thriller

All posts tagged thriller

Brexmeat

Published September 17, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Tony scraped up scraps of cartilage and bones that the machine had spat out. He tossed them into the incinerator while whistling ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. The stench didn’t bother him, he’d been a butcher before being imprisoned, humans smelled the same as animals to him. Ben didn’t have the same stomach as Tony, and even though he wore a face mask it was a struggle to not gag constantly.

Tony wiped his chunky calloused hands on his already bloodstained apron. ‘C’mon lad, time for a brew.’

Ben didn’t know if he could keep a cup of tea inside him, but he wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to get off the factory floor. He peeled his sweaty gloves off, left them on the table, and followed Tony into the small staffroom.

Tony already had the kettle switched on and was putting sugar in his mug. ‘Sugar?’

‘No thanks.’ Ben sat down on one of the blue plastic chairs and took his face mask off.

Tony smiled. ‘You’ll get used to it.’ He placed the mugs on the table and sat opposite Ben. ‘What you in for? Must be bad to be working production.’

‘Cyber fraud.’

Tony laughed. ‘What a waste. You’ve thrown your life away for hacking?’

‘I only moved money from one account to another, they got it all back, I’ll be out soon when I’m up for parole.’

Tony belly laughed again. ‘If you’re here in production parole isn’t on the cards for you.’

‘I don’t understand?’

‘Prisoners on the production line are never leaving here. Life means life here.’

‘But I didn’t get life, I got four years, so I’ll be out in two.’

‘So naïve. How old are you?’

‘Twenty-two.’

Tony stopped smiling and shook his head. ‘You don’t have any family, do you?’

‘No, how do you know that?’

‘Because if you’re not here on production because you’re a lifer it’s because you don’t have family. No one to miss you or report you when you don’t get out.’

Ben stared down at the table, trying not to cry or pass out.

‘Lots of people here are the alone.’ Tony slurped some of his tea. ‘Not usually youngsters like you though.’

‘But I got a sentence, in a court, they can’t keep me here.’

‘They can do what want, they’re the government.’

‘People need to know this.’

‘People need to not know this, that’s why none of us on production will ever get out or have contact with anyone outside.’

‘I can’t stay here forever.’

‘You don’t have a choice. Unless you want to kill yourself, that’s your only choice. But then you’d end up in a sausage or a pie like the refugees and illegals.’

‘Surely that’s better than butchering and cooking people every day.’

Tony shrugged. ‘Depends on your view. Roof over my head, food in my belly, library full of books, gym to work out in. Throats to slit every day. I got a better life in here than I did outside.’

‘Doesn’t it make you sick? Killing innocent people? And eating them? Sending them out to be eaten by the public?’

Tony laughed and finished his tea. ‘Lad, no one is innocent in life, all have sin. I used to butcher animals for a living, human carcasses are no different. I’m in here for life, for murder. I killed my wife for sleeping around. I was happy killing the woman I loved most in the world, killing people I don’t know is a cinch.’

Ben stared at Tony, frightened to ask him anymore.

‘And eating them? You eat the flesh of a cow or pig, there’s no difference with a human. Flesh is flesh. You’re not a veggie are you?’

‘No.’

‘Well there you go then.’

‘The government should tell the people what they’re doing.’

‘Too many snowflakes like you would have a meltdown. It’s better if they don’t know.’

‘It’s dishonest, it’s wrong.’

‘Says you, banged up for stealing.’

‘I was stealing from companies who could afford it.’

‘Still deception however you want to dress it up. How would you solve the problem? Millions of hungry people on our island with not enough food to feed everyone, no help from the EU as we stuck two fingers up to them, thousands of illegals and refugees turning up here trying to take our depleted food from us.’

‘I don’t know. But I know this is wrong.’

Tony shrugged. ‘Embrace it or die. Going through the motions will drive you mad if you don’t believe it’s for the greater cause. I’ve seen many that breakdown. A few months ago a lad about your age threw himself in the furnace. Jerry. What a waste. Burnt to a crisp like pork crackling. He had a lot of meat on him, would have fed a good many people. Selfish really.’

‘I guess he wasn’t thinking straight.’

‘Well if you ever feel like throwing yourself in the furnace, don’t. Give me the heads up and I’ll make it quick for you, neat slit to the throat. Might even make sure I get a product you end up in.’

Ben pushed his tea away from him, the urge to vomit was swelling.

An alarm rang out for a short burst making Ben flinch and a red light flashed over one of the double doors on the production floor.

‘Fresh meat.’ Tony stood up. ‘You been shown how to slit a throat properly?’

The colour drained away from Ben’s face. ‘No.’

‘Time for me to teach you then.’ Tony smiled and walked out the room.

Ben put his mask over his mouth and nose, took a deep breath, and slowly followed.

Tony picked up a six-inch knife from the wall rack. ‘This is the best knife. Sharp like a shark, cuts through flesh like a hot knife through butter.’

They walked towards the doors, silent now but red light still flashing.

‘Now you can watch me do one, then you can have a go.’

‘I don’t want to, can’t you do it all?’

‘I could, but you need to be able to do it. If you can’t do the whole job then that choice of sausage or worker will be taken away from you.’Tony put his hand on the door handle. ‘Don’t look into their eyes, it’ll make it harder for you.’ He opened the door and muffled shouts and cries began immediately.

Inside the white sterile room were ten naked people of male and female assortment bound securely by ropes, gagged and sat on the floor. Ages varied from twenty to sixty. All were shaking and wide eyed. Tony stepped into the room, followed by Ben who was struggling to pull his gloves on to his tremoring hands.

‘Start anywhere you like, some choose youngest to oldest or vice versa, I just work my way around the room.’ Tony seemed oblivious to the muffled cries and screams.

Ben automatically looked into sets of eyes as he scanned the room. He could feel himself hyperventilating and wished he would just pass out.

Tony approached the first livestock. A man in his forties, dark skinned, average build, trying to plead through his gag. Tony grabbed his hair and held him firmly upright. ‘You need to hold them still, it’s quicker for them that way.’ He placed the knife at the left side of the terrified man’s throat. ‘Start right over here and go in deep and slice across. The deeper you go the quicker it’ll be over for them. Don’t go doing stupid little papercuts coz you haven’t got the balls; it’ll make it worse for them and you.’ Tony sliced in one quick movement. Blood spurted out and then flowed down the naked man’s chest. The man’s throat gargled, his eyes grew wider, then he was motionless.

The remaining nine people screamed and cried from behind their gags.

Even with the mask over his nose Ben could smell faeces and urine as well as the iron aroma of the blood. It took all his focus not to vomit.

Tony turned and handed the knife to Ben. ‘You’re up. Better do one before you hit the deck.’

