Category Archives: Short Stories

Chorizo, the Chocolate Dragon

Short Stories

I met my Dragon on the way grandma’s house, well not my Dragon as such. It was flitting between the trees trying to look frightening, without much success. Chameleons are great at blending into the background but this Dragon had it all wrong. Red where there should be green and green where red leaves should hide her.

“Come here you silly Dragon, you can’t hide from me.”

“But I’m good at changing colour.”

“Yes, but only changing to the wrong ones.”

“Sorry.”

“Here, look at this,” said Melisa, pulling out some Ishihara charts, which she always took in her handbag. “What number do you see?”

“Three.”

“Wrong,” said Melisa. “And this one?”

“Five.”

“I thought so, you’re colour blind,” she said. “I suppose we should introduce ourselves, I’m Melisa.

“Chorizo!”

“Bless you.”

“No Chorizo, the chocolate dragon.”

“Chorizo isn’t a chocolate.”

“Tell my dad that,” said Chorizo. “I had all the Italian lads chasing me with knives and forks.”

“How horrid.”

“I got my own back as I let off a few fires bursts.”

“So why are you skulking around the woods?”

“The other dragons mock me because of my short nose. So, don’t you rub my nose in it as well”

“What, your short nose,” said Melisa, ducking, as a puff of fire squirted from Chorizo’s nostrils.

“Now, now just a tease,” apologised Melisa. “Is there a reason for it being so short?”

“You don’t know much about Dragon Law, do you?”

“Well I do actually, it goes back to Baden Powell days, something about doing a good deed makes your nose grow.”

“Yes, Pinocchio had it all wrong. Anyway, I’m waiting for a good deed to come along.”

“I think you’ll find that good deeds hardly present themselves,” said Melisa. “You probably have to go out and find them.”

“Would you help me?”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“Why are you off to see your grandmother?”

“She’s got some baskets for me for the grand Easter Egg hunt.”

“Can I help?”

“I don’t see why not but don’t scare Gran with your big teeth.”

Melissa knocked on Gran’s thick oak door, freshly polished and smelling of Lavender. “Friends here Gran.”

“Melisa do come in but leave that sneaky Dragon outside.”

“He’s fine, only a little misunderstood.”

“Your baskets are in the corner,” said Gran. “What have you brought me today?”

“I’ve picked some lovely berries and some chestnuts.”

“Roasted?”

“Not yet, do you want Chorizo to roast them for you?”

“Yes please, but put them in the grate first, I don’t want a fire.”

Melissa put the chestnuts in the fireplace and Chorizo breathed a gentle flame until there were perfect.

“See I told you he was a good Dragon.”

“Yes, I can see we’ll get on like a house on fire,” said Gran.

“Stop!” said Melissa, as Chorizo threatened a conflagration. “It’s just an expression.”

“Sorry.”

“We must be going or we’ll be late with hiding the eggs.”

They were soon back in the small town where Melissa told Chorizo to hide, unfortunately by a red brick house. “Wrong colour.”

“Sorry.” Said Chorizo turning from blue to purple and finally to red.

“Better. Now, let me see about the chocolate eggs.”

Melissa entered the shop to buy Easter eggs for the hunt.

“I’m sorry,” said the shopkeeper. “All Badburies eggs are sold out although there was a lot of grumbling that the crafty company has made them all cheesy. But there are no mother’s eggs at all.”

“Mothers?”

“Sorry, you know them as Ma’s of course.”
“What am I going to do. There’s only a couple of days left, I’ve never let the children down before,” said Melissa. “What happened?”

“The rumour has it, that someone sabotaged the factory and blew the gas main so they wouldn’t melt the chocolate.”

“I can solve that,” said Melissa. “Chorizo come here we’re off to sluff.” She climbed on her back and the flew through the smog to the large, now dormant, factory.

“I understand you have a chocolate problem,” said Melissa. “I think we can help.”

“Well the vat is cold but even if we melt that, all the machinery is cold and clogged with old chocolate.” He said “We’ll never sort it out even with a dragon.”

“Don’t worry about that let me show you.”

Chorizo drew breath and hurled flame at the congealed mass, which soon turned into delicious melted chocolate. Chorizo swallowed a huge mouthful of chocolate and within minutes was laying perfect chocolate eggs of varying sizes.

The foreman rushed out to get his men to wrap the eggs.

“We can’t put them through our machines as they are metric sizes so we’ll have to do them by hand.”

“Oh, do you want them wrapped,” said Chorizo. “Hand me that roll of silver foil.”

Melissa handed over the silver foil and in no time at all perfectly wrapped Easter eggs popped out ready for the staff to pop them into boxes and baskets.

“What about coloured ones?” asked the foreman, hopefully.

See that pile of glittery wrapping paper and Christmas cards that can’t be recycled, pass them across,” said Chorizo.

Melissa and the foreman passed the pile of glittery wrapping and cards for the obliging dragon.

Now the best colours are red and blue,” said Melissa, suddenly biting her tongue.

“No, no,” as the eggs rolled down the conveyor belt, exclaimed Melissa. “Blue and green should never be seen.”

“What,” said Chorizo.

“The other green.”

“Sorry.”

Beautiful red and blue wrapped eggs emerged, rolling towards the final baskets.

“That’s enough,” said Melissa. “Thank you so much, you’ve saved the day.”

A few days later when all the eggs had been found under the bushes and hastily consumed, the town decided that thanks were due and organized a banquet in honour of Melissa and Chorizo.

“We would like to present Chorizo with this beautiful chocolate golden medallion for all that he has done for us,” said the Mayor, looping the ribbon around Chorizo’s neck and now, long nose. “Not only has he rescued us from that awful northern chocolate, and given the children their eggs, but has also recycled all our glitter paper.”

“Three cheers for Chorizo. Hip, Hip hurrah.”

Chorizo laid the biggest egg ever, which the waiters rushed towards, breaking off bite sized pieces for all the guests.

Someone signaled the band and the words of that well known song rang out.

“Oh, for he’s a jolly good Dragon, oh for he’s a jolly good dragon, for he’s a jolly good Dra-agon and so say all of us.”

Chorizo blushes furiously. Bright green of course.

 

 

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Unicorn in the Attic

Short Stories

Unicorn in the Attic (A Christmas story)

© Peter l. Barnes and Peter Barnett

 

A Unicorny story.

 

“Can you get the tree down, please,” called Jamie’s wife, Susan.

Another trip up into the dusty attic, he thought. He never remembered where he had put the tree or all the lights and decorations. Christmases never lived up to their expectations since the family split up across the globe.

He dropped the attic hatch, pulled down the ladder and climbed up. He switched on the light, which created a series of bright spots and many dark shadows. He had never explored some of the shadowy areas, not that he was worried about what he might find, in fact he imagined hidden treasures, tucked in ancient trunks. But there was still enough space in the lit areas, for some suitcases, toy boxes and old soft furnishings that they stored up here.

Climbing up and stooping low to avoid the low beams, he began his search, sweeping the tiny torch across the humps and lumps of cloth covered boxes and small furniture discards.

“Hello.”

“What,” exclaimed Jamie, spinning around and hitting his head on the rafters, expecting to see her pretty head over the top of the hatch.

“Did you say something Susan,” he called down.

Not a peep from below.

“That’s strange, I’m sure she called. It must be my imagination.”

“Figment?”

“What?”

“Am I a figment of your imagination,” said the voice, from the black depths of the attic.

“Who are you?” Jamie asked, swinging the beam of his small torch around the dark recesses.

“Me,” said a creature, appearing out of the shadows.

A beautiful Unicorn with a glistening golden horn in the middle of its forehead appeared from the gloom. The  exquisite Unicorn, only two foot tall, was adorned by red and blue ribbons in its perfect white mane, stood in front of Jamie, swishing its feathery tail, stirring up dust and sweeping it from the rafters.

“Careful,” said Jamie, hiding his eyes from the perilous dust. “How did you get up here.”

“I had gone to the South Pole, but got lost, I was battered by the wind and confused by the fluttering leaves and blown back home.”

“Why did you go to the South Pole,” said Jamie, humouring the apparition.

“I wanted to find Santa and volunteer for a reindeer job.”

“But Santa lives at the north pole.”

“I know that now,” said the Unicorn. “None of the penguins had heard of him and anyway they were too busy going to a formal dinner party.”

