Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Girl with White Ankle Socks (Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge)

Well, this one was a doozy... awesome author Chuck Wendig challenged us to write a 1,000-word Flash fiction about - a real-life event in our past. 

And for my story, it meant I'd be going public about a time in my life I haven't actually gone public about before - when I was twenty-four and attending a psychiatric hospital as a day patient, following a mental breakdown. 

 Obviously I could've picked a million other life moments to write a Flash about... but somehow this one was the one that shouted to me. Possibly because it marked a shift in my thinking - from sort-of-selfish-jerky to slightly-less-selfish-jerky (I hope.) And anyway, how much longer can I pretend like my past never happened without looking like a delusional reality tv star? 

Let my crazy times roll...


This week I’ve got my shit together. I picked out coloured pencils that are already sharpened.

You can’t just have a sharpener in Art Therapy – you have to ask the Key Worker for one. How does anyone hurt themselves with a pencil sharpener? I suppose they can’t be too careful in a place full of crazy people. I've been a member for a couple of months now - or maybe longer. It’s hard to remember through the fog of drugs.

“Can you open the windows, please? I can’t breathe.” Oh god. Her again.

She’s there with her escort outside the door, in her sparkly pink headband, plus-size flowery dress and white ankle socks. The man opposite me rolls his eyes, and a wave of sighs ripples across the classroom as she gives Tim the Therapist the rabbit-in-headlights eyes and wobbly lip. “Open the windows,” she says, in her baby-girl voice, “or I can’t breathe.”

This is her third week in Art Therapy, and she does this every time. I've tried guessing her age, but it’s impossible to tell. She dresses like an overgrown eight-year-old and has the voice to match, but her face and body have the bulk and sag of a middle-aged woman. I've never seen her without her escort; everyone from the Secure Unit has one whenever they mix with the day patients. It doesn't always mean they’re violent, but it does mean their problems go deeper than anything a course of therapy can fix.

“It’s winter now,” says Tim, in the sing-song rhythm all the staff use when they think we’re too spaced to understand them. “I think it’ll be too cold in here with all the windows open…”

I can’t breathe!” Her squeak becomes a squeal and she clutches at her throat.

“You’ll be fine. I’ll leave the door open for you –”

No! I need the windows open - I can’t breathe. I'm dying!”

She’s not going to give in – we already know that from the last two sessions. Tim sweeps the rest of us with a look of silent apology before shuffling towards the windows, and she waits until every last one is opened before she waddles in and takes her usual place – the desk nearest the door, on the opposite side. I slap my hand over the paper on my table, now flapping in the draught whistling in from outside. Great. The rest of us freeze to death but at least she won’t get blasted by Siberian winds while she’s breathing her special window-oxygen… from the other side of the room.

I pick up a blue pencil and stare down at my paper. What shall I draw this week? The point of Art Therapy, it seems, is to Draw Away Your Pain. Most people depict traumatic events from their past, which they present to Tim to look at and nod sympathetically. I don’t know why anyone would want to see the shit in my soul so I draw in code, hiding the darkness behind pretty colours and generic symbols of how I wish it could've been. Ever the therapist, Tim still treats them like a puzzle to unravel – which, it turns out, is sport for both of us. So… what can I do this week, to really get his brain spinning…?

Dammit, I can’t concentrate. She’s talking to Tim, and her volume switch is apparently stuck at Stage Actor Loud. The man opposite me tuts, his orange pencil grinding a trench into his paper as he glares sideways at her, but she’s oblivious as she carries on telling Tim about her week. I'm not having to struggle to eavesdrop, so I give in to curiosity.

“My mum came to see me this week. She brought me cake. I like cake.”

“That’s nice.” Tim has set phasers to Analyse, with everything she says another puzzle for him to unravel.

“She always brings me cake. Or Sweets. I like sweets as well.”

“Do you miss her?”

“Sometimes. But I can never go back home again. I have to live here forever.”

There’s a grown-up sadness in her little-girl voice that I haven’t heard before. I find myself looking again at her glittery headband and white ankle socks.

How many years has she been locked away?

“I have to live here because of the bad man. He made me like this.” Her lip wobbles, and her eyes have a watery gloss. “The bad man hurt me. He stole my life, and I’ll never get it back.”

The bottom drops out of my heart. Now I understand. She’s not just a Lifer from the secure unit - she’s a person, just like me and everyone else in this world. But she’s also a broken soul, forever frozen in time at the moment the Bad Man tore her world apart. She could've been me. I could've been her. There is no Grand Plan; no karma, no divine retribution. Fate covers his eyes when he picks out his victims.

“Okay, session’s over.” Tim moves to the front table where the boxes of pencils are stacked. “Please leave your work on your table and put your pencils away, and I’ll see you all again next week.”

