If Only They Could Speak (excerpts)

beautiful-cat-and-dogs-together

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It’s been over two and a half years since I last published a post containing excerpts of stories from my blog, so now seemed a good time for another one! As before, I’m posting short extracts from twenty stories, but this time with a strong animal connection: there are dogs and cats aplenty plus the odd duck, red kite and puma!

As always, I state the word count, to give an idea how much time it would take to read the full story. There are tales old and new here, so I’m confident you’ll find something to enjoy!

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A Flying Visit (1300 words)
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A lady in a purple cloak was situated on the far side of the stream, bending over with her hands in the water, presumably searching for something. On my side of the stream stood a young girl, perhaps six years old, holding the lead of a beautiful honey-coloured rough collie. The girl had a pretty face, bright blue eyes and mid-length blonde hair, held back in a pony tail with a blue band.
The lady seemed startled by my appearance and stood up, looking flustered. The little girl simply turned to me and smiled. “Hello, I’m Esmerelda, this is Solomon, and that’s my mummy.”
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I spotted an old rubber ball and hurled it into the sea for Fred. He ran to the water’s edge and looked out to where the ball was bobbing. He barked at it a few times, as if commanding it to come back to the beach, then turned and ran back. Presumably he didn’t want to spoil his freshly groomed coat with nasty cold, salty water.
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Blind Hope (500 words)
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The doorbell rang, and she heard Flossie stir in her basket. Normally she never answered the door, but she felt confident and curious. She felt the dog rubbing her leg, and reached down, holding its tail and letting the animal guide her through the door and down the corridor. There wasn’t time to find and attach the harness. The bell rang again. “Just coming!”
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Clarissa’s Missives parts 1-3 (3200 words)
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Memories of Boris and Henry came back. “A bit big” was an understatement. They were huge. Hurriedly, Clarissa had shown me their leads and directed me to a nearby park. In fact, they’d trotted along quite obediently, drawing admiring comments from the few passersby. By the time we got to the park I felt like an authority on Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
With embarrassment I remembered Boris squatting to deposit a huge steaming turd on a path. What to do? Well, it was growing dark and who would know it was ‘my’ dogs? Suddenly a woman dressed in green tweed and grey leggings appeared. She was about sixty, had grey hair and waved a stick in my general direction. “Hello young man, I hope you’re not thinking of leaving that dog poo there!”
“Oh, of course not,” I replied, “it’s just I don’t have anything to pick it up with.”
“Well you could always use your hands!” she exclaimed.
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Come on Pete, wakey wakey!” Julie shook her boyfriend’s shoulder, looking with affection at his unshaven face. She wore just a shirt, lemon yellow with white stripes, and her shoulder-length blonde hair was tipped over her face.
Peter’s closed eyes blinked half-open. “Huh, wha’ the time?”
“It’s gone ten thirty. Come on, you said we could go to the park. We can get coffee at the kiosk.”
“I was dreaming of walking Lexie.”
“I’ve got her lead ready. Come on sweetheart, get up!”
Just then, three things happened. Someone started shouting down in the street below, a siren sounded somewhere and the phone rang.
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Dog Story (850 words)
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“Ah, he wants me to throw it for him,” laughed Paul, taking the bean bag from Tyson’s mouth and hurling it across the pen. Tyson obliged by racing to pick it up, then returned to jump up again. Paul went to take the toy but this time Tyson kept his jaw clamped shut. “C’mon, boy, don’t you want me to throw it for you?” They began a tug of war, the dog stubbornly refusing to let go of the toy.
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“Balthazar, here Balthazar!” A small white dog scampered past my dune, pausing just long enough to spray a stream of foul-smelling urine onto the sand near my feet.
What a stupid name for a dog! Maybe it was trained to find myrrh, whatever that was!
It ran back to join an approaching woman, presumably its owner, fat and red-faced. As she passed, she looked right through me as if I didn’t exist. My cheery greeting stalled in my throat.
I felt tired and the sea still looked a long way off. But when would I come here again?
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Duck Surprise (200 words)
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Sheldon paddled nonchalantly, maintaining his favoured position in the middle of the pool. He watched the other ducks near the bank scrabbling for bread with disdain – his mother had always told him he had superior intelligence.
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Flip Side (600 words)
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It’s no use though. I know I’m not ‘me’ if you see what I mean. Sometimes in dreams I’ll see a young woman with high cheekbones, long wavy hair, brown as chestnuts, and two kids, teenagers with tousled hair and braces on their teeth. Jake and Jenny are their names. Then there’s a dog, a black Labrador called Rusty who likes to roll in autumn leaves and jump in the snow.
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“Rudyard, here Rudyard!”
Rudyard’s ginger face appeared in the doorway. He hesitated, seeing a stranger in the room.
“Here kitty, good kitty!” called William Wilde, professor William Wilde as he now was.
Gingerly, Rudyard came into the study, studiously ignoring Willy and jumped onto my lap, purring. His huge yellow eyes looked up at me quizzically.
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Killer on the Road (500 words)
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He’d been lying on the road, his nose full of summer, the pads of his paws soaking in the warmth of the tarmac. Then his sensitive ears had detected a new sound. Something distant, metallic, rushing unevenly. It came closer. He felt no fear, he could be away in a split second. Then round the bend came something he’d not seen before. In an instant the feline brain scanned countless past impressions for a match. Understanding now, his eyes narrowed ….
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Marley’s Spirit (200 words)
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A little white dog ran towards me, its tail wagging furiously.
“Marley!”
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Memories of Oscar (750 words approx.)
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So, as a ‘tribute’ to Oscar I’ve listed some happy memories of him, in no particular order.
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  • Oscar had relatively recently discovered a taste for sandwiches and toast. He liked cheese and/or ham sandwiches with mayo and wholemeal bread and butter. And he was very fond of pâté on toast, Ardennes and chicken liver especially.

