story

All posts tagged story

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

THE BEE KEEPER

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

 

I’m in a moving vehicle. It’s too dark to see anything, but judging from my aching body in an unnatural foetal position, I’m in the boot of a car. I hear a whimper behind me and I hold my breath. The sniff of a nose and a small sob are centimetres away from my ear and I can feel faint breathing crawling through the hairs on my neck. I slowly exhale. ‘Hello?’

No reply, just another whimper. It sounds like a child. ‘Hello? Who’s there? My name’s Lucy.’ The whimpering has stopped. ‘What’s your name?’

There is a strained silence.

‘Joseph.’ A small wavering voice says.

Silence again.

‘Hello Joseph. How old are you?’

‘Five.’

I pause for a moment, trying to keep my voice sounding calm and soothing. ‘Well Joseph, I’m twenty two, a really old grown up, so you don’t have to be scared because I’m going to make sure we get out of here and get home safely. Ok?’

‘Ok.’ His voice sounds less shaky now.

I try to move my legs but they are too cramped up. My shoulder is aching from the angle it is in. I want to hug Joseph to comfort him but there is no room to stretch let alone turn around. ‘Do you know how you got here or did you just wake up in here like me?’

‘The bad man put me here.’ Joseph’s voice trembles a little.

‘What did the bad man look like?’

Joseph is silent again for a moment. ‘Like a bad man.’

I try not to sigh out loud. ‘Ok, what were you doing just before the bad man put you in here?’

‘Riding my bike.’ No pause, he is confident with this answer.

‘On your own?’

‘Yes, I’m a big boy now and I can ride my bike on my own.’

He sounds so proud. I imagine his mother telling him those words and waving him off as he rides around a corner somewhere. I want to cry for her but I keep it together for Joseph. She must have alerted the police by now, they will be out looking for us. ‘Where do you live Joseph?’

‘With my mum and my dad and Alfie.’

‘Oh ok, I mean which town do you live in?’

Joseph is silently thinking. ‘Cardiff.’

‘Ok, I was in Newport before I was in this car.’ We are heading east, out of Wales maybe.

‘Were you riding a bike too?’ His innocent little voice asks me.

I retrace my last memory in my head. ‘No, I was walking home from the shop with some milk.’ I see the milk carton hanging on my finger as I swing it while walking along the lane behind my house. I heard footsteps behind me but before I had time to turn around everything went blank. Like turning off a television channel. And now here I am in a different show. My head hurts.

The rhythmic hum of the car engine stops and we jerk slightly as we come to a standstill. As much as I want this journey to end, I don’t want to meet the bad man. A car door slams and slow footsteps grow louder. The boot opens and my eyes squint to focus. I am instantly confused as its night time and not the daylight I last remember. My confusion quickly retreats when I see the bad man. He is staring down at us, motionless, expressionless. He has a dark shirt loose over a dark t-shirt. I try and memorise his face, to describe it to the police, but he has no distinguishing features. He just looks average with dark hair, dark eyes, not thin, not fat. Just an average man, who has a woman and a boy in the boot of his car.

‘I’m going to let you use the toilet. If you run I will shoot you. If you shout for help I will shoot you. If you try and attract attention I will shoot you.’ The man pulls aside his shirt to reveal a gun tucked into the waistband of his trousers. ‘Understand?’

I nod my head as my eyes move from the gun back to his face. He leans forward and pulls me out in one effortless movement. I’m not heavy but the ease at which he did this makes me realise I have underestimated his physique. As he pulls Joseph from the boot I quickly glance around. We are parked in the far corner of a service station car park, there are only two other cars parked up. The man is about a foot taller than me, there is no way I can overpower him. Joseph stands next to me and his hand reaches for mine. I hold it and give it a squeeze. I don’t know if I’m trying to reassure him or myself.

‘Move.’ The man indicates towards the lit up station.

We walk towards it, my heart is hammering against my chest and I just want to run and scream but the image of the gun in my mind stops me. We enter the station. It’s only a small place, and one lad is manning a till, watching something on his phone. Only three other people are there. One middle aged man in a suit is looking at magazines while a young couple are using a self-service coffee machine. No one looks over as we walk on past to the sign posted toilets. We stop outside the ladies.

The man touches my shoulder. ‘I’ll be waiting right here. Try anything funny, I’ll shoot you.’

