Free Reads

Here are a few short stories I’ve created that you can read for free!

The fantasy world of Greenisle…

 Night Reign

“It’s late, Leylanne. Time to prepare for your father’s address.” Evelyn stood by the window, the moonlight highlighting her wrinkles. Her skin was old, tarnished, and had long ago lost its silver sheen. 

Leylanne glanced at the time-marker on her desk. In one rotation, it would be midnight. She laughed. “You can’t see, Evelyn, yet you always know the time.”

Her old teacher turned to smile at her. “I don’t need sight for that. I can smell it.”

Leylanne tugged at the fastener on her gown. 

Evelyn crossed the room to her and, in one movement, secured it tight.

Leylanne smiled. “Thank the gods I have you, Evelyn. When father dies, and I’m Queen, I’ll need you more than ever.”

At mention of King Remin, Evelyn shed a tear. “I fear it won’t be long now, dear. Remin is weakening by the day.”

Leylanne swallowed the lump in her throat and clasped Evelyn’s hand. “We must be strong.” She glanced around the turret where her father insisted she spent most of her days. “Changes are afoot.” 

Evelyn frowned. “Now, now. We’ve spoken of this. You will be Queen; heart of this family; ruler of Greenisle. You must respect your father’s wishes.”

Leylanne stroked the old woman’s crepey hand. Now wasn’t the time to argue, but when her beloved father died, she had no intention of keeping all his rules. 

“He does it to protect you,” said Evelyn, smelling her thought. “Performing his address at night saves you from being taken by the gods. If they saw your beauty, they’d want you for themselves. Just like they did with your mother. Your father lost her to them. He will not risk losing you too.”

Evelyn fixed Leylanne with her cloudy, grey eyes. Although those eyes were blind, they were wise and beautiful, and Leylanne loved it when they met hers, for, under her father’s rule, they were the only ones permitted to do so. Out of respect, he said. But to her, it showed no respect for the Greenislers if they couldn’t even look directly at their future Queen. 

Changes are afoot, she thought again, but this time, she forced the thought away before Evelyn could detect it. 

*

Leylanne hurried toward the beasts’ stables. Every member of court she passed averted their gaze before bidding her greeting. 

As she bustled into the stable, her father was being helped into his carriage.

“Princess, finally, you’re here. Your father was anxious for your arrival.” Zed, one of the stablehands and one of the few Wilders allowed to work in the castle, led her to the carriage attached to the King’s beast. His shirtsleeves were rolled up, exposing the mottled skin on his forearms. That, and his bright yellow eyes, made him stand out against the silver-skinned, grey-eyed Greenislers. She’d touched his skin once, as a child, on one of the occasions Evelyn had let her sneak out to play with him. It had been smooth and cool. 

They walked across the vast stable, chatting easily as they weaved between beasts being saddled, ready to take castle-dwellers to the centre of Greenisle for the King’s address.

“Good nightfall, Father.” She greeted King Remin with a kiss on his cheek.

He smiled and patted her hand as she took a seat in the carriage beside him. 

No sooner had their beast took flight that Remin’s expression turned serious. “Once I am gone, it is important that you keep your distance from that Wilderboy in the stables. I know you are fond of him, but you must not jeopardise the purity of Greenisle by making the wrong choices.”

“What is so wrong with Wilders?” she asked, not for the first time. “Is it really necessary to keep so many of them imprisoned in the dungeons? Sometimes at night, when it’s quiet, I hear their shouts.”

“They knew the risks when they came here from Wilderworld. They’re imprisoned for their own good.”

“But we allow a few out, like Zed, and he works hard. Maybe if—”

“Enough!” The King began to cough from the exertion of raising his voice.

She soothed him with an apology.

“You will soon be Queen, Leylanne,” he said, when he’d regained himself. ‘You’ll be the heart of this family, the—”

“I know. The ruler of Greenisle.”

“Yes. And your actions will impact the whole of this nation. Do you understand? Falling in love with a Wilder would only serve to get you and others hurt.”

She longed to question him more, but for the good of her ailing father, she remained silent.

*

Leylanne closed her book and yawned. “Please, Evelyn. I’m so tired after Father’s address last night that I can’t concentrate. All I ask is that we sneak down to the stables to stroke the beasts. We can be back in a half-rotation.”

Evelyn grimaced. “Do you take me for a fool, young lady? You have no interest in those beasts. You wish to speak to that Wilderboy.”

“He’s my friend,” Leylanne insisted. “Please, Evelyn. You’ll be with me. What harm can it do?”

Evelyn sighed and rose to standing. “Your Father will throw me in the dungeons with the mottle-skins if he finds out.”

