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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Flash Fiction – The Leaf

So, folks, here’s another piece of me. That’s how I feel lately, writing. Teeny, tiny pieces of me jumbled together on the page, or screen as the case may be, little black marks that signify stuff from my brain (in case you’re wondering, I don’t think that’s the technical explanation for what writing is, but anyway…).

The Leaf

She is empty. Her hand lays open on her lap and her eyes follow the creases and lines embedded therein: paths to nowhere. No, wait, they do lead somewhere. Closing her eyes, she follows the lines down to where it’s so dark she can’t see, but she can feel; the emptiness. She calls out and her voice echoes, like she is in an empty metal drum. Her own laughter taunts her: there is no one else to comment. It is lonely here. Does she long for the feel of his skin? Yes. Does she need their approval? Yes. Knowing them, him, anyone and everyone, she settles to the floor—blacker than black—like a leaf, a skeleton of a leaf, to wait. There is no breeze in this place and her threadbare form will never be borne up again. She hasn’t the strength to do it herself. Again, she will wait, until the waiting is over.

 

If you like this piece, it is highly likely you’ll enjoy my book of short stories, Dark Spaces. Visit Amazon or Smashwords and grab the e-book, it’s only $2.99. What a bargain ;).

Flash Fiction – A Million Little Pieces

This flash fiction was inspired by 30 Seconds to Mars’ song Search and Destroy (A Million Little Pieces). I entered it in a flash fiction comp but alas, it didn’t catch the judges’ eye. Not to worry, that’s why I have a blog. Maybe one of you peeps will like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

A Million Little Pieces

She stood on the creaking deck of an ancient ferry. A million little pieces. Her hands tightened about the railing. Debris from black clouds, invisible in the night sky, stung her face. Which were tears and which were rain; she no longer knew. Closing her eyes, she tilted her face to the infinite space above. A million little pieces.

She imagined she felt his hands about her waist, grounding her as gusting tentacles attempted to carry her off. Where she once felt his warmth, an aching imprint of lost passion burned through her pores. She willed the rain to scour her skin, rip the veneer of lust away. Her emotions possessed a deep rich bouquet, each drop extracted, consumed, and refilled on his whim. What was left fermented in a glass vial where no one could see.

He didn’t want what little was left. He had gripped the neck of the vial, had smashed it with a confident yet negligent thrust of his arm. Her vessel had shattered into a million little pieces, and her essence trickled into the cracks between the timbers, washing from railing to railing with the roll of the sea. She wished to be free but knew she was weak. But so was he.

“Faith.”

“Let me go.” Even as she spoke she sank into his arms.

He smiled and shook his head.

As he possessed her once again, each shard stabbed a little deeper, and she wept for the love that was anchored in his intense, dark waters. She escaped the only way she knew how: into the depths of him.

Undertow – Flash Fiction

She clutched his jacket. Fingers curled possessively around the fabric, pulling then pushing into his chest. Her earthquake shook him, but he was unmoved. The sympathy in his eyes only teased the ravenous anger until it consumed all rationality.

“You can’t leave me. I love you. Please tell me you love me?” As she tried to breathe, he was reminded of the final breath of the dog he had unintentionally run over. “This can’t be happening. Sam. Please, please, don’t leave me.”

Waterlogged eyes reached out to him. If he didn’t save her she would drown. The slightest shake of his head was all it took to condemn her to death. He was no hero, just a guy who wasn’t in love anymore.

“Beth, I’m sorry.” He grabbed her wrists. Unlatched them from his jacket. His head hung low as he walked out the door.

“I can’t live without you,” she whispered. As salty tears leached into her mouth, she made her way to the kitchen. “I love you, Sam.” Her raspy words were in harmony with the sound of the knife sliding from its block. The grey steel of the blade was cold, hard and comforting. It was time to stop crying. She would be the hero.

Beth departed in Sam’s wake. She would save them both.

Drifting – flash fiction

This piece is one of the weekly exercises for uni.  I like posting them here because I kill 2 birds with one stone, so to speak – and yes I know that’s a cliche but I can use one if I want.