I nod, again not trusting myself to speak without screaming. I lead Joseph into the toilets, leaving the bad man guarding us outside. A quick scout around reveals no alternative exit, nothing to write a message for help with and nothing I can use as a weapon. We use the facilities and dry our hands under the noisy dryer.

‘When we get outside Joseph,’ I whisper, ‘I’m going to distract the bad man and I want you to run as fast as you can and keep running as far as you can. Ok?’

‘But I’m scared.’ His face puckered.

I crouch down further and rest my hands on his small shoulders. ‘I know you are, but I need you to be a big brave boy and run really fast and get away and get help. Can you do that for me?’

Joseph nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘Good boy.’ I splash cold water on my face and quickly wipe my hands on my jeans. I take Joseph’s hand and open the door to the toilets. I look down at the bad man’s boots, I don’t want to look him in the eyes in case he can read what I’m going to do.

We start to walk forwards, the bad man behind me, the people in the shop are still oblivious to us. The couple who were making their coffees are now sat on a table just to the right of me. The young man glimpses me in the corner of his eye. My heart feels like it’s going to explode in my chest. Now or never. Without hesitating I snatch the paper cup of hot coffee from the table and twist round, throwing it into the bad man’s face. I hit my target full on. He cries out. I let go of Joseph’s hand and push him away.

‘Run Joseph, run!’

He runs.

The coffee couple are frozen, open mouthed and wide eyed. I am about to shout for help when I am thrown by the head into a shelving unit. I am on the floor amongst boxes of breakfast cereals, stunned and disorientated, when the bad man looms over me.

‘You have blood on your hands.’ He pulls the gun out from his waistband.

I close my eyes in readiness for the shot. I hear the shot but fling my eyes back open, it’s not me that’s been shot. Another shot follows. The coffee couple are now on the floor. Motionless. Her eyes are open and looking at me but there is no life in them, they are like fish eyes, glazed and unblinking. Blood pools out from her head and ebbs across the cream floor tiles towards me. A stream of coffee runs alongside the blood then merges as one river. The river has almost reached me now, transporting a rogue raft-like cornflake with it. I am transfixed with watching these fluids until another shot slaps me back to the present. Then another. Four shots. That’s everyone who was in here. No shot for Joseph, he’s got away.

I listen intently to pinpoint where the bad man is. Complete silence. I wait. I don’t know how long I’ve waited for. I gingerly stand up and look over the top of the shelving stands, knees slightly bent, ready to drop down before a shot is fired at me. The bad man is not here. I know he will be back though. I frantically route around for a weapon. I can find nothing sharp or pointy or heavy enough to inflict serious damage. Armed with just a plastic spoon from the coffee self service area I head to the door.

I can see the car we arrived in still parked up. He must be waiting for me outside. Making my way back to the till area I find the shop assistant on his back, a hole in the centre of his head. His eyes stare at the polystyrene tiles above him. I crouch down and prise his phone out of his hand, almost expecting him to turn his head and look at me. Standing back up, I have dialled two nine’s when I hear a noise behind me. I spin around in time to see the gun handle heading towards my face at speed. It connects with an almighty force, blackness descends and my plastic spoon bounces gently to the floor.

*

I’m in the boot of the car again. The familiar hum of the engine and my cramped position tells me this. There is only my breathing though. No whimpering or crying. Joseph escaped. There is more room in here without him but there are plastic bags next to me, I can feel them and hear them rustle as I move and the bad man has put me facing inwards this time. I release my arm from underneath me and cautiously reach out. Definitely plastic bags, there are two. I feel the first one, it feels like cuts of meat. The top of the bag is tied in a knot. I move my hands, as much as I can, to the second bag. Again it feels like joints of meat. The top of the bag is not tied up. The car corners a bit fast and something thuds out onto my leg.

‘Shit.’ I fumble about to retrieve the beef or pork or whatever meat has landed on me. I feel a hand. A small hand. Joseph’s hand.

I scream and my head bangs on the lid of the car boot as my body tries desperately to recoil away from Joseph’s severed hand reaching out to me. I vomit over myself. My chest squeezes tight, I am clammy with a cold heat engulfing my whole body. I pass out of reality, relief drapes over me like a dark curtain.

