love, men, mother, short fiction, women

A Mother Has All The Weapons She Needs

His father gave a rattling, final breath. Magnus reached out and drew down his father’s eyelids with a precise brush of his fingertips. He turned and looked at his younger brother, Peter who came over and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Magnus hid the flinch which came to him and ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘I do not want the crown, Peter.’ he said.

 

Peter sighed and clasped his brother in his arms and wept with joy. Magnus accepted the gesture, looking past him to where his brother’s wife stood, false tears brimming in the corners of her narrow eyes. The kingdom would survive her, he thought and Peter was well-intended if effete. A harmless king was better than a cruel one, he decided. A cold wind blew the curtains, and Magnus held back the shudder which ran through him.

 

Magnus left the castle after watching his brother take the throne, with letters to prove his identity with enough gold to buy lands and cattle. He sought to live out his days in peace/

 

His brother had other ideas.

 

2.

 

Peter gnawed on a turkey leg as he looked across his council of advisors. Katharine sat to his left, looked to her father and smiled at him, which was his cue to speak. Robert cleared his throat and looked at Peter.

 

‘Your highness, we should discuss the matter of your brother.’ he said.

 

Robert was a good father, and he listened to his daughter. He spoke her words with practiced care as Peter looked at him with a cautious glint in his eyes.

 

‘Magnus lives in the forest somewhere reading philosophy to pigs. He’s no threat.’ he said.

 

Katharine raised an eyebrow and Robert continued.

 

‘Aye, your highness, but even in his exile, he has his champions.’ he said.

 

Peter picked up a goblet and washed the meat down with a mouthful of sour wine as he shrugged his shoulders.

 

‘He’s no interest in the throne. He swore a vow before my father was cold.’ he said.

 

Robert looked to his daughter for guidance. She slipped her hand on his forearm and leaned into his space, gave a smile like a knife being dragged across a windpipe.

 

‘My father has your interests at heart, your highness. The people speak of Magnus with fondness.’ she said.

 

Peter turned his head and grimaced at his wife.

 

‘He doesn’t have to breathe their shit in as I do.’ he said.

 

Katharine smiled and kissed her husband on the cheek.

 

‘No, and his legend grows with each year which passes. Some say you forced him from the throne.’

 

He guffawed and a spray of saliva, flecked with shreds of meat flew from his mouth as Robert sat back in his chair.

 

‘He begged me to take it. Magnus knew what awaited him, and he gave it instead. Clever bastard.’ he said.

 

Katharine glanced at her husband with a quiet, pinched frustration which he ignored with a turn of his head. Robert cleared his throat.

 

‘Your highness, perhaps you could ask his intentions. I have men at your disposal.’ he said.

 

Katharine put her hand on her husband’s forearm.

 

‘You will not rest until you know, my king.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a gentle command as she leaned forwards and pressed against his upper arm. She caught his scent and grimaced.

 

‘See to his health.’ he said.

 

Robert had sent out his men before sunset. A map had been drawn for them, and were acting upon the orders of her queen herself who had addressed them in the stables, wrapped in a black coat with a goblet of wine in her hands.

 

‘Your highness.’ Robert said.

 

3.

 

Magnus walked in from the dark with an armful of logs. Ibb stirred the pot with a wooden spoon as she blew a lock of hair out of her eyes. He smiled and set them down by the fire, before he came and put his arms around her, splayed his fingers over the round curve of her stomach.

 

‘You can’t keep your hands off my belly, Magnus. Should I be jealous?’ she said.

 

Her smile was impish and wild. Magnus rubbed his bearded cheek against her face and chuckled. She turned and kissed him on the cheek before she pushed him away and continued to stir the stew she was cooking. He sat down and poured himself a cup of beer as he watched her prepare their meal.

 

Magnus could afford servants but Ibb refused his money, but had asked for his attention and strength. A simple trade of services and goods which grew into something deeper. It had taken him by surprise, how she had shown no deference to him until beyond his understanding, she had taken him into her bed, and then, by her own admission, her heart.  She questioned why this did not shock him and instead, he pulled her close and pressed his face into her neck and inhaled her skin.

 

It was his answer, a good one, she told herself.

 

Magnus heard the clatter of hooves and got to his feet, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as Ibb turned around. Her left hand went to her stomach and Magnus smiled at her.

 

‘Finish the cooking, I’ll see who this is.’ he said.

 

.She thought about Magnus and a warm burst of feeling overwhelmed her as she stirred the stew, thinking about feeding her man.

 

4.

 

Magnus looked at the four men on horseback and narrowed his eyes. He saw one man reach for something on his hip and he darted backwards, opened his mouth to warn Ibb. The stone, plucked from the quarry outside Garden’s Hill, slammed into Magnus’s forehead and cracked his skull. He fell away with a shudder, eyes rolled back in his head as blood gushed from his nostrils as he collapsed inside the doorway.

 

The last thing he heard was Ibb calling his name.

 

5.

