Flash Fiction Friday – Nature Vs. Nurture

In your lifetime, you’ve walked past thirty-six murderers. Isn’t that astounding? Thirty-six murderers. I’ll bet every one of them looked you up and down, maybe gave you a little smile, all the while fantasising about butchering you in as many ways as will make your head spin.

They can be very creative creatures, murderers. Some prefer knives, others use their hands, and others still dream of methods you would never even think possible. It’s frightening really.

While you are living your life in blissful ignorance, someone somewhere is enjoying the thrill of the hunt. Someone is breaking into another’s house or snatching an unsuspecting victim from the street. The really malicious, and there are a few, lure you to them. The skill that must take. You have to give them a little credit for that. One minute you’re laughing at the possibility of taking advantage of an infirm gent who just wants the best deal on his car; the next you’re bound and gagged in his basement. There’s a kind of irony in that, don’t you think?

People fascinate me. What makes one person become a doctor or a lawyer and another relish in the joy of extinguishing a life? Ever heard of the old nature versus nurture debate? I’m no expert but I’ve heard enough evidence to suggest it could go either way. Not convinced about the influence of videogames though. If videogames warped our minds, we’d all be running around gravity-defying landscapes collecting gold rings and saving woodland creatures. Amaright?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! What is it that makes one human being want to kill another? Why are some of us hardwired to violence? How do killers choose their victims? How do they refine their technique? So many questions and so little time. I suppose no one will ever know for certain, not even them.

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that, in your life to date, you’ve walked past thirty-six murderers. I can’t let you make that thirty-seven.


Okay. I’d first like to say thanks to all of you who have been patient with the lack of activity on this page. I experienced some….technical difficulties…in reality…my reality…anywho, this is my first post in far too long and the first of many which will form part of the Horror-Off Challenge set by fellow Sarcastic Muse inmate, Amanda Headlee. As soon as she posts her response, I’ll be sure to add a link. In the meantime, you can enjoy her work here and over at Sarcastic Muse.

If anybody else is interested in participating, we will be posting a prompt a week and would love to see what you make of it. This week’s prompt, chosen by Amanda, is:

“Within your lifetime, you’ve walked past thirty-six murderers.”

Thanks for reading.

 

Flash Fiction Friday – Memento Mori

Dear Sir/Madam,

I will be calling for you at 14:35 on Friday 9th September. To ensure your passing is handled in a swift and efficient manner, please make yourself available at your allotted time and present this card. Unfortunately, the details of your demise cannot be issued for security reasons. If you have any questions, or wish to reschedule this appointment, please contact me on the above number and quote your customer reference number.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Mr T. G. Reaper, esq.

 


Memento Mori (Latin: remember that you will die)

I get little cards reminders through the post everyday: from the doctor, from the dentist, from utility companies wanting to read the meters. I can’t think of a better memento mori than an embossed ‘save the date’ card.

Chris Musgrave, Sept 2014

Flash Fiction Friday – Late

Just after nine and already the day wasn’t going well. I was late; my boss had called three times to remind me. I could hear the agitated rapping of his pen on the desk. A clicking I’d assumed was a poor connection at first.

‘I don’t care what you do, just get your arse here now,’ he’d said as he terminated the connection. Shit.

I raced out of the house, a bundle of blueprints curled under my arm. They poked out at jaunty angles from behind my elbow. I jostled them as I dug through my jacket pockets for my keys. One caught on the doorframe, pulled them free from my grasp. I watched them roll away down the drive.

This time I cursed so loudly that the choir above me lost their beat. Wings ruffled and the hosannas paused momentarily. A million gazes fixed themselves upon me. I didn’t look up. A pair of angels nesting on the roof of my car took flight, leaving a trail of stars and three silver feathers in their wake. Great, it’ll take me a month of Sundays to get the stardust off the Honda’s paint.

