Saturday 30 May 2009


There's Sin In That Grin

It was synchronised perfection. Marty smiled and his reflection kept pace. He Elvis'd both sides of his upper lip to make sure that the length and breadth of his grin was the purest alabaster.

He slipped into bed. The steady breaths of Katie heralded her slumber. He thought of waking her. Somewhere between Marty nipping to do his teeth and returning she had managed to read two chapters of a book and compose a lengthy shopping list before tiredness took over. Marty didn't mind so much as he settled down to sleep, he had something great, he had a smile that Hollywood's finest would give their right bollock for.

The toilet being flushed woke him up. The clock told him it was shy on four a.m. He closed his eyes and tried to return to that void known as sleep. He knew sleep would be fashionably late as he couldn't shake off his growing anger. Katie got back into bed.
"You just take a dump?" he asked.
"Oh sweet Jesus, not again," her tone was one of tolerated annoyance with her petty and petulant husband. "No, I've just come-on thanks," she made a nest out of the pillow and tried to make her head disappear into it, knowing full well that Marty wouldn't be done and back to sleep until he'd done his prissy little set-piece.
"You know the plumbing's trashed and it takes nearly an hour for the cistern to settle down. Now I won't be able to sleep all because you flushed."
"Night dear, sorry dear," that was said on auto-pilot as she was almost back into the world of dreams. Marty decided to treat his tongue to a lap around his mouth. His tongue applied the brakes fast. The tongue probed, it prodded, it tried to dislodge whatever had gotten into its road. Marty bolted upright. It could be only one thing, food debris. He had a piece of sneaky food debris hiding out between his teeth. He was on his way to the bathroom in a flash. Food debris had a sister, her name was Plaque and she was a filthy crack-whore that ruined smiles with her tooth A.I.D's.

He made short work of evicting the offending morsel. His brow creased. Meat, pink meat. He squashed it between thumb and forefinger, released the pressure and watched it return to its original size. The part that puzzled him was they hadn't eaten meat at dinner. It had been rabbit-food Tuesday. And lunch, he'd skipped lunch as some joker at the office had hidden his tooth-brush. He toyed with it some more, pure unadulterated fear erupted across his face. Was it a bit of his gum? Had disease set in? Had he leprosy of the gob. He rinsed with mouthwash and performed a check. No, perfect, just as he had known it would be. Marty sat on the can to think. It couldn't be ignored any more. Three months on the trot this had happened. Unknown meat finding its way into his pegs whilst he slept. His eyes narrowed. Was Katie fooling around and playing pranks? No, she wouldn't dare. She'd said it herself, how he loved himself over her. So she knew he'd not stand for such foolishness. He brushed his teeth and returned to bed. Katie was restless. She sat up holding her stomach.

"I hate periods. And you know what, this time I really thought I was pregnant," her voice was wistful. Marty stared at her through the darkness. He didn't want kids. What would happen to his own life and regime if one of those screaming, shitting machines pitched up. Katie loathed it with each monthly game of chase the cotton mouse. Marty looked forward to it. He closed his eyes and returned to the void. He never dreamt, to dream there needed to be a soul.

Katie woke up in a sweat with an unaired scream malingering in her mouth. Her brow was wet with sweat and her upper lip a home to beads of perspiration. She hated nightmares. It was the same one she'd had for the last few months. She looked to Marty, peacefully asleep. Unawares that Katie had just dreamt that he had pushed his head into her belly and bitten down hard with his perfect teeth. A psychologist would tell her that it was just her way of allocating blame for not being pregnant. She touched his face and removed herself from the bed. Her bleeding was heavy and she needed another pit-stop.

She was about to turn the tap on when she noticed a small piece of what might have been meat skulking by the plughole. She prodded it. It felt soft and springy. They'd had three bean salad for dinner. She looked at the wall, seeing through it with her imagination. Marty sleeping there, a wide clown grin smeared across his face.

Marty wanted to scream but couldn't as he was choking on teeth. He managed to see a glint of sparkle as some adventurous bit of light danced upon the orb of the ball-pein hammer as it came down for a second go at demolishing his winning smile then all went dark as Marty swallowed his grin.
BIO: Lee Hughes lives and works on the Isle of Man with his wife and two fish. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel. His short fiction is to appear or has appeared in the upcoming Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 by Megazanthus Press, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers and A Twist of Noir.


TKnC welcomes Angel from across the pond...

An Inverted View of Wives

The crystal ball arrived for me in the mail with no return address on the box. It was a relatively small sphere with an ornate gold-plated base. I couldn’t figure out who would send me such a gift.

I placed it on the kitchen table and sat down before it. My wife, Rachel stormed into the room and stopped short. Her mouth fell open. She locked her earrings in place and smoothed out the subtle wrinkles in her skirt.

“You order that from one of those late-night infomercials?” She wasn’t happy. “I can tell you what your future holds,” she flashed predatory teeth. “A wife with her bags packed walking out that front door.”

“I don’t know where it came from,” I sighed. “You know I wouldn’t spend any unnecessary money given our current finances.”

Two months earlier, I had been laid off from a job I loved, building tractors. My options in the town we lived in were limited. I was collecting unemployment.

“Well, I’m glad you have time to play with toys.” Rachel sneered and tapped the glass surface with a perfectly manicured fingernail. “Some of us have to work for a living.”

She grabbed her car keys off the microwave and slammed the door behind her. A moment later, I heard our SUV crank up and blast out of the driveway.

I propped my elbows up and rested my head in my hands.

“What am I supposed to do now?” I spoke aloud.

Suddenly, a gray fog began to materialize in the center of the crystal ball. Details were slowly spinning and sharpening into flickering images. With growing clarity, the ghostly shape of my wife talking on her cell phone danced before my eyes. She was behind the steering wheel careening side to side on the expressway. Riding shotgun was a good buddy of mine, Steve who lived up the street. He had his mouth buried in my wife’s neck and she was giggling.

Perspective dissolved to the exterior of the vehicle. There was a close-up of the rear, left tire exploding. Rachel swerved, jumped the median, and catapulted into on-coming traffic. The surreal visual culminated with my wife’s lifeless eyes and Steve’s shattered skull.

Within the globe, the misty vapor blossomed into a scarlet prism. Dusky, red light faded to ebony glitter.

I was angry, shocked, frightened.

I tried calling my wife on her cell phone. After several rings she finally picked up.

“What do you want?” She huffed and quietly shushed her passenger. “I’m busy driving here.”

“Uh, sorry.” My heart was jack-hammering. “I was worried about you.”

“Worried about what?”

“I saw you in the crystal ball.” I knew it sounded crazy. “And you were in this—”

“Are you out of your mind, Larry?”

“No. Listen to me.”

“No. You listen to me! I have had just about enough of your bull—”

There was a loud bang followed by screams of terror.

I strained my ear against the phone, but there was only an uncomfortable silence. My hands trembled. I wiped away tears and seized that evil orb with all the intentions of pitching it across the room. At the very last moment, I felt the malevolent object emit a gentle pulse of heat. I paused and set it cautiously back down.

Swirling rivulets of sapphire rain sparkled along the smooth, inner walls and transmitted yet another startling revelation.

In this vision I was laughing, hand in hand with an unknown woman. She was beautiful. She had hair the color of campfire flames and olive green eyes. We ran down the cement stairs of a church and dozens of friends and family blew bubbles over our heads. We dove into a white limousine and drove off into the sunset with aluminum cans rattling from the rear bumper. The prediction gradually melted into a clear transparency of the inverted kitchen.

The static of a dead phone line broke me from my temporary stasis.

My wife and Steve were dead. There were arrangements to be made.

Leaning in, I noticed there was a faint inscription etched around the border of the decorative base.

I see great things in store for you, it read, Love, your future wife.

I was really looking forward to meeting her.

Angel Zapata was born in NYC, but currently resides just outside of Augusta, Georgia. Some of his flash fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming on Powder Burn Flash, Doorknobs & Bodypaint, Tales from the Moonlit Path, Every Day Poets, Membra Disjecta, Flashes in the Dark, and The Absent Willow Review. He is husband to his blond goddess and father of four boys obsessed with all things ninja. Visit his blog at:

Wednesday 27 May 2009


Talkbacker, 'Dwight', the latest newcomer...

Endless Loss

Commander Kalvin Patterson knew more or less to the second when radio contact would be broken with Houston. He tried the normal back-up, then switched off the whole bank of air-ground systems and switched them on again. No difference. Holy shit; this means there’s nothing Dan, Ciara or anyone at Mission Control Centre could do to obstruct his plan. And he fought to prevent the smile from bursting onto his lips.

The CCTV panel the same: every screen was dead. No visual surveillance whatsoever. He turned to look full into Dan’s helmet. Looking pretty anxious, was he, huh? But out-of-his-head too. He picked up Chiko in his gloved fist, gave him a stroke of the finger over his smiling face, and showed their lucky saviour to his Number Two. “He’s gonna look after us in this crisis, buddy,” he said in his self-contained helmet, “like he always has done until now.”

He chuckled to himself. Yeah, the little chimp had done his work well: smuggling aboard the sedative in his tummy pouch. The fuckin’ little hero.

Kal told Dan they would still be able to do their walk. No contact. He tried different settings for their audio link: they would inspect for external damage to heat tiles: nose and front wing-edges. But no response, as planned. He floated, helmet to helmet, and gestured: we’re gonna press on with our extra-vehicular inspection in spite of these failures. Kal knew MCC would refresh the systems. In 136minutes, to be precise. He pushed off towards the hatch and tugged on the rope. Yeah, it was secure, but poor Dan McConnery hadn’t moved.

“Time to go, buddy,” said Kal, pushing back to him. It became a wrestling bout, like old times... hundreds of times... only this time they rolled in slow motion. The slow roll put memories into his mind: college, their years together through Airforce Academy... and three years with NASA; but then his thoughts met Ciara and his stomach tightened into the usual hatred.

And Dan? He wouldn’t be thinking anything, coherently.

