was overwhelming.

A white stiletto cleanly stepped over the prone body of Uncle Andrew, followed by a Clarks sandal. 

“What’s happening mummy, I’m scared.”

“That, sweetheart, is how to take out the rubbish.  It’s just us now. Us, and your grandpa’s millions.”

The woman bent down to kiss her brother on the forehead.

“Oh Shuggie, you never were the brightest were you? Did you think I’d let you take all the winnings. And thanks to wee Annie here, I knew all about your dirty little plan. You had to tell someone, didn’t you? Your ego wouldn’t let you not.  So you thought that you could bully a little three year old girl.  Well, you idiot, I’ve taught her not to keep secrets.  So, when Andrew came to me with the plan to finish you off, it was all too easy.  I just had to step back and let everyone in this fucked up family do what they wanted, give you all enough rope, and you’d all hang yourselves.”

The woman looked around the room and rolled her eyes.

“And all I had to do was not drink your filthy booze.”

She took a key from her handbag and went to open the front door.

“Did I do good mummy?”

“Yes darlin’, you certainly did.”

The End.

The Button

The familiar haptic of an incoming e-mail made George Peterson wince.  It was only 8am and his inbox was already an insurmountable mountain.  His Pavlovian response to the noise thrust him into triage mode. 

“Ok, let’s take a look and see where I can stuff this little fucker shall we?”

He clicked on the unread missive.  The first line made his blood boil.

Dear Mr Peterson,

I hope this e-mail finds you well?

George rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated breath.  He read on.

It has come to our attention that promises outlined in your email dated 10 Nov have not been actioned.

He mouthed “Kill me now” at the screen.

You clearly stated that you would have provided all ten copies of the full report, ready for further analysis, by the first of December.

George checked his calendar.  It was now the 14th of December.

Given the nature of the project and the sensitivity of the client surrounding the inherent issues, we have decided to terminate your employment immediately. 

“What the…?”

Yours sincerely,

Tarquin Marriot-Homerton
HR Manager
Quantum Futures Inc

George stared, dumbfounded, at the screen. It had to be a joke.  He checked the sender address.  His heart sank further.

It was for real.

For a moment, life seemed to stop.   The world around him went into slow motion and as if he were watching a film, the e-mail on the small screen in front of him appeared to grow and float out of the monitor in front of his eyes.   He was being sacked.  

With a tobacco-stained forefinger, he caught a bead of sweat as it dripped from the tip of his nose. 

A fury began to burn in his belly.   George’s chest tightened and he could feel his face reddening.  How could they do this to him?  Who the hell did they think they were? He knew those stuck-up tits in HR had had it in for him since that incident at last year’s Christmas party, but this?  This was too harsh, too sharp, too final.  He hadn’t even had a warning, not even an inkling. He wanted to rip this Tarquin arsehole apart.  Tear him limb from limb.  That little shit wasn’t going to get away with this.

George hit reply and began to type.        

Dear Tarquin from HR,

You’ve got to warn someone, you can’t just sack them.  I might not know all the ins and outs of your tedious, pen pushing, paper poking little life, but I do know that much.   How dare you unceremoniously sack me.   Do the words, “I’ll sue” mean anything to you? 

See you in court, sucker.

Kindest Regards,

George Peterson.

With that, he hit send and slumped back into his seat, taking the back of his hand to his now sopping brow.

A wave of regret immediately engulfed him.  “You dick” he thought, ‘Kindest Regards?’

Momentarily, the computer pinged again.  It was a reply.

Dear Mr Peterson,

Thank you for your response. 

Your dismissal is immediate.

You will receive the statutory severance pay this week.

Best wishes,

Tarquin Marriot-Homerton
HR Manager

George wasn’t finished, he hit the reply button and began to unleash the rage that was volcanically rising through every pore.  But then he noticed something he’d never seen before.   Just next to the Send button, there was a new one, it was calmly blinking in faint red and said simply, ‘Delete Sender’.

He found his hand reaching for the mouse and he slowly moved the cursor to hover over the flashing words.

A text box popped up.

Delete Sender: Fulfilling Criteria

This option can be used to deliver more meaningful responses to troublesome email interactions.   Choose from the following list, select your payment method and the sender in question will experience your chosen response instantaneously.

George read on.

No data is kept of the transaction.  The sender will not know, be able to ascertain, or legally acknowledge the origin of the response.  You, as the purveyor of said action, will not be culpable.

And then, again, in slow blinking red letters:

No one will ever know

George stared at the screen.  Shook his head and refocussed.  

The words were all still there, as clear as day.  He moved the cursor away, the text box disappeared.  He moved the cursor back, and sure enough, there were the instructions again.

At the bottom of the text box there was a link – ‘click here for the full list.’

Fascinated and wide mouthed, George clicked the link.

A new window opened up with a gleeful chiming fanfare.  Within a jolly graphic, surrounded by smiling playground characters in primary colours, was a list.   Column one showed a range of maladies varying between mild illnesses (a cough, or insect bite) through to full organ failure and finally, death.  

A smile began to creak into existence in the corner of George’s mouth.

The second column was headed, ‘Cost’ and it was this one that was now attracting George’s attention.  Next to each ailment or malicious act in column one, there was a somewhat insignificant illness or malady in column two.  George reckoned that this must be the charge for inflicting whatever was in column one.

In the first row, column one offered up a ‘Dry Cough (1hr)’. Next to it, in column two, the ‘cost’ column, was the word ‘pimple’ and then in brackets (non public). Below it, in the second now, next to Raspy Cough (1hr) was again the word ‘pimple’ and then in brackets (public).

At the very bottom of the list, there was a statement, outlined and in bold.  It read:

Costs are calculated on a per-customer basis.  Payment can only be attributed to either the sender of the response, or a blood relative. The latter does not need to give prior permission.  PAYMENT CANNOT BE DEVOLVED TO THIRD PARTIES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

George wracked his brains for what all this could mean.  Was it for real?  With a few clicks, could he really inflict some undesirable ailment on to his new enemy Tarquin? Was it possible that, for the cost of a pimple, he could inflict an annoying cough on Tarquin for an hour? It didn’t make sense. It was completely stupid. 

George immediately ticked the box next to ‘Raspy Cough (1hr)’ and clicked send.

The moment he did, the end of his nose tingled.  It was a sharp pain that made him twitch briefly and his eyes watered.  He turned to look in his desk mirror that he’d set up to ensure he looked half decent before a Zoom call, and sure enough, there, on the end of his nose, was a brand new, shiny, bright red, pustulating pimple.

                “Fuck Me.”

George’s eyeballs grew in gleeful, malicious wonder as he stared as the spot on his nose. 

                “Oh Tarquin mate, are you in for a good time?”

George read down the list.  There were certainly some pretty good options on there.   Intense Testicular Itching only cost a mild headache, and by the looks of things, he could even get one of his lazy kids to pay.   He went back to read the instructions to double check – ‘Or a blood relative’, yes, that was very clear.

