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Marzipan Cat Zombies

Published April 20, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Phil pushed the bookcase against the door then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his Captain America t-shirt. He noticed his hands trembling and balled them into fists so his friends wouldn’t see.

‘That’s pointless. Cats can’t open doors,’ said Joe. He slumped onto the bed next to Rohan.

Phil looked across at his two friends. Joe was wearing his Chicago Bears top. His dad had sent it to him and he always wore it unless it was in the wash. His scruffy brown hair looked extra tussled after running here. Rohan’s turban still looked immaculate but his shallow breathing and sweaty face betrayed his fitness level. ‘Just in case. Cats don’t normally turn into marzipan and eat people either. We don’t know what they can do now.’

‘I don’t think they’ll be able to open doors.’ Joe fiddled with his neon green shoelace.

‘Well, just in case. Humor me.’ Phil paced across to the bed and kicked Joe’s foot.

‘Hey, guys, c’mon,’ said Rohan. His chunky glasses magnified his big brown eyes blinking back the threat of tears.

Joe placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘Sorry Ro, you ok?’

‘Of course he’s not ok numb nuts, he just watched his sister being bitten by a marzipan cat and then turning into marzipan herself.’ Phil pulled up his desk chair and sat down opposite Joe and Rohan.

Joe stretched out and lightly kicked Phil’s leg. ‘I’m aware of that number nuts. I saw it too. And old Mrs. Terry on the corner, all her five cats had marzipaned. She had no chance.’

‘What’s happening guys? What we gonna do?’ Rohan’s eyes flicked back and forth between Joe and Phil, like a mole emerging into bright sunshine.

Phil sighed and stared at the skateboarding scab on his knee. He had to be brave for his friends. He tried to keep his voice as steady as he could. ‘I don’t know.’

‘When will your mom and dad be back?’ Rohan threw his question in Phil’s direction.

Phil rubbed his eyes, his hands slightly trembling, he clenched them again. ‘I don’t think they’ll be coming back. It was on the TV before you both got here. It’s all over the place, the cats, they’re everywhere. The news said to stay wherever you are and don’t go outside.’

Joe pulled his legs up onto the bed and tucked them under himself. ‘They can’t be everywhere.’

‘They’re everywhere,’ said Phil through gritted teeth. ‘It’s marzipan madness out there.’

Rohan knelt on the bed, spying out of the window. He could see yellow cats, lots of yellow cats, almond assassins, prowling and pacing along the hydrangea-lined neighborhood. ‘They are everywhere. What we gonna do Phil?’

Joe frowned. ‘Why you asking Phil not me?’

‘Phil’s the eldest.’

‘Ro we’re all thirteen.’ Joe raised his eyebrows and shook his head.

‘Yes, but Phil’s still the eldest.’

‘By five days.’

Phil stood up. ‘Hey, I think who’s the eldest isn’t really important right now.’

Rohan sat back from the window and trailed his finger along Saturn’s rings on Phil’s duvet cover. ‘Yeah, well, I was just saying.’ He shrugged while staring into the universe on the bed. ‘I dunno what to do.’

‘We can stay here? Wait for help.’ Joe nodded at his own suggestion.

‘Help won’t be coming.’ Phil sat back down on his chair and swiveled back and forth. ‘Everyone bitten or scratched turns to marzipan and dies.’

Joe turned and took up Rohan’s spy post at the window. ‘Why aren’t the cats dying? When they turn to marzipan, why aren’t they dying, like the people?’

‘I don’t know. I didn’t create the mutant marzipan moggies did I?’ Phil dabbed sweat off his forehead again. He wanted Captain America to be real, to swoop in and save the day.

‘Didn’t they say on the news?’

‘They don’t know. But the people, after they’ve turned and are dead, they come back to life. Zombies.’

Joe spun away from the window and looked back at Phil. ‘Shit.’

‘So they are ok then?’ Rohan blinked hopefully towards Phil.

Phil smiled. ‘Yeah they’re fine.’ He dropped his smile like a hot potato. ‘Of course they’re not ok, they’re made of solid marzipan, doofus. You saw your sister. Did she look fine?’

Rohan ran his fingers along the hem of his camouflage shorts as a make-do comforter while staring at the fabric planets. Joe slumped under the window and bit at his nails. Phil rotated slowly on the chair, trying to think what to do. What would Captain America do? A clock in the shape of a rocket ticked behind Phil on his desk. The tick-tock silence was broken by loud meowing and human screams outside.

Joe spun around to look out of the window again. ‘Jeez. Mr. Howard has turned. He looks like a Simpson. He’s trying to get into the Kiplinski’s porch.’

‘If no help is coming we’re going to have to kill the cats ourselves,’ said Phil.

‘And just how d’we kill them?’ Joe got up from the bed and started to pace the small room. ‘I mean, I know how you’d kill a normal cat, but one that’s made of fucking marzipan?’

Rohan looked up from the planets horrified. ‘Your mom would freak at your language.’

Joe stopped his pacing. ‘My mom is probably almond paste right now. I don’t think she’d fucking care.’

‘You’re such a grown up.’ Rohan pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.

‘Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.’ Joe continued his pacing.

‘Hey, c’mon, both of you.’ Phil stopped moving on the chair. ‘We have to eat them.’

‘What?’ Joe stopped pacing.

‘The cats,’ said Phil. ‘It said on the news, the only way they can be stopped is by eating them.’

‘Eating them?’ Rohan grimaced.

Joe held his hands up. ‘Can’t we just chop their heads off?’

‘If their heads are chopped off they just morph back together. Same if you squash them.’ Phil mimed squishing and growing with his hands. ‘They just go back into their cat shapes. Guessing it’s the same for the people too.’

‘I can’t eat people,’ said Joe, clasping his face with his hands.

Rohan wiped his hands down his thighs. ‘I can’t eat cats. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘It’s bloody marzipan. Without the blood. Perfectly vegan and fine for your religion.’ Phil twirled around in the chair to face Joe. ‘Just like eating the marzipan fruits your Auntie Gayle gives you at Christmas.’

‘Eating a non-moving marzipan apple the size of my thumb is a bit different to eating a full sized marzipan cat in attack mode. Or a relative,’ said Joe.

Phil stood up and walked across to Joe. ‘We can stun the cat, or person, first, by whacking them with something and then eat them quickly.’

‘Can you stun marzipan?’ Rohan asked.

Joe shrugged. ‘At least we won’t have to worry about finding food.’ He attempted to laugh but just made a snorting noise.

‘Maybe we can make a pact though.’ Phil patted Joe’s shoulder. ‘I don’t think any of us want to eat our own family.’

Rohan gasped. ‘No!’

‘Gross,’ said Joe.

Phil looked across at Rohan, then back to Joe. ‘So why don’t we agree that if we get in a ‘situation’ with family one of us others will deal with it.’

Rohan started to cry. ‘I can’t.’

Joe slunk over to the bed and sat next to Rohan. ‘Look Ro, I know it’s hard but we gotta pull together here.’

‘No, I mean I can’t. I can’t eat marzipan.’ Rohan stifled his sobs. ‘My diabetes. I haven’t got my insulin with me.’

‘Shit.’ Phil kicked the bookcase. He’d forgotten about Ro’s diabetes. Why didn’t he bring his insulin pen with him? Why did he have to think of everything all the time.

From the other side of the door there was a hiss of a cat. Phil leapt away from the bookcase and door and almost landed on Joe’s lap as he launched himself onto the bed. The cat started scratching at the door.

Joe gripped Rohan’s knee. ‘Christ, maybe it’ll go away?’

The scratching at the door continued.

Rohan swallowed hard. ‘How can marzipan make a scratching noise like that?’

Joe realized he was holding Rohan’s knee and let go. He frowned at Rohan. ‘I don’t know, shall we open up the door and find out?’

Rohan hugged his legs again and lowered his head.

‘Sorry Ro,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not feeling myself.’

Phil shuffled across the bed a little. ‘You’re looking a little yellow Joe. You feel sick?’

Joe shook his head. ‘No. Just a bit spaced. Like you? Don’t you feel spaced?’