Leylanne squealed and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you! And don’t worry about Father. He’ll never know.”

*

Leylanne giggled as Evelyn, sat upon a stool in the corner, began to snore. 

“I thought she was here as your chaperone,” said Zed. He was sat cross-legged on the floor opposite Leylanne. They’d crouched in a corner behind the biggest beasts to reduce their chances of being seen.

“‘Don’t underestimate her,” said Leylanne. “She may be blind and sleeping, but there’s nothing wrong with her hearing.” She looked over at Evelyn, her life-long teacher, mother figure and friend, and felt a stab of sadness. Evelyn was ageing and her senses, on which she relied so much, were fading. Evelyn would never admit it, but Leylanne had noticed she wasn’t tasting the air or smelling thoughts as sharply as she used to.

She turned back to Zed. Without thinking, she reached out and ran a silver finger along his mottled arm.

He pulled it back as if she’d struck him. 

“Why don’t you look me in the eye anymore?” she asked.

“Your Father forbids it.”

“You did once, though. I caught you. When we were children.”

He hung his head. “That was a long time ago. We were foundlings. It wasn’t allowed then, either.”

“No,” she said. “But you were still brave enough to do it. That’s one of the things I like about you. You never did care for rules.”

Just then, something around his neck that she’d never seen before, caught her eye. She went to touch the glinting object, but before she reached it, he tucked it under his shirt.

“What’s that?” 

He pulled back. “It’s nothing. Just a portrait of Nehal, the Wilderwoman, who cared for me when we first arrived here and were imprisoned. My parents died on the journey. I was only four, but I remember her.”

“What happened to her?”

“Like me, Nehal was one of the lucky ones chosen for release to work at the castle. They trained me from a youngster to tame the beasts, while she tended the grounds.”

Leylanne pressed him for answers as to what happened to Nehal. He claimed he didn’t know, but Evelyn had taught her to finely tune her senses to tell when people were lying.  And Zed was lying.

She lunged forward and snatched the object from his neck. He tried to stop her but wasn’t quick enough.

It was a locket, and it came open as she grasped it. Inside lay a portrait of a Wilderwoman with mottled skin and bright yellow eyes. “She’s beautiful,” she said.

She closed the locket and ran a finger over its shiny surface. She’d never seen anything like it before. She raised it closer to her face to get a better look. There was a portrait of another woman on the front. With silver skin and bright yellow eyes, she was the strangest creature Leylanne had ever seen—neither pure Greenisler nor Wilder. “Who’s that?” she asked.

She looked up at Zed who, to her amazement, met her eye. “That’s a reflection, Leylanne. It’s you.”

*

Leylanne struggled to keep her temper. Remin, too weak today to get out of bed, gazed up at her as she paced his chamber.

“Father, how could you? You’ve lied to me my whole life. All this time, you claimed you forbade people from looking at me out of respect, when really it was so they never saw I’m a yellow-eye—a half-breed!”

“It was for your own good,” came her father’s croaky voice. “If the Greenislers knew the truth, they’d have you slaughtered. Like your mother.”

She stopped pacing and stared at him. “My mother was taken by the gods because of her beauty.”

He shook his head. “When you were born and we showed you to the nation as a sleeping baby, we—my mother and I—told our people your mother was a beauty I’d met at the castle, and shortly after your birth the gods had claimed them for her own. They had no reason to suspect she was a Wilder.

“My mother had Nehal killed after she’d had you. I begged her to spare her till at least then. Half-bloods are rumoured to live in the Wildwood between Greenisle and Wilderworld, but no one has ever seen one. We didn’t know whether you’d be silver-skinned or mottled. If mottled, my mother would have had you killed too. I had to swear to keep your eyes a secret.”

Leylanne gasped. “You allowed your own mother to murder the woman you loved?”

Remin’s eyes filled with tears. “ She was Queen. She made the rules. I vowed things would be different under my reign. But by the time that came, you were a small child and my priority was to protect you, not use you to test the Greenislers’ acceptance. Instead, I chose to keep Nehal’s identity a secret and not bring shame upon this family and our people. Nehal and I fell in love in secret. You see now why I’m so insistent you stay away from Zed. If you were to bear his children, they’d be mottled-skins. You can’t hide that.”

Leylanne put her head in her hands. “So, I have to spend the rest of my life forbidding people of the court not to look me in the eye; only going out at night so no one can see the colour of my irises? I cannot live like that.”

He grabbed her hand. “You must, Leylanne. You have no choice. Do you know how hard it’s been protecting you? Banning looking-glasses and metals from the castle so you don’t find out who you truly are. I should have Zed punished—”

“No!”

