Monthly Archives: November 2014

Maid of Honour


I saw this prompt yesterday and was drawn to that tiny little dark window in the background. I’m not even sure exactly what it is, but this is the story I instantly saw in my head. I’m not sure it exactly fits the prompt, but I had fun writing it *wink*

They forgot about this place. Huntsford Country House has many little nooks and crannies, a half dozen disused and ignored buildings, but I remember where they all are. I spent most of my childhood running around the estate when my dad was groundskeeper here. I reckon I know the grounds better than I know my new, speciality apartment. Good thing really, if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here today.

Dad taught me lots of things, how to set traps, how to hunt, how to forage and how to load and fire a rifle. Useful skills, not the ones I needed most after the accident, but Dad taught me that one too; how to listen. I spend all my life listening now. I don’t have much choice, living in darkness as I do. Every day is night, a pitch black, moonless, starless night on a back road in the middle of nowhere with only sounds to keep me company.

I listened to it all. The caterers and assorted aides were here early, setting up the marquee opposite the little hayloft I now occupy. I could hear them hammering, cursing, laughing; hear the rustle of fabrics as they laid tables, the clatter of silverware, the clink of champagne flutes, the chink of crockery. I lay here, amongst the dry smells of dust and forgotten hay, and listened to the string quartet tuning up, the DJ chattering to his girlfriend about the set list for the night, and the fluttering, fluting tones of the wedding planner who appeared to be in more of a panic than I imagined Carol, the bride, to be.

I’ll give her that much. She did ask me to be Maid of Honour. I refused of course. Did she really think I would stand there, smiling, in a god-awful outfit I could never see, while she took the last steps from our life into her new one, with him? I know she only asked out of pity, he probably goading her from his guilt. Did they think that would make what they did go away, make things right between us? Did they think I would smile, accept their pathetic attempts to include me in the ‘happiest day of their life’? Did they think I could forget, forgive, move on? Did they think I wouldn’t know they had taken my day, the day I’d booked with Steve, the day down to the hour when I was supposed to have been the bride?

Steve tried; for a few weeks after the accident he really tried to make it ok between us, but I knew he wasn’t going to make it. He couldn’t cope with my new and special status. He couldn’t deal with the idea of being married to me and my newly acquired problem for the rest of his life. I was angry for a while. I think I had a right to be, when he walked in one day and stood for a few minutes in silence. I don’t know if he realised I knew he was there, could feel his silence and know his words before he stammered them out. It wasn’t me, it was him. I shrugged, told him to leave, and quietly cancelled the wedding, the caterers, the church, the guests, but Carol and John thought I wouldn’t notice; or simply hoped?

Not like I could see the date, not after the accident. Carol’s hen night. We were slaughtered, no two ways about it. Pouring out of the nightclub in the middle of a snowstorm with not a cab in sight, we were stranded at four in the morning. Carol called John; his massive 4×4 with snow chains would get us through. And he came, but we were too drunk to notice how drunk he was – a last night of fun with his pals – or that he hadn’t actually put the snow chains on. I woke up a week later. John lost control, hit a tree. I was thrown through the window and hit a rock under the snow head on. The police found that John hadn’t got round to fixing the seat-belt where I’d been. He knew, like he’d known about the snow chains, but things like that don’t happen to people like him, like Carol, like me, right?

I was too adrift to really listen when the doctor told me something had been knocked loose in my brain. The impact, caused by John’s negligence, left me permanently blind. He got a couple of points on his license and a suspended sentence. Be a good boy, don’t do it again, and let’s all move on. And they did, at least they seemed to. Their wedding replaced mine, which gave Carol, the woman who’d been my best friend since nursery school, lots of excuses as to why she couldn’t come see me very often. She still hasn’t been to my new place, all tricked out with bells and whistles – literally – to help me around my new world of constant night. Now she won’t get the chance.

I can hear them now, trooping up the drive. They’re all crunching to a halt on the gravel outside the marquee for photos. They practised yesterday and I was able to hear where they all stood. I can hear her talking to him and that’s all I need to line up my shot, thanks to Dad’s expert tuition all those years ago. If I’m fast, I can get them both before anyone realises what’s going on, but she’s first. Why? He may have been the idiot who drove the car, but she’s the one who decided marrying him was more important than supporting her best friend of 30 years. I’m still a maid who believes in honour.