 

One man drew his sword, a short, pitted piece of pig iron with years of use scarred into its surface as he looked at Ibb and sneered. Ibb stood there, legs apart as she glared at the soldier with cold, hard eyes before picking up the hatchet which sat by the fireplace. He laughed, a short mocking bark which betrayed a measure of caution as he called to the others.

 

She stepped forwards, flung the hatchet overhand and it thumped into his forehead with a dull, damp slap. Ibb took the sword from his hands and shoved him aside. She did not look at Magnus on the way past. She gripped the sword and turned it over in her hands as she charged out of the door. Her stomach ached, but she felt detached from herself as she stabbed the first man in the throat, tugging the blade to the right and bringing his windpipe with it in a moist knot of cartilage and blood. She stabbed upwards on the second blow, punching the sword through the other man’s jaw and then kicking him in the crotch as he fell down with the sword embedded in his jaw.

 

Ibb wrapped one arm around her stomach as she squatted to one side and rested her hand on the hilt of the sword.

 

‘If I pull the blade, you’ll bleed out. Tap once for yes, twice for no. Understand?’ she said.

 

His eyes bulged in their sockets and Ibb tapped the hilt with her index finger, which made him whimper. He tapped once and she sighed as she got to her feet. Ibb knew she was close to having this baby, and she considered how Magnus was not there to share it with her. Her eyes misted over with tears.

 

‘Did you come here on purpose?’

 

He tapped once.

 

She learned what he knew. When she was done, she twisted the blade and pulled it free as the soldier bled to death at her feet. Night had fallen and she looked at the surrounding bodies, including Magnus slumped in the doorway. A shadow had fallen across his broken face, which she took to be a small mercy from the gods as she staggered back into the house.

 

Ibb needed to keep her strength up.

 

6.

 

She sold the cattle for a good price, took the money and disappeared. Magnus had fallen ill, she told people, too quick to be saved. Ibb told people it was something which ran in his family. She was going north, back to her people to have the baby there. People wished her well, but exchanged relieved looks when she was gone. She was a good woman, but something about her frightened them and her departure was cause for relief in the village.

 

7.

 

Robert wiped his forehead with a handkerchief as he watched the hounds leap through the grass. He took up a horn and gestured to a servant who walked up and poured wine into it before stepping backwards with a bow. He took a long draught and wiped his lips with his fingers before he looked through the trees.

 

Robert wanted to kill something beautiful. He imagined it was his daughter, which was something he kept to himself, but as she grew more demanding, his imagination warped and grew fat on his resentment. He picked up the reins and ushered his horse forwards.

 

Something stabbed into his neck and he winced. He brought his hand up as he struggled to swallow. Robert gasped as he stared into the woods, saw someone detach themselves from a copse of bushes as his limbs spasmed out of control. Robert’s tongue swelled up and slipped to the back of his throat as he fell out of the saddle. He died on his back, looking up at the sky and wondering what had happened.

 

8.

Katharine wept as they carried her father’s coffin into the depths of the family tomb. She had needed his counsel, not for herself but for Peter. He had become insensible with drink and even ignored her complete refusal to allow him to return to the marital bed since Ethelred had been born. She still needed a poultice between her thighs each night and his distaste for the realities of women had him fleeing to his whores. Her blessing followed him.

 

They had been so close to victory. She had replaced the commanders and the courtiers with those loyal to her plans. An expansion of territory which would see the kingdom grow into a new era of prosperity. Peter had been useful but soon his madness would outweigh his use as an excuse for her authority. She wept with frustration, not grief but few would ask what brought a woman to tears, let alone a queen.

 

She returned to her chambers, Peter had gone to his whores and she stood before Ethelred’s basket, watched him and summoned the feeling of love she was supposed to experience. He was so wizened and soft, like a plucked chicken or a piglet and she wondered what it would be like to slip a knife into his stomach. It had cost her to bear him, and for what?

 

A son was a legacy, she told herself. His utility to her was affection, so she decided not to harm him. Instead, she reached out and pinched the inside of his thigh between her nails before she picked him up and soothed his febrile, hot cries of alarm and pain. Katharine wished her husband was so easy to control.

 

9.

 

He laid on the cushions as she crawled across the bed towards him. He gestured for her to take off her veil but she shook her head.

 

‘I am not worthy to be looked upon, your highness.’ she said.

Peter narrowed his eyes. It was not Petal serving him tonight, and he was sure it was her turn to provide him with his small measure of comfort. Funerals made him drink, and drinking made him want to fuck someone. He knew his erection was inconstant and unreliable so he ushered her over with a sigh.

 

He felt the blade slide between his ribs and gasped with surprise. Her breath was warm and sweet against his cheek.

 

‘He was your brother.’ she said.

 

Peter turned his head and saw she had kept the veil in place.

 

‘Was?’ he said.

 

She drew back and twisted the blade, opening the wound further as she tugged it free and stuck the blade into the side of his throat underneath the windpipe.