The charge for a ruptured spleen was a casual vomit. For a gallstone, a runny nose (2hrs).

George selected both, tentatively pulled his paper bin closer to his office chair and hit send.

Immediately a neat package of chopped carrots and bile ejected itself from George’s mouth into the bin.  I haven’t even had carrots, he laughed, as he calmly took a tissue and blew his newly liquid nose.  This was fun.

From the next room he heard the recognisable boom of his son’s soundbar.  That lazy little shit must be playing another bloody video game. Since the pandemic had forced George to work from home, the true nature of his eldest’s fecklessness infuriated him on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

A lightbulb went on in George’s mind.

                “I could kill two birds with one stone.”  He blew his nose again, as he did, his spot ejected its contents on to the tissue.

The cost for a punctured lung was a bought of diarrhoea.

This time, when he selected the option, he also ticked the payment box for ‘blood relative’.

A new window popped up.  In it were options for his immediate family but also drop-down menus for cousins, aunts and uncles. He clicked ‘Immediate Family’, then ‘Son’. And hit send, sniffed and patted the now gently bleeding cavity on his nose.

The bathroom door slammed suddenly in the corridor.

                “This is brilliant, whatever the hell you are. Thank you.” said George to the ‘Tarquin from HR’ email trail that was still open in front of him.

Reminded of the exchange with Tarquin, his blood began to boil again.  Fun as this had been, George felt a real desire to give it to Tarquin with both barrels.

Towards the bottom of the list, just below ‘Heart Valve Failure (x1)’, was ‘Chronic Liver Failure’.  The cost:  Stomach Ulcer (1Hr). Easy, I can handle that, thought George, and without any hesitation ticked the box and clicked send.

Seconds later, his office door burst open.   His son, Mike, was standing there, holding up his undone trousers around his knees, as pale as a sheet.

                “Oh Shit mate, what’s wrong with you?”

George knew only too well what was wrong with Mike, the diarrhoea – but then he felt a heaviness in his chest as he realised he hadn’t unticked the payment box for ‘blood relative’.

Mike began to retch.  As he clenched his stomach with his free hand, a projectile of blood erupted from him, covering George and his laptop.

                “Help me Dad.  I don’t know what’s going on.  Am I dying?”

Stricken, George frantically grabbed his mouse to shut down the programme, to try to undo his mistake, to stop his son from looking like a horror show.

He went to close the email down, clicking the little cross at the top right of the pop-up window that had appeared only minutes before.

Just as he’d thought he’d closed everything down a new text box appeared.

Thank you for using our New BETA testing AI software at Quantum Futures

This software is currently only available for user interactions.  No responses will be sent to the recipient while in Beta Test Mode.

The text box disappeared with a sharp pop.

                “Oh Fuck.”

In George’s email, a new message blinked into existence.  

Dear George,

We see that you have been using our new software in BETA mode.   Unfortunately, we can’t see if you have chosen any of the available options.   But we wanted to say, just in case you have… dabbled, that we hope you now realise that you don’t always have to fill the cup you are pissing in.

We wish you every success in finding future employment outside QFI.

Best wishes,

Tarquin Marriot-Homerton
HR Manager
Quantum Futures Inc

George turned to look at Mike, now on his hands and knees but still clutching his stomach and retching horribly. Small globules of blood and saliva were dripping from his bottom lip.

                “Come ‘ere mate.” George whispered softly, all the ire had left his body completely. “I don’t know much about these things, but I reckon you’ll feel better in about an hour.”

                “What Dad?  It really hurts.”

                “Yeah, well, try holding down a job, paying a mortgage and raising kids.”

Mike stared unbelievingly at his father, adults were so fucking self-obsessed sometimes.

THE END

The Birthday Party

Dripping with oily salutations, Kenneth breathed unctuously into the room; scattering the gathered guests as they recoiled unwittingly from his pugnacious presence.

Kenneth had always been somewhat misunderstood in life.   What was a glittering repost to him was generally interpreted as outlandish and patronising by others. A wink here, or a tap on the shoulder there, were often grounds for the recipient to feel the urge to regurgitate their last meal. So odious were his interactions that the only social exchanges he had were now confined to family. Anyone outside that inner sanctum had long since frozen him out of their lives.

As for the family, even the saintliest secretly wished him ill will.

Kenneth had an unnerving knack of firing out incendiary missiles for the most innocuous reasons. He’d once called his ten-year-old nephew a cunt for having the audacity to ask him who is favourite character from Star Wars was.

Unfortunately for Kenneth, his outer appearance served as an entrée for the vulgarity that resided within.   The perma-dirt under his fingernails, a foul concoction of nasal excretions, dandruff and earwax was matched only by his greasy combover and unkempt beard. From a young age, his cousin Cynthia had nicknamed him Mr Twit, a Roald Dahl childhood favourite of hers, and it had ever been thus.   To the family, he was, and forever would be, Mr Twit’s less likable relation.

Making a beeline for the children, Kenneth chose to sit in a vacant armchair next to where some kids were attempting to set up Kerr-Plunk.

“You don’t do it like that.   Did your parents not teach you anything?”

No one replied.

“You have to push the sticks in first” he shouted, with an audible addition of “Bloody Idiots” under his breath.

To fits of giggles, one of the children piped up, “Who’s farted?”

“You little bastards.   I’ve done no such thing. Just wait ‘till I tell your parents that you’ve been disrespecting your elders, then you’ll be in trouble.”

With that, Kenneth stood up and marched through the middle of the group of children, kicking over the plastic toy as he went.

The small band of youngsters stared blankly at the collapsed curio in front of them. “Maybe it was your fart that knocked it over Julie?” squealed one of the boys and they all fell to pieces laughing on the floor as the old man left the room.

Arms folded, Julie huffed gruffly at the grotesque display of immaturity, put the toy straight and began to set it up again.

Out in the corridor Kenneth spotted Cynthia, doe-eyedly chatting to her husband of 40 years.   The public display of affection made his stomach churn.   “Your fucking daughter’s rug rat has just disrespected me Cynthia.   If she can’t keep her little shits under control she shouldn’t bring them out.”

Cynthia’s husband leant down and whispered something in her ear. Smirking, she rolled her time-worn brown eyes and stared blankly at an old family photo which was on the wall. “That reminds me. I wonder if Kenneth is going to make an appearance today. He usually does so love a party.”

At the snub, Kenneth felt his face redden. Jaw clenched and eyes reduced to slits he stared at his cousin in complete shock.

“You think I can’t hear you don’t you Cynthia?   And what do you have to say for yourself David?   Hiding behind your little wife as usual. Are you not going to do anything?”

“I think that you are absolutely right.” said David, still gawping at Cynthia. “When he comes, I’ll have a word with him.   We can’t let him behave that way, not again.”

