Thursday, 13 June 2013


My boyfriend works at the brothel called Galilee. You’ve probably seen it. It looks like a pub from the outside. You might have even been inside it. It's got beer, dangerously low ceiling beams and a dog that will moult hair all over your coat. But pub it is not. Brothel it is. You won’t see a sign outside but go on upstairs and ask for it, and you’ll find it. There might be balm in Gilead but there is spunk in Galilee. And that’s where my boyfriend works. Well, worked.

It’s a place for a wealthy clientele of a certain persuasion. Anyone who needs to feel the hand of God when they’re doing something sinful can find what they’re looking for at Galilee. From what I’ve been told, most of the scenarios these people conjure up aren’t their own fantasies at all. Instead, they go in for the recreation of paintings. My boyfriend told me he’s seen everything from Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast to Bosch’s vision of hell being recreated in that place’s upstairs function room. Like some kind of fine art karaoke. But with fucking.

My boyfriend is, as he puts it, a background whore. His name is Laurence. My name is Ruth. For two years we’ve been together, and for two years I’ve known what he did for a living. I never judged him for it. At least, I never judged him in any way that he would notice. It was what he was doing when I met him. He told me it was a job, but not just a job. I asked him if he wanted to give it up and he told me that he didn’t. He answered any questions that I had and he never lied to me. Sometimes I wanted to know and when I didn’t, I didn’t ask. His life in Galilee was as separate as I wanted it to be.

Then he asked me to join him. Just for one night, he said. I wouldn’t even have to do anything. All I would have to do was background movement. Put on a white robe, look like I was having a good time, and then, when the time came, I had to scream. He told me that I would be paid the same as him. A last minute replacement got the same amount as a seasoned player. And I wouldn’t even have to do anything. All I had to be was background colour. He wanted me to do it. And I would be lying if, even as I told him I wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to do it as well. Just to see what went on at the top of the stairs. I was curious.

He told me to arrive at seven. I was met at the bar by a woman in her late forties called Hazel. Her hair was black, her eyes were green. “Family name?” I asked. She smiled and told me that she was very grateful for my assistance. The usual woman had contracted a case of gastric flu and they had very strict policies about what exactly went out and in and in what fashion at Galilee. I smiled back and told her that it was my pleasure. She directed me to the stairs and told me that I would be met at the top by someone who would get me into my clothes.

I was helped into a white shift by a slender dark-haired boy called Joshua and a red-haired girl who told me she was named Ruth. I told her that was my name too and she scowled at me. “Not tonight. Day players don’t get a name.” Which settled that problem. I was anxious to see where Laurence was but he only found me as Ruth hustled me along the corridor to a narrow space covered in sand behind a huge red curtain. He pressed a leash into my hand and smiled at me.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “They do this all the time.”

The curtain went down. The space was much bigger than I expected. Impossibly bigger. There was no way that we could be in the same building. I looked up and saw the night sky through the glass ceiling I had never known was there. Then the noises started.

I hadn’t seen the clientele. They’d been holding still until everything was ready. Men and women dressed in robes that looked like they could be torn off very easily. They wouldn’t even need Velcro.

Once we’d all lined up and got into position, they started enjoying themselves. I’m not going to say I didn’t look. These people were entertaining themselves in ways that I hadn’t really considered before, at least not in any great detail. And there it was in front of me. I just had to stand there in my toga, holding a leash, while others were putting things into places and making all kinds of noises. The use I was getting out of my leash paled in significance to what they would have done with it, I’ll tell you that. I felt a tug on the leather and glanced down. A sheep looked back up at me, looking about as useless as I felt. I assumed that it was part of the background decoration like me. At least, I hoped it was.

I don’t know exactly how long I stood there, trying not to look directly at the various parts of human anatomy on display. It might have been an hour, it might have been less. I had drifted off and started staring up at the sky, wondering what a satellite would pick up if it looked down at Galilee. I was startled when Laurence grabbed my shoulder. “Time to go,” he said. I nodded, but something in the corner of the room caught my eye. A small fire had started. I hissed at Laurence but he pushed me towards the door. “It’s part of the show. Just start moving slowly.”

There was a roar of what I assume was the fire catching, then the screaming started. And it hit me. Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course. I should have known. I knew exactly what I had been brought there to be and it should have broken my heart.

“Look, Ruth! Open your eyes!”

I did no such thing. I wondered how hurt I should have been as he pawed at the back of my neck, telling me to turn around, to open my eyes and look. Instead I tuned him out and listened to the screams of the poor fornicators who I assumed were well on their way to ash. He told me he loved his job. This was his job. It wasn’t mine.

The heat from the flames was becoming unbearable but it gave me a good indicator of where I didn’t want to go. When I walked away from it and felt a hand on my arm I knew where Laurence was. So I turned around, I grabbed that arm, and I pushed at the body it was attached to.

The scream let me know that Laurence had gone where I wanted him to. When it didn’t stop I knew that I could keep walking. I hoped the sheep would keep up.


It's been months since the last story. Bloody months. I've been busy but I'm hoping to get some more stuff up here soon. I'm planning a couple of things. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. Here's some music.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Night My Heart Exploded

It’s not a metaphor. Or a simile, or a fucking allegory, or whatever the word is. My heart. Exploded. And it wasn't because a pretty girl walked into the library where I work and told me that she needed my help. She caused it; she made it happen with malice of bloody forethought. At least she didn’t kill me. I suppose that’s something to be thankful for.

I’d been left alone to lock up for the night. I was in the middle of returning the children’s section to something approaching acceptable when she walked in. That’s always the easiest part of the lock-up. I mean, yes, you have to deal with whatever disgusting things they’ve left behind, from slobbery pacifiers to slobbery teddy bears, but the beauty of tidying the children’s section is that it’s never going to be tidy for more than five minutes after you open. And the manager never comes in for at least an hour after that, so basically it’s a non-job.