So light and pliable for a guy of 184 pounds. Slowly rotating, flipping an arm or a leg like a fish in the middle of a matt metal tank. Kal was grinning now, as he detached the EMU from its bracket and turned Dan into position. All those practice session in his private operations room at home: putting Dan into his suit ready for his walkies. Like squeezing a skunk into a sack. He attached the hoses and tested them, and activated the supply. He was chuckling now; almost laughing as he turned to his own suit, and in another four minutes he was suited and turned on himself. It was time to truss the skunk.

He drew Chiko from his breast pocket. He drew the tensile plastic clips from Chiko and placed them in the air next to the chimp. “One for the left hand,” he grinned, cuff to waist, “and one for the right.” A little pull to rotate the skunk, and the third clip fastened the loops, boot-to-boot. A helpless baby, who was ready to be told exactly why.

Kal peered visor to visor at his Number Two. “Dammit. Keep your f***in’ eyes open,” he shouted. “You gotta be more aware than this, you bastard. You gotta KNOW what you’re losin’.” But the minutes were passing and he had a schedule. It was time for the photograph.

He drew it from his front pouch, measuring 7" x 4" and taken on March 24th, 203 days before. Oh yes, it had been quite a day, that Tuesday. The two of them having a ball beside the creek making that raft, with Ciara frying crabs and she and Kal laughing themselves silly when she threw the tomato and knocked Dan clean off his perch with a spa-doosh, and Kal hauled him onto the bank like a wet walrus. He focused on the photo and brooded. Dan and Kal sitting at the garden table, with Ciara bending so that that beautiful smile of hers was between theirs, with one arm on her husband’s shoulder and the other holding… cupping… caressing Kal’s cheek in her hand. He straightened Dan with one hand and brought up the photo with the other. “Seen it before?” he sniggered, knowing they had a copy of it in a silver frame in their dining room.

And it was that March evening that she had walked with him through the shrubbery in the grey-blue dusk of Maine and turned to him with a halo of pink weigela behind her. “Thank you, Kal,” she had said with the lamps from the house reflecting in the moisture of her eyes. “Thank you for the gift of your wonderful friendship for my guy.” Her hands hung on either side of her loose white skirt, her sun hat in one and her sun-glasses in the other, where they had been since before they had watched the sun-down, and she looked straight at him.

“I can’t explain my special regard for you,” and her face seeming to widen in the half light as if she was between a smile and bursting into tears. “I can only say,” and her voice was thick, “that if I had not met Dan first, it would have been you who was my husband.” And she had gone on to enfold his cheek in her lovely hand at the table, comforting him in his loss.

“Damn you, Dan McConnery,” he cursed and planted the photo, picture inwards, on the guy’s visor. The camera had caught the moment of birth of his hatred. It had become his new friend, that hatred; his companion of every day; and now the green venom swelled again inside him, hot and writhing. He withdrew the photo, gripped it in his two gloves, and tore it down the rift.

Ah, that looked much better. No husband. “A disappearing act,” he laughed, and took the two adhesive strips from the monkey, peeled them from their strip, and attached them, top and bottom. He grinned at the loser, gave him a wave, and pressed the tabs onto the plastic. “It’s what she’ll be doing from now on, pal.”

He gathered the debris: strip and torn off husband, in his fist and planted them in his pocket: “For ‘disposal at sea’,” and the idea struck him as one of his best jokes. He tried to check his watch as he laughed, then saw the humour of that too: why check the time when you know step by step your program for the radio black-out.

And that brought him back to more important steps: re-set his oxygen flow… to extend its life. Hah! It’ll last him ten to eleven hours; and his suit heater: colder but longer. He has to see his loss all day; for as long as possible. He won’t SEE it, of course, in his dark helmet, but he’ll have to face the shape of his photo and know it is a torment of endless loss; he has to SUFFER!

He linked his Number Two to himself with the rope and initiated the depressurization. 90 seconds for the readings to match and he opened the airlock. Through the aperture they were greeted with endless black, twinkling with specks of brilliance. Was the guy taking it all in? Did he understand the score? He grappled with the floating suit and peered between helmet and photo.

“Do you know what’s happening?” he demanded, giving him a shake which swivelled the two of them on an axis. He made out his eyes, frozen wide, perhaps in horror. But whether he was shitting himself or not it was time to walk, and Kal steadied himself and pushed his crew through the portal.

And that’s when the bastard came to life. To awareness. He spread himself across the airlock, tank to boot, and planted himself in resistance. His elbows fought, his body straightened, his legs stiffened: he would block the way.

Kal grinned with delight. That was more like it: the full pain of his position: brought to the brink of the precipice. Whoops! More resistance. A struggle. What a laugh! Just a burst of fury in the sack, and it was easy to fold his half-sedated body and thread him through the hole.

Outside, the splendour of their star-speckled arena engulfed them in black, with a mighty white orbiter at their backs. So the time had come. He slipped the webbed rope out of his crew’s loop and rolled his helpless carcass until his face was opposite his own. He was surprised: he didn’t feel like chuckling now. This was execution. One last tapping on the guy’s visor to point to the photo; one last wave between buddies; one last check of the horrified look in those eyes - although they didn’t seem horrified any more, the stubborn son-of-a-bitch - and he rolled him round to face the way he was going.

He sobered himself for the moment. On Earth, the depths of space begin ‘up there’. Not here, they don’t: outer space is here, in one step. The void.

He laid his tank against the hull, gathered his legs into the tightest crouch he could, and made out to himself it was Ciara doing it as he pushed with full force, one leg slightly more than the other... and off he went.

Kal swelled with a burst of victory; of total release. There goes the fastest running back, 2001, in the whole of Maine. In a slow spin and a tumble, so that he will see the unreachable planet over and over. Could be he’ll make out his home, or the Kennedy base where his wife is waiting for them.

He threw the debris after him. Now let’s see: with our flight travel speed in high Earth orbit at nine miles per second, and an additional push of maybe 12-15 mph, Dan the tumbling man will be travelling at 32,415 mph and out of our line of orbit. Anytime now his mind will be getting the full picture: food enough in him to last his remaining lifetime, but thirst… oh dear, so thirsty! And always the black shape of the photo and what he had lost. And then, when his batteries ran down, he will freeze rigid: solid meat, with the frost of his dying breaths filling his helmet. Never to be discovered, of course. Like looking for a needle in a haystack… or in the whole American prairie, more like. But it was time to pull himself away from the diminishing white figure; there was an inspection to do for his own safety, and being out here was dangerous.

The nose and the wings were undamaged and Kal re-entered the shuttle. He gave Chiko pride of place in his slot beside the main burner panel and spent the two minutes, thirty seconds he had left checking the systems before contact would be restored by Houston; doctoring files and cookies so that all tracks were gone. He grinned. He had designed the on-board system himself, seeing its possibilities; if anyone could fix it to suit themselves, he could. Then the systems came alive, he heard the bleep of contact, and the panicked voice of MCC came through.

“He checked his clips,” he explained in horror. “We checked each other’s clips. I checked Dan’s clips and he was secure.” He was in shock with the mystery, coinciding with having no life in the boosters and no manoeuvrability. “Break it to her gently,” he had urged them. “For God’s sake, be gentle.”

He piloted the shuttle through re-entry, returning to Ciara, and brought it to land single-handedly. He knew that his walk from shuttle-meeting vehicle to reception was dramatic; tragic; the single returning hero. Into the building with his entourage of carers. He saw her behind the glass, her fist clutched to her mouth in grief, but then he saw her wave. Oh he could live on that wave through the full twelve months of comforting... until he judged she was ready to become his wife.

Anders Claiborn met him at the entrance to Quarantine.

“Great achievement, Kalvin. The launch-on-need is already up there, at 80,000 feet by now. Gabriel and Siobhan, with Raph commanding.”

Kal nodded, and secretly chuckled. The LON shot was meant to dock with the IS or respond to a transmitting shuttle; not a silent hidden dot which could be any damn place.

“Come and look at this.”

Kal followed to the quarantined gallery overlooking central command.

“We’ve picked up his suit heating,” said Claiborn. “This transmission is from the new Herschel thermal telescope... yeah... that one we just put up there. And thanks to that, it’s 99% certain the LON will be pulling him into their shuttle in little more than three hours. You know Dan, Commander. He’ll be fine. There he is on the main screen.”

Kalvin Patterson missed a breath as he looked at the screen-focus of the operations hall. A white speck in the middle of a black display. Steady and warm. Coming home after all. Ciara’s husband.

Monday 25 May 2009

MR CURLY TOP - by Col Bury

Something a bit different...


So the question beckoned: should he risk prison and wrap the wheel-brace round the cheeky bastard’s head?

Two hours earlier Dave stirred in his bed at the trill of the phone. Consciousness brought with it a parched mouth and throbbing head. As usual the thought of never drinking again was only fleeting and he virtually ignored it knowing many more sessions would inevitably occur.

He reached for the phone and grumbled, ‘Hello.’

‘Dave, it’s Franco. Hope it’s not too early.’

Who the fuck is Franco? Dave glanced at the red digits of the clock radio: 07:00…on a Sunday bleedin’ morning!

‘Dave, are you still there?’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

‘My ice cream van’s broke down and I’m booked into the carnival today. It’s mega money and I can’t miss it. I tried to call you last night.’

Ah, right. It’s that greaseball from down the road. Mr Curly Bollocks, or somefin. ‘I was out last night. It’s a bit early innit?’

‘I know, I know, but I really do need the van today, mate.’

Mate? He hardly knew him. He’d nodded to him in the street once or twice, nothing more. But a foreigner’s a foreigner, and the dosh would pay for another session. Plus his business was mainly word of mouth and he wanted to maintain his good rep’. ‘Okay. Since I’m up now, I’ll take a look. Gimme an hour.’

‘Can you make it half an hour? I have to get to the carnival.’

Fuck me! ‘Okay.’

Forty minutes later, with his head still banging, Dave trudged down the street and was met by Franco beside his ice cream van.

‘Dave, I thought you said half an hour.’