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Poor Rose (1100 words)
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In a neat bedroom there was a double bed with a lemon-coloured bedspread featuring a design of small pink rosebuds. A little table stood in an alcove. On it were an upright wooden crucifix and a pair of plaster hands, held in a praying position and holding a small tea light. On either side were pink candles, about a quarter burnt down, and on the wall in front of the table, a large framed photograph of a dog, a border collie – brown and white – looking up with huge eyes. A small vase of smoked glass held a single red rose.
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Salmon and Soul (1200 words)
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He missed Shiva, his black Labrador and companion of the last twelve years. She’d developed stomach cancer and had to be put to sleep six weeks earlier. Ruth had made sympathetic noises, but she didn’t really care. He’d been devastated. He realised he still was, as tears came to his eyes at the thought.
A gentle cool breeze ruffled the stubby coarse grass. It was warm and he felt sweaty, even though he’d not walked fast. Out there he knew appearances could be deceptive. Salt water lurked beneath the soil, always eager for a victim, perhaps an overzealous dog, or even a careless walker.
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Salvador (850 words)
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Waves lap at his toes. Gentle, quiet, rippling waves. Benny Saris stares out over the undulating blueness. Here goes. He begins to wade out. The water is freezing and goosebumps cover his body like a rash. Muscles cramp agonisingly in his groin. He looks back at the desolate beach and the empty guesthouses on the front. It’s no good, suicide’s the only option.
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From a tiny helpless fledgling he’d grown, his mother’s life dominated by her offspring’s constant cacophonous demand. Finally, her work over, he’d flown the nest and managed to forage on his own, firstly on carrion and worms, then as he’d grown, able to catch mice and voles, to taste warm blood and to feel the pleasure of the kill.
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Sycamore the Wise (950 words)
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The sun was setting over the field and Sycamore made his way to a small spinney in one corner, stopping on occasion to perk his long, furry ears up, and to feel the warm summer air playing on his long whiskers, whilst he sniffed the evening breeze. All clear! He entered the trees and heard the quiet guttural calls of his mother. He found her in a depression in a bed of moss with his two brothers and sister in attendance.
“Sycamore, what took you so long?”
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Leah glances anxiously around the waiting room. Everyone looks so calm. How the hell can that be? The waiting room is dim, perhaps a dozen men and women of all ages sit, staring ahead as though unseeing. The door opens and a bright light behind him silhouettes the towering figure of Dr. Chansette, a huge cockroach, six feet high. His antennae wave. “Miss Leah Hope?”
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The Fabled Fox (400 words)
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“Handsome fox, I couldn’t let you be killed by those nasty vicious dogs,” she said.
“Thank you, dear lady, you are most kind,” said the fox opening his long jaws, showing rows of pointed teeth.
“I was with friends at a dinner party recently,” she said, panting a bit as she ran. The fox pricked his ears up.
“One said a fox had dug under her fence and killed every one of her chickens!”
“Oh, that wasn’t me madam,” said the fox, his yellow eyes glinting.
“You won’t bite me, will you Mr. Fox?”
“No madam, why would I?”
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The Rump of Midas (700 words)
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I heard a ‘miaow’ and saw Midas, a semi-feral cat who had hung around for the last couple of years. He would venture into the kitchen on occasion to feed from a bowl of scraps I’d sometimes put down for him. ‘Goodbye Midas, I’ll miss you,” I said, surprised to find that I meant it. Unexpectedly, he followed me to the car. I opened a rear door. He took a long, lingering sniff at the sill, then suddenly jumped onto the back seat and curled up. Hmm!
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Other posts of excerpts:
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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

Neck Snapping Time

exorcist

(600 words)

Papers clutter a desk. I pick one up and read about a man’s obsession. Seems there’s a character who enjoys killing. The description is brief. Medium height, average build, nondescript face. No distinguishing marks. Not much to go on!
But the writer describes an incident where the man strokes another man’s hair and gently, lovingly, wraps a scarf around his neck. Like a petrified mouse under the paw of a cat, the victim remains motionless. More hair-stroking, then the killer places two large, strong hands on either side of the victim’s head, a quick twist and … snap … over he goes, the lolling head smacking the floor, the lifeless body following like a piece of meat. Only thing, seems all this happens in the writer’s dreams.
I go over and stoke the fire. I want to read the full story. So, I gather the sheets from the desk, light a cigarette, and pull an easy chair up to the fire.
Well, seems the writer had financial problems of sorts, but this character he’d encounter in his dreams would help out. The writer would tell the guy how much cash he needed and, if of a realistic nature, it would appear in his waking life. Money for the mortgage, car expenses, holidays, that kinda thing. The only thing was, seems he had to donate a proportion of the amount ‘borrowed’ to a charity to ‘repay’ the ‘loan.’ If he didn’t, well, cue neck-snapping man.
The door opens and in comes Lil. “You find anything?”
“Well seems our dear brother had funny dreams.”
“That figures.”
“No, seriously, seems he had a character he would meet in his dreams. This guy, Adam, would help him out financially. But he was a sadistic killer on the side!”
“What, you’re kidding me!”
“No, listen. ‘17th October 2019. Watched Adam snap a man’s neck like a matchstick. Turned his head round one hundred and eighty degrees, like that girl in The Exorcist. These dreams are so real. More real than when I’m awake. Saw the man’s frightened eyes in technicolour, heard his neck snap in Dolby surround sound.
Needed £300 for new tyres and dents knocking out of wheels. Well, the very next day mother phoned and said she’d dreamt I had car problems and did I need any financial help! Well, that’s £85 I need to find by the end of the month for A’s charity. Or ….’”
“Wow.”
“Wow indeed. Seems our dear brother was either off his rocker, or had supernatural help, of a kind.”
“Well, we can check his filing cabinets, bound to be bank statements and the like. Or they’ll be on his computer. Wonder if we can get into it?”
“I can’t imagine him writing passwords down anywhere findable, can you?”
Lil shrugs. “Then why would he leave papers like these lying around? And why not write them in a diary, like any normal person?”
“Well, he was hardly normal was he!”
“Look, we don’t know for certain he’s dead. He could walk through that door any minute.”
“Sure. Dream on.”
“Hey, you got a smoke?”
I toss Lil a cigarette and she inserts it into a crack in a white face surrounded by ginger curls. “Look, are we going to tell anyone about this – these ‘fantasies’?”
I sigh. “I think we must, don’t you?”
In answer, she takes the papers, taps them into a neat pile and tosses them onto the flames. “Let them find out for themselves.”
The smoke from the smouldering sheets blends with the smoke from our cigarettes and we both sit, lost in thought.
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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

