So be good, for goodness sake!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a flash-fiction here. Life’s been busy! Luckily, the Christmas holidays are on the way… so here’s a bit of Christmas Cheer for you. Written for the terribleminds Flash Fiction Friday challenge: Holiday Horror Extravaganza!

So be good, for goodness sake!

We watched them. For seven years we had crept after the boy, Tommy. Watched his dark curly hair and followed his growing obsession with marine life. Shadowed him, close to his heels, watching as he poked about in the river and spent hours in the pet store studying the tanks of bright tropical fish.

We watched them. For five years, silent as ghosts, we had followed on the heels of Sandra, as she stubbornly followed her brother everywhere. She was less interested in the fish, but stared at them because Tommy did.

Every year they had been good. So good. Tommy had protected and looked after his sister, slowing his pace so she could keep up. Making sure she had her coat and hat and gloves during the cold weather and her sun hat in the summer. Sandra had worshipped at the heels of her brother, bolstering his confidence and expressing her admiration for his feats: jumping from rock to rock in the river and persuading the pet shop owner to let him feed the fish each day. Every year they had been good, had left out a mince pie and a glass of milk for Santa. And every year Santa had stopped at their house, peered at us with those icy blue eyes and shaken his head: no.

This year we both felt it. A change. Tommy impatient, hurrying his pace to try and lose his sister. Sandra shouting and wailing, fearful of losing her beloved older brother.

We watched them. A grey February day, the children’s breath steaming in the cold air. Tommy half ran down the river bank to try and lose Sandra. Sandra slipped and flailed as she tried to follow, until her feet went out from underneath her and she plunged into the water with a shriek. She scrambled out, soaked and covered in mud. The wind cut at her like ice. She hugged herself and looked around for Tommy, but he had gone.

She trudged home, frozen to the bone and crying silently.

When Tommy returned from the river, Mum berated him soundly.

“I didn’t know she’d fallen in,” he objected. “I thought she’d gone home!”

We knew the truth. We had watched him look back at the sound of the splash, had seen the moment of indecision on his face. Then he had started running, away from Sandra.

But still, it was only February.

In June, Sandra asked if she could feed the fish at the shop. Tommy refused her indignantly. “You’ll only mess it up, you’re too stupid to do something like that.”

“I’m NOT stupid!” Sandra shouted, fists clenched and cheeks red.

“Yes you are,” Tommy said. “You’re so stupid you don’t even know you’re stupid. Anyway, the pet shop owner said it was a responsibility and I had to do it right. I can’t trust you.”

The next day Sandra came to the fish shop before Tommy, and emptied all the fish food containers into the bin when the pet shop owner wasn’t looking. Then she went home.

Tommy returned home later, sullen-faced. The owner had been furious when he’d discovered the feed missing. “You’ve been drastically over-feeding them! You assured me you would do it properly.”

We watched them. Tommy as he stomped upstairs and slammed his door. Sandra as she smiled a little to herself.

But still, it was only June.

In August, when heat wrapped the country in a sticky blanket, they fell to fighting over a lego piece. Sandra had built a car, Tommy an airplane. Both needed the same part to complete their models.

“It’s my lego.” Tommy gripped the piece so tightly it left a red mark in his fist.

“It’s our lego,” Sandra spat, standing with her hand held out. “You’re meant to share.”

“You can’t have it.” Tommy went to click the piece into place and Sandra made a grab for it. Tommy swung away and Sandra fell on him, her fingers clawing at his hand.

He shoved her away. Sandra growled and kicked out at him. Her foot connected with his shin and Tommy’s face went red. He grabbed her car and threw it against a wall. Lego scattered across the floor. Sandra stood frozen, staring at the mess. Then she let out a shriek and flung herself on Tommy, pummeling with her fists until he managed to grab her wrists and push her back onto the floor. She glared up at him, tears in her eyes, and he glared back at her.

We were excited now. Watching them fight. Our tails lashed back and forth, and we felt drool collect in our mouths and leak down to the carpet where it dissipated like mist.

But still, four months to go.