 

‘As girls, they told us the best time to best a man was when his sword was sheathed but his dagger was out.’ she said.

 

Peter clutched at his throat, blood spurting through his fingers as his mouth hung open, tongue protruding as he gave rattling, sodden cries through his ruined throat.

 

She stood up and opened the window, tossed out the length of knotted rope she had left in the chamber and tied one end to the bed which Peter bled onto. Ibb turned and looked at him.

 

‘He never told me about you. I found out, was ready to walk away for the lie but he told me you had honoured his wishes and he was just a man again.’ she said.

 

Ibb tore the veil from her face and glared at the pallid corpse on the bed.

 

‘Now, your highness, you will honour mine.’ she said.

 

She climbed out, quiet as a whisper and was on her way to the palace before the guards came in and the whorehouse erupted into a vicious tornado of panic.

 

10.

 

Katharine awoke to a small hand clamped over her mouth.

 

‘Don’t raise your voice.’

 

Katharine swivelled her eyes in the darkness. She feared for her son, but the voice, low and female, chuckled.

 

‘I’ve no desire to hurt the child. It’s your job, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

Katharine pushed against the hand but she took a hard blow to the temple which made her collapse back against the furs. She thought about biting her but a blade came to rest against the side of her throat. She froze in place, wondering if she could fight her way free.

 

‘I see you’ve got poultices on. Hard birth, was it?’ she said.

 

Katharine nodded as much as the blade would allow. The woman sighed.

 

‘My boy came out like shelling peas. He was a pleasure I would’ve shared with Magnus.’ she said.

 

‘He was supposed to be there with me. The first man I’d wanted a child with, and you had him taken from me.’ she said.

 

Katharine swallowed and waited for her to continue.

 

‘My son didn’t last a night. You took them from me, your highness. You‘re going to tell me why.’ she said.

 

Katharine exhaled as the woman’s hand came away.

 

‘Your brother was a threat to the king’ she said.

 

Katharine could not make out the details of the woman’s face, but she caught the shape of a grimace as she shook her head.

 

‘No, he was a threat to you. Magnus was a good man, he took care of me, and he had no interest in ruling over anyone but himself.’ she said.

 

Her fingers bit into Katharine’s jaw and the pain compelled her into stillness.

 

‘Your man was weak, so you played at being the man you needed. A weak, broken version of one, like your father was. Did you try to win my Magnus?’ she said.

 

Katharine’s heart raced in her chest as her stomach cramped with discomfort. She twisted away but the woman’s fingers squeezed her into holding still.

 

‘You sorry, empty coward.’ she said.

 

Katharine stared at the woman, her eyes adjusted to the gloom. There were soldiers outside, but they were too far to reach her.

 

‘I did what I thought was right.’ she said.

 

Katharine’s last thought was to deny the woman her suffering. She had learned how to deal with pain when she carried her son and with Peter dead, she would be a figurehead, nothing more. The woman stood back, sheathed her knife and raised her hands.

 

‘And where has it gotten you?’ she said.

 

Katharine tried to sit up but the woman’s hands were quick, and two sharp punches sent her into a pitching, total blackness studded with flashes of acute agony.

 

11

 

The last command she gave was to find her son. Diplomatic efforts were made to her neighbours but without her husband, and beset by rumours of her plans to wage war on them, made them unsympathetic to her grief. Kings died like flies. Mirabelle had sent a note of condolence but said a determined mother had all the weapons she needed to achieve her aims which Katherine took as a covert rejection and a mocking note.

 

She moved to the North Tower, attended to by a few servants as she sat each day, blank and mute, as the council of advisors took over the kingdom in her name. Ethelred would have been nine years old, and she walked over to the balcony and looked down at the courtyard. Its distance looked inviting and when she stood on the ledge, the wind buffeted her and she let it take her over.

 

There was a moment’s relief before the earth broke her in two. Her mind had been taken from her nine years ago and it was returned to her as her bones shattered and organs burst inside her.

 

12.

 

Ibb walked over to the bank of the river. She watched him bait the hook with a lump of raw beef, his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth as he stared at it, fingers moving with a glacial care. She watched him in an appreciative silence.

 

He lowered the rod and smiled at her.

 

‘I will catch us a Heaper, you’ll see.’ he said.

 

Ibb grinned and walked over, ruffled his dark hair and kissed him on the crown of his head.

;You will, my son, you will.’ she said.

 

He stood up, cast the hook into the water and watched it with a grim determination. Nine years old, and he could hunt and dress a deer, wield a knife and walk in silence. Ibb was a good teacher, but she missed having a man to guide him into manhood. She feared becoming like his mother, seeing him for what he could do for her over guiding him into maturity. Such fears made her eyes water, but they passed and as the afternoon sun hung high overhead, Ibb watched her son provide for them both with so much love in her heart she thought it might burst.

 

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short fiction

White Rabbit

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“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

Nicollo Machiavelli, The Prince.

 

1.