Domestic Trouble


“You’ll regret it”
Janice had decided on a clear-out. As usual, when she got going, she couldn’t stop. After an hour she’d already filled two black bags, one for recycling the other for the dump. The strange voice brought her up from her crouch next to the drawers under the bed. It was a very strange voice, sort of muffled and – she knew how ridiculous her thought was but couldn’t deny it – oddly rustling. The bedroom revealed no serial killer with a hatchet and Scream mask.

Janice returned to her task, drawing forth a threadbare woollen jumper which went straight into a new bag which would also head to the dump. The jumper was followed by a designer skirt she’d bought to ‘inspire’ her to lose weight. Like all her schemes, it had failed and she’d never worn it. She was about to open a fourth bag, one designated for recycling, when the voice sounded again and she shot to her feet, clutching the skirt to her chest like some half-assed shield.
“What a waste of money.”
“Who’s there?”
“It’s me; down here, fool.”

Janice lowered her gaze but could only see a lumpy black bin liner filled with her discards. She shrieked and just about levitated backward onto the bed when the bag spoke again, a mouth forming in one of the crumples.
“You know what’s going to happen, right?”
There was a pause which left Janice uncertain of her next move. The thing clearly wanted a response but she didn’t see the point in nodding as it had no visible eyes. She shunted further back on the bed and squeaked a ‘No?’
“You’ll regret all of it. You always do. How many of my brothers and sisters have you filled over the years? How many times have you gone haring down the back steps in an attempt to catch the bin men to retrieve it all? How many times have you sat on that very bed and cried yourself stupid because you threw out some beloved object?”

The thing kept berating her, but Janice suddenly decided she wasn’t going to let some lump of black plastic call her a fool. She inched off the bed, tiptoed to the window, opened it as wide as it would go and then screwed up her courage. In one mad rush she grabbed the bag by the tie and managed a passable hammer throw out the window and into the alley below. She could still hear it banging on down there as she hurled the other bags after it – on the premise that where there is one there will be more – and slammed the window shut.

In the ensuing peace, Janice decided she’d leave the rest of her clothes for another time and headed to the kitchen for a reviving, fortifying snack. She was sure a tub of half-eaten double chocolate fudge sundae ice cream lurked in the bottom draw of the freezer. Her son, Bobby, liked to arrange the magnetic letters on the fridge and freezer, but she was pretty sure he wasn’t responsible for the latest missive:
“You’ll regret it”
“No I damn well won’t!”

Janice was pretty sure she would start screaming if the fridge spoke to her. She ran across the room, scrambled the message on the freezer, yanked open the door, retrieved the ice cream and retreated to the kitchen table, grabbing the spoon from Bobby’s unwashed breakfast bowl on the way. Shovelling ice cream to the point of an ice pick in the head, she watched the scrambled letter reform:
‘Bang goes another diet huh?’
She ignored it, although her eyes were drawn to the whirling letters.
‘What’s a couple of stone between friends, huh?”
Janice shovelled and tried not to think.
‘Don’t wanna talk to me, fatso?”

Janice hurled the bowl at the freezer, screamed and ran from the house. Hurtling down the street a car called after her:
“You’ll regret it”
Feeling a sharp stone cut into her bare sole, Janice gritted her teeth, squashed her regret at forgetting shoes and turned left to avoid the lamp-post which told her:
“You’re too fat to run that fast”
A bike told her she’d give herself black eyes, running without a support bra. A mail box jeered at her sweat streaked face, red as a beetroot, calling her ugly. A fire hydrant laughed when she tripped over a dog on a lead and sprawled in the gutter, calling her Calamity Kate. In tears and beyond reason, Janice fled into the hospital car park and was promptly hit by a responding ambulance.

Later, when all that could be done had been, David, her husband stood at the bedside, gently stroking his wife’s cold hand as the doctor murmured gentle explanations, and sympathies.
“There was little we could do I’m afraid.”
“Did she suffer?”
“She was conscious for a few brief moments, but no, she did not seem aware. She was rather incoherent, shrieking about talking fridges and garbage. Probably due to the large amounts of illegal drugs in her system. Was she an habitual drug user?”
“If she was, she hid it well.”