“Arranging for Evelyn to have that accident that blinded her so I could use her as your teacher was the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

“Father, say you didn’t!”

“Don’t let all that be in vain, Leylanne. Do not sacrifice yourself.”

She stood up. “You talk of me being the future heart of this family; ruler of Greenisle, yet I ask where your heart has gone—the one you lost to Nehal.” She knelt beside him and stroked his forehead as he cried. 

“I’m sorry, Father, but I will reveal my identity to our people and challenge their acceptance. If they kill me, then it’s better than running from their gaze and shunning the man I love. But if I continue to hide, I will never be true to myself. My heart, and those of my future children, will never be full.”

“Leylanne, no,” Remin’s voice was stronger than she’d heard it for some time, but she smelt his fear, just as Evelyn had taught her. 

She kissed her father’s head and ran for the door, closing her ears to his cries.

If you have a spare five minutes and want to feel warm and cosy inside, here’s a short, feel-good story for you…

Could it be Magic?

Melanie’s shoulders sagged as she gazed around her gran’s cellar.  “Just this room left to clear out. Then Gran’s cottage can go on the market.”  

“Come on, you.” Her best friend Lizzie squeezed her arm.  “We’ll have it done in a jiffy.”

“Oh, Liz,” said Melanie, the tears starting to flow.  “It breaks my heart having to sell this place, but now I’ve lost my job, I can’t afford the upkeep.”

 “Chin up, lovely.”  Ever-cheerful Lizzie smiled sympathetically.  “It’s just a house. You have a lifetime of memories of your gran.  That’s what matters. Besides, the flat you’re renting is perfect for a single girl.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” Melanie said drolly.  She was having a bad year. First, her wonderful gran had passed away, then she’d broken up with her long-term boyfriend, and, to top it all off, her pet cat, Missy, had got run over.  

Two hours later they were still boxing up her gran’s belongings when she spotted a pile of small glass phials tucked in a corner, each filled with coloured liquid.  Trust Grandma Maude to keep a hoard of lotions and potions, she thought, remembering fondly how her gran had always believed in magic. She used to tell Melanie about spells she and her friends had cast that had miraculous and sometimes hilarious consequences.  Melanie had loved the stories as a young girl, but as she’d grown into a teenager, she’d rolled her eyes at Gran’s far-fetched tales.

Tears threatened to fall again.  I’d do anything to listen to one of her stories now.  She placed the bottles in a box and realised they’d been sitting on top of an old book.  Curious, she blew off the dust, and opened the cover.

“Ooh, what’s this?” Lizzie crouched next to her, black bin liner in hand.

“Spells to bring good fortune,” Melanie read from the inside page.  “Hmm, definitely for the skip.”

“No way!” Lizzie pulled the book from Melanie’s grasp, and looked pointedly at her.  “We’re keeping this one. I know someone who could do with a dose of good luck.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Melanie tutted.  Just because I was made redundant and split up with Jason doesn’t mean I need to resort to witchcraft.”

“And don’t forget your cat got run over.”

Melanie pulled a face.  “I could hardly forget, could I?  Anyway, all that magic malarky is a load of rubbish.  Just something Gran used to do with her friends for a laugh.  It doesn’t really work.”

“We’ll see,” said Lizzie, nestling the book in the box marked ‘KEEP’.

***

“That wine tastes a bit funny.”  Melanie wrinkled her nose and peered at her glass.  

“It was on offer at Nice Buys,” Lizzie replied.  She took a sip from her own glass. “Tastes okay to me.”

Melanie shrugged.  “After all the clearing out we did today, I’m just grateful for a drink.”  

Lizzie plonked herself down at Melanie’s kitchen table, just in time to see a sleek, dark creature sneak through the open front door.  “Ooh, look! That moggy’s come to see you again. I think she wants to move in.”

“Oh, not her again,” said Melanie, her harsh words contradicting the reassurance she felt as the black cat curled her soft warmth against Melanie’s ankles, and purred.  

“I thought you’d be pleased,” said Lizzie.  “Since you lost Missy, you could do with a new feline friend, and it would be good to give a stray a home.”

“No way,” said Melanie.  “I can’t bear to fall in love with another pet, only for something to happen to her and it break my heart again.”  

Lizzie patted her hand.  “With all that negative thinking, you’ll create your own bad luck.  Maybe you should give your gran’s spell a go…”

Melanie nearly choked on her wine.  “I’ll do you a deal,” she said, wiping her chin.  I’ll consider keeping the stray if we agree there’ll be no more talk of magic.”