Bloody hell, Franco! ‘You’re lucky to have me here at all. What’s the problem anyway?’ he asked, feeling rain tapping his tender head.

‘Engine noises, chugging and stalling.’

Great. ‘I’ll have a nosey and see what I can do. No promises though.’

‘But what about…’

‘…The carnival. I know. I’ll try me best.’

Over an hour later, and wetter than seaweed, Dave heard Franco exit the warmth of his house via the front door.

‘Sorted it yet?’

Dave’s oil-smeared face peered round the raised bonnet. ‘Cleaned your plugs and EGR valve, tweaked the timing belt and put some oil in it cos you were running dry,’ he sighed, jingling the keys. ‘Give it a try.’

Franco took the keys and turned it over first time.

‘Ah, that sounds better already,’ he said revealing ivory teeth.

‘Whizz it round the block and see how it’s running.’

Dave sucked on a well-earned cig' and within a minute Franco was back.


‘Yeah, but I forgot to mention the front nearside tyre needs changing.’

Dave gazed at the said tyre, biting his lip hard, very hard. He could see it was dangerously bald. He took an audible drag of his cig' then killed it underfoot. ‘Can’t you use your spare and change it yourself?’

Franco shrugged. ‘I’m useless with cars and I’ll be late for…’

‘…The carnival…of course...mega money, right?’ Dave again thought of his business rep’ and reluctantly agreed to do it.

A little later, still clutching the wheel brace, Dave shouted Franco to tell him he’d finished.

Franco emerged donning his white ice cream man coat. ‘Oh, Dave, you’re a real mate. I knew I could rely on you,’ he said, passing Dave and entering the van.

Well, at least it was beer token time.

Franco returned proffering a cornet topped with lashings of curly vanilla ice cream split by a flake. ‘Thanks a lot, mate.’

Dave glared at the cornet. Stunned. Speechless.

‘Oh, sorry. Do you want raspberry sauce on that?’ Franco’s grin was smarm personified.

Still eyeing the cornet, Dave tightened his grip on the wheel brace.

‘Call it a token of my appreciation…a Mr Curly Top Special,’ said Franco, stretching the cornet arm closer to Dave.

Dave grimaced and raised the wheel brace, then his family and business rep’ nudged his manic thoughts: the old devil and the angel debate. He dropped the wheel brace with a clang, smiled and took the ice cream from Franco.

‘Try it, Dave. You’ll love it, mate. Everyone does. Now I must go to…’ The sentence was abruptly halted by Dave slamming the ice cream SPLAT onto Franco’s nose, where it belonged.

‘…The Carnival, I know, MATE. Now you can go as Coco The Fuckin Clown, you cheeky bastard!’

Col Bury is currently writing a crime novel and his ever-growing selection of short stories can be found on TKnC and A Twist Of Noir. He blogs and interviews crime authors here:

Sunday 24 May 2009

GIVE UP THE GHOST by Vallon Jackson


Before the accident I didn’t give much credibility to mediums or spiritualists or psychics. I thought it was all a load of rubbish to be honest. However, Christine was more of a believer than I and often said that if she was to die she’d come back and prove that there was indeed life after death. I had no argument for her there, I just didn’t believe that the ‘mystics’ were anything but a group of charlatans playing on the grief of the living to coin in a healthy buck. I didn’t say there was no afterlife, only that I doubted that anyone truly had the ability to communicate with those that had past on.

Many evenings we’d spend in our darkened living room, watching Spook Chasers on TV and while Christine would yelp and hide behind a pillow I’d cringe at the lamentable goings on of the resident spiritualist medium, Del, while he went through another questionable ‘possession’. There were some things that kept me watching – Eve, the presenter, when she wasn’t screaming, was eye-candy so I didn’t complain. Not much.

Christine believed. She told me that she saw her mother after the old lady had died. She apparently came to our bedroom and patted Chris on the foot when she was in bed. I told her that it was just wishful thinking, or maybe a waking dream or something.

'So you don’t believe in ghosts?'

'I believe in ghosts, Chris, I just don’t believe in mediums.'

'If I die before you,' Christine said, 'I’m going to go to wherever the Spook Chasers team are appearing and prove it to the world.'

Her words stuck with me.

Even after the accident.

I kept an eye out, listened, heard that the team were doing a ‘Live’ from a castle in a nearby town. More than anything I wanted to talk to Christine again. This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. Or to prove my theory to the contrary.

So there I was an audience member, sitting among the crowd of on-lookers as the cameras rolled and Eve did her piece to camera, complete with atmospheric lights, spooky music and an ankle-skimming coat right out of a Hammer production.

They segued into a commercial break while a table was readied, and they went directly into a séance, Del mumbling some disjointed mumbo-jumbo about white lights and protection. Some of the crew, the action boys who were forever being assailed by poltergeists in the show, were larking about off camera, before joining them all-solemn-like as the cameras began rolling again.

There were a couple knocks and bangs, but we were in an old place that was falling down round our ears. Could have been anything.

Then it was Del’s turn to lark about.

I wasn’t very hopeful. He told Eve historical facts that I’d already learned from tourist brochures. Then he stopped suddenly, his head jerking side-to-side like a chicken as a supposed message came in from the other side.

'We’ve a woman here,' he said. 'She’s sitting over by the window. She’s holding her stomach. Oh, dear. Oh, Lord...'

'What is it, Del?' Eve’s eyes were almost popping out of her head as she stared at the blank space Del indicated. I followed her gaze, hopeful, but saw nothing whatsoever.

'Give me a little more, Bob,' Del exhorted.

I had to think about who he was talking to, then remembered. Bob was his supposed ‘spirit guide’. Aren’t spirit guides supposed to be a swami or Native American Shaman or something equally esoteric? Bob – Del’s guide – was apparently a nineteenth century miner from Yorkshire. Maybe that was meant to add credibility, but it didn’t sit with me. Couldn’t see a ghost in a pit helmet however hard I tried.

'Oh, the poor lamb. She’s in pain, she has blood on her shift!' Del began shivering, his eyes rolling up in his skull.

Eve cried out, flinching back from him. Right on cue. 'Did you hear that?'

When no-one responded, Eve was adamant. 'I heard a noise like a woman’s scream,' she said. She glared at the rest of the team challenging them to disagree. Some of them nodded along with her.

I’d heard something too, but it was the siren of an ambulance in the nearby town as it barrelled through congested traffic. I glanced at the other audience members but they were too rapt on Del’s shenanigans to make sense of the truth.

'He killed my baby,' Del squeaked out in a Mickey Mouse voice. 'Don’t let him get me!' Then Del threw himself off his chair and began convulsing on the floor while all the team gathered round him shouting at him to ‘come forward’.

Yeah, I thought, come forward and take a bow, Del. It was about the best acting I’d ever seen. Or the worst.

As he shivered on the floor, making more squeaky noises, I decided I’d had enough.

Del was the biggest fake imaginable and he was sucking everyone into his little fantasy act. Everyone but me, thanks very much.

There was no chance of ever speaking to Christine through the likes of him.

I got up from my chair, made quickly away while everyone’s attention was on that big cheese, Del, and made my way outside.

I was so disgusted, felt so cheapened, even if I’d proven my theory.

I was in such a hurry to get away I didn’t even bother with the door, just walked directly through the castle wall.


Vallon Jackson is the pseudonym of a published author who likes to have a little fun with his imagination when he isn't writing his latest book.

Friday 22 May 2009



It hadn't gone to plan.

Terry looked at his brother Gerard who was sprawled on the floor with bits spilling out and looking like a kicked over rubbish bin. His face got paler as the floor got redder.

Gerard coughed and his lips went whore red. 'We fucked up,' he wheezed.

Terry nodded, his eyes were wet with tears. The clerks were safe behind their protective glass but keeping their heads down regardless. The customers were playing dead. The filth would be on their way and Gerard was bleeding out. To say they had 'fucked up' was an understatement.

As usual it had been big brother Gerard's idea. He was tired of being poor and there were fuck all jobs about, well ones they didn't mind doing. Gerard had laid down the rule that they wouldn't clean up for no one, leave that shit for the Poles. Neither had worked in years. And when they had worked it had been on building sites. Gerard's hatred for being told what to do had gotten them sacked from each and every one.

Gerard wanted the best things in life but didn't want to work or wait for them. It was that which had fuelled all of this. Gerard was tired of everything passing him by. The cars going by that he could never drive unless he stole them. The good-looking women passing him by that he could never touch unless it was non-consensual. Mainly it was life passing him by and life was going faster than any of the cars or the women.

Terry flashed a glance at the door. Just the normal gathering of filth out the front. The boys in blue that packed would be along in shy time. Terry wiped at his brow, not knowing what to do. His brother was dying at his feet. And it was he himself that had blasted that hole in him.

Terry had been positive that Gerard was going to put a bullet in that woman's head as he had tried to use her as leverage in convincing the manager to open up the door so that they could get into the back and gain access to the money. Terry didn't want anybody to die. He hadn't even wanted to do this. This was big-time, they were small-time. And so he had shot his brother in the gut with the sawed off.

Terry rubbed at his baby-face as he counted the years inside that he was racking up. He had done a small stretch before for burglary. That had been bad enough, three months. He'd barely gotten out with his arse in-tact and it wasn't from a lack of trying from the rapists on 'B' block. He'd be in for more than a ten-stretch for this attempted armed robbery. He wouldn't survive that.

Flashes of memories assaulted him like a back-alley beating. His Gran telling all her friends how dainty he looked when he had been around her flat as a boy. Other people had remarked on his feminine looks, a design of the face that was positively girly one camp bastard had cheekily remarked.

Gerard looked at him, reading his mind like some brothers can, he pleaded,
'Come with me, you know you won't get through a long stretch.' He coughed some more. His lips blowing red bubbles like a baby finding out what fun spit can be.

Terry's eyes went to stone. Selfish fucker as always. Couldn't do anything alone, always got to take little brother along for the ride no matter how many times the ride crashed. And this time he wanted him to trundle into death with him.