Ben took the knife reluctantly, his hands trembled more, and he felt so hot and sticky. Number two of the livestock was a pale Eastern European looking woman in her twenties. She was silent and staring at Ben with frozen terror. He put the knife tentatively to her throat, she pushed back against the wall and started to scream. Ben held her by her hair and gripped the knife with more force.

Ben’s mouth was dry, his tongue felt paralysed in its arid cave, he could barely whisper. ‘I’m sorry.’

The Good Samaritan

Published March 31, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Joe closed his eyes and felt the cold rain slap his face. It was perfect. It would be over soon. No more pain, no more anguish, no more self-loathing that consumed every cell in his body. He loosened his grip on the rail and took a deep breath.

‘Hey!’ A voice shouted louder than the rain.

Joe tightened his grip again, opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the voice.

‘Hey, what you doing?’ The voice in the rain belonged to a man in his thirties, black rain mac, dark hair made darker with the rain.

‘Isn’t it obvious? Go away.’

‘Well I can’t do that now.’

Joe stared back down into the agitated river. ‘Why?’

‘I couldn’t forgive myself.’

‘There’s nothing to forgive. Walk away, this’s nothing to do with you.’

‘It is now.’ The man took a step towards Joe. ‘You’ve kinda made it my business by doing it out here on a public bridge.’

‘I couldn’t find a private bridge.’

Again, the man took a step forward and was almost in touching distance of Joe. ‘Come down here, you’re making me nervous.’

‘Go away then.’ Joe stayed transfixed on the rushing water below.

‘Told you I can’t. Not gonna happen.’

Joe leant forwards with arms locked straight behind him. A glimmer of moonlight illuminated him, rain running down his face, like a marbled figurehead on the bow of a ship.

‘You’re really kicking off my anxiety here.’ The stranger shouted up at Joe.

Joe stayed poised in position.

‘My name’s Mick, what’s yours?’

‘Joe. And you’re an annoying bastard Mick.’

‘Technically correct on both counts, my dad ran off and didn’t marry my mum, and I have been told many times by many people I’m annoying. Usually by ex’s just as they dump me.’

Joe relaxed his arms and leant back against the rail. ‘Jesus Christ.’

‘I don’t think he’s here, it’s Good Friday, I imagine he’s busy, so I’ll have to do.’

‘What do you want from me?’

‘I just want you to come down here, stop me feeling anxious. And I’m getting soaked. I’ll probably get pneumonia. Do you want me to catch pneumonia Joe?’

Joe closed his eyes. ‘I just want to die.’

‘Can we make a deal? Some kind of trade off?’

Joe remained anchored.

‘If you come down, come back to my place and talk things through, if you still want to jump off a bridge I’ll find you a private one to do it from.’

‘Are you nuts?’

‘Says the man about to jump off a bridge?’

‘This makes perfect sense to me. More than you. You don’t even know me.’ The rain whipped at Joe’s face.

‘If you jump now I’m always gonna be thinking I could have saved you, and wondering why you jumped. Plus, there’s a crowd gathering here and I don’t want to look like a shit negotiator in front of them.’

Joe opened his eyes and turned his face to Mick. Looking down he saw five people clustered together. ‘Oh Christ.’ He turned his face back to the river. ‘Alright, make them go away and I’ll come down.’

Mick turned to the little group behind him and started waving them away. ‘You heard him folks, go on with your whatever you were doing.’

‘Should we call the police?’ A large woman in a navy anorak peered at Mick from under a pink polka dot umbrella.

‘No, it’s gonna be fine, I got this.’ Mick smiled at the lady. ‘I’ll look after him.’

She smiled back. ‘God bless you.’ She then dispersed into the night with the other onlookers.

‘Ok, people shooed away Joe.’

Joe turned and checked there was no audience, then climbed back over the rail and down onto the pavement. He stood face to face with Mick, inches apart. ‘You can go now.’

‘Are you kidding me? As soon as I walk off you’re gonna be straight up there again.’ Mick gestured to the bridge girder. ‘Look, I just live around the corner, come back to mine, chat, eat, drink, and like I said, if you still want to end it all I won’t stop you.’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. ‘Do it for me, give me a clear conscience when you jump.’

Joe stared into Mick’s eyes, the deep blue seemed to swirl like the river. ‘Ok.’

Mick patted Joe’s shoulder again and grinned. ‘Good, come on.’

Mick ushered Joe into his basement flat. ‘It’s not a palace, excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company, although to be honest I probably wouldn’t have tidied anyway.’

The living area was a riot of colours. Reds, oranges, pinks, and greens.

‘Let me get out of these wet clothes and I’ll get you something dry.’ Mick disappeared through a door at the opposite end of the lounge.

Joe stood in silence, dripping onto the doormat. He surveyed the room. A tired sofa had an orange woven throw draped over it. A terracotta tiled coffee table was adorned with different varieties of cacti and a New Scientist magazine. And the kitchen area in the corner, painted bright red, had dishes stacked up high on the draining board like a modern art installation.

Mick returned through the door, wearing jeans and a blue and white striped shirt. ‘I’ve put some clothes on the bed in there, you look the same size, and put your stuff on the radiator to dry out.’

Joe fiddled with a button on his jacket. ‘I’m ok, don’t want to be a bother.’

‘You’re bothering me dripping on my floor.’ Mick held out his hands. ‘Jacket.’

Joe slipped his jacket off and handed it to Mick.

‘Now go change.’ Mick smiled and hung the jacket up on the bulging coat rack behind the door.

Joe re-emerged from the bedroom in bare feet, with grey jogging bottoms on, and matching sweatshirt.

Mick was in the kitchen, the kettle boiling. ‘Sit yourself down. Tea, coffee, something stronger?’

‘I’m an alcoholic.’

Mick shrugged. ‘Ok. Tea or coffee then?’

‘Tea.’

‘Sugar?’

‘One please.’ Joe sat down and sunk into the sofa.

Mick pottered about and carried over two mugs of tea to the sofa. He handed Joe his tea and sank down next to him. ‘So. Cut to the chase, why do you want to kill yourself?’

Joe took a sip of his tea then placed it on the table, he shrugged. ‘I just don’t want to live anymore. I’m a failure, I have nothing to live for. I can’t go on anymore.’

‘Friends, family, colleagues. There must be people that wouldn’t want you to kill yourself?’

‘The only friend I had ran off with my wife, my parents are dead, my sister is a self-absorbed bitch who lives in France, I’m self-employed, well, I was, my business has just gone bankrupt. So, you see, no one would care if I’m here or not.’

Mick took a sip of his tea. ‘Ouch. That is pretty shit.’

‘Yep.’

‘There’ll be other women, I’m sure your wife wasn’t the first woman in your life and she doesn’t have to be the last. You’re a good-looking guy. Granted you haven’t got a lot going for you right now, so more of a potential catch than a current catch, but you’re not dead in the water in that department yet.’