‘Wired. I’m feeling wired. Not spaced.’ Phil turned his head to Rohan. ‘Ro?’

Rohan shook his head and edged away a few inches from Joe.

Phil stood up slowly. ‘You haven’t been bitten have you?’

‘No,’ said Joe. He stared at his laces.

Rohan slid off the bed and stood next to Phil. ‘Or scratched? You might not have felt a scratch while we were running over here.’

‘No, I’m fine.’ Joe clenched his hands.

‘You’re definitely more yellow now. Look.’ Phil pointed to Joe’s bare legs, not covered by his shorts.

‘It’s the light in here.’ Joe grabbed the pillow from the bed and tried to cover his legs.

‘Shit Joe, you’re turning, look at the scratch on your arm!’ Phil took a step back, bumping into the chair.

All three boys looked at Joe’s arm. It was definitely yellow. There was a gaping gash, about an inch long, and thick yellow pus paste oozed out from it below his sleeve.

‘No! Oh God no. Guys you have to help me!’ Joe cried as he stared at his changing body.

‘We can’t do anything,’ said Phil, gripping onto the back of the chair. ‘There’s no cure.’

‘Then you have to kill me.’ Joe stopped crying and sniffed. He held his arms out. ‘Eat me.’

‘Jeez Joe! You’re not fully turned! I can’t eat you.’ Phil grimaced.

Joe lowered his arm. ‘Ok. Well, get ready.’

‘I don’t think I can do this,’ said Phil. He sat in the chair shaking his head.

‘You have to,’ Joe pleaded. ‘Rohan can’t or he’ll go into a hypo.’

Rohan shifted slightly from side to side, sniffing.

Phil looked at his friends scared faces, he needed to keep their spirits up. ‘There are bits of you that I really don’t think I can eat.’ He nodded towards Joe’s crotch.

‘Christ Phil! You can’t leave just my wiener running around after people.’ Joe rubbed the pus paste into his arm as a bit more oozed out. ‘What kind of sicko does that.’

‘What kind of sicko eats your wiener!’ Phil made a snorting noise as he laughed and stifled a cry at the same time.

Joe laughed and wiped yellow tears away with his sticky fingers.

‘Can’t you just leave?’ Rohan mumbled. ‘You could eat that cat on your way out.’

‘Wow. Really finding out about my friends now.’ Joe smiled at Rohan.

Rohan limply smiled back. ‘It’s because I’m your friend I don’t want to eat you.’

Phil took a step closer to Joe. ‘C’mon Joe, take one for the team. I’d leave if it was me infected.’ He placed his hand gently on Joe’s shoulder. ‘I’d push you out the door but I don’t want my fingers sinking into your fat marzipan middle there.’

‘I’d eat you if it was the other way around numb nut.’ Joe stood up and stepped towards the door. ‘I’ll eat the cat, then run away from the house, draw any others away.’

Rohan wiped his eyes. ‘Thanks Joe.’

‘Sorry bud.’ Phil’s voice cracked.

Joe nodded. ‘Get ready to slam the door.’ He started to shove the bookcase out of the way but his thumb mushed into the wood. Sighing, he scraped it off, remolded it, and stuck it on his forehead. ‘Unicorns rule.’

Phil laughed. ‘Numb nut.’ He dragged the bookcase away from the door and held the door handle. He locked eyes with Joe. ‘Ready?’

Joe nodded and smiled at Phil and Rohan. Phil yanked the door open and Joe shot out, Phil slammed the door behind him. Phil leant against the door and closed his eyes. Rohan sat on the bed, leant forward, and held his head in his hands. Cat screeching and scuffling outside the door was agony to listen to. There was a final high pitched feline howl then the landing fell silent.

After minutes of stillness, Phil stopped leaning against the door and turned, pressing his ear up against it. ‘Joe? You still there?’

‘Yes,’ said Joe from behind the door.

Rohan lifted his head from his hands. ‘Why didn’t you run?’

Joe’s voice sounded muffled. ‘I don’t want to die out there on my own. I’m scared.’

‘He’s going to fully turn any minute.’ Rohan whispered to Phil.

Phil nodded, then talked to the door again. ‘Did you eat the cat?’

‘No. Well, I tried to eat it, but it’s very struggly. I ate its leg. It’s not happy with me. It’s just staring at me now. I’m sorry’

Phil placed his hand flat against the door. He would have probably stayed too. ‘I’m sorry too.’ He turned and looked at Rohan, and raised his eyebrows.

Rohan nodded and stood up from the bed. Phil slowly twisted the door handle and opened it.

Joe was sat on the floor, not only was his skin bright yellow but his hair had turned from dark brown to yellow chunky strands. His thumb was still on his forehead.

Phil opened the door wider. He could see an angry looking marzipan cat in a crouching attack position further along the landing. ‘Put your thumb back where it should be, I can’t take you seriously.’

‘If you’re going to be marzipan, we will too,’ said Rohan.

‘No you should stay safe.’ Joe shuffled to his feet, removing his thumb from his head and molding it back onto his hand. ‘I’m just being selfish.’

‘You’re not being selfish. You’re just scared like we are.’ Phil shrugged. ‘No one is safe. If we don’t have our families we only have each other, but if we don’t have each other what’s the point in hiding out.’

The cat rocketed itself through the doorway, hissing and lashing out in a frenzied Catherine Wheel of almond rage.

‘It got me!’ Rohan stumbled back rubbing his leg.

‘Me too,’ said Phil.

The cat limped back out on its three legs, its tail twitching like a caffeinated cobra. Joe shuffled into the room and slumped his sticky body onto the bed.

‘D’you think we’ll still know each other when we turn?’ asked Rohan. ‘You know, when our brains are marzipaned?’

‘Yeah, sure we will.’ Phil put his arm around Rohan. ‘Friends and numb nuts forever.’

Joe widened his mouth into a Joker’s grin. ‘Marzipan’s for life, not just for Christmas.’

Lockdown

Published April 13, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Day 21
I don’t know why I’m writing this and I don’t know who I think will read it but I feel I must write something down in case something happens to me. I’m scared. Maybe I’ll be less scared if I keep a journal, I might read it back and say ‘Kelly you’re just being silly’. I have about thirty minutes a day to myself while he has a bath so I’ll write then.
This lockdown is making everyone stir crazy so I can’t blame him for what he does. It’s being stuck in here with me day after day, that’s enough to test the patience of anyone he says. I’ll hide this little notebook in the drawer with my sanitary towels, he never searches through that as he thinks it’s disgusting. I wish he wouldn’t say that. I wish we could be the way we used to be, at the start. I love him.

Day 22
He hit my face today. He’s never done that before. I guess with me not going out he’s not worried about anyone seeing the bruises. It’s always been my legs, stomach, back and arms, but today it feels like the first time. He loves me and he’s sorry. He’s always sorry. He says I make him hurt me. I wish I could make him happy. I’m frightened. I love him.

Day 23
More hits to my face today. I feel ashamed. I looked in the mirror and I felt ashamed. I’m trying my best but I don’t understand what I did wrong today. He said I looked ugly and I’d let myself go so maybe that’s why he was upset with me. My ribs are hurting too. I feel sick and don’t feel like eating. I’ll cook a roast tomorrow, he loves a roast dinner. I love him.

Day 24
The dinner wasn’t hot enough today so I had to eat mine off the floor, even though I wasn’t hungry. It was difficult to swallow it down with his foot on the back of my neck and while I was crying. I tried to stop crying as this just made him madder but I couldn’t. I try my best to be a good wife but I don’t know what to do. I cried when he made love to me. I love him.

Day 25
I’ve got cystitis. He couldn’t go to the chemist as there are too many sick people out there and I’d be endangering him so I asked if he could order something online but he told me that would be a waste of money. I complain too much. I didn’t want sex this morning but I didn’t complain. I love him.

Day 26
I don’t recognise myself. He shaved my head. There was a hair in his food so he shaved my head. I have black and bloodshot eyes, and no hair. I look disgusting. He’s right, no one else would want me. I don’t know what to do. I nearly phoned his mum but when I called her in September she told me that he was my husband and what did I expect. She would say the same now. I’m scared but I love him.

