Soon to be Published...

2011 will see a short story of mine called The Firewood Collector published in Carillon Magazine.  The story started out as a 150 word flash fiction piece used for a competition, but I decided to expand the story because I knew that there was more to say for the character of Reuben, the man in the striped clothes.  This happens often; a flash fiction piece or short story just simply demands your attention and more often than not you come up with something amazing.

The Firewood Collector

Green over umber; these colours filled Reuben’s vision, vibrant and deep, reminding him of childhood summers spent in the Rhine valley. Childhood aside, he’d lived and worked in Berlin most of his life, until the war began, and now everything had changed, his life and his world had changed immeasurably.

Sweet smelling moss and pine laced the mist around him as he followed the soldiers along the path. The sky had turned grey, as though sullied by an unwelcome fear.

Reuben collected firewood every day for the camp, had done so for five years. It was a hard task, finding enough to stoke the furnaces and power the machinery. He dragged along a large cart which he had to fill with wood. Sometimes he made two or three collections during the day, which left him exhausted at night, although not as exhausted as some of the younger men in the camp.

They moved further up the hill. Mist clung to the trees like a cloak and veiled the crows hiding along branches, but Reuben knew they were there, he could hear them. The air was still, damp and somehow heavy, and each crunch underfoot seemed to carry across the forest.

He looked out from the hillside, saw the camp below. Square shaped huts dotted his vision, the darkened roofs reflecting the rain which must have fallen in the night. A large funnel of grey smoke billowed from the chimney of a nearby building, the smoke stack rising high into the air. The stench from the smoke stack didn’t reach the hillside, and instead drifting across the forest to the east, drenching the surroundings with a chalky coloured powder, slightly sticky to the touch. Reuben was glad he couldn’t smell it. It knew what they burned to make it so nauseous.

He looked to his right, saw the railway track leading up to the gates of the camp. The forest was silent today, but tomorrow there would be more people arriving, crammed into the wooden carriages. More men and women, more children.

The soldier in front stopped, lit a cigarette. The smoke coiled around his face, reluctant to leave. He exhaled slowly.

Reuben’s brow drooped. Lines in his once fresh face deepened. He pointed. ‘There’s no wood here. We have to go up to the clearing to get the best wood.’

The soldier smoked, shook his head. ‘No, here is fine.’

Reuben rubbed soiled hands down his striped clothes. ‘But...there’s no wood here...’

The soldier watched Reuben carefully with retentive blue eyes as he smoked.

Reuben’s grey eyes slowly turned dark. Afraid. He knew that look; he had seen it so many times. Behind him, he heard the other soldier moving about and it made him turn, the sensation of fear scuttling across his skin.

The other soldier stood near a muddy patch of ground, foot on a large boulder, his rifle slung around his shoulder. He stared at Reuben with dark, almost black cloudy eyes, as though they had lost sheen and no light could penetrate them.

Reuben shuddered, turned to the soldier in front. The clouds in the distance undulated and churned, it looked like more rain was coming.

‘There’s no need for you to collect firewood anymore, Reuben,’ the soldier said. The soldier lifted his rifle. ‘I’m afraid you’ve outgrown your use.’

Reuben shook his head. ‘But I don’t understand...’

‘I got my orders.’ The soldier coughed as though he had grit stuck at the back of his throat.

‘No...please!’ Reuben cried, his insides contracting with fear. ‘I’ve been a good worker, I’ve broken no rules.’

‘We know that,’ the other solider said from behind Reuben.

Reuben looked at him. ‘You need me. Who else is going to collect the firewood?’

‘The boys can do it,’ the soldier replied, indifferent.

The little boys, all without mothers, who picked around the camp, clearing up the detritus and the dead. There were always more of them coming in every other day.

‘But I know all the best places for wood,’ Reuben said.

‘The boys will find new places,’ the soldier said, pointing the gun at Reuben’s head.

Reuben stared at him, saw white knuckles on the trigger, poised. Wonderful memories shot through his mind; family dinners and parties, evenings around the piano, going to work alongside his father at the furniture factory on the outskirts of Berlin, getting married. Then the dark memories rose up and smothered him; losing his wife the day the soldiers came for them, losing his children. All three boys murdered on the sullied streets of Berlin. All these elements, all that he was, had gone.

He blinked.

The shot scattered crows skyward. Reuben fell, his shattered face buried in the moss, red over green.

‘Shame,’ the German soldier said, nonchalant. He flicked his cigarette. ‘I liked him. Still, he was a Jew nevertheless.’

More Winners...

Another little flash fiction won a competition recently.  My fellow writing friend Lily Childs holds a weekly 100 word flash fiction competition, which is an excellent way of fine tuning one's micro fiction skills. I won last week's competition with Fell, the Breath, a slight breakaway from the norm of dark stories and instead this one touches on the subject of love.

If you fancy a flash fiction challenge, you can find Lily's blog here:

Fell, the Breath

A mere touch, supple like the haze of Spring and yet so cherished with colour like pale pigmented blossom, I finally broke through her concrete defences to reach in and grab the block of cold quartz where her heart should have been.

I opened the bedroom door; hand gestures and soft smiles unwrapped the delicate ribbons of trust. I watched her defences melt.

First contact of hands to silken skin; the chain that had for so long kept me at a distance finally dissolved. A captivated breath fell from my lips; the rush of love.

I was her first girl.
I wrote a poem called Strength and Honour a few months back, which won the One Word Challenge over at Writer's Talkback.  I'm fascinated with history, so I used that as inspiration for the poem by combining history with myth to write about a hero of mine - a certain man called Spartacus.

Strength and Honour

Graphite shapes stencilled in your eyes,
Seemed to hold back an imaginary darkness,
The sting of your words eased,
But you still swiped me with a spiteful claw,
Our malice sullied the air,
As thick as our blood in the sand.
Juddering heartbeats drowned us,
Like a collective fear,
The stagnant mist of death,
Came, cloaked, and in silence,
We challenged each other,
Braced and twisted and fraught,
Clash of iron and wood and flesh,
Sinews stretched beyond their means,
Two ruddy reflections beneath the sun.
One memory at a time climbed in,
To suppress the beast within me,
A woman and child lost to time,
Whose bodies lay among the reeds
And now withered against the heat.
But the pain drives my sword,
To strip any flower of its petals,
And as sunlight glanced from my armour,
The maiden glare blighted you,
I cracked you open,
And victory sprang from my lips.
Challenged and defeated at my feet,
Venting your spleen and soiling the ground,
The crowd roared my name.
Spartacus! Spartacus! Spartacus!

Horror Stories

What makes a good horror story?  Well, lots of things.  Setting, tension, atmosphere, tone and a knack of drawing the reader into a false sense of security.  It also depends how much we want to chill our readers.  I write horror (such a wide genre) and dark tales, as well as contemporary thrillers, and I like to explore my dark side every now and then.

I wrote Lonely Hearts for Thrillers Killers and Chillers (published November) which is a dark tale of revenge and justice, albeit in a nasty way.  But then horror isn't meant to be nice, is it?

WARNING: Graphic content - may offend.

Lonely Hearts

She closed the diary, flicked the light off and left the house.

She had weathered an eight-year storm; lost on a cold, grey ocean of unlimited depth and for a long time, bilious undercurrents had swept her further from reality. Her life had been all but a slate coloured mist, except for the needle like pain of a moment in the past that periodically brought her to. This static encrusted memory kept her going because she knew she would find him again, however long it took.

She remembered his face; deep frown lines peppered with beads of sweat, the hint of whiskers poking through sun kissed skin. She remembered his scent; the mix of musky perspiration and beer and traces of Armani. She remembered the heady mix of desire and alcohol, the way he deftly lowered her defences when she least expected, as neatly as unzipping a dress.

The art of betrayal had ingrained in her memory, never to leave.

She remembered his stale breath against her face, his saliva like slime, left on her skin from a tongue hewn from granite, trailing like a snail from mouth to vagina. And his eyes, as distant as a blown star, never burned with depth or feeling. They were dark, indistinct and somewhere behind the burnished facade, a demon huddled, waiting.

She remembered his touch, rough like sand across her skin. He left marks across her flesh, deeper ones in her mind. He had sliced her with the penknife, leaving trails of blood soaking the bed sheets, eking out a name in broken flesh: slut. When he forced a path inside her and split her open, she haemorrhaged crimson clots, while hot streams oozed from nose and mouth.

He had snatched the thin thread of trust that she had forged during their date, ripped it from her in that moment of frenzy.

But she couldn’t fight him, couldn’t kick, nor would she dare or scream; she could barely raise a whisper. She had to listen to the screams in her head while the fear sat crushing her chest like churlish demon.

He worked in a hospital. A doctor. The drug he’d used was Benzodiazepine. It had clouded her motor functions, impeded thought and she unable to stop him and at first, she couldn’t feel the pain, but as the drug dissipated through her veins and began to wane, the fire in her groin became intense, like a container full of nails had exploded in her womb.

Long after he had spilled his seed and was gone, the pain in her abdomen remained for days, a grotesque reminder of her naivety.

She shook the memory from her mind and looked up at the face in the distance bathed in ochre from the street light. His was a familiar square face, suffused by the swirling darkness which protected him.

Clicking of heels over cobbles signalled primitive urges. Red lips, plump and waiting for a kiss, moved in perceived slow motion.

‘I’m Jen.’ A lie. ‘You must be Morgan.’

Morgan Smith looked at her from beneath lowered eyelids as though gauging her as he cast a probing shadow across her pale face.

As she moved to shake his hand, her shirt opened out to reveal her breast. ‘I have a lovely bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape waiting at home,' Jen whispered. ‘Shall we?’

His voice was soft, rounded. ‘You’re much smaller than your picture. I thought you would be taller.’

She looked up. Subtle flecks in her pale green eyes bristled beneath the dull light. ‘Everyone says that.’ Her attention dropped to his left hand as he moved. The gold wedding band glinted. Her eyes narrowed.

He saw her expression, slipped his hand in his pocket. ‘I’m separated.’

She smiled to ease his tenuous expression. ‘Don’t worry, I meant what I said in my advert. No strings, right?’

The advert in the lonely hearts column of the local newspaper, the no strings fun of two consenting adults.

His eyes darkened. ‘Right.’

She walked along the cobbles, her footsteps echoing through the alley. ‘My place isn’t far.’

He followed, soft even steps mingling with hers.

Ten minutes later, she opened the front door and stepped into the dark umbra clouding the hallway. She walked towards a door at the far end.

Morgan closed the door with his foot. Immediately a shadow rose from the floor, growled, startled him. He stiffened against the door.