Joe shook his head. ‘I could never love anyone again. I could never trust anyone again.’

‘You will.’ Mick combed his hands through his damp hair. ‘You can get another job easy enough, might not be your own business but you can earn money. What did you do?’

‘A chef, I had my own restaurant.’

‘There you go, everyone needs to eat, you can get a chef job anywhere.’

‘I’m too tired to start again from the bottom.’ Joe leant forwards, cradling his head in his hands. ‘I just can’t. I don’t want to.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Thirty-six, why?’

Mick tucked his legs up and under himself. ‘Hardly past it. You could have an exciting bright vivid future. Starting with this blank canvas in this moment right now. The future can be anything you want it to be.’

Joe lifted his head from his hands. ‘That’s just it, I don’t want the future to be anything, I don’t want a future. I’ve had enough.’

‘I think you’re lying.’ Mick took a gulp of tea and then placed his mug on the table.

‘What?’

‘I think you do want a future.’

‘Look, you’ve been kind to me, but you don’t know me, I want to die.’

‘Nope, you’re a liar.’ Mick folded his arms.

‘I’m not lying.’

‘If you’re not lying to me you’re lying to yourself.’

Joe sat up straight, frowning. ‘With respect you’re talking shit.’

‘With no respect, you’re the one talking shit.’ Mick grinned.

Joe stood up. ‘Thanks for the tea, I’m going.’

‘Where to? In my clothes? Gonna jump off the bridge again, oh no wait, you didn’t jump did you, because you don’t want to die.’

‘I didn’t jump because an asshole like you came along and interrupted me.’

‘If you really wanted to die you wouldn’t have let an asshole like me stop you. You’d have just jumped. You wouldn’t have even chosen a busy bridge to jump from if you were serious, you wanted someone to stop you.’ Mick uncrossed his arms and uncurled his legs. ‘Sit down Joe.’

Joe sat slowly back down. ‘If you didn’t think I was going to really jump why did you stop.’

‘Why didn’t you choose a whiskey?’

‘What?’

‘When I offered you a drink, you told me you were an alcoholic and you chose tea.’

‘So?’

‘If you were an alcoholic and wanted to die you’d choose a whiskey. Why stay sober if you don’t even want to live?’

‘Habit.’

‘Bullshit. You’re self-indulgent, loving to be the centre of attention in the drama you create.’

‘I don’t have to sit here listening to this crap.’ Joe stayed seated, his shoulders slumped forwards.

‘No, but you are, because you love being the centre of the drama. You certainly don’t want to kill yourself.’

‘I do. I’m just a coward.’ Joe started to sob. ‘I don’t want to live but I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. How pathetic is that.’

‘That’s pathetic.’ Mick sighed. ‘And sad. Pathetic and sad.’

‘You should have left me on the bridge.’ Joe wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and sniffed snot bubbles back up his nose.

‘To do what, be ‘rescued’ by a different passer-by?’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s knee. ‘This cycle would just keep repeating itself, wouldn’t it? The torment would never go.’

Joe nodded. ‘I’m such a failure I can’t even kill myself.’

‘Do you know what’s not a failure Joe?’ Mick stared into Joe’s eyes. ‘Meeting me. That’s a definite result on your part. Do you know what I do Joe? For a hobby that is, my day job is butchering.’

Joe shook his head, his eyes not breaking connection with Mick’s.

‘I watch the bridge. I was in the café watching you. I sit in the window there and watch for leapers. Lost souls that don’t want to live anymore. Then I talk them down, just like I did with you Joe. A few leapers have a cup of tea with me, are grateful for my intervention, and go back to their lives, thankful for the stranger that saved them.’

‘You have some sort of a hero complex?’

Mick removed his hand from Joe’s knee. ‘Oh no, I don’t enjoy helping people walk back into their dreary lives. I enjoy helping the people who really want to end it all.’

‘I’m confused. You talk them out of jumping.’

‘Watching someone jump to their death is not a thrill Joe. Helping someone to their death is.’ Mick relaxed back into the sofa, resting his hands on his thighs. ‘When someone tells me they really want to die but can’t do it themselves, I help them. Assisted suicide.’

Joe turned to face Mick more, perching on the edge of the sofa. ‘How? Drugs.’

‘Administering drugs and watching someone slowly slip away is also not a thrill Joe. And it’s not good for the decider either. If you decide you want to die, you want it to be over with quickly. Don’t you?’

Joe nodded. ‘What do you do then?’

Mick’s eyes sparkled. ‘I use a knife. Quick and easy. People can request where they want to be stabbed. Throat or heart are the most popular.’

‘What happens after?’ Joe frowned. ‘With the bodies?’

‘What’s it matter? They’re dead. No one loves them enough to want to bury them.’ Mick sighed and stood up. ‘Your clothes might be dry now.’

Joe stared up at him. ‘What?’

‘Your clothes, dry. You can put them back on and go back to your life of drama.’ Mick started walking towards the bedroom.

‘Heart.’

Mick stopped mid step and turned to Joe. ‘Pardon?’

‘Heart. I want you to stab me in my heart.’

Mick walked back to the sofa and crouched down, he held Joe’s hands. ‘Are you sure? I don’t think you really want this.’

‘I do. Please.’ Joe squeezed Mick’s hands. ‘I can’t go back. I don’t want to.’

Mick’s voice was almost a whisper. ‘Only if you’re one hundred per cent sure. I’m not a murderer. I’m a suicide assistant.’

Joe gazed into Mick’s eyes. ‘I’m sure.’

‘Ok.’ Mick nodded slowly. He stood up and slinked silently into the bedroom. When he came back out he had an eight inch hunting knife and some plastic sheeting which he laid down on the floor, moving the coffee table slightly to make room. He indicated to Joe’s clothing. ‘Take my tracksuit off and lie down.’

‘I have to be naked?’

‘It makes it easier to clean up after, and saves me a tracksuit.’ Mick grinned. ‘Coz you’re gonna shit and piss yourself, everyone does. It’s perfectly natural.’

‘Oh, ok.’ Joe nodded, stone faced, and stood up starting to undress.

‘It’s only a naked body, I’ll only be looking where I’m stabbing.’ Mick started to unbutton his shirt. ‘I’ll take this off to avoid blood splatter. Dry cleaning bills are a bitch.’

Joe stood naked in front of Mick, his hands hung loosely in front of him.

‘Lie down Joe.’

Joe led down on his back. His hands alternating between by his sides and covering his privates.

‘Relax Joe, leave your hands by your side.’ A topless Mick straddled Joe and lined up the knife on his chest between the fourth and the firth rib, the tip of the blade resting gently on his skin. ‘Whenever you are ready I need you to say to me ‘please take my life’.’

Joe nodded. His breathing deepening. Mick leant over Joe, his two hands gripping the knife. The two men stared into each other’s eyes. The silence was deafening.

‘Please take my life’.

