Can your viewpoint alter in the next ten-minutes?

We all think that nothing of serious importance happens in life’s daily drudge…but merely going for a stroll can lead to quite the unexpected!

 

“I’m Watching You!”

By Stephen James

 

For anyone entering Heaven for the first time, the gates are always open. For anyone trying to leave hell at any time, they are always locked. Our eyes see plenty but our mouths stay shut. Our ears hear the wickedness of the world but our tongues prefer to taste the sugars of success. Our noses sniff out trouble but we feel the touch of a stranger to be a step closer to a friend. Oh, yes… Our alert senses feed us greedily with so much information, choices simply have to be made.
                This unfortunate observer had to make some ugly decisions…

 

The wooded surrounds which blanket the many-hectare state-owned forest outside Crossbow Falls was teaming with wildlife. Here, at this fishing village, on the Texas shoreline rim bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, life is peaceful. Well, it was back in April last year after a good season’s catch had repeatedly filled the bellies of the fishing boats. The men all drank heartily at the Crossbow Inn and the women-folk tolerated their boisterous mischief. It was set up in a Davy Crockett-meets-William Tell styled motif. The centuries-old village had a Cajun atmosphere about it, not violent, just very, very, old-fashioned. Lessons were taught an eye for an eye. You took your punishment when you were wrong. What happened in the bedroom – stayed in the bedroom. A few hundred miles around, is where the incomparable Rio Grande empties its daily unwanted burden into the gulf.

I had wandered off course accidentally. Crossbow Falls, or even its surrounding forests, was not my usual neck of the woods. I am an out-of-towner from upstate Texas; more a mountain-lover than the water’s edge, who just so happened to be visiting. Just out of town about two miles past Hogey Johnson’s farm, there is a winding track leading Creekside to a broken-down hardwood pier. Nobody goes there anymore because rogue alligators from the nearby Florida wetlands are fairly common. Here, the trees meet the water. I had decided to wander the Creekside gravel road and see where it took me. Diving seabirds hauled-off their prey, each catch swinging like a helpless prisoner in their powerful clutches. As each struggled for freedom, the morning sun’s glint lit up the creature’s scales with a silvery reflection. Mangroves reached out on their tiptoes as far as they dared. Trickling water lapped the shoreline. The view across the gulf was breathtaking. Silence filled the air. Aside from several dilapidated timber structures, there was no sign of mankind. I found a beautiful spot to take a short nap. Dappled in semi-shade beneath a glorious fat-trunked evergreen, with one of its branch-tip’s touching the water, a lush covering of grass had my name on it. My makeshift mattress curved its way up a grassy knoll comprising of two tiers. Later on, I had my choice of either one to sit on and watch the water. Asleep in moments…

A man’s voice woke me up. It’s macabre timbre, a tad shy of the clattering-sound made by a cargo ship’s anchor chain being hauled up, broke the silence. A woman’s voice soon accompanied it but hers was suffering. My ears pricked to feel the wind brush my face. Good, whoever this pair is, I am out of earshot for them. I kept still. The hillbilly-drawl, not clear, continued on like a stick in a bucket. Do I eavesdrop?

Her cries grew louder…

I moved slowly in the grass to keep quiet. Step by step, crawling up the slope, to where a scruffy shrub blocked the view suffice to see closer, without being seen. An old beaten-up truck sat in a clearing. I’d not noticed it arrive when asleep. I settled in to listen. A woman of good health was sprawled out on a large boulder, on her back. Her wrists were tied with old-school rope to four posts hammered into the ground. She could just move. Her clothes had been removed and she was crying.

“Your answer?” He asked, inches from her face, coiled-up whip in his hand. A rifle sat leaning up against the boulder. A sledgehammer cast aside was crawling with ants.

“You know I can’t tell you the answer to that horrible question, Vernon,” she screamed.

“You cheap bitch!” he cracked the whip next to her face, the tip split her cheek. “You make me look a dog-gone fool in my own town, Sarah-Jessica. That, I cannot forgive!” Again with the whip… but this time, he launched it across her body. Her scream so loud it startled the nesting sea eagles, but nobody else could hear. This place was completely deserted, except for us. He whipped her six more times, then kissed her. “Goodbye, Sarah-Jessica!”

I had woken up at a bad time, in a bad place. My nerves started to tingle. This situation did not look good. In front of me, almost as far as you could spit, this bearded hayseed — as big as a house, was about to terminate his woman. She, it would seem, has been accused of being unfaithful. Is this really how these people carry on? I was totally powerless to prevent it, and any attempt to run away would disclose my presence. KEEP STILL.

Vernon picked up a leather medical-style bag and ripped it open. He seized hold of four knives in his huge hand and tossed the bag to the ground. He circled her punished physique three times. The whole time his mumbling jargon waffled-on about how hard done by he was now. And, how is he supposed to live without her now? He placed the eight-inch-bladed daggers across her belly and held them in place with one hand. He smiled like a hangman.

I watched in total disbelief, as Vernon took the first knife and thrust it into her but not into a vital organ area. She had been squealing so much that it seemed impossible to exceed the previous ones but this brought it out. “You deserve it! You filthy whore. Cry in hell!” Her cringe spilled the other three knives to the ground.

I checked left, then right, then left again. Not a soul in sight. It was still just us. In the process, my nose filled with the indisputable coppery smell of freshly-drawn blood. Quite sickening. I watched on, as he drank from a large glass container and wiped his chequered flannelette sleeve against his chin. This man looked and smelt so dirty, it was as if water was illegal or something. Did he sleep with fish? He seemed in no hurry. I, on the other hand, was contemplating the best and fastest escape route possible. Either way, I had to return via the gravelly road, which went right past in full view of this creature from the netherworld. The hottest burning question was… when to go?

Vernon selected his second blade. He flipped it in his right hand, always catching the handle, regardless of its rotations. He forced it slowly into her side. “I’ve always liked to have a drink with you, Sarah-Jessica. Pity it’s our last!” He swigged on his glass container. “And, of course, it doesn’t really matter how long we spend here together. It’s not as if you’ve got any place to go, afterwards.”

I yawned, more out of fear than anything else, I guess. A sea otter let out a shrilling call from the undergrowth on the riverbank behind me, my heartbeat fluttered. This was not my brain’s idea of A1-time-passing. Although, what was happening in front of me was mildly intriguing, possibly only because of the fact of my complete stealth — uncertainty became my ever-present companion.  Decision time fell upon me, in guillotine-like fashion! The risky gravel road stood beckoning… or was descending away, and slipping into the gulf and perhaps off to the patches of beach, which I had noted a bit further around upon arrival, a good one? Now that’s my last option. I could smell the alligators from here. Like it or not, I had to see it out and wait for him to leave…

The local-yokel stared up at the sun, shielding his dirty face from its powerful rays. He staggered several alcohol-effected rotations on the spot. He picked up his third tool-of-chastisement for Sarah-Jessica and began banging its blade against his trouser leg. Vernon sneered at her flagging expression, his eyes reflected the soul of a deep-seated lie. But they were the black hollow eyes of a shark. One of these people was evil. If it was the woman, then the man is vengeful. If it is the man, then he is evil and vengeful, and she is an innocent victim. Needless to say, he would get his way. He circled the boulder with stiff strides. The strides of an unhappy man. He began talking to a person who no longer was hearing. She was dying.

“Of course, I would have taken it all back, if?” Vernon placed the third dagger nearer her heart but still not fatal. He leaned on it. “…If you had told me what his name was… and why you killed him!”

I could see her pain, though now, she had lost the ability to feel the physical trauma or at least it appeared that way ─ because no words or screams were forthcoming. The sounds of the forest, to my ears at least, had fallen silent, almost with her. She now had over twenty-inches of steel in her, the wounds all bleeding and I had witnessed the entire process! I had been here every inch of the way. Locked away inside my mind was this wicked sacrifice. I knew that I could never share it. I hunkered down to watch the fourth knife finish her off. Vernon went to where Sarah-Jessica’s staked-out naked body could still be seen breathing. Her eyes were still open, alas, they would be seeing very little, right now. The shattered-mess-of-a-man sat next to her on the boulder. He took another big guzzle from the container, popped the cork back in, and dropped it to the floor.  In a deliberate trait to stall the entire process, he began to shave his beard with dagger four. Vernon tilted his head up, maintaining his; now you’re sorry, eye contact with her; just get it over and done with, idol stare. He stroked the clumsy blade down the side of his face again and again. His hand always stopping the blade when it neared the necklace, crudely made from reptilian teeth, which surely looked stuck to his skin in a balm of sweat. It took an eternity. When you have cheated death yourself, as indeed, I have on a number of occasions, you can sense when it is nearby. My keen sharp eyes and live-by-your-wits nature have come to the rescue a few too many times for me to deny what a fine tightrope we all walk. The seconds ticked agonisingly by. They became minutes. He kept shaving. Her eyes were closing. My breathing slowed. The wind changed direction. I felt suddenly vulnerable and shifted my weight. I was terrified. What would he do next? A nearby twig snapped under my foot. Did he hear that?

“Who’s there? Come out and show yourself. If you’re game.” The hillbilly stood up, knife still in his hand. His eyes were affixed right at mine, my only screen was the scruffy shrub. I remained statue-still. “This is a family argument going on, fair and square. Now, show yourself, or take yourself elsewhere.” He scanned the vicinity, coming closer and closer to my hideout. Vernon stopped suddenly, he heard Sarah-Jessica speak:

“Jarryd Walhavern, it was,” she coughed. “Because, he told a lie about you. That’s why I killed him. Sorry if I let you down.” Her head was raised from the boulder. It wobbled with her words. I could now see how pretty she actually was. And how broken she now appeared. Eyes like frozen flames. The last thing I heard her say was, “Yes, your own brother-in-law. There was no affair…”

He turned back to watch the last few moments of his wife’s innocent life trickle out the door. It was nothing to do with how she’d answered his stupid questions. He had already made up his mind long ago. The control lever inside his head had swung across to the premeditated mark. He thrust the knife into her heart and held it there. “Liar!” he shouted at her corpse. Like all killers think: He was right and she was a liar, of course.

In the strangest of circumstances, with discreet secrecy, I had watched the entire diabolical episode pan out, in complete disbelief. Was this fiendish creature of the same breed or race? I felt confused not understanding anything about the what, or the why.

Suddenly, in the remoteness could be heard the wailing sounds of the law. Within seconds, distinct human voices yapped like distant foxhounds. My cue had been sounded. The protective surrounds of my vantage point were no longer required and I was not going to speak of this to any soul. This much I promise you. My long pointed nose shan’t be sticking itself anywhere that it shouldn’t. Well, not in the near future, anyway. I scurried away towards the water to dance with the ‘gators. It was the risky route but…

This immediate vicinity was definitely no place for a timber-wolf like me to be loitering. I had seen enough!

Advertisements

Evil behind the mask – curse or fate?

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy…

                 Be grateful for what you have!

 

“Behind the Noble Mask Lurks Evil?” 

By Stephen James

 

                We all love a juicy tale of tyrants or martinets and their downfalls, don’t we? Well, if the fingers of your mind are well lubricated – slip your mental hand into this five-pronged glove of an anecdote! The theme is in fact based upon the skeleton of a true story, but I have nitro-injected it somewhat for your folk-law reading pleasure…

Commodore Richard Connachtie stood watching as the last remaining vines were being judiciously planted in their soldier-like rows. Each gnarly-looking trunk had already felt the sun’s glare for well over one-hundred and fifty summers, albeit in the south-eastern French valley of the northern Rhône district. Carefully removed and transported to the ideal stony granite soils which surrounded his newly-erected castle, overlooking the Hawkes Bay cliffs of New Zealand’s north island, here and now, in 1861, they could flourish and yield him his premier wine of choice. That deep rich red being Syrah or Shiraz to some. The bay was named by Captain James Cook in honour of Admiral Edward Hawke who decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. The irony of a British ex-naval statesman planting French grapevines here was simply a coincidence, but the outcome of Richard’s story is far from a simple one. His elaborate twenty-four bedroom castle had taken fifteen years and a crew of thirty-five skilled tradesmen to erect. This massive acreage had been secured for a song, via the fledgeling country’s Native Settler and Land Purchase Commissioner Sir Donald McLean. (The land alone would be worth very many millions of dollars in today’s money). Richard turned his gaze to his castle’s reaching solid stone walls, complete with battlements, and stroked the goatee section of the bold musketeer moustache which bridled his weak lower jaw. Nature had exchanged him a handsome face for a plain uneventful one; the trade had left him with courage. This valour had left him with a slight limp. Time had made him wealthy. He felt good inside…

In an act of chivalrous ego during October of 1861, Commodore Connachtie carried his new young bride of just twenty-one years across the castle’s threshold, much to her delight. A wedding of Biblical proportions had just eclipsed in the grounds of Connachtie Castle. He was at the maturing age of forty-seven years and desperately required a sired male offspring to carry on the family name, along with the inheritance of his fortune – gathered from astute investments throughout his peppered and well-travelled life. The young woman glared up at the towering vaulted ceilings as her piercing green eyes swept through the massive structure’s confines en route to his boudoir. Her name was Beth Murdoch, eldest daughter of a politician from the capital city Napier and she had never before set eyes inside the Gothic-styled building until now. The one-hundred and eighty-five guests were left drinking at their tables as the long shadows of dusk settled on the exterior stone walls. Beth’s two younger sisters, all still virgins, just as she was, sat amongst the gentry pondering their own futures.

Within seven years the Connachtie clan had swollen to become a family of eight. All was good except for one factor– the Scottish descendant had become surrounded by seven females. Frustration had eked its way into Richard’s heart from Beth’s failure to bare him a son. Though the ruddy-faced landowner loved his six daughters immensely, especially the twins, his once-gallant shoulder-length Cavalier locks and facial hair were now greying with despair. Richard began spending long hours locked high up in the turret which enjoyed captivating views over his vineyard – an area of the castle forbidden to Beth’s audience. From here, through his trusted brass spyglass, the retired seadog could observe his bulging Syrah vines, plump from regular seasonal rain and painstakingly groomed by Jônuet Du Mauriér, his Belgian wine-master. The servants became concerned about Connachtie’s health and his General Practitioner began to make more frequent unannounced visits. Dr Royce Chancellor was as much a family friend as their doctor, having delivered all the offspring as well as saving Beth’s life when a bout of pneumonia threatened to take her away. The foolish fair-skinned young woman had wandered off to the property’s far end to search for solace at her favourite viewing spot near the cliff-faces of Hawkes Bay to watch the hordes of nesting gannets. There, clad in little other than a silken dress, her flesh and raven tresses had quickly become saturated from an unleashing freak storm which chanced upon her as she wept incessantly from the wounds of her husband’s invectives. His tirades bore deep scars into her soul…

Another non-pregnant year evaporated, leaving the couple passionless other than during their workmanlike endeavours to fulfil his dream.

At last… a son was born late in the year of 1870. Jubilant Richard seemed to become reinvigorated with his zest for life. A huge garden-party was organized to celebrate the occasion, drawing guests from all parts of New Zealand’s north island. Dignitaries funnelled in to share copious goblets of Connachtie Castle Gold-label Hermitage Syrah and view the newborn brat. Unfortunately, with them came a dreaded strain of influenza, taking the three-month-old baby’s lifeblood within four days. The Commodore was struck with desolation and sank into a depression lasting nine months. He spoke only at mealtimes to Beth throughout this period, during which she hardly ate from the lavish spread of food their staff had prepared on a daily basis. As the days ground away, her weight diminished. Beth’s next eldest sister, Jean, was summoned in to care for her nieces. Having been close to the family, she was the obvious choice to play the role of surrogate mother. On Friday 2nd December 1871 Lady Bethania Connachtie drew her terminal breath – she was just thirty-one years and four months of age. Dr Royce Chancellor assessed her body but found no diseases, infections or illness, declaring that she had perished from a besotted broken heart.

A second, albeit somewhat smaller wedding saw the coming together of Jean and Richard, within six months of Beth’s passing. The retired Commodore justified it as a natural progression of events, warning the rumour-mongers to hush their mouths or be subsequently waylaid. He’d overheard several kitchen-staff members talking of discriminate observations, including Jean’s frequent visits to the turret to share his appreciation for the grapes, for many years. Fair-haired Jean, although four years her junior, had stood three inches taller than her sister, Beth. She was a high-spirited woman whose good-looks spurred her outgoing nature like paraffin on a fire. Within two years of marriage to the ageing Richard, she had him wrapped tightly around her contriving ring finger. No longer did she pay lengthy visits to his observation turret – much to the dismay of the now silent, however, still uncertain about her loyalties, castle staff members. Much of their discussion revolved around night-time eeriness and strange sightings. Many claimed that they could hear noises along the castle walls resembling the cries of a distressed woman. Little did Jean realize that in her haste to cocoon her wealthy prey, she had inadvertently signed a prenuptial agreement, along with her certificate of marriage. The cleverly worded clause, compiled in a text way beyond her scholarly abilities spoke of disqualifying her from any part of his fortune, if she failed to produce a son. He had told her it was the deeds to his land and her name needed to be added. Betrayed by her own captivating-looks, the beauteous young woman had signed with a scramble. Time moved on…

In a bizarre turn of events, despite the expectations of the proud Jônuet Du Mauriér, the vintages of 1872, 1873 and 1874 were disastrous. Unfit for bottling, barrel after barrel of the repulsive, shellac-tasting, burgundy vinegar had to be hauled off to be donated to the wharf workers down at the Port of Napier. Many fell ill from their own greed.

For exasperated Richard Connachtie, the year of 1874 turned from black to gold, when at long last he stared into the eyes of a baby boy on 16th August. Little did the self-proclaimed ‘Sovereign of Hawkes Bay’ realize that this child was not of his blood-line. The elusive golden-haired Jean had begun an illicit affair with the ruggedly handsome gatekeeper, Morris Hokkapinni Johnson. Johnson was a half-cast Māori with exquisite horsemanship skills, whose job it was to escort Lady Jean into town down the winding mountain roads of gravel. He steered her private single-horse-drawn-vehicle with the precision of a surgeon. Trusted by Richard, the broad-shouldered, coffee-coloured, mild-mannered employee fell victim to her advances. So pale were the features of the immoral wench that the newborn’s complexion bore little evidence to suggest it not to be of Connachtie’s spawn. The ingratiated nobleman’s ego powered him on to splurge gifts of opulence for his fair young wife. Her crocodilian cheating smile eluded any inkling of suspicion. Until once again disaster struck the estate, when, during the harsh winter of 1875, a rare-for-the-area snowfall dumped sufficient deposits in the higher country to cause a mini-avalanche. At the time, her Ladyship was travelling to the secret lodgings in town, where her romantic interlude with Johnson continued. Over a million tons of freezing snow swept her sulky off the side of the twisting road, killing her and her lover. At the time, Morris’s hands were clutching the reins and her arms were draped around his waist. The horse miraculously survived, pulled to freedom by a witnessing passer-by. Coincidentally, Lady Jean was also thirty-one at the time. When word reached the castle, the Connachtie children bore unsympathetic grins, as did many of the estate’s workforce. Sixty-one-year-old Richard felt the strangling arms of a gremlin’s choke around his throat and convinced himself that a back-up heir was necessary. He had begun to take notice after overhearing some parlour-gossip, that Richard II, whose one-year-old eyes were nothing like his own, also the boy’s flesh was smooth and olive in hue, also not like his own. A replacement wife had to be found – one not from the blood-stock of Beth Murdoch or her sister Jean, these women he proclaimed as the jinx to his welfare. After climbing the narrow spiral staircase upward to his turret, where he brooded in selfish pity, Commodore Connachtie, head muddled with embarrassment, decided that the search for a suitable match must begin at once…

Richard sent his daughters across the Tasman Sea to gain an elite education in the thriving colony of Australia. There they would be safe and out of his way. By 1876 his plight was in full swing. Far too vain to accept anything other than a beautiful virgin, all his energy became devoted to the sub-thirty-year-old aristocratic ladies-in-waiting, who had frequented his previous garden-parties. Care of Richard II was palmed off to Eliza Murdoch, the third-in-line sister, and still a spinster. This selfless woman had offered her services, along with permitting him to be as promiscuous as he pleased, and was more than agreeable to any prenuptial agreement but Richard would hear nothing of it, for fear of the Murdoch scourge. Pressure resulting from the express rising costs of the building’s upkeep mounted like pigeon poop. This, coupled with the children’s schooling costs affected his mind. Assets began to be sold off to offset living costs. Months drifted by without the addled ex-Naval officer being able to select a suitable life-partner. Before any had the chance to offer him anything that remotely resembled love, he had them plotting to get their hands on what remained of his rapidly-shrinking finances.

Eliza would stand for hour upon hour in the main foyer – arms clasped around her nephew, listening to the haunting whispers of her sisters. At the end of another arduous day of potential wooing, frustrated Richard would storm in through the enormous double-entry doors; after which, he would verbally abuse her and then covertly persuade her into his four-posted brass bed. To keep the peace, humble-natured Eliza forestalled his autocratic desires with little objection. On a sexual basis, the hobbling, maladroit, Scottish descendent repulsed her but her sense of moral responsibility overrode her personal tastes. Eliza’s eyes were on the young son of her deceased sister, and she was privy to Jean and Morris’s love-affair, right from the beginning. All three sisters had been very close. Eliza had no need for gold-digging either, her ailing father, Senator Horace Murdoch had already told her that he had bequeathed his family estate to her – his sole remaining heir. She would be well taken care of when he passed. The politician had squirrelled his adequate salary away in stocks and bonds after sadly losing his own wife, Jayne, to a heart attack at the age of fifty-two. Eliza’s time was shared between toing-and-froing between her father’s upmarket house in Napier and Connachtie Castle.

By the time Richard’s sixty-third birthday had slipped by without so much as a formal evening dinner, he had given up his attempts to secure a new bride. His state of mental stability was on the rocks and he preferred chasing wildfowl with a shotgun around his surrounding estate, to chasing women forty years his junior around town. Eliza fit the role of secretly applying sexual gratification (along with a procession of the town’s well-paid prostitutes) without threatening his dwindling fortune. They had a convenient agreement, whereby the boy was kept at the opposite end of the castle, told how busy the man whom he believed to be his father always was, and only permitted to visit when formally asked.

One summer’s day in February, three-year-old Richard II climbed the spiralling hardwood stairs and entered the private turret. He wanted to get closer to his maligned father. This was a terrible mistake. Just tall enough to reach the unbolted brass door handle, he pulled the lever down. When the oak door slammed against the wall, the toddler was confronted by an angry Richard senior, in a very embarrassing pose with one of his ladies-of-the-night. In a flash of demented rage, he swooped upon the child and cast the infant down the winding hardwood timber staircase which led to the turret – killing him instantly. The naked whore ran down to try to save the boy but his skull was in disarray. Panic-stricken Richard leapt from the turret window to his own death. A very black day in the castle’s history. He left behind his seed in Eliza’s womb without knowledge. In September of that year, a baby boy was born to her. She named him Morris and blessed him with the Murdoch surname…

The freshly-educated children returned from Australia, having still never soiled their hands from hard work, only to find a very different Connachtie Castle awaiting them. The sprawling vineyards were like a hundred acres of unkempt hair. Many staff members had left. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair and steadily the magnificent furnishings had been auctioned to cover running costs. A bitter succession of legal battles for the rights of ownership wrangled for decades. The lawyer’s fees began to cripple the Connachtie siblings. Having been supported totally by their father’s dowry all of their lives, the daughters were clueless to the workforce’s requirements. Finally, after the turning of the century, a compromise was settled upon with the sale of the estate to none other than Eliza Murdoch. The aspiring middle-aged woman had managed to educate herself after the sad passing of her father, Horace. She had prospered magnificently with his handed-down shares and real estate portfolio. Now as a fully-fledged geothermal engineer, she became highly acclaimed in the scientific research department, helping map and predict earthquakes on both the north and south islands. Eliza opened the castle up to care for orphans and mistreated children. Generously financing the entire operation personally, she left its organization in the very capable hands of her one and only son, Morris, sired by Richard. Our story does not end there…

Eliza had taken the uneducated jezebel under her wing after the black day in February 1877. She sent the woman off to a succession of special mature learning classes where she developed accounting skills with honours. After meeting a dapper young man from Auckland in 1880, she married and gave birth to five successive sons. Young Morris ended up marrying the prostitute’s only daughter who had been born several years later. Together they ran the orphanage. By the turn of the next century, the much-seasoned stone structure had more stories to tell than William Shakespeare.

In 2004, the Murdoch family’s progenies donated the entire estate to the New Zealand national Trust and it is now simply a tourist attraction – with a female ghost called Beth, who skirts its cold sandstone walls in the evenings, calling for Richard…

Here is the first ten-minute thriller for 2019… Dive in !!!

Thinking of becoming a writer yourself?

After reading this story ─ you may want to reconsider…

 

“The Bestseller”

By Stephen James

 

                Think you’ve read them all, do you?
I shan’t tantalise this story with an inviting paragraph of elevator-pitch. Just hoe straight in. See how long it is before your penny drops. I see both the humour and the horror in it. I hope you do too…

“I can’t take it anymore!” screamed the confused man, who sat with his hands clasped firmly over his eye-sockets. He was rubbing so hard, that his wife’s concern, pitched her out of her comfort level. She came to protect his sanity.

“It is alright honey, another opportunity will fall your way.” Her hand found his shoulder.

“Thanks for the throwaway advice, woman. Next thing you’re gonna say is… ‘We’ll be able to dig our way out. Take it easy. Blah! Blah! Blah!’ Well, I don’t care anymore about them! And, I don’t care anymore about the money! And, I don’t care anymore about you!”

The moderate house had a dangerously-silent chill suddenly engulf its every fibre. All the years of pent-up frustration had consumed this usually mild-mannered and intelligent man, turning him into a psychopath. He burst from his chair and turned on his wife in a rage. He was behind her in a flash, arm around her neck. She wore him like a cloak. Her heartbeat cannoned against her ribcage. His hands found their way to her throat. They were alone. She fought desperately, grabbing for his eyes and tearing at his hair. He locked his fingers with unnatural expertise. They began to squeeze the lifeblood out of her. She coughed a gargling last-gasp and fell limp into his arms. The poor woman spoke no more words. He had murdered her out of pure frustration. He hated himself at this point and knew life would never be the same again. One stupid act. One huge price to pay…

His hands, though not strong ones, had easily enough power in them to pick her up and carry her to the bedroom. Here, he placed her on the bed and called the police. “Hello. Yes, thank you. I wish to report a murder.”

 

THE END

 

“Well, what did you think of it?” Sparked Barney Petkovic, arms folded, a grin you couldn’t bargain for your kid to have on Christmas Day. He had just finished narrating the final two chapters of his novel from his computer to his wife. “I’ll bet you never ever would have picked that ending.”

His wife of one score years clearly was taken aback. Mary had been his rock all through his literary journey. Mary was a gentle but forthright woman. She loved seeing him this happy.

“It truly threw me. I love your paraphrasing’s style and descriptive parameter layouts. At the main part of the story, I was beginning to think it was almost a vicarious biography of your life, cleverly told through somebody else’s eyes. On deeper thought… No, it is nothing like a biography.” She twirled in theatrical adoration. “But, in all honesty, after you spun things around in that ending… A mountain, then a valley, a forest, then quicksand, twist, turn, turn, twist… I was left breathless…”

Barney had even considered changing his author’s name. Some wise-cracking friends had told him that his books would sell better if his name had more flair. He hoped one day his words would do his talking for him and was exploding with expectation. This was a masterpiece. He knew it was good. He was positive that nothing had ever been written like it before and the likelihood was, that nothing would ever be written like it again. It stunk of bestseller. They were on a goldmine, all he had to do was select which company had the privilege of producing his work.