She flicked the light on. ‘Oh, don’t mind Jason. He’s wary around strangers, that’s all.’ She slipped into the kitchen.

Morgan gazed at the sleek black Doberman. The dog stared back at him, very still, upright, ears to attention like sharpened spears.

Morgan slowly eased past the dog and entered the kitchen.

Jen had already popped the wine. She handed him a full glass, then grabbed hers, gazed up at him, her green eyes glowing with a strange, eerie candescence. She sipped the ruby coloured liquid, licked her lips.

He watched, fascinated, took a gulp from his own glass.

She reached up and touched his face, saw how his eyes became like polished steel. She sipped her drink. ‘Drink up.’

He grinned, knocked back the glass. She poured him another.

She was silent as she took his hand and led him upstairs. She pushed open the door to the bedroom, allowed the feminine scents to tantalise him, draw him in.

A cool pewter glow from a full moon framed her silhouette as she stood by the window. The darkness crowded them, pressed against their piqued skin. She undid the coat and slipped it off.

Morgan could see her naked shape against the moon glow pressing against the window. He set the wine glass down and quickly unbuckled his belt and unzipped his trousers. Buttons popped as he ripped off his shirt, threw it across the room.

She moved forward, her milky shadow grazed by the light. She settled on the bed. She reached up and pulled him down on the bed beside her; lay close enough to feel the warmth of his body.

His scent tickled her nose. Armani and raw musk. Her memory fizzled.

She felt his hand sweep up her leg and hip, then up across her back, but the sensation was cold, insipid. Hot breath clouded her face as he tried to find her lips, but she had her head turned towards the pale light, her eyes focused on the moon through the half-closed curtains. The cold man in the moon seemed fearful.

She let him paw her.

After a long while of play she moved so that she sat astride him, rubbed her hands down his chest and groin. She could just make out the slight smile on his face as he settled back against the pillows.

She gripped him, thumb rubbing his against glans. From the greyness, she heard him moan. It was a subtle sound, almost lost in the darkness.

She eased forward, reached under the mattress with her right hand, continued to rub him with her left. Her fingertips touched the blade beneath the mattress, found the handle.

He moaned again, throbbing against her palm.

She tucked the knife tight against her wrist and sat up again.

His engorged penis throbbed against her thigh.

She glared at him through the gloom. His face hadn’t changed. His eyes were still dark and barren like a lifeless moon, still the same cold expression. Still the same stench poured from his skin.

Her insides juddered as she remembered him. Everything about him.

She curled her fingers around his penis, thumb and forefinger squeezing gently. She tucked her feet beneath his thighs. She eased the knife from the protective veil of the darkness, lifted his member and without a sound she sliced it at the base, pushed deep into the flesh.

Morgan screamed as the pain shot into his system, although it sounded more like an intake of breath meeting a cough, and he gurgled on his own saliva. He tried to sit up, found that he couldn’t.

‘What the f--’

‘Flunitrazepam,’ she said, cold, sawing through him. ‘Rohyphnol to you and me. And you know all about that, don’t you, Morgan? Being a doctor.’

Tears spilled from his eyes and mixed with saliva. ‘Bitttchh...what the hell...’

Even through the maw, she could see his distorted face, his neck swollen with pain, veins throbbing and crawling beneath his skin. Thin threads bulged in his face, looked as though they would burst any moment.

Something warm splattered and dribbled down her stomach.

She tore the last remaining sinew from him and his member detached. A slimy film of blood covered her hands. ‘Look Morgan, bits of you. This is what hurt me. This is the weapon you used against me.’

He was breathing shallow, hard, the creeping numbness in his body making him cold. He stared at her through his pain. ‘You crazy bitch!’

‘Eight years ago. You answered my ad in the lonely hearts column of the newspaper. You lived in North London. Single white female seeks fun with single male, 25 - 40. But it wasn’t any fun for me you bastard. I thought it was the alcohol, but you drugged me. That what you did to all your blind dates, Morgan? Drugged them and raped them?’ She waved his severed penis at him. ‘Not anymore.’

‘I’ll kill you for this you crazy slut,’ he rasped, his senses beginning to fog.

‘Eight years. That’s how long it’s taken to trawl the lonely hearts columns of the newspapers, week in, week out.’ She got up off the bed, grabbed her coat and slipped into her heels before she opened the door. ‘You might want to get to a hospital, Morgan, before you bleed out. Think of your poor wife. Oh, one last name is Melanie, not Jen.’

It took all of his strength to fight the numbing sensation of the drug to clamp his hand over the gaping hole where his cock had been. Melanie Clark, early twenties, brunette hair, mesmerising green eyes. Tiny little thing. Now he remembered.

Melanie wandered downstairs. She deposited the bloody knife in the sink and washed her hands and then walked down the hallway.

She smiled at the dog. ‘Hungry, baby?’

The dog sat up, barked.

From upstairs she heard Morgan wail.

Long glistening strands of saliva dripped from the dog’s mouth, splattered against the tiled floor.

She threw the bloody piece of muscle to the dog. ‘Enjoy, baby. Eat it all up.’

The dog snatched it up, chewed it eagerly through the flesh and fat. The deep, satisfying sound of mastication filled the hallway and drifted up the stairs like a sinister trail of vapour.

Morgan could barely move. He heard the dog chomping, screamed again.

Melanie smiled to herself, watched as the dog licked up the remaining blood. She slipped her coat on, grabbed her keys and left the house.

Triple Flash

Three sets of short flash fiction (100 words), Uriel's Foolishment, Abner and Honey. It's quite a feat to fit in a plausible story into 100 words, but it can be done.

Uriel’s Foolishment

Cold breath coiled into the morning mist. Naked silverbirch trees stuttered against the breeze. A carpet of honey and wine coloured leaves softened his approach like a silent invitation.

He glanced up at the keep, saw the shadow at the window; the King’s bedchamber overlooked the woodland.

Uriel’s clammy-tinged fingers tightened around his sword. The King’s dead kestrel dangled from his leather belt, next to the sword sheath.

The troubled face in the window caught sight of the dead bird, then his falconer.

Uriel oozed from the protective clasp of the haze.

The King would be headless by nightfall.


The sound of time tickled the stagnant silence and wrested the fear from his frozen expression. A droplet glistened beneath the winter sun and dribbled down Abner’s unshaven face. It looked more like a tear than a globule of sweat.

The shadow standing over him blocked out the haze, yet cradled within his tormentor’s face he saw a churlish demon, burnished with unspeakable malevolence.

The German officer’s eyes were blackened pearls; gleamless, empty.

Betrayed by his cousin, Abner faced the officer’s gun. His knees grew cold. He waited for his mind to implode, to saddle him with instant death.



Dark, wide, peacock eyes blinked.

His smile burned through the dimly lit candescence cast by a row of candles along the fireplace. His shadow flickered as though momentarily shuddering.

The soft glow caressed her demure face. She was skinny, small breasted, but he didn’t mind.

A masterful flick of the wrist, a hint of lime, and the drink fizzed. An offering, to ease him into her trusting cloud. Her eyes appeared vague, already lost.

A dark rancour slowly crept across his skin as he closed the door to the bedroom. ‘Let this be our little secret...don’t tell the other children...’

Expressive Poetry

I wrote End of the Line for last month's Writer's Talkbalk entry for the One Word Challenge, and the terrible events of 7/7 inspired me.  The word we had to use was 'silence'.  I tried to imagine that silence in the aftermath.  What would it feel like?  Oppressive, fearful...a relief? 

Expression in poetry works the same as expression in prose, and free verse allows you to do this to great effect.  The title of the poem has a double meaning: end of the line, meaning death, and also the end of the line on a railway track.

End of the Line

Dirt and vapour and the taste of iron filings

Settled on his tongue.
The saintly glow of fire swelled
In his mind, and despite the diminished light
It brought him to with a jolt.
Somewhere in the peripheral
Papers fluttered like stricken birds
Tossed and ushered by a breeze
Reluctant to fall or cease.
A dark swirling cloud of dust
Danced in the gaping hole
Where the doors should have been
Spinning out the aftermath
Of innards, splinters and sparks.
But all David could hear was the
Gabble of his heart rubbing against
Cracked ribs; the demure trickle of life.
He touched his face; dried parchment skin
Stretched taut and wetted by blood and grit
Muscles cramped like singed hairs
Forced pain into every knotted fibre.
Death stalked like a shrouded figure
Yet he was mindful of the terrible sound
That swept in and stifled him.
The sound of silence.
Pinned, unable to move, he turned his head
Gazed at the curling corners of a map.
Colourful lines in lined patterns mesmerised
And the words, through the haze:
Welcome to the London Underground.


Transmit and Receive is a sort of ghost story, written after I wrote an article about one of the men who served aboard HMS Repulse in 1941, and who, sadly, perished with hundreds of others when the ship was bombed by the Japanese.  In essence, the story is based on true events, but explores the possibility that modern technology could tap into the past.  This story is dedicated to the man who gave his life almost 70 years ago, and inspired the story.

This short story is included in the anthology Something From The Attic (shown on the right), available from Pill Hill Press.

Transmit and Receive

The sun flickered behind a cloud, almost made it translucent, and a bright corona seeped across the cobalt sky. Thick, hazy sunbeams struck the water.

The silence grew heavy, listless, as the water parried and bristled against the side of the ship. Hundreds of faces glanced skyward, waiting and watching. The brightness made them squint and most raised their hands as a barrier against the glare.

Still nothing.

The heat had steadily been rising and shimmered in the distance like a fuzzy beer fuelled dream. Across the ocean, the remains of the British fleet burned beneath the pale, distended haze. Thirteen minutes earlier, the Japanese bombers had descended like angry hornets, dropping bombs in quick, ordered succession before making off into the azure sky. Thick, oily bands billowed up and soiled the vista. Three ships had spilled their innards; hundreds of men had been burned alive or had slowly drowned in the gallons of oil spilling across the surface of the ocean.

Able seaman Francis gripped his Vickers gun, felt a clammy film of sweat gild his fingertips. Unnerved, he wiped them on his shirt as though removing a terrible dark stain, readied himself. He looked up at the sky. Clouds drifted over, unhurried by the sense of foreboding and fear which clung to the surface of the ocean like an oil slick.

He’d never heard silence like it, a state not even broached by the hiss of the water, a sound they’d found so comforting over the last three months. Even from this distance, the scent of death parched his throat.

The bombers would come again. They all knew it. They came in waves; around thirteen minutes apart, attacking from a distant point across the Pacific ocean, then splitting into smaller attack groups before assailing them and bombarding them from all directions.

Francis was desperate for a cigarette, but daren’t leave his station, not now, not this close. He glanced round at the others standing at their ack-acks on the deck above, quite still, as though afraid to move. They too, watched the sky.