Mick thrust the knife at an angle into Joe’s chest, swept it swiftly along, then removed it rapidly. Joe’s eyes widened like a goldfish as a jet of blood volcanoed upwards splattering Mick. No scream came from Joe, just a gasp and a gargle, his eyes scared and pleading faded to acceptance and regret as he drifted down into deaths warm embrace.

Mick leant forward and kissed Joe gently on the forehead as the last beat of life left him. He sat upright on Joe and, with his head back and back arched, he massaged the blood that was decorating him into his chest. Licking his lips he started to undo his trousers.

The Snow

Published March 4, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Day 27 – I’ve done it. I’ve eaten human flesh. I’ve eaten Mark. Not all of him, just his leg. He tastes good. I’ve buried the rest of him in the snow. For later. Except his head. I can’t look at his face. I’ve covered it with a Waitrose carrier bag. He has a judgmental frown frozen to his face. I don’t know why, he’d do the same. I’m going to dig more fridges outside. Now I know I can survive and look after Kate.
***

Day 1 – I wish the news would stop whipping up a media frenzy re the weather. I’m sure they’re given a backhander from the bakeries to make people go crazy on the bread buying front. And I wish the sheeple didn’t go and clog the supermarkets buying six loaves per person. Crazy people.
Kate dumped me today, I don’t think that’s helping my mood. I knew it was coming though, I’ve known about her and Mark for weeks. I should’ve kept going to the gym, if I had a six pack like him she might not have looked elsewhere.

Day 2 – Advice today on the news on how to keep warm in the impending cold storms, some prick telling me to ‘layer up’ and not just wear a jumper. If someone needs to be told how to keep warm, then they shouldn’t be wasting my air space. Why not layer up with all the bread you’ve just bought you nutters. Maybe shove a couple of croissants in your pants too.
Kate texted me, she asked me to gather up all her stuff ready for her to collect. I got excited when I saw her name ping onto my phone, part of me wanted her to say she’d made a mistake, part of me knew I wasn’t that lucky.

Day 3 – The snow has fallen here now. Fed up already of seeing posts on Facebook re snow days. Seems most of my friends are now five-year old’s making snow angels on their lawns. I’m probably only grumpy because I want the day off from work too, or a week, having to be nice to customers when inside I’m crumbling is draining me. But no, I live within walking distance from work, according to Mr. Jacobs, so I’m the sucker trekking in while Ben is warm at home drinking hot chocolate with whiskey and watching Netflix marathons. Twat.
Haven’t heard from Kate today.

Day 4 – Suggested we close today as we didn’t have any customers, but Mr. Jacobs said no. Who the hell wants to have their eyes tested in a blizzard? Unless they’re worried that all they can see is whiteness. More snow forecast on the doom and gloom box. I think I’ll throw a sickie tomorrow, I can’t take anymore of rubber band ball boredom. And sneaking onto Facebook to see people enjoying the snow is annoying me now.
Kate changed her profile from ‘in a relationship with Adam’ to ‘in a relationship with Mark’. It physically hurt to read that. She could’ve at least had a day of being ‘single’. And all her friends obviously knew as there were just thumbs up and heart reactions to the post. I wanted to write something stinging in the comments, so Kate would know how much I was hurting, but what’s the point, she doesn’t care anymore.

Day 5- Tried to order extra warm gloves from Amazon and they’re not offering next day prime delivery due to the weather. No local shops are open due to the weather. So, I guess my hands will just have to be cold, due to the weather. At least I got sent home early from work today. Mr. Jacobs has had enough of sitting in a silence, and watching me make a ball from elastic bands was probably doing his head in just as much as mine. Only one supermarket open in town, it’s starting to look empty. Those stupid people bulk buying have stripped it. Selfish twats.

Day 6- It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day watching the news, snow, snow and more snow. More due, no end in sight. I might go back up to the supermarket today, get some tins in.
Waitrose was the only shop open in town, full of people like me who had braved a walk in, covered in snow and looking for essentials. Not many essentials left though. I bought tins of soup, packets of cereals, jelly cubes and chocolate. There was no bread, but packets of cream crackers a plenty, got loads of those. Not many staff in so a bit of a queue. There was a strange eerie vibe amongst us in there. Seemed like we were all sizing up each other’s baskets, and each other. The checkout lady said they were closing in an hour and didn’t know when they were going to open again. I went back around and got dry roasted nuts, Battenburgs, and Jaffa Cakes. I’m so cold my bones are numb.
Packed up Kate’s stuff, some toiletries, some clothes, and ‘The Secret’ book. The irony isn’t lost on me. Oh, and a pot of Nutella in the fridge which I’m keeping. Not much really considering she stayed here a lot. I guess she always knew it wasn’t long term for her.

Day 7- Lights have flickered a bit today and the tv keeps threatening to go off. I’ve charged up my kindle and phone. I’ve fished out some torches from the shed and dotted them around the house. The Granger’s packed up their four by four and drove off, I guess they’re going to stay with one of their kids and their families. That only leaves me here and Mark down the lane now.
Kate texted, she’s on her way to collect her stuff. I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means, because I know she can’t get here from her parents’ house in this snow. I have her belongings in a cardboard box on the dining table now, it looks like a weird mini shrine.
I just cried for the first time since my mum died. I feel such an idiot. Kate picked up her stuff. She looked beautiful, all wrapped up with her pink wooly hat on, rosy cheeks, and smelling so wonderful with that jasmine perfume on. She didn’t want to stay for a drink, didn’t want to bring snow into mine on her boots. She said she was glad we could be grown up about things. I just smiled and watched her walking down the lane to his house. That’s when I cried. I’m glad I didn’t do it in front of her. The thought of her in his bed tonight, cuddling up to him, the thought of seeing them as I walk to work, life you are a bastard. I hate Mark, I hate myself, I hate the world.

Day 8- I’ve given up clearing the path from the lane to the house, the postman has stopped coming now anyway. It must be three feet deep out there now. I don’t want to go outside, I don’t want to see them, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Day 9- More snow overnight, what a surprise. Four feet now. News channels are showing carnage all over the country. Roads unpassable. Looting in cities. I’m glad I live here in the sticks. Well, the one exception. I’ve seen Kate through the window, trying to walk Mark’s dog. The dog doesn’t want to go, he just pees in the garden and they go back in. I stand to the side of the window, I don’t want her to see me watching.

Day 10- The internet has gone. Well, the landline broadband. Mobile phone internet is still up and running. The news is all the same though, no end in sight to the big freeze. Reading more now, classics, Kate always said I should read more, of the quality kind. Frankenstein is my current one. Different to the film. I prefer the film. I bet Mark prefers the book. I wish I’d picked up more varieties of soup, I’m fed up of tomato now. It’s Kate’s favourite flavour.