David allowed tears to well, rolling fatly down his cheeks and the doctor withdrew with more sympathies and promises of talking later. David flicked open his phone, texted.
‘All done. Meet me at home.’
He allowed himself a small, self-satisifed smile, fingering the small back of illegal substances in his pocket and left for home, where his mistress would be waiting for him, under guise of nanny for a while, but not too long; after all, Bobby would need a new mummy, a prettier, younger model.

As close to the ridiculous prompt as I was willing to go *grin* I also wanted to leave you with this, one of the most compelling reasons to never have any inanimate object given a voice!

Oops, wrong case


Billy frowned, irritated when the doorbell chimed. He hit ‘save’ and hurried to open the door. He loathed being interrupted mid-write, but Maisie was shopping for a dinner party later and the kids were at school. He opened the door, grouchy and unprepared when the young man standing on his porch held up a cd and grinned.
“I think we need to have a chat, Mr Jessop.”
“I don’t have time for this. I’m busy”
Billy made to shut the door, but a sneakered foot jammed it and the kid continued.
“Writing a new novel, Mr Jessop? I did enjoy the last one. Topped the New York bestsellers list for eight week straight, right? I understand it even better now I know where you get your inspiration. “

The cd was waved again and Billy felt the first fingers of uneasy tickle his spine. Maybe it was just another crazy fan of his serial killer novels, or maybe it was something more. Reluctantly he let the kid in and directed him to the lounge.
“What is it you want? Signed stuff? I can do that. An exclusive for your college newspaper? Shoot me some questions. I just want you gone.”
The kid dumped himself onto a sofa, his grin broader, tapping the cd against his knee forcing Billy to keep taking furtive glances at it.
“Like you wanted Janice Miles gone?”

Billy lost all his air, the name a punch to his gut. He dropped into an armchair, mouthing words which were only silence.
“Or Peter Harding? Or Ella Mecchin? How about Don Grace? A writer lost for words? There’s novel.”
He chuckled at his own jokes whilst Billy finally found some calm.
“What do you know, and how?”
The kid spun the cd on his finger, well aware of Billy’s intense interest.

“Remember those cd’s you sold on Nusic Magpie?” Billy nodded but he figured he knew what was coming. It certainly explained why the searches of his files and office had turned up empty, “Oughta take more care, Mr Jessop. Guess you put the cd in the wrong case. Made for interesting reading when I put it in my laptop. I was expecting Disturbed; instead I got the practice notes of a serial killer.”
“It’s not what it looks like. It’s just research.”

“Allow me to quote, if you will indulge me. It was so riveting I committed it all to memory:

‘Janice Miles, November 3rd, 2000 – Stabbed in the gut. Lots of screaming so remember to muffle her. Took a long time to bleed out; have Garrett use a tarp. Bled all over the boot. Decided to cut loses. Dumped car in Greebecker Quarry, body still in boot. Used brick to hold down pedal. Need to write details before I forget.

I’ll spare you that part, although I’m pretty sure they’re all still in your head. Or we could chat about Don Grace. Let me see;

Don Grace, November 3rd 2013 – Slashed femoral, so much blood spray. Removed internal organs and skin. Made a butterfly by draping his skin over his arms. Perfect for Garret’s style. Wondering if I should change dump site soon. Four bodies is a lot for one drowned quarry. Need to get home and start writing.’

Who’d a thunk it, huh? Garret Marconi, a serial killer beloved by millions in four smash-hit novels, gets his inspiration from the dry runs undertaken by his creator. Or maybe you are Garrett, huh, Billy? Same day every year. Is that a habit now? Or is it significant?”

Billy rose and began to pace, his exterior cowed, fretful, what the kid wanted to see.
“It’s my birthday.”
“Strange presents you choose there, Billy. So, what’s this cd worth to you, Mr Writer? What is silence worth?”
“Name your price.”
“I’m not a greedy man by nature, so how about a million a year, for the rest of my life?”
“Done. I’ll write you a cheque.”