“This will shut all my critical non-believers up. Hey, Mary? I can’t believe how I pulled it off. The sub-plot is so cleverly hidden right in front of the reader’s face.”

“All you need now is a brilliant synopsis to really punch a hole through the stone walls of the plethora of potential begging editors who will quickly want to get their mitts on it. Let’s get straight to it, shall we?” Her eagerness seemed as profound as his own.

“I’ve already prepared it,” he gloated, flicking a mouse command to open a magnificent three-hundred-word précis. “I have sharpened this collection of paragraphs so much, it could cut through the coldest of stones.” He scrolled through the concoction of literary genius. It described in crisp clever word usage his story, minus the ending, knowing, wondering, hoping, and teasing her to read it ─ he was red hot and ready-to-go!

“May I?” She asked, in an irresistible tone, her hand on the back of his ergonomic chair.

“Oh, very much, yes! I’ll open a bottle of champagne. You get ready. Give me five minutes but please, don’t start until I return. I want to read your expressions!” He dashed off.

She sat back and gently rubbed her eyes in preparation of her injection of English language wizardry, which she trusted would erupt from her husband’s penmanship. He already had four previous self-published creations, all of which were quite well accepted by the writer’s platform he had established over the years. Mary thought about the toiling hours she did on her own computer, to help with the enormous behind the scenes work, which goes into creating a novel. Eight-and-a-half years they’d been at it. She had been behind him all the way with her sharp ideas and brilliant memory. Nothing had quite really hit the big time. Not yet anyway…

When he returned, with the fizzy reward for his efforts thus far, her eyes sprang open in surprise. She had been immersed in thinking about the last ten years of their lives together: The publishing work. Her own job, done in tandem with being his personal PA. That interfering woman who came between them nine years ago and befriended Mary out of a lot of money. The fact that Barney couldn’t hold a real job down. His bosses always saying his head was in the clouds and he wasn’t concentrating properly. Belittled by his personal peer group, especially the women. All of these traits were traits of one of the characters, albeit, no reader would know it was Barney who was cleverly woven into the plot in cryptic genius. She admired his ability to fool the public. It was what good novelists did best of all. And after her eyes sprang apart, he kissed her nose and said, “I think we should down one first.” He handed the slender glass of bubbly liquid.

Weeks flew past and turned into months…

He had started by sending the manuscript off for perusal to the biggest publishing houses in the country. Several per week with enticing email heading grabs. The excited couple had gone through all of the correct procedures without a reply. They knew it would only be a matter of time. It was too good not to be grasped. The world is short of quality storylines, after all, that is what you constantly hear. Why else are there so many sequels and remakes and rewrites ─ only on steroids?

Then, gradually the months grew into seasons…

The fire in Barney’s belly had taken a dousing. He began to self-judge about the quality of his work. Truth was… nobody had bothered to read it yet. Publishers are so snowed under, that very little of the works submitted even get a look in. He was simply a statistical part of the make-up of the mind-bogglingly huge galaxy of writers who get flicked. This was not how Barney took it. The feeling of dejection began to absorb his mind. They began calling literary agents. None were interested. He pulled a few strings with an old buddy who had become a solicited author. No luck there either, they were only taking drafts from previously-established authors. Mary began to sense how much of a failure Barney was thinking himself to be. “Of course you will write again! Don’t ever say you’ll chuck it in dear,” she would constantly reply to his mood swings.

After over a year of unsuccessful attempts…

The Petkovic’s had pressed every single available button to become recognized, at least with the courtesy of an email. They had several horrific arguments. He felt utterly destroyed, because the world, for some stupid reason, didn’t want to leap out of the blocks to feast upon the delicious fruits of his painstaking efforts. Barney had sunk to an all-time low and lost his job, yet again. He had decided to investigate matters at blood-cell level. He must challenge his ego and rationale, to make sure that he and Mary weren’t simply imagining how good it was. One morning after a sleepless night, Barney felt ready to revise his document. He had breakfast with Mary and sent her off to the hospital, where she worked as a nurse. Barney fired-up his laptop occupying an astringent expression on his chubby face. It began at six-forty-five that morning, immediately after she’d departed for work. He had been so unhappy and had to dive back into his pages to see where he had gone wrong. Hour after hour he sat reading. All four-hundred-and-sixty-two pages had to be devoured before she arrived home… The manuscript had to be dissected, consumed and examined for weakness. There had to be a reason? He barely ate any lunch, it was a coffee-powered day. As fast as he dared to swallow the pages, he immersed himself into the twists and turns, searching for poor choices and sentence quality, but there were no weaknesses. The novel was infectious. He could hardly believe that he was actually the person who wrote it. Barney couldn’t believe it when he concluded reading the manuscript. It was even more powerful now than it had been on that night they celebrated the finished article. His tired mind began to spin in a whirlwind of frustration. He had read the book like the world’s number-one cynical critic ─ all the way through.

Mary walked in the door and stood near him. She was tired but always supportive. It seemed obvious he wasn’t alright. He spoke first. After everything that had happened, he fumed with angst.

“I can’t take it anymore!” screamed the confused man, who sat with his hands clasped firmly over his eye-sockets. He was rubbing so hard, that his wife’s concern, pitched her out of her comfort level. She came to protect his sanity.

“It is alright honey, another opportunity will fall your way.” Her hand found his shoulder.

“Thanks for the throwaway advice, woman. Next thing you’re gonna say is… ‘We’ll be able to dig our way out. Take it easy. Blah! Blah! Blah!’ Well, I don’t care anymore about them! And, I don’t care anymore about the money! And, I don’t care anymore about you!”

The moderate house had a dangerously-silent chill suddenly engulf its every fibre. All the years of pent-up frustration had consumed this usually mild-mannered and intelligent man, turning him into a psychopath. He burst from his chair and turned on his wife in a rage. He was behind her in a flash, arm around her neck. She wore him like a cloak. Her heartbeat cannoned against her ribcage. His hands found their way to her throat. They were alone. She fought desperately, grabbing for his eyes and tearing at his hair. He locked his fingers with unnatural expertise. They began to squeeze the lifeblood out of her. She coughed a gargling last gasp and fell limp into his arms. The poor woman spoke no more words. He had murdered her out of pure frustration. He hated himself at this point and knew life would never be the same again. One stupid act. One huge price to pay…

His hands, though not strong ones, had easily enough power in them to pick her up and carry her to the bedroom. Here, he placed her on the bed and called the police. “Hello. Yes, thank you. I wish to report a murder.”

Barney Petkovic had flipped. He realised he had just swapped twenty years of marriage for twenty years of prison. Go figure?

There is one upside to this tale, so relatable to all writers. Barney’s novel did go on to become a bestseller. One of the small publishing companies Mary had contacted came back with a mouth-watering offer. The police allowed it to proceed. The incredible irony of the plot mirroring his life catapulted the manuscript to unparalleled success. People simply love a scandal, don’t they? Barney Petkovic still types from his cellblock. Prison life has opened his mind to deprivation.

His fifth instalment, in the current third series, is already satisfactory for copy-editing…

Is it a curse…or illicit murder? The ten-minute thriller reveals.

Is the curse of death and murder one and the same?

    Can an inanimate object hold such power?

         … or is she really alive?

 

“The Black Widow of India”

By Stephen James

 

I am one who believes in the theory that; to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. This may or may not be true. Either way, fear of unknown powers has always haunted mankind. The mystic supernatural and spectral paranormal beliefs and disbeliefs have been ever-present throughout time, in all the fetching four corners of global society. What has always intrigued me, is the odd fact that a person who can enter a dark forest alone under the blackened cover of night, can be the same person who freezes at the sight of a mouse. Or an individual who can go into battle wielding a sword, facing the highly-possible chances of certain death, can wince at the sight of a spider…
Such is life. Go figure?

A poorly-paid Hindu miner swung his pick at the wall, deep down in the oil-lamp-lit chamber of the Ramji Bangla-Masood diamond mine in the Rayalaseema region in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It was a lucky strike, missing the enormous rough gemstone by millimetres. At his feet, but yet difficult to discern in the poor light, lay the largest black diamond ever discovered. Still clinging to a house brick of worthless ore, the near-spherical back of the widow offered a faint glint of her ravenous beauty. Then, his well-trained eyes caught the immense crude shape leaning against his ankle forcing a shriek of exasperation. It challenged a cricket ball for size supremacy. He knew he would be rewarded for the find. A mere pittance compared to the rock’s true value, but to Shamata, it was more than he could have ever have prayed for. He summoned his foreman. The unusual stone, totally opaque in appearance, was brought to the surface. Unfortunately for Shamata, he died in an obscure undisclosed circumstance the following day ─ never receiving a solitary rupee from Ramji Bangla-Masood Diamond Mine Company for his remarkable discovery. Was it murder?

It had just turned 1893. The country, known then as British India was in the middle of its crown rule period known as British Raj. This century-long rule which terminated in 1947, followed immediately after the country’s pillage by the East-India Company, 1757 ─ 1858. This financial giant of a company was an ugly autocratic organization funded on the back of the opium industry, trading mainly to China. After the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British government assumed full control, dissolving the trading company. Queen Victoria’s Imperial rule destroyed India’s local handloom industry to fund its own industrialization. India finally gained her own independence in 1948. And the rest, as they say, is history…

Even back then this flawless coal-coloured stone was worth a fortune. Carefully revised ready for cutting, the uniquely-shaped jewel had a main pear-shaped section with eight auxiliary stumps attached ─ hence the name. The gemstone’s enchantment grew when it was seen to have the need for very little cutting-waste. Only a fool would have cut it down to a more traditional shape. Within a year of delicate and intricate fashioning, its pendeloque-cut contained over four-hundred facets, and boasted nearly five-hundred carats. The ‘legs’ each contained thirty facets. The Black Widow was immediately implemented for sale, in an attempt to recuperate the mining company’s losses, which had steadily built-up as the mine began to run dry of stones. She fetched £125,000, the equivalent of roughly £13,000,000 in today’s money. Traditionally, opaque stones are not as valuable as clear one’s, however, her unique shape and size forced the value up.

Now proudly owned by Sir Riley Pompous-Stwitt, and worn by his wife on occasion like an imitation-paste fake, the prized bauble was never taken seriously because many believed it to be too large to be real. Sir Riley Pompous-Stwitt was the owner of a merchant shipping company containing twenty-eight cargo vessels of varying sizes. In an obscure turn of events, fifty-two-year-old Riley passed away in the arms of his lovely wife Mildred in 1903. At the time he was in perfect health. According to Mildred, now the owner of the twenty-eight-strong steamship fleet, the last thing he heard was an eerie whisper. She described it as obscure. This bizarre phenomenon continued, with the unique diamond going missing the following day. Rumours surfaced about her selling it on cheaply to fuel her gambling habits. This she categorically denied. Fourth and final chapter of the ill-fated Pompous-Stwitt’s saga, was the regular monthly sinking of her fleet. Tee-totalling Mildred committed suicide as a pauper…

Lost for over three decades, the rare gem turns up in Turkey. It was during the winter of 1936 when a Russian diplomat, on appointment to Ankara, discovered the Black Widow in a second-hand shop sitting on a window shelf, flanked by two snow-globes, a tardy historical ashtray and a chunky dolphin-shaped paperweight. At first sight, Ambassador Trikarchstrov who was with his wife, strolling past at the time, stopped to admire the ashtray. It was engraved with a Gallipoli memorabilia poem in brass, but appeared to have not been polished since Armistice Day. She drew his attention to the black jewel which had a price tag of fifteen lire on it, saying the necklace would be nice to wear when she accompanied him to the next conference. They purchased it without knowledge of the gemstone’s true value. She wore it to the symposium, getting compliments in abundance, only to have suffered a dreadful car accident when being driven home. Adding venom to the VIP’s twin deaths at the hands of a speeding truck driver, was the callous stealing of the necklace from around Mrs Trikarchstrov’s throat by their chauffeur. This man, an Afghani by birth, now working for the Turkish government, had emerged unscathed after the truck T-boned the car’s rear section. He fled the scene with it in his keeping. So enigmatically dramatic were the circumstances, including the hostile accusation of an assassination conspiracy, that the missing rare diamond was completely overlooked.

Time, as we all are aware, waits for nobody…

A further nineteen years which included World War Two’s intense theatre, slipped by, without the rock showing its beautiful alluring charm to society. Thought to have been missing for over forty years, the once-legendary Indian treasure unexplainably turns up in France during 1956. Popular actress Amelia Bourgeon juá Aqua purchases it by auction for the sum of 260,000,000 francs. The glamour-queen, beehive-wearing, superstar managed to wear the prized neckless on several occasions. Her pizzazz completely stole the gem’s attention. When shooting a movie on location at Switzerland’s Jungfraujoch, an accident happened. Soaring views over Aletsch Glacier from the railway station, which is carved into Mt Jungfrau Mt Mönch and the Eiger north face, attracts thousands of sightseers annually. The waterfall scene became too much for Amelia Bourgeon juá Aqua who plummeted to her death in tragic circumstances, swallowed by the passion of the moment. Her irretrievable body, now part of the mysterious web of legends that encompasses this unusual place. She was not the first.

The jewel, housed nearby, was nowhere to be found when her premises were searched. The fortress-like security had everything locked like Knox. It had not been stolen. The Black Widow of India disappeared again for just shy of twenty years…

The tabloids couldn’t keep a lid on things. Media-hype blew out of all proportion. ‘The black phantom diamond’ was more popular when it was missing than it was when it was around. Rewards were offered but nothing surfaced, until, private antique collector Astropheles Contropholous, found a pottery tea kettle he liked. It was three-hundred-years old and its lid was jammed firmly shut tight. He got it cheaply because of this fact. In his excitement to draw pleasure from glaring soulfully at his teapot, the Greek billionaire accidentally broke the pot on his kitchen table. His house, on Lake Chesapeake, erupted when the big black widow spilt out onto the table. He knew what it was the moment it rotated to a standstill and faced him straight in the eye. Its chain trailing out the back resembling a thickish thread of interwoven spider’s silk.

Now on permanent display, guarded by the very latest 1973 technological devices available at the time, the enraged carbon arachnid sits in his armoured basement. It is set up for privately invited guests only. Behind a series of glass windows, were glass shelves, each one adorned by a magnificent piece. Astropheles would visit his collection daily, every piece had a story attached, and each meant far more than whatever it was that he’d paid for the item. The extraordinary amount of money he spent on security was not to protect the monetary value, it was to safe keep their stories. Astropheles donated most of the contributions from visitors who offered money for his time and efforts, to the local special school. He loved all his treasures and said the widow seems to move about at night. He maintains it has been caught on infra-red CCTV. He never showed his legend-fluffing promotional video-footage to anybody, simply because, he never would part with any, therefore all their secrets were locked inside his heart. The new accidental-owner was not a greedy man, therefore did not deserve to be punished, nor was he a flaunting type. He wasn’t a womaniser. He had no enemies.

Well… that certainly would be the case in fairy-tale-land…

Sixteen months later, after a wonderful journey of sharing his wealth and joy with the world, everything changed. Winter of 1974 brought a new twist in the spider’s tale. For no reason other than plain outright daredevil, gentleman thief; Bamberg Astmoton had decided he must go for the legendary rock before spring has turned, to prove to himself that he was indeed, the finest jewel thief in the country. What brash young Canadian, Bamberg Astmoton had no idea of, was that, at exactly the same time, not five miles away, Joanna Chase was planning an identical heist. On the identical day. Both had chosen Saturday 7th December to hit the Contropholous stronghold. Astropheles had a much-publicized trip to Las Vegas planned. He would be away for forty-eight hours.

The few remaining guards were to Bamberg simply pawns to make his job more exciting. Joanna Chase had other ideas. Her plans were quieter, lighter, one step behind, to become one step in front, less visible… a smaller cat.

Bamberg scaled the walls easily without being seen. It was midnight. The ruggedly attractive thief wore complete black. He felt the guards’ presence as if by sixth-sense. He moved silently and cleverly, out of view of the CCTV cameras. His briefcase of high-tech tools flashed in the moonlight. The door locks were like a child’s toys, as were the alarm systems and laser-protected shelves’ control systems. Bamberg needed very little light to see. Joanna watched his every move. She was already there. Joanna was completely at home with these magician-like moves. Her shadow was even smaller than his. The last thing he knew was, by replacing the identical weight of the stone with his dummy weight, when he had his hands on it, the rest would be simple. Without this, an alarm was sent by micro-code to the head guard, now outside, smoking. His escape route was planned to perfection. He just can’t afford any mistakes. There it was in front of him, staring back saying ‘Please steal me!’

The gem was lifted with surgeon-like care – the dummy slipped into position as though it were alive. Eyes snap-frozen. Ears wide-open. No sounds or mistakes. Time to leave. Bamberg Astmoton knew that the laser light web, which crisscrossed the entire home would change its code in fifteen minutes. It would be reinstated. The alarm’s disablement was only a temporary one. His gloat had to be a momentary one and there was no such thing as a ‘selfie’ back then. He whisked his way towards the rear where waiting, was the famous glass elevator shaft, which followed down the cliff to Chesapeake Bay. It was where only two guards were placed and where he had a small boat waiting.

But he didn’t get there…

Waiting at the top of the see-through glass shaft was Joanna. “Put it back,” she said, firmly.

“Are you mad? Where did you come from?”

“Put it back!” she said, a sterner reinforcement in her tone.

“Why should I? Are you the police? We both have to be gone in…” He checked his Rolex. “In less than eight minutes, or…”

“Look. I’ve caught you red-handed. You don’t know who I am,” said the woman, her voice melting with an ambient glow through the glass walls, into a spell. “If you try to escape, I may be forced to shoot you. If you put it back, then, I may be enticed to fall in love with you!” She stepped closer. He stopped completely. A small gold revolver sat firmly as a gravestone in her shapely hand.

“Now, that’s very flattering miss?” he waggled the priceless gem like a pebble. Its chain flopped, resembling a swing below his wrist. He noticed her suffocating beauty in what light there was. “I may not want your love!”

“You’re wasting time, Bamberg, I have you in a catch-twenty-two situation. Put it back and I’ll let you go. I’ll even give you my number. I think you are breathless!” Joanna’s nitro-glycerine body formed an alluring focus. “You don’t want to get caught.” She already had him at; Put it back!

The charming thief had no plan B here. He had no time to stall. He indulged himself with twenty-more-seconds of her beauty, turned and replaced the black diamond on its podium. Their paths crossed, she winked, placing a card in his gloved hand. Her face could stop a tornado.

“Miss Chase,” she said. “Miss Joanna Chase… Now, say nothing and go!”

Stunned by it all, Bamberg scampered towards the elevator shaft and dropped his nylon rope. He secured it, just as planned, minus the gem. He waved. “Au revoir!” In a way, he had stolen it. And gotten away with it. For a few seconds at least. He puttered off into the night.

Upon return, Astropheles was distraught. He couldn’t handle the drama of the reported intrusion. For three days he festered. The muddled-minded Grecian jumped into Chesapeake’s freezing bay, in the height of winter.

Three weeks later, the Canadian dials the number next to her name…

“Yes, hello… Who is this?” her voice still like Swiss chocolate.

“It’s me, Astmoton.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you have called. Christmas is spent but I can see you for New Year’s Eve?”

“I’ll come at seven. Where?”

“45 Dear Lake Pass Drive. Come at five…” Joanna had a wicked laugh. She hung up.

At precisely five, he stood in her doorway. The buzzer enticed a reply through a speaker. “Is that you Bamberg? I might keep my word.”

“It is I,” he said, a little trapped by it all. Was she a cop? Was this her clever way?

“Good. It is now unlocked.” Her tone through the speaker warm and inviting. “Please come and make yourself at home. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Sequestered by her timbre, he pushes the door and proceeds, his footfalls still feline. In his mind, he hoped she was some book writer, after the ultimate thrill story. In his heart, he hoped it wasn’t the FBI or similar. She met him in the lounge, seated. A magnificent lacy dress with tight satin midriff pleats washed down the leather chair like a waterfall. He started at the bottom, where her shoes rivalled a dancer’s and worked his way up to her neck. Her hands clasped together in her lap. He strode up closer. She lifted the pendant around her neck and revealed its widow bauble. Her significant smile nearly knocked him over. “I couldn’t steal it. If it wasn’t there now, could I? No offence meant or anything.”

“You spicy little minx. You had me put that back. Just so that you could steal it as well?”

“Kiss me you fool! What does it matter which one is the cleverer thief!” Joanna stood up like she meant business here. “It is ours now.”

Bamberg leapt into her arms, attracted by everything about her. They hugged so tight that in a strange turn of the wrong page, both somehow choked to death on the chain, there and then. Again the widow vanishes from the scene. In July 2018 the stone was discovered by accident in a diamond mine in India called Ramji Bangla-Masood. Long since closed, the mine is now a theme park for the daring cave-loving types. It sat in the same rock wall, covered with rubble-mud, back to where it came from over a hundred millennia ago. A New Zealand girl on tour picked it up.

Released again, against its spidery will…

What bloodshed will she inflict during her next century’s travels?

Can you ever really trust the people who love you? The next ten-minute thriller!

How well do we really know those people we love?

     Is blood really thicker than water?

          Or… is it just a weird strawberry thickshake?

 

“Chords of Revenge”

By Stephen James

 

Music, so it is wisely declared by some, is the delicious wine that fills the empty cup of silence with happiness…
Or perhaps it is simply just me who believes this to be true. If you are somebody who enjoys the arts in any of its forms, then I am sure you will relate well to this intriguing story about the joy and splendour, bridged with reward, as well as the mistrustfulness’s and jealousies, which can evolve from the genius of musical composition…

When Brixton struck that final chord, then twisted his G-string, allowing the note to feedback through his amplifiers, he knew the crowd was his. The maturing rock performer took a well-earned bow. He had given his all and the standing ovation’s cheers and whistles were deafening. Moments prior, the moth-eaten but ruggedly handsome idol’s mesmerising work had just had the entire forty-thousand-plus gallery punching the air in perfect unison, to his hypnotic Texas Blues guitar rhythms. Brixton Pierce was one of the best around, no question about it, and when he stretched his vocal cords beyond their sensible limit, his clever self-taught ‘Swamp King’ timbre echoed perfectly with his music. Between verses, his manly fingers moved around the guitar’s neck so skilfully, it seemed inhuman. The tips of his left hand caressed the fretboards with the delicacy of a pollen-chasing bumblebee. His bar-room-brawled right, with the homespun muscle-shell plectrum, firmly clasped between forefinger and thumb, striking the steel strings with venom. Every note perfect. Every limit pushed. Every sound loud…

But deep down in his heart, he wasn’t complete. This backing band behind him wasn’t his original line-up. Only his best friend, bass guitarist Lefty Skankhorn, remained alongside. Their name was different now and the band had two female backup vocalists. It’s an old story; rock and roll musician has a fight with the band, therefore, they part ways. This story has a whole lot more to it, as you will discover. When Brixton pulled out of his bow to thank and introduce the other players, he rattled-off their correct names and instruments etc. Then finished:

“…And we are known around the various digs as ‘Brixton and the Murderer’s Ghost’. So, tell ya friends how much fun ya had now.” It was what he used to finish every show with, back when the others were together (this being the old band’s name). The stunned audience began clapping, hoping it had been a deep-rooted message or hidden rock star innuendo. The new band was called ‘Brixton has Murdered his Ghost’.

“Good-bye and God bless you all!” said the other stymied musos into their respective mics.

Brixton Pierce vacated the stage on cloud nine. Another great performance to a grateful audience and the guys didn’t miss a beat. His Les Paul Gibson, in the shape of a purple coffin, had resonated in a million different languages and squeezed out distorted webbings of notes, in bizarre fuzzed sounds. His fingertips were fried. He was also oblivious to his Freudian-slip to an ocean of sweaty torsos, their lungs screaming for more in the very-familiar auditorium known as Sound City Dome. He played here more than anywhere else. Brixton Pierce was adrenalin-powered at this moment. His mind had completely forgotten about the unfortunate death of his manager, Phil, and also the death of his wife. The now thirteen-month-old double-murder case had stalled to a slower than snail-paced limbo, due to the bamboozled police’s inability to convert the minuscule amount of evidence into a convincing arrest for prosecution. No murder weapon was found. All of the crime scene photographs seemed to offer no clues. Being the one left standing over the bodies, moments after, with their flesh still warm, Brixton had become the leading suspect after a cleaner had called the authorities. The distraught Scotswoman was the second person to enter the murder scene’s vicinity.

An awkward thirty-five-minute verbal stoush erupted in the dressing room after the show. Pierce’s new band’s manager, Brian S, as he liked to be referred to, asking where the hell the maturing rocker’s head was at. Brixton guzzled from the neck of a bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky, passed to him by a hopeful blonde groupie who had again secretly forced her way in. The scantily dressed twenty-six-year-old, whose fountain of naturally blond hair ─ thick as Bougainvillea, tressed in bunches to her waistline, and was the shade of ripening wheat. The girl’s name was Nadine and her wading-bird legs seemed longer than realistically possible and out of scale with her large well-rounded breasts. She was beautiful beyond reproach. The other band members did not like her meddling into the group’s personal affairs. They didn’t approve of Nadine’s fondling hands, each time she brushed past the superstar. Backbone and right-hand man, bass player, Lefty Skankhorn, called her Barbie Doll even to her face, but the temptress pouted his comments into oblivion. Brian S said she was a slut and not a good vibe to bathe the band in. Brixton called her Nady Sexy Lady and told them she was just harmless eye candy. When the dust settled on the heated discussion, a combined promise of the band’s future became heralded as their chief priority. The other instrumentalist left along with the two backup singers. New manager Brian stared at the brooding virtuoso guitarist.

Brixton sat, picturing the scene in that very same dressing room, where his dead wife, Cassandra, lay naked donning only her wedding ring, alongside the body of his previous manager, Phil Slipphiery. He too was wearing precious nothing but his solid gold Omega watch. Both corpses bore the gunpowder burns of a near-point-blank, instantly fatal, gunshot entry wound at the heart. Brixton’s head rang loud with the lead-up week’s ugliness. His ears burning at her words of; “You are never here, bigshot! If you don’t stop touring, Brixton, I might have to find somebody else to cut my grass!”

Shrewd manager, Phil Slipphiery, had paid everyone the same measly amount, despite Brixton being the founder and mainstay. He had written and arranged all of their music and coined their lyrics too. Pierce was cool with that in the pop group’s heyday, believing showbiz to be a combined effort of talented synergy. After all, it was Phil who had packed the giant stadiums year after year, thus had a lot to thank him for. However, when once the pop group’s differentiations had escalated out of control, to the point of separation, he felt his nose slipping out of joint. He’d threatened: “Take a hike you promotional nightmare. I’ll play my own songs with good quality session musos and manage them all by myself!”

Phil Slipphiery had responded with: “Then I shall hit you with a crippling contract-breaking lawsuit!” Stressing further with disdain: “You dumb guitar-plucking hillbilly… you should have read the fine print! You will be left with nothing but your ego!”

Manager-dynamos, Brian and Phil were in fact brothers. Brian S’s previous clients, ‘The Thieves of Indiscretion’ had lost popularity due to the progression of music trends through the years, eventually disbanding altogether. He had propelled them to five top ten songs, three of which had charted in the number one spot. In the end, trapped like lamp-driven moths in the worn-out nineties grunge sound, they had fallen to fresh idealess cover songs. Out of coincidence, blended with convenient collaboration, Brian took over the ‘Brixton has Murdered his Ghost’ reins during the aftermath of his brother’s and Cassandra’s tragic passing ─ minus the contract’s ambiguous fine print. Snookered and stranded, Brixton was left little option but to comply…

Nadine sat quietly brushing her dazzling woven locks in front of the enormous bulb-clad mirror, out of earshot. Brixton’s head hung low. Speaking with the same haunting ‘Swamp King’ vocal tones used to sing with, he said with alacrity to Brian, “It’s frigging hard to keep myself focused and wired in, mate. You can imagine what it’s like. You have been in this business as long as I have. Always keeping fixated. Giving the crowd your all. Reading the knee-jerk, bullshit, negative, tabloid press. Trying to constantly come up with a great new sound!” He looked exhausted.