Anyway, back to that night. I was hurling the SpongeBob cushions into the corner when this girl walked in. Was she attractive? Yes. Would I have behaved more cautiously had she not been? I don’t know. It’s a moot point. She wasn’t and I didn’t. Is that right? Anyway, this girl stood there, dressed quite smart in a dark blue suit, dark hair done in a ponytail, with these big, bulky headphones around her neck. She asked me if I could help her with something.

“We’re closed,” I told her.  If I’d been thinking, I would have wondered how she’d got past the locked front door. But thinking while working isn’t something I do very often. Since starting work there, I’d made a real effort to save my mental activity until I could share it with the people who I felt earned it and so far this girl had done nothing to prove she was worth anything more than a standard response. Apart from having a face like she did, I suppose.

“It’s very important,” she told me, like that would change everything. There was a tone in her voice, though. It wasn’t a tone like, “Oh god, I’ve been attacked!” It was more like “This is serious, listen to me.”

I thought about the possibility that she might be telling the truth. She did look worried; she looked like she wanted to be moving rather than standing by the door talking to me. So I walked over to her. I’m not a heartless person; I wouldn’t abandon someone who was in serious trouble. Oh, shit. Sorry about that. Pun not intended, but if I do it again, you can assume it is. Heartless.

“What’s going on?” I asked her. She turned to look at the front door. I don’t know if you’ve been there and seen the doors to the library, but they’re these two big, bulky wooden bastards. Substantial. And they were closed. She must have been satisfied because she turned back to me.

“Listen to this,” she said, and reached into her jacket pocket. Now, I’m wondering what’s going on. Maybe she’s going to pull a phone or MP3 player out; maybe she’s got a recording of something, I thought. You know the scene in Garden State, with Natalie Portman and The Shins? Maybe a small part of me thought that was happening. But no, it’s a matchbox. Cook’s Matches. She pops on her headphones and hands the box to me. “Open it,” she says. I know what you’re thinking. Why would you open it? But then, why wouldn’t you?

I open it. There’s something inside, I can’t tell what it is. It takes up most of the matchbox; it looks almost like a grey, moist fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant, the way it’s curled up in there.  And then it uncurls. I almost drop it but before I can it starts vibrating and this noise comes out and it fills my head and everything just goes pink.

As I fell to the floor I felt like I was going in slow-motion. Which meant I could watch the arcing explosion coming out of my chest. It actually looked kind of beautiful. I saw some white bits that I assumed were shards of my ribs, or maybe just globs of fat that have been sticking around. Lots of blood, obviously. I could see it spattering the young adult section. And there were these vivid red chunks just flying out that I knew, that I understood were pieces of my heart which had just exploded.

So I’m on the floor. I’m lying there. My head’s tilted to the side; I’m looking at a misshapen hunk of my flesh that’s dripping off the book trolley. And I feel the girl take my hand.

“Get up,” she said.

It seemed ridiculous. How could I possibly get up? But she started pulling, so I thought that maybe it wasn’t so stupid. I tried, and it took some doing, but I just about got to my feet.

“What the hell was that?” I asked, in the kind of tone which I felt was justified.

“I don’t have time to explain,” she said. “There are some people coming. I need you to go outside and talk to them.”

I looked down at the hole in my chest, which was still bleeding a lot, by the way. I looked at the way my ribs have been blasted outwards. I felt like I was examining a crime scene. “I’m not sure I can go anywhere,” I told her. But to be honest, I felt OK. Had it not been for the evidence all over the floor, I wouldn’t have known anything had happened. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the front door. I kicked a chunk of something on the way and saw it skid under one of the history shelves. It would be a bastard to retrieve that. I don’t know who had to do that, some forensics guy I suppose.

She turned the lock in the front door and opened it a crack. “Go outside and tell them that it worked,” she said. When I asked what, she shook the matchbox. “This. Tell them the matchbox worked.”

Before I had time to register a complaint I was shoved outside. It was blowing a gale and I could feel little dangly bits around the edges of my wound flapping. It was…grim. But my eyes were drawn to the three large bald men in suits standing by a large black van a few feet away from me, who were all carrying shiny handguns. I assumed that these were the people I needed to talk to.

“Hello,” I said. “She says it works.”

The man in the middle took a step towards me. “Where’s the proof?” he asked. I gestured to my chest.

“I think I’m supposed to be the proof,” I told him. “The thing in the matchbox did this to me.” He moved closer and bent down to examine my wound. He used his pistol to move my shirt aside and get a better look. I thought it best to leave him to it, but looking at the blood dripping onto his weapon I couldn’t help but wonder how sanitary it was.

“Fair enough,” he said. “Is she inside?” I nodded, and he took a step back, taking his handgun out of me. “Laura? Is he telling the truth, then?”

“He is,” I heard her shout from behind me. She was poking her head out from behind the door. “I told you it would work, I just needed more time.” The man nodded.

“We may have been too hasty. What do you say to the idea of coming back?”

I turned and saw Laura take a cautious step towards us. “I say you spent the last hour trying to kill me.”

The man held his hands up. “We thought that you didn’t know what you were doing. We thought you were wasting our time, but clearly we were wrong. I apologise. I was too hasty and it won’t happen again. Besides, we need you to figure out why he’s still alive.”

Laura grinned. “I’ll expect a pay rise.” The man grinned back and nodded.

I’d been standing there, listening to this back and forth and wondering if I should say anything. I had hoped that I would be left out of it, but clearly, that wasn’t the case. As I was about to ask how they planned to find out why I was still alive, the man’s two friends picked me up and bundled me into the van.

No one said a word and I thought it best to keep my mouth shut. We drove for about twenty minutes, then a bag was put over my head and I was carried inside a building. I had no idea whether I was above ground or below but when the bag was removed I was in a cell. Not the worst cell imaginable, thankfully. It was clean, I had it to myself, there was a toilet. All things considered, it could have been much worse. My main worry was what to do about the hole in my chest. I did briefly consider filling it with wadded toilet paper but I’m sure you can deduce why I didn’t. Mushiness. Sorry, anyway, I didn’t think I needed to worry about infection. I just sat there and waited. I was sure someone would come and explain things to me eventually
Which brings me up to now. Two men I didn’t recognise opened the door and brought me here to talk to you ladies and gentlemen. Can I ask, have you figured it out yet? Why I’m not dead? Does it have something to do with the thing in the matchbox? Oh, how’s Laura?



