Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Collectable - by Fiona-Jane Brown

I don’t usually do this – I’m only the secretary at Bloom Antiques in Portsmouth’s Albert Road – but they’re all away at a fair in Brighton.  My boss, who owns the shop, Mr Bloom has been harping on about it for weeks, so when I saw the auction catalogue and there it was, I couldn’t help it.  I shut the shop and dashed down to the Guildhall at lunchtime, swiftly grabbing a seat near the front, right in the auctioneer’s eyeline.

Never seen that auctioneer before.  Introduces himself as Louis; not local, sounds more like London.  Anyway, I’m waiting for it to come up, it’s not really an antique, more a collectable, but it’s a one-off Susie Cooper vase.  It’s quite small, cream and green, little hand-painted flowers, and the designer’s signature character, a stag, prominently painted on the side, whereas it’s normally just stamped on the base.  Mr Bloom reckoned this was Miss Cooper’s first ever firing for Gray’s Pottery and mega-important.  I just liked the simplicity of it.  Here we go, “Susie Cooper vase, early 1920s, A.E. Gray Ltd. Potteries.  Who’ll start me at £50?” Louis booms, leaning over the lectern.  I’m looking in my compact mirror behind me.  Nobody moves.  Then a hand appears from the back, a punter, yes, he’ll give fifty, and we’re off.

I jump in at £75, knowing Mr Bloom has said its worth at least £200, but in a sale like this, the audience aren’t likely to know that.  “£75… do I see £80?” Louis casts his eyes across the crowd.  “£80 at the back, original bidder, thank you, sir… now, £85?” My hand shoots up.  “£85, thank you, miss, against you, sir, £90?”  I angle my mirror and spot him, my rival, it’s nobody I know, certainly not a dealer, but is he a pottery expert? A Susie Cooper fan? Better keep going! 

We’re at £145, it’s just me and him.  Louis encourages my rival to top my bids, huh, are they in league?  We’re on ones now, £189, £190, £191.  This is nonsense!  Mr Bloom had said “If you ever see that, Alice, buy it, I’ll refund you, I promise!” I stick my hand up and mouth “two hundred” at the auctioneer.  He takes the bid.  Silence.  A very long silence.  Louis bangs the gavel after giving the old “going, going, gone!” rhetoric.  It’s mine!  I’m so pleased, really, Mr Bloom will be delighted!

Back at the shop, Bloom and his Albert Road cohorts have returned.  I excitedly show him my purchase.  A horrified look crosses his face.  “It’s the Susie Cooper vase, the one you were raving about!” I protest.  He says nothing and unwraps a package he’s got in his coat pocket.  There, lying in the tissue paper is an identical vase.  “But how?” I ask.  “Oh Alice, didn’t you hear me say this morning, a friend of mine in Brighton had found it in London.  He was keeping it for me.  This… this is a very expensive fake!”    

Handle with Care - by Pam Shand

“I don’t usually do this.”


“Go for a drink after work.”

Her podgy hand encased his and she licked her lips.  Robert smiled revealing a row of perfect teeth then ran a finger along her bare arm and watched her shiver.   Her skin was soft, delicate, would slice like butter, he thought.

Leaning back in his chair he appraised her size trying to calculate her weight.   He thought of the duct tape in the glove compartment of his car.  He would use wire this time, as rope would damage the skin, altering the price.    

“You’re staring.”

“You are just perfect.”

She blushed.   Poor cow, it was obvious no one had charmed her like this for years if ever.   Sipping at her drink, he cursed her slowness; the Ketamine would take longer to work if she carried on like this.  He reminded himself that he liked a challenge and her dullness would work to his advantage once he had her alone.  

“I’ve wanted to ask you out for ages.”


“Yes all those made up sluts at work, you shine beside them Sally.”

Her face glowed at the compliment.   Robert took her hands in his and smiled.   Take it slow, don’t fright her, she wants Mr Darcy not Jack the Ripper. 

“Why don’t we make an evening of it?”

The hesitating silence seemed to last forever, and then she nodded her head.  He leaned in for the kill.
“Drink up.”

By the time they were at the car, she was gasping for air and she swayed into his arms.  He almost buckled under the weight.  She was a big girl. Robert chuckled, hands grasping, pulling her close.  She smelt of a cheap perfume, probably something by Avon, Occur; his mother had worn that.   Working on the car door behind her they wrestled in a lovers lock, and Sally giggled.   Sweat soaked his shirt and the click of the mechanism was sweet to his ears.  

Pouring her into the car he struggled with the seatbelt and only relaxed once she was buckled in and he driving away.   She gave him a sleepy smile.

“I’m not used to wine I think I might be drunk.”

“Don’t worry I’ll take you for a coffee.”

She closed her eyes, trusting.  Now free at last he drove with mounting excitement.  He glanced across to see her head lolling, she would be snoring soon.   Reaching across he pushed her skirt up her thigh caressing her without resistance.   Mouth dry he already imagined her tied and helpless and all the fun ahead.   He checked the time.  He always preferred to give himself lots of leeway before Jarvis arrived.   It had worked out rather well.   There was always a need for organs, and skin.  He was doing his bit for science. 

He suspected that Jarvis knew that he had his percentage before collection; the marks on the last one had been a mistake.   

This time however he had thought of everything.

Inside Info - by Megan Loughlin

“I don't usually do this, but for you I think I can make an exception,” the man said, grinning. He was a short, porcine fellow with a severe comb over and watery eyes. He had on the most hideously garish outfit Frank had ever seen in his life, and exuded an odour that would send a skunk running for cover. He looked up at the tall, well dressed man sitting opposite him. “So whaddaya say, Frankie boy? We got a bet or what?”

Frank plastered a wide, insincere smile on his face and tried to talk without breathing too much through his nose. “That all depends, Joey. Now, are you sure this info is legit? I'd hate to go to jail over this.”

Joey looked downright scandalized at this. “Of course it's legit! What kinda guy do you take me for anyway? If I say Sunny Downs is the sure winner of the next race, then she is! Besides, I got the info from a very reliable source. One close to the action, you might say.”  He smirked. “Wanna drink while we discuss it?”

Frank scoffed, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke in Joey's face. “What, did you talk to the horse or somethin'? And no, I don't want a drink. The rotgut they serve in this hellhole would probably burn a hole in my stomach. I'll take real booze, thank you very much.”

“Come on man, blow that cancer cloud away from me, will ya? And for God's sake, don't be so fuckin' high and mighty. You ran the rotgut during Prohibition same as all of us.” Joey demanded, coughing. “Look, just trust me on this, OK? It'll be the easiest money ya ever made.” 