“What I want to know is, what are you?” said Jamie. “I can see you are a Unicorn but of course they don’t exist.”

The Unicorn span around, rearing up on its back hooves and splaying out his front legs and waving them in front of Jamie’s eyes. “So, what am I then?”

“Well, you certainly look unicornish, but do you really only have one horn.”

“Actually, they are two horns twisted into one, my mother wanted me to have curly horns, as hers are so straight and now I can’t do a thing with it.”

“Them, to be truly accurate.”

“Ever since, I’ve been trying to find someone to take me seriously.”

“Seriously?”

“Don’t do that.”

“Sorry. So now you now have a unique horn hence your name,” said Jamie. “Do you grant wishes.”

“Your name is Grant?” said the Unicorn. “Mine’s Oliver.”

“Oliver?”

“Yes, Oliver Twist.”

“Actually, my name is Jamie and I shall call you twisty.”

“That’s not nice.”

“Where did you come from originally?”

“Your little girl put me on the tree last year.”

“Oh Aimee, my niece.”

“Yes.”

“But you were tiny, no more than a couple of inches.”

“Well, it’s been a year.”

“So, what did you eat?”

“Only the silver garlands.”

“And where’s all the poo,” asked Jamie. “I hope that’s been disposed of suitably.”

The Unicorn sheepishly pointed with his front hoof, at a pile of glitter. “Sorry.”

“No that’s fine, I suppose.”

“Well it should be fine its been right through me.”

“Enough of this nonsense. Now, do you know where the tree is?”

“Yes.”

“So where is it then, bloody logical Unicorn.” (unique Horn)

“I’ve hidden it.”

“Hidden it, why?”

“I want a better role this year.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well I thought I could replace the donkey in your stable scene.”

“Don’t be silly, there were no Unicorns in the stable.”

“A tragedy.”

“Nevertheless, you’re not going to be the donkey.”

“Then I want to be placed at the top of the tree instead of the fairy.”

“You’d overbalance, fall to the ground and be smashed into a 1000 pieces.”

“I’m a soft toy how could I be smashed?”

“Because I’d stomp on you for being such a pain.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“Nor are you demands,” said Jamie. “What if I drape some lights around you.”

“Twinkly ones?”

“Of course.”

“Blue and red to match my ribbons?”

“Yes.”

“No thank you. I’ve seen the movie and I’ve decided, I want to be a talking Donkey.”

“But that’s not a Christmas movie.”

“Shrek is a Christmas movie.”

“No. It’s about fairy tale creatures.”

“Well there’s a fairy on top of the tree.”

“True, but actually it’s supposed to be an angel.”

“Fine, I’ll be an angel then.”

“Have you got wings?”

“Of course,” the unicorn unfolded a backpack and extracted its wings. “Da dahh.”

“Where did you get those?”

“Umm, just lying around.”

“And is that angel dust mixed in with the sparkles?”

“No, no. I’m sure its fine.”

“You’ve eaten the Angel, haven’t you?”

“Maybe some of her.”

“Bring her out.”

The unicorn cantered to the dark areas of the attic and returned with the ravaged angel

“You’ve eaten her legs, how cruel.”

“But she was trying to help me. She said she didn’t need legs, and that a cone would be fine.”

“Angel. Is that right?”

“Yes, although I’m still waiting for Twist to get a cone for me.”

“I’ll sort that out when we get downstairs,” said Jamie. “Meanwhile I need to fix Twist. Now where is that toybox.”

Turning around he found the old toybox they used to get out toys for visiting nieces and nephews, when they came to visit.

“Bullseye, where are you?”

A clippety, cloppety sound rose from the toy box and up popped Bullseye.

“Hello Bullseye. I hope it’s not too cramped down there.”

Bullseye nodded enthusiastically, not understanding a word.

“Let me have your halter,” said Jamie, slipping off the leather straps.

“Now then Unicorn, you’ve been a very naughty boy, come here.”

The Unicorn came close and hung his head down and Jamie slipped the halter over his neck and strapped up his mouth. “That’ll stop you being a talking unicorn which can be very annoying.”

 

 

 

Which is why I have a flying unicorn on the top of my tree.

 

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The Eruption Acrylics. Short play on words

Short Stories

The Eruption Acrylics.

All that is noun of the Eruption land gauge has been found from a Ceres of marks and punt uration on a Rose Petal Stone, found by a conqueror called Napoli Man as his troops searched for ancient replicas.

This was a long time Before Calendars (BC) but the Stone was found 1800 years after decimalization (AD). Jean-François Champollion was a great puzzler and pretended he could read it, but he was mocked by many of his pears, so he created the Cross Word to put them in their place.

Apparently, names were put into baffoons, which is where we get comics from, and they were called carte blanches. They had no skools and were very bad at their ABC, so they drew pictures instead.

These people were called the Walking Dead, as they were never seen alive and many movies have been made of them. They were frightened of the dark, living in their Tomes, wrapped in sheets to prevent being swept away in the floods of the river Nail.

Tutti Carmen was a great leader who to help them escape from their underground Tomes by building huge Pyrites, towering into the sky, with tiny shafts, to get them used to the light.

It is no wonder that these night people were afraid of humans as they often had heads of birds or dogs and were ridiculed by the river Nail Krockodile people, who lived under psalms.

Many mysts surround the Euruptions, especially that they were sun gods which were only misspelled when I Car Us flew too close and was frazzled, unlike the rock which survived.

Which is why I have a fairy on top of my Christmas Tree.

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A Vet’s Nightmare – short Story

Short Stories

A Vet’s Nightmare

“Hello. Welsh Hill’s Vetinarian practise.”

“Yes, hello. Do you look after all animals?”

“Oh yes, all creatures great and small, we do them all.”

“Excellent. Can I get an appointment, please?”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“He’s gone off his food.”

“Can you come over at 3?”

“Great,” said Susan. “Do you have a helipad there?”

“What?”

“A Helipad, or a flat roof?”

“Ah.. yes, we have a flat roof,” said the receptionist. “Why?”

“Okay we’ll drop in about 3pm.”

Susan guiding her pet down onto the flat roof and then climbed down to the front entrance.

“Hello. I’m Susan. I have an appointment for my pet.”

“Oh yes,” said the receptionist. “What’s his name please?”

“Nogard”

“And what is he?”

“A dragon of course, although he’s a little backward.”

“And where is this dragon,” said the receptionist, trying to humour her.

“He’s waiting outside a bit big for your doors.”

The receptionist looked out to see that indeed there was a dragon waiting patiently, out in the car park, taking up a large disabled bay.

“Oh yyyyyes,” she stuttered. “I’ll get the vet to come out.”

The vet appeared form his room stethoscope around his neck.

“Hello, Dr Little,” said the vet, holding out his hand.

“Susan, Nice to meet you Dr Little.”

“Call me Doo please,” said the vet.

“Doo?”

“Short for Donald, or maybe because I’m always up to my eyeballs in it.”

“Oh Right.”

“So, where’s this ‘dragon’ then.”

“Nogard’s outside.”

“Is he trained. I don’t want him biting my head off.

“Oh yes,” said Susan. “That’s his favourite film, always watching it.”

“What’s his problem?”

“He’s lost his spark and off his food.”

“When did this start.”

“After he was asked to light up the Christmas tree.”

“Well, whoever thought that was a good idea should be fired.”

“Certainly, the mayor was a little singed,” said Susan. “But the biggest problem is that ever since the Christmas event, the trolls have been coming out of the bridgework with a vengeance.”

“He’s not going to burn me, if I get too close?”

“No, that’s probably the main reason he can’t eat, he’s can’t breathe fire anymore.”

“Oh, that is serious,” said the relieved vet.

“Yes, he likes his food crispy on the outside,” said Susan. “I’ve installed a chiminea in the garden but he says it’s not the same.”

“No, there’s nothing like a bit of crackling,” said Doo. “Now Nogard, let me have a look. Open wide.”

Nogard opened his cavernous mouth to let the vet look inside. “Say aaaah.”

From the depths of Nograd’s chest, came a deep roar and a huge puff of smoke, enveloping the vet, who fell over coughing, like a long-term smoker.

Susan rushed over to pick up Doo. “Are you OK?”

“Yes, don’t get many dragons in here, I will have to adjust my patter a bit.”

“That’s another problem, he’s been accused of polluting the atmosphere with his fumes.”