He sits in the doorway, huddled in a dirty blanket.  It is 5 am, but he is awake; the cold that makes smoke of his breath has no respect for his circumstances.  He lifts shaking hands to his mouth – one holds the cigarette, the other flicks the lighter.  He inhales, then coughs until a hard ball of brown mucous flies out from his mouth.  Staring at the black pavement he wonders how he got here.  He lived with his mother until she died two years ago.  Their housing commission flat was given to someone else, and what little money he had, ran out after a month in an inner-city, boarding house.  He lifted the bottle to his lips, cheap wine that he could no longer taste.  A tear drop of red touched his tongue. He shook his head and spoke to no one, “Fucking government.  I can’t even have me wine.”  He let the bottle fall to the ground, the paper bag he bought it in, muffling the sound.  He took another drag on his cigarette, coughed, spat, repeat.  His days were like that.  He stood, gathered his blanket and patted his pocket to check for his smokes.  Shoulders drooping forward as he walked, he drifted through time until the bottle-o opened, and he wondered why.

The Heart of An Angel – short story

Helen arrived at work happy: she liked to be among bedpans, stethoscopes, and a full ward of patients – the groaning of the sick and injured buoyed her steps. She updated herself by reading patient charts, but it wasn’t until the fourth one that she found her first victim—one of many during her shift.

The patient, Brian Smith, muddy from his afternoon playing rugby, had come in with torn ligaments. While he waited for surgery, his next round of painkillers was due. Helen noticed he was allergic to codeine. Easy peasy. A serene smile played on her chubby face as she went to get him the wrong medication.

Helen didn’t know why, but she enjoyed watching others suffer, more so if she had caused the suffering. It may have been her childhood, although she didn’t want to give her parents all the credit—being beaten and starved could only cause so much damage, and she had survived, hadn’t she? She had known torturing Fluffy, their first kitten, was wrong and managed to hide the damage until one day the kitten disappeared. Maybe being sadistic was genetic, like hair and eye colour. Now her patients were her pets.

Helen handed Brian some pills. “I’ll be back to check on you later.” She patted his damaged leg through the sheets.

He grimaced. “Fuck,” he muttered through clenched teeth.

“I’m so sorry, Brian, how stupid of me.” She bit her tongue to keep the grin from her face. There were no other opportunities to amuse her for now so she retreated to her desk until the frantic buzz from bed 15.

She ran, in feigned concern, to Brian’s bedside. His face was the faded green of pea soup, lips pursed, cheeks puffed out. She deftly grabbed a vomit bag from the bedside table, positioning it under his chin. When he finished he thought how nice she was to hold the bag for him.

Helen didn’t record any of his three vomiting episodes. She explained to him that a couple of the other patients had reacted badly to their chicken dinners too. He was grateful when she promised to make sure he only got sandwiches from now on. She hummed as she left the room.

In her ten years of nursing, she had never been caught. She had been at St Margaret’s for three years and her colleagues hadn’t noticed her patients had more reactions to drugs or slower recovery times than others. If she sensed suspicion she moved to another city, simple. She was careful not to kill anyone, although there was that unfortunate incident of Francene, an old lady, who had died shortly after returning home. Helen had been lucky that no one checked the medication Francene had been sent home with. She had only meant to give the woman stomach cramps, not internal bleeding—oh well.

Helen was bored and there was still an hour of night shift left; making someone vomit only went so far in making her happy. She sat quietly, filling in paperwork, inhaling deeply now and then, filling herself with the scents she so loved—the bleach and disinfectant.

“Nurse Bender.”

Helen looked up and saw Doctor Brent, a young doctor who still thought he could make a difference; she snorted to herself. “Yes, Doctor Brent.”

“Just wanted to let you know we’re moving the patient in bed 12 to another ward. We have a young woman who’s been transferred from Mater West. She’s traumatised and I’d like you to take extra care with her.”

“Yes Doctor. What’s she in for?”

“Unusual case. She was kidnapped and tortured but managed to escape. She has small burns and knife cuts, a few contusions. We also need to do an examination, in case she was raped. Nothing life-threatening, but we may have to sedate her. The police will probably want to speak to her so don’t medicate her too much.”

“Certainly Doctor.” A small gift before she went home. Hmm, maybe she would get another fix tonight after all. She chewed on her pen while she imagined what delights awaited her.

It was a few minutes before Helen met her next pet. Elizabeth was sitting, too nervous to lie down, her long hair knotted and matted with blood on one side; the other hacked off to her scalp. Helen thought it looked like a before and after picture, although quite unlike those cheesy makeover shows: left side—before; psychopath, right side—after. Helen read her chart then held it to her chest as she spoke, “Hello Elizabeth, my name’s Helen. I’ll be your nurse for the next little while. Do you mind if I call you Lizzie?” She loved to earn her pet’s trust—it made the agony she inflicted that much sweeter.

