The Heirloom - The Moment’s Christmas Flash Fiction Ghost Story competition

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Cynthia hurled her school bag and sank into the sofa bellowing an almighty ‘YES’. School was over for Christmas. She slid a ribbon from her pocket and tied a bow in her copper hair. She glanced at the foot of the glittering tree.

And will I be seeing my sequins this year, she thought grimacing at the memory of last Christmas, the nails kit: sequins, polish. She recalled how she stomped her foot when all gifts lay unwrapped in a carpet of tousled torn paper, and the nails kit failed to show up.

She checked her phone time display, Mum and Dad should be here. They had simply gone to pick up Grandma and bring her to the house for two weeks with the family. Mum had even placed Grandma’s treasured rocking chair in her room upstairs, the family heirloom for over sixty years.

Cynthia looked forward to these moments with Grandma, her kind words, her humming, her sweet smile that hardly cracked her aged face.

“Why is this house cold?” She scornfully shouted, rubbing her arms.

Sunlight beamed through the full width picture windows virtually burning out the lounge.

Then she heard it - humming.

That soothing sound clearly audible beyond the glass panelled door by the stairs to Grandma’s room.

Cynthia leapt to her feet and swung the door open, and bounced up the stairs shouting, Grandma. She stopped dead by the door. Grandma hated it when she galloped around.

She opened the door.

Shrouded in rays of streaming sunlight, Grandma sat humming to herself in the oak chair, rocking to and fro as she stared out the window. Her head turned as Cynthia entered the room.

“Come here dear.” Her voice soft.

Cynthia trotted across to her side. “I had no idea you were here, where is Mum…”

“Oh listen my dear.” Grandma cut in. “Mummy and Daddy are on their way.” Grandma’s eyes bore a glint that sparkled like Christmas baubles as she spoke. ”Now promise me you will be a good girl, and respect Mummy and Daddy. They both love you very much. Promise me you will be more grateful, and be a good girl this Christmas.”

Cynthia nodded, but pursed her lips and shrugged as she wondered if that nails kit would actually turn up this year. “Okay Grandma.”

“They’re here.” Grandma said.

The front door clicked open.

“Cynthia!” Mum called up the stairs.

“Go now dear.” Grandma brushed Cynthia’s face gently.

She nodded and made for the stairs. Mum and Dad sniffed together in the porch. Mum’s running makeup and Dad’s wet dull eyes caused Cynthia’s smile to vanish as she approached.

Mum knelt by Cynthia and held her arms. “Sorry, honey, Grandma won’t be coming for Christmas, she…”

“Grandma is upstairs, in her rocking chair,” said Cynthia confused.

Mum and Dad sent each other a bewildered stare. Mum held Cynthia tight. “She is gone my love, she passed away this afternoon. She is gone honey.”


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The Last Dance - Christmas Ghost Story Competition 2013 for Spine Tinglers

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A short story:    The Last Dance By Stephen Crowley

   Sarah fluttered in a private dance of her own, a cute sway side to side as she bounced on tiptoes from one branch of the tree to the other. Carefully, she strew more tinsel across the sharp prodding branches. Candle light danced across the whitewashed walls of the lounge. A smile on her face lit up her complexion and her eyes sparkled against the tree lights. She hummed to herself in synchrony with the ipod perched on the mantelpiece as it played Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper, a song from her time with Tom.

   This was their song. From that first night they embraced at a dinner party here in Sarah’s home.

   She played the singer’s music often on Christmas Day. Tom whistled various melodies while he waited for Sarah to stop her preoccupation with anything other than snuggled up to him.

   A footstool dragged across the carpet to the sofa.

   Sarah’s eyes widened, she set her gaze upon Tom as he peered at her impatiently, feet on the footstool. His frown said it all, he wanted her to lay beside him now the fireplace glowed its warm dance.

   Sarah turned her attention back to the tree, a red bauble here, a pretty mosaic patterned bauble there.

   “Why don’t you play our song later?” Tom asked as he stretched out on the couch.

   “Just too excited dear. I spend a whole year just waiting for this one evening.”

   Tom’s smile grew to a broad grin. He sighed. “Okay. We have many hours yet.”

   “Diane and Roy will be here soon.”

   “Oh great.” Tom said and rolled his eyes. “Guess I just have to pretend I am not here again.”

   Sarah turned to Tom, her lips parted. “Just one evening Tom. Not too much to ask.”

   Tom hoisted himself from the couch. “Your wish is my command,” he joked and bowed before a peek out the bay window into the sheets of rain. “It’s just hard, you know.”

   Sarah dropped a small box of decorations. Her eyes now a steely gaze. “Just...one night.”

   Tom faced Sarah, and caressed her shoulders. “Yea, I know. Just like last year, and the year before. Just that...how it makes you look...”

   Sarah’s eyes became watery. “Don’t worry about me, let’s just have our one special evening together,” said Sarah. “Looked like Mum loved the roast. Think Dad was eager to get back home and sink some booze.”

   “Your mother was starting to get a tad drunk.”

   Sarah chuckled. “Yep, same old Mum. They keep asking me though to go over their place, but, Christmas Day must be spent here. Anyway, they see me every year.” She shook her head. “Christmas dinner was nice earlier.”

   Tom rolled his eyes again. “Yep...it looked good.”

   Sarah raised her hand to touch his ever unshaven stubble. Tom’s shoulders drooped. His eyes moved away from her to a distant stare. Sarah bit her lip. “Nothing will ever take this special day from us, look at me Tom.” Tom’s eyes met Sarah’s longing gaze. “Nothing.”

   Tom’s face lit up again with that happy complexion Sarah preferred. “Remember how cold it was on our wedding day.”

   Sarah sniggered. “Just four years ago, I hope so.”

