story

All posts tagged story

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.

 

A Dangerous Lady

Published October 14, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I knew she was trouble the moment my eyes groped her in The Horseshoe Saloon. She was sat at the bar, her long legs twisting around the bar stool like a boa constrictor squeezing its prey. A lucky red velvet dress caressed her in envious places. Her skin was the colour of milk, full fat, and I wanted to test my lactose intolerance. Liquorice spiraled hair cascaded down her back and as I positioned myself next to her I could smell the aroma of bergamot and marzipan.

She glanced my way as I ordered a bourbon, drink not biscuit, a flutter of her emerald eyes enticed me out to sea without my water-wings. I didn’t see the sharks swimming around us, I was too distracted by her chest, bobbing in front of me like a life raft, I wanted to cling on and float away to heaven. I should have walked away right then and there, but I didn’t, those sticky red lips pouted and stuck my feet to the floor like lead bubblegum.

She asked the barman for a pen, her voice like smoky syrup, and wrote a number on a crisp white napkin, instructing me to call her. Sliding off the stool she sashayed away, her curvaceous bottom swaying like The Golden Gate Bridge in high winds. I followed. How could I not. I was a fool.

I know I’m a fool as I am now looking at her body. Her perfect dead body. She’s still a little warm, like a hot water bottle at 2am. I shot her in the heart, I couldn’t bear to disfigure that face. That face with blood red lips that lured the sharks, and sucked me in too. How could I compete for her affection, I was too far out of my depth. I should’ve walked away, I couldn’t.

Blood pools around her and feels like sticky molasses on my fingers. I hold her close to me, clinging on to my life raft. The gun is cold in my mouth, and the metal clinks at my teeth like ice in a glass as I place it in position. I don’t know if we’re going anywhere after this, all I know is that I can’t live with her, nor can I live without her. I should’ve walked away at the bar, but I’m a fool who fell for a dangerous lady.

 

CHAMELEON

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

 

‘Argh! Jesus fucking Christ Jemma!’ Carl screamed. ‘What was that!?’

‘That, my love, was me injecting air into your vein, sixty millilitres of it to be precise and you have approximately fifteen minutes left before you die.’

‘What!?’

‘The air bubble will work its way up your body and when it fills the chambers of your heart it will cause a cardiac arrest.’ Jemma slid the silky black blindfold from Carl’s eyes, smiling sweetly as he blinked in defiance of the light. ‘A post mortem will reveal just that, a plain old boring heart attack, brought on by an energetic afternoon of sex and alcohol,’ she continued smiling at him, ‘a lot of men would think that was a good way to die.’

Carl attempted to move his arms and legs but he was still securely handcuffed and tied to all four iron bedposts with Jemma straddled across him. ‘Is this part of the game? Jem?’

‘No silly, I’m not playing games now, this is real and your time is ticking. Tick tock.’ She tossed the empty syringe to the side of the bed and ran her hands through her hair.

‘I don’t understand?’

‘I know you don’t, that was my plan. If you’d understood you wouldn’t have been so easy to manipulate. I’ve had an unfair advantage, like playing chess with a monkey, and now its checkmate to me.’

‘You’re not making sense.’ Carl tried to move his arms again. ‘C’mon Jem, unlock these. I love you.’

Jemma leaned forward and kissed Carl’s forehead gently. ‘I know you do baby, I made that happen. But I don’t love you, I just pretended to.’ Her smile dropped, leaving behind bitter cold eyes boring into him.

‘For eight months?!’

‘Yes, for eight months. I’ve hated you for eight months. And loathed you for longer.’ Jemma reached over to the bedside table. Sipping champagne from the glass her breasts in their cream lace cups lingered teasingly over Carl’s face. She felt his body respond below her and she sat back, adjusting herself against his naked sweaty flesh. ‘So predictable.’

He bit on his lip, struggling to reverse his primitive reaction. ‘You never loved me?’

‘No. Now baby you need to be thinking quicker than this to work out why I’m murdering you. I’d like to see the realisation on your face when you do, that would be an extra thrill for me, but your death is the end goal of my project. Tick tock.’ The icy eyed smile manically returned.

Carl squirmed and the metal circling his wrists cut in causing him to recoil into the bed. Jemma steadied herself with her hands on his chest. She smirked at him. ‘Steady there bucking bronco, you know, I’m actually getting turned on knowing that you are about to die. Up ‘til now I’ve had to fake every moan and groan that I made when you touched me. I wanted to vomit and scrub myself with bleach after having sex with you…’

‘But you were…’

‘Lubricant. If you cast your tiny mind back to every time we’ve had sex you’ll remember I always excused myself first to “freshen up”. What I really meant by that was that I had to prepare myself with lubricant because the thought of you touching me made me as dry as the Sahara.’

‘Didn’t know I was screwing a psycho,’ Carl’s confused face morphed into anger, ‘you’ll get locked up for this.’

‘I won’t get locked up silly, everything has been planned. A post mortem won’t show up anything other than a tragic accident of nature. A tragic accident that happens in about,’ Jemma glanced at the clock on the wall, ‘ten minutes.’ She pursed her lips and blew him a kiss, ‘tick tock.’

‘What about where you injected me you stupid bitch?’ Carl sneered.

‘Oh, you mean the injection hole in your arm? The same one where you gave blood from this morning?’ Jemma fluttered her eye lashes and spoke in a high husky voice, ‘Oh Carl, there’s a blood bank outside Asda, you could be a hero and donate, and then I could reward my hero with fun and naughty games.’ She focused sharply into his eyes and dropped her voice back down, ‘I think those were my words to you. A rattle of handcuffs and your brain sank to your dick. Sadly predictable, again, but simple for me to work with.’