Brian, sucking hard on his Spanish filter-tip urged, “Leave it all up to me. But, don’t forget Brixton… that love triangle which you, Phil and Cassie were involved in throws an ugly beam of light on your image. Are the police still harassing you, champ?”

“Yeah, I gotta go visit them tomorrow at ten. And it wasn’t a frigging triangle, pal!”

Brian blew out a huge ball of cigarette smoke in Nadine’s direction. “Whatever… Are you feeling concerned or scared?”

“They reckon they may have a new flaming lead. My neck is practically in the proverbial noose!”

“Dumb detectives, wouldn’t know a criminal if he walked in off the street. Bet you are pretty angry still, Brixton?”

Pierce’s response came sharply. “Hell yeah! You know they full-on suspect it was me… I loved the bitch.” He swallowed a huge, neat, heart-stopping-for-most slug of his best friend Jack and dropped the half-full bottle on the carpet. “Should probably have given up the industry after all. Like she wanted me to. Damned hooked on the adrenalin-filled junk, wasn’t I?” Nadine flew from her chair to retrieve the dribbling golden liquid.

“Tell ‘em whatever crap they want to hear. Just don’t admit anything…”

His defence came even more loaded. “I didn’t do it damn you, Brian! Sure, I had all the reason in the world… Frigging ass-hole was fleecing my money and screwing my childhood sweetheart. What do ya reckon? I’m over the flamin’ moon about going to prison, just because the cops can’t pin it on any other bastard!”

“Okay, okay, okay… settle down maestro. Why don’t you, you know?” Brian had flicked his eyes down towards Nadine’s all-fours position with impious intent. He made a fist and vulgarly raised his forearm. “No one will tell, now that the others have all gone home.”

Although he was whispering, she easily heard and smiled like a deer fawn. The prostitute-red mini-skirt she was wearing hid little of her thighs and both men could practically see her navel between her fighting-against-gravity breasts’ cleavage. Brixton looked at her and said, “You’re just a kid, Nady Sexy Lady, but you’re a good-looking one. Don’t get mixed up with me. You may live to regret it.”

The glamourous groupie seldom spoke, her figure did most of her communicating, but on this occasion, a voice reminiscent of evocative molasses did offer “I love you Brixton. I always have, ever since I was a little girl.” The girl rested back to a kneeling position screwing the lid back on to Jack’s neck, her engaging blue eyes invading his spirit. “I have seen almost every single one of your concerts. But, I will wait forever or until you are ready. If you ever will be. I would even kill for you. I have never taken a lover. I’m still a virgin you know…”

Two speechless male jaws dropped open like oven doors. Brian S stood up and left…

At the police station, the rock performer sat in clouded disillusion as a series of photographs were spread out on the table in front of him. “Look,” launched a fattish balding superintendent. “I can’t believe we missed something so bloody obvious.”

“Nothing’s obvious to me, DSI Spokane. I’ve seen these before,” replied Brixton, staring at the horseshoe of hair which wrapped around the back of his head.

“Well, let me explain,” said Spokane, sliding one particular long-distance image into Brixton’s view. “It is hard to see at first, so we had this corner-section enlarged, just after this arrived yesterday.” The Detective Superintendent flipped over a photograph which had been inverted and put to the side. Next, he began hauling a small black booklet from his briefcase. “It is this… and as you can faintly see in the other snapshot. It is resting on that side table under those music sheets.”

Brixton held the two pictures juxtaposed. He glared at the distance one first. His tired eyes squinted to focus on the microscopic image. “It looks like a notebook or similar type of writing book. But I don’t recognise it. What’s this all about?” He had begun to study the much larger but distorted, fuzzy, enlarged, printed photograph.

Then it appeared…

A slapping sound, as it hit the desk, accompanied the arrival in front of him, of the small book shown in the police photographer’s enlargement. There was nothing on its black cover except for an embossed golden cobra in the top right-hand corner. Brixton’s heart skipped a beat upon sensing its recognition. Cassandra had the identical image tattooed on her front upper pelvis. Through his confused mind raced one question: What in the hell?

“Open it,” said the calmly-toned Spokane.

The first page bore the title: ‘Chords of Revenge ─ The Diary of a Frustrated Cassie Pierce’. Brixton started engrossing his way through the vividly-worded explanations of her steamy ongoing love affair with Slipphiery. Six months of disgusting lust. It described how her feelings for the rock star had waned, once the intellectual mind of the conniving older brother had encapsulated her attention. This minutes-older brother was, in fact, Brian, the new manager. Anger speared its way through his heart. He had already been torn in half ─ now it felt like quarters.

Spokane continued on. “It all became quite obvious to us once the diary was handed in. Brian was the one who had pulled the trigger on her and his own brother in a two-pronged alibi attempt to score your talent, and cast blame in your direction to confuse us. As you can see, he was clearly the one who was having an affair with Cassandra. It is our belief that he somehow set up the entire crime scene situation after, and I’m sorry for having to elaborate, Mr Pierce… after making love with your wife moments prior. He must have telephoned his brother and shot and stripped his clothes off to make it appear as though Phil was the adulterer. Then, dressed himself and hustled away with the gun. When our DNA tests were performed on Phil, the sperm residue had a matching, almost conclusively perfect result. Who would have guessed that his identical twin would actually be that donor?”

Brixton snapped the diary shut. His pulse was racing. His face fell into his interlocked hands on the desktop ─ eyes weeping. He mumbled into his web of moistening fingers. “Who handed it in?”

DSI Spokane eagerly answered. “She was a tall woman with blond hair. Quite attractive, in fact. Gave her name as Nadine Faithful, you know, like that old-school singer…”

“You mean, Marianne Faithful I think,” Brixton interrupted.

“Yep, that’s the one. Anyway, when we asked why, where, when, how, etcetera… The girl just said she somehow picked it up a day after, before the crime scene had been cleared. How she got in and out is a mystery, and she’s refused to tell us without seeing you first. Go figure? Very soon all the facts will be revealed.”

Suddenly, passing by within metres, an escorted and securely handcuffed Brian Slipphiery enters the police headquarters, head hung low. Brixton and Spokane’s head’s spun in unison.

The venom in Pierce’s voice, no longer imminent blurted, “You rotten, lying, conniving piece of dog-shit!” He left his chair to confront the dual killer ─ face painted to its extremities with loathing.

A tall sexy woman, who’d followed in the entourage’s shadow, stepped between them ─ her hand touching his chest. “Over a year I’ve held onto it. Didn’t want to break your heart any further, if you saw it, I mean… I… I…” she said, trembling in her high-heels. “Pretty dumb, huh?”

He looked shell-shocked but relieved. “Talk about waiting until the eleventh hour!”

She uttered five more simple questioning words. “Are you ready this time?”

Brixton’s demeanour changed quicker than a used car dealer’s smile. His indebted reply took twenty seconds to materialize. “Never readier! This has given me an inspiration for a song! Okay woman… Let those wagons roll…”

How strange? A ten-minute thriller with intriguing results…

We are all seeking that magical moment of recognition!

     But, is it what you really aspire to?

            … Or is it deceptively twisted into something else?

 

“Ancient Egyptian Dilemma”

By Stephen James

 

 As humans, the fascination, lure and excitement of an unexpected paragon discovery is an extremely powerful attraction. Many of us live in hope of a personal triumph which awaits just around that next corner. The chance of a lifetime. A financial windfall. Fame on an epic level or perhaps simply meeting the best person possible, for that very first time! It spells intrigue with a capital I. Blinded by this ‘Gold Fever’ attraction, often there is scant regard for the consequences…

Born in the north of Spain, a mild-mannered man was cruising peacefully through life, minding his own business and treading on nobody’s toes. He was forty-one years of age and abstemiously handsome. Initially from the small town of Aguilar de Campoo, Alex Harames had moved south with his wife Olivia of fourteen years. They now lived in Málaga, a substantially larger metropolis by the coast, but still below a million inhabitants. Olivia had urged Alex to install a substantial backyard in-ground swimming pool to entertain their four young offspring. After price negotiation, a contractor had been commissioned for the undertaking incorporating a five-week window for the scope of works. An excavator arrived days after the deposit had been paid and digging began. Alex took the day off from his job as a helicopter pilot, who flew guests staying at the ritzy Conquistador Ambassador Hotel out over Gibraltar and the narrow straits between Casablanca in Morocco ─ all the way to Seville. A career he loved. As work proceeded, the shallow pit grew to become a large hole. He stood by watching his backyard disappear into the tray of a dump truck, picturing the finished result. Suddenly he noticed something glinting in the sticky reddish-brown soil.

“Stop for a moment! What is that I see?” he called out sharply to the supervisor. The extensive hydraulic boom halted immediately. Alex and the workmen peered down with modest expectation. An obscure discovery was made. Partially uprooted was the inverted head and shoulders of a bust, about triple life-size. Fortunately, a thick layer of clay had separated the metal teeth of the machine’s bucket, suffice not to damage or scratch the statuette. Very carefully it was brought to the surface via a chained cradle and prudently cleaned. It appeared to be Egyptian. The face was of a man’s, depicted as heavily into his thirties. The features looked unlike the usual style of statue originating from Egypt. Comprehensively embossed with gold-plating, though tarnished and dull-looking from what must have been centuries of burial, the enchanting piece appeared genuine. A small section of the bottom corner and a portion of the statuette’s face had been broken away. Excitement followed, Alex thought he may have stumbled upon a small jackpot. His wife Olivia said it must be just some old knock-off artefact, perhaps a turn-of-the-century replica. To her, it made little sense that a relic of this size would have any reason to be this remote from its home-of-origin, but pragmatic Alex thought otherwise. An Egyptologist arrived from Madrid to verify the hieroglyphic engravings for authenticity. The significant statue was deemed worthy of further study. Alex figured his discovery, if genuine, would more than pay him dividends. His almond-shaped eyes rolled like the tumblers of a slot machine ─ the pupils aligning like a pair of winning tokens. After all, the golden coating alone must have been worth a fortune. After heuristic identification, all would be revealed…

The Spaniard escorted his prized carved stone to the Museum of Cairo. It weighed several hundred kilograms, costing him more in transportation than he’d bargained for. A relatively short jaunt east by ship across the Mediterranean, perhaps, but nonetheless with his passage included, the time and bills soon mounted up. He maintained a strong belief that his investment would prove rewarding. Alex stayed for a week, enduring an endless array of associated red tape to ensure that the M.O.C. authorities knew of his self-appointed ownership. Once satisfied, he returned to inspect his near-completed swimming pool.

At the museum, a buzz of intrigue soon followed. Hieroglyphics on the bottom perimeter were worn but just visible enough to see that they were pertinent in assisting with the ID. After many weeks of investigation, which incorporated Archaeomagnetic dating, it was identified as Freesias Chrysies Mahmood, a 4600-year-old Pharaoh. The little-known king had ruled for seventeen years before being cursed and put to the sword by his own people for iniquity and adulterous behaviour. Mahmood had been part of the Old Kingdom or 3rd Dynasty ─ through to 6th Dynasty, just following the unification of the upper and lower parts of the Nile River Basin. The only facts known of him were levelled around his constant philandering with neighbouring Queen Shamanic Ninaracia, ruler of Khartoum. His most-favoured of his eight wives, Ribuckalmahn is said to have orchestrated the murder. This, of course, had no way of being proven, other than her image on the few remaining tablets held by the museum bearing her in hierarchical proportion with a blade at his throat. In these depictions, Mahmood has a Canid (the African golden wolf) head, suggesting he was soon headed for the afterlife. These engraved images of Ribuckalmahn are dated prior to his death, said to be 2596 BC. In an unusually non-Egyptian typification, Freesias Chrysies Mahmood’s mummified corpse had been laid face down in his sarcophagus – as if in shame.  Alex’s unearthing had proven to be a vital missing link in the story’s chain. The giant alabaster statue had been fabricated when he was at the zenith of his rule. Included in the etchings around the base were depictions of Khartoum’s Queen Shamanic Ninaracia, in poses of submission to him.

Word of its historical value was sent back to him in Spain. Elated Harames caught the next available plane to Cairo, leaving Olivia to care for the family. His parting words were: “Just relax in our new swimming pool my darling, and await my return. We are rich beyond our wildest dreams!”

When he arrived and stood before his prized relic, beside which sat the sarcophagus, several ancient artefacts, along with some skin and hair belonging to the Pharaoh, housed in the sterilized chamber, Alex could hardly contain himself. It stood on a pedestal a metre or so off the ground. He gazed at the austere, triple life-sized and frozen-in-time expression on his bust. The golden face was identical to the other artefacts. All carbon dated and DNA tested for authenticity, these priceless treasures were part of the museum’s extensive collective of ancient memorabilia. The Spaniard was keen to discuss his discovery’s future…

“You have given back to the world a priceless link in our country’s fractured historical puzzle, Mr Harames,” remarked Director Ptolmec Kissentsta ─ head of research. “My research informs me that the curse placed upon Mahmood’s disrespected soul is what caused the disappearance of his magnificent effigy, some four-and-a-half millennia ago!” The seasoned scientist peered frugally over his silver-rimmed spectacles. “Can we come to a realistic agreement for him?”

“Immortality perhaps. Maybe a journey into the afterlife?” joked Alex.

“That privilege is one only for the Pharaohs, Mr Harames,” laughed Ptolmec. “Let us speak in United States dollars, shall we?”

Alex rubbed his fingers across the hieroglyphics around its base trying to feel the sheer age of his sculpture and read into its history. He wasn’t a greedy individual but knew what it meant to the Cairo-based museum. A great deal of money was offered for the relic, which he accepted. An advance of fifty-thousand American dollars was paid for expenses, with the remainder to be transferred to his bank account after he returned home to Spain.

Alex phoned Olivia with the good news. “Yes, I have accepted several million for old King FCM,” he boasted. “You won’t mind if I stay in Cairo for a week or two to celebrate, darling? There are some formalities to go over, plus photographs for the museum’s records etc. You and the kids can come over if you like.”

“If you really feel it necessary to stay, Alex, go right ahead. I fully understand how elated about the whole thing you must be feeling. You were right all along and I was wrong. We shan’t come. Just enjoy yourself but be careful and don’t tell anyone. Okay?”

“Nobody knows anything, Olivia. It has been all kept very secretive. Ptolmec Kissentsta, the director of research is a wonderful man who, due to its value, insisted upon complete discretion. I am simply going to relax for a while in a high-class hotel. Maybe take a day trip excursion on the Nile…”

“Sure. Have fun,” she blessed. “See you when you return. I’ll arrange a party for us!”

He smiled like a cat with its mouth full of mouse. “Bye Darling.”

After two days of officialdom and governmental formalities, Alex Harames decided to take his Nile River cruise. The mystique of Egyptian culture had begun to tug at his emotions. The country was immersed with ancient tradition, much like his home of Spain, only in a different way. Now that money was no object, he decided to see as much as it had to offer in his remaining few days. The enormity of this ambling river was overpowering. The pyramids took his breath away. The endless chain of eateries, bazaars and coffee houses engulfed his exotic culinary desires. The antediluvian fabric of a humble society, so old and yet so untamed. The contrary of his hotel room – so clean and upmarket.

One evening, Alex saw an enticing promotional leaflet in the foyer’s stand. It caught his eye. It read: Explore the charismatic sights of Khartoum! Home of the Gateway to the story of Scheherazade in… “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights” ─ don’t miss out.’  He folded it up and pocketed the glossy brochure. He was hooked like a majestic Black Marlin.

Sitting at a bar in an older part of downtown Khartoum, feeling like a man with the world at his feet, Alex was approached by an exotic woman. She was ferociously attractive, with eyes like burning sapphires and a waistline you could fit a dog’s collar around. Alex was mesmerized by the female stranger, who made herself at home at his table. In a miasma of smoke and wild African music, they shared half a bottle of blue agave Tequila, her black-as-a-raven’s-feathers hair shone under the full moon. Her silken dress did little to camouflage what supported it. Through his mind raced the words of the promotional leaflet. Through his veins rushed the hot blood of a Spaniard. Through his conscience ran the spirit of what had gotten him there in the first place. However, he never told her anything about the almost-priceless golden sculpture.

Intelligent but foolish Alex couldn’t resist the smoothness of her bronzed flesh…

Her name, or so she told him, was Rhianna. A woman from a nearby town. They romanced for five days straight and enjoyed breakfast afterwards at a small café not far from the bar where they’d originally met. His betaken mind remained empty of any thoughts of Olivia. Forsaking his cell phone, he had even forgotten to call her or even return the ones she was sending. Rhianna had him totally and utterly. Alex was spending his money on her with reckless abandon. On the sixth day, Rhianna, after breakfast said:

“You haven’t told me that much about yourself, and I really don’t know exactly what it is that I find so attractive about you.”

“Nor I you,” he replied, barely able to shake his vision from her beauty ─ cheating hands clasping tightly around her wrists.

“Do you think we might have a future together?” enquired the naïve local.

“Let me think about it. You are headed uptown today, aren’t you?” He stared wantonly into her oblivious blue pits of adultery, trying to rationalize what the hell he was doing. “I’ll see you this afternoon at the usual spot, at 5 pm. I shall tell you everything, Rhianna. Yes, I do think I love you!”

“And I love you too, Alex.” She kissed him hard on the lips. The vixen disappeared towards the marketplace, vanishing like a gust of hot desert wind.

But at 5 pm Alex was not waiting for her in their usual spot…

Within an hour of her departure, Alex was brutally murdered at the café by three men. So swift and silent was the strike, that the offenders escaped without identification. The men had thrust him without provocation or any seemingly apparent motive, with blades of steel. Alex was dead before he hit the ground. In a touch of incredible irony, when his post-mortem DNA was checked, it was discovered that Alex Harames was of a very similar chromosome code to the one preserved in the remains of Freesias Chrysies Mahmood. Undisputedly, he had to be a 4600-year-old, to the power of God only knows how many times, great-grandson. It appears that the pitiless curse of his many-aeons-past grandmother, Queen Ribuckalmahn, is flourishing and still being brutally adhered to.

When Olivia received the Cairo Police’s tragic news, albeit, without knowledge about his infidelity, she contacted Ptolmec Kissentsta, only to discover that the splendid statue had vanished into thin air on the same night as his death. Perhaps it had returned to The Valley of the Kings?

The full remuneration payment was stopped. Alex’s bonanza had left Olivia with no money, no husband and no explanation…

 

Ten-minute thriller, ten-second fantasy or momentary spectre… You decide!

This account should tug on the heart-strings of even the frostiest of individuals.

     Think you’re pretty resilient?

         Okay… this challenge is meant for you!

                Dare to make it to the end?

 

“Gone with the Angels”

By Stephen James

 

Just as this story’s title would suggest, the conjured thoughts of an individual’s tragic loss, immediately spring to mind. There is probably no greater test for the durability of our resolve than overcoming the loss of someone close to us. Sometimes it knits the survived even closer. And sometimes it rips them apart. See how you go with this one…

The day Gwendoline and Jerry Forsythia gave life to their first-born, a healthy cheeky-faced boy with hair the colour of barley straw, they envisaged a life of happiness lying ahead. They named him Timmy after her father, Timothy Edwin Strolling. The baby was large for a newborn, much like her father was a colossus of a man, hence the naming in his honour. Timmy learned things very quickly, soon becoming able to talk to his parents with astonishing maturity. Visiting family members fussed over his attractive bright personality. Two years later, their home in South Carolina again experienced elation, when a gorgeous baby girl was brought home from the hospital. She had fair hair and an olive complexion. The tiny tot was the spitting-image of Gwendoline. Timmy stared down at her in the crib in disbelief of her loveliness. It was the spring of 2013. The young Forsythia family forged a simple but loving life together. Their needs were humble, but their love provided the family with strength and resilience. This strength ensured attentions were not side-tracked by the materialistic pressures that burden mainstream modern society. Theirs was a template which prospered through kindness, was strengthened by trust, and flourished where others struggled. The town of Lexington painted a perfect back-drop for their virtues to uphold. Most of the townspeople knew Gwendoline, as a point of actual fact, her father Timothy had once been the Mayor.

Four years on, Gwendoline felt a third bump in her tummy and grew excited. But she was not prepared for the years ahead…

Pretty-faced Amy had a huge collection of stuffed furry animals ─ all in bright colours. Her father, Jerry, spoilt her as a reward for his lack of time spent with the child, due to his work commitments as a police officer. How could he not? Her two blond ponytails poking out sideways, aside of that face of perfection, left him spellbound. Sapphire-blue eyes twinkling with innocence ─ melted his paternal heart. She oozed an unrivalled infant allure. Add to this a soft-as-honey voice, as bright and happy as a thousand dancing fairies. Yes, little Amy was the centre of his orbit. In her room frolicked this imaginary farmyard of synthetic companions. Amongst them were twelve teddy bears, three giraffes, a dog, a cat, two elephants, four unicorns, a hippo, a gorilla and three other types of monkeys all in varying poses. Jerry would often have to wait his turn in line to converse with her under her bed. He would climb beneath the lacy valance and squash in beside her, sharing the cool glow from her mushroom-shaped light shining on all their little faces. She played with them all equally, except for one who conjured slight favouritism. This creature was like none of the others, which tucked easily under her tiny arm. It was a huge pure white Polar bear named Snowbell. She was the very first cuddly toy Amy ever received. The infant did not remember first getting Snowbell ─ because, at the time, Amy was only one. All she had been told was that her brother Timmy had saved up all his pocket money for two years to get the great big soft bear. He was the one who had told her that the Polar bear was really alive. Every night, she and the whole collection would have a big discussion about who did what today and with whom. Amy used a different voice for each animal and never got any of them mixed up. Her mother would stand by the bedroom door watching her beautiful little daughter chattering away with her furry best friends.

Spotted pink wallpaper surrounded a richly-pink bedspread which now straddled a big person’s bed. She was so very proud after her fourth birthday when her mum and dad had allowed her to upgrade to a proper ensemble. Naturally, her sheets were also of the lightest shade of pink, in an effort to throw some contrast into her room. Amy’s bedroom was always kept immaculately tidy, regardless of how much time she spent placing the creatures on and off her bed, or on the carpet next to her doll’s house. Timmy had helped his father construct the house, also adding his own touch of paint. The little girl did not share a lot of time with her three dollies, saying they were not that nice to cuddle. She much preferred the stuffed animals. Each day when Amy would go to kindy, she would take with her a different friend, but since Snowbell was nearly as big as Amy, she had never made the journey. Before leaving, the charming infant would place each wide-eyed face at the toe of her bed and tell it to wait for her to get home. Whichever’s turn it was to go with her was tucked carefully under her arm. Cautious to keep them clean, Amy sat the lucky one at the back of her classroom until it was time to be picked up by her mother. On arrival back at home, she would dash straight for the group to talk about her day. “Time to go back on your shelf!” she would smile, like the first day she had met it. Then turn to place its fuzzy feet or bottom carefully into position. “Now you can sit here, Mickey,” she would say to the crouching monkey. “You can stand over here, Shaggy Bear,” as the one without swivels took his place on the third shelf. “Where would you like to sit today, Big Ears and Big Nose?” as the two grey elephants were scooped up in her arms. Each name was called, and each answered her obediently, in his or her voice. Snowbell, who took up the most room always came last. Sometimes the gigantic Polar bear would be allowed to stay on her pillow, if she’d been good that day.

Jerry would come home late sometimes and play with her and her friends. He loved Amy so much that his patient demeanour allowed her to explain what they had all been up to, sitting on the shelves he had built in her room. These shelves increased in number as her fluffy family grew.

Big brother Timmy protected his sister from anyone or anything that tried to upset her in some way. The boy did not baby her, knowing full well as when it had been his turn to learn, the rules for all applied equally. If she fell, he let her cry. After she’d finished crying he would sit and explain where she had gone wrong. If she lost something he guided her on where to find it. If she ever asked a question of him, Timmy would first think then answer in her way of understanding things. As time rolled its merry way along towards her fifth birthday, and the bump in their mother’s tummy grew to a beholding sight, autumn covered the small town in her blanket of golden-brown leaves. Timmy would take his intrigued sister for a thirty-minute walk most afternoons, hands clasped tightly together, her voice asking question after question of him. Each time, the siblings took the same route, most times little Amy would ask the same questions. She adored nature, especially the small wild animals which made the surrounding parklands their home. Her pouting little face would stare up at the gigantic trees, searching for movement. Amy was enamoured by the beauty of their enormity, but was overwhelmed as to how and why all the leaves let go after changing colour. One of her favourite games was watching and waiting, till a bunch fluttered down past her face. Through a priceless smile, she would giggle and try to catch the feathery golden airborne treasures. Any caught were brought home to show Gwen and Jerry when he arrived. After which they were shared-out amongst the toy animals, who all commented back to her about the pretty colours from the edge of her bed.

As winter swapped places with autumn, the next metamorphosis, comprising of a fat layer of white snow collecting upon everything, spurred the infant’s inquisitive nature into action. “Where does it all come from, Timmy? Why is it white? Who makes it all? Can we take some home to show Mummy?” The lad struggled to find answers for her. Together they strolled past the awesome frozen beauty, coats and gloves, at Amy speed. Timmy shared this time with his little sister ─ sensing something was wrong. He knew they may not have long together.

Then the dreadful day arrived. The loss was devastating…

One night, after Amy had been separated from her brother Timmy, she found herself crying in her bed. She sat up and began calling for her mother, but she wasn’t answering. Again and again, she cried out, with little success. Their parents’ bedroom door, although shut, was only across the hallway. She had been told not to disturb them in the middle of the night – unless it was very important. Well, loneliness is very important, especially for a little girl.

Her mother had told her that the angels had separated them forever. A nasty wicked witch called leukaemia had cast a spell, shattering the tight-knit family. They had all fought it hard but the spell was too strong. This had happened only last week and the confused little girl wasn’t handling it very well. And so, Snowbell absorbed the bulk of her tears this particular night, along with an hour’s discussion about how unfair it all was. After Timmy had left, Gwen had told her that Snowbell had said that she felt a very special soul come down from heaven and pass into her big chubby white body. Amy cuddled her polar bear’s broad neck and fell asleep whispering into her big curvy ear.

For this first terrible traumatic week, she was permitted to stay at home from school. It was a very difficult adjustment to have to make. She missed his voice. She missed his hugs. She missed holding his slightly-bigger hand. She was missing everything about him. Life to Amy felt cold and empty now. When it was time to resume classes, she had decided not to place her animals out anymore. Only Snowbell was allowed access to her bed. The rest stayed still on the shelving. None of the creatures sat at the end of her bed waiting for her to come home from school.  None of her creatures went with her to school. Gone were the lengthy discussions with her father under her bed, sharing the glow of the spotty red and white mushroom light. After Timmy left, at school, she never spoke a word to the other children about him. Gwen and Jerry tried desperately to console the heart-broken child. Even the promise of a new baby sister, about to arrive any minute, failed to rekindle the once-eager youngster’s enthusiasm.

At six o’clock one evening after the family had finished eating, Gwendoline was heading down the hallway with some clean folded washing. She hesitated outside Amy’s door looking in, hand on her pregnant tummy. She turned and called back to the dining table. “Did either of you place all of these animals back at the end of the bed?” her expression was a frowning stare. “And take Snowbell away for any particular reason?”

“No. It wasn’t me,” replied Jerry. Her stare shifted a little.