My gaze darts to the clock. Where did the time go? A whole thirty minutes for a blank piece of paper. No puzzle for Tim today. But I don’t mind. I learned something instead.

She stays at her desk while her escort packs away her pencils for her, watching saucer-eyed as everyone else leaves. As I pass her we make eye contact, and this time I smile at her. She shrinks back, her face crumpling - and for a moment I worry that I’ve done something wrong. But then the corners of her mouth curl upwards and the sun comes out. She has a pretty smile; all dimples and innocence.

I hope I see it again in future Art Therapy sessions. Even if it does mean remembering to bring a coat.

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Dish Served Cold (Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge)

Okay - when you get a 1,000-word flash fiction challenge where your story has to open with a dead body... well, you already know the result aint exactly gonna be fluffy kittens and rainbows. I don't know what weird corner of my brain this came from, okay? But here it is. I'm not sure if 'enjoy' is the right term here, but - oh well, I did what I did...

(Full details of the Challenge - originally issued on 12th June 2015 - can be found here.)


Jeremy gazed around the kitchen in a daze. It was well-stocked, he’d give them that. Fancy-looking gadgets and gizmos gleamed from the racks behind him, and the worktop in front heaved with ingredients; fresh vegetables, herbs and spices, fancy oils. Oh, and a naked male corpse.

“You have two hours,” said a snooty-looking man in chef’s whites, “to create a delicious main course from the ingredients in front of you. It must be original, it must be delicious – but most of all, it must be perfectly cooked."

“Yeah,” said a man in a cheap-looking suit beside him. “’Cos we’re judgin’ you like we’d judge professional chefs. An’ your time starts – now!”

A siren honked from somewhere above, and out of the corner of his eye Jeremy saw the other two contestants bolt into action like rabbits out of a trap. He stared down at the bloated body in front of him, studying its face. It was no-one he knew, thank God – but at the same time it looked like every restaurant owner Jeremy had ever trashed in his weekly food review column. How on earth was he supposed to turn this poor sod into dinner? If push came to shove he could rustle up a mean Spag Bol, but he’d never cooked a person before…

He shot a sneaky sideways glance at the contestant on his left, who was grunting with the effort of tugging at his corpse’s head like he was trying to rip it off. As if feeling Jeremy’s gaze on him, he turned and grinned, flashing rotten teeth through his equally rotten lips. “Braaaaiiiinnnns,” he said. 

Jeremy turned away with a shudder. This was not his area of expertise. As a celebrated restaurant critic, his job was to judge other people’s culinary efforts – but that didn't mean he had to know anything about the process behind them. In fact, he liked to think it was his very lack of knowledge in that area that made his damning reviews so hilariously caustic. Not for nothing was he known as ‘The Butcher’ in the world of food reviewers; featuring in his column was an ‘honour’ restaurant owners had learned to fear rather than welcome.  But, as Jeremy had always maintained, he was simply giving the public what they wanted -- which was clever snark and witty put-downs, not honest opinions about the food

“You have one hour and thirty minutes left,” said Snooty Chef Bloke.

Jeremy’s heart almost jumped into his throat. In a panic he glanced at the contestant on his right, who was clearly well ahead of the game and already sipping a glass of wine and weighing out some fava beans. Dragging his unconventional protein source towards a strategically-placed chopping-board, he tried to remember the wall chart he’d seen in butchers shops with the cow divided up in dotted lines. Could you apply that to a human? Even as he debated whether any of the meat on this particular specimen could be described as ‘lean,’ it seemed as if its dead eyes were looking into his soul. Silently mocking him -- Ha! Not as easy as it looks, is it?

No, it wasn't. And if Jeremy couldn't pull something out of the bag, he would soon be judged too. Harshly, like he’d judged others in the past. And probably unfairly. He stared down at the corpse.

Okay, he thought, I've been a tool. Sorry. But if I can win this thing I promise I’ll make it up to you. All of you.


Jeremy picked up his creation, dread creeping up his spine. So far things had gone badly; these two were merciless critics. Snooty Chef Bloke dismissed Contestant One’s dish as tacky and unimaginative, citing Chianti as being a “‘nineties” choice of wine. Cheap Suit Bloke complained he’d be the picking the bits of skull in Contestant Two’s effort from his teeth for weeks to come. And now, as Jeremy presented his dish, they looked down their noses at it with equal disdain.

His palms began to sweat as they prodded at it with their forks and lifted a small sample to their mouths.  They chewed in silence, squinting as if the action was an ordeal. Then Cheap Suit Bloke put his fork down and frowned. “You clearly know nothin’ about cookin’,” he said. “It’s bloody ‘orrible. What d’you call it?”