His ship was the only one left. No match for the countless bombers.

A churning sense of fear filtered across the deck; the smell of misery sullied the whole ship.

Francis wiped his brow, thought about his mother and his three sisters. A strange sensation permeated his conscience. Something within his very being knew that he would never see them again. The sensation crackled in his mind, singed the precious memories. His heart slowly flooded with sadness.

He had barely had time to write the date in his diary: 10th December 1941, before the first siren sounded the approach of the Japanese bombers.


This sound, scratchy and distant like a memory, made Francis turn to his mate, positioned just behind. “Did you say something?”

The young gunner shook his head. “No.”

Francis turned back to his gun, wiped fine beads of perspiration from his brow again as he peered at the horizon through the gun sight. He gripped the gun, ready, his heartbeat pulsing steadily in his fingertips as though tapping out a mayday signal against the cold iron of the gun handle. He took in a breath, but then he heard the sound again. A female voice, distant and yet strangely close. He turned; looked about, half-convinced the stress of the first wave of attacks had sent his mind into meltdown.

He looked up at the speaker mounted on the wall next to him, his pale blue eyes misted by uncertainty. He looked at his mate. “Tell me you heard that.”

His shipmate frowned. “Nothing but the silence, old chap.”

The fragmented female voice broke the silence again. “Can you hear me? This signal is terrible...”

“There!” Francis said, pointing at the speaker. “Just then, an English accent. I definitely heard it.”

The gunner peered up at the speaker. “I think you need to see the ship’s doctor...there’s nothing from the speakers, not yet.”

Not yet meant a long, stilted wait for the Captain’s word to man all stations. To ready themselves for the final battle. For every minute that passed, each man’s heart grew faster, heavier, louder.

Francis stepped away from his gun, stood tiptoe to listen to the speaker. “Allo? Can you hear me?”

The sound of static crackled softly through the air.

“Get back to your station, seaman,” the gunner said. “The Captain will have our hides.”

Francis ignored the young gunner. He listened to the static, heard the blips and hiccups in the transition of the sound, and the longer he listened the more attuned he became to her voice. “She’s transmitting.”

“Who is?” the gunner asked, looking round surreptitiously. “I don’t hear anything.”

Francis pointed to the speaker. “The woman...I can hear her in the static.” He frowned. The lines in his face had grown deeper these last few months, made him much older than his twenty-three years. “I’m receiving, but I can’t transmit.”

“You’ve lost your marbles, man. It’s a speaker – no one can hear you.”

Francis looked up at the speaker. The dark grille pricked his curiosity. “Allo? I can barely hear you and I can’t transmit.”

Hello. Who’s this?” the female voice asked.

Francis straightened, eyes dilated. He stared at the speaker, surprised. “She heard me...that’s impossible...” He turned to the gunner, kept his voice quiet. “Tell me you heard that. That was loud and clear. A woman’s voice.”

The gunner looked at Francis with a blank expression. He slowly shook his head. “I don’t hear anything. What’s with you?”

“I’m telling you, I can hear her.” Francis cocked his head towards the speaker. “This is Able Seaman Francis Millford. Who are you?”

Oh, I’m sorry; I’ve called you by mistake.”

“No no, don’t go. Who are you? It’s been a while since I’ve heard a female voice. We don’t get much female company around here except on leave.”

The cold whistle of static enveloped a short pause and then the woman’s voice broke through. “Sorry to have disturbed you, Mr Millford.”

The static returned and seemed louder. It seeped into his mind like waves washing against the rocks, jarred his thoughts and suffocated the droplet of rudimentary happiness at hearing a female voice.

“Damn,” Francis said. “Come back. Allo?”

The gunner snorted. “Get a grip and get back to your gun. Any minute now we’re going to have a sky full of Jap bombers.”

Francis reluctantly returned to his ack-ack. He eyed the speaker, curious, bewildered. He couldn’t figure out how a transmission had seeped through the ship’s system, or how she could hear him. He wondered whether the woman was trying to get through to the Captain, or whether she was a foreign spy, entangled in the airwaves. Just because she had an English accent didn’t mean she could be friendly.

He dismissed it, looked out across the water. A jaded light caressed the clouds. Dark distant specks freckled the horizon. The Japanese bombers were coming, bellies full with rage.

Hello?” the female voice said.

Francis turned as though physically yanked. He gazed up at the speaker.

Hello?” she asked again.

He left the gun and stepped over to the speaker again. “Allo? It’s Francis.”

The woman’s static encrusted voice broke through the palliative silence clinging to the deck. “Oh sorry, I’ve called you again, my mistake.”

“Who are you trying to reach? Is it the Captain you need to speak to? You’re on the wrong frequency.”

Captain? No, I don’t want the Captain...wait, are you a crew member?”

Francis smiled and his voice lightened. “Yes, able seaman Francis Millford, HMS Redoubt.”

Oh I see. I’m trying to call home,” the female said, brusque.

Francis placed his head against the wall. The ship’s cool outer skin soothed his sweat-peppered brow. Home. Such a powerful word that sank down his gullet like a shard of glass and sliced him from the inside out. Home, the little two-up, two-down red-bricked house he shared with his mother and three sisters in Liverpool.

Home, where he would rather be, instead of floating on a tin can in the Pacific. He imagined standing in the ripe fields just outside his home, catching rain spotted gusts of wind against his face and breathing in the potent grip of cool air that filtered down from the hills.

His voice wavered. “Where’s home?”

“London,” the voice replied. “I’m really sorry. I really don’t know why I’ve called you because my friend is on speed-dial.”

Francis frowned. “Say again? What’s speed-dial?”

I’m sorry, I have to go.”

Francis looked back across the rail; saw that the black flecks in the distance had grown bigger, advancing in tight formation. His heart belted against his sternum, fear returning to flood the caverns within. Salty streams hurried down the side of his face, his body’s response to the latent fear inking his insides.

An imaginary clock ticked silently in his mind; a countdown to the inevitable.

“Listen, tell my mother, Agnes Millford, tell her...tell her we’re all in fine spirits here, we’re on one of the fastest ships in the fleet.” He hesitated, something caught in his throat. “Tell her that I’ll be home for the New Year, tell her that won’t you?”

The female voice changed. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand--”

The flecks in the distance now obscured the clouds as midday approached. The blackened shroud crept forward, undulated and churned out vapour trails in spiteful spurts.

“Tell her, please just tell her,” Francis urged. “I don’t have much time...”

Okay okay...Agnes Millford, I got it.”

A different sound boomed across the tannoy and sliced through the silence like a rigid heavy cleaver. “Attention! Enemy aircraft approaching. Man all stations!”

Francis stared across the side of the ship. Something trickled into his guts. His anus tightened.

The gunner gestured. “They’re coming. Get back to your station, Millford!”

I really do have to go,” the voice said. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you again.”

The sound of a hundred aircraft engines swept across the surface of the ocean and resonated against the ship with a contemptible thud. The sound pulsed against his skin. He shuddered as a rolling cloud of vapour oozed forward.

“What’s your name?” Francis asked, watching the sky darken. “I need to know.”

Another pause.

The blackened cloud approached quickly, blotted out the sun and darkened the entire ship.

It’s Aimee,” she replied.

Francis smiled, closed his eyes for a second. The sound of his heart calmed a little, no longer thumped hard against his chest, nor pounded in the side of his temples. Somewhere outside of his fear, he heard the multiple sound of gunfire; the scream of engines overhead, the whistling of strafing bullets against the ship’s skin and the sharp clank of shells against the deck as the AA’s discharged. Then he heard the explosions and then the screams, the distended cries of men ripped from their stations and flung into oblivion.

The guttural tear of metal formed a gash through the hull, and yet Francis remained huddled against the wall, eyes shut, and in his mind, he was walking through the tall grasses, heading toward home, the little red-bricked building at the end of the street.

His voice remained calm. He opened his eyes. “Aimee? Tell them we fought well. Tell them that, won’t you? Tell everyone.”

The static fizzled into the void, crushed by silence.

* * *

The connection pitched and squawked in Aimee Rutter’s ear, startled her. “Shit.” She glanced at the phone. The signal stuttered. She peered at her watch. It was just a minute after midday.

“I said you wouldn’t get a signal out here,” John Rutter muttered to his wife. “Not in the middle of the Pacific.”

She looked at him with a silent scowl.

“Who were you talking to anyway?” he asked, flicking the newspaper.

Aimee looked at her phone. “Wrong number. Some man called Francis, a crewman on another cruise ship.” She stood up, looked out across the stern. The horizon remained barren, an empty sky and an empty ocean separated by a hazy horizon. They were on a cruise ship in the middle of the largest ocean on the planet, alone, looking forward to the upcoming Christmas festivities. “He said he was on one of the fastest ships in the fleet...what was it...oh yeah...Redoubt.” Quietly perturbed, she gazed at the empty vista. After a while, she turned to her husband and her expression drooped. “He said to tell everyone that they fought well. I don’t get what he was talking about.”

John Rutter placed his newspaper down. “Fought well? What was the name of the ship again, HMS what?”

“Redoubt,” she said.

His lips slowly turned into a wry smile, and then, without warning, he laughed at her. “Redoubt! I think someone’s pulling your chain, babe.”

She moved away from the rail. “What do you mean?”

He eyed her disquieted expression. “HMS Redoubt aint a cruise ship. It was a large battle cruiser, part of a big British fleet, joining the Americans and ambushed by Japanese bombers 10th December 1941. She was practically bombed in half and sank to the bottom of the Pacific right beneath us, just after midday, along with three other ships. Thousands lost. No survivors.” He raised a furtive eyebrow. “Sounds like some weirdo is having a laugh with you.”

Aimee stared at him for a while, unsure what to believe. Her brows lowered, puzzled yet defensive. “Francis isn’t a weirdo. He told me to tell his mother he’d be home for New Year...”

John Rutter tutted, raised the newspaper and continued to read.

Aimee sighed as though defeated by her husband’s logic, and yet the sound of Francis Millford’s voice seemed as clear as the water that shimmered in the swimming pool beside her.

She looked down at the date and time on her mobile phone. Her throat tightened when she realised.

It was 10th December, approximately seven minutes past midday.

She quickly pressed redial, rang the number again, put it to her ear.

But all she heard was static.

Dedicated to Able Seaman CF Young who heroically died in battle in the Pacific, aboard HMS Repulse, 10th December 1941.


I wrote Fear to examine the human condition of suspicion.  We're all suspicious people, but sometimes events happen that turns us into highly suspicious and sometimes prejudiced creatures, when in fact there is no reason for it. 