Day 27
I don’t think I can take much more, I can’t even bare to write down what he did to me last night. How can he love me and do that? I don’t know what to do. His family won’t help me, I’m not allowed to leave during this quarantine and even if I was I wouldn’t have anywhere to go. I haven’t spoken to my friends or family in so long, I wouldn’t know what to say. He says they all hate me anyway. I don’t want to cause problems for anyone else. I’m a disappointment to everyone. I’m going to try and search on his laptop for a refuge or someone I can talk to. I’ve got the landline but I don’t know any numbers, only 999 but it’s not an emergency. I don’t want to cause a fuss. I’ll wait for him to have his bath tomorrow and I’ll find a number. I’ll get help.

Day 29
Can hardly write. Think hands broken. Forgot to delete history. Made him so angry. Chest hurts. Everything hurts. Can’t see left eye. Phone ripped out. Laptop smashed up with my head. Got to get out. He’ll kill me if I stay. I’ll leave tomorrow bath time. Don’t know where. Need sleep now. Maybe I deserve this. Need help. He needs help. I love him. Why?

*****

(According to the Office of National Statistics about 4.2% of men and 7.9% of women suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales during 2018. This equates to about 685,000 male victims and 1,300,000 women. Murders related to domestic violence are at a five year high.
One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic abuse during their lives. On average 104 women and 30 men are murdered every year in England and Wales due to domestic violence.
On average domestic abuse victims will have been assaulted 68 times before reporting it to the police.)

National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327

The Suicide Cat

Published December 9, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Beth stood at the edge of the cliff, her eyes closed, listening to the waves thrashing against the rocks beneath her, feeling the wind slapping her, and whipping her hair across her face. Thirty-six years had culminated to this resolution. Thirty-six years of struggle and pain and feeling out of place. Thirty-six years of angst and self-torment. Even with her eyes closed, Beth could feel the moon shining a spotlight onto her. This was her moment, her final curtain call, time for that final bow.

She listened to those wonderful waves calling her name. About to take a step forward into the salty wet audience, she stopped herself. She listened again. It was definitely a cat meowing. Confused she opened her eyes and blinked to adjust to the moonlight. Taking a few steps back she turned around. Nothing. She could see the gorse bushes pushing against the wind, spiky warriors standing their ground, the blackness of the coast path in front of her, leading to inky blobs of rocks and boulders. It was ten o’clock on a deserted clifftop, her mind must be playing tricks on her, maybe as some cruel final encore. See, you are totally mad, jump off and disappear. A meow again, this time louder.

Beth peered into the darkness in the direction of the sound, still nothing.

‘Hello?’

Another louder meow was followed by two twinkling eyes materialising out from path in front of her. A black mini panther, the size of a domestic cat. The cat meowed again and slinked towards Beth, tail twitching in the air, stopping just in front of her.

Beth crouched down and held her hand out. ‘Hello. What are you doing up here?’

The cat cautiously approached her outstretched hand, sniffed, then rubbed his face against it. Beth scratched him under the chin and stroked his skinny body as it weaved around her hands.

‘You shouldn’t be up here, this wind will blow you off the cliff, you’ve got no weight on you, you silly thing. Do you live close by? Have you even got a home? What am I going to do with you?’ Beth continued her monologue of questions as the cat revelled in her attention and the wind played with her hair.

Beth stood up. ‘Well I can’t do this with you watching me. Do you want to come back with me?’

The cat meowed with perfect timing.

Beth smiled. ‘Just for one night though, I’ll postpone for one night. I’ve no more nights paid at the hotel so I’ll find you somewhere else to go in the morning. Deal?’

The cat meowed and rubbed against her legs.

‘Come on then.’ Beth started to trek back down the coast path towards the bay and the hotel. She glanced behind her, the cat was following her. She chatted to him as she navigated steep banks, slippery leaves and gnarled tree roots attempting to trip her. Every glance back was met with the vision of the black shadow with stars for eyes trotting after her.

Sneaking the cat into the hotel wasn’t a problem. Beth’s room was on the ground floor and there was a back door leading into her corridor from outside. Six stealthy feet scuttled along the corridor and into the room. After flopping onto the bed and partaking in strokes, head nudges and purrs, Beth called for room service, a tuna sandwich, a ham sandwich, and a chicken sandwich. The cat ate the contents of all three and lapped up water from a fine china saucer.

After a cleaning and grooming session the cat curled up next to Beth on the bed and slept soundly. Beth slept soundly for the first time in a long time too.

Beth observed the different shades of black fur on the cat as the morning sunlight seeped in through the curtains. Darkest brown tinges and indigo hues mingled in with the sleek tarry blackness. She felt calm and relaxed watching his belly move in and out contently and rhythmically with her breath. The cat yawned, opened his eyes slowly, and stretched his paw out into her chin, splaying his pads in a furry high five.

‘Good morning to you too.’

The cat licked his fur three times and stood up for a full body yoga stretch. Beth opened the curtains and made herself a coffee and the cat jumped off the bed, sitting knowingly by the patio door.

‘Time to go or do you just need the loo?’

Apparently it wasn’t time to go. After a toilet trip to the hotel flower beds the cat strolled back in for a wash before breakfast. Room service was ordered, extra sausage and extra bacon. Room service was eaten.

Beth’s suitcase was already packed. She’d packed it last night before going to the cliff top. She’d ask them to store her luggage for her until she decided on an altered plan of action. She dialled reception. ‘Hi, this is a strange question but is there anywhere on the island that rehomes cats or takes them in?…No, I found one this morning, I know pets aren’t allowed in rooms.’ She winked at the cat, the cat blinked back. ‘Oh ok, could you book me a taxi to take me there please?…Yes, as soon as possible…Thank you.’

‘I don’t take cats.’ The taxi driver shook his head to confirm this point. ‘They make a mess.’

Beth thought that was ironic considering he was wearing most of his breakfast remains on his sweatshirt, which was indeed sweaty too. ‘It’s my therapy cat. It’s for my anxiety. My disability cat.’

‘I don’t care if your leg has fallen off and your cat is carrying it, it’s not getting in my cab.’

The cat, in Beth’s arms, stretched his mouth wide in a yawn. Beth knew the cat was silently swearing at him. ‘But he’ll stay on my lap the whole time and it’s only a fifteen minute journey.’

‘No.’

‘I’ll pay you double the fare.’

‘Get in.’

The fifteen minute journey occurred in silence. The taxi tore through the tiny country lanes from the south of the island to the north. A fluffy bull, dangling from the rear view mirror, swung along to Coldplay. He’s trying to hang himself, thought Beth, having to put up with this mediocre droning. The cat sat happily on Beth’s lap. His left paw dangled over the edge of her leg and gently rested on the back seat. Beth smiled and whispered ‘rebel’ in her mind.

Beth paid the taxi driver but he drove off from the old farmhouse before she had time to ask him to wait. She kissed the top of the cat’s head and put him down on the driveway. Two chickens stuttered by in the background, the cat observed them casually while staying close to Beth’s legs, tail in the air, alert and wary.

A woman appeared in the garden to the side of the house, carrying a basket of washing. She was short, robust, with sparse spiky grey hair, wearing a blue shirt, jeans tucked into green wellies and a chunky cream cardigan. Beth would guess she was in her late fifties or early sixties.

‘Can I help you?’ Her voice was blunt and it didn’t sound like she wanted to help at all. She walked towards Beth, washing basket still in her arms.

‘Hello, yes, I hope so. I’ve got a cat.’

The woman stared down at the cat, then slowly back up to Beth. ‘Yes, you have.’

‘Well, it’s not really my cat, I found it last night, and it needs a home. The hotel I was staying at gave me your address.’

‘Oh they did, did they.’

‘Yes.’ Beth watched the woman, the cat watched a rogue chicken streak across the drive. Beth felt she was hostage negotiating. ‘I was hoping you could give the cat a home, or you might know someone who can.’