Frank stubbed out his cigarette on the table top. “ That was a long time ago, Joey. Things change.” He sighed, then grinned. “What the hell. I ain't had much luck at the track recently, maybe this will be a chance to change it. Put me down for $20,000 on Sunny Downs to take first.”  He stood and walked out of the dingy club.

Joey sat back, sighing. After a few minutes, he stood, went to the nearby payphone,  and dialled. “Hello, Mr. Green? It's Joey Desoto. The trap is set.” He listened for a few moments. “Yes Sir. Yes Sir, I will.”

He sat back in the booth, sighing. It was too bad about what was gonna happen to Frank, he thought. Guy seemed pretty OK , if a little full of himself, but he had stolen money from Mr. Green, and that sort of thing was frowned upon. The last guy that had crossed him...Joey didn't like to think about it.

Joey shuddered, then signalled the waitress to order a drink.

“So long, Frankie boy.” 

The Replica - by Richie Brown

I don't usually do this, but, you do get so lonely, don't you?'

'We understand, Ms Patton.  We provide a discrete service here at Replica X. We exist so those you loved may do so again.'

The assistant flashed a three day training course beam.  Ms Patton thinned her lips.  She opened the clasp on her second hand Prada handbag and pulled out a small scrap of tartan fabric.

'From his coat, his favourite.  I only took a bit, I won't part with all of it.'

'This will do fine, Ms Patton.  We'll get this over to the lab.  Can I get you a cup of tea while you wait?

'Just water, thank you...and, well, I need to know...'


'The tongue...'

'Rough or smooth, you choose.  It has a motor, five variable speeds.'

'And below?'

'Life sized.  It folds neatly into his bum when you don't need it.'

The assistant filled a mug with tap-water, looked at her wrist-phone and began to shake with laughter.  Ms Patton coughed.

'Something funny?'

'I'm so sorry, pfffffffffff, my boyfriend, aaaaaahhhh.'  The assistant gasped for air, 'he's so funny.'  She wiped a tear away from her cheek.

Ms Patton warmed to her.  'You're keen on him.  I can see that.'  The assistant nodded.  'If you were to lose him, would you have a model made too?'

This caught the assistant off guard. 'Well,' she began, then tailed off.

'But you're young,' said Ms Patton after a few seconds passed.  'I won't find another like Colin again.'   She rose and walked to a grubby window.  Placing her hand on the pane, she peered out as best she could.  'That beach,' she said.  'You can just make it out beyond the gasworks.  We would walk there, every day, even in the rain.  He'd run on ahead, but I could always make out his thick, curly, black hair in the distance. Then we'd reconvene, at our secret place beyond the dunes...and he'd lick me.  Like I'd never been licked before.  I'd come over and over again and he'd never tire.'  The assistant's eyes widened.  'Oh, I'd have to do him.  Eventually.  When he begged.  But this was about me.  So, you can see why I'm here, can't you?  I haven't been able to feel like that since he died.'

The assistant smiled nervously. 'Ashes to passion, dust to lust.  That's the Replica X motto,' she offered before busying herself with her wrist-phone.  A minute later it beeped.  'That's the lab,' she said.  'Colin is ready.'

Ms Patton followed the assistant along the corridor to the reception where a cardboard box awaited them.

'That's strange,' said the assistant.  'The dimensions look all wrong.  Was he a short man, your husband?'

'Husband?' said Ms Patton, excitedly tearing parcel tape from the box.  She pulled the replica of Colin from the packing foam, opened her handbag, took out a battered, red leather collar and fixed it round his neck.

'Woman's best friend,' she laughed.

The Queen's Bribe - by Michelle Wyllie

I don’t usually do this but she made it worth my while.  It’s my job to ferry people to and from the island to stay at the castle.  Usually it’s mostly the local nobility but last year we had an extra special visitor: Her Majesty, Mary Queen of Scots.  Rumour was she was with child and had come for some rest.  I could almost believe that had it not been for the armed guards beside her.
Sarah, the maid, said it was down to the Queen’s status she had guards.  Perfectly possible for that to be true, I suppose but these men didn’t look like protection guards.  No, these men flanked the Queen like she was a prisoner.  Loch Leven Castle doesn’t have anywhere to hold prisoners as far as I know.
‘You don’t hold prisoners of her rank in a dungeon, John,’ Sarah told me at the time.  So, a royal person wouldn’t be clamped in chains and thrown into a dungeon.  Her Majesty’s accommodation would have to as luxurious as possible.  Fine for her but I wouldn’t be so lucky if I was caught.  That standard of the Queen’s new home was not my problem.
When she boarded the boat, there wasn’t a man around who could keep their eyes off her.  I’d heard so many stories of her beauty but seeing her in person was something else again.  When she stood, she was as tall as any man.  Certainly taller than me but I’m still a growing lad.  That’s what the captain says anyway.  One day I’ll be as tall as her, he said.
Life in the Castle isn’t that bad.  You’ve got a decent roof over your head which is more than can be said about some of the poor folks in town.  Not only that but the island has some great views over the loch.  If you look ahead from the entrance to the castle, you can see out to Kinross or at least the surrounding countryside.  If you go east you can see out towards Burleigh Castle.  Perhaps Her Majesty would be happiest there with Lord Burleigh for company.   Nothing wrong with Milnathort either.  When she gets a chance, Sarah goes there to see her family.  At the backof the castle, you’ve got a braw view towards Scotlandwell.  Strange name for a village, isn’t it?
According to the women, the Queen lost the twins she was rumoured to be carrying.  Could be true but you can never believe women’s gossip.
Over the course of her stay, Her Majesty was also forced to surrender her throne to her little son.  The only people I could see benefitting from that arrangement were the ambitious nobles who hate serving a woman.

So, the Queen came to me through one of her guards and passed me £20.  Would I take the Queen off the island?   Of course, I wasn’t going to be stupid enough to turn down a queen’s ransom, was I?  Fingers crossed we don’t get caught.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Circle of Life - Michelle Wyllie

Circle of Life (c) Michelle Wyllie

 ‘Are you certain this is what you want?’ I asked as I draped a protective arm around her.  Our breath was visible on the air.  Elizabeth drew her cloak around her, resting her head against my shoulder.

‘I have to see if it’s true,’ she said, giving me a sly wink.

‘What’s true?’

‘That they’re really going to do it.’  She pointed to a stage set for an execution.  The officials were dressed differently, looking more like plague doctors with masks that covered their faces.  Perhaps they were ashamed.  I slid my hand down her face.  She took my wrist and kissed me on the fingers.

‘I just want you to be safe,’ I said.  Close to the Banqueting House, crowds gathered, a large group of Parliamentarian soldiers forming a protective ribbon round the scaffold.