“Coal fired, is he?”

“Yes, well nuclear may be cleaner but maybe not safer, for Nogard at least.”

“Have you tried Diesel?”

“Yes, but here’s a bit of a problem finding the right filters ever since the VowWow problem.”

“Of course,” said the vet. “Maybe you can use charcoal.”

“Possibly.”

“So, if we get the fuel right, we still need to light the fumes.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Let me try my Zipper lighter,” said the vet, taking one out of his pocket.

Standing well out of the way, he tickled Nogard’s chin, “Say aaahh.” A flip with the lighter and a loud whoosh as flames shot from his mouth, turned a flame red Mini into, well flame red Mini.

“Well that worked thanks,” said Susan, ignoring the sound of fire engines in the distance. “But I can’t always be around with a lighter when he needs it.”

Let’s see if he can use it.

Susan put the lighter into his claw. Nogard blew out some fumes but was too late with the lighter to set them off. Which was just as well as the firemen had arrived to put out the flames on the Mini.

“His claw eye coordination was never his strong suit.”

I have a better idea,” said the vet. “Wait here.”

Strange noises emanated from the inside the surgery, lots of clinking and clanking until Doo emerged with some superglue and a selection of bits and pieces.

“Will he be calm if I climb on his back?”

“Hopefully,” said Susan.

Doo climbed up onto the dragon’ back and superglued a solar panel on his back. “Even more environmental.” He trailed wires into his mouth and superglued the spark switch, salvaged from his gas oven, between his teeth. “Now even more sparkling, no need for whitening toothpaste.”

The vet climbed down and warned the firemen to keep out of the way. “Say aaaah Nogard.”

A gargled aaaah came from the dragon and fumes spread across the car park, click your teeth Nogard he called.

A click, a flash and the fat little pig, on its way to market, was turned into a crispy meal, which Nogard shared with all the staff and the firemen.

A few days later the vet called Susan. “So, how’s the patient.”
“Oh getting on like a house of fire,” she replied. “He’s also got a job at the local, flame grilled steak house.”

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Red Roses – a murdererous story

Short Stories

Red Roses

 

Hanna dug amongst the foliage and deep leaf litter, looking for insects that might be the answer to the burning question that the police required. Beetles would be the best indicator of time of death now that the blowflies were on their second or third cycle. She collected a few different species from the corpse and surrounding area, including a bone beetle, suggesting a couple of weeks since death.

“Any clues?” asked the detective.

“Well, I would say at least a couple of weeks old,” she said, holding up the vial containing the little black beetle.

Hanna loved her role in the laboratory attached to the Coroner’s Court. She had trained as a pathologist progressing through bloods and diseases, until specialising in Forensics. Much more varied than only peering down a microscope at blood and examining body cells every day.

She had the freedom of a varied work experience from visiting crime scenes, discussions with police departments and even giving evidence at murder trials. The downside, was night visits like this one to remote sites in woods and moorlands, at the most inconvenient times and weathers.

She tried not to think about the identity of the body, thankful that it wasn’t the one she feared. She divorced her mind from the affect its discovery would have on the family and friends of the victim, her job was the collection of evidence and her mind could cope with that.

A few days later they were reviewing the case of the body in the woods.

“Will you be nailing the father?”

“He has been charged with her murder,” said Mark, the detective. “The samples and insects you recovered showed that his daughter had disappeared a couple of days earlier than he reported, blowing his alibi out of the water. The fibres you found linking him to the site were the final straw.”

“Excellent.”

“Now about this evening,” said Mark. “Are you still ready for an interesting night out. You know you don’t need to come with us.”

They were planning to get to know a local playboy, who was known for his extravagant parties. They suspected he was using the parties as a front to pick up lonely women, who later disappeared. He typically started at the high-end venue by inviting a few singles and couples around to his place, after the club closed, offering free drinks, food and great music.

“Of course,” said Hanna. “I’ll be ready at nine.”

“Yes, I’ll pick up Tamsyn and Michael on the way.”

Their companions were a most glamourous pair, ideal for their purposes. Tamsyn was a very attractive detective from another division and Michael, a hunky constable from a local force, perfect for their subterfuge.

They arrived at the club and seeing their target showed that their informant had been correct. They had settled down at one booth with their drinks and acted out their plan of being a playful group with quite a bit of kissing and cuddling, which to be honest, Hanna quite enjoyed. Sometime later, they were approached by the handsome man, impeccably dressed in smart ‘party’ shirt and dark blue, tailored chinos.

“Hi, I’m Raphael. You guys seem to be having fun,” he said, sitting down next to Tamsyn.

“We always do, I’m Tamsyn,”

“Raphael. Can I get you some drinks?” he asked, after they had introduced themselves.

“Sure,” said Mark.

Raphael waved the waitress over and they ordered drinks and before long assumed their chatter.

“Do I know you?” asked Raphael.

“I shouldn’t think so,” replied Hanna, fluttering her false eyelashes at him. “But then there are so many beautiful people in here and in the dark we probably all look the same.”

“Maybe that’s it,” replied Raphael. “Look, would you guys like to come to my place for an after party.”

“We’d love to,” said Hanna.

He passed her a card, his fingers lingering on her hand as he did so. “I’ll see you later, about 1 OK.”

“See you there.”

When they finally arrived at the party, it was in full swing, a select group of more ‘beautiful people’ dancing to a professional DJ.  Hanna looked around, taking in the large entertainment room, more like an extension to the club they had just left. By the front door there was a bright red axe enclosed in a glass cabinet.

Raphael greeted them and guided them to the bar. They selected their drinks but only planned to drink the mixers, wary of any GBH drugs, and moved to one of the loungers.

“So, what’s with the axe Raphael?” asked Hanna.

“I always wanted to be a fireman,” he answered.

Hanna would love to be able to rip it off the wall and perform her forensics on that one. “Very funny.”

He went off to tend to some other guests and Hanna turned to Mark. “So why do you suspect him Mark?”

“He was asked about the disappearances,” said Mark. “He’s always too glib, always got an answer for everything.”

“Fascinating coffee table,” said Tamsyn.

Hanna examined the glass topped coffee table. Under the glass were three perfectly carved red roses. “What are they carved out of, do you think?”

“Wood probably.”

But Hanna noticed something slightly suspicious under the carvings, tiny protuberances hidden beneath. “Pity it’s so dark in here, I can’t quite make out what they are?”

At the pre-planned time their pagers went off. Hanna went over to Raphael. “I’m sorry but we are paramedics and there’s an emergency. We’ll have to go.”

“So soon, we were just getting warmed up.”

“Not much we can do about it. Maybe another time. Thanks for the drinks.”

As he showed them out, she noticed a greeting card in a frame on the wall “My heart is yours forever.”

“How lovely.”

“Yes, something from my wife who passed away, I couldn’t resist keeping it.”

The team got in a taxi to get back to their offices. “So, what do we think.”

“Firstly, I think he twigged onto us.”

“I agree,” said Mark. “He probably set it up with our ‘informant’.”

“Did you keep the shorts?”

“Da, da,” said Hanna, showing them the whisky bottle in a plastic bag. “I’ll test it in the morning.”

“What do you think the whole heart thing signifies?”

“The card on the wall is creepy,” said Tamsyn.

“I think the roses in the coffee table could well be cut from hearts,” said Hanna.

“You’re joking.”

“No, I’m sure I saw parts of the valves poking out from under the rose shapes,” said Hanna “But I would need to open the table up to be sure.”

“So are you telling me he carved roses into the hearts of his victims.”

“Or faked the valves under the rose knowing we might notice.”

“He’s certainly playing us for fools,” said Tamsyn.

“Do we have enough evidence for a search warrant?”

“Sadly not, merely suspicions,” said Mark. “We’ll have to keep a close eye on him to see if he makes a mistake. We’ll catch up in the morning.”

Hanna made her way to her car for the short drive home, wary of the dark spaces behind the pillars. She opened the car, got in and locked the doors. Looking over to Mark’s car she saw his thumbs up sign. She drove out of the car park.

Once home she had a relax in a scented bath, remembering and analysing what she had seen at Raphael’s glamorous home. It was clear he was a playboy who had all the opportunity to meet and single out women who wouldn’t be missed for enough time for him to cover his tracks, but without evidence the CPS would never get a conviction.

She woke early, when her phone pinged, heralding a text message.