“Christ, that’s modern grandparents for you isn’t it? Too scared to intervene are you? Wait until he comes to you. If he was my grandson, I’d have had him by the ear and given him a good smacking ten times over by now.”

“What’s that funny smell?” asked Cynthia, wrinkling her porcine nose in mild disgust.

Kenneth turned on his heel and, spotting his ageing mother on a geriatric recliner by the sitting room window, headed to someone he knew wouldn’t publicly ridicule him.

The old woman was nodding off in the warmth of the afternoon sunlight.   The gentle chatter of the assembled guests had been a particularly proficient Sandman. As Kenneth approached, she stirred.

“Is that you Kenneth?   No-one said you’d arrived.” Her heavy eyelids could barely open, but a gentle smile atoned for them across her wrinkled lips.

“Mother.” Kenneth’s abrupt upward inflection was enough to tell her that yes indeed, it was her son. It seemed to the old woman that he had something to say. Her years of experience had taught her to just keep schtum and let him get on with it when he was in this mood.   She sighed a world-weary sigh and settled her decrepit bones, ready for the inevitable onslaught.

“I’ve only been here for five minutes” he started, “and already the plain rudeness in this family is in full flow.”

Her kind smile was already a well-worn mask. As if to protect herself, she felt her eyes closing more tightly.

“Those children are positively feral. If I’d had spoken to you the way they just have to me, I would have seen the rough side of your hand for sure.”

“Oh darling, they’re only young – you were young once too.” She mumbled while shifting in her seat to find a more comfy spot.

“That may well be, but what’s Cynthia’s excuse. For a start, there’s no amount of perfume that’s going to detract from that face of hers.”

“Kenneth.”

The lukewarm remonstration had no effect. He went on.

“And rather than giving that little shit of a grandson of hers a clip round the ear, she chooses to ignore my complaint entirely. Properly sent me to Coventry she did. Pretended that I wasn’t even there.”

“Now shush Kenneth dear. Cynthia means well. I’m sure she’ll deal with it later. Come now, it’s my birthday. You’re not 95 every day of the year.”

The sun dipped behind a cloud. The sudden shadow causing the timeworn woman to shiver and prop herself up. Opening her eyes she searched the room for her son. “Kenneth?” her voice cracked as she fumbled for her varifocals on her side table.

“What is it Auntie?” Cynthia had appeared and pulled the glasses from beneath a card and handed them to the old woman.

“Oh thank you dear.   Where’s Kenneth gone, he was just here?”

“I don’t think he’s made it yet Granny. At least I haven’t seen him.”

***

Five miles away in a bedsit in North Finchley lay the body of Kenneth Corminston. His corpulent, decomposing figure reaching across his dirty bedsheets, grasping for the plastic commode.

The local postman had just delivered the days mail. “Jesus, what a bloody awful stink!” he grumbled as the letterbox closed, returning the impromptu mausoleum to its fetid state.

***

“I’m just here you stupid cow” screamed Kenneth, directly in to Cynthia’s face

“I’ll go and see if he’s arrived Auntie, I’ll be back in a bit.” With that, Cynthia stood up and walked directly through Kenneth.

Kenneth stood in abject shock. His mouth had fallen open; his red eyes staring wildly at his mother. The old woman sniffed the air. A foul stench of rotten meat filled the room.

Kenneth was half right, she thought, Cynthia doesn’t just look like a pig, but she smells like one too.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Book

Nicola Wicker grasped the frail book she’d found in her grandmother’s garage during the summer.  As she ran a clammy finger down the spine, a bead of sweat dripped on to the battered leather binding.

This time it would work, she knew it.

Kneeling on the floor, she placed the book neatly to her left and picked up the box of Lucifer matches she’d found that same day.  It was hot for late September, but Nicola had shut the windows and pulled the shutters closed; the stifling air incarcerating her in a safe Hadean womb.  The match burst in to flame, illuminating the half-light.  She caught her reflection in a fish-eye mirror she’d placed at the back of her makeshift dais; her features looked distorted and demonic, she couldn’t help but smile, she liked the reflection it threw back, it was somehow fitting.

Slowly, Nicola lit the five candles that she had placed about her, shifting around uncomfortably so as not to disturb the fragile design she’d laid out previously on the floor. She loved the way the light flickered against everything in the room, the way the mundane suddenly became horrific.  In places, dregs of sunlight were making their way through the wooden shutters, the setting sun’s last chance to bring some solace to a world on the precipice of darkness.  Nicola smiled as she watched the dust, warmed by the candles, dance in the shafts.

She was confident that this time there would be a breakthrough, and why shouldn’t there be?  She knew where she’d made stupid mistakes before; the wrong type of candles for a start – Nicola also had a sneaking suspicion that the Patchouli incense sticks hadn’t been up to scratch either. But this was attempt two, and now that it was getting dark, she felt a keen sense that her prize was in sight.

Nicola was beginning to sweat more now. Her match was nearly burnt out and it slipped from her clammy fingers in to the glass of water she’d kept by her to staunch the dry cough which had been developing all day.  Nicola winced, she hoped that the error wouldn’t count against her.  As the blackened match sank to the bottom of the glass, it seemed to epitomise the sheer injustice of her life.

Ever since she could remember, things just hadn’t gone her way. The grass was perennially greener on the other side for Nicola; she compared herself, unfavourably, with everyone she ever met.  Her mother’s insults had been the handmaiden to her low self-esteem, and she had little trust for others’ comments; always taking a slight, even when none was intended.

Her resolve solidified, Nicola picked up the small leather-bound book and felt a calmness fall over her.  The frontispiece beguiled her completely.  There was a picture of what looked like an ox surrounded by ink drawings of talismen and amulets that looked as mystical as they were powerful.  The sun had set now, and the candle light flickering across the images seemed to bring them to life; the beast of burden seemed to heave itself from the page.  Nicola could feel her heartbeat quicken.  The thick, warm air made her cough and gasp for breath.

She quickly flicked through the dry crisp pages, looking for her first instruction; grotesque putti and inky imps filled the pages.

The bloodlust that dripped from the words was eagerly drunk by a thirsty Nicola.

At length, she found the page she was looking for. Resplendent between two horned monstrosities, there, upright, stood the very personification of evil; the angel of the night, its bleached skull peering back at her, its wings enveloping its sensuous Caprine musculature.   Nicola thought it the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

She traced the words below the image as if they, themselves, were expensive jewels.

In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Exclesi.  She read out the translation aloud, “In the name of our God, Satan, Lucifer of the most high.” She thought the words made her voice sound rich and imbued with heady meaning.

Looking down, Nicola realised that the collection of belts, ties and string that she’d diligently laid on the floor had begun to look decidedly less like her hoped-for pentangle and more like a pile of meaningless junk.   Growling to herself in annoyance she set about tweaking the arrangement.  Having straightened out four of the points, the stretch behind her to the bottom right of the star proved too taxing, and she careered sideways, knocking her glass of water over her tarot cards and upending three candles.

