The ballad of Nancy Stokes

Clouds rolled in, all over the small town.
The air alive with the smell of chip shop grease and cheap aftershave.
Saturday night, alive and loud.
But not Nancy.
At least not by the end. Down in the canal.
Left to be found by old Mrs Clarence, off to the shops on a Sunday morning.
Her small dog Terry, sniffing at the banks where poor Nancy rested.
Her head covered in an old Tesco carrier bag.
But that night before, she’d dressed up to the nines.
No Tesco tiara threatened her styled hair.
Scraped back with mouse and anticipation.
For the dancefloor awaited, and the eyes were wet.
Leary sockets soaked in her moves.
The jostles and gyrations of decade old motions learned to entice.
To ensnare.
Those oiled men, with receding hair.
Nancy left her friend, who’d found Jesus in the bottom of a vodka bottle.
And then in the stall of the toilets which stank of desperation and piss.
With sticky kebab hands soiling her jeans and soul.
Where Nancy went, nobody knows.
But they left her her clothes at least.
Soaking in the green waters of the canal.
Where Mrs Clarence found her.
Nancy Stokes. The 40 year old girl who loved to dance.
But never learned to swim.

Exhaust(ed)

Incendiary thoughts split the matter.
Like an explosion on the moon.
Silently you dissect me.
You’re the knife, I’m the spoon.
Think well, and think quickly.
Such traits of a well-oiled liar.
Now my corpse attracts the flies.
Where’s smoke, there’s always fire.

Land of the free and the home of the brave

Her eyes flickered from the calendar on her desk to the phone quickly as the device in front of her rang out shrilly. She knew who it would be on the other end of the line, she pictured them, slumped against the phone booth while the hot July sun glared in through the tampered glass. Her arrangements were all unfolding as she had anticipated, each one of her children doing exactly what she had expected them too. All was coming together, there was just one thing left to arrange and this phone call, she hoped, would finalize that. She let the phone ring once more before lifting it from the cradle, placing it up onto her heavily powered face.

She did not speak, she waited for their voice.

“Mame?”

“Yes.” she said, curtly.

“It’s all arranged. She said she will be there for the 4th of July.”

“Good, thank you Perkins. She is aware of the situation I trust?”

“She is aware yes. She wasn’t surprised at all, but it’s strange as she…” He began, but was interrupted.

“Excellent. See to it that money is arranged also.” She said, and hung the phone back quickly into the cradle, her mind now dancing over the weekend arrangements.

In a phone booth in downtown Boston, Robert Perkins held the phone to his ear, trying to hear against the traffic which sped past him outside his glass shell. He heard Veronica Van-Black, his employer, hang up the line her end; yet he finished off his sentence that he had begun, as if trying to figure it out still himself.

“…it’s strange, she said she was already there.”


This fourth of July, come and spend the weekend with the Van-Blacks who will delight you with wit, suspense, good food, séances and murder. A good time to be had by all, except maybe one.
Keep it together – out now in paperback and eBook. More stories here.

41+yf1zYIYL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

Grace & Josh

It had rained all morning, and a small stream of water now ran down the slope of the playground outside. Miss Carbine stole a look out of the darkened window from the warm classroom to see the water hammering down the pane. She sighed to herself, knowing they would have to have the lunch break inside today. Her class were currently in pairs, going through the text books that she had put out that morning. It wasn’t too big a class, and she was able to manage the five and six year olds reasonably well with her wispy ways and mild manners. They hadn’t yet lost the awe of having a teacher, a special entity there to bestow wonders to them; and many seemed to want to impress still, which she liked.