“No, I didn’t either,” came the second answer. “Why Mummy?”

“Because, much as I would like to believe they are real… How do we explain this?”

Jerry joined his lovely wife by the door and Timmy stood between them. Their eyes were treated to a picnic-like meeting of colourful fur balls all facing one another. How on earth did they get from the shelf to the bed? The creatures seemed to look happier than usual…

“Honestly Mummy,” said Amy’s distraught brother. The last remaining image of her pretty little smiling face before passing away, as if life was such a party, locked deeply-within his mind. “You know I would never touch them without asking her. Especially now that she has gone with the angels!” The merciless disease had taken her.

The remanence of the family stared, wiping away their rolling tears, through the open doorway into the empty-of-her-presence room’s pink aura. On the wall, staring back, hung a large photograph of that same face which Timmy’s mind was seeing. He was a shattered mess.

But Snowbell was nowhere to be seen…

Buckle-Up readers… your next chilling ten-minute thriller!!!

There’s nothing like an unsolved mystery to keep your

     inquisitive nose poked toward the what-ifs!

          Sleuthing is for anyone who dares…

                Or is it?

 

“An Axeman to the Rescue?”

by Stephen James

 

                Solving murder is a specialist’s job. It certainly is not an enviable task, well… not for the layman or lily-livered fainthearted kind. Think if you wish, about the unknown possibilities or probabilities available, not to mention the sight ─ after discovery, many hours thereafter. Accusations, would-be, could-be, and may-bes begin to flourish as new evidence emerges.
Unless that is, of course, there isn’t any…

A lean brindle and white Staffordshire bull terrier dog lay across a mound of soil. He wasn’t fidgeting in any way. Just… lying there. It was a scorcher and he looked tired. The metre-high mound carried a wisp of bush-couch that really could have used the same water as this poor old dog. He was miles from anywhere. The time is now, but this tale goes back a long way. Thargomindah is an outback town in Queensland Australia. The last official census, back in 2016 declared 270 to be the population. The shire of Bulloo, where the fractionally-just-above a whistle-stop town rests, is 1,100 kilometres west of Brisbane. Time moves slowly out here. Visitors are scarce. Everyone knows practically everyone, and their memories go deep. It’s hot. It’s dry. It’s dusty.

… And, a traveller who suddenly caught sight of the animal, pulls up in the red outback dust. The drifting cloud swamps the dog, but he doesn’t flinch an ear. He steps out, FWD door is left open. “What’s up fella? You look a little lost.” He offered his inverted hand. “I have a drink for you.” He unscrewed his drink-bottle, saw it was low and poured it into his palm. The dog lapped feverishly till the bottle was empty. The stranger ruffled the dog’s ears with the palm of his hand. When done, the good-Samaritan tried to encourage the pooch off the mound and into his truck. No dice. A growl sufficed to tell him to move on. He left his five-minute-friend, to head for town. The dog watched him leave then re-rested his head between his paws.

Half-an-hour’s drive sat his truck outside The Bent Horseshoe Motel, where the traveller stood booking his next week’s accommodation, listening to the answers to his questions.

“You see, ‘e used to belong to Katie Mulling-Brown,” yarned the motel’s owner, cigarette in his mouth, beer in his hand. “She was the daughter of old Sid and Daphne Mulling-Brown. Never came back to town after she went missing. Some folks say he’s been seen layin’ out there somewhere. But, you’re the first to say he let ya touch him. Don’t know how he’d survive. Poor thing. His name was Axeman. She had an imagination, did young Katie. Stay away friend, that’s all I can say. Rumour has it she was murdered… Nothing’s been proven. No body. No evidence. Just a few stories about boy trouble. Hostile stuff and very loud arguments. She probably lives out at Cunnamulla now. Bloody dog’s most likely waitin’ for ‘er. Like I said before. It was over three years ago now, folks have all but forgotten. Most just ‘aven’t forgiven her for walkin’ out on her mutt!”

“Police investigate?”

“Nah. We only got one cop. He’s busy handing out the odd traffic ticket and enjoying a beer or two. We usually chip in for each other for any traffic offences, then Stan brings the cash into the bar! Everybody’s friendly ‘round here. Ya have ta be, matey.”

“All sound’s way too spooky for me, fella. I’ve come here to look for work. I’m just a bloody stockman. Reckon she may return after all. I sure hope so. Poor bastard,” said the man, thinking about the dog and how far back on the main road he had left him.

The motel owner offered a steely stare, then spoke beside his mouthed cigarette, eyes squinting from its tip’s swirling smoke. “Have a good stay, pal. Good luck finding work.”

“Thanks for the heads up, mate,” replied the weary roamer. “It’s a good story none-the-less!” He gathered his bag and trudged off to the humble lodgings, thinking; People don’t get murdered all the way out here. Too many spies to get away with that!

At six-fifteen the following morning, the man was awoken by a noise outside his motel room’s door. He wiped the road grime from his eyes and opened the weathered door.

“What the devil?” he whispered. His early-morning eyes locking-on with the Staffordshire’s sallow dark pair behind it, tail wagging. “How did you know where to…? More importantly Why in Heaven’s name?” The dog circled the small floor rug and yelped quietly several times. More water and the man’s half-eaten dinner were quickly disposed of. “Now what?” asked the man, watching the estranged-minded dog leap into his truck’s rear tray, with a bark. “Got nowhere to go?” More barking. “Got something to show me?” He unlocked the cab, let the hound scamper aboard and headed back to where they’d met, under barked instructions. Once there, the battle-scarred animal leapt from the window and fussed over the mound. The stockman had nowhere else to turn. After his recently made acquaintance, his mind was now intimately involved. The humble man-of-the-land was as tough as goat’s knees ─ he had seen it all in his days and not many things could ruffle his feathers. This was a fellow who’d be very useful to have in your corner.

An hour’s digging of the mound did not reveal a body, such as the thoughts running the gauntlet of his mind had predetermined. The man whose massive frame made his shovel appear like a teaspoon, persisted, inspired by the panache of his yelping four-legged teacher. Carefully he tilled through the compacted soil. Watching. Waiting. Hoping. At last, an object appeared in the sun. But it was not what he had expected…

A little bit of finesse soon exposed a length of chain. At one end was a loop of links, at the other a tatty collar. Axeman pounced into life, seizing the collar between his teeth. “Poor old bastard,” he said to the dog ─ mind an avalanche with negative thoughts about how Katie must have dumped it and her dog, to escape her ill-fated love life. “Is this yours? S’pose you want me to take you for a walk now, hey fella?” Axeman did not yield his old chain. Instead, he leapt back into the FWD’s cab and nose-pointed through the windscreen. “I’m Jake, in case you didn’t know,” he mentioned, almost believing the dog could understand. “What the hell is it this time? Where to? What is it that you know?” Jake grew suspicious but believed the town’s lawman to be disinterested.

He followed the dog’s crude yapping instructions. In an area which comprises of about as many roads, as occasions when a lawyer undercharges you, a simple nose-pointing woof here and there easily guided them to a quiet destination. He shut off the motor. Jake accidentally bumped his truck’s horn. Axeman dropped the dirt-clogged leash onto Jake’s lap, who now sat fondling the chain while looking sideways out the window at a tired wooden house. It had a feverishly-rusting corrugated-iron roof. The house sat about eighty metres down a gravel driveway, beyond a locked three-barred timber gate. Man-mountain Jake felt fairly secure beside his new four-legged pal. However, it did not stop him from wondering why he had allowed himself to become involved. He took a heavy breath and stared. The canine whined with importance in his doggy voice as Jake looked down at him.

Within seconds the front door opened, revealing an unshaven man in his sixties, of average height and stature. “What do you want?” he shouted, without leaving the shallow front porch.

“I’m just taking a look around, friend!” Jake hollered back. “Looking for work!”

“You won’t find any here mister. Now, get going!” The veteran’s voice was aggressive and had an unpleasant dismissive tone associated.

Axeman growled, just out of sight, below the dashboard. “Easy fella,” said Jake, cautioned by the dog’s response to the man’s rudeness also.

“What’s going on, Pop, is it trouble?” asked a much younger man who’d arrived alongside the older man. He was carrying a rifle. Axeman elevated his angst, staying out of sight.

“I know when I’m not welcome!” yelled Jake, starting his engine. “So long gentlemen!”

Back at his room, at The Bent Horseshoe Motel, he lay on the bed thinking – Axeman by his side. Do I go to the police and tell the only person in town who seems likely to listen? Or is this animal simply planting false ideas into my head? Stan, I believe his name was…

“We’ll go and see him tomorrow, fella. It is the best way,” he said, patting the grungy old mutt on his head. Axeman whined as if agreeing. “But for tonight, you wait here. I am going to the local. Check out if I can scrounge up some work.” Axeman shot a short sharp yap back and rested his head between his paws. Jake dozed off with the chain and collar on the bed beside him.

At 6.00 pm, after showering, Jake drove through the heart of the outback town and chose one of the pubs. A weathered sign hung on an angle from its searing roof swaying in the hot evening breeze displaying the name; The Last Watering Hole Hotel. He heard its internal rowdiness before climbing from his cab. A stale smell of spilt beer wafted from the door. It brought back memories for Jake, who’d been off the wagon for over a year, since his wife Mel had passed away. It was casual work that had brought him here to these ramshackle digs, not liquor. In his dinner-plate sized hand, the burley-shouldered stockman carried Axeman’s collar and chain. It coiled around his wrist. He’d figured it might come in handy, if any trouble started. The murmur settled slightly when his massive frame ducked through the doorway, but soon rekindled when he smiled heartily to the locals, hat in hand. Across the room, Jake noticed a policeman’s uniform. Inside it stood the cantankerous stranger who’d sent him packing hours earlier. He was joking around with a small group of dirty-looking men and two rough-edged women. Their raucous laughter rose above the rest of the bar’s occupants. The policeman did not acknowledge any recognition. Jake simply figured that he must have not seen his face earlier, and so, saw the opportunity to introduce himself more formally and on more amicable terms. Perhaps book a meeting for tomorrow to inform him of his odd findings. He approached the group. “My name’s Jake MacOrigan, sir. Don’t know if you remember, but earlier on today we met.”

“OH, really? Where did we meet, Mr MacOrigan?” asked the officer, shaking Jake’s outstretched hand. His stare fixed firmly on the coiled links and thick studded-leather collar.

“I think I may have been at your place by a coincidence. But it doesn’t matter now. My mistake. Can I see you about something tomorrow?”

“Sure. Name’s Stan. PC Stan Mason, it stands for Police Chief, not Police Constable, okay? I’d say you were over at my brother, Vincent’s. Not a very friendly guy. He’s my older brother, we’re often mistaken by passers-by. Nine in the morning do you?’ His eyes still fixed incongruously downwards.

“I’ll be there, sir, on the button…”

“Where did ya get that from, Mr MacOrigan?” He nodded at Jake’s arm.

“It just turned up. I found it. I only liked it because it reminded me of a dog I once had. Keeps me thinking of him. Nostalgia reasons. No other. Why Stan?”

“My brother was a friendly bloke… till our sister’s son came to town several years back. What a handful he turned out to be. Victor moved in and Vincent changed. Never came out much. He won’t even talk to me! The deranged kid used to walk a dog around here. Exact same chain. I’d know it anywhere… It was his girlfriend at the time’s dog, though. Haven’t seen the girl or the dog for quite a while. See, she took off to Cunnamulla and took her mutt with her. Naturally, Victor is upset. Nobody bothers them and they rarely come to town. Works for us all.”

The stockman felt an urgent suspicion mounting in his brain but his manner was smooth to cover it. “It all sounds like a movie storyline to me. I just arrived in town to look for work. No point in meddling in new-town politics. I’ll see you at nine and we’ll discuss some other minor issues.” They shook hands and Jake wheeled away to leave.

“Jake!” The tubby middle-aged cop said. “Whatever you do when you leave, just be careful.”

“Thanks, I’ll take your blessing, grab some tucker here and crash for the night. Been a long day.” He knew this afternoon’s rest would serve him well. He was damned glad the dog was still back at The Bent Horseshoe Motel ─ that one he couldn’t explain. Not enough time. For certain something just wasn’t right. He discerned she may still be alive. The big question was, where?

Jake grabs a hasty over-the-counter meal, then saunters out, jumps in his truck and heads back to the house, several kilometres out of town. He knew the way and couldn’t think of anywhere better to start. What would be behind the gate? Would they both let him in? He smelt the stench of an ugly capital T ─ in trouble. If there is any sign of a girl, would she even be alive? Or dead? Or what? Or is this a wild goose chase? I must try…

He climbed the triple-barred gate and began sneaking toward the low-lit structure. Silence was his friend. As was the darkness. Jake figured as he tiptoed; I’ll have to find a rear entrance first, tread carefully and be ready for anything.

As he found the faint glow of a moth-filled porch light, a whimper caught his ear. The feeble attempt at calling-out emanated from a secondary structure further into the darkness. The call grew louder. Jake took a gamble on the house’s occupants versus the unknown situation happening inside the scruffy cobwebbed back shed. He had no time for fear. He scurried for the wall. A glimpse through a smeary window showed him just enough. Inside, under candlelight, Jake could make out the silvery metallic outline of a cage. It was a two-metre by three-metre enclosure, approximately. A woman was inside but nobody else was around. She looked dirty, tired and unhealthily thin. She had the same dog collar around her neck which was in his hand. It was chained to the cage’s bars. Same chain also. Her shabby clothes were practically non-existent. Relief flushed his body with keenness ─ she’s alive! Katie Mulling-Brown was being held captive by the young man and his demented father. He shuddered at the thought of what they may have done to her…

Jake stabbed his elbow to break the window and climbed through. He could see a large padlock’s curved chrome bar feeding snuggly through the door’s metal loops. The young woman, who was lying on her side, wobbled her head up and gave him a gratified half-smile. Jake reached for a crowbar which hung neatly beside some other corroded garden tools. He put it down when his eyes found a huge axe. His mind raced. This will blast straight through it.

The sound it made when he crunched through, in one massive blow, would have woken-up ‘The Ghost of the Lake at Thargomindah’. (But that is a whole other story).

Next thing, a door behind him allows a shard of light to pierce the candle’s glow. A thud across Jake’s neck knocks him to the ground. He falls heavily and immediately a further succession of thuds by what felt like a sports bat or similar piece of wood, like a rifle’s butt. Jake could hear two distinct male voices but it was a blur what they were saying. He felt dizzy and his breathing was subdued with a cloth rag. The girl called out. “NO!” Jake had not been sufficiently careful.

Then it happened…

A crash-of-glass brought the rest of the window in. Four brindle feet hit the shed floor. An angry canine had come to help. The power of his jaw locked-on to the arm which carried the rifle. It fell free of his grasp. The dog’s momentum had knocked Victor off his feet. Vincent tried to hinder Axeman. The dog, having no part of that, went ballistic between both men using his ferocious gnashing jawbones to their absolute pinnacle. Victor went for the gun. Axeman latched on. Both were forced to cower in the corner or suffer blood loss. In gingerly fashion, Jake scrambled to his feet and ripped the cage door open. He could see another much-smaller padlock, holding her leather collar duplicate tightly around her neck. A bowl of water sat just out of her reach. She looked terrified. Jake twisted the lock in his bare hands, in due course, managing to tear the steel ring completely away from its bindings. Katie dove straight for the water. Her immersed face guzzled as if death was only minutes away. He gave her time, using it wisely by seizing Victor’s rifle. He checked its breach was loaded. The dog’s growling was deafening. “You right to go?” She nodded. He picked her up and shouted, “Axeman! You keep them here till I give you the word! Then follow us. Got it?”

Axeman spun his body in acknowledgement, knowing he could trust him completely. A brief pause in his growling sent Jake on his way, He placed her inside the truck and grabbed his worn-out mobile telephone. It was just un-prehistoric enough to have a camera. He returned to fire-off pictures of the shed’s interior until his battery faded. “C’mon boy!” he called. Axeman backed away very cautiously, his yellowy eyes affixed on the men’s bloodied limbs. Jake shouted, with venom in his tone – eyes of resentment. “If either of you tries to follow. I’ll kill you stone dead. Is that perfectly clear?”

They left the premises and the town that night, driving past The Last Watering Hole Hotel on their way. Katie had been rescued by her own dog. Jake never did score any work in Thargomindah. They never even saw a lake on the way out of town, either. The gutsy stockman emailed the photographs to Stan, at nine o’clock the next day, with an explanation and an apology for not showing up. Axeman and Jake are now inseparable.

…And I believe Katie thinks quite a good deal of Jake MacOrigan, also.

“Howard the Saviour” – the latest ten-minute thriller!

Some stories happen without anyone even noticing…

     This is perhaps one such story.

          However… little unknown heroes can sometimes

                have an enormous impact!

 

“Howard the Saviour”

By Stephen James

 

Friendships spark at the most unexpected times. One minute we’re busy minding our own business, then, before you know it, a personality crosses your path, and life as you previously knew it has been altered forevermore. At times the new pathway is a rocky one. At other times, you wonder how you ever existed, before your new tune was being played. Let’s find out…

At sixteen years-of-age, now with the soft fleshy parts of his mouth starting to turn as grey as the hairs which sprouted from this very area, Howard took the morning’s square of sunshine to reflect back on his life. Warmed by this bright patch, on the timber decking of his master’s back porch, the crossbred chocolate-Labrador and German-shepherd dog knew his days were beginning to have numbers at the end of each. He must use them wisely. Time was precious. Life had dealt him a good hand but that’s not always the way things were.

It was England in the 1970’s. Born the runt of the litter, the puppy with one ear slightly bigger than the other, neither managing to be the standing-up type, which Shepherd’s carry so proudly atop their strong heads, Howard had to fight for his mother’s attention. She was the purebred Labrador. Dad was a near-pure Shepherd police dog. At twelve weeks, he found out about loneliness for the first time when all of his eight brothers and sisters were long-since claimed by new owners. No one wanted the ugly one. Howard moped, in between tripping over his giant paws, the likes of which he wondered if he would ever grow into. Finally, after fourteen weeks, a young girl picked him up and solved his problems with a gigantic hug. She took him home to her house in Wiggington-on-sea, in England’s far south. Sixteen-year-old Gail Moreton made Howard feel special and he returned her kindness with loyalty for three years. He wasn’t ugly anymore. Howard was strong and handsome. His trademark; slightly larger ear looked more like a character-by-design inclusion, rather than a mistake by his gene pool. The Moreton’s backyard suited his frivolous needs to perfection – until she became an air-hostess and Howard had to leave.

He hated the pound. It was in nearby Scoosbury, a much larger town and the conditions were cold, stark, noisy and miserable – the worst months of his short life. Uncaged for only one hour per day, the smart canine grasped one of these exercise-breaks as the opportunity to escape. He broke loose from his handler and scaled the wire-mesh fence to freedom. But where?

Instinct directed him back towards Wiggington-on-sea, where at least he had a memory of happiness. Drinking from streams and eating from rubbish bins and the odd generous hand-out, the journey took him just under a week. Collarless, Howard sat with a wagging tail beside the village green after having a good roll. He watched the traffic feeding its way through the narrow streets, in front of the rows of bay-windowed shops. He knew the large patch of grass well because this was the place that Gail would bring him on weekends. She was nowhere to be seen but he knew he would have to move on with life. The doggy days don’t stop rolling just because he’s alone. Howard trotted across the lush green couch to pause at the big white marks, on the big black hard stuff, which all those noisy bubbles with humans sitting inside them moved along. The big white marks had some magical power that made the noisy bubbles with humans inside come to a standstill; now he could move safely across the big black hard stuff. He didn’t know why – but it was the same every time. Gail had taught him good road etiquette.

He waited. A stroller pushed by a woman of forty, her toddler by her side, started things. The noisy bubbles came to rest and the dog headed off towards her. Moments later a man also in his forties joined the stroller’s group. Back in the 1970’s, everything moved slower. The cars were made of metal, not plastic. Fewer crowds. Less paint on the roads. Things seemed somehow much simpler. There were no mobile telephones. It wouldn’t be long before he would find a new owner. Howard was liked around here. He met them in the middle of the crossing. Tail wagging.

And then it happened…

A speeding car mounted the kerb, finding its way between the nine stationary vehicles without regard for the zebra-crossing’s pedestrians, of which, Howard was one. The dog froze in the oncoming lane as his path crossed with theirs. The father dashed to save his family, managing only to collect Howard. The dog’s life had been saved from certain death. The car beat him to his family. The man spun away with only Howard beside him. The car drove over the man’s foot before winding its way out of town. The driver was never stopped. Realizing what had just happened, Howard took off. He knew where Gail’s doctor’s surgery was and how to get there before anyone else.

The small crowd of panicking onlookers became quickly parted when Doctor Meredith appeared with his nurse. Sadly, the only thing he was able to do was to care for the man, whose name was Simon Stryker, by getting him safely to the hospital. This tragic moment of stupidity had cost Simon his entire family: Wife Stephanie, toddler-of-two Phillip, and pram-bound youngest Ursula. Howard never left his bedside. After several months his ankle gradually mended, albeit, with a significant permanent limp. But Simon Stryker’s heart was destroyed. His empty house no longer laughed each night. His back porch’s timber-decking became the place where Simon would sit to allow his heart to bleed. The friendship between Simon and Howard grew very strong – but nothing could replace his loss. It ate him away. The dog didn’t exactly know what a broken heart meant, however, he did know something had to be done. As the seasons stole their years away, the thankful, floppy-eared, brown with black bits, canine, changed Simon’s outlook. He walked further each day to build up his ankle. The dog would always keep Simon out for longer periods, noticing his master’s far-happier demeanour during the marathon evenings. These were the difficult hours for lonely Stryker, isolated by memories. Fighting when he already thought he was beaten. His house echoed at night…

When Howard turned eight, his master turned forty-six two weeks later. They had been together for four years, two months, five days and obviously a few hours. Simon had started working again as a milkman. Before, he had occupied an office job, this voluntary change gave him the exercise he required to return to the man he once was. Well, physically at least. Simon grew from strength to strength and knew he had Howard to thank for it. The downside for the dog was the fact that his personal time with his master had thinned-out somewhat, to a few shreds in the evenings and time on the weekends. The trade-off seemed well worth it. Simon had acquired a horse for weekend recreation. He had become quite friendly with a mother of one boy who rode from his shared paddock. The woman’s former husband-to-be had stood beside her at the altar. Only to turn at the moment of truth, then rush off to the arms of her sister. Her fatherless son is now six. Rides in the nearby forest suited Howard’s needs to within a millimetre of perfection. The lady seemed kind. Her name Sally had a nice sound to it. The pace was well within his grasp. The outdoors were his Gods.

By birthday ten, his chocolate blotches were beginning to have a dusty look about them and the spring which was in his step in limitless supply had lost a few of its coils. He never lost his reliability though. Always there when required. Howard lived for the weekends now, the two horses and their happy riders, beside them, a small pony being ridden by Sally’s son Julián, and Howard riding shotgun at the rear. The smells in the forest, to Howard, represented the morsels of a smorgasbord banquet to a hungry person. Life just couldn’t get any better…

That was until a year later when Sally acquired a female German-shepherd from the animal shelter. Howard visited whenever he was invited. When her first litter of six yielded one runt with a funny ear and an inquiring look in his eyes, Howard’s memories rushed back like diving gannets. At each visit, the puppy-numbers dwindled but Howard couldn’t count anyway, so it didn’t matter. At last, he did notice the last remaining puppy, which took a while to get selected. He knew the ropes. Life is a tough teacher but she’s rewarding – if you hang in there and listen.

Which brings us to the beginning of our story. Now in his twilight years, Howard’s favourite spot was without a doubt the sunny patch of the deck. At this time of year, if the shadow of the giant oak hadn’t stolen his warming platform, by the time the children crocodile their way past the front gate after school, it would be one of those enormous hour-things, before Simon came home. His pooch’s brain had reflected back while waiting, with not much other than his life to think about. I suppose, if you think about it, as humans, it is exactly the same for us. Memories are all we take. He dozed off… Awoken by the keys hitting the glass dish by the door. A sound he knew well. Howard’s tail thumped against the boards, as always. Now, to stretch and go get a pat. Tomorrow was horse-riding day. He wanted to fit in as many as he could get his paws on. Neither the dog nor his master thought either owed the other a single thing in life. They were a unified entity now. Each was grateful for the results. Sally would be coming over at eight in the morning sharp.

At the nearby derelict castle, the group had paused for refreshments. Simon had a surprise, he decided to kneel in front of Sally. Howard heard his master’s voice be joined by Sally’s in merriment and a hug. He saw her put a tiny yellow collar on her finger. It had a sparkle attached. A beautiful sunny day gave birth to warmth. He watched them kiss with the ancient, crumbling, grey stones as the backdrop. On the return trip, highly-involved Simon and Sally did not notice the wandering pony, belonging to Julián, taking the old route back to the village outskirts where his home was. The wooden bridge was not to be trusted under a laden animal’s weight. They now only used the new much-longer route to cross the small river. In moments, in a hail of Howard’s barks, the young boy had allowed his pony to climb the beaten old track which meanders onto the bridge. He scampered up the track to repel the pony. Creaks of distressed timber hit their ears. The bridge twisted helplessly. It was a four-metre-drop to the water. Clearly, the jutting rocks and swirling pools created by them were for observation purposes only. How could the boy have been so absent-minded? Sally screamed. Simon rode to the water’s edge, just beside the bridge pylon in time to witness the rotting structure give way.  Julián fell to the stream still in his saddle. Howard followed the pony until they broke the surface, leaving behind a huge splash. The current began to carry its three latest guests. Against the rocks, the mass of his pony crashed its rider uncontrollably, before coming to rest in a shallower section. He was still pinned to the stirrups semi-submerged and gasping. Cuts covered his body. The pony was kicking a losing battle with time. Stunned, Simon was lost for an answer. Howard paddled over to the boy and gave him something to grab hold of. He was one-half water-dog and used his powerful paddling motion to keep Julián’s head above water. The boy hugged him tightly. Howard coughed and spluttered. The heroic dog was taking in plenty of water but fought for the both of them. Simon dived straight in. After several moments fighting against the pony’s thrashing, the boy’s feet were pulled free, allowing the pony to find its way, very much worse for wear, to the bank. It staggered out and lay on its side coughing up water. Simon now had Sally’s son in his arms on their marriage-proposal day. He looked close to death. Wary to move an injured person, in this case there was no choice to be made, and so, Simon carefully carried the traumatized youth through the water to the grassed bank. Howard scrambled up the bank on the closer-to-town side and barked madly. Simon nodded, knowing what he meant by his actions. It was twenty minutes, if he ran fast, to get to Doctor Meredith’s surgery. Howard was gone without giving Simon a chance to think. It was the right move because neither Simon nor Sally wanted to leave the boy, in case… he didn’t make it. The sixteen-year-old dog ran like he was two. He was there in nineteen minutes. The return trip took twenty-seven. Doctor Clive Meredith drove. Howard’s only way of showing him where to go meant he had to run along in front of the car. When Howard reached the spot where the distressed couple lay alongside Julián’s pulverized body, he collapsed with exhaustion. He didn’t feel the pain of his ageing doggy bones as they began stage one, of the recovery process. Meredith was a medical man of far beyond his unsung small village role. He was one of only three others to choose from in Wiggington-on-sea. His remarkable skills, the very same ones which saved Simon’s foot from amputation, were utilized to stabilize the boy suffice to take him to hospital. The doctor’s hands worked feverishly to prepare the severely-injured boy for the trip in his car. The intense situation afoot was fully-occupying the human’s mindsets.

Moments before loading him in, nobody noticed the true hero slipping away. The gruelling run to town and back had been Howard’s last. As the loyal hound watched on, he had a fulfilling feeling in his ageing doggy bones. He had saved Julián’s life at the expiration of his own.