   “Yes, you were getting the shivers waiting.”

   “Waiting,” Sarah interjected, ”For ages for your blasted car to show up. My mother was...”

   “Fuming.” Tom cut in chuckling. “And when I got there, those dagger eyes met mine, of course it was Roy’s fault. Well no...we both got hammered the night before and kind of got up late.”

   Sarah pursed her lips and then she blurted, “Yup.”

   “You were okay with it but your mum, oh boy, I thought she may grab me by my earhole and drag me into the church.”

   Sarah laughed and bowed her head forward to Tom’s chest. “I really think having the wedding just after your 30th birthday, a bad idea.”

   “Well it turned out okay, even if I was hungover for the first hour.”

   “And we are still married.” Sarah said, her face a radiant glow in the flickers of ambient light from the candles.

   Tom’s complexion became a sullen one, he reached out a hand and slid his fingers down her cheek.

   A mile away from the house, a crimson Honda Accord carefully steered its way through the sodden country roads. Sheets of rain coupled with darkness blurred any chance of beautiful views, the splendour of the countryside hidden behind a grey veil, the rain hammered on the windscreen. Diane rubbed her arms, the car heating failed to circumvent any warmth. She checked the switch, all red bars.

  “Glad we are there soon, between your car heating failing and this rain.” Diane sighed in her seated stiff posture, her fingertips drummed the dashboard.

  “Actually the heating is on. But, at least you are frustrated with the weather this Christmas evening and not young Sarah, or the weekend, like me.” Roy said, blissfully disregarding Diane’s moan and a preference to concentrate hard on the road ahead as it climbed up through a raged downpour.

  Diane threw dagger eyes at Roy. “I told you. This is the last time. I will deal with this in my own way this time. Or...” Diane paused for thought and rubbed a wrapped gift on her lap for her sister. “Well, I don’t really want the alternative.”

 “We are here then.”

  Roy pulled off the country road onto the paving circles of a driveway. Normally the valley beyond the walls could be clearly seen but mist had crept in with thick tendrils and shrouded the green pastures. Roy disembarked and gave the blurred view a moment of his time to appreciate nature even if concealed behind the seeping fog, anything to delay.

  “We should visit in the Summer from now on, you know.”

  Diane slammed the door shut with her foot as she clutched the gift in her hands, a frozen smile on her face. A strong wind shuffled through the garden foliage and brushed trees quite hard. The wind seemed to blow them towards the front door.

  Before Roy could knock, it opened, and a cheery Sarah greeted him. “Roy, come in”. They hugged. Diane strolled past, the gift box tight to her chest, and lightly kissed Sarah on her cheek. Sarah shut the door against the winds and followed Diane and Roy into the lounge.

  Diane placed the gift at the foot of the Christmas tree. For a moment, Diane, Roy and Sarah just stood there.

  Roy zipped the jacket off his portly torso, and exhaled as the warmth of the fire struck his skin, and spoke first. “So, how are you.”

  “Great.” Sarah replied as she took his jacket followed by Diane’s damp padded coat and hung them on a corner coat rack. “Business is good. Seems my gift store raised some eyes this year.”

  “Yes, well done sis. Told you your handmade stuff would do well,” said Diane with a feigned smile.

  Sarah’s jewellery adorned a wide cabinet opposite the fireplace. A mixture of bracelets, necklaces and novelty rings. A plaque showed her accept an award for ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ at a convention in London showed a different Sarah, a less strained smile, a content woman eager to make it big in this world.

  Diane’s eyes moved across the room from the locked sitting room door, past the burning fireplace, to the wrapped gifts next to the one she just added at the tree’s foot. “I wonder, could that be a pendant, a necklace, a gem...the mind boggles,” she joked.

  Sarah giggled and waved her hand. “Oh, you won’t guess. And you will love it.”

  “So...how was dinner today?” Roy asked.

  Diane had partially opened her mouth, about to fire the same question, the icebreaker. Even the warmth of the fire failed to soothe Roy as he forced some enthusiasm from a depleted well.

  Sarah drew a smile gradually as she locked her eyes on Roy. “Just fine, lovely. Tom then sat here with me as I set the gifts down.” She paused. “And yours?”

  A moment of silence froze the atmosphere, Roy and Diane glanced at each other. Roy spoke quickly. “Oh yes, stuffed as usual, barely able to drive.” he chortled, and allowed the chortle to die quickly.

  “Okay, drinks. Roy, still a lager I take it, Diane, bacardi and lime.”

  “No, I am driving.” Roy grumbled.

  “That’s it.” Diane swiftly replied, she forced a more enthusiastic smile. Perhaps the alcohol would ease the swell of tension.

  “Okay, wait here, and I will return.” Sarah scuttled off for the kitchen.

  Diane hurried after her, eyes fixed on Roy. “Wait here.” Her tone stern and quite abrupt. Roy sighed and slid his hands into his pockets, he knew that tone meant business.

  Then he noticed something. The door to the sitting room was now open.

  Roy felt sure the door was closed when they entered the room. He took a sneaky peek through the doorway into the small room. And he reminisced. This is where he used to play poker, and kept Sarah awake all night with drunken roars of joy each time he beat Tom. The glossy beech wood poker table still present, pride of place in the room centre. Roy smiled and allowed a short giggle to emerge as he remembered all the times flicking cards across the surface.

  Roy resisted an urge to enter the sitting room, and made his way to the tree. The incandescent flickers of some of the lights hypnotic but soothing, yet still, it cut deep, a friend too close missing from this home. He felt the weight in his steps as he strolled around the room, a heaviness in his heart.

  “Hello Roy.” Tom leant against the wall next to the sitting room door.

  Roy’s eyes began to fill with water as he tapped a picture frame on the mantelpiece of him, Diane, Sarah and Tom, a snap of happy times while on holiday in France. It was a fortnight of the best fun.