In the wake of terror attacks on the West, we have become more alert, but in so doing we have inadvertently and unfairly pushed forward our misconceptions about people.  Fear is about those prejudices and misconceptions and how they prey on our ability to sort reality from irrational fear.  The scenario is perfectly possible, especially if we let fear get the better of us, but the consequences are far greater.


Fear. That oppressive clamp around the heart and mind, invading the empty spaces with loathing and spreading like a disease through every cell.

Their fear started to grind every nerve ending, and it clung to the floor like a pervading creeping fog, an invisible vapour that coiled around ankles and chilled the flesh, despite the rising heat.

Evan shifted nervously in his seat, looked up.

Two dark skinned men stared back at him, their eyes moving in silent communication with each other. They had boarded the train two stops ago, shoulders heavy with rucksacks, their expressions deeply coloured and guarded. They grew nervous as more people boarded the train at the next stop.

The train quickly filled up, leaving many people with no choice but to stand in the aisles or take up empty spaces in the corridor by the toilets.

Evan glanced to his right and exchanged tense looks with the four men huddled by the window. He could see dread in their eyes, as though a dark maroon stain had clouded them all. One of them turned away quickly, stared at his reflection in the window.

The countryside flashed by in a green-yellow blur. The air remained oppressive, and it crackled with an imaginary hiss, enough for Evan to hear it above the whispers.

The heavily pregnant woman sitting opposite Evan rubbed her swollen stomach. Her smile was fragile, feigned. Nerves pulsed beneath her pale skin. She’d seen the two men acting suspiciously by the doorway, too.

Evan smiled back, but it was an empty gesture. Movement made him look up.

One of the dark skinned men scratched his beard, whispered to his friend.

Evan watched intently. His eyes narrowed as the constricting rush of fear trickled through his veins. They looked Arab, he decided. Muslim, for sure. And every flick of their eyes smeared Evan’s perceptions with an impenetrable dark cloud, and he was sure that any second now the Muslim would press a button or pull a cord and send the insides of the train catapulting through the grey cloud outside.

Beads of perspiration teetered on his brow. Brain cells gurgled with unbearable pressure.

The two men whispered, looked around anxiously.

Evan’s mind vibrated with imaginary voices and words. Lip reading had never been his forte, but even he could see they were not speaking English.

One of the men moved from the doorway and walked towards the next carriage.

Evan craned is neck to see, but the man quickly disappeared into the throng.

The pregnant woman saw Evan’s face tauten. She sat up.

The young Muslim stared at Evan, his expression cold and hard as though hewn from stone. His eyes were dark, almost black beneath lowered brows. Veiled. He viewed Evan with as much suspicion as Evan cast the young man.

Staring at each other had become a game.

Whispers floated into the strained atmosphere. Evan turned in his seat, heard people talking, their voices lowered. Some pointed at the young Muslim man. It was like a ripple; more pointing, more whispers, more strange looks, all flowing out and coating the inside of the carriage with a layer of thick distrust.

Evan’s heart stuttered within his ribcage. Something dribbled down his face. He wiped his brow, saw perspiration glistening on his fingertips, but in his fevered mind, he imagined blood on his hands.

He blinked, slowly found the young man’s face.

The young Muslim’s features had changed. Something else now squatted in his expression, and he fiddled nervously with the cord dangling from his rucksack, as though it had caught in the zip.

Evan’s gaze focused on the cord.

‘No more stops...’

The sound of her voice brought him to. He looked at the pregnant woman, the soft deep lines in his forehead creasing into a frown.

‘No more stops now until we get into Euston,’ she whispered.

Ample time to blow the packed train to shreds.

A breath caught in Evan’s throat. He swallowed hard, waited a moment for the anxious swill to settle.

The woman looked up at the emergency button on the panelling above them. Pressing it would stop the train, but it wouldn’t stop the men from detonating their bombs.

‘They’ve been acting very nervously since they got on,’ Evan whispered. He glanced at his watch. ‘Almost eleven o’clock. Maybe they’re waiting for the right time.’ He looked at the man sitting beside him. ‘We can take him down, overpower him. There are two of them and dozens of us.’

The man shifted nervously beside Evan, looked away.

‘What’s the matter? You’d rather die than do something about it?’

The man ignored Evan, stared out of the window.

An incredulous cloud descended. ‘Oh I get don’t want to get involved, you’d rather turn a blind eye. Being a selfish coward is better than being a dead hero, right?’ He turned around, looked at the people sitting around him. ‘What’s the matter with you people?’

The cloud dusted their minds with guilt before dissipating, but the carriage remained silent.

The young Muslim heard Evan and stepped back from the growing venom.

Evan saw him, leaned into the aisle, watched as the dark skinned man edged towards the next carriage. He glanced over his shoulder at Evan, eyes clouded.

Evan peered at the others sitting beside him, fear icing their expressions with an arctic hue. They were all cowards. Dead cowards.

He got up, edged his way past those standing in the aisle.

The Muslim saw him. His fingers tightened around the cord.

Evan felt his insides chill, ice crystals frosting up his veins with dread as he moved forward.

The Muslim slapped the button on the compartment door and it slid open. He stepped in, hurried through the carriage as the door closed behind him. Evan watched him through the glass panel. The man looked back briefly.

Evan pressed the button to open the door, followed him.

The young man exited the carriage, moved into the next one, heading towards the busiest, crowded part of the train.

Another kind of fear lodged in Evan’s stomach then and it made him move faster, pushing people aside as he broke into a trot.

Ahead lay the toilets. The young man made for the compartment door.

Evan couldn’t let him get to the crammed front carriages. ‘Stop him!’ He scrambled over people and piles of bags stacked in the narrow aisle. ‘Stop the son of a bitch. He’s got a bomb!’

These words. Like a blunt needle into the skin, delivering a cold poison.

Evan’s face flooded with heat as the carriage erupted into cries and shouts. He pointed. ‘He’s got a bomb, stop him!’

Confusion and terror began to congeal within the confined carriage, studding the atmosphere with a strange electrical charge that surged through the train like a sound wave.

The young man ran into the corridor by the toilets. The people who had been sitting on the floor scattered like frightened animals to escape the melee.

Evan raced forward, but then stopped suddenly. He looked down to his right, saw a child cowering in her mother’s arms. On the table in front of her, he saw a pile of magazines and a pair of scissors that she’d used to cut out pictures.

The strange look on the child’s face made his insides shudder. She seemed afraid of him.

He grabbed the scissors, quickly followed the Muslim towards the corridor.

The compartment door closed and the ticket inspector stood by the door, saw Evan running towards him. ‘Hold it there...what the hell is going on?’

Evan grabbed the man by the collar and threw him in the corner. ‘Out of the damn way!’ He punched the button, almost physically pulled the doors open.

The young man stood by the compartment doors, cornered. Dread poured from his skin, streaked his face. He faced Evan, chest heaving, one hand outstretched and the other tightly gripping the cord.

Evan inched forward, fingers tight around the scissors. ‘Don’t you dare pull it, you bastard.’

The young man’s brow furrowed slightly. He spoke softly in Arabic, shook his head.

Evan had no idea what the man was saying. He pointed. ‘Put the bag down.’

Faces in the carriage compartment either side of them pressed against the glass door panels, watched them.

The young man muttered something else, kept on shaking his head.

Evan stepped forward. ‘Let go of the cord!’

The man kept repeating the same words over and over. He stooped as though his legs had given way.

‘Let go of the fucking cord!’

The air hissed and cracked around them. The sounds seemed loud in Evan’s brain, like cracks of thunder. He slapped his hand against the emergency stop button, and a moment later the train stuttered. The sound of grinding metal rumbled and reverberated beneath them.

The young man’s knuckles whitened as he gripped the cord. But his eyes frightened Evan, wide, full with intent. Or was it fear?

Evan knew any second now the man would pull the tiny cord dangling from the rucksack, and they, the carriage, and everything he ever knew would be ripped apart by the blast, leaving the skin of the train peeled open and spilling its guts onto the rails. He thought then of the pregnant woman, her unborn baby ripped from her womb, the little girl in her mother’s arms, both stripped of flesh by the force of shockwave. Their imagined screams tormented him, clawed at his senses, shredded his nerves


the whispers urged him to end this. End it. Stop the bomb.

Evan blinked against the salty fluid dribbling into his eyes. His heartbeat felt like a tin drum.

The young Muslim looked down at the cord in his hand.

A split second. That’s all Evan had, all it took, as he threw himself forward.

The scissors sank into the man’s neck. Instantly he let go of the cord, screamed and stumbled back before slumping to the floor.

Evan bent down and withdrew the scissor blade. Blood bubbled and spilled from the wound.

The Muslim gurgled, fingers scrambled to find the cord.

Evan stabbed him in the chest, plunged the scissor blade as deep as it would go, then again, heard the metal scrape against one of the ribs.

The young man’s wide eyes locked onto Evan’s face, the veins in his eyeballs swelling with blood. A mixture of fear and disbelief etched across the man’s contorted face.

The sweat from Evan’s brow splashed onto the young man’s skin, spread like a stain.

The grimace on the young man’s face slowly faded until eventually he slumped back, still.

The train finally came to a stop.

Evan looked down at the dark coloured cable poking from the rucksack. He reached over, carefully unzipped the bag and peered inside. There were several books, all in Arabic, and at the bottom of the bag, he saw a rectangular instrument. Curiosity made him reach in and pick it up.

His heart juddered. Silence crowded him.

Faces pressed against the glass.

He held up the box, read the letters across the top of it: PERSONAL ATTACK ALARM.

He stared for a long time, as though wresting the letters from the surface of the box, but somehow his brain wouldn’t translate, numbed instead into open-mouthed disbelief.

The door opened. The ticket inspector stood in the doorway, saw Evan sitting astride the dead man, holding a box in one hand and a pair of opened scissors in the other.

Evan looked up. ‘I...I thought he had a bomb...I thought he was going to blow up the train.’ He looked around at the faces staring back at him. Their silence thundered through his senses. ‘I thought he was going to kill us...I was sure...’ He looked down at the Muslim’s blood smeared across his hands, thick, and still warm.

‘I was so sure...’

Short Tales

This flash fiction piece was written last week, an entry in the October One Word Challenge over at Writer's Talkback, which didn't take long - I'm incredibly fussy about my writing, and most work takes an age - and is one of those stories that simply 'pour out'.  Clara Smile did just that.  For the challenge, the word in question was 'Silence' and this little tale popped into my head.

I must thank fellow writer Lily Childs (among others) for providing a lovely bit of feedback, and who's inspirational words I've cut out and stuck to my notice board.  What a great motivator.