‘I appreciate that but there’s no need to be so protective.’  She squeezed my hand tenderly.  I lifted her chin with my finger and looked into her eyes.  Any man could lose himself in her beauty but only I could love her.  ‘I can look after myself.’


‘Stephen...’  She hooked her arm in mine and pressed me close.  People of all ages squeezed into the space, some of them boys from St Paul’s School.  Whether or not the school was closed, I hadn’t heard but for the sake of the boys, I hoped it was.  The masters would have had the boys caned.  The chatter of groups of family or friends rose like a swarm of angry bees, making it impossible to hear.  From all sides, people pushed to get the best view, almost crushing us.  We stood and waited in the bitter January air, hoping we would not have long to wait.  The voices hushed as a man in a black mask emerged to a slow drum beat. 

After what felt like a long time standing, a prisoner took the stage, flanked by Roundheads.  He seemed small and vulnerable yet did not appear to shiver in spite of the cold.  His shirt hung loose over his breeches and his hair was tucked inside a nightcap.  He was led out from the palace but the soldiers below the scaffold made it harder to see.  His Majesty turned to another man and pointed to the axe and block in the middle of the scaffold.  From what I could see, the block appeared to be the right height for a child but not a grown man.    

He turned to his guard and indicated the crowd.  The soldiers who packed the areas around King Street and Charing Cross listened intently as the King spoke.

‘Unjust sentence and he’s an innocent man,’ one soldier taunted.  ‘And he loves his people and wants their liberty.’  The soldier laughed as he waited for the next remark from King Charles.  I squeezed Elizabeth’s hand as the soldier listened for the King’s next words.  ‘He goes from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown.’ 

I assumed he failed to forgive his executioners what they were about to do.  Elizabeth gasped, her hand covering her mouth.  I cuddled her as she bit her nails.  Christ’s blood, they were going to do it.  He laid his slender neck on the block and stretched his arms towards the crowd. 

The final blow was delivered.  Elizabeth clung to me like a scared child as the King’s head was displayed like a trophy.  The crowd was stunned into silence.  No cheers but some people held out handkerchiefs.  There was no one to touch for the King’s Evil.

As the crowd dispersed, Elizabeth’s face seemed paler than it was when we left the house.  Her hand trembled, so I held her tight.  As we walked home, shocked that we had just killed our own King, I stopped at Charing Cross and stroked her face.

‘Are you all right?’ I asked as I placed my hand under her chin.  For the first time since I married her, she looked scared.  This was not the Elizabeth I knew.

‘Yes, Stephen,’ she replied, taking my hand and squeezing it.  ‘I’m glad we made the effort, even though it was hard to hear what His Majesty said.’

‘There’s something else.’

‘You know me too well.’  She pressed me close and kissed me with a passion I had not experienced since our wedding night.  ‘I haven’t had my terms for the last couple of months.’


‘I’m with child.’  My mood lifted and I gathered her in my arms, my heart light with happiness.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Writing the impossible...

currently tuned in to a world where nothing is normal... how do you go about writing of the physically impossible? Answer, let your imagination do the talking.  A tiny snippet of my new novel "Enigma's Child" follows.  Am not giving anything away, but let me know how easy it is for you to suspend disbelief and get into this mysterious tale...

He flicked on the light switch in his room and splashed his face with cold water from the sink in the corner.  He rubbed his face with a towel and then pulled a comb from the shelf above the sink through his unruly dark hair.  It was then he felt something; stroking his finger across an area just to the left of his crown, Justin felt a depression in the skin, like a scar, of about an inch in length.  He couldn’t understand why he had never noticed it before.  Did they really do something to me in that place?  And my mother let them? His mind suddenly revved into overdrive; an image flashed in his brain of that scanner again, then another, of Dr Thomas Peretti, wearing a surgical gown and mask, a scalpel wielded in his left hand.  Peretti did something to me… was it to do those things he promised me?  Why me?  

Justin shook himself and stared in the mirror.  His pupils widened and he wondered if he really knew who he was at all.  Peretti could talk to him in that secret manner, but why was he so frightening when Justin’s mother and Avon felt like his friends?  Why had he not heard from the man ever again?  ‘Because you burned him, remember, with the fiery cloak?’  It was his own voice he heard; yes, of course, he had heard Peretti roar in agony as he had imagined the fire in a protective ring around him.  But is it what I did to Sam?  Like a blast of real fire?  Justin turned from the mirror and sat down on his bed.  Could he get it to work without being frightened or angry?  

He held his hands out, palms up, in front of him and began to imagine, as he had done when a child, the bright lapping flames of yellow, red and orange.  They could not harm him, only his enemies.  Justin stared at his hands, while conjuring the image in his mind’s eye, willing the flames into existence.  The harder he concentrated, the more his brain buzzed with energy until it was beginning to hurt.  To his great surprise, in the centre of his right palm, a tiny spark appeared, the sort generated by gunpowder caps from a child’s toy weapon.  He made one final effort, and the spark shot up in the air, bursting into a bright yellow flame which danced in the space just above his skin.  Justin felt a rush of adrenaline as he forced himself to believe the evidence of his eyes.  I can make fire!  Fire that doesn’t burn me, he thought.  He was entranced by the little flame, only slightly brighter than a candle, which hovered in the middle of his right hand.  But is it really there?  

Justin stood up slowly and advanced to the waste bin which was just under the sink.  In it he knew there would be paper, probably from his latest attempt to note down a tune he’d heard.  He knelt down, still the flickering flame wavered in his hand.  With his left hand, Justin reached into the bin and grabbed a scrap of paper.  He held it over the flame and watched, fascinated as the paper began to char and glow before the fire took hold of it and he let go, seeing it shrivel up and disintegrate into his palm.  The flame disappeared.

Justin looked at his hand, felt the space where the flame had been, yet there was no burn mark, nothing, no evidence other than the fragments of ash which he brushed off into the bin.  Well I never, I have nothing to fear from anyone if I can do that! He felt elated at his own power.  No wonder Peretti wanted what he had, this was beyond anything on earth that he understood.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Ripping Murder Scene

just writing a good old-fashioned adventure story set in the present day... not explaining who these characters are, but fans of BBC Sherlock might recognise them.  If you do, don't give it away!!  But, even then, nothing is what it at first seems...!