‘If you want to find out what happened to your sister come alone. If not alone, all your precious evidence will be destroyed. R.’

R? That must be Raphael. How did he get her number?

Looking at where the message came from, her heart sank and she shook with rage and fear as she realised that the number was actually her twin sister’s old mobile phone.

If Raphael had this, he must have been responsible for her sister’s disappearance and he must not only know who she was, but also what she did. No doubt old texts on her sister’s phone had given the game away.

Time for revenge then she thought, although that might not be easy. She dressed in her steampunk outfit, which allowed her to don her steel capped boots, tough jeans and jacket.

Hanna prepared her visit as much as she could, before arriving at his door and ringing the bell. The door swung open revealing an empty house and she cautiously entered the room, as the door swung silently closed behind her and closed with a loud clunk. She whispered into her shoulder. “Get that?”

“Welcome,” said Raphael’s voice from a ceiling speaker.

“Where are you?”

“Down the stairs.”

She went over to the lift and surreptitiously, jammed the door open.

“What are you doing?”

“Going down the stairs.” She said, cautiously holding the hand rail as she descended into the monstrous cellar, waiting for the inevitable attack.

“Sit down, or you won’t see your sister again.”

There was only one place to sit, which was a wheelchair in front of a flat wall.

“Press the buttons on the arms.”

But she was reluctant to do this in case her arms were trapped.

“If you don’t do that, I will merely leave you down here until you die of starvation.”

She stood up to escape but, unnoticed, a grill had closed off the stairs.

“Now sit down and press the buttons.”

Hanna did as she had been ordered and immediately three panels in the opposite wall started to rise, momentarily hypnotised by the sight of three delicate pairs of feet, stripped of flesh to reveal bones, cartilage and muscles, as they gradually appeared.

Snap!

Caught unawares for a second, large straps sprung from the arms of the wheelchair to trap her arms. The horror of what she was seeing as the full bodies were revealed, overrode her predicament. Three full bodies appeared, in what Dr. Hagen would have called Art, each in a different pose. One apparently dancing around a pole, another holding a tray of drinks and the third on a chair, mobile phone in her hand.

Raphael opened the grill to the stairs, “Ah settled in, are we?”

“What are these?”

“What you mean is, who are these?”

“Yes. Is one of them my sister?”

“Too many questions,” he said, coming up behind the wheelchair and quickly wrapping a gag around her head and pulling it tight. “We wouldn’t want you screaming, now would we?”

She watches him approach with a pointed dagger, threatening a painful death. She writhed in the chair but her arms were too tightly strapped to move and the gag strangled her screams. Focus she thought, as the point of the knife touched her skin.

“You’ll be used to blood of course.” He said, as the point entered her flesh and drew drops of blood from the tip. “But maybe not the pain as it drains from your body and starves your brain.”

He removed the knife and licked the blood off the tip. “I don’t need a DNA test, your blood tastes exactly like your sisters.”

His words and actions fuelled the built-up rage she felt and determined not to die at his hand, she readied her body and tensed her leg ready to strike. He leant forward and again put the blade to her wrist. Ignoring the pain and avoiding the sight of blood welling up around the open wound, she lashes out with her foot, using all her strength. A perfect aim as she gets right between his legs. She might as well inflict a bit of pain before she goes.

Raphael swore as he doubled up with pain and then keeled over crouching on the floor. He is too far away from her to get another kick in, stupid hateful man who didn’t think a girl couldn’t fight back.

Realising she has the opportunity to finish him off, she takes a second kick at his head but is too far away. She shuffled the wheel chair around and propelled it backwards and turned around to get closer to him for some more kicking glad that she was wearing hard boots that she favoured.

Her foot reverberated as she connected with his head, hopeful that this would keep him out of action for a few more minutes. She heard so thunderous bangs from upstairs as the police team finally made their entry and three combat ready police raced into the basement room and grabbed Raphael and cuffed him.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“I kicked him in the crotch.”

“So, how did you stab him,” said one of the policemen. “He’s bled out.”

“Lovely, he must have fallen on his own weapon,” said Hanna. “Can you get me free I need to sort out my wrist, otherwise I’ll be joining him.”

A medic arrived and examined her wrist and taped it up. “Thankfully it hasn’t reached your artery.”

Mark joined them, “Are you OK? Next time, stick to the plan,”

“Next time? I hope not,” said Hanna. “I think he has some sort of self-destruct mechanism, which he would trigger if we had arrived mob handed.”

“We’ll check that out in the meantime we need to gather all the evidence,” said Mark, handing Hanna her evidence bag.

Hanna suited up to examine some of the artefacts and sift through the evidence.

Hanna started upstairs and went to the box by the door and eased out the red axe, carefully taking finger prints off the handle and swabbing the blade and the joint where the shaft met the head. Next, she examined the picture on the wall, taking it down and placing it on a cover on the floor. She unscrewed the frame and took out the ‘My Heart Belongs to you Forever’ card. Signed on the inside ‘your loving wife’ but handwritten on the back, were the words, in red, ‘You are so right’.

“Mark, I think this might refer to his first wife.”

“Do you think she’s one of the ‘statues’ downstairs.”

“Probably.”

“Now let me check out the coffee table with the Roses.” She gently eased the edges of the frame until the glass top was released. Lifting the glass, which although showing no fingerprints on the top, had several partial prints underneath. She touched one of the roses with a wooden tool, to find it slightly spongey, pulling the edge back and her suspicions were confirmed.

“Mark, I think you’ll find these are human hearts, carved into the roses.”

“That’s revolting.”

Hanna removed a piece of paper, finding a short poem.

‘Roses are Red,

Not given to me when alive

But mine,

now you are dead.’

“This guy was seriously weird,” said Mark.

“How many people do we think he has murdered?”

“More than three certainly.”

“Let’s check the bodies.”

Back in the basement one of the officers had opened the glass doors to allow access to the bodies, each of which contained some sort of trophy. Carefully Hanna removed the mobile phone from the seated body.

“Sadly, this is belonged to my sister,” said Hanna, turning on the phone and checking the number.

She sat down as the truth of her twin’s demise was finally confirmed. She struggled to keep down the wave of nausea coming from her stomach.

Once they had finished collating all the data from the house of horrors, her heart was flipped once more as she poured over the results of the autopsies. None of the bodies belonged to her sister.

The fingerprints on the glass coffee table were disconcerting, however as they did belong to her sister, Alexa. Hanna had always known that she had been an artist, frustrated by her lack of success and recognition. Hanna’s rise in the scientific world had been even more galling, especially as their parents heaped praise on Hanna.

Hanna stood in the darkened room watching her sister being interviewed by Mark.

“People will always remember me now,” said Alexa, looking straight at the camera. “What did you think of my art, Hanna?”

 

Published by:

Murder at Downtown Alley Short Story

Short Stories

Murder at Downtown Alley, starring Tepulia Lark

© Peter Barnett

DCI J. Fedora surveyed the scene in front of him with an expert eye, but he could not put it into context of a murderous fight, as they were led to believe. There seems to have been some sort of struggle, with ornaments, pictures and even a broken umbrella but none of the furniture, apart from one small overturned chair, was disturbed.

Upstairs in the bedroom it was a similar scene but with the added complication of a blouse with a bloodstain in the wash basket and a ripped shirt in the small waste bin. Neither the husband, Mr. William Aster or his wife, Disa (strange name thought Jaunty) were to be found. Neither of their cars were in the drive or garage. There were no laptops or tablets around for them to trawl through and without a search warrant they wouldn’t really be able to anyway. They were here at the request and information provided by Mrs Aster’s sister, who thought that Disa might be in trouble from her husband, based on some Facebook posts and her inability to contact her.

In fact, had the back door not been wide open, they probably wouldn’t be inside the house at all. DCI Fedora was astounded at the lack of security which most people treated their home. Many a place he had entered through wide open doors at the back, the owners no doubt thinking that a solid front door would be all they needed, of course the master skeleton keys, he had tucked in his pocket might have been the real reason for an easy entry, but no need to dwell on that.

A half-eaten ready meal lay abandoned in the kitchen, that either meant a hasty exit or merely poor-quality food, purchased in haste. The husband, no doubt tempted by the glamorous photo on the packaging and the famous chef endorsement, had obviously been disappointed by the actual contents.

