Category Archives: Short stories

Suspenseful short stories with a twist

Rejected in a Flash

We writers are a sensitive bunch; okay, what I’m really saying is I’m sensitive. I work hard at writing the best prose I can. It’s an obsession and a passion, and there’s nothing I love more, outside the actual the process of writing, than when a reader tells me they’ve connected with my story — whether they were entertained or moved — that’s my goal. But even so, validation from readers in the industry is something that writers seek—it gives us credibility and helps us believe in ourselves. To this end, I’ve entered a few competitions and generally never gotten anywhere.

Recently, I entered two flash fictions in competitions, and my stories failed to even make the long lists. It leaves me wondering what I’m doing wrong. Why aren’t the judges connecting with my stories? What the hell am I doing thinking I can write? There’s lots of writers much better than me, so why should I keep trying? Because I love it; that’s why. So, rather than spend more than one day moping about it (the time I give myself to deal with rejection), I’ve decided that I’d rather post my stories here for free than pay to get rejected (what other crazy bunch of people does that, right?).

I know some of my readers will enjoy these flash fiction pieces, and that means I haven’t failed. And, to be honest, I could never give up writing, as I love putting words down, one after the other, and see meaning and emotion fill the once empty space. Please enjoy these two flash fiction pieces, ’cause I’ll have to cheer myself up by eating a whole tub of ice cream if you don’t.

Just in Time

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. Elsie looks down at the small clock on the plastic tablecloth. Her eyes, even with glasses, can’t make out the numbers anymore, but the bright-red cherry motif decorating the tablecloth catches her attention, as do her wrinkled hands. Skin so thin, blue veins ghost through—a shadow of life glimpsed behind rippled glass. When did that happen? Her hands rest on the table, each one cupped around either side of the clock. She runs one thumb over the smooth plastic face.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. “Bill, do you remember when we bought it?” she asks of the empty room. Her faded lips — more the pink of a dried petal than the lively pink of sunsets, lipstick and baby clothes, the pink of then — curl up. She lifts her head and looks away from the clock, her gaze slipping beyond.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. The chair across from her is pushed in, vacated long ago. Alone is lonely. Waiting is hard. So slow . . . time, it passes so slowly. Will she keep fading until she’s invisible, like Bill? The clock, curved and lacquered black, its white face as pale as death, calls to her.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. What is it like, in that space between the clear glass and the clock face? Even if she squints and leans closer, the time eludes her. Time eludes her. Blurry hands, blurry numbers. Always counting down to something, yet counting up.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. So long. She’s waited so long. Her insides feel as hazy as the numbers she can’t make out on the clock face. As hazy as Bill, who now sits across from her. The clock is forgotten as Bill’s silhouette grows stronger.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. She smiles—his face, it’s good to see his face. She reaches her hand toward him. Instead of cool plastic, she feels….

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. For the first time in so long, she can’t hear it. Silence. The ticking has finally stopped.

 

Stolen

“Goodbye, mum,” Ellen whispers as the first thud of earth strikes the coffin. It feels like there is too much space in her mind, where reality escapes her desperate attempts to contain it.

She is a little girl again, snuggled in her mother’s arms, inhaling the scent of her perfume. Waiting for the bus, icy wind swirls around them. The little girl smiles, knowing the chill can’t break through and take her mother’s warmth. But now, standing at the edge looking down, past her sensible black shoes into despair, her tears join the clods beating a slow rhythm in the crisp July afternoon.

Another bitter wind blows at her back, and she knows it was all a lie — the cold has stolen her warmth. She shivers. Staring beyond the coffin, imagining the confines beyond, loneliness spreads endlessly in front of her, like an arctic landscape. She wraps tired arms around herself.

A warm hand grasps her fingers. Through blurred vision, she looks into her daughter’s blue eyes, so like her mother’s.

“I’m cold,” the little girl says.

Ellen crouches and gathers Ava into her arms, hugs her tight. Breathing deep to steady her voice, she says, “I’ll keep you warm.”

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Hope — A Suspenseful Short Story

I haven’t posted in way too long. Sorry about that. This is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago, and it was supposed to find its way into a friend’s magazine, but the magazine is on hold, so I decided to post it here. It’s not my best work, but it will make you think, I hope.

HOPE

Hope stared at her son. It was hard not to panic. She wanted to run around screaming, “They’re coming! They’re coming! Save yourselves.” She stood, legs twitching in denial of her instincts. Her son looked lovingly into her eyes. He trusted her and was happy, and she was grateful for that.

Her gaze nervously flicked between the only way out and her child. What time would they come? She looked around at the other mothers with their children and wondered how they felt, knowing what was coming? Every year they took the children that were not too young, but not old either. They took them away, never to be seen again. The mothers weren’t supposed to know what happened, but Hope had been wandering where she shouldn’t and had seen the children’s lifeless bodies being thrown into a truck.