“Ooh, Ricky, I’m so relieved to see you!” Kitty Riley enthused, wrapping her arms around the man she believed was a ‘resting’ actor.
“Are you really?” he replied, Kitty realised there was a different tone in his voice, not one she had noticed before.
“Of course I am! You poor dear, you’ve been so maligned by that stupid man, he was just an ego-maniac! And, I was a bit worried, you know, after the suicide?  One of our rival publications said you were the one playing the part of Moriarty and you had shot yourself on the roof!  Tell me it’s nonsense, but it must be, you’re here, alive, living and breathing!” Kitty exclaimed, still cuddling him as he stood in the doorway of her flat.
“That’s a silly thing to say, Kitty, of course I’m not dead, and what are you talking about? Who committed suicide?” Richard said, as if suddenly concerned.
“Oh come in and I’ll tell you all about it!” Kitty replied, taking his hand and pulling him inside. “I do like your suit, had an audition did you?” she observed, as Richard sat down on the wooden dining chair in her dingy studio.
“Audition? Mm, no,” he said.
“Ah, ok, let me get the kettle on, it’s Baltic outside, you must be freezing without an overcoat!”
She disappeared into the tiny galley kitchen and he heard the tap and the rattle of crockery.  When she returned a few minutes later with two mugs of coffee she noticed how he was sitting, confident, airy, regarding his nails.  “Oh, your hair’s different too, that’s quite slick that gelled look, em, did you have a job interview or something? I thought… oh yes, you can afford new stuff now, were you treating yourself?”
“Mm, you might call it that.  Now, come here my little friend, tell me about this suicide, sounds very sad,” Richard said, with a smile on his lips that was more like a leer.  He beckoned her, “Come on, sit on my knee,” he added.
Kitty stared, then smiled.  She put the mugs down on the table next to where he was sitting.  “You’re in a flirty mood today, Ricky, er, I thought you wanted us just to be friends?”
“Oh come on, we know it was more than that, I knew the minute I met you that you liked me, tell the truth, you really like me, don’t you?” Richard’s smile was truly disturbing like a spreading crack on a gravestone. He grabbed her hand and pulled her in one motion down onto his lap.
“Ooh, em, this is er… nice, Ricky, I didn’t know you felt this way!” Kitty said, watching nervously as his right arm slid along her shoulder until his hand squeezed tightly on her upper arm.  He put his left hand on her stockinged thigh and left it there.  “Em, ok, can’t you guess who killed themselves? Took a flyer off St. Bart’s roof.  Our mutual friend… Mr Sherlock Holmes!”
“Ah, finally rid of him at last, eh? Good riddance to bad rubbish then,” Richard said silkily.  “What was that about you thinking I was on a roof?” his hand slid up her thigh to the hem of her tartan mini skirt.
Kitty felt a little sick, where was the sweet, daffy actor with the tousled hair?  “Ricky, sure you don’t have a twin brother?  Not like you to be so forward!” she observed.
“Oh dear, is my little baby frightened of the scary man in the suit?” he mocked, leaning his face closer to hers.
“Oh don’t be silly, Ricky, I mean, I’m flattered, but… anyway, where have you been?” she asked, trying to avoid his gaze.
“Found you a new story.  A naughty doctor treating criminals at his plastic surgery clinic in Kensington.  Talk about two-faced! I’ve challenged him about it several times, and I called him earlier today, he just bleated on about there being no evidence.  Isn’t it terrible how someone can smile and smile and be a villain?” Richard leered.
“Oh wait a minute, I get it! Sorry, Ricky, I really thought for a minute…you’re practising, aren’t you? Method acting, getting right into character, right? A Shakespearean villain? Um, Richard III, ha ha, now that would be appropriate!” Kitty laughed, sighing with relief. “Now if there was ever a man with a bad press! It’s a lot of crap, he wasn’t a villain.  But the play is great, that hammy portrayal by Olivier, now that’s fantastic!  Are you doing the bit where he seduces Lady Catherine over her husband’s corpse? Gee, now there are some creepy chat-up lines in there!”
“Who’s acting?” Richard grinned.  He pulled his hand up from her thigh and began to stroke his whole hand down her throat.  “You know, when someone’s fulfilled a purpose, they’re kinda surplus to requirements.  Just like Sherlock Holmes.”
“Wow, you’re good, that’s worthy of a BAFTA any day, that voice, it’s truly chilling, I could just believe you’re a cold-hearted killer!” Kitty enthused.
“There comes a time when you do have to tell the truth, and I’m afraid this is it for you, Kitty Riley.  But you’ll have all the recognition you desire, front page news!” Richard’s voice was cold as ice.
“Really? I mean, I know I work for probably the worst tabloid left in Fleet Street, but yeah, it would be really nice to get recognition… urgh, Ricky…” she fought for breath and tried to strike out at him, but Richard’s hands were tightly around her neck, crushing ever closer, she felt her skin start to burn.  Her flailing arms could find no target, and her lungs ached as they were deprived of air.  He’ll stop in a minute, he’s just being silly, showing off… she tried to convince herself.
“But there’s a truth you won’t ever know, Kitty… the identity of the man who… RIPPED YOUR HEAD OFF!” he squeezed and twisted, imposing force against the skin, bone and muscle, until a trickle of blood appeared below the rapidly bruising skin.  He twisted, and then with a final flick, the flesh on Kitty’s neck tore.  Arterial blood sprayed across the room as the veins in her neck burst under the pressure.  Then he snapped her neck to one side.  A shard of bone protruded under her left ear.  He let go and Kitty’s body fell off his lap and onto the floor.
“What a bloody mess, Kitty, you should keep this place tidier!” he said.  Standing up and catching sight of himself in the long mirror on the wall by the kitchen door, he straightened his silk tie.  The pale face was splattered in blood, as was the shirt collar and shoulder of the jacket.  “Still got the old magic, eh?  Hmm, poor cow, that’ll teach her to talk to strange men.”

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

New Year - First Foot

First Foot by Michael Connell (c)

'Happy ne' year tae ye! Constable Hammond,' slurred Archie Murdoch. 

Hammond glanced at him then knocked back his own dram. The fire of the Sow Croft Inn popped and a sudden gust sent a cloud of ash and cinders near his foot. He stepped on the glowing specks. They hissed at him.

'Y've twa minutes afore the bells Murdoch,' said Mr Cameron, the proprietor, 'An' keep yer voice doon or you'll rouse Mrs Cameron!'

'Aye! fit ever!' replied Murdoch.

Hammond tapped his glass and it was filled.

'Aye freedom is a fine thing constable! De ye no agree?' 

'That's enough o' that shite Murdoch. I'll no have ye provoking a rammy in my establishment!' said Cameron who was answered from above by several angry thumps. He grimaced,'You've gotten away with robbery this day, and yer victim lies on a cauld slab. I knew Robert Calder. What you did was an affront to decency. Justice will yet be done unto ye!'

