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:

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?”

The Hand of Doom: A Lovecraftian flashfiction

This is a flashfiction that I wrote back in March, and never ended up posting. It was in response to the Terribleminds SUPER-ULTRA-MEGA GAME OF ASPECTS challenge.

  • Subgenre: Lovecraftian
  • Setting: An Opium Den
  • Conflict: Political Maneuvering!
  • Aspect: A severed hand
  • Theme: Chaos always trumps order

The Hand of Doom

“You’ve brought the thing?”

Abraham Marlow threw the brown-paper wrapped package onto the low table next to the hookah. He sank down onto the tasselled, faded cushion and looked around warily. Marlow didn’t belong here. Lithe, blond, tan; he rippled with good health and clean living. The opium smoke, hanging in thick blue clouds around every table, made him flare his nostrils and choke back a cough.

I sucked on the end of my pipe, tasting the bitter-sweet drug. Smiled. I, unlike Marlow, did belong here. Sallow, greasy, small and pot-bellied. This was my territory, not his and I revelled in his discomfort.

Reaching forward, I peeled back a corner of paper from the package. Three fingers, white with death, the nails embedded with crusty blood. A gold signet ring that proclaimed the owner’s identity. I took the prints quickly and checked that they matched.

“You got the money?” Marlow wanted out of this place. He’d done his job – a grim, unpleasant job – and now he wanted to get back to his ordered life. He had a beautiful wife and two small children. If he was discovered here, the scandal could ruin him.

“How did you do it?”

Guilt in his brown eyes. Poor boy. He’d never square this act away with the image he had of himself. Successful, healthy businessmen with families did not commit murder. They did not bring severed hands to dingy opium dens. But he had. Would it eat away at him, this foul deed, until, mad with shame, he ended his life? Or would he push the deed away, to some dark corner of the mind where it would fester and stink, the rotting memory poisoning every aspect of his life?

“When he was swimming, like you said. In the sea. I swam out to him and stabbed him. He drowned quick enough.”

I slid the briefcase across the table. One hundred thousand dollars this Governor’s life had cost me. A bargain.

Marlow opened the case and looked at the notes blankly. He shut it again quickly. His gambling mistakes would be wiped clean with this little fortune. One hundred thousand dollars to settle his ledger and return to his ordered life. I blew a smoke ring. Marlow was haloed in a soft light and left trails of movement behind him that faded softly into the blue air.

“Can you at least tell me why?” Marlow stood up, clutching the briefcase.

“Oh… for fun.” I smiled, enjoying his disquiet. “Take care now.”

I watched him leave. He had killed the Governor, and he went now back to normality. Out of the smoke, to settle his debts and pretend none of this had ever happened.

I picked up the severed hand and stood up. My legs shook a little under me. Opium was a hard drug to take in moderation. It blurred the lines between this world and the next. I saw death, sometimes, standing next to me. His skull wreathed in smoke, drifting through those empty eye sockets like snakes.

I stumbled upstairs to my private room. The air here mercifully cool and clean. I opened a window and tried to let my head clear. The hand was the last ingredient, the hand of an honest man. The Governor had been an honest man. Perhaps the last honest man left in politics.

I went to the table where the book lay. Bound in pale leather, the text writhing unnaturally across it. There were, perhaps, a handful of men in the world that could translate that spidery text. The alphabet, after all, is a system of order – a method by which we take loose, unformed concepts and bind them into named entities. Such binding is the antithesis of the ideas this book contained. So a writing system had to be invented, one that did not bind concepts but let them flow, so that the text became a mirror, a conversation between reader and book that left both of them changed.

I dropped the hand next to the other items. Powdered horn from the last black rhino that had lived. A vial containing H1N1. A fragment of dinosaur bone that I had stolen from a museum. My hands shaking, I began the ritual, words bubbling up from the cavernous place in my soul where He lived.

He lives in all of us, even in Marlow, who runs ten miles three times a week and sticks to a careful ratio of macronutrients in every meal. He took Marlow to Vegas, not often but often enough. And so He makes Himself known.

Marlow is home now, hugging his wife. Sitting down to a lovely dinner. His girls beam at him. He feels relieved, his debts are settled. He resolves never to gamble again. A resolve that may last a day, a week, a decade, but a resolve that will be broken as surely as death.