*

I am awake. I am not in the car. I am sat on a wooden chair, tied with rope and I am naked. I am in an empty room that looks like a warehouse or garage. It is bright, a single lightbulb hanging from a cable is above me.  I try to move but I can’t. There is movement behind me. And buzzing. I can hear buzzing. Like bees. Footsteps get louder and the bad man appears from behind me. He stands in front of me and smiles with one side of his mouth.

‘I’m going to have fun with you.’ He walks back behind me and I hear the dragging of a large object. And the buzzing gets louder.

I see the object as he drags it in front of me. A beehive.

‘We’re going to play a game. If you can get stung one hundred times without flinching or making a noise, then I’m going to let you go.’

He stares at me, expressionless. I’m not even self-conscious about being naked anymore. My thoughts are just on those bees. I don’t think I can get stung without crying out or moving. Can a person even survive one hundred bee stings? My mouth has gone so dry. He moves the bee hive closer to me. The noise vibrates through me.

‘If you do make a noise or move then that’s game over. I win. And if I win I will sew the bees into you. I will put them into your mouth and sew your lips together. I will put them into your ears and sew your ears up, I will put them under your eyelids and sew your eyelids shut. Everywhere I can insert them I will and I will sew them all inside of you.’ He smiled his half smile again and slowly put on some thick black gloves.

Opening up the hive the bad man plucks a bee out and replaces the lid. He steps closer to me. My breathing is rapid and my pulse thunders in my ears. I’m praying for blackness. It doesn’t come.

‘Where shall we start? An easy one on your arm I think.’ The bad man places the bee he is holding between his gloved fingers onto my upper arm and squeezes.

The bee stabs me with its sting. I clench my teeth. I scream silently inside my head.

The bad man discards the used bee on the floor and plucks another from the hive. ‘Number two.’ He studies my body. ‘Lip next I think. Bee sting lips are all the rage I believe.’ His face has come alive.

Bee number two approaches my lips. Its loud buzzing alone near my face is making me want to duck away. But I don’t. He squeezes the bee. It spears my lip. Silent screaming commences. Bee two is tossed to the ground. My lip throbs. He goes in for bee three.

‘You’re braver than I thought.’ He studies my body again. Mischief dances across his face. ‘Eyelid.’ The sacrificial bee buzzes towards my eye. ‘Close your eyes.’

I close my eyes. I grit my teeth. I brace my stomach muscles to keep me still. The bee stings my eyelid. The pain is immense. My head moves. I open my eyes. My eyelid is swelling and my eye is watering. The bad man is shaking his head.

‘Game over. I win.’

He stares manically at me. I think he wants me to say something, maybe beg him to let me go. I won’t give him that satisfaction. I know he won’t let me go.

He walks to the side of me and crouches down, he whispers in my ear. ‘I’ll just go and get my sewing kit.’

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE HOUR

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Bournemouth: 1.09 pm

Barbara switched off the radio and looked around the room. Her lounge didn’t appear to be any different. The blue and cream striped sofa, with non-scattered scatter cushions, took up most of the space. A cream rug was positioned perfectly in front of it, all of its fringes fastidiously aligned. Aromas of furniture polish and potpourri lingered placidly. The soft ticking of a brass carriage clock, marooned on a circular lace doily, on the sideboard was the only sound in the room.

Barbara noticed her hands were trembling, she grasped them together, squeezing to keep them steady. After hearing the news on the radio the stillness of the room was no longer a comforting calm to her. The news reporter’s voice, which was being broadcast on a repetitive loop, still played in Barbara’s head. ‘In approximately one hour an asteroid will collide with our planet. The asteroid is so vast in size it will obliterate Earth from existence. There is nothing we can do to stop it.’

 

Bermondsey: 1.09 pm

Stephen dropped his empty mug into the kitchen sink and bowed his head. ‘Shit.’

‘Stephen, hush your mouth.’ Coral said as she placed her hand softly on his tense shoulder. ‘The kids’ll hear you. You gotta pull yourself together, now.’

Stephen snorted and shrugged her hand away as he turned to face her. ‘We’re all gonna die in an hour, a bit of cussing not gonna hurt no one.’

‘Now listen here baby brother, I got three kids through there and I don’t want them cryin and scared, so get yourself together and be funny Uncle Stephen ‘til the end. OK?’

Stephen’s nostrils flared as he stared at Coral. ‘I aint your baby brother, I’m twenty one.’

