Saturday, 11 February 2012

A Short Story Double Bill! "Surprisingly Moving With Its Oddness"

So, today we have two short stories with the same title! "Surprisingly Moving With Its Oddness" #1 is a romantic tale for Valentine's Day (kind of) and "Surprisingly Moving With Its Oddness" #2 is somewhat darker. Shall we?


The night had gone well. Better than Nancy could have hoped for. Her expectations had not been high. Birthday parties had traditionally involved heated arguments in front of everyone and cooling vomit somewhere so hidden that she wondered how it could possibly have got there. So she’d taken care with this, her thirtieth. She’d made sure to organise it herself. She'd invited the nine people she wanted to invite and she had given them strict instructions not to invite anyone else. There would be no unwanted exes, no unpleasant surprises.

And there hadn’t been. She’d made the food with the help of her sisters Tara (whose thirtieth birthday party had been two years ago and was still not spoken of) and Lisa (who was twenty two and had made sure that there were as many objects with the numbers 3 and 0 on scattered around the house). People had shown up on time. They all knew each other. They shared similar interests and the ones who held radically different opinions had agreed to disagree, at least for the evening. And Paul had been there. Lovely Paul.

Nancy had seriously considered not inviting Paul. They had only been together for a month. She had been determined to avoid any awkwardness and worried that he might feel pressured or that her friends and family might put him on the spot. But a week before the party she had told him that she would be thirty soon, and gave him the particulars. He had smiled and told her that he would love to come.

She had told everyone that she didn’t want presents. The guests had been allowed to bring nice booze, nice nibbles, and other things of that nature. Fancy puddings were explicitly encouraged. Anything gift-wrapped would not be allowed into the house. To her surprise, everyone did as she had asked. She could be very authoritative when she wanted to be. But after the main course had been cleared away, Paul had leaned over and whispered in her ear that he had a surprise for her. He’d got her something special that would have to wait until everyone else had gone home. She had lost count of the number of glasses of what had been declared “Present Wine” she had drunk by then, and was touched by the gesture and not a little excited.

It was after midnight by the time everyone had left. Tara had been the last to go, staggering from the front door to the taxi that had been patiently waiting for her to say a long and emotional goodbye to Nancy. When Nancy had closed the front door she took Paul into the living room, both carrying refreshed glasses of Present Wine, and sat down on the sofa. Paul gave her a long kiss and gave her his present.

Nancy looked down at what she was holding. At first glance she thought it was a child’s scrapbook. It had faded red card for a cover, with NANCY SO FAR written on it in black marker pen. She looked up at Paul, who sat there next to her, grinning. She opened it.

It may not have been a child’s, but it was definitely a scrapbook. Each page had a photograph stuck onto a piece of white card, with a brief description above and below written in different coloured felt tip.

Page one had a picture of Nancy as a baby, open-mouthed and beaming at the camera. She turned the pages slowly. Nancy showing off her missing front tooth at her fifth birthday party. Nancy age seven, clutching a green ribbon awarded to her for coming third in the hundred metre dash. Nancy age nine, dressed as a sheep for the school’s nativity play. Nancy age thirteen, wearing a slightly-too-long blue dress for the school dance.

She became aware that Paul had put her arm around her.

“Where did you get these pictures?”

“Your parents, of course,” he said. “Go on, keep going.”

The photos glued onto the card pages were no longer ones that her parents would have taken.

Nancy celebrating getting into a bar under-age, clasping a cigarette and a tequila sunrise. Nancy with her hands held up on the dance floor with a man who might have been called Rob or Jason wrapping his arms around her. Nancy in her room in university halls surrounded by books and empty packets of Malboro Lights. Nancy and Tara celebrating her graduation with a fancy meal that Tara had treated her to. Nancy looking something of a stressed mess moving into her first flat in London. Nancy holding up her shelter cat Beast up to the camera. Nancy, Tara, and Lisa celebrating Tara’s 30th birthday with Tara looking like she might cry.

And Nancy felt that she might cry too. She was drunk, and these were good memories. But as she stared at the scrapbook in her hands she wasn’t sure that she liked it very much.

“You found all of these in a week?” she asked. It was the only thing she could think to ask.

Paul smiled and nodded but the smile wasn’t quite as sure of itself as it had been a few minutes ago. Nancy wondered what sort of reaction he had been hoping for.

“Do you like it?” he asked. “I was trying to think of something that no one else would get you, and it wasn’t gift-wrapped or anything. I mean, most of the pictures were on Facebook anyway. I thought it would be nice.”

“Yeah, it is...nice. But it’s just...I don’t know Paul, I just wasn’t expecting it.”

She sat still for a couple of minutes, not knowing what to do with the scrapbook. Should she put it on the table, give it back, or hold onto it? She held onto it. It seemed simplest. After the silence had grown unbearable, Paul stood up.

“It’s getting late, I should probably get going.”

He paused, waiting for her to say that he could stay the night. She didn’t. He leant down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then grabbed his coat off the banister and left, pulling the front door closed quietly behind him.

Nancy sat on the sofa. She finished her glass of Gift Wine, and opened the scrapbook at the beginning.