Ask and It Is Given

baby grand
(750 words)
“Walnut looks good – feast your eyes on this!” Tabby held up a brochure of baby grand pianos. All gloss and gorgeous swirling grain.
“Very nice, but you’re forgetting three things.”
“What?”
“One, we live in a tiny flat, two, you can’t play the piano, and, three, we don’t have any money!”
Tabby’s smile faded. “Well, I’m now creating my own reality through the Law of Attraction.”
“So you keep saying. I don’t see any changes.”
“The universe takes time to give you the things you ask for. They’ll come when they’re ready to come.”
“Bollocks!”
“You wait and see. You want some coffee?”
“No, I’m taking Fred for a walk.”

I went down to the beach, the part dogs were allowed to crap on. There were thousands of shells along the sand – ‘jewels of the sea,’ as I regarded them. That’s one reason I liked to go there, the chance of finding a nice piece of jet, or a multi-coloured cockle shell.
I had to admit Tabby’s obsession with a book she’d bought was really getting on my tits. Apparently, according to a bunch of ghosts, ‘whatever you ask for is immediately given.’ It’s just your ‘resistance’ that stops it coming, resistance meaning negative thinking. So, by training yourself to always feel happy, according to the book you’d be inundated with castles, golf courses, swimming pools, yachts, whatever you desired, even if you were sitting, twiddling your thumbs in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I had to admit it was the biggest load of nonsense I’d ever heard in my entire life!
I spotted an old rubber ball and hurled it into the sea for Fred. He ran to the water’s edge and looked out to where the ball was bobbing. He barked at it a few times, as if commanding it to come back to the beach, then turned and ran back. Presumably he didn’t want to spoil his freshly groomed coat with nasty cold, salty water.

When I got back, Tabby was at the sink, her hands buried in a mass of suds. Her blonde hair was in a pony tail and she wore an emerald green tea shirt and tight faded jeans. I put my arms around her, kissed her neck and squeezed her breasts.
“Get off!”
“You know you like it. How about a trip to the bedroom?”
“How about you start looking for a proper job!”
“Or maybe I’ll just sit and meditate on abundance flowing to us!”
She turned and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “I’m expecting a call from Sue at eleven.”
Oh, that meant Tabby and her sister gassing for the next half hour.
Sure enough, bang on eleven the phone rang.
“Hi Sue … I’m fine, thanks … yes he is … God knows!”
I went out of the room. I wasn’t big on character assassination. I went to a desk in the corner of our bedroom where I had a computer and a shelf of books on writing. Probably the best way of making money from it, I reflected. The fiction market seemed to be saturated. No one wanted my stuff anyway.
The door opened behind me; Tabby stood smiling.
“What’s up? Surely you haven’t finished talking!”
The smile faded a little. “No, Sue just told me that Amy’s packing in her piano lessons with half a term to go. She can’t get a refund. She asked if I’d like to take her place. They’ll lend me a keyboard!”
“Can they lend you some headphones too?”
Tabby pulled a face. “Anyway, she says Bert’s just told her that Harry’s jacking his job in, he’s had enough of garage work and getting his hands dirty.”
Bert was Tabby’s brother-in-law, the foreman at a busy garage. Harry was a twenty something with his eyes on the bright lights.
“Can’t say as I blame him, I didn’t care for it much myself.”
“Look, Bert says they need a first-class motor mechanic urgently and he’ll recommend you. The pay’s good and he says you can work on their website too, you know, start a blog, maybe.”
Suddenly a little ray of light penetrated my heart. I could see us moving to a proper house, a nice garden for Fred to run around in. I thought for a bit, then, “Tell him yes!”
Tabby laughed and came over and hugged me. “Thank you.” She looked over at the bed and winked. “Don’t go anywhere, I’ve almost finished on the phone.”