'But nae withoot a witness!' Murdoch sniggered knocking back another dram. 

'I just wish I could afford tae throw ye oot and bar ye!' said Cameron.

'Well, in the meantime I shall indulge myself wi another dram all round if you please Cameron,'  a cacophony of approval erupted. Murdoch took a pinch from a silver snuffbox and snorted, 'Choo!'

Suddenly the door was thrown open allowing a flurry of snow soft as powder down to whip around the faces of the onlookers and catch in their hair and whiskers. At that moment the St. Nicholas kirk yard clock began to strike.

On the stroke of twelve, a figure stepped in like a ghost and turned its hooded gaze around the room then raised its gnarled and bony hand and pointed an arthritic finger at Archie Murdoch. 

'You!' cried Robert Calder, 'You whapped me ower the heid and laid me flat in the snow! Ye bastard! 

Murdoch cowered and the others ran off into the shadows.

'Y-y-you're dead!' Murdoch screamed, I was sure I hit ye enough times! Here hae back what's left o' yer money and yer snuff! 

'Too late for that! You will pay for your sins with your soul!' 

'And wi a long stint in Perth penitentiary!' said Hammond, grabbing Murdoch and snapping the irons on his wrists.

'Alright yer honour ye can come in now,' said Hammond. 'Did ye hear all that was said sir?' 

'I did constable. Take him to the cells,' said judge O'Halleran. 

'See!' said Calder removing his hood, 'Nae so deid aifter all!'

'B-but how?' stammered Murdoch. 

'Thick skull ye eejit!' said Calder tapping his bandaged head. He was a little faint but this did not prevent him from driving his boot into Murdoch's groin.

Murdoch yelped and slumped, Hammond grabbed him by the scruff. 

'Now there's a first foot you'll nae forget in a hurry laddie! Your bells will be ringing in the New Year for a while yet!' sneered Hammond.

From above the wakened Mrs Cameron thumped on the floor. 

[editor's note - Sow Croft Inn did exist and was the oldest pub in Aberdeen - now called Ma Cameron's after the one-time landlady whose peace is disturbed in this story]

New Year - Life and Death

Life and Death by Shaun Robertson (c)

The snow really DID fall thick, very thick and very fast. He didn't care, in fact he welcomed it. Despite his pain, still the scene was very beautiful. Everything covered in a white, virginal blanket. A fresh start. Clichés filled his head and he took some comfort from their familiarity. He was in a new situation, a new life and he needed something to cling to, some kind of security which only the solid, unchangeable elements of his everyday life could give him.

He was becoming inured to the emotional pain, but still he let it through sometimes and blinded by tears allowed himself to connect with his suffering rather than dam it up. It was a pressure release which prevented him from wallowing in the luxury of a complete breakdown.

What he had realised over the past few months was that any pain could be got through. That somehow his capacity for being hurt and for suffering grew to encompass his burdens. He had only learned this for real during that difficult time. That he could crawl on the floor sobbing his very heart out, that he could be blinded by tears and lie on his bed, mind filled with longing and begging. Sleep rarely came. He could get through pain and he felt the same person, but how on earth could he be? His life was changed other than for a few constants.

He stood at the top of the snow covered slope, hearing cries and laughter and muffled noise. Some children were tentatively edging themselves forward, some were sliding fast, screaming in delight and fear, whilst others were in crumpled, hysterical heaps at the bottom, sledges upside down. His wife's home was a short walk away, his daughter in a friend's house in sight of where he stood and most likely his wife's new lover sitting in her home.

He felt like a ghost, like Marley, cast away from life in death, full of regret, reaching out, unable to touch. He knew Marley's pain, his grief and his own chain weighed heavily. Part of the world, yet not part of it.

He looked across the snow toward the place where his family were and where he no longer was since the separation  He knew he no longer belonged there. As he turned and walked off through the thick snow which was bereft of life and broken only by bare trees with a white covering upon their branches, he felt that the new year held a promise which was empty of the life that he had known. It was a bleak thought. He allowed himself to cry as the thick snowflakes fell from the sky all around him.

New Year - Rave at the Grave

Rave at the Grave by Peri Lainchbury (c)

"Come one, come all. After midnight falls. Come and be brave to New Year's Day Rave at the Grave - details below"
No-one ever visited the small graveyard, hidden at the back of the park, with the decommissioned church. Most people had forgotten it was there. With its grisly history and scary tombs, it had high walls surrounding it and only one entrance. The gate was stuck open, swollen wood, overgrown with climbing ivy.
It was the perfect spot, the organisers of the rave had decided, forgotten, hidden and suitably creepy. The idea of the first party of the New Year in such a location would appeal to the young, to the wild and to the weird. It was sure to be a sell out.
The music pumped and boomed. The light was subdued and eerie, the beer from the giant keg flowed and the bodies moved and moved. A mass of humanity gyrating and swirling amongst the gravestones and tombs. Others joined the throng. Silent and unnoticed. They mixed and mingled and started to dance and intertwine with all the bodies. They hadn't paid the entrance fee, had no interest in the beer and no-one noticed them arrive.
The air got chillier, the revellers sweated as they continued to dance and their sweat steamed with cold like dragons breath on a frosty morning. But no-one noticed and the music got faster and louder and they were driven as a mass to dance on and on. The press of bodies got closer and closer, herded together. They were encircled and they didn't even know. They didn't feel the horror of the spine chilling cold, they didn't feel as the flesh was starting to be stripped from their bones, and they didn't feel the blood start to leech from their veins. They danced madly on, lost in a hypnotic trance, lost from the world.
As dawn broke on New Year's morning the graveyard was empty. Not a reveller in sight. The lights still glittered weakly, the empty keg laid on its side and the decks and speakers were silent. The churned ground around the graves was the only other sign that any people had been there and the first awake of the thrushes hopped about looking for worms in the disturbed soil. Underground the graves were silent and full, the tomb doors closed tight, the air in them freshened by the night. The ivy had settled back into place and the gate to the graveyard was closed and padlocked as usual. The sign on the gate was back in situ "PRIVATE PROPERTY - KEEP OUT" it read, as it had for as long as anyone could remember.
A mist swirled softly in the early morning air and the few old fashioned street lights in the surrounding park still glowed with a dim yellow light. All was(c) quiet and tranquil. The perfect winter’s dawn coloured the landscape a silvery pink, an idyllic start to a new day and a new year.