‘Why didn’t you just leave the cat where it was to wander back from where it came?’

‘It was on the top of Beauport Bay cliffs.’

‘At night.’

‘Yes.’

The woman’s face remained impassive. ‘You don’t live here on Jersey then.’

‘No, I was staying at L’horizon hotel.’

‘Was?’

‘It was my last night last night.’

The woman shifted the basket of washing to rest on her right hip and sniffed. ‘What time is your flight?’

‘My flight?’

‘You said it was your last night, are you flying home today? Where is home to you?’

Beth felt herself tense up, where is home seemed a more philosophical than geographical question. ‘Oh, I, um, I’m from Wales, I haven’t booked my flight yet.’

‘I see.’

Aware she was stood soldier-like Beth tried to relax her stance by shifting more of her weight to her left side, she fiddled distractedly with the strap of her bag across her body.

‘What’s your cat’s name?’

‘I don’t know, and it’s not my cat.’

The cat rubbed against Beth’s legs.

‘What’s your name? Or do you not know that either?’

‘Beth.’ Beth found herself in automatic soldier stance again.

‘Well Beth, my name is Susan. Not Sue, or Suzy, or Sooze. Clear?’

‘Um, yes.’

Susan turned and marched off towards the house. Beth and the cat stood side by side watching her.

‘Well don’t just stand there waiting for a bloody written invitation, and bring your shadow too.’

She disappeared through the door and Beth hesitantly followed her in, her shadow padding behind her.

The kitchen was cluttered with crockery, books, and plants, an assault of colours vied for Beth’s attention. An aroma of moth balls, dusty libraries and Deep Heat challenged her nostrils. A large hefty wooden table was in the centre of the room with various sizes of crocheted coasters and placemats of a kaleidoscope of colours scattered on it. Susan was filling a kettle by the cooker.

‘You can have tea from the pot with me or a coffee, only instant coffee though, I have no time to mess about with those silly plunger things.’

‘Instant coffee is fine, thanks.’

The kettle boiled, Susan clattered about with a teapot. ‘Sit down then.’

Beth sat on one of the wooden chairs, the cat jumped up on her lap, massaged her legs while he got comfortable then curled up.

‘And you think he’s not your cat?’

Beth smoothed his fur as he purred. ‘I can’t look after a cat.’

‘Nonsense.’ The teapot, wearing a green and yellow crocheted cosy, was plonked on the table, followed by a mug of coffee emblazoned with ‘I love Ibiza’, followed by a tin of malted milk biscuits.

‘Thank you.’ Beth glanced at her mug. She doubted that Susan had been to Ibiza.

Before she had chance to ask her, an elderly German Shepherd plodded into the room and over to Susan. Susan ruffled his head and smiled.

‘This is Jim. Jim, we have visitors.’

Beth was slightly taken aback by Susan’s smile, it transformed her face so much. She turned her head to the dog. ‘Hello Jim.’

Jim slowly walked to Beth and sniffed her leg and the cat. The cat opened his left eye and studied Jim’s large damp nose and inquisitive eyes. After a brief moment Jim turned and plodded back out of the room.

Susan delved into the biscuits and started to munch on one. ‘Do you like animals?’

‘Of course, I like them more than people.’ Beth looked up to meet Susan’s studying of her. ‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t be, animals are nicer than people, they don’t let you down or leave you.’ Susan pushed the biscuit tin towards Beth. ‘Don’t stand on ceremony.’

‘Thanks.’ Beth took a biscuit out and bit off half.

‘So if you leave your shadow here, what are you going to do next?’

Beth was glad she had a mouthful of biscuit to stall for an answer. She could hardly tell a complete stranger she would probably go throw herself of the cliff tonight. She shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ Her shaky hands picked up her coffee and she was self consciously aware Susan had noticed this.

Susan slurped her tea. ‘Won’t anyone miss you?’

Beth’s hands gripped the mug handle tight. Had Susan read her mind? She stared into the abyss of coffee. ‘No.’

The following silence felt so deep to Beth, she had an urge to fill it. ‘I have no job, no family, no partner, no children, no friends, just a rented apartment full of dreams and regrets.’ Shocked at her honest revelation she shoved another half of a malted milk in her mouth to stop herself revealing anymore.

Susan nodded solemnly and slid the biscuit tin back towards herself, also taking another biscuit. ‘But now you have your shadow.’

Beth twitched a smile as she looked down at the sleeping cat, her eyes watered. She brushed off an escaped tear and desperately tried to swallow down the remainder of her biscuit without choking.

Susan swigged more tea and topped up her cup from the pot. ‘Do you have bags? A suitcase?’

‘Oh, yes, my suitcase is in storage at the hotel.’

Susan nodded. ‘We’ll go get it after lunch. You can stay in one of my spare rooms. It’s not fancy but it’s got a comfy bed, wallpaper, and a nice wardrobe.’

‘Oh, I couldn’t stay here.’

‘Why not? Are you a thief, a murderer or an arsonist?’

‘No.’

‘No I thought not, so you can stay. Until you decide what you and Shadow are going to do next.’ Susan nodded towards the cat. ‘He thinks you’re someone worth hanging around for, that’s good enough for me.’

‘But, I wouldn’t want to put you out.’

‘You won’t be, I’m not offering you the swanky hotel services you’ve been used to. A bed and board for you both in return for helping me look after the animals here in the kennels. Again, not a hotel, so you’ll eat what I cook for myself or cook and clean up after yourself if you don’t like my cooking.’

Beth realised she’d been holding her breath and exhaled deeply. ‘That’s really kind of you.’

‘Not being kind, I’m using you for cheap labour, my arthritis is playing up and you’ve come along at the right time.’

Beth looked down at Shadow on her lap, then back up to Susan. ‘Yes, I think I have.’

If I was writing for Emmerdale

Published September 28, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Currently the only storyline I’m enjoying is Chas and Paddy’s pregnancy, and enjoying seems the wrong word, as we the viewer are about to hurtle face first into pain and anguish as baby Margarita’s appearance and exit is due next week. Three ply tissues at the ready. For me the scriptwriting for this has been excellent, and I hope Paddy and Chas can grieve together for support in the aftermath, that’s how I would write the continuation of this story for them.

To give them space I would move Charity in with Vanessa, Johnny, and Tracy, and have Noah moving in with them too. Cramped but it could be a fun family household. I’d like to see Charity making up for lost time with Ryan, and because I liked his ‘mum’ Irene I would like the pair of them to move into the village. I liked Irene’s unlikely friendship with Charity, even though prickly at times and I’d like to see this odd couple friendship develop. Irene tipsy at a club with Charity, and Charity making a quilt at a W.I meeting with Irene?

Eric and Faith are a good couple, so I’d leave them well alone, but I’d introduce Eric’s estranged brother Michael into the village. Having emigrated to Australia when younger he’s moved to reconnect with his brother after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He doesn’t tell Eric this though, so all does not go smoothly, and Michael takes a shine for Diane adding more complications.

I’d like to see Sam and Lydia get married, without a hitch, in a small outdoor ceremony. Simple but beautiful. And just as they settle into married life in Wishing Well cottage with Zak and Belle, Lisa comes home from Scotland. But she’s not alone. She’s back with a glam new look and a new husband, Adrian. Insisting she has just as much right to be there as Zak, and that she needs to be there for Belle after her ordeal with Lachlan. They all decide to try and live amicably together. But obviously there are a lot of problems and unresolved jealousy issues.

I don’t like Jesse and Marlon together, I just don’t feel the chemistry between them myself, so I’d have Marlon end their relationship when Jesse’s other son comes out of prison and causes tension, which I’m sure he will. I’d have Marlon decide on giving up on love but then falling for a food critic called Martha that visits The Woolpack, she keeps coming back as she can’t get enough of his pulled pork balls. They would form a long and loving relationship bonding over their love of food and zombie films. I’d have them become a solid couple, as Marlon and April deserve that.

