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.

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Kiss me like a stranger

How long had she been driving? The sky above her was threatening the night, while bullet lights of passing cars pierced her eyes. She had left that morning, surprised by so many things that were happening, but no longer surprised by being surprised.

She had packed up things so quickly. Everything swept away with such ease she felt she could be erased from life in a blink of an eye and no-one would notice, no one would care. A part of her doubted she would even go through with it. But down the highway heading out away from town she smiled to herself, a scared secret smile that she was doing the right thing. Not the best thing, this would not make her instantly happy or even make the pain stop. But it was the right thing to do.

She yawned theatrically, and pushed her hair back catching her nail in some of the strands. She opened the car window for the cool air to wake her up a little. Her phone had been switched off since she’d left, she knew there would be endless calls and texts until she was located; talked around and called back. She was happy to silence that. The radio rang out, lifting her spirits as the night closed in on that highway which was getting more isolated. The lights in the distance were getting further apart and she knew she was hitting the ‘Quietlands’, the stretch of road that coursed through a mini desert with nothing of interest on either side of her.

She was getting tired, and she was hot still, even as the day’s heat descended. She felt grubby and sweaty, her back sticking to the seat of the car as she zoomed away from her past. She knew her destination. She had had it planned and etched I her mind for years now. She knew which road to take and how long it would be until she got there, and she planned to drive through the night to make it.  Her eyes were getting heavy though. The lids dropping like a shutter to a store closing for the night.

She took a right turn down a road she knew was wrong almost instantly. The silent highway tarmac gave way to a rough dirt track which snaked around the cactus and mounds of earth. She stopped suddenly, releasing she had gone wrong and put the car in reverse when he spotted some dim lights up ahead. They weren’t moving, and she guessed they were pulled to the side of the road. What a shitty place to break down she thought and put the car into gear and drove slowly up to where the other one was parked.

She pulled alongside the car, which she noticed too was the same model as her own. At least she might be able to help fix it, her own car had given her quite a few problems over the years, and she always carried a spare of everything. The sun had disappeared over the horizon now with the slither of light hanging on to the blue black sky. Though the lights were on, she couldn’t see anyone at first.

“Hello?” She called out, though the open window of her car.

It was then she appeared.

She floated as if on a sea of crimson, her red dress puncturing the sandy track like blood slashed across flesh. She came from the bushes, her hair immaculate with a faraway look in her eye. Jessie was a little taken aback, but she called out again; assuming she had not heard her as she had not replied.

“Hello, do you need some help.”

The woman smiled and carried on over to her car where she knelt on the wound down window.

“Hey. What’s up?” She said, as if meeting on old friend.

Jessie looked at her through the dying light of the day, framed in her car’s window pain. She was everything she had wanted to be once. She looked immaculate, like she was stepping out onto the town. She wore a confidence that married her friendliness well, the two playing out for the audience of anyone.

“Do you need help, is your car broken down?” Jessie asked, smiling encouragingly.

“That piece of shit? It’s old, but it’s working.” The woman replied, giving Jessie the once over.
“Oh, I thought you might be in some sort of trouble?” Jessie asked, making it a question.

“Trouble?” the woman asked curiously, and laughed a little. And with that she turned around and walked back to her car.

Jessie watched her, momentarily unsure of what to do. She then suddenly felt the urge to get out of her own car. She unbuckled her seatbelt and climbed out of her dusty machine which whirled and deflated after the long hot day.

“What’s your name?” The woman asked her, as if beckoning her over. Jessie made her way over to the car, the same colour as her own yet caked in dirt as if it had emerged up out of the sand.

“Jessie, how about you?” She replied. The woman had jumped up onto the bonnet now, sitting upon it like a kid.

“Where you heading?” she replied, avoiding the question. Though Jessie didn’t feel any danger, she didn’t want to tell anyone where she was headed. She knew once the world knew, it would throw up things to pull her back. Back to the life she never had wanted to live from the start.

“A long way away. Listen, if you do need any help, I’m happy to assist.” Jessie said, listening to the desert around them open to the twilight.

“You running away?” She asked suddenly.

“No.” Jessie replied defiantly. She saw something then flash in front of the woman’s eyes. The same defiance that twisted and churned in her own belly. “No. I’m making some changes for the better is all.” She added.

“What’s so bad that you’re leaving behind?” She asked.

“Urm…listen, if you don’t mind. I need to get going. So if you do need any help, please say.” Jessie said, politely but firmly. She was always one to go along with what people said and wanted, but she was indeed trying to make some changes in her life and now was a good time as any.

The woman cast her eyes down to the ground, while she toyed with the sunglasses she had in hand. As if finding what she was looking for there, she looked up at Jessie.