Two of the three candles extinguished themselves on the impact with Nicola’s arm, the third however, which had been pushed over by her foot, still continued to burn.  Within seconds, one of the silk ties had caught fire and a miniature conflagration was taking hold.  With no water to throw on the fire, Nicola grabbed a cushion from a nearby pile and quashed the flames.  The red licks of light were vanquished, replaced only by a heinous stench.  The smell of smoke was overwhelming and in the two-candle darkness Nicola could still see enough to know that she was going to need to act fast.

At that, the fire alarm flung itself in to life.  The caterwaul incensed Nicola and with her hands to her ears she screamed a scream loud enough to wake the dead.

Around her, noise and colour suddenly reverberated.  The door to the room flung open, the caustic glare of an abruptly illuminated strip light made Nicola screw up her face even more, “Stop it, stop it.” She shouted at the woman now standing at the door.

“What in the Hell is going on in here Nicola?”

“Er…northing,” her indignance ballooned in to the room.

Scanning the scene in front of her, the woman leant down and picked up the leather bound book which now lay in front of the terrified Nicola.  “Where did you get this?”

Nicola didn’t answer.

“Oh God, please tell me you haven’t been following it have you?”

Again, Nicola didn’t answer, but the scene in front of her was enough to tell that she had.

“Do you know what this is Nicola?  It tells you how to sell your soul to the Devil.”

“I know what it is mum, leave me alone.” The faux outrage riled the woman.

“Leave you alone.  You nearly burn the house down with my…my… Oh Darling, these are my new Yankee Candles that I was saving for best – what on earth did you think you were doing?”

“I was…” started Nicola, but her incandescent mother waded in before she could finish.

“And your father’s best tie, ruined.  I need to open a window.”  With that, she marched across the room, flung open the shutters and pushed the sash up as wide as possible. As she looked out of the window, she could see Nicola’s best friend Rose across the road, happily playing in the garden with her parents.  She smiled to herself and turned to Nicola.

“I don’t know what’s been going on here darling, but I don’t want you playing with candles any more, do you hear me?”

“Yes mum.”

“And I do think that a twelve-year old girl like yourself should be outside playing in the sun, not indoors playing with books about the Devil.  I mean really, selling your soul, it’s preposterous.”

“But I wasn’t selling my soul mum, honestly.” The contrition in her voice was palpable.

“Then what were you doing darling,” for a moment, the conciliatory tone made Nicola feel safe.

“I was selling Toby’s.”

With that, there came a moan from across the room.  From beneath a bundle of cushions emerged Nicola’s four-year-old brother’s chubby leg.

The rhapsody of Rod and Dammers

“You have quite phlogisticated the atmosphere Damian, would you please be quiet.” Rodney had a habit of ejaculating putdowns that no-one, but he, could understand.  Damian rolled his eyes and tried to continue “If you don’t stop talking soon” Rodney endured, “I shall have to ask the servants to remove you.”

“You don’t have any servants Rodney, you live in a flat on the Edgware Road.  And if you’d only listen, you’d be able to understand that we have a letter from our landlord telling us to move out in four weeks.”

“That’s a bit rum old boy”, started Rodney again, “Would you like a Whisky chaser for your missive of woe.”

“No.” countered Damian. The more annoyed he got, the more drunk Rodney seems to behave, or was it the other way around – in any case, he was so dulled by the tedium of his flatmate’s inebriated pretensions that he decided that the unspoken elephant could no longer lay silent in the middle of the room.

“We are going to have to find new lodgings…” there was a long pause, “And I think we should go our separate ways.”

Swaying slightly, Rodney chaotically refilled his glass.

Emboldened by the sudden calm, Damian went on, “And I think that we should try to find other things in our lives apart from, well,  each other Rod.”

Rodney’s eyes opened to their maximum extent and his full glass slipped from his hand and smashed on the floor.  To accompany the vignette, Rodney let out a plaintive squeal, much akin to the noise a mouse may make if one imagines stepping on one.

“Alright mate, you don’t have to go all weird – at least no weirder than usual.”

“No.” Whispered Rodney, “It’s back, look.”

Damian followed Rodney’s outstretched finger.  It was pointing to the living room window.

“What is it now?  There’s nothing there.”

“Yes there is, look, it’s bigger this time and I think it’s seen us.”

“You’re going to have to give me more Rod mate, how many words?”

“It’s looking right at me – it’s smiling.”

*******

Directly across the street from Rodney and Damian lived an ancient gentleman in desperate need of an audience.  The operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan were his life and on any given day he could be found dressing up like a schoolgirl for the sole entertainment of his two cats, Rod and Dammers.  Rod had been named after a favoured host from the bygone days of television; Dammers, because he was damned if he was going to stay sober.

On this particular day, he had gone all out with a voluminous creation of pink chiffon and organza and was belting out a particularly satisfying aria to, it would seem, anyone who was passing the makeshift stage of his own sitting-room window.

He was reaching the apex of his performance, and a grimaced smile had begun to creep on to his face.  It was to this smile which, across the street, Rodney was now drawing Damian’s attention.

*******

“Oh, I see, it’s that man again.  Would you just keep your hair on – he’s a bit eccentric, that’s all.”

“You wouldn’t be so dismissive if he was mouthing your name at his window while he’s dressed like that would you?”

True enough, when Damian looked again, it did look like he was mouthing, ‘Rod’ and was very possibly singing it too.

“That’s ridiculous.” started Damian.  “You’ve never met him; how could he possibly know your name.  He probably doesn’t even know who you are.”

“We’ve lived here for five years Damian.  He’s probably been looking through our mail.  Following us home after work – he probably knows things.”

“Things, what things?  Rodney, you’re being paranoid.”

*******

Rod was a particularly long-haired Persian and was doted on by his owner.  Each day the puss would be brought a plate of freshly cooked kidney and a bowl of warm kitty milk.  Dammers, on the other hand, didn’t get a look-in.  He was a non-descript brown tabby who was perennially forgotten – largely due to his lack of flamboyance.  Whatever Rod didn’t eat, Dammers got.  If Rod ate the lot, Dammers had to fend for himself in the gutters of W2.

*******

Conceding to his roommate, Rodney raised a white flag.

“Let me have a closer look at this letter then…hand it over.”  Rodney’s eyes glazed over as his drunken brain tried to make sense of it.  “It’s talking about our lease agreement, paragraph 2, section 10 or something, what’s all this about?”

“That’s just some legal stuff,” said Damian, it’s this bit here that I don’t understand.  Damian pointed to a sentence which was in bold italics, it read, ‘This letter is to determine, that whosoever paid the deposit and signed the initial agreement, shall become the sole beneficiary and owner of apartment 345b Edgware Road.  However, this shall be forfeit if any other current individual dwelling at this address persist to stay there.  Even with authority granted by the beneficiary.”