Carl’s sneer had gone. ‘You fucking bitch.’

‘Yes, I suppose I am. I’m going to take that as a compliment.’

‘Why do you want me dead Jemma? What have I done to you?’

‘You ruined my life. So now I’m taking yours,’ she pressed herself down, her lips just millimetres from Carl’s, ‘and my name is not Jemma.’ She winked and stretched across for the champagne bottle. ‘We’ve drunk it all. Oh, there’s a little left.’ Holding the bottle above him she poured the last drops onto his mouth, arched down and licked his bottom lip provocatively.

‘What the fuck?!’ Carl wrenched his head away from her, ‘you’re crazy! Who are you?’

Jemma laughed. ‘I’m totally sane. And I created Jemma just for you, you should be flattered really.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I know. Poor baby. I’ll tell you more. Do you think we have time to open another bottle? Shall I risk it? Yes I think I will. This is definitely a celebration moment.’ Jemma dismounted Carl and sashayed out of the bedroom in her patent stilettos. For a brief moment Carl’s eyes strayed from her heels to her suspenders and bare bottom before she disappeared from view. He frantically tried to sit up, twisting his legs but they were firmly tied with rope and his wrists were not going to slip free of the handcuffs. Lying back despondently Carl shut his eyes.

His mind drifted back to when he first met her. Eight months ago, a hot August day, he was wilting, selling flowers on his stall when Jemma breezed by to buy some. She was as fresh as a daisy, smooth blonde hair perfectly in place, a thin blue dress that hinted enticingly at her not so hidden underwear, bright blue mesmerising eyes, red stilettos and a killer smile. That smile. She bought yellow roses to celebrate moving into her new flat, which happened to be just around the corner from his, he asked her out for a drink to celebrate properly, ‘can’t have a celebration without a bit of bubbly’ he’d said. How could she have played him when he was the one who chased and caught her?

The pop of a champagne cork shocked him back to the present. Jemma emerged back into the bedroom with the bottle fizzing over. She looked slightly different, he squinted at her trying to work out why.

‘Good, you’re still alive,’ she strode back over to the side of the bed, watching him study her, ‘oh, yes, I’ve taken my lenses out. No need for me to pretend I have blue eyes anymore. Quiet a relief really, they make my eyes tired and itchy.’

Carl’s voice was almost a whisper as he frowned in confusion. ‘You’ve got green eyes.’

‘Bingo. We have a winner. I’ll let you into another little secret Carl, I’m not a natural blonde. But I think you might have guessed that already.’ She gestured to her pubic hair which was on full display to him.

‘Who are you? What do you want?’

Jemma placed the bottle on the table and sighed. ‘Carl, you are wasting time, your time, not mine, I have all the time in the world but you have limited minutes to work it out.’ She sat to the side of him on the bed and stroked his hair. ‘You know what I want, I want you to die. That is going to happen. And you met me before, before I became Jemma.’

‘I’ve never seen you before, when you moved here that was the first time I saw you, I swear. Maybe you’ve mixed me up with someone else?!’ He swallowed hard and his eyes pleaded.

‘I would never get you mixed up with anyone else. I introduced you to Jemma last year but you saw the real me two years ago.’ Jemma studied Carl’s eyes as they flickered with thoughts and questions. ‘As well as my green eyes my hair was brunette and short. And I dressed quite plainly. Not a girl you would’ve looked once at.’

Carl’s breathing grew more rapid and his hair was wet with sweat. ‘I’m not feeling good. Phone an ambulance Jem. Please.’

‘If you say my real name I might phone for help.’ She poured champagne into her glass.

‘I don’t know who you are.’ Carl closed his eyes.

Jemma clenched her jaw, her cheek pulsing with rage. She downed the contents of the glass in one gulp and hurled it full force at the wall. A startled Carl reopened his eyes, he’d never seen her angry before. She scrambled back on top of him, grasping his hair tightly in fierce fists, pinning his head down savagely. She thrust her snarling face into his.

‘You do know who I am! Say it!’

Carl trembled beneath her. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Sorry for destroying my life?’

‘No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I don’t know who you are.’

Jemma’s hand released Carl’s hair and swung out and back slapping forcefully across his face. He gasped, wide eyed. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a few silent seconds and then gently placed her hand on his cheek where a red imprint was already rising up. ‘I shouldn’t have hit you. There’ll be a mark there when they do your post mortem. I’ll say I slapped you during sex because you asked me to.’ Jemma’s hands trailed lightly down Carl’s torso and she gazed at his chest lost in thought, her shoulders now rounded forward.

Carl was hesitant to interrupt her eerie trance but the ticking of the wall clock in the silence mocked him. ‘Why Jemma?’

Jemma lifted her head up. ‘Hmm? What?’

‘Why did you come to me as Jemma and not the real you?’

‘To snare you. I stalked you for months before. I followed you to pubs and bugged this flat.’

‘You bugged my flat? Is it still bugged?’

‘No. I don’t need it anymore. It served its purpose.’

‘Which was?’

‘To find out what you liked, what made you tick. I needed to be the perfect woman for you. And I was wasn’t I?’ She searched deep into his eyes for confirmation.

‘Yes. Was it all lies?’