I grumbled to myself. Snatching each of the plans from the floor, I threw them into the back seat. Of course, the last one, and only one my boss cared about, had rolled under the car, just out of reach. I knelt on the ground. Something damp soaking through the material of my pants. I didn’t want to know what it was. I used a drafting ruler to fish at the plan.

My phone buzzed. I answered though the Bluetooth earpiece.

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Where are you?’ It was the boss. ‘He’s due in fifteen minutes.’

‘Almost there,’ I lied. The ruler snagged on a rock. Its end flicked out, swatting the plan and sending it spiralling out the back. Not what I’d planned, but it was free. ‘Got to go.’ I keyed off the phone before he could argue and ran around the car to retrieve it.

My fingers curled around the sodden paper and pulled. It didn’t move.

Something growled, low and guttural, in my ear. Sour breath warmed my cheek and I half-turned to find a lion’s head chewing the end of the plan. A second head, this one the soft, white dome of an eagle, eyed me suspiciously. I let out a sigh.

‘Nice, cherub. Good, cherub,’ I cooed, placing a hand on its mane and pushing gently. The cherub growled again. Its teeth bit deeper into the plan. I felt like killing someone.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I jabbed at the answer key.

‘What?!’ I screamed.

‘Where are you, Saraqael?’ The voice coming through the earpiece was almost a whisper and yet it still sent a shiver through my wings. Not my boss this time; something much worse. ‘The CEO is waiting.’

Flash Fiction Friday – Seeds

There was something stuck in the old book’s binding. At first glance, I thought it was just a mark – a printer’s stamp maybe, or a publisher’s brand. Only after closer inspection did I realise what it was. A single word, handwritten, in a vibrant emerald ink which glistened as though still wet. The word was “idea”.

It seemed odd that someone would write anything on a binding where no one could see it, more so that it was done with such care and in as ornate a style as this. I wouldn’t have seen it myself if I hadn’t dropped the volume – a treatise on the use of brainstorming to combat creative block – when retrieving it from my bookshelf. It’d fallen hard against the corner of my desk, cracking the spine, and spilling a handful of its dry, yellowing pages across the floor.

I gathered up the book and the fallen pages and set them on the desk beside my laptop. It was getting late and the light in the study wasn’t good. While examining the damage under the orange glow of an arched study lamp, I found it. I almost laughed when I read the word. If only finding an idea was that simple. Still, it was intriguing and before I knew it, my index finger was tracing the looping characters.

When I removed it, the finger came away wet. The skin at the tip was stained green. I cursed, checked the word for any smudging. Nothing. My relief caught in my throat. I decided that it was too late to attempt a repair on the book, so I switched off the light, closed the laptop and went to bed.

* * *

After breakfast, I sat down at my desk and inspected the book. The damage looked worse in the morning’s bright sun. Fractured lines appeared to radiate from the edges of its leather cover and along some of the loose pages. I tilting the book this way and that and the light caught in the cracks. Green ink, thick and wet, filled the valleys, drawing gossamer tendrils across the paper. I hadn’t noticed these before but couldn’t say with any confidence that they weren’t there before. Either way, it was beyond my abilities to repair and I set the book to one side with the intention of searching for a professional bookbinder. But before I could, the most wonderful idea struck me and I hurried to the laptop.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon when I stopped writing. I sat back in the chair with a sense of achievement unlike anything I’d felt in a while. My fingers were sore and itching. I rubbed them absentmindedly on the cover of the book as I read the words on the screen.

Another idea popped into my head.

And then another. So many ideas, I could scarcely get them down on paper. I nudged the book during a bout of frantic scribbling. It fell open across the paper.

Green ink covered the pages. The fractal patterns had grown, shifted, looping themselves into more ornate words. They merged together, overwriting one another. Here and there I could make out a legible word: dark, contractor, harbour. I don’t know why but I reached up and touched one. A flash of imagery, a scene of a story, jolted through my head like lightning.