How could they be so cruel? Didn’t they know how much suffering they caused? Hope knew they were emotionless, heartless; they had to be. What if she could save her son this time? They had taken her two other children, and she never forgot. Never. Her dreams were filled with their faces, their beautiful brown eyes radiating innocent love that had been cruelly disregarded with one slash of a knife.

She moved closer to her son and nuzzled his soft cheek, and he smiled. She lifted her head again and looked at all the children that would be dead by tomorrow. It was too many. Not again. No, she couldn’t let it happen again. She thought about how she could stop it and formulated a plan. Help was needed, and the smartest mother she knew was April. It was time to act.

April wasn’t sure it would work, and she didn’t like the violence Hope was suggesting, but if she wanted to save her son, she had no choice. They risked their own lives in this, but it was worth it. April remembered, just as well as Hope, how she had felt last time her child was murdered. The pain of losing a child cannot be forgotten or diminished; it smothered her life and suffocated her joy, permeating her waking hours and her sleep.

Hope and April waited, staying close to their boys. Between them, they had managed to organise at least fifty other mothers to help. Everyone was arranged around the huge enclosure: another way they had been mistreated—locked up, not allowed freedom to go where they chose. Hope wanted to survive, but the way her life was, she was not afraid to die if she couldn’t force change. No one deserved to live like this.

The silent mothers feigned calm, often looking at each other for support. They were in this together; no one else could save them. They had to do it themselves. Hope looked beyond her comrades, to the open sky, which taunted them, it’s offer of limitless possibilities closed to them, for now. She heard its message in the fresh breeze that puffed up the dirt around her legs, swirling the grainy soil in ghostly whirlpools, which danced among the waiting prisoners.

She watched one wisp of dust sweep towards the locked gate, and that’s when she saw them. They were here already. Her heartbeat raced. Her gaze met April’s. They exchanged small nods; the time was upon them. Hope waited for the gates to be unlocked, for the four humans and their dogs to enter. The humans wore those things they called ‘hats’, which shadowed their evil faces, but Hope could see the hardness and intent seeping from behind their eyes, like the sickly light which oozed through those Halloween pumpkins the humans put around the farm every year.

She knew it was coming, but jumped when April screamed. Hope screamed too, and soon the enclosure was filled with the bellowing of every mother. The humans had just moments to be surprised before the herd stampeded them.

Hope and April led the charge, hooves kicking and stomping, teeth that had never tasted meat bit into murdering flesh. Murderer became victim.

“Oh my god! Ron what’s happening? They’ve gone mad!”

Hope heard them scream, and she didn’t care, just like they didn’t care every time they came to steal their children, snatching them away only to end their precious lives.

Ron didn’t answer; he was on the ground, trampled limbs bent at unnatural angles like broken branches after a storm. Hope pushed her son out of the gate, and they ran as fast as his short legs allowed them. She risked a look behind, but the humans were down. Her friends and their children were cascading out of the enclosure, experiencing their first taste of freedom. Hope smiled at their triumph and pushed on—they had many farms to visit. Watch out world; we will be docile no more.

If you enjoyed this story, I have more suspenseful, much darker stories in Dark Spaces, which you can grab from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.

 

 

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An Awakening — a Suspenseful, Intense Short Screenplay

I sent my first short screenplay off to a competition, but alas, I didn’t even make the top 10%. After crying into my glass of water, okay, I didn’t really cry, but I might have whined a bit and said f*** a few dozen times, I decided I would share it with the world anyway, because all writers really want, (other than bestsellerdom) is for people to read their work and enjoy it.

Unfortunately I can’t share this screenplay on the big screen, but here it is on a little one. You’ll have to read it rather than watch it, but you can’t have everything ;).

An Awakening was adapted from a short story in Dark Spaces. It is the story of a woman faced with a life-and-death decision, but she hesitates. If your partner was about to die, would you save them, or would you rather go on alone?

For those who like to read screenplays, here it is. I think it would make an awesome music film clip as you don’t really need the words to convey the story. Enjoy watching it in your own mind :).

1     EXT SUBURBAN BACK GARDEN—MORNING             1

The sun is shining on an impressive, brick home and landscaped back garden. GRAHAM (70), slender and dressed in a check shirt with the sleeves rolled up, is on his knees on the grass, digging a hole for a small plant in the garden bed while MARIAN (69), dressed immaculately, cuts roses with secateurs. GRAHAM straightens and looks at MARIAN.

GRAHAM

Only three weeks, Love, and we’ll be sailing into the sunset. I’m really looking forward to our Fiji cruise.

MARIAN

Me too. It’ll be nice to spend a relaxing two weeks together, away from the housework and grandkids. It’s been awhile since we’ve been on holidays, just the two of us.

MARIAN smiles at her husband.

GRAHAM

So, it’s your birthday when we’re away. What would you like?

MARIAN scowls at GRAHAM

MARIAN

           Nothing. Don’t bother.

GRAHAM reaches out and holds her hand.

GRAHAM

Don’t be like that. I want to get you something. Come on, Love, what would you like?

MARIAN snatches her hand away.