‘Yes.’ Jemma seemed to re-inflate herself with a large nasal breath, shoulders back, simulated smile reapplied. ‘You prefer blondes with blue eyes so I dyed my hair and started wearing blue contacts. You like long hair so I grew mine. You like your girlfriends feminine and sexy so I changed my fashion choices. You love girls wearing killer heels, a challenge for me as I have always just worn flat shoes, so I had to teach myself to walk on four inch spikes. Am I correct so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘I listened to your boring chat with your boring friends, Dave and Paul have got to be the most infantile jerks ever, and discovered your favourite films, music, football etc… did you really think I watched football let alone supported the same team as you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I even learnt what you liked in bed by listening to you having sex with the random slags you brought back from the pub. Did you really think I enjoyed doing that?’ Jemma raised an eyebrow at the question but Carl just stared at her mutely. The sadistic smile spread like a stain across her face. ‘You really are so gullible. Are you ready to tell me who I am yet? You only have a couple of minutes left.’

Carl started to sob. ‘I don’t know your name. If I did I’d tell you so you’d phone the ambulance.’

‘See, you really are gullible. I won’t be phoning for an ambulance. Well, not while you’re still alive. I’ll phone when you die and do my best acting, I’ll be hysterical when I beg for help because my boyfriend has stopped breathing. They’ll talk me through CPR while the ambulance speeds towards me, I will of course convincingly pretend I’m doing it, but really I’ll be finishing off the champagne, toasting your death.’ Jemma looked across to the smashed glass on the floor. ‘I’ll have to clean that up before I phone, I don’t want anything niggling at an over-zealous policeman. That air bubble must be nearly at you heart.’

‘Just tell me who you are. Please.’ Carl wept.

‘You first saw me two years ago. Two years ago today actually. It’s an anniversary.’

Carl’s eyes dilated and fixed on to Jemma’s eyes with tortured recognition.

‘I was sat in a car, travelling home from my honeymoon. Buzz in when you know the answer by the way; that air bubble must be knocking on the chamber door. I was in the passenger seat, my husband of seven days was driving. His name was Jake. Jake Jones. Do you remember that name?’

Tears plummeted painfully down Carl’s face.

‘I thought you might. Well, I hoped you would. You do don’t you?’ Carl didn’t speak. ‘Just nod if you remember his name.’ Carl nodded. ‘Good. I assumed if you kill someone you remember their name. I’m disappointed that you don’t remember me. But after all, you weren’t even looking at us when you hit us were you? Texting on your phone the judge said. You didn’t even realise you had drifted over to the wrong side of the road as you were so busy telling a girl what you’d like to do to her later. We didn’t stand a chance the speed you were doing. I was told I was lucky that I didn’t die too. Well I did. I died that night too.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ Snot and saliva mingled with Carl’s tears.

‘Did you know I was pregnant?’

Horror swelled in Carl’s eyes.

‘I was fifteen weeks pregnant. I miscarried two weeks later. On the day I was burying my husband. You killed her too.’

Guttural sounds came from Carl, he closed his eyes but the tears still surged.

‘Do you understand now? Do you understand why I want you dead?’

Carl’s voice was barely audible. ‘Yes.’

Jemma slid off Carl’s body and retrieved her skirt and blouse from the floor. She pulled the skirt on, zipped it up quickly and started to button the blouse. ‘I’ll leave the door on the latch, someone will find you.’

Carl observed Jemma with confusion, a heaving chest and stuttering sobs. The stench of urine filled the room as the sheet below him darkened. ‘Don’t go. Please. I don’t want to die alone.’

‘You won’t.’ She fastened the last button and smoothed down her skirt. ‘I didn’t inject air into your vein. I just stuck the needle into you.’ The painted on smile had been erased from Jemma’s face, she was now expressionless and detached.

Carl’s crying had ceased, a baffled snotty mess focussed on Jemma. ‘What? I thought you wanted me dead?’

‘I do. But I’m not a killer. Like you are. I want you to suffer as much as I do every day. I will make your life a living hell. I will make you wish you were dead too. I will make you kill yourself. This is just the beginning.’ She scooped up her handbag and the syringe in one swoop from the floor and headed out the door. ‘Tick tock.’

NUTS

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I stop pumping up and down on Harry’s chest. I think I have broken two of his ribs. He is dead, it won’t bother him. It looks like I tried my best to revive him though. I only started my revival attempts when I couldn’t detect a pulse anymore. So I guess you could say I murdered my husband.

I stare at his lifeless body. Part of me feels sad. I stroke his hair. I’d like to say he looks like he’s sleeping, but he doesn’t, he looks dead. We were so in love in the beginning of our whirlwind romance. Our first date was in an art gallery and we bonded over abstract art and champagne. Harry whisked me away the following week to Paris and proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A downward spiral followed, passion turned to possessive obsession, mind games and manipulation.

A siren outside snaps me back. I sweep over the apartment quickly, double checking myself. I’ve placed the note telling Harry not to eat the pie on the floor, seemingly fallen from his view. His plate and fork still on the breakfast bar, my plate and fork washed up and put away. A buzz at the intercom. I answer. Footsteps run upstairs.

I fling open the door. ‘Quickly, you have to help him! He’s eaten nuts and is allergic to them.’

The paramedics rush over to Harry. I feign distress.

Glancing at my watch I note I have plenty of time before I meet Marcus at the airport. He’s whisking me away to Rome. I met him on the same website as Harry and he’s fallen for me. He wants me to leave Harry. Marcus is diabetic, but I’ll help look after his insulin levels. I’m sweet like that.

STILL HERE

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

The rhythmic low beeping of a machine lures my consciousness from its hibernation. I can also hear what sounds like a small bellows breathing life into a small fire. I try to open my eyes to see where I am but the inky black darkness remains. I can’t even feel my eye lids attempting to open; I can’t feel anything. I try to move my arms, legs, anything I can but I have no sensation anywhere. It smells of a hospital wherever I am. That acrid clinical smell, sterile and sour.