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

New Forest Frolics

mouldy-caravan-2-1.jpg
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(1750 words)
“Look Trudy, it’s your decision but I’d put my foot down if I were you.”
“I know mum, but Sally’s set her heart on it, been going on about it for days.”
My daughter Trudy, 51, blonde, divorced, and ‘pleasantly plump’ to put it kindly, had, for once, asked for my advice. Sally, my sixteen year old granddaughter, had been invited on a caravan holiday and Trudy had qualms about letting her go.
“Funny things can happen on caravan holidays,” I said.
“Well, she’s only going with Jack and Joanna, oh, and Bob of course, he’ll look after her, it’s just…”
Bob was Sally’s brother, my grandson, Jack was a schoolfriend and Joanna his sister, all quite ‘sensible’, admittedly. “The other boys on the campsite. I know,” I said, “they’re randy sods at that age. They’ll do anything to get girls into their caravan, get them on the wine, and before long the lasses’ll be dropping their knickers!”
“Don’t hold back mum!” laughed Trudy.
“Look, make some tea, there’s something I need to tell you…” I replied.
I sipped my tea. “When I was Sally’s age, I went on a caravan holiday. I went with your uncle Robert and Timothy Ward, a classmate. His sister came too, Tammy, so there were four of us.”
“That sounds cosy mum.”
“Well, Robert had booked a caravan in the New Forest. It was on a very small site, just three caravans. Well, we’d just started walking when the heavens opened! I remember we’d got the train to Ashurst and then we had to walk five miles in the rain. We got soaked, despite our so-called waterproofs! Rob had a map but the paths weren’t all marked. We went down a long track that just fizzled out and had to walk all the way back. All the undergrowth was sopping wet. That was horrible!“
“Sounds awful.” Trudy pulled a face and sipped her tea.
“Finally it was just starting to get dark when we found what we thought was the site, but there was only one caravan, and it was mouldy and dilapidated.”
“Oh my God! What did you do? Couldn’t you phone someone?”
“Trudy, this was 1965! There weren’t mobiles, or probably even a phone within ten miles!” I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, it was still pouring with rain, we were wet through and the door wasn’t locked, so we decided to get out of the rain at least. Inside it was damp and smelly but Tammy got some oil lamps burning and there was an oven too. She lit it and it warmed the place up.”
“What were caravans like in those days?” said Trudy.
“Well that was the funny thing, this caravan seemed much older, even had magazines from the 1930’s, nothing modern, well, modern for the sixties! I’d taken my tranny – transistor radio – they were all the rage then, but could only get old wartime type music. It was weird. Anyway, there were two long seats at one end that would convert to single beds, and a table you could fold down over them. At the end where you went in there was a sofa. I remember it was very worn and there was a teddy bear at one end! That was a double bed.”
“Was there a toilet?”
“You’re joking! No, it was the bushes. I remember poor Tammy was dying to go and us throwing soggy toilet rolls at her!”
Trudy smiled.
“In the middle, on the side opposite the door there was the oven, a sink and some cupboards, and on the other side was a wardrobe with a big mirror, covered in mildew. So we made some tea and me and Tammy went to put some dry clothes on. Thank God for waterproof inner bags in our rucksacks!”
“Were you worried?” Trudy asked.
“You don’t worry much at that age,” I said. “It was a big adventure.”
I took another sip of tea. “Well, you could fasten the wardrobe door to the other side to form a partition, so we did that, and just as me and Tammy had stripped right down, Tim opened the door! We were young girls, larking about and I remember Tammy yanking my bra up and exposing my… um… boobs!”
“Mum!” Trudy blushed.
“Well, it was a ‘we’ve shown you ours, now show us yours!’ type of thing. Tammy was saying, “I want to see what that hard lump is in your trousers Rob, or is it your pocket knife?!”
Trudy laughed.
“Well, just then someone knocked on the door! We almost died! A man was shouting that he needed someone to help, there’d been some sort of accident. We told him to wait whilst we got dressed. Then we opened the door and it was a Scoutmaster.”
“I suppose Scouts camp there quite a bit…”
“Well, he was kind of creepy, and one of his eyes, had, what d’you call it, when it keeps flinching?”
“A tic.”
“Yes, that’s right. So he said he needed help, a boy had got burnt cooking sausages, and the others were squeamish, that’s what he said anyway. In the end Tammy went with him, we weren’t happy, but he said he’d look after her. He said his name was John but to call him ‘Mac.’ ”
“What happened then?” asked Trudy.
“Well, we cooked some food, bacon and egg I think, and then played cards. Tammy still wasn’t back. Then Tim found a bottle of whisky, can you believe?! He said it was nice with water. Before we knew it we were halfway through the bottle and onto strip poker!”
“Exactly, this is why I don’t want Sally going to a caravan!”
“You haven’t heard the half of it,” I replied. “Well, we were all more or less down to our underwear when the whisky and all that walking hit home. We just wanted to go to bed!”
“Just as well mum!” laughed Trudy. “Had Tammy come back?”
“That’s just it, she hadn’t but I suppose we were too pissed to worry much. We thought she’d probably stayed for a camp fire sing song and a sausage sandwich. Anyway, we were getting the bedding out – it was a bit smelly, but the blankets were quite thick – when Tim found some strange bits of cloth, like leather it was, pinky grey and semi-translucent, I think you’d say. We thought it was some kind of leather for cleaning the windows but it seemed too big and the odd thing was there were three of them. Rob said one for each window!”
“That night it turned out we all had the same dream! We saw a boy standing in the moonlight in the caravan, he seemed to be painted red. We got out of bed to see if he was OK. He took our hands. His were hot and sticky and we couldn’t pull away. He was laughing. I think we all woke up at that point.”
“I’d have been so scared mum!” said Trudy.
“Well, the next thing I remember is waking up quite early. My head was aching – probably due to the whisky! Then someone was pounding at the door and it was Tammy. She looked as white as a sheet, she’d no skirt and her panties and legs were covered in blood.”
“Oh my God!” said Trudy.
“Well, we didn’t know what to do, there was no-one to call for help and she seemed hysterical, crying and saying that the Scoutmaster had put a knife up… well, up… inside her, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh God.” Trudy covered her face.
The boys decided to go for help, I locked the door and tried to clean her up and calm her down. I couldn’t tell what.. damage…he might have caused. After a while she went to sleep and I didn’t see any fresh blood.
“What happened then?”
“Well, it was really weird. Tammy woke up after a couple of hours and seemed OK! She said we should go and look for the real caravan site. So we put our gear on, took our backpacks and walked down to the main track, about a mile away. Well, just before we got to it, a Land Rover came round the corner with a policeman, Rob and Tim in it! It was being driven by a forest ranger, Tom I think. The policeman, Sergeant Hogan I remember, seemed quite annoyed to see Tammy walking along normally!”
“Well, you can hardly blame him, after what the boys must have told him,” Trudy said.
“We all got into the car and Tom drove us back to the caravan. Well, we couldn’t believe it. Instead of the mouldy old one we’d slept in, there were three brand new caravans! Rob and Tim’s stuff was outside one of them. Rob found the key he got when booking and we all went inside. It was lovely, everything new and sweet-smelling. The owners had left a card and a vase of flowers for us too.”
“What did this Sergeant, er Hogan, have to say?”
“Well at first he thought it was all some kind of practical joke. Tammy said she’d had a heavy period that had been made worse by all that walking about. She was very embarrassed. Anyway, he and Tom just left us to it.”
“That is seriously weird! What d’you think happened?”
“Well, it sounds odd I know but we think we went into some kind of time warp. The sergeant said there was a Scoutmaster in the 1930’s who’d taken some boys camping there, as he did every year, but one year three of them slept in a caravan for some reason. His name was John McIntyre. Well, they say he went there in the night, drugged the three boys and skinned them alive. Then he cut his own throat.”
Trudy turned pale.
“Another boy found them in the morning. They say he went mad…”
Trudy opened her mouth but nothing came out.
“There’s something else you should know. Your dad was staying in one of the other caravans. He was nineteen at the time. Well….”
“What?”
“Well, you were born nine months later!”
“Good God mum, I know you said you and dad had met on holiday, but I thought that’s when you were in your twenties.”
“Well, now you know.”

