Month: January 2017

Peter Pan’s Shadow

Repost of an older short story.

________________________________

The screams sounded like they were being flayed off of her little brother’s lungs.

Nausea clawed its way up Lucille’s throat, her heart quickening.

It was the type of scream that provoked worried neighbours to call the police. The type of scream that had wrenched her from her sleep every night for the last two months, as if things weren’t bad enough already.  The type of scream that meant they would take her brother away — take them both away — if they found out that their mum hadn’t been home in a month.

Lucille lurched to her feet, tripping over her chemistry textbooks, swearing as pain throbbed through her toe. She sprinted down the hallway and slammed open Alexander’s bedroom door.

The stench of urine assaulted her.

The battery on the nightlight must have broken again. It always broke, no matter how often she changed it.

She surged forwards after a split second of hesitation.

Alex trembled in his favourite fire-engine pyjamas in the gloom. Twisted, howling in the soiled sheets, eyes bulging white pinpricks of terror. Each breath ripped ragged on a cry.

Too loud. It probably echoed all the way to Mrs Cordon’s house two doors down.

“Hey – hey – shh – shhh.” She dragged him away from the sodden bed, carding her fingers through his sweat-drenched hair. “Stop crying. You’re okay, we’re okay. It’s just a bad dream.”

“It’s not!” He hiccupped around his sobs. “It’s not. I saw it this time!”

His gaze darted around the room, feverish with fear, lingering on every shadowy corner and the wardrobe door.

Lucille clamped a hand over his mouth to muffle his cries, feeling like her intestines had begun to rot.

He screamed even harder against her palm, writhing and kicking in her hold. Face bloodless in the moonlight.

“Sorry.” Tears stung her eyes as she tightened her grip, burying her face into the cornstarch-colour of his hair so she didn’t have to look at him thrashing. His nails clawed at her arms, joining countless scratches and bruises from last night and the night before that. She wore long-sleeves all the time at school now. Nobody asked.

“Shh. I’ve got you. It’s okay,” she said. “Shh. Just be quiet.”

It did nothing to calm him. Of course, it didn’t. Nothing she did seemed to work, and she’d tried everything! She put on the nightlight that their mum had got him. She made him ‘Monster Spray’ out of water, salt and lemon juice, and disinfected his bedroom every evening just like mum used to. She checked under the bed for him. She checked the closet.

He didn’t want her.

“It’s me – it’s Lucille. I’m not going to hurt you. Just breathe…just…stop crying. Please.
It felt like forever had passed before he slackened in her grip, exhausted. Alex’s cheeks were wet with tears as she peeled her hand away.

“It has teeth!”

“It’s just a dream!” she said.

“Why won’t you believe me? Don’t you feel it?”

The back of her neck prickled, and she shoved the chill away furiously.  For a second, she imagined breath looming behind her, cold raising goose-bumps on her skin.  “Shut up Alex.”

“I want mum,” he said.

“Shut up.” Lucille’s chest ached.

Alex crumpled to the floor and Lucille wished that she had the same luxury. She swallowed, concentrating on breathing in and out deeply for him to copy.

A light flickered at Mr Boyd’s house across the street, but he could have just been going to the bathroom again.

Her fists clenched.

“Is she coming back?” Alex asked.

The switch from ‘when’ to ‘is’ felt like a punch in the throat. Lucille wanted to slap him for it, hard. Give him something worse than a six year old’s bad dreams to scream about.

“Of course she is, she wouldn’t just leave us.” She gritted her teeth. “I said shut up. Haven’t you done enough?” Maybe if he’d cried less, screamed less in the night, their mother wouldn’t have left.

His lip wobbled and Lucille’s eyes widened.
“No — no don’t. Alex, please,” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Alex sniffled, wiping another tear from his face. He nearly choked as he swallowed back another sob for her.

The guilt squirmed in the pit of her belly. Maybe it had been her, maybe if she’d been a better daughter, argued back less, helped more around the house…

Lucille shoved herself onto her feet, hauling Alex up by the back of his shirt. Her nose wrinkled.  His urine had smeared all over her pyjamas. The tears burned behind her eyes again. She sucked in another deep breath, and exhaled.

“Let’s get you clean,” she muttered.