Lizzie bent down and scooped up the cat, who nuzzled her furry head under Lizzie’s chin.  “I knew you couldn’t resist,” she grinned.

***

Melanie pushed the vet’s door open with one hand, while juggling the cat carrier in the other.

“Ah, who have we here?  Melanie and Maude, I take it?  The question is, which is which?”

Melanie looked up into the brownest eyes she’d ever seen.  Wow! She wasn’t expecting him.  The handsome young vet introduced himself as Rob, Doctor Green’s son, who had taken over the surgery after his dad’s retirement.  

She explained Maude, whom she’d decided to name after her gran, was an adopted stray she’d brought for a check over.  Rob was so gentle with the cat and—much to her surprise—seemed interested in her owner too. Before she knew it, she’d told him all about her recent run of bad luck.

“I think you need cheering up,” he said, as he gave Maude a clean bill of health.  “How about I take you out for dinner tonight? My treat.”

Feeling chirpier than she had in months, Melanie practically skipped all the way home.  Perhaps her luck was changing after all. Despite the sorry state of her bank account, she decided to stop at her favourite boutique.  Grandma Maude was always richer in love than money, but she’d left Melanie a small amount that she’d kept aside. A new outfit for her date tonight might be just what she needed to pull her out of the doldrums.

There was a lovely lady working in the shop, who she hadn’t seen before.  

“I have just what you need for a romantic night out,” the lady said, and pulled out a beautiful black dress that Melanie instantly fell in love with.  

“Do you know, love,” she said to Melanie, “I could do with someone as smiley and cheerful as you to work here.  The girl who used to manage the shop for me has left to have a baby. Would you be interested?”

Melanie jumped at the chance.  A new pet, a hot date, and a job in her favourite boutique, all within twenty-four hours.  With money coming in, she might not even need to sell Gran’s cottage. Her luck was definitely changing.

***

A car’s horn beeped, and Melanie peered out the window.  Rob had arrived exactly on time. She caught her reflection in the glass.  She had to admit, she looked and felt amazing in her new dress. Stopping briefly to pick up her handbag from the kitchen counter, she spied her gran’s old spell book.  She’d keep the book in memory of her beloved grandmother, but there was no point in every trying a spell—it was all a lot of old nonsense. You made your own luck. Today was proof of that.

***

It was gone midnight when Lizzie received a text message from Melanie saying what an amazing night she’d had with the handsome young vet she’d met that day.  He’d even asked to see her again at the weekend. Lizzie smiled. After her terrible year, Melanie deserved some happiness. She’d felt a bit guilty yesterday about mixing up a magic potion she’d found in Melanie’s gran’s book, and slipping it into into her best friend’s wine.  But she knew the spell would bring Melanie good fortune, because, unlike her friend, she believed magic really did work. And today was proof of that.

The End

A short cosy story with a happy end…

Just Imogen

Imogen went to open the dishwasher to put her empty cereal bowl in, then remembered she didn’t have a dishwasher anymore.  The six-bedroom house she’d lived in, and loved, for the last twenty years during her marriage to George had all the modcons.  But since his affair with his secretary (why did he have to be so obvious!) and their subsequent divorce, he’d insisted on selling the house. 

Little had she known at that time that the business was failing and debts had been building up.  After the sale of the house everything they’d owned had been paid back, leaving very little to split between them.  Now, here she was in a small rented flat with only herself for company.

She felt the familiar sting of tears, and batted it away.  She abandoned her bowl in the sink to wash up later. She couldn’t risk being late for work on her first day.   

She glanced longingly at her Ford Fiesta as she walked past it.   It was a miserable January morning and she was tempted to jump in and drive to avoid the twenty-minute walk in the rain, but now she was having to fend for herself, money was tight, and petrol didn’t come cheap.  She squinted against the driving rain, and forced herself to get on with the walk.

The closer she got to Sheila’s Cafe, the more the nerves clawed at her.   She hadn’t worked since becoming pregnant with Jody a year into their marriage.  Then Ben followed soon after, and she’d never even thought about returning to work.  George said it was important she was there for the kids and she’d agreed. By the time they’d become old enough to fend for themselves, the world had moved on and her skills were outdated.  She couldn’t have re-started a career even if she wanted to.

But now needs must, and the only employer who hadn’t regarded her with either distaste or pity was Sheila, the nice smiley lady who owned the local cafe round the corner from her new flat.  It wasn’t going to make her rich, but she didn’t need a fortune as long as she could cover her bills. Now the kids had both flown the nest, George didn’t have to pay her much, so she was on her own for the first time in her life.  Just her. Just Imogen.