MARIAN

If it’s so important, why did you forget my birthday last year? I don’t want anything. Just forget it.

GRAHAM grunts, falls back to sit on the grass, drops the trowel, grabs his chest and grimaces. MARIAN looks at him, rolls her eyes then turns back to her roses.

GRAHAM

(In a strained voice) I think I’m having a heart attack.

MARIAN

How convenient. You’ll do anything to avoid an argument.

GRAHAM collapses the rest of the way to the ground, and MARIAN turns to look at him. She hesitates then rushes to kneel by his side. She taps at his cheek with her fingers.

MARIAN

           Graham. Graham, are you all right?

Graham doesn’t respond. Marian leans over him to listen to his breathing. He is not breathing. She sits up, looks towards the house, looks back at GRAHAM, and then stares into the distance.

2     FLASHBACK MARIAN – INT CHURCH—DAY            2

A young and smiling GRAHAM and MARIAN, dressed in their wedding clothes, stand at the front of the church holding hands and facing each other. We can see the priest, standing with the bible open, through the gap between them. The pews are filled with well-dressed guests. GRAHAM slides a wedding ring on MARIAN’S finger.

PRIEST

           You may kiss the bride.

GRAHAM and MARIAN kiss. The congregation claps.

3     FLASHBACK MARIAN – INT HOSPITAL—DAY      3

Flowers sit in a vase on the bedside table. MARIAN sits up in bed, smiling and holding a swaddled, newborn baby. GRAHAM kisses MARIAN’S forehead and watches as their TWO OTHER CHILDREN (4 AND 6) climb on the bed and do the same. MARIAN AND GRAHAM share a contented look.

4     FLASHBACK MARIAN – INT MARIAN AND GRAHAM’S DINING ROOM—NIGHT 4

The lights are off. GRAHAM sits at a rectangular dining table, which has silver candelabra in the centre with candles flickering. A small group of friends and family watch as a proud MARIAN enters the room, carrying a cake. The cake says “Happy 30th Graham” and is ringed with lit candles. MARIAN places the cake in front of her husband and everyone starts singing “Happy Birthday”. He grabs his wife’s hand and they smile at each other.

5     FLASHBACK MARIAN – INT GRAHAM’S OFFICE—DAY         5

MARIAN walks along the hallway to GRAHAM’S office, carrying a paper bag, which holds a packed lunch that she’s made for him. (Close up of hand grabbing the door handle and turning it slowly). MARIAN opens the door.

MARIAN

           Hi, Darling, I’ve brought….

She sees GRAHAM lying on top of his SECRETARY on his desk, passionately kissing her. MARIAN clutches the paper bag tighter with one hand and covers her mouth with her other. She stands there, stunned for a minute as GRAHAM and the SECRETARY scramble off the desk to stand up quickly, adjusting their clothes. GRAHAM takes a step towards MARIAN and opens his mouth to say something, but she turns quickly and runs out. The SECRETARY grabs his arm, but he pushes her off and runs after his wife.

6     FLASHBACK MARIAN – INT GRAHAM AND MARIAN’S BEDROOM—NIGHT     6

Both bedside lamps are on. The bed is immaculately made. MARIAN is wearing the same clothes from when she took the lunch to the office. MARIAN and GRAHAM stand facing each other next to the end of the bed. GRAHAM is gripping her arms and staring into her eyes.

GRAHAM

Please believe me. She means nothing. I love you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It was a big mistake. Say something, Marian. Please.

MARIAN stares at him for a moment then spits in his face. GRAHAM hangs his head and lets go of her arms.

MARIAN

How could you? I’ve devoted my life to you, given up everything. (Whispers to herself) I can’t believe this is happening. (To GRAHAM) You make me sick. Get out.

GRAHAM walks to the door and hesitates as he looks at MARIAN one last time, but she has her back to him. He leaves. MARIAN sits on the bed, takes her wedding ring off, throws it at the wall and cries.

7     FLASHBACK – INT MARIAN’S KITCHEN—AFTERNOON         7

MARIAN sits at the kitchen table with her best friend, BETH (69). MARIAN looks tired and pale. They both cradle a cup of tea in their hands. A plate of biscuits sits ignored in the middle of the round table.

BETH

           So, what are you going to do?

MARIAN

I don’t know. If I left, where would I go? I don’t have any skills: I pulled out of the secretarial course when we got married. I have no money. And how would the kids handle it? I just don’t know…. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to do what I want, when I want—not to have to answer to anyone. To be free.

BETH

Look, I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time. You’ll be okay. I don’t think you should make any rash decisions. Maybe just forgive him and get on with it. It’s better than being alone.

MARIAN

Is it?

MARIAN shakes her head.

MARIAN (CONT’D)

I don’t know if I can forgive him. God I wish I had the courage to leave.

