They first saw the house in late summer, the neat suburban cul-de-sac ‘Little Glades’ may have seemed a cliché, but to Helen and Sam it was their dream home. They did not dwell on the large deposit and huge repayments; Helen pictured pushing a pram, chatting to neighbours and admiring the beautiful front gardens. Sam pictured mowing the long lawn and throwing sticks to a large dog in the park. They both dreamed of peace and quiet after years of renting the cramped flat above an all night shop at a busy junction.
Even with heavy curtains, lights of every colour flashed into their flat; the neon lights of Price Saver below the bedroom window, the endless amber, red, green of the traffic lights. On the other corners the glowing cross of the twenty four hour chemist and the pulsating purple night club sign. Even the tiny kitchen-diner at the back was never dark, security lights glared until dawn. Then there was the noise; sirens, squealing brakes, dogs barking; supplemented at dawn with the arrival of delivery lorries and rubbish trucks.
Autumn came and went, but at last they exchanged contracts, then completed the sale. They planned to spend Christmas alone, enjoying the peace and quiet of their new home – and it would be quiet, the asking price reflected the fact that there was nothing convenient nearby, no bus stop, shops, pubs, schools or railway line.
It was quiet on the morning of December 13th as they drew into ‘Little Glades’ with the small rented van. All day they tidied, arranged, explored, determined not to set foot out of their home until it was time to return the van. The furthest they ventured was down the damp garden and through the little gate into the park. When it started getting dark they were busy in their new kitchen cooking together.
But something was not right.
‘I hope there’s not a fire,’ said Helen ‘I thought I saw a flashing blue light.’
Moving into the hall they saw colours moving on the ceiling, they didn’t need to open the front door to hear
SO HERE IT IS MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY’S HAVING FUN…
When they did open the door they did not recognise ‘Little Glades’ – they had been transported into a dystopian grotto. Neat semi-detached houses transformed into flashing cartoon parodies of their real selves. Monster inflatable snowmen swayed in front gardens, brightly lit sleighs and grotesque reindeer balanced on roofs and a sinister Father Christmas climbed up a lamp post.
An even scarier Father Christmas approached them, a mittened hand extended.
‘Gary, acca Santa, number six. We thought we’d leave you in peace to settle in and now… welcome to Glades Grotto on our opening night. Every night is party night till January the sixth. Every year we raise thousands for charity, visitors from miles around, hope you don’t want to get that van out till morning.’
I started collecting picture post cards when I was eight and still buy them on holiday to send to the oldest and youngest in the family; people like getting mail through their letter box, including Pete who blogs as beetleypete. When he asked if people still sent postcards bloggers started sending them, as you can see on his blog post.
‘If anyone else would like to post one to me, you can read my address easily, and your card will be featured in Part Two. Thanks again to all of you who took the time and trouble to send me a card.’
When we were away in Whitby I bought an extra card and as I sat down to write ( and here’s my confession – I don’t get around to writing postcards till about two weeks after returning ) and saw the piece of paper on which I had written his address lying on the table, it gave me an idea for a dark story. The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent! Thanks to Pete for the idea.
Detective Inspector Greaves stepped through the front door, he needed to go no further to see the body. The scene was bloodless, but any impression that the woman had died of natural causes was cast aside when another step revealed a large syringe stuck in the back of her neck. Why would the killer leave the evidence when it could have been the perfect murder?
‘Where’s the husband?’ Greaves asked the uniformed officer.
‘In the kitchen, doing the washing up Sir.’
‘What! Crime scene, evidence… did you stop and think?’
‘No Sir, he said his wife liked to have everything clean and tidy if they were having visitors.’
Further discussion was pointless, he sent the officer outside to keep a little band of neighbours at bay and stepped carefully round the body to make his way to the kitchen, where a middle aged man was vigorously polishing a glass.
‘She always liked to leave the house tidy when we went out, in case anything happened to us while we were out and the police had to break in and…’
‘Mr… Mr. Stanton isn’t it? I need to ask you a few questions… When you came home was the front door locked?’
‘Yes, everything looked normal until I unlocked the door.’
‘And where were you today?’
‘With the chaps, four of us, been away on a three day golf break, they dropped me off first, drove off before I got inside.’
‘So they can confirm that. Did you call your wife while you were away?’
‘Was that the last time you spoke or had any contact, no emails, whatsapp?’
‘Yes, she was fine, enjoying the peace, no sign… who… it doesn’t make sense…’
For the first time the man showed emotion, but shock could do strange things. When Greaves had sat the man in the police car with two officers he returned alone to gain an impression of the home and the lives of these two people. An ordinary house in a quiet road that had never drawn attention to itself before; nothing could be assumed, but on the face of it this was a bizarre senseless murder.
In the dining room he spotted a piece of paper on the polished table; an address, no phone number or email.
Greaves checked the address book sitting neatly by the house phone and found no entry for a Geoff Jones or anyone in Norfolk.