I recoiled with a shudder then tentatively touched a second and saw the crashing of waves, a seaside squall. All the ideas I could ever want or need were right at my fingertips, accessible through the gentlest of touches. What had I done to deserve such a gift?

I stared at my hands, at the green smudge still marring my index finger. It was no longer a smudge, but a word. The word was “idea”.

Flash Fiction Friday – Faith

I put tulips under all the pillows. Tulips had always been her favourite. She found them so vibrant, so radiant – just as she’d been before the end.

There wasn’t a week that went by that I wouldn’t come home with a bouquet of those flowers. The house was filled with them. Their sweet fragrance greeted visitors, and there were so many visitors. All of them wanted to see her, to lay hands on her. They worshipped her, prayed to her but only I was granted her blessing. I worked harder than any to give tribute.

Soon it was too much and I had to begin turning them away. That was around the time the worst of the violence started. It started the way all things do with minor grumblings of annoyance and the odd hurtful word, directed first at me and then at those who made pilgrimage. The first stones were cast a few days later and, by the end of the week, those allowed to enter her rooms were being accosted by the ones turned away. They didn’t understand.

The police and other authorities told me they were powerless to intervene, told me that now may be the time to let her go. I couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I spoke to her every night as I dressed her and combed her hair. I asked her what I should do. She wouldn’t say –not at first.

Her instructions came through my dreams, hazy in the beginning and then fully-formed. She told me that she was pleased, that I was most blessed. She asked me for one last act of faith. I told her I would do anything she asked of me, but she already knew that.

The following days and weeks took their toll on her as the hatred and violence rose to a horrifying crescendo beneath her windows. The glow faded from her bright eyes, her bronzed skin grew waxy and dull. She wasn’t who I knew her to be, wasn’t what the world wanted her to be.

I was expecting it when the order came. She woke me from restless sleep and told me what to do. I was to give them what they wanted. The instant the words left her lips, I was filled with a serenity I’d never thought achievable in my meditations. All would be over soon. Everything would be alright once again.

I woke late that day. They were already at the door. Hundreds of them, more than I’d ever seen. As always, I put tulips under all the pillows, fixed a humbled smile upon my lips and unlocked the doors. They rushed inside, surging forward up the stairs. The mass of bodies held me against the wall. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. They soon passed. They weren’t here for me.

I waited, as she’d instructed, until every last one was inside then I stepped outside, locked the door securely and set fire to the house

Flash Fiction Friday – The End

The instant I opened my door, I knew I’d grown tired of the world. Despite the half-foot of snow that had fallen overnight, the view from my hall was the same dull sight which greeted me every day. That damned Alsatian from across the street was squatting in the rose bushes. Its owner, the lamentable Mr Davis, staggered about his lawn, using the handlebar of his push-pull mower to support his substantial frame. He was doing an admirable job ignoring the mutt befouling my garden.

Davis wore only a tartan dressing gown despite the freezing wind, the belt loosely tied around his waist. It flapped open as he walked and I was treated to the sight of him in his entirety. If anyone was to ask, that was the exact moment I decided to end it all.

I checked my purse for my keys, couldn’t find them but that wouldn’t matter – I wouldn’t be coming back. The porch was slick with ice and I clung tightly to the handrail as I descended the few steps. Behind me, the door closed with a click.

Davis’s head flicked up at the sound. He saw me through glazed eyes and gave his beer can a wiggle in my direction; a gesture I took to be a wave. I pressed my lips together into something resembling a smile, muttered a curse under my breath, and waved back. The second his fat, bald head turned back to his lawn, my hand twisted, extended its middle finger. If I could’ve gotten close enough, I would’ve kicked the dog too.

The commute into town was arduous, painful. The snow caused havoc with the public transport system and, as always, the train was late. It left the station overcrowded, overheated and reeking of body odour. They should ban people who refuse to acquaint themselves with soap from the trains as a kindness to the rest of us. Not that it’ll matter much longer.