The kid was out of his league, he just didn’t know it yet. Billy crossed to the ornate desk which held all his papers and his cheque book. He reached into the drawer, took out a beautiful platinum fountain pen, a gift from Maisie on the publication of his first Garret Marconi novel, and crossed back. He sat in the chair opposite the kid, making much of writing the cheque. He signed it with a flourish, made a tearing motion and arrowed the pen, nib first, across the intervening space. It pierced the kid’s right eye. As he started to scream, Billy shot across the room, shoved the pen deeper and held it until the kid quit convulsing.

By the time Maisie came back there was no sign of the visit, and she was delighted, if somewhat surprised, by all the housework Billy had done. The place was immaculate.
“You are a sweetheart! I know how much you need to get started on the novel. Thank you honey.”
“Yeah, I have the latest idea though, so it can wait a day. No trouble. I built the bonfire too; contacted one of my friends at the university and scared up an old skeleton from their science department. Kids’ll love when it shows up under the clothes.”
“The kids will love you. They do adore Bonfire Night, and what’s the 5th of November without a guy?”
They chuckled, admiring the guy perched atop the massive stack of wood. Behind the old clothes and the V mask, blood dripped gently into the wood, and an occasional ray from the setting sun made one hand glint, the one holding a scratched and ruined cd.

(Never trust a writer *chuckle*)

The Paintbrush


A story that has been handed down through the generations *wink*

“Just one story, please?”
Belinda was a soft touch and her kids knew it. She smiled ruefully, settled in the centre of the double bed shared by the twins and tucked one under each arm.
“So, what shall the story be about?”
“Monsters!” yelled Amy.
“A painter.” Laura smiled.
Belinda snuggled deeper under the blankets and nodded thoughtfully.
“Do you know, I have just the thing. My mother told me this story when I was about your age, and her mother told her. It’s been in the family for many years, and do you know the best thing about it?” She paused and the children shook their heads, staring with wide eyes, “It’s all true!”

‘A long time ago, when there were still kings who rode to war on valiant chargers, queens who were wooed by wandering minstrels, and princesses being awoken with magical kisses, there lived a handsome knight. His name was Alexander, and he was the king’s favourite. Every bard in the land, every minstrel, sang songs and told tales of Sir Alexander DeLacey, the strongest, bravest, smartest knight ever to have served a king.

Now, one day, whilst travelling the lands on quests for the king, Alexander happened to stay overnight at the home of a lowly baron whose family had long since fallen out of favour with the king over some trifling remark, forgotten by all. The baron had a daughter who was fair and slender, graceful and clever, and Alexander fell in love with her instantly. Being a very chivalrous knight, he went to the baron and asked for the girl’s hand which was readily given as the father saw an easy way to get back into the king’s good books.

Alexander had a lot more business to fulfill and could not marry the girl on the spot as it was not the thing to take a bride on perilous quests in those times. Alexander wished to have the girl’s image with him at all times so he searched the village until he found a competent painter. The artist was asked to paint a perfect miniature of the girl and given twenty-four hours to complete it. The poor artist, terrified of losing the favour of the king’s favourite, painted image after image but none were quite perfect. He was ready to despair when there came a knock at the door.

Answering it, the artist found a slim parcel on his step. It bore only his name, and he had no idea who had left it, though he looked up and down the silent street for any sign of the messenger. Puzzled, he returned inside and picked up a knife to cut the string. Tired, his hand slipped and he pierced his thumb along with the string. As the plain brown paper fell open he sucked his thumb and stared at the bare black box that was revealed. Curious now, and glad to be distracted from his impossible commission, he flicked open the box lid and find himself gazing open the most beautiful brush he had ever seen. It was as black as midnight with the purest of white bristles, and the instant he held it between his fingers it felt like it had been there all his life.

“Surely, with such a perfect brush I shall paint a superior image?” he told the canvas before him and began to paint. He became so enthralled in the stunning picture he was creating that he did not notice the tiny trickle of blood running down the brush and filtering through the bristles. Finally, exhausted and with fingers painfully cramped, he stepped back and admired the perfect image of the girl which Alexander could not fail to love. The painter collapsed into his chair and slept instantly, never hearing the faint laughter which echoed around the still room.