‘Well then be a man, baby brother.’ Coral raised her eyebrow before she turned to take a container of milk out of the fridge.

Stephen sighed and walked past her towards the lounge, stopping in the doorway. ‘Glad I missed my bus home last night y’know.’

‘I know. Me too.’ Coral kept her back to him, avoiding eye contact. ‘Now scoot, get from under my feet.’

Stephen hesitated a moment, watching his sister preparing drinks like she’d done so many times before, he took a deep breath and left the kitchen.

 

Brighton: 1.09pm

Tom flicked the radio switch to ‘off’ and looked across the room to Sophie. She was already gliding across towards him. They drew together like magnets, Tom wrapped his arms tightly around her, her face nuzzled into his neck. She inhaled his musky scent and squeezed him tightly in return. His hands moved slowly to stroke her hair, her beautiful golden hair that smelled of succulent green apples, and then he cupped her face, her perfect elfin face, in his reliable calloused hands.

‘I love you so much Soph.’

She searched deeply into his watery eyes and smiled. ‘To the moon and back?’

‘To the moon and back a million times over.’ He returned her infectious smile.

Sophie raised her eyebrows. ‘A million billion?’

‘A million zillion.’

They kissed tenderly, their eyes continuing their conversation. They hugged each other tightly again.

‘Our tree?’ whispered Sophie.

‘Yes, our tree.’ Tom softly wiped away the tears from under Sophie’s eyes with his thumbs.

They silently and calmly gathered up items from the hut; some bottled water and a fruit salad that Tom had just been preparing. Tom held up a dusty bottle of champagne but Sophie smiled and shook her head so he placed it back in the cupboard. She carefully slid her knitting off its needles and put it into a hessian bag along with a tartan blanket and the water and the fruit. They slipped their sandals on before taking one last glance around their homely hut. Tom carried the bag in one hand and held Sophie’s hand in his other, their fingers snugly entwined.

 

Blackpool: 1.10pm.

The Jack Daniels bottle was a quarter empty on the passenger seat. The stench of whiskey and sweat hovered thickly in the confined space of the car. Tom Petty’s ‘I won’t back down’ blasted out from the Chevelle’s stereo. Jason’s head was reclining on the leather head rest and his eyes were shut. A blast of a horn outside whipped them open, revealing a bloodshot left eye. Jason looked out of the window but whoever had disturbed his melancholic meditation was already moving away at speed. ‘Tosser.’

He had watched people rushing away on foot and in cars, all trying to get somewhere, be somewhere else, escape. There was no escape though. Jason laughed at their stupidity. He had parked up in the small car park overlooking the sea front. He’d grabbed the bottle of Jack from the off licence in the high street when he’d heard the news, it had felt good just helping himself to it and walking out without paying, he now knew how the thieves he arrested felt. An hour didn’t give him enough time to drive over to his kids at Leeds so he’d chosen to park up, watch the sea and drink.

 

Bournemouth: 1.13 pm.

Barbara closed her eyes and recited the Lord’s Prayer. On opening her eyes she kissed the cross hanging around her neck and took her telephone book out of the sideboard. Finding her daughter’s number she picked up the phone. There was no dial tone, nothing, just dead air. Barbara sighed and replaced the handset in the cradle. She felt a guilty relief. If she’d got through to Kirsty she wasn’t sure what she would have said.

Barbara put the telephone book back in its correct place and took out a small photo album. Sitting on the sofa she slowly turned the pages, watching Kirsty grow up, laughing and smiling with her dad, Barbara herself always happy to be a spectator behind the lens. They’d never had a close bond. Barbara had provided all the practical things Kirsty needed but just couldn’t give emotionally. Kirsty had been a ‘Daddy’s girl’ and her distance widened after he had died, emotionally and then physically when Kirsty had moved to New Zealand. Barbara gently touched Kirsty’s face in the photo.

 

Bermondsey: 1.13 pm.

Coral bustled into the lounge with a tray of drinks clinking together, she set it down on the table in the middle of the room.

‘Milkshakes!’ said Kyra clapping her hands, she was next to her sister Michelle on the brown leather sofa. Stephen was on the floor with his nephew Jerome playing with a fire truck and Gary was pacing slightly, hands stuffed into his jeans pockets, by the television.

‘I shut it off.’ Said Gary looking at Coral. ‘Just kept sayin the same thing. And the phone’s dead. Can’t get hold of no one.’