Jaunty tried again to phone the two mobile numbers, provided by Miss Aida, the sister, of the husband and wife, but they both went straight to voice mail. They had a picture of the wife standing in front of her Mazda sports car, from which they had captured the number plate which was being traced through their APNR system but so far without success.

There was nothing more to be seen inside, so Jaunty posted a uniformed policeman at the front of the house and returned to his office to talk to his team. If he could solve this mystery it would be a feather in his cap as well as an opportunity to progress his career which had stalled lately.

“Let me show you what we’ve got,” said detective, to his team when he had them all assembled. “A report of trouble between Mr and Mrs Aster, no sign of either of them. Signs of a struggle downstairs and no attempt to clean up. A blouse with blood and a torn shirt in the bedroom. Josh, any luck on social media?”

“Well there seems to be a short history of trouble in the marriage on her Facebook pages but more hints than direct statements.”

“Now the photograph the sister provided, gave us the registration number of the MX5. Any response from the APNR?”

“There is a sighting of the Mazda driving through the Thames Valley region and we’ve alerted local motor patrols.”

“What about the whereabouts of the phones?”

“No responses so far although the wife’s phone was last tracked to the Warwickshire area, but that was a couple of days ago.”

“That could mean nothing,” said Jaunty. “But we’ll alert the force up there to keep an eye open. I’m off to interview the sister.”

“Tell me again why you think your sister has been ‘done away with’ as you put it,” said Detective Fedora once he was sitting in her small lounge.

“We’re always in contact via messaging and Facebook and she just stopped a couple of days ago.”

“She wasn’t going on holiday or anything?”

“Not that I know.”

“We’ve seen the Facebook posts,” said Jaunty. “Can I see her messages?”

“I’ll forward some to you,” she said, holding her phone at a distance from him and tapping away at her screen.

“Thanks,” said Jaunty, seeing the messages come through and wondering why she was so protective of her phone. “We’ll contact you and if we hear anything please call us.”

Back at the station there was a bit of news from his team. “The MX5 has been found and they are arranging for it to be towed to our compound for examination.”

“Excellent,” said Jaunty. “Maybe now we can get that search warrant.”

“We’ve had a report of an accident victim in hospital who has not been identified,” said one of the team. “He’s been operated on and they are waiting for him to wake up.”

“Get over there then see if he matches the husband’s description,” said Jaunty. “If you think it could be him, then wait until he’s ready to talk. It’s a long shot but we need to confirm or eliminate him.”

The DCI and the team of crime scene investigators were back at the Aster’s home and had started a painstaking search of the house. when a red car came racing up the drive and slithered to a halt in the gravel drive. A break in the clouds highlighted a lady with short blonde hair as she leapt out of the latest model MX5 and started walking towards the house, hobbling along, until she stopped and tapped a stone out of her shoe.

“What’s going on here,” she shouted.

Jaunty rushed out to meet her. “Mrs Aster?”

“Of course, and who might you be?”

“DCI Fedora, we had a report of your disappearance.”

“From whom?”

“Your sister.”

“What would she know, I haven’t talked to her in years.”

“Can we go back inside and continue our talk?”

Once they were in the comfort of the lounge and Jaunty had told his team to wait outside, he asked where she had been.

“I was away for a week for a spa holiday, a special birthday treat from my husband,” said Disa. “Do you know where he is?”

“No, we can’t find him at the moment.”

Disa pulled out her phone and called her husband. “No reply.”

Jaunty tried to phone Disa’s number with the same result. “Is this not your number?” showing her the call he’d made.

“No. Where did you get that number, my sister again I suppose.”

“Yes, and one other thing, that’s your new Mazda out there. What happened to this one,” said Jaunty, showing her the image of her next to an older mark 3 model.

“That looks like my previous model but it was always losing power so I had to trade it in.”

“I’m beginning to see a pattern here.” said Jaunty, getting a sinking feeling about the whole operation as it fell apart. “Do you have a laptop?”

“Yes, we weren’t allowed to take one to the retreat, it was part of the treatment to be away from all social media,” said Disa. “It’s kept in our safe I’ll get it.”

She returned with her laptop and set it up on the coffee table.

“Can I see your Facebook pages?”

“Sure,” she opened up her page.

“That’s different to what I’ve seen,” said Jaunty. “It’s not even in your name.”

“I never use my name on social media, much too dangerous.”

“I’ll show you what we were given by your sister.”

“I think you need to talk to her,” she said after looking at the pages. “It seems she is trying some identity theft scam.”

“I think it may be worse than that,” said Jaunty. “Can you explain the blood on you blouse?”

“I was tending some overgrown roses in the garden a got caught by some nasty thorns,” she said, showing him a healing scar on her forehead.

“And your husbands torn shirt?”

“He did that trying to extract me from the rosebush. Did your people make the mess down here?”

“No, it was like that when we arrived. We thought there had been a fight.”

“Probably the cat chasing squirrels again.”

At that moment Jaunty’s phone rang.

“Yes. Yes. I see we’ll be there as soon as we can,” said Jaunty, into his phone. “I think we’ve found your husband.”

“Where?”

“In hospital. He was in a car accident but he’s just been brought out of anaesthetics and asking for you.”

During the rushed trip to the hospital, Disa explained the rift with her sister, caused when she married William, whom Aida had fancied, even though it was not reciprocated.

They were standing by William’s bed as he slowly revived from operation.

Disa gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. “What happened darling.”

“How did I get here?” said William. “The last thing I knew was, I was driving over the crest of a hill, when this maniac in a red car came hurtling towards me and drove me off the road.”

“Where was this?” asked Jaunty, he had been told by the hospital staff, that he had been found by the side of the road but no car had been found. William explained where he was travelling and Jaunty despatched a patrol car to the scene to do a more thorough search.

“I thought it was you darling, but I think that was just a vision,” said William.

“Why did you think it was me.”

“Well I think it was the old Mazda you used to have,” said William. “And of course the flowing blonde hair.”

“You know I’ve had it cut short for at least a month.”

“Can I have a word Mrs Aster?” asked Jaunty taking her to one side, “I’m going to get your sister in for questioning. It’s obvious both of you are safe but I think she has some explaining to do which may solve this mystery. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have got to the truth.”

It was a month later that Jaunty sat with Mr and Mrs Aster in the now perfectly tidy lounge.

I hope you are recovering Mr Aster, I’m glad too see you out of hospital.”

“Yes, a broken leg, hip and some concussion but on the mend,” he said. “So what news of Disa’s sister?”

“As you now both know she was completely jealous of your marriage and as your business grew, her obsession grew and she made a complicated plan to either kill you both or kill one and have the other blamed,” explained Jaunty.

“Her first plan was setting up a new social image for you Mrs Aster. We found several pay-as-you-go phones, which were set up in both your names. And on a Tablet, she set up a new Facebook page where she and you had a so called ‘close’ relationship.”

“But she must have had access to what I was doing otherwise how come she knew I would be away.”

“Yes, I think she broke in here several times and collected information, including the old photo of you in front of the Mazda,” said Jaunty. “Probably knocking a few things over each time so you’d think it was a cat or squirrel.”

“She bought your car from the dealer under an assumed name and her plan was ready. She donned a blonde wig, not knowing you had cut your hair. Then she found out when you were going away.”

“How did she do that?”

“I think your husband and you were carefully enticed into knowing about the retreat with online ads and some pamphlets,” he continued.

“I think she may have phoned me at one stage pretending to be from the venue,” said William. “A not to be missed special price.”

“Sneaky doesn’t even cover it,” said Disa.

“Once you were booked in and knowing William’s normal route to work, drove the car at you on that tricky section over the hills.”

“You say you found my car.”

“Yes, it was unseen in a ditch.”

“She had all the luck.”

“Well you were also lucky to have been thrown from the car.”

“I don’t see how. I thought seat belts were designed to stop that.”

“Unless they’ve been cut,”

“What a wicked vindictive sister I’ve got.”

“Yes, she had all the bases covered. Fortunately, when we recovered the Mazda there was still a scrape of paint which matched your car Mr Aster.”

“So, what happens to her now?”

“She’s facing a string of offences, including attempted murder, perverting the course of justice and probably many other minor charges,” said Jaunty. “She will probably plead insanity but her carefully premeditation of her revenge, will rule that out.”

