Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween or Samhain. I have pumpkins to carve and candles to light tonight. But right now I feel like a scary story…

Trick, Not Treat

When the electricity failed, Pat was plunged into darkness and was not aware of anything except for the suspicion of a noise out on the porch. He froze, hands suspended above the keyboard, not sure if he had heard anything. It was so dark in the windowless office that he couldn’t see any light at all. Not only that but, with dawning horror, Pat realised he hadn’t been saving the work he’d been steadily crawling through. When had been the last time? Just after tea? That must have been at least three hours ago. He just hoped the computer had backed up some of it. He hoped. Slamming a hand down on the keyboard he jumped as there was an answering bang from the porch.

“What the?” he asked the quiet room, his voice echoing. Getting up and walking like a recently dead zombie with hands stretched out in front of him he stumbled from the office and into the hallway. For Christ’s sake this was his own house. Why the hell didn’t he know that the hall table would be there? Limping a little from a bruised toe he shuffled onwards. Near the front door he heard a scratching sound followed by a thump. He thought back to last night and, sitting alone, watching Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Halloween’, appropriate, he had considered, for the thirtieth of October. A classic. But he couldn’t help but smile, realising that just like the heroine he had yelled at last night, he was stumbling in a dark house toward the creepy sound. Luckily he wasn’t a young girl but a six-foot twenty something. Still, he knew that should he find a mask encrusted serial killer he probably would scream like a girl and run.

Reaching the telephone table next to the front door, Pat pulled open the small drawer and fumbled for the torch that he was sure he put in there a week or so ago, just in case. Letting out an impromptu cheer as he found it he switched it on. A weak beam fled out of the thin device, lighting a small section of the hall. Not brilliant but it would do. Okay, now he had some options, should he open the door, or should he just run and hide? In the circumstances Pat was fairly certain Jamie would run to the darkest part of the house and hide whilst creepy music led the killer to her location. Luckily he could hear no music, but he could just make out a scratching noise, like a man with a boat hook dragging the tip back and forth across the wooden steps outside. Rotating his shoulders Pat tried to dispel the tension that had locked up the muscles of his back, but as his hand reached toward the front door he couldn’t stop the slight shake that made the light wobble.

Quick, I’ll do this quick, then if there is anyone there I will surprise them. Pat froze, hand on the doorknob. What if someone is there? A tentative voice asked. Don’t be so silly, he answered himself, this is not a horror movie and the only scary thing happening is that you are talking to yourself in different bloody voices. Pat grinned into the darkness and pulled open the door, not expecting anything but ready for action. This meant that as he opened the door quickly and aggressively he was in a half crouch and ready to pounce.

A hedgehog.

“A hedgehog,” Pat muttered, looking down at the terrified animal that was scrabbling and trying to get away. Somehow the little critter had got caught in the boot scraper. Relaxing his stance Pat squatted next to the now frantic creature. “Now, how did you get in there?” he asked. Carefully he put down the torch and lifted the heavy wrought iron contraption, an unwanted Christmas present from some uncle or aunt. The hedgehog took off and was quickly out of the reach of the torch.

Pat stood and looked up and down the street. There were only three houses in this stretch; his own and the two opposite. Neither had lights on that he could see. From the house directly opposite he could hear the frantic screaming of a baby. The young couple were new to the area and only a week ago they had become parents. Suddenly, the door flew open and the new father shot out and straight next door, his own torch beam laying a hasty path before him. Strange, Pat thought.

All that went through Josh’s head was the need for hot water. The power had gone off just as he’d switched on the kettle to give little Bill his feed. He knew that perhaps bottle feeding was considered bad but unfortunately Maria’s milk had never come in. Until that moment as the power shut off, he hadn’t realised just how dependent their lives had become on the kettle and that power switch. Now Maria was in tears and pacing with little Bill, trying to get him to stop the panicky sounds. And it was all Josh’s fault. If he hadn’t been five minutes late then they would be, at this moment, sitting cosily on the sofa and giggling about Bill’s first power cut experience. They’d been doing that a lot; first wind, first rain, first blanket. Except that because he’d needed to watch the end of the movie, although he practically knew the script of the damned movie, now he was rushing to Mrs Cullen, their elderly next door neighbour, their only next door neighbour. Mrs Cullen was so old-fashioned that she hadn’t changed from solid fuel. Yesterday he and Maria had laughed at the old woman as they watched from the upstairs window as she spread ash over her back garden path. Now she could be a life saver.