In October they went to visit their grandmother, out in the country. Their mother drove. Tommy and Sandra sat in the back.

“Can we listen to the Rainbow CD?” Sandra asked.

“I don’t want to listen to those baby songs.” Tommy crossed his arms. “Put on War of the Worlds.”

“I don’t like that, it’s scary.” Sandra stuck out her lower lip. “We always listen to the Rainbow CD when we visit Gran!”

“We can listen to the Rainbow CD on the way there, and War of the Worlds on the way back.” Mum glanced in the rear-view mirror.

“The Rainbow CD sucks!” Tommy kicked his foot against the back of the seat. “I don’t care what we listen to, just anything except that stupid baby CD for idiots.”

Sandra’s face screwed up. “We always listen to the Rainbow CD.” Her voice wavered into a sob.

“Sandra, you and I can listen to it together when we get to Gran’s house.” Mum drove them around a roundabout.

“I want to listen to it NOW!” Sandra bellowed.

We looked at each other, hunched over each child, our tails curled up together and pressed against the rear windscreen, our shoulder spikes jammed against the roof of the car. Seven years I had waited, five years we had waited. Two more months. We stretched our jaws open, lowered our heads to let drool mist away around each head.

In December they strung fairy-lights around each window. Tommy helped Mum carry the box with the Christmas tree inside. They pulled the tree out slowly, reverently. Sandra squealed with excitement as green branches were revealed. They pulled each branch straight.

“I’ll put the fairy lights on the tree,” Tommy said, already reaching for the looped wire.

“I want to do it!” Sandra reached the other end of the wire.

“Come on you two,” Mum said. “It’s nearly Christmas. Tommy, why not let your sister have a go this year.”

“She’s too little, she won’t do it right.” Tommy frowned.

“You did it when you were her age.” Mum took out a bag of baubles. “You can hang these, with me.”

“I want to hang the lights!” Tommy yanked the wire out of the bag. Sandra clung to her end and for a moment they played an intense tug-of-war. Tommy suddenly let go. Sandra, taken by surprise, fell backwards and cracked her head against the edge of the coffee table. She let out a wail, and Mum swore, jumping to her feet.

“Can’t you two get along for five seconds? You know Santa’s watching right? You’re meant to be good!”

Our claws curled around Sandra, the glittering knife edge millimeters from her tear-streaked cheek. We lowered the tip of one claw to her eye, imagined thrusting it home.

Twelve more days.

On Christmas Eve we watched, two shadows in two bedrooms. Sandra awake and excited, listening for hooves on the roof. Tommy half-critical, half-hoping, pretending to sleep. Our hunger yawed inside us, a great and empty space. We longed for flesh.

The clock ticked down. They had been naughty, such naughty children. Santa’s sleigh flew silently overhead without stopping. As his shadow flickered across the window we knew he would not be stopping at this house. Not this year.

We loomed over each child. Sandra’s eyes widened and her mouth opened but we closed our jaws about her head and her scream was cut off before it could begin. Tommy tried to roll from the bed, but we tore his lungs through his spine with a single stroke.

The next morning we woke at the same time. We each moved to the door of our bedroom and smiled at each other as we emerged into the hallway. I touched my small hand to his.

“Merry Christmas, Sandra,” we said.

“Merry Christmas, Tommy,” we said.

 

I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you thought in the comments 🙂

Other ‘horror themed’ Christmas Stories for your enjoyment:

No trouble

Another week, another terribleminds flash fiction challenge! This time the prompt was bad parents and we had 1,000 words. I really wanted to stay away from the whole ‘starvation, drunken rage, cigarettes getting stubbed out in painful places’ kind of story. Not because those things don’t happen, but because there’s only three ways for those stories to go. It either ends in tragedy (kids die), triumph (kids escape and/or kill parents) or stasis (isn’t it dreadful).

At the end of this post I’ll link to a few of my favourite stories that other authors have written in response to the prompt.

No trouble

I throw the slivers of chicken into the pan with the onions and stir. The pink meat turns white, the oil hisses and spits

“Sarah?” Her voice, thin and scratchy, crackles over the baby monitor. I bite my lip, stir the chicken and add a splash of stock to stop it from burning.