“The only thing I could, under the circumstances” said Jeremy. “Humble Pie.”

The two Blokes grimaced at each other in a code Jeremy evidently wasn't meant to understand, and his pulse thudded in his veins as the silence stretched into what felt like infinity. Then they both turned to him with dispassionate faces. “Well,” said Snooty Chef Bloke, “’humble’ is the one thing you should be about this effort. But since you've acknowledged that – and the other entrants’ offerings were even worse than yours – we’re left with little choice but to declare you the winner.”

“Congratulations,” added Cheap Suit Bloke. “You get to go back. But when you get there, for God’s sake buy yerself a cookbook.”


Awareness came in a rush; the antiseptic smell, the intermittent beep of a nearby machine – but most of all, the feeling of being alive. Jeremy opened his eyes to the glare of fluorescent strip-lighting and the reassuring face of the cardiac consultant.

“The operation was a success,” he said, “but we almost lost you at one point – your heart stopped beating for a full two minutes. You’ll need to make some serious lifestyle changes if you don’t want to end up back here in the future.”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll cut down on the booze and rich food for a start,” he said.

“You won’t get any while you’re recuperating anyway,” said the consultant. “It’ll be plain hospital food here.” He arched an eyebrow as he scribbled on his clipboard. “And I'm sure you’ll have plenty to say about that.”

Jeremy smiled. “Not this time,” he said.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Always Something There To Remind Me (Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge)

This story was written for Chuck Wendig's weekly Flash Fiction Challenge (full details here.) We had a choice of twenty-one stock photos that 'no-one will ever use' - and our brief was to - erm, use one as the basis of our flash fiction. 1,000 words max. The photo I chose accompanies my story. Enjoy!


Nathan swallowed. “Wow,” he said eventually. “You made this yourself? For me?”

“Yeah, in my sculpture class.” Holly beamed. “It’s a declaration of my love.”

Nathan tried to study the thing without actually looking into its eyes. She’d certainly captured an accurate likeness of herself -- if the self she’d intended to capture was her maniacally-grinning, decapitated head, shrink-wrapped on a polystyrene tray. Were all art students strange, or was this another Holly thing? Nathan found her uninhibited infatuation with him cute when they first started dating three months ago, but now it was starting to creep him out.

“You should hang it there,” said Holly, pointing at the opposite wall, “above the telly. Then whenever you’re missing me, you can see me looking back at you.”

Nathan suppressed an involuntary shudder. “I dunno Holly – I share this flat with James, remember…”

“Oh, he won’t mind – he’ll think it’s sweet that you love me so much.” Holly looked up at him through her lashes. “You do love me, don’t you Nathan?”

Her bottom lip drooped into a pout, and there was a whiny note to her voice -- getting this question wrong was not an option and Nathan knew it. He forced a smile. “Of course I do, Babe.”

“Good. You can help me put it up.” She grabbed a chair and dragged it across the floor. “Get your tools. I’ll mark a spot for the nail.”


“That,” said James “is nightmare food for the eyes.”

I know,” replied Nathan as they stared up at Holly’s masterpiece. “But I can’t get rid of it. She’d take it as a rejection – of her.”

“Mmm… with any luck,” James muttered.

“What do you mean?”

James sighed. “Okay then, I’ll say it. She’s weird. She was talking about moving in with you less than a month after you started dating, and if she’s not showing up here unannounced all the time, she’s constantly calling or texting you.” He shook his head. “It’s too full-on, too soon.”

Nathan chewed his lip. He’d had similar thoughts himself – but trying to get Holly to cool it was easier said than done. Making her feel rejected was not a smart move – apart from the resulting histrionics, she also had an army of college friends who would rip into him for any perceived mistreatment.

“I’m worried for you, mate,” said James, disappearing into the kitchen. “You need to get out before you’re in too deep.”

As Nathan watched him go his cellphone buzzed. It was another text, from Holly. ‘i no james is ur flatm8, but hes not a good friend 4u,” it read.


Where did that come from? Nathan put his phone away with a frown.


“Sorry about the mess.” Nathan gathered up the pizza boxes discarded on the sofa. “James’ sister came round last night and stayed pretty late.”

Holly’s expression, already cold, dropped another few degrees. “And you just had stay up too?”

Nathan frowned. “She came to see her brother. I was just there, that’s all.”

“Until after midnight. Enjoy her company, did you?”

“What?” Maybe that was just a lucky guess on Holly’s part, but Nathan still flushed. “No, we watched a video. All three of us. Together.”

Holly sniffed. “You’ve never been into romcoms before. You won’t watch them with me.”

“Well that’s because –” Nathan frowned. “How’d you know we watched a romcom?”

“I… just assumed. Most girls like romcoms. And I know for a fact you like redheads.”