Hope you enjoyed this one. It was fun to do something a bit different. Initially it was going to be another story with Elsie the ghost from She Wore Stripes, but this happened instead. I'd written a couple of quite grim things so it was nice to have a bit of fun with this.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Yesterday's Shoes

Robin nearly tripped over the shoes when she stepped out of the front door.

They hadn’t been there when she got home the night before. A pair of plain black shoes sat on her doormat, facing inwards. They didn’t look like the kind of shoes to be abandoned. They looked like they’d been polished to within an inch of their leather lives. But what were they doing there? Why would somebody leave a perfectly good…

She didn’t have time to think about it. She was going to be late and Robin was not a person who would allow herself to be late. She stepped over the unwelcome shoes and hurried off down the front path to work.
Her day was a busy one and she didn’t have a lot of time to think about what the shoes were doing there. 

Every now and again, however, she would find herself with a quiet moment to herself and she felt that there was something oddly familiar about those shoes. Which was ridiculous, of course. What could be familiar about a pair of plain black shoes?

How old are you now?

They were still there when she got back. Sitting on the front doorstep. Toes pointed towards the door. 

Whoever had left them there had not returned, which Robin thought was rather inconsiderate. Perhaps they were meant to be a gift. Perhaps one of her neighbours had left them for her. Maybe they thought she had a boyfriend, they were men’s shoes after all. Maybe she should ask. That’s what she would do.

The neighbours had not left them as a gift. In fact they seemed to find the notion that they would consider leaving her a gift quite bizarre in itself. Mrs Gleeson on the left explained a little too forcefully that she had no idea what Robin was talking about and that she certainly had no interest in any male visitors that she might have. Mr Kritz on the right apologised for no reason but hadn’t left the shoes there either and used the stewhe was cooking as a reason to close the door on her.

She didn’t need the shoes. She could take them to a charity shop, she supposed, but she didn’t have the time, not this week. After some consideration she moved the shoes down to the end of the path, by the front gate. Somebody would take them, a good pair of shoes like that. Whoever had left them might conceivably want them back and she would rather the gift-giver go no further than the gate. Although she supposed they must have done before.

Robin prepared a small supper for herself which she ate at the dining room table as she always did. Vegetable soup. She’d stopped buying meat a few years ago; she found that she’d simply lost the taste for it.

As she ate, the sound of her slurping accompanied only by the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece, she found her mind wandering back to the shoes. You heard about people being knocked out of their shoes, didn’t you? People who were hit by a lorry, although she knew that didn’t make sense. The man could have been struck by lightning and reduced to a pillar of dust, swept away by the wind. Maybe it was a Jehovah’s Witness who had been raptured. She giggled into her spoon and spatter minestrone on the tablecloth.

As she mopped up the mess she’d made she felt a chill. She thought she had better check the door. No reason, just to check.

The shoes were there. Toes pointed inwards. She peered out at the night. No one. She picked up the shoes and marched over the bin. It was rubbish collection day tomorrow. Let the bin men take the shoes and let whoever was bothering her stop it, just stop it. Time for bed now, Robin, work in the morning.

Bed time.

Mum was different that morning. She was trying hard to smile but Robin could tell she’d been crying. There was the smell of bacon frying. Mum never cooked bacon. When Robin came in she wiped her eyes and put a dirty yellow cloth on the table. A black shoe sat in her lap.

“Morning, sweetheart. Do you want some breakfast?”

“Watch that, you’re getting polish on the tablecloth!” The voice was cold and flat. Quiet, but she could tell he was angry.

Robin didn’t know who the man who had just told her mum off was but she knew she didn’t like him. He was looking at her, like he was trying to guess how much she weighed.

“Is this her, then?”

Mum nodded and kept that smile on her face. “That’s her. That’s Robin.”

“Hello, Robin,” said the man, and bent down to be face to face. His hair was slicked back over his skull and his eyes were dark like an animal’s. His breath smelt like old coffee.

“How old are you now?” he asked.

“She’s eleven, Alfie,” said Mum. She sounded scared. Robin knew why. The man had been here before. When he’d gone away things had got better. She’d stopped being scared at night.

“I don’t like you,” said Robin. Because it was true.

The man’s hand went back.

Robin woke up with the alarm. She had sweated profusely in the night and hurried into the shower. She hadn’t had a dream like that for years.

She went through her morning routine on autopilot. The kettle was boiled and she ate…something. She dressed and opened the front door.

She choked back a sob as she saw the shoes on her front door step. She looked out at the street, not sure what she was looking for. She picked up the shoes and hurled them into the road, ignoring the Mrs Gleeson’s twitching curtain.

The day went slowly. She didn’t speak to anyone in the office. On her lunch break she called her mum. The receptionist at the home put her through and Mum sounded surprised to hear from her. Robin tried to explain what was happening but didn’t know what to say. Finally she just asked.

“Mum…he’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Who’s dead, dear?”

“Dad. Dad’s dead, isn’t he?”

There was a pause. Long enough for Robin to think that maybe her mother was going to tell her no. But instead there was a deep sigh. “Of course he is, dear. You know he is. What’s this about?”

Robin hung up. When five o’clock came she practically ran out of the office. She stood by the doors on the bus ride home, and jumped off at her stop.

The shoes were there. Same exact spot. Same exact shine. She picked them up and walked back down the street. She walked all the way to the big supermarket with the skip round the back and she buried those shoes under the reeking, bulging black bags. She waited there while it got dark until one of the shop’s employees came outside and piled more bags on top. Then she left.

She could barely bring herself to walk up the garden path. She couldn’t take it if they were back. She thought that she would die. She nearly ran to the front door in the end, casting a look down as she slid the key into the lock.

Nothing. They were gone.

Of course they were. Just get inside.

She closed the front door behind her and let her coat drop to the floor. She shook her shoes off at the bottom of the stairs. She just needed calm. She just needed to relax. She filled a water glass and turned off the light. She slid under the duvet fully clothed and closed her eyes.