Coral nodded, ‘I ‘spect everyone is tryin to call everyone else and it’s got jammed up. Everyone’ll know we’ll be thinkin of them.’

‘Yeah.’ Gary frowned. ‘I feel like I should be doin somethin,’ he shrugged his shoulders, ‘but I dunno what.’

Coral moved closer to Gary, stepping over a police car on the floor. ‘Do what you do best, carry on bein the best dad and best husband.’

Gary bit his lower lip and nodded his head. Coral glanced around. Michelle was fiddling with her charm bracelet, Jerome and Stephen were still toying with trucks and Kyra was blowing through her straw to create large bubbles in her pink milkshake. Coral took a deep breath. ‘Right then. How about a movie afternoon? Who wants to watch a film?’

All three children put their hands up in a chorus of ‘yeses’ and were instantly chatting amongst themselves.

‘Coral baby?’ Gary frowned. ‘There’s less than an hour…’

‘Hush now, we’re goin to have a movie afternoon for the children.’ Coral raised her eye brows at her husband. ‘I need us all to be happy and be havin a good time, when we…’ She swallowed hard and Gary pulled her into a tight bear hug.

 

Brighton: 1.13pm.

Tom and Sophie strolled quietly up and along the dirt lane just like they were sauntering off on one of their regular picnics. Birds were quieter than usual and a light breeze tickled through the leaves on the trees. Open fields of lush green peeked through hedgerows enticing them to stray from the track and enter. They did so near the top of the hill. Squeezing through their gap in the hedge it was only a short walk through a buttercup dotted field to their tree.

A magnificent oak stood alone and confident in the field. It had become their tree from their first picnic date here two years ago. For every occasion since then their tree had featured, even in their hand-fasting wedding last year, where a few friends had gathered with them to celebrate love and life. Tom spread the blanket out and they sat on the ground in symmetry beneath their tree.

‘It’s so peaceful.’ said Tom. ‘It already feels like we’re the only people left on the planet.’

Sophie’s hand gently rested on Tom’s. ‘Do you think they’ve got it wrong? Do you think maybe we’ll be ok here?’

‘I think they sounded pretty definite.’ Tears trickled down Tom’s face and he wiped them away with the back of his hand, turning to Sophie. ‘I love you so much, and if there is another life after this one I will find you again.’

‘I know, I love you too, and we’ll be together for eternity.’ Sophie’s lips rose in a smile but the smile failed to reach her eyes.

 

Blackpool: 1.15pm.

Jason pulled the phone out of his jeans pocket and pressed redial for his ex-wife. Expecting the engaged tone again he was surprised to hear it ringing. After four rings it was answered.

‘Hello?’

Jason sat up straight. ‘Amy it’s me, Jason.’

There was a moments’ silence. ‘What do you want?’

‘I want to speak to the kids.’

‘Not happening.’

‘C’mon Amy, don’t be like that.’ Jason sank back in the seat.

‘I’m not being like anything. The kids don’t want to talk to you. I told you that last week when I had both of them crying cause you didn’t take them bowling like you promised. You preferred to shag some slag off the estate.’

‘It wasn’t like that.’ Jason rubbed his forehead. ‘Look there’s not much time left…’

‘Time ran out for you ages ago. You’re too late.’

‘Please Amy, don’t be such a bitch, just let me say goodbye.’

‘Piss off.’ The phone beeped as Amy hung up.

Jason pressed redial. It rang once then went to voicemail. He hit the end button and dropped the phone onto his lap. ‘Fucking bitch.’ Grabbing the bottle from the passenger seat he unscrewed the top and took another huge swig from it. Some of the whiskey spilled down his chin and he wiped it away with the back of his hand. Putting the bottle back on the passenger seat he picked up his phone again and scrolled through the contacts list. Stopping at ‘Beth’ he hesitated and then scrolled down to ‘Claire’.

 

Bournemouth: 1.19 pm.

The images in Barbara’s album flowed onto Kirsty’s children. These photographs had arrived in birthday and Christmas cards. She’d never really looked at them closely before, just filed them into the album after a quick glance. She’d had yes/no conversations on the phone with them when Kirsty made the dutiful birthday and Christmas phone calls, but knowing now she’d never meet them compelled her to study the pictures.  Kirsty had suggested chatting via Skype with them all but Barbara had kept putting that off, protesting that she didn’t like technology.