 

Ibrahim walked down the street, cursing Ellen for making him clean out the frier again before he left to attend mosque with his uncle. He hated the job, but Mohammed insisted he finish out the summer before he got him an internship at the firm.

 

He didn’t want to be late. Mohammed was fastidious without being vain and he had known nothing but his faith but he did business without it being a problem.

 

Ibrahim drew comments and stares. No one wanted to feel alien in their own skin and he would slip out of the way, finding something to do in the back until their attention went elsewhere or he pretended not to have heard anything. He simpered and it hurt to do it but once he was working with his uncle, he would earn respect without being made to suffer for it.

 

He was running late.

 

It was the only thing which saved him.

 

He saw the mosque and quickened his pace before a massive hand slapped him backwards. He smelled his hair burning and his eardrops popped like balloons as he fell backwards, breaking his coccyx against the sidewalk.

 

Ibrahim lay there, mute with pain as his hair burned and his body turned inside out with pain. He had bitten his tongue and each swallow tasted of burnt copper as he struggled to breathe.

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beauty, love, short fiction, women

Eight Years Rehearsal

He had left before I awoke, pausing only to kiss me on the cheek and leave me a cup of tea. It would be too cold to drink by the time I woke up, but I appreciated the gesture. My house had seen dark times, none of which he had been privy to, but his presence, tentative at first looked to a point where there were more happy memories than sad ones to look forward to.

Ben had gone to pick up a new door for Jenny’s bedroom. The old one was covered in stickers, and she wanted her privacy, to play and write stories. Ben sat with her when she read them to him and she would stand in the doorway and watch him as something shifted in her chest and she had to look away.

David had slammed my head into the wall. He had been drinking and high on something which sent his neuroses into overdrive. I was being punished for confronting him about his infidelity, on a night where our kids were with my mum. She spent the night waiting by the phone for me to call but I couldn’t face her.

I had run downstairs, dizzy and bleeding from the impact and I had run into the kitchen, reached for the drawer and looked out onto my studio. I wanted to work out there in the summer, and I realised, if I didn’t stop this, I never would. He stomped downstairs and I reached for a carving knife, tested its weight in my hand and backed against the cupboard.

He came in swinging, his lips pulled back over his teeth, electrified with rage and pain and I pushed the knife forwards, low and upwards The impact jolted through my arm as he gasped and reached up to where the knife had sunk in. He bled onto the knife, and I cried out in rage as I pushed it into him as I wept. Everything went white, and when I came to, slumped against the cupboard, he laid on the kitchen floor, with the knife jutting from his stomach. His head had rolled onto side, and his eyes were empty, lips slackened like he’d heard the punch line to a terrible joke.

I got up and went through to the hallway. I knew where I could put him, and how to keep it safe. I had planned on getting him somewhere, but I saw it as more of an art project, a thought exercise. My head throbbed and I cleaned up as much as I could in the bathroom before I hacked into the wall.

I had to make a trip out to the supermarket and a few garages, grabbing air fresheners from each one. I had a hat on, a cap with the brim worn low to hide my face. I had one assistant help me with the lime and plaster.

I used David’s credit card to do it. I destroyed it on the way out, snapped it and threw it between two different bins. The bags were heavy, but I thought of my daughter made me strong enough to drive back and heave his body up the stairs put him into the cavity, fill it with lime and air fresheners then plaster him up. I drew the sigil into the wall with the knife and stood back, charging it with my hate and my fear.

The most difficult part was the most delicate, drawing the sigil into the wall, the same words used to awake the golem, or in this case, command it to remain still and inert.

Much of magic is the actual doing of things. You drew the cards; you chanted the rituals and drew the sigil to enact your will onto the universe.

sigil (6)

I told my mum he had walked out. I wept on the phone, but I told my mum I wanted to be alone. I also had to keep the heating and the hairdryer on to get the plaster dried. It was my greatest creation and it kept David in there where he couldn’t hurt me ever again. He had a record with the police so they weren’t too keen to look into him.

Seven years and I never brought a man home. I stayed at theirs, but I needed my space.

None of them persisted, but I still missed the mornings where I woke up alone. I had to wait seven years before I could declare him dead. His parents were both dead, and he had been an only child. I made a lot of sculptures, most of it in clay, little in plaster because I had produced nothing with as much urgency as replacing a section of wall to look utilitarian and benign.

I met Ben at a gallery show of my work. He took me out for coffee. It was very polite, and he made me feel safe. There was something girlish and silly about this. I had a dead man in the walls of my house and yet the first night he came; we cooked dinner and watched films together. I trembled as I walked to him where he laid on my bed.

He made me feel beautiful and he was gentle until I needed him not to be. Afterwards, he held me as I cried and didn’t ask why. He had been wounded in the past too, with his own baggage but it made him gentle rather than bitter. It never crossed my mind to tell him because he was a good man but I would burden him, test him with my darkness and I wasn’t sure I could do that to anyone.

Yet he had gone out that morning to pick up a new bedroom door.