Clara Smile

She sat staring at the light. In her head, there were flowers and fields, horses, stalagmite mountains and granite ledges, brushed blades of grass and swollen trees full with leaves reaching out for the embrace of the sun, while glazed colours soaked her face. They conspired to make Clara smile.

She would go to these places to escape the tinny hiss of her conscience, a respite to the clinical brightness that she sometimes sensed, but Clara loved the palliative silence. It reminded her of a warm blanket shielding her against the cold. The only sound she understood was the rhythmic drum of a heartbeat, constant yet comforting, always present.

‘Lights are on but no one is home,’ the doctor said, as he closed the door on Clara and locked it.

Clara stared at the imaginary scene in her mind. A thick silvery thread dribbled down her open mouth. Her blue eyes remained trapped behind a metallic sheen. Dulled blonde hair hung loosely by her face, lank and long and as waxy as her flesh.

‘Sits staring at nothing all day,’ the doctor said, peering through the grille into her sterile prison. ‘Poor bitch lost her mind, but she’s always smiling...’

Twist in the Tales

I love twist in the tail endings for stories.  Some frown upon it, but it takes a great deal of skill to do it correctly to effect the 'oh I wasn't expecting that' reaction.  You're not just producing a satisfying ending to a story, you're building towards a shock that precedes everything in the story. 

The Watcher, originally published on Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, was inspired by a true event which occurred in the apartment across from where I live.  I don't think the lady wandering around naked had any idea that she could could be seen...but the story splices thriller with a sense of the erotic and a twist of...well see for yourself...

The Watcher

The darkness around me made it easier to see her.

The soft glare from her window first drew me in; a hint of flesh, innocent tease, a fleeting glimpse had I not looked twice. Pale skin, as supple and striking as summer colours, reflected against the brightness of her lights, and the curiosity of that brief moment held me captive. She was not aware of my attention.

The following night I stood at my window, out of curiosity, and she did it again, disrobing like a flower shedding petals in a breeze, sanguine expression brightened by the lights in her apartment. She stood there a while, taking in the silent appreciation of an invisible audience, before catching herself in the mirror. I watched as she ran her hands through her hair, bright blonde strands reflecting the light, but she gave me only a few minutes before disappearing from view. I felt cheated.

The next night she was bold, moving naked about the kitchen, unaware of my jaded gaze pouring through the darkness. She seemed to enjoy her own parade, and once again, she stopped to admire herself in the mirror, skirting her hands over her breasts and through her hair with intimate appreciation.

Her tease lasted an hour.

On the fourth night she stood in the centre of the room, waiting.

I knew then she had seen me somehow; seen my shadow in the darkness. It troubled me, because I was always careful not to flick on any of my lights when I watched her. But somehow, she knew. Perhaps she saw the curtains twitch, saw my reflection cast from the nearby streetlight.

Perhaps she knew all along.

I pulled aside the curtain, despite the shadows that veiled my face from her. But she didn’t move. She played with her hair, ran her hands down her stomach, a subtle tease, but I knew she was playing with me instead, easily melting the darkness between us. Comfortable now within each other’s presence, I watched her parade for an hour until she disappeared once again.

On the last night, I ventured out and stood on the corner of the street. I looked up at her window. She eventually came to the window, pressed her naked flesh against the glass, looked down at me, and then vanished.

I made my way across the street.

A soft wind rolled across the front of the apartment block, tormented the ivy covering the walls. Stagnant darkness crept through the street and sucked up the fading light of a cold December evening.

I edged towards the entrance, placed my gloved hand upon the door handle and gently pushed down. The door clicked open. I stepped inside the dimly lit hallway, made my way across the tiled floor towards the stairs.

I listened, but there was little sound.

I ascended the stairs to the top floor, wound my way to the bright red door at the end of the hall. The corridors were so silent that it appeared no one lived there, yet my footsteps seemed overtly loud along the corridor, the noise echoing around my head like vile cracks of thunder.

I pushed on the door. It swung open; her invite accepted.

A crowding silence rushed to greet me. I love the silence, the pressing nature of it. I’m a solitary creature; I live a private existence. Silence is my companion. See, my sort is not too welcome in this neighbourhood, so I keep to the shadows.

I drifted forward, surveyed the room. It was sparsely feminine, yet expensive in taste, full with glass and chrome furnishings and polished wooden floors.

I noticed the headline in the newspaper opened out on the coffee table.

Victim No 4 found dead. Police suspect local man...

Poor victim number four, a drug-addled teenager no one would miss.

‘I’ve been watching you for a while now,’ a voice said, breaking the silence.

I looked up. She appeared from a doorway wearing a white bathrobe, hair slicked back.

‘I noticed your reflection in your window,’ she said.

My insides juddered. ‘I didn’t think you could see me.’

Her blue eyes were derisive. ‘Of course I could. Only a slight reflection, I couldn’t see your face completely, but I knew you were watching me. You obviously like what you see.’

I eased forward until I was barely feet from her. The scent of fruits tickled my senses. Now she could see my face, the ghostly reflection that had watched her so many times. ‘Do you entice all your potential lovers like that?’

‘Only the ones who want to be enticed. It gets their attention.’ She loosened the belt on her bathrobe, gazed at my tall shadow. ‘You’re not what I expected.’

That’s what they all say. I shook my head. ‘No, I guess I’m not.’

‘Not that it matters. I don’t mind who I fuck.’ She slowly let the robe open out to reveal soft pink flesh. ‘I’ve seen the way you look at me. I’ve seen the way you mist up your windows. I know you want me.’

I blinked slowly, felt my hands grow clammy inside my gloves.

She unzipped my jacket, and slowly picked apart my shirt buttons. She touched me tentatively, raised a curious eyebrow.

Beneath the calm surface, I fought the urge to grab her, all the while trying to close the black hole opening out in my stomach.

She inched the robe from her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. She turned and slinked towards the bathroom. ‘Why don’t you get out of those clothes and come and join me? The water is hot.’

I followed her to the bathroom door, quiet steps across the floor, watched as she stepped into the porcelain bathtub. I wondered then, absurdly, whether the phone might ring, or a noise from outside would disturb us.

But nothing happened.

She smiled as she eased back into the foamy water. Ripples rolled against her voluminous breasts. She blew bath bubbles into the air and they glittered like slivers of frost beneath the stark bathroom light.

I took off my gloves, knelt down. I leaned in and placed my hand against her neck, touched softly.

She pointed to the door with an exquisitely manicured finger. ‘Patience. It’s £200 for full sex, so leave the money on the side table.’

I stared at her, felt adrenaline from my stomach drain into my bloodstream, but it felt like someone pulling on my innards, tearing me from the inside. The black hole shuddered inside me.

Her voice was cold. ‘No money, no sex, sweetie.’ She swept bath gel along her glistening, wet arms.

I smiled thinly, but remained silent as I straightened and moved through the doorway, mind clamouring. I had no money. That wasn’t the reason I came. I gazed out of the window; saw my apartment across the street, my darkened window. I wondered then, just how long she had been watching me. Gauging me. Tempting me.

A hint of sexual fascination had lured me, but she had been fishing, too, like a silver-eyed angler fish, dangling an alluring bright light through the blackness to entice me into her pencil like jaws.

I wanted to have sex with her – it was an added bonus – but I wasn’t expecting to pay.

I turned from the window and switched off the light, lest someone should see, and I inched towards the darkened kitchen. My ribcage fizzed as I gazed at the assortment of knives.

Her voice drifted into the gloom, broke through my reverie. ‘Hey? You still there?’

I returned to the bathroom and the sweet smell of fruits, and I smiled as I walked towards the bathtub, listening to devious whispers forging ideas in the back of my mind.

‘The money is on the table,’ I lied.

She nodded, and beckoned me with a finger. ‘I trust you.’

I walked around the bathtub and stood at her shoulders. She rested back and looked up at me; her turquoise blue eyes fiercely bright. I stared down at her, my vision filling with satanic colour, belly filling with bile. I placed both hands on her shoulders, kneaded softly.

Her painted lips smiled.

I sucked in a breath, and in one violent jolt, I pushed her beneath the water, all my weight bearing down into my forearms.

She thrashed; legs and water heaving over the bath, heels cracking against the taps.

I held her down for a while, listening to her struggling against me, listening as though it was a lullaby of fear, then I let go. I walked around the side of the bath, and she surfaced, spluttering.

She wiped suds from her eyes, her voice heavy. ‘Christ!’

I grabbed her ankles, pulled them up, plunging her back into the water. She flailed and gurgled, but she was no match for my superior strength. Then I eased off after a few seconds, let her come up for air.

‘Christ, dammit, what the hell are you-’

I tugged again and she slipped below the water, her distorted mouth open beneath the soapy surface, her scream muffled. I eased off again, enjoying this game.

She slammed her fist against the porcelain bath. ‘You fucking crazy shit!’

‘How long have you been watching me?’ My hands were still tight around her ankles.

She caught her breath. Mascara melted down her cheeks in thick black streams. She gripped onto the side of the bath.

My eyes narrowed. ‘How long?’

‘Weeks...’ she gasped. Saliva and water dribbled from her mouth. ‘I’ve been watching you for weeks.’

I pulled her legs again, higher, dragging her beneath the water, but this time I did not ease. Instead, I listened as she thumped her fists against the tub, the sounds echoing from the tiles in bilious waves and making me feel high. Adrenaline soaked into my body, flooding every cell with ecstasy until the sounds of her drowning slowly dissipated and silence once again settled like fine dust. I lowered her legs, left them dangling over the bath, and moved to the side of the tub.

I gazed at the shimmering shadow beneath the water, watched as air bubbles escaped from her nose. Then she blinked. Fingers slowly uncurled. Her body suddenly convulsed, thrusting water from the tub, and she shot up. A strange rattling noise spilled from her lips as she sucked in air

I quickly grabbed her neck, reached to the back of my jeans for the knife I had taken from the kitchen. I leaned over, saw my reflection in her eyes; saw the demon crouched in my expression, devious and dusted with malevolence.

I thrust the knife into her neck, slitting neatly into her windpipe, then I neatly tore sideways, opening out the cherry red innards of her throat. The gash bubbled and frothed, spewed out a dark red torrent over my hands. Her eyes rolled white, then I pushed her back beneath the water again, held her down until she was still.

Scarlet clouds misted her face and soiled the water, turning it to the colour of rust.

I picked up my gloves, wiped the blade and calmly left the bathroom.

I walked past the mirror, the one she had spent so much time gazing into, and I caught my darkened reflection. The figure staring back at me was gaunt; brown eyes turned black, and in my mind, imaginary doors were slamming shut against the voices.