“Wha…” mouthed Rodney.

“It goes on, see…” added Damian, pointing at the text. “I hereby give tenants four weeks’ notice to move out from the date of this letter.”

“Well.” said Rodney, “If I’m not too pissed, I think that means the mad old bugger has given whoever signed the lease the deeds to the flat.  And the other one’s got four weeks to sling their proverbial hook.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Rodney, that’s not fair, we both know it was you that put up the cash and got the flat.  What am I meant to do?”

“Well you were the one that just said we should go our separate ways, there you have it, in black and white, separate ways we go.”

“I didn’t mean it you piss-artist. I’ll be bloody homeless. And you’ll be like a pig in shit, how much must this flat be worth?  I can’t bloody believe it. Give me that Whisky.”

With that, Damian swiped the bottle and marched to the kitchen in search of a glass.  Rodney could hear his flatmates anger rattling through the shelves, “Let me know who wins that fight you’re having with the Highballs won’t you?”

Rodney quickly grabbed his phone and sent a text.

*******

From across the street, Rodney’s father’s iPhone burst in to life.  He picked it up and read the text.  All it said was, ‘Thanks Dad.’

“I’ll give you thanks, you little shit”, spat the inebriated chiffon clad Pavarotti. “That’s the last time I do your dirty work for you.”

Johnny Does A Double

John woke up with that unmistakable feeling that he’d gotten away with something.  The dawn chorus and bright spring sunshine heralded greatness; the promise of untold gifts.

So, it was with a spring in his step, when, the morning after Valentines day, he came downstairs to find a hand-delivered card waiting for him in his post-cage on the back of his front door.  With his head cocked in incredulity, he slowly picked up the letter.  He allowed himself a whisper of a smile as he brought the pastel envelope to his nose and breathed in deeply.  As the intoxicating scent flung his mind to Arcadia, John was lifted, like a marionette, gently in to the air. The infant smile now fully grown on his haggard hirsute face.

His reverie was suddenly broken by a sharp knock at the door.  John could see the outline of a man.

“What is it? I’m busy.”

“Delivery.”  The monotone voice irked John even more.

John hated opening the front door. It felt like he was letting the outside in.  Indoors he was safe, untouchable, clean.  The outside quite simply was contamination.

Reluctantly, John turned the Chubb lock and peered round the small gap.  “Well?” he postured. “You’ll need to sign for it Sir, just here.” The man proffered a small black box with a touch screen on the front.  A low growl slipped from John’s throat as he opened the door fully.

The parcel was brown paper which obviously held something soft.  It felt to John like it might have been a sweater, or maybe a scarf.  After creating a hopeless facsimile of his signature on the man’s device, John hurriedly closed the door without offering any departing words; leaving the delivery man to mutter a hollow curse to the door that now stood resolute in his face.

John took his delivery to the dining room, pulled a flea-bitten chair from the table and sat down.  There was a small tear in the brown paper which he abruptly fingered; ripping the parcel open like a child on Christmas morning. Inside was a neatly folded piece of dusty pink tissue paper, bursting lasciviously from which was a bra and knicker set.  The Anne Summers tag was wasted on him, but, like the letter from earlier, he found himself erroneously smelling the lingerie; like a sniffer dog looking for clues.  His mind raced.  Was there a hidden camera somewhere?  Why on earth would anyone want to send him some ladies undergarments?

He rooted through the discarded brown paper and yes, jackpot, there was a hand-written note. In italic script it simply said, “Put me on. X.”

John stood, transfixed, in total shock.  The idea disgusted him.  Anyone who knew him would know that the thought of wearing ‘women’s’ clothes would be abhorrent, let alone the whorefest which was now being presented to him.

His staring eyes fell on the card which he’d dropped, thoughtlessly, on the table during the excitement of the parcel.  ‘Of course,’ he thought, ‘the letter.’

He pulled at the envelope, ripping it open easily to reveal a valentine’s card – the suggestive image on the front left little to John’s imagination as to what the sender wanted.  Suspiciously, he opened it.  In the same italic hand as the note from the underwear, it read, ‘Roses are Red, Violets are blue, if you wear my gift, I’ll be there for you.’

John started to sweat.  Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.  He obviously had a secret admirer and they were clearly some sort of pervert.

Exasperated by the morning’s bizarre turn of events, he resolved to have a cup of tea and let the whole business blow over when just then his phone rang.  It wasn’t a number that he recognised.  Steeling himself for a sales call, he answered briskly, “Yes.” He shouted, slightly louder and more aggressively than he had planned.  A husky woman’s voice answered, “Hello John.”  John stood rooted to the spot, it was her, the person behind the gift and the card, her knew it.

“Hello” John countered, “who are you?”

No answer was forthcoming, just low, heavy breaths.

“Oh, come on now, this is getting ridiculous.  I don’t have a clue who you are, you send me women’s sexy undies – that you expect me to put on, and that’s not going to happen let me tell you – then a card and now this.  Whoever you are, I don’t like you, please leave me alone or I’ll call the police.”

With that, John hung up the call, collected together the detritus of the situation, and without a second thought, threw the offending collection of garments and card in to the bin.

His mobile phone burst in to action again.  This time he recognised the caller, it was the same number as before.  John clenched his jaw, this certainly was not his idea of a joke.

“Yes.” He barked imperiously down the receiver.

“Mr. Baker?” Came a surprisingly polite response, “Can I have a moment of your time?”

“Who the bloody hell are you?”

“Mr Baker, please…I’d like to…”  But John was in no mood for it, he could feel his ears becoming hot and red.  “This is not a funny joke.” He bellowed.

“Mr Baker.  We are sorry that we’ve inconvenienced you, but we understand that you signed up for our service, and we wanted to give you a courtesy call to check everything is to your liking.”  John was confused on a number of levels; by the polite tone from the woman on the other end of the telephone; the reference to services; the conciliatory nature of the words.  His British sensibilities to return the politeness were now in a full fight with his primal urge to smash the receiver in to the caller’s face.

“Everything to my liking?  Can I ask you one thing, what makes you think that I like putting on women’s underwear?”  The words came out in an otherworldly stutter, John wasn’t quite sure if he was actually saying them out loud.

“Mr Baker, you signed up online to our service just yesterday, it was our Valentine’s Day special offer.  Three months for the price of one at ‘saucyswingers.com’.”

John’s jaw dropped wide open.

“Mr Baker? Are you there? Mr Baker.”

“Well I can certainly tell you now that you are wholly mistaken.  I have done no such thing.”  John was incandescent with shock.  “There must be some mistake. I demand that you remove me from your lists and stop contacting me… immediately.”

“But Mr Baker” the voice continued, “I can see from our system that you still have a number of our special introductory gifts to receive.”

“Can’t you hear me, I don’t want your damn gifts.  I want you to go away.  Can you do that for me?  I haven’t signed up for anything.”