I accomplished my last good deed when I gave up my seat to an older lady with an obvious bad hip and a severe limp. We watched incredulously as it was stolen by some Chav in a hoodie and earphones before the old dear had even twitched. The fucking nerve… But that wasn’t the worst of it. Further down the coach, an argument erupted between a thug and his trophy wife which resulted in her receiving a cuff across the jaw and a split lip. Forty people watched it and not one intervened.

Go humanity! Go common decency!

I’d planned to do it at work, from the roof of the building where my office was, but I couldn’t wait any longer. When the train belched me and the rest of the maggots onto the platform, I headed straight for the multi-storey. The wind was bitter up on the roof, pulling me this way and that. Between it and the ice, I have no idea how I made it to the edge without breaking my neck. It was all there before me, a rotten mass chewed up and tossed aside by its inhabitants. A failed experiment waiting for its turn in the incinerator.

I climbed over the railings, ignored the wind whipping around me, through my skirt and hair. I stretched out my arms, fingers curling around air, and I folded.

And I folded.

And I folded.

In the end, the whole thing was small enough to fit in my purse. I pushed it deep down to the bottom, far away from the other failed worlds, still to be processed, to avoid cross contamination; it was rare but it had happened. Further analysis would be needed before I tried again and…

…would you know it, I found my damn keys.

Flash Fiction Friday – Oblivious

The urgent thumping on the door made Lillian jump.

‘W-who’s there?’ she called, inching toward it.

‘This is the police, Mrs Sonne. Is everything alright in there?’ A stern voice called from the hall, muffled by the heavy door. ‘Can you open the door?’

She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding in and rushed to unbolt it. She flung it open and found two uniformed officers standing on the threshold. A corona of yellow light from an ancient wall sconce surrounded their capped heads. Lillian shielded her eyes from the light and resisted the urge to throw herself at them, to embrace them.

‘Thank you for coming.’

She stepped aside and motioned for them to enter. The first officer, a tall man with a narrow face and heavy-lidded eyes, stepped inside, removing his peaked cap as he did. He tucked it under his arm. His colleague, a short, stocky woman with cropped blonde hair, cast a glance up and down the hall before she followed.

‘We’re responding to a report of domestic disturbance,’ the first said. ‘Did you make that report, Mrs Sonne?’

‘Call me Lillian, and yes, I reported the “disturbance”,’ she chirped and walked them into a dim lounge. Black candles littered every surface. Their burning wicks caused the shadows to dance. She pointed them to a cream-coloured couch.

Narrow face sat and took out his notebook. Blondie excused herself to look around.

‘Tell me what happened, Mrs Sonne.’

Lillian sat beside him, knees close to his.

‘My husband has never been an observant man, officer…?’ she said.

‘Winters.’

‘Officer Winters. Lovely. I abhor unobservant men and my husband rarely noticed anything. I’d buy new shoes and he’d no idea. I changed my hairstyle and he’d fail to realise. Today is our anniversary and I’d cooked for him. Beef wellington, his favourite. I’d done my hair just as he liked it and I’d put on his favourite dress,’ she indicated the blue, satin gown with a wave of her hands. ‘What did he do? He ignored me, went to watch the football in the den.’

‘The disturbance, Mrs Sonne?’

‘Hush, I’m getting to that. I’d had enough and confronted him about it.’ Her voice lowered, almost inaudible. Winters leaned closer to hear. ‘He got abusive and he hit me.’

‘And where is your husband now?’

‘Why, Officer Winters, he’s dead. I killed him.’

‘You killed him?’ the officer said slowly.

Lillian smiled, nodded.

She leaned in close, her breath hot on his cheek, and whispered, ‘the devil made me do it.’

A scream echoed from the next room, followed by a wet thud and the cracking of wood.

The officer snapped up straight and stared at Lillian.

‘What was that?’ He demanded.