Day 11- No mobile signal. After an initial panic I’ve realised that no one phones me, and I don’t phone anyone. Only Kate, but not anymore.

Day 12- The satellite signal has gone down. No more TV for me. At least I have lots of DVDs I can watch. Time for a Lord of the Rings marathon. More snow. Less soup.

Day 13- Now the electrics have gone. Cold soup is gross but better than nothing. Going to bed when it gets dark so that I can save the torch batteries. Got all my clothing out to keep warm, layering up.

Day 14- Still no electricity. It feels weird being cut off from the rest of the world and not knowing what’s going on. The snow isn’t stopping. I cleared a path to the shed and found the camping stove. At least I can heat my soup. My last can.

Day 15- Snow.

Day 16- Snow.

Day 17- More fricking snow.

Day 18- I have no food left. I’ve even eaten Kate’s Nutella. I feel I need to go out and look for food, but I’m also worried about conserving my energy, it’s a six-mile round trek into town, and what if it’s for nothing? I wonder how much food Kate and Mark have.
Struggled into town, my legs hurt so bad walking through the snow. No surprise that nothing was open. It was like a deserted ghost town. I only saw two people, one man pulled his hood up and walked in the other direction when he saw me, the other man just blanked me when I said hi. Weird. I wondered if I’d imagined him. A few shops had their doors broken and had been looted. I stood and stared for a while, surprised this had happened in this small town. I’m ashamed to say I went in and took items too. I’ve written them down and will pay the owners when this craziness stops. I took cheap wine from Bargain Booze, someone had beaten me to all the spirits, and throat sweets and paracetamol from a ransacked chemist, all the stronger drugs had gone.
I saw a dead cat on the way back and was tempted to bring it home to cook it. But then I thought it might have died from a disease and not just the cold. How has it come to this? Stealing from looted shops and eyeing up dead animals on the roadside. Life is a bastard.

Day 19- I’ve woken up cold and hungry. I thought about setting traps to catch rabbits, but the snow is so deep it wouldn’t work. And I haven’t even seen any rabbits.

Day 20- Mark came outside with the dog today. I hope Kate is ok. He cleared the square in his garden and left the dog out while he popped back in. Christ, I felt myself wondering how the dog would taste.

Day 21- I stared at myself in the mirror. Having not shaved for weeks I saw my dad staring back at me. How I remember him anyway, he’s probably dead by now, I wouldn’t know, he didn’t want responsibility. He didn’t want me. Did he feel a failure like me? Is that why he walked away? If I had kids they’d be better off without me.
I saw Kate at the upstairs window. I waved. She didn’t wave back. She probably didn’t see me, the houses are quite far apart. She’s the only person that wanted me. Until Mark stole her away from me. Now I just have wine and pills to look forward to.

Day 22- Wine, you taste like cheap vinegar, but you make me forget what a loser I am. For that, I love you.

Day 23- Why aren’t the military or the police dealing with this shit? We’re all going to die. Maybe most people have. A second ice-age? Is this what happened? Everything just froze to death.
I broke into the Granger’s house this afternoon. I didn’t need to clear a path as the snow is so deep and compact you can just walk on top of it. They had porridge oats in their cupboards, I have no milk to make proper porridge but at least I can eat the oats. I took their drinks. Whiskey and a collection of wines. Some vile sherry too, it wouldn’t be my first choice but wasn’t going to leave it behind. I also got a pot of mustard, a jar of lemon curd, jars of tomato pasta sauce, tinned vegetables and tinned fruit. I had a good look around their house. Mrs. Granger has a nice collection of lingerie, not what I would have expected for an older lady. Mr. Granger has a rifle, I didn’t know that. I took that too, with a packet of bullets. Maybe I can hunt something. The food I’ve taken from them won’t last long.

Day 24- Feeling better today, could be the food, could be the better wine. I’m going to see if I can find anything to hunt to day. I’ve never shot a gun before. I’m strangely excited.
Nothing, not even a bird in the sky. The only movement I watched through the scope was Mark and the dog. They went into the garden again for the dog to do its business. Mark went back inside to give the dog some privacy. I followed the dog with the rifle scope. It didn’t have much energy, it must be hungry itself. It would be kinder to put it down. I haven’t seen Kate in a while now. I hope she’s ok.

Day 25- Mark came outside with the dog again. Where’s Kate? What’s he done to her? I’m going to go check on her. Tempted to take the gun with me but if he sees me walking towards him with that he could kick off and I don’t have the energy to waste. I’ll take the small vegetable knife from the kitchen with me. Just for self defense if he tries anything.
Smug bastard. He was in the garden with the dog. I asked him where Kate was. He said she didn’t want to see me. I asked him to ask her. He said she was ill in bed. I asked to see her. He said no, she was sleeping. Bastard. He’s not looking after her properly, like I would. He went in and locked the door. Stupid twat left the dog outside. I can see him now out the window, shouting for the dog to come to him. You’ll need to shout louder Mark, he can’t hear you with the boiling water bubbling around his ears on my camping stove.

Day 26- I slept well. Surprising what a good protein meal can do for you. I feel stronger today. That’s good, Kate needs me to be strong now. She needs me. I’m focused now. I think I can do it. I know I can do it.
I might have a long wait. He won’t be out for the regular dog toilet breaks. I’ve opened the window slightly, enough for the tip of the rifle to poke out. And I’ll wait. As long as it takes.
Two hours. That’s all I had to wait. He went outside calling for the dog again. My first shot missed. Excited fingers. Luckily Mark didn’t twig what the noise was until I lined him up again for another shot. I got him in the chest. He hit the ground hard. I watched. Ready to fire again. He didn’t get up. I ran down the stairs and down the lane. He was still on the ground. The snow under him was vivid red. I stared. I looked up at the window, no Kate watching. I dragged him back here. Exhausted now. Must rest. Kate needs me.

Kiss

Published August 26, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Misty pouted her blood red lips at her reflection. ‘Irresistible.’ She sprayed herself with perfume, Gucci Envy, and smiled. His last gift to her.

There was a knock at the hotel door. Misty took a deep breath. She carefully applied the gloss that she had mixed earlier over her lipstick barrier. Her lips glistened like syrup. A more impatient knock came to the door. She stood and walked over to the door, she undid her silk gown revealing a black corset and overflowing breasts.

She opened the door slowly. ‘Hello Joe.’

The man in front of her, Joe, appraised her body from head to toe, his eyes relocated to her chest when his surveying had finished. ‘What are you doing to me? You’re killing me.’

Misty smirked. ‘You don’t have to come in.’ She stepped back and arched her body slightly, glancing over her shoulder. ‘I just wanted to say goodbye properly.’

She turned fully back into the room, and heard the door close behind her. She dropped her gown to the floor.

Joe slid his arms around her waist. ‘This is definitely the last time,’ he whispered.

Misty felt his warm breath on her neck. ‘Definitely.’