At this, Abba’s ‘I do, I do I do I do I do I do’ broke in to full pelt; John took it that he was now on hold.   A moment later, the woman returned.  “Mr Baker, I’m terribly sorry but we have reason to believe that your identity may have been compromised.”

“My Identity… compromised? What in hell’s name is that meant to mean?”

“It means, Mr Baker, that your Identity may have been stolen.”

“Are you trying to tell me that someone is pretending to be me so that they can sign up to some swingers pervert website?”

“Our advice Mr Baker, is for you to contact your bank as soon as possible.  Goodbye.”

The line went dead.

John turned to hear a key fumbling around in the lock.  The door opened to reveal his wife; 62 and heavy set, she smiled a warm welcoming smile. “I just nipped out dear to get us some streaky bacon and eggs for breakfast – I wanted something special this morning for you.  I’ve got a bit of a saucy secret surprise for you later.”

“You’ve got what?”

“Well” she continued, “I decided that yesterday was the last Valentine’s day I sit around being the little woman waiting for you to do something to please me.”

“Go on.”

“So, I hope you’re ready for what I’ve got in store for you after our bacon baps?”

John pictured the lacy underwear that was sitting in the kitchen bin; he pictured the streaky bacon sitting in his stomach; he pictured his wife…his lovely wife that he now realised he barely knew.

“Susan” He started, “What if I just buy you something nice next year instead.”

Susan smiled a wry smile, her plan, it seemed, had worked.

“Well then dear, one bacon butty coming up and an IOU for next Feb.  My little surprise will have to wait.”

The Tubby Tryptic

On a Saturday in early August the summer sun was dancing through the flower beds and nestling in warm pools on the freshly mowed lawn of number 8 Speyside Drive.

The hot summer had been a shock for the whole country, and by no means least in the small Scottish village in which Tubby Johnston lived.  Tubby wasn’t his real name of course, that was Hector, but everyone called him Tubby. From Mr Moncton the Minister to Susan at the corner shop, the salutation invariably landed with a bright, ‘Hello old Tubs’ to a congenial, ‘Nice to see you Mr Tubby’.  It had been such a long time that he’d forgotten the pejorative nature of the insult to the point that he would twitch nervously if anyone ever referred to him by his true birth name.

Tubby was 49 and bald.  His freckle dappled pink skin never took a tan and his sagging paunch fell like an apron over his belt buckle.  His corpulent carapace disguised a kind and forgiving soul; one which few ever bothered to meet these days.  He never knew if it was because they were too lazy, or whether he was too ashamed of what he’d become; either way, in every sense Tubby was alone.

It had been that way all his life.  He first realised in the latter years of Primary School that he was different.  It had been in the clatter and thrum of the boys changing rooms that Tubby, in some sense, had been born.  The ill placed midwifery of those prepubescent boys birthed the nickname that was to last a lifetime; a name that would form him more fully than any father’s remonstrations or overbearing mother’s love.  Thus, from hitherto obscurity he was launched mercilessly in to the cut and thrust of boyhood, ashamed of the nickname, but grateful that it brought him the stinging salve of brotherhood.

It was on this particular day at the beginning of August that Tubby was now enjoying a cold beer by way of congratulations for having cut the grass.  The fresh aroma mixed with the brewed hopps created, what Tubby though, was one of the most satisfying smells known to man; the silken liquid quenching his workworn thirst and sending him as close to nirvana as you could get to in Speyside Drive.

——

Maranda Montgomery stood in her kitchen, ironing her disappointment in to her husband’s shirts.  It had been an arranged marriage, albeit arranged by her.  Love hadn’t harried her, but avarice had certainly beguiled. She’d seen in the man an opportunity to provide her with a wanton embarrassment of riches. An opportunity that she had devoured like an illicit drug.  A privately educated boy from the village was the ultimate trophy.

Her mother had thought that a name like Miranda would set her daughter up in the world.  It sounded successful and wealthy, but that was where the similarity with Maranda and the upper echelons of the social scale would abruptly end.

Miranda grew up on a 1980s new-build council estate.  Rows of grey pebble dashed terraced houses limped down a gentle hill towards a stony beach on the north east coast of Scotland. The idyllic location belied a social maelstrom of drug addiction and sexual proclivity that Miranda had wanted to escape for as long as she could remember. Her name had protected her in some way to the darker aspects of the place.  Bullied for being posh, she wasn’t invited in to the inner circle of iniquity; reviled by her contemporaries she eschewed the sickening trappings of her youth, in favour of cold hard cash.

Men, to Maranda, were a means to an end; at least, rich men were.   Only the one she had ensnared hadn’t shown the good grace to follow through with the cold hard cash.

‘Fat oaf’, Maranda was unaware that the words had even fallen out of her mouth; the steam from the iron caught them as she continued to mercilessly flatten a gingham shirt.

Through the kitchen window her eyes focussed directly on her husband.  Her strokes became firm and slow, ‘Fucking waste of space. I wish you’d die.’  She could smell something foul mixing in with the Lenor fabric conditioner; she lifted the iron to reveal a smouldering hole in the breast pocket.

‘Now look what yiv made me do ya bastard!’

The harridan scream pierced the bucolic idyll that Tubby was enjoying, although he couldn’t quite make out what his wife had said from his position by the barbecue.  ‘What love?  I can’t hear you.’

‘Deaf as well as fat.’ She scoffed, ‘Nothing love, you just relax.’

Immune to the intricacies of facetiousness, Tubby relaxed back in to his garden chair and began to dose happily to the summer sonnet of bee’s wings and birdsong.

——

In an ageing sycamore, some eight meters above the ground, Dennis had almost reached his goal.  His youthful porcine digits were within a hair’s breadth of a hornet’s nest.  ‘Almost…almost.’

It was no good, Dennis had to admit defeat, he was going to need a tool – he stared angrily at the droning papery prize, trying to formulate his next steps.  As he did, a bead of sweat trickled down his nose and dropped, bullseye, in to his father’s beer glass below.

——

The water had long since stopped providing any steam; it was thanks to the sheer force of will that Maranda’s muslin blouse now lay crease-free on the ironing board.  Without removing the plug, she opened the water hole and brought the iron under the tap.  Through the kitchen window she watched spitefully as her husband jerked awake and looked in the direction of his beer.  ‘What I’ve give to poison that beer’ she thought, ‘something to just make him go away.’  She stood, fixed on him as he picked up his headphones and reclined back down.

‘If that’s Pink Floyd again then you deserve everything you get.’  Maranda’s venom inuring her to the water now overflowing in to the already full sink.

——

From his treetop viewpoint, Dennis could make out his mother muttering to herself in the kitchen.  It made him laugh to think about the old bat losing it.  She thought that she wore the trousers in that house, but Dennis knew that he was the real boss.  He could make his mother do anything he wanted, and he despised her for it.  Women, he thought, were pushovers.