They would find victim No.5 soon enough.

My shirt was open. Thin beads of blood dribbled down my neck, soaked my bra and stained my breasts.

Her voice wouldn’t leave my mind: You’re not what I expected...

I never am.


Heartbeat was written as an entry into the One Word Challenge over at Writer's Talkback, and since I like the unconventional, I opted for free verse with minimal punctuation.  It still remains one of my own personal favourite poems because I tried to capture that moment of fear that every new mother faces after giving birth to her baby.  Not easy, but it was a challenge that I enjoyed, and I think the emotion comes through succinctly.


Heartbeat, rhythm so soft,
A lullaby in the dark.
You clutch my fingers,
Sigh, and settle once more.
Yet my heart still races,
Spliced by fear,
Raised voices and panic
Still fresh in my mind.
My stomach plunged
When your heart stopped.
The doctor grabbed you,
I wanted to scream,
But my throat squeezed shut,
In a vice like grip,
And my eyes turned frantic
As you turned blue.
I watched through stinging tears,
Forgot my own pain
As they breathed life back into you
And started your heart,
To my relief, you cried out.
I thought I had lost you,
That swelling sickness,
That awful feeling of dread.
Now your heart beats, rhythm so soft,
A lullaby in the dark.
You’re barely one day old,
But how beautiful you are.

Dark stories

The title of this short story, Deceit, sums up the deception at the heart of it.  It was written for Thrillers Killers and Chillers, and tells the story of a family weekend to the country which doesn't go according to plan, and has a twist in the tail, although if you follow the clues you might guess the ending...

Note:  Contains swearing and mild references to sex.


Darkness descended quickly. Orange tinted clouds rolled and billowed forward. Grey layers began to form above the forest like a bank of fog.

The rain was coming.

Dan Foster closed the sash window. A few silvery beads of rain hit the pane, then some more, leaving intricate, vein-like threads clinging to the glass. Water reflected the low light from the cottage as it rolled towards the window ledge, collecting like shuddering mercury pools along the sill.

A reflection in the glass caught his eye.

Her shadow moved.

He turned to face his 15-year-old stepdaughter. Her hair was down, released from the ponytail that she always wore. It softened her delicate features. She looked somehow older. Beautiful. More appetising.

He licked his lips. Thinking about what was to come. His expression was cold, despite his deceptive smile.

A stilted silence curled around them. The rain came heavier against the windows, quickly replacing the hush of the previous hour.

‘I’m going for my shower,’ Louise said. ‘It’s freezing up there. Can you stoke the fire or something?’

His blue eyes glittered through the darkness, easily pulling her into his gravitational field like a wayward satellite. His voice was like sandpaper. ‘Sorry, love. I’ll get some more wood.’

Her tongue flicked behind the curl of her lip. ‘Good, ‘cos it always gets cold in this place. My other stepdad kept some firewood in the shed. Should be plenty in there. There’s a torch in the utility cupboard.’

‘It’ll be toasty by the time you’ve had your shower,’ Dan said, glancing at the time. It was approaching 7.30pm and he needed to call his wife, Diane – Louise’s mother – to let them know they got to the cottage okay. They had left London that afternoon for their long weekend in the Lake District.

Diane would follow as soon as she finished work. She’d been talking about it for weeks, and planned a romantic weekend.

He’d planned death.

He removed the mobile phone from his shirt pocket, dialled Diane’s number, and heard her voicemail. He realised she was driving, otherwise she would have picked up. ‘Hey, it’s me. We got here okay. I got a bottle of red waiting for you. Watch out for the rain. See you soon.’ He placed the phone on the side table and grabbed his jacket from the back of the sofa.

Louise stopped on the stairway and watched him.

Dan opened the utility cupboard in the kitchen and found the torch. He noticed Louise watching him, her expression galvanised with a frosty veil. She was still, askance eyes silently gauging him.

An hour didn’t seem long, but he desperately wanted to take her before Diane arrived. There would be enough time afterward to enjoy the girl even more.

He closed the cupboard and opened the back door to the darkness.

There was little wind - just the soft hiss of the rainfall through the trees, and a hint of coolness. He stepped out, panned the torch across the darkness. An eerie, maligned forest glowed briefly in the flashlight before sinking back into the blackness. Water cascaded down his face and into his mouth. It tasted tinny.

He made his way down a narrow path towards the outhouse. Slick paving slabs glowed beneath his light. A rickety old shed emerged from the gloom.

He lifted the latch and stepped inside, listened to the downpour as it drummed softly against the corrugated roof. Dust particles flitted through the amber torch beam. Thick, gauzy cobwebs wavered in the draught seeping through the old windows. He sensed movement, flashed the torch.

Long legged shadows scuttled along the far wall.

He shone the torch around the worktops, gazed at the stacked firewood by the windows, and slowly grazed the light across rusty tools hanging from hooks on the far wall. A large shovel stood against the worktop.

But it was the large rusty screwdriver on the edge of the counter that made his eyes dilate, and mouth salivate. He could almost hear the its raw sound, the squelch of metal against bone. It would cause maximum damage and minimum fuss.

Adrenaline squirted into his stomach at the thought of driving it into Louise’s skull. A pulse shot into his groin. He grabbed the screwdriver and slipped it into his back pocket.

He moved the shovel to the corner, by the door, then reached for the logs. He managed three in his arms and made his way back outside. He looked up; saw Louise hovering at the window like a distorted reflection. She remained expressionless, yet there was something in her pale aura that intrigued him, invited him. She vanished from view.

He pulled the logs in tight to his chest and angled the torch towards the back door. Silver flecks of drizzle danced in the torchlight and guided him back towards the door.

* * *
Louise stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and quickly dried herself to stave off the cold.

Beyond the bathroom door, the darkness heaved; the stairway creaked.

She looked up, held herself still. No other sound came.

The light from the bathroom cast an eerie glow cross the landing. But there was no evil shadow lurking, except in her imagination. She eased forward, peered around the door.

Through the banister rails, she could see Dan in the front room, stoking the fire. Relieved, she quickly dressed in fresh underwear and left the bathroom.

Dan looked up at the thick umbra clinging to the landing; saw her shadow casting elfin sprites across the walls.

He slipped the screwdriver into the back of his trousers and slowly ascended the stairs. He reached the top, stood at the edge of the darkness clouding the hallway.

Light from her room cast a harsh diagonal slash through the dark.

He oozed forward, placed a hand against her door and slowly swung it open.

She was facing the mirror, dressed in her underwear, her long, dark hair caressing the small of her back.

Darkened thoughts pounded his frontal lobe like a persistent headache.

Two years had drifted by since he first met her mother. At first, his disposition was naturally cautious with her, after all, she’d just lost her husband in a terrible, freak accident. But he was patient. He rarely stayed longer than a year with any of them, but this widow came with a prize worth the effort of entering into marriage with her – hr newly acquired fortune from her late husband.

And this one came with an added bonus: the girl.

Of course, thirteen was a little too young for his tastes, so he patiently waited for the onset of puberty. Now Louise was ripe and oozing sexual odour.

She would be his first child.

Sometimes the urges felt like a strong wind, blowing anti-clockwise around his mind, whipping up the dust and debris before settling swiftly into dark recesses. He had no control over them, especially since Louise’s recent flirtations. He knew the esoteric glances, the calculated flashing of her legs or a naked shoulder served only to entice him into her subtle sexual games. She teased him, she knew what she was doing, but he somehow kept from imploding.

He had been looking forward to the chance to get both of them alone. He’d been planning this for months. The cottage was perfect, on the edge of a forest, isolated. No one for miles. No interruptions. No distractions. No help.

He could do what he wanted once he’d killed them – he could play with them, bathe them, dress them and fuck them.

He’d planned everything. Right down to the lies he would tell the police.

Now his urges were swelling with each kill, and so was his fortune. He’d come here to kill, to finish what he’d started two years ago. Diane’s fortune, the townhouse back in London, and the cottage, would become his. Then he could move on to the next poor bitch.

Movement brought him to, and he glanced up.

He crept forward.

* * *
Minutes. That’s all it took to for him pin her to the wall and rip at her underwear. He slipped his hand into her knickers.

Her stomach contracted, churned. She squeezed her eyes shut. Fluid spilled from her pores and dribbled down her face.

He could smell her fear. He knew he was hurting her. Her whimpers made him swell and he quickly unzipped himself and forced himself inside her.

She winced; skin sickened.

The more intensely he looked at her pain, the more excited he became. He slipped his right hand behind his back and grabbed the screwdriver from his back of his trousers.

Tears formed in her eyes, gluing together her eyelids.

The smell of sweat clung to the air like dusted particles; the sound of sex sullied the silence, but another sound broke through the atmosphere, and it made Dan stop.

The slow dip...dip...dip of dripping water filtered through the hallway.

He looked to the darkness beyond the bedroom door, his heartbeat stifling his thoughts. He turned back to Louise.

Her eyes clouded with fear. He continued, but the constant drip made him look again at the doorway. He thought the sound was drawing closer.

A sound spilled from Louise’s mouth; hot breath over cold lips. ‘No…’

Dan looked down at her. His grip tightened around her throat; a red handprint seared her alabaster flesh. He was still inside her. He had to finish, had to kill her. He continued to thrust, his body pinning her to the wall as he neared orgasm.

He grabbed the screwdriver, swiftly aimed it at the centre of her skull.

She saw it; her eyes shot wide, body jolted.

He held her firm; thrust the tool down towards her face.

A scream punctured the silence and startled the darkness into momentary retreat, quickly followed by a muffled thud. A long, pitiful moan clung to the walls for some time before eventually petering out.

Blood oozed across the wooden floorboards. The table lamp flickered from the floor where it had fallen, intermittently highlighting startled, ghostly faces.

The body sprawled near the door twitched for a while as severed nerve endings struggled to function. Red sinew and cartilage glistened; muscle bulged through the deep laceration across the neck. Veins continued to pump blood for a short while.

Diane Porter threw down the shovel. Droplets of rain threaded down her face. She looked at her daughter.

‘What the hell took you so long? A second later and would have had me.’

Diane stared down at her husband. He was still twitching. The bony white of Dan’s spine poked through the sliced muscle and seemed the only thing keeping his half-decapitated head attached to his neck.

‘I couldn’t find the damn shovel,’ Diane gasped. ‘Son of a bitch must have moved it.’ She stepped over the body. ‘Anyway, what does it matter? It’s done.’ She couldn’t hide her exhilaration. ‘We did it, Lou. I can’t believe it went exactly to plan. You had him right where we wanted him.’