Trudy stood up and brushed her blonde hair back. “Right, that’s it. Sally’s definitely not going on any caravan holiday!”

Please note: this story was originally published on 4th May 2017. To see the original post (with comments), please click HERE.

N.B. this story is a ‘retelling’ of a story, Caravan of Nightmares, the contemporary account of which appears in To Cut a Short Story: 111 Little Stories. That version has a slightly different ending and runs to 4000 words. The full story does not appear on this blog, it is only available in the book (paperback/Kindle/eBook/audio-book).

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!

Flip Side


solar flare 2

(600 words)

Traditional psychology can’t explain it. Well, they try to, they say it’s some kind of amnesia. I know it’s not, but they won’t listen to me. I look in the mirror and the person I see is not … me. It’s like I’ve been put in someone else’s body, not a bad one mind, and given a few sheets of A4 to learn about his history, life and work. So when Susan, my ‘wife’ comes to me and says Frank’s on the phone, I don’t have a clue who she’s on about, he wasn’t on the A4 sheets. Then she’ll get annoyed. “Look, Steven, you must go back for more tests. Stop giving them a hard time!” Mind you, she’s not bad looking though, and bedtime has been fun!
It’s no use though. I know I’m not ‘me’ if you see what I mean. Sometimes in dreams I’ll see a young woman with high cheekbones, long wavy hair, brown as chestnuts, and two kids, teenagers with tousled hair and braces on their teeth. Jake and Jenny are their names. Then there’s a dog, a black Labrador, called Rusty who likes to roll in autumn leaves and jump in the snow.
The lady, I don’t know if she’s my wife, is called Hannah. She has a laugh that reminds me of milk bottles tumbling over.
That’s who I think I am.
So I looked around and found someone, a Dr. Nightshade. He’s a ‘displaced personality specialist’. He says what I’m experiencing is not uncommon, something to do with solar flares. They can knock the ‘astral body’ out of alignment, he says. Then another personality can move in and the displaced one moves into the other body, the one just vacated. Or something like that. He calls it TPD, ‘temporal personality displacement’ on account of the fact that the astral body can travel through time as well as space. Of course, your average psychologist doesn’t believe in any of that he says, but he’s had special training, from those who ‘know’.
Anyways, he says he can fix me. He’s got a machine. Apparently he doesn’t even need to have the other person present – the ‘me’ with ‘him’ inside, if you see what I mean. He says the machine simulates the effect of a solar flare, but in reverse, so it’ll pull ‘him’ into this body and I’ll just ‘flip’ back into mine, wherever and whenever that may be. So it’ll be goodbye Susan, hello Hannah, Jake, Jenny and Rusty!
He says it’s not without risks though. Sometimes the astral body of a third person can become separated and then there’s a three way swap, or even more. He says that’s really unusual though, and he just has to run the machine a few more times until all the astral bodies are in the right people.
Well, the good Dr. Nightshade ran the machine, took my money, a load of it, and nothing happened! He says it doesn’t always work first time. To come back tomorrow. ‘Get a good night’s sleep and don’t worry,’ he says. As if!
There’s a knock on the door. Susan. She comes in but she’s changed her hair. It’s long, wavy, brown. Like chestnuts …. “Hello Sweetheart,” she says, “I thought we’d go to the park. It’s a fine day. Take the kids.” She laughs. Milk bottles tumble over.
A tousle-haired girl, lean and smiley appears at her side. She doesn’t have braces on her perfect teeth. I hear the pounding feet of what sounds like a dog racing up the stairs. “Come on dad, Rusty needs some exercise!”

Please note: this story was originally published on 3rd February 2017. To read the comments (recommended), please click HERE.

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Electricidad

mallorca 2

(650 words)

The last thing Ronald Russell wanted to do that day was get into the taxi with Cheryl. Not because he didn’t love her. He did – or thought he did. But, as the taxi lumbered down the mountain road, swaying from side to side, pressing his bare legs against the bare legs of Cheryl and Samantha alternately, he knew there would be no more taps on the door late at night, no more sounds of clothes falling onto the floor, no more slim, warm body slipping in beside him, and Cheryl, giggling, reaching down for him, whispering, “I hope you don’t mind!”
Ronald felt Cheryl squeeze his hand. She smiled at him but her eyes looked different. Still the colour of jade but focused far away. Probably thinking about mundane matters back home. Picking Bruno up from the kennels, washing her holiday clothes, sitting in front of the mirror putting on make-up, ready to see …. him. He felt a sense of great sadness as well as overwhelming jealousy.
They’d arrived in Mallorca two weeks earlier for the walking holiday in the mountains of the north east. He’d been surprised to find almost no tourists there. Just one hotel too, Hotel Miramar, a quaint old building, large and cool, with huge fans turning in high ceilings. Just like the movies.
He’d looked around the motley group on arriving. Nine men and seven women, plus the leader, a short bald man with legs like walnut pistons. As usual, he’d given the women a mark from one to ten as to how much he’d like to bed them. Mostly they scored between one and four but Cheryl he’d given a six. Now, after two weeks of her company, he’d probably give her ten. The taxi took a corner around a precipitous drop, pressing his body against Cheryl’s, something he’d grown increasingly accustomed to.
“Ow, budge over, Ron!”
“Sorry, it’s this bloody road, so bumpy and bendy.”
Samantha took a bottle of water from her rucksack and took a swig. It was October but still hot, especially now they’d reached lower ground. She offered the bottle to him. “Ron?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks.” He took a gulp. The water was surprisingly cold. He noticed Samantha smiling at him. He’d noted her friendliness from day one, but he’d focused on Cheryl, as had the leader, who’d made no secret of his lust for her. Fortunately, she’d plumped for him and Sam had seemed less keen. He hadn’t noticed the dynamic until Cheryl had told him that Sam fancied him. Then the penny dropped. But, well, those teeth!
After the day’s walking and an evening meal, most of the group would sit in a local bar, chatting about the day’s events. They’d always been amazed by the waiters. Friendly, able to speak in all the languages of the group – English, French, Spanish and Italian – and with the ability to take an order once, writing nothing down, then to come back, handing all the right drinks to the right people. Very different to England, he thought, where you were lucky to get a smile and no one remembered you from Adam. One evening, almost a week into the fortnight’s holiday, Cheryl had made a point of sitting next to him. And that’s how it had begun.
“What’s the Spanish for electricity?” he’d asked, standing shoulder to shoulder with her, gazing down at a waterfall.
“Electricidad.”
“It’s what I feel when I’m with you.”
She’d hugged him. “Same.”