I go upstairs and open the door to my mother’s bedroom. She lies there, propped up against her pillows. Thin, skin translucent, crazed with wrinkles. You can see all the veins in her hands, wrapping up and around those knobbed knuckles. I stare at her hands and avoid looking at her face.

“What is it, Mum?”

“I’m thirsty.”

“Would you like a glass of water?”

“A tonic water,” she says. “With a slice of lime. A thin slice. I don’t want the lime to overpower it.”

My heart sinks. “We don’t have any lime.”

“Can’t you go to the shop?”

“The corner shop won’t have them. I’ll need to drive to Tesco, and that’s fifteen minutes there and back. I’ll go after I finish lunch, okay?”

Silence. I stare resolutely at her hands.

“I don’t want any lunch,” she says. Her voice quavers.

“You need to eat. It’s almost done. I’ll get the lime as soon as I’m done cooking.” I try to make my voice firm.

“If your father was here—“

“But he’s not here,” I cut her off. “I’m in the middle of cooking. If I leave now it’ll be ruined. I’ll go after lunch. Do you want a glass of water?”

“No.” Her voice is sulky.

She starts to sob as I close the door.

While the chicken and carrots finish cooking, I take a separate pan and make the gravy. Butter, flour, stock, herbs, a slosh of white wine. I add pepper, hesitate, then add another shake of pepper. Last time she told me there wasn’t enough pepper, that it made the meal bland. I take her plate, the special china one with the blue swirls around the edge. I shape the carrots into a pyramid and place three pieces of chicken in a fan shape next them. I use the back of a spoon to swish an arc of gravy on the other side of the plate and stand back to scrutinise my handiwork. I add a garnish of fresh parsley, dropping it onto one of the chicken pieces.

I put the lid on the pot to keep the heat in, then put her plate on the tray. I take out a tumbler and pour some tonic water into it. I’ll take it up to her, and then go and buy the lime.

When I open her door the sobbing starts again, little hitches in her throat.

“Please don’t work yourself up, Mum.” I carry the tray over and put it down on her lap.

“No lime,” she says.

“I’ll go and get you one now.”

“Don’t bother,” she says. “I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I just didn’t want to go while lunch was cooking, and—“

“I know how hard it must be, looking after your old mother. I remember how hard it was for me, when I had to look after you.”

“Mum—“

“Oh! I slaved over your food, and you wouldn’t eat a bite. I tried everything, organic baby food, pureed dinners, I spent an hour once making a special soup out of roasted squash and you just threw it on the floor.”

“I was a baby.”

“You were always as good as gold for your father. He’d come home and you’d eat any old rubbish. You never really loved me, of course.” Her voice cracks. She knows I can’t stand it when she talks like this.

“I love you Mum, you know I do.” I pat her hand awkwardly. “Look, just eat your lunch. I’ll go to the shop now, you’ll have your lime slice as soon as I get back, okay?”

She heaves a deep sigh. I head for the door, but before I can reach it there is a clatter and crash from behind me. I spin round.

She’s knocked the tray onto the floor. Gravy, carrots, chicken, all over the carpet. The tumbler rolls across the floor until it knocks into the leg of her bedside table. I bite my lip.

“Oops,” she says. Smiles.

I don’t answer. I pick up the tumbler and the broken bits of plate and put them on the tray. The food goes in the bin. I get the vacuum cleaner and suction up the rest. There’s a gravy stain, but I can deal with that later.

I go downstairs, put on my coat. I’ve worn through one of the elbows.

Tesco is busy. I don’t see anyone I know. Most of the people I went to school with have moved away. Sometimes I see Kate, but she’s always too busy running after her toddler to see me. She isn’t here today. I buy the lime, smiling tentatively at the woman behind the checkout. She gives me a blank smile in return.

When I get home I stir up the remaining carrots and chicken and give it a quick blast of heat to bring it back up to temperature. I take out a new plate, build the pyramid of carrots. I fan out the chicken, swirl the gravy.