Why am I in a hospital? How did I get here? I have no recollection of an accident or any explanation of why I would be in a hospital, I remember eating out with Michael. His sister Grace and Harry just got back from their honeymoon and we were having a post wedding celebration. We’d dined at The Maple Tree as it was Grace’s favourite – Michael thought it pretentious and over-priced with smarmy waiters but is always generous with Grace. I think he still carried the guilt of her blindness, even though he was only young at the time of the accident. Maybe I’ve gone blind? Oh don’t be stupid, people just don’t go blind for no reason, and even if they did they would still be able to move or feel something. Surely?

Grace always amazes me, some moments it’s easy to forget she’s blind as she moves with the elegance of a dancer and seems to glide effortlessly through life, enchanting all who meet her, while I’m a clumsy klutz always managing to trip over my own feet. I wish I could feel my feet now. I wish I could feel anything now. Grace certainly lives up to her name. She reminds me of a ballerina, willowy thin with wispy blonde hair always tied up in a bun. Michael has the same blonde hair, short but still wispy, and the most vivid green eyes. His eyes were what mesmerised me when we met, almost recognising each other from previous lives. The five years we’ve been together seems like a glorious lifetime and I can only remember my life before him in fuzzy detail, but my life with him is always clear and in sharp focus.

I hear a door open and the squeak of rubber soled shoes on a floor. Hello. Can you hear me? The squeaky shoes move towards me. I can hear paper moving. The door opens again and another pair of shoes enter the room to wherever I am, not so squeaky though as the first pair of feet.

‘Oh, you nearly done? Her parents are on their way up.’ My parents are here?

‘Yeah only jotting down the vitals.’

‘Anything changed?’

‘No, nothing.’ Nothing? What do you mean nothing? What’s going on?

 The squeaky shoes and the not so squeaky shoes fade out followed by the door closing. Come back, I’m here! My parents are on their way up, I must be in a hospital, I must have been in an accident, why can’t I remember and why can’t I move? I listen carefully but only the noise of the machine beeping and the bellows blowing disturbs the silence. Time drags like weighted quicksand.

The door opens, slower and more cautiously than before, a few seconds of silence and machines pass. Did I really hear the door open? A clip clop of heels accompanied by heavier solid footsteps move towards me.

‘Oh George, she looks like she’s just sleeping.’ My mother’s voice is such a wonderful sound to me even with its forlorn tone. Mum! I’m here! I can hear you! I can smell her Nina Ricci perfume. Is she kissing me or stroking my hair? I can’t feel her but a sudden waft of strong scent must mean she’s close.

A chair scrapes the floor, heavy legs on tiles, being dragged towards me. I see a blue plastic chair in my mind. Why am I seeing a blue chair? Is my brain trying to compensate for my eyes not working? I hear a faint deflating sound as someone sits close by. My Dad? Why is my Dad not speaking? The image of the chair in my head changes from blue solid plastic to green padded vinyl, morphing Dali-like in my mind, playing tricks. I picture my Mum sat in the chair, fluffy plum cardigan with deep pockets like abysses that can produce tissues, nail-files, cough sweets or mints on demand, red floral skirt and tousled uneven bob, the same shade of chestnut brown as my hair.

‘Here.’ Mum says. Yes! I’m here Mum! Can you hear me?

‘I’m alright.’ Dad says. ‘I don’t need it.’ Dad! Can you hear me?

‘It’s ok to cry,’ says Mum, ‘let it out.’

‘Don’t fuss woman, I don’t need to let anything out.’

I’ve never seen my Dad cry, I can hear him sniffing, is he crying now? Don’t cry Dad, I’m here. They sit in silence, an occasional sniff from my Dad and some throaty sobs from my Mum is their only dialogue. I float helplessly in black space, tortured by their emotions, longing to move my arms to hug them. Concentrate. Think about moving your arms and make it happen. As much as I will my arms to shift even slightly I still cannot feel them. Are they even still there?

Why is Michael not here with me too? He could comfort my parents for me. Oh God, he might be in another room injured too. If we were both in an accident. Or if Grace was in the accident too he would be in her room knowing my parents were here with me. Yes, he must be at Grace’s bedside. She’s the only blood family he has.

I try desperately to remember more details, panic is scattering my thoughts like disturbed cockroaches and my claustrophobic cocoon closes in. Think. Focus. Go back to the restaurant and remember.

I remember the desserts, key lime pie. We all had the same. Well, we nearly all did. Grace squealed when Harry told her key lime pie was on the menu as they’d had that on their wedding day in St Lucia. She insisted we all had it. Unfortunately the waiter informed us that they only had three pieces left. Grace said that she and Harry simply had to have the same, they had also done this with their starters and main courses, so I opted for the raspberry cheesecake. I remember dropping the red fruit sauce onto my pastel pink dress giving the illusion that I had been shot, and Grace apologising to me for missing out on the key lime pie as it was so divine. I remember Harry having too many tequilas and being told off by Grace for telling us rude jokes and I remember Michael taking Harry’s car keys from him and nominating himself as driver as he had only had two whiskeys.

Michael was driving, I was shotgun and Grace and Harry were in the back. Harry’s tequila’s had hit him hard in the fresh air and he had tripped on the gravel in the car park and head-butted his car. He kept saying sorry to Michael, thinking it was Michael’s car. We were winding around the country roads, no other cars, just our headlights on full beam. Harry had shouted that he was bleeding, his head was bleeding. Grace was demanding Michael drive us to a hospital, faster. Michael was telling me to get a tissue from the glove box, it was only a little cut to Harry’s head. I got a tissue and tried passing it back to Harry but he was too drunk to take it, holding his head and moaning loudly. Grace was too busy telling Michael where the nearest hospital was. I reached behind me as far as I could to Harry but my seatbelt kept jamming. I undid my seatbelt.