Owen was waiting for the house to go quiet before entering. Having arrived at the appointed time, he stood at the bottom of the garden, as per his instructions, and waited for all the lights to go out. While he waited he cast an eye around at the toys that had been left outside at the end of the long summer’s day. A football that had rolled under a holly bush. A doll’s house that sat with the front door wide open.

It was the parents’ bedroom that looked out on to the garden. Owen was not worried about being seen. He was not seen unless he wanted to be. Standing perfectly still came naturally to him. A spider fell from its dangling thread onto his shoulder and paused, wondering which direction to go. Owen pinched it between the nails of his thumb and index finger and, without really thinking about it too much, pushed it between his lips and ate it.

The light in the parents’ bedroom went out. Owen had his instructions. He waited for another fifteen minutes and stepped out. He was in no hurry as he walked the length of the garden. The back door did not present much of a challenge. He simply pushed and it opened, as he had been told it would. It had never occurred to Owen that it wouldn’t. He closed it quietly behind him.

The house was quiet. He was not concerned about waking any of the inhabitants. He walked softly by nature regardless of what he was wearing. He didn’t even know what this body’s footsteps sounded like.

Naturally, the grand-parents were first. Their room was at the very top of the stairs and the door creaked a little as he opened it. The old woman frowned in her sleep but did not wake. The old man showed no sign of noticing anything at all. He walked over to the bed and took out his knife. The task was completed quickly, every instruction followed to the letter. They hadn’t even noticed it happening.

The parents were next. He had been told that they were restless sleepers and he was not too surprised when the mother woke halfway through and screamed, forcing Owen to make things rather messier than he had wished. The father managed to get out of bed while Owen was distracted and was moving towards the door by the time Owen turned to finish him. Now there was only the child left to deal with. Owen walked along the corridor to the small room at the front of the house and opened the door.

The child’s bed was empty. The bright green duvet had been flung almost halfway across the room but the door had been closed when he had entered. The child was still inside. Owen moved in a spiral around the room, drawing ever closer to the bed at the centre. He looked at the stars on the ceiling and realised they came from the nightlight plugged in at the wall. He knew a lot of children under five were scared of the dark. But he could not be distracted. There could be no room for error. There was a sound from outside the room. He paused by the wardrobe and listened.

A cat was yowling. Owen realised that the sound was coming from the grandparents’ bedroom and he wondered how he could possibly have missed it. He left the child’s bedroom. He was confident that she would not leave her hiding place. The instinct for self-preservation was too strong.

A fat tabby cat stood at the foot of the bed mewing at the stationary, bloodied figures above. As Owen entered the room the cat turned and hissed, arching its back. Owen understood it to be hostile and grabbed the animal by the scruff of the neck. The cat screeched and scratched wildly at him with its claws. Owen lifted the knife with his free hand.


He turned. The child stood in the doorway. He had been wrong. She had abandoned her hiding place. She had abandoned safety for the life of the cat. He did not understand.

“Don’t hurt him!”

He looked again at the cat, who had not grown tired, still swinging its claws at him. He put it down and looked at the child. The cat ran past the child and down the stairs. It didn’t care that she had saved it. That didn’t seem to matter to her. She stared at him, tears streaking her face. He was confused. And he was troubled.

He walked past the girl, down the stairs, and left the house by the back door. As he walked back down the garden he tried to understand what had happened.


Well I hope you enjoyed these short stories. The title comes from Stacey Siddons (her blog here) I had two ideas, you see, and I couldn't decide which to write, so I wrote both. #1 is sort of a cross over between a Michael Haneke movie and Crazy Joe Davola's shrine to Elaine Benes in Seinfeld. I don't think there are many short stories written for blogs by a someone who's a quarter Finnish that has Haneke and Seinfeld as its chief influences (covering my bases here) so I hope you enjoy. There's a bit of manic-pixie-dream-girl/boy poking going on too, not that it needs it.

#2 was conceived as something quite different and a lot more explicitly violent that I may write at some point but it didn't feel quite right for the title. You can make up your own mind about who or what Owen is. I have an idea but I'd be interested to hear what you think. It was also going to be longer at one point but I wanted to keep it short and simple. I think if it was any longer Owen's perspective wouldn't work. I toyed with the idea of having more family members but I think there's just enough of a Bucket family from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory thing going on that I'm happy. I wasn't sure about the spider at first but I like it now. (These insights are fascinating, aren't they! God!)

There will be another blog post possibly tomorrow explaining my plans for The Novel That Nobody Wanted. I have a vague sort of almost plan for it. Hopefully it will be something positive and will allow me to stop thinking about it and move on with the rest of my life.

I'm still looking for titles! Remaining, we have: Time To Don The Vanilla Suits!, Mermaid Skin, A Thrilling Warning to Naughty Ladies, and I Was Dead Inside Until I Met You.

Thanks for reading. OK, here's a song. It's really good. I'm not just posting it because it's Charlotte Gainsbourg.


  1. I'm delighted that you wrote these stories. I prefer the second one, which is rather apt. Owen is fabulous, although I suspect he'd hate being called this. My favourite line? "He didn’t even know what this body’s footsteps sounded like."

  2. I'm glad you think that Owen is fabulous and for the delighted-ness! I'm not sure that Owen hates anything...