8     FLASHBACK MARIAN – INT MARIAN AND GRAHAM’S DINING ROOM—MIDDAY     8

A “Happy 21st” banner hangs from the wall above framed family snapshots. MARIAN and GRAHAM’S daughter sits at the head of the table. MARIAN, twelve years older than at her husband’s thirtieth birthday, stands and watches her daughter blow out the candles on her birthday cake. GRAHAM, standing next to MARIAN, puts his arm around her shoulder. She flinches, but he keeps his arm there and holds her tighter. Her smile is sad.

9     FLASHBACK MARIAN – EXT RECEPTION VENUE—NIGHT       9

A string quartet on a slightly raised stage plays romantic music. Fairy lights hang from trees. A close up of a card on a present on an outdoor table says “Happy 45th Anniversary Marian and Graham”. Dining tables ring the perimeter of the dance-floor where guests sit eating dessert and chatting. MARIAN is in GRAHAM’S arms as they slow dance. She looks lovingly into his eyes and he whispers in her ear.

GRAHAM

Thank you for staying with me. I love you. I’ve always loved only you. Are you happy?

MARIAN

           I love you too.

GRAHAM

           But are you happy?

MARIAN

           Mmm (pause) I think so.

She places her head on his chest. He looks worried. GRAHAM places his cheek against her hair, closes his eyes and breathes in.

10    EXT MARIAN AND GRAHAM’S YARD—MORNING          10

MARIAN blinks and looks down at GRAHAM who is lying on the grass. She stands, slowly (as she is almost seventy). GRAHAM lies in the foreground while we watch MARIAN walk slowly to the back door in the background. She goes inside.

11    INT KITCHEN IN MARIAN AND GRAHAM’S HOUSE—MORNING        11

MARIAN reaches the phone, removes her gardening gloves and dials 000.

MAN’S VOICE ON PHONE

           Fire, police or ambulance?

MARIAN

           Ambulance.

MARIAN grips the phone cord with one hand as she waits for someone else to come on the line. The female dispatcher comes on the line and asks MARION who she is, what is her address, and what’s happened.

MARIAN

My husband’s had a heart attack. He’s not breathing. I need an ambulance. Please hurry.

DISPATCHER

            Do you know how to perform CPR?

MARIAN

           No.

The dispatcher explains how to do CPR and suggests MARION perform it until the ambulance arrives. MARION starts crying as she hangs up the phone and walks as fast as she can back to GRAHAM.

12    EXT GRAHAM AND MARIAN’S BACKYARD—MORNING      12

Marian kneels down next to GRAHAM and kisses his forehead, her shoulder-length hair falling gently against his face. She sits up, places her hands on his chest and starts chest compressions before breathing into his mouth. She stops briefly, tears on her face.

MARIAN

I’m here, Darling. I forgive you.  Please don’t die. I love you, Graham. Don’t leave me alone.

MARIAN continues CPR and sirens wail in the distance, the sound getting closer. The shot pulls back and high, showing the backyard, MARIAN working on GRAHAM—they look small, isolated and alone. The shot encompasses the street. The ambulance arrives at the front. The shot pulls back further as the ambulance officers get out of the ambulance, and the scene recedes into the

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Little Dove—Epic Fantasy WIP

I wrote this short story to submit to fantasy magazines in the hope that I would gain some kind of recognition. After three rejections, and wonderful feedback from Aurealis Magazine, I’ve decided to abandon the farce that this is a short story. From the moment I wrote the first sentence, it seemed like something bigger. I have tweaked the ending to make it less like a short story, since I submitted. It is with great joy that I present the first chapter of the New Adult epic fantasy that I will be writing when the third book in The Circle of Talia series is finished. I hope you enjoy it :).

Little Dove 

Laney ran across the field, her breath burning in her throat. Billowing behind, her green dress left her ankles bare, allowing the stiff stalks of yellow grass to whip and scratch her skin. Not far now. The leaden granite walls of the keep beckoned. She hoped she wasn’t too late.

In her mind, Frederick’s urgent parting words sounded. I have taught you all I can. The time has come. You must do everything in your power so that all is not lost. I fear the blood of the Carthans has already been spilled. He had pushed her out of the door before he finished speaking, only to yell after her as she sprinted away. “Do not lose the bird, whatever you do.” She had hardly heard the last but knew this bird was her only salvation.

Glancing down, her eyes met those of the silver-coloured bird at her waist. Its wings were secured with thick woollen twine, which wrapped around its body; its body secured in a netted pouch fastened to her dress. She felt warmth from the small bird’s body radiate against her stomach. “It’s okay, bird. I won’t hurt you. You can trust me.” She panted, looking up. Almost upon her home, her feet slowed. What would she find? Was there a chance her family was still alive?

The guards standing tense at the spiked iron gates–black breastplates gleaming, hands resting on the pommels of swords hanging at their sides–were strangers. Frederick was right, she thought, they are dead. Laney swallowed the sorrow threatening to undo her. If only her brother hadn’t listened to their parents, the king and queen, when they forbade him and Laney from visiting Frederick, the strongest sorcerer in Arbalion. Rumours had persisted for weeks about the foreign king’s march upon her father’s throne, and Frederick was one of the only people who had taken it seriously or had offered a real solution–a solution her parents had feared. Laney had learnt much, over warm deelvine tea, in her many illicit visits to the wise man’s cottage. But had she learnt enough?