“Um, no, that’s what my friends call me.” Elizabeth started to cry, wonderinghow could she have been so stupid as to leave her car unlocked when she went to the shop.

“It’s okay Lizzie, we’ll look after you. I’m going to take your blood pressure and pulse. Just relax.” Helen made sure to pump up the cuff around her arm too tight, not stopping until Lizzie winced. She let the pressure out slowly and recorded the numbers on her chart. “Good, it all looks fine. I’ll get you something to take the edge off, ok?”

Elizabeth nodded, feeling helpless all over again. She just wanted to forget the last twenty-four hours, go home, maybe buy a gun on the way, just to be safe.

Helen returned with a small pill, just enough to relax the girl, not enough to put her to sleep; she wanted her to talk. Helen wanted to know what had happened, how Elizabeth had been hurt. It would be entertaining and would make the girl relive her devastating ordeal—perfect. Helen pulled the curtains around the bed and left Elizabeth more alone and vulnerable than before, returning when she knew the drug would be thrumming through her veins.

Helen let the curtain fall behind her when she came back—she wanted privacy. The pill had stroked her pet’s jitters away and Elizabeth was slumped in an almost-seated position, decimated hair highlighted against the soft pillow. Helen took one arm and started dressing the small burns. “This may hurt a little but we have to make sure you don’t get an infection.” Helen touched the red sore with a gloved finger and felt a warmth flood her when the girl moaned, trying to pull her arm away. “Sorry. Did he do this with a cigarette?”

Elizabeth nodded, teeth grimly clenched, when is he going to stop hurting me.

“What else did he do?” Helen kept watching Elizabeth’s arm, knowing the girl’s scars would be an eternal reminder. She briefly fantasised about inflicting them herself. Helen could almost hear the sizzle and smell the burning flesh.

“I don’t want to talk about it. Where are my parents? Why aren’t they here yet?”

“Oh, Lizzie, it’s alright. They’ll be here soon. We won’t be too much longer, I promise.” This time Helen placed a hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder and the girl cried out. Helen pulled down the hospital gown to reveal a puffy, green bruise in the shape of a large handprint, and she wished she had been there to watch, maybe even participate. She wanted to meet the person responsible—the things they could discuss over coffee.

Helen replaced the gown, her forbidden thoughts thrilling. She knew what the hospital would do if they ever found out, but they wouldn’t. It was like having an affair, an affair with degradation and human suffering. Helen was applying the fourth dressing, “It’s ok angel, almost finished.”

Elizabeth snatched her arm away, her eyes wide, pupils dilated.

Helen wondered what she had said to get such a satisfactory reaction. “What is it?”

“He called me angel. I remember, oh God I remember. He said it over and over, ‘I can’t believe I’ve found an angel. You’re my angel’. He told me he would cut my heart out.” Elizabeth had pulled her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth in time to her memory.

Helen tilted her head to one side, looking into Elizabeth’s eyes. “I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but did he rape you? We’re going to have to do a rape kit to make sure.”

Elizabeth nodded, then shook her head, not wanting to think. She felt dizzy and shut her eyes.

“Ok, I’m going to have to get you to lie down. I’ll be back in a minute. You should be safe enough.”

Elizabeth opened her eyes, “Please, please don’t go. What if he comes here and finds me? Please?”

“Don’t worry angel, we have fairly good security, most of the time.” Helen smiled. “Is there anything else you want to tell me about what happened?”

The girl shook her head again and buried her face in her knees.

This was good, but not great. Helen despaired of getting anything else out of the patient, before dark boots appeared under the curtain. She recognised the boots. She ignored the thought that she may get caught—how could they know? She hadn’t done anything to this girl, yet—then she remembered the police needed to interview her patient.

“Excuse me, it’s the police, can we speak to Elizabeth please?”

Helen wasn’t stupid. She opened the curtains, leaving them to it. Her shift was over.

As Helen neared home, she couldn’t ignore the red gas-warning light in her Chevrolet Metro any longer, and pulled into the next gas station. She was replaying the night over, as she usually did, happily relishing the thought of what tortures Elizabeth may have endured. Maybe she should try kidnapping someone too, but then again there would be a likelihood of getting caught. She knew she wasn’t as bad as the guy that took Elizabeth. She didn’t want to kill anyone, not yet anyway. Gee, petrol was expensive. She may have to take extra shifts to keep up with everything; life wasn’t cheap.

Helen drove away, munching on a chocolate bar—the night’s activity had made her hungry. She laughed as she thought about the rugby player she made throw up.