The taxi pulled up outside the hotel. The bus was waiting to take them to the airport. He sat next to Cheryl on the way. “Will we see each other?” She, coincidentally, lived in the same city.
“Well, there’s Stephen.”
“Yes, a married man.”
“Well, so are you!”
“But he doesn’t have to know.”
“What about Lorraine?”
“Ditto.”
Cheryl laughed and handed Ronald a piece of paper. “Call me tomorrow.”

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One Way Trip

bookmakers

(850 words)

As the train gathered speed, Patrick Skerry suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket. He felt his face flushing. What to do? He looked across to an old lady with a wrinkled face, chewing her lip whilst staring blankly out at the blackened, graffiti-strewn buildings flashing past. She wouldn’t know what to do, probably start on an endless yarn about some wretched grandchild.
Then another thought hit him. Had he locked the car? He felt sick in the pit of his stomach. Surely he had? But, after all, he’d been in such a rush for the train he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket!
He couldn’t remember if the car would automatically lock after a while. But then, what if he’d left the key inside the car? Would it know not to lock it then?
He glanced at his watch. 9.45 a.m. The trip was only an hour and his appointment wasn’t till 12.00. He decided not to take any chances, he’d get out at the next station, Bradley Hill, and go back to Trusthorpe. With luck he’d just have to buy a ticket for the one stop back, and then he could re-use his original ticket. Failing that, he’d just have to hope for a sympathetic ticket inspector.

Bradley Hill was a small stop. A kiosk with a woman ungraciously serving coffee and tea and greasy sausage rolls, practically throwing them across the counter. She looked like an inmate from Belsen. Presumably she didn’t often partake of her sausage rolls.
A small crowd was milling around on the platform. A bunch of schoolgirls with short skirts, long white mottled legs and mouths full of braces. A handful of businessmen carrying briefcases, wearing smart suits and with beady-eyed, clean-shaven anonymous faces. With dismay he saw that the next train had been cancelled. Damn! That meant a thirty-minute wait. He went to the small ticket office to find it closed. Well, there was a machine; he supposed they didn’t want to pay staff. Tough luck on anyone who needed help with their luggage or advice on their route.
Outside, he saw a red double-decker bus, and getting onto it, to his total disbelief, was his father. But he’d died almost ten years earlier! He could see the back of the man as he paid for his ticket. The same tweed jacket with brown leather patches on the elbows, the same tweed trousers, the same beige cap, the same grey hair just peeking out from under the cap.
He ran out, “Dad! Dad!”  just as the bus pulled off. Then a black cab drew up. Thank God! He waited for the passengers to disembark – a woman, with a beige coat and a silk headscarf, with two young children in tow. They were both engrossed with hand-held devices, oblivious to the outside world. The woman counted out the fare in ten and twenty pieces. Hurry up, damn you!
He dived onto the back seat and opened the little window. “Follow that bus!”
The driver grunted and began to edge out. The bus was receding into the distance.
“Hurry up!”
The driver made an unpleasant noise and stamped on the accelerator.

The bus halted at last and the taxi pulled up in front. Patrick looked back to see his father – or someone identical to him – getting out and going into a bookmakers, Fred Noble. Well, his dad had liked a bet and often went to Nobles. It must be him, surely?
He pushed the door open and went inside. Half a dozen old men sat chewing pencils and staring at their betting slips, whilst a commentary came over the loudspeakers. “Runners going down to the start now.” A girl with bright blonde hair, acne, and thin brown arms sat behind the glass, looking bored, filing her crimson nails. But there was no sign of his father.
“Excuse me, did a man just come in. Tweed jacket and trousers, beige cap?”
She looked up. “What?”
Patrick repeated the question, watching as the girl tried to compute what he was asking. Finally, the penny dropped.
“I don’t remember. If he did, he might be in the toilet.” She gestured down a dingy corridor.
Patrick went past faded pictures of racehorses in thin, cheap frames that lined the peeling walls. He opened the door and went in. One cubicle was occupied. He hesitated. But he’d seen his dad come into the shop. He must be in there.
He knocked. “Dad, are you in there?”
The door opened and there stood two young black men. One held a plastic bag with some lumps in it. The other held a wad of cash. “Who the fuck are you?” said plastic-bag man, his eyes wide and hostile, the pupils dilated.
“Oh, sorry, I thought my father had come in here.”
“Let’s waste this fucker, man, he’s seen us,” said wad-of-cash-man, reaching into his coat.
The last thing Patrick knew was white-hot pain as a black hand thrust a long, serrated knife into his chest.