(more…)

Advertisements

A Game of Love

“Redfearn, Lothwell, De Ventress, Smith. You have quite the resume Mrs Margaux,” Johanna said. “Does my brother know that you’re married already?” She stretched back against the plush leather sofa, watching the older woman come to a stop at the comment.

Margaux Doe was quite the mystery, not in the least because she actually thought herself clever for coming with a surname like that. Still, people seemed to buy it. It always amazed her what people were willing to buy when a woman was pretty and oh, Margaux was beautiful. She could see why Nicholas was so smitten. She waited for the flicker of panic in dark eyes, but it never came. Instead –

“Jacobs, Carver, Middleton, Bower,” Margaux replied.

Johanna’s insides clenched.
“Oh honey.” A smile crossed Margaux’s lips at odds with her disappointed tone of voice. “Blackmail, heartbreak, coercion. You have quite the rap sheet of sins for such a nice young woman.”

“I haven’t killed anyone.”

“Which means they’re still alive to spill your dirty little secrets.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“I was curious to meet you,” Margaux said. She wandered over to Johanna’s drinks cabinet, plucking out a bottle from the ice and twisting the cork expertly in her hand. “I heard a pretty, rich thing had been asking a lot of questions about me. We seem to keep stumbling over each other’s conquests.” The cork popped, and Johanna’s trademark champagne frothed into two flutes.

She had to be exactly Margaux’s type, superficially. A champagne flute of a woman; lit gold from her wealth to the blonde shine of her hair, and equally full of air. A ditzy, pretty, rich thing with no children to inherit either. Warning: liable to cause intoxication.

Johanna’s head tilted, eyes hardening, and she wet her lips.

Normally, she liked her own toys to be softer, more impressionable – sweethearts who she could sweep off their feet until they the hit the ground hard. Margaux had nothing of that. She had four dead lovers who left her everything and nothing that Johanna could actually prove. Only rumours.

She had the fucking audacity to treat Johanna’s home like her own.

“Is that why you’re with him?” she asked.

“He’s a darling,” Margaux said. “He thinks he knows how to play the game of love.”
She set the champagne back in the ice bucket and sauntered over, hips swaying with a casual seduction that Johanna couldn’t help but admire. She recognized that walk. It was her own walk, right down to the cock of her head.

“I take it you disagree.” Johanna tilted her head back against the sofa to expose the line of her throat, getting a vicious of stab of satisfaction at least as Margaux’s gaze immediately followed its path.

“The boy is enamoured. You know that, or you wouldn’t have invited me here to have this conversation. Were you hoping to threaten me?” She pressed the champagne flute cold into Johanna’s hand, their fingers brushing warm.

“If anything happens to him, I’ll prove you were behind it.”

“If you’re that worried, maybe you should marry me instead.”

The world stopped. For a second time, in too short a succession in one person’s company, she was caught off guard. Johanna raised a brow a second too late.

“Careful, I’m a lot better at the game than Nicholas is.”

“We could make a bet on it,” Margaux said. She adjusted her glass to her other hand, and tucked Johanna’s hair behind her ear, leaning in. “One year. If you can make me fall in love with you, you win. If you can’t…you give me all of the lovely Needham fortune.”

Johanna’s spine stiffened at the challenge, eyes sparking.
“And what do I get when I win?”

“Whatever your adorably twisted little heart desires.”

Margaux wasn’t her normal kind of toy. Johanna liked them soft and impressionable, starry-eyed, so that when they met their forever-love they could agonize over the bruised foundations that she gave them. She collected first loves the way Marlene Halligan collected Pokemon Cards – gotta catch ‘em all!

Margaux Doe was a Black Widow of the most poisonous kind. There was nothing soft about her except her lips. Johanna couldn’t leave her weak at the knees with a well-placed smile, or chasing with a coy look, when they both knew all of the moves on the board backward.

But love was a game that Johanna won every single time, and one gold digging murderer wasn’t going to change that. Her fingers tightened on the champagne glass and she took a sip.

“Deal.”

Challenge accepted.


A new drabble/story idea of mine. The one who loves playing games with people, meets the Black Widow. I think I like my femme fatales a bit too much.

X Marks The Spot

Snippet of a new thriller that I’ve started working on 🙂

They want me to make an etching of myself out of the scars you gave me, and I can’t tell if it’s because they want me to heal the wounds into art or because of the age old lie that suffering is beautiful.