“What’s so funny?”

The hairs on her arm stood up. She swerved, although managed to stay in her lane. A voice spoke to her from the back of the car, “Just stay calm and keep driving.”

She felt the coldness of a knife on her throat and wondered that she hadn’t smelt the cigarette smoke before. She stopped laughing, feeling scared—something she wasn’t familiar with.  “Who are you? What do you want? If it’s money I’ll give you what I have, just let me pull over. You can even have the car. Please?” Her pleas made her feel disgusted. She felt like one of her pathetic victims. She suddenly wanted to pee.

He pressed harder with the knife; she stayed quiet. Helen recalled Elizabeth’s words when he next spoke, but this time it wasn’t amusement she felt.

His voice was raspy, joyful, “It’s not your money I want. I’m looking for an angel. It seems I’ve found another angel. You’ll be my angel won’t you?”

A Creepy Interlude

Husband and I were in the car, me driving.  I had just helped him move his dinghy and been pushed into a bush; no biggie, right?  We were on our way to a friend’s place via a busy road with no lanes in which to pullover.  I felt something delicately feather my ear so I went to move my hair, which I remembered was in a bun and was not touching my ear.  OMG!  The ‘hair’ that I’d tried to brush away ran on eight furry feet, all the way across my forehead!  Shit, shit!  I flicked at my head to remove the massive huntsman, all whilst trying not to swerve out of my lane or crash into a telegraph pole.  One of my flicks brought success and he flew into the passenger side near my husband’s legs, which were now kicking in a mad frenzy.

Both of us freaked out until we arrived at our destination, my husband, all the while, watching the floor of the car, where the spider had disappeared.  We didn’t find spidey again, well not that day anyway.

Night time.  Driving home by myself.  What do I see, but the same forehead-stomping spider from the week before, sitting in the middle of my windscreen, inside the car.  Ok, calm, poise, revenge.  I spotted a tissue box on the passenger seat.  I deftly picked it up, and without changing speed or going out of my lane, squashed my hairy nemesis with a box full of silky soft tissues.  I have learnt that I am calm in an emergency and skilled with a tissue box.  To all you arachnid admirers, I will non-regretfully acknowledge that yes, a spider was harmed during the making of this story.

Short story – Amy

The cellar is dark, the door is locked and the naked girl sits shivering, slender, goose-bumpy arms embracing her knees.  Mundane thoughts push through the fear that he will return and do what?  How did I get here?  How long have I been here she wonders; time has lost its relevance in the musty dankness of a crazed man’s lair.  What is my name?  My name is Amy Franklin she reminds herself in defiance, the words silently evaporating before passing her lips; she doesn’t know if he is listening.

Amy reluctantly opens her eyes.  As if in a nightmare she strains to see nothing in the impenetrable blackness; pinpricks of fear assault her and she shuts them again, retreating to the almost place of temporary denial, an imagined space of counterfeit calm.  With eyes closed her ears are struggling to see and she uses stiff, cold fingers to move her long hair, the only source of warmth, behind her ears.  She hears nothing, not even muffled sounds of something; more indeterminate time passes.  The tension of waiting beats at her, cramping pressure building until she is shaking, now so tired she must let go and gingerly relaxes her bruised forehead onto her knees, listening, waiting.

Amy retreats from the stale air of her imprisonment to the fresh air and sunshine of two weeks before.  Returning home from school she sees her stepfather’s shiny, black ‘60s Cadillac in the driveway; an ugly monster of a car that, even at 17, she wasn’t allowed to drive.  Although tempted to wait until he left, she bravely steps into the volatile atmosphere of marriage breakdowns and hate and wonders if she can make it to her room without being noticed.  The universe has ignored her wishes, yet again, and her eyes hug the floor as she walks in-between the two combatants, enduring the burdensome weight of their stares as they watch her pass; his loving and apologetic eyes only inflaming her mother’s accusatory scowl.  It’s not my fault she screams futilely inside her own head as she slams the bedroom door.

            Scratch, scratch, scratch:  Amy spasms to consciousness and opens unhelpful eyes, turning her head from side to side, desperate to see.  Earthy fumes plug her nostrils and she knows it is not the door, not this time.  An unmistakable but feathery touch creepily caresses her ankle and Amy quickly stands, dizziness propelling her off balance so she lands heavily, grazing hands and knees, scaring the rodent away.  There is no illumination from sudden burning tears; she grits her teeth and resolutely blinks them into oblivion.  Amy’s head throbs and she reluctantly assumes her previous position, dreading any interlopers, rats and humans alike.