A flutter of ‘why’ butterflies filled Barbara’s mind. Why did she always wait for Kirsty to phone her? Why didn’t she just pick up the phone first for a spontaneous chat? Why hadn’t she visited Kirsty and her family? Too late for why’s now. Closing the album she looked at her hands rested upon it, mottled and plump, her nails painted a perfect shade of coral. She sat eerily still with the sound of the ticking clock counting down.

 

Bermondsey: 1.21 pm.

Coral pulled away from Gary. ‘I’m fine. Let’s not fuss.’ She wiped her eye with the back of her hand. ‘I got somethin in my eye, that’s all.’

Stephen stood up. ‘I’ll close the curtains, make it dark like the cinema.’ As he drew the curtains he paused and looked down. He could see others running, walking and driving off from the estate. From nineteen floors up they looked like ants. Where were they going? To try and get to their loved ones? He was grateful that he wasn’t in his own flat alone. He quickly closed the curtains, his hands trembling slightly.

Gary plonked himself down on the sofa between the girls, the leather releasing some air that made them laugh with its rude noise. ‘C’mon then, what film we watching? Stephen get them DVD’s out from under the telly.’

‘Frozen!’ said Kyra.

Michelle rolled her eyes. ‘We’ve seen that a million times.’

‘A million million times.’ Jerome said, abandoning his truck. ‘I wanna see Teenage Mutant Ginger Turtles.’

‘No way!’ said Michelle. ‘And its ninja not ginger, stupid head.’

‘Hey hey, that’s enough.’ said Coral, she looked across at Stephen. ‘Little brothers are never stupid heads, annoyin and silly, but never stupid heads. Why don’t we let Uncle Stephen pick the film?’

Stephen cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrow at Coral. ‘Armageddon?’

‘That’s why.’ Gary glared across at Stephen.

 

Brighton: 1.21pm.

Sophie unpacked the fruit salad and ate a small chunk of melon. ‘This is the juiciest and the sweetest melon I’ve ever tasted, here, try.’

Tom leant forward and Sophie held the melon to his lips, brushing it lightly across then she giggled as she fed it to him.

‘Delicious.’ Tom smiled. ‘You’re correct as always.’

She leant forward and her lips brushed his hungrily. The passion in their kiss was intense, just like the one on their first date, when they both realised fate had gifted them to each other.

 

Blackpool: 1.22pm.

Jason touched his phone screen and listened to it ringing. He was about to hang up when she answered.

‘Hello?’

Jason smiled and rested his head back. ‘Hey Claire.’

‘Jason?’

‘Yep it’s me.’ Jason’s smile broadened. ‘How you doing?’

‘How am I doing? Are you kidding me?’

He laughed. ‘Yeah I know, crazy shit going down.’

‘Oh, do you mean the end of the world shit or the fact you used me for sex and haven’t called for months?’

Jason’s smile dropped. ‘Aw Claire, don’t be like that, we had fun, you know I had a lot on my plate with work and my ex…’

‘Tell it to someone who cares.’

Jason’s voice grew louder and snappy. ‘Look, I’m calling you now aren’t I, I want to be with you when it all goes tits up.’

‘I don’t believe you. I bet I’m just the nearest person to you.’

‘Don’t be stupid, I want you, I can be there in, like, five minutes.’

‘Well I don’t want you here, I’m with my family.’

‘C’mon, you know you really want to be with me.’ He laughed. ‘We can have some fun.’

There was a short silence on the other end. ‘Have fun by yourself you wanker.’ The call ended.

 

Bournemouth: 1.25 pm.

Barbara placed the photo album away and opened her writing bureau, where she retrieved a small round box of violet creams. Taking them out to the hallway with her she put on her beige brogues and cashmere coat. She checked her reflection in the mirror, smoothing down her silver bobbed hair and she reapplied her coral lipstick that matched perfectly with her nails.

Carrying the chocolates and hanging her handbag over her wrist she left her bungalow and locked the door. Barbara was the only person in sight and she noticed that the birdsong that usually greeted her outside was absent. Taking in a deep breath of air she took ten steps to the bungalow next door and knocked. There was silence from within and Barbara was about to turn away when she heard someone unlocking the door. It slowly opened about four inches.

‘Hello?’ Said Barbara.