‘I can’t leave her, not now.’ Joe’s fumbling hands stumbled up to her breasts.

‘Not now she’s pregnant.’ Misty twisted in Joe’s arms so she was facing him. ‘It’s ok Joe, you can say it. I’ve calmed down now.’ She started to undo his shirt. Her red nails a contrast to the white cotton. ‘You were going to leave her, weren’t you?’

‘Of course.’ Joe’s breathing got deeper as his eyes flitted between Misty’s fingers unbuttoning him and her slightly wobbling cleavage.

Misty finished unbuttoning his shirt. ‘I love you Joe, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Did you want that too? Did you want to be with me forever?’

Joe refocused to Misty’s hypnotizing dark eyes. ‘Yes, but -’

She placed her index finger on his lips and trailed it down to the bottom lip, parting them slightly, then releasing. ‘Tell me that you love me.’

‘I love you.’

Misty lifted her face to his, she saw his nostrils flare slightly as he smelt her perfume. ‘Kiss me.’

Joe immediately locked lips with Misty, like a screw on a magnet. They kissed with the hungriness of hyenas devouring prey. Misty pulled Joe down onto the bed. His hand slid up her leg to her inner thigh.

Misty stopped his hand going higher and pulled her lips away from his. ‘Hold me.’

Joe tried to kiss her neck. ‘But I haven’t got long.’

‘I know.’ She smiled sweetly, while pulling him closer and kissed him gently.

The slow tender kissing gave way to faster primal kissing and Joe started to fumble with his trousers, trying to undo them while staying glued to Misty’s lips.

Misty reached down and blocked Joe’s hand. ‘No.’

Joe froze. ‘What?’

‘You’re not using me anymore my love.’ Her hand moved up and stroked his face.

Joe frowned and studied her eyes. ‘But you called me? You said you needed to say goodbye properly? I thought this was going to be our last time together, to say goodbye.’

‘We can say goodbye without having sex.’

Joe pulled away from Misty and did his trousers up. ‘Why invite me here, to a hotel room? We could have just met for a drink.’

‘We couldn’t have met for a drink, that would be too public. I needed you here in private. I needed that kiss from you, now you couldn’t have kissed me like that in the pub, with prying eyes everywhere.’ Misty smiled at Joe, her red lipstick in place but the gloss gone.

Joe sighed and rolled onto his back, his hands flat on the bed. ‘If you’re trying to make me leave her again it’s not going to happen. You know I can’t.’ He glanced across at Misty. ‘Even though I want to.’

Misty shuffled closer and placed her hand on his chest. ‘I know you want to. That’s why I’m doing this.’

‘Doing what?’

‘I mean, if you’d said you didn’t love me anymore, or that you’d just be using me, of course I’d be heart broken, but in time and tears I would have got over you.’

Joe rolled back onto his side. ‘Doing what Misty?’

‘We both want to be together forever.’ Misty cupped his face lightly. ‘Just the two of us for eternity.’

Joe pulled away quickly. ‘What have you done to Claire?’

‘I haven’t done anything to her, why would I?’

Joe sat upright. ‘To be with me, to get her out of the way.’

‘I can’t believe you’d think I’d hurt her, pregnant too. I’m not a monster.’ Misty sat up too. ‘And if I hurt her I’d go to prison, and we’d still be apart.’

‘So what are you talking about?’

Before Misty had chance to reply Joe doubled up and moaned a guttural groan, collapsing back down onto the bed.

‘It’s started my love.’ Misty cradled Joe in her arms and stroked his hair. ‘It’ll start with me soon. My lipstick will have stopped it absorbing as quick into my system.’

Joe contorted in pain. ‘What have you done?’

‘Ssh, ssh, it’s all going to be ok. I put strychnine into my lip gloss.’ She kissed his forehead, then drew her knees up to her stomach. ‘It’s happening to me now too.’

‘You’re crazy.’ Joe started to pant.

‘Crazy for you my love. We will always be together now, for eternity.’

The Healer

Published July 16, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

‘I know what you’re doing, but I don’t know how you’re doing it.’ Dr. Lennox interlocked his fingers tightly together and stared across the desk.

Vivian volleyed the stare back across, her face set to neutral. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

Dr. Lennox sighed. ‘How long have you worked for me Vivian?’

‘Just over five years.’

He unclasped his fingers and rested his hands on the desk. ‘Do you know what I did on the weekend?’

Vivian frowned. ‘Um, no.’

‘You’d never guess.’

Vivian studied Dr. Lennox’s blank face. ‘Then I won’t try.’

‘I went through patient medical files. All weekend.’ He stood up and retrieved a brown battered briefcase from beside the filling cabinet. ‘I’ve spent all weekend correlating data.’ Sitting back down he pulled out some papers from the bag and set them down on the desk, placing the bag on the floor. He indicated to one of the sheets with his right hand. ‘This is a list of all my patients who, having been diagnosed with terminal diseases, miraculously got better. Without medical help.’ He looked up from the sheet of paper to Vivian.

She remained perfectly still, hands resting lightly on her lap. The only movement was a pronounced swallow.

‘And this list,’ said Dr. Lennox. He pointed to the other sheet of paper. ‘This is a list of people who have suddenly developed the same terminal illnesses, seemingly overnight.’ He looked up from the desk again. ‘If you want to say anything, please, just jump on in.’

Vivian shrugged, staring at the papers on the desk. ‘People get sick all the time, and some people get better, that’s life.’

Dr. Lennox laughed. ‘Well, yeah, that is life, yet, do you know what the strange thing here is?’ His face crumbled the smile away and his eyes narrowed.

Vivian’s only response was to breathe a little faster.

Dr. Lennox continued. ‘These people on this sudden illness list, well, they got sick on the same day that the people on the sick list got better.’

Vivian tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. ‘Co-incidence.’

Dr. Lennox smiled broadly, yet the smile didn’t reach his eyes. ‘We both know it’s no co-incidence.’ He looked down at the lists in front of him. ‘Mrs. Ramirez had terminal bowel cancer, in June she no longer has it, but Mrs. Godfrey, of previous good health, now has terminal bowel cancer.’

‘That doesn’t mean anything,’ said Vivian. She crossed her legs slowly and leaned back into the groaning plastic chair.

Dr. Lennox rubbed at his moustache. ‘Not on its own no. But there are seven other cases I’ve found. Seven other terminally ill patients, spanning back five years, that have miraculously been cured without medical intervention. And seven matching patients that have developed those exact terminal illnesses overnight. Shall I read you the other six out?’

‘I don’t think there’s a need for that.’ Vivian folded her arms.

‘I checked on the system, and the dates that they appeared to switch their illnesses, both patients were in the surgery, and on all seven days, and for each of those patients, you took their blood.’ Dr. Lennox mirrored Vivian by leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. He had a smug grin on his face, as if he was Poirot revealing the murderer at the end of an Agatha Christie adaptation.