There was smoke. And there was shouting. And that was all she remembered.

She opened her eyes. There was someone else in the room. Somewhere behind her. She couldn’t bring herself to turn over. She was frozen on her side by the edge of the bed.

Then she saw them. Next to her water glass on the floor. Two black shoes. Polished to within an inch of their leather lives. She gasped as she felt warm breath on the back of her neck.

“I…I don’t…I don’t like…I don’t like…I don’t like you…I don’t”

“How old are you now?”


Hello there.

I hope you enjoyed the story, it took me a while to figure out how I wanted it to be. It was going to be more of a ghost story originally but I quite liked the idea of just focusing on Robin becoming increasingly distraught. I didn't want to make it any longer so I kept the explanations very vague, which I hope works. I wanted to imply what had happened rather than just come out and say it. I think it's a bit more grim as a result! Many thanks to @nolanzebra3 for the title. 

I think the next story will be The Night My Heart Exploded (title by @davidhayes4), which will be a return for Elsie the ghost, who I wrote about in She Wore Stripes

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

An Empty Space on the Bookshelf

“Why did you kill my cat?”

Edward had indeed killed Lucy’s cat. He’d done it with a copy of Ulysses.

He hadn’t meant to. He’d come home and found his girlfriend gone. A note had explained that she wasn’t sure how she felt about him but she wanted him to leave. The note had ended with a hopeful “for now” that implied a chance of reconciliation. Edward didn’t see how that was going to work if he wasn’t there. And that had made him angry.

He’d gone to look for the things that were his. The things he would not allow her to hold on to. He marched over to the bookshelf. He was sure the good books were his; she didn’t have any good ones. She wasn’t a reader. Scanning through the paperbacks he’d seen James Joyce’s Ulysses. They had found it in an Oxfam bookshop and had pooled their change to buy it. Lucy had never read it and he had only studied it. It had seemed like a good idea but he didn’t remember either of them picking it up once it was theirs. He picked it carefully, stroking the weathered spine. The price had been scrawled in pencil in the inside cover.

He’d thrown it across the room.  She would see it, splayed open on the carpet, and see how angry he was. But he hadn’t expected the snap he heard. Their cat, Isaac, lay on the floor. Splayed. The people at Battersea were right. They should have really thought very carefully about it.

Isaac twitched and gave a painful wheeze. Claws retracted and extended. As Edward stood, stunned, the poor tabby cat shuddered and finally froze. Edward stood, frozen by the bookcase, looking at the dead animal in front of him.

What does one do with a dead animal? It was an accident, it wasn’t murder. Manslaughter, catslaughter. Edward’s mind was racing. Should he carve it into pieces, dispose of it in different sites? That was ridiculous and worse than killing it. Could he put it in a black bag with the rest of the rubbish? That seemed cruel, he had liked that cat. There were times when they hadn’t got on but Isaac had generally been good company and deserved better than a cheap bin-liner. Finally, Edward did the only thing he could do. He left the cat on the floor and a note on the table.

“Very sorry but the cat is dead. I didn’t mean to.” He paused, lifting the biro clear from the post-it note to try and think of something good before writing “Very sorry” a second time. Then he left.

The bus ride home seemed to take forever. He worried that he would bump into Lucy or one of her friends, despite going in the opposite direction. He needn’t have worried. He got safely into his flat without having to talk to anyone. As he turned on the lights he thought about how lucky he was that he had kept onto the flat despite spending most of his time at her place. Then he remembered that it was Lucy who said it was a good idea to hold onto it, just in case. Had she planned this? How long had she been planning it for?

As he let his anger build, slowly swallowing the Isaac guilt, his mobile rang. Lucy. The anger fell away and was replaced by the dead weight of guilt. He stared at his phone for a moment, at the name on the screen, and went into the kitchen where the he knew the signal wouldn’t drop. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything, but Lucy spoke first.

“Why did you kill my cat?”

Edward wanted to explain, to tell her how ridiculous the whole thing was. He desperately felt that this was something that should not have happened. It was like knocking a mug of tea over on someone’s book, it was a simple mistake. Maybe a laptop was a better comparison, more expensive, less easily replaced. But he knew how it looked. It had taken on significance now.

Not just the fact that he done something awful. There was another concern. Edward wondered if she had taken it as a message. If he said the wrong thing it could certainly be construed as a message. Dump me and I’ll kill your cat. You think we should take some time off? I’ll kill your cat. That was not something that should be put around. Edward would never do anything like that. He did not deserve that kind of a reputation. It had been an accident, he was sure of it.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Edward fidgeted with the tied end of a pack of bread, tugging at the plastic. Finally she spoke.

“What happened?”

He told her the truth. He told her about finding the note, about going to the bookshelf, and about how Joyce’s magnum opus had snapped the neck of poor Isaac. He could hear her breathing as he babbled but she didn’t interject. When he stopped he could hear her clearing her throat.

“So it was an accident?”

“Of course!” he said. It had been a terrible accident but an accident nevertheless. She needed to know that, to understand it.

“You know, it’s weird,” she said. “I saw the empty space on the bookshelf first. Then I saw the book. I thought you’d decided to trash the place and I was getting really angry. I thought about how much of a dick you could be.” He heard her sniff. Was she crying? “And then I saw Isaac, how he’d curled up and he just looked all wrong and I thought…”

She was crying now. Edward felt like he should say something. Was it appropriate to console her? He was the perpetrator after all. Perpetrators apologise, they don’t console. But she was crying and old instincts overruled common sense.

“Hey, it’s OK,” he said in what he hoped was a soothing tone. The crying stopped with a kind of choking sound.

“It’s not OK, you fucking dick. You murdered my cat!” Edward realised his mistake and tried to backpedal. As he started to apologise again, Lucy interrupted. “You murdered my fucking cat and you leave a fucking note? This is exactly the kind of thing that I should expect from you, I don’t know why it came as such as a surprise. Why should I expect an easy break-up from you, one where nothing dies?”