New Year - The Janitor

New Year was the next theme - kicking off with my one, with apologies to Homer and other Greek storytellers!! (FJ)

The Janitor by Fiona-Jane Brown (c)

"Ok, ok, you lot, yes, I know you're all deities, but please, keep it orderly, the Big Man doesn't allow me to open the doors before midnight!" the Janitor orders the large crowd which has gathered.  Same thing, every year, they've no patience, by Zeus I wish they would take their time! he mutters, looking at his large pocket watch and comparing it with the clock on the wall.  The hands on both crept inexorably toward twelve.

The Furies were plotting, muttering, the Janitor swore he could see them pulling the wings off a dead bat.  Artemis was stretching her bow back and forth.  "Ere, young lady, don't you be putting arrows in that! You'll take someone's eye out!" he warned loudly.

Just then, he saw a familiar face - he had heard the drunking singing for a while now.  "Oh now, Dionysus, you've started already, eh? No orgies in the queue, mind, you can do that on the other side!" he called, teasingly, the half-divine rebel-rouser grinning at him from behind a golden mask.  One of the Nymphs shrieked and there was the sound of a loud slap as she walloped her groper across the face.  There was silence for a bit.

Everyone could see the hands on the large clock reach the zero hour, and a chant of "six, five, four, three..." rippled through the crowd, as the Janitor fumbled for his keys.  He knew what they were like.  By the first strike, he had the large golden key in the lock.  By the twelfth, he had his hands gripped around the door knobs.  "Oi! Silence! I'm not opening up until you're all in an orderly line! It wouldn't be the first time I've been knocked down in the rush!" There was a generally shuffling and muttering as the crowd arranged themselves in a line.  Satisfied, he turned the knobs and flung open the vast ebony doors.  He managed to step back just in time as they all dashed forward, out into the new year, the new day, to carry on the business of the ages.

It took a full ten minutes for them all to leave.  Olympus would be quiet for a bit.  The Janitor sighed and closed the doors, but not before he could hear the sound of danity running feet and a feminine voice shriek, "No, please, don't close them, I must get through!"

He didn't quite recognise the girl, who wasn't quite wearing a sea-blue robe as she ran towards him.  River nymphs! They're always in trouble! He thought.  "You're a bit late, little lady, it's gone quarter past, I've got to close up or the Big Man will have my guts for garters!"

"Oh please, let me through, this is so embarrassing, I am Syrinx, a disciple of Artemis.  She told me to be here on time, but that's just it, I've... well, I've got a problem... with a man... er a goat... oh, please, help me, he's just a pest!" she cried.

"Pan! He's a wicked boy, worse than Dionysus.  Just a sex-maniac.  He's after you as well, is he? Oh dear, oh dear, will he never learn?"

"Yes, he's terrible, he doesn't seem to understand my vow of chastity! He's horrible, he ... he smells, he's no better than an animal!"

"Well, he is half-goat! Oh look, on you go, if I see him, I won't breathe a word, ok? Now, on you go, catch up with your goddess, she'll be worried for you!"

"Thank you, thank you, dear friend, may Zeus bless you!" she trilled and ran through the doors.
The Janitor closed them.

Five minutes later he heard it... you couldn't really miss the coming of the chief of Gods, Zeus had a heavy footfall.  The Janitor was not unduly worried, surely his boss wouldn't mind letting a latecomer through, especially when she was being pursued by that oik!

"JANUS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING INTERFERING??" Zeus bawled, even before he was within sight.

"Eh? What d'you mean, boss? I did as I always do, opened the door at midnight and let them through!" the Janitor replied.

"You let Syrinx through the doors after they should have been closed! You know the rules, Janus, those that wish to begin the new year on earth must go through the door at the stroke of twelve!"

"Aw, come on, boss, the poor kid's being pestered by Pan, he's a randy sod, won't leave her alone!"

"I'll have you know, Pan is one of my many sons, if he wants a girl, he should not be frustrated by a mere doorkeeper!"

"Ah.  But you know, surely you know? And anyway, she just rushed past me, I can't do everything, I'd need two heads to watch both ways!"

Zeus suddenly smiled.  "Come hither, Janus, you may have just come up with the best solution ever!" He grabbed the Janitor by the ears and pulled.

"ARGH!!!"  the roar of pain and shock was heard all over Mount Olympus and down on earth...

Janus - the doorkeeper of the gods, still stands at the door of the year, having given his name to the first month, but all know him as the twin-headed janitor who can see the past and the future.

Christmas Eve - Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass by Fiona-Jane Brown (c)

“Clear off, you vandals! Break into a church would you? No respect!”
The boys did not look very old, probably nine or ten.  They turned and saw him, a tall, skinny, scruffy figure in ragged clothes waving a gnarled old walking stick at them. 
“Ha, ha, it’s Father Christmas!” one of them yelled.
The boys scarpered, galloping across the snow with all the energy of youthful deer.  He muttered under his breath as he finally reached the church door.  They had broken the lock.  He pushed, and the old door creaked open.  Least I’m not going to wreck the place, he mused; perhaps the young rascals had done him a favour. 
It had been bitter cold that night, a distant radio from somewhere in the packed hostel in town had announced “The worst winter in fifty years …” No room at the inn, how ironic, he had thought, perhaps he would find a stable of his own somewhere. 
And here it was, not a cattle shed, but the old hilltop church.  He marvelled at the silence inside, the pews eerily empty, strewn with a sparkling decoration of spiderwebs.  Wandering up to the altar, he was surprised to find the statue of the Virgin and Child, old, with peeling paint and chipped wood.  They had been abandoned, shame, he thought, nobody cares any more, not in this modern age.
He sat down on the front pew.  It was dry, but cold.  Ah well, just you and me, My Lady, keep safe, nighty night.  Soon he was lying flat out, sleep descending like a shroud.

“Charlie! Charlie! Sit up now, the service is about to start!” He awoke and sat bolt upright. 
“Anna?” he asked, it had sounded exactly like his sister’s voice.  He was suddenly six years old again, and the family were gathered with the other villagers for Midnight Mass.  He had been allowed to sit next to his grandparents.  They owned the big farm which gave them the privilege of occupying the front pew.
Yes, Anna was staring down at him, the older, but not always wiser.  The church was filled with holly boughs.  Candles flickered cheerily in sconces around the walls, the shapes of the congregation dancing like happy spirits against the stone.  The vicar swept up to the altar in his robes, followed by the choristers, intoning his favourite carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Oh life was so perfect, so simple, way back then.
“Charlie, come on, wake up, old son!” the paramedic called.  “He’s stone cold,” she turned to her colleague, “Probably came in to shelter last night.”
“Yeah, such a shame, on Christmas Day too, poor thing!” he commented.
            “He’s got a smile on his face though, hope he passed on with a nice dream.” 
            “Charlie, Charlie, come on, it’s Christmas! Let’s go home and open the presents!” Anna’s voice was crystal clear now.
            “Coming!” he called, and took his sister’s hand as they walked up the aisle of the old hilltop church.