I pour the tonic water, slice the lime nice and thin. The tonic fizzes when I drop the slice in.

I carry the tray upstairs. She smiles as I bring it to her bed.

“Oh, you sliced it just right. And look, you made such a pretty gravy swirl.”

“Thanks, Mum.” Happiness blooms in me at her words.

She cuts a tiny piece of the chicken, puts it in her mouth, chews. “It’s a little dry. You left it standing too long. And there’s too much pepper.”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“Don’t be silly. I don’t expect you to take any trouble over your old mother.”

Some other stories about bad parents

These were my favourite stories written in response to the ‘bad parents’ prompt.

Beneath One Wall, Inside Another by JP Juniper. Great sense of time and place in a short word-count, and just enough detail about the children to whet your imagination.

No such thing by Chris White. Such a fantastical story and original setting. I would love to see this world developed further.

Deals with the Devil by Alex. A sharp toothed story about the way society regulates women’s bodies, especially those of mothers.

Blind Abbot

Another Flash Fiction written for a terribleminds prompt. In this case the prompt was a list of cocktail names, and I randomly drew Blind Abbot. I’m not sure how well this works as a story, but I like the Blind Abbot character.

Trigger warning: implied child abuse.

Gary caught his foot in one of the tree roots bulging up through the cracked and twisted flagstones. He staggered forward, clutching at a branch to stop himself plunging face first. A cloud shifted, and moonlight illuminated the old, decrepit stone mansion. Turrets twisted up into the sky and bats flittered from the shadows beneath stone eaves.

Think of Alice.

An imposing door loomed out of the shadows: dark, weathered wood punctuated with the muted gleam of iron. Gary wiped the sweat from his forehead with one hand and used the other to grab the snarling gargoyle knocker and hammer out his arrival. The knocks reverberated through the old wood and dust showered down. Gary wiped his forehead again. Nobody had been here for a long time.

Seconds ticked by, turning to minutes. Gary shifted from foot to foot, staring at the rage-filled face of the gargoyle. A chisel had been taken to it, leaving a stony scar where the gargoyle’s eyes should be. Another minute ticked by. Gary lifted the knocker again just as the door wrenched open with a screech of rusted hinges.

A robot, made entirely of mahogany, every joint a carefully constructed wooden ball socket, stood before him. Gary looked into the blankly polished sheen where a face should have been and forced the words out, his throat still raw from the outburst he had indulged in last night. “I’m here to see the Blind Abbot.”

The robot glided into the hallway. Gary followed, taking in a confusion of jumbled objects piled up against the walls: a huge copper disk, tarnished green; coiled rugs, bright with golden threads. He picked his way through a collection of marble statues, each with a missing limb or two.  A slender women wept over her missing hands. A man leaned sideways, gazing in slumped horror at the jagged stone where a foot should have been. Gary pulled his gaze away and found himself staring at an oil painting of a young girl, her hand held out as though to clutch at the hand of an adult. No hand claimed hers, and Gary blinked away tears.

The robot continued to glide along the hallway. Gary dashed the tears away with his knuckles and jogged to catch up. They ended up in a library, shelves filled with leathery tomes; wreathed in shadow and dust. Embers smouldered in the fireplace, the dull red glow the only light. A massive wing-back chair faced the fire. Gary took a step toward it.

“Come no closer.” The voice rich and clear, each syllable oiling into place.

“Blind Abbot?”

“So they call me.”

“They say you can find things. Things that are lost.”

“My price is high.”

“I would give anything in my power.”

Silence from the chair.

“It’s my daughter, Alice.” Gary felt the shiver of grief in the back of his throat and paused to take a ragged breath. “She’s been gone three weeks. The police… they just aren’t getting anywhere. I have to know where she is. If she’s been taken, or-“ He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Or killed. You must understand I can only find. I cannot intervene or change what has happened.”

“I understand. But I have to know.”

“Do you have something of hers?”

Gary fumbled in his pocket and brought out the silver daisy-chain bracelet Alice had liked to wear.

“Give it to the robot.”