Back at the police station Mr. Stanton was safely installed in an interview room, alibis checked, background checked. Inspector Greaves started with the only piece of evidence.
‘Who is Geoff Jones?’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘Has your wife got friends or relatives in Norfolk?’
‘No, she’s never even been to Norfolk.’
‘Mrs. Stanton, was she still working or retired?’
‘Retired, or she reckoned she was still working, did stuff on the computer, goodness knows what, I don’t go on the internet, but she was happy dabbling with her writing, left me in peace to watch what I liked on television.’
‘As routine procedure we will seize… er take your wife’s computer, I assume you have no objections?’
‘Well she won’t be needing it will she… oh God, I can’t believe this is happening…’
At that moment a female officer knocked on the door with a cup of tea, though they were supposed to have equality Greaves was glad to leave her to deal sympathetically with the overwrought husband. He had work to do.
Back in the office he handed out tasks to his small team. ‘Check this address and if it’s genuine get onto Norfolk Police and ask them to send someone round.’
In Cowslip Lane Geoff Jones was enjoying the evening news; the doorbell took him and the dog by surprise. On the doorstep stood a young man, trying to edge inside out of the torrential rain. He showed a warrant card.
‘Mr. Geoff Jones?’
‘Yes, that’s me, oh god, has something happened to my wife, no they send uniform for that don’t they?’
‘No, just a routine enquiry. Do you know a Mrs. Rita Stanton of Mulberry Close, Sandbourne, Dorset?’
‘Dorset, I don’t know anyone in Dorset.’
‘Are you, er do you live alone?’
‘No, my wife’s away for a few days at her sister’s.’
‘Might she know Mrs. Stanton or anyone in Dorset?’
‘NO, look what is this about?’
Andy’s first day as a detective constable wasn’t going well so far.
‘We’re making enquiries about a murder I’m afraid. Have you been outside the village in the last two days, work, visiting?’
Andy was gratified to see Geoff Jones look distinctly nervous.
‘No, I’m retired, well a writer actually, blogger; all I’ve been up to is taking Rufus on his two hour walks and doing my blogs.’
‘Can anyone confirm that?’
‘I haven’t seen a soul, no one else has been out in this dreadful wet weather, but what on earth has any of this to do with me?’
The young detective felt suspicion creeping into his bones, who would take a dog out for two hours in the torrential rain? As he tried to edge further into the hallway and avoid the very large dog, he got a glimpse into the front room. On every shelf and available surface were propped picture postcards.
‘You must have a lot of friends Mr. Jones, a lot of friends that go on holiday?’
The next police visit to Geoff’s house was in the morning. This time Andy was accompanied by a search warrant and an inspector from Dorset Police, who had driven up overnight. Fortuitously they met the postman at the door, with a postcard from Dorset. Jones’ computer was taken away, Jones himself was taken away and all the postcards collected up.
In the interview room Geoff Jones protested his innocence, though he hadn’t actually been arrested. ‘Blogging friends, I wrote a post about picture post cards and followers kept sending them.’
Greaves left him to stew for a while and went back to the office to see how enquiries were going and stared at the postcard posted in Sandbourne, Dorset.
Wish you Were Here!
Best Wishes from Rita Stanton ( Scribbletide )
He tried to curb the enthusiasm of the young detective.
‘We may have barged in too quickly, if this poor man is totally innocent we have some explaining to do. The card seems to prove what he told us about his followers. What have you found on the internet?’
‘Jones was telling the truth about the blogging and the post cards, what he didn’t mention was that a while ago he wrote a serialised story about a chap who wanted to commit the perfect murder.’
‘…yes, but I’m used to being on my own, with Giles away half the time and I rather like it now they have all left home… I know Tammy won’t be popping in every week when I’m up there. That’s half the point. She won’t come round with the children anyway, while all the work is going on next door, because of their ears and lungs… Yes it is that bad, that’s why I demanded they pay me compensation, enough to be away from home… but it’s not as if I could join Giles in the Antarctic. No of course I can’t afford a luxury cruise; what you call my Victorian Villa is more of a millstone, always has been, like a hungry monster that constantly has to be fed… We WERE thinking of downsizing till Dave and Debs got in first and sold next door for a fortune; no one is going to even look at our house while the foundations are being shaken. Yes Dave and Debs did say they had sold to a nice quiet family, a nice family who for some unearthly reason want to live underground… and a wine cellar and entertainment room… Oh they’ve started again, can you hear that awful thumping, that’s the pile driver. I almost wish the whole place would implode down into the Central Line. Do you think we could claim on their insurance if our house was swallowed by the London Underground? … Northumberland… but not as cold as the Antarctic… I won’t be roughing it, there is an oil tank, just no electricity. I won’t need to charge my phone, because there is no WiFi… Pen and paper, like writers have always used. Long walks, fresh food and making a start on my new novel… Well it was bad timing the car conking out, but that’s part of the adventure, go up on the train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, local bus to this farm and then the farmer take me the rest of the way… Okay, love to Phil, yes I will, if he manages to Facetime tonight, not quite Shackleton, but it’s not easy communicating with a scientist at the South Pole, even if he is my husband.’