Terry's Adam's Apple was bobbing up and down in his throat. Terry dropped the sawed-off. He bent and picked up the revolver that Gerard had been brandishing. Prison would ruin him. He'd be a pretty boy bank-robber that would end up being passed about the bandits as a party favour.

He cocked the revolver and strode to the door. It was just the flat-foots malingering outside keeping the crowds back until the serious brigade turned up with the automatic weapons and their eyes hiding behind cross-hairs.

Terry opened the door, pointed the gun out and fired three shots at the nearest officer. One slug got the officer in the leg, one got lost in his chest and a third disappeared through his cheek.

Terry closed the door. Tossed the gun and lay down on the floor to a chorus of screams of dismay from both inside and outside the bank. He lay there waiting to be arrested. In prison they respected cop-killers. He wouldn't be sodomised. He would be put upon a pedestal rather than bent over one.

Terry didn't hear the final crack of thunder. The result of which tore away half his face. There was a clunk as Gerard dropped the sawed-off that he had managed to grab whilst his brother was blasting away. Both shells were spent.

Gerard smiled and breathed last. His brother would be his companion into the unknown after all.

Lee Hughes lives and works on the Isle of Man with his wife and two fish. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel. His short fiction is to appear in the upcoming Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 by Megazanthus Press. Not to mention regular spots on TKnC.

Thursday 21 May 2009


How's this for a cool little debut...

Boo-Boo Baby at the Buy & Bye

It's not so much that you're broke, it's just that you're down on your luck a bit, that's all.

Lucky for you, though, you know someone who knows someone and the next thing you know, you got yourself a piece. A cold, hard piece jammed down the front of your pants, and you're walking around with that thing down there looking like you overdid your Viagra or some shit like that.

So you pull your jacket on down low in front and hope to hell you don't look too fucking weird and walk on in to the Buy & Bye 'cause it's open all night and there ain't no other cars in the parking lot. You're real careful to nod all friendly like at the asshole in the red and white shirt with the company logo who's got the dumbass luck to be working the overnight shift.

You go to the back of the store, walking all casual like – as if you've done this a thousand times before – and browse through the bread, reading the labels and making like you're checking out the vitamin content or some shit like that. Truth is you've never done anything like this before, never been this desperate before, and you're scared shitless, and you know you're just stalling 'til you get up your nerve.

But you've come this far and you can't just go walking out the door with nothing, so you pick up a loaf of bread – it doesn't matter which one, any one will do – and go walking up to the counter with that thing in your pants, praying to God – to someone else's God, borrowing someone else's God 'cause you don't have one of your own – that you don't go shooting your nuts off. Yeah, like of all the things God's watching out for, he's watching out for your nuts.

So you set the bread down on the counter and hope Mr. Nightshift loser doesn't notice how much your hands are sweating and how you can't hardly swallow and how your breathing is all shallow and rapid like, which he doesn't, you guess, 'cause all he says is two ninety-eight and will there be anything else.

And you can hear your heart pounding in your ears, it's beating so loud – thumpada-thumpada-thumpada, like that – and you wonder if he can hear it, too. Somehow you manage to tell him you want a pack of Marlboros in the flip-top box, 'cause it sounds like a manly kind of cigarette, but what the hell do you know because you don't even smoke. But Mr. Dumbshit Nightshift doesn't know that, and he turns around to get a pack.

And that's when you yank the piece out of your pants. Not because you wanted to, or because you thought you ought to, but because you had practiced this moment over and over again, and you did it automatically, almost more like a reflex – not like anything your brain had a role in – and you surprise yourself with how fast you pulled it out. And, because it was so easy, because your movements were so quick and fluid and almost cat-like, you try to convince yourself that you're a natural.

But it doesn't take. And when Mr. Dumbshit turns around and sees you holding the piece on him and drops the stupid Marlboros you never wanted anyway on the floor and puts his hands up, all you can squeak out of your mouth is, "Money" like you're some sort of pussy no-brain eighth grader whose voice just changed.

But it works. It fucking works!

And he starts yanking all sorts of bills out of the cash register and setting them down on the counter for you while you keep the piece pointed at him just the way you planned it out in your mind. You're amazed at how smooth it's all going, and you begin to think – to convince yourself, really – that you're gonna pull it off, that you're gonna rob this asshole and go walking outta there with a shitload of money when – dammit – the fucking telephone rings.

And the sound of the phone sets off some sort of motor-synaptic neuron or some shit like that that you can't remember from high school biology, except that you know that this motor neuron thing in your brain someplace done shot its wad, and your whole fucking body twitches. And the gun goes off.

The fucking gun goes off. Blam! Like that, only louder. Ten thousand times louder. So loud that you can't hear anything else and you throw the damn thing down on the floor and your ears are ringing and you can't think, you can't think, you can't think, and so you go running out of the store, crying like some sort of little baby. Like some little baby running on home to mama, crying his little eyes out. Little baby you, crying your eyes out 'cause you just killed your first somebody.

Monday 18 May 2009

THE SAVIOUR - by Keith Rawson

Keith enters the fold...


I have been to space.

I have touched the cold silence and have come back to earth as a burning speck in the sky.

I have done things that only a handful of human beings have ever done.

My accomplishments are something to be proud of.

I am married. I have been married to the same woman for the past 20 years.

We have three children together.

Two girls and a boy.

I’ve come to realize that I barely know them; my training has caused me to miss most of their lives.

I should be sad about this; I should be disappointed in myself for having missed my son’s first steps, my oldest daughter’s first words, my youngest daughter’s first piano recital.

I am not.

I am as disconnected from my family as man atop the empire states building staring down at the ant like people scurrying below his feet.

My family lives in Southern California.

They live in a large beautiful home worth millions of dollars.

I am a stranger there.

I visit three or four times a year.

My real home is in Houston, Texas and occasionally Florida.

I am driving to Texas right now.

I have been driving for the past twelve hours straight.

I’ll have to stop for gas soon.

I’ll have to eat soon: I am growing drowsy from lack of food.

I don’t have to worry about going to the bathroom, I’m wearing a diaper.

I am not driving to Houston for a mission.

I am not scheduled to go back into space for another seven months.

I am driving to Houston for my true love.

My true love is not my wife.

My true love is my science officer from my last mission.

Her name is Darlene.

Darlene lives in Houston.

She is originally from upstate New York. She has told me several times how much she misses it. How much she misses the green and quiet of the woods near her childhood home; how she misses the smell of falling snow on winter nights.

She knows she belongs in Houston. She knows no matter how much she misses New York and all of those pleasant childhood memories, the work is the most important thing.

This is why I love her so much.

This is why I am driving to Houston.

There is also the e-mail I received from her yesterday.

Yesterday, she wrote and told me that she had met someone.

His name is Roy Starling.

He works as a real estate broker.

Darlene explained how they met three weeks ago at a bar that is only frequented by NASA engineer’s and pilots; Darlene explained that Roy was working for the owner of the bar, and attempting to find a buyer for the popular establishment, who was looking to retire.

He is handsome and intelligent.

When I read her e-mail, my stomach dropped and I realized for the first time my love for Darlene.

I began to pace and sweat.

I began to grind my teeth.

I sat down at the computer again and re-read the e-mail.

Darlene had included picture attachments of her and Roy.

They make a gorgeous couple.

They will be one of the sterling couples of Houston.

A couple who will attend gala black tie functions and have their beautiful faces plastered in black and white all over the society page of the Houston Chronicle.

A couple who will build a beautiful ranch style home twenty miles from the city, on a gorgeous four acre stretch of desert dotted with cactus and scrub brush. They will build a massive Olympic size swimming pool and maintain a small vegetable garden; they will own horses and spend their free hours between launches riding through the arid yellow waste.

They will have children who will shine with their love.

She will give up flying missions for her children.

She will stay home to nurture her family.

Roy will go to work every morning, his family waving at him from the drive, smiling.

He will come home at night greeted by the warmth of his home, of dinner on the stove, of after school cartoons, of trumpet practice and household squabbles.

On certain days all of this will assail Roy and he will feel blessed.

He will feel comforted.

On other days, he’ll wish them dead.

He will picture himself stalking from room to room, a grim smile plastered to his face.

The gun tucked into the waist band of his jeans.

His beautiful children and wife unaware.

I saw all of this.

I saw the coldness of his eyes; the sinister glint.

I needed to save Darlene.

I knew she was blinded by raw emotion and physical longing.

I Googled Roy.

He wasn’t hard to find.

Roy Starling, his face was plastered all over his real estate offices web site, along with the office address and business phone number.

I left my family’s home in my son’s junk heap Chevy caviler and hit the highway.

Some time in the first three hours of the trip, I formulated my plan to save Darlene.

I stopped at a Wal-mart in some anonymous Californian desert city.

I purchased a box cutter, a pair of nylons, a box of adult diapers, a snickers bar, and two bottles of distilled water.

I changed into a diaper in the Wal-mart bathroom, stuffing the box cutter and pantyhose down the front just in case the police pulled me over for driving erratically.

I am two hours from Houston.

I need to stop, my son’s fuel efficient gas tank is close to empty and the diaper is unbearably full.

I need to be ready.

Keith Rawson lives in the Phoenix, AZ suburb of Gilbert with his wife and daughter. His fiction has appeared - or is waiting to appear - at DZ Allen's Muzzleflash Fiction, PowderBurn Flash, Flashshots, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, Crooked, Bad Things, PulpPusher, (podcast), Plots with Guns, Flash Fiction Offensive, and Yellow Mama. He is also working on the final draft of his first hard-boiled crime novel entitled, Retirement. And just like every Pulp writing hack on the Internet, he has a blog. You can find it at:

Sunday 17 May 2009

IN THE BAG - by AJ Humpage

Very topical this one...


It was the same old story. Travel across town, turn up at the interview and give the performance of a lifetime. Engage, entertain, answer the questions succinctly and, importantly, don’t ‘um’ or ‘ah’. He had to make each word count, he knew he had to sell himself, sell his soul if he had to, because there could be fifty people vying for that very job.