What Howard didn’t know was that the scrawny runt of the litter he’d sired had been claimed by Gail Moreton. After years of flying back and forth, she had returned and changed her job to become a receptionist in the village. Out of love for her first dog, she had called her new puppy, Howard. News in the small village soon travelled to her ears. Gail, Sally, Simon, Julián and Howard Jnr often visit his grave site right beside the newly-replaced bridge.

… A brass plaque on it simply reads: “Howard’s Bridge”

Ten-minute thriller! “Who the hell are you?”

Do we ever really know who we are…

                        or how others perceive us?

  If you knock on the door of the supernatural…

                                  who will answer it?

       Biased probabilities say; you will answer it yourself…

 

“Who the hell are you?”

 

Does our conscience really speak to us? Are most of us guided by the simplicity of the truth? Do those that conceal injustice ever feel bad about it? Is it easier or harder to store a lie that once meant well? Or is it more difficult to withhold the truth, when somebody who deserved something gets it… But that thing turns out to be death…

The smell of jasmine blossom wafted like the wind was saturated with its perfume. A darting wind. A heavier smell when its gusts washed past your face. The entire street was full of backyard vines, all crisscrossing their way from neighbour’s fence, to neighbour’s fence. It was always the same in November, here at Kingfisher Bay, in Queensland’s south-east. The hamlet of houses, yet to be taken by the greedy developers, had water views of the Pacific from most of its streets, those that didn’t had lots that were far larger, and still extremely nice, with a one-minute stroll to the beach. The sort of scene any raconteur could describe for hour upon hour. The townspeople refused to sell out to any builder for fear of commercialisation of their paradise. It was 1991 and here, on the east coast of Australia, it is summer. Hence the full-bodied jasmine blooms.

A resident for forty-two years, Rosemary-Ann Sunlark had known most of the residents somehow, at some time, somewhere or another. She had seen babies born, people get married – people leave and arrive. She knew all the stories and had been there whenever her friends’ passed away. Rosemary-Ann knew the truth behind the murder of schoolteacher, Jackson Silverspade, going back twelve years. She had kept her mouth shut to protect his daughter from evil. It seemed somehow right, to allow Silverspade’s cancer-ridden brother to take the rap. He’d very nobly volunteered. A long involved drama right in the middle of the small town-let, which at that time provided the residency for one-hundred and thirty-two houses, most quite small. Rosemary-Ann had been born at Kingfisher Bay herself, just prior to the 1950’s. During the 1970’s, when young and toasty-hot, the black-haired stunner would walk with a strut, not a walk. A strut. She glided along with the poise of a panther, with its tail high. Her trim figure making light work out of the atmosphere. The limited men of the town followed her everywhere, to get a glimpse of her sexy walk. They all asked her out but she teased them all with almost kisses and scantily-clad clothing. Never committing to any of the men in or around town. She eventually met and married a man from outside. Her strut, once used as a lure, became more of a prance. Her hair is not so black anymore. It’s been this same salty mist since as long as she could remember, now. Time had moved on. The village has expanded to one-hundred and fifty-one now, plus an extension to the town’s shopping mall.

Inside her house, at 17 Honeythief Road, Rosemary-Ann edged past her hallway mirror. She hadn’t opened the curtains or folded back the bed or even put the kettle on yet. The light in the hallway was only being provided by a small shard, streaming through a crack, made by the tall window’s offline drape, which was behind her. She paused at her reflection in the poor light, happy to see herself looking better than she’d expected. Rosemary-Ann was still wearing her nightie. She thought; I’ll start with this one behind me, meaning the curtains.

Rosemary-Ann turned and reached for the divide in the brocaded pair. As they parted and the sunlight poured in, a flash seemed to go off in the hallway. She had never been glancing over her shoulder before, to notice how bright it became when the rays hit the glass. She smiled, thinking; The things you learn.

Rosemary-Ann could now clearly see her head-to-pelvis reflection in the morning’s best hue.

“Do you like what you see?” she said, then frowned, thinking; I didn’t say that… She did.

She took a step closer and said, “What?”

“Do you like what you see?” Again both she and her reflection said. Only, to Rosemary-Ann it felt like she was the image and it was speaking.

Her answers, she was controlling. “Sure, I can’t complain. Pity about Brian… but, what can I do about it now? Are you my conscience talking, or something?”

“Oh, If only it was quite that simple!” said the reflection. Rosemary-Ann lip-sinking perfectly. “Come a little closer and we can talk some more. It’s been a while.”

She took two more paces forward, duplicated perfectly by her own image. She smiled from nervousness, as much as anything. Her mind racing; I have heard about crazy wild situations out there – people hearing voices, etc. But this was unexplainable.

She noticed on closer inspection that the image in the mirror did not have a perfectly clear outline. It appeared to be fuzzy, almost like a double-image. Rosemary-Ann began a fifteen-minute conversation with herself about all kinds of things she had done in the past. Naturally, because it was her in the mirror, she knew all her own answers. However, some made her angry. She finished and stormed off with: “Right …so, in that case, I shall probably see you tomorrow!” She remained away from the hallway for the rest of the day. Rosemary-Ann could hear sobbing when she sat to watch her favourite TV show that evening. She felt invaded.

Forced to leave by the hallway door to go shopping, the following day, Rosemary-Ann could not help herself and took a peek at the mirror as she passed by with her back turned to it. The mirror stopped her in her tracks with; “Not like you to turn your back on someone. Especially yourself!”

She immediately turned to face the mirror properly. “I haven’t got much time this morning.” She raised her handbag, convincingly. “Shopping, you know. Busy life. Find a man or something…”

Her image forced her to smile at that one ─ as if it weren’t true or something. Then fired back with an odd question. “Don’t you think it is time to let me out of here?”

“Excuse me?”

“If you confess to all of those things that we both know you were responsible for…” Her hands were firm on her hips now. “I can escape from being trapped in here!”

“Who the hell are you?” barked the middle-aged well-proportioned widow.

“I’m here because of everything that happened twelve years ago.”

“What do you mean, trapped?”

“You probably don’t believe in the forces of fruition. Do you?” Her reflection’s voice had become severe and she looked even younger today than ever before. “It is this power which controls a soul’s destiny. Now speak the truth about Jackson Silverspade, so that I can be set free. Yes, I am you but I am trapped inside this mirror. I have been in here for twelve years. Have you not noticed how much younger than you, I am?”

“I probably just need glasses now. What am I talking to you for?” She slammed the door behind her, in a huff, and pranced off in the direction of the mall.

Rosemary-Ann maintained wearing her darkest sunglasses all the way into her kitchen, to avoid confrontation with the mirror. She placed the four grocery bags down on the cottage-style bench and began singing to herself to break the silence. A day in the garden would make her forget the silly things she said to herself this morning. Flowers would brighten her home. The well-meaning woman with a skeleton in her closet was moving around her house like she was on a cushion of air. Her footfalls, so light they barely raised the dust. She went out quietly.

That evening, as a film came to its closure, she heard the mirror calling her name. But it wasn’t her usual name. She was being called Rosepetal-Ann. This was the name that Jackson Silverspade had given to her when they had a two-year love affair. Again she heard the name and covered her mouth with her hand to stop saying it. She rushed around to confront the mirror. Her self-questioning more than healthy at this very second. “Why are you using that horrible name?” Her sanity beginning to be put through the mill.

“You don’t feel right because Silverspade’s brother, Charlie spent three years in a prison hospital before eventually succumbing to cancer. You should have told them, Rosepetal-Ann!” The mirror’s voice venomous and meaningful.

“Who knew he would last that long? It seemed the best for everyone concerned. Charlie was most adamant.” Her reply, monkish and uncharacteristically austere.

“There is also Brian to consider. How could you possibly live a lie like that and for that long? Oh, but he got what was coming to him. Didn’t he?” Her reflection’s eyes, locked in trans-like fashion, anchored her with a refusal to break the stare.

“Serves him right. Live like a weakling, die like a…”

“Exactly! Go and yell it in the streets, Rosepetal-Ann!”

“No! And you can’t make me!” She picked up a vase and flung its flowers to the floor. The cerulean blue, no-hard-feelings present from Jackson, was Czechoslovakian glass. The object twinkled, poised to throw.

“Don’t even think of it!” She shouted to herself, the vase trembling. “If you smash the mirror, I will die in here. I will never be set free…”

“Why should I care if you are free or not? You’re never nice to me!” Her arm struggled to propel the vase forwards.

“Please! I beg of you. Please don’t smash my mirror. It is where I live and where we can talk.”

“ALRIGHT!” she shrieked. Rosemary-Ann placed the vase back on the travertine table and began picking up the flowers. A mess had been made by the water from the vase on the tiles. She went away and fell asleep.

The next morning she had decided to go and see some of her friends in the village. Folks from the good old days – without opinions based on rumours from the past. Deep-seated relationships built from years of loyalty. The girls at the tennis club would be a great place to start. So what if she hadn’t shown her face around there for a year or two? They would always make an old friend welcome. Perhaps tell the odd truth to some here and there. Get it off her chest… so to speak.

So, a beeline was hastily made for the quaint Kingfisher Bay Tennis Centre, ignoring the ghost in the mirror completely on her way out. Her fairy-steps silent in her tennis shoes, her heart growing excited about the discovery of a new slant to her personality, now that she was at peace with her reflection. Rosemary-Ann walked like the wind, no tennis racquet in her hand. The jasmine wafted, the buzz of activity around the people could just be heard amidst the sound of balls being struck. Back-and-forth across the net, they hurtled. She went inside. They were all there. A huge greeting smile flashed across her face. But nobody listened to her stories. Had they all forgotten? Didn’t they care anymore? She sat right down beside her oldest friend, Marjorie Baker, and told her about her affair with Silverspade. She told her how, when threatened with; ‘Leave your wife for me, Jackson, or else, I might kill you!’ Jackson just laughed at her. No response from Marjorie. She turned to Phillip Hedin-glover and told him she had always wanted to have an affair with him. He didn’t even care. Rosemary-Ann spun in her seat and launched a conversation at Stacey McKenzie’s exposed earlobe. “Yes, it was a pity about Brian, because all his family was from across the border in New South Wales. Having to drive quite that much. Still, if only he had been less accident prone. I’m quite surprised they didn’t think it could have been murder!” Stacey erupted into laughter, for some reason. Even after opening up a can of rude old worms, to her so-called besties, Rosemary-Ann felt completely ignored. She watched a few games and remembered what it felt like to smash one past the opponent’s outstretched racquet. Then, volley one down the line for thirty – love. The chatter after competitions, about who beat whom, and why. How the boys all loved her short white dress and asked her for a game. She soon left. Somehow the townspeople did not quite seem the way they used to. She felt alone here for the first time in her life. Rosemary-Ann walked the long way home, via the central public gardens and across the little bridge, which spans the gorge. Many marriage proposals have been made on the little timber structure, with its gorgeous weathered old planks and handrail. The dramatic view over the crashing waves adds excitement to every second spent standing on it. It was the spot where Brian had asked her. Many memories rushed back; I have to talk to the mirror…

She whisked away like a startled deer and made haste for 17 Honeythief Road. A nice pot of tea will fix everything. Across the park, through the village square. Down the road, past the school she attended every primary year at. Weave between the gates of the alleyway behind the restaurant. This street backs onto hers. Nearly there.

“Ghost in the mirror! Ghost in the mirror!” she shouted, bursting through her front door. “We have to talk.” Her head was erupting with a million questions.

Rosemary-Ann didn’t have to open the front door, because it was already open. First, she stared into the mirror, the whole purpose for rushing back. There was no reflection. She went right up close, face against the glass. Her fingers splayed, one hand high, the other hand low. Her breath was not fogging up the mirror. “Mirror! Tell me what has happened?”

She backed away and stared, willing an explanation. She had not even noticed what was on the floor, just metres away. Her eyes were trained hard on the mirror but she was nowhere to be seen. She suddenly heard her own voice coming from deep within the glass. Her reflection started to materialize. Very transparent and with its usual double outline. She said, “Too late, Rosepetal-Ann.”

By itself, the mirror shattered into a million tiny pieces. Rosemary-Ann averts her gaze and finally sees what is on the floor. She sees her time is spent. She sees her own dead body with paramedics working feverishly. She sees that they are too late and she had died of a heart attack, on that first morning, when she met the mirror ghost.  The flash she saw when the curtain opened was the brain’s view of cardiac arrest.  Water still lay on the floor from the vase which was obliterated. It was still morning. She had visited the club as a ghost. No wonder they did not see her. She asked herself; were the conversations with her reflection, before or after she had died?

But, did she or didn’t she commit murder?

Another ten-minute thriller! “Mister Imperative”

I hope you are ready for this week’s story…

   I love a good hurry story, don’t you?

Hot-blooded egos… places to go, people to see,

appointments to be kept, deadlines to meet!!!

But, at what cost???

“Mister Imperative”

“Never get you ambitions confused with your capabilities!” say the cautious. “Always aim higher than your target!” encourage the wise. “You snooze… you lose!” inspire the eager. You be the judge on which best fits this quirky little storyline…

The time was 7.15 am. The place was Gold Coast Queensland. The date was 19th March 2008. An early morning storm had funnelled its way through the state’s south-east corner. No serious damage ─ just a couple of ghost gums down, the remanence of flash-flooding, and the odd sheet of dislodged corrugated iron roofing sheet still flapping against wherever it had landed. Apart from these expected fragments of collateral damage, the drizzling had begun to subside, thus the busy week-day could resume as normal. It was warm but still overcast. The still-wet roads glistened. Early-morning suburban coffee shop owners had set up their beckoning-signs, along with the outside furniture. Excited, pavement-hustling commuters started to infiltrate their way from the dry-comfort of their kitchens to their cars and bus shelters. One such commuter was Terry Skylark-Smith. At this exact moment, he stood in his rented house’s kitchen gulping down the strong cup of instant coffee he had made to cure last night’s mild hangover. ‘Imperative Terry’ his mates all used to call him – because everything he pursued was attacked at full-throttle.

Terry was very proud of his hyphenated surname. “Got a touch of class about it!” he would often be heard saying, when new acquaintances bothered to make the inquiry. His current girlfriend, Layla Vanstone, had already left for work at six. She was a nurse. Thirty-two-year-old Terry, a qualified computer systems analyst had fallen victim to a company downsize situation, received a small payout for his five years of loyal service, and hit the dole queue with alarming dissatisfaction. In his eyes, he figured himself to be one of the best in the business. A resource of compelling magnitude to any firm lucky enough to inaugurate his services, whose previous lucrative positions had all surfaced through word-of-mouth recommendation. At this point in time, things had dried-up somewhat. Still suffering the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis, Australia, like most economies, was reeling on the slow road to recovery. Nevertheless, he knew the importance of being gainfully employed, therefore had buried himself deeply amongst the scant echelons of career opportunities on offer on the job search websites. Never one to stoop to the lowly stigma of being kept by a woman, Terry had secured an interview at 8.00 am sharp, at Elphinstone and Montgomery, a trusted financial planning corporation. He knew that there would be the usual Noah’s Ark queue of applicants lining-up outside the enrolling officer’s door, so a good impression must precede his stupefying qualifications, in order to land the position. Terry had spoken in person the previous day with Gustave Elphinstone, the son and now chief human resources person at the huge company. “As you are more than aware young man, things are the tightest they’ve been for decades, especially for an investment firm such as ours,” he’d stipulated, in his unique honey-soaked timbre. “If you are as worthy as your resume speaks, you have a good shot with us. I don’t have to tell you how important it is for us to secure the dedications of the correct person for the job.”

Gustave’s gracious and direct, but punctual, manner mirrored Terry’s own. Armed with his good-looks and outrageously-priced Amani suit, imperative Mr Skylark-Smith rode with a master-class surfboarder style on a wave of confidence, he knew he would win the jostle against all the other applicants. He glanced at his cellphone after texting; wish me luck, to Layla, only noticing there and then, quite how late he’d left it to make the close-to-peak-hour trip into Ashmore. His house was at Currumbin Waters, usually a good forty minutes at best to get to the growing business mecca, near Surfers Paradise. The astute-minded systems analyser had asked for the earliest appointment possible, hoping to beat the extra clog created by the school kid’s traffic. Terry was a very competent driver. He had to be. The Gold Coast’s M1 is one of the premier traffic-choked highways in the entire state. Wrestling with the busy motorway’s early-morning mayhem had become but mere gravy on his meal during the previous five years spent working for his previous employer. He knew all the craftiest techniques to get the upper hand on all the mobile chicanes out there (one of his favourite sayings). Terry exploited these practices to their maximum.

He downed his coffee, grabbed his jacket and slender briefcase, swiped the car keys from the hallway table, and scurried to his awaiting scarlet-coloured 2006 BMW 5 series. Need a good run, he thought to himself, inserting the motivational self-speak audio disc into its slot. Before he had even made it to the arterial road, the pleasant sounds of Marjorie Pullman’s positive mantras were filling his ears with annotations on how to be the best you that you can be. As luck would have it, Terry, carried on the sturdy back of belief of the voice’s reassuring affirmations, whisked his way towards the main carriageway ahead of time. His smile widened, adventurous mind picturing the cover-girl looks of Marjorie Pullman, whose arousing velvety voice pitted perfectly with her beauty, whom he had seen speak live at the Convention Centre six months prior. He blended onto the three-lane M1 and immediately crossed into the fast lane. The usual procession of tradesman’s utility trucks and white vans littered his path, their rattling ladders and toolboxes blanketed by Pullman’s downy intonations. Ducking and weaving ─ weaving and ducking, Terry interlaced past them with the seasoned precision of a rally-driver, the speed-limit was one-hundred kilometres-per-hour, and he was entitled to it. At last it thinned-out a little allowing one hand to grasp the wheel, the other grooming his blue-black hair.  A string of caravan hauling holiday-makers crawling along in the far left lane posed no problem.

Until he glanced at his fuel gauge…

“Oh no!” the hurrying driver said out loud, noticing his car was about to attempt to get there on mere fumes. “Damn bloody hell. I knew I should have checked yesterday. What are we gonna do Marjorie?” he asked, half-expecting the wizard-of-success to supply an easy answer. Do I risk it or stop for petrol? Cost me ten minutes at least! His thoughts angered, doing the calculation.

A service station waved a tempting arrowed sign in his vision about two-hundred metres ahead. He optimistically guesstimated, deciding to speed past its entrance ─ the bowsers looking at him like an oasis in the Sahara. Suddenly the rows of tail-lights up ahead began to illuminate. “Darn it. Brake lights!” Most of the vehicles he had flown past began to drift back past him at the logjam. Some drivers even grinning at him. They had observed his unmistakable scarlet blur shoot past five or ten kilometres back. The BMW’s digital dashboard clock now read 7.40 am. Skylark-Smith knew that there was a carpark out front of Elphinstone and Montgomery, but he also knew how far he still had to go. The time and distance simply weren’t going to add up. Another fact he was fully aware of was that crawling traffic made his car a good deal thirstier. He wanted this job. He simply had to get there. He came to a standstill. Pressure began to mount in his head. His pulse raced with rage. The steering wheel became a drum. He hated this and no longer cared about Marjorie bloody Pullman!

A brilliant move not yet needed, was the old driving up the emergency-stopping lane. He knew this section had a fairly broad one. Terry squeezed his car in between a pairing of nose-to-tail angry motorists, nearly scraping their vehicles to get by. He manoeuvred out to the shoulder of bitumen and planted it. His grin returned as he pulled up behind a like-minded Harley-Davidson rider ─ the impatient pair coasting past dozens of frustrated faces. An even bigger smile swept across his face upon seeing the reason for this delay up ahead. The police were attending a crash. In front of it was clear sailing. His illegal manoeuvre had to be thwarted. Terry quickly ducked back in to blend with the gradually-accelerating exasperated mob. He zigzagged his getaway-path to leave them in his wake. In the process, his car clipped the front of another commuter, focussed Terry never even noticed. The angry driver watched the headlamp and indicator of her quaint little lime-green sedan tumble past her side window. She shook a fist but Terry was gone, swerving through the traffic and honking his horn, there was some serious time to be made up. The BMW was up to about seventy at least. The turnoff was only about five kilometres away now, but the dashboard clock reading 7.52 am glared him in the face like a ‘YOU HAVE JUST LOST YOUR BIG CHANCE SPORT’ neon sign. Its digits seemed to be moving swifter than he was. Again it began to bottleneck on the approach to his turnoff. Back down to a low-gear crawl, he was trapped in the wrong lane. His heart began to hammer…

Gustave Elphinstone sat at his pure white desk waiting, wondering and rehearsing his questions, but not panicking. He was fully-aware of peak-hour and its problems. He liked the sound of this Terry Skylark-Smith fellow, who had ticked every box, and had pencilled him in for the role. The interview felt like a formality, but company protocol still needed to be adhered to. As far as he was concerned the position was his to lose. The two had hit it off on the telephone. All he wanted was a reliable, well-mannered, capable person. Suddenly his phone rang. He answered. “Human resources section, Gustave Elphinstone speaking. How may I assist you?”

“Mr Elphinstone, I must apologise. It is Terry Skylark-Smith here. You know the usual, sir. The M1 is going to make me late. Please keep my seat warm. Shan’t be too long!” He spoke in a rehearsed apologetic voice, which displayed all the inflexions of grief.

“Not a problem, Terry. Thank you for letting me know. I can’t expect you to control the influences of other drivers. Just the influences of our computer systems. Hey what?” he joked, to settle the future employee’s nerves.

“Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down! I’m probably about ten minutes away, depending.”

“If the car park is full, take my spot. It is on the far left. I came in early with Sir Frank Montgomery to prepare for the interviews. You’ll see my name-plaque near the rose garden. Bye.”

“Thank you sir. Bye.” Terry grinned. He knew he was in!

Marjorie Pullman was back through his speakers once more. She calmed the final ten minutes of his eventful trip. At last, he had made it. The impressive building loomed before him. Research had demonstrated the firm’s success and it was showing here. Terry fed his flashy vehicle into the plaque-marked spot as Gustave had asked. He stared at the fuel gauge and clasped his hands together as if thanking by prayer. His eyes turned left. Montgomery’s gold Rolls-Royce dwarfed his red car, plummeting the would-be big-shot back to Earth. Next, his eyes spun right to notice the empty space marked with a plaque of its own stating Chief Financial Advisor. “Must be where the other Rolls sits, huh Marjorie? I’ll bet the three of them sit in a row here. Probably gold silver and…”

Imperative Terry didn’t guess the last colour. Instead, the quaint little lime-green sedan, now with only one eye coasted past and filled the spot. A mousey, little, bespectacled woman wearing a business suit climbed out. I guess they all came in with the boss. Must be one of the other applicants… he thought to himself. But said, “Hello miss. Going for the job are you?”

She didn’t answer the question straight away, instead, asking him one. “Excuse me,” she hesitated, sounding like she was about to ask for a piece of stale cheese. “Are you aware that your car collided with mine on the way here, young man?” She pointed at the missing headlamp.

Terry pulled on his Amani Jacket, laughing. “Don’t be daft lady. You can’t pin that old one on me! That could have happened anytime or anywhere. Nice try, by the way, I admire your spirit, toots! But you probably just don’t know who you are talking to now. Do you?” He cockily flicked his head and straightened his tie. “Good luck with your interview. You’re going to need it!” He pressed his bleeper to lock the doors and strode off. Her pointy-faced head dropped.

After sitting and waiting beside six other nervous-looking candidates for no more than three minutes, a tubby middle-aged woman called him into Gustave Elphinstone’s office. It had been barely enough time to get his text-message away to Layla, saying; the job’s all mine! The big white desk looked like the landing-deck of an American aircraft carrier. Terry’s jaw dropped like an anvil. Behind it was Gustave’s smiling face and a mousey woman wearing glasses and a Judy Montgomery: Chief Financial Advisor logoed broach pin. She said. “Yeah, you never know who you are talking to. Do you Mr Skylark-Smith. Next please!”

“The Secret Letters” – the next ten-minute thriller!

 Well, I hope you are enjoying your weekly read…

   Thrillers come in many forms:

      Espionage, murder, conspiracy, whodunnit and romance.

         Romance? Packs a powerful punch sometimes!!!

 

“The Secret Letters”

 

Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser. It’s not necessarily the size of the prize which determines the outcome. More importantly, it’s how we play the game that counts. “Hogwash!” declare the ones who lose. “You really believe that old cliché?” question the ones who are victorious. “Absolutely!” triumph those who enjoy life’s magnificent ride. “You never know what’s around the next bend.” Quote the optimistic aspirants. Well, let’s see what unfolds…

Vera Discordia had abandoned high school prematurely, her personality make-up simply not cushioning well with the discipline required to achieve competent grades. Her disappointed mother, vesting to the acceptance of her only daughter about to sashay through a career path of meagre paying jobs, simply gave up. What her mother had failed to realize, was that attractive Vera imitated her lackadaisical mum’s every personification. The family house had been a disregarded disastrous mess for years, with laziness presiding strongly, in order for television soap-opera’s to rule the entertainment roost. The Discordia family home in Bridlington, a lower-class suburb of Brisbane became far too compact for two grown-up female shirkers to reside under the same roof. She soon moved into a flat of her own.

With no realistic hint of a career in sight, long-legged buxom Vera decided her only option was to marry a man of high income but low vision, and utilise a string of pregnancies to lock him into a lifetime of mundane routine, which could sustain her in the comforts she so richly deserved. A fruitful qualifying process encouraged a steady procession of unadorned-looking hopefuls to woo and swoon their way into her boudoir. The keen individuals were practically tripping over their own feet to taste the sweetness of Vera’s accomplished bedroom skills. Her only other skill remained in her uncanny ability to segregate the pack from one another’s notice, in order to juggle her week’s expectant brigade of aspirants. On the odd occasion when a risky overlap did occur, Vera cleverly waved good-bye, shouting words to the tone of; ‘Thank you for cleaning my windows, Sam! Same again next month!’ The satisfied but unaware individual would keep walking toward her gate with a shake of his head, nodding a polite hello to the oncoming male passer-by.

For months her highly congested sex-life flourished without a decent contender. Her filament of potentials glowed a disappointing quality of luminescence. All earned a similarly pathetic income to herself ─ most lying to her face until after the fact, in which case they were not offered a return application. Vera was exceedingly fulfilled with sex ─ but somewhat empty of hope…

Up until honest and unassuming Harvey Purstians, a hard-working electrician whose gifted good-looks were fading with each hair that parted ways with his rapidly smoothing head. It was adding ten years to him and he knew it. Harvey couldn’t believe his luck when he reached home-base after just two expensive restaurant meals, which he’d happily swallowed the bill for. Smitten with the blonde after just three weeks, the shy tradesman dropped her off in his white van, leaving in her hand a small square fuzzy case. “Not tonight Vera,” he appealed. “Got a huge day tomorrow. Will you…”

“Of course I will!” She hugged, pressing her firm bosom against him for a double reassurance.

Fifteen years and five children later, the Purstians’ household was awash with dirty laundry, uncleared dinner plates, and over a decade’s worth of dust rested upon every horizontal surface. Vera had not learned any lessons from Harvey, who never complained. She had burned-out her third TV set by this time and was busily working away on the fourth. As fastidious as a one-man ant colony, Harvey could be seen well into the evenings beavering his way around the house straightening things up. Alas, it was a losing battle, he simply could not keep up with the extra load of housework adding to his already long day. On his side of the wardrobe the polished shoes, all lined-up like sleeping soldiers reflected a stark contrast to Vera’s, stacked precariously up in bonfire fashion. His neatly-ironed shirts butted-up together above the row of pressed slacks folded over hangers on the rail directly below. Beside them, her dresses, knotted in balls of fabric could hardly be discerned from her blouses and pantsuits occupying the over-stuffed shelving. The three-drawer bedside table housing his neatly folded underpants in the top, perfectly aligned, colour-coded and tucked one inside the other socks in the second, and a plethora of monogrammed H U P handkerchiefs (the U stood for Ungears ─ his father’s first name) in the bottom, mirrored hers. But only in external appearance, minus the dust layer and coffee mug rings. Within Vera’s three drawers was a mishmash of clean and dirty bras and knickers, twisted amongst her stockings and now seldom-worn lingerie. She never went near his side, and he daren’t venture into her drawers for fear of what might come out.