I should have started ringing round the rest of the family, but packing was my priority if I was to get to Kings Cross Station in the morning with one manageable rucksack.
Once the bus had dropped me off there was no turning back. I hoped it was the right farm gate I was standing by. I couldn’t even figure out how to open it, but just as I was wondering if the farm was occupied at all, a figure emerged from what I presumed must be the farm house. A voice hailed me, the only clue as to what sex the figure in green overalls might be. But when she strode up to the gate I was surprised to see a young woman with blond curls tied in a bunch and a huge baby bump. Already I was putting her into my novel. She introduced herself as Abby.
After a cup of tea and home made scones, in a farmhouse kitchen straight out of the fifties, it was time to set off before it got dark. This was real life for sure. My home for a month had once been a tenant farmer’s cottage, a tied cottage. The family had done it up to rent out and supplement their income. The land rover was more comfortable than you might expect, even though it did smell of damp dog and cow manure.
So there I was, by the cosy light of an oil lamp, in front of a wood fire. November nights up here were colder, that was to be expected. I have to confess Abby had already laid the fire earlier and got it going for me. She showed me the wood pile, the kindling, the oil tank that fuelled the Aga. Not that I was planning to do much cooking. There was no phone. I would not see anyone till next week when they would pop in with more food supplies. Abby looked rather doubtful when she asked if I would be alright.
I went to bed early. There were plenty of books in the house, how delightful to be Kindle free, but the evening felt long and I was tired after my journey and couldn’t muster the energy to start writing. It was so quiet, I hadn’t reckoned how much I would miss not being able to turn on the radio; still this was a good way get inside my character’s head.
I woke up suddenly, in complete darkness, without any idea where I was. When I came to my senses I fumbled for my torch, but I had lost all sense of direction; the door and the window had disappeared. I felt an overwhelming longing for the intrusive street lights at home. All I could think to do was to feel my way outside, at least there would be moonlight. I stubbed my toes, banged my shins, nearly fell down the uneven wooden stairs. My watch was not luminous, I had no idea of the time without my phone to look at. I tried to picture the stairs in relation to the door. At last I felt the metal latch and heaved it up in panic.
There was no moon. The darkness was so thick you could slice it. The wonderful open fields that had surrounded me earlier had been replaced by dark nothingness and oppressive silence. With Giles this would have been an adventure, with a group of city friends it might have been a laugh. Alone it was turning into my worst nightmare.
For more stories I have four collections on Amazon.
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He was there again, outside the station, selling the Big Issue. Giles never bought one because he didn’t want one, or at least he didn’t know if he wanted one; you could hardly peruse it then hand it back. On the tube Giles had The Times to read, he subscribed to it on his Kindle. He had also downloaded 563 books, 13 of which he had read. Occasionally he wandered into WH Smith for the pleasure of browsing amongst colourful, glossy magazines: photography, computers, music… perhaps buying…
‘Can I interest you in a half price Galaxy Sir?’
Yes, he would take a treat home for Judith.
‘No thank you.’
‘Have a nice day Sir.’
Why did the Big Issue seller have to be so polite, making him feel more guilty? There was a whole minefield of BI behaviour he had observed over the years, over the cycle of half a dozen sellers. One man regularly bought a copy and dumped it straight in the bin a few yards further on, others proffered a pound or a handful of change without looking the seller in the eye. This morning he observed a woman offering a shiny two pound coin, holding out her hand to receive the magazine.
‘Keep the change.’
‘They cost £2.50 each love’ the homeless one answered curtly.
Flustered, she hurried away clutching the coin.
Giles was glad to get out of the biting east wind, down into the warm depths of the underground, but he wondered where the Big Issue seller lived. Did he really have to sleep out on the streets in this awful weather, or did he slip round the corner and drive home in his Jaguar?
A truly good person would offer a homeless man shelter not just buy a magazine. Giles had spare bedrooms; well not exactly spare, where would Judith put her sewing and what about the computer? Sarah’s bedroom looked much as it had when she left a year ago. A vision passed before him of the homeless one sitting on the pink bed clutching Big Ted.
Over dinner that evening Giles said ‘Do you think we should downsize?’
‘What?’ exclaimed Judith. ‘We’ve only just finished paying the mortgage, we deserve to enjoy this house.’
‘But we don’t need four bedrooms.’
‘What if Simon and Tammy have a baby, we’d need room for them to stay.’
‘As Tammy isn’t pregnant yet and they are going round the world, we could help a homeless person get on their feet.’
‘Are you feeling alright Giles? You couldn’t wait for Simon and Sarah to leave home, now you want to… what are you suggesting?’