 

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The Strangest Cross

celtic cross

(700 words)

Settlers followed pioneers, who followed scientists, who followed robots. Now, biodomes dotted the frozen red desert that stretched to the pink horizon. The settlers found the soil to be good and plants to grow quickly. Wells bored deep into the surface found aquifers to nourish the plants.
Soon – despite warnings – children were born. Children who grew imperially tall and thin, with brown skin, knowing smiles and, shining from green eyes, intelligence beyond their years. And strangest of all, many of them were born with an extra finger on the right hand.
As they grew, they proved to be natural leaders, forming committees and making decisions for the adults, who mostly bowed to their intelligence and wisdom. Excavations were begun, under their direction, now teenagers and young adults, and finally, after several months of digging under brilliant floodlights, a huge arena had been excavated, and at the bottom they hit ‘pay dirt.’ The very top of an ancient stone building, millions of years old.
“It’s like they knew it was there all along,” said Edmund Silverstein.
His wife Valorie looked up at her husband’s remark, her blonde ponytail bobbing. “I swear Saul can read my mind. He seems to know what I’m going to say before I say it.”
“He’s a clever one alright. The directive was to focus on terraforming, not excavations. Somehow, he and his pals convinced the high-ups back on Earth to send the gear, and here we are.”
“But aren’t you excited that our son – our son – discovered the first Martian city?”
“We don’t know it’s a city, it could be a random pile of rocks.”
“What, buildings with rooms and windows!”
“We don’t know that yet.” He turned to a computer and began scrolling through columns of data. “Look, I think we should rent a new biodome. What d’you think?”
“Now you’re just being plain stupid!” Valorie put her hands upon Edmund’s shoulders and began to massage them. “Look, I know you don’t like the way things are going, these kids so intelligent, maybe even telepathic, taking charge, making us look like children, but it’s the way things are. We can’t change that.”
Edmund grunted.
She continued. “We came out to colonise this place. We didn’t know what to expect. What better way than by discovering some history?”
“Maybe by letting sleeping dogs lie ….”
They heard a sound like steam escaping, and a door slid open.
“Hello mum, hello dad.” Saul strode towards them. His brown face stretched into a smile. “We found something.”
Valorie wondered at her son, so tall and slim. It was like he’d grown six inches in the last week. She smiled at her imagination. “What is it, sweetheart?”
“Close your eyes and hold your hand out.”
Valorie felt something cool and metallic placed into her palm. Something brushed against her wrist. She opened her eyes and gasped. “Wow.” She turned the trinket over and over. It was of a metal she didn’t recognise, dull and heavy, showing little sign of wear, despite its ancient appearance. “How old?”
“They’re still working on it. Over a million years.”
It was reminiscent of a Celtic cross. An asymmetric cross – the lower arm longer than the other three, equal, lengths – superimposed upon a small circle. Each arm had a design engraved on it, like intertwined ropes in a complex pattern. At the junction of the cross was a small disc, and in it, a pair of hands held a heart shape. A fine chain was attached to the apex of the cross.
“Where did you find it?”
Saul smiled. “In the soil excavated from the first building. It was just on its own, but now we think there might be other artefacts we’re going to request more gear from Earth, to speed up the excavating.”
“Well, what do you think of this?” Valorie asked Edmund.
He gave the cross a cursory glance. “How do we know it wasn’t dropped by someone from Earth – one of the pioneers?”
Without a word, Saul held the cross up in front of his father and pointed to the hands holding the heart. On what would have been the right hand, the fine detail clearly showed a thumb and five fingers.

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Shelly in the Jungle

papua native

(650 words)

“Where d’you think I’m gonna find that kinda money?” asked Shelly Green, pulling on her dog’s lead. “Sit, Earl, sit!”
“Listen Shell’, it’s a chance in a lifetime! I dunno, get a loan from the bank, sell your car, sell your house!”
Shelly sighed. “What about Wharton’s. They wouldn’t let me go for a month!”
“For Chrissakes, Shelly, you’re only a cleaner. They can get someone else from the agency. No offence.”
“Thanks a lot!” She blushed. Her friend, Mavis Enderby didn’t mince words. “But, look, Mave, those pygmies, with their beards and loincloths and sweaty bodies, I mean, what about … y’know, women’s things … I’d be embarrassed!”
Mavis deposited her ample backside on a garden chair and took out her laptop. “When in Rome, do as the Romans. You’ll get used to jungle life, and I’ll be with you, I’m the tour guide, don’t forget.” She tapped on the keyboard. The flight leaves on the 22nd December. Just think, you’ll get to celebrate New Year in the jungles of New Guinea!”

“Oh, yeah, singing Old Lang Syne with a bunch of sweaty, spear-waving pygmies – no thank you! Anyway, I’ve got to take Earl for a walk. Have some more prosecco, I’ll be back in half an hour.”

When Shelly returned, she was shocked to find Mavis had stripped down to her bra and panties, smeared her face and body with soil and was now brandishing a garden cane as if it were a spear. Earl began to bark loudly.

“Shut up!” The dog carried on barking until Shelly slapped his backside. “Hey, that cane was holding my string beans!”
Mavis began to dance around in a circle, jiggling her sizeable bottom and waving her ‘spear.’ “You white woman, you welcome to our village. You hold pig whilst I club its head!”
“You’re mad, Mave, y’know!”
Laughing and breathless, Mavis sat down and threw her ‘spear’ to the ground. “Sorry, I got carried away. Maybe the prosecco had something to do with it.”
Shelly noticed the bottle was empty.
Several months later, older and wiser, Shelly sat in her garden, basking in the summer sun. She’d got over her anger at selling her cherished car to pay for Mavis’s ‘Christmas Jungle Experience,’ arriving in New Guinea to find her friend conspicuous by her absence. Instead, along with a motley crew of oddballs, they’d had to hire their own tour guide, a native by the name of Umberto. Then had followed weeks of hacking through jungle paths and ‘toileting’ behind trees, keeping a wary eye out for poisonous snakes. She’d lost her job at Wharton’s but, hey, she’d got a job on the checkouts at Tesco, which she preferred. Now she’d invited Mavis around to patch things up.
The garden gate opened and in came Mavis, holding a huge bunch of red roses and a vase-shaped package, wrapped in cream paper with red stripes. “Hello, kiddo, how was New Guinea? I’m sorry, kid, I couldn’t go, I broke a toe getting out of bed. No hard feelings?”
“No hard feelings, Mave.”
“Well, you made it home, anyway. I guess you’ve got some good memories?”
Shelly smiled. “More than memories, actually, Mave. Umberto!”
The back door opened and out came a man in bathing trunks. His body was short, but lithe and brown. He sported a bushy black beard and matching curly hair. “Greetings, Mavis, Shelly much tells me about you.”
“Oh, all good, I hope,” Mavis improvised, taken aback.
“Yes, and we invite you to our wedding.”
Mavis recovered, casting an envious glance at Shelly, “How lovely, thank you. Of course I’ll come. I promise this time!”
Umberto smiled. “Thank you, dear Mavis. It will be on anniversary of Shelly coming in my country, the 22nd of December. You will be special guest!”
“Oh, thank you.”
“And to be held with my tribe in foothills of Papua, New Guinea.”
For once, Mavis Enderby was speechless.