Not that it matters. Be delivering the hand to me he has settled the fates of every human being on earth. My mouth shapes the guttural words, they twist in my mouth, burning my tongue.

A wind with no origin springs up in my room. It rattles the windows, flings papers to the ground, and slams open the leather-bound book on my desk, rifling through the pages greedily. I see the scattered letters, writhing, changing shape, blurring before my eyes. I hear a sound, like nothing I have ever heard before, the kind of sound that might be produced by giant crickets sawing their legs in a frenetic non-rhythm. There is something hideous in it, a bone-crunching violent undertone that makes me squirm. My chant wavers, losing its sonorous resonance, breaking down into shrill stutterings. I can taste blood. The wind has stopped rifling through the pages of the book, it lays open now. The ink is stretching and reforming before me. Everything else is falling into shadow.

I look at what is written and terror engulfs me. I have made a terrible mistake. The words are stark and fixed, showing me exactly how badly I have misunderstood. The noise surrounds me, fills my ears, I am lost in the roaring, crunching chaos of noise.

 

The fire that swept through Forty-Second Street on the 27 April, killing twenty three people, was started in an opium den. Investigators say that the speed and strength of the blaze is still unexplained, but that the fire began on the second floor of the drug haven at around 10.20pm when a man known only as Curwen set light to some unidentified objects in his private room. Curwen himself survived the fire, and has been remanded to a mental institution.

Doctor Lucy Miles, who is treating Curwen, was unavailable for comment.

Article from the Sunday Times, 1 March 1987

 

The death of the late Governor Patham has been ruled an accident, following a three week investigation. Authorities recovered his body, and it was apparent that he had drowned at sea after being pulled out by a strong current. An election has been called for the 10 May. Abraham Marlow, successful businessman and father of two, announced he would be standing as a candidate. “This great city has helped me thrive, and it is my desire to see it thrive in turn.”

Article from the New Herald 10 March 1987

 

 

Photo credits: pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of goldastique and cellardoor_

Tropical Madness

Written for the I’ve Chosen Your Words Terrible Minds flash fiction challenge

I had to use ten of the following words. Can you spot which ones I used? Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.

Veronica stepped through the litter of smashed bird cages. Bent wire twisted along the ground beneath her feet. Lifting her dress, she stepped over the glittering remains of a glass water dish that had smashed against the concrete floor. A dove lay sprawled and bloody, one wing punctured with wire, raised in a salute.

“They’re all dead,” D’Emanuele said. She could hear the fever in his voice; a sweaty whine that lingered in the humid air. She looked to him, watched him draw out a linen handkerchief and mop his face. It quickly soaked through, and he dropped the sodden material with an exclamation of disgust. “This bloody heat! We shouldn’t have come here.”

“We came here for you,” she said. She looked back down at the dove. Now that she looked closer she could see the feathers were crawling with tiny fleas. “I wonder what happened. Do you think Mistress Daze is gone?”

“She had to have been some kind of crazy, trying to keep all these birds.” D’Emanuele leaned against the door frame. Veronica watched him covertly, saw him struggling to draw his breath. She knew he longed for England and for Sarah. She gently touched a finger to the locket at her throat. She knew that longing. Continue reading Tropical Madness

Connected

Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Brand New Monster at Terribleminds.

Harris lifted a hand to his head, groaning. Beside him, Sarah rolled over. “Feeling it, are you?” she asked without sympathy. Each word struck like an axe, and synapses screamed.

“Coffee?” Harris asked. One hand scrubbed across dry, gritty eyes, the other twitched on the cover of their bed. His wife snored; too theatrically to be real. Sighing, Harris clambered out of bed, and squinted at the bedroom door. His legs trembled; his tongue, furry and swollen, tasted like it had started to rot in his mouth.

“Shit,” Harris said.

“You kept me up until twenty past four,” Sarah said.

“Sorry, honey.” Harris stumbled to the door, creaked it open and picked his way down the stairs. They had a small house, him and Sarah, but it was clean, homely, and he had never been jealous of his friends as they had moved up the corporate ladder, buying bigger and bigger houses, but spending less and less time in them. Yawning, he went to the kitchen and started changing the filter in the coffee machine. The kitchen table was covered with empty cans. His stomach turned over at the smell of stale beer and he quickly looked out the window.

He saw a body, sprawled halfway down the stone stairs that led down to the road. Continue reading Connected