Christmas Eve - A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish by Shaun Robertson (c)

"Where did they find her?"

"Wandering the hospital corridor-top floor."

"And how was she when you saw her?"

The Doctor looked down at the woman. She was barely breathing, very pale and very cold.

"She kept saying not time...not time," said the nurse.

"Not time for what?"

"I don't know."

"Well, whoever she is she's pretty screwed," the Doctor said.

"None of the wards has lost a patient," added the nurse. "Security didn't see her come in the door. Yet here she is in a hospital gown. No ID band."

"Well, we need to get her to Intensive Care as soon as," he said.

In ICU the anaesthetist touched the woman's skin and said "Get her a space blanket. She's bloody freezing."

As she was being slid onto the bed the woman woke again.

"Its not time," she said weakly, but earnestly.

"Not time for what my love?" replied the ICU nurse.

"Not time to die," said the woman.

"Dont be silly," said the nurse, taking her cold, pale hand.

"No," said the woman. "Tell my son that I always loved him and that I always will."

"I will. I promise," said the nurse.

The woman smiled. Then she stopped breathing.

"I'm calling it," said the anaesthetist. "Time of death 23.05. She nearly made it into Christmas day.....anyone managed to trace the son?"

"On his way," said the nurse. "Didn't even know his mum was in hospital."

The porters collected the woman and took her to the mortuary.

"Lets pop her in the drawer," the mortician said. The porters opened the top of the trolley to lift out the body.

"Dear Lord," said the porter.

"Oh ha ha," said the mortician. "Where is she?"

"I swear to god, she was in the trolley when we left the ward." The colour had drained out of the porter's face.

"Not funny," said the mortician.

"I swear she was in there," said the porter, looking shaken.

"What was her name?"

"Holly Stewart."

The mortician felt very uneasy. It was Christmas Eve. Miracles might happen on Christmas Eve.

He turned to the row of mortuary shelf doors and checked the labels. There was the one labelled Holly Stewart. He looked back at the empty trolley, then at the door again.

He opened the door with her name on and pulled the shelf out a little. A breath of icy cold air issued from the compartment.

He undid the top of the mortuary gown.

"This her by any chance?" he said, with a can't fool me tone to his voice, but his hands were trembling.

"Oh dear god-yes," said the porter. He was very pale. "That's the woman we collected from ICU five minutes ago."

"Not possible, she's been here for three days," the mortician said. "We were holding off until we could track down her son."

And in that strange, magical way, on that Holy Night full of promise, the woman had achieved her final wish-to tell her son that she loved him.

Christmas Eve - Stranger Danger?

By Fiona Mclaney (c)

I sighed a breath upwards blowing hair from my eyes. One arm held an exceptionally heavy basket,
the handle digging painfully into my arm. The other balanced boxes of perfume. One thoroughly
bored, unhappy little girl stood beside me. A huge queue of around fifty people in front, as many
behind, harassed like me and wondering why they’d left the shopping to Christmas Eve. ‘Mummy I
need the toilet’ whined Sara, crossing her legs tightly, displaying her discomfort.

‘Just a few more minutes’ I lied. My patience with Sara was conflicting. One minute I wanted to
scream ‘shut up!’ the next, guilty at dragging a four year old around shops. This was our third queue
and we’d had two visits back to the car to dump bags. I cursed David for working on Christmas Eve.
‘ I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ blared from an invisible source. My Dad’s favourite
Christmas song that we’d drunkenly danced to the Christmas Eve before he died, after copious
amounts of red wine. My mind drifted back in time, Christmas morning with a hangover, before
babies. The queue moved forward and I turned to Sara ‘come on, Sara?’

She’d gone. I turned to look around for her. She couldn't have gone far. Seconds to comprehend the
seriousness of her sudden absence. There was no sign of her. My heart pounded. I dropped the
basket and perfume. ‘Did you notice where my little girl went?’ I asked everyone around. Confused,
concerned expressions. Panic rose and constricted my throat. My eyes searched desperately, my
voice sounded small, frightened as I shouted her name. I ran around the shop, bumping into
people, unable to hide my hysteria. I ran towards the public toilets, it seemed the obvious place to
try. Inside I banged on every closed cubicle door desperately ‘Sara! Sara!’ , she was not there and
time was moving on. I’d have to find security, to help find my daughter.

‘Blonde hair, pink anorak, furry hood, red tights, pink wellies’ I asked random people realising the
description could be any number of children within this shopping centre.

Suddenly I spotted her, in my peripheral vision. Running towards me she called ‘Mum!’ I scooped her up in my arms, relief overwhelmed me and I almost screamed in delight.

‘Where were you? Where did you go?’ I beseeched.

‘I tried to find the toilet but I got lost. The old man brought me back’

‘What old man?’ I looked behind her. She turned her head ‘He’s gone. His hands were cold’

Standing her down, I gripped her hand ‘Let’s go the loo and then get a hot chocolate and a sit down.
I'm exhausted.’ My legs wobbled, nervously as we made our way through the throngs of shoppers
‘You know you shouldn't talk to strangers Sara, you should have found a security guard or a shop
worker’ I gently scolded

‘He wasn't stranger, he said you were thinking about his favourite song and I should have stayed
beside you.’

Christmas Eve - Under the Mistletoe

Under the Mistletoe © Megan Loughlin

The house was ready for Christmas. Mr. Stevens had put the yard decorations up the day before, and it was covered in fake snow, kitschy Nativity scenes, and giant inflatable snow globes, snow men, and at least twelve different Santa Clauses.

Inside the house, every square inch of space had strings of berries, garlands, popcorn, banners wishing visitors a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and every spare plug had an air freshener that smelled like cookies baking. But what really stood out was the mistletoe. It hung in great clumps from the ceiling. It wound itself around the bannister, it cluttered in the doorways. Every where you stepped, there was mistletoe hanging overhead.

Mrs. Doretta Stevens was in the kitchen baking a batch of Christmas cookies. She hummed 'Rudolph The Red nosed Reindeer' as she pressed the cookie cutters into the pliable dough. A large pile of cookies sat on the counter, covered in green and red sprinkles in anticipation of the night to come. There was also a pile of candy canes in all different flavours.

Mrs. Stevens popped the latest batch into the oven and went into the living room. She took a deep breath and fanned herself, then looked around at the decorations. Everything was absolutely perfect. She checked her watch, smiling. Almost time.

The front door opened and Mr Edward Stevens, clumped into the house“Is everything ready, Peaches?” Mrs. Stevens nodded, smiling.