She ignored him, ‘can I ask you something, officer?’

He didn’t answer, couldn’t turn away from her.

Lillian’s eyes flickered bright and, from deep in her throat, a twin set of voices purred in unison: ‘Do you notice anything different about me?’

Flash Fiction Friday

THE MONSTER IN MY WARDROBE

By Thomas Buchannan, aged 7 ¾

Theres a monster that lives in my wardrobe. I can see it when my dad switches out the light at bedtime. Its ugly, and it smells, and it has a big fat nose just like my sister, but its not my sister, its a monster. Its still small but it keeps telling me that when it gets bigger it will come out and eat me. I don’t want it to eat me.

I told my dad about it and he did that thing where he rolls his eyes and breathes funny. He told me to go back to bed but I didnt. I just screamed until he said alright alright Ill check in the wardrobe for you but you better go to bed after, and I said okay.

It wasnt there when he looked. I think it was hiding under my football kit. I told dad to hit it with the baseball bat, but dad told me not to be so stupid and to go to sleep, then he turned the light off and went back to his bedroom. My mum asked him if I was okay and dad said hes just having a nightmare, but I wasnt. I didnt go to sleep in case the monster ate me.

It was in my wardrobe again last night. I saw it peeking at me through the gap in the door. It was more bigger than last time. I told my dad but he said that I was just being silly cause there are no such things as monsters, and I said but there is dad look, and he said get back into bed and go to sleep I have to be up early for work. He always has to be up early for work. I didnt want him to go but he got cross and shouted at me and then he turned off the light.

The monster opened the wardrobe door and it smiled at me. It had sharp teeth that made me scared. I asked if it still wanted to eat me, and it said yes, and I said why don’t you eat my sister instead shes older and more bigger. It told me to shush and that it was going to eat me because it liked boys best. I wish my dad would believe me about the monster.

I saw it this morning while I was getting ready for school. It was a lot more bigger and it was laughing and dripping its stinky slime on my shoes. I shouted at it to stop laughing but it didnt. It said it was big enough to come out tonight.

I don’t want to go back home.

Flash Fiction Friday – Don’t Let the Truth

‘I’d seen some big ones in my time, but this one…this one was huge.’ Jack shook himself and zipped his fly with a grunt. ‘I mean it. It was as long as my fucking arm.’

‘The mosquito?’ I asked over the pathetic wheeze of the hand dryer. ‘The mosquito you saw on Mars?’

Jack shot me a look. ‘What else would I be talking about?’

‘And you went to Mars on a rocket built by the Sultan of Brunei? Don’t bother with the dryer, my hands are still soaked.’

‘First of all it was a shuttle and, second, the Sultan didn’t build it, he sponsored it, ‘ he wiped his wet hands on the seat of his jeans. ‘Am I going to have to repeat everything?’

‘No, no. I just wanted to be certain I heard you right.’

He didn’t say anything else.

We pushed through the bathroom door and resumed our seats at the bar. Dave, the barman, had two fresh drinks waiting for us. Jack sat in silence for a long while, smacking his lips occasionally before taking a long pull on his larger. I wondered if that was it, if he’d finally reached the end of his story. The big man had been chewing my ear off for the last hour, regaling me with his ‘tales of wonder’. I’d been trying to leave for as long, thought I’d figured out how to escape but he followed me into the bathroom. I contemplated making my excuses to leave, considered what to say.

Just as I opened my mouth to wish him a nice evening, he put down the empty glass and half-turned to face me. He dipped his head closer to mine and, in a low, conspiratorial voice, whispered, ‘it’s not like the photos, y’know?’

‘What isn’t?’

‘Mars, jeez!’

‘What do you mean “it’s not like the photos”?’ I couldn’t help myself; must have been the journalist in me.

‘Green, fucking everywhere. Red planet my arse,’ he murmured. ‘Tropical rainforest from one end to the other. S’like Nottingham used to be, only without that guy in the tights. Y’know wassis name? Erroll Flynn.’