Gary held the bracelet out and the robot took it in polished wooden fingers. Gary felt his heart clench as the robot carried it to the chair and the bit of silver — all that remained of his daughter — disappeared behind the imposing leathery surface.

The chain clinked as the Abbot held it. Gary closed his eyes and wondered what creature sat in the chair, what claws-or-tentacles-or-decaying-flesh played with the bracelet. His mother had told him the fairy-tale; the ancient story of a creature nobody had ever seen, a creature blind to the darkness and ruin it lived in and yet capable of seeing everything in the world.

The tale always changed in the telling, but the central motif remained the same. Somebody lost something precious and went to the Abbot to ask him to find it. The Abbot warned them the price would be high and located the missing object. Several days later they had to give payment. Almost always the Abbot took something the person wished to give up even less than the object that had been lost in the first place. Family heirlooms were found, but the family taken. Runaway pets returned home, but the home torn away.

Gary could not imagine anything in the world he would prefer to his daughter, returned safe.

“She lives,” the Abbot said.

Gary sagged with relief. Tears sprang to his eyes. “Thank God! But where?”

“With her mother.”

“Her mother?”


She lay curled up on the bed, sound asleep despite everything, her hand interlocked with Gary’s. Gary sat by her, stroking her blond hair. They had found her drinking water from the dog bowl. Her mother had taken a knife to one of the police officers.

A clunk at the window.

I’ll never let her take you again, Gary promised her. I’ll keep you safe, no matter what.

Clunk. Harder this time.

Gary gently unwrapped Alice’s fingers from his own and stood up.

Clunk. No doubting the knock’s urgency now. The next one would smash the window. Gary hurried over to the window and pulled the curtain back.

The blank, polished wooden head of the Blind Abbot’s robot stared back at him.

Gary pulled the window open. The robot held out an envelope in those slender mahogany fingers. Sweat collected in the hollow of his back.

He opened the envelope with shaking fingers. The letter inside simply said PAYMENT DUE in red capitals.

“What do I have to do?” Gary asked the robot. It tipped its head to one side, raised its hand and made a beckoning motion.

“I can’t leave her alone.”

The robot beckoned again.

“Alright. Give me… give me fifteen minutes.”

Gary pulled the curtain back across and checked Alice still slept. Closing the door softly behind him, he went into the hallway and called his neighbour, Penelope. A good sort, and the only one who knew he’d been to visit the Blind Abbot.

“Pen? I’m sorry for calling so late, but I need your help. Will you come and watch Alice for me?”

Penelope turned up five minutes later, wrapped in a dressing gown and wearing an enormous pair of fuzzy pink slippers. Gary let her in, glad the robot stayed out of sight. He didn’t want to scare her.

She gave his arm a sympathetic squeeze as she came in the house. Gary pulled on his coat and stepped outside. The night air carried a bitter chill.

The robot glided smoothly around the corner of the house. Gary followed it, jogging to keep up. Dark houses lined deserted streets. Gary already knew where their destination, so it did not surprise him when they left the town behind and struck out into the dark countryside towards the Abbot’s crumbling stone mansion. Up the shadowy path, through the hallway cluttered with broken artworks, and into the library. Once again Gary’s gaze flicked to the ancient books, but the dust stood so thickly along the spines he could not read the titles.

“Your payment is due,” the Blind Abbot said.

“I know.” Gary wiped the sweat from his forehead. “What will you take?”


Gary fumbled the key in the lock, and felt relief sweep through him when he stepped across the threshold. Home at last. Shrugging off his jacket he went into the kitchen and grabbed a can of coke out of the fridge. He popped the tab and took a swallow when he heard someone walking across the hallway.

“What the hell?” Gary grabbed the first thing to hand, a rolling pin — a rolling pin? Since when had he owned a rolling pin? — and stole forward to apprehend the intruder.

“Gary?”

Penny, his neighbour, blinked at him in confusion. She wore a dressing gown and slippers. Had he invited her to spend the night? Gary felt the start of a headache form behind his eyes.

“Penny? What are you doing here?”

“You asked me here to watch Alice, remember?”

“Alice? Who’s Alice?”