  Roy turned and looked over at the doorway again.

  Tom stood there. “Missed you mate. These annual visits just...don’t add up. Can’t see me can you.” Tom sighed. “Okay, have to do the rattling chains thing then. Or maybe.” Tom eyed the door.

  Roy nodded his head as he remembered the fun evenings here; him and Tom just drunk over card games till the orange rim of dawn’s sun began to spill light through the windows. He closed the door to the sitting room, and slowly removed his hand from the handle as it clicked shut. He pulled his hands out of his pockets, then clenched his fists as he sniffled.

  “Can’t do this anymore.” His words were muffled, a tear rolled down one cheek.

  In the kitchen, Diane arms folded, watched as Sarah milled to and fro between the oven baked food, a myriad of hors d'oeuvres, and the table. Diane hunched forward and placed her hands on a chair, eyes probed Sarah for her attention.

  “Darling, we have to talk.”

  Sarah licked a finger as she tasted a chicken wing coated in spicy sauce. “Sure, whats up.”

  Diane gripped her arm. “Please sit down.”

  Sarah froze and her wide eyes stared ahead of her as she felt the pressure of Diane’s grip. “Okay. This sounds bad. Can’t it wait till after we eat, and have...”

  “I need to talk about Tommy darling.” Diane’s voice crackled a little as she studied her sister’s reaction to his name.

  In the lounge, Roy stomped up and down the carpet. “I’ll have that drink now.” He called out to the hallway knowing his voice would drift to the kitchen.

  Something caught Roy’s eye, he swivelled to peer over his shoulder.

  The sitting room door ajar again.

  “Useless door.” Roy approached it, a little haste.

  The door slammed shut.

  Startled, Roy arched his neck backwards. Then he could hear whispers beyond the doorway. And the clatter of something, too faint to determine. Roy opened the door. As he strode forward, and sauntered to the table, he gasped at the cards neatly laid out on the poker table next to towers of tokens. A hand of five cards fanned on one side where he used to sit, and another next to where Tom buried his posterior for hours on his celeste armchair.

  “Who’s here.” Then raised his voice. “Who is here!”

  Tom drummed his temple with his fingers, and stared at Roy from the armchair. He tilted his head upwards to the ceiling and then allowed a long sigh. “Still can't see me Roy boy. There is no-one here, just you and me. I chose to avoid you the past few years. But, now I am trying to reach you this Christmas. What can I do. This is the last time I shall try and speak with you buddy...c’mon...Sarah and Diane are about to argue and chat for a bit, time for a round. Tell you what, I will go first. Five card draw.”

  The hand of cards levitated, then they shuffled, raised by a chilled air and Roy felt the icy edge of the presence.

  Roy tried to squeal as he fell back into the armchair opposite where he perched himself on so many nights, so long ago it seemed. But words simply failed to surface.

  “Don’t be afraid Roy. Can you hear me now?”

  Roy nodded briskly, Tom’s familiar voice like an echo in his skull. His grip on the armchair wood so tight, it started to creak.

  “Just a quick game, and then some words old friend. Some final words Roy. I don’t want to hurt Sarah or you anymore. She must move on with her life.”

  Roy’s clammy hand still gripped the arm of the chair, breath then bursted out and in again. “Shit, T-Tom.”

  “Yes, I am here, can you see me, maybe just...look I am not very good at this. Anyway, do not be alarmed.”

  “Don’t be alarmed! Do you know how unsettling this is?” Roy stuttered and felt rooted to the chair. He lowered his voice so just a whisper came out. “So, it was...all true...Sarah has been...seeing you.” Roy’s fear soon diminished, stiffness in his limbs replaced with a lightness as he grew a smile, the widest smile.

  He could see Tom.

  “You too may be seeing me now.” Tom rolled his eyes around. “Don’t really understand it, it takes time once I wish it, some see me eventually, most never do. Guess it’s just the closest ones to the heart. Hi mate.”

  Roy expelled his breath, his fear now replaced with a joy he had not felt for such a long time. He wept. “Tom...mate...”

  “It’s okay. I have not allowed myself to be seen by you or Diane over the last few Christmas days mate, that was always to be between Sarah and myself, her special evening. But, my time has come. Now, I need you to listen carefully.”

  Back in the kitchen, Diane and Sarah sniffled, and wept. Diane rubbed Sarah’s hands.

  “I know how much you want to believe it, God knows, I want to, Roy most definitely wants to. But this bears down on us and mostly on you dear.”

  Sarah withdrew her hands, wiped some tear streaks, and settled back in the chair, a steely glow in her face. “Tom is here Diane. every year...”

  “No darling, he is not.” Diane cut in.

  “Yes, every year, he comes to my house,” Sarah raised her voice a notch, ”And we sit by the fireplace, and we talk...and then we dance.”

  Diane’s shoulders curled over her chest as she tried to find the words, and the cracked words came. “Darling, we listened to you last year, and the year before. And before that. It has been three years since we lost him Sarah. He is gone. Just over three years since that horrible Christmas night. Please don’t let me bring up all that. You have to move on.” Diane paused. “Just glad you have not mentioned Tom’s visits to Mum or Dad.”

  “No Diane, somehow I feel I don’t need to. I only told you as I needed someone to understand. Yes, sister, I know, he died.” Sarah’s puffy face and running makeup moved towards Diane’s red eyes. “I am not going crazy, I have not forgotten the police showing at my door, the details, where his car was found, I am not making this all up...he comes here, he came that very night, and each Christmas Day since, and we spend one night together before he has to go till next Christmas.” Sarah pointed towards the lounge. “He is here, now, hiding from you, he won’t show himself to you or Roy, he does not want to hurt anyone.”