Jenny was at my mum’s. I got out of bed, walked through the hallway and tapped the plaster. My punishment had been watching Jenny grow up without her dad. I hadn’t pushed Ben to interact with her; it had just come to him and she showed an interest in him, through the medium of the things she liked to do. He was a man who knew how to play, and it felt like a poor deal. I decided Jenny was better off with her mother than her father because David had forced that choice upon me.

I had spent eight years rehearsing for a better life. Ben, I hoped, would be part of it and he had not disappointed me. If that changed, if my instincts betrayed me, I knew there was room for him in the walls.

I got up and stood in the hallway, listening for the sound of David’s whimpering and was pleased to hear only the thump of blood in my veins. Jenny would be home soon, with all the noise and activity she brought to everything, but in the meantime, I heard the rattle of the key in the lock and smiled to myself as I heard my name called.

 

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grief, love, short fiction, Uncategorized, women

Customer Complaint

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https://framedbynature.deviantart.com/art/January-3rd-424471811

Ivor walked out of the mall, putting more weight on his cane as he adjusted his cap to alleviate the thin layer of perspiration. The canvas shopping bag was gripped in his left hand, swollen knuckles turned pale from the pressure of his grip. It swung with the weight of its contents as he looked up at the restaurant.

 

He ran his yellowing tongue over his cracked lips and said a name. The association raised the hairs on the back of his neck, gave him a boost which alleviated the pains which came from the simple act of motion, deepening as the years went on.

 

People milled around him as he made slow progress.

 

They had come for their anniversary. Katya, their eldest had warned against it, said the food was made like play-dough, preformed and packaged. She chided her mother, telling her she could make a better meal at home. Bettina’s eyes had narrowed, a flush of blood rising in her soft cheeks as she folded her arms.

 

‘Your father never takes me out. It has movie star pictures on the walls and impersonators.’

 

Ivor overheard from his position on the recliner, reading the scarred, leather bound book with his spectacles perched on the end of his nose, muttering words in a language thought lost to time and decided to make the reservation after all.

 

They played music at an ear splitting volume, served with a desperate theatrical quality which made his blood pressure go up and the food was late and cold.

 

She had cooed and pointed at the pictures and the staff, dressed as movie stars or characters. Ivor remembered their server had been the drunken pirate and how Bettina had mistaken his sloppy stoned attitude for attention to detail. Ivor sipped his cola and fought the rising indignation like a dose of indigestion, smiled at his Bettina and took her hand.

 

The server, Jay, had smoked a blunt on his break and it got him through his shifts in a warm, bubbling haze of intoxication. Sure, he missed details but most people wanted to eat or stop their kids from ruining the entire evening and he was convinced of his charms with people.

 

Sure, he missed details.

 

Bettina’s allergy.

 

Ivor told people his last memory of her was lifting the dripping burger, giggling as something warm broke across his chest with pleasure. All these years and he never loved her more.

 

He lied to people.

 

His last memory was watching her seize up with anaphylactic shock. Clawing at her throat as her eyes bulged in their sockets, disbelieving and watching how her brilliant, magical Ivor could not save her. When he lurched towards the idiot server, barking curses in a language which made people ill to hear aloud, it became an awful cartoon.

 

The lawyer explained it. They were a franchise with money and an army of lawyers. One stoned server doth not make a summer, he had quipped and regretted it for the rest of his life.

 

It was two weeks.

 

An embolism in the pool of the motel he had been living in since his divorce. Ivor had dropped a pebble into a bowl of water on a night his grief whipped his soul into action.

 

Jay, the stoned pirate threw himself into traffic after giving his deposition to the franchise legal team with something of a smile on his face. Ivor twisted the bandana he had snatched from the idiot when he had rushed at him.

 

It was not enough.

 

The items he needed were available in the mall, although his disdain for the commercial was mistaken for the simple awkwardness of an elderly man but he muttered something about standards as he left.

 

The restaurant had not closed. It bulged on the corner of the main street, and he felt offended by its existence. It was not open for business at this time of day though, which suited him and soothed the small voice, a perfect impersonation of his Bettina which asked him why he had gone back to practicing again.

 

Because you were my reason not to, he told her.

 

He stopped on the kerb opposite and set the bag down, reaching inside for the snowglobe and the hammer as he shifted his cane from one hand to another, gritting his teeth against the pains in his hips and knees.

 

‘FYN CUN PRXA DUHA GHUT WYM AS LOW’

 

His voice was low and rich, bristling with operatic power. It made people stop, turning towards the source with a bizarre curiosity, like they had seen something take wing from the ground.

 

The hammer took out the globe and Ivor watched the air twist and shimmer above the building before he raised his hand and scattered the spray of blood, water, glitter and glass onto the road. It had been a warm, sluggish day but people stared at the building, now encased in ice. Its garish, plastic logo was now lost behind thick opaque ice, razored chandeliers hanging from everywhere and all of it making people lose their minds with shock and disbelief.