Their five offspring looked forward to school, the three older girls even staying on for extra tuition to avoid the filth of their home. The two young boys, figuring it was pretty cool to have a mother whose surroundings rivalled their own apocalyptic bedroom, kept their schedule. It was common for the clean washing to remain on the clothesline for days until Harvey would retrieve it late in the evening. Dysfunction prevailed and heads turned the other way to keep things peaceful. Foolish Vera couldn’t care less. She had won the partner of her dreams and he was keeping her in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. The torrent of twice-a-day steamy love which had magnetised them together at the start of their relationship had evaporated, however, her curvaceous figure remained sharp, as did her pretty facial features and long blond locks. Now manager of his own company, at a rented workshop, with a staff of four tradies and an attractive brunette secretary, the quietly-spoken electrician went about his business of making an above average income to support his clan. Late in the evenings he would drag his weary feet through the front door then remove his shoes, only to collect a shallow peck on the cheek for his efforts. He would immediately shower, then over some idle chat he would eat his evening meal on his lap to a background of reality TV and bickering youngsters. After which, Harvey would wash the dishes and retire to his office to catch up on his small company’s income tax bookwork. Often, when in there, he would sit reflecting back on his exciting life.

It was mid-morning on a Wednesday. Super-bitch Vera suddenly became bored with the reruns of ‘Days of our Lives’ and in a frantic upheaval of guilt, decided to tidy her half of their bedroom. She hummed away as if second-naturedly going about her chores. Standing back to admire her handiwork, the once-bombshell noticed something odd about Harvey’s bottom drawer.

“That won’t do,” she muttered, noticing it was protruding open more than an inch. “Poor old bugger, must have been really tired last night.” She pictured his now forty-year-old handsome face with its garnish of crow’s feet creeping into the sides of his Caribbean-blue eyes.

Vera slid the drawer halfway out to press down on the wads of monogrammed cotton, all perfectly folded into quarters, in an effort to allow the drawer to shut fully.

When suddenly she saw them…

She frowned with a quiz, before lifting the handkerchiefs onto the unmade bed. Layered halfway between the white squares was a stack of pink envelopes. On the front of each was gracefully inscribed the name Dily Velp. It was clearly her husband’s handwriting. Vera knew that the name of Harvey’s shapely secretary, equipped with her own high-calibre of efficiency and orderly acumen, was Delores but was oblivious to her surname. In a rage, she seized the thick handful of beautifully inscribed envelopes and spread them across the sheets. A flick of her eyes counted thirty-five. Her blood began to boil. Her breathing intensified. Her eyes, at first wide like a mouse’s, squeezed to become slits. Her fingers began to tremble. Was it guilt? Or was it jealousy? What was she feeling at this moment?

Vera picked one up and thrust it to her chest while staring at the blank cream bedroom wall. Next, she glanced at her fierce reflection in the wardrobe mirror, then down at the name, her flared nostrils collecting the scent of her own favourite perfume at the short distance. Without creasing the paper, she slid out a three-page love-letter and commenced to read it. Starting at the top with Dear Dily, the letter flowed a magnificent appraisement of affection with a poetic appeal. The perfume burned deeply into her air-passages, as one after another, she flurried through the beautifully worded paraphrases of lust and desire. She read twelve separate letters. Vivid descriptions of love-making and passionate kisses idling across the pale pink pages in wispy lettering enraged her jealousy. She wanted to set fire to the bed she shared with this betraying womaniser and torch his inscriptions of wilful yearning along with it ─ but needed to keep the evidence to shame him.

She dismissed any guilt, believing her tutorial to the incompetent balding twenty-five-year-old as a smorgasbord of intercourse he would never have received without her. After all, it bore them five precious young ones, didn’t it? What more could he want? Her emotion couldn’t be jealousy, because he was totally in the wrong here! No, this was disdain in her veins. That philandering bastard!

Her heart was fuming and all she could think of was how many more were there? The sent ones that she couldn’t read! Vera tucked each poisonous promise back into its rectangular shroud and planned her divorce. What would be the outcome? How much would she get? Who would have custody? Again she stared at her sorry reflection but wasn’t liking what she saw…

When Harvey plodded in that night, Vera thrust the letters at his face. “Explain this you cheating arsehole!” she shrilled, as all bar one, fell to the floor tiles.

“Oh, you found them,” he answered dimly ─ eyes looking to the floor at the scattered pink mess at his feet. “I was going to tell you all about them when I thought you would be ready…”

Appetite whet for revenge, she cut him off sharply, grumbling a barrage of incendiary remarks. “I give you the best years of my life! Tolerate your boring electrical conversations! I have beared your children, yet managed to keep myself attractive for you to look at! Never even looked sideways at another man… and believe me, there’s been offers out there! Perhaps I haven’t been the best housewife in the world. But you’re alive at least. Well, aren’t you?”

Vera’s veins were fully swollen, she looked mean as a snake!

“Sure honey,” he limped back, feeling kicked in the groin. “What’s this all about, anyway?”

“What’s this all about?” she yelled, waving the solitary last letter still between her fingers. She briefly paused before impaling him again. “I know our romance has stalled momentarily. But this sought of disgusting behaviour was not on my radar when we got married! What is she to you Harvey?”

He forced a sheepish grin. “Shhh, the children, dear. Did you read any?”

“Of course I did Einstein! Never mind them. What do you reckon I am going on about?” Vera pulled the love-letter from its envelope as if she was drawing a six-shooter from its holster. She flicked its pages open in front of his face. “Now, before we discuss our divorce. Who is Dily Velp you prick?”

Poor Harvey was feeling like a rabbit cornered by a fox. His eyebrows became angled at the top and his bottom lip protruded. He took the incriminating-looking communiqué from between her crimson nail-polished fingers, glanced at his own revealing handwriting and spoke softly. “Dear is obvious. D is Darling. I means me. L stands for Love. Y, of course, is you dear. V is for Vera. E remember is for Enid, your second name. L is Lucy, your third Christian name. And P stands for Purstians, your current surname. I wrote them all for you over the last ten years but thought you might laugh at my corny mushy eroticisms. I didn’t mean to upset you, sweetheart.” His expression was priceless.

Vera’s mouth fell agape like a sideshow-alley clown awaiting its next ping-pong ball…

“A Matter of Perception Really!”

I hope you are getting a feel for my mini-thrillers!

    Here’s another coffee cup challenge for you…

         Ever wondered why paying attention is so important?

 

“A Matter of Perception Really!” 

 

Just because you are looking at something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking too much notice. As mortals, selective control of our senses is abundant; we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, touch the things we like the feel of, and prefer to believe the things we choose to like best, to be correct in most cases.

A sweltering day in the small desert-fringe town of Horseshoe, New Mexico had left the ground dry and hard. The inhabitants were irritable. A slow arid breeze wasn’t helping. Swirls of dust collecting on that breeze felt like sandpaper against any soft surface. Time seemed to be slowing down. It was as if the sun had paused to hover at its most potent heat-point in the western sky. The eerie silence was deafening. As the pressure of the uncomfortable afternoon built, parched onlookers swaggered along their own paths not daring to raise the attention of any would-be enemy…

Two strangers of complete disproportionate credentials were approaching each other across the gravelly road. This road was extremely broad from shoulder to shoulder, but just by coincidence they happened to both have decided to share the exact same portion of brown dust. At a short distance, with senses raised the pair of individuals began to slow their movements. It was as if each had decided to size-up the on-comer. Patience required, heads slightly raising and lowering, the weight of aggression gradually began to build within the unlikely far-smaller of these two potential combatants. He was trying to appear cooler than a polar bear’s backside. And so, the circling commenced. The looks grew steelier. The flaring of torsos now very evident of an ensuing contest added zeal to the many observing-at-a-distance females. A clock-tower ticking at fifty metres sounded like a metronomic hammer driving an endless railway spike into the ground. Without reason, the less-aggressive larger being suddenly took it upon himself to back down. An expressionless stare started to meander in the opposite direction with its hulking body slowly following. This was observed as a cowardly move by his minuscule but wiry opponent, who by this time had begun a fidgety shuffle as if securing a solid foothold on terra firma. Now with his back being the only view visible, it appeared that the antagonistic bluffing behaviour of this pint-sized challenger had prevailed. The giant waddled off, seemingly disinterested in engaging in an exhausting battle during such a searing afternoon. Shorty was having no part of fainthearted behaviour irrespective of the temperature, he wanted a fight ─ so it was a fight he would have to start, regardless of this weak-minded foe who was now several metres away and retreating at a rapid rate of knots.

A challenge deserves to be met. A charge was initiated. The first contact deserved to be made from behind. After all, it appeared only fair considering the size discrepancy involved here. Shorty scampered swiftly across the ground landing his inaugural blow to the back of the withdrawing spineless one’s head. It was barely felt. The gigantic stride continued. Another blow and another, but this time far harder caught the attention of the docile adversary. His head stung but his legs did not buckle. Like a storm turning a calm sea into a frenzy, the huge frame spun to permit a beady stare to meet his irritating enemy. They eyed each other up in hushed tension. Their silence was suddenly severed by the sound of the mission bell echoing from its tower in the city’s centre square. Amid two ticks of the clock tower’s roaming second hand, the grappling pair suddenly embraced. Hissing fury bridled pure physical strength as the war between two complete strangers erupted. Blow after blow, cannoning off seemingly without effect was infuriating the giant. He picked up his energetic little rival and tossed him away like a feather. Back up in seconds and feeling no pain from the fall, shorty launched another attack. This time with the momentum of full speed available, he seized his chosen enemy’s midsection and latched on driving with the power of his legs. The entwined couple began rolling in the burning desert grit. Over and over they tumbled, striking, kicking, biting and scratching one another whilst scraping every extremity in the process, neither prepared to recede or allow an inkling of fear to be on display. Tiny weeps of blood dripping to the ground were absorbed by the dust in seconds. Clinched together like two rampaging stags fighting for a doe’s affections with locked antlers, they spun and heaved at their opponent’s body. Fatigue started to overcome the brute. He stopped for recovery holding his lesser-strength nemesis at bay. The clock-tower sounded the hour with four clangs of its bell…

The relentless sun was showing no mercy to the foolish display taking place in the centre of the quiet street. Fortunately for our two contemporaries, this bout of ego-driven belligerence was occurring on a Sunday, hence the traffic was practically non-existent. Perhaps for the enraged duo, an interruption via car or truck would have seen an end to the boldfaced brawl. The bell ceased its marking of the hour.

In an instant, they were back at it. Both had sensed at the interval that only one would be walking away. The gauntlet had been laid in no uncertain terms that this was to be a duel to the death. Both bodies were quivering in the heat. Sheer power began to force dominance towards the favour of the large. On the ground once more in the choking dust, he seemed primed to afflict the fatal last strike but missed. A victory chance gone begging. In truth, after ten minutes there was still no clear showing of either being dominant. If anything, the only thing dominant here was the silent hatred that both had deep inside. A clever manoeuvre by the half-sized main aggressor enabled him to break the shackles and circle in preparation for the next assault. His speed and agility were clearly superior. Lunge after lunge was beginning to impede the sluggish movements of the big guy. But, he was not done with yet, there was his pride at stake here. A virtue of principle to be won. No tiny being can possibly be permitted to saunter into his territory and demand that he step aside!

A huge grey cloud steered its way across the blazing golden ball. It altered the light slightly. The twiddling bystanders felt the change of temperature and a host of glances tilted toward the heavens. Could this bring a termination to the entanglement of arrogance on display before them? It had little effect. If anything, in fact, it seemed to re-empower both ─ well beyond their second-winds by this time. They crashed together like two atomic particles for what seemed, a last gasp of hope, at the obliteration of the others meagre existence. A trip on a stone brought the large one to his back in an agonising thud. The little guy, now straddling, had his opportunity to suppress life via strangulation or dish the fatal blows. The merciless foray began. A blur of tiny impacts ground their way onto the bulky head. Again he refused to yield. Legs kicking, he summoned every last shred of energy to force off the expectant smaller combatant. A quick twist regained a foothold back on the grimy road. He backed away to recompose. At a momentary pause, a stalking promenade of respect for the other’s tactics kept them apart a slight distance. Gyrating at a similar speed at opposite sides of an invisible wall of separation they lowered and raised their centres of gravity in an effort to seek the upper hand.

The grey cloud moved on to shade another part of New Mexico…

Out of nowhere, an old black Cadillac careered around a nearby corner, it’s suspension compressing to maximum, under the heavy car’s mass. A bearded man with fire in his eyes wrestled behind the steering wheel. He had ‘couldn’t-care-less-fugitive’ scrawled across his face. A huge cloud of desert dust followed in the car’s vortex. With reckless abandon and total disregard, it shot by narrowly missing the fighters by inches. The focused pair appeared to not even notice. Both were running on empty.  Both driven by nature, who was in complete control now. By twenty past four, this exhausted couple had well and truly had sufficient time to analyse the other’s strengths and discern loopholes or weaknesses. They had seen and felt each other up close. Different species from a different side of town, with nothing in common ─ except for the will to win. It was zero hour. A glowing aura of pride awaited one, and a miserable humiliating death in front of his kind lay in store for the loser. Which was it to be?

As they came together for the final time, the fierce brutality magnified. Ripping, tearing and mutilating at will as if nothing else in the world mattered. And for them, it didn’t. Legs became severed in the process. Within a matter of moments, a big motionless carcass lay cold in the dirt on its back. Our honoured victor hobbled away. The arduous microscopic sumo-wrestling match ceased. The tiny ant had defeated the large beetle…

Did I fool you? I hope so. If you did not break into even the tiniest of smiles, perhaps you either misread the closing few lines, or maybe did not get my message. If either is true, then try this on for size: Look back at the story’s title and ask yourself about perception. Take our little protagonist for example. Ask yourself, how does he view the world? Can an ant see an elephant? Can an elephant see an ant? Strange, one might say, how two such dissimilar creatures both bare the same three letters in their names, isn’t it? It’s all about perception, and speaking about three-letter-words, let’s look at another. Try this on for size: SEX?

Got your attention this time, didn’t I?

Yes, the odd little three-letter-word that has helped sell more magazines, books, movies, TV commercials, billboards, soap operas, sitcoms plus whatever else you wish to name. Why, it has overthrown presidents and even affected royal families. Powerful little sucker, isn’t it? How on earth can one silly little word have quite so much influence on us humans? Well, look back at my depiction of the word and notice it is punctuated. What does this mean? Adding this conjures-up all sorts of different perceptions again…

Allow me to supply several answers to this tiny riddle. How you portray them may vary depending upon your own personal gender. Remember; voice inflexion also changes what is being asked. Say the word in your mind prior to each answer, and the word was SEX.

“Oh, no thank you. I’m married.”

“Sure! Where? When? How?”

“I thought you’d never ask!”

“My favourite word… how did you guess?”

Male.

Female.

Transgender.

“Not with you, pal. You are not in my league!”

“Certainly miss! But aren’t you being a little forward?”

“Thanks for offering, but you’re the wrong… well, how can I explain?”

“Sorry, I’m far too busy for that. My friend here is free right now.”

“Okay! How much do you charge?”

“How rude! No way, not even if you were the last guy on the planet!”

“Are you for real? What do I have to do to impress you enough to marry me?”

“I can’t. War wound you see…”

And, what about this one, the pièce de résistance: “Sure, but can I put your offer on ice for a couple of weeks? I’m stuck with this proper bitch. But once I have ditched her, we can get right at it!”

A little word ─ big meaning. Hope you got a chuckle this time and please remember my stories and blogs are all for pure entertainment, plus you could learn a little in their hidden meanings.

Cheers, Steve.

 

Here’s another ten-minute blast for you!

You never know who you can really trust… do you?

             I love this twist…

 

“Let your Imagination Inspire!” 

 

Some people search for everlasting love. Some people search for friendship. Others simply play a cold-hearted game of “Love ’em and shove ’em!”

“Death shall soon be your welcome friend after you feel the suffocation of loneliness eating away at your heart!” vexed the chiselled features of Grigori des Vislosky. He swallowed his wine-filled challis in one enraged breath.

“Perhaps so, my deceitful lover…” replied his beautiful wench, her tattered dress falling from her shoulder from the strength of his grasp. Auburn hair ablaze after love-making. “But soon you will regret the very sound of my name. For you see my handsome charlatan, ‘tis you who shall soon be walking alongside the shadow of the Grim Reaper!”

A pause in the blur of key-striking brought the device to silence. “I’m a genius!” she quoted aloud, clasping her palms in triumph. Only moments prior, the passions of impulsive finger-filled energy were caressing their small, circular, lettered faces of creativity with the grace of a concert pianist. She extracted bliss from her own written words.

Lady Dandelion as she liked to refer to herself was perched like Queen Victoria in her wicker chair. Naturally, as always by sun’s glorious set, in her hand swirled a tall gin and tonic. The veranda beneath her sandals had a light layer of dust and the slow-turning fan above did little to move the air. The woman’s true name was Hilary Dandling and she felt very rich.  Already on her fifth gushy novel and just two months beyond her fourth husband, Hilary had taken to writing, inspired by the works of Karen Blixen the Danish heiress who married her friend Bror Blixen-Finecke in Kenya, to save dignity. Nearing thirty years, back in the early 1900’s titled women who went unwed were frowned upon. Alas, poor Karen’s marriage to the unfaithful Bror failed dismally, but her story of honesty, strength, self-respect and courage is world renowned. Her best-known book ‘Out of Africa’ was a romanticized but true depiction of her early life. In Blixen’s pages, Lady Dandelion saw the uselessness of men. To her, they were merely toys of temporary entertainment. Her four husbands, by coincidence, had all passed away by a heart attack before reaching fifty. She grinned in artificial helplessness with tears rolling, as the body-bags were individually wheeled away. Hilary was nothing like the woman she so much admired. Her favourite saying of; “Who on Earth needs a husband when you’ve got money” placed her well amongst the small peer group who tagged along for hand-outs. What few of them realized, was that the bulk of Lady Dandelion’s meagre dowry was assembled from insurance payouts and not from her book royalties, as she would have them all believe. No one even cast so much as a hint of suspicion at her of murder…

Choosing to feed the role of eccentric authoress with all of the correct props, her novels were obsessively clunked-out on an ageing Olivetti typewriter. She wrote as slow as a politician’s decision-making, but it mattered not, because any increase in Hilary’s typing pace would have only served to dilute the already watered-down plots. She always wore floral cotton dresses. Her face never missed a day’s heavy make-up. She twisted her mother’s metre-long loop of pearls twice around her long neck. The sordid evening air, filled with her metronomic click ─ click ─ clicks, weaved its way through her flock of excessively-dyed, curly, raunchy-auburn hair, then on through her open front door. The scent of smouldering ashtray butts was collected by this breeze. Chain-smoker Hilary, of course, owned a scruffy little white dog, whose shaggy mop of fur lay coiled at her feet almost constantly. His only breaks from her constant chatter, to his pitching-to-attention ears, came when he would trudge off to the other end of the veranda for a nibble or a drink of water. Skokie the hairy cross-breed even followed the romance writer indoors to recharge her G and T, which was usually on the anniversary of each page’s completion.

“Another villain put to the sword!” she exclaimed, withdrawing the typed sheet, making a speedy ratchet sound as the accelerated roller spun around. Hilary stared at her freshest page. “See Skokie-boy, young and handsome Grigori des Vislosky may have been… but he is no match for the shy sweet Esmerelda! He thought his looks and lies would win her over. Ha!” She downed the tarty alcoholic splendour, ice-cubes and all. “Best go get another, Skokie, while I’m on a roll!”

At that moment her ancient but necessary mobile phone rang. Wicker chair squeaking and creaking under her weight, Hilary stared toward the nuisance sound, watching the chunky plastic handpiece vibrate its way along her coffee table. She began hoping it would simply cease irritating her. It did. Probably just another admirer, she pondered, immediately celebrating her resistance to the temptation of answering it by lighting another cigarette. Faithful as ever, Skokie waddled in behind her to her makeshift bar.

That night after four more pages; therefore four more G and T’s, weary Hilary flopped into bed to contemplate her novel’s dramatic conclusion. Her lung-shaking cough barked louder than Skokie ever could dream of. She wrestled with several ideas, but her tired brain, clouded from typing, was throbbing with opaque blandness from one too many of everything. It struggled to fire. At the foot of her bed, the scruffy little dog tweaked his eyebrows in doggy fashion at her tossing and turning. He was probably wondering why on earth his mistress did this to herself every single night…

Six months later, Lady Dandelion was at the Southern Manchester shopping mall, busily signing copies of ‘What’s Your Plan B?’ Although her mind lived extensively in the colourful rugged African landscape, her home address was 37 Old Pottery Road, Lancashire, England. Her grin widened with each endorsed purchase. Her wink at the menfolk became sexier, and the plum in her mouth grew ever larger. One well-dressed man stopped for a prolonged discussion. He was as handsome as her mind had pictured Grigori des Vislosky. She obliged the gentleman with an extensive tenure of her time. As he drew away to leave, the man leaned in closely.

“I’ve always admired your work, Lady Dandelion,” he flattered. “Would you be kind enough to do me the honour of accompanying me to dinner tonight? Only if you’re free, of course.”

“How thoughtful. What a kind offer,” she praised back, waving her hand at her false blush. “Why, I do believe I am available to oblige you with companionship this evening. Mr…?”

“Doctor Raymond Barrington-Derbyshire. At your service ma’am!” He bowed. His expensive voice crisping all the vowels perfectly.

“Medical doctor?” her eyebrows raising like a guillotine blade being hauled up to its apex.

“Medical specialist. And still single too.” He released from his bow.

She slid a business card across the table ─ her mind effervescing at the possibilities of true wealth. “Here’s my card Raymond. Surprise me at seven?” Hilary hoped she could stay off the sauce long enough to land this massive catch-of-the-day.

A silver Bentley pulled up outside 37 Old Pottery Road at three minutes to seven. A gloved chauffeur’s hand opened the door. At once Hilary appeared at her own doorstep, sober, titivated, elegantly dressed and fully manicured. She was way too keen but Raymond didn’t seem to mind. He met her halfway from her front gate, kissing the back of her hand on perfect cue. Caruthers fired-up the elegant silver beast. The big saloon purred away without so much as startling a mouse. Skokie’s stumpy tail wagged from the other end of his panting pink tongue. At long last Mummy…

A delightful evening was underscored with stimulating conversation and laughter, suffice to inspire a return date. And another. And yet another. It led to the whole shooting match. Before the year was out, Mrs Hilary Barrington-Derbyshire strode white-dressed and veiled, arm-in-arm down the lengthy aisle of the same church her other ill-fated four husband’s had paid for over the past seven years. She never said a word of it to her new specialist husband. His destiny awaited.

Hilary did not let Raymond down. From a physical perspective, the inaccurate adjective beautiful would be far better replaced with charming or attractive. Her sunny days of beauty had long since set. Back then, men fell at her feet, literally! Now with her enticing looks transformed into experience, she became a bedroom virtuoso of impeccable standards. Hilary’s almost wunderkind passionate performances, born from her novels, came to life with impresario management skills. “Don’t hold anything back, Raymond dear! Love me like you’ll choke on your own appetite for passion! Let your imagination inspire!” she would repeatedly say when dancing him around the bedroom like a doyenne.

“Where do you get your ideas for all of your incredible stories from?” the love-smacked doctor would reply, trying to divert her from his inadequacy, completely lost for answers to her dazzling skills.

“They’d been bottled-up for years. I hid inside my own sweet passion-filled mind. I restricted my desires, kept myself waiting! Waiting! Waiting! I observed the world via extensive travel, staying pure, in order to fulfil my chapters with what they deserved.”  She lied with the eloquence of a soap opera superstar. “I was born to meet a man like you!”

Raymond tolerated her booze, which had substantially backed-off, much to the enhancement of her storylines. He even stomached her lust for nicotine, with the view that it was all part and parcel of her chemistry. The flavour of which Dr Barrington-Derbyshire very much enjoyed. The truth of her lack-lustre sales became evident. This he also overlooked. Forty-two-year-old Hilary kept up her facade for two and a half more books ─ taking nearly three years to publish them.

But now it was time to claim all her winnings…

Friday was killing-day for diabolical Hilary. She had prepared the lethal dose of digitalis, enough to stimulate his heart into irreversible overdrive. The foxglove derived drug had been successful on her previous husbands. There was no reason to think it wouldn’t work on Raymond. He was due home at five. Hilary always chose Fridays, because her promise of ‘Friday afternoon delight’ to all her spouses, ensured that they came home on time, eager to please and compliant with all her requests. She sat by the double-sash window of their large house in Manchester’s dress-circle neighbourhood, to listen for the Bentley. This afternoon had proven very convenient also because Caruthers had the last Friday of every month off.  To allow her to work uninterrupted, Hilary’s dog Skokie was staying over at her favourite niece Carmen Mylanta’s house, some distance across town. Miss Mylanta always acted as the terrier’s carer when she took leave of absence for any reason.

The car arrived. The front door opened. The queen-of-farce wore her sheer sky-blue negligee to greet him ─ flesh exposing from all extremities. His favourite music streamed from the sound system. The charade of tomfoolery commenced. Blind-folds and riding-crops. Feathers and filigree masks ─ they used it all. As per her customary technique, the glasses of champagne sat chilled and inviting beside their bed. His with a golden stag emblem on a tiny chain around its stem. Hers with a similar golden swan emblem. More bottles lay in wait. Between primaeval romps, they both slurped heavily on the bubbly aphrodisiac stimulant. Very cleverly, between disguises and sex-acts, she had been dropping small amounts of digitalis into his champagne. Small enough to be indistinguishable, but deadly as it would collect in his digestive system, rushed to his bloodstream via the aerated alcohol. After six or seven glasses, he would collapse into a stupor then his vital organs would cease to operate.

Strangely, she was the one who felt life slipping away…

“Let your imagination inspire!” perked the doctor.

“I feel dreadful,” wimped the murderess, coughing with more than her usual barking smoker’s hack. “What is happening to me?”

“Touché Darling! I knew exactly what you were up too. You’re not as good an actress as you think, my little puppet! Silly woman. I swapped the little chains while you were busy in the bathroom,” said Raymond, wearing a nasty smirk. “You see my dear, you are a very infamous widow Hilary. However, something you aren’t aware of, is that I am an infamous widower! You will now become my sixth dead wife! My wealth has been assembled in much the same way as yours!”

With nothing more to do now but hasten her demise, she drinks the remainder of her perilous bubbly and dies in his arms. Raymond’s expression aglow now pulls the glass from her fingers. He is elated at outsmarting the trashy-love-story novelist. He closes her staring eyes, uttering, “All of your pilfered mammon is now mine… Good night Lady Dandelion!”

But a strange twist thwarts his plan…

Months later an ingenious police investigator discovers she has confessed to all of the murders of her previous four husband’s cryptically in her novels. All of her female protagonists had an uncanny mirror-like similarity to her, with each plot an echo of her own life’s conspiracy. Even Esmerelda in the fifth one was Hilary’s middle name. This name had been the catalyst. And so, as a result, her small fortune is confiscated by the police and a governmental executive decision was made to bequest the money to its correct beneficiary. Raymond received nothing. His suspicious case is being examined by the same detective. Hilary’s will had left everything to Skokie.