A chill rippled down Nathan’s spine. Holly had never seen James’ sister. And James was blond.

Holly suddenly brightened and patted his arm. “I think James is causing trouble between us because he doesn’t like my sculpture,” she said. She stared up at it, tapping her chin. “Why don’t we hang it in your bedroom instead?”


Nathan lay on his bed, staring at the opposite wall. There was no way he’d sleep tonight, not with that thing staring down at him.

The face was just too lifelike. The more he looked at it, the more it seemed almost… alive. He wished he hadn’t promised he’d never take it down now. But Holly was insistent – it seemed so important to her. With a sigh he rolled sideways and sat up…

…And saw a movement in the face.

Perhaps he’d imagined it. He watched the eyes as he moved towards the door. At first nothing happened – but then, just for a second, they followed him, glinting with a paranoia that hadn’t been there before. Nathan tore the sculpture off the wall and scrutinised the back. No circuitry or electronics – but he knew it was spying on him somehow. How could he prove it though? Holly would deny everything. And anyone else would think he was crazy. It sounded crazy, even to him.

His mind raced. He couldn’t get rid of it -- he’d promised he’d keep it somewhere prominent. Somewhere he would see it regularly …

He grinned.


“I’m sorry Nathan,” said Holly, staring at the floor, “but I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

Nathan made his face look surprised. “Okay,” he said. “I mean – I’m gutted, obviously – but, why?”

She pulled her arms tight around herself. “I just –” she screwed up her eyes and shuddered. “I don’t think we’re right for each other.”

“Well, if that’s how you feel…” He added a sigh for effect.

“It is. And Nathan –” She shuffled her feet. “I know this sounds mean, but… could I have my sculpture back?”

“You don’t want me to keep it?”

“No.” There was panic in her voice. “It’s best we don’t have any reminders of each other. At all.”

“I’ll go and get it then.”


Nathan tried to hide his smile as he went into the bathroom – the sculpture’s new home. The paranoid look had gone from its eyes, replaced by a blend of horror and revulsion. He patted its cheek before taking it down from the wall facing the toilet.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Customer Satisfaction (Flash Fiction Challenge)

This is my entry for Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge for 14th February (Valentine's Day, fact fiends. ;) )

The theme: Twisted Love. The word count: 1500 max. A more suburban form of 'twisted,' perhaps, but hopefully it does the job... oh, and I should probably put in a heads-up - since it IS on the subject of 'twisted love'... not exactly one for your churchgoing mums to read...


She was at the perfume shelf the first time I saw her; a quiet little thing in a coat that was too big for her, hiding her face under a waterfall of long, red hair.

That was all it took to make me want her.

I watched her eyes scan the row of bottles until she stopped at the pink one with the fancy crystal stopper; a French perfume called ‘Seduction’ that was our best seller. It had rose and vanilla in it, and since I started working here I’d seen lots of women buy it. It made me angry when they were fat or ugly women; a perfume of that quality was wasted on them. But this girl was worthy of it; she deserved to smell as beautiful as she looked. She picked it up with a smile, and I imagined her spraying it onto her wrists, her neck… and other secret, sexy places…

And then she saw me watching her. Her body tensed, and her face froze with uncertainty. Perhaps she was afraid of what I’d do. I smiled right back into her beautiful eyes, sending her a message in my mind that she shouldn’t be afraid of me. That she could trust me.

“Danny, have you finished putting out those suppositories yet?”

Mr Blane, my boss, was heading towards me looking pissed off - as usual. I’ve always had a problem with daydreaming on the job, and that made me a slacker in his eyes. He pointed to the crate at my feet, still half-full. “You’re not even halfway through” he snapped “what the hell have you been doing?” Before I could answer he picked up the crate and thrust it into my hands. “Get a move on, or I’m going to start docking your pay.”

He was still muttering as he stomped back up to the counter. I turned back to the perfume shelves, but my angel was gone. Did she get that fragrance after all? Maybe she’d come back again.

I hoped she would.


I saw her regularly after that. She came in almost every day, in her secondhand coat, giving me occasional shy glances as she browsed the shelves. I think she knew I was looking out for her, because she didn’t try to hide anything from me anymore. She’d let me watch her trying out cosmetic samples in front of the mirror; painting hot pinks and reds onto her lips and pressing them together… like she knew I wanted to kiss them.  Or she went to the underwear section and picked up lacy bras and thongs, holding them against herself to imagine how she’d look in them. And she knew I was imagining that too. She’d glance sideways at me and smile, knowing I was picturing her wearing them in her bedroom at home. I don’t know if she knew how much further my fantasies went though. Did she know that in my head I peeled all that underwear off and screwed her right there on her bed? And that, back in the real world, those were the times I ached so hard for her I had to sneak into the bathroom for a while before I could concentrate on work again?

