Friday Flash Fiction : The House

Come with me. I want to take you to the house on the corner. It’s that house, you know the one, with the boarded up windows and funny graffiti. You’ll see what I mean when we get there.
Come with me, it’s just down this road here. You’ll notice there aren’t many cats or birds around here. Do you feel that? That kind of encroaching silence as we approach the corner, as though someone were turning the volume down on the world ever so slightly.
Here we are. Take a good look at it. Notice the lack of rubbish that should, by all accounts, be strewn across the front lawn. It’s an abandoned house, so surely people would use the front garden as a dumping ground? But no. There’s no rubbish here. Oh, there are things in the front garden… small white things, with funny (yet somehow familiar) shapes, but no rubbish. No.
Now you can see some of the graffiti. Kids, eh? They’ll put their tags on anything if it keeps still for long enough. But take a closer look… you’ll notice something funny about some of the words and phrases on the walls and boards in the windows. You see? No? We’ll come back to that then.
Take a look at the boards in the windows, and the thick one covering the door. They’ve been there a long time. But you’ll notice holes in some of them, where some of the wood has rotted away. But other holes… well, don’t they look forced? As though something has broken in? Or out?
And now we’re stood close enough, can you smell that? No, it’s not nice is it. Kind of rotting, mildew, damp… but with an underlying sweetness. Yes, I know, it does set the stomach rolling and churning a little doesn’t it.
Me? No, I’ve been here once or twice before so I’m more used to it. Shall we move closer? It’s OK, you can trust me, I want you to have a closer look at that graffiti and, well, we don’t want to attract too much attention by standing in the street staring, do we?
Do you feel that, as we walk along this path? That crunching? No, it’s not stones. No, nor glass neither.
There. Now you can get a better look at the graffiti. Look here, and this piece next to the front door. Tell me what you see. That’s right, it does look like whoever was doing it slipped as they were writing… as though the spray can was halfway through a word and was… dragged away from finishing. Almost as thought the person writing it suddenly… moved. Violently. Snatched? Yes. That’s almost how it looks isn’t it.
Sshh. Can you hear that? That fluttering noise? It sounds like a bird doesn’t it, flapping around in there. They do that, you know, usually pigeons. They fly in out of the weather, or to roost, and then can’t get back out again. Although I’m sure it’s down to not being able to find a hole to fly out of, rather than any other reason.
What’s that? No, I’m not cold. Do you feel cold? Yes, it is strange isn’t it – I mean it’s a nice day, but there’s something about the atmosphere here that sends a chill trickling through the bones, isn’t there?
So… would you like to take a look inside? Yes! I’m deadly serious. Honestly, it’ll be OK, I’ve done it before.
Look, we’ll just ease the board back on the front door, and you can just look into the hallway. How do I know it’s loose? I just…know. Come on, trust me.

Goodness, it’s gotten stuck again… hang on… there. Come closer, take a look. Really, it’s OK.
There. See? It’s spooky isn’t it? Yes, you do get used to the smell, don’t you?
What’s what? Oh, yes, it does look like a pair of child’s shoes doesn’t it? No, I don’t know how long they’ve been there. A child still in there? No, no, of course not, that would be… wrong.
Yes, I can hear the scrabbling noise too. It’s probably a cat or something, I mean, there are mice in there I’m sure so I have no doubt a cat would see this is a fertile hunting ground.
You know, there’s something very cool in the lounge in there. Yes, really, there is. It’s amazing.
Well no, we wouldn’t be able to see it through the window. If you want to see it, you’d have to come with me inside. I know, I know, that sounds really dodgy, but trust me, it’s well worth a little dirt and dust to see it. Shall we?

There now. That wasn’t too bad was it. Why am I whispering? Well, it’s like being in a church isn’t it – I mean, you don’t have to whisper in church, but you just… do.
OK, OK, you want to be quick. The lounge is just through that doorway there. No, I’ll stay here and keep the board open, so we have light. You’ll see it as soon as you go through the doorway, it’s fantastic. Really it is. OK, I’ll keep talking while you go. Now, as you go through the door look to your left. See it? No? Well, can you see the marks on the floorboards? No, no carpet in there, it would have rotted away by now. Now, can you see the marks? Yes they do look like scratches. Claw marks? No, that’s silly.

Well yes, it has got darker. The board over the door has been closed. Why? Well, you can’t leave now. No. No, you can’t. I know you can’t see your way out of the lounge, just relax, I’ll come find you. Look, just stand still. You’ll hurt yourself. What’s that? Something around your feet? Possibly. Relax. Relax. Goodness, such loud screams. It’s easier if you relax, honestly. Trust me.