“Yes, of course it is. Cookies are all baked, the house is all decorated for Christmas, and I've remembered to send out the invitations. They should all get here soon.” At that moment, 'Silver Bells' rang through the house. Mrs. Stevens went to answer the door, smiling at their neighbors. “Mrs. Carman, how wonderful to see you. Do please come in. Mr and Mrs. Gump, you're both looking quite festive this evening. There's
cookies in the kitchen and a big old pot of Christmas fudge on the stove. Help yourselves.”

By nine o'clock, all the guests had arrived and were milling about, admiring the decorations and munching on Mrs. Stevens' delicious fudge. When the clock struck ten, Mrs. Stevens spoke. “My husband and I want to thank you all so much for coming to our party. We were certain that our little...accident last year would mean the end of Christmas for us. But now we see that's not the case. Thank you so much for coming.”

The guests applauded politely, sweating under the hot Christmas lights. Mr. Stevens went to stand by his wife, a large smile on his narrow face. “Now, every year since the accident, my Doretta and I hold a party for all our closest neighbors We both thank you.”

One of the neighbors, an elderly woman, wiped her forehead. “My goodness, it's so hot. Why is it so hot?”

Mrs. Stevens smiled. “Oh, I am so sorry, Mrs. Carman. Ever since we died in that fire,
we've needed the heat.”

Christmas Eve - the Little Silver Tree

The Little Silver Tree by Peri Lainchbury (c)

The little silver Christmas tree was looking rather forlorn and battered. It had been found stuffed at the bottom of a box of donated decorations left outside the charity shop. There wasn’t much hope of it being sold this close to Christmas, but you never know. So they’d put a price of a pound on it and put it in the front of the window. Someone might need a little tree as a last minute addition. It sat there next to two chipped pottery robins, one of which was missing a beak, and a musical dancing Santa, who still wobbled from side to side when switched on but who had been struck dumb. It wasn’t the most inspiring display of festive cheer, but this was a small charity shop, in a fairly remote village.

A group of children, who had run on ahead of the adults, stopped in front of the window and looked in. The little shop was sometimes a good place to find cheap toys and dressing up treasures. The boys laughed at the wobbling Santa and the forlorn little tree but the girl didn’t. She’d never had a tree of her own for her room and that little silver one looked the perfect size. She ran back and grabbed her Mum’s hand explaining what she wanted.

Her Mother tried to dissuade her, the tree was dirty, dusty and had seen better days. But the girl was adamant and she had enough pocket money left after her Christmas shopping. Eventually her Mum capitulated and the little silver tree was carried home with pride.

The girl made space on her window ledge and the tree sat there perfectly, if a little lop sided. In the light of the late Christmas Eve afternoon sun, the silver sparkled all on its own, not needing any decorations. She placed her favourite teddies and other prized cuddly toys around its base and sat back with a sigh of satisfaction.

Her very own tree. Hers, not to be shared with her brothers or anyone else. A perfect little silver ree, just for her. Sometimes having to share everything got tiresome when you were the youngest, and her brothers had hogged most of tree decorating to themselves again this year, so this little tree, bare as it was, made up for that.

Her Mum tapped on her bedroom door and came in carrying some of the homemade biscuit star decorations from the tree downstairs and also the old fairy, who had seen better days, and who had been replaced by a big gold star this year. They added them to the tree together, with her being given strict instructions not to eat all the biscuits at once. It looked even more perfect now. The last of the sunset flashed in through the window and the tree sparkled as if on fire in the dwindling light. It was almost Christmas Eve night. The girl took one more delighted look at her little bargain tree and almost danced out of her room with childish excitement.

Christmas Eve - The Peculiar Portmanteau

The first theme proposed for our regular story challenges was "Christmas Eve" - we had a number of stories, scary, heart-warming and just plain weird!  Here is the first one by Michael Connell, with inspiration from Charles Dickens and M R James!!


Mr Richardson hated Christmas. And If anyone presented him with a gift or a salutary nod of the
head, followed by a hearty - 'Merry Christmas!' his habit was to spin on his heel and walk off without
a word.

One Christmas Eve Mr Richardson was closing his shop, the snow had started to whirl around his
heels and began to leave deep swooping drifts in all the shop doorways, when he spotted a large
brown parcel poking out of the snow near his shopfront. He peered at the label. 'To Mr Richardson',
was written on the thick card. The ink appeared to be of a crimson hue and smelled faintly

'Damned Christmas present I'll wager!' He snorted. Richardson was about heave the parcel into the
gutter when from around the corner an officer of the watch appeared.

'Oi!, you there!' said the officer. 'You can't leave that fing ere!' Pick it up and bugger owf! Or I'll av
you in the cells!'

Mr Richardson picked up the box and hurried off through the heavy snow. The streets began to
darken. And once or twice he thought he felt something inside the parcel move towards his chest
and throat.
Once inside Mr Richardson struggled to close his door against the howling wind, and a cyclone of
snow swept in behind him and died as the door slammed shut.

He placed the brown box down before the blazing fire, took a small letter opener from his desk,
crouched before the box, and put his hand upon it. It was freezing. He got his leather gloves then
proceeded to cut the thick cord.

Once unwrapped he could see that it was an old portmanteau. Who would send such a gift he
thought? He'd refused all gifts since he was a child yet this was something he had always wanted.
He opened the straps quickly like a... like a child on Christmas morning! He laughed out loud at this
thought and at his stupidity for refusing to allow himself this pleasure all these years. Well no longer,
from now on he would celebrate Christmas every year! Have friends and family over for a roister
they would never forget!

He opened the lid and reached inside. His hand met a sticky membrane covering the opening like a
spiderweb. Suddenly it began to peak in several places and stretch towards him. He thought he
heard whispered laughter from inside. He tried to pull away, but small boney twig-like fingers
pushed through the web and caught hold of Mr Richardson, who tried to scream as they covered his
mouth with many spiny little hands.

On Christmas morning, despite a thorough search, Mr Richardson was nowhere to be found. His
Maid discovered the portmanteau on the rug and some crumpled brown paper with a label.
On one side was written - 'To Mr Richardson', and on the other - 'Do Not Open Until Christmas Day'.
It had an unsavoury smell so she threw it on the fire.

Welcome to the Fiction Lovers' Club - this blog is where we will host stories from the members.  You can join us at our Facebook home.

We are:
Fiona-Jane Brown
Vicki Day
Shaun Robertson
Michael Connell
Michelle Wyllie
Peri Lainchbury
Mark Pithie
Megan Loughlin
Fiona Mclaney
Emlyn Boyle
Keith Brando
Melanie Colón