But today was different.

Mark Murcer adjusted his tie and stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He’d had good vibes about this job interview. It had gone very well. The interviewers laughed in all the right places, and smiled an awful lot. Mark had answered their probing questions carefully and he’d given them exactly what they wanted to hear. His knowledge and skills gained over the last 20 years would nail this job. Oh, yes he could do this. Team player? Absolutely. Hard working? Always.

He was made for this job.

He rinsed his hands beneath the warm water, thought about his journey to this moment. Six months ago, he’d lost a job that he loved, one that he’d done well for the last 10 years. Credit crunch, they called it, and he’d been truly crunched. Now surplus to requirements, it was scrapheap time for Mark at the age of 42. He’d become a victim of the economic downturn.

But it wasn’t just the job he’d lost. Somewhere between then and now,he’d lost his self-belief, his self worth, the very core that made him whole. Frustration with the world hung heavily over him like a bank of fog, spliced periodically by faint flashes of light. He felt suffocated by a darkness he couldn’t quite control, and sometimes he caught sight of a demon squatting in his eyes whenever he looked at his sallow reflection. He was changing; becoming thinner, paler, his personality was breaking down, and up until now, he’d been unable to stop it.

The loss of dignity that came with unemployment felt as though his skin had been stripped from his body; he was more naked than he’d ever been.

With no children and no dependents, Mark was now worth a mere £60.50 per week, which would not pay his mortgage, or food, or utility bills. The car had to go. So too the frivolous spending and the regular nights out with friends. No more Sky, no more mobile phone, no more gym membership –all gone. Now it was nights in, lights off and no heating. He existed on a bland diet of baked beans and bread.

But of course, all that was about to change. The job he wanted so badly awaited him. He was waiting for that magical phone call. It was just down to two candidates, they said. An achievement, getting this far, they said, considering the high number of applicants. And you have excellent IT skills, they said.

Oh yes, 21 years worth, Mark thought, staring at the demon in his eyes.

But Mark quickly discovered that experience alone meant nothing. He’d spent countless hours filling in numerous applications, and he’d spent a small fortune to attend 37 interviews. They were good interviews - he’d put everything he had into every one - yet each time, the obligatory opening line of the letter pushed through his letterbox would read: ‘Dear Mr Murcer, following your recent interview, unfortunately on this occasion...’

Mark half smiled to himself. Well, on this occasion, he was going to get this job. After searching for so long, he deserved it.

He turned off the tap. The last of the water, and blood, swirled into the plughole. He used a nearby bath towel to mop around the basin and clear the few bloody droplets remaining. It was clean again.

Mark thought about yesterday, the day of the interview. The day he saw Jackson Page emerge from the interview room with a smile so wide it must have hurt. Jackson was a young, arrogant kid, not yet humbled by life. Mark used to work with him, before their ex-company went bust. Jackson had worked in the same department, and Mark was his Manager.

Jackson approached. ‘Nervous, Murcer? You should be, ‘cos I got this one in the bag.’

Mark slowly met the younger man’s gaze, his eyes grazing across a doughy expression. ‘You always got it in the bag, Jackson. You never change. You always thought you were the best, except when you made mistakes. You’re young and stupid; you’ve no experience and no formal qualifications. You got nothing.’

Jackson Page’s effort to smile turned into a derisive snort. He leaned in, his green, lizard-like eyes widening. ‘You’re finished. They don’t want useless old men like you, Murcer. They want fresh new talent. And that’s me.’

Mark watched Jackson Page strut to the exit door. Somewhere inside him, molten urges bubbled beneath an expressionless gaze. There was no way some cocky, illiterate runt would get this job. No way. But when the white envelope dropped onto the mat the next morning, he didn’t need to open it to know the content. If they had wanted him, they would have telephoned. But they hadn’t, and instead he faced rejection yet again.

They’d chosen Jackson Page, that son of a bitch.

Mark dismissed the memory. He leaned forward and wiped a large globule of blood from his thin, blond beard. He tidied his hair, looked down. Blood had spattered his jacket and smeared his shirt, but it didn’t matter. The evening was drawing in. No one would notice.

Mark moved away from the bathroom and calmly returned downstairs. He stood in the doorway leading to the front room. It was quiet, still, yet something thickened the air; an abject fear clung to the walls, like sticky residue. That fear glowed crimson.

Jackson Page was sitting on the sofa in front of a silent TV.

Mark turned away from him and wandered into the kitchen. Unlike the rest of the house, the kitchen was messy; the floor, the counter tops, cupboards. Footprints and hand smears – the only signs of violence. He leaned over the sink; saw a tooth and some hair clogging the plughole. He was too tired to clean up. He would have to return tomorrow and sanitise the rest of the kitchen.

Outside, Jackson Page’s large Rottweiler patiently sat nose to glass. The dog had watched him at work; curious yet silent. Mark stood at the door, looked down at the intensely blackened eyes glaring back at him.

‘You hungry, boy? Yeah, of course you are.’ He turned to the counter top and grabbed the dish he’d earlier filled with meat. He stared at the glistening membrane covering the grey coloured lumps piled into the bowl. It looked so good, so nourishing.

He unlocked the back door and opened it. The dog rushed in, instantly smelled freshly killed meat. He found a dark red pool of liquid on the floor and eagerly lapped it up.

Mark caught the dog’s attention. ‘Hey, this is better.’ He made the dog sit. Thick strands of saliva hung down from the dog’s jowls like vitreous stalactites. Mark slowly lowered the large stainless steel bowl onto the floor. ‘There you go. Tuck in. This organ stopped thinking just over an hour ago.’

The dog dived in, snatching hungrily at the slimy lumps of brain, chomping loudly. Mark watched with a strange fascination as bits of Jackson Page’s brain slipped from the dog’s mouth - like squirming eels - and bounced onto the bloodied, tiled floor.

Mark looked at the severed head he’d placed on the counter top. The tip of the skull was missing. The hacksaw had done a clean job on the bone. He had needed hardly any effort. He’d used a spoon to scoop out the brain tissue.

Jackson’s eyes still glistened, but the way they stared into a universe of nothing made Mark shudder. The boy’s mouth had sagged, corners pulled down by an invisible force. The face of misery. Mark reached forward and poked a finger into Jackson’s cheek. Dough-boy was still soft.

Mark pulled a carrier bag from one of the drawers. He lifted up Jackson’s head and dropped it into the bag. The hollow skull bone clunked heavily against the counter. He placed the top of the skull, replete with fine dark hair, next to the face. He lifted up the bag and carried it out of the kitchen.

He stopped briefly at the doorway to the lounge and once more stared at Jackson’s bloody, headless body sitting upright against the sofa. Mark smiled. Jackson Page no longer needed that job. Mark had already prepared himself for the good news phone call.

He opened the front door and stepped out into the evening. Things were definitely looking up. He walked down the path, lifted the lid of the wheelie bin and dumped the carrier bag inside.

‘You were right, Jackson,’ Mark said cheerily into the bin. ‘You definitely got it in the bag.’

AJ works full time for a local authority, but in her spare time she write articles for local business magazines, short stories and poetry, and has just completed her first novel.

Saturday 16 May 2009


Another talented Talkbacker debuts...


“The first time I saw his face was two months ago. Well that’s not true either, I mean we grew up together, but he didn’t look like he does now.” Sally lit another cigarette.

“Go on, readers want to know all about their favourite celebrity’s early life, especially from friends-ordinary people like they are.” Beverley Vincent was mentally salivating at the boost this exclusive insight, into the early life of the latest darling of daytime television, would give her career.

“We lived next door to him and his mum. He was a spotty teenager with glasses, and I was the beanpole, not much difference now in my case.”

Beverley knew no one could be as perfect as Jamie Benton appeared to be, and her fingers were itching with anticipation. He was the latest icon on the clubbing circuit; got an awards ceremony that needed hosting? Then ask Jamie. Want to improve your viewing figures? Invite Jamie as a guest and it was guaranteed.

“Back in ’71, he wanted to be called Jerry…we were seventeen. He played in a band, but he was tone deaf, and couldn’t sing for toffee. That didn’t last either…”

“Hold on, are you sure you mean 1971 not 1961? Jamie claims he’s thirty five, but you’re saying he was born in 1954. Knock a few years off, sure, but twenty?”

“Yeah, he’s that old. Expect he got plastic surgery.” Sally stubbed out her cigarette repeatedly until the end was a mashed mess.

“Jerry got mixed up with this strange bloke- never told me his name- but he took me to his place once. He’d moved in with this bloke by then, and it was weird, decked out like a cross between a Gothic horror film and a Sultan’s boudoir, it was…creepy. I wasn’t innocent; I’d smoked a few joints, nothing stronger mind.”

“Could have been some sort of cult. Did you stay there?” The whole story was starting to sound contrived, but Beverley’s instincts were telling her to listen. She knew that this connection could be enough to blow Benton’s Prince Charming image.

“I stayed twelve hours. That was eleven hours too long.” Sally lit another cigarette, tossing the spent match onto the pile that had already toppled over the edge of the saucer she was using as an ashtray, and joined the heaps of discarded buts and ash. “I got out, and didn’t see Jerry again. Until two months ago.”

“Yet, you are sure your Jerry is Jamie Benton?”

“I wrote to him. He came to see me. Told me to keep my mouth shut or I’d find trouble. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. Everyone thinks he’s so great, but they don’t know him. He’s making thousands and he wouldn’t give me anything. He said I could rot.”

Beverley could understand Benton not wanting to admit to any connection to Sally now. She was prematurely aged, her skin sunken and wrinkled at the same time; her hair grey and so matted it had probably been years since a brush had touched it. Even the clothes Sally wore looked like they were ready for the rubbish bin.

“Perhaps you could find me those photos Sally, and then we can decide which ones we can use.”

Beverley was relieved to be left alone.