“Is it Jack?” The woman asked suddenly. Flaring her eyes. Jessie glared at her, not sure of what was happening.

“What?” she asked, a slither of understanding falling down from the sky.

“Or is it slowly seeing the dream you dreamt back when you were only twelve, wither and die like everything out here. Cooked and charred in the sun until it blows away into time?” She said.

Jessie stared at her, sensing something familiar. She looked at the car, the licence plate covered up in dust and dirt. She looked quickly into the passenger seat, spotting a duffle bag and vanity case.

Suddenly the woman jumped off of the bonnet and came towards her, grabbing her face and kissing her quickly on the mouth. Jessie couldn’t help it, but she closed her eyes; tasting the watermelon lips and feeling the hazy intensity. She pulled her in close, cocooning her away from the world in a moment where all made sense to her. Her mind flashed back to her old house, the smell of takeaways and the cheap cologne.

They parted as suddenly as they begun, Jessie knew then what she needed to do. She dropped to the floor and grabbed the largest stone she could find. Picking it up, she launched it over and over again into the woman’s skull, battering her down into a scarlet pulp that matched the inappropriate dress she was wearing. She threw the rock off into the buses near to where the other car was parked and then returned to her own. Her hands were shaking, and blood smeared onto the steering wheel as she turned it around and sped off back towards the main road. As she glanced in her rear-view mirror, she noticed the headlights of the other car had faded, snubbed out like the life of the woman who now lay in the dirt, beaten and crumpled and gone from this world.

When Jessie got to the main road, she turned right, accelerating hard into the direction she had been heading before.

After a few miles, the blood on the steering wheel had faded away and her breathing had now returned to normal. She reached over to her own small bag she had on the front seat and took out her lipstick. She smeared the scarlet shade across her lips, puckering in the mirror as she sped off into the night. Determined more than ever to get away, and to get to the place she had planned to in her dreams for years. Not looking back once.

Nuclear shadows

I cannot unwind the clock in my skull.
The ticking over time that set all the world ablaze.
Who knew the day, when the sky darkened.
And fate eclipsed my heart.
Those running for cover.
Scattering like pebbles on a beach.
Lapped by a sea of hatred.
I cling to the groceries in my hand.
Fruit, dehumidified in my grasp.
Turning into mummies like the bodies nearby.
Burnt in an undignified splendour.
What escaped hell that day?
Let loose by righteous souls who knew better.
A holy war into the mouth of the devil.
As the fire crinkled in the sky, it burnt down upon us.
Imprinting my soul into the pavement where I stood.
Nuclear shadows, snapped like the sun shuttering.
God, turning his head away and closing his eyes.
The light of an age, swimming around those that twinkled inside.
But how soon those lights were gone.

A linguistic form that can meaningfully be spoken in isolation

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Wreckage – Adjustment 1.5

You lost her, a time and a heartache ago.
Spirited into the heavens on a cloud of confusion.
Murdering the future with the finality of death.
To see her now, to touch her face.
To slip inside the soul for a minute and see the life that could’ve been led.
A cosmic re-shuffling.
A kiss from heaven.
Leaves turning brown in an instant.
Evaporated away to leave only space and tears.
That fall from your eyes in a time she never knew.
From a person she no longer knows.
Sweet bitterness, loving and leaving the things that hurt.
Yet offer more love than an ocean of time.
Et vous tombez loin de mes épaules dans l’ombre et la poussière.

Thumbing the pages

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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.

Flicking the pages

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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.
 

Short – ‘雨降って地固まる’ (pt II – Arrival)

Part II – ‘The theatre has come to town’
(Full story here)

Hirani was used to the snow, and the coldness it brought. The cool air coming off the sea whistled through the town, hardening the people who called it home. But life was good there. People were friendly and looked out for one another. With much of the town’s income coming from fishing, there was a strong sense of community and mindfulness to help each another when they could. It was this sense of community that also encouraged superstition within the small town. If someone was sick, it was because someone had put a curse on them, someone who was jealous of their success. If there was a fire in town, or an accident of some sort, it was due to a traveller who’d been spotted lurking about with evil intent. As nice as the people of Hirani were, they had a tendency to not take on their own responsibility. Scapegoats were currency for the inhabitants there.

As many cleared their doorways of the snowfall from the previous evening, the town awoke to a beautiful scene. In the town square, a travelling Kabuki theatre had arrived under the cloak of darkness. Its colourful caravan had occupied much of the square, and was busy alerting the town of its presence; putting up posters and talking to the locals. They had yet to acquire a performing space for their shows, and the owner of the theatre was busy speaking to the officials to secure a premise. There was a surprised, though pleasant, feeling all around to discover the trope in their small town that morning. It usually came around in the dying months of the year, but for some reason, had returned early. Everyone enjoyed the shows, and many came from far and wide to see the performances. It would be a good time for Hirani, and its traders.