Louise’s voice was cold. ‘Two years’ deception well spent, don’t you think?’ She stared down at her dying stepfather. ‘Fucker didn’t see that comin’

Diane’s eyes were like blackened stones. ‘At last his money is ours.’

Dan was the third man they had despatched in the last four years. A rich, stupid fool.

Louise slowly wiped Dan’s spattered blood from her mouth and neck. She smiled, licked her lips. Her body tingled from the adrenaline. The urge to do it all again was strong, needy, but that was the trouble with deceit. It was like an addiction – and she couldn’t wait to do all it over again.

Inspiration from unlikely sources...

I was prompted to write a little flash piece called Nothing Lasts after hearing about the passing of a friend, and was originally posted on the 6 Sentence network.  Death makes you realise that nothing lasts, physical or otherwise, so I thought about the metaphorical things that could not outlive even time itself and this short fiction piece came from it.

Nothing Lasts

Nothing lasts, not day or night, not a song by either human or lark, not the phases of the Moon casting silver tinted pockets as it marches silently through the heavens, not the seasons swirling like the wind and churning out myriad colours.

Not even love can breach infinity, no matter how strong.

Nothing lasts, not the ocean or the sky or the shifting earth. Not the sun or the brightest stars, not even your surreal, clouded dreams before they fizzle into oblivion.

Writing and art and all that we once were will be gone, withered and dusted by dark fathomless clouds, then swept up by invisible hands and cast aside into a unknown dimension.

Nothing lasts, not even time; it will eventually run out, sucked in by the universe in a final, fraught gasp when it has burned itself out and it has nothing else to give, and reality will cease.

The ticking of a clock, soft like a heartbeat, sounds in your mind, slowly, gradually counting down to nothing.

A spot of poetry

Going Home was written last year, which won the One Word Challenge on Writer's Talkback back in August 2009.  It was inspired by a trip overseas, and leaving someone special behind.  It's an example of my favourite style of poetry - free verse and without punctuation.

Going Home

I left early. You were still asleep.
Sunlight was poking through the remains of night
When I boarded the plane and took my seat. I left you a note. You’ll read it and weep
Glass tears on pearly pillows, gems of endearment
Or shards of hate that sink deep
I didn’t say goodbye. You would only crack
Or shatter without your protective glaze
When you learn of my flight, that I won’t be back.
I’ve set your watch. You will always know my time
Understand that distance is just a word
You’re ten hours ahead, I’m ten hours behind
I’ll think of you, when I see cotton candy clouds
Or miles of ocean, shimmering like turquoise chiffon
While seconds turn into minutes, and minutes turn into hours
And when I land, your day will be gone
Mine will have begun once again, caught in time
A day I live twice, to think about what I’ve done
I didn’t say just how much I will miss you.
I couldn’t find the words, not then, when it mattered
Or cradle your heart when you needed me to.
You’re like a galvanised jewel, set in mind
But even though I am finally home, I’m here,
You will always remind me what I left behind.

A bit of Flash...

This flash fiction piece was written for an entry into the Writer's Talkback one word challenge, which I am proud to have won many times, and this one is one of my favourites.  The word 'Alone' provoked the story, and I came up with something suitably dark.  I can't say my writing is ever happy-clappy - I love to delve into dark matter too much! 

Your Mother Loves You

Rain glistened like pools of quicksilver along the pavements.

Low cloud pressed against the surroundings, made the sky seem darker than it was.

A droplet splashed against his face and he blinked as though it was acid. He didn’t understand this darkness. He didn’t understand the chill coiling around him, couldn’t fathom the strange glare that made his eyes hurt.

The cool moisture on his lips and tongue tasted strange. It didn’t nourish or satisfy, and his stomach winced with hunger, the feeling growing, making his insides ache.

He was unable to move, cocooned in a thin blanket, and his back felt numb. A thin, bloody film covered his wrinkled skin. He shivered, fingers bunching.

He tried to make a noise, tried to cry, but his clogged lungs sagged, and instead he wept silently into the night, tears lost as the rain washed over him.

A minute turned into an hour, then two, then three. After a while, he stopped moving. Eventually he stopped crying.

‘Found him this morning,’ the police officer said to his sergeant, forlorn. He handed him the tiny body, wrapped in a cotton blanket. ‘Just a few hours old. His mother left him to die.’

Chilhdood fears...

There is only one thing in life that I'm afraid of, and that's the dark.  Even as an adult it still has that ability to scare me, and those childhood fears have stayed with me, like the shadows in the corner, something lurking in the wardrobe, the thing under the bed...

Now as a storyteller, I can take those fears and turn them into stories to scare others.  I'm a big fan of psychological horror, or 'implied' horror, the kind of dark stuff that makes the reader think, rather than serve up blood and guts on a plate.  Less is sometimes more with scary stories, and even more effective with a twist in the tale.  With the Thing Under the Bed, which I originally wrote for Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, I brought the childhood fear of 'things in the mind' and gave it a sense of reality. 

The Thing Under the Bed

Michael always believed something lurked in the dark beneath his bed.

The large wardrobe frightened him. The deep alcove in the corner scared him, because that’s where it was darkest. Even the windows overlooking the trees in the field at the bottom of the garden terrified him, especially when the pewter glare of a full moon fleeced the walls and invited the shadows.

Most of all, Michael feared the thing under his bed; the strange movements, scratching noises, the creeping black clouds swarming around the furniture ready to devour him should he look upon the entity.

Each night he would pull the covers right over his head, afraid to peep into the darkness settling across his body. He would dream of his father’s return, dream of the things they could do together, dream of the light of another day, and eventually he would drift off to sleep, safe in slumber.

After breakfast, Michael put on his scruffy jeans and trainers.

‘Where are you off to?’ Dee asked her 10-year-old son.

‘I’m building my den,’ Michael replied, pointing to the field. ‘I want to finish it before Dad comes home.’

Dee lit a cigarette. ‘Your father won’t be back for weeks. You have all that time to finish it.’

Michael stared at his mother. He needed to finish the den. He would rather spend time in there than his bedroom, because he knew The Thing lived under the bed and he didn’t feel comfortable in there, even though it only came out at night. But then he dreaded each night and the darkness it would bring. It hadn’t always been like this. Ever since his father left to work on the rigs, his school friends had told him about the creature that lurked beneath people’s beds. If you looked at it long enough, it would kill you.

He had to finish the den.

‘Just be careful,’ Dee said. ‘Don’t wander too far. Six o’clock is teatime. It gets dark after six, so I want you back in the house. ’

* * *

Dee rolled across the bed, poured another glass of wine. She giggled as her lover, Jason, swept his hand down the curve of her back.

‘That was pretty intense,’ he said, planting a kiss on her shoulder. ‘The fear of being caught. Always makes it so exciting.’

She handed the glass of wine to him. ‘Maybe so, but Michael could walk in any minute. He’s only in the field just beyond our garden.’ She noted the time. ‘It’s nearly five o’clock. I said tea would be ready at six.’

Jason gulped the wine. ‘Stop fretting.’ He could easily shut the kid up if did happen. Nasty threats always worked. He hated kids. They were like vermin. He smiled at the thought. ‘He’d never tell anyone, trust me. Besides, we’ve got time to squeeze another in.’

Dee lay back. ‘Perhaps we should keep the noise down. I would--’

The sound of the front door closing filtered through the hallway. A voice.

Jason frowned at Dee’s stony expression. ‘Who the hell is that?’

Dee shot up. ‘Oh Christ, it’s Jimmy.’

Jason let go of Dee. ‘Shit. I thought you said he wasn’t gonna be back for weeks.’

Dee stared at the open bedroom door, shook her head. She lowered her voice. ‘That’s what I thought. Oh God, you need to hide. If Jimmy finds you he’ll kill you.’

‘Hide?’ Jason quickly slipped out of bed and grabbed his clothes from the floor. ‘And where the fuck am I supposed to hide in this poke hole?’

Dee flung the covers back. ‘Michael’s room. Quick. There’s a huge wardrobe in there. Don’t move until I give the all clear.’

Jason slunk bare bottomed towards the hallway as Dee hurriedly dressed herself. ‘The kid’s room? You got to be kidding.’ He looked back at her, his eyes coloured with fear.

‘You don’t have a choice. Don’t try to leave without the all clear.’

‘How long for?’

‘For as long as it takes. Jimmy’s a big man, you’ll have no chance if you try and sneak out of here.’ She pushed Jason towards Michael’s bedroom. ‘Stay in there. Don’t make a sound. I’ll get you when it’s clear.’

* * *

Michael wandered through the trees towards the garden. He looked up at the house. There was something different; he didn’t quite know what. It was only when he approached the back door, and he saw the large shadow standing in the kitchen next to his mother that he realised.

‘Dad!’ He ran into the kitchen. ‘Dad, I’m so happy you’re home.’

‘Hey spud.’ Jimmy glared at Dee. ‘At least someone’s happy to see me.’

Michael clung to his father. ‘I’m dead happy now. I’ve been waiting for you. I don’t have to be scared of the dark anymore.’

Dee brushed unruly hairs from her face. ‘I don’t know what on earth those kids tell him at school. He thinks there’s a monster under his bed. I showed him the other day. There’s nothing to be afraid of.’

Jimmy embraced his son. ‘Mum’s right. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here now.’

During tea, Michael told his father all about his den, even though it wasn’t finished, and that night he went to bed on the promise that tomorrow they would finish it together.

Michael stood by the bedroom doorway. The light from the landing silhouetted his small frame. He stared at the bed. The covers hung right down to the floor, shielding him from the creature that stalked his waking moments.

He glanced to his left. The wardrobe door was slightly open. Some of his clothes had spilled onto the floor. The Thing had been in there, he was sure. Perhaps it was still in there, watching him, waiting.

Tonight he would face The Thing.

‘Come on, son. Bedtime.’ Jimmy ushered the boy into the bedroom, tucked him beneath the covers. He kissed him on the forehead. ‘Sleep tight, and--’

‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite,’ Michael whispered.

Jimmy smiled. ‘Sweet dreams.’

The light went out. The door closed. The darkness was swift - a cold, consuming, hungry darkness that crawled from the corners and slithered across the walls.

Michael was very still. His mind bubbled. Adrenaline began frosting his veins. His eyes switched from one point to another, seeing shadows. He could make out the outline of the wardrobe in the murk. He stared hard, thought he saw the door move. He slowly reached back and slipped his hand beneath the pillow.

His fingers curled around his father’s hammer. The one he’d carefully sneaked from the shed while mummy and daddy were arguing in the front room.

Something juddered beneath him, then a murmur.

Michael gripped the hammer tight. It was so heavy, but he managed to hold it in both hands.