I wanted to tell her. I wanted her to know how much I needed her. But it was too risky. If Mr Blane knew I was watching her he’d get suspicious – and I was in enough trouble with him already.

I’d have to pick my moment carefully.


And then I got that damn virus and had to call in sick. It was only for a couple of days – but they were the worst two days of my life.

Was she missing me? I was certainly missing watching her. What if Mr Blane had started watching her too, while I wasn’t there? Oh god, no…

By the third day I still felt terrible, but I went back to work anyway. I couldn’t stay away any longer. Of course Mr Blane didn’t appreciate my efforts.

“You look like death” he grunted as I stood in front of him with throbbing sinuses. “You can’t go out on the shop floor like that. Stay in the stockroom for today; you can tidy it up and check the inventory. At least that way no-one’ll see you.”

And I wouldn’t see her either. I wanted to argue, but the look on his face told me that was a bad idea.

 I waited until the stockroom door slammed behind me before I kicked the wall in frustration. Now I was stuck in this poky little room on my own for the rest of the day. A room filled with shelves of crap, and Blane’s stupid desk with a crappy old tv on it…

Hang on…

That tv was connected to the security cameras out on the shop floor! I could still see her, even in here. And even better, I could lock the door. Total privacy. No need to worry if she got me all steamed up again…

I had to wait a couple of hours before she finally came in. She looked around a few times - like she was looking for me – and then headed for the pharmacy shelves. By this time I’d figured out how to stop the view cycling through the different security cameras, so it would stay on just one for as long as I wanted. I found the one that showed her facing the camera, and zoomed in a little to get a better view. She was standing by what Mr Blane called the Intimate Products, and as she reached out towards the shelves I could feel myself getting harder. What was she going to choose? My hand was already hovering over the zipper of my flies as she picked something up – a small box, with gold writing on it. I had to zoom in a little further to see what it was.

It was a box of condoms.

Wait a second, that didn’t make any sense…

We hadn’t even talked about having sex – hell, we hadn’t talked at all. Besides, she didn’t know I was here, so she couldn’t have been getting them for me… she didn’t need them. There was no reason for her to get them…

I took some deep breaths as I watched her read the back of the box. She just picked them up, that’s all. I’d watched her in this store a million times, and she never took everything she picked up; she wasn’t stupid like that. She only took the things she needed. And there was no way she needed condoms. It was fine. She’d put them back in a second…

I watched her do that look from underneath her long red hair; the shy, sideways look in each direction. The hand clutching the box of condoms slipped downwards, towards an inside pocket on her oversized coat, before disappearing inside. When she pulled her hand out again it was empty; her little magic trick. Another quick look in each direction, and she turned and crept out of the shop. No-one noticed her leave.

No-one except me.

How could she do that to me? I’d protected her all this time. I let her do what she did and never told anyone, because I loved her and she knew that. That was the understanding; our special, secret thing, just between us. Her and me.

Screwing someone else behind my back was never part of the deal.

As I turned away from the tv I suddenly noticed a shelf above it, stacked with videotapes that had dates on them for the last six months. I guessed it was archive footage from the CCTV cameras. It was all the evidence I needed.

I opened the door and went out to find Mr Blane. I knew what I had to do.


Next time she came in Mr Blane and I were ready for her.

I watched her steal a pair of earrings and a necklace; she even flashed a smile at me, as if everything was still fine between us. She wasn’t expecting Mr Blane to be waiting for her at the door when she tried to leave – or for him to demand that she turn out her pockets. I called the police, and made sure I looked her right in the eye as I was doing it. She had the nerve to look confused – hurt even. Like I was betraying her.

She kept staring at me even as they put her in the police car and drove her away, but I just looked right through her. She was dead to me now; a cold-hearted cheat who got what she deserved.

“Well done Danny” said Mr Blane as we went back inside. “Good catch. Maybe you’re not completely useless after all.”

“Thank you sir.”

I should’ve felt good about it, but I didn’t. A broken heart still hurts. And it’d take me a while to get over this one.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Cinderella: A Detective Story (Flash Fiction Challenge)

This is my entry for Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge for 24th-31st January 2014. 

The task: flash fiction, maximum 1,000 words. Pick a fairy tale, then rewrite it in another subgenre, taken from the list provided by rolling a random number between 1 and 20. (Full details of the challenge, including the list of subgenres, can be found on Chuck's website here. )

I picked Cinderella, and I rolled Detective Story for my subgenre. This is the result.


As soon as he walked into my office I knew what his problem was. It was written all over his frat-boy face.

Girl trouble.