Her breathing was heavy by the time she arrived at the cafe.  Her married life had been admittedly luxurious, and she’d barely had to walk anywhere.  The downside was that her waist had thickened over the years, but George always said he liked curvy women.

“So how come he chose Davina, the size six stick insect, to have an extramarital with?”, she said to herself through gritted teeth.

‘“Talking to yourself, love?’”  Sheila appeared from the kitchen.

“Oh, sorry, I was just putting the world to rights.”

“You’ll get on fine here, then,” laughed Sheila.  “The customers love a bit of a natter.”

The work was hard, and Imogen’s legs ached by the end of the day, but she felt strangely elated when it was time to go home.  The day had flown by. She’d enjoyed serving and chatting to the customers, and had even noticed the man with the kind brown eyes looking at her.  

After a few weeks, she was slowly starting to settle in to her new single life.  She’d had to make changes, such as shopping at the budget supermarket rather than her usual upmarket one, but she found it didn’t really make a difference to her quality of life.  Walking to work every day had even meant she’d lost weight. There was no danger of her becoming a size six, but at least her trousers fitted better these days. And she could eat what she liked without worrying about George’s fussiness.

The kind-eyed man came into the cafe several times a week, and always gave her a bright smile and the warmest thanks when she took his slice of cake over.

‘“Steve likes you,” said Sheila, nodding over at where he sat.

“Don’t be silly, he’s just being friendly,” Imogen replied, although could feel her cheeks  flushing.

“He deserves to meet someone nice like you.  His wife left him years ago. Don’t think he’s had any romance since.  Shame, he’s a lovely man.”

Imogen glanced over, and Steve’s eyes twinkled back at her.  She looked away, embarrassed.

The next day he came in the cafe later than usual, and was still there when it was time for Imogen to go home.  She was just about to leave when she heard a voice.

“Erm, excuse me.”

She turned and realised it was Steve addressing her.

‘“I wondered if you’d like to have dinner with me one day.”

Flustered, Imogen muttered an excuse about not liking to eat out, and quickly let herself out of the door.  She cursed herself all the way home. She had really wanted to accept Steve’s invitation, so why hadn’t she?  And to make some stupid excuse about not liking restaurants! He must have thought her so rude. She cringed at the thought.  

Decades of been George’s wife had eroded her confidence.  She thought she’d been been happy with him, but a month on her own and she realised the real Imogen had been stifled in their marriage.  She was starting to get to know herself again, but wasn’t yet at the stage she had the confidence to go on a date. Would she ever be?

She sighed and let herself into her flat.  It was humble but comfortable. She’d filled it with the things she loved.  It had been refreshing, not having to worry about what anyone else thought when she decorated, not like in their old home when George had liked everything to match perfectly.  Imogen preferred a more homely, higgledy-piggledy style.

If she was honest with herself, living alone wasn’t turning out quite as bad as she’d feared.   She loved her job at Sheila’s and was getting to know some of the regulars, but when she got home the nights were long and lonely.  Jody and Ben were busy with their own lives, and the friends she’d socialised with when she’d been married seemed to be avoiding her, as if things were awkward now she wasn’t part of a couple.  

She settled down on the sofa with a glass of wine and a cheese straw left over from the cafe.  She used to love cooking but there didn’t seem to be any point now it was just her. She sighed.  Another Friday night alone with the TV for company.

She was just dropping off in front of the latest celebrity fly-on-the-wall documentary when the sound of the doorbell startled her.  Who was that at this hour? It was past seven O’clock, and she barely got any visitors these days even during daylight hours.

Jody stood at the doorway, suitcase in hand.  Tears were streaming down her face. “I’ve fallen out with Jenny, Mum.  Being her flatmate is a total nightmare. Can I stay here with you for a while please?  Just while I find a new place.”

“Of course you can, darling!’”  Imogen said, pulling her daughter in for a tight hug.  She’d just finished making Jody a mug of cocoa, which seemed to cheer her up no end, when the doorbell rang again.

“Mum, do you mind if I stay for the weekend?  I needed to get away from uni for a couple of days.  And I’ve missed your cooking. I never thought I’d say I’m sick of junk food, but, well, I guess I am.”

She ruffled Ben’s hair like she used to when he was little.  “Of course you can, love, come on in.”

An hour later, Imogen smiled as she looked at her grown-up children on the sofa laughing at a comedy together.  She was just wondering how to make a decent dinner for three out of her stock of microwave meals when the doorbell rang again.

She opened the door and was met was a handsome man with twinkly brown eyes.  “Steve. What are you doing here?”