“Well I’m sorry I’m not perfect!” shouted Edward. He knew this was the wrong approach but honestly, how much worse could he make things for himself. This was evidently a lost cause, why not try and shift as much of the blame onto her as possible? “Maybe if you were easier to talk to I wouldn’t have had to leave a note.”

“What?” screamed Lucy. “What has that got to do with the fact that you killed my cat?” Edward had a blinding flash of inspiration, the kind that only comes to those forced into a corner and the only escape is the illogical one.

“In fact, if you hadn’t left a note, I wouldn’t have lost my temper and Isaac wouldn’t be dead.” He let that final barb sit for a moment and there was a quiet on the line as Lucy attempted to digest it. Let her take that on board. All her fault after all. Maybe he wasn’t the one who should have Isaac’s death on his conscience.

“So you murdered my cat because I broke up with you,” she said flatly. Alarm bells went off in Edward’s head. She’d played the trump card. She had more friends than he did. Their mutual friends were better friends with her than they were with him. They’d take her word for it. This would be the thing he was known for. Cat-killer. Couldn’t take being dumped so he killed a cat. Everyone would know. He’d never date again.

“I didn’t…I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry. Look, Lucy, please…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. This is all…”

“Go fuck yourself, Edward.” The line went dead and Edward stared at his phone.

Well, that was it.

He’d have to move.


Hello, there. Thanks for reading.

Something a bit different this week, not a horror thing. The excellent title came from @andylonsdale21 so thank you very much to him. It's quite a serious title and initially this was going to be played completely seriously and the phone conversation was going to be a deep and moving discussion of how their relationship went so wrong. But, when it came down to it, I tried to be funny instead. I think that once I'd written the word "catslaughter" I couldn't take it entirely seriously anymore. Seriously.

It also occurred to me when I finished that it's quite similar to the scene in Re-Animator in which Herbert West puts Dan's cat in the fridge and doesn't leave a note. "What would a note say, Dan? Cat dead, details later?" 

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. And I would like to reassure everyone that I have never killed a cat, intentionally or otherwise. But you should watch Re-Animator.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

She Wore Stripes

She hadn’t been dead long. That’s important. And she hadn’t made a mess of herself. A bit of blood around the nose, easy enough to wipe off. Some hot water and a wad of toilet paper would take care of that. And she was dressed all in stripes, looking a bit like Beetlejuice’s teenage sister, especially now that she’d snuffed it. I’d been wearing a dress a bit like that when I went. I got hit by a lorry, though, so those white stripes turned red very quickly. Ha.

For any ghost attempting possession of a corpse, it’s important that the body hasn’t been dead for very long. It’s important because being in a corpse as it goes through rigor mortis is about as much fun as dying. And once you’ve done either once you don’t really want to do it again. You’ve only got about three hours before it becomes noticeable. I can tell you that it’s difficult to explain to the dead person’s friend why your arm isn’t bending any more. Best to know your limits. And if you do hang around for rigor mortis, the livor mortis has already begun. Blood pooling in places. Not good. So yeah, unless you want to tell a barman why you can’t move as you feel yourself becoming a soggy sausage skin full of…keep an eye on the time.

My name’s Elsie and if you’re wondering if I just hang around waiting to people to die so I can walk around in their bodies, you’re not far off the truth. I mean, yes, you can possess the living but that takes weeks, sometimes months, of preparation and frankly it’s very rarely worth the hassle. The dead don’t fight you; the only thing working against you is the clock.

I come to The Worker’s Hearth quite often. It’s open late and you quite often find people stopping off for a last drink at three in the morning on their stumble home. Every now and then one of them dies and I walk them home instead. But I’d come along early tonight and I was glad I did. This girl, the one in stripes, had popped in with her friends for a round of cheap shots on the way into town and had gone, alone, to the loos for a pee and a snort. After thirty years as a ghost you start notice when people’s bodies are struggling to cope and this girl had all the warning signs. So I floated off after her.

Sure enough, as soon as she’d got it up her nose the bleeding started and her little heart fluttered and gave out. Her face hit the tiles and I got to work.

There’s not really an art to this. It’s pretty simple. The person dies. Their spirit leaves the body like a reflex. And in you pop. The best way to describe it is like climbing into a wetsuit. You’ve got to wiggle your way all the way down the arms and legs, make sure your fingers and toes are in properly. If you do it right you’ve got total control of the body in terms of movement, vocal chords and so forth. You can walk, talk, smile. Sadly, you don’t have any say over the body’s decomposition. You’ve got about an hour, maybe two before people start to notice that you look and smell terrible.

A word of advice. Always take the time to clean yourself up. People tend to notice if there’s a dreadful stink of shit coming from you, or worse, there might be a wound that you haven’t noticed. Claiming to be drunk will only get you so far if you haven’t spotted that the back of your head is open and dripping.

So, I cleaned the blood from her nose and got the arms and legs moving. No stiffness yet, everything seemed to be working as normal. And she hadn’t shat herself, which was a relief. Obviously, sometimes you have to clean up but when you don’t have a lot of time you don’t want to waste it in the stalls. I gave her face a bit of a touch-up with the make-up kit in her bag. Her being a bit of a druggie was a relief; her friends would be used to seeing her pale. The outfit wasn’t too bad. A damp patch from the floor but I could always blame that on busted taps; in a place like this the girls downstairs would believe it.

I went back downstairs, going carefully to get the hang of her pins. The people at the table looked happy to see me. I was accused of taking my sweet time, to which I answered that I’d had too much to drink. They called me Tania, which I made a note of. Then I downed my pint, left the pub, and got into a taxi with them. On the way there I didn’t say a lot. I tried to focus on the little things. Feeling fabric against Tania’s skin. The air from the open window on Tania’s face, rushing through Tania’s hair. The after-taste of watered-down lager on Tania’s tongue. These things make Elsie happy. Before I knew it we’d arrived at the club.