‘Imagine sleeping out on a night like this.’
‘There are hostels; besides, we’ve only got one bathroom and we’d have to hide our valuables.’
‘We haven’t got any valuables.’
‘Imagine explaining to the police or the insurance company that we invited a total stranger into our house and he rifled my handbag and your wallet for drug money.’
‘We don’t know that he’s a druggy.’
‘Precisely, we don’t know anything about him, I don’t even know if he’s a real person or hypothetical.’
He was there again the next morning. At least he’s survived the coldest November night for years, mused Giles. How would a stranger fit into one’s home, lodger, son… how old was he? Hard to tell with that woolly hat. If they went out to dinner would they leave something in the oven for him? Judith might take to him if he scrubbed up well; some of Simon’s clothes were still in the wardrobe. What would he do all day while they were both out at work, odd jobs perhaps? If the real man emerged, clean, witty and intelligent, they would be proud. Judith might take a shine to him, too much of a shine, he could become her toy boy, like one of those novels they read at her book club.
The idea came to him at lunch time when he was in the new shoe shop. He found a decent pair of comfortable black leather shoes for work.
‘Two pairs for the price of one sir, opening offer, today only’ said the girl at the till.
‘But I only want one pair, on second thoughts have you got another pair much the same?’
He was there when Giles came out of the station concourse carrying two carrier bags, shoes and WH Smith. Giles almost lost his nerve. He mumbled to the Big Issue seller.
‘You’re on your feet all day, are these any good to you… have a Galaxy as well.’
The man looked suspiciously at Giles, but it was a start, perhaps tomorrow he would start a conversation, find out what the man’s situation really was.
When Giles turned on television for the local news the next morning there was a picture of the underground entrance.
…and in further cold weather news, the body of a man believed to be a Big Issue seller was found early this morning by the locked gates of an underground station. First indications are that the cause of death could be hypothermia, but police are not releasing medical details until a post mortem has been carried out. They are keen to speak to commuters or anyone from the Big Issue Community, unusually the dead man was wearing a brand new pair of good quality leather shoes.
Read tales for all seasons in Hallows and Heretics – take a peek inside the book.
A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.
Not as sweet as sugar, smoother than chocolate, more luscious than a peach; neither food nor drink. That is how I would describe it. There was no description on the menu; it didn’t appear on the menu at Stopawhile. Ravi told me it was the nectar of the gods when I first tried it.
‘What a perfect description’ I replied, licking my lips in satisfaction.
‘No, it IS the Nectar of the Gods’ he said simply.
You couldn’t order, only wait until it was offered. Ravi was the only member of staff to serve the nectar; come to think of it, there were no other staff.
It was a new café, where the old hairdressers used to be; the shabby blue and white had become warm brown and orange. Inside you could slip into a cosy corner, relax on a leather settee and linger as long as you liked. There were newspapers and exotic magazines, wooden chess sets and marble solitaires. The nectar deserved to be sipped slowly.
This was an ideal place to flop down with my shopping and sneak out my notebook; recharge my batteries before going home to tackle dinner. The nectar, in its delicate pottery bowl, seemed to stimulate creativity. My writing group were impressed with my short story and urged me to send it off to the competition, I won. I began a novel.
Of course I recommended it to other people, suggested friends come with me next time they came round. Somehow no one else happened to go that way.
On Monday afternoon I staggered off the bus with my shopping, cold, tired, with blood sugar level zero; I was looking forward to my visit to Stopawhile. But it had gone; not closed down, disappeared. I thought I must have walked past it and retraced my steps. Bank, charity shop, greengrocers; it should have been next, followed by the bakers. I stepped into the greengrocers feeling bewildered; perhaps they had bought the little café and expanded into it during the weekend.
‘What’s happened to Stopawhile?’ I asked.
I was met by blank stares.
‘You know, the café next door, it was there on Friday.’
‘You mean the one up the road?’
Flustered, I bought a bunch of bananas and stepped carefully outside. On the pavement were the usual stands full of fruit and flowers and next door was the bakers. I stepped inside the tiny shop and tried another tack.
‘Have you moved shop?’
‘Not in the last hundred years.’
‘But what’s happened to Ravi and the café next door?’
More confused expressions. ‘If you’re looking for a café, try the Cosy Teapot up the end of the high street.’
‘Is that for next door?’ Eleanor asked the green man who had emerged from the yellow van.
‘No, express delivery for Ms E. Fairfax.’
‘But I haven’t ordered anything, certainly nothing as large as that, is the box heavy?’
‘No, I’ll leave it just inside the front door shall I?’
Eleanor closed the door and rolled the box down the hall until she found the sender’s address.
EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
RAINBOW WORLD LTD. OF MILTON KEYNES
She was reluctant to open the box; if she had been in one of her black humour thrillers, the box would be sure to explode. But on the other hand, any of her feisty heroines would have no hesitation. Eleanor fetched a sharp knife from the kitchen and ran it along the taped edges. On top of various packages was a rainbow envelope.