Reaching Mrs Cullen’s door, Josh knocked. “Hello?” He paused, waiting for an answer. Please be in, he thought. “Mrs Cullen?” he called. There was an answer – a groan. “Mrs Cullen? Are you alright?” he asked and at the same time pushed at the front door.

Surprisingly, it swung open. Josh stepped inside and back in time. The whole place was caught in the 1940s, everything in drab browns. Yet he was surprised to see no stairs in front of him; his own and this house were meant to be carbon copies but obviously the insides were very different.

“Mrs Cullen?”

A muffled moan came from where he thought the kitchen was. He walked in and there along the far wall sat a black rayburn. And from the warmth in the kitchen it was on. But there was no sign of Mrs Cullen.

“Mrs Cullen?”

A moan, from a cupboard?

Either side of the rayburn sat what appeared to be two full length cupboards. They reached the ceiling and stopped about a foot above the floor. Oddly, the one on the right appeared to be moaning.

“Mrs Cullen?”

Yep, the right one was moaning, which meant it held an injured Mrs Cullen. Who had put her in the cupboard? Josh put the bottle down on an ancient table and took a stance not unlike Pat’s as he had opened the front door, except he threw open the cupboard door and was confronted by stairs. Obviously, without the light from his torch, the stair well would have been completely black. On the floor, directly in front of him and mashed into the stair well, was Mrs Cullen. Blood had seeped from under her bobble hat and her limbs appeared to be twisted, especially her left leg. Josh dropped to his knees and shone the torch directly in her face.

“No,” she whispered. It was a fragile voice very unlike her usual strident tones.

“Sorry.” Josh lowered the torch beam. “Mrs Cullen, what happened?” he asked, feeling for her pulse.

“Fell,” she groaned in obvious pain.

Josh found her pulse but it was quick and not as strong as he expected, but then his doctoring experience only extended to colds and holding his wife’s hand during labour. She had a powerful grip.

“Mrs Cullen, I need a phone.”

The old lady raised an arm and revealing, clenched tightly in her hand, a cordless phone. Then Josh remembered her saying that her daughter had insisted on getting one. Which of course was great if she fell, unless the power was out. Still, Josh took the dead phone and gazed at it.

“No power,” he said. “It won’t work.” Looking round he tried to see an old-fashioned phone. “The old phone…”

“Gone.”

“Shit,” he said. “Look, I gotta go get help.”

Mrs Cullen looked at him and he saw the determination enter her eyes. “I know.”

Josh nodded and left, taking the torch. “I’ll be back in just a moment.”

“Hurry.”

Josh stormed out of the house and saw Pat standing on his porch. “Do you have a phone?”

“What?”

“A phone?”

“Yes,” he said, stupid question. “Why?”

Josh sprinted across the road barely missing a van that had to swerve to miss him, stalling in the process. For a moment he looked at the two men in the van and then hurried across the road. At the same time Maria came out of the house with a screaming Bill in her arms.

“Jesus!” the driver said.

“Fuck yes,” the passenger exclaimed.

Putting the van into first gear the two men pulled away.

“What do you think that was all about?” Simon asked.

“Dunno,” Frank answered.  “Mad folk live in these rural places.”

“True,” Simon said looking at the commotion behind him in the wing mirror. “Genius plan though, mate. Bringing down a tree to get the electric cable. Pure genius.”

“I know, mate,” Frank answered, a smug smile on his face. “Should get a few quid for the scrap metal.”

“Sweet.”

The first Nanowrimo meeting and a re-plan

I was cool, I was organised, I was calm… I am lying. No, the first meeting was good, despite the fact I organised it in the middle of a demonstration and the university open day. Okay, that was bad planning as we all sat looking at each other whilst a huge group of people moved around us all yelling in Welsh. I think it was about the Welsh hall of residence closing. At the same time the open day of the university was being held in the same place so there were a lot of scared looking kids wandering about.

Apart from that six of us turned up and we all got talking. Some of what was discussed was about the writing but it was also about software, plot lines and movies (and TV series). It was great fun. I posed the question on a whim – Are you writing a stand alone or a series?

Everyone knew and I pondered on it. I think the book is a stand alone but it is open-ended so it has the potential to become more than one. Another question was what age group are you writing for? I immediately said adult… And then I thought – why?

This will be the only book I am planning to write for adults and I’m not sure it will work. I love writing for children and young adults – I find that my writing is freer. So I have decided to change the age-range. It is now about a seventeen year old. And she doesn’t have a lover but a mentor and support worker to help with her dyslexia.