‘The doctors will be here soon.’ Dad says.

‘No.’ Mum says. ‘Don’t let them. Don’t let them take my little girl away from me.’

‘She’s already gone Mary.’ No Dad! I’m here! I’m still here!

My Mum’s sobs increase. Don’t cry Mum, please don’t cry, I’m here, right here. Just listen really hard and you’ll hear me.

‘It’s only the machines keeping her body working,’ says Dad, ‘you know that. They explained it.’ His voice is monotone, detached, as if he too is trapped somewhere else. No Dad, make them give me longer! I’m still here! Your little girl who used to be your best garden helper, remember? We grew the greatest tomatoes that one summer, they were so vibrantly red and perfect in shape, remember? You said it was because we grew them with love. Give anything love and it will flourish you said.

The sound of the door opening is followed by footsteps, too many for me to distinguish. A mixture of squeaks and thuds my only clue as to my executioners.

‘I’m so sorry we couldn’t do more Mr and Mrs Grant.’ Says a solemn male voice. ‘Would you like to stay here or wait in the relatives’ room?’

No, no, no! I’m still here! Please, someone hear me!

‘I want to stay here.’ Mum says. ‘I can’t leave her.’ Yes, Mum. Stay here, don’t let them turn the machines off. I just need more time. I haven’t told you how much I love you, you need to know that. When I was younger you would kiss my forehead when I was ill and tell me you’d made the germs go away as they were scared of you. I need you to do that now Mum, I need you to make these doctors go away, because I’m scared Mum, I’m scared.

‘Come on Mary,’ Dad says, ‘she’s already gone. Let’s get out of the way and leave the doctors to do what they have to do.’

A scrape of chairs and my mother’s cries are overwhelming. I don’t want to listen to this, why did my hearing have to stay with me, Mum, please don’t cry, I can’t bear this.

‘Goodbye sweet pea,’ whispers my Mum, ‘I love you so much.’ I love you so much too Mum. Don’t leave me. Mum!

‘Nurse Barter will look after you.’ Says the solemn man. ‘Linda, take Mr and Mrs Grant to the relatives’ room please.’

No! Please! I’m still here! Mum? Dad? My Mum’s guttural wailing ebbs away in the distance and I imagine my Dad’s big strong arms wrapped around her, holding her up, holding them together as they grow smaller in the corridor outside.

I can hear the click of switches and paper rustling. Is this it? Is this how it all ends? I’m not going to go with the click of a switch. I’m going to bloody well stay here until I can move my useless body again! You hear that? Can you hear me you stupid people?

‘They can’t hear you.’ Michael says. ‘Your shouting is wasted.’

‘Michael! You can hear me?’

‘Of course I can silly.’

‘I knew you would! I knew you’d hear me!’ Its ok, everything is going to be ok. ‘You need to tell them quickly, the doctors, tell them you can hear me.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘They can’t hear me either.’ He emerges from the darkness, I can see him so clearly. He is so handsome and radiating a soothing glow as he smiles at me. ‘I’ve come to meet you, we no longer belong here.’

Michael holds out his hand to me. My hand reaches out to his. I can feel his touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FLORIST

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Jenna laced her boot up once again and repositioned her rucksack while standing back up and stretching. She looked at the map again, hoping that the mud covering it was dry enough to pick off to reveal her surroundings. It wasn’t. Tripping into a squelchy mud patch was the final straw in her nightmare day.

Three of them had set off that morning but only a mile into the trek Frances had sprained her ankle jumping off a style. Becky had insisted she would take her back while Jenna went on ahead to meet up with the others waiting at the Windy Tor youth hostel. ‘No point in all three of us missing out on the weekend.’ She’d said.

Jenna was wishing she’d gone back now too. The map was unreadable, her phone wasn’t getting any signal to use the GPS on there and it had just started to rain. She shoved the map in the rucksack and pulled the hood of her anorak up and tightened the cords, a pale round face in a cocoon of blue nylon. She ploughed on through the field, looking for any features in the landscape that would guide her in the right direction. Only trees and fields were visible through the hazy drizzle. Until she reached the top of a small hill and saw a farmhouse another field over.

Relief lifted Jenna’s weary legs. She would either go to the youth hostel or go back home, wherever was the nearest. Maybe if she was really lucky someone at the farmhouse would give her a lift instead of directions. And maybe something to eat, Jenna’s emergency cereal bar had been eaten a while ago. And a cup of hot tea. Jenna smiled at the thought of a hot cup of tea.

The farmhouse looked a bit foreboding and neglected to Jenna, maybe it was just the rain and the failing daylight that was clouding her opinion. As she approached the weathered door she was desperately hoping someone was at home. She tapped with the rusty lion door knocker. And tapped again. No answer.

‘Hello!’ she shouted above the rain that was falling heavier now. ‘Anybody here?’ She looked around the yard, there were a couple of outbuildings and a barn but they looked quite deserted too. She knocked again, but louder. Still no answer. Jenna tried the handle of the door. It was unlocked. Biting the inside of her cheek she pushed the heavy door open. ‘Hello?’

Jenna stepped in out of the rain and onto a well-worn mat. ‘Is there anyone here?’

The only sound was the ticking of a grandfather clock in the hallway where she stood. She slipped her rucksack off and dropped it to the floor. Taking her phone out of her pocket she saw that there was still no mobile signal and slid it back away. Releasing the toggle of her hood and removing her wet anorak she told herself she would just find a phone and call Becky and to try and get a taxi, which was going to be a challenge as she didn’t know where she was. She placed her anorak on top of her rucksack and closed the door. Removing her muddy boots and leaving them neatly by the door too she moved into the next room.