I also knew he’d thrown a party the previous night; his dad was King of the Realm, so everything he did made headlines. I flipped open my notebook as he paced in front of my desk. “Okay son, who is she?”

“I don’t know - she left without telling me her name. But I love her – I must find her again!”

This kid was greener than St. Patrick’s Day. “Description?”

“She was blonde. I didn’t see her face because it was a masked ball, but she had a cracking pair of – I mean, great bone structure…”

Cookie-cutter hottie then. Rich kids - so predictable. “Anything else?”

“She left this.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a single shoe. “It fell off as she ran down the palace staircase.”

I examined it. It was small, a size five. This chick wasn’t tall. There were stains inside the heel, like from a burst blister. New shoes. And snagged across the instep was a long, blonde hair. “What time did she leave?”

“At midnight – she said she couldn’t stay longer.” The kid sighed. “I don’t know what went wrong. She said she loved me – but then she ran off, without a word…”

I shut my notebook. “Son, you got a lot to learn about women. But I like you. I’ll take your case.”


I told the kid to give my lackey a list of everyone who’d attended the party. Meanwhile, I returned to the crime scene.

Seems his girl got away in a carriage – and lucky for me it had rained last night, leaving a pretty set of wheel tracks. I followed them for a mile or so… but then right where the muddy ground ran out, so did the tracks. There were pieces of something scattered nearby; I picked a large chunk up and sniffed it. Pumpkin. Fresh, too. And hanging from the end, another long, blonde hair.

Was this turning into a homicide case?


I thought about that smashed-up pumpkin all the way back to the palace. What did it mean? Whatever role it played in this mystery, it sure wasn’t as a snack. The guest list was no help either. My lackey had interviewed everyone on it, and they all claimed they stayed way past midnight. I was looking for a party crasher who needed her beauty sleep – and that wasn’t much to go on.

The kid met me at the palace door looking like an excited puppy. “While you were gone I had a fabulous idea” he said.


He handed me a leaflet. “I’ve had these posted on every public building. It says I will visit every house in town and ask all the ladies to try on the shoe. Whoever it fits, I shall marry.”

“And that’s your criteria?”

“Well… yes…”

Jeez. This kid needed a nanny, not a wife. “Son, you just dug yourself a hole a mile wide – but lucky for you I was planning on making some house calls anyway. I’ll tag along and keep you out of trouble.”


By nightfall we’d crossed most of the town’s women off our list; brunettes and redheads with little feet, blondes with hooves like landing barges… but none with the perfect combination. The kid was a slow-leaking balloon of misery, and I’d given up hope too.

We had one more street to call on – but that could wait until tomorrow. I was ready to call it quits… until I looked across at the first house on the corner of the road.

Right there in the front garden was a vegetable patch. And they were growing pumpkins.

I was knocking on the door faster than you could say ‘exhibit A.’ I knew straight away that the broad who answered wasn't our girl; whoever designed her face must’ve had an off-day. She saw the kid and beamed, which wasn't an improvement. “You've brought my shoe back!” she cried, snatching it out of his hands. “Let me put it on so we can be married…”

“Not so fast” I said, grabbing it back. “You’re nearly six feet tall, so you aint fitting in this shoe. And besides, you’re a brunette. We’re looking for a blonde.”

She looked madder than a cat in a bathtub – but she didn't faze me. “Are there any other ladies in this house?” I asked.

That’s when another girl appeared behind her. I could tell they were sisters; those faces were definitely hacked out of the same rock. “Did you say a blonde?” she said, flicking her pale hair. “That’s me! Gimme that shoe…”

The kid was dying a thousand deaths as she crammed her trotter into it. “I’m sure you’re not the right girl…”

“I must be. I’m blonde, aren't I? And look” – she held up her purple foot - “It fits!”

Like a sausage in a thimble. The kid looked at me in despair - but I knew how to bail him out. “You may be blonde, honey” I told her “but you’re not her. Our girl is the real deal, whereas you” – I pointed to her dark roots - “got yours from a bottle.”

This was another chunk of wasted time. I was ready to split – but then I heard singing outside. I ran out into the garden – and there she was. A girl. Small. And a natural blonde.

“Gimme that shoe” I said, ripping it off the dye-job’s foot.

“No!” she shrieked as our songbird slipped it on. “She’s just – the maid! She wasn't even invited to the party!”

“Well she’s not a maid anymore” said the kid, gazing at her like she was ice-cream. “She’s my bride!”

Another case solved. It was time for me to make tracks. They didn't need me hanging around anymore; they’d made it to their Happy Ending.

Now they just had ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ to deal with…


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Writer's Block

This short story was originally published as part of an anthology of the works of several writers and artists in the Medway towns: 'NEW ART FROM NORTH KENT' (Urban Fox Press, 2004.) I've since tweaked and polished it up a bit (because that's the kind of thing you can do as time goes by and you learn more stuff about writing.)