Vivian returned his smile slyly. ‘I’m your only phlebotomist and I’m in most days, so that’s not surprising.’

Dr. Lennox rocked on his chair slightly, loosening his arms to rest on his stomach. ‘So, you’re not going to tell me?’

Vivian tilted her head. ‘Tell you what?’

‘How you’re doing it?’

‘Doing what?’ Vivian uncrossed her arms and leant forward. ‘I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of, do I need my union rep in here with me?’

‘Vivian, of course you don’t need a rep.’ Dr. Lennox attempted a warm smile as he rested forward onto the desk. ‘This is just a friendly chat, completely off the record. Just between you and me.’ He picked up his silver pen and started to roll it between his fingers.

Vivian gazed out of the window, she watched flowers being blown from the apple blossom tree outside. ‘I don’t know what you want me to say.’

‘I merely want you to tell me the truth. I’m a doctor, I just want to know how you are curing these people.’ He tapped his pen gently on the desk protector. ‘And I know it is you because all the saved patients are patients you like, and all the inflicted patients are patients you don’t.’

Vivian’s eyebrows flickered up.

Dr. Lennox smiled and put his pen down. ‘I hear the gossip when I’m getting coffee.’ His smile morphed into a frown. ‘But I can’t logically work it out.’

Vivian’s shoulders dropped and she stared at her hands. ‘It’s not logical.’ She looked up at the doctor. ‘Or ethical.’

Dr. Lennox nodded slightly. ‘Go on.’

‘You won’t believe me, and if you report me, no one would believe you either.’

Dr. Lennox nodded again. ‘Try me then, you have nothing to lose. Because if you don’t tell me, I’m going to have to let you go.’

Vivian’s nostrils flared. ‘I have a contract.’

‘I have a Hippocratic oath.’

Vivian bit the inside of her lip and stared at the blossom tree outside the window again. ‘I can’t explain scientifically how I can do these things. I’ve researched, but it’s a phenomenon, and I’ve been afflicted with it since I was a child.’

‘Afflicted?’

Vivian focused her attention back to Dr. Lennox. ‘Yes. My Gran called it a gift. I call it a curse. It’s a power I have, but it makes me a bad person.’

Dr. Lennox frowned. ‘You have the power of life and death?’

Vivian twiddled with the jade crystal on her necklace. ‘You could say everyone has the power of life or death. You choose not to kill people so you could say you are giving them the power of life.’

‘I could quite easily murder my ex.’ A nervous laugh followed from the doctor.

Vivian shuffled the chair forward and tilted herself towards him. ‘What stops you?’

‘What?’

‘What stops you killing her?’

Dr. Lennox sat upright and smoothed his moustache down with his index finger. ‘Because I don’t want to go to prison, and it’s wrong.’

Vivian remained angled forwards. ‘So, you choose to give her life because of the consequences?’

Dr. Lennox picked up his pen again and flicked it on and off with his thumb. ‘Where’s this going?’

Vivian smiled. ‘Imagine if there were no consequences? If you could kill without repercussions, your choices might be different.’

‘Yes, but -‘

‘I’ve gone a little off tangent.’ Vivian repositioned herself back into the creaking chair. ‘Basically, I can take away illness but then it gets passed on.’

Dr. Lennox rubbed his forehead with his pen free hand. ‘Why? Why does it get passed on?’

Vivian shrugged her left shoulder. ‘I don’t know. When I first realized what I could do, cure people, I thought it was amazing, indeed a gift. But I found that whoever I touched after ‘curing’ someone else came down with what I had removed.’

Dr. Lennox stared at Vivian, his eyes flickering all around her face. ‘I have so many questions. When you say touch, would brushing past someone cause you to take or give illnesses?’

Vivian shook her head. ‘No, I’ve honed my ‘technique’ over the years. I now squeeze and concentrate my mind to make it happen. Kind of like channeling it.’

Dr. Lennox nodded. ‘When you transferred illnesses in here, was that random or planned?’

‘Planned. Sort of.’ Vivian smiled.

‘Sort of?’

‘I always knew which patients I wanted to cure, that was the planned part. Giving their illnesses to others was a byproduct.’

Dr. Lennox placed the pen down on the desk protector. ‘Chosen at random?’

‘Well, not completely random, I didn’t draw names out of a hat.’ Vivian laughed and fiddled with her hair, repositioning a hair grip. ‘I’d see who else was coming in that same day for bloods, and choose off the list who was the least deserving.’

Dr. Lennox sunk his head into his hands. ‘Playing God.’

‘I don’t believe in God, I was merely making choices.’ Vivian frowned.’ Wouldn’t you?’

Dr. Lennox lifted his head slowly. ‘No, I couldn’t pick someone to die. That’s against my oath. And my humanity.’

‘You think it’s fair that Annie Kenwood dies from cancer, leaving her husband to look after her two children, while Grant Bailey abuses his body with illegal drugs and lives a long and happy life?’

‘No, but that’s life, that’s not for us to judge that’s for -‘

‘God to decide, but there is no God so why shouldn’t it be up to you, or I, or anyone else decent to judge?’ Vivian pursed her lips together and curled her hands into gripped fists.

‘But you’ve given a death sentence to seven people.’ Dr. Lennox grimaced. ‘You’ve killed seven people.’

‘I’ve saved seven people. Seven more deserving people.’ Vivian smiled. ‘It cancels out.’

The doctor rubbed his head. ‘Why can’t you just take away the illness? Why do you have to give it to someone else?’

Vivian gesticulates with her hands, as if swatting a fly away. ‘I don’t know. It just happens. That’s my curse. If I take away illness and don’t deliberately pass it on quickly, say within a day, the illness transfers with less effort to anyone. If I didn’t choose someone and pass it on, it would pass on by a random handshake, or hug with a loved one, or squeezing a friend’s hand. So I have to pass it on.’

‘Why don’t you just stop doing it? Don’t take illnesses and don’t pass them on, just let nature take its course.’

‘Because having the power is addictive. It’s wrong and it’s consuming but it’s also an immense rush.’ Vivian’s eyes sparkle. ‘And it’s not all life and death, I have a little fun with it too.’

‘Fun?’

‘I don’t just have the power to cure terminal doom and gloom stuff, I can cure hay fever, migraines, conjunctivitis, colds and such like.’

‘And you give those to others?’

‘Yes, I give those to people who have only slightly annoyed me.’ Vivian laughed.

Dr. Lennox lowered his head in hands once more. ‘Oh Vivian, I wish I hadn’t asked you now.’

Vivian’s smile ebbed away. ‘Why?’

He rubbed his face as he lifted it up to look her in the eye. ‘Because I can’t have you working here anymore. I have to protect my patients.’