Friday Flash Fiction : Voodoo

The rain poured onto the village ground, hard, as though it held a grudge against the densely packed earth. The village was buried deep within the rain forest, only a few huts made from scavenged wood and cloth, but to the inhabitants it was their world.
One hut was just a single room. It held a grass mat for a bed, a large cast iron cooking pot in one corner, and a small table covered with herbs, animal bones, feathers and broken clay pottery.
The woman who lived in this hut sat in the middle of the floor, cross legged. She was old – some of the villagers swore that she was old when their grandparents were children – but on one knew her precise age as the magic she did was believed to keep her alive. She was ‘houngan’ – a fully initiated priestess of voodoo.

Although the villagers rarely used her powerful magic, the woman was known to other people who lived in and around the rain forest. Every few weeks, a traveler would come, seeking help from her spells and witchcraft. One such man had recently departed. He was a man from the west, called ‘ghost-faces’ by the villagers because of the way their faces floated against the darkness of the forest. He had been brought to the village by a local guide. No one in the village knew what he had wanted, just that he had spent a short time in the hut of the old woman before bursting out through the cloth door shouting and angry. The villagers had watched, fearful, from their huts as the ghost-face stormed across the village, shouting in his strange language. He was soaked to the skin by the rain, but this just seemed to feed his anger. The local guide had hurried after him, making soothing noises, trying to get him to calm down, but it hadn’t worked. The guide and the angry westerner had vanished into the forest foliage.

The old woman now sat alone, with a small knife in one hand, and large black rat in the other. The rat was comatose – still alive, but mesmerized by the woman’s quiet murmuring. The ghost-face had wanted power. She had learned through her many years that men all wanted power of some sort or another. Power over other men. Power over women. Power over money. This one had wanted power over money, but he had no respect for the dark magic that would grant him such things. Through the interpretation of the local guide, he had explained what he wanted. When she had told him the price, what he would have to sacrifice, he had grown more and more angry. He had said things that he shouldn’t have said, and threatened things, made horrible promises. Even though the guide had looked terrified he kept on trying to calm the man down, stop him from saying such things. He kept on trying to avoid translating what the ghost-face was saying, to try and stop his angry threats, but it didn’t work. The ghost-face obviously scared the local guide into translating what he wanted to say. Eventually, he had stormed out into the pouring rain, leaving his promises of retribution hanging in the damp air of the hut.

And now, as she neared the end of her incantation, her voice started to rise to a louder chant. The rat in her hands had started to vibrate, as though a swarm of bees had infested its insides. With a last shout to her evil Gods, she swept the knife across the rats throat, letting loose a small torrent of blood over her hand and lap. The rat died without making a sound.

Several hundred yards away, the westerner and the local guide entered a clearing where a jeep was parked. They walked toward it, the westerner calmer now but still fuming, planning his revenge on the twisted old witch who had denied him what he wanted. As the local guide climbed into the drivers side of the jeep, he looked toward the man he had led here and saw he had stopped, frozen in his tracks. He called out to him, asking him what was wrong.
The westerner looked up, his eyes locked on his guide, a look of fear changing his face from angry man to terrified child. And as he raised his hand toward the guide, to ask for help, his throat split open like an over-ripe piece of fruit, and he fell to the floor, dead. His body lay there, blood from his slit throat pooling around his head.

The old woman in her hut got slowly to her feet. She tossed the body of the rat into her large cooking pot, and then went out into the rain to wash the blood from her hands. She smiled gently to herself, thanking her Gods for the power she was blessed with.