There he was. Pompous little twerp. Well this time, he wasn’t going to just ignore her. This time, he was going to listen.

 Voluptua Angelface drew herself up to her full height – all five-foot-five-in-high-heels of it – and marched up to John’s desk, primed for confrontation. There was no response; his lizardy little eyes remained fixed on the strings of text swelling across the screen as his stubby, nicotine-stained fingers pattered across a keyboard gritty with old pizza crumbs and coffee stains. This was what John did for many hours of the day, many days of the week. For the past three years, he had spent all of his time tapping away like a hamster running on a wheel, determined to produce the bestseller of his dreams. Because John was a writer...
Well, an aspiring one anyway. He had yet to actually finish any of his great literary works. But this latest one, the one he was working on now, was going to change everything. This was going to be the one that launched his career, and so it had become the focus of his entire life. A fact which did not sit well with Voluptua, who could already feel her blood bubbling up to boiling point as he remained oblivious to her presence. This was precisely why everything had gone so horribly wrong between them. Well, enough was enough.

 "John Hadley,” she cried, thumping her tiny, manicured fist on the desk. “Look at me! Take your eyes off that bloody screen and look at me, damn you!”

 It took at least a couple of seconds before he responded. Blinking as if he'd just been woken from a dream he'd have preferred to finish, he peered at her in confusion. There was a hint of recognition in his face, but it was obvious he wasn't certain he even knew this angry young woman seething beside him. Typical. Voluptua rolled her eyes in despair.
"It’s me, you utter plank – Voluptua!” she spat. “Remember me? The poor, silly bitch whose life you've completely screwed up?”

 Voluptua?” He actually had the nerve to look shocked. Squinting, he turned his head sideways, as if looking at her from another angle might somehow change her into something different. Something he'd undoubtedly be less annoyed to see. “No - it can't be! You're not supposed to be... how the hell..?”

 “Shut up. I’m doing the talking now – and, just for a change, you’re going to listen."
She took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eye. "I’ve had enough, John. Ever since you began this wretched novel you’ve been treating me appallingly, and I’m here to tell you that I won’t stand for it anymore. I've been loyal to you; I stuck by you and supported you, even when everyone else just laughed at your dreams - and all you've done in return is ignore my needs and treat me like shit. I deserve better and you know it.”

 John’s mouth dropped open like a haddock’s. Voluptua continued her tirade. “ When you first met me, my name was Sarah Watkins. It was a perfectly nice, sensible name that I liked. I was a brunette, I was studying law at university and I bought all my clothes from ordinary high street shops. I was just like any other girl of my age. But that was never good enough for you, was it? I was never good enough for you. So rather than accept me for who I was, you tried to change me into your dream woman.
"And like an idiot, I went along with it. I let you change me. I started wearing the designer dresses and raunchy lingerie you put me in, and I didn't argue with you when you made me bleach my hair and gave me this ludicrous boob job..." She cupped the enormous breasts spilling out of the top of her tight little tank top like a couple of flesh-coloured basketballs. “I even gave up my law degree, because you thought it would be more fitting for me to just sit at home by the pool all day, drinking cocktails and having manicures. But even that wasn't enough for you, was it?  In the end you even hated my name. So now I'm bloody Voluptua Angelface - I mean, for God’s sake, John! What kind of a name is that for a woman?”

 John shrugged dismissively. “Sarah Watkins didn’t suit you anymore” he said flatly. “Especially not once you'd had all that work done. You're bloody gorgeous now, thanks to me. And a sexy bird needs a sexy name, so that's what I felt you should have. You ought to be grateful.”

 "Grateful?” Voluptua shrieked. “You’ve turned me into a -  a living Barbie doll, and you expect me to be grateful?  Why couldn’t you love me the way I was? I may not have been glamorous, but I was smart, I had my self-respect, and – ” her voice faltered, and a lump rose in her throat. “I was happy.”

 John gave her a withering look. “You were plain and boring. I fixed you, Voluptua. I turned you into someone sexy and exciting – face it, there's not a man on this planet who wouldn't want to screw you now. It’s not my fault you’re not happy. You bloody well should be - most women would kill to live your life, you ungrateful little cow.”

 “What do you mean, it’s not your fault I’m not happy?" cried Voluptua. "It’s entirely your fault! Ever since you became obsessed with your bloody novel I’ve been through more trauma and humiliation than most people endure in a lifetime!” She glared at him coldly. “I still haven’t forgiven you for trying to drown me in the Jacuzzi.”

 John looked at her with the reproachful gaze of a schoolmaster. “Well, you were having an affair with the gardener.”