 

Ivor felt the first twinge of pressure in the base of his spine, how it sent a million love letters imploring him to give up and as the pavement rushed up to meet him, he felt his Bettina’s breath at his cheek and smiled for the first time in months.

 

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beauty, fiction, love, women

An Echo Of Laughter

1.

Miller had a kerchief to his noise, stood in the doorway to the study, hiding his morbid fascination with the amount of blood a human body can produce. Without an attachment, the humours of the body held academic interest and the dry language of medicine, much like justice removed sentiment from the equation. His work as an officer of the law was an amusing diversion from wasting his family’s money.

Such emotions were for the grieving. Foster Honeycutt had been a legend to the people of Texas, and the circumstances of his death were as redolent with theatre as the magazines, which bolstered his legend.

The culprit had the decency to remain on the scene. A withered Native who had served the family for twenty years with an impeccable record of service. He had not spoken since walking into the parlour, hands dripping with blood and the bone handled blade tucked into the waistband of his uniform.

Shock and good breeding had them call Miller rather than string him from a tree in the yard. Foster sagged in his chair, his face and throat reduced to wet, red ruin whilst his shirt hung from him in bloodied rags where the servant had sliced him to pieces.

The soles of his feet and scalp were a wet pile in the corner of the study.

The servant had repeated a single phrase instead of a motive or answering questions. Most murders were whiskey, women or wealth and it was intriguing to have an honest to goodness mystery on his hands.

He went through to the parlour and looked at the old man. His blunt, cheap haircut and the sour apple decay in his features. His eyes were soft and dark, swallowing the light in the parlour.

‘Her name was Laughs At Cattle. I am Never Runs From Battle, both of the Comanche people. I kept my promise’

He smiled with a child’s joy, disturbing when framed by the rigours of old age and hard work.

2.

He polished the silverware and looked out the window onto the amber sunset. His head still rang from the volume of the dream and the vows he made. What haunted him was how good it had all felt, a wild childhood and the woman who watched over them as their mothers worked and fathers hunted.

 

When Foster retold his anecdotes about his youth, he alluded to his actions with a wink and a sly smile. In his cups, the tales grew bolder and darker and when he told his friends about the Indian squaw, how she had fought against them, and even struck him, pointing to a silvered scar on his cheek for emphasis, he had excused himself with a cramping stomach and a mouth full of bitter, thick saliva.

 

She had come to him in the night. Her sockets were full of golden light and her feet were soft as a child’s belly. Her hair smelled of honey and mesquite, and her breath, warm upon his wizened cheek.

 

He shed tears as he slept, hands clenched into hot, tight fists and crying for the years wasted in servitude.

Dressing in the darkness, he forgot his aches and his grief and it was as a young brave he slipped through the hall down to Foster’s study. His knife was a comfort, and he sipped from the cool, dark waters of his revenge.

3.

Roper took off his hat and exhaled, running his hard, browned fingers through the damp grey hair on his head. He looked over the faces of the children over his spectacles, which had permanent right of residence on the peeling bridge of his nose.

They stood to attention behind their wooden desks. The boys had their hair in oiled plaits but Roper made a note to get scissors working on the infraction straight away. He would make them useful, loyal citizens of the country to come.

He held the gaze of one boy, soft down on his cheeks and eyes, which watered at every slight, real or implied. He looked down at his register and saw his name was one of those boastful titles, which made him aghast at the noble savages before him.

He would be a Peter or a John. Such warring names spoke to the arrogance of a prairie nigger, and Roper took pride in producing servants capable of obedience and attention to detail.

‘What you will be when you leave here is a matter of deep concern.’

He paced the front of the classroom, setting his hat on the desk in front of him.

‘The age of the savage is over. Civilisation has won out and you, my children will know a place in such an age. I will teach you.’

His eyes met with the boy. Despite the timid whisper of his personality, Roper saw a will within him tough as rawhide. The savages taught their children to hunt and fight from infancy. He had lost Ms Western to a girl who had leapt upon her, sinking her teeth into the young teacher’s cheek and scratching her forehead when she tried to take a hide dolly from her.

‘You must leave your pasts and any promises behind you. They are whispers of a dead age; children and you must close your ears to them.’

The boy stared back, a line in his forehead grooved deep into the tan skin like a knife wound formed before he took a deep breath and turned away from Roper’s gaze.

Roper did not see the boy’s fists beneath the desk, remembering the press of lips against them and the promise he had made.

Laughs At Cattle listened to the children rolling in the dirt, their shrill voices bright with primitive excitement. She leaned forward and cocked her head, told Hungry Vulture to stop taunting his brother or he would lose another tooth.

She loved the children. When she stared in their direction, her empty sockets did not scare them. She kept her feet wrapped in strips of hide but had to wash the blood and pus from them each day.

Laughs At Cattle felt pity like spit on her cheek with as much disgust.

Never Runs From Battle was a timid child given a brave name to inspire courage and he took Laugh’s hand, asked her what was wrong.