Looking around he pulled a dead twig from a branch and continued trying to relieve the nest of its anchor.  The thought of his father’s face when it fell on him was going to be priceless. He stretched out with gleeful pride – today was going to be a great day.

——

The afternoon sun was coming directly through the branches.  Something caught his eye and he squinted to get a better view of the kitchen window.  There was some great commotion going on.   His mother’s neck was stretched up and her face was a frozen picture of shock.  Dennis laughed out loud, ‘Crank it back in Mum…Jesus.’

But then he heard it, bang, the air around him seemed to shake and his mother fell to the floor.

In a panic, Dennis lost his grip and slipped from the tree; his last view was the neighbour’s sundial.

——

Hector wriggled restlessly in his chair.  The album he was listening to had come to an end.  Lazily he picked up his beer and downed the last warm drops.  His mouth was an instant explosion of pain, leaping from his chair he called out, ‘Maranda, Maranda, I’ve been stung, bring the epi-pen.’  His panic started to take hold, his mouth and throat were engorging; he was having trouble breathing.

‘Mal…an…da.’

He forced the words out as he fell to his knees, his stubby fingers desperately trying to locate the foreign body.  With a tug he managed to dislodge the insect, but it was too late.

Lying on his back, unable to breathe, he thought that the light playing on the leaves had never looked lovelier.

 

The End

Say it with flowers

Muriel Davies ran a flower shop in the forgotten suburbs of a town that had been slowly dying since the steel works closed down and the train station was moved to service the better heeled residents on the west side of the river.

It was a cold February morning and as she opened the shop, she could see the frozen beads of water on the inside of the window pane on the door.  The grey light intensified her cold breath, she felt like an extinguished dragon, returning to its lair; the earthy smell enveloped her and she smiled a wry smile, it was going to be a good day.

Pulling the cord to the three-bar heater above the entrance, she pushed the door hard against the frame, making the little bell that she’d bought one holiday abroad tinkle diminutively.  She wondered if she’d ever go on holiday again, she would like to get away she thought.

‘Good morning Shop’

There was no answer, there was never an answer of course.  The business was mostly on-line now, flower orders would come in from all over the county but she liked it that way. Unobserved and silent, she felt the salutation drift and drop.  She breathed a deep, satisfying breath and bent down to pick up the paper that had been shoved under the wind-stop of the door.

Sighing at the tear in the front page her eye was drawn to a story about a woman from a neighbouring village, a parish councillor was in hospital; I’ll look forward to reading about you later, she thought.

She sat down at her little wooden desk and shivered, maybe she would leave her coat on for now.  She pressed a tiny button under the table which opened a drawer.  In it was a list of names, a pencil, a jar, a small brush and a pile of special offer cards.  “50% off your first order” announced the gaudy flyer.  “Only £5 for 12 Long Stem Roses.  Your Exclusive Introductory Offer from Say It With Flowers.”

Taking the pencil, she ran it down the list of names, ticked one and closed the drawer.

To protect the flowers, Muriel put the heater down to one bar and took off her coat.  She was used to the chill but it still took her a little while to acclimatise in the mornings.  Not bothering to put fresh water in the kettle she boiled the dregs from the day before and sipped a hot cup of tea as she watched the street slowly come to life outside.  The frost had begun to clear and a fine drizzle had set in.  ‘What a dump’ she thought.  This place used to be somewhere.  Back in the good old days, people had wanted to move there from all over the county.  Good schools, clean air, a community.  Now her shop and a newsagents were the only ones left in the street.  Groups of kids sat around smoking and doing God knows what else, even the church had been turned in to a Bingo hall, but no-one went there any more either.  The 1930s rows of identikit houses hid a listless misery that had infected everyone.

Muriel turned and began to leaf through the morning paper.  It was full of local news; a business group was moaning about the parish politicians; house prices were slumping, there were no jobs (or at least no jobs that anyone wanted to do) and to top it all, the bus company was going on strike.  Muriel pressed the button on her desk again and took out the list of names, then, adding to it, scribbled down the names of two business people, three politicians and the manager of the Job Centre who had been explaining her reasons for the lack of employment opportunities in the area.

Then she got to work.  Internet research was her primary pastime.  In order to drum up trade, Muriel would send out ten or so of her offer flyers a day.  She would hunt down wealthy individuals and send them her special offer discount cards.  And it had worked, to a degree, at least enough for her to earn a crust and keep the business going.

After about an hour, she had compiled a list of potential cash cows.  There was a new owner at the pub; that would be a good bit of repeat custom she thought.  And there was a new toddler group opening up at the community centre which was bound to bring in some business.  Satisfied that her mornings travails were enough to keep her afloat, she turned her attention to the list of names she’d gleaned from the morning paper.

She loved the fact that people were ostensibly ego maniacs, it made her ‘work’ so much more easy.  All she had to do was type in a name and her PC screen would explode with reams of information; everything from someone’s address to their sexual orientation.

She pulled a flyer from the drawer, on the reverse it said ‘To redeem this offer, just return this card in the reply-paid envelope and we’ll do the rest.’ There was a box for the name and address and somewhere for the lucky recipient to place their order.

Muriel made all the stationery herself.  She printed the flyers on her PC and fashioned the reply envelopes by recycling old wrapping.  For the people that she’d gleaned from the internet, she happily put some double sided sticky tape on the envelope flap to ensure that it could be safely closed and returned.  On the others, she gingerly spread a generous amount of a quick drying ‘glue’ that she had prepared herself. Every second class stamp that she used for the replies was lovingly licked; somehow she hoped to cast a magic spell that would bring luck and great success to her endeavours.  She was very proud of her abilities and took great pleasure when sending her creations out to the world.

In a short while, Muriel had two festive piles of envelopes on her desk; one to make money, they other to bring sanity, and all ready to be posted when she next went out.

It was time for a break, and Muriel settled down with another cup of Tetley’s and scanned the front page of the paper for the story about the poorly councillor. The unfortunate soul had had some sort of fit followed by terrifying hallucinations.  The whole sorry episode had ended when they had thrown themselves in the canal and nearly drowned.

The bell on the door tinkled its tiny tune, “post” trumpeted in to the silence and Muriel found herself clutching a handful of letters.  ‘Thanks’ she said to the closing door as the postman busied off to the next delivery.

In amongst the bills there was a chintzy envelope that she recognised as her own.  Carefully slicing it open she read the name on the card aloud and smiled.  ‘Cllr Ann Hughes’.   She glanced down at the newspaper and gently touched the face of Cllr Hughes that was staring back up at her. ‘I wonder how you are feeling now Ann’ she thought.  Did you like the taste of my reply-paid glue? That should have been enough LSD to kill a horse – you must be as tough as old boots.”