 “An affair you engineered! You made me feel neglected and unloved, knowing I was bound to get lonely and frustrated! Pedro could see how desperate and unhappy I was, and he was there for me when I needed him. Admit it, John - you drove me into being unfaithful.”

 John threw back his head and laughed. “You’re so melodramatic, Voluptua. I didn't actually drown you in the end anyway, did I? I just hurt you enough to make you suffer for your infidelity. I mean, I couldn’t let you get away with it, could I?”

 Voluptua shot him a look of pure hatred. “And what about poor Pedro? We ended our affair, so was it really necessary to have him blown to smithereens in his Fiat Punto?”

 “A tragic accident, as far as anyone else will ever know. Divine intervention, you might say.”

 “Oh, and I suppose arranging for me to be kidnapped by those Peruvian terrorists was ‘divine intervention’ as well, was it?” Voluptua shuddered at the memory. “Ten days holed up in an abandoned warehouse in Chingford in nothing but skimpy underwear, held captive by a bunch of ruthlessly evil but unfeasibly fit kidnappers! I mean, for heaven’s sake, John - Peruvian terrorists with six-packs! Do you honestly think people are going to buy that one?”

 John grinned. “They will when they find out you seduced their leader” he sniggered. “And then agreed to bang all the rest of them as well, in exchange for your freedom.”

 Voluptua squealed in horror. “You can’t tell them that!”

 “Yes I can, Voluptua – I can tell them anything I bloody well like.” John was looking at her now with the forbidding countenance of a father who was growing tired of a spoiled child’s behaviour.  “You'll be whatever I want everyone to believe you are - because I own you. I've made you everything you are today, and you know it."

 Voluptua gazed forlornly at her reflection in the window next to his desk. She took in every aspect of her appearance; starting from the peroxide blonde hair with dark roots, the heavy mascara around her Betty Boop eyes and her blood red, collagen-pumped lips. She continued the depressing journey downwards past her inflated fake breasts and orange perma-tan, the tight, short miniskirt that only just skimmed her liposculptured buttocks and her ridiculously high white stilettos - and her heart sank as the truth hit home. Yes, John certainly had made her what she was today, there was no doubt about that. She turned back to face him.

 “I don’t want to be what you’ve made me, John,” she said softly. “I never did. I’ve only ever wanted to be Sarah Watkins – the girl I was when we first began this. What was so wrong with her? Please, John – let’s go back to the start. Let me be Sarah Watkins again.”

 “No!” John finally lost his temper and spun round to face her. “Jesus, you just don’t get it, do you? I’m writing this bloody book! Not you, not Pedro or anyone else. It’s my story, so I call the shots and decide what sort of character you’re going to be. Okay, you may have started out as clever little law student Sarah Watkins... but it just wasn’t working. My public don’t want to read about a worthy little smartarse, Voluptua!  They're after a sexy whore who gets into dangerous situations and gets out of them by stripping off and banging everything in trousers. That's what sells these days, and that's why I had to rework you, so just shut up whining and deal with it. Now, if you'll excuse me I've got a novel to write - and lots more adventures for you, believe me."

He turned back to his monitor and resumed pounding at his keyboard, an expression of grim concentration on his face. Evidently, as far as he was concerned, the discussion was over. Voluptua stared down at him dejectedly. So it was true then. He'd never really cared about her at all; he was just using her to launch his writing career. And he was prepared to ruin her life to do it.

 Of course this presented her with a rather large quandary. Her survival depended on John continuing to write about her - if he stopped doing that, she would cease to exist. But did she really want to live as Voluptua Angelface, a vacuous caricature with a preposterous life? The past three years had been bad enough – did she really want to be frozen for eternity in such a miserable existence?

 She glanced down at his desk, considering her options - and her eye fell on a large paperweight, polished and heavy-looking atop an untidy pile of paperwork. She picked it up and held it at eye-level, gauging its weight in her scarlet-taloned hand as she watched John at the keyboard. He looked like a wizened old man, hunched over his desk with his spindly little fingers drumming their frantic tattoo on the buttons, his tongue poking stupidly out of the corner of his mouth.

No one would miss him, thought Voluptua to herself. And certainly, no one would miss his book. The plot had more holes than Swiss cheese and the characters had become more clichéd and ridiculous as time went on. His spelling was appalling as well. To be perfectly blunt, it was a pile of crap; even if he finished it, no-one would ever want to read the thing.

 Was a life of cliché-ridden melodrama and embarrassingly awful sex scenes really worth living? After three years of hell, John’s long-suffering heroine made her choice. She swung the paperweight high into the air, her gaze zooming in on the back of his skull.

 “Time for some Writer’s Block, John,” she said as her arm swooped down.