A tatty floral sofa and armchairs filled the room as did a musty aroma of mildew and mincemeat. Dark wooden floorboards creaked as she walked across to a looming Welsh dresser; cluttered with paperwork, a book of pressed flowers, a half empty mug of tea and a half eaten pork pie. She tentatively picked up pieces of the paperwork, looking for a letter or something that would have an address on it to give to a taxi company.

‘What are you doing?’ A soft monotone voice behind her said.

Jenna spun around and saw a man stood in the doorway of the room. Black receding shiny hair, a double chin and a checked shirt that needed a wash months ago. His arms and hands hung loosely to his sides like they didn’t belong to him and his narrow eyes stared stagnantly at her.

‘I, I was looking for an address. I’m lost.’ Jenna said. ‘I’m sorry, I knocked and shouted.’

‘I was out the back. No one can hear you out here. There’s no one for miles. Mr Evans over at Croft Cottage is the nearest. But he’s deaf.’ The man just stood motionless and continued staring at Jenna.

‘Oh. Ok.’ Jenna’s stomach knotted. ‘Do you have a phone I can use?’

The man was vacantly fixed on her and Jenna wondered if he had heard her.

‘Don’t need a phone.’ He eventually said.

Jenna nodded, wishing she’d kept her boots on. ‘Can you tell me which direction the nearest town is then?’

The man took a step forward and Jenna instinctively stepped back, jolting the dresser. The mug fell to the floor and smashed, splashing cold tea over the dresser and the floor. The man howled and ran towards her with wide eyes, his hands now animated and holding his head.

‘I’m so sorry!’ Jenna stepped to the side behind one of the chairs, pulse racing.

He ignored the broken mug on the floor and picked up the book of pressed flowers, desperately wiping tea from it and its pages with his shirt. He looked up at Jenna, his icy eyes brimming with raging tears. ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’

Jenna bolted from behind the chair and ran to the hallway, disregarding her boots and rucksack, she reached for the door. As her hand touched the latch her head was yanked backwards as the man pulled her hair by the roots and smashed her face into the solid wood door. Warm blackness covered her.

***

Jenna could taste the metallic iron of her blood. Her tongue explored and she winced as it aggravated a split in her top lip. She lifted her hands to her head and again flinched when her fingers touched her broken nose. She could only see out of her left eye, her right eye was puffy and closed. Levering herself up from the stone floor she was lying on, her one eye adjusted to the dim light. She saw she was shackled to the ground. A heavy chain bolted into the floor led to a solid metal cuff around her ankle. She reached down to it, it was attached securely with a padlock and was too tight to slip over her foot, but she did try. There was a faint noise across the room.

Jenna held her breath and listened. Nothing. She thought she had imagined it but then heard it again. A faint gasp. It sounded like someone struggling to breathe.

‘Hello?’ Jenna quietly whispered.

No reply. She held her breath and listened again, squinting through the shadows of the room with her one good eye. The faint gasping breath came again. Jenna’s breathing became more rapid. She crawled slowly in the direction of the noise, the metal of her ankle chain scraping across the floor.

As she got a little nearer she could make out a shape in the corner. It was small and round and seemed to be a bundle of rags or blankets. She edged closer but the chain tethering her had reached its full length and jolted her to a stop. She lay herself flat to the ground so she could reach out a little closer. Stretching her fingers she could just reach the hem of a blanket. Manoeuvring it with her finger tips she managed to grasp it. She pulled it towards her. It flowed freely, revealing the source of the strange soft sound. A child, foetal and motionless, emaciated, a small skeleton covered with pale paper skin like a decaying butterfly.

Jenna screamed then froze. Her eye and her brain not wanting to compute the image she was seeing. Thin matted hair clung to the head of the near dead child and she guessed an age of four or five.

‘Hello, can you hear me?’ As Jenna asked she knew there would be no answer, this poor little corpse was beyond help.

The door to the barn slid open. Dusk light silhouetted the man. He stood looking blankly at her, then turned his head to the child. He smiled.

‘You sick bastard!’ Jenna screamed at him.

He walked towards Jenna, she saw he was holding a flower, an iris. He kicked her in the face, pushing her away with his foot. She sprawled backwards, her nose and lip spurting blood again and the pain ricocheting through her body. He crouched over the small body in the corner.

Jenna spat blood out of her mouth. ‘Stop it! Stop it you fucking monster, stop it!’

‘It’s ok,’ the man looked over his shoulder at Jenna, ‘I’m just taking care of his soul.’ He turned back and placed the flower into the child’s mouth. He then rested his hand on the child’s neck, monitoring the pulse.

‘You’re crazy! What are you doing you fucking psycho?’ Jenna tugged at her chain constraint and frantically scanned the bare room for something to free herself. The man stayed silent and kept his back to her, his hand still gently resting on the child’s neck.

Jenna stopped fighting with the chain. Her breathing was rapid and laboured. She spat out more blood that was pooling in her mouth. She suddenly remembered her phone was still in her pocket. Hope only lasted three seconds. There was still no signal. She let the phone slide out of her hand next to her on the floor. She reached into her other pocket. Her hand closed around her metal nail file, she dared to hope again.

The man sighed and bowed his head. ‘He has gone, I have his soul.’

‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ Jenna’s anguish and horror had turned to anger.

The man opened the dead boy’s mouth and retrieved the flower. ‘When they die I capture their souls in the flowers.’ He smiled at Jenna as if they were having a perfectly rational conversation. ‘I press the flowers and keep them in my book, the little children can stay pure and innocent forever then.’