‘Robin Hood.’

‘Who?’

‘Never mind,’ I waved a hand dismissively. ‘So, you’re telling me Mars’s really a forest planet inhabited by mosquitoes as long as your arm? What about the satellite images? Curiosity’s photos?’

‘What about them?

‘I think we’d have noticed the forests by now.’

‘And waterfalls,’ he added.

‘Waterfalls?!’

‘Yeah, there’s a massive one all the way down the side of Aeolis Mons. I used to sneak down there first thing in the morning to watch this Martian hottie…’ Jack’s eyes seemed vacant and I lost him to his thoughts.

I’d had enough. ‘I don’t fucking believe a w—’

‘A world government would lie to us for all this time, I know. Crazy right? Y’want to know the weirdest thing though?’

What could possibly be next?

‘That bloody Sultan never even paid me, told me he was skint. Fancy another drink?’

Flash Fiction Friday – In Memoriam

The wail of the air-raid siren was deafening even that far underground. I watched them: the women, the workers, as they huddled together in their small groups. Their bodies shivering in the bitter cold, flinching and whimpering at each crash of the distant bombs. The earth above them shook under the bombardment and, each time it did, they’d press closer together. All but one.

She sat alone. Her back against the cold tiles, knees tucked tightly against her chest. She was sobbing quietly. Her tears cut clean tracks through the black grease that stained her cheeks.

I sat beside her and touched her bare arm. She hadn’t known I was there, hadn’t registered the caress. I could see then, her thoughts and memories. I could see her slender hands and arms buried deep in the machine’s innards. She worked fast, fretting the delay and the loss of production. She knew her role was vital, knew all of them were vital. They relied on her, he relied on her, wherever he was.

She jumped as another bomb landed nearby and my hand slipped from her. Loose earth dusted her blond curls.

When I touched her again, I saw the life that grew inside her. She hadn’t told anyone, hadn’t wanted to worry the father, hadn’t wanted to lose her job. She trembled beneath my fingers and wondered, what if he never comes back?

I dried her tears and kissed her brow, but she never saw me. I whispered softly into her ear, words for her and her alone. Her shoulders rose, back straightened and the corner of her mouth twitched, curling into a smile. She had known then, known they’d get through it. The country would survive, the world would survive, because of her and countless others like her. I’d given her a piece of my heart, just a little to fortify her own.

I found him on a French beach, amongst the broken bodies of his fallen brothers, pinned down by enemy fire. Bullets and shrapnel cracked and whizzed past his head, so close he could feel their heat on his skin. His face was pale, eyes wide. He stared out from beneath his scuffed, oversized helmet at the face of his sergeant, watching the man’s red face while he screamed at him to “Move! Move! Move!” The sergeant’s spittle landing on the soldier’s face.

If he could hear the order, he made no visible sign. The din of the battle drowned out everything but the screams of the wounded and dying. I watched the sergeant lean towards him, watched the older man’s expression contort and then freeze. I shirked away as the gore and bone that had been his head struck the soldier wetly on the cheek. The soldier touched it with a shaking hand and looked like he would vomit. He turned then, stared right up into my eyes.

He saw me. Really, saw me.

“An angel,” he whispered and I shook my head.

I offered him a hand, which he took and, as skin brushed skin, I felt his fear, not for himself but for his young wife back home in England. He was doing this for her, to protect her, to protect all of them – the wives and the children. I nodded, leaned in close and whispered in his ear.

He smiled, raised his weapon and, with a battle cry dancing on his tongue and through his heart, he pushed on up the beach.

 

In Memoriam

On this day seventy years ago, thousands of fighting men lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy, France fighting for our freedom and the freedom of Europe. We owe much to these men. We owe it to them to remember their sacrifices, remember their bravery. These men gave us courage, they gave us strength…they gave us hope.