She thinks humming her favourite tune will help, but still fears someone is listening, so the tune revolves quietly, weaving around the stabbing skewers inside her head and caressing her terror to sleep.  She is comforted enough to disappear into a few days ago when she lay on her faded pink bedspread, an innocent memento of happier times before her cliché of a father left her mother for a younger woman.  He was weak and in avoiding her mother, avoided his heartbroken children, the fully comprehending, forgotten bystanders, helplessly riveted, watching the bloody destruction of a marriage and family; both witnesses and victims.

Sharon, Amy’s prematurely wrinkled, pack-a-day mother, stormed into her room in a haze of noxious smoke and venomous intent.  Amy, purposefully antagonistic, ignored the dramatic entry and continued to listen to her iPod, eyes shut and foot tapping the beat on the timber baseboard of her childhood bed.  It wasn’t until Sharon ripped the earphones away with a violent sweep of her hand that Amy’s blue eyes opened, forced to acknowledge her situation.

Amy rocks back and forth in the darkness, suspended between two nightmarish lives.  She steps from one existence to the other, time no longer a barrier between the past and present, her emotions becoming warped then compressed between a tragic duality she did not deserve.  The comfort of a remembered pink bedspread beckons her.  With no will to refuse she is again staring into her mother’s paranoid eyes.

“I can forgive him, but you…”, Sharon’s hands clench into hardened, yellow-stained balls, it is her eyes that deliver stabbing blame as she positions her face inches from her daughter’s; Amy can smell the smoke on her breath.  “All those times I left you alone, you little slut.  He is my husband, mine!”  Amy looked up at the mother who had tucked her in every night when she was a child, the mother who had kissed her tears away so many times, but now the love was gone, consumed by bitterness and washed down with alcohol.  Amy wondered if her earphones still worked as she watched Sharon depart to her clinking stash under the kitchen sink.

Her mother recedes into a painful echo as the girl in the dark lifts her still aching head to see that nothing has changed.  Amy wondered how long she had been down here and if anyone missed her; would they look even if they had?  Reality was becoming a concept that applied to others, not her.  She could imagine she was a disembodied spirit, absorbed and filled by the blackness, floating in peaceful indifference, liberated from the earthly emotions which crushed her.  If she defined herself by the love of her parents she would be nothing.  This realisation self-pityingly makes her cry.

Geoff has managed to talk Sharon into letting him move back in.  He has hated being away from his step-daughter and wife.  Things aren’t quite back to normal, the girls still aren’t talking.  When Amy’s not at school she is locked in her room, in self-imposed exile, listening to that noise she calls music.  Geoff is a perfectionist, his car a shining example, but his family is not so shiny, tarnished by jealousy and addiction.  This situation is not to Geoff’s liking and he vows to fix the problem tonight, but first he’ll down a cold ale, relax and think the problem through.  He is a perfectionist, things will be perfect.

Sharon has let Geoff come back.  She loves him and can forgive him anything.  She hasn’t had a drink for days and while her depression hovers around, teasingly prodding her happy thoughts, she will not let it destroy another relationship, not again.  She feels guilty for fighting with Amy I do love her, she is my little girl, however the goodwill does not extend to an apology, not yet.  Amy looks like her father, tall and olive skinned, it is hard to look at her and not think of him.  Her mind slides backwards through time and adrenalin floods her body as she remembers his betrayal, her freefall into self-loathing for still loving him and stomach churning devastation that he loved another woman.  She is spiralling again as her legs transport her to the kitchen sink and her not-so-secret stash.  Sharon quietly lifts a bottle to her lips, simultaneously hearing the sound of aluminium crinkling and the hiss as Geoff opens another can of beer.  As the intoxicating liquid floods her throat she briefly acknowledges tonight might not be such a good night after all.

Distant sirens pulse through basement walls, the faint whining an unwelcome alarm clock waking Amy from an anaesthetising slumber.  The expectation of seeing morning light cheerfully patterning her bedspread is quickly abandoned as the monotonous gloom continues its vigil.  Amy hears her famished stomach objecting to its neglect and she is not sure what is worse – the hunger or thirst.  Sleep has cleared her headache and she wants to know who brought her here and undressed her, did they do anything else to her – she can’t remember.  With almost detached speculation Amy contemplates what would be worse, facing more torment from her captor or dying from thirst.  These alarming deliberations have awakened an impulse to survive and for the first time since being here she leaps on the idea of escape.