‘There’s going to be a special place in hell for you.’ Jenna gritted her teeth and pulled herself upright, sliding the nail file out of her pocket. It was concealed in her hand, she was gripping it so tight it had started to cut into her hand.

The man stood up and frowned. ‘You nearly ruined my book. I have to kill you. I’ve never killed anyone before, you’ll be my first. I have to do it. I will kill you when I’ve pressed this soul.’ He held up the iris.

‘Never killed anyone before? What the fuck do you think you’ve just done?’

The man looked at Jenna and smiled again. ‘I didn’t kill him, you saw, he just died by himself.’

Jenna couldn’t comprehend the monstrosity in front of her. ‘How many ‘souls’ have you pressed?’

‘This is number twelve.’ He smiled proudly and started to walk towards the open door.

Jenna focused on not being sick, the urge to vomit was rising. She had to stop him leaving, she couldn’t let him abduct anyone else. She had to make him come close to her.

‘I’m going to burn your flower book.’

He stopped and turned to her, no longer smiling.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ continued Jenna, ‘I’m going to burn your flower book and set those souls free.’

The man placed the iris gently on the floor, balled his fists and strode towards her. Jenna backed up to the wall and crouched up on her feet. As the man swung his fist to her face she ducked and sprang to the side. The chain attached to her and the floor caught him just below his knees. It was enough to send him off balance and he crashed to the floor, landing on his back. Jenna quickly scrambled to him, taking advantage of his winded hesitation. She plunged the nail file into his neck with a force she didn’t know she possessed.

Blood spewed out and she stabbed again and again, raging for the twelve children that had a long and agonising death here. The man held his throat, gargling his blood.

Jenna leaned over him. ‘No one is going to save your soul you sick bastard.’ She stabbed the nail file into his right eye. He stopped writhing, his left eye stared motionless at the ceiling. The blood from his neck flowed to the open door, carrying the iris with it.

Jenna rolled off of him exhausted. The adrenalin surge in her had powered down. She led back on the concrete and wept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakdown

Published August 14, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I’m aware of someone looming over me. I feel the weight of their shadow hover across my chest. I hear the someone swallow, a natural reflex, but alarmingly sinister as I hide behind the dark of my eyelids. I try to steady my breathing. Whoever, whatever, lurks, seems to be in no hurry to attack. The presence sits on the end of my bed. I don’t know what is going to surrender first, my heart or my bladder.

I launch open my eyes. Judd Nelson is perched on the bed by my feet. In navy blue pajamas. Sexy navy blue pajamas. He smiles. I don’t smile back, this is a dream, there is no other logical explanation. I study his face closely, I’ve never had such a high definition dream before, every wrinkle, every handsome, gorgeous wrinkle…

‘Hello.’ He smiles again.

I am mesmerized by his eyes, his deep dark brown eyes like pools of delicious chocolate…

‘Oh, this isn’t a dream.’ Judd interrupts my thoughts again.

I play along with my dream. ‘I’m struggling with this being reality.’

‘It isn’t reality.’

I sit more upright in my bed. ‘Hallucination?’

‘Nope.’ He shakes his head. ‘Nervous breakdown.’

‘I’m having a nervous breakdown?’

‘Yes.’

I smooth down the duvet covering my lap. ‘I feel quite calm for someone having a nervous breakdown.’

‘That’s because you’re in your breakdown assessment zone. Or BAZ.’

‘Are you sure this isn’t a dream?’

‘You’re definitely having a breakdown.’ He smiles again. ‘Your physical body has gone into a coma, only your mind is functioning.’

I survey my body and my surroundings. Everything is clearer and in more detail than a dream, but I can’t feel the duvet as I’m touching it.

‘You can’t feel anything physically,’ says Judd, ‘but you can feel emotions.’

‘So what happens now? We stay here in my bedroom until my body repairs itself? You are staying with me aren’t you?’

‘I’m staying for as long as you want, you created me here. And it’s not your body that needs repairing it’s your mind.’

‘How do I do that?’

‘You just need some time out, to refocus your mind, it’s a very powerful tool and can correct itself. If you want it to.’ He stares intently at me.

‘Well of course I want it to,’ his gaze is melting my internal organs, I can’t feel this physically but I know it’s happening, ‘although being trapped in my bedroom forever with you is quite tempting.’

He laughs. Loudly.

‘Oh, obviously not for you then.’ I know I’m blushing. ‘Are you even allowed your own opinion? I mean if I’ve created you shouldn’t you agree with me?’

‘I’m here as your voice of reason, subconsciously you’ve created me that way. And I didn’t laugh at the thought of being with you for eternity, that would give me the greatest pleasure.’

I don’t even care if he’s saying that because I’m making him say it. My internal organs are continuing to melt. I think I just lost a kidney.

‘I laughed because we’re not trapped in your bedroom.’ He stands and pushes his arm through the wall. It just glides through and back, like a plane through a cloud. ‘We can be anywhere you imagine. Just concentrate and focus.’

‘Concentrate and focus?’

He stands by the side of my bed. ‘Yep. Try it. Where do you want us to be?’

‘A beach.’

‘Great. Now think about the beach you want us to be at. Is it deserted or are there other people there? What season is it, hot or cold? You won’t be able to feel the temperature but it will affect the look.’

I start to imagine. My pink carpet subtly undulates. The carpet fibers change into sand, the palest beige sand, almost white. ‘Oh wow.’ The walls of my bedroom slowly dissolve revealing a beautiful blue skyline meeting an equally majestic turquoise sea that I can hear gently lapping close by. My bed morphs beneath me and I’m reclining on a padded wooden sun lounger with an identical one next to me. ‘This is amazing.’ I see a figure in the sea. ‘Is that Jenson Ackles waving at me?’