The walls and curtains were nicotine- stained and added to the general feeling of neglect. She moved to the lone window in the basement room and attempted to open the casement to let some air in. The window was nailed down; the shiny heads buried in splintered wood and peeling paintwork.

Perhaps Sally was paranoid too.

Beverley stared at the dirty windows, trying to decide if any of this could be true, or was just demented fantasies. Perhaps Benton had only been here in Sally’s mind. Perhaps her Jerry was just someone who looked like Benton.

Facts were facts she decided, you couldn’t easily dispute those set down in black and white and official. Her friend Annie owed her a favour; she was a professional genealogist and would know how to get the proof Beverley needed.

Sally was back clutching a worn shoe box. “Here they are.”

“Great, let’s go through them and you can fill in the details so I’ve got everything clear.”

When she finally mounted the last step to the pavement of Chamberlain Terrace, Beverley stood breathing in the fresh air cleansing her lungs. Lifting her jacket she sniffed and wrinkled her nose; she stank of cigarette smoke. But it had been worthwhile persevering.

With the additional information Sally had given her, during their discussions over the photos, there was now enough to dig further. If it all fitted then she could compile a revealing expose; she just needed Annie to confirm those dates.

Then she smiled. If she sold this, she could afford to have her jacket dry-cleaned anytime.

Three days later Beverley sat looking at the copy of Jamie Benton’s birth certificate. Annie had confirmed that there had been no other entries that could cast doubt about this birth record. He had been born November 1954, so he was definitely not thirty-five. Combining that with the other information she’d been able to uncover about his connections to the cult Sally had mentioned, Jamie Benton was going to have some interesting questions to answer.

She was glad it wouldn’t be her asking them.

The background noise of the television didn’t intrude to where she sat typing, and the voice of the local news presenter didn’t register.

“The Police and Fire Service are investigating the cause of a blaze that gutted a basement flat in Chamberlain Terrace. Neighbours claim the owner was a recluse, and they believe she was inside the building when the fire broke out, but have not seen her since…”

The door buzzer sounded.

Carol Bevitt has been writing seriously for ten years. Usually her characters are falling in love, but occasionally less pleasant individuals emerge and demand their stories are told.

Friday 15 May 2009

Just a quick note from the co-editor...

In case any readers are unaware - if you like what you've read from a particular author on TKnC then to read more from the same person (if that author does actually have more than one piece on here) you can just click on their name in the 'label' section at the end of each post and all the stories from that author will be viewable by simply scrolling down.

Hope this helps in saving some time trawling through, but if you do have a few minutes spare there are some great yarns deep in the TKnC archives back to its inception on January 18th 2009.

Matt and I are both proud and 'well chuffed' at the quality of the submissions to date (a big 'thanks' to all concerned) and there's a few more fresh ones in the pipeline so watch this space.

And keep 'em coming!




Henry's pension was meagre. But wasn't that what all pensioners say?

"There's never enough to make ends meet!"

A whinge and a moan about the price of this or the cost of that. But yet Henry still had the funds out of his weekly pittance to give the spotty stretch of piss that worked for less than minimum wage at the local cinema a shifty twenty to let him in on a Sunday morning to watch a flick all by his lonesome. This little illicit treat meant he didn't eat at Marks and Spencer, no egg-custards to suck on or meals for one to gum his way through. He gave all that up to sit there dead centre staring at the screen. No bullet strewn action movie or exotic space adventure and no badly acted teen romance with shite music from some American garage band.

Henry watched the same film, black and white and heavily dated. 'Bletcher's Penance' was its title. Henry didn't snack whilst watching, didn't sup from a flask. He just watched the show as he had done for decades from back when the flea-pit had been called Talbot's Picture House. If there had ever been credits they had been worn away long ago and all that remained was the film itself from a time before the advent of 'Talkies'. He watched the leading lady with her wavy hair shifting about her head as she went about the chore of dragging clothes from drawers, freeing dresses from the wardrobe and grabbing jewellery from the dressing table. All these she stuffed into a black and white suitcase. She had fed the suitcase too much, so much so that it was too obese to close.

The camera zoomed in. The woman looked straight at the camera and if it was possible she paled a little. A hand reached into the scene and slapped her. A right humdinger that sent her sprawling across the bed. She struggled to claw away. The sheets and blankets were loose upon the mattress and moved beneath her like she was stuck on a treadmill.

That hand grabbed for her again. She rolled away from it and fell from the bed. She clambered back up and backed away. The camera kept up with her. Stalking her, dogging each step as she delivered the defining moment of her acting career. All the way to the corner she went. It was there that she cowered, there that she pleaded, her lips forming shapes and expressions, no sound aired. The hand came into view and struck her again. Her head snapped back.

The hand flew out. Again, again and again. The actress stayed down, slumped in the corner. The hand reached to the dresser and picked up a lamp and smashed it over her head. It didn't break like the ones in the films, it broke all crooked and awkward like it was made of sterner stuff than sugar glass.

The picture flickered and halted then faded. Henry Bletcher wiped away his tears and stood up. He would come back next week with another twenty pounds and be forced to watch that memory projected from either Hell or his guilt, they were probably both and the same place.

Each week he would watch it until death took him, it was his penance. And even at the end of it he was sure there would be no real forgiveness. A "sorry" would never bring his wife back or erase that moment of pure brutality.

Lee Hughes lives and works on the Isle of Man with his wife and two fish. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel. His short fiction is to appear in the upcoming Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 by Megazanthus Press. Not to mention regular spots on TKnC and hopes to continues with that.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

While the editor's away, will the writers play?

Many of you will be aware that my co-editor, Matt Hilton, is currently involved in the exciting book launch of Dead Men's Dust, his first of five novels introducing dynamic vigilante, Joe Hunter, to the world.

Therefore it's down to little old me to take care of TKnC. Due to the site's growing popularity we already have a backlog, so please be patient if you've submitted a story. And rest assured I'll be beavering away in the background. All I ask of those submitting is to ensure you read the guidelines on the right and polish those stories to perfection to make my 'job' a tad easier.

So, as it's 'business' as usual, does anyone wanna play?


Ps. I've done an update on Matt's book launch on my blog (including a pic of two male models!) if you fancy a nosey...

Tuesday 12 May 2009


Another Talkbacker enters the fold...and how...


If the police had realised that when they began a nationwide hunt for the killer known as ‘The Slasher’ they were looking for someone like Derek Freeman, they would have been very surprised indeed. None of their photofit pictures were remotely like him, and they had been on the look out for a bigger, much stronger man. Derek was on the short side: a thin, weedy looking individual. But what he lacked in stature he certainly made up for in cunning.

He had been doing it for years: killing people. He’d started with his own sister who had been quite literally a pushover. It happened on Beachy Head when Derek was eleven.

It was only in recent years, however, since he had progressed to a more selective kind of killing, that the police had begun to notice things, and begun to realise moreover that a pattern existed between a number of unsolved and previously unconnected murders.

All the victims were women a good deal older than Derek, who was thirty-two. Their bodies when found were all so grossly mutilated, and in such a distinctive manner, that only one person could possibly have been responsible. Derek hacked and tore at his victims with a pair of very sharp decorating scissors.

From a purely psychological point of view the age of his victims was significant. An expert would have said he was repeatedly killing his mother. Derek had been an unwanted child.

He chose the women carefully. In Derek’s eyes they had to be lonely, solitary creatures who seemed, like him, to have been ignored by the world. And as time went on he became ruthlessly adept at seeking out such women in cinemas and pubs, at meetings of various kinds and even in churches. For someone so unremarkable in appearance, Derek very quickly gained their confidence. For the unfortunate women, however, it was a meeting with the devil. None emerged alive from the encounter.

Although killing for Derek was no more than an instinctive reaction to his perception of the world around him, he had begun in recent months to take more than a passing interest in the publicity given to his deeds by the newspapers. He began to enjoy the notoriety – particularly as it was quite obvious that no one, least of all the police, had the slightest clue to his identity.

He became cheeky, and on one occasion actually rang the police to forewarn them of his next murderous enterprise. Another time he wrote them a letter using words cut (with his decorating scissors) from reports in the papers of one of his previous exploits. He couldn’t help smiling to himself when a baffled police force released the letter to an equally mystified press.

They would never get him.

It was on a Tuesday in early October that he saw Vera Singleton sitting on a bench in the park. She was just the right age, and the drab, institutional look of her coarse, greying hair was the sort of detail that led Derek to believe he might be on to something. She was knitting.

Unusually for a woman on her own, she made the first move, staring straight at him and smiling. Then she crossed her legs and Derek could see her knees. That did it.

‘The slut’, he said to himself.

Funnily enough, although none of the women he chose to murder were of the cheap, flashy kind, he nearly always thought of them as such. And it was usually something like the sudden glimpse of a knee, a bare shoulder or a too adventurous neckline that triggered off the subsequent assault.

“Marvellous day,” he said, smiling.

“Isn’t it lovely,” she replied, knitting needles flashing in the sun.

“Have you seen the Michaelmas daisies down at the other end?” Derek asked her.

“No. Are they nice?”


It wasn’t long before they were strolling together in the direction of the Michaelmas daisies.

The path ran alongside the railway with a deep border of evergreen shrubs on either side. Derek chose the railway side, and with the speed of a ferret suddenly threw himself at the woman and dragged her into the bushes. The anguished cries and frenzied thrashing that followed were neatly drowned out by the noise of a passing train.

When the body was found a day or two later, the police had no reason to suspect it had anything to do with ‘The Slasher’. To begin with, Derek had been stabbed ferociously in both eyes and his body punctured all over with something fine and sharp. This time, they realised, they were looking for a very different sort of killer.

Although Neil wrote gardening articles for the horticultural press in the eighties - including reviews of stately homes and gardens for a now defunct glossy, he has never been a career writer. Only fairly recently did he turn to fiction writing due to very positive feedback from other writers on the writing site, Writelink:

DEADLINE - by Anna Harris


“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Vicky giggled unhooking her arm from Caitlyn’s. “No way. What a waste of money.”