Niece Carmen Mylanta, who was caring for the scruffy little dog, now has executor rights to issue him a life of comfort. They were last seen in Acapulco on a Li-lo bed in a swimming pool, where Carmen and Skokie were accompanied by a sexy French Poodle…

 

 

Third ten-minute thriller!

Buckle up for this little sizzler!

“Lucky Number Thirteen?” 

 

People will go to extraordinary lengths for revenge when challenged by deceitfulness or humiliated internally. Pride is a powerful magnet to the steely heartstrings of the desperate individual. Especially one in complete denial of his or her own misguided treachery.
You’ll soon see what I mean…

The tension of anticipation was collecting at an alarming rate when, head of his own construction business, Teddy Polaris, finally made up his mind to do away with his once-friend, now Chief Accountant of the firm, Oswald Brickfielder. Teddy had suspected for some time now that the lucrative firm’s figures were simply not gelling. He had called in an undercover auditor to verify the last few years’ transactions, and didn’t like what he saw. Nancy Spindloff had covertly posed as his new secretary, while feverishly scrutinizing the multi-million-dollar business’s materials invoices, travel expenses, insurance premiums and wage documentation etc. Put in simple terms; Brickfielder’s figures did not add up. Within three weeks, the Meg Ryan look-alike had revealed an ugly truth.

“Oswald has gleaned you of three and a half million over the last thirty months, Teddy. But it will be very hard to prove,” she said, arms folded, eyes not blinking, consonants sharp and deliberate. “You barely made a profit this year, Mr Polaris. The money has been transferred as a ghost salary for five staff members who simply do not exist. He funnelled it into a Bermuda bank account at regular monthly payments; even paid their artificial expense accounts. There is verification evidence on everything, except for these people’s birth-certificates. They even have fake social security numbers. He’s not a nice fellow.” Her lips had closed slowly after speaking.

“Thank you for enlightening me. It was just as I’d suspected.” He’d replied blankly. “You have performed admirably, and just as we had planned, when he arrives on Tuesday to address the summit, you and I shall have our petty argument. After which, I shall over-react and fire you. Is this clearly understood?”

Nancy had agreed. “Clearer than Oswald’s bookwork, sir.” Her perfect rosebud lips smiled at his nod as she accepted his more-than-generous remuneration.

Something not mentioned to Nancy, was the ongoing love affair between CEO Teddy and ten years his junior, Mrs Yvette Brickfielder. Likewise, Oswald had mentioned nothing to Teddy’s face, despite having caught them both embracing in the tower’s elevator some years back. Yvette had said that she had caught Teddy after he fainted. The smudge of lipstick on his chin happened by accident. When grilled as to why she was even in the Polaris Constructions Tower, Yvette quickly remarked; “To come to see you, of course, dear!” It now glared Teddy hard in the face that, the former best man at his wedding to his own wife Jane, had squared the ledger with both Yvette and himself, in a far cleverer way. Teddy knew only too well after yesterday’s long lustful lunchbreak with his secret lover, that the mere fact she’d mentioned that balding Oswald was going skiing next week, meant he was really headed off to the tall mountains of Bermuda. Tall mountains of Teddy’s cash that is!

When Tuesday arrived, the scheduled argument ignited like a tiny clockwork hand-grenade going off perfectly to plan, moments before the minutes were to be read. Teddy leered at her with artificial condescension. Nancy stormed out of the meeting, never to be heard from again. Stage two was about to begin…

The Polaris Constructions Tower has seventeen floors. The company’s motto was: Never introduce bad luck in the construction business. On the thirteenth floor, large stainless-steel padlocks sealed shut all the doors. As a result of this unwritten ethics code, no staff member was to ever enter these premises. A secret lay behind the innocent-looking doors. It was within the confines of these rooms where a lavish-style romance room, fully-equipped with all the necessaries, bar, bed, shower and closed-circuit TV cameras, waited for twice-weekly usage. The only sets of keys were held by Teddy and Yvette. One was in his desk, another was in his wall safe along with a loaded .38mm Smith & Wesson pistol, the combination of which, Oswald had privy to. He never abused the privilege of knowing the combination, but on this occasion, a trap had been laid for exactly this to happen. It involved the snaky prevaricator Yvette, who would giggle to herself each Monday and Friday after saying goodbye to her accountant husband, as she hung the gold-chained key around her neck. The key’s cold metal serrated edge tickled between her ‘too-perfect-to-be-realistic’ breasts. Through her mind would drift the words: ‘This key is the one which will unlock the freedom in my heart…’

Naive Yvette, who was a bottle-per-week platinum blond, had actually fallen for Teddy’s promise that he had fully intended to leave Jane before Christmas. What she didn’t know was that the expensive cosmetic surgery enhancements she was receiving to sizzle Teddy’s loin’s lustfulness, were paid for by her lover’s embezzled finances. It was an ironic loop. Another upshot that the silicone-filled Barbie-doll was unaware of, was the fact that she was soon to become the patsy in Mr Polaris’s murder plans. When Friday of the same week came around, as per usual, Oswald played dumb, kissing Yvette goodbye to head for the office tower. He had no notion of the fact that this was scheduled-in, to be his last day of breath. The plan had been laid. The bait would be arriving at around eleven o’clock. The ledger would be squared. His adversary would fall victim. The thievery would soon be avenged…

At precisely five to eleven, the elevator, filled with her favourite perfume, began making its way up to the thirteenth floor. Yvette’s smile grew heartier at the thought of what was to transpire over the following hour or two. She twiddled the key between her fingers. An excitement flourished. Her palms sweated with anticipation. She wore a short skin-tight white dress for impact. A morsel of a man with a manila folder tucked under his stringy arm joined her on the seventh. He was new to the firm. He liked what he saw so much that it turned his face green. He raised himself onto his toes for effect, but she never even noticed him. The shy little man darted out on the twelfth before the doors were fully open. After one more ping, the silver doors parted once more, and Yvette strode like the Queen of Sheba towards the padlocks. Through her childlike mind rolled the words: ‘One day half of this will be all mine. Poor foolish Oswald…’

Though Teddy Polaris was a wretchedly bad husband ─ he was an instinctively great lover. But want-it-all Teddy had grown tired of his mistress, it was time for a replacement, and he had Nancy’s cell phone number ─ if he dared go there. However, he fully intended to get his money’s worth first, before eliminating both problems this lunch hour.

Teddy tapped on the frosted window, as per usual, after externally re-locking the solid brass fixtures. Secret still safe. She opened it, as per usual. He leapt over the sill, as per usual. Her open arms caught him, as per usual. Together they slammed the window shut. His tie was off. Her dress hit the floor. His shirt fell open. Her underwear was discarded. His trousers soon formed an unnecessary obstacle to climb over. Her back crashed to the queen-sized ensemble. They crashed together like two railway carriages. Jiggery-pokery in full-swing to the background music. Heaven at last…

Forty minutes later, Teddy sent a text message via her phone while she finished taking her shower. It was a message deliberately left for Oswald on his mobile phone as if by accident, saying: Meet you at twelve in the usual place my darling bear! Our usual lucky number thirteen… I love Mondays and Fridays. Today I’m going to drain your energy dry! He pressed send. Intelligent Oswald was, he knew exactly what it meant. He knew the fire of deceit was burning brightly, he just didn’t know where the flames were.

Well… now he’d found out!

He’d always been angered by the sneakiness but tried to ignore it. To Oswald, she wasn’t worth fighting for anymore. But this hit him in the heart like a javelin. It pounded with enraged vigour. Hatred flushed through his veins. His blood felt like adrenalin fuelled lava. The forty-five-year-old potbellied numbers wizard became engulfed by revenge. It flashed through his mind that she’d done it deliberately, but quickly passed the thought aside knowing what a true coward he had married. His wife had obviously made a mistake. A really bad one. Just as Teddy knew he would be doing, Oswald rushed to the safe to seize the key and the revolver. His racing mind whisked his fingers through the combination. He flung the safe’s door aside as if she was behind it. His shaking fingers snatched up the key, spun the chamber to check that the .38 was loaded and slammed-shut the safe door. He tucked the gun-barrel into the back of his waistband and flew for the lift doors…

When they opened, Oswald was confronted by the familiar face of Jane Polaris. She hit him with a huge smile. “Good morning Mr Brickfielder!” It wasn’t returned. She noticed his sweating brow and angry eyes. “You seem to be rather anxious this morning. Is everything alright?”

At first he fell silent, but once the doors separated them from the hallway he spoke. “Are you off to visit Teddy, Mrs Polaris?”

“Yes,” she sparkled back. “He doesn’t know I’m coming. I plan to surprise him!”

“How thoughtful,” he rebounded, swallowing half of his rage and thinking: ‘How convenient, she can now do the dirty work instead of this weapon.’

“It’s our anniversary. Fifteen years, no less,” she beamed.

He calmed, offering, “Ted’s not in his office right now. Can I call you Jane?”

“But of course, Mr Brickfielder…” her smile lit up the elevator car.

“As a matter of concern for your surprise’s maximum effect, Jane, I happen to know exactly where he is this minute.” His hand patted her arm.

There was a pause as the scrawny little man returned with his manila folder to the lift on the seventh floor. Oswald rode with Jane, muted, all the way to the seventeenth, where the company CEO’s lavish office overlooked the Chicago skyline. The nervous spiderling scurried off.

Oswald furtively said, “Ted is in a special meeting on floor thirteen. He only goes there twice a week. I don’t really know why, he said never to bother him, but I’m sure for you it would be different. The door is locked but I have a key.” He held it up. Then pressed the button for thirteen…

While Yvette was washing the evidence of her sins from her sculpted body, Teddy had pulled out his other .38mm, the one kept on floor thirteen. This pistol contained the real bullets, not the blanks which were in Oswald’s. He had placed it inside a colourful Ming Dynasty vase on the bookshelf, but within easy reach. Teddy planned to switch them after killing his antagonist, to make it appear as if a disastrous murder/suicide had taken place. Yvette came out of the bathroom stark naked. Teddy was wearing just his underpants. He wanted his ex-best friend to really get an eyeful of vengeance before he pulled the trigger. Snake-in-the-grass Teddy took Yvette in his arms to contemplate whether to shoot her in the back or in the head. He kissed her for the last time. They were near the front door. Over her shoulder, he could easily read the classic wall clock. It was nearly twelve. She knew nothing of the next five minutes which would see her black heart stop beating. He listened for the jingling sound of the padlock. Seconds later, on perfect cue, he could hear the sound he had planned on. “Guess what, darling,” he uttered, with sex oozing in his voice to blanket the sound.

“What?” She replied wearing the face of a Jezebel. “Have you got more in you?”

Suddenly the door burst open…

Jane shouted at the top of her lungs. “Surprise!”

The coup de grace crescendo fell right on time ─ but with an additional uninvited participant! On seeing her nakedness, by a sheer reflex of anger, Oswald produced the Smith & Wesson. He repeatedly pulled the trigger. The gun discharged three loud bangs. Three bullets came out but missed. They shattered the Ming vase. The other gun spun to the floor. Jane’s face filled with distress. Something had gone horribly wrong with Teddy’s plan.

Wrong gun? Wrong bullets? Wrong blanks?

Everything went black and a silence fell. A peculiar repetitive clicking-sound filled the air…

Then the massive room filled with light. The film had broken just before its finale. A girl in the front row of the movie theatre screamed. She bounced out of her seat as if hit by one of Oswald’s stray bullets, covered in a shower of popcorn and looking like a lamington. A voice came over the loudspeaker. “We apologise for the disruption. Things will return to normal shortly.”

The crowded theatre erupted into laughter at her white-speckled apparel…

Ten-minute thriller! number two

       If you enjoyed that last little ride,                                                                          try this next dramatic heart-wrencher on for size!

“Don’t Look…

          You’re Being Followed”

 

By Stephen James

Who is the real protagonist? Good question! I hope you struggle to figure out your own answer to which way the finger is pointing, before being caught by its unexpected swerve…

Actress Irma Snodgrass had become a popular soap opera starlet back in 1967. Her chosen stage name, Crystal Chevalier had shone a brilliant light, improving her odds of landing roles, allowing Irma to take leaps over the opposition; painstakingly languishing on the casting-couch. She was a fine-looking woman, part and parcel necessities for the rapidly blossoming hour-long brand of afternoon bored housewife’s viewing. Misses Snodgrass had still not quite forgiven her new husband Archibald for handing her the awkward moniker. Hence the invention of her pseudonym. Archibald was a scriptwriter for the same network, but Crystal refused to admit that this had the scantiest influence in her ability to land the much-sought-after role. In her limited vision ─ it had been all her own doing. They had a child together in 1969, naming her Valerie Marie after Irma’s favourite actress Valerie Marie Winterstorm. Archie went along with it, though not appreciating the wishy-washy body of work Miss Winterstorm produced, caring more about the child’s welfare than her name. A television production-set child of the 70’s, Valerie soon learned how to cope with completing her year one school lessons and parent-tutored manners at the network’s studio.

The small family lived in a humble three bedroom bungalow in middle-class Los Angeles. A suburb called Sachiko. Raven-haired Crystal’s role developed into becoming the main protagonist; Private Investigator Zelma Hardachre, and with its importance in the show, her ego inflated to scale. Her salary grew also, and Ms Chevalier (as she liked to be addressed) did some commercials as well.

When youngster Valerie was fast-approaching her sixth birthday, the sad news about her father’s passing in a car accident, when en route to a film set at Las Vegas, found its way to her heart. Concerned for her child’s well-being, Crystal avoided subjecting her timid daughter to the rigours of a gala Hollywood funeral. The girl was looked after by her uncle Quentin for the afternoon, while her mother attended. During the devastating aftermath, for several months, Quentin Snodgrass became a rock of Gibraltar for the grieving pair of girls, whose affinity gradually knitted tighter. The home’s memory too strenuous, they moved to an upmarket dwelling closer to the centre of town. Crystal even asked for the Private-eye Zelma Hardachre’s character’s role to be down-written somewhat, in order to spend more time with her only daughter. This was greatly appreciated by the budding girl.

In an obscure twist of events, as Valerie grew up, her years spent guided by a single parent and fighting for survival in the cut-throat city, seemed to dilute her timorous nature. Valerie’s mother attempted several relationships but nothing seemed too serious, now nearly forty ─ as a woman in her prime, the business of her shooting schedule took precedence above all else. Her figure was lustrous. Her diet was impossible. Her temper became shortened. Her time spent learning her lines lengthened, but devoted Crystal Chevalier persevered best as she could.

Valerie was suddenly seventeen and beginning to notice the stares of men. Her inherited gene pool’s allure began encroaching faster than a blizzard. She was pretty. Stunning curves and a trim mid-section had transformed her previously-stick-like body. Crystal did not favour this but was powerless to prevent it. Fast-forgotten by her were the credentials that she’d applied to open the studio’s doors in the first place. The rules were strict and Valerie Marie abided by them. A good child she was…

Studios are supportive of soap operas ─ they even sustain the longevity of their stars. But it cannot last forever, and the evolving viewing audience’s desire for an influx of fresh new blood saw the shrinkage, demise and eventual cancellation of waning protagonist Zelma Hardachre. Crystal was fired from the show. She did not want to plummet back down to the depths of being Irma Snodgrass once again, but the women of the 80’s with their big hair, small waistlines and breast augmentation were blazing an ultra-competitive trail, too fast for her to chase. She resented her male producer, calling him a chauvinist. She was angry at the screenwriters for not making her character sexy enough to tread water with the new meat. She became autocratic in her disciplinary attitude towards Valerie.

Day after day. Night after night. The stern voice of unemployed Irma rang in her daughter’s ears. “No men! You simply cannot trust any of them!”

“But Mum,” she would plead… “I just want to go out on a date, please!”

“You are far too young and vulnerable,” came repeatedly back. “You are still only a schoolgirl, for God’s sakes! As I have told you so many times in the past, you cannot trust men. They are only after one thing. And once they’ve got it, they’ll cast you aside like an unwanted worn-out pair of shoes!”

At times the discussions bore unpleasant heat.

“Yes, okay mum, you’re the boss!” she would reconcile. Valerie respected her mother’s advice, knowing it would not be forever. Soon, when she was a bit older her chance would arise. “But I can’t help wondering what it would be like to have a boyfriend of my own.”

“Finish your grades first, girl. Then we’ll see.” It was always the same type of conversation.

In the 1980’s there were no smart phones or social media; therefore, her friends all had to be met personally. The few boys who hung around her group were stringently grilled by her mother. They were wary of the consequences of overstepping the line with her.

At last came 1990. For Valerie, now twenty-one, beautiful in her own right and working as a receptionist with a legal firm, living at home still, to repress her mum’s loneliness was a part of life. She was patient but could now come and go as she pleased. One day at the mall, dressed nicely as usual, she noticed a man following at a distance. Well, she’d figured he was, because each time she went into one shop he would float past but reappear moments later. This pursuer was not making eye-contact with her, and was too far behind for her to make out any clear features. All Valerie could tell was that the man was quite solidly built with dark-brown hair and expensive-looking sunglasses covering his eyes. His clothes were blueish. Whenever she moved, he moved. Whenever she stopped, he stopped. She began feeling extremely apprehensive. She increased her stride in an effort to shake him off. He allowed this to happen, then in a second his image once more hovered in her peripheral vision.  It persisted for over twenty minutes. Her heart began to pound harder and harder. Her mother was right. She felt like a piece of prime-cut beef being hounded by a very determined dog. Valerie, not one to panic, decided to seek the assistance of a security guard…

“Pardon me sir?” she inquired quietly, pointing to her wrist as if inquiring about the time and being careful not to face the stalker. The last thing she needed was to aggravate him. “Please play along with me and show me your watch. You see, there is a man following me. He has been lurking behind me for ages. It is spooking me out. What should I do?”

“A man following, you say?” said the uniformed guard, complying with her smartly-disguised request. He raised his voice for effect, just in case. “Nearly four-thirty-five, miss!”

Valerie nodded a thank you. “Well. What should I do? Can you do something about him?”

“Until he makes a move to harass or grab you, I can’t really do anything, miss. There’s no law against being in the mall. If I approach or detain him for questioning, he could have me up for harassment. Stupid, isn’t it? Let’s at least bluff him. Which man is it miss?”

They both peered round slowly. The skulking stranger was gone. Both sets of eyes did a quick scan of the busy mall but he had vanished. Valerie felt the weight of a huge encumbrance lift from her shoulders. Her bulging plastic shopping-bag seemed to weigh less now.

The guard smiled dismissingly. “You might have just been imagining it, miss.”

“No I wasn’t!” she rasped back. “I tell you he was no more than thirty yards behind me. A deep blue shirt and jeans. He has dark-brown hair. Oh, and he was wearing reflective Ray-bans too!”

The burly African-American guard’s communication radio started beeping. “Excuse me miss. I have to get this. Just give me a few minutes, will you?”

“Humph…” grunted Valerie, taking another look, but the coast was clearer than a politician’s conscience. She took-off, shaking her frustrated head, mindful of her five o’clock dental appointment near home. “Thanks for nothing, anyway.”

The main entrance was in view, so she made a beeline. On her own once more and with a pair of four-inch Prada heels scuffling underneath her tight-fitting, open-necked, Versace business dress, the upset girl couldn’t wait to get to her car. With each short step, her frightened little heart was increasing in pace. She could hear her own breathing. Perhaps her mother’s excessive warning over-kills had made her mind play tricks on her? The big glass double doors loomed. Not far to go now!

“Get a grip on yourself!” she vented, under her heavy breathing…

Other shoppers were staring at the fleet-footed twenty-one-year-old, dodging and weaving her way through the hoards. The plastic bag of shopping was banging against her hip. Her handbag, with its thin leather strap was continuously bouncing on her bottom. Her mind was filled with three stern words… Trust no one!

At last the entrance arrived, and as luck would have it the automatic doors were held apart by pedestrian traffic. Valerie kept her pace up, turning right into the underground carpark. Pursuing a trim figure, she’d always made a habit of parking at the furthest space away as possible. Today she wished she hadn’t. She kept scurrying along, praying that one of the white Prada’s wouldn’t break or come adrift. The focused girl could now see her car in the distance ─ like an island to a drowning swimmer at sea. Her shoes echoed on the hard concrete ceiling. The massive columns seemed to be hiding something. Her fear mounted as she suddenly realised how few people were down here. Her car felt like it was getting further away. Valerie was running out of breath. Slowing down.

Then she saw him…

She froze mid-stride. A stab of fear shot through her chest. The man, still wearing his dark glasses appeared from behind a parked van. Its sliding door was open. She caught a brief glimpse of a cage-like mesh separating the driver’s section. His eyes looked right through her. His cheek bore a long jagged scar. His hands were large. He said nothing. Valerie screamed but nothing came out. Terror dragged her eyes sideways. She went to take a step behind a FWD, catching her handbag’s strap on its wing-mirror. It snapped. Her bag fell open to the dirty concrete. Her precious mace spray now entirely useless. Do I retrieve it?

“I know where you parked. I followed you in,” his gravel-voice uttered ─ face breaking into a strange one-sided smile ─ finger pointing at her car. “I knew you’d come out this way.”

Valerie’s entire body was shaking uncontrollably. Her heart felt the harrowing ordeal of rape fast approaching. What an introduction to the world of sex, her mother hadn’t prepared her for this!

“What do you want?” she asked with a mouse’s voice. “Why are you following me?” Her stomach was ice.

“You are pretty aren’t you? No need to be scared.”

“I don’t know you, and I don’t want to know you! Back off! I’ll scream if you come anywhere near me!” Valerie removed one of her shoes, holding the stiletto in his direction. He laughed at it.

The man raised his sunglasses. His eyes were darker than his hair but the same brown colour. He reached down for her bag. She hated being trapped like this. Where are all the shoppers? She knew all her identification was in that bag. If he got it, she was doomed. What the hell game was this?

The intimidating man picked up her belongings, tucked them back inside and walked over to the van’s open sliding door. “It is you. I knew it! I just had to see how you’d look, all grown up!  Come… I’ve brought you a present.” The scar shrank up the man’s cheek as a smile broke. “You probably don’t remember me. I left when you were six. Your mum… Well, let’s just say, my brother Quentin was taking care of her long before we pretended I got killed. It was easier that way.”

“Daddy… is that really you?”

“I just had to be sure it was you.” He reached into the van and pulled out a giant fuzzy pink donkey. “Sorry I took Wonky Donkey, but she was all I had to remember you by, honey!”

Valerie Marie dropped her shoe and burst into tears…

Ten-minute thrillers!

Thought I would start something new to keep all of my avid followers amused, pending the publication of my most recent mystery/ crime thriller. Stories with a twist are always a lot of fun. A quick fast read with a mug of coffee to start or end your day. Here is a “Ten-Minute Thriller” to tantalize you with the sort of thing to expect. This is the first of many. There will be one every week for you to enjoy absolutely free. Please share with your friends if you enjoyed the read. Feedback would also be greatly appreciated.

“A Fight to the Death”

By Stephen James

At a time when the plague of greed was paramount…
The foolhardy rantings of a diabolical madman, who instilled sufficient lies to persuade his cohorts to follow, demolished the peaceful harmony of society. It desecrated the very fabric of common decency. Think of the smell of death wafting through the cold night air’s shadows, chilling your every fibre into a sleepless paranoia of fear. How would it plague your mind ─ not knowing who or where your real enemy is?
But I am getting far too ahead of myself. This story begins way back in time…

When Harry Cayuga emigrated from England with his bride Shirley, way back during the freezing-cold winter of 1922, the happy newly-weds had no idea exactly what was in store. Harry, a qualified carpenter, just like his own father before him, had adhered to his Yorkshire-born dad’s advice, taken the generous one hundred and fifty-pound incentive and purchased two second-class tickets to Australia. The steamship Aryanise had delivered them safely to the docks at Sydney, and from there they had caught a train to Melbourne. The capital city of the state of Victoria had been chosen because its weather most-closely matched that of the north of England from whence they’d come. Shirley, now six months pregnant, had pushed for the opportunities on offer in the Land Down Under as it was referred to by the British of the day. Umbilical-to-his-family Harry, had at first objected to the lifestyle upheaval, but eventually came around after his father’s kind financial enticement. Shirley Cayuga gave birth to identical twin brothers on 20th February 1923, she named one Eric after her own father. Shirley’s parents had long since left England’s hustle ‘n’ bustle, and settled in the delightful hamlet of Baiersbronn, nestled in the Black Forest of Bavaria ─ not far from the French border. This was the town in which the couple enjoyed their wedding and honeymoon. Harry had the pleasure of calling his other son Harold in honour of himself. In a strange sort of irony, the two jet-black-haired boys both shared a common middle name. That being Derek because their parents both liked Vaudeville star Derek Sherrington, the popular celebrity of the era. Baiersbronn was so picturesque and romantic that it had proved to deliver the very seed of the twins’ inception.

As youngsters, Eric and Harold were inseparable. They shared a bedroom, ate together, played together, walked to kindergarten hand-in-hand with their mother, and whenever necessary ─ told little white lies to mum and dad to defend the other. As they steadily grew up this pledge never waned, if anything it tightened. Their teachers often remarked to their peers about the incredible bond between the brothers as if they shared a common soul. The outskirts of St Kilda, where the family rented a humble abode, proved to be a rugged upbringing for the without-sibling pair of healthy boys. The suburb had been selected for its healthy beachside environment. Melbourne was a multicultural city. It always had been right from its earliest inception as Australia’s potential Capital city. Most groups in this era, including the small children, were encouraged to stick to their own kind, but talkative-pair, Eric and Harold wanted to acquaint everyone in their first year of Primary School. Sometimes welcomed and sometimes scorned, the persistent pair accepted life for what it offered, black-eyed days and all. Each day, Harry would trundle off to work on one of the many housing construction-sites surrounding St Kilda’s fast-developing fringe areas. Never a drinker, in the evenings he would play with his sons and encourage their education, an area of absence in his youth, until their bedtime. After he’d tucked them in, he would discuss the family’s future in Australia over a late cup of tea with Shirley.

Which never came…

By 1929, with the boys scarcely six, a dreadful disaster overcame the world. After America’s initial stock market crash, the black cloud of depression spread like an out-of-control epidemic. It engulfed the western world, thrusting it into a suppression of industry never before encountered on such a grand scale. Labelled ‘The Great Depression’ for obvious reasons, the jobless numbers soon began to challenge the employed. Harry’s career, collateral damage like so many stalled to a crawl, then his company crumbled altogether. Australia was hit as hard as the rest, with queues of men lining up for hours for hand-outs. Harry became one of them. The dowry left by his father, which they were rebuilding during the late 1920’s, after it at first shrank whilst they established a foothold in the country, had been reduced to a poultry twenty-five pounds. A reasonable sum for the time, but it would barely see the year out.  Shirley found some work as a domestic for a wealthy banker but the meagre one-day-per-week wage did little to assist matters. They grew hungry and desperate. Arguments soon overwhelmed the once-happy family. In his frustration, Harry left himself with little option other than to take to the bottle. A shattering mistake. It led to more intense arguments. As the year dissolved into 1930, it appeared the one and only highlight was a thoroughbred called Phar Lap. The horse’s winning ability gave all Australians something to cheer about. He blitzed the field every race, also claiming the Melbourne Cup of that year, and it appeared that there wasn’t a distance he couldn’t win at. This became Harry’s saviour. He’d bet his last savings on ‘Bobby’ and did quite well. It fuelled his drinking habit, fed his family and quelled the quarrels temporarily, for a year. However, the odds were getting shorter and the handicap-weights were getting heavier. Shirley hated his new ‘punter’ lifestyle but with no other option, kept her mouth shut and fumed silently to herself in private. They ceased to be affectionate during this period. The last straw broke on 3rd November. Harry bet all his remaining reserves on Phar Lap in the 1931 Melbourne Cup and lost the lot. Phar Lap came 8th carrying a ridiculous combination of sixty-eight kilos. It nearly killed the horse.