  “He’s hurting you, I mean, your memory of him, this belief he visits you. And you say you see him.” Diane sunk back into the chair. “You see him.” Her tone sharp at first then it calmed. “You need help Sarah, the kind that we can’t give you. Unless you stop this...”

  “Stop what, seeing my love.” Sarah crossed her arms across her chest. “You know, it’s so stupid. He just popped out. I told him there was mistletoe growing nearby. And he wanted to bring some back so we could dance under it...so stupid...” Her voice brittle.

  Diane reached forward and lightly gripped her arm. “No, he was a real romantic.” Diane drew a deep breath. “So, unlike Roy. Though he tries. But no honey, not stupid. Not at all. It was just...a horrible, tragic and swift act of fate, and nothing else. So, do not blame yourself.”

  “Anyway, he is here tonight. So, let us open our prezzies, have a nice couple of hours before you and Roy head back.” Sarah rose quickly and ushered Diane to follow her to the lounge.

  Diane sat still for a moment, a vacant stare. “Well, I tried,” Diane muttered before she followed Sarah.

  Sarah unwrapped her gift. Diane knelt to pick up her present. “Roy darling.” She stood in the sitting room doorway and gazed at Roy, he barely looked up to acknowledge her.

  “Just here love, with you in a sec.” Roy said.

  Diane strode forward into the sitting room and kissed Roy lightly on his cheek. “Didn’t think you would ever come in here again. Not sure this year is a step forward for all of us though. She still persists with her fantasies. I don’t know what to do.”

  “It will be okay love.” Roy smiled but his slumped shoulder told a different story.

  “Thank you sister.” Sarah called as she unwrapped a picture frame of her and Tom, one taken by Diane at their wedding, now framed in silver. Sarah smoothed the glass with her fingertips, the picture offered a tactile feeling that warmed her heart.

  Diane ambled back to the lounge, a feigned smile again, approached Sarah and gave her a hug. Roy followed but stood in the doorway. “Diane, Sarah, I want you to listen for a sec.”

  “Open your gift first Roy, plenty of time for speeches.” Diane said as she handed him Sarah’s gift. Roy tried to hide a need to explain the events experienced, he clenched his jaw and unwrapped it quickly - Tom’s watch.

  “That is lovely.” Tom said, he stood behind Roy as he regarded his loved Rolex.

  “I was going to give it you last year but I forgot, so...” Sarah stopped as she noticed Diane’s face had whitened a little.

  “Did...anyone hear...that?” Diane said, her voice lowered to a whisper.

  Sarah smiled as Tom walked over to her and wrapped his arm around her.

  Roy could still see him. Diane’s jaw dropped, and colour vanished from her cheeks, she could now see him. She had unwrapped Sarah's gift, a pendant etched with the words Roy and Diane forever hung from her fingers, and the pendant slipped from her grasp to the carpet.

  Diane yelped. Roy grabbed her. “It is okay Darling.”

  “Yes, sorry but I can’t time these things very well once you can hear me.” Tom raised his hand. “Hi Diane. Yes, it is me.”

  His name slowly escaped along a long breath from Diane as she hung off Roy’s embrace. “T--o--m...”

  “It is okay Diane, he does not have much time.” Roy pleaded with Diane’s better nature not to freak out.

  Sarah’s eyes set on Tom as Roy said those words, and she rubbed the heel of her palm on her chest. “What does he mean, not much time.”

  Tom kept a reassuring fix on Diane.

  Roy closed his eyes for a moment, the realisation he had spoken out of turn as he tried to calm Diane.

  Tears began to stream down Diane’s shaky face. “How...how...are you...here...” She reached out a hand to touch Tom, but felt nothing, just a cold spot adjacent to Sarah.

  Diane swooned, Roy held her up.

  “We should go. You two need some time together.” Roy said as he made his way out. Roy fixed a sad gaze on Tom for a moment, then with Diane over his arm, exited the room.

  Sarah placed the palm of her hand on Tom’s face, wishing she for his warmth rather than just cold vapour. “What does he mean?”

  Outside, the wind howled as Roy carefully placed Diane in the front seat. He entered the car and closed the door. For a moment, Roy just glared at Sarah’s lounge bay window. Through the window, he could see Sarah, her arms in an embrace. He allowed a tear to roll and started the engine. “Goodbye buddy. Enjoy your time tonight. See you later.”

  The car pulled out of the drive and disappeared into the night.

  Sarah pressed a button on the ipod, and the first tune of Cyndi Lauper’s album started to play. Tom held a loving smile as Sarah turned to him. His hand gripped Sarah’s. She gasped.

  She felt his touch, and this time - warmth. The warm touch of flesh and bone, not the chilled wisp of his ethereal shell.

  Sarah quickly touched his face, and then held his chin, she ran her hand along his torso over the shirt he wore that night. Sarah’s fingers slapped against her parted lips as the other hand stroked his face. Her eyes bulged and a tentative smile grew. Not like before, just feeling nothing. “I can feel you...I can...”

  “Yes, just for a few hours Sarah. Christmas is about wishes coming true after all. My Christmas gift to you. Well, the powers that be gave me the gift, to give to you.”

  “How...I don’t care...just so have yearned for this moment to arrive.”

  Sarah dismissed him as just an entity despite the shirt that clung to his form, his crystal eyes, an embodiment of the Tom she knew, but for her, Tom felt as real as long ago. Sarah tried to slip her hand under his shirt lapels but her hand glided over the lapel instead - his outer form and skin fused into a copy of his former self.

  “I so want to touch you all over.” Sarah rested her head on his chest. She felt no beating heart but the love inside, all the warmth she needed.

  They swayed side to side in a gradual graceful dance as the fireplace crackled, just gentle sways to the music. Then Time After Time began to play. Tom kept his eyes closed as they swayed toe-to-toe in a hug stance. Tom squeezed Sarah’s waist a little more, Sarah’s arms snaked around his shoulders.

  And the song seemed to last an eternity. The looped album kept playing, they danced without a moment away from each other’s embrace. And some hours went by, the hours seemed like minutes to Sarah as she pressed her face against Tom’s chest.

  Then Tom gently clasped her face, and glared deep into her eyes. “This is our last dance Sarah.”

  Sarah shook her head violently. “No...No...”

  “You have to move on, I can’t allow you to keep holding on like this. You must live your life without me.”

  Sarah cried hard. “No, I can’t...do it.”

  “Yes you can. I have returned each year in answer to your wishes. But I have to let you go, you must let me go. You will be strong. You will move on.”

  Sarah clutched Tom so hard, he might have felt pain.

  Then she realised she held nothing but the warm air of the fire. And she sank to her knees.

                         ***

  One year later.

  Sarah’s house teemed with guests, her parents, Diane’s friends clinked glasses and laughed and talked about the past. Roy drank beer and played poker with some of his friends in the sitting room. The atmosphere was festive, full of joy and a happiness unfelt by the home and each of them for some time.

  At the end of the night, and the early hours of Boxing Day beckoned as Midnight approached, only Sarah, Roy and Diane remained. They stood together, each holding the other in front of the fireplace, a yearning focus on the picture of them and Tom.

 “Ready then, just once more, ready, one, two, three.” Roy spoke.

 Then each in synchrony. “Merry Christmas Tom.”

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Love OnThe Road entry 2013

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Goodbyes

By Stephen Crowley
Goodbyes beckoned as the tannoy resonated across the airport: Passengers for Flight 346 to London, please make your way towards Terminal 2 …

Rose looked up at David, her embrace like a python gripped him and refused to let go. They caressed, strong teary eye contact, hammering hearts, no blinking.

“Never expected this … how I feel …” David said.

Their throats cleared almost in synchrony, hooked hands parted gradually as David ambled towards the departure lounge.

“Love you.” Rose spoke in a soft but brittle pitch.

David turned his shoulders, a final glance at Rose and his wide smile spoke for him.


Read more short heart aches at http://loveontheroad2013.tumblr.com/

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Last Stand of The Warrior Queen

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First an introduction before the 1200 word short story for Flash Fiction Friday, www.flashfictionfriday.com, closed at 1,198 words at the end.

It is a fictional account of what may have happened during Boudica's final battle against the two converging Roman legions somewhere in the Midlands (facts sketchy). Boudica was the warrior queen of Briton who defied the Roman empire around AD 30 to 60.

Many historians may argue that some facts are heresay and so forth, so forth. Probably very likely as the facts of the battle itself remain stifled with open questions on how she died: did she die during her last march against the legions, or did she poison herself to evade capture. It seems to be unanswered, so that opened the possibilities up.

From the spelling of her name, to the armour worn, facts are mixed. Anyhow here it is:

Last Stand of The Warrior Queen

AD 60.

Boudica’s cloak fluttered in the cool breezy brush over the lowlands ahead. The icy bite of the wind numbed the bones of her army. Though, this was no longer about endurance. It would be the final calm moment before the storm. The Iceni horde would either stand or fall before dusk fell on this day.

She closed her eyes. Visions of the bloody years flooded back: the slaughter, the revenge, and the deflower of her daughters’ virginity. Each time, it was the same. Her daughters sprawled across a clearing, the garrison calmly scoot away amidst mocking laughter and sardonic phrases: another peasant bitch down, no mercy for you bitch...

Each time, she recalled the faces of the fallen enemy by her sword, or crushed under a chariot. The vindictive feelings smothered her thoughts, painful memories, until just one thought remained - kill them all.

Boudica's eyes tightened as the memory burned through her skull, the indelible snapshots that can never leave.

“My Queen..” Obitus shook her cold arm, a bracelet rattled. “My Queen, Andraste has spoken.”

Boudica’s eyes snapped open. Her tawny hair fluttered like a flag behind her. She caressed a stone broach with the carved Celtic emblem of her people, the feel comforted.

She turned to her troops: eager eyed, stoic, stone-faced and ready to kill; men whom had rallied from a beginning weakened entourage to a brutal force of nature by the thousands. She allowed a smile to crack her lips as Amania and Anna fixed their glassy watery eyes on their mother’s battle gear, and the unmistakeable savage intent in their mother's eyes.

She turned to the forefront, and thousands of close Roman soldiers across the battlefield ready to die: fierce eyes met each other. The Iceni bronze shields clanked against halberds as the wind grew in strength.

Her horses became restless. Boudica pulled gently on the reins, just a reassured nudge.

Boudica's wrath had destroyed legions, but not as large and heavily armoured as the forces ahead of her across the windswept fields.

“Amania, Anna, I want you to stay here with Obitus, go to him now.” She said and ushered them gently off the chariot.

“We want to stay....at your side” Their voices once gentle tried to sound as harsh as their mother’s tempered tone.

Boudica grabbed them and held each close to her chest so they could feel the thump of her heart. A tear slid down her cheek and a droplet fell to Anna’s cheek. “My sweet daughters, you are not ready for this assault. Stay here and protect the wagons, protect them, shield what remains of our people, our future lies with you, my brave daughters.”

Obitus stood proud, his eyes tearful. “Amania, Anna, come with me now, your mother will return soon.” The last few words tainted by a shaken voice.

She released her two daughters from what felt like an almost eternal embrace; they strode to Obitus’ side. He tried to smother the melancholy, the swell of dread within him, a tear down one cheek. “May God stand with you my Queen?”

He strode off to the sideline, the princesses at his side.

Boudica swung her chariot around and faced the army, the men who had stuck at her side, fought through Roman legions, watched comrades die and yet held their tenacity against the tyranny that had befallen Britannia.

She studied the front line of Suetonius’ legions across the berth between them and the Iceni’s attacking line. She knew, they brandished ten helmets for every single head behind her. Yet she stood atop the hill, a steel resolve sent warmth across the girth of her followers, her brethren.

“Look upon the Roman legions, their armour, their centurions, and smile. For we are no longer peasants, we are soldiers of Briton! We have shown strength against the scourge of our lands, Andraste has stood with us, and sharpened our swords, hardened our wits, and with her, we have crushed armies,” she raised her voice, “AND MY PEOPLE, THE GODDESS OF VICTORY STANDS WITH US NOW.”

Cheers burst the silence apart, chants of a victorious nature that could be heard across the battlefield.

Boudica raised her spear high in the air; the horses craned their necks back and forth as she exhorted the troops from the rattle of the chariot.

“We were victorious in Colonia!”

The soldiers threw their swords into the gusting winds, crys of her name each time.

“The ninth legion fell by our swords! We lit the fires of Londinium.....and burnt their city to the GROUND!”

The chants, Britannia, Britannia, became louder and louder yet her voice carried over the men like the strong winds that swept over the lowlands.

“They have heavy javelins, we have heavy courage, they have armies with breastplates, with greaves...... THEY ARE AFRAID! They are the hares and foxes, the fools who tried to stand taller than we, the wolves and dogs of Briton, we carry more strength than any Roman legion to set foot....on our LAND!”

Obitus bowed his head in the background away from the cheers of the soldiers: their halberds fastened and gripped by white knuckled hands. He would say nothing. His thoughts, his fears, his remorse would only face the waver of the green grass.

“They may kill us by the hundreds, “ She pointed her blade at the forefront of the front line, “But they no longer will rape our lands......it ends today my brothers.....we will......slaughter them.....BY THEIR THOUSANDS!!”

The cheers became a riotous war cry, swords jabbed the air repeatedly, words loud and in synchrony across rows and rows of bloodthirsty warriors: Britannia Rules, Britannia Rules. Their defiance of the Roman hordes blasted at the centurion lines as defined and straight as the legion’s spears.

“Today we avenge, today we complete our destiny, and we will STOP THE LEGIONS. Your wealth, your freedom, “ She moved the sword blade in the direction of the Roman army, “Lies before you. Look upon it my brethren, see the crimson wrath of defiance as we TAKE BACK....OUR LAND....OUR COUNTRY....AND OUR HONOUR...”

She cracked the whip across the mare, the horses reared to the points of their hind toes and galloped across the Iceni army front line. Boudica pulled hard on the reins bringing the horses and the chariot to a halt almost spinning the chariot across its axis. The mares trotted majestically forward a few steps, and halted in readiness.

“Fight with me now soldiers of Briton! With fury, with strength, FIGHT with me, together we will make a stand, together will TAKE BACK our country....TOGETHER WE WILL WIN!!!”

The roars of the soldiers created vibrations in the soil, their ferocious eyes following Boudica’s sword.

The front line of the Roman army readied volleys of pila: the sharpened javelins glistened in the midday sun.

Boudica and her army surged forward, a tsunami of bloodthirsty savages hurtled towards the readied Roman legions.

From the wagons on the edge of the battlefield, the families looked on – and prayed.

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BETWEEN FLOORS

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“How much longer will we be stuck here,” Kim muttered before returning to her slumped position against the steel wall. Her hands shook as they clasped her head.

Jeremy reached a comforting hand to her knee, “It won’t be long. We can’t be trapped here like this for much longer.”
“Yep, no worries,” Rita cut in, her face deadpan.

In the other corner, back against the cold wall: Thomas. He lightly thumped his head against the metal. Layers of sweat formed beads across his face and neck as he tried to breathe in the musty air.

“I can’t stand this prolonged claustrophobia,“ Thomas checked his watch, “It’s been three hours.” He sent Jeremy a wild-eyed stare.”You sure you hit that button.”

Thomas clenched his fist and punched the button repeatedly. The emergency bell rang and rang and rang; occasional oscillations in the resonating metallic noise from being struck so many times.

“Thomas, I called the security office, left a message, even posted on Facebook, they know we are here, wont be long.” Jeremy spoke sternly, sighing at Thomas adding to the already heightened levels of intoxication.

Kim was aggressively punching updates on her twitter page. “Yes, but no answer, you just left messages.” She shook her phone between her fingers. “Damn phone is almost dead.” Her eyes felt heavy and tried to shut tight. She allowed herself to close her eyes, and for a moment, she felt comforted by the soothing approach of sleep.

Rita just remained fixated on nothingness, wide eyes focused, just a vacant stare.

Jeremy stood up, roused to some activity, and examined the ceiling latch. He then rested his palm against the metal, it was vibrating. “This is too odd.”

“What,” Thomas asked panting from battering the alarm.

“Don’t you feel that, vibrations.” Jeremy puzzled threw Thomas a quizzical look, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say the lift is moving, up.”

“Course it’s not moving,” Kim said and then stretched out on the floor before curling into a foetal position.

“You ok Kim.” Jeremy asked wiping his perspiring brow.

She stirred her head slowly, a sort of acknowledgement.

Thomas had started trying to pry the door open, his stubby sweaty fingers helplessly searching for a wide enough gap. He slapped the door hard. "AGGHHHH," he cried out, "IS NO-ONE OUT THERE, DAMN YOU." He faced Jeremy, panting in a state of frustration. “How could it be moving, I don’t feel any movement, and the digital...” Thomas then realised the panel display was off.