“Aw come on, where’s the harm?” pleaded her friend. “I’ve never been game enough to step inside a fortune teller’s tent before but I would if you came in with me.”

“It’s only a crappy church fete, Caitlyn. You do realise the fortune teller will be some dreary old housewife with a goldfish bowl turned upside down for a crystal ball, don’t you?”

“I know, but it’ll be all packed up and gone tomorrow. C’mon, for me? It’d be a real laugh and it’s only £5. You’ll be doing your bit for charity and comparatively, it’s one Tropical Lagoon cocktail at The Bullion Bar. You can afford it, Steve’s loaded.”

“Shhh, I told you not to mention his name in public, Caitlyn. You never know who’s who.”

“Yeah,” Caitlyn rolled her eyes, “like his wife is standing right next to you. Even if she was, she wouldn’t have heard me in this crowd anyway. Seriously, Vicky, you can be so paranoid. Besides, what would it matter if his wife found out? He told you he’s leaving her, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but these things are never simple.”

“Neither is having an affair with a married man and that’s never stopped you before.” Embarrassment flushed across her pale features when she realised how that must have sounded. “Sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“No, you’re right. I’ve had the occasional fling. It’s just that married men are so much more…”


“Responsible and stable.”

Caitlyn smirked. “Not forgetting, wealthy.”

“The only kind of man to date. Can I help it if they love buying things for little ole me, or that I have such expensive tastes?” She batted her eyelashes and formed her lips into a baby-doll pout.

She eyed the deteriorating tent with its cracked and faded stars spray stencilled across the outside. It looked as if it had been dragged out of the rectory storage shed once a year for the last two centuries. “Come on then,” she sighed, “before I change my mind again. And for god’s sake, let’s put our press passes in our pockets. No point giving the game away right up front.”

As soon as they pulled back the heavy canvas flap, Vicky nearly burst out laughing. How much more cliched could it get? Flimsy drapes of sheer material were caught at the centre apex and swept towards the outer walls, while a smattering of cardboard cut-out stars decorated with glue and glitter hung from thin fishing line suspended over a wonky, centrally positioned card table. A large patterned rug, threadbare and in need of a good vacuuming scuffed underfoot as the two females stepped inside.

A turban clad woman with thick rimmed glasses who looked to be about their own age - although it was a little hard to tell in the dim interior - greeted the women. “Velcome to your future,” she declared melodramatically.

“Oh good grief,” whispered Vicky. The woman’s Russian accent was hideously fake. She almost giggled aloud but a sharp nudge in the ribs from Caitlyn brought her under control.

“I am Madame Manya. You may cross my palm with silver and I vill tell all.”

“Silver?” asked Caitlyn.

“It is, how you say? a turn of phrase,” she sighed. “Ze fee is as stated on ze board outside.” The two women opened their purses but Caitlyn paused as Vicky handed across her cash to Madame Manya, who immediately tucked it into her ample bosom beneath a voluminous red kaftan.

“Er…I could’ve sworn I had more than just a few coins left in my purse. Sorry,” Caitlyn said sheepishly. ”Never mind, you go ahead.”

“Oh no you don’t!” said Vicky, glaring at her, “This was your idea. You’re not getting out of it that easily.”

“No matter,” interrupted the fortune teller, “Ve vill see vot ze future holds for you, shall ve?” With that, she clasped Vicky’s hands in her own, and then closing her eyes trance-like, emitted a weird, high-pitched whine that sounded as though she was in considerable pain. “Eeeeyaaaaa-eeeee-oooohhhh.”

Vicky suppressed convulsions by biting down hard on the inside of her cheeks. This little comedy show had to be worth more than one lousy drink. Caitlyn didn’t know it yet but she was going to shout her a seriously good hangover’s worth.

“I see you are verrry wary of sumsink coming out into ze open,” began the mystic. “It iss sumsink to do vis a man.” Then, as an aside, she lowered her voice and whispered conspiratorially, “Zese private thoughts of yours are alvays to do vis a man, no?”

Vicky felt her face draining of colour but forced her features to remain inscrutable. This was a scam and nothing more. These charlatans always said things like that. You’ll meet a tall, dark and handsome stranger yada yada yada. Some people watched too much television for their own good.

“I see here you haf a deadline looming,” predicted Madame Manya trailing a chipped and dirty fingernail across the other’s palm. “You vill meet it verrry soon.”

Huh! She worked in a newspaper office for shit sake. Deadlines were part and parcel of the job on a daily basis. This Madame whatsername had probably been watching the pair of them through a gap in the tent before they’d entered. It was easily explained away. She glanced across at Caitlyn who stifled a giggle.

“Is that it? Anything else I should know?” Vicky asked, growing impatience clearly evident in her tone.

“Everysink iss all going black…no, wait…unless…”

“What is it? What do you see?” asked Caitlyn with more eagerness than Vicky thought the occasion warranted.

“Only zat…per’aps…I sink maybe you should ‘ave your car checked. Zere is maybe a failure of some kind. Per’aps with ze brakes, no?”


Her car, a gift from a previous lover, bless him, was perfectly fine. The service on it wasn’t due for another month and it had never given her a moment’s grief.

“Ah yes, as you vish.” But even though the fortune teller didn’t push the issue, adding with a dismissive flick of the wrist, “It iss probably of no consequence,” it was enough to send a small tendril of doubt curling up Vicky’s spine.

On Friday afternoon, Caitlyn stopped by Vicky’s corner office and propped herself on the edge of the desk, arms folded. “So, what time is it ready to be picked up from the garage?”

Vicky appreciated the fact that her co-worker hadn’t ribbed her about dropping her red BMW sports car in for a service. She felt ridiculous enough as it was. In fact, Caitlyn had given her the number of her own mechanic, a little place just up from the railway station and not far from their favourite pub.

“The woman on the phone – “

“That’d be Bev,” Caitlyn interrupted.

“Bev told me I could collect it around five thirty so that works out okay. Time enough to file this story for the morning edition, pick up the car and then drive us both to The Bullion Bar to meet with the others.”

“Actually, I’ve got a bit of catching up to do so you go on ahead and I’ll meet you there. All going well, I’ll be right behind you.”

Caitlyn closed the office door behind her, stopped by her desk to pick up her handbag and made her way quietly to the exit.

“Thank you so much, Bev,” Vicky said as she swiped her credit card through the machine on the front counter. “So it was just for the oil change and grease? You didn’t…I mean, there was nothing else…needing attention?”

“Nope, right as rain. I’ve personally gone over it from top to bottom. Bring on the weekend, eh?” She checked her wristwatch. “I’m locking up now. I’ll follow you out.”

Vicky had not driven half a block when the engine began to splutter and cough so she was pleased to see Bev’s Toyota Hilux single cab in the rear view mirror.

Caitlyn, who was scrunched down in the passenger seat of Bev’s 4WD, tried to sneak a peek of Vicky’s car above the dashboard. “You can sit up, silly, it won’t matter if she sees you now,” Bev laughed. “Zere couldn’t be a more perfect ending, dahlink.”

“Hehehe, that would have to be the worst Russian accent I’ve ever heard, bar none, Bev.”

“Madame Manya, to you, if you don’t mind, Daaaahlink.”

“Um…she can’t actually…get out, can she?” asked Caitlyn, the question furrowing her brow.

“Oh no, the self-locking system I installed this morning will make certain of that. Along with the water in the fuel tank, she’s got no hope of restarting the engine or getting out of the vehicle. Gee, she’s really giving it her best shot though, isn’t she?”

The two women sat and watched as brake lights flashed frantically on and off in front of them and the car horn blared.

“Told you she was a determined piece of work,” said Caitlyn. “She thinks I was oblivious to the affair she had with my husband. Then three months ago when I found out she was on with your Steve...”

Vicky’s movements inside the vehicle became frenzied.

“I love your wit too.” Caitlyn impersonated her friend’s terrible accent, “You haf a deadline to meet. Hehehe, dead on the line, deadline. I still can’t get over that.”

"Shhh, here comes the 5:45." Bev eased her car back from Vicky's bumper, reversing off the middle of the train tracks then let silence descend over them while they watched with a heady mix of excitement and anticipation at the high speed train thundering down on the stranded car.

Monday 11 May 2009

SPECIAL PLACE by Michael J. Solender

Here is a creepy one for you.

Special Place

The amount of money I stole from my employer was insignificant to them, a rounding error that they should never have even noticed. Had they involved the police? I didn’t know – my boss simply said the needed to see me downstairs in HR.

My eyes were stinging from the salty perspiration that flowed off my forehead. I couldn’t stop sweating. The air-conditioning in our building was usually bad but today, the hottest day of the year, it was totally non-functional.

I’d been sent downstairs to meet with the head of HR, Mr. Cipher. 15 years with the company and I’d never seen Cipher, let alone met him. Personnel, now “Human Resources” had a shit reputation and Cipher was known to be a ruthless bastard, a stooge for the big-cheesers.

Those sent down to meet him never returned to their offices so I expected the worst. I just couldn’t figure out how they caught me.

The elevator broken, I descended thirteen flights of stairs to the subterranean offices of HR and the feared, yet seldom seen, Cipher.

My shirt soaked thick with perspiration stuck to my back like spackle; I could smell the acrid sulfur, rotten-egg-like putrid stink of the building’s furnace firing up in July. I’d be glad to be escaping this place I thought.

What was a few hundred dollars a week that wouldn’t be going to those welfare cheats – what was the big deal?

Yes we were a state-funded social services agency that was established to be a last resort source of funds for society’s poorest.

These were crack-whores and their babies for the most part– what was one or two less on the public dole?

I needed the cash. My debts were closing in on me, I couldn’t help that I’d had an incredible string of bad luck with the ponies; it was bound to turn around.

As I got closer to Cipher’s hallway, the heat became more stifling. My throat got dryer by the step. Would the cops be waiting with him?

Had they found out about the embezzling at my church as well? Jesus, all those do-gooders made me sick. Sending monies to Africa and those orphanages.

What about ME, I have needs too damn it!