Jaunty sat in his car pleased, with himself, although he had been hauled up in front of this Chief Superintendent for starting a murder investigation without proof, after explaining how they had been played and how he had solved it, he was now in his good books again.

 

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Writers Retreat – Famous authors

Short Stories

Writers Retreat

Peter L. Barnes

 

The girl looked out over the swift flowing river, as raindrops tumbled out of the sky, creating crowns of glory, as they crashed into the water. Mayflies, hit by the sudden downpour, plunged into the water, only to be gobbled up by the ravenous school of trout, delighted at the unexpected windfall.

She surveyed the old tumbledown station behind her and the forlorn space, where once, twin tracks of freedom and travel lay, bringing monsters of metal, surrounded by steam and smoke and their greasy drivers. Cracked and worn platforms beneath her feet, where once upon a time, happy holiday makers, full of excitement and laughter, had once disembarked for their summer holidays.

No hustle and bustle today, even the birds had fallen silent, hiding amongst the larger leaves attempting to keep their feathers dry, until the storm passed over. The girl’s large brimmed hat dripped water in a circle around her feet, before running down the cracks and over the platform edge. The faintest blodges of white paint remained, long past the time when pristine lines once warned passengers not to get too close.

The rain turned into hail and Kathy moved back under a canopy that was growing over her head. The hailstones became larger and larger but now in a narrow band along the disused track and the edge of the platform. The noise level increased as the hailstones turned to granite, hammering into the thin area in front of the platform, becoming the full ballast that would be needed for the track.  The noise of the falling stones stopped, to be replaced by the heavy crunch of sleeper logs dropping into place, one by one as they slammed into the ballast. Metal on metal clanking reached Kathy’s ears as two rods of steel approached, hammered into the sleepers and screwed down. Shiny rods of rail track stopped past the end of the platform and huge buffers with new shiny red paint, solidified at the terminus of the line. A gantry with green signals appeared on the far corner of the track and at a road crossing an old car was stopped from crossing.

“Are you waiting for the train?” asked a rumbling voice from behind her.

She spun around to find a concerned gentleman, holding up a brightly coloured umbrella to protect his perfect station masters uniform. A peaked cap with a red band, navy blue coat with bright buttons in two rows down the front. Kathy could see that the station was now far from the dilapidated building she had found when she first arrived. A row of lamps, now lit because of the dark thunderstorm; pretty green doors and perfect white writing on all the signs. Waiting Room, Ticket Office, Exit, Ladies and Gents, proclaimed the signs. A new clock proclaiming the time of 6.31, ticked loudly for the first time.

“I’d have to wait for a long time, wouldn’t I?” said Kathy.

“Sadly yes. Beecham and the car have certainly spoilt the romance of travelling,” said the stationmaster. “George by the way.”

“Kathy. Nice to meet you,” said Kathy. “Writers made the most of unexpected meetings of strangers on long journeys, leading to romance or maybe just lustful encounters.”

“There are lots of love stories set on trains it’s true,” said George. “But think how many murder stories were set on train journeys, especially Agatha’s novels.”

“Well I suppose she had many journeys on the trains to and from Devon.”

Talking of which, a whistle in the far distance heralded the arrival of the 2.45 from Paddington. The station and its surrounds were now fully restored, complete with colourful flower beds and new posters welcoming guests to the mini Riviera of England.

“Not a touch on Torquay of course,” said George.

“But close enough,” responded Kathy. “Will it be on time?”

“Always is,” he replied.

Above the glorious tree line, now bathed in brilliant sunshine, puffs of smoke and steam rose, heralding the approach of the train. Around the corner a black and green metal monster appeared huffing and puffing away. Now that the rain had dried from the warmth of the sunshine, the hail on the edges of the platform had melted and turned into a brilliant white as if newly painted.

“Will he stop in time?” asked Kathy, as the train hurtled towards them. “He seems to be going awfully fast today.”

“Always does,” said George.

At last the engine driver applied the brakes and steel on steel screeching, filled the air. Sparks flew in all directions and there was a shuddering along the platform threatening to shake down all the newly revived buildings.

The carriages swung and swayed with the force of the abrupt halt throwing passengers into disarray. The engine stopped exactly at Kathy’s feet and the driver leapt out.

“Do you have to stop so suddenly Fred?” asked Kathy.

“Wouldn’t be getting their monies worth,” he said. “Besides they expect it, wouldn’t be an express without screeching stops.”

“Well be that as it may, we need to check our guests.”

Kathy looked into the first-class carriage, well apart from the dining car and guards van, there was only one carriage.  The passengers were all heaped at the front covered by small trunks, hat boxes and loose-leaf papers. They were laughing as usual.

One called out “Good one Fred.” before they picked themselves up.

“Gather my manuscript,” said an elderly lady. “I spent hours writing it, so don’t get it out of order.”

“Welcome to ‘Bolsloe Writer’s Retreat’ everyone,” said Kathy, leading them down the path through the overhanging branches of the flowering rhododendrons, to the mansion, overlooking the river estuary.

The guests formed a disorderly queue at the desk all clamouring for their voices to be heard, the excitement of their week ahead getting to them like little children, all hopeful of sorting out their writers’ blocks.

“Patience everyone, I’ve sorted all your favourite rooms, no need to rush,” said Kathy. “Your cases will be delivered to your rooms, as soon as George and Fred have sorted them out.”

“I should think so,” said Enid.

“I assume you’ve all labelled your bags.”

A couple of guests looked a bit sheepish. “I’m sure they can work it out,” said Kenneth.

“Now don’t forget early morning writing exercise and then your one-on-one sessions start at 11, after morning tea.”

“Get on with it Kathy, we need to freshen up,” said Lewis.

“Agatha you’re in our mystical room of course.”

Agatha gathered her bags and manuscript and took herself off up the stairs.

“Enid, you’re the room overlooking the beach.”  Enid took her bag, bucket and spade off to her room.

“Arthur, I’ve given you the room overlooking the estuary.”

“Thanks.”

“Lewis, I given you the room next to the garden, so you can walk right out.”

“Kenneth, you are in the lodge in the woods, next to the stream.”

“Alan I hope you don’t mind, but you’re in the double rooms, with the children’s toys.”

“I hate that room.”

“I’m sorry, but you were a late booking.”

“I hope they are not as much trouble as last year,” said Jane, appearing out of the kitchen, followed by the delicious smells of dinner, wafting in behind her.

“Don’t worry, we’ll sort them out,” said Kathy, confidently.

The next morning after a raucous and slightly drunken evening, recounting their frustrations and successes with their books, followed by the more subdued morning exercise, it was time to help sorting their respective challenges out.

Kathy was sitting with Agatha, “So what’s the problem?”

“I’m stuck with names for my new detective.”

“Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Agatha handed her a piece of paper with words ‘Toriop the detective, eating his favourite Belgian chocolate.

“Doesn’t sound very glamorous does it, nor mysterious for that matter.”

Kathy picked up the slip of paper which twirled it as it passed through a shaft of sunlight.

“Can you see what I see?” asked Kathy.

“What?”

“Read it backwards.”

“Oh. said Agatha. “So, Poirot, the Belgian, eating his chocolate.”

“Voila.”

“How clever. Thanks Kath,” said Agatha, as she rushed back to her room. “I knew you would be able to help.”

“So how are you doing Arthur?” asked Jane.

“I’m stuck,” he said. “I want to write for children but can’t quite put my finger on the story.”

They were sitting outside his room, overlooking the lake. Spring swallows were flitting to and fro across the water picking off flies with practised ease.

“It looks just like the Amazon,” said Jane. “All the trees and overgrown foliage.”

“Very peaceful, but no inspiration yet,” said Arthur.

“Oh look, it’s the children’s dingy race,” she said, seeing the happy children take to the water and spinning around, waiting for the starters gun.

“I think you may have cracked it,” said Arthur.

Jane looked over his shoulder as he typed a title page. ‘Swallows and Amazons’

“Who have you got next, Kath.”

“Lewis Carrol, no idea who he is. Another wannabe writer with no idea where to start,” said Kath.

“Good luck.”

Kath came around to the garden table where Lewis was playing patience.

“Not writing yet then?”

“No sit down, we’ll have a couple or rounds of whist and see what happens.”

Lewis shuffled the cards and started to deal them out, when a sharp wind came in from the sea and started to swirl the cards around and around in the alcove, lifting them higher and higher. The wind calmed down as quickly as it started and the cards floated down, face up on the table with the queen of hearts on top. “That’s it.” he said.