Grace had been reading her book with Josh, going through the story of Finders the dog and his adventure in the supermarket. She was a good reader, and was able to point out to Josh where she felt he was wrong. Josh was slow, and he didn’t much care for the stupid dog or why it was even in a supermarket. He’d only ever seen one dog there before himself, guiding a man around who couldn’t see. The dog buying cereal seemed dumb to him, and he lost interest quickly and began to pinch Grace as she tried to read. If they had spoken more about the story, Grace would have agreed with Josh. The anthropomorphic antics of Finders seemed stupid to her also, and she did question its applicability to their development, further wondering if Miss Carbine; who was busy checking her phone, had given them the correct course book that morning. But she persevered, and tried to ignore Josh as he pinched her, pushing him away and trying to finish the story for them both.

The rest of the class didn’t seem to have any problems with the book or Finders, indeed some seemed to be enjoying it. Before long though, they had all finished and it was time for lunch. As it would be indoors today, they were allowed to sit on the carpet and have their food. An indoors picnic Miss Carbine suggested, helping them retrieve their lunchboxes from the tidy trays and bags. Grace went to the hallway where her bag was, and retrieved a cup from the side also for some water. Josh had pushed passed her, knocking her into the wall as he attempted to put something down Amanda Hartly’s back. She scowled at him as she steadied herself, a small red mark appearing on her elbow where she’d banged into the wall.

With her lunch and water, Grace sat on the carpet and began to eat. She heard the rain outside their classroom, and watched it drip down the glass like a hose had been aimed at them. Her best friend Michael was not in today, and Miss Carbine had told them he was unwell. She looked at her teacher now, who was helping Robert with his lunchbox that wouldn’t open, missing Michael.

She started to tuck into her own sandwich when she felt water pouring all over her. She momentarily thought the windows had smashed open, the storm breaching the small stronghold their tiny school offered. Then the laughter rose about her, coming strong from behind. Josh stood there, with an empty jug in his hand having poured the contents all over her. His fat face sporting a smile that reached from one chubby cheek to the other.

“Oh, Josh Devonport what do you think you’re doing!” Miss Carbine yelled, stepping the short way across the carpet to where he stood.

“That’s horrible Josh. You’re so mean.” Amy Standhall said, who was sat next to Grace but had escaped the projectile of the water. Grace sat there, the water pooling in her dress as she sat crossed leg. Her sandwich now a sodden, and a cold chill slithered over her body.

“Get over there right now!” Miss Carbine said, ordering the boy away from where the others sat. Miss Carbine, lovely as though she was, was not really prepared for the antics of children. She had the priorities of the situation confused, and though she took action with Josh; she somewhat neglected Grace as she sat there with the water in her knickers and the fat boy laughing on the other side of the room. Amy got Grace to stand up and shake off the water, and she went with her to the bathroom to help her dry off. Grace watched Josh as she left the room, being reprimanded by Miss Carbine, though she doubted he really cared.

A while later Miss Carbine appeared in the bathroom and helped Grace dry off completely, asking her if she was okay and not to worry about her dress; or her lunch for that matter. She would see to it that some food would arrive.

But Grace was no longer hungry. She was wet, and cold and angry at being humiliated.

She returned to the classroom, where everyone had carried on with their lunches. Some of the kids had finished and were playing with the building blocks near the blackboard. Josh had been ordered to get some paper towels, and was mopping up the water that spilt on the floor where Grace had quietly sat waiting to eat her lunch. He smiled at her as she came back into the room.

Teddy Evans came up to her and asked if she was okay, she nodded in reply; thankful that all boys weren’t as horrid as Josh. Miss Carbine whisked herself away to go get Grace some food, despite her protest. While the others played, Grace went to the back of the class where the storage cupboard was. She opened the door quietly and went inside. The small cupboard was stacked high with boxes and games equipment. They weren’t really allowed to go in there on their own, but everything was stored safely and there was no real danger to anyone. Unless you were locked in with the light off perhaps. Grace found what she was looking for quickly, and a few minutes later, slipped out of the cupboard and approached Josh.

“That wasn’t very nice what you did you know.” She said to him, hoping to find remorse there in those brown eyes. Josh scoffed and pushed her away.

“Buzz off. You smell like a wet dog.” He said.