“Sheila told me where you lived.  I hope you don’t mind, but when you said you didn’t like eating out, I thought you might prefer to eat dinner in.”  He held up two plastic bags bursting with cartons that smelt spicy and delicious.

“That’s so kind, Steve,” she said, touched at his thoughtfulness.  “But I’m afraid I can’t. My two children are here visiting.” Although she was delighted Ben and Jody were there, she was surprised how disappointed she was to turn Steve away.

“There’s more than enough for four,” he said.  “I didn’t know what you liked, so I got a selection.”   His hopeful expression quickly faded. “But don’t worry if you’re too busy.  Sorry, I shouldn’t have turned up unannounced.” He turned to leave.

“No,” she said, quickly, gesturing for him to come in.  “Please stay, that would be nice.”

Ben and Jody were quiet at first but Steve soon started chatting to Ben about football, which broke the ice, and Jody seemed to relax once Steve told a funny story about a flatsharing disaster he’d experienced as a young man.

Steve had even even brought a couple of bottles of wine with him.  George would never have done that, thought Imogen.  Food and shopping had always been left to her in their marriage.  Steve poured wine into her glass, and she smiled. She never imagined she’d find herself middle-aged, divorced and working in a cafe, but now she was, she realised she hadn’t been this happy for a long time.  

“Steve”, she said, as he was leaving.  “I was nervous earlier at the cafe when you asked me out.  I love restaurants, and I’d love to accept your invitation, if it still stands that is.”

He bent down to give her a peck on the cheek.  “It certainly does. How about Thursday evening?”

“Can’t wait,” she said, and when she closed the door behind him she grinned, realising she really couldn’t.

The End.

Here’s the opening of a crime novel.  Or it could be a short story in its own right.  I wrote it for a competition, but it didn’t win, so rather than waste it I thought I’d share it here.

Child of The Sea

Just a warning – it’s a wee bit sweary, so if you don’t like bad words, don’t read it.  And if you don’t like bad words and choose to read it anyway, that’s your bad!  So, here it is…

Child of The Sea

“I killed her.”

“What?” Eve spins around, an empty mug in each hand.

“ It was me.  I did it. I murdered her.”

“Who?”

“The woman whose body was found washed up on the shore yesterday.”

“Right.”  Eve rolls her eyes, and turns back around.  “Is this kettle another one of your eco-friendly contraptions?  How do you even switch the bloody thing on?”

I get up from the seat at the kitchen table, and flick the kettle on, then walk over to the window.   Eve’s fiddling about with tea bags. She has her back to me.

I close my eyes and press my forehead against the freezing glass.  It cools the sick-laced sweat that builds inside me every time I think about what I did—how the woman’s bright blue eyes flooded with blood, and she clawed at my face as I squeezed the final drop of life out of her.  I belch silently and the acrid taste of vomit fills my mouth. You had no choice.  Reminding myself of that usually relaxes me, but not this time.  Panic is still dancing in my head.

I need to calm down.  I need to play this out as per the chapter says.  Otherwise everything I’ve put myself through over the last six weeks will have been for nothing.  

I open my eyes to gaze across the road at the sea.  It’s my favourite view, and the reason I moved to this shitty flat in this shitty town—it allows me to see the sea at its most rugged, it’s most real, it’s most beautiful.  And I know more than most how ugly it can be.

In the dreary winter blackness all I catch is a flash of white foam as a single wave thrashes the edge of the pier.  Even that’s enough to provide me with the reassurance I need to carry on.

Eve’s chattering on about something, but I’m not listening.  All I hear is the swoosh of cars driving through the rain.  I make a conscious effort to tune in to her.  I need to follow what the chapter says. Word for word.

“…why you’re acting so weird.  I mean, we know you’ve always been—well—different.”  Eve laughs down her nose. “But recently, you have to admit, you’ve been acting weird even by your standards.  Now you’re spouting some nonsense about killing people. For God’s sake, Helena, what’s the matter with you?”

She turns around and heads for the table.  Her skirt swings as she moves, unlike her highlighted blonde hair, which doesn’t budge an inch.  I shove my short mousey mop behind my ear. How are we sisters?  

“Mum and I haven’t heard from you for over a month, you haven’t been at work for ages, according to Sinead, and when was the last time you went out?”

I go back to the table, and plonk myself on a chair.  “This morning.”

Eve peers at me from under her fringe.  It strikes me it’s the first time she’s actually looked at me since she arrived ten minutes ago.

“I mean out properly.  With friends.   If you’ve got any, that is.  I know you’re always out in that boat of yours.  I don’t know how you do it, go out rowing like that, not after—.”