To Aunty Ellie Happy Birthday Love Ben
Inside was a gothic card of gold and black.
YOUR PASSPORT TO A NEW EXPERIENCE
One of Ben’s jokes no doubt. She pulled out the largest parcel, inside were folds of white fabric…
Eleanor picked up the phone. ‘Ben? Thanks for the present, maybe I’ll wear it to my book launch.’
No, you have to wear it on your birthday when you go for your EXPERIENCE. I know how much you love those CSI programmes, I guess it will be like one of those murder mystery dinners, but without the food. Should give you inspiration for your next novel.
She put the phone down and decided to read the instructions more carefully.
Saturday morning was bitterly cold, especially at Highcliffe. Eleanor was glad she was half an hour an hour early to warm up with a coffee in the Cliffhanger café. She planned to sneak into the Ladies to put on her forensic suit at the last moment, she looked around at the other customers wondering if any of them were there for the EXPERIENCE.
When she slipped outside she saw a van pulling up, black with gold writing
As two men in forensic suits got out, other white suits emerged sheepishly from parked cars. Eleanor was glad she had worn her thermal underwear, the wind was biting after the steamy warmth of the café.
Without any introduction the van driver addressed the shivering group.
‘Okay, report of a body on the beach, we need to start work before the tide comes in.’
Without further ado he strode towards the edge of the cliff and the footpath sign. Eleanor tried to read the expressions on the faces of her six companions, but straggling in single file, struggling to keep up, she had no idea if they were taking this seriously or if they were all friends of her nephew. But even Ben was unlikely to have arranged a prank on this scale.
Dodging a few boulders, they came to an abrupt halt near the water’s edge.
‘It’s so realistic’ squealed a young woman excitedly.
‘Looks like a scene from one of my books’ said Eleanor.
‘Ooh, are you a crime writer, are you on television?’
‘No, Amazon Kindle.’
A loud clearing of the leader’s throat drew their attention to the others, just as one of the men keeled over backwards. Another pushed past the two women and behind a rock to vomit.
‘Happens every time,’ laughed the leader ‘no one expects it to be a real body.’
Eleanor approached with a writer’s curiosity to see how they had created the scene. It was the smell which hit her first. A real body washed up from the sea was very different from Google research. She almost laughed to herself, Ben had been right, this was a unique opportunity and she tried to quell the rising nausea.
‘Cause of death?’ asked the leader brusquely.
‘No evidence of external injuries, due to the extent of decomposition’ Eleanor replied. ‘A post mortem will be needed to determine if the victim drowned or was already dead before he entered the water.’
‘Good, good’ said the man, as his assistant stepped forward with arms outstretched, bearing a large folded item of black vinyl. ‘Now before we put the body in the bag does anybody have back problems, it’s quite a weight to carry back up the cliff.’
‘Yes, me,’ said Eleanor ‘but shouldn’t we call the police?’
‘Not until we’ve ascertained if a crime has taken place. Now, does everybody have a car, or does anyone want a lift in the van to the morgue?’
‘Where’s the body going?’ asked the young woman.
‘In the van of course. Has everybody got their metal case labelled
Part Two, not to be used by children under sixteen.
‘Which case do you mean?’ a pale man asked.
‘The one containing a scalpel and saw.’
For more dark tales dip into Times and Tides
Twenty five stories starting with a blind date and ending on Xmas Eve, with no clue as to what you might expect in between. In this third collection of short stories are some real places and experiences plus much that could happen or should never happen.
‘Now children, let’s count on our fingers, one, two, three…’
‘Ten’ chorused the little group of nursery children on the mat.
‘Twelve’ called a small voice a moment later.
Ivy, or was it Holly? Three days into the new intake I was still trying to grasp all the names; traditional, unspellable, unpronounceable, invented and reclaimed names from the nearly departed generation.
A boy at the front was still gazing in puzzlement at his hands. I knelt beside him and showed him how to bunch his fists.
‘Shall we count again?’
I uncurled one finger at a time and he got the idea, though his lips still did not move.
‘Nine, ten!’ The other children raised their open hands in the air.
‘Eleven, twelve’ came Ivy’s voice from the back.
I walked round the mat to where she was seated. She was gazing at her spread fingers, then glancing at the other hands held aloft. I felt my stomach lurch. Ivy was a sturdy child, just losing that toddler plumpness in her face and hands, she had settled in easily and not attracted any attention so far.
Ivy could count well, she could count to twelve because she had six fingers on each hand or to be precise, one thumb and five fingers on each perfectly formed hand.
We were always having seminars on celebrating difference; our nursery had children of every colour. I had a wheelchair and a cerebral palsy in my group, Gill had two skin conditions and a missing leg in her group next door. But I hadn’t been prepared for extra fingers, why hadn’t the parents told us? Ivy seemed as surprised as I was to discover she was different, perhaps it had never been mentioned at home.