Friday Flash Fiction : The Step

The wind is surprisingly strong up here. You see it in films, a seemingly calm day suddenly throwing someone off a flat roofed building and you think, “How’s that possible? The wind can’t be that strong?”
But now I know where that image comes from.
I’m a comfortable six inches from the edge of the roof, but being seventeen floors up seems to give the wind extra power, and I can feel my hair being whipped around my head. My trousers and shirt are fluttering madly against my skin, and my tie stretches out over my shoulder as though it’s been over-starched and stuck to my shirt collar.
Why am I stood, seventeen floors up, at the edge of a roof? Simple. I’ve been lied to. It’s a lie we tell people who suffer a bereavement, it’s a lie we tell people who’s relationships fail and fall apart. It’s a lie we tell people who are going through the hardest of hard times. The lie? Time heals.
It doesn’t, you know. Time has been passing in it’s normal way and I feel exactly the same as I did at the very moment my heart was destroyed. When it happened, there was a moment of pure clarity and I could picture my heart like an empty bag stuck into a vacuum packing machine. When the vacuum machine is switched on, rather than fitting snugly around a piece of steak or chicken, it gets sucked flat, every last piece of oxygen removed. That’s how it felt. Everything in my heart sucked out to leave an empty, flat, nothing.
By why am I still stood here, and not spread out below on the pavement like a very large, very thin pizza of blood, bone and brain? It’s because something inside wants to believe that it could still get better.
I’m fed up of the pain, the misery, the struggle to keep going as if everything is normal every… fucking… day. And before now, when I’ve reached that point of just giving up, everything that is me jumps up and screams in my mind that it doesn’t want to quit this mad, rushing, overwhelming experience that is life. And so I find meaning or strength in the smallest of things to keep me going. But recently, no matter how hard I look, there has been nothing that lights up my inner world and makes me feel positive.
So I have a decision to make, and it’s a simple one. Do I take a step forward, leaving this perch high above the staring faces and swirling blue flashes of the emergency services below? Do I give myself over to the very brief hold of gravity and ever so briefly fly through the cold air?
I close my eyes for a moment and try and imagine how it would feel. I’d raise my right foot and push it forward and down, and my body would start to pitch forward. My left foot would leave the edge of the roof and I’d feel weightless. Would I look, as I plummeted down? Would I stare at the concrete below as it rushed up to meet me? Or would I close my eyes and try and take myself to a happy place, so the final impact would not penetrate my consciousness? Hhmm.
The other option is to take a step back. That’s what the policemen gathered behind me want. That’s all they’ve been shouting. “Step back sir, it’s not worth it!”. Right. Of course it’s not ‘worth’ it, but if they could only grasp the irony of the fact that I’m stood here because nothing is worth it.
Take a step back and what would I have to look forward to? Therapy no doubt. I don’t think I’ve broken any laws, but then who can tell what’s legal and what’s not any more? Would I be taken to a hospital in an ambulance, where a large, caring nurse with a huge bosom would inject me with instant sleep to stop the bad thoughts from encouraging me to try this again? Would I have to endure endless conversations about ‘how I’m feeling’ with a bearded doctor in a too-hot room and steel mesh on the windows?
“But at least we’d still be ALIVE!” screams my subconscious. Yes. We’d still be alive. And with life (as Mary used to tell me) there is always the possibility. The possibility of redemption. The possibility of joy. Of pleasure. Of happiness. Is it better then to take a risk, a risk of having to endure further pain with the possibility that it will end? Is that better?

I look down.

I take a step…

Friday Flash Fiction : Mirror Mirror

The braying alarm dragged Robert out of his dream. It was one of his favorites – the one where Rachel was still with him, and they were driving through the countryside in a red, open topped car. Her head was thrown back against the seat, and she was laughing. He missed her.
Dragging himself out of his bed, he walked in the half light of morning toward the bathroom. He passed the full length mirror in the corner of his room as he did, and out of the corner of his eye something didn’t look right. Almost as though he had doubled in weight. He stopped, looked back at the mirror, and just saw himself. Thirty two years old, still fairly fit despite not being able to get to the gym for a while. He carried on to his bathroom, to shower and get ready for work.
As he entered the bathroom, he switched on the overhead light, causing him to wince as the brightness hit his eyes. He walked passed the shower, turning it on, and then walked toward the sink. He leaned in to stare at himself in the mirror over the sink, (bags under the eyes? nope, not yet) and as he focused he caught movement over his left shoulder, where the door was. He whipped round, thinking “what the fuck?!” expecting to see someone standing there… but the doorway was clear and empty.
He stood there for a second, looking at the door. Weird. He put it down to a combination of still being half asleep and a holdover from his dream.
He turned, and stepped into is shower. As he closed the door and turned out toward the bathroom, he could see the mirror above the sink. Empty. Well, it would be, there was no one near it now. He started to wash himself and his mind started to process all the things he needed to be doing at work today. Slowly, the bathroom started to steam up and condensation built up on the shower cubicle door and the mirror. As he looked out again from the shower, he saw through the blurring effect of the steam a shape in the bathroom mirror. He froze. The water continued to cascade over his head and down his face causing him to keep blinking and shaking his head. Every time he focused again on the mirror he could see the shape. It was a person. There was no mistaking it, and by the shape of the head and hair, it was female. As he stood there, the hot water tingling as his skin turned icy cold, the figure in the mirror moved. It looked as though it’s lifted up toward the mirror and swiped at the glass, as if to wipe away the condensation.
Robert reached back behind him, blindly searching for the shower tap to turn it off. His mind would’t accept what his eyes were telling him, but he couldn’t turn away from the mirror.
Finally giving up on trying to find the shower tap without looking, he turned round and snapped the shower off.
He only looked away for a second, but when he turned round again the mirror was empty.
This was really freaking him out now. He opened the shower cubicle door and stepped out onto the mat. His eyes were locked on the mirror, but it remained empty. Standing there, dripping onto the mat, he felt dizzy with the impossibility of what he’d seen. Someone on the other side of a mirror? It was like something out of a Stephen King book.
He grabbed a towel, wrapped it around himself, and with a preoccupied look on his face he walked back toward his bedroom to get dressed. As he crossed the threshold, he didn’t bother turning the light on – there was enough light from the bathroom and the breaking dawn outside to see clearly enough.
As he walked passed his bedroom mirror, he looked into it and screamed. He couldn’t help it. Rachel was there. Rachel! She was stood, in the mirror, as though she was stood in the room getting dressed as she used to do. But she was different. So pale. Her eyes with dark patches underneath them. Her lips blue. And she wasn’t smiling. She always smiled, but here she was, just staring.
“Ra..Rachel?” Robert stammered. He slowly raised his hand toward the mirror, wanted to touch it, to maybe dispel this dream (it must be a dream, surely?). As his hand inched closer to the glass, his eyes locked on the darkness of the patches below Rachel’s eyes, he started to shake minutely, as though the anticipation of touching the smooth surface of the mirror were running an electric current through him.
Just before his skin brushed the glass, she screamed. And it was Rachel screaming, no doubt, but mixed in with the sound was a screech, like that of a large predatory bird who had just caught it’s prey. The scream pierced him, causing him to screw his eyes up and shy away as though he was about to be struck.
He looked at the figure in the mirror and saw that her mouth was full of tiny, pointed, teeth. Where was Rachel’s smile, her blindingly white smile?
Robert staggered back from the glass, and as his legs bumped against the bed, the figure in the mirror rushed forward slamming both hands against the glass. Her scream raised in pitch, almost as though in triumph of a victim at last snared. Robert felt his bladder let go, and he turned and ran toward the bedroom door and the sanctity of the stairs.
As his towel fell away from him, and his foot hit the top of the first stair, he heard his bedroom mirror shatter, and his terror broke free.