‘Hello? Said a voice from within.

‘Hello, my name is Barbara Maitland. I live next door.’

The door opened a little more to reveal an elderly lady with fuzzy white hair and startled eyes. ‘I don’t know you. Have you just moved in?’

‘No, no I’ve lived next door for ten years.’

The old lady looked Barbara up and down while pursing her thin lips. ‘I haven’t seen you before.’

Both ladies just stared at each other. Barbara broke first. ‘Well, yes. Have you heard the news?’

The white haired lady looked blank. ‘Do you mean the explosion? Or has there been more news? My television stopped you see.’

‘No nothing new.’ Barbara shifted her weight from one hip to the other.

The white haired lady blinked a few times, as if she was sensitive to the daylight sneaking in through the slightly ajar door. ‘Righty oh’.

The ladies stared once again at each other, like two cats who had wandered into a garden at the same time.

‘Are you on your own?  I have these lovely chocolates you see.’ Barbara held up the violet creams. ‘And I didn’t want you to be on your own when, well, when the end comes, so I thought we could maybe sit together and share them?’

The startled eyes brightened and a smile spread across the fuzzy haired lady’s face, the door opened wider. ‘I’m Margaret, come on in, I’ll put the kettle on.’

 

Bermondsey: 1.25 pm.

‘Frozen it is then.’ Said Stephen. ‘I got a mean voice and can nail those songs. I think we should see who can sing loudest.’

‘I love you Uncle Stevie.’ Kyra gave Stephen a huge smile that revealed her two missing teeth.

‘I love you too Titch, and Chelle and my main man Jerome.’ Stephen looked across to Gary. ‘And your dad.’

Gary glared again. ‘Don’t be a muppet.’ A slight smile flickered on his lips then disappeared.

While Stephen set up the DVD player Coral went into the kitchen and when she returned she had a huge bowl of crisps and a packet of treat sized chocolate bars in her hands. The kids’ eyes widened like Jaffa Cakes when they saw.

‘What!’ squealed Michelle. ‘Where did they come from!?’

‘I have a secret hidin place. Or two.’ Coral squeezed the bowl and chocolates onto the table next to the drinks and sat on the sofa next to Kyra, Gary and Michelle.

Jerome scrambled up onto his mother’s lap and squished in beside her. ‘No room Uncle Stevie!’

‘That’s ok lil man, I’ll sit in front of you, like we’re in a for real cinema.’ Stephen pushed the table out a bit and sat down on the floor. Jerome plonked his feet onto Stephen’s shoulders and Stephen sniffed at the little feet in their blue socks. ‘Pooh! Stinky feet!’

Jerome giggled. ‘Stinky feet.’

‘Right then.’ said Coral. ‘Everyone tuck in, Gary press play. Are we all ready to ‘let it go’?’

 

Brighton: 1.28 pm.

They lay back on the blanket and Sophie took her unfinished knitting out of the bag and nestled close at the side of Tom. They linked hands and studied the sky.

‘It’s such a beautiful day.’ said Tom.

Sophie squeezed his hand. ‘Yes, it is.’

‘Elephant.’

‘Where?’ said Sophie searching the sky. ‘You can’t see an elephant.’

‘Yes I can, there.’ Tom pointed with his free hand. ‘Next to the lopsided butterfly.’

‘I think that’s a moth.’

‘Really?’ Tom laughed. ‘Ok’.

Sophie smiled. ‘You know I’m right.’

The clouds swirled and teased with different shapes as Tom and Sophie lay peacefully.

‘Bunny!’ said Sophie, then gasped slightly and reached to her tummy. The unfinished knitted baby blanket was resting where she had placed it not long ago, it moved slightly. She placed her and Tom’s interlinked hands on her tummy.

Tom felt a small kick too. ‘I think she likes the name Bunny.’

‘Bunny it is then.’ Sophie started to cry as Tom held her. He kissed her forehead and kept his hand protectively over Bunny. His tears followed and flowed with hers.

 

Blackpool: 1.28 pm.

‘Crazy bitch.’ Jason lurched for the Jack Daniels but knocked it over, the brown liquid started spilling out onto the seat. ‘Fuck’. He picked the bottle up but there wasn’t much left, knocking it back the alcohol clawed at his throat. Opening the window he tossed out the empty bottle. He shook his head and grinned at the thought that he was worried about the interior of his car when it was going to be blown up along with him. The grinning turned to hysterical laughter. The laughter turned into wretched sobbing.