One of the bearded guards, a soldier of Tyrk the Destroyer, turned his head toward Laney and spat. Laney stopped, wishing she were invisible. He would see her in five, four, three…. Now only metres away, Laney’s blue eyes connected with his. Desire and cruelty lit up his eyes and twisted the corners of his mouth into a greedy smile. The bravado with which she had left Frederick’s fled, leaving her empty and frozen. She had envisaged herself striding into the keep, meeting her family’s bitterest foe on her own terms, but now all she could do was stand and wait as the enemy strode toward her. I am a coward, she thought.

Resting her hand protectively over the bird, she looked up, trembling but meeting the man’s gaze. No words separated his upturned lips as he closed a rough hand around her slender arm. As he dragged her past the other milling guards, all fell silent. Laney heard gravel crunching beneath their feet and horses whinnying in the distance. When she looked down to negotiate the two steps to the main doors, she saw that a dark stain of dried blood led the way into the main hall.

Mamma. Pappa. Her legs lost strength and she fell. The guard’s fingers dug painfully into her arm, jerking her upright before she hit the ground. She stumbled forward. Her shoes trod upon the recently warm vestiges of people she had known, and, as the soldier hauled her onward, half-digested food exploded from her mouth, covering the soldier’s black boots with barely recognizable splatters of milk, carrots and cheese. He stopped, dead. Turning swiftly, he dealt a backhand blow to her cheek, the force cracking her head to the side. Again, his grip prevented her from falling, and she cried as quietly as she could as the brute pulled her down the hall, towards the throne room.

The oak double doors to the throne room stood open. The man stopped at the entrance, shoving Laney down. Her knees slammed into the flagstone floor, and a cry escaped her. “Do not move,” the guard growled before approaching the throne and bowing. Muffled voices reached Laney, but she couldn’t make out what was said.

Breathing in a metallic tang, Laney sat back, bottom resting on her heels. Looking around, she hoped to see her parents, but also hoped not to. Her heart pounded. She gazed to her right, and her sight rested on a pile of limp bodies thrown into the corner, clothes bloodstained, limbs tangled in a lifeless embrace. She blinked, her breath coming in short bursts. None of the corpses appeared to be wearing clothes she recognised as her parents’, but, laying on the top of the macabre mound, she saw the long, black, plaited beard of her father’s chief guard, Lucas. His once stern, battle-scarred face was hidden by his burgonet, but Laney could see the fatal wound; a slice rent from his side: red, gaping, final. The fiercest of her father’s soldiers, he had always had a smile for the princess. Laney held back a sob.

The bird at her waist squirmed as a shadow fell across them. She looked up at the dark shape of her captor. He grabbed her arm once again and hauled her to her feet. Staying behind her this time, he jabbed his fingers into her back, prodding her forward until she stood at the foot of her father’s throne. Laney squared her shoulders and looked Tyrk the Destroyer in the eyes.

Tyrk rose, his wide-chest and black cloak blocking Laney’s view of the throne. Stepping down, he stood within touching distance of the young princess. Tyrk placed a hand on Laney’s shoulder, gripping harder and harder until he saw her wince. He relaxed his grip, but left his hand to rest on her slender frame. When Tyrk smiled, wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his dark eyes, like cracks shearing the surface of a frozen pond. “So, the little bird flies home. But, as you can see,” he gestured extravagantly with one arm until his hand waved towards the carnage Laney had seen piled in the corner, “you have arrived too late. Imagine that; one day you are rejecting the marriage proposal of a prince, and the next, you are dead. Life’s funny like that.”

Tyrk watched his captive’s face. Laney blinked, but the usurper saw no tears in the wake of her lids. She stared at him without expression and couldn’t believe she had once entertained her father’s idea when he suggested Laney marry the prince from Enderling. If he was anything like his father, the man who stood in front of her, Laney was sure death was preferable. Trained to keep her feelings hidden, she tucked her sorrow behind her heart, keeping it warm for later. She let it flow through her veins; the blood feeding her body with oxygen, the misery feeding her determination, determination she would surely need to accomplish what she was about to attempt.

Taking his hand off the girl, Tyrk turned to the soldier who had dragged Laney in. “Let’s do this in the courtyard; I don’t want any more blood on the floor in here–I’d hate for it to stain. Bring her.” His stride was long and powerful, the set of his head arrogant.

As Laney was subjected to another’s will, yet again, she sent her thoughts to the wind. I’m not ready for this, Frederick. I don’t want to say goodbye. A memory from two weeks ago came to her and she saw her reflection in her bedroom mirror. She would never look into her own azure eyes again. Saying a final farewell to herself, she touched the smooth rise of her cheek, slipped a finger to trace her full lips, lips that had never even kissed a boy and finished by reaching into the hidden pocket at the hip of her skirts.

Her unsteady fingers touched steel.