I don’t really know the best way to describe trying to dance with limbs that don’t have blood pumping through them anymore. You know the Thriller video? It’s fuck all like that. There’s much less coordination. You just try to move your limbs as much as possible, really. I think maybe it helps postpone the stiffness but I have no idea. It’s just nice to have the feeling that the body you’re in is responding to instructions. I’ve tried haunting an aerobics class but anyone who’s going to snuff it at the gym tends to so fairly publicly, everyone hovering around them. You want people to go privately.

I noticed a couple of guys checking me out and quickly discouraged them, sticking to the group of friends this girl had found for herself. I’m not stupid enough to attempt intercourse while inhabiting a corpse. That would be horrible and incredibly ill-advised. Well, I tried it once. Once. After six years of being dead I finally had to give it a try. It was as disastrous and disgusting as you’d assume, and we’ll say no more about it. There were…fluids. Jesus, I’m shuddering just thinking about it.

I’d kept an eye on the time and it was approaching midnight. Time to get going, but I still had a couple of minutes to think about it. How did I want people to find Tania? She had friends with her, most of them seemed nice. A girl called Sarah seemed to be closest to her, a slightly chubby freckly red-head who had asked if I was alright and had tried to make me laugh. She’d stayed on the dance floor with me and shown a similar disregard for people trying to dance with her. I wondered if they were together. However, I wasn’t going to find out. I could feel the changes starting to happen and I didn’t want to freak her out unnecessarily.

Now, when it comes to getting rid of your body you can go for the alley-drop but that always struck me as a bit cruel on the survivors. I didn’t really want Sarah feeling guilty because she’d let her drunk best friend wander off to expire alone in a dirty alley. So I considered the “I just died in your arms tonight” approach. She’d always remember that. She could call an ambulance. That would make her feel better, if she’d been proactive. She could tell herself that she’d tried to help. I went for it.

I stuck around in the body long enough to give the illusion that Tania was dying in Sarah’s panicking arms, a bit of light convulsing, eyelids fluttering, some shallow breathing . Once people starting yelling I left. You don’t want to hang around all that. That’s none of your business; it’s nothing to do with you. Best left alone. So off I went.

You probably think all of this is wrong. Maybe you think it’s immoral, that I’ll burn in hell for it. Well I’m not there yet. And when you’ve been stranded in spectral form for thirty years you can talk to me about it.


Hello there. I hope you enjoyed this one. I was worried at first that the voice was a little to similar to Eliza in Witch's Bile but I think Elsie's more disaffected than malicious. Anyway, she was a lot of fun to write and I have a plan for a second story with her where something actually happens, as opposed to this, which I think is just her normal Friday night.

Not sure which story will be next but it will be another week or two. The title from this story came from @merazad and I'm very grateful!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Lesser Evil

“Light the candles, Freddie.”

Freddie took the blue plastic lighter from Caroline and went around the candles, taking care not to burn his thumb. They’d spent nearly an hour ensuring that the pentagram was laid out correctly according the book that Caroline had bought online, which reeked of damp and something else that made Freddie keen to avoid touching it. Caroline coughed, a lengthy hacking that sounded painful. Freddie wondered how long her cold was going to hang around for. Still, if her dad wouldn't turn the heating on in January, he supposed that was what happened.

They were in Caroline’s father’s barn, by the woods at the edge of his property. Freddie worried even though Caroline told him that her father had passed out in front of A Touch of Frost at about seven and wouldn’t stir till morning. Freddie couldn’t help but feel like someone might happen by and wonder what they were doing. Someone might see.

The barn hadn’t been used for years. At least, not for the purposes for which it was originally built. It was mostly used for storage now. As Freddie lit the candles he illuminated a series of trunks and old boxes. He’d never been told but he was pretty sure it was mostly Caroline’s mum’s stuff that was in here. The candles also cast an appropriately sinister light on their pentagram. Caroline had read that they could use any kind of blood and so Freddie had bought a fresh cupful belonging to an unfortunate pig, trying all the time not to make eye contact with Mr Redmond who sold his mother her weekly order of pork chops and beef mince.

Soon they were all lit. Freddie didn’t know what came next. Caroline hadn’t told him what the ritual would actually involve. She said that she didn’t want him to know more than he had to, which was a step up from her initial decision to keep him out of the thing entirely. It was like she was trying to protect him. He’d never get anywhere with her if he let her keep that attitude. He’d tried to let her know he could be useful but he hadn’t been able to glean a single piece of useful information. All he could do was stand there and try to be helpful. Freddie knew he’d be doing better if he wasn’t so scared. What did he have to be scared about? It wasn’t like this was actually going to work. He hadn't even asked what she was wishing for he was so sure of it.

While Freddie fretted, Caroline had started to speak. He was going to ask her to repeat herself before he realised that she wasn’t talking to him. He saw the candles flutter and shadows flittered across the barn that made him wish he was at home in bed. He squeezed his eyes shut.  Then he opened them.

In the middle of the room a man stood in the centre of the pentagram. Short black hair, a light grey suit. He reminded Freddie of the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird. The man looked at them, smiled, and nodded a greeting.

“Hello there.”

The man’s voice was clearly not from around here. Not English, not American, somewhere in between. It was somehow neutral. The man looked down at his feet and slowly lifted his polished right shoe. When he looked back up again he seemed genuinely excited.

“A pentagram! How nice of you to make the effort. No, honestly, you know, so much is done online these days it’s nice to be called by someone who really knows what they’re doing. I had a bloody print-out last night, if you can believe that. Well done. Both of you.”

Caroline took a step forward. Before Freddie could think of whether or not he should too, she addressed the new arrival.

“Are you him?”

Freddie thought that was a bit vague but the man seemed to know what she was talking about. He shrugged and turned his smile upside down with theatrical ease.

“Me? No, sorry. I’m not the one you’re waiting for. He’s very busy, as I’m sure you can imagine. No no I’m the on hold music, if you like. I’m the annoying Abba song that gets stuck in your head. But the big guy will be along in a minute.”

“What’s your name?” asked Caroline.

“Ah, I’m afraid you wouldn’t be able to pronounce it, and I don’t have the time to teach you.” He cocked his head to one side, taking the measure of them both. Freddie felt like he was in P.E. waiting to be chosen for a team. This was not a situation in which he’d ever done very well. But the man’s smile returned, slowly spreading across his face.