Exploring carefully on hands and knees she feels her way, palm by palm, to the nearest wall.  Cool fingertips skim the rough wall of bricks that are as naked as she.  Following the perimeter she reaches the end of the wall within a few metres, turns, follows again, quickly reaches the next corner and continues until she reaches a smooth, slight bump on the wall – a door frame.  Faintly trembling hands rise up the frame as she stands and feels for the handle.  Could it be as simple as opening the door and walking out, or will he be waiting up there (wherever there is)?  She reasons the door is probably locked and holds her breath, trying not to hope for an end to this torment.  Amy swallows one last time and between one racing heartbeat and the next, turns the knob.

It’s 10.30 pm and police sergeant Bob Court is sitting in a smoky lounge room facing the distraught mother and stepfather of a missing 17 year old girl.  He knows it’s likely she’s run away but they can’t accept it, not yet anyway.  Following routine, he orders his officers to search the room in which she was last seen.  He remains on a plastic covered lounge, surveying the parents.  The mother is a nervous chain smoker, who bites her fingernails between puffs; the step-father has a neat side-part separating both sides of his slickly combed, Brill-cream hair which suits his meticulously clean, white shirt.  He rises as the two constables return, one carries a baseball bat.  The officers give each other a look and Sergeant Bob Court addresses the mother, “Mind if we take this, it could be evidence.”

Sharon Franklin hugs herself and nods, starting to cry, “That’s her favourite bat, she’s good at sport.”  Geoff looks at her and wants to panic but freezes his face in a concerned expression.

“We’ll come back tomorrow, in daylight, and check outside her window.  It’s likely if she was abducted they took her out there.”  Sharon falls into her husband’s stiff arms and cries, he pats her back in a reluctantly soothing fashion, but his mind is already rushing through what he must do tomorrow.

Geoff hardly sleeps and is dressed at dawn, waiting.  The sun’s first beams call Geoff to action and he rushes to the front yard to check out what evidence might have been left behind.  He notices faint drag marks leading across the lawn.  He rushes inside and grabs the neighbour’s keys; Bruce and Carmen had gone on a five week caravan trip, entrusting the watering of beloved house plants to Geoff and Sharon.  As Geoff runs towards their house Sergeant Court arrives in an unmarked car.  He turns to his two constables, “You see the mother.  I’ll take care of Geoff.”  Before exiting the car he speaks into the police radio “This is car twenty eight, I need an ambulance to the Franklin address.”  As he jogs towards the neighbouring property he hopes they’re not too late.

Amy turns the handle, grimacing in anticipation as if touching a funnelweb spider.  The door doesn’t open.  She applies a knuckle whitening grip and tries again.  Upstairs Geoff hears the jiggling handle and is drawn to the noise.  He steps carefully down the stairs and reaches for the lock, sliding it across and out of its housing.  As he turns the handle Sergeant Court appears at the top of the stairs.  Both men look at each other, only Geoff shows fear.  Court orders, “Go on, open it.”  Geoff hesitates in surprise, surprise he hasn’t been arrested or shot, yet.  “For God’s sake, open the bloody door.”  Concern for the girl’s safety gruffly amplifies the Sergeant’s voice and Geoff, reminded of his task, shoves open the door.

Amy retreated to the far wall after hearing the lock being manipulated.  Should she bite, kick, scream, would any of it help?  Fear of what was about to happen relegated her nakedness to an afterthought.  Her prison yawned open, muted light lifting the darkness away.  Amy, squinting, cried when she saw her stepfather standing there.  She knew who had beaten her and thrown her like a piece of garbage in a forgotten hole, and it wasn’t him.  Geoff removed his shirt placing it gently over his daughter’s head.  Sergeant Court calmly watched them embrace, knowing the mother’s fingerprints were on the bat.  He reluctantly interrupted their reunion, “Amy, let’s get you to hospital.”

Amy’s eyes protest at the blinding sunshine but her skin devours the warmth.  Seeing Sharon, she stops, anger and sadness warring within.  A policeman guided Sharon, more than gently, towards the police car.  The older woman’s manacled hands twitched for absent cigarettes.  Mother and daughter’s eyes met, and as Geoff stood protectively behind Amy, Sharon could only grasp her own truth, not reality.  If Sharon could have seen into her husband’s mind she would realise the only love he ever had for Amy was the love of a father for a child.  Amy was devastated but she was alive, and what could be better than that?