Today is our anniversary.

Panni will probably come over to drag me out of the house because fresh air cures all ills and it’s been weeks. If I had my way, it would be months, years, a lifetime until anyone got me to step outside again. I could bear it in a lifetime, maybe, when I’ve been reborn and people no longer stare. But she’ll do it today. I should not be alone today – you know that.

You would hate Panni. She’s like a middle-aged suburban soccer mum transplanted into the body of a twenty-five year old punk rocker. She’s also not the one who thinks making myself an exhibition piece will magically turn you into a story to be shelved. You would love the idea of me being your masterpiece. My therapist says doing it myself might give me a greater sense of control over the narrative and my image. I should probably fire her. She still thinks that “monster” is a way of making trauma bearable, rather than what actually happened. Rather than what you actually are.


“That’s what you wrote, Lucille. Right there. Monster.”

“That was private.” Her cheeks burned, a bad taste flooding her mouth. The taste of a nightmare, somewhere between the acrid flavours of terror and humiliation.

“You understand why he may be concerned.”

“That was private, where did you get that?”

“Why do you insist on calling Tristan De Silva a monster?”

She stared at the men in suits. Her ears rang. Of course they would wear suits; black, pristine and shapeless things that gave them the quality of shadows in the corner of her eye. And of course they would be men. She wanted them out of her living room. They sucked all of the oxygen away and seemed to fill the space completely. She would have to move again.

“Lucille.” The suit closest to her sighed. “Mr De Silva has been very patient since the incident, but this must stop. Just look at what you’ve done to yourself.”

“Where did you get my diary?” Her voice shuddered, splintered. She willed herself to stay strong.

The suits exchanged looks with each other.

She wished Pannie was there.

“Mrs De Silva-” the suit began.

She lurched to her feet and the nearest suits, except the sighing one, flinched back. A synchrony of raised palms. She didn’t remember standing.

“Lucille.” The suit corrected himself, looking at her with a gentle pity. “You published it this morning, don’t you remember?”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“Mr De Silva is very concerned.”

“Mr De Silva can go and drown himself in holy water.” Her eyes had begun to burn suspiciously hot, and her fists trembled despite her best efforts to control them. “Get out of my house.”

The suits exchanged more glances, as incomprehensible to her as eavesdropping on a foreign tongue. “Your husband has been very generous. Very indulgent. Are you planning to continue these accusations? He hasn’t pressed charges. He could.”

She sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth at that, and could practically see the smile on Tristan’s face. Saint that he was, Tristan De Silva. Her throat lodged tight and she crumpled to sit on her sofa again, curling her hands in her lap like used tissues. The scars stood raised red and white against her pale skin, a criss-cross of X’s like the kisses on the end of a lover’s letter. X marks the spot. She said nothing. There was nothing to say and they all knew it. They didn’t leave.

“That was private,” she whispered. She wasn’t even allowed to have ‘nothing’ anymore.

A small flicker of a smile twisted the suit’s bland face too, and he leaned in and took her hands almost kindly. He enfolded her fingers easily in his own unblemished, un-calloused ones. He waited for her to meet his eyes like all of the other times he saw her, though she could never recall the colour or anything about them when he left. Nor his face, or voice.

“Monsters don’t exist, Mrs De Silva,” he said.


The official version of the story goes like this: I tried to kill my husband. I took a knife out of the kitchen and cut a hundred X’s into my body. Then I tried to put the knife in his chest, into his windpipe, into the pit of his belly.

The servants had to wrestle me off you. I kicked and screamed like the hysterical psycho wife men have in stories to justify their love of a new woman – some sweet thing that saves them and happens to be a younger, prettier version of the old model.

They wanted me locked up, sedated, pitied and condemned as traumatized by everything that happened before the incident. You were generous. Angels could not do better by their hideous madwomen in the attic.

The unofficial version, my version, goes like this: I tried to kill my husband. I took a knife out of the kitchen and tried to put it into his chest, his windpipe, into the pit of his belly.

You tutted, you laughed, you picked your head off the floor and set it carefully back on your shoulders.

X marks the spot of every woman you killed who wasn’t me.

Officially, there is no evidence of this whatsoever.