‘But I’m saving the nice ones, you’re only going to be protecting horrid people, that doesn’t make sense.’ Vivian’s eyes widened and her voice softened. ‘Think of all the good souls I can save here.’

Dr. Lennox’s face toughened up. ‘How can you save souls when you don’t believe in God?’

Vivian sighed. ‘So, you don’t want to work with me? Help me choose?’

‘No. It’s wrong, you have to go.’ He placed his hands down onto the desk. ‘And I can’t give you a reference.’

Vivian swallowed hard and reached across, squeezing his hands tightly. ‘But I’ve been so loyal to you.’ She stared deeply into his eyes, still squeezing his hands.

Dr. Lennox pulled his hands away and stood up from the desk. ‘What did you do?’

Vivian relaxed back into the chair and smiled a satisfying smile.

Dr. Lennox’s eyes flickered between his hands and Vivian. ‘Have you given me cancer?’

Vivian laughed. ‘No, that’s not going to keep me my job here is it? I don’t want revenge, I just want to keep my job so I can keep on doing my good work.’

Dr. Lennox clutched at his chest, pain escaping from his face.

‘On my way to work this morning a man had a cardiac arrest in the coffee shop.’

The doctor fell back into his chair, he tried to grab at the phone but just knocked it onto the floor.

‘I saved his life, the man in the coffee shop, he always let me go in front of him in the queue. I took away his heart attack.’

Dr. Lennox, pale and clammy, tried to speak but words were trapped and movement slowed.

‘I’ve been careful who I’ve touched today, I was saving it for pervy Duncan this afternoon. He’ll have to wait now.’ She picked up the lists from the desk and fed them into the shredder, then placed the phone back on the desk. Staring at the lifeless body opposite her she sighed. ‘Oh Paul, we could have worked so well together.’

Vivian picked up phone and dialed 999. ‘Ambulance. I’m at Mainwaring Surgery, one of our doctors has had a heart attack, please hurry.’ While holding onto the phone in one hand she opened the door with the other and shouted down the corridor.

‘I need some help here!’

Battenburg

Published May 6, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I can’t move. I’ve got my eyes open, but it’s too dark to see anything. I can smell cake, and I can feel the weight of something against my face. I try to recall my last memory. Sleep. I was in bed, going to sleep. I’m not in my bed now.

I can’t hear anything so I open my mouth to shout, or say hello to anyone nearby.

‘Hello?’

My voice sounds muffled and distorted. I’m not sure if that’s because my ears are covered, or if there’s something in front of my mouth. I slowly force my tongue out of my mouth. It protrudes out for about half an inch before touching a surface, then retracts quickly back in. My taste buds tell me the surface it met is sweet. I persuade my tongue to venture out again. It complies.

My tongue gently licks the object in front of my mouth. Cake. It’s cake. I move my jaw out as much as it will extend and scrape my teeth along the cake surface. My tongue escorts the cake into my mouth. It tastes delicious, a light sponge.

Am I surrounded by cake? Is that why I can’t move? I think I am. How is this possible? If it were a dream I wouldn’t be able to taste and smell the cake, and I can. Someone must have drugged me and put me in a cake. That just doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense.

I feel my chest tighten as a panic attack attempts to take control of my body. I can hear my pulse rate speeding up through the blood vessels in my muffled ears. I inhale a deep breath, cake fumes filter into my lungs. I tell myself I am calm, and all is well. My body knows I am lying to it, but it plays along with me, for now.

I must eat the cake. That is how I will get free. I will eat my way up through the cake. There will have to be a surface, no cake goes on for infinity. I feel calmer, I know I can eat a lot of cake. My teeth start excavating the sponge in front of me.

The more cake I eat, the more I can move my head. My spirits are lifted. I’m feeling confident. I can angle my head back now to reach the cake above me with my mouth. I move up an inch at a time, shuffling my body up with my shoulders, arms still by my sides, my face facing to the top.

I’m starting to feel sick now. I want to take a breather and rest a little, but I don’t want to risk falling asleep and running out of air. My body keeps trying to remind me I could suffocate easily, it does this by squeezing my lungs periodically while making me want to breathe faster. I tell myself I can do this, and I will be out of here soon.

I think it will be soon. I’m starting to see now. I can see the cake above me, it’s yellow. I must be near the top of the cake for the light to be penetrating down to me. I can do this. I eat more cake. In my excitement, I bite off a bigger chunk, but almost choke on it. My legs attempt to kick out and my arms try to lash out too. I spray my own face with regurgitated cake. It takes me a few moments to compose myself. I continue eating through the cake.

Bright yellow. I can see bright yellow above me. My relief is joyous. I eat on. I can smell marzipan. A heavenly smell. Almond ambrosia. I devour the final layer of sponge between me and the marzipan. I push my face against the marzipan, attempting to break free with the force of my facial features. The marzipan just stretches with my face, and lowers back down with it. I lick at the marzipan, and try to bite at it. It just moves playfully with my tongue and teeth, keen to flow in the same direction. Marzipan, I’m finding out, is non-confrontational, eager to please, and far too flexible. I try forcing my face up through it again, but this time the marzipan, wet from my saliva, sticks to my face. The almond assassin clings to my nostrils and my mouth. I try to breathe but the overpowering essence blocks my airways. My lungs clench and scream pain I didn’t think possible. I feel myself zoning out, drifting away from my physicality. I’m going.

Air violently invades my face. My marzipan death mask is being ripped open. My mouth and nose compete for the air. My lungs stop screaming and merely shout instead. My eyes are blinded by bright whiteness. They struggle to compute my surroundings. I feel my head become free of the marzipan, and I feel hands pulling me out of the cake and place me on a hard surface. My limbs feel numb from their cocooned entrapment. I feel cold, and loose.

My eyes adjust in the harsh lighting. White floor, white walls, white ceiling. There is a man in a white biohazard suit stood stationary over me. A giant Battenburg cake is in the center of the room, crumbs scattered onto the floor, no doubt from when I emerged. A camera in the corner of the room rotates around to face me. The man in the white suit puts his hand to his ear, then nods.

‘Come with me,’ he says.

My mouth is dry. ‘Why? What’s happening?’

‘You failed. They don’t want you now.’

‘Failed what? Who are they?’ My legs allow me to stand up, but threaten to drop me at any moment.

The man walks towards a door. ‘You only had to get out of the cake. You failed so you have to go back.’

‘I don’t understand?’ I follow him to the door.

‘You should have eaten horizontally, not vertically, as there’s no marzipan on the ends of the cake.’ He swipes a card in a panel by the door with his gloved left hand. ‘You could have made it out alive that way.’

The door slides open with a faint hiss. The man steps out of the room, so do I.

‘But I still don’t understand what’s going on.’

‘It’s better that way. Believe me.’ The man walks off down the narrow corridor.

I follow.

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.’

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 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.’

***