Bernice and Dr Cavanagh are looking set for a fling currently, and I think they would make a good couple. I’d have Bernice end things with Daz properly and then start a legitimate relationship with Liam. Bernice having a doctor as a partner would feel like a queen bee, her airs and graces would skyrocket. And his daughter Leanna and Gabby having to spend time together could be made interesting with a lot of tension. I’d make Gabby turn vegan and become an animal rights campaigner as a new direction for her.

I didn’t enjoy the Rodney and Misty relationship, so I’d like to give Rodney a romantic break for a while. I’d have him attempt to flirt with a woman in her 40’s, Monique, when she turns up looking for him in the woolpack, but to discover she’s his daughter. A daughter from a one-night stand who Bernice and Nicola are horrified to know exists and do everything they can to try and make her go away.

At first I didn’t like Rhona with Pete, but they’ve grown on me like pretty moss, so I’d have a pregnancy thrown into the mix. Would Rhona want another baby so soon into their relationship? Would Pete? I’d write them going through with it and the commitment to each other. This would be hard for Paddy to watch, his ex-wife having a baby when his and Chas’s didn’t survive.

Another baby I’d launch on the village would be with Maya and David. She would actively seek to get pregnant with him, to control and take over his life slowly. This would be upsetting for Tracy even though she doesn’t want to be with David anymore it would still hurt her after her abortion. I would have Tracy cry on the shoulder of the recently single Daz and have those two get together as a couple.

I think the Sharmas need some new blood. I don’t like Rishi and Manpreet, so I’d knock that on the head. Like Rodney I feel Rishi needs some time out on the romantic front, so I’d have his sister Garima arrive to take charge of him. She would be bossy and matriarchal and want to interfere with his personal and business life. I would see this as light relief and potential for a good comedy element, but underneath it would be quite sad as Garima’s husband has recently died, all her children are living away and she feels empty and without purpose, hence the need to come and pester/nurture her baby brother Rishi.

Jai would also have a new love interest, as his eye catches a newcomer to the village, Bob’s daughter Roxy, who’s 23 now, as we know Jai likes a younger lady. Roxy turns up to stay with Bob, to escape a violent relationship, but doesn’t tell him that straight away. Laurel’s not happy having an extra body in the house but doesn’t say no. I don’t like Bob and Laurel together, so I’d put a lot of pressure on them to try and split them up. As well as Roxy moving in, I’d have Bob’s grandson T.J. stay for a bit, on holiday from Morocco. He’s be 15 now, and he’d have an unrequited crush on Gabby, even attempting to be a vegan to impress her. If I was feeling really mean towards Bob and Laurel I would have Bob’s son (Carly’s brother) Josh stay too, he’d be about 30 now. He could be a possible love interest for Priya, or Harriet even.

We know Kim Tate is coming back for a little while, so it will be interesting to see how she is written in, as she didn’t have anything to do with Joe Tate being his step-gran for a short time many years ago. I’d like to bring back the next generation of Tates. Joes cousin Jean would be 15 years old now, and Kim’s son James (Joes uncle) would be 22 years old now. They could bring a good vibrant dynamic to Home Farm. Joe, James, and Jean (Triple J) and Graham and Kim playing ‘mum and dad’ in a romantic relationship?

My Best Friend is a Unicorn, called Neville.

Published February 25, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Neville has been my best friend since as far back as I can remember, in fact I can’t remember life without him. When we were both little we would share the same bed, I’d stroke his soft purple mane as he snored blissfully next to me. Logistics got in the way as we both got bigger. A man and a fully-grown unicorn just don’t fit into a bed together. Even the king size bed that I have now. Neville has his own room, but I have the en-suite. Neville prefers the great outdoors for his ablutions. I’ve fitted a latch on the back door that Neville can unhook with his horn, so that he can venture out to the garden whenever he wants.

It’s so much easier now we live by ourselves. When we lived at Dad’s it was a nightmare having to go out to the garden every time Neville needed to do his business. Dad was always suspicious why I needed to keep going outside, I’d regularly get my pockets checked for cigarettes when returning in from Neville’s toileting. Nev would find this highly amusing, suggesting I bought a packet so my dad could ‘find’ them on me and feel vindicated for the prison search.

I wished that I could’ve told him the real reason for my garden visitations, but the word unicorn was banned in our house when I was seven. Up until then I had included Neville in our family conversations and no one had seemed to mind, then Mum and Dad got divorced, and life got complicated.

It was an upsetting time for me, not Mum and Dad splitting up, but because they both said I had to stop pretending that a unicorn lived with us. They might as well have asked me to pretend the grass isn’t green. So I had to do the opposite, from that day on I had to pretend I couldn’t see Nev. He was upset of course by this, but when I explained it was necessary for him to stay with me, he stopped crying. Which was good because unicorn tears are tricky to get out of clothes, it’s the glitter in them. If Neville has had a cry on my shoulder my shirts always need a prewash, once when I was about ten I forgot to prewash and Dad wasn’t over the moon with his glittery pants. I blamed the school’s art department for glitter sticking to my school jumper, but Dad complained about his glittery pants for months.

I should point out that I did the washing at home as it was just me, Dad and Neville living in the house. Mum had moved to a flat across town. She’d wanted me to move with her of course but it was a tiny two bedroomed flat on the fourth floor. That would have been no good for Nev so we stayed with Dad. I also didn’t like Mum’s new boyfriend Warren, he smelled of herring and smoked, and that would set off Nev’s asthma. The smoking that is, not the herring smell. Did I mention Neville has asthma? When I used to visit Mum, Nev would stay at home in the garden. A few times he came with me and waited outside but the fumes from the traffic would set the asthma off too.

Mum visits me now in my house, but not that often. I think she senses Neville here and doesn’t want to admit to herself that he’s real. He stuck his hoof out once and tripped her up when she walking to the door and telling me I should get some friends. She blamed the rug. Neville laughed externally while I laughed internally.

I’ve mastered the art of laughing internally while keeping a neutral face over the years. When I had to pretend not to see Neville because we were in others company he would always relish acting the fool to try and make me chuckle. He got me a few times, usually when he stood on his hind legs and did demented disco dancing. On those occasions I would feign a coughing fit to leave the room for a glass of water.

It got tiresome though pretending I couldn’t see Nev and whispering when I wanted to talk to him, so I moved out last year on my twenty first birthday. I’m a postman and Nev comes out on my rounds with me. We’ve learnt which gardens to avoid, there are a few dogs that go nuts when they see him. Mrs. Jones in Laburnum Terrace has a poodle called Binky that poops on her lawn when he sees Neville. Nev either waits at the end of the road or crawls commando style past Mrs. Jones’s house, it depends on his mood. He can be quite moody at times.

Except on Sundays. On a Sunday Nev is buzzing like a bee in a florist shop. We go to the park every Sunday, even in bad weather. There’s so much space for Nev to gallop about in and he loves swimming in the lake. It’s our highlight of the week, and even more so now.

Two Sunday’s ago, we did our usual routine. I sat on the bench eating a strawberry ice-cream watching Nev frolic around the green. He was taking a longer and slower route than normal so I observed the rest of the park goers. There weren’t that many, a family feeding the ducks on the other side of the lake, a couple out for a romantic stroll who were holding hands and giggling as they ambled along. There’s another bench further along from the one I was sitting on, a young woman in a blue cardigan and jeans was sat alone, the sun highlighting her red hair. She was looking across the green, intensely watching something. I followed her line of vision, there was Neville, prancing about like a parade horse.

I looked back to her and then back to Neville. She was still staring at him. My heart started galloping alongside Nev as I tried to think what to do. I wondered if suddenly everyone could see him now or just this mysterious woman. The romantic couple and family didn’t stare though, which I’m sure they would have if they could see a purple unicorn. My ice-cream drew my attention back to myself as the coldness of it dribbled down my fingers. I dropped it into the bin next to me, having lost my appetite with nerves, and licked off the sticky strawberry from my knuckles.

Before my brain could work out what to do next my legs were walking towards the other bench.

‘Hello,’ I said, as I sat down next to the blue cardiganed woman.

She glanced at me quickly. ‘Hello,’ she said, before looking back across to where Neville was still showboating.