When we went outside to play I watched Ivy. She adroitly did all her coat buttons up while other children were being helped, then she put on a pair of red gloves, not mittens, hand knitted gloves with six fingers. My mother is a manic knitter and we always get gloves for Christmas, but never have I heard her mention patterns for extra fingers.
At home time I was button holed by the usual anxious parents while the assistants made sure every one was collected by the right adults. I did not see Ivy leave. At home that evening I Googled hands and saw a rolling gallery of every possible variation of Polydactyly. I rang my mother who was intrigued and couldn’t wait to tell her Knit and Knatter group.
The next day I surreptitiously observed Ivy as she drew, played and washed her hands for her turn at the baking table. Her deft hands rubbed the butter into the flour with ease, a dozen fairy cakes, how appropriate. There was no doubt that all the fingers were real functioning digits with bones and joints, not mere protuberances that would have been snipped off at birth. The other children had noticed nothing different about Ivy, but Davinder pulled his floury hands out of the bowl and looked at them with concern.
‘Ivy said my finger felled off in the cake.’
I decided I must speak to her parents when they came to collect her. No nanny, granny or au pair was registered as a responsible adult, so I was sure to meet one of them. A good looking young couple aprroached me enthusiastically.
‘Ivy loves nursery, thank you for helping her settle in so well.’
The mother held out her cool, elegant, manicured hand to shake mine, I forced myself to look at her face. Ivy’s father then grasped my hand firmly with his large hand.
‘How is she getting on?’ he asked.
I was distracted by the ornate cygnet ring on his sixth finger, I averted my eyes from the twelve glossy red nails of his wife and smiled.
‘She is a delight to have, very bright, her speech is good and… she has excellent dexterity.’
BBC News 24 10.40 pm Wednesday 30th October ‘The Papers’
‘With me tonight discussing tomorrow morning’s papers are the financial editor of The Guardian and a journalist with the Huffington Post. Shall we start with the rather bizarre headline in several papers that scientists have discovered the devil actually exists, James?’
‘Well this is one story my paper has missed Satan Certainty says The Sun people really do hear voices and it’s The Devil talking to them.Obviously this is going to be used by the Tories as an excuse to reduce funding for mental health services.’
‘Or as a crafty way of diverting attention away from the Brexit Fiasco.’
‘Precisely and if it was true it would be more scary than Putin or North Korea.’
‘This is a team of highly acclaimed physicists, can we be sure it is not true?’
BBC 1 Breakfast 7.23am Thursday 31st October
‘…and the story breaking overnight is that a group of eminent scientists have proved that Satan is real, alive and watching us now. Joining us on the sofa we have an archbishop and a humanist. Let’s get straight to the point. Archbishop, hasn’t the church always claimed the Devil exists, so what’s new?’
‘Not as depicted in films. Evil exists, but not of course an actual devil; evil can’t be reduced to a person called Old Nick, anymore than we can perceive God Almighty as a person.’
‘Isn’t that what you claim Jesus was?’
‘Yes, yes of course, but…’
‘As a humanist I believe that people create both good and evil and these ridiculous ideas are going to harm a lot of vulnerable people…’
‘… let’s go over to the sports desk …’
BBC Radio 4 9.am Thursday 31st October ‘The Life Scientific’
‘And my guest this morning is the scientist who led the team that has recently discovered, or claimed to have proved, the devil exists. Angela, when you were a child did you ever imagine you would become one of the country’s leading experts in such a field?’
‘No, no my parents were both ardent atheists and I wasn’t even allowed to go to school assembly or be in the nativity play, then one day I found a stack of Dennis Wheatley novels hidden in my parents’ wardrobe…’
BBC 1 7pm Thursday 31st October ‘The One Show’
‘What do you make of today’s startling news that the devil has been discovered, or rather has at last been proved to be real. Our guest this evening claims to have met Satan. What did he actually look like?’
‘He can take many forms, that is why neither the police nor my GP believed me.’
‘So where did you meet him?’
‘On Facebook. Luckily one of my Twitter followers had also met him and Tweeted some advice, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.’
‘I believe you had a narrow escape.’
‘Yes indeed, I nearly sold my soul to Satan…’
BBC2 10.30pm Thursday 31st October ‘Newsnight’
‘It is barely twenty four hours since scientists revealed that The Devil actually exists and while some academics are already arguing whether we write his name with capital letters or even whether we can ascribe a gender, for most of the world’s population it has not yet sunk in. Our guests tonight are a representative of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a member of JW.Org who believes some people have actually sold their soul to The Devil.’
‘We’re not sure of the numbers, it could be in the thousands.’