The bed rattled. Michael wanted to scream, but didn’t. He eased forward slowly; his breath coming in short bursts as he peered over the edge of the bed.

Something white flashed through the black maw. The Thing blinked.

Michael lifted the hammer and forced it down onto The Thing’s head. Something cracked.

‘Christ! No!’

Michael did it again, listening to it gurgle and splutter. The bed jerked beneath him and Michael knew The Thing was strong. He jumped off the bed and this time used all his strength to smash the hammer repeatedly into the shadow poking from beneath the bed. He forced one last blow. A dull squelch echoed around the bedroom.

Silence returned. The Thing had stopped moving.

The bedroom door shot open. Light flooded the room.

‘What the hell...Michael?’

Michael looked up at his father in the doorway. He blinked through the blood smearing his face. ‘Look, Dad. The Thing. It was under my bed all this time, just like I told you. But it’s okay now, I’ve killed it.’

© April 2009

A dark tale...

I wrote Red Snow in 2009, which was originally published on Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, and remains one of my favourite short stories.  It follows the beleaguered Xavier and his teenage son Dmitry who have become victims of the German panzers destroying their small Russian town of Vledovka.  They resolve to kill the lone German sniper who has picked off the remaining townsfolk in a cruel game of survival.

Incidentally, the name of Vledlovka, whilst a real town, was used for creative purposes only and is not a true representation of a factual place.

The seeds of this story are now being turned into a full length novel. 

Red Snow of Vledovka

Snowflakes descended onto a silent, white landscape.

Beams of light filtered through the broken church windows, highlighting whirling particles dancing across the wooden pews, intermittently spliced by shadows. The church looked so different now, all that was left of the small town of Vledovka. The Germans had destroyed every building and killed all but a handful of people.

Xavier looked down at his teenage son squatting next to him. The boy tightly clutched a rifle to his chest. Silver-blue eyes peered out from a grimy, expressionless face; unwilling to share the horrors he had witnessed in the last few weeks.

Misted breath fogged the air around them, reluctant to fade.

One lone German soldier stood between them and a muted sense of freedom; an entity lurking in the ruins of the town, picking off the survivors with a gleeful snipe of a bullet. Broken bodies littered the landscape, frozen between lumps of concrete and twisted metal - mothers and fathers and children.

Xavier knew he had to kill the German. Whatever happened, he had to try.

He swept a hand over his dark beard, looked to the boy. ‘Stay here; keep your back against this wall. You watch these windows. If you see that soldier, you kill him, but don’t waste your shots.’

Dmitry lifted a Nagant revolver from his jacket pocket, although the 7 bullets in the cylinder would not last much longer. They were both running out of ammo.

‘Father, let me come with you. I can do it. You know I’m a better shot.’ Not only was Dmitry a better shot, but he was quicker on his feet, too. He wanted to show his father he was no longer a child. He could kill the enemy. ‘Please?’

Xavier placed a heavy hand on Dmitry’s shoulder. Two weeks earlier, the German had shot and killed his eldest son, Anatoly, whose body was still out there, resting beneath several feet of snow. He couldn’t risk the same happening to Dmitry.

‘Who do you think will protect your mother if we’re both dead, huh?’ He pulled his cap down tight across his brow and got to his feet. ‘Time to finish this.’ He hunched down and hurried to the gaping hole in the church wall where the first reign of bombs had blown most of the transept away.

He stepped out into the brightness of snowfall, looked up at a grey sky full and swollen with flakes. He shivered against the chill and ducked between the gravestones; heading east towards what would have been the main square of his decimated town. Fresh snow covered the dirty tracks left by the panzers, which had swept through three weeks ago, but it also covered the remains of those who were trying to flee Vledovka. Whole families lay together where they’d been rounded up and shot.

Xavier knew the sniper could be anywhere among the ruins, constantly moving around, hunting. He gazed across the lifeless ruins, searching the broken windows, watching colourless curtains billowing in the cold breeze. He eyed the open doorways, and the angular pinnacles of brick and concrete hewn from violent explosions. Finally, his attention stopped at the skeletal remains of his home.

Everything was gone.

Something glinted through the flurry in the distance, distracted him. Just a momentary flash, then it was gone. He crawled forward on his elbows towards a line of branchless, scorched trees.

* * *

Dmitry rose to his feet and wandered over to the wrecked window on the left. He hoisted himself up and clambered through it. Snow flocked around his face, stung his skin, and he pulled his thick green scarf – knitted by his mother - up over his nose and mouth. He plodded forward trough the knee-deep snowdrift. He knew his father was heading through the main square; but Dmitry knew that if the German was in the ruins, then perhaps they could corner him. Two guns were better than one.

The sound of the wind through empty buildings made him shudder; the primeval hum resonated through every cell in his body, flooding every pore, and it made him hurry to the corner of what used to be a bakery. He stood in the doorway, away from the icy torrent.

He looked down.

A woman’s face stared back at him from the floor where she had fallen; eyes clouded like a dead fish. Her mouth was slightly open, skin tight around a miserable scream of terror. The sniper had taken the left side of her head, and the floor was stained red where her blood had frozen in a wide spatter. He looked further down her body, saw exposed strings of darkened meat on her legs and forearms. The rats had been eating her.

He ignored the sight and moved from the doorway. He paused, cocked his ear. Footsteps over rubble; purposeful and fast. The squeak of a door drifted through the slate coloured mist. The unseen footsteps moved across a tiled floor, then stopped.

The German was close by.

A heartbeat echoed loudly in Dmitry’s head as he stepped out and slunk towards the next building. Muscles tensed and gnawed inwardly against the cold as he peered around a broken doorframe. His eyes shuttered against the chill as he focused on a figure hunched over something on the floor.

The German sniper was rifling through the pockets of the dead.

The breath in Dmitry’s throat froze; he almost dropped the rifle and it clunked against the doorframe.

The German snapped his head up; saw Dmitry in the doorway, silhouetted by the haze, and he reached for his Luger.

Dmitry lifted the rifle.

* * *

The gunshot startled Xavier, quickly followed by another two shots. He let out a short breath. Spliced nerves twitched as the hush slowly returned. He looked back at the church, but saw no movement. He wanted to call out to Dmitry, knew that he couldn’t; it would give Dmitry’s position away to the German. He had to follow the gunshots.

Breathing hard against the icy tendrils licking against his exposed skin, Xavier clambered to his feet and ran the short distance to the side of a nearby building, slipping into a short passageway for respite.

The gunshots had come from the other side of the main square so Xavier moved cautiously through the passageway and momentarily peered out. A desolate silence greeted him. The street was full with rubble, strewn with shoes and torn clothes. And scattered bodies.

He concentrated on the building opposite, thought he saw a passing shadow. He blinked against the brightness; couldn’t be sure it was movement. But then he heard a short burst of laughter, and he knew it was the German.

Xavier stepped out of the passageway. Fresh layers of snow crunched softly underfoot as he slowly made his way across the street, but then he stopped suddenly, his mind wrested by something that made his stomach plunge to his feet.

The chill gripped Xavier’s throat as he gazed down at the tiny, grey body of a newborn baby boy still attached to the umbilical, slowly disappearing beneath the snowfall.

He choked back his anger, gripped his rifle and entered the building. He searched the dark corners, expecting the German to jump out at him, but there was no enemy lurking, just his frightened imagination.

A noise to the right made him flinch. He lifted his rifle, aimed it at the shadows. Nothing. He moved further inside. An odd smell leavened the air, despite the chill. The stench of rotting corpses – though frozen with the onset of winter – still clung to the building, unwilling to fade. He closed his eyes, concentrated hard to stop the swill in his stomach moving up his throat.

Another sound brought him to; his muscles tightened in response. He stepped forward slowly, his eyes never leaving the doorway ahead of him. Indistinguishable sounds drifted through the blizzard; guarded, muffled.

He thought then about Dmitry, alone in the church, what would happen to him. The idea of certain death didn’t frighten Xavier, but the fear of leaving Dmitry to look after the family, to be the one to try to stop the sniper, did frightened him. If he didn’t kill the German, now, they were all doomed.

The sound of someone coughing almost made the liquid in Xavier’s bladder spill out into his trousers, and he ducked instinctively, unsure which direction the sound came from. His heart fluttered, drowning in adrenaline. He crawled sideways, crab-like, and leaned against the door.

He composed himself before edging around the doorframe.

A dark grey trench coat was visible through the rash of thick snowflakes. The German stood with his back towards Xavier. Cerulean ribbons of smoke from a cigarette coiled into the air. A satchel lay at the soldier’s feet.

Xavier sat against the doorway, carefully set his foot against the frame to keep his body from shaking. He tucked the rifle butt tightly beneath his right arm, peered through the gun sight and lined it up with the German’s head.

He licked his badly chapped lips, took in a breath and placed his forefinger against the trigger.

* * *

The nicotine from the cigarette flooded his lungs, calmed the torrent racing through his veins. The long trench coat kept out the chill, felt good. The French brandy in the hip flask helped to melt his frosted body, and despite it stinging his lips, he gulped it down. Christ, he couldn’t remember anything tasting this good. He’d found chocolate in the satchel, too.

He stared at the body lying in the doorway, peppered with bullet holes. Large crimson patches soiled the clothes. Blood slowly spilled out onto the virgin snow. His skin still tingled; the thrill of the kill.

He smiled; but it was almost a reflexive jerk, and at first he couldn’t understand why the body lying nearby became so vividly red, nor could he understand the sound of the implosion whistling through his head. He remembered glancing down, seeing the cigarette fall from his fingers; he remembered watching it fall as though in slow motion before it finally came to rest against the snow.

And then everything he knew, every moment, every memory, was catapulted out through the front of his skull in a kaleidoscopic burst, far out into the brightness, until everything quickly faded to darkness.

* * *

Xavier whooped as he watched the German’s head explode with startling force, easily ripped apart by the close range shot. The man dropped to the ground.

Xavier got to his feet and ran over to the body.

Small fragments skull and brain, and lumps of dark hair, littered the snow around the dead German.

He wiped snowflakes from his eyes, stared. His brows dropped. Two German soldiers?

He gazed at the other body sprawled in the doorway, three bullet holes in the chest. The corpse was wearing a German uniform and clutching a Luger pistol.

Xavier cupped a foot underneath the shoulder of the body at his feet and flipped it over.

He recognised the green scarf around the sinewy remains of the boy’s neck. A slivery-blue eye peered from the remains of the eye socket.

The rifle slipped from Xavier’s cold fingers.

A deep scarlet halo surrounded Dmitry’s shattered skull.

A silver hipflask glinted from the boy’s tightened fingers, and slowly it leaked golden liquid into the bloodied snow of Vledovka.

© June 2009