‘It is if you want it to be.’ Judd is still stood next to me. ‘Can I suggest you imagine me into beach wear, these pajamas are a bit warm.’ He winks at me.

I concentrate and imagine him to be wearing a pair of shorts and a kitsch Hawaiian shirt, bright pink and yellow. He is instantly transformed. I will save the speedo look for later.

He looks down at himself. ‘That’s better.’ He gestures to me.

I glance at my Minion pajamas, hardly suitable for this beach. I imagine a black swimming costume with a pretty floral sarong wrapped around me. I am instantly wearing this. I rearrange to sarong over my legs.

‘You look a bit self-conscious.’ Judd sits on the spare lounger. ‘I should point out that you can imagine yourself to be any shape that you want, and alter yourself in any way if it makes you feel better.’

‘Really?’

‘Yep.’ He shrugs.

I imagine myself thinner. I watch as my body neatly deflates to a smaller size, but stays taut and reveals nicely defined muscles. ‘Oh wow!’ I convert my black swimsuit into a gold bikini. I inflate my breasts a little. And a little more. ‘Is this what heaven feels like?’

‘Yes,’ Judd stops looking at my chest and makes eye contact with me, ‘I mean I don’t know, I’ve not been there.’

‘It must be. I am in heaven right now.’ I lie back on the lounger.

‘You are feeling happy? Content? Relaxed?’

‘Yes, yes, and yes. And we can stay here for as long as I want?’

‘Yes. Well…’

I sit back up. ‘What’s the well for?’

‘Well the longer you are not mentally connected with your physical body, I’m not sure how easy it will be to go back.’

‘I’m on a beach with you, Judd Nelson, why would I want to go back?’

‘For all that you have in your real life.’

‘Let me think about that. I’m a waitress in a dingy bar surviving day to day on tips, I’ve been single forever as I don’t trust anyone, I have no family that I speak to, and my social life consists of playing online scrabble with strangers and posting photos of food on Instagram. It kind of seems like a no brainer. What am I going to miss out on if I stay here?’

‘Food. You can create whatever food you want here but you can’t taste it. You can give us cocktails here but you can’t drink them.’

‘I can live without that.’

‘Ok, Smells. You can’t smell flowers, coffee, the sea.’

‘So, I also can’t smell nasty smells. Not a problem.’

‘Touch. You can’t feel physical touch here.’ He touches my arm, his fingers caressing my skin. ‘See.’

‘Yes, exactly, I can see you touching my arm, that makes me feel emotions, and that’s enough for me.’

‘For the rest of your life? No touching, tasting or smelling?’

‘I can see and I can hear and I can go anywhere I want and imagine anything I want. That is enough for me. This is the reality I want now.’

‘Shall I flick the switch then?’

‘What switch?’

‘There’s a switch that will cut off your mind from your body permanently, you will remain physically catatonic in hospital but exist permanently here.’

‘But won’t the hospital switch life support off?’

‘No, they will still detect brain activity so keep your body plugged in.’

‘Ok then, let’s do it.’

‘You sure?’

‘Never been surer.’ I settle back down on the lounger. ‘Flick that switch, let’s get this adventure started with a bang!’

Judd clicks his fingers. ‘Done.’

A cascade of pretty firework explosions fills the sky, but silently as I don’t like the loud noises that accompany them. A Caribbean steel band plays in the distance. I jump up to dance. My toes fall off.

‘What the…?’

Judd looks at my feet casually. ‘Ah, you’d forgotten your imagination can be a bit of a prat sometimes.’ He smiles. ‘Put them back on then.’

I look down at my feet stumps and scattered toes. I imagine them back on. My toes wriggle through the sand and back into place.

Judd stands up and moves in close to me. He wraps his arms around me, I can’t feel them but it feels good. ‘Can I kiss you?’

‘Of course.’

Melt. There goes my spleen.

 

 

 

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!

The Business of Murder – a theatre review

Published February 5, 2015 by Naomi Rettig

The Business of Murder: Theatre Review
This business is booming. The whole play was a ticking time bomb throughout: tense, taut and tantalisingly terrific. I won’t reveal any spoilers as I urge anyone near to a theatre on the tour to treat themselves to a performance. And what a treat.
Written by Richard Harris (not the famously known Irish actor but the screenplay and playwright) the plot had more twists and turns than the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. Just when you think you know what’s going on you are flung fiercely in another direction. I was exhausted on exiting. And at one point, with a gasp of ‘dear God no’ from behind me, I thought an elderly lady was going to have a coronary attack. Luckily she didn’t as I’m not a first aider and I didn’t want the play interrupted.
The set was perfectly designed and kitted out with 1981 décor. I definitely spotted my mum’s trailing spider plant in a knitted macramé holder hanging up. Sound and lighting was top notch too as was the direction by Michael Lunney. And what a wonderful cast he had to direct. There were only three actors in the play but they not only carried it successfully they lifted it aloft. Joanna Higson played Dee and was delightful. I won’t reveal too much about her character but it was excellently portrayed and I look forward to seeing Joanna in many more roles. Paul Opacic played policeman Hallett, good cop or bad cop? My lips are sealed, but he was fantastic in the role, persuading my opinion of Hallett’s virtue to waver throughout. Robert Gwilym played Stone. I can honestly say his portrayal creeped me out so much I wouldn’t want to share a lift with him. He made Norman Bates seem a rational pleasant person.
I highly recommend The Business of Murder if you love quality theatre, enjoy a good murder and like your spine tingled. The Business of Murder by the Middle Ground Theatre Company is definitely a thrilling partnership that had me sold. Bravo.