To get around the fact I am not going to be in the police incident room I am taking a page out of Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ and going to use transcripts from the interview room. Hopefully that will work.

Now though I’ve got to get back to the planning. I’ve changed so much that I feel like I’m starting with a blank page. Plenty of time though – November doesn’t start yet… I have until Friday!

Gulp…

The Golden Hour

barn_owlI know the Golden Hour is meant to be 6 am but for me it isn’t. I live in the countryside, which I suppose means I ought to be up at the crack of dawn and listening to the morning chorus, but the song I love happens much later.

Do you know that a barn owl makes no sound? I know because I’ve stood with a barn owl next to me at shoulder height and I wouldn’t have noticed but for the movement of the wings. It occurred in that in-between time. When it isn’t day but it isn’t night. When the world becomes a supernatural place of purple shadows and defused light. That is my golden hour.

Except that if you go our at 1 am you can see the bats flying. Where I live they come in all sizes and in the summer to autumn will swoop around the light from the back, catching insects.

You can hear our little owl and tawny owl argue over a small plot of ground. The scream of a caught mouse and the cry of a fox. My chorus occurs at night.

We live in a area with no light pollution and I can stand outside and be surrounded by stars. It is as if you can reach out a hand and touch them, thousands of them.

I am a night person and as a result I won’t see 6 am, but I don’t mind because I get to hear the dark and it’s many secrets.

The painting is one of my illustrations. Watercolour on paper.

Writing Buddies

The Myslexia magazine for women writers are asking for writing buddies – basically pictures of animals that keep you company whilst you write. The only problem is that I lost mine on the Monday. She had a long life filled with smallholding antics and sitting in the sun whilst the keyboard tapped away. Now there is a gap. My cat is trying, but he just wants to be there. He has no plot point suggestions or character development answers.

I miss her. Together we would go through all the problems and she would give me a look as if to say – why you looking at me? I’m a dog.

So I am having issues with writing. It’s hard and although I am getting there it does feel like I am having to force myself to do it. You see I look up and smile and she isn’t there. But I am determined to carry on. I will write but at the moment it is hard.

Mel (Welsh for honey)

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Time (short story told from two perspectives)

I have never done a dp challenge but I’m going to give it a go. This is a story told from two pints of view.

First point-of-view

Time

Time is odd, always present. The ticking of my wristwatch tells me it is passing but looking at time would be looking at nothing. I’ve seen time-lapse videos that show the stars moving in the heavens and the sun arriving and leaving, but I have never seen a minute.

I’m sitting in the café we used to frequent, the one next to the gas station, the one you would complain was too quiet. Even now it is quiet, just the waitress standing next to the coffee machine looking into her phone. It’s the old-fashioned feel I love about this gas station. I always imagine a guy in 1950’s slacks, white shirt and waistcoat reaching for the pump.

“What’s he look like?” you’d ask.

“Dashing and handsome,” I replied.

“Really, so nothing like you then…” And you would giggle behind a long-fingered hand, nails in sharp red to match your jacket.

I’d look peeved, and in truth I was. This banter was just between us but sometime it hurt. And instantly my imaginary man would become six inches shorter with an aggressively receding hairline, in other words my father.

“Don’t take on so,” you’d say and I’d smile, but I knew it never reached my eyes. They say that if you tell someone something over and over again eventually it becomes a truth. It did with me. Although I don’t wear the waistcoat I am a far cry from the young twenty-something you knew. And I do look like my father, but that is just appearance.

This café is also like a step back in time, with fifties style table top and stools. The pumps outside are still shiny and red with white round tops. Only the waitress and I have lost our shine. She looks tired and bored. She reminds me of you the last time I saw you. It was here, at this table. You sat opposite me and told me of your fears.

“It’s not you, it’s me.” But as you said it you didn’t meet my eyes. You looked everywhere but at me. I knew then that it was my fault.

“But…”

“No, Sam, I have to leave.”

I sat there and waited for you to explain. But you didn’t. I still don’t know why you left, I always put the seat down and I never hit you. Maybe I was a little distant, but I’m just not good with emotion.

Well, happy anniversary. Every year I come back and every year you surprise me by not walking through the door and sitting opposite me, turning your deep brown eyes to mine and smiling. “I made a mistake,” you say in my mind and I smile and take hold of your hands.

“Will you take me back?” you ask tentatively and I squeeze your hands in reassurance.