‘But isn’t it a scandal that these people were not helped sooner, before it was too late…’
BBC News 24 11.40pm Tuesday 31st October ‘The Papers’
‘Since last night’s breaking news, more and more people are coming forward to say they have met The Devil. To discuss tomorrow’s first editions we have a journalist from The Times and the cultural editor from The Sun.’
‘Our readers are saying why didn’t they come forward before, but the obvious answer is that nobody would have believed them.’
‘…and the sad fact is that they are still not fully believed, that they have sold their souls to Satan.’
‘Our editorial is taking this matter seriously, but we must realise there is a big difference between people in powerful positions, who have got there by selling their souls and vulnerable people who have been under Satanic influence.’
‘The Mirror has the most graphic front page with the headline
Satan to collect souls at midnight.’
‘Yes, midnight on Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve just before All Souls Day.’
‘…but that’s in ten minutes time…’
‘… er hmm… Stay with us here on News 24 with the headlines coming up at midnight.’
For tales of good and evil dip into Hallows and Heretics
Even before I opened my cupboard I unlocked the fire escape door; fresh air is vital in my job. Today the cupboard was tidy, as always after Val’s shift. A reassuring smell of bleach meant she had left the mop to soak. By the mirror was a vase of fresh flowers from her garden. I would do the same for her; the others didn’t bother but we knew our patrons appreciated it. I felt ready to start my day. All was quiet, no coach parties yet.
I went both sides and did the refills, checked everything was working then went over to have a quiet coffee with Dave at Costa before he opened. He was moaning, someone hadn’t cleaned the coffee machine last night. I walked over to Chris at Smiths to get my newspaper. She was in a good mood; the weather forecast was promising and it was the start of the school holidays, a busy day lay ahead. Judging by the cars outside I must have had some visitors already, time to get back to work.
I checked all the notices were in place.
A male attendant operates in these conveniences.
That was me; not a man, not even a person, better than being called a bog cleaner though. It was a busy day, dashing back and forth between the Ladies and Gents.
When asked, I am diplomatic, both as messy as each other, you wouldn’t believe the things some people do, hence the plethora of notices. But most people respect the facilities, even if they don’t respect us.
Don’t notice us would be more accurate. In too much of a hurry on the way in and thinking of other things on the way out; what to eat or which junction to exit, that’s life at Grimley Park Happy Break.
I’ve worked for lots of companies, but I’ve always been here doing the same job; only the name of my employers changes. At the moment it is ‘SpeedClean’, not an accurate description of most of their staff, but I take a pride in my job, at least I’ve always earned my living. Not on disability allowance.
Now days at school, a kid like me would have his own lap top and personal teaching assistant. I didn’t get assessed; they didn’t notice one problem, let alone two. They figured out the hearing eventually, but dyslexia wasn’t bandied about like it is these days; it was easier to suggest I was thick.
Modern technology, no one would notice I’m hard of hearing and since I went on that adult education course I can read and I’m on the internet all the time; just needed a bigger screen and the right colour cellophane over it.
I wouldn’t grumble, we’ve had a good life; Nicky isn’t one of those women always wanting things. She works hard at Sainsburys; she knows what we earn and what we can afford. We’re Housing Association, not Council; with the ground floor flat we get the garden. I love gardening and the other residents admire my plot. Of course if we’d been council they would have moved us to a three bedroom, once David and Becky got to a certain age. Luckily the living room’s big enough for our double bed and the kids are glad to have their own bedroom each.
My busy day never let up, so I didn’t know how long the bag had been hanging on the back of the cubicle door. For the first time that day the Ladies was empty, at least if it was a bomb there was no danger to the public. I didn’t need security to tell me the bag was safe; a quick glance inside the plastic carrier bag revealed wads of money and nothing else. I needed to act quickly before anyone saw me.
The kids were still out when I got home.
“You won’t believe what happened today,” I said to Nicky “this could change our lives.”
I started to tell her the story.
“Did you tell your manager?” she asked.
“No way, he’d probably have kept it for himself, but I was worried I’d be caught with it on me. So I called Joe from security.”
“You handed it over to him?”
“No, I used my brains, he was my escort.”
“You shared it out between you?” she asked, aghast.
“No, we took it straight to the Happy Break manager; I insisted he counted it out in front of us, write me a receipt. Joe signed as witness.”
Nicky was looking very nervous now. “What have you got involved in?”
“Then he called the police” I reassured her. “What else could he do with me and Joe standing there?”
“So who’s got the money?” she asked puzzled.
“The police of course.”
She sighed with relief. “For a moment I hope… thought you had been tempted.”
“Of course not; honesty and responsibility go with my job.”
“But I don’t see how this will change our lives.”
“Recognition, respect, that’s the most important thing. If they identify the owner perhaps there might be a little reward. It will be hard to identify her with just a carrier bag, have to wait till she comes forward.”
“If no one claims it, I think you are entitled to it, you could enjoy it with a clear conscience” she said wistfully.