‘I’m remembering another time, Never Runs From Battle.’ she said

Her voice was soft, tarred by a rusted growl from the damage done to her throat.

‘When someone made you sad?’ he said.

Laughs shook her head. Sadness was a useful weight to bear, a flavour of pain, which she could swallow down, and function. This was a different sensation.

Never gripped her hand and took in a deep breath.

‘When I am a brave, no one will make you sad, Laughs At Cattle.’

She took his fragile hand in both of hers and kissed his hand. He giggled and flinched which took the sting from her memories.

‘I will hold you to that.’

She told him about the Texans and the horrible pleasure they took in her torture. Blinded her, slit her throat and the soles of her feet after taking her until she bled onto the dirt. She cared for the children instead of anything useful.

The truth of his words waited.

 

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beauty, fiction, short fiction, women, writing

The Last Face I’ll See

There’s a kind of relief in knowing it will all be over soon. Acceptance is the key to integration.

We will not live past tonight.

Oh come on, we’ve been running for a long time now. We had a long stretch of good times before that, but we fucked up.

I objected to the mark from the start.

Not because of him. I called that from the start. A mark goes one of two ways.

They bend or they break.

You want the ones that bend. They don’t go to the law because they’re worried what people will think of them, or there’s enough dirt on them they want to just take the hit and keep going.

My concern was with her.

I know you laughed at me behind my back that you thought Mike kept me around like a mascot but I taught him everything he knows.

We’re still here because I didn’t teach him everything I knew.

He was brittle and soft like candy floss. His success had not been of his own making, and when we did the last round of recon, I pointed that out.

Do you remember?

No not, sometimes when you hear hooves, you need to think horses not zebras.

Some cons are too easy because you don’t see what you will owe on the back end.

Here is something useful to remember.

Women need security like men need approval.

Taking that reveals what is underneath a person. The mark is not always the mark.

No, I’m not going soft. I mean, I was fucking right, weren’t I?

You don’t last in the game if you’re soft, but intelligence is a smart trait

Him killing himself wasn’t a surprise. It happens, and I said it would happen.

We thought she would go away. They do that.

Don’t make that face at me. You know computers; I know people. We both got it wrong.

None of us saw her coming.

A year is a long time in the game. The money ran out before we knew what was happening.

It was too late.

Carl was sharp, but he did not recognise her.

It might have been why she was so messy. The coroner said there wasn’t enough unmarked skin to cover a stamp.

We were used to marks coming after us. It never went too violent, but we were picking on start-ups and small businesses. No one could have imagined that it would be the wife that brought us down.

She had engaged his lower brain, a push up bra and a good wig. Making his want simmer into need.

Things like that make me glad to be old. Having a libido, to quote Bertrand Russell, is like being chained to a lunatic in a burning building.

She shot Herc, low in the belly. He had been selling time shares in Orlando and she had sat through his presentation, asked questions that drew his attention but not his memory. She walked up and pulled the pistol from her purse.

Did he recognise her? Men forget.

Women remember everything. They play things over in their heads, they are mysteries sometimes even to themselves.

It is the most wonderful and terrible thing about them.

She’s not a monster. Calling someone that excuses them, and she has no excuse.

She has her reasons.

We gave them to her.

I know she’s checked in. I didn’t hear what room and I don’t care to.

Sure, grab the gun.

It’s as good a way to go out as any.

Me, I’m going to sit here, finish this bottle, a few cigarettes and wait for her.

She’s beautiful, and if I have any choice in going, then if the last thing I see is a beautiful face, then that’s the best I can hope for.

Even if it’s a beauty inflamed by hate.

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animals, creative writing, dogs, fiction, short fiction

Wet Dog

The pair of them sat in the flat, candles burning because they couldn’t shift anything until the morning and they had used the emergency on the meter a few days ago. The laptop had a password on it, but they used it’s glowing screen to provide further illumination.

Iain sat slumped against the wall, his grimy index finger dancing over the screen of the ipad, his heavy lidded eyes focused on the activity in front of him. He had taken some of the medication they grabbed, and it made his pupils dilate until it looked like his eyes were black. He scratched his head, and his pulse fluttered against the ornate, black tattoo on his neck, making it breathe.

Smurf glared at him, chain smoking until his fingers were glowing and his lungs burned, tight and angry as the rest of him.

Iain glanced up, sucking his chapped lips over his protruding, yellowed overbite.

‘Fucking what?’

Smurf was never one to hold someone’s eye for long. He was quick, smart but soft in the wrong places, Iain thought, but he had never appeared so angry as he did now.

‘You know what, you stupid fucking cunt.’

Iain set down the ipad and rolled a cigarette. He put his full attention into it, although that did not stop him from sacrificing most of what he had picked out to the thin, rough carpet that had turned the colour of fungus. Soon he managed something that would smoke, stuck it between his lips and patted himself down for a lighter. He stared at Smurf, who shook his head.

‘Give us a fucking light, Smurf.’