I was beginning to get nauseous and faint, the heat was unbearable, it had to be over 100 degrees in the basement- weren’t basements supposed to be cool?

I opened the double doors to HR and standing with his back towards me was a hulk of a man I determined to be Cipher. He was imposing and I couldn’t even see his face. Easily 6’6” tall his jet black hair was completely slicked back into a pointy duck-bill that rested on the nap of his neck.

Hearing me come in he began to turn around. I was relieved at not seeing any police; I decided to speak first and introduced myself and asked if I was here to be fired.

Facing me now, his eyes were steely and black as was his suit. He stroked his pointy chin and then spoke:

“Welcome,” he said “I’m Mr. Cipher, Lew Cipher. Fired? With your talents? Not at all, I expect you’ll be with us a while, a very long while.” he laughed viscously as his nostrils flared and just a wisp of smoke came out of them. “We have a special little place here just for you!”

Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for the Charlotte Observer and NEVER runs with scissors. His fiction has appeared online at 6S, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Flashshot and Dogzplot (soon). He blogs here:

Saturday 9 May 2009

HOME - by Essie Gilbey

TKnC welcomes yet another debutant...


Home was always an awkward word for him. When his parents used it, they meant Pakistan, but he'd never been there. Was home here, then - in London, where drunks called out insults in the street and people stared at him fearfully on the tube? He hadn't learned the true meaning of the word home, until the night he’d lost it.

The night he'd lost his home, he'd sat in this spot and watched the flames reflected in the window of the Tesco Express. His mum remembered when it hadn't been a Tesco's, it'd been a local corner store.

"It was much better then," she said. "None of this packaged rubbish."

That was five months ago.

His mum had died in the fire and his brother Robbie and his dad too. He was supposed to die too, but he hadn't. He'd woken up, smelling smoke and he'd tried to get out of his room, but it was too hot and he called out to the others, but he couldn't hear them. He'd ended up jumping out of his window into the small garden outside. Right onto his dad's prize roses. Broke his leg in three places, but that didn't stop him limping along screaming;


and someone came out and then there were other screams and the scream of the fire engines blended in with it all. But he never heard his family scream. Were they already dead, when he woke? Had it already been too late?

The police said they didn't know who started the fire, but he knew. It was one of those white kids who hung around the tube and yelled;

"All right, Paki?"

whenever he went by. Or maybe it was one of the drunks who always wanted to know why he didn't go back home and he always felt like answering,

"If I knew where it was, I bloody would!"

Or maybe it was one of the people on the tube; those respectable people with their frightened eyes. He didn't think the police would ever find out who it was. He didn't think they would even try.

He'd stayed in too many places, since the fire. He was a difficult case, the social worker said. The wrong colour, she didn't say. His current place was with an older couple; no kids, very neat and quiet. They'd wanted a girl, but you can't pick and choose, they said. They would make do. The social worker smiled and said at least they were the same race as him.

"They're Indian," he'd said angrily.

"Yes. Well. We're all British, really, aren't we?" the social worker had pleaded.

He tiptoed through the Indian couple's house, stifled by how much it wasn't home. So tonight, when he woke as he so often did, smelling smoke and yelling;


and no one came to check up on him (they were used to his nightmares and knew he would settle down on his own) he snuck out of the house, his leg healed by now, and he walked the three miles to where his home had once been. The house was still there, blinded by the fire; the walls still standing, but the windows boarded up. He could still smell the smoke, see the black stains on the bricks. The other houses stood on either side, seemingly unscathed, a light on in one window.

He wondered about the unfairness of it, that they escaped and his home didn't. That he escaped and they didn't.

He sat on the kerb - in the gutter and wouldn't his mum have scolded him for that, if she'd caught him? - and he stared at his home, reflected in Tesco's window. Only in the reflection the house wasn't blinded, it was whole, and his family were standing outside, right by his dad's blooming rose bush, itself unscathed, and they were waving at him and he ran across to meet them and

there were screams,

when the car collided, but none of them were his. He was already back home.

BIO: Essie Gilbey is an ex-pat Brit living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She still hasn't got used to the cold of the winters here. She loves reading short stories; this is her first one to be published.

Thursday 7 May 2009

THE OAK TREE - by Col Bury

Based on truth…


If only I knew, but how could I? I was a young, cocky know-it-all and somewhat blinkered. A little acorn, I knew nothing yet.

It was the death rattle that awoke me. If you’ve ever heard one then you know it’s aptly named as it resounded around the house, stirring me as I slept. Semi-conscious now this sentence - or was it a premonition? - ran through my brain: ‘Your dad’s dead - that’s not a bad excuse for being late for work is it?’ Whatever it was, it certainly got my ‘lazy ass’ - as dad so subtly put it - out of bed.

My dad had been strict with me over the years; had to be really. I’d always had a sharp retort ready because I knew it all, right? Unlike my brother who always took dad’s advice, hung on his every word, respected him, was his friend.

I’d been restless all night, on edge, not wanting to receive another bollocking for being late after a customary late night writing, chasing the dream. I’d over-snoozed the alarm and had been scraping the barrel of excuses for one I’d not yet used, but my bullshit box was empty. There are only so many flat tyres a car can get and I’d already assured the boss I’d buy new batteries for the alarm clock.

When my mum’s high-pitched wailing accompanied the bizarre sentence about dad being dead I found myself bouncing from my bed. Opening the door I met Derek’s concerned face on the landing. We both took three steps at a time as the death rattle and mum’s shrieks became deafening.

‘He’s…near…the bin,’ cried mum.

I followed Derek outside to the wheelie bin and we scanned frantically.

Mum kept her distance, screaming from the hall. ‘No…no! In the… kitchen!’

The rattle continued, unforgettable once heard.

I found dad first. Beside the pedal bin, a buckled stool upturned in the corner. The stool my dad sat on every day - since his retirement from the Power Station two years prior - smoking and drinking coffee as he watched the world pass by through the kitchen window while stewing on the latest family drama. A born worrier; obviously where I get it from.

His blue eyes were open as he lay there on his back. Their sparkle absent, they stared blankly, heavenwards. The rattle had diminished. He looked more relaxed than I’d ever seen him, the worry lines less defined somehow.

‘Get an ambulance!’ I said.

‘There’s one…on the…way.’ I glimpsed mum peering through banisters where the stairs met the hall.

‘Aw, no…daaaad!’ yelled Derek.

I didn’t cry. There was no time for that. Mouth to mouth. Two breaths in…his chest rose. ‘It’s working!’ I pumped his chest then blew two more breaths. The slight regurgitation of dad’s last meal tasted bitter, but my focus remained.

My dad: The Oak Tree. Maybe I could save him and finally we could be friends.

But I soon realized I was just blowing air into his lungs, nothing more. I continued regardless, tears welling now, mum sobbing uncontrollably in the hallway as Derek hugged her.

A neighbour, Ken, rushed in to assist, taking over the resuscitation attempts and I stood back, knowing. Breathless, I glanced again at mum, hands over her face, her world shattered, retirement plans stolen. I knew, too, my Big Sis’ would take this real bad. And telling her filled me with dread. A vicious pain stabbed my heart.

When the ambulance arrived Ken stepped aside. The paramedics tried with their defibrillator, but drew a flat line and took dad with them, leaving us a printout as a souvenir. Gee thanks.

Numb, in a dream-world, we toasted my dad with his favourite tipple: rum and black. I tried to be philosophical for mum’s sake, though it didn’t really work. Too soon, too raw. Emotional wrecks, we went to bed.

As I turned out the bedside light and pulled the blankets up it happened.

I was completely and utterly engulfed by a feeling of warmth and love…God?…an angel?…my dad?...I dunno. I said out loud three times, ‘Thank you,’ with each wave of this wonderful yet surreal feeling. Then I drifted into the deepest of sleeps.

In the ensuing days I didn’t mention this and, to be honest, I’d forgotten about it as the funeral arrangements weighed heavy on us all. And, yes, my Big Sis’ took the news terribly, our tearful embrace lasting close on half an hour.

On the night of the funeral I’d gone on the old rum and black again - dad would’ve wanted me to – and I recalled the strange and incredible feeling I’d had the night he’d died.

Knowing Derek was a sceptic it was difficult to broach the subject as the last of the guests from the wake left, but the rum helped, a lot. I poured another each and plopped in a couple of cubes of ice.

‘Dek, I’m sure he visited me last week.’


‘Me dad.’

He shook his dipped head. ‘Bollocks.’

‘Explain this then. When I went to bed the night he died I was overwhelmed by an amazing feeling of love.’

His head raised and he eyed me.

‘The only way I can describe it is an orgasm times a thousand.’

His gaze intensified.

‘But it wasn’t sexual, just…well, really powerful unconditional love throughout my body.’ I saw him shaking his head again. ‘Aah, forget it…I knew you wouldn’t understand.’

‘I felt that, too, arkid.’

I was taken aback and necked my rum. ‘Really?’

‘Yeah. But I didn’t understand it and would have kept it to myself if you hadn’t said that. Your description was spot on.’

I stared at him, shocked. ‘I knew he was dead beforehand, too.’ I then told him about the bizarre sentence.

‘So did I,’ he said calmly.


‘So his last act was to kick both our lazy asses out of bed then?’

We both laughed nervously and raised our glasses with a clink to toast dad.

‘Have we been touched by angels, Dek, or was it dad saying goodbye?’

Donning a pensive look, he emptied his glass and slapped it on the coffee table. ‘Nah…that’s all a loada bollocks that stuff.’

Typical of him. But I wasn’t so sure…

Over the years I’ve grown into an Oak Tree myself. Not as sturdy as my dad mind, the winds of life still make me sway somewhat, but I’m getting there. And I’ve a couple of little acorns now, too. They’ve already carved their names on me, which is a tad disrespectful: cheeky little mites.

I just hope they learn to appreciate me before The Oak Tree falls.

Col Bury is currently writing a crime novel and his ever-growing selection of short stories can be found on TKnC and A Twist Of Noir. He blogs and interviews crime authors here: