Sunday, 15 January 2017

Someone New

I didn't mean to write something that linked in with At the Sign of the White Hart but I had already started writing the next installment that fitted so well with the quotation from the Light and Shade Challenge for this week.  This is the pared down version, 514 words (oops!) down from 3192 for the full version which you can find on the blog 'At the Sign of the White Hart' here or, if you're interested you can find the full story from the beginning here.

Ian followed the vague directions.  He went through the door and up the stairs, along the passage and stopped outside the fourth door on the right.  Somehow this door seemed to be a much bigger step than anything else so far.  He lowered both of his bags to the floor.  He didn’t want to do this.  He wanted to go back to Ann and be happy again.  He wanted time to rewind.  He wanted it all to be different.  Ian squared his shoulders and turned the key in the lock. 
Picking up his bags and stepping across the threshold was one of the hardest things Ian had ever done, but he did it.  Then he gave himself a shake and looked around.  It was clean.  The paint on the plain magnolia walls were new and so was the plain beige carpet.  The cream coloured curtains were also new and still stiff as he pushed them back a little.  He had a view of a carpark but past that he could see York’s medieval walls with the distinctive tower of the Minster in the distance.  He checked his watch.  He needed this job and this place so much.  He had to make a good impression.
He ran a quick eye over the room as he opened his bags.  The bed looked comfortable and the new bedlinen looked clean and inviting.  The sturdy wardrobe came with a good supply of hangers and the tv was set on a matching set of drawers.  The small table next to the light brown chair was second hand like the wardrobe and chest of drawers but was equally as sturdy.  He found a lump in his throat.  Someone had tried to make him welcome.  A vase of daffodils sat next to the tv and a box of tissues was on the small bedside table next to the lamp. 

Ian felt a lump in his throat.  This was a chance to begin again.  The odds were not in his favour, but that was no reason to give in.  He hung his jacket behind the door.  The rest of his unpacking could wait apart from one vital thing. 

Ian dug into the bottom of the sports bag, tipping his clothes carelessly on the bed.  Right at the bottom, carefully wrapped, was the most precious thing he now had.  Ann, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, had given it to him just before he left.  He unwrapped it reverently.  He took down the print of York Minster and hung up the most important thing he had left, the only real thing he had left, the thing he needed most.  He stepped back and memorised the way it looked with the morning sunlight glancing across the newly painted wall and over the pink and white, shabby chic, feminine plaque.  The particle board was shaped and sanded to look like driftwood or reclaimed fencing and there were tiny sequins framing the folksy lettering.  Ian didn’t care.  Ann had given him this last thing.  A piece of wall art that said HOPE in fake-faded glory.  That was all that mattered.

And I hope no-one minds me mentioning this, but you can find out more about Ian in my novella 'Dinner at Dark' available at Smashwords, Amazon and all good ebook retailers.  You don't, however, need to read that to be able to enjoy the stories from 'At the Sign of the White Hart' as all is explained as we go.  

Monday, 9 January 2017

Magic on the Bridge

This is a response to the Light and Shade Challenge prompted by this picture.

           Image from WikiCommons, taken by Richard Webb and used under the Creative Commons Agreement

I wasn't meaning it to turn out like this, but it ran away with me, so below you will find the just about under 500 words version, because I ought to try if I'm setting the challenges (I don't check anyone else's).  However as it turned out to be part of the rebooted 'At the Sign of the White Hart' series and the Steve Adderson story, I expanded it and added it on to both of those.  For those interested, the Steve Adderson story is here, and the latest installment of 'At the Sign of the White Hart' is here.   For reference, installment one is here, installment two is here, installment three is here and installment four is here.  And, if you are still with me, here is the story...

Steve Adderson took a deep breath.  It was a lovely, crisp spring day but the refreshing air didn’t blow away his sense of unease.  He looked at Lord Ragnar who was leaning on the bridge parapet and looking down to the foamy river beneath.  Kadogan was looking along the road to the west at the Yorkshire Dales stretching into the distance.  The hills were empty.  They should be undisturbed. 
“Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” Steve asked Lord Ragnar.  The elfen nodded.  Steve looked at Kadogan who gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head.  Steve unzipped his heavy sportsbag and started pulling out his equipment.  It was a perfect day.  The breeze was light and yesterday’s rain had filled the river.  He snapped together the portable easel and placed the mirror on it.  He set the deep brass braziers with care at either end of the bridge.  The charcoal caught quickly and the heavy incense was soon smoking.  Then he pulled out the heavy rope to mark the circle.
“Do you honestly believe that you will break through elfen magical wards?” Lord Ragnar asked.
“Nothing is guaranteed.” Steve said as he put the orange candle in the hurricane lantern and lit it.  “But if anything can, this will.  It’s the place.  Feel the energy.  We are between sky and water, between fire…” Steve gestured at the smoking brazier, “and earth.” He gestured to the bank rising up on the other side of the bridge.  “We are between the elements. As we are so undefined we have a loose tile, a loophole, a possible chink that we may be able to use.  Right, let’s start.”
The two elfen remained motionless as Steve pulled on the currents of power and twisted it around the mirror, sending sparking filaments out to search.  Lord Ragnar stepped back in shock as the mirror flooded with inky black but Kadogan just froze.  They could see the different strands of magic spiralling in and out of the circle and converging on the mirror on the easel.  The images coalesced and just for one heartbeat Steve saw Lord Ragnar change back to the glamour of a Viking berserker that he had worn when he seized control of the elfen of York back when it was called Jorvik and the Norseman ruled the men.  Then he was his normal self.
“I congratulate you.” Lord Ragnar bowed formally to Steve.  “It is a feat of legend to break through the magical defence of an elfen.  You recorded it?” Steve nodded.
“What are you going to do with the recording?” Kadogan asked, his eyes averted from the mirror.
“A recording of my wife sinning with her lover?  I shall merely use it in divorce.” Lord Ragnar turned to Steve.  “Thank you.  I owe you a large favour that will not easily be repaid.  Now I need to return to York.  There is much to do.”

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Dinner at Dark


Giddy, giddy, giddy, giddy....

Here it is, a short story by yours truly where housekeeping meets horror story. 

For the first time ever I've paid for a professional cover, provided by the amazing Melissa Alvarez at BookCovers.Us  I am so giddy about it! 

The story is available at Smashwords here, Amazon here, and will be shortly available at all good ebook retailers.  It is only a short story so I have kept the price low. 

All feedback gratefully recieved.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Domestic Demon

Here is the result of a prompt from Studio 30 and The Darkroom.  I want to be extremely clear - this is a work of fiction.  My house is always messy.  The picture of the sink also reminded me of the poem I wrote last September called Displacement, which I wrote not long after my father's funeral.  It's worth looking at the responses to these prompts from other people, you get to read some great stuff then.  

“I’m sorry, darling.” Darren smiled nervously at me.  “But it is only twice a year, and it is only from Thursday to Tuesday.”
I took a deep breath.  “Of course, I know.  Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye, but that’s okay.  She’s your mother and we both love you.  That’s why I’ve got the day off to get the house all set up for her.”
Darren winced.  “I’ll pick her up from the airport.  I’ll pick up a takeaway on my way back.”
“Absolutely not.” I said firmly.  “I’ll make a lovely casserole and that way it doesn’t matter if you are a little late.”
“Thank you, darling, I do appreciate it.” Darren gave me a quick kiss and hurried off to work.

Pamela, my mother-in-law, did only visit twice a year, the first weekend after the Christmas break and the first weekend in July.  It was some awful ritual where a demon was unleashed twice a year.  They could make a Nicholas Cage movie out of it.  As for the takeaway, I was not falling for that again.  Four years ago I had made the mistake of allowing Darren to pick up a pizza on the way back.  For the last four years I had been hearing about how a proper wife made her husband meals, no matter what the circumstances. 

I slouched into the kitchen.  I had never felt less like being a domestic goddess.  It was all so humiliating.  I was far too particular, according to my friends, and wasted far too much time cleaning.  According to Pamela, I was a slattern.  Every inch of this house would be scrutinised.  Last time I thought I had her.  There was no dust on the top of the kitchen cupboards and the walls had been washed down.  I had put brand new bedding on her bed and I had dusted behind every stick of furniture.  I had had the oven professionally cleaned and steamed the carpets.  The old witch had actually taken the drawers out of her dresser and found dust on the inside of the frame.  She had been so smug, sitting opposite me in my kitchen, eating my food which I had cooked, while Darren sat between us, twitching.

I looked around my lovely, clean kitchen.  Not only would she go over the room like a forensic detective but she would also sigh and complain that it looked too bare.  “It’s a shame you don’t have any knickknacks around,” she had said last time.  “Of course, not everyone has a flair for decorating.  Perhaps it is just as well that you haven’t tried.” She had smiled a wide, fake smile and patted my arm.  “I’ll bring you some nice things next time I come.  Then you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong.”
The old trout had great taste – for 1972!  I knew that she would have a suitcase full of cheap tat when she turned up, and that it would have to be in the same place she left it when she returned six months later – and she would know if the plastic grot had been moved an inch.  I swear the old bat had a photographic memory.

I threw together a boeuf bourguignon and put it on slow.  I’d already taken out every removable drawer in the house and cleaned behind them.  All the carpets, curtains and rugs had been steamed last week.  Not only was the bedding in her room new but so was the curtains.  I’d cleaned all the lampshades yesterday and dusted all the lightbulbs.  I sighed and started to pull out the fridge.  Then I paused. 

Why was I playing her game?  Why was I running round in circles trying to get her to like me when nothing short of a sharp blow to the head would ever make her accept the woman who stole away her baby boy?  I’d been doing it wrong for years.  If she ran out of things to check I swear she would pull up the floorboards.  Okay, if she wanted something different, she could have something different.

By the time Darren’s car pulled into the drive I was finished.  I ached with the efforts, and I had had to get a few friends to help out.  It had been entirely worth it.  I looked around as I heard Darren carefully reversing into the garage.  The kitchen was smeared with jam and I had done my best to give a greasy feel by spraying the wall with the oil spray I used in cooking.  I had found some kitchen curtains in a skip which were now drooping at the window.  I had gone to every friend and neighbour and scrounged the contents of their vacuum cleaners.  After some trial I found that a light mist of water helped the dust of a dozen homes cling to walls, sink and bath.  I had put a mouse trap at the back of her dresser, just where it would get her if she checked, and I put the contents of four dryer filters under her bed. 

The trip to the charity shop had been the most fun.  The house was awash with ‘accents’.  Our house was now a temple to the worse taste that ever landed on an Oxfam donation table.  There was plastic everywhere.  I had also got some extremely washed bedding from the charity shop and begged some curtains for Pamela’s room that they were going to send to the rag man and rubbed damp instant coffee granules along the edges for an added artistic touch.  I had had fun, and so had my friends.  Everyone had got photos.


I turned round as Darren unlocked the door.  “Darling, my mother’s plane has been delayed and she has decided not to come until the Christmas break after all…” He stopped as he walked in to the kitchen.  There was a long pause.  “Darling, would you like a drink?”

Monday, 9 May 2016

Buried Treasure

Here is my response to the Light and Shade Challenge.  It is a side note to the Story that is being told 'At the Sign of the White Hart'. 

“Are you sure it’s here?” Fiona dumped the heavy sports bag next to the brambles.
Kadogan looked shifty.  “I think it’s here.” He said.  “I memorised the location by the large oak, but it fell last winter.  This place, however, does look familiar.”
“Didn’t you think to make a map or something?” Fiona said, unzipping the sports bag.
“Maps are only worth making if the memory is defective.” Kadogan said loftily.  “Besides, I’m almost sure that this is the correct place.  Please dig here, right next to the stone mile marker.”
“Which should mark the treasure?” Fiona pulled out a small shovel from the bag.
“My good friend Andrew hid the treasure here before these way markers were built.” Kadogan leaned against an ivy coated beech and thought.  “It was the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace.  They had taken York and the priests were saying so many masses that I had to get out of the city.  You remember what it was like.”
“Nope, I don’t.  I wasn’t born then.  Wasn’t it Henry VIII?  It was a few hundred years before my time.  Why did you bury it?”
Kadogan shrugged.  “I had watched the Romans bury their treasure when the Angles came, and the Angles buried their treasure when the Northmen took the city, and they buried their treasure when William harried the North.  I thought it was something I ought to do.”
Why am I doing this? Fiona thought to herself.  Why am I in the middle of a muddy field when I could be having a drink in a bar with my friends?  The thought of buried treasure was too much for her to resist, though, and Kadogan knew it.  “What are we going to find?” she asked.
“I’m not quite sure.” Kadogan inspected his immaculate finger nails.  “Treasure that has been buried for nearly five hundred years is often not in prime condition.”
“I could be digging up tinsel and painted feathers?” Fiona paused for a moment to look carefully at Kadogan.
“It’s hard to remember.” He pushed himself upright and stood next to Fiona.  She jabbed the shovel in hard and hit something.  She knelt beside the hole and her probing fingers pulled out a sodden leather bag that fell to pieces as she lifted it.  After a startled glance at Kadogan, Fiona pulled a water bottle out of the sports bag and ran it over the round shapes.  It took a few moments but when Fiona spread out the find on the muddy towel there were a dozen gold nobles and a few coins that Kadogan identified as Venetian ducats. 
“It is always difficult for elfen to judge a gift to a normal.”  Kadogan said, crouching over the towel.  “The treasure will be sold and the proceeds go to fund our joint enterprise.  However today, on the day of your birthday, Fiona Ellen Greene, I give you the gift of finding buried treasure.  I hope you like it.”

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Sea God Calling

I have combined the prompts from Studio30 and The Darkroom and came up with this poem.  Do have a look at the prompt sites if you feel like getting involved in writing.  They can be very helpful.

He stood between the land and sea.
He cocked his head and beckoned me.
I shook my head, ‘You let me be.
You’ll get no power over me.’

His hair waved dark, his eyes sparked blue.
He raised his hand and the cold wind blew.
I will not bow nor bend the knee,
You’ll get no power over me

Strong he stood, the clouds hung low.
I wanted him but dare not go.
A mortal woman’s not for thee,
You’ll get no power over me.’

The waves dashed high where the sea god stood.
I bit my lip and I tasted blood.
I wanted him, ‘You let me be,
I’ll give no power over me.’

He beckoned me, I felt the call,
The sun shone warm on the sea god tall.
I whispered, ‘Do not call to me,
I daren’t give power over me.’

He strode across the warming sand
And knelt to gently kiss my hand.
Lady, at your whim I be
You have love’s power over me.’

Friday, 29 April 2016

Everything Has Changed

Here is my response to the challenges set by Studio 30 (use the word Revenant and/or Zombie) and The Darkroom (a picture of some old gloves).  Funnily enough, the picture of the gloves seemed far more sinister than the original reaction to the idea of a zombie.    

Zoe sighed.  It had been a long day at work but now she could relax.  She could have a salad and a glass of wine in peace.  Mark would be over later, and they could watch a film before another romantic night.  She felt that her life was perfect.  She set the table in the dining room, lit one of her favourite candles and uncorked the wine.  There was a knock on the door.
“Hello, Zoe.” Ryan pushed past her.
Zoe couldn’t breathe.  She shut the door and leaned against it as she watched Ryan saunter up the stairs.  What could she do now?  For a short, awful moment she listened to Ryan moving around upstairs, then she forced herself upright, went into the dining room and poured herself a glass of wine.
“You know I don’t like you drinking.” Ryan said.  “And you’ve redecorated.” He looked around.  “In fact, this is the only room that’s still fit to see.  You never understood how to achieve elegance.”
“I cremated you.” Zoe drained her glass. 
“Apparently there was a mix up at the morgue.  I was embalmed instead.” Ryan turned around mockingly, flexing his shoulders.  “And I’m not in bad shape.  I’ve no idea who I was swapped with.  Obviously they enjoyed golf.” Ryan threw a golf glove on top of Zoe’s salad.  “I told you again and again that salad isn’t a real meal.”
“And I told you again and again that you needed to eat less meat.  That’s why you died of a heart attack.” Zoe poured herself another glass of wine.
“And I warned you that I would come back from the grave.  When I was dying I was very clear.  The house was to remain exactly as it was.  You were to dress in black and remain faithful to my memory.  Not that bit of rubbish you’re wearing. You’re thirty-three, Zoe, not a teenager.”  Ryan smiled thinly.  “But here I am.  I don’t suppose you kept my clothes as I instructed.  Wearing another dead man’s suit isn’t my style.”
“I sold your clothes.” Zoe said quietly. “I sold your car, your record collection, your shoes and your power tools.  I don’t know if I can divorce a dead man, but I am not staying.”
Ryan grabbed her wrist, hard.  “The only place you are going tomorrow is work and then to buy new wallpaper.  What were you thinking?  You’ve painted everything, it’s just not good enough.  You should be glad I’m back.”
“You can’t make me.” Zoe said, tugging her hand away from the unexpectedly strong grasp.  There was a giddy rush.  She had never said that to Ryan before and he wasn’t expecting it.”  You can’t make me do anything.  After all, you can’t stop me having money for the bus fare to work as all the money is now in my name now, legally.”
“I never liked you working in that office.” Ryan muttered.  “There were too many divorcees.”
“You can’t hide my clothes.  I’ve got a suitcase stashed in my car for the weekend and the money to get new stuff.  I have friends that would worry if I didn’t get in touch after a few days and a very nice boyfriend who would definitely come to claim me.” Zoe defiantly poured another glass of wine and took a long drink.  “I’ve just got a promotion.  I’m an Area Manager now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Ryan snapped.  “We both know you’re too stupid to get a decent job.  That’s why I wanted you at home, to protect you.” He looked away from her.  They both knew he was lying.  “And I told you, I don’t like you drinking wine.”
“You’re dead.” Zoe said. “You don’t have an opinion.”
“Pour the wine away, you stupid girl.” Ryan loomed over her.
“I could call the police and say that a strange man has forced himself in here and could he come and get you.” Zoe said recklessly, drunk on the sudden ability to disagree with her revenant husband. 
“I would say I was your husband and point to our wedding photos.” Ryan paused and looked round.  “There are no photos of me.”
“I burned the lot.” Zoe took a deep breath.  She had to keep her head.  “This house is in my name only now.  You have no right to be here.  I want you to leave.”
“This is my house and you are my wife.” Ryan snapped and grabbed at Zoe.  She jumped back and ducked behind the table.
“I really loved you, really, really loved you.  When you died I cried for weeks.” Zoe made a grab for her car keys.  “But I’ve made a new life and I’m alive and you’re dead.”
“Come here!” Ryan lunged desperately at Zoe across the dining table, knocking into the candle.  It fell against his sleeve.  Zoe screamed as the flame caught hold of the fabric and raced up the sleeve. 
“What’s happening.” She looked round for something to throw over him. 
“I was embalmed, you stupid girl.  I’m flammable.” Ryan was panicking. 
Zoe tried to remember her training.  “Lie down.” She pulled up one of the rugs.  “I can smother the flame.”
Ryan screamed.  The flames had caught hold of him now and he was burning up.  “Do something you stupid girl.” It was too late.  Ryan threw back his head and howled as flames gushed from his mouth.  The stench was unbearable.  Zoe tried to throw the rug over him but Ryan staggered away, stumbling into the wall and leaving scorch marks and ash.  Then he crumbled.
Zoe methodically dampened down the scorch marks and opened all the window.  She looked at the ash covered, burned carpet, the marks on the wall, the soot on the ceiling and sighed with a sort of relief.  Even Ryan would admit that she had to redecorate now.