Smurf sat back, folded his arms and set his jaw in a hard line. Most of the time, his big eyes and shaved head made him look like a war orphan but the anger that coursed through him lent him a gravity that unnerved Iain.

Smurf drilled his eyes into Iain hard enough to cause internal bleeding. Iain glanced around him, knowing there was a lighter around there somewhere.

Iain patted the ground, then his pockets again before he got up and made his hands into fists.

He was about to launch at Smurf, although the pills had given him the reflexes of a slug on valium when they heard the thump from upstairs. Smurf got to his feet, his chest rising in panicked breaths.

‘Won’t be pigs.’ Iain said.

Smurf looked at him with disgust and fear.

‘You sure about that? Because you mate, have done something that will get us fucking cut.’

Iain rolled his eyes and tried to slip his hand into the pocket of Smurf’s jacket. Smurf darted backwards, losing his balance and falling over the chair to land on the base of his spine. He swore and rolled onto his side, rubbing his back before he sprung to his feet and closed the distance between the pair of them.

There was another thump from upstairs, then a splattering sound, like a million wet paintbrushes flicked into the air.

The pair of them looked up, then at each other.

‘It’s the boiler.’ Iain said.

Smurf squeezed his eyes shut.

‘We used the emergency on the gas before the fucking electric. Boiler’s got nothing in it.’ he said.

Another thump. Iain glanced around him and picked up the iron in the corner, from where Smurf had ironed a shirt for an interview at a care home. He was waiting to hear how it went, but inside the little imp of failure that used his life as a toilet had already predicted the outcome. Smurf watched him pick it up and stepped back.

‘Might as well get use out of it, eh?’ Iain said.

Smurf hid the impact of the comment by lowering his eyes and putting his hands into his pockets. Iain was already turning, with the cold grace of a shark sensing blood in the water.

‘There’s nothing up there.’ Smurf said.

Iain gave a single dry peal of laughter. It had no humour in it at all. He lifted the iron up and gestured it towards Smurf.

‘No, but if anyone is, they’re getting this in the fucking mush.’

He turned and walked away. Smurf stared at the back of his neck, aghast at his lack of courage, his complicity and his inability to voice how fucked up tonight had been. How he wanted to sell some of the stuff to get so fucking high he could pretend that it had never happened.

Smurf heard another thump then Iain making a retching sound.

‘Oh that fucking stinks up here, Smurf.’ Iain said.

Smurf figured that Iain was not referring to his own room. Smurf had gone in there once, to look for a tenner he was sure Iain had stashed in there. After seeing the yellow duvet and the mattress that looked like a child’s painting in the medium of bodily fluids decided that he could walk to the interview.

Smurf had little, but he looked after it, kept things clean. He would rather buy washing powder than eat sometimes, drinking endless glasses of water to keep the hunger pangs from hurting too much.

Smurf walked through to the stairs when he felt, rather than heard the growling insinuate through the floorboards. Iain fell silent.

The growl gained in volume and power. Smurf asked once if God had pets and got laughed at but he stood there and wondered if this was what one of them would sound like.

If it was angry.

Smurf’s stomach churned with acid. Iain was spurting a litany of curses and swear words before the growl shook the universe and a series of short thumps showed that whatever it was up there was advancing with power and momentum.

Smurf ran through the hallway just as Iain screamed in terror, his voice reaching a pitch that would shatter glass. Smurf heard the sounds of wet paper being ripped, a breathy series of exhalations, something breathing through its nose because it had something in its mouth, teeth sunk in and digging, tearing and sucking down whatever was there. Smurf pulled the door open and ran. He turned back and saw the mist of blood and Iain’s head sail through the air and roll down the stairs, his face forever cast in a final expression of disbelief and terror.

Smurf ran, skipping down the metal spiral staircase and taking off at a sprint. A shard of glass stabbed through the heel of his left foot but he kept going as he heard the wet thump of whatever had been in the house run out after him.

Each step made Smurf cry out in agony.

Something hit him between the shoulder blades and pushed him down to the ground with a brute ease. It kept him down and twin hot blasts of fetid air blasted against his neck. Smurf sobbed, bringing his hands to his face.

Whatever held him did not react. The pressure lessened and Smurf continued to cry, trying to say he was sorry but the words kept falling apart, bashed in by the force of his grief and his guilt.

‘I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.’

The weight came off and Smurf laid there, nose pressed to the path and continuing to weep for what he had been witness to, and what it had done to him.

The wet flat slap against his neck, muscles powerful as pistons left a thick slob of something hot and wet against his head but he let it happen. The stink made his eyes water, wet fur and dark earth, shit from a diet of hate and red meat but with each breath he noted how it had started to fade.

He turned around and saw that he was alone. He glanced back at the open door and how Danny from next door looked inside, swathed in the Star Wars dressing gown and onesie as Anna stood there, on tiptoes pushing him forward as a cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth.

He sat there, looking up at the sky and pressed his hand against his mouth as the sound of sirens began to wail in the distance.

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