“It’s very nice to meet you. Caroline and Freddie. Very nice to meet you indeed.”

“How do you know our names?” asked Caroline, before Freddie got the chance to. The man sniffed.

“Sorry, that’s one of the benefits of this; we know who’s summoning us just as you know who you’re summoning. At least I hope you do.” The man’s expression became graver and Freddie realised he was starting to move behind Caroline. He willed himself to stop. He was here to help. He was here to be strong.

The man continued with a hint of force in his voice telling them just how serious he was. “You did read the instructions, didn’t you? Because this is not somebody you want to be fooling around with. Not that you want to be fooling around with any of us, miss, but this one is particularly quick to anger. Let me tell you, if you have any uncertainties about what you’re doing, any questions, concerns, best to get them out in the open now before he shows up.”

“We know what we’re doing” hissed Caroline. The man held his hands up, pressing his palms together in penitence.

“Of course you do. With this very fine pentagram here it was foolish of me to even suggest you were…amateurs. Forgive me.” His eyes flickered between the two of them, back and forth between Freddie and Caroline. Freddie felt the same unease as he did whenever someone looked at the two of them. What would a girl like her (tall, lean, blonde and with the kind of face that would drive the poetry weirdos as well as the sports team idiots to a frenzy) be doing with him (twitchy, odd, and with a face nothing short of drastic surgery could rescue).

“May I ask what it is you’re after?” asked the stranger. “Just what you’re hoping to get out of this little transaction? I mean, I can’t actually grant anything, not while I’m waiting here, holding the line. This limits my powers somewhat. But think of me as…a lesser evil in these moments before a great big arch-demon comes flaming into this…sorry, what is this? Is this a barn?”

Caroline stared back at him. She didn’t flinch. Their guest nodded.

“Never mind. You don’t have to tell me. I understand, these things are delicate. Personal.  You know, I admire you two. I do. You’ve got it figured out; you know what you’re doing. You’re not messing around, it’s good. And he’ll respect that too. You’ve done well. And don’t worry about the flaming by the way. I mean, he will be on fire but he’s not going to burn this place down. Unless you ask him very nicely. ”

Then he turned back to Freddie and for the first time he felt the full weight of his attention directly on him.

“Freddie, you can look at me, you know. There’s no need to be shy.”

“Don’t you fucking talk to him. You talk to me!” Caroline took a step forward, shielding Freddie from the stranger. Freddie felt his failings twist around his stomach like a snake. The man’s face flipped once more from friendly to apologetic.

“No, of course not, Caroline. I will address only you if you so desire. I didn’t mean to cause any friction. I was just being friendly.”

Caroline turned her head slightly towards Freddie. Not all the way. She didn’t take her eyes off the man in the pentagram.

“Wait outside, Freddie.”

This cut him to the core. This was the final humiliation. In the face of a man who appeared from nowhere, she would rather he wait outside to let her face it alone.

“Caroline, I…I can help.”

He didn’t even convince himself. She shook her head.

“Wait outside. Please.”

That was it. He turned and walked out of the barn, shoulders slumped. In a long list of personal failures this was might be the worst. He heard the man talking as he left.  

“Oh, don’t send him away. You don’t have to…Bye, Freddie!”

He closed the barn door and leaned against it. Reaching into his coat he found the half-empty bottle of corner-shop vodka he’d stolen from his brother’s room. He was planning to use it to console Caroline when the pentagram idea hadn’t worked, which had seemed like the only outcome at the time. Faced with the reality of a demon talking to the girl he loved and being sent outside like a leper, Freddie put the bottle to his lips and drank.

It wasn’t long before everything got a bit hazy. Freddie had never been able to handle his booze and the excitement of the evening seemed to further quicken its effects. He put his head against the door and listened in the hope that they were talking about him. And, as chance would have it, they were. Or at least the man was.

“It’s nice the way you look after him. You’re like a big sister to him, aren’t you? It’s nice, I mean it. Does he know?

Freddie slumped. The words ‘big sister’ were the kiss of death. That made him the little brother and that made the efforts of last few years of his life spectacularly pointless. He zoned out, began to luxuriate in self-pity, when he became aware of someone standing next to him.

The man stood, watching him with a smile on his lips.

“Hi there, Freddie.”

Freddie struggled to stand up straight. How had he got out of the pentagram? What had happened to Caroline? As if reading his mind, the man held his hands up.

“Not to worry, Freddie, Caroline’s fine. The big guy’s finally arrived; they’re in there now, hashing out the details. And I’m not going to hurt you either, in case that’s what’s troubling you. I just want to talk. You know, Freddie, you impress me. You know why?”

Freddie didn’t, and shook his head to let him know.

“You’re brave. It takes courage to come out to a place like this and be there for your friend while she does something this dangerous, this insane. I mean, you appreciate how dangerous what she’s doing is, don’t you? Of course you do. I mean, she’s literally playing with fire. Hellfire, anyway. And you’re out here, helping her. It’s courageous.”

Freddie decided to let the stranger salve his pride a little bit. He nodded. Why not? He was courageous. He’d come here at least. Even if Caroline had decided that his services weren’t required.

“Does she know, Freddie?”

Freddie looked up, about to ask the man what he meant, but knew instantly from the sly grin on his face what he was talking about. He started to stammer out a question but the man held up his finger.

“No point denying it, it’s as plain as anything. You love her, and you haven’t told her have you? It’s obvious. Maybe you haven’t told her because you think she knows anyway. Let me tell you something, that girl isn’t guessing anything. Did you see her in there? A girl like that in a situation like this, Freddie, it’s all about focus. She’s got one goal in mind. She’s getting it done in there. She’s got a mission.

But maybe you haven’t told her because you’re afraid she’ll laugh. People have laughed at you before, haven’t they? You don’t have to answer me, it’s fine. People can be very cruel. And maybe she’ll laugh too. But do you know what will be worse, Freddie? If she tells you that she doesn’t see you that way.