“Aren’t you even sorry for doing what you did?” she asked him, given him one more opportunity to apologise.

“I said buzz off!” He said again, pushing her hard.

Grace stepped back, he eyes burning a hole through him. Then she smiled and said.

“You know, with Miss Carbine away there’s nothing stopping us getting the footballs and tennis balls out of the cupboard and playing sports. Shame we didn’t get to go outside today, huh?” She said, innocently. She knew Josh wasn’t too stupid, but even at her young age she knew how to manipulate certain people. She had said the magic world too, football.

“Why me?” Josh asked, somewhat suspicious.

“Well, they’re on the high shelves aren’t, I can’t reach them.” Grace replied, hoping the seed would manifest in Josh’s stodgy brain.

“Right, outta the way then.” He said, reaching his own conclusion that the break time indoors was dull and kicking a ball around might just be a fun idea. Grace knew Miss Carbine would be returning any minute, but she watched as Josh went over to the cupboard where the sports equipment was and watched him go in.

It seemed that fate was eager to abet Grace that rainy Wednesday while the other kids played in the classroom, and Miss Carbine chatted absently with one of the other teachers by the school kitchen. Once Josh had entered the small cupboard, the sports boxes had tumbled and the lights had gone out; plunging the whole school into darkness. No doubt the storm had downed a power line miles away, knocking the electricity off and unleashing chaos upon the small primary school. But the skipping ropes had found their way around Josh neck in the tumble of the boxes, and when the power had sprang back to life Grace quietly flicked the switched outside the small cupboard which kicked in the extractor fan which resided within, left over from recent renovations when their classroom used to be part of the old bathrooms.

The ropes worked quickly around Josh, tightening hard around his fat little neck. He lifted slightly off his feet, as the light bulb above him blinked in and out, and the ropes choked him into regret.

Grace returned to the others, pretending to be scared by the lights, and the storm. Smiling to herself.

Surviving is the best revenge

Into the bath he jumped fully clothed.
The water boiled, and curled his toes.
It shed his skin, his hair, his eyes.
But acid, not water burnt away both his thighs.
A ghastly end, but one incomplete.
For his bones remained from head to feet.
So out he jumped, forgetting his pride.
Down the plug the water went, with his thoughts of suicide.
And in the mirror glaring back.
Was his bleached white skeleton, from front to back.
He saw his skull, its sockets so deep.
Out of his mouth a little whimper did creep.
But not one to dither, or dwell in his state.
He ran down the stairs, and out the front gate.
And he came to the house that had made him so morose.
And he slipped through the door, as quiet as a ghost.
He crept up the stair, to where he knew he would find them.
And he brought out some rope, and some tape so to bind them.
Both lovers were sleeping, intertwined while they dreamt.
Their hair and their clothes, all wild and unkempt.
So he tied them together, then he set fire to the bed.
He watched as the flames roared up to their heads.
But before they departed, before their own bones were charred.
He slipped off his fibular to play a tuneful bon voyage.

SHORT – ‘雨降って地固まる’ (PT IV–Sinister deeds)

Part IV – ‘Sinister deeds’
(Full story here)

Although the snow that fell made the town look beautiful, it was really an added torture for many. The freezing cold and blanket of toil left many desperate in Hirani. Enko was lucky, she hard worked her way up to be a popular geisha, earning a lot of money for her Okiya which took care of her. She was outgoing and a lot of fun to those who booked her services. Though many closer to her would say she was somewhat reckless, she was known for being eager to try new things and was usually where the most spirited events were in the town.

It wasn’t that she had a particular grudge against Tomoryō. She, like many, were really in awe of her and her beauty. They had studied together growing up, and had known one another for a long time; jumped through the same hoops and mastered the arts as two sisters might. But inside of Enko, there was always fresh seeds ready to sprout, and jealousy was one that was easily watered. It wasn’t just her beauty or success, or even the reverence Tomoryō received. It was that she had something that was far more lacking within Enko. Self-respect.