Reaching the courtyard, the red wetness upon the ground drew Laney’s attention. Thinking of her parents–her dead parents–gave her encouragement to close her fingers around the hilt of the dagger. Clutching it with renewed hope, she hardly flinched when the guard stopped her in the middle of the courtyard by yanking her hair until her head snapped back painfully. He held her in that position for the scrutiny of a circle of smirking, road-stained soldiers. Laney stared at the sky and imagined what it would be like to escape into its cerulean heights.

Tyrk took casual steps around the courtyard, passing the soldiers, looking each in the eyes, before halting in front of Laney. He spoke louder than in the throne room, and his voice echoed off the courtyard walls and carried a short way into the fields beyond. “You are about to witness the end to the royal Varian line. Standing before us is the youngest, and only, living child of the recently deceased King Varian.” Tyrk paused to allow the audience’s laughter to subside. “Remember this day well, for this is what happens to those who refuse me. We will send you to the heavens, little dove. It will be quick–let no person say I am a king without mercy.”

The guard holding Laney’s hair released his grip. He put his mouth so close to her ear that the touch of his foul breath caused her to shiver. “K-K King Tyrk, likes t-t to, to watch the life d-d-d drain from the eyes.”

Laney slid her hand from her pocket as Tyrk drew his sword from its sheath. One of the soldiers shouted, “She has a weapon!”

Laney rushed, almost dropping the dagger as she saw Tyrk’s eyes widen before he lunged his sword toward her stomach. She sliced the dagger across the bird’s bonds, Frederick’s words in her mind: You must be touching the bird when your soul leaves your body. So much could go wrong, and the few seconds she had to consider it seemed an eternity.

Tyrk’s sword nicked the tip of the bird’s wing before splitting the fabric of Laney’s dress and piercing the porcelain skin of her stomach. The bird fluttered in her hands as she tried to hold it, the pain of her injury almost too great to ignore.

The new king held the princess’ shoulder, forcing her to stand while he stared into her eyes. Feeling cold and light-headed, Laney smiled and whispered, “You are wrong, usurper, the Varian line lives on.”

Tyrk’s grin, as the verve in her eyes glazed to stillness, was for the benefit of his soldiers–the truth in the girl’s words reaching his ears. What did she mean? Was there a relative they knew naught about?

Laney’s limp fingers fell to dangle at her sides. Scarlet bloomed, seeping into her dress. The silver-coloured bird, a red blemish now upon it’s wing, squirmed free. With a frenzied flapping of desperate strokes, it sent a scatter of feathers to land softly upon the bloody ground.

Tyrk released his grip on Laney and his sword and leapt for the bird, his hands catching the air beneath its swiftly rising form.

The bird flew–Laney’s awareness gazing out of its eyes, to look upon her home and the lifeless body of the young princess slumped in the courtyard. Deep sadness welled within her, the lack of avian tears a confirmation that she no longer resided in human form. The castle’s towers and turrets receded as she soared west, to a new land. She cawed a final goodbye to her family.

Tyrk watched his men drag the girl’s body away, while wind, newly-risen from the south, gusted into the yard, sending goosebumps slithering along his arms. Ignoring the chill that settled in his belly, he cast superstition aside. Omens are for the weak, he thought, before shivering. Striding into the cold embrace of his ill-gotten keep, he hadn’t noticed his son watching, dark eyes peering from a second floor window. The teenager, tears grazing his face, whispered a promise, so quiet it was barely the caress of breath over his lips. In that moment, in the smothering iron-laden seconds between one fate and the next, a traitor, and hope, was born.

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Short Story—A Chill in the Chimes

Here is a suspense/horror story I wrote about a year ago. I have it for sale on Amazon and Smashwords for 99 cents, but I thought ‘what the hell?’ why don’t I just share it, cause if you like it, you might go and buy Dark Spaces, my book of short, suspenseful stories. Please read and enjoy!

A Chill in the Chimes large copy

The cottage at 124 Cook Street huddled in darkness. Bony twigs intermittently tapped on the window. Yellowed curtains trembled, as cold gusts poked teasing fingers through the cracked panes. Nature’s epilepsy shook the Smith’s wind chime, sending otherworldly notes ringing into the storm.

Serrated light slashed and blinded, and deep, sonorous thunder vibrated the home to its foundations. A bone-breaking crack tore a muscled appendage from the scribbly gum. The timbered weight fell; a guillotine slicing, sending shards of red tiles stabbing into the rain. Water bled into the wound. The chimes lay strangled on the front porch while 124 Cook Street waited in waterlogged silence for morning.

***

Andrew stood amongst the carnage of last night: shredded leaves, broken branches, strips of bark from trees skinned alive. He stared at the wounded weatherboard cottage. 124 Cook Street needed help. He resisted the urge to rub his hands together as he trod up the two steps to the front door. A wind chime lay tangled on the porch, its silver fingers mangled and arthritic. Andrew prodded it with a booted toe and knocked on the door.