Jason lifted his t-shirt up and used it to wipe his face, tears and snot were blotted up by Bon Jovi on tour. He stared at himself in the rear view mirror. Both eyes were now bloodshot and his face was red and blotchy. ‘Loser.’

 

Bournemouth: 1.31 pm.

Barbara stepped into Margaret’s home, hung her coat up in the hallway and was seated in a wing-backed pink chair, with floral embroidered headrest. Margaret shuffled off to the kitchen to make the tea. Barbara surveyed Margaret’s lounge. It was a cluttered room of ornaments and dust. China cherubs and a ceramic spaniel were staring at Barbara from the table to the side of her. The paint on the spaniel was worn away giving it a look of alopecia. A row of Victorian dressed dolls were on a shelf jostling for attention but Barbara’s eye kept getting drawn to a faded black and white photograph hung over the electric fire in the middle of the room. The subject of the photograph was a little girl with curled hair tied in ribbons and a broad dimply smile. The rattle of china cups heralded Margaret and the tea.

‘I thought I’d use my best cups, not often I get a visitor.’ Margaret’s eyes sparkled and her smile took years off of her.

Barbara opened the chocolates and placed them on the ring stained table in front of them while Margaret poured the tea.

‘Help yourself to milk and sugar.’ Margaret sat down in the chair next to Barbara taking a sip of tea. ‘Ah lovely, if I do say so myself. Can’t beat a good cuppa.’

Barbara poured some milk into her tea. ‘Thank you. Please, have a chocolate.’

Both ladies took a chocolate and popped them into their mouths.

‘Mmm.’ Said Margaret. ‘That’s lovely, I haven’t had one of those in years.’

‘They’re my favourites.’ said Barbara smiling, she looked up at the picture again. ‘That’s a lovely photograph, who is it?’

Margaret beamed. ‘My daughter Pamela.’

‘Oh, I bet she looks a lot more grown up now.’

‘No.’ Margaret’s smile faltered a little. ‘She died not long after, that’s the last photo we had taken of her.’

 

Blackpool: 1.33 pm.

Jason phoned Amy again. As he thought, it rang twice then went to voicemail but instead of hanging up he left a message. ‘It’s me. I know you don’t wanna talk to me and I get that so I just, like, wanna say I’m sorry for being such a crap husband and I wish it could’ve been different, I wish I could’ve been different. I just wanna say goodbye to the kids, and you, I love you, I never stopped. I’m just a loser.’

After hitting the end button he typed a text message to Claire. He read it back, his uncoordinated fingers, disorientated by Jack Daniels, made the words practically unreadable. He deleted it all apart from the word ‘sorry’. He then changed the recipient from ‘Claire’ to ‘all contacts’ and pressed send.

He cranked the stereo up to its highest volume and opened his glove box. Tom Petty was now singing ‘It’ll All Work Out’. Jason took out the handgun he had confiscated illegally in raid a few months ago. He should have handed it in but decided to keep it. It made him feel powerful having it close by. The cold metal felt comforting in his hands. He looked at himself in the mirror. Instead of seeing a puffy faced middle-aged man, red and tear stained, he saw Robert De Niro. ‘You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.’ He ran his fingers through his heavily gelled hair. ‘I’m in control. I say what happens.’ He sat back. He released the safety catch. He closed his eyes. He held the gun under his chin with both hands. He pulled the trigger.

 

Bournemouth: 1.33 pm.

Barbara put her cup and saucer down. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘Oh you haven’t, we were blessed to have had her for the five years that we did. My husband’s already with her and I’ll be with them both very soon.’ Margaret placed her hand gently onto Barbara’s arm. ‘Have you got anyone waiting for you?’

‘My husband Gerald.’ Barbara looked down to the floor. ‘My daughter lives in New Zealand.’ She looked back up at Margaret with tears in her eyes. ‘I haven’t been a good mother to her.’

Margaret moved her hand down to Barbara’s hand and squeezed it tightly. ‘Don’t be hard on yourself. Mother’s aren’t perfect. I let my daughter play by the river on her own. You have to forgive yourself.’

Tears escaped from Barbara and she nodded her head, squeezing Margaret’s hand in return. ‘Thank you.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.