Jeremy noticed Rita now asleep, the same foetal curl as Kim. For a moment, he thought he heard an ambulance, its sirens, he wiped his face. “Anyone else hear that,” his voice shaky.

“What,” bellowed Thomas glaring at the alarm again, his failed panic button.

Jeremy checked his phone again, 10% charge remained. “I don’t get it, lots of calls, twitter messages, and no-one. Thomas, try your....”

Thomas lay in the same foetal position. Him, Rita and Kim, curled into a state of surrendering unconsciousness.

He searched the lift with his eyes, the silence, and the thinning air, alone.

Jeremy slipped the phone back into his pocket. He reached up for the latch and thumped it. No joy. The latch had not budged. He tried again and again. Now he was frantically leaping up at the latch battering it with his hands, ignoring the pain.

Then he heard something again while relentlessly trying to budge the latch: the beeping sound similar to a truck backing up in a street.
Each relentless tight fisted punch not even causing the slightest shudder on the door, the cold metallic latch just smiled back at every lunge. The monotonous sound continued, and then instead of a continuous beep, it oscillated into short beeps, and pauses.

A creak followed, the lift door opened allowing a sharp burst of light to fill the lift. For a moment, he noticed, they were gone: Kim, Rita and Thomas.

“C’mon Jeremy,” A voice echoed through the blinding white light.

Then he breathed as a group came into focus through the fading intensity of the white light. The beeps - a regular pattern. A pair of defibrillator clamps retreated into the air.

As the world around him fell into focus, he felt a gnawing cold sensation digging into his back. The woman cried, smoothing his brow. To another side, a taxi and a Volkswagen car, torn to shreds were being towed away on a damp motorway dimly lit by the breaking dawn, and car headlights.

“The others, Kim, Thomas, Rita....” His voice low and broken.

Then Jeremy’s eyes fell on the open ambulance doors, and three body bags lying on the floor.

The night slowly gave way to the flush of dawn’s light. Jeremy focused his eyes on the first light of a new day, and then his eyelids closed little by little.


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The Observer - Based on Night Hawks

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There have been so many variations of the Night Hawks painting, some funny, some outright tongue in cheek reproductions. The original (i think....) is this one:

night hawks




                                   source:http://shadeone.com/nighthawks/Edward_Hopper-Nighthawks-1942.jpg

I just thought: what are these characters thinking and rolled into a series of flashes from 30s and 40s detective stories. So, on that, I wrote a quick short short story, 441 words based on wht may be transpiring from the point of view of someone looking into the cafe:





The Observer

It was a quiet, gloomy evening. 

The New York street was illuminated by floods of light from the cafe. Inside the cafe, an elderly man behind the counter reaches for coffee mugs as three rather nondescript regulars appeared to stare vacantly about their surroundings. 

At the far edge of the counter sat a couple brooding over their lives, never actually so much as glancing at each other. On the other side of the counter sat a quietly thinking gentleman, stirring his coffee as though it may reveal the answers to his questions on life’s anxieties. 

The counter assistant muttered something. It was muffled from where I was standing but I think he simply asked, ‘Anyone for an Irish coffee?’ The three patrons barely acknowledged his query, seemingly locked in whatever troubles beset them on this night. 

Then for a dashing moment, the lady casually shook her head. Her partner, presumably her partner, just held his transfixed vacant stare while he appeared to be dwelling on thoughts of misery or possibly just thinking quietly to himself. His facial features never moved as though chiselled out of stone. 

The lady’s satin red dress was the first glimmer of life in the cafe I noticed on my approach to the corner. Now, I am up close, neither her nor the cafe or the occupants appear to offer any value or interest. It’s quite a shock, almost unnerving how I am standing here unnoticed by the cafe occupants. 

‘Ah, what the hell’, I muttered to myself.

It was the guy peering down into his coffee seeking out answers to his troubles who matched the description I was given: blue double breasted suit, grey crushable fedora hat, sits at cafe every night by himself.  I cared little for the problems bothering the guy in the shiny tuxedo setting the standard for worthless gentlemen in this city, and his estranged woman.

I fail to feel for whatever problems fill their empty worlds while the war on Germany intensifies claiming more and more American lives.

Boy, placing a welcome sign on this cafe would fail to change its sombre mood.  Anyhow, it is time for this wise guy to answer some questions. He is in for a real surprise if he is the mobster we want. If he is the guy, the Commissioner will give me that huge shining smile.

I stubbed out my cigarette, and made my way closer to the cafe window. As I approached, the postures of the three remained static. Will they even notice me when I stroll my butt in there, I thought. Well, time to shake one of them up.


                                                ** END **






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Skulls ( 1,193 words )

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*** PLEASE NOTE; THIS FLASH FICTION CONTAINS SCENES OF VIOLENCE THAT SOME READERS MAY FIND UPSETTING ***

This short story may be added to an upcoming anthology called Slices. It is part of a larger story, just a glimpse really. Another possibility is the whole story becoming a novella as opposed to a short story in the anthology. You are led to know the killer at the end here but the tale is more complex and not so predictable. It follows two cops tracking down a sadistic serial killer in a small country town in the US. This was a challenge as I am from the UK but I have been wanting to get cracking on a tale set in the US for some time. I would appreciate feedback, thanks in advance.

          *****************


Jake and Paul stretched their legs upon disembarking from the dusty police car before heading up the driveway towards the house, anxious, hearts pounding as the truth grew warmer. Paul, shovel in one hand, studied a schematic of the house drawn on a crumpled piece of paper. 

Paul stopped and faced Jake lost in his own thoughts. ‘Skulls’ had eluded the police department for two years. His approach, his style, his kills remained the same.

 “Where the hell is Jody? Left her a message. Not heard from her for a few days. Must have called in.” 

Jake shrugged.