“What seems to be the problem Enid?” asked Jane, when she found her in her room, looking out over the coast.

“I have the story sorted but it has something missing, especially the title, not catchy enough.”

“Which is?”

“The Fabulous Four, it doesn’t ring true and it seems they are all pairing up and there’s no real interaction or conflict.”

“What compared to that group out there,” said Jane, pointing to a group of five children, digging for treasure in the sand.”

“And why would five make me famous. Oh, I see what you mean,” said Enid, leaping up and giving Jane a hug.

Kathy made her way out to the lodge in the wood to find Kenneth with his head in his hands.

“What’s wrong. How can I help?” asked Kath. “Why don’t we go for a short walk, it always helps me.”

The wind that had disturbed Lewis, now tore through the willow tree in front of them, bending its fronds as they reached towards the stream. A water vole scuttled across the water and into the undergrowth, as badger snuffled through the vegetation, searching for tasty worms. More scrambling between the fronds of ferns, as a rat stood up on it’s hind legs and sniffed the air.

“I think you may have stumbled on something here,” said Kenneth, striding back to his room.

Jane found Alan walking up the path to the small bridge over the stream and watched new leaves float past under the bridge. Jane picked up a couple of sticks, “Here, I’ll race you.”

They both dropped their sticks and raced to the other side to see which one appeared first.

“I win,” said Jane.

“Anyway, why are you out here?” asked Jane. “I thought you were writing.”

“It’s all the stuffed animals in the children’s room, it’s like they’re mocking me because I have no ideas,” said Alan.

“Why not get your own back and put them in the story.”

Alan stared at her for a second. “Forgive me Kathy, I have to get back.”

Two days later Jane and Kathy waved goodbye to their guests, all feverishly writing on their tables, as the train pulled out of the station.

“Do you think we’ve sorted out all their problems?”

“We’ll see when their books come out,” said Jane. “Now, who’s down next week?

 

 

©Peter Barnett 2018

 

 

 

Published by:

The Jewel Thief – a short story

Short Stories

Jewel Thief

 

A spark reflected in the torch and caught the eye of the caver as she squeezed her way into an unexplored chamber. Why on earth had she decided that this was a great holiday, scrambling down dark, damp, cold holes, covered with mud and underground roots, but it had been on her friend’s bucket list before she had died. The challenge of dealing with her passing, was nothing compared to the promise she had made to live out her friend’s bucket list. She had already suffered a bungy jump, a climb up Kilimanjaro, frightening, white water rafting down a swollen river in Wales, a death defying Skydive and potholing was the last on her friend’s list.

Jane’s preferred bucket list, had been sitting in front of a log fire, sipping Bailey’s, chocolate in hand, being hugged by her special girlfriend. But as with all rash promises made to a dying partner, she was determined to finish them all. She hoped that living out her friend’s wishes would take away the deep pain Jane had felt since she had gone.

Jane was drawn closer to the sparkle and dragged her body towards the source, trying to reach the mysterious object. One last heave and she was close enough to see a white diamond, surrounded by a pink flower, glistening in her head light. She grasped the jewel and screamed as she realised it was still on the skeletal remains of a finger. Recovering from her fright she played the torch into the alcove to see a complete skeleton, half submerged in the mud floor. How on earth did that get down here, obviously old, maybe even an ancient burial, or worse a murderer hiding a body. She quickly extracted her phone and took a picture before she backed away, retracing her passage through the cave until she could turn around, still clutching the finger and jewel, as evidence in case she was not believed.

Once on the surface she couldn’t help blurting out about her discovery. “There’s an ancient body down there,” said Jane. “Well a skeleton anyway.”

“Really,” said James. “Where?”

“In that unexplored chamber you told me to try,” said Jane, taking out the finger with the jewel fused to the bone. Now she could see it, there was a central diamond, set in a ruby shaped like a rose with green emeralds, depicting leaves, set around the outside.

“We’ll have to call the police,” said James. “Even if the finger seems to be old.”

“The ring is amazing,” said Fran. “I hope you can keep it.”

“I’ll have to hand it in to the police and inform the local antiquities department,” said Jane. “So, I suppose my chances of keeping my hands on it are probably slim.”

They tidied up all their potholing equipment, whilst waiting for the police to arrive.

“Was there a whole skeleton down there?” asked Fran

“I think so, unfortunately I got a bit of a fright and I don’t think the photo will be that clear.” She showed them the fuzzy picture outlining the skull and ribcage.

“Wow a ‘skeletie’,” said James, trying to make a bit more of a light-hearted comment, to brighten up their mood.

The police finally arrived complete with an expert potholer. Jane showed them the finger with the jewel and the dim photo she had taken. The police agreed that with the level of decomposition and the fact that it was half buried in silt, suggested it was ancient and not some sort of modern murder case.

“Where did you find the body?” asked the potholer.

“I don’t think ‘body’ would describe what I found,” said Jane and showed him on the map where she had made her discovery.

The police asked Jane and the others for statements and contact details before asking them to keep the discovery to themselves until they could determine exactly what had gone on.

Six months later Jane was sitting in the lounge of the Dartmouth Hotel, looking out over the sunlit bay, having enjoyed a long, leisurely walk along the river. She twirled the recently returned ring, having not been claimed by anyone, nor such financially valuable to be classed as treasure, leaving Jane as the rightful owner. She had dedicated it to her lost friend, the hurt of her loss gradually lessening as time moved forward.

“Do you mind if I join you?” said a portly gentleman, sporting a wonderful moustache

“I’m sorry,” said Jane. “There’s lots of other tables.”

“I’ve been admiring the ring your wearing.”

Jane quickly hid the ring in her palm, before realising who was standing there. “Poirot?”

“Actually, David Suchét. We’re doing some filming down on the front and I couldn’t be bothered to change again.”

“Oh yes, well Poirot, sorry David, please sit down.”

“Thank you.”

“What are you filming?”

“Evil under the Sun.”

“The one with the jewel hidden in the pipe?”

“That’s the one,” said David. “Hence my curiosity with the ring. I assume that’s the one found on the skeleton in the cave.”

“Yes, such an adventure. I had my 15 minutes of fame there didn’t I?”

“Indeed,” said David. “But they never found who the body belonged to, nor the jewel.”

“No, very curious. I’m sure there’s a detective story there somewhere but I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

“May I see the ring?”

“Of course,” said Jane, easing the ring off her finger and passing it over.

“Very distinctive. I’m sure we can find out its origins.”

“We?” she said, reaching out for her ring.

“Sorry, yes we, you and me,” he said, handing back the ring.

“But you’re not a real detective.”

“But I am an actor with a rabid curiosity,” he said. “When are you free and we can start at the local library.”

“I’m down here for a week, so anytime.”

“Let’s say, I meet you here tomorrow at 10 and then we’ll start a voyage of discovery.”

“OK, but only if we do it incognito.”

“If you wish, lovely to meet you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Well here’s a turn up for the books, getting involved with a star of Agatha’s movies and becoming a detective all in one go. Once her childhood dream had been to work as a detective, investigating crimes that the police couldn’t solve, but as usual, life was never what you planned.

The next morning Jane was sitting in the hotel lounge, dressed in lacy blouse, a mauve cardigan and sporting a crochet hat, as Poirot arrived mincing across the floor.

“Mrs Marple, I presume,” holding out for her hand.

“Poirot, how good to see you.”

“Is that lavender I can smell,” asked David.

The both started giggling, wondering what the other patrons must be thinking.

“I have been told the ring is from the early 19th century,” said Jane. “We can start looking at the archive from that period.”

They walked into the local library building and asked the astonished receptionist where they could research old newspapers and historical archives.

They were soon scouring the papers and articles for any mysteries and disappearances from 1800 forward.

“I’ve found something,” said Jane, triumphantly, after an hour or so. “Look here.”

‘Nothing has been seen of Viscountess Dartmouth for 7 years now. She disappeared on the 5th June 1820 before her impending 2nd marriage to the Duke of Cornwall. Her sons are now seeking to have her death legalised so that they can inherit the estate of approximately 26,000 acres.’

“Now that’s really interesting” said David. “I’ve noticed a few depictions of local heraldry around the walls of the library. I wonder if the Dartmouth coat of arms is around here.

They walked around the building looking at the depictions around the walls.