“No,” I say. “I have a wife and three children.”

Then I get up and walk out. They say that revenge is best served cold and I have mine on ice so that the day you walk through that door I can leave you, my first love, my 1950’s bride.

*       *      *       *       *

2nd point-of-view

Time

The waitress looked up as an older man came into the cafe. Behind her the cook glanced up and gave a sad smile.

“What?” Melissa asked.

“See to the customer,” he snapped.

Melissa loved working in the cafe, although after the night she just had she could have done with a late start. She had tried to swap with Claire but she was having none of it. No one wanted the early morning shift. It was early, and it also got deadly dull after the breakfast rush. Melissa had another hour before the end of her shift and it couldn’t come sooner. At least her head had stopped throbbing, but she could do with some shut-eye before she went out again.

Melissa smiled at the man sitting at one of the tables, his eyes glued to the door.

“What can I get you?”

The man switched his gaze to her. “Mug of coffee and apple pie.” He didn’t look at the menu which Melissa found odd. She was sure she had not seen him before, yet he was ordering like a regular. She was about to open her mouth to ask about ice cream when the man shook his head. “Neither.”

Melissa gave a small puzzled grin and went back to the counter. “He wants apple pie,” she told Doyle. He nodded and got to work while she made the coffee.

Taking the coffee and pie she set it in front of the man. “Waiting for someone?”

The man didn’t look away from the door. “Yes.”

For a moment Melissa waited but the man said nothing more and sipped his coffee. From the hatch behind the counter Doyle waved her over.

“So what’s his story?” she whispered.

“How long you been here?”

“6 months.”

“Then this is the first time you’ve seen heart-break,” Doyle whispered.

“Heart-break?”

“Every year he comes and sits. He will be here an hour and then leave.”

“Okay,” Melissa said. “Why?”

“Eight years ago that is what I asked the cook. I was in training. And he said that ten years before he,” Doyle gestured to the man, “had a fight with his girl. She got up and walked out. Turns out she finished it with him.”

“So every year he comes here?”

“Yes, the odd thing is that he sometimes comes with his wife and kids,” Doyle said.

“He still comes despite being married?”

“Yep, every year, on this day, for an hour.”

Melissa turned back to the man and watched as he continued to sit. The hour ticked by, the time tracked by shadows and the minute hand. When the hour was up he stood. As he came up to pay and Melissa gave him a sympathetic smile. “They didn’t turn up?”

The man glanced at her, taking in her tired face and messy hair. “No.” he didn’t smile.

Behind her Melissa heard Claire arrive. She turned and watched as Claire walked up. Then she turned back to the man. He was gone as if he had never been there. The money was in a neat pile on the counter. There was no tip.

“Who was that?” Claire asked.

“No one,” Melissa said.

Sad but True

This is from the daily prompt and you can see what others have written here.

This is from my artist days. Straight out of school I went to study for an art foundation, a basic grounding in all aspects of art. I love to draw, so that is where I went at my own choice, into drawing class.

paint brushesWe where sat isolated from each other by a strip of grey lino, the class looked more like exam conditions than an art class. Music was on but the tables were clustered around a still life. It had been set up in the center of the room and the tables radiated out like a sun’s rays in a child’s drawing. We sat attentively as the lecturer came in.

“I want you to draw the still life, you have two days.” He then left.

Some of us got down to work immediately whilst others bunked off. After lunch the lecturer came back.

“This is part of your grade.”

That got everyone working. We threw ourselves into producing the best drawing we could. I used pen, pencils and washes of water-colour to create a vase and leaves. There was paint and mixed media all over the place. The concentration was like a fog in the air.

On the third day we all sat proudly displaying our art on the tables. The lecturer walks in.

“Please pick up your paper by the top.”

We all did.

“No rip it down the middle.”

No one moved. Silence.

“Do it.”

First one and then another until the room sounded with paper being torn.

“Tear it into pieces.”

We did.

“Why?” Some one asked.

“Because it is only paper.”

“No,” one girl sobbed looking at the rubble that had been her best work. “It was a piece of me.”

“Only to you. To me it was paper. And that is how the art world looks at your work. Your masterpiece is only valuable if others want to look at it.”

We all went on to create more work from those pieces but I never forgot the lesson. What is a story if no one reads it? The hardest lesson I ever learnt in writing is that you are not a true writer until someone wants to read it and put it safe, be that on a shelf or in cloud storage. A writer is defined by their readers.