“Thanks for getting here on time, good start, I like punctuality. But Jody. Yep, where she at. Not like her to be late. Should be here to meet us.”

Jake sighed. “So this could be Skulls’ third victim.”

Paul slowly swung his head side to side. “It’s been several weeks since she vanished. Phone call same as before. This house, abandoned for some time, like the previous one he had used,” his voice lowered, “like most of the homes round here.”

The house left a bad taste in Paul’s mouth, and not just due to the dank odours of  dilapidated property but what he feared inside. Cracked paintwork and mold had formed a rotten shell around the two storey house. Overgrown weeds stretched up and away from the house as though needing to bend away from the stale stench.

So much of the real estate up and down the street resembled the unkempt nature of this property. A factory nearby had closed.  Many folks simply tucked tail and left town.

Just one thought filled his psyche: it’s him again, same killer, same style, another body.

Paul tapped a number on his iphone.

A voice recording: Hi, sorry but I am not available to take your call, please leave a message. Bye now. Paul left a quick request to return his call and tapped to disconnect.

Paul shook his head and tapped another number. Sweat beads lined his brow. The humid afternoon just intensified the fetid stench drifting from the house.

“Hello.....hi, its Paul Reynolds, Homicide....Jody was supposed to meet us at the house, she is not here........yea.....yep....ok......she is not at the station.....have you tried her home.....I left a message.....ok....bye now.”

Jake anxiously waited.

Paul slipped his phone into a pocket. “Ok. She must be held up. You are supposed to be on training right now, so, I will explain some processes as we move along. Jody is the experienced one though. She's been visiting his burial sites for many months, thinks she has found a pattern in Skull’s movement, we may be able to get ahead of him.”

They walked around to the back of the house. 

Paul began tapping his sidearm impatiently. He checked the rough schematic again and noted a point on the drawing. His eyes searched the dense grass as though looking for some elusive ‘X’ marking the spot.  Jake hurried behind him. The foul odours flowing from the house caught his senses; he looked over his shoulder at the smashed windows and peeling paintwork. Any semblance of a house offering a warm home had departed this residence a long time ago.

“Ok, here.”

He dug as close to the spot as indicated on the drawing. The crumpled paper inside a brown envelope, tightly sealed, were anonymously posted to the precinct, just as before. For the force, this was a wake up call along the lines of a nuclear two minute warning siren. The faster someone examied the burial site, the quicker Jody found herself figuring out the location of the next kill.

Jake appeared flummoxed over a nagging thought as he stroked his sweaty chin stubble. “I read up on the guy from Jody’s files, seems Skulls wants us to find his victims. The last two were missing their heads.”

Paul paused digging, raising his trilby hat with one finger. “Yep, he phones in the burial locations, a real calculated psycho on our hands. It seems to be his sick way.” He nodded at Jake. “You ok on this one buddy. I know you would have liked some good old fashioned conventional cases but understand now, homicide is everything but conventional.”

“Yes, the first body, all we found was scraped bones.... “Jake paused, “That right. clean, stripped, but, missing the head?”

“Yep, guess the bastard likes his trophy.” Paul replied, “Second the same, and actually not that far from here. Same story, phone call, here is where it’s buried, we dig, missing head.” Paul’s tone deadpan.

He stared down at the deepening and ominous hole being dug, the stench from the house no longer bothered him as much as the chill in his bones as he continued to dig.

The shovel struck a hard surface. He cleared the earth around the object – a wooden box.
Paul did not need to open the box, same ossuary as before. He whipped out his phone and hit a number. “Hi, its Reynolds, Homicide, get forensics down here......yep, I am pretty sure.....ok.” He slipped the phone away. 

“Jesus...” Jake craned his head forward for a closer look.

Paul hoisted the box out of the hole and opened it from a front latch. He recoiled upon viewing the contents. As expected, cleaned to a glistening white, human bones – but again, no skull. He swiftly sealed the box, thumping it shut.

“Ok, I need to check that smell.”

“You going in the house,” Jake trembled a little, slightly pale. “I thought I was ready for this, guess not.”

“Stay here Jake, I’ll go check inside, Forensics will be here soon.”

Paul headed into the house through a weathered back door into the kitchen. The smell became overpowering, a dense almost suet thick odour that permeated the air. Paul wanted to hurl just like his rookie partner.

Blood. Lots of it, covered much of the rotten wood floor and threadbare carpets. As he entered the dining area, Paul tried to focus ahead in the dim light on a table littered with fleshy objects. 

Skull’s latest hiding place and where he - worked.

Paul whipped his gun from the holster, cocked it, and trained the sights on the bloody scene ahead.

Eyeballs, jugular muscles, and other putrid remains of body parts left strewn across a table next to a handsaw with serrated crimson teeth. Across the floor, several large glass containers full of murky water, and a large box of detergent. 

His pulsating eyes searched the room before fixating on another table at the other side of the room – Jody.

Her body torn, empty eye sockets – but incomplete. 

The killer found himself sidetracked before he could finish macerating her, Paul thought, is Skulls lurking nearby. Then he almost tore his phone from his pocket. 

A shovel cracked as it buried into Paul’s head sending him to the floor where his body shook for a few moments before resting.

Jake looked down at Paul’s half open eyes. The blow, immediately fatal.

“I really love how much you guys follow my lead. But that bitch just got too close boy. The great Skulls gets away again, foils the officers at the scene.” 

Jake thrust his skull against the shovel’s edge carving a bloody gash that seeped streams of blood down his face. He dropped the shovel, removed a pair of gloves, and slipped them into a garbage bin. 

Dazed, passing out, he lay on the floor – and waited.



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Please do not post promos (unless you are an author, and then ONLY your work). Please do comment on any fiction published here. I am keen to hear from writers starting out to published authors.