“Here it is,” said David. “It’s exactly like your ring.”

They stared at the crest, a white shield covered in black symbols with the double pink rose in the middle and a bright white stamen in the centre. Jane held up the ring and they were astounded by the similarities.

“This is definitely her ring,” said Jane. “Now to find out how it got down the cave. We need to investigate this family further.”

David went back to the librarian. “Is there a history of the local family, The Viscounts of Dartmouth.

She went through her rolodex for any mentions. “If we have anything it will be under section F over there.”

“Thank you.”

“Jane.”

“Sssshh!”

“Sorry.”

Jane and David went over to the local family section and after a few minutes came across a large volume entitled Dartmouth – A Short History. “I’d hate to get the long one,” said Jane, lifting the huge book onto the reading desk.

They slowly thumbed through the book until they reached the relevant era.

“Here we are,” said David reading the chapter title. “Lineage 1820 to 1830.”

‘The line of the Dartmouth family was almost lost when the Viscountess was about to marry a Duke, which would move all the property into his control. However, fate took a dramatic turn when she disappeared one stormy night, whilst taking her hunting dogs out for an evening walk.’

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking,” asked David.

“It sounds a bit suspicious to me,” agreed Jane. “Three lads about to lose their inheritance would certainly be my suspects.”

“But we’d never prove anything after 100 years.”

“No but I might do some digging on my own and see if I can get friendly with some of the descendants.”

“Be very careful,” said David. “I’m sorry not to be much help but filming continues back to Majorca tomorrow. You will keep in touch, won’t you.”

“I will, Poirot.”

“Bye, Mrs Marple.”

That should confuse the locals a bit more, thought Jane, trying to suppress a chuckle. Now for some more serious investigations. Jane realised that this was going to be a long process, starting with local ancestry and old census documents.

Jane, after trying to fit investigations between the need to earn money and make a new life for herself, took many months, but she had finally discovered what had happened to the Dartmouth family. The three sons had been challenged about their desire to have their mother declared dead and the estate passed to an elder daughter. There were suspicions, but no proof that the sons had somehow done away with their mother.

Jane was now about to meet the youngest descendent in the place where it had all started, the small hotel lounge overlooking the river Dart.

A pretty girl was shown to her table, “Hello, you must be Jane, I’m Felicity Dart.”

“Hello Felicity thank you for coming, I have some news and information for you since I sent the letter.”

“Exciting or unhappy news.”

“Exciting I think,” said Jane. “The courts were right not to give the male ancestors the estate. The skeleton’s DNA did match yours and therefore the skeleton is most likely to have been the Viscountess of Dartmouth.”

“Which is exciting but sad that she met such an unfortunate end,” said Felicity. “Do they know how she died?”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but probably strangled.”

“Oh!” sobbed Felicity.

“Come here,” said Jane, giving her a heart-felt hug.

“It was a long time ago, so I shouldn’t be sad.”

“But she has left you her ring,” said Jane, sliding it over her finger, surprised at the tingling sensation she felt in her own hand. “And now I no longer feel like a jewel thief.”

“Thank you, Jane it’s lovely.”

Not long after, Jane and Felicity sat entwined on the sofa, in front of a log fire, sharing chocolates and a glass of Baileys.

“No more bucket lists,” said Felicity.

“No, once was enough.”

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Worst Christmas Ever

Short Stories

Julie had woken refreshed and over excited; she had always loved Christmas mornings and this one promised to be the best ever, only to have her dreams shattered by one simple text message.

She had met John last Boxing Day on a blind date, set up through an internet dating site. She realised she had hit the jackpot from the first meeting, a gentle giant, full of interesting stories of his travels but grounded by his love for his family. He had been attentive from the first, fascinated by her looks and enchanted by her conversation. He had even been understanding of her compulsive tidying of the table as they enjoyed a meal at the local Chinese restaurant.

She looked back fondly at their interesting dates, not only the usual trips to the cinema and theatre but also to the museums and historic houses that she loved. Many of these visits prompted by her role as contributor to House and Gardens magazine.

When it eventually happened, their lovemaking had been wonderful and mutually exciting. In truth she had secretly visited the ‘naughty’ sites on the web, to make sure she was doing everything right.

This Christmas promised even more joy, as she was convinced that John would propose, as they had been looking in jewellers’ windows, discussing engagement rings and she had picked out one she especially liked, as it reminded her of her mother’s ring she had always admired. Sadly, it had been lost when her mother had been killed in a plane crash over the seas in Asia.

She had adorned her house tastefully, with exquisite Christmas decorations and a perfectly shaped tree, symmetrically hung with twinkling blue and white lights. They had switched on the lights in a little ceremony, pretending to be superstars invited to turn on the town’s lights. A small pile of neatly wrapped presents huddled under the tree, heralding a joy of secrets, waiting to be opened on John’s return. One of the boxes could even be her ring, although no visible box was small enough.

She had spent the morning cleaning the small house, proud of her achievement in having purchased it with her mother’s legacy. She had created a tiny version of the elegant houses she visited, small but perfectly formed, which was just as John had described her, after their first few meetings.

She sat in the kitchen, tears dripping onto the screen of her smartphone, blurring the message, staring brightly back at her.

‘Relationship Broken won’t be back forever leave stuff outside’

He didn’t even want to come inside and tell her what had gone wrong. She decided to make a list of possible problems with explanations, so that she could leave it outside with his personal things. She inserted into a plastic sleeve, so that the snow wouldn’t smudge her message.

She carefully took his small collection of clothes, neatly folding each article and arranging them from largest on the bottom, before wrapping the pile in clingfilm. She put his toiletries in a plastic bag after meticulously cleaning each item. She took her presents from him and placed them with his clothes.

Finally, with tears streaming down her face, she placed the ensemble outside the door under the protecting porch, after clearing the snow from the step. Errant snowflakes floating onto her cheeks, putting the final touches on her already devastated face.

She closed and locked the door and went upstairs to change into her nightdress and gown, before coming downstairs to watch a happy Christmas film. Unfortunately, the happiness of the heroine, highlighted her own situation, and far from helping her forget today’s sad event. made her even more depressed.

………..

John arrived at Julies house soon after his expected 4 o’clock return, having had a fearful journey through the thickening snow. Despite the frustration of other drivers’ inability to drive through the lightest of snow and the smallest of ice patches. He was feeling particularly happy though and he inserted the key into Julie’s front door only to find the Yale lock had been snibbed shut.

“Hello!” he called. “What’s going on?”

Julie was obviously at home, where else would she be, he thought, as there was a flickering glow from the TV, behind the closed curtains.

He saw the pile of his clothes neatly folded and stacked on the porch. Had she kicked him out for being a few minutes late? She must have guessed he was about to propose. Maybe that had scared her off, but to end what promised to be a life of happiness for the sake of a few minutes, seemed a bit extreme, even for her.

He spotted the plastic envelope with the enclosed list of Julies possible problems but as he read it, he realised this was obviously a list of her own perceived shortcomings and insecurities, ending with ‘I’m sorry I haven’t met your expectations and I wish you well for the future.’ followed by the smallest x.

This was not what he had expected and certainly not a result of being a few minutes, late but some sort of misunderstanding. He rang the bell and called out to her. “Julie, answer the door please. I love you and we need to talk.”

“Go away,” came a muffled reply from inside the locked door. “I’ve left your stuff outside as requested. What more do you want?”

“I didn’t request anything, when did I do that?”

“On your text, you said we were breaking up.”

“What? No, I don’t think so.”

She opened the letterbox flap to show John her smartphone with the text message.

John knelt down to read. ‘Relationship Broken won’t be back forever leave stuff outside’

“Oh dear, predictive text and cold fingers,” said John. “What I meant to say was my aunt and uncle’s car had broken down. I’ll be back at 4pm this evening and leave the outside light on.”

He grabbed a special present and passed it through the letterbox. “Here, open this one.”

He watched through the gap as she carefully opened the present, careful not to tare the paper before spreading it out flat. Inside the first box was a second and a third before revealing the last blue, felt box.

“Julie I’m already on my knees out here. Will you marry me?”

“But what about my OCD?”

“That’s one of the things I love about you, I need your neatness to combat my chaotic life style.”

The door flew open as she rushed out, tripping over him and falling together into the snow. “Oh yes oh yes,” she said, smothering him with kisses.

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