I watched Neville and from the corner of my eye could see the woman looking back and forth between me and Neville. I turned my head towards her and caught her in full stare. ‘I’m John.’

She held my stare gently, her green eyes sparkled. ‘Emma.’ She smiled a smile that would have morphed my ice-cream to a milkshake.

I felt myself blush so turned away, Neville was trotting back towards us. Emma was watching him. This was just too weird. Neville stopped trotting when he reached the bench and shook his head, fluffing up his mane.

I took a deep breath. ‘You look like you’re having fun,’ I said, raising my eyebrows to Nev for some help.

‘You can see her?!’ Emma’s eyes widened and she moved forward on the bench.

My heart bumped repeatedly against my ribs. ‘Him. He’s a he.’

Emma frowned. ‘She’s a she.’

‘Neville is definitely a he.’

Neville was looking back and forth between us and was unusually quiet. I thought he was upset being mistaken for a female so I stood up and started to pat him for reassurance.

Emma squinted. ‘What are you doing?’

My stomach knotted. ‘Stroking my unicorn.’

She laughed. The knotting tightened.

‘You have a unicorn with you?’ Her smile radiated through every pore in her face and her shoulders relaxed as she leaned back into the bench.

The knot in my stomach started to unravel. ‘Yes.’

She nodded. I was confused. I thought she could see Nev, but then it was obvious she couldn’t, yet she didn’t run for the hills. And there was no pity in her eyes, still just the vibrant twinkle.

She stood up and started to stroke the air next to Neville. I thought she was humouring me by pretending to stroke him.

I rested my hand on Neville’s back. ‘He’s here.’

She nodded, still stroking the air. ‘This is Moira.’

My eyes tried to analyze hers. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know what to say, so I just stared at her like an idiot.

‘Moira is a unibob,’ said Emma.

I looked at Nev and he nodded. I swallowed to moisten my throat enough to speak. ‘What’s a unibob?’

Emma glanced at the air she was stroking. ‘A unibob is a magical llama with a horn, but it has a little bobble on the end of the horn, unlike a unicorn’s pointy horn.’

I nodded.

‘She’s pink, what colour is your unicorn?’

‘Purple, he’s purple.’ I smiled at Neville, he just looked embarrassed by me.

‘They match well then.’ Emma stopped petting the air and relaxed her arms down.

‘Yes.’ I nodded again, like a goofball. ‘We come here every Sunday, I’ve not seen you here before.’

‘We’ve just moved to the area, I inherited my grandfather’s farm, up by The Grange.’

I nodded again. ‘Will you be here again next week? I’d like to see you again.’

‘I can be, I’d like to see you again too. And judging from how much Moira was leaping about on the green I think she’d like to see Neville again too.’

He did, and we did. The Sunday after was just the best. I’d never felt so relaxed in my life, and for the first time I felt I belonged in the world. That sounds corny but it’s true. I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because someone can’t see your unicorn, they know that you can, and someone accepting you for you is the best feeling in the world. No pretending.

Nev wants to move to the farm today, but I’ve told him it’s too soon. We’ll go next week, that’ll give me time to pack. Neville is a useless packer as he just packs snacks.

The Verdict

Published February 9, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Leukemia, a word that sounds softer than cancer. Cancer sounds hard and abrupt, leukemia sounds more chilled out, like Bohemia. But the verdict of it still slams at you full force like a charging rhino. What do you do when you’ve just been told you have it? I went and sat in an empty church for an hour. I’m not religious, I just wanted to sit quietly somewhere. I needed time to compose myself before bumping into anyone I knew, I didn’t want to blurt it out to the first person who said hello to me. Someone’s innocent ‘Hi Tom, how are you?’ being met by a babbling mess of ‘Pretty shit, I’ve got leukemia.’ Nobody wants that answer to a rhetorical question.

I contemplated all the funerals that had taken place there in the peaceful sanctuary. Hundreds of bodies over the years being carried in and out via a wooden box, loved ones crying tears of goodbyes and guilt, sorrow and sentiments. This would be me soon.

Well, I say soon, between now and about five years, that seems soon now to me, too soon. That’s the estimate of my life expectancy. Science isn’t that accurate yet. Five years if I’m lucky, some fortunate people managed to drag out their existence by eight years. With medication, I might even make ten more years. Or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I assumed that I’d get to old age, stressing about pensions and whether I’d be able to afford my retirement barge on the canal. I know we’re not immortal, but when your life sentence is reduced, plans and thoughts crumble quickly. Just five more Christmases, five more birthdays, five more holidays. These bubbles of time are going to rapidly pop.

I sat in the cold church wishing I had a faith, maybe it would be easier to live with this death sentence if I believed a higher being was looking after my soul, or that I would be reunited with deceased family. Instead I know I will just simply die and everything will end. Game over. I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to laugh. Laugh at the irony, the irony of living with depression and fighting to stay alive every day, but wishing I could disappear, and now finding that my cosmic ordering has worked. I get my wish. But now I don’t want my wish. I want to send it back. I am ungrateful. There’s too much left for me to do.

I want to watch my son’s life unfold, see him enjoying life and having his own family. I want to have grandkids and be that fun Grandad everyone wants, a pocketful of sweets and a twinkle in my eye as I teach them poker and blackjack.  I want to laugh some more with my friends, grow old disgracefully with them. I want to explore the world, see beautiful sights across all continents, dip my toes in the oceans and seas. I want to watch more seasons of The Walking Dead.

I want to fall in love one more time, and feel that person’s love wrapped around me always. I want someone to hold me and know that I am their whole world. But that’s not going to happen, I’m going to die alone, I’d better get used to that and not wallow in a pity pool. I want someone to hold my hand as I take my final breaths. But that’s selfish isn’t it, I should be grateful I am single and therefore sparing someone that loves me the agony of watching me ebb away without them.

I haven’t told anyone yet. How do you tell people you’re a ticking time bomb? Do you tell people? My first instinct is to tell everyone. This is big news, I need to share, to get support, to get help making sense of it all. A Facebook status maybe, ‘Make the most of me, I’m not going to be here for much longer.’ Too dramatic? How about just simply ‘I’m dying.’ Too basic? After all, aren’t we all dying in various degrees? I’ve just moved up a few gears and I’m speeding along in the fast track lane. Typical, the only race I’m going to win is the death race.

If everyone knows I’m fast tracking death I’ll get sympathetic looks everywhere I go, do I really want people in my local Tesco’s looking at me thinking ‘oh that’s the man that’s dying, how sad’, and then carry on deciding what shade of toilet roll to buy. Do I just tell family? I have to tell my family. How do I do that? To see their faces try and grapple with emotion, to see their pain, to feel responsible for their grief. They need to prepare though, if you can ever prepare for someone you love dying. I’ve lost two people suddenly that I loved from heart attacks, I didn’t have chance to say goodbye or tell them I loved them. That haunts me. I don’t want anyone else to feel that.

There are too many emotions pin-balling around in my head. It’s like my brain doesn’t know what it should be feeling so it’s throwing everything out there, hoping the right one sticks in place. I’m going to just have to take each day as it comes. Find out what emotion my brain tries out each morning.

Today I woke up wanting to make the most of the day. I’m going out with Dave and some other work mates after our shift has finished, Murphy’s getting married so we’re off to celebrate his future. I’m going to have about six pints to celebrate mine. It’s worth celebrating. Some people have heart attacks or get hit by a bus, they’re gone instantly, I’m a lucky one getting notice to go. I can do my goodbyes and tie up my loose ends, closure. And if I’m really lucky a fiftieth party that will rock everyone’s socks off. And maybe their pants.

 

New Year’s Eve

Published December 31, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

‘Wow it’s cold,’ says Patrick, stepping outside and closing the door. He puts his gloves on, and a icy mist escapes from between his lips.

Ruth raises her eyebrows. ‘Well it is winter.’

‘Funny girl.’ He crinkles his nose up at her. ‘You never did feel the cold.’

‘I’m Welsh, we’re tough and hardy.’ She dazzles him with a wide smile.

Patrick laughs, exhaling more frosty clouds. ‘I won’t argue with that.’

Ruth adjusts her woolen hat, tucking her fringe up into it. ‘Ready to go?’

‘Yep.’ Patrick holds his hand out and Ruth’s hand slides into his with ease.

They walk in comfortable silence, just the sound of shoes crunching onto snow soundtracks the short walk from Patrick’s parents’ house to the town square. A few people are hurrying from The Golden Lion across to The Three Witches, trying not to get slapped by Jack Frost. Ruth always wanted someone to open a pub in town with the word wardrobe in the name, just so a pub crawl could involve going to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Patrick loved her so much that, if he’d won the lottery, he would’ve bought a pub and called it The Wonky Wardrobe, just to make her laugh.

They wander towards The Lion and stand just back from the window, looking in on a busy party scene. The sounds of music, laughter, and cheering, all leak out from the windows, and burst through the door when someone braves the outdoors.

Patrick squeezes Ruth’s hand. ‘There’s Rob and Danny, I think they’re trying to outdo each other in the most embarrassing Christmas jumpers.’

‘You want to go in and have a drink?’

‘No.’ He watches them downing their pints. ‘I said my Happy New Year to them earlier.’

Ruth glances to Patrick. ‘Oh yes, good time?’

‘Yep, Rob got his promotion, which is about time as he deserves it. Danny, well, Danny’s Danny. He couldn’t decide which girlfriend to go out with tonight so that’s why he’s out with Rob.’

‘Harsh.’

Patrick shrugs. ‘Rob doesn’t mind.’

‘I meant for the girlfriends,’ says Ruth, shaking her head.

‘Oh. Yes, it is I guess. They don’t know about each other. Yet.’

They both carry on observing through the window. It must be warm in the pub as Danny is taking his jumper off. He reveals a t-shirt with the slogan ‘babe magnet’ printed on it, much to Rob’s amusement. Rob keeps his reindeer jumper on, it’s quite impressive as the reindeer’s nose flashes red.

‘Silly question, but why doesn’t he just choose one?’ asks Ruth.

‘He can’t decide. He likes them all but isn’t in love with any of them.’ Patrick removes his stare from Rob’s flashing jumper and turns his head to Ruth. ‘He’s not as lucky as me finding you.’

Ruth turns to return his gaze. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too, for eternity.’ Patrick feels tears gathering up as he looks deep into Ruth’s eyes.

‘Are you sure you want to come away with me? I can wait if you want to stay here longer.’

Patrick swallows down his tears. ‘Don’t be silly, I want to come with you. What have I got here without you?’

‘Err, family friends, work.’ She raises her eyebrows.

‘You’re all the family I need, I won’t be missed by the rest of my family, and I can pop in at any moment to see them. My friends will be sad when they find out I’ve gone without saying a proper goodbye, I couldn’t though as they would’ve tried to talk me out of it.’ Patrick looks back into the pub. ‘Not that they don’t want me to be with you, but because they’d think it was better if I stayed.’ He looks back to Ruth, who is studying his face. ‘But when they find out, they’ll know I’ve followed my heart and done the right thing for me. And as for work, I only work to pay the bills, I will not miss unblocking toilets and examining u-bends.’

Ruth does mock shock. ‘Really?’

‘Yes really, come on, before they spot me.’ Patrick takes Ruth’s hand and leads her away from the pub.

As they walk through the square, Mrs. Timpson from the Post Office is coming out of The Three Witches, carrying a bottle of wine.

Patrick whispers to Ruth. ‘Appropriate.’

‘Shh,’ says Ruth. ‘She’ll hear you.’

Mrs. Timpson keeps her judging eyes on Patrick as she walks past, her face all lemon pinched and sour. ‘Evening Patrick.’

Patrick stops. ‘Happy new year.’

Mrs. Timpson just grunts as she carries on walking away.

‘She never liked me,’ says Ruth, pulling him back into motion. ‘Come on.’

They walk out of town and along an overgrown footpath towards the river. The noise of the town dissolves behind them and the crunch from underfoot soothes once again. They reach the stone bridge, it’s high up over the river and the ice on the water far below sparkles in the moonlight like angel’s tears.

‘Our spot,’ says Ruth.

‘Yes, our spot.’ Patrick squeezes Ruth’s hand. ‘When I proposed to you here last New Year’s Eve, I didn’t think it’d be our last time here.’

‘It’s not the last time, we can come back whenever we want.’ Ruth sits on the stone wall of the bridge, pulling Patrick towards her. ‘And if you want to stay here now, you don’t have to come with me, I’ll understand, and I’ll wait for you, for eternity.’

Patrick moves closer. He closes his eyes and he can feel an icy breath on him. ‘I’m not having second thoughts at all, I’ve never felt so right about something.’

‘No one ever thinks,’ says Ruth, so quietly it’s barely a whisper.

Patrick opens his eyes. ‘What do you mean?’

Ruth smiles gently. ‘Oh, I mean, no one ever thinks things will happen to them, do they. Danny never thought he’d be stuck in a love quadrangle, Rob never thought he’d have to wait five long years for that promotion, and I never thought I’d die in a car accident.’ She sighs. ‘And the woman who caused the crash didn’t think she’d cause a multiple pile up by having a heart attack that morning.’

‘And I didn’t think I’d meet the love of my life but I did. I’m the luckiest man in the world.’ Patrick climbs up onto the wall. He balances on the edge.

Ruth stands up next to him. ‘Would you like me to hold your hand?’

Patrick takes a last look down at the twinkling icy water, far below. Even in the moonlight he can see the rocks poking out from the shallow water, like mini icebergs. At this distance, he will easily break his neck. ‘Yes.’

Ruth’s fingers entwine his and she squeezes tight.

‘Don’t let go.’ Patrick closes his eyes.

‘I won’t,’ whispers Ruth.

Patrick steps forward.

Emmerdead

Published May 22, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Emmerdead.

When characters in the soap Emmerdale die they disappear from our screens, but secretly they have the choice of moving on to the afterlife or moving into Emmerdead which is a replica of the village, but just full of dead characters going about their daily lives. Residents in Emmerdale are unaware of the Emmerdead village, they might not be so scared of dying if they did, but Emmerdead residents regularly watch Emmerdale on their TV’s to keep an eye on any loved ones left in village. Or to just be nosey. Current residents in Emmerdead are:

 

The Dingles live at the traditional Dingle dwelling, Wishing Well Cottage. Head of the household is Shadrach, still drinking and avoiding soap, of the washing kind. His daughter Gennie is with him. She is a mobile hairdresser, zipping around the countryside on a pink scooter. Shadrach’s nephews Butch and Ben farm pigs to sell to the village butchers. The brothers constantly vie with each other to get Gennie’s attention. She keeps pointing out they’re cousins but they say that doesn’t matter as they didn’t grow up together. Alice Dingle watches over Sam and their son Samson in Emmerdale via the TV, she approved of Rachel but wishes Sam would stop mooning over Megan. Alice rears chickens and sells the eggs.

 

Pollard’s Barn is inhabited by two of Eric’s wives, Val and Elizabeth, and Dave Glover. Val and Elizabeth both constantly argue over who Eric will choose when he gets there. Dave hopes Eric will choose to go straight to the afterlife as he is currently Val’s toy-boy and won’t be giving her up without a fight. Val has a massage studio set up at the barn, ‘Valerie’s Heavenly Bodies’, and works as a masseuse alongside Dave. They regularly practice on each other. Elizabeth is a seamstress, making and repairing clothes. She is very disapproving of Val and Dave.

 

Butler’s Farm is home to one of the Sugden families. Joe runs the farm here with his wife Kate. Kates children Rachel and Mark Hughes help on the farm. Pete Whiteley also lives here and works on the farm. Kate felt guilty for killing him so employed him. Pete is now back in a relationship with Rachel, although enjoys flirting with Kate in private, taking advantage of her guilt.