I didn’t hear any more, didn’t really expect to, well not for a while if it was unclaimed. A few weeks later Val said our SpeedClean manager was going to be on the local news, some award or other. Nicky and I watched the news that evening and sure enough, there he was, smiling. SpeedClean at Grimley Park had won Motorway Services Loo of the Year Award for an excellent standard of cleanliness, patron service and impeccable honesty.
For more short stories of people and places dip into one of my collections.
‘Good heavens Sally, what are you doing out on the common?’
Her question was soon answered when a young Springer Spaniel came bounding up.
‘I’m stepping outside my comfort zone, as Harrison would say, puppy sitting for my neighbour; there’s a triumph of contradiction for you, this canine delinquent is going to be the spearhead of counter terrorism.’
Marjorie laughed, their homework for Harrison Tenby’s U3A Philosophy class was an essay entitled ‘The Triumph of Contradiction’; his pupils were even more confused than usual.
‘Greetings Brian, how’s Jack today… oh what happened to your finger?’
‘Just a little bite.’
‘So Jack’s bitten the hand that feeds him’ said Sally.
Brian fostered dogs for Waggy Tails charity, tales of his charges made light relief during the coffee break at their philosophy class. The other dogs had found good homes, but Jack, a bad tempered mix of the worst characteristics of several breeds, had not yet been successfully placed; every few weeks he would say I’ve got Jack back.
Brian ignored her remark. ‘What brings you out in the wilds Sally?’
‘Next door neighbour’s doing jury service, she told them she was puppy walking for the police, but that doesn’t count as an excuse; I hope it won’t turn into one of those cases that goes on for months.’ As she spoke she realised Barney the Springer Spaniel was nowhere to be seen.
‘Don’t panic,’ said Brian getting out his mobile phone ‘we’ll alert Dog Watch.’
‘Seek’ barked Marjorie, sending her well behaved Labrador off into a nearby copse.
At last, when muddy paws landed on Sally’s knees, she was so glad to see her charge back again she didn’t worry about her trousers.
‘Time for a rest,’ said Brian ‘I’ll buy the first round.’
‘Oh, are we off to the pub?’ said Sally.
‘No, hot chocolate, Bob’s van by the education centre and toilets, we always stop there. We can talk about our homework.’
With the dogs safely tied up the three humans relaxed on the splintery wooden seats.
‘Dogs,’ said Marjorie ‘how can an article about dogs be philosophical?’
Sally put her case. ‘Thousands of years ago a few wolves, probably the runts of the litter, not the leaders of the pack, made a lifestyle decision to throw in their lot with humans. A supply of scraps and the warmth of the campfire in exchange for being on 24 hour alert for sabre tooth tigers and woolly rhinoceri. Thus started a uniquely complex and contradictory relationship of trust and betrayal. Now our so called best friend expects us to feed and cosset him, while disdainfully leaving his mess for us to pick up and occasionally eating our children.’ She smiled as her friends rose to the bait.
‘Far more people harm dogs than the other way round’ bristled Marjorie.
‘Yes and we abuse them in a variety of ways, messing around with their breeding to amuse ourselves, so a huge mountain dog picks up a ridiculous ball of fluff, not even knowing it’s a fellow dog. But they bear us no grudge and happily put their lives in danger, like Barney’s going to do, sniffing out explosives.’
‘Or those assistance dogs who put on the washing machine and answer e-mails’ said Marjorie.
‘I think they tell you when the phone or door bell’s ringing if you’re deaf,’ said Brian ‘I don’t think they’re on line yet.’
‘But the principal’s the same,’ said Sally ‘they do it altruistically, no days off, no holidays, no time for their own interests. What stops them leaving, walking out the door?’
‘Guide dogs and sheep dogs,’ added Marjorie ‘so clever, pity Jack hasn’t found a career to keep him out of mischief.’ She bent down to bravely hug the mongrel straining at his lead. ‘Who’s a big useless lump then?’
The dog wagged his tail and Sally shuddered, but she was determined to get in a last word. ‘So if dogs are so intelligent, how come they haven’t learned to use toilets?’
‘Nor have some humans’ said Brian. ‘Anyway, I’m off, see you on Thursday, hope I don’t get told off for not doing my homework.’
But Brian wasn’t at the class on Thursday, Marjorie relayed the news to the rest of the class with relish.
‘He’s okay, just smoke inhalation, he thinks he must have fallen asleep doing his essay late and then his angle poise lamp tipped over on a pile of papers. The smoke alarm wasn’t working, Brian took the battery out, because the noise sent Jack into a frenzy if he burnt the toast, if Brian burnt the toast I mean. Anyway, if it wasn’t for Jack barking who knows what might have happened, he bit the hand of the fireman, but they wear gloves and Jack was only trying to protect Brian.’
After the excitement settled down, it turned out only Sally had done the homework.
Read more tiny tails here, look inside to read Blind Date, when Bella the guide dog goes along on a date.