Friday Flash Fiction : Generosity

The train station was as busy as ever on this cool November morning. Commuters rushing to make their habitual seat on their train to work, others arriving into town ready to attack the day anew and survive another day at the grindstone of employment.
Mixed in with these station regulars were the people travelling for other reasons – some good, some bad. The woman on her way to meet her lover, the guilt etched in her face as she thought of her husband driving home from the station with a smile on his face, not knowing the truth of his situation.
The young man and woman off to the airport for their first holiday together as a couple, he only thinking of the sex he can’t wait to have, her thinking of only of how close they will be after spending a whole two weeks together.
The older man, dignified and almost military in his bearing, travelling to the funeral of a friend, finally taken by the weak heart that had plagued him for years.

Into this cauldron of humanity walks a smiling man, with a large tray suspended round his neck in the manner of ice-cream sellers in the cinema. Contained in the tray, displayed in rows like jewelry on velvet cushions, were an assortment of pastries. Pain au chocolat, croissants, danish pastries, cinnamon swirls, all glistening with sweetness.
As this man walked toward the center of the concourse, the intoxicating smell dancing among the people around him, eyes began to follow his progress as interest was piqued. He stopped, and in a voice tinged with mirth loudly announced,
“Ladies and gentleman. Greetings to you all on this fine morning. As a token of kindness and to help you on your journey today, I have here some fine pastries. Please, avail yourself of them, free of charge of course! I only ask that later today when you think back to this moment, you maybe think about how a small gesture of generosity and kindness can bring a smile to even the gloomiest of mornings”.

Several people began to congregate around him, looking into his tray to select a pastry for themselves. Once the first person took one (an account manager for a plumbing supplies firm, on his way to meet a potential new client), other people took it as a signal to pickup their own selection. They were pastries that are dreamed of. Warm to the touch, plump, the filled ones heavy with sweet chocolate or syrup, the croissants light and buttery. As each person bit into their own pastry they could not help but smile, and offer small noises of satisfaction and enjoyment.

After twenty minutes or so, the tray was empty. Those people lucky enough to get a pastry were left feeling a tiny bit happier than they had been before this smiling man had arrived.

The man himself stood with a satisfied grin. He had come to the station this morning in the hope of brightening peoples day. As these people set off on their commute, or their walk from the station to their offices, they would begin to feel more than happy, more than satisfied after eating these gorgeous treats. You see, within each pastry he had put a small dose of LSD. With no taste other than the rich, dark chocolate or the sweet sugary cinnamon, it had been consumed completely unawares and now, for the rest of the day, some of these people would experience a rather more interesting time than they first thought they would when they got up this morning. “Yes” he though to himself, “it’s good to give”.