When no one answered, he rapped again. Still nothing. He looked over his shoulder. An SES car inched past, surveying the damage. No one else was about. He turned the handle and gently pushed. The door creaked open, and he extended his head into the gap. ‘Hello?’ His voice croaked. He cleared his throat, ‘Hello? Is anyone home?’

An elderly lady shuffled through a door at the end of the hallway. She smiled the too-perfect smile of dentures. Deep lines ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw, and Andrew was reminded of an animated, yet lifeless, ventriloquist’s dummy.

‘Can I help you?’  She reached the front door and her wrinkled lips settled closed.

‘I’m with the Emergency Services. The branch that fell through your roof has done heaps of damage. You must be flooded. I need to come in and take a look, make sure it’s safe.’ He slid his hand into his pocket and ran a thumb along the hilt of his knife, feeling the smooth bumps, which suggested the torso of a mermaid.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Phillip Baker.’ He extended the mermaid-fondling hand, and she shook it.

‘Pleased to meet you Mr Baker, I’m Gladys Smith. Please come in.’

Andrew understood why her hand was so cold when he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. Green floral wallpaper peeling at the cornices, and spotted with stains of rising damp, complimented the shag-pile carpet, which reminded him of dead grass in its brownness. As mould spores tickled his nose, he was six years old again, crying and waving goodbye to his mother from his grandparents’ hallway. She never returned.

As he followed Gladys he wondered if he’d picked the wrong house. What could they possibly have to steal? He hoped to find some of the old woman’s jewellery, or maybe the clichéd stash of cash under the mattress. Stupid old people.

Both his hands sought the warmth of his pockets as they reached the lounge room.  The ceiling shed flakes of dandruff over everything. A brown velour sofa sat facing an old walrus of a television; the type that you’d have to pay to have removed. He scanned the contents of a dusty wall-unit and saw the crap it had taken Gladys a lifetime to accumulate. Not much to show for her existence: lace doilies, two ceramic figurines—pink ladies with parasols—and a row of faded floral plates on stands. He turned to speak to the old woman, but the room was empty.

He hadn’t seen or heard her leave. Was he so caught up in looking at nonsensical knick-knacks that he’d forgotten what he was doing? The quicker he got this over with, the better. Looking forward to the bottle of Jack Daniels and few hours of oblivion he’d buy with part of the proceeds, he turned back to the hallway, thinking Gladys’s bedroom would be one of the front rooms.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

Andrew stopped and brought a hand up to his chest, goose bumps peppering his arms. When he turned back, Gladys stood right behind him. What the hell? ‘Um, ok. That would be great thanks. I was just looking for the damaged ceiling. I need to see it so I can let you know what it will take to fix.’ If she didn’t leave him alone he’d have to let the knife do the persuading: it wouldn’t be the first time he’d used it.

‘That can wait young man. I’d rather you didn’t go in there right now. My husband’s asleep.’ Her dark eyes picked at something within him, something he refused to acknowledge as fear. ‘Now sit down. How do you take your tea?’

‘Look, it won’t take long, and I’ve got other houses to look at.’

She stared at him, eyes narrowing.

‘White and one please.’

She nodded, and her mouth curled up ever so slightly.

His need itched, but he ignored it and lowered himself onto the dusty lounge. How could anyone sleep in a saturated bed? A clammy miasma enveloped him, and the room darkened. He remembered his grandparents’ wrath, and waiting for his mother; always waiting. Still waiting.

The sharp smell of freshly turned earth was so strong he could taste the grit. He looked down and imagined he could see thousands of dirt-encrusted worms writhing within the graveyard of ancient carpet.  Fuck her and her tea. He jumped up and strode to the hall, pulling the knife out of his pocket as he went.

Two closed doors waited for him to choose. The tree had fallen on the room to his left. He reached for the handle and added Xanax to his to-buy list. He looked over his shoulder. Gladys wasn’t there. He breathed out and turned the knob, muscles tensed, waiting for the squeak of the door as he inched it open. A stronger smell of earth, mildew and something else, crawled out of the darkness—he gagged. Covering his mouth with a sleeve, he paused and thought of giving up for real this time, walking out, maybe finding another house; but the thought of being so close, and the voice that called him a pathetic coward, goaded him to continue.

He ducked in and closed the door. His fingers felt for the light-switch. Click. Nothing. He pulled the knife out of his pocket and strained to see. A large shadow hulked in front of him. His heart raced, and he stepped forward, the carpet squelching under his boots. He could just make out the outline of a bed seeping out of the gloom, and the bigger shadow was most likely the ceiling collapsed on top of it, still attached by a plastered crease to the beams above.

With the door closed, the smell he couldn’t define fleshed out and became something he recognised: the syrupy tang of decay. He coughed through his sleeve, and his eyes watered. Stealing from the bottle-o would be easier than this. He found his excuse and hurried to the door, waving the knife in front of him, trying to swipe away the dread that pushed through his pores.