They now had nothing…

It was all too much for Shirley.  She decided to leave him for the security of a life with her parents in Europe, which was less affected by ‘The Great Depression’. With her she took Eric, leaving Harold with his father. It seemed only fair not to strip him of everything. Devastated, the boys waved goodbye just after sharing Christmas 1931 together. For Harry, it meant doing whatever he could to support young Harold. They share-housed with other unfortunates. He laboured on the roads. He quit drinking. He even stole for him. After peaking in 1932, the depression slowly lifted. Father and son became a unified force. Young Harold did not hate his mother for leaving but struggled with forgiveness for her. His memories of childhood faded as the boy became a man. With the passing years and drop-off of letter writing, the two men galvanized strongly. Education had been substituted for a carpentry apprenticeship, and at sixteen, young Harold Derek Cayuga had it all before him. That was until September 1939 and the outbreak of war…

The Axis forces led by Adolf Hitler needed to be stopped. Great Britain and her allies surged in to assist Poland, France, Belgium and Europe’s other invaded countries. USSR, USA, Australia and New Zealand combined with forces globally to thwart the threat. Initially too young at the outbreak, Harold quickly volunteered for the infantry when permitted, without a whim of dissuasion from his dad. Photographed in his proud uniform and donning a slouch hat, the nineteen-year-old set sail for battle in July of 1942. Harold became part of a special covert group of volunteers who supported the Canadians. He fought in the beach assault at Dieppe in France, where the Axis forces won very swiftly. The allies were lucky to escape alive, many died. He went to The Netherlands and served for month after month, toughening and hardening his resolve as the troops around him fell. Friends were made quickly and lost even faster. He had witnessed bloodshed at its most extreme and was a far cry from the lad who had learned to saw timber for his dad for a living. As a corporal two years on, he was sent back to France to engage at The Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg. It was one of the most significant battles of the entire six-year ordeal.

Just prior to his injection into the desecrated, snow-covered, wintery landscape, he had enjoyed a lengthy furlough from action. This temporary leave of absence saw him enjoy a much needed romantic interlude in the small French town of Vesoul. Julienne Du Manseau was a waitress at a small café. Pretty, dark-featured and petite, he fell for her elfin good-looks and pleasant personality like an anvil out the sky. Her sexy French accent only added further to her captivating charm. Harold promised Julienne that at war’s end he would return to Vesoul for her, and take her back with him to Australia if she desired it. She agreed to his offer. He carried her photograph next to his heart into battle and dreamed of her kisses when lying exhausted in the slushy freezing tent called home. He pictured her face in his mind all the time and convinced himself that it was the German army keeping them apart. It nourished his fervour. By 3rd January 1945, Harold had been away from home for over thirty months. He was mature beyond his years but longed for Melbourne, like a kid craves hugs.

Harold was now twenty-one. He had become resilient friends with Patrick Williams, a tall strong farm-boy from NSW who was in his regiment. They had shared many stories about their homeland during the halts in fighting. Pat seemed, like Harold, to be a bullet-dodger. “Just lucky I guess” they would often agree, upon the sight of one another, after a relieving embrace. It was only three months but to them, it felt like three years. Life was so knife-edged out there. The war was hell. Corporal Cayuga saved Pat’s life after a botched raid left him bayonetted in a sodden ditch. Harold shot the Nazi then carried his friend to safety under mortar fire. It went unnoticed but neither cared much for medals. Following that, machine-gunner Pat had a month’s reprieve from active duty but couldn’t wait to see his mate again. Once reunited, after the mobile hospital unit had patched young Williams up, Harold glared sternly. “Still dodged the lead… you lucky bastard! You’d do the same for me Pat,” was all Harold’s pockmarked-from-shrapnel expression said. And he was right.

Side-by-side they slugged out the long days together, always filthy, always upbeat, keeping each other sane. “You’re the best mate a bloke could ever have!” Pat would say every time their eyes locked…

One moonlit night after a bitterly cold day in mid-January, the two mates lay against a bullet-ridden shed wall sheltering from the wind. “Have I ever shown you this?” asked Williams.
“What is it?” replied Harold, taking a small square piece of cardboard from his friend.
“She’s my girl. Only known her a while ─ but we’re in love…” He smiled like a lottery winner.
Harold instantly recognized Julienne’s every feature staring back from the photo. He knew it happened when Pat was on furlough. He saw scarlet-red and immediately attacked Patrick physically, calling him all the abusive names for betrayal and disloyalty. Pat, totally perplexed, had to fight back. The two soldiers hammered each other to pieces, punching and choking comprehensively while ignoring their surroundings completely. It was boots and all. Bigger stronger Pat was getting the better of the jealous corporal. He held him against the crumbling brickwork and beat him to a pulp, trying to explain his ignorance to Harold’s previous involvement with the French lass but it seemed to matter not. When Pat let him go, Harold came back at him, but this time he’d drawn his bayonet. “You lousy bastard! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” he shouted swiping the blade at Williams’ throat. It was as if all the torment of his first twenty-odd years had exploded inside his head. The pair came together once more with Pat taking a stab in his belly. Ironically it pierced the very same point where he’d received the one which put him in intensive care for weeks, just prior to his tryst at Vesoul. As he fell to the ground, Harold moved in for the death blow. The double-edged blade sat inches from Pat’s face ─ his sorrowful eyes twinkled under the moonlight. “No, please mate,” he begged. “I swear I knew nothing, and she never mentioned a word of you!” The bayonet was raised high, Pat closed his eyes grimacing, knowing what was coming.

When suddenly nothing happened!

“Halt! Don’t do it soldier!” was the next thing they heard. It was a German accent.
Harold spun around, unable to move his arm being gripped by the hand protruding from the German uniform. No weapon drawn. “Back-off you Nazi swine!” he blasted. “This has nothing to do with you. We’ll fight afterwards if you like.” His eyes froze still at the face which was his own. Next to the face was a crumpled photograph. It was of two little boys beside a Christmas tree.
“I could hear your voice, yar vould… plain as if it vas yesterday, Harold,” uttered Eric with a tear. “We’ve lost… and I had comen to give myself up, yar. Don’t murder your friend, please. We have got so much to discuss, my brother!” Pat Williams was spared…

 

 

28th July 2018 – Life is amazing!

Wow! It has been a while since I have posted anything on my site. So here goes…

I have been busily working on a couple of new projects during the last few weeks. Nothing like writing three books at once!

I have been getting some pages out to a few friends and family to get some feedback on the main project at hand. Yes… I am still not settled on the title. This is the real hard part of the journey that tests your patience to the max. It all seems to go at a snail’s pace. In fact, it goes so slow the snails are passing me by.

The old google has also been working overtime to get my ideas together to write the “pitch” for submitting my book to some publishers. You only get one chance with each submission. If you don’t get them hooked to want to read on, well you’re done for!

Just finishing up doing the final read and doing the last “shine” so to speak and then the moment of truth.

On another note, I am thrilled to be invited to speak in front of a writing group about my children’s books. I still have to finalize the details, however this will hopefully be in the next few weeks. I’ll fill you in more once this happens.

 

Keep Smiling!

30th June 2018 – How close?

Another week rolls by… It is quite unbelievable where the time goes.

I finished writing the book back in April, but here I am at the end of June and I have just finished writing it again. Most folks don’t realise that when you write a book, of any size, there are so many words that you can easily lose track of what you have written. So one of the jobs of a writer is to read back through the whole thing to make sure timelines are right and that you haven’t written something and then said the exact opposite e.g. the blonde woman walks into the room and suddenly you find that you have been describing her rich auburn hair… Aargh! Totally wrong.

Next… another read through, just to be sure. This is also when I’ll be looking for keywords that hopefully will give me the title of the book. I have a few ideas currently, however I’m still not settled on one title.

Wish me luck!

four-leaf-clover-152047_640

23rd June 2018 – Nearly there!

Hi everyone! Yes, novel 3 is nearly completed.
Over  the coming weeks I will be introducing my new baby to you all.
You know… the title, some insights to the story line, previews of the cover, as well as some introductions to the main characters.
I thought it was about time I started getting seriously ramped up for the launch of my next book! So I am getting back to my weekly blogs.
 Those of you following me on Facebook will be surprised to see that I have this website. But I will be using this for my weekly blogs as well as keeping you updated on projects and events coming up.
 Well, here goes…
Less distractions for the last week have seen me back at the computer again! The book fine tuning is reaching the final stages. At last! It shouldn’t be too much longer now. By July I should be hitting the pavement and taking my book to various publishers to make this project a reality.
I think I am starting to go a little stir crazy though.
Here is something that I thought was really amazing!
Did you know, that in the incredibly colourful maze of the English language, the thesaurus has 45 different words as an alternative to the common little three-letter-word “red”? This does not include phrases so there are actually a lot more. Here they are if you are interested http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/red 

Blog Buster! The next most popular activity on the mountain after skiing…

Hi,

… and then,

     Well, in the stark light of day, reality was setting in.
     I still didn’t know what was wrong with me. The doctors also didn’t know, but had offered that all my vital signs were strong and so there was no need to panic.
    Back in the room, it was time to see if “google” could figure this out. What else was there to do, after all skiing was out! Scanning the many pages on offer really gave us no insight. Believing it to still be a pinched nerve, we researched some gentle stretches that might alleviate the problem.
    Health wise, I felt fine… except that I had a completely paralyzed left leg and buttock.
    I started working on my stretches and enjoyed doing research on the computer. This entertained me for the day and we decided not to cut our holiday short as resting was probably the best thing for me.
     The next morning I awoke. Bugger… the leg was still a piece of jelly!
     I was getting the hang of getting around though, and as cabin fever started to set in, I decided it was time to start enjoying myself and check the mountain out. That’s right, I am not a person who can just lay about.
     My first expedition was to be a trip in the shuttle bus that circulates around the accommodation and facilities on the mountain. This way I didn’t have to do any walking, I could see what was available and we could possibly figure out some things to do that were within my limited abilities right now.
    Brilliant!!! We discovered the next most popular activity on the mountain after skiing… Lodging. This proved to be my savior. This was definitely an activity that we both could participate in. Lodging, for the uninitiated, is the art of socializing by frequenting the local restaurants and cafes. Check out this photo! My clever little wife has figured out a way to get a picture of us both without it being a “selfie”, and I’ve added one of her as well.
DSCN0478DSCN0480
     We were actually starting to have fun! We were making “lemonade out of lemons”.

See you next week…

I hope you’re enjoying the read. Please share your thoughts with me, just send a message in the Leave A Reply box.

If you’d like to find out more about my books, just click here and you can preview all my books.

Blog Buster! The longest mile!

Hi,

Here I am again! Yes… time for “Then what happened?”

     Well, we ate and I felt better for that. Now time for that wash and a good night’s sleep.
    Back at the room, after an exceptionally arduous trek down the mile long corridor to our room (it probably wasn’t that long, but with half a leg working and on crutches, it felt like it). Picture one of those scenes you see in the movies where the corridor seems to get longer and darker, the more the actors try to reach the end.
    Finally in the room, it was time to have that wash. Aghast, I stared, one of those old fashioned showers in the bath tub. Using the shower was out, there was no way I could safely stand up in there. I couldn’t even get my leg over the side of the bath tub. So, very carefully, my darling wife helped me.  It was a bit like the fireman’s lift being executed to get me in… getting out was a bit easier. 
    Clean and fed, now for my good night’s sleep.
    We settled in for the night. The bed was comfortable, the room was warm, and I was restless. There I was lying there with all this numbness. I felt like Sigourney Weaver in the Ghost Busters movie, hovering above the bed. I couldn’t feel the bed under me, I couldn’t feel my feet, I couldn’t feel my left leg at all. All that ran through my mind all night long was, “Is this it?” and “Am I going to be paralyzed forever?” Then the horror really set in, “Was I going to be wheelchair bound for the rest of my life?”
     The next morning I awoke. Yes… I must have finally drifted off for some slumber. Waking up, the first thing that I thought of was how horrible that dream was. Then it set in, when I tried to move. I was still paralized.
    We decided to make our way down to the restaurant for breakfast. It would be a great chance to see things in the light of day and try and work out our next move. Off we went down the enormous corridor again. Did they extend it while I was sleeping? It was even longer today.
    Sitting in the restaurant, the staff fussed over me. That was kind of nice, after all I felt really crappy right now. Then, there across the room I saw someone I recognized. I am an avid Australian Rules Football fan and have barracked for North Melbourne since 1972. I was amazed to see “Lethal” Lee Matthews, quite a legend in the game, sitting in the same restaurant. I couldn’t believe it when he spoke to me, asking about my leg. Everyone was presuming that I was the victim of a skiing accident, and he was no different.
mt buller room
     It hadn’t dawned on me what to say to people when they asked what happened. So, I just nodded and agreed with whatever explanation they came up with, after all their guess was as good as mine.

Stay tuned next week… that nagging question kept at me. What is happening to me?

I hope my story is still interesting. I would love for you to share your thoughts with me, all feedback is good.

Plus… this isn’t all I’ve written. To find out more about my books, just click here and you can preview my books.

 

Blog Buster! Things were getting serious…

Hi,

I’m back with my continuing story!

Things were getting serious!

     “How on earth can we get to help?”. 
    Andrea went back to reception to find out our options and discovered there was a physiotherapist across the road from our hotel, or we had to get ourselves up a steep hill to the emergency medical centre.
    Off she went to investigate… while I lay helplessly on my back in the hotel room. The numb sensation continued and I simply couldn’t get my brain to tell my left leg to move at all.
    On her return she informed me that our only hope was to get to the emergency centre. So, off to reception again. This time, armed with the advice from the physiotherapist that a skidoo could be requested to take me up the mountain, we stood our ground (well, I actually “sat” my ground). Andrea grit her teeth at the staff insisting that a skidoo be ordered. Finally, they relented and help was on it’s way. Hallelujah!!!
    Great! I was to get help at last, wasn’t I? Not to be… ages passed before they even looked at me. A few x-rays later and, with much scratching of many heads, finally they came to the conclusion that they didn’t know what to do with me. I had confused things by not having a broken bone… they knew how to deal with that.
     It was now nearly 8 at night and we were unwashed, tired and hungry and the only options we had, were to return to our hotel, or get an ambulance to drive me down the mountain to a remote country town several hours away to seek further medical advice.
    We decided to return to the hotel, wash and get some food. After a night’s sleep we would way up our options and decide what to do next! So many hundreds of dollars later, we left the medical centre. Having no ability to move my left leg and limited movement in my right leg, we inquired about hiring a wheel chair. Of course! No wheelchairs on the mountain. Insanity prevailed and I took the only thing available… I had to buy a set of crutches.
    A $20 taxi back down the mountain (500 metres) got us to the hotel. Once again the valet’s were there to help. What a god send they were. There was no way that I could climb the 16 steps up to the hotel. So, like a pile of linen I got lifted onto the loading platform and up I went to the hotel level. 
DSCN0449
Time for some food… then a wash and a good night’s sleep. I just wanted to get straight to the restaurant.

Stay tuned next week to find out… what do we decide to do?

So, what do think of the story so far? I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me.

Plus… as I have mentioned before, you might be inspired to find out more about my books. Just click here if you want to find out what I’ve written and get a preview of them.

Blog Buster! Injured… remote location… what do you do?

This is the next installment in my interesting and engaging story!

I hope you enjoy!

    Something was definitely wrong! After skiing down the mountain one-legged, I was terrified. I couldn’t feel my left leg at all, it was just like jelly.
    Andrea was at the bottom waiting for me, looking a little worried. I should have beaten her down and she was suspecting that something was wrong.
    The first thing I thought of was that my ski boots were too tight and somehow cut off my circulation. Andrea managed to help me get to a table to lie down and helped me get my ski boots off. This didn’t help at all. On reflection I was underestimating the gravity of the situation.
    We were cold and hungry and couldn’t think straight. We decided to go into the cafe to get something to eat and warm up a bit. While there, we inquired about how we could get medical treatment. The answer we got wasn’t very helpful, the medical centre was halfway up the mountain and basically you have to get there yourself.
    Finally, the adrenalin kicked in and our “flight or fight” instincts took over. Both of us had chosen fight! Andrea immediately took our unnecessary equipment back to the hotel, while I waited helplessly for her return. While at the hotel, she alerted the staff to our predicament and the valet staff leapt into action. They arranged for our room to be made available straight away. Andrea raced back to tell me the good news.
    The next few minutes were precarious! Andrea had to help me get my ski boots on… and I couldn’t help as both feet had lost feeling now. I was not in control. Then she acted as my crutch as we made our way along along an extremely undulating pathway, over the slushy snow to get to our hotel. Disappointingly, not one person offered us any help and in fact wouldn’t even clear a pathway for us.

DSCN0460

    At last the welcoming door to the hotel… The thought of being able to lie down on a bed and try and relax was all I could think of. The reception staff were marvellous and checked us in quickly. The valets had already taken care of our luggage and it was waiting for us in the room. We were relieved to at least be in a comfortable environment, but we both knew we had to get answers.
    How on earth can we get to help?

Stay tuned next week to find out… what happens next?

So, what do think of the story so far? How do you like my writing?

Remember… all I am looking for is for you to share your thoughts with me.

Plus… as I have mentioned before, you might like who I am and what I’m writing about. If you do, you might be inspired to read one of my books. Just click here if you want to find out what I’ve written and get a preview of them.

Blog Buster! What the hell happened?

Here I am, back to continue my interesting and engaging story!

You must be enjoying the read, because here you are… but are you feeling engaged? Let’s see how we go.

     Excitedly we made our way to the airport, and apart from the usual delays to finally get our hire car, at last we were on our way.
    Our first week went very smoothly. Mansfield is a beautiful country town, steeped in history of the events which took place there through the bush-ranger era. Our accommodation overlooked Lake Eildon. Wow, what a spectacular view!
DSCN0284
    Having totally relaxed in the country for a week, it was time to hit the snowfields. Man, was I excited! It had been years since I had been in the snow… and for Andrea it was the first time.
   We boarded the bus, wound our way up the mountain side and finally arrived atop of Mt Bulla. We couldn’t check in yet, so we dropped our suitcases off and swiftly made our way to hire our ski gear. 
   Here we go! Time to get my little ski bunny on the slopes. She was not very sure footed and in fact looked more like a new born deer trying to stand up. Happily though, I stepped her through the basics.
   Now she was getting the hang of things I decided we could go up in the chair lift to the first station to where the snow was not as mushy. Up we went…
   We had been at it for a while, when Andrea decided we should stop for lunch and started walking down the mountain. I had taken my skis off as I was feeling a pain in my back, so I told her I’d meet her at the bottom and started trying to get my skis back on.
   Something was wrong! My left leg had gone cold and it was like it had gone to sleep. What was going on? I struggled to clip back into the skis and literally had to ski down one-legged. 
   What the hell was happening to me?

Here I am sharing my story with you, absolutely free…

So how are we doing?

What I would like is that you keep coming back each week to keep reading. This will mean that you are engaged, so much so that you will give me a comment. That’s right… all I want in return is for you to share your thoughts with me.

Plus… as I have mentioned before, you might like who I am and what I’m writing about. If you do, you might be inspired to read one of my books. Just click here if you want to find out what I’ve written and get a preview of them.

Blog Buster… The suspense builds!

Time to continue my interesting and engaging story!

I hope you’re enjoying it so far… enough to take the next step.

“What is the next step?” I hear you ask. I’ll fill you in when you have finished reading.

     As I was explaining, my life had always been full and quite action-packed. However, I was about to take the trip of a lifetime and learn all about myself. I wasn’t expecting what was waiting for me around the corner!
    I planned an exciting holiday for my wife and I. In the 20 years since we had met, we had never had a travelling type holiday. We had always just gone to the coast for a week or two. You see, we always worked hard, but never seemed to have left over money for that kind of self indulgence. We were so excited! Especially me, as I was really looking forward to spoiling my girl and seeing her face as she experienced my well planned adventure!
   The itinerary was a week staying at Mansfield in country Victoria, from where we could visit the surrounding countryside and visit the historic locations associated with Ned Kelly… bush-ranger country!
   Next we had a 4 night stay at Mt Bulla, staying at the Mt Bulla Chalet right next to the ski lifts. My wife had never seen snow, being a Queensland girl, and I was keen to be there when she saw it for the very first time. I also loved skiing and was looking forward to sharing that with her.
   Finally, we had a very self indulgent 4 night stay at a beautiful lodge called “Chateau Yering”  in the wine region of country Victoria. Here we would enjoy the opulence of this beautiful historic house hotel, along with a wine tour to sample the local product, and lastly a horse trail ride to really see this magnificent countryside. Again, horse riding was something my wife, Andrea, had never done and I was thrilled to be able to be there when she experienced this for the first time.

Chateu Yering

   We were packed… we were ready… or were we?

Now it’s time for the next step!

That same old question… “what is he expecting me to do now?” you ask

It’s easy, I want you come back each week of course, so you can keep reading. This means that you do find my words interesting and engaging, so much so that you will give me a comment. That’s right… the next step is for you to share your thoughts with me.

Plus… as I have mentioned before, you might like who I am and what I’m writing about. If you do, you might be inspired to read one of my books. Just click here if you want to find out more.

Blog Buster! The truth about blogging…

Well, the way I see it, a blog is just a short story… real short!

So, it needs to be interesting, engaging and encourage you, the reader, to take action.

First… an interesting and engaging story!

     My youth was spent living on 3 different continents, which was disruptive to my making and keeping friends in my early years. I had never been an over achiever… but I was not afraid of hard work and always strove beyond what most of my friends and family thought I was capable of.
     Achieving success has always been on my agenda. Often misunderstood, again by friends and family, to be seeking financial reward… I was never met with congratulations as I “worked my ass off” for long periods to reach my goals. In fact, I have experienced some disappointingly negative reactions from some of those close to me. Mostly, I don’t get any acknowledgement that I have ever done any of the things that I am extremely proud of. I have, however, been fortunate to have an amazing woman by my side who did understand my idea of success… and she tells me that she is my biggest fan! I am her biggest fan too, so I guess that’s only fair.
     Some of the things that I am proud of achieving are… having participated competitively in a variety of sports, enjoyed playing a lot of games with my friends, been loved and in love with my wife, having built a rental property portfolio, having successfully renovated/beautified many houses, lived in a beachfront unit at my favourite beach, having attended many internationally famous events and concerts and been able to perform and sing on stage.
     To perhaps get you to understand me, success is inner happiness. What I have been striving for, is to be the best me that I can be, and to be the best husband-friend-brother-uncle etc. that I can be. Along the way, I just want to be able to take care of myself and my family physically, spiritually and financially. Surprise! Surprise! Bet this sounds like what most of you want out of life as well. Being a burden is not on my list of things to do!
     My world was suddenly turned upside down!

Now it’s your turn… time to take action!

So… “what is he expecting me to do?” you ask

You guessed it, I want you come back next week and keep reading my story.

The other thing you could do is give me some feedback.

If you like who I am and what I’m writing about, I might inspire you to read one of my books. Just click here if you want to find out more

Why am I writing this blog?

… BECAUSE EVERYBODY SEEMS TO BE TELLING        ME THAT I SHOULD!

It is supposed to get me exposure – Isn’t it?                                                                                                 and help me market my books to the world… but what do people want to hear?

Why would they even bother to read my blog, after all who am I?                                                    and what have I got to say that would be so interesting that you would stop to read this?

I DON’T KNOW !!!

I am just another self publishing author, amongst a sea of hopeful authors trying to be seen and heard.

So let’s see if you find me interesting! Try reading this…                                                                    https://xlntreads.wordpress.com/about/

As Dr. Seuss once said “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Here is to finding a simple answer to all my questions…

If you still don’t find me interesting enough, tune into my blog next week! Why? … because there is still the unknown

images

Please read my book!

How do I get my message out there?

The truth for me, is that the reason that I wrote my books was for people to enjoy my stories.

I had a life experience that heightened my senses and gave me the passion to write. I have had a wonderful time writing and illustrating all my books…

What I don’t have experience in, is beating my own drum to everyone out there and weaving my way through the mire of social media, traditional media and all those markets and trade shows. Slowly, slowly I have tentatively trod my way along these paths.

Social media

My favourite part however, has been the book launches. These are terrific days of sharing some food, wine and light-hearted conversation. To date, these have been arranged by local media for me so I haven’t had a chance to share these with my family and friends. Although I have enjoyed meeting new friends immensely,  I intend to correct this in the very near future.

book launch

Please keep a close look out over the next few months as I will be sending out some special invitations.

I also intend on keeping a running diary of the event planning for those interested in some ideas!

 

When is your book ready to publish?

Here is something that goes through my head every time…

Being an author is a strange profession, I am sure you will agree.

We spend hours writing our book/s, then reading it over and over. Every time I read it, I find something that needs changing. These changes can be either typing errors or I see the writing is weak and needs further caressing.

From my perspective, I believe that you should get it as close as you can to being right before giving it to a third party to proof read and edit. Once they have done their job… read it again! This is your baby and it needs your final approval. You know that you will be your toughest critic and will have the best understanding of the integrity of your story and characters.

If you still need changes, do it… once it is published you won’t be changing it again. This is your final product… you have to be happy with it and believe it is good enough for people to buy. Remember you will be the main sales person for your book. The better it is, the more you will believe in the book and the easier your job should be.

Happy story telling…                                                                                                                                                        it’s all about the tale and being able to share it with as many folks as you can!

happy writer

How and why to get published?

Well… I would love to know the answer.

Steve: Hey honey! Come here Andrea… everybody this is my wife!

Untitled

Andrea: Hi everybody! What has Steve been telling you?

Steve: Fill everyone in on how to get published…

Andrea: I’ m busy at the moment… and to be completely honest, I don’t know the answer to that. We’ve only been at it for a relatively short time… but from what I figure the first thing you need is a Literary Agent. This Literary Agent, sends your manuscript to the various publishers for them to decide if they want to publish you. It is very important that you are published, as only published books get distributed to book stores.

Steve: Well that sounds easy!

Andrea: Yeah, it does, doesn’t it. The only catch is that you seem to need to be a “recognised writer” before you can get a Literary Agent. It’s the old… you need experience to get a job, but how do you get your first job without experience?

Steve: Hey, are there any Literary Agents out there? Would love to hear from you with an answer to this quandary…

Why should I read?

This is the best question a person can ask themselves…

One quick answer could be as follows…

          It’s the one that inspires me to both read and write! Our modern high-tech world, so full of stimulation by both large and small screens, provides us with a never-ending supply of visual and mental stimulation. “It’s more than enough for me!” I hear you say. Well, I have to agree with you. It can be very fulfilling, however…

          Something you may be overlooking is that when you are fed something in this manner, you see what they want you to see. Whereby, your own personal creative juices are limited to this. The reward of reading, is that your mind becomes the master of the limitless creations that your imagination generates.  More simply, it builds the picture that it wants to.

          Whether it be a comic book, magazine, autobiography or even a fiction novel… You, the reader, paints the picture to suit your own levels of entertainment and desires.

          After all, to your credit, you are reading this… so it’s already creating, therefore your mind could be searching for something more.

… what do you think?

New to blog!

Nice to meet you all.

Well, I have been on a roller coaster adventure ride.

Yes… that’s right! The world of writing, marketing and promotion is now a part of me and I can’t wait to get going with every aspect.

I am also looking to sharing what works… and works differently to expectations.

Stephen James

(adventurous entrepreneur and avid lover of fun!)