Her voice trails off.  She doesn’t need to say any more.  We both know what she means, but we don’t talk about it.  We’ve never talked about it. It’s as if we don’t mention it, we can pretend it never happened.

“It’s not a boat.  It’s a canoe. Besides, it helps me deal with things.”

Eve puts my stripey teapot down on the table, and liquid sploshes out of the spout onto the newspaper beneath.

I swipe the tea off the paper with the sleeve of my woolly jumper.  It seeps through and scalds my skin. I wince, but otherwise don’t react.  I deserve the pain for what I’ve done, and for what I’m about to do.

“Eve.  I asked you here so I could tell you something.  I need you to listen. Please, just listen.”

“I’m all ears, little sis’,” she says, but she’s turned her attention to pouring the tea.  She’s not looking at me anymore.

“Her.”  I jab my finger at the photo in the newspaper of the smiling woman under the headline, Body Found under Fleeston Pier.  

That day I killed her, did she wake up knowing it would be her last?  

Is that what Eve’s thinking now?

I watch her pull a Canderel out of her handbag, and press the top so a tiny pellet of fake sugar drops into her tea.  

Who am I kidding?  She hasn’t got a clue.  I’m glad. I might be a killer but I’m not a psychopath.  And whatever contempt I may hold for my older sister, we still share the same blood, the same secret.

She taps the teaspoon against her mug so it makes a delicate chink sound, places it on the table, and only then does she look where I’m pointing.  “Who’s she?”

“The woman I murdered.”

She picks up her mug and takes a tentative sip.  “Now, why would you do that, Helly?”

I hate it when she calls me that.  I can tell from her patronising tone that she doesn’t believe me, but then I don’t blame her.  I’ve never so much as shoplifted sweets from a newsagent. I’m going to have to do a better job of convincing her.  The book says she has to believe me before I can complete the chapter. And if I don’t follow the rules, I know what will happen.

I lift the book from the seat of the chair beside me.  “Because of this.”

Eve pauses, her mug halfway to her lips.  She cocks her head and reads the words on the cover.  “The Child from The Sea.”  She shoots me a wary look.  I know what she’s thinking. It’s what I thought when I first saw it.  

“Have you told someone what happened to us?  We promised each other we’d never tell. Helena, what have you done?”  Her voice quivers, and I know why. If anyone found out about that day, her life would fall apart.  So would mine, if I had one.

“Of course I haven’t told anyone.  It’s a coincidence, that’s all.” I put the book down on the table in front of her.

She chews her thumbnail like she always used to when she was a kid.  She picks up the book and turns it around, but the back is blank. “Well, if that’s the case,” she says.  “It’s just another book. You spend your life with your head in them. Always have done since you were little, and now you work in a library, where you’re surrounded by them.”  She drops the heavy hardback back onto the table. “What has this got to do with that poor woman whose body was found on the beach?”

I press my back against the chair, and cross my legs.  I’m starting to relax now I’ve got her attention. “It was delivered to me six weeks ago.”

“By whom?”  She pronounces the ‘m’ deliberately, as if making a point she knows the correct grammar, which is hilarious, since she couldn’t even pass her English GCSE.

“No idea.”  I lean forward and run the nail of my index finger along the indented title letters.  “It just turned up outside my door one night. There was a knock, I went to see who it was, but no-one was there.  Just this book. And a note.”

“A note?”  She raises her eyebrows.  She wants me to hurry up. She has things to do.  Children to feed, a husband to look after, so she constantly reminds me.  I’m sure she says it just to make me feel inadequate at being single and childless.

I open up the front cover to reveal the note tucked inside.  Eve narrows her eyes at me, then reaches into her handbag to retrieve her glasses.  She lifts up the piece of paper, and scans the typed words in silence. The crease between her eyes deepens the more she reads.

“What the fucking hell, Helena?”

That takes me aback.  I haven’t heard my sister swear since she married Mr Middle Class, and started pronouncing every consonant.

“Please tell me you didn’t,” she says.

“Not at first, no, but then things started to happen, just as the note says, and I realised I had no choice.”

“So for the last six weeks you’ve done whatever this book told you?”

I nod, and smile.  For the second time in a week, a spark of euphoria breaks out of my bones and seeps into my blood.

“Helena, are you saying this book ordered you to kill someone?”

I nod again.

She reaches for my hand, but I snatch it away.  “Helly, are you okay? Do you want me to call the doctor?”

“No.  I’m fine.”

Eve shakes her head.  “You don’t really expect me to believe this, do you?  It’s creeping me out. Why are you doing this to me? You know I suffer with my nerves.”  