Alexander was indeed delighted with the painting and paid the artist twice what he had promised. Wherever he went, the knight showed off the image of his beautiful fiancée and people began to flock to the door of the painter, all wanting one of those perfect images, of a daughter, a son, a mother, a husband. As the painter grew rich from his commissions, though he never again painted anything so flawless, time passed and Alexander returned to marry his beautiful lady. Upon a chance encounter in the street, he was blocked by a woman huddled under a shawl, hunched of back and stumbling of step. Anxious to see his beloved, Alexander gently moved the woman from his path with an apology, but her words stayed him.
“Sir Knight, do you not know me?”
The woman pushed back her shawl and Alexander was struck dumb; for here was his betrothed, the one whose image he had kept beside his heart through all the long months, but she was wizened, wasted to a thread, bent of back and lame.
“What ails you, woman?”

She could only shake her head and weep, for she had no answers to give. Alexander was true to his word, marrying the girl as he had promised, but theirs was a sad union, for Alexander could not bear to see her, remembering what she had been, constantly reminded by the painted image. He was never unkind, and she lacked for nothing; nothing but his love. As time passed, Alexander’s sadness infected all corners of his life. He was no longer the brightest, bravest favourite of the king. He was surpassed, sent ever further afield on pointless quests, ever more dangerous battles, until he was finally slain by a stray arrow, an ignoble death for one who had touched the stars.

As knights kept vigil about his casket, his wife, heavily veiled and walking with a cane though yet a young maid of less than twenty summers, wept silently in her chambers for she had loved him with all her heart. Whilst preparing for sleep she noticed a slip of parchment slide under her door. Wincing as she bent to pick it up, she heard fleet steps receding, but she took too long to open the latches and peer put. The passage was empty. She moved to the single candle, unrolled the scroll and read slowly, for her sight was fading as fast as her health.
Come to the kitchen gate. I have something for you.

Haltingly, the girl made her painful way through the castle, down the servant’s stairs and out of the kitchen, pausing some way from the gate, nervous on seeing a shadow detach from the gate post and drift closer.
“Fear not, girl. You served your purpose and I bear you no ill will. More, I wish to release you from the thrall you are under. Retrieve your portrait from the breast of your husband and take it to the painter in your home village. Ask him to paint you anew, as you are now, but be sure he paints you only with the black brush he used back then. Burn both images under the full moon and you will be who you once were.”
“Why should I do this? My husband is dead. My life is done.”

“Learn from me this night, child” The shadow threw back its deep hood revealing a beautiful woman with hair the colour of glowing embers and eyes as blue as a summer sky, but the secrets she spilled were as black as her heart, “I once loved your husband, and he I, but he left me. I was not good enough to grace his arm at court for I was but a milkmaid. Not one word did I hear from or of him, but that which came from bards and minstrels singing his praises, but I knew him for what he was, a man only willing to share his love with one of status, even you, the daughter of a forgotten baron, even you eclipsed me.

I had studied long and hard for the moment he fell, and it was I who gifted the painter his brush with which to paint you. Every bristle was soaked in my hatred. He painted you, but my magic drew your vitality, passed it to me. I met him, a final time, when he was desperate for love. I came to him the night before his final battle and he did not know me, but we had that night, and he professed his love for me in his drunken leching. Again he was gone when light came, but I followed him to that battle field and it was I who loosed that arrow.

My revenge is done, and you are free. Think again before you fall for a knight in shining armour, girl; they are never what they seem.”

With that she drew up her hood and vanished into the night. The girl, no longer able to look upon the face of the man she had loved and trusted, hoped to win back over time, whispered to a knight who, sorry for the poor widow, brought her the painting from the casket. She fled into the night, racing for home, for the painter. She followed the instructions, and was indeed returned to her normal self, as radiant a beauty as the world had ever seen. The painter eventually asked for her hand and she gave it willingly, for she had learned her lesson well, but one night, when her husband lay sleeping, she gathered up the paint brush, placed it in its box , removed a brick from inside the chimney and hid it there for she wished never to be reminded of the past.’

There was an audible sigh as the children relaxed, Laura almost asleep, already drifting into her fantasies and dreams, but Amy bounced up and started jumping on the bed.
“It’s not true is it? It’s just a silly fairy story!”
For answer, Belinda rose, crossed the room to the chimney, withdrew a loose brick and pulled out a plain black box, opened it, and displayed the elegant paintbrush inside. Observing the wide-eyed stares of both girls, Belinda smiled:
“I told you the story had been in the family a long time.”