As he reached for the handle, the door opened in a rush, the putrefied air sucked into the void. Gladys. Her wrinkled hand, with its paper-thin, liver-spotted skin, grasped a carving knife. She smiled her wooden smile. ‘I told you not to go in there. You came to steal, didn’t you? You picked the wrong house, sonny boy.’ She cackled and thrust herself forward. Andrew dropped his knife and grabbed at her arms, his fingers sinking into wrinkled folds of flesh.

The strength of the old woman surprised Andrew, and he screamed when the knife pierced his skin. Gladys’s gurgling laugh accompanied the blood seeping out of Andrew’s stomach. He sank to the floor, gasping his demise, while his clothes soaked up stagnant moisture.

The old woman stood over him. She reached down, pulled the knife out and lifted her arm to strike again. Footsteps sounded on the porch, and Andrew screamed. The front door burst in. The knife came down.

***

Andrew woke as they finished strapping him to the gurney. He listened, eyes closed, to the voices around him.

‘Crazy shit indeed. Some SES workers heard him screaming.’

‘Lucky. How long do you reckon that old couple ‘ave been dead?’

‘Looks like at least a month. The guy we got here stabbed himself. God knows why. We found I.D. and confirmed his grandparents used to live here, before that other old couple, Gladys and Bob. He was a ward of the state for a while. Stuffed in the head I reckon.’

‘Ha, you can say that again. Anyway, better get him out of here before he bleeds to death.’

The ambulance drove down Cook Street, past injured houses, ruined gardens, ravished trees. The damage would be cleaned up, patched, made new again. What couldn’t be fixed would be taken away, dumped, and forgotten.

At 124, a policeman noticed the silver reflection of sunlight hitting the wounded wind chime. He picked it up and smiled. It would look great all polished up and hanging from his front porch. His wife would love it. As he dangled it from one hand, he brushed the chimes with his other; discordant notes sounded a lament.

A chill licked the back of Andrew’s neck. The wailing of the siren drowned out his screams.

 

 

 

 

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Autobiographical Flash Fiction—How I Remember it

One of my weekly postings for university was a short autobiographical piece. I think it’s cute, so thought I’d share it. After writing this piece we were asked to consider if we were the same person writing the story as living it and what affects the re-telling of a life, or part of a life. Anyway, I won’t drone on and on. I hope you enjoy finding out a little bit of when I was little :).

How I Remember it

I don’t know what I was thinking: I was only three. My parents say now that I just wanted to show the other kids. Looking back, I suppose they’re right. The day I remember as being sunny, the horse brown, and the rubber tree in our front suburban garden, big and shady. My memories don’t come from my experiences of that day: they come from a photograph.

The snippet I think I remember is standing in a paddock of green—a neighbourhood park without the usual condiments of swings and slippery-dips. Holding the rope, and by association, the racehorse, I felt excited to have the other kids crowding around to see and pat the animal. His name was Bully, his racing name Zatopek. I, of course, always called him Bully.

Out of all the horses my father owned, he was my favourite and was visiting from ‘The Farm’. This story lives on in my memory because I’ve heard it recounted by my parents, although I do retain flashbacks from the day. I’m proud of my three-year-old self, who, with constant enthusiasm, was always creating predicaments to scare my parents half to death. Untying a racehorse, crossing two streets and putting the potentially dangerous animal within kicking distance of other, innocent children was not reckless or naughty: it was fun. At least that’s how I remember it.

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Scriptwriting—I Have a Looooong Way to Go

Well hello! I have been so busy with editing work and trying to finish my book that I’ve neglected my blog. I was doing a uni posting today for screenwriting and thought I’d kill two birds so to speak and post it here too. Our exercise was to write a short script about our local supermarket. I don’t think I’ve done great as a script-writing exercise because the set-out still confuses me (don’t laugh). I still thought it was a nice piece and I hope you do too.

 

Saturday afternoon. The sun, inching to the west over the large concrete building with the “Woolworths” sign stuck to its facade, gives off stifling summer heat. An old, stooped man, wearing brown trousers and white shirt, limps through the automatic glass doors, his cane tapping a slow rhythm with each arthritic step. The blast of air-conditioning cools the sweat on his face. A teenage boy, wearing board-shorts and no shirt or shoes, rushes past, crinkling up his nose at the old-man smell. The old man frowns, shakes his head. He reaches for a trolley.

Meandering to the dairy section, he is overtaken by brightly clad mothers and their half-dressed children, grabbing last-minute groceries on their way home from a day at the beach. Reaching the fridge with the milk, he grabs the silver handle, awkwardly pulling the door open. His hand trembles as he reaches for the 1 litre, full-fat milk; the one with the blue symbol on the front. Two shoppers have queued behind him. He glances around and tries to hurry. The carton slips from his fingers and explodes on the ground. He drops his head and his sad face hints at the frustration that has become an everyday part of his life. A young woman with a brown ponytail, one of those who are waiting, edges past him and grabs another carton of milk. She smiles at him and places it in his trolley. She pats his arm before picking up the milk she wants and walking away.

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