Here we go again.  Always about her. Here I am confessing to murder, and she’s talking about her bloody nerves.  Precious Eve and her poxy anxiety. We were both there on that day—the one we don’t talk about—so how come she’s the only one who’s screwed up as a result?  

“Like I said,” I lean back again, and fold my arms across my chest.  “I had no choice. I ignored it at first, thought it was the young lads who live upstairs playing silly buggers.  But then things started happening, bad things, the things the note says will happen if I don’t read the book and do what it tells me.  So I read the first chapter, and my luck changed. Then things just got better and better. You’ll never guess what it says will happen when I get to the end.”

“Has your depression come back, is that the problem?”  A drop of spittle flies out of her mouth as she talks. It lands square on the photo of my victim.  I watch it splodge and disfigure my victim’s fresh young face. Funny, she looked a bit like that when I was killing her.

“The only problem,” I say, and roll up my sleeves, “is that in order to get to the happy end, I need to get through some difficult chapters.”

“What are you talking about, Helly?  You’re obviously not thinking straight.”  She shakes her head.

Why does she have to keep calling me that?  “I mean, I have to kill again.”

“That’s it.  I’m calling for help.  Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.  We’ll get this sorted.” She picks her mobile phone off the table, jumps up from her chair, and leans against the kitchen counter so she’s facing me.  She’s frightened of what I might do. Just as the book said she would be. This might be easier than I thought.

“Waste of time”, I say.  “The signal here’s crap.”

She holds the phone to her ear regardless.  Against the deathly quiet of my flat I hear the no-signal tone.

Slowly, she lowers the device from her ear.  I notice a strand of her cardboard hair has become misplaced.  

“Have to kill who exactly?” she asks me.  

Hmm, no whom now.  The blood’s drained from her face and she’s so pale that she complements the white goods in my kitchen remarkably well.

I shift my gaze to the knife block a few feet away from where she’s standing.  She follows my line of sight and clocks what I’m looking at. Her eyes widen so much they look like they’re going to pop out of their sockets.   She already knows the answer.

The End.

A true, funny story…

Who you calling a silly cow, you stupid poo poo head?

Last week my driving escapades stooped to a new level when a fellow female driver felt it necessary to wind down her window and express her displeasure with a verbal tirade, likening my road skills to that of grazing cattle.

I was on a narrow road and had just had to do some splendid manoeuvring (if I do say so myself) around some very inconsiderately parked vehicles before I spotted an oncoming car.  I nestled my own car cosily into the side of the road to let it pass.

The nice lady in the oncoming vehicle wound down her window and gave me a wave of thanks.  I waved back, smiled and carried on singing along to Taylor Swift who was very kindly entertaining me from the radio airwaves.

‘Mummy’.

‘Be quiet please, darling, the chorus is coming up, and that’s my favourite part.’

‘Mummy’

‘Ssshh, darling – Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna ha-‘

‘Mummy’

Sighs resignedly and turns  volume down.  ‘Yessss?’  What could possible be worth interrupting Taylor for?

‘That woman just called you a silly cow.’

‘What?  What woman?’

‘That woman in the car.  She wound down her window and shouted that you are a silly cow.  Silly cow, silly cow, silly cow – hahahahah.  Mum’s a silly cow.’

‘Did she?’  Shocked.  How dare she!  And to think I pulled over to wait for her.  Bloody cheek of it!

‘Yes, silly cow, she called you, mum.  She put her window down especially to shout it at you.  How could you not have heard?

I was busy listening to Taylor.  

I looked in my rear view mirror and discovered that the parked cars I’d expertly swerved around weren’t parked at all.  No, they were giving way to verbal woman.  Oops.  How was I to know?  When stationary, cars looked like they’re parked.

‘Well, that wasn’t very nice of her was it, using that kind of language.  How rude.’

‘I didn’t think you minded, mummy.’

‘Of course I mind, that’s not a very nice thing to say.’

‘Then why did you smile and wave at her?’

‘Because I thought she was being jolly courteous winding down her window to express her gratitude.’

‘Her face looked angry, though, mummy.’

Thinking about it, she hadn’t looked best pleased, but perhaps she’d been jealous of my expert manoeuvring around static vehicles.

‘Yes I suppose it did.’

‘Let’s follow her mummy and shout at her that she’s a stupid poo poo head.’

I contemplate taking that action, and as tempting as it was as a grown woman to engage in a high speed chase, yelling stupid poo poo head out of my window at the top of my voice, I decided to turn the volume back up and shake it off – ‘cos that’s what Taylor would have done.

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