Oh she sees you as a friend, for sure. You’re out here with her, aren’t you? You’re helping her. But you need to make her see you as more than just her little brother. You need to show her what I can see to be true. That you are a strong, courageous person. That you have so much more to offer her. You need to let her see the strength of your feelings.”

With that, the man from the flames paused and turned away. Freddie leaned back against the door, thrown by the flurry of words. He wasn’t being told anything he hadn’t already thought to himself. But it was something to hear someone else expressing his feelings. It somehow made it all feel more possible. The man turned back.

“Do you know what she’s asking for in there?”

Freddie shook his head.

“Have you ever met Caroline’s father?”

Freddie’s heart beat a little faster as he started to realise what Caroline was doing.

Caroline’s father was a bastard. There was no other way to describe him. He knew that her father beat her on a regular basis. Freddie was used to lending her sweatshirts to help hide the bruises on her arms from their schoolmates. After the head teacher had finally noticed and paid a home visit it looked like he might have been easing up on his daughter but over the last few weeks it had been getting worse again. Yesterday she’d shown up to school with a black eye.

So that was it. Caroline was finally doing something about her father.

“Is she just going to ask him to help her stop him or…”

The man sneered, and for the first time Freddie caught a glimpse of something that wasn’t quite benign.

“Do you think she just wants him to stop, Freddie? She wants him gone. Now listen to me, because I have some experience in this. If it were me, I’d just do the thing myself. If I were the one with the power to grant these wishes, I’d just grant the bloody thing. Click my fingers and stop the bastard’s heart. But him in there, you have to understand, he’s in his position for a reason. He’s going to twist it so that there’s no easy option for Caroline. The only way he’ll let her do it is by making sure she doesn’t get caught.”

“Get caught doing what?” asked Freddie, understanding his own stupidity.

“Why, murdering her father. He’s not going to just do it for her, she’s going to have to take the life and live with the guilt, just not the prison sentence. But here’s where you come in, Freddie.

I know something about guilt. It’s hard to live with. And she will live it with, to be sure, but she won’t be the same Caroline you know now. You say you’re looking for a way to show your love for her, well what could be nobler than taking on her burden? If you tell me right now that you authorise a switch, that you decide to carry that weight, I can make it happen.”

Freddie reeled. “I thought you said you couldn’t grant anything!” The man nodded. “But you can…swap? I don’t know, I’m not…”

“But you are, Freddie!” interjected the stranger. “I know that you have this within you, the power to do this. And she will never forget it.

But I need your decision now, Freddie. She’s in there right now, it’s been at least five minutes already, and they’ll be closing the deal. If you want to do this, we have to do it now.”

Freddie turned away, but the man grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. He looked into the man’s eyes and saw them glow.

“Let me show you,” he said, and Freddie felt his feet give way from under him. He was back inside the barn, watching Caroline reach out and take the hand of a tall, sneering man with long black hair. The man laughed, and he could see a tear trickle its way down Caroline’s cheek. There was a bright flash and the room changed again, and now he was in Caroline’s sitting room at home. He saw her father asleep in an armchair, and saw Caroline drop a match into the sleeping man’s lap. He felt the heat on his face, smelt the stink of flesh cooking and burning hair. He cried out as the flash came again and saw a woman, older but unmistakeably Caroline, alone in a room he didn’t recognise and understood that it was a place he didn’t belong. With a final flash the heat returned, and the fire, and a legion of screams. Freddie knew where he was, this place both horrifyingly dark and terribly illuminated, before he saw Caroline being bundled, howling over a ledge by a mob of grotesque figures.

“Enough!” he cried. He opened his eyes and found himself outside the barn, with the stranger now standing about a foot away from him. “I’ll do it. Tell him I’ll do the swap.”

“You accept the gift and the price?” asked the stranger. Freddie nodded.

The stranger smiled at him. “You’re a good man, Frederick. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. Why don’t you go on in and give Caroline the good news? Go ahead. I’ll wait.”

Freddie took a deep breath and opened the door to the barn. He didn’t fully understand what he had taken on but he knew that he done what he had to. To protect her.

Caroline was kneeling on the edge of the pentagram, shaking. When Freddie put his hand on her shoulder she turned sharply.

“Where did he go?” she asked. “He was right here, we’d agreed…”

“Don’t worry,” said Freddie, “I’ve taken care of it. You don’t have to do anything.”

“What do you mean? What have you done?” She didn’t sound relieved. She looked furious. She got to her feet and started towards Freddie. “What did you do?”

“He’s taken your deal,” said the stranger, slinking back into the room. “I let him think you were finally doing something about your daddy issues and he agreed to take the burden for you. Look on the bright side, Caroline. You still have your soul.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Freddie. “If it wasn’t her father, what I have I…what have taken from her?”

“Well, Frederick,” said the stranger, stepping back into the pentagram, “Caroline’s still got a few months left before her time is up. And you’ve got…so much longer. Freddie, you should have told Caroline that you love her. Caroline, you should have told Freddie that you’re dying. Communication is so very important.”

The candles fluttered and went out. “I told you I was the lesser evil. Tell yourself that it could have been worse if you think it’ll help.”


Hi there.

So, there's been a delay of at least a month since I last posted anything here. Which is bad. Sorry about that. In my defence, things got quite hectic. At the time when I started writing this story I got an interview for a job, and then I had a second interview, and then I was told that I got the job. Which means that I have now relocated to Bournemouth to start as a Staff Writer at SciFiNow, which is hugely exciting and I can't wait to start. Tomorrow!

But fiction-wise, I'm hoping I can get back to some kind of schedule once I've settled in. I wanted to get this story done. The title comes from @SFXPennyD, and the first thing that came to mind was some kind of basement, torture-type scenario but I didn't really fancy writing that after the last story. So I wrote this instead. I started writing it as a monologue by the demon but I felt like I'd done something similar a little too recently. So there's this, which is possibly a little monologue-y, but if anyone's going to be overly verbose, it's going to be a demon trying to sell you something you shouldn't buy.

I'll be trying to update the blog more regularly over the next few weeks and months. I know I've said that a lot but I really mean it this time. Definitely.