She looked back at the list of names she’d gleaned from the paper earlier. “You all really should have voted Leave like normal people.  If you’d done that Ann, this simply wouldn’t have happened to you.  But, credit, where credit’s due, for a Snowflake Remoaner I thought you’d be dead before you managed to post it back.”

As Muriel busied herself with Ann’s order she resolved to put more paste on the next batch of envelopes.  Just to be sure.

My Bloody Valentine

The writing on the envelope clearly said Do Not Open.

As Felicity pulled at the ragged corner of the sticky flap, her chipped Shellac made her smart.  It was meant to last a month, but she’d only visited the salon a week ago.

She pulled out the contents: a key, a St. Christopher medallion without its chain and a folded sheet of paper.  The paper seemed to have been crumpled, flattened and then refolded.  She could see the familiar jerky handwriting of her husband.  Quietly smiling to herself Felicity rolled her eyes, it was another one of Ewan’s little surprises. 

She recalled Valentine’s day last year.  She’d been ill with a bad cold and Ewan had cancelled the trip to Paris.  Instead, he set a roaring fire, put on her favourite film and made her feel more special than a million trips to Paris rolled in to one.  A year later, looking at the little votive artefacts on her lap, emotion spilled from her; a happy tear chuckling down her cheek.

Ewan was so obvious she thought.  St Christopher meant travel, a journey.  But where had he planned to take her now?  The key was a bit less obvious, but it probably signified the hotel door, Ewan was infuriatingly literal at times.

She put the items to her side and began to unfold the paper, settling back in to the comfort of the sofa as the soft afternoon light filled the living room.

I don’t want to be here, the note began.  I want to be somewhere else, somewhere clean and fresh and clear. 

Felicity’s interest piqued, here we go she thought, Paris here we come. She continued reading.

I saw a bird today, a little robin redbreast. It looked so cold and thin.  I put out some breadcrumbs but it was too scared to come near me.  It looked like it was starving to death but even that wasn’t enough to make it come to me to eat.  I threw my shoe at it.. the stupid bloody bird.

Felicity took in a sharp breath.  It was undeniably Ewan’s writing, she’d recognise that anywhere, but they weren’t his words.  He wouldn’t hurt a fly and he would certainly never throw a shoe at a poor defenceless little bird.  It was probably just a joke.  A bad one certainly, but then, Ewan was never quite, how could she put it, the ‘Party’ person.  He was much more of a home-bod. Satisfied with her conclusion, she read on.

I didn’t meant to kill it, I didn’t even aim it on purpose. I just wanted it to go away but the idiotic creature just stood there and watched my shoe fly straight towards it.  And then there it was, dead on the patio.

Oh dear, thought Felicity. She turned back to the letter.

I’m like that bird.  I’m just standing, waiting for something to happen to me.  Too scared to move forward, too bloody stupid to step out of the way.  That’s why I’ve got to do it now.

“I wish he’s get to the bloody point”, spat Felicity.

I know that suicide is the coward’s way out, but it’s my only option.

Oh you little devil, thought Felicity.

You don’t love me Felicity, I know you don’t.  You look at me with an expression somewhere between loathing and hysteria.  You don’t like my clothes

True, thought Felicity.

You don’t like my jokes.

Tell me something I don’t know she sneered, her eyes rolling.

You can barely be civil.  I go out of my way to earn the money to give you this big house, but you fill it up with your trinkets and where am I… where?   I’m stuck on the 6:40 to London Bridge every day, staring at the dead eyes of business men and feeling nothing but jealousy when some poor bugger has thrown themselves under it.

“Come come now Ewan my boy”, Felicity’s eyes darted with danger and her lip curled.

I won’t go on.  Suffice to say that if you are reading this letter, then it’s your last act of betrayal to me.  I’m going to write ‘Do Not Open’ on the envelope – at least I can count on your prying snout to sniff out my suicide note.

Felicity gently folded the letter, placed it on the barley twist occasional table next to the sofa and stood up. 

‘YOU’RE SO BLOODDY OVER DRAMATIC EWAN… D’YOU KNOW THAT?’

Felicity walked calmly up the stairs and in to the bedroom. Hanging in the corner of the room, from a Farrow and Ball glazed beam was Ewan.  His body was still twitching ; his red dripping eyes were turned to the open door where Felicity now stood. 

“Did you think that you were going to do it yourself Ewan?  Did you?”

Ewan’s rope creaked in reply.

“I seem to have beaten you to it, dear boy”

There was a spasm in Ewan’s left leg.

“I’ll have to go and rectify that dodgy wiring you left in the kitchen now.  Was that your plan?  A short circuit and puff?  You’re pathetic.”

Ewan’s body moved slowly clockwise as if to regard her more fully.

“But here we are, you almost dead and me nearly free, I should probably thank you.  None of this ever needed to happen you know.

Ewan stared blankly, his non-committal face enraged Felicity.

“Paris Ewan, Paris.  You didn’t need to cancel the bloody trip entirely, I only had a cold.  Nothing that a bottle of champagne on the Champs wouldn’t have fixed, but oh no, you knew best.  It was safe old Ewan with a bottle of linctus, entombed in 13 togs of duck plume and Bridget bloody Jones. “

Ewan looked as shocked as his lifeless face could muster.

“And now you rub my nose in it with a St Christopher in your feeble suicide note.”

In a daze, Ewan remembered the medallion.  It had been his father’s, he’d wanted her to have something that meant something to him.  Something to make her think of the journey they’d had together so that she’d realise what she’d done wrong.  It pleased him to know that she was already upset by it.”

“It wasn’t easy getting you unconscious you know.  There was enough barbiturate in that quiche to knock out a horse.  But of course, you wanted the Pot Noodle, so what else could I do but hit you on the head with the frying pan a few times.”

Ewan’s eyes watered involuntarily.

“And I’m only small, a size 8”

An 18 and then some thought Ewan. A cough erupting from him, spraying the room with blood.

“You’ve put on weight, I thought that the pulley on the lamp fitting was going to give way.  But to top it all off, I find a bloody suicide note in the Harvey Jones kitchen catalogue.  You knew I’d find it there, it’s just heartless.”

Ewan snorted.

Felicity walked over to her husband and slowly lifted her hand. Gently placing her fingers round the rope, she pulled fiercely, the tightening knot extinguishing Ewan for good.

As life slipped away from him a blissful vision appeared.  In billowing gossamer, Felicity opened the giftwrapped casket Ewan had bought for her Valentines gift.  She pulled the small key from the torn envelope.  As she turned the lock the lid sprang open. 

Screaming, she dropped the box. 

Ewan was dead.

————

As the last of the early spring light left the bedroom, Felicity tutted as she unwrapped the gift that had been left on her bedside table.  For god’s sake she thought – that’s what the bloody key is for.    In exasperation, she took the box down to the living room and opened it. 

Felicity gazed at the contents, a dead robin redbreast stared blankly back at her.

That, she thought, is not going to get me on the Eurostar.