 

Holdgate farm is home to the Tate’s. Frank and his two sons Chris Tate and Liam Hammond living under the same roof leads to a lot of tension at times. Liam is finally starting to bond with his estranged dad but Chris is very territorial in the son department. They own the factory next door and run a brewery from there. Their top selling beers are ‘Emmerdale Elite’, ‘Franks Feisty First’ and ‘The Knobbly Nob’. Liam gets his hair cut more than he needs to as he has a crush on Gennie Dingle. Chris wants Gennie to go out with him just so he can get one up on his half-brother.

 

Home Farm is back in the hands of the King’s. Tom King and Rosemary King rule the roost with Tom’s sons Matthew and Carl running the estate. Tom has forgiven Carl for killing him but favours Matthew at all times. Carl is now married to DCI Grace Barraclough and she lives there too. She clashes quite a lot with Rosemary. Frank Tate flirts with Rosemary King at every opportunity he gets, sometimes she flirts back.

 

Seth and Meg Armstrong live at Tall Trees cottage and Archie Brooks is their lodger. Archie is the gamekeeper at Home Farm, Seth often accompanies him to escape from Meg’s nagging at home. Smokey the dog is always by Seth’s side. When not tagging along with Archie at Home Farm Seth can be found in the pub.

 

Donald De Souza lives in The Mill. He is the village vicar now after finding God. He has forgiven Matthew King for withholding his heart pills when he was having a heart attack and then subsequently died. Donald’s church services are regularly busy, there are a lot of people looking for redemption in Emmerdead.

 

David’s Shop doesn’t exist here in Emmerdead, instead it is ‘Woods & Windsor’, shop and post office. The post office side is run by Vic Windsor; the shop is run by Terry Woods. Viv Hope works in both sides alongside each of her husbands. Donna Windsor works in the post office with her dad, and Dawn Woods works in the shop with her dad. They all live together next door in Farrers Barn. Viv spends alternative nights with Terry and Vic, this works well most of the time but does cause some friction between the two husbands.

 

Viv’s first husband Reg Dawson lives in Keepers Cottage. He doesn’t live with her like the others but watches from a distance and is quite reclusive. He tries to avoid bumping into Shirley Turner around the village as he feels guilty for shooting her.

 

Tenants cottage is occupied by Robbie Lawson. He watches over his mum Megan and baby sister Eliza on Emmerdale via his TV. He is the village postman and there is a fledgling romance between him and Donna, which started in the village Post Office. Donna watches Emmerdale with Robbie so she can check on her daughter April.

 

Cameron Murray lives at Jacobs Fold. He runs the garage, called ‘Murray’s Motors’ here. He offers free servicing for anyone he has murdered. Gennie brings her scooter here and Carl King brings all the Home farm vehicles in. Alex Moss chose to go straight to the afterlife so Cameron is saved a little extra work there, but he is still kept very busy.

 

Pear tree cottage is not Beuaty and Bernice here, but a butchers. It’s owned by Brian Addyman and his daughter Katie Sugden. They live above it but Katie is fed up smelling like raw meat so is trying to persuade the Kings to have a stables back at Home farm so she can work there. She also has the hots for matthew King and quite fancies living at Home farm too.

 

Dale View is home to Nick Henshall. He is still a policeman, partnered with DCI Grace Barraclough. He is still smitten with Katie Sugden but she does her best to ignore him here. He buys a lot of meat. Every day.

 

Connelton View is the home and practice of the village doctor Adam Forsythe. Even though he’s technically not a doctor as he was using his fathers’ certification to practice in Emmerdale, the villagers here don’t seem to mind. They just keep an eye on the fire extinguisher when being examined.

 

Graham Clark lives at Victoria Cottage. He is devastated that Rachel Hughes is in a relationship with Pete Whiteley, but she obviously doesn’t want anything to do with Graham as he murdered her. Graham no longer teaches; he is the delivery driver for the Tate’s brewery.

 

The Café is ‘Wyldes Wine Cellar’ here in Emmerdead. Owned and run by Mark Wylde who lives above it. During the day it is a wine shop and by evening it is a wine bar.

 

Brook Cottage has a reputation as a party house. Parties happen quite regularly and quite loudly. The residents are Linda Fowler, Luke McAllister, and Paul Marsden. All four work at the Tate’s brewery and have a habit of smuggling booze home with them. Linda disapproves of her brother Dave’s relationship with Val and tries to get him to party with ‘the younger crowd’ whenever she can. Luke has a crush on Linda but she has a crush on Paul. Paul just likes to party.

 

The veterinary surgery is run by Max King. He lives next door in Smithy Cottage with Mia Macey, they are madly and sickeningly in love. They bonded over their shared experience of being killed in car accidents. Mia is receptionist at the vet’s. They have a pet cat called Maurice and regularly go for Sunday lunch at Home Farm with Max’s family.

 

Mulberry Cottage has Jackson Walsh and Hilary Potts living in it. Hilary is Jackson’s personal assistant and they have a lot of fun and adventures together. Currently they are learning French.

 

The Grange is a B&B here too in Emmerdead. It is run by Tess Harris and Ruby Haswell. They also share a room, Tess discovered she was bi-sexual after meeting and falling in love with Ruby. They are very romantic and leave each other poems and messages around the B&B. When Ruby cooks breakfast for Tess and the guests she cuts the toast into heart shapes and fries eggs in heart shapes too.

 

Alan Turner is the landlord of The Woolpack. His son Terrence does all the heavy manual work while his granddaughter Tricia Dingle is everyone’s favourite barmaid. Alan’s wife Shirley also works behind the bar, as does his girlfriend Shelley Williams. This causes some tension. They all live in the pub but Shirley shares Alans bed, not Shelley. Shelley and Alan have a purely platonic relationship now. Reg Dawson is banned from the pub as he killed Shirley and Alan hasn’t forgiven him, but Dr. Adam Forsythe isn’t banned, even though he killed Terrence, as Alan thinks that wasn’t such a bad thing to do considering Terrence had sexually abused his sister Steph.

 

Edna is back in Woodbine Cottage, reunited with Batley the dog. When she arrived in Emmerdead she found Len Reynolds living in the cottage with his daughter-in-law Angie Reynolds. She agreed to move in with them but on a strict understanding that her and Len would be just friends. Len thinks this will change. Angie works in Wylde’s Wine Cellar and there is a great deal of sexual tension between her and her boss Mark Wylde.

 

Henry Wilks’ old house Inglebrook is occupied once again by Henry Wilks. Henry spends most of his time in The Woolpack though. He has a soft spot for new resident Edna and that is causing tension between him and Len.

 

Tug Ghyll Cottage is home to Peggy Skillbeck and her twins Sam and Sally. She is a regular visitor to both her brothers Jack and Joe’s farms, having a secret crush on Jack’s employee John Barton. Also living with Peggy and the twins is Sharon Crossthwaite. She was Peggy’s mum Annie’s cousin. Even though she is only seventeen years old she is Emmerdead’s longest residing villager, being the first murder victim over in Emmerdale back in 1973. She is the housekeeper at Home Farm and babysitter for Peggy. Peggy cleans at the brewery.

 

The Malt Shovel is featured in Emmerdead and is run by Gordon Livesy. It is not a popular pub but Gordon thinks he can turn things around. His main customer is Reg Dawson, Reg hasn’t told Gordon he is banned from The Woolpack. Other regular customers include Cameron Murray and Graham Clarke. Terrence Turner prefers to drink here than in his own family pub The Woolpack. Illegal gambling and after hours drinking occurs regularly.

 

The original Emmerdale farm is a working farm here in Emmerdead and is the other Sugden farm, in slightly healthy competition with Joe Sugden at Butlers farm. Joes brother Jack runs Emmerdale Farm. His two wives Pat and Sarah live with him, but neither share his bed as he can’t choose between them. His son Jackie Merrick, also Pat’s son, lives with them and works on the farm. Jacks granddad Sam Pearson lives there and so does Jacks father-in-law Leonard Kempinski. Leonard is waiting for his lovely Annie to join him. The two men are grumpy and cantankerous, think Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, but enjoy each other’s company and misbehave quite a lot. John Barton works for Jack, and lives there too. John is having a secret affair with Sarah Sugden and often shares her bed at night. If Jack were to find out it would probably make his mind up about which wife to choose!