 

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It’s Dark in Here

old wardrobe 2

(1000 words)

“Where’s the key for the wardrobe in the spare room?”
“What … why?”
My wife, Jane, looked down at the carpet. “Oh, uh, I just fancied looking inside. Who knows what’s in there?” She gave an unconvincing laugh.
“What’s Lucy been saying?”
“What?”
“Come on, what’s that girl been imagining this time?”
“Look, Tony, I’m worried about her. First there was that nonsense about Roman soldiers under the bed, now this.”
“Now what?”
“Well, she said not to tell you, that you’d be cross.”
I felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps I had been less than sympathetic over the soldier episode. But Lucy was eleven, for heaven’s sake. “Come on, out with it.” I smiled. “I won’t be cross, promise.”
“Well, she said she heard whispering from it.”
“What?”
“She said it said ‘Let me out, it’s dark in here.’”
“Anything else?”
“Yes … er, ‘I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.’”
“OK, well, there isn’t a key, I’m afraid. That wardrobe’s always been locked, even when I was Lucy’s age. And there’s all granddad’s junk in the way, anyway.”
She sighed. “Well, I just thought, if we could open it and show her there’s nothing inside ….”

I went into the spare room. It was gloomy and silent. Through the window there were dark, oppressive clouds, and sporadic raindrops spattered the pane. The wardrobe stood in a far corner, barricaded in by boxes and trays of granddad’s tools – ancient hand drills, blunted planes and chisels.
We’d inherited this house from my mother, who in turn had inherited it from her mother a few years earlier. In that time, we’d visited rarely, my mother mainly coming to us, preferring the bustling market and lighted shopfronts of St. Albans to the dry-stone walls and slate-grey skies of Derbyshire.
But Jane had hankered for the rural life and after endless arguments we’d upped sticks, sold our house for a king’s ransom, metaphorically speaking, and moved here three months earlier.
It’d been on my mind to empty out the spare room and throw out granddad’s tools and boxes of nuts and bolts. I wasn’t one for sentimental junk. But I’d become friends with a guy – Jonno – from the local pub. He owned a garage and in his spare time restored vintage vehicles, something I enjoyed helping him with, whilst drinking steaming cups of pungent Earl Gray tea to keep the cold out. So, I’d been spending much of my time there, to Jane’s chagrin.
She worked at a bakers in the village, selling pork pies, hot Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and the like in their little shop. It paid a pittance but she seemed to enjoy the company.
“You need to look for work too, Tony, it’s no good tinkering around in Jonno’s garage, expecting the money to last forever!”
But, well, it could wait a month or two, surely? Heaven knows, I deserved a break after twenty years of driving HGVs.
I leaned over the stack of boxes and put my ear to the wardrobe. Nothing. As I’d expected. I held my position until my shoulder started to ache then headed back across the cluttered room. As I reached the door, there came a knock that startled me. A knock with a wooden, hollow sound. I whirled around and stood, expectant, feeling a strange fluttering in my stomach. Then came a faint scratching, like fingernails scraping against wood. Get a grip! Or a mouse in the skirting, more likely. I reminded myself to set some traps.

But the problem hadn’t gone away. Lucy would insist on going in there to see if the whispering would come – and, of course, it would. ‘It’s dark in here, let me out … I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.’
So, I’d spent a couple of hours lugging granddad’s boxes down to Jonno’s truck, ready for the tip, and the wardrobe now stood exposed, its dull, drab mahogany unsightlier than ever. I’d made the decision to get rid of it. I’d asked Jonno to call round at lunchtime to help me down to the truck with it. But first, I had a little task to perform. Something I was quite looking forward to, in fact. Maybe there might be something interesting in there – or valuable even. I took granddad’s sharpest chisel and a hammer and placed the blade in the crack by the lock.

Let me out. It’s dark in here….

Outside it was dull and dark and raindrops once more spattered the window. It never seemed to stop raining here. Why hadn’t we stayed in Hertfordshire? If only Jane hadn’t been so bloody determined to move, we could’ve sold this place for a tidy sum.

I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.
=
I gave the chisel a powerful blow and there was a loud boom as the wood splintered and the door flew open. I felt a sense of deep disappointment. The wardrobe was empty. Nothing, not even a rusty coat hanger.
“There you are, you can come out now!” My voice echoed in the wardrobe. Suddenly I felt myself gripped by agonising pain – like the time I’d trapped a nerve and couldn’t move a muscle without tormenting spasms shooting down my left-hand side. But now, it felt like I had cramp in every muscle in my body. I wanted to scream but nothing would come. It felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, there was no air in my lungs. I collapsed onto my hands and knees, eyes squeezed tight shut, fighting against the pain. Then I heard Jane’s frantic voice, muffled and distant.
“Darling, are you OK?”
Just as suddenly, the pain vanished. I found I could stand up. “Yes, I’m fine, I was just, er, looking for, ah …. “
Jane looked from the wardrobe to me and back. “Well, no skeletons!” She laughed.
The rain began more heavily against the window. I turned the light out and we left the room.
“No, just a young girl’s vivid imagination.”

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!