People called her a witch because Tomoryō didn’t do all the things that were asked of her, especially from men. She had bucked the system and carved her own living through being a Geisha, which she clearly found some happiness within. A circumstance really more than a calling. Enko had been thrust into this life, and though she messily navigated her way through with bad decisions, she was angry that she herself could not be as strong willed as Tomoryō.

To see Tomoryō brought down to everyone else’s level, would give Enko the satisfaction that being where she was, doing what she is told to do, is how it should be.

But it was more than that.

And it was more than that that she had suggested to Unoko. Did she really mean to have Tomoryō killed? Well, it would remove her completely, destroy the beacon of individuality that she had cultivated, which really had no place in the world of Geisha. There had not been much back and forth in her mind whether it was wrong to have Tomoryō murdered. Enko, reckless as ever, had launched to that conclusion by the time she had left Unoko’s. Guilt was not something Enko dwelled too much on, and it was a lot cleaner than merely teaching her a lesson. It was this sinister side within her that had grown when she was a child. Competing with the other children to have the best toys, the most attention. It was this side of her that had tricked the little girl when she was only five years old herself to go down the well near her childhood home, and to leave her there for two days. It was always there really, ready to spring to action like a crouching mantis. Enko could be a lot of fun, but she was also very conniving.

She had dispensed with the moral debate in her mind by the time she had reached the small house. Mindful of the time, as she did not want to be late for her appointment with the businessman, so she knocked hastily on the door. She had come to one of the more shabby areas of Hirani, with the small line houses squeezed up against one another like crooked teeth. Enko, in her Kimono looked out of place in the bleakness of her surroundings, like a lotus flower on a sea of mud. She knocked again sharply, louder this time until the door slid open. A small woman stood there, her eyes narrowed on a face that snarled back at her.

“You’re far from the garden little flower.” The older woman said. She held a pipe in her hand, and puffed the smoke towards Enko.

“Oh knock it off Madoka, and let me in.” Enko said, barging her way into the small entrance room. The room smelled of fish that was likely bubbling away on a stove nearby. But she didn’t plan to stay too long, so she endured it.

“What do you want?” Madoka asked her, looking her up and down.

“I want you to do what you’re best at.” Enko said, retrieving some money from the inside of her sleeve. She handed it over to her, mindful not to touch Madoka’s hands which were stained with black and ash from her pipe.

“And who’s the lucky soul this time? Some fisherman who couldn’t keep his mouth shut?” Madoka said, enjoying the moment. She liked to antagonise her. Her own defence against being bought by some silly geisha with more style than brains. But bought she was, for very specific services.

“Oh, someone you know pretty well. That’s only half of what you’ll get you see, the rest will come when the job is complete.” Enko said, wiping the smirk off her face. Madoka looked again at the money, realising now how much she’d been given.

“Who?” she said, faintly now with unease.

“Tomoryō.” Enko said, eager to see her eyes when she understood who it was.

“Keep it.” She said, throwing the money back towards her where it landed on the floor. Enko’s smile waivered slightly, she stared at the money now on the dirty floor. She nudge some of it with her foot, looking at the ground she said.

“You’ll do it Madoka, and you’ll do it quickly and quietly. Unless you want me to lead everyone to your other misdemeanours.” She said sweetly. Most people knew how much of unsavoury character Madoka was, it was not a huge secret that she was not to be trusted. But there were many things they didn’t know, things that were a lot more serious than petty theft; and Enko knew them, she knew all of them.

And Madoka knew she knew.

She lowered her eyes as if in shame, but it was merely to look again at the money on the floor. She bent down to pick it up.

“Any requests?” She said, putting the money in her pocket and puffing again on her pipe.

“Make it look like she did it herself, and do something about that pretty face of hers.” Enko said, turning around and kicking the money that lay on the floor. She slid the door open and disappeared off into the snow, a walking plum on a sea of white rice.

Madoka watched her depart up the road, cursing having let her in today, and fearing what she had to do.