Enko was just as excited as anyone else when she learnt of the theatre. She’d left early that day for an appointment with a businessman who had returned to Hirani for the month. He was throwing a small gathering at his home just on the outskirts of town. She’d stopped to see her friend Unoko, to whom she was borrowing a Kimono from.

“Did you see?” she said, stepping into the house and sliding the door shut behind her. Her face was fresh in the snowing morning, her eyes alive with excitement.

“See what?” Unoko asked, taking Enko’s small umbrella.

“The theatre is back, they’ve arrived in the night.” She replied, taking off her geta sandals and sliding on the slippers before her before going through to main room.

“Why have they returned so soon, and not informed us!?” Unoko replied, concern across her face. The Kimono hung by the side, the beautiful white fabric flowing down to the floor like a snowy waterfall.

“Who cares, this will be great. And good business for us.” Enko said. Unoko looked worried though. She was known for her preparation, and did not like surprises.

“Is your kimono able to be salvaged?” Unoko asked her, cautiously. Enko’s eyebrows narrowed, the smile slipping momentarily.

“I just don’t believe what happened to it. It’s cleaned the same way each time. But now, Jiji said she can’t get the colour back, it’s ruined Unoko. And without it, I’m fucked.” She said, looking away.

“Well, we can share mine until we get you a new one, I’m happy to move some events around. No need for drama, it will work itself out. You could ask Tomoryō for one of hers, she has so many and some are just lovely!” Unoko replied. Poor Unoko, so sweet and naïve. Enko spun around to her, a fresh spirit in her face.

“She was there that night you know, the last time I wore it. I remember now seeing her in the Silent Storm.” Enko said, her words hurrying off her tongue.

“Lots of people were there, it was spring festival.” Unoko said, looking bemused.

“Yes, but she bumped into me as we were leaving. Do you not remember? I nearly dropped the blossoms I had. She’s cursed me, I just know it.” Enko said, now slightly animated.

“I don’t know. She’s always so nice Enko. I don’t believe she’s a witch like they say. I remember she helped me with my…” but she was cut off.

“It’s her Unoko, I just know it. I will go to Miyata later to get an omamori now, but we need to teach her a lesson too.” Enko said, her eyes filling with mischief.

“If it is her, is it wise to be messing around with her?” Unoko suggested, but it was lost on Enko now. Her mind was busy scheming. Which in a way was harmless, until she proposed;

“We should kill her.” Enko said suddenly, her face serious. It was true that Enko was a beautiful geisha, if not a lttle immature, but in that moment she looked quite horrid. Unoko couldn’t believe what she’d said, she looked to her windows noticing some were ajar.

“What!” she said, in disbelief, hurrying over to close the shutter.

“Kill her, well not really us. We’ll let some else do the messy bit. But we’re doing the right thing, for us and everyone. No one wants that witch putting curses and the like on everyone all the time!” she said.

“Enko, you’re crazy. No. I won’t be a part of this. You can borrow my Kimono, keep it if you like. I will sort another out, but this…this is madness.” She said, clearly distressed by the suggestion. Enko studied her for a moment, and turned towards the kimono.

“Okay. I was only joking you know.” She said, not looking at her friend. Unoko let the silence hang a little.

“Good, though I didn’t find it funny.” She replied. Enko turned and smiled.

“Oh Unoko, lighten up. I was fooling around. No, she’ll get what’s coming to her before long anyway.” She joked. Unoko still looked suspicious, but let it go.

“Do you have time for some tea?” She suggested.

“Of course.” She said, smiling. “I will take your offer of the Kimono though, I’ve always liked yours. She said, stroking the material tenderly, smiling to herself.

Masao watched as some of the scenery was inspected in the morning sun. Though made to be robust for its travelling nature, it was a practice to check all the scenery at each new stop. He smoked a cigarette as the huge screens were moved one by one and checked over He had driven in the night, and was tired, though he knew it would be a long day ahead preparing. He watched as one of the men moved a huge decorative mirror from the truck. He was dressed differently from the rest of the workers, only slightly, but Masao noticed. He noticed everything this man did, because he knew he should not be trusted.

They had picked him up a few towns ago, much as they had last year in this region. He remembered him, and was unhappy about his arrival again. He was a man for hire, good at carpentry and strong. The company needed men like him to move and repair the things that were in constant need of maintenance. It had been years since anything had been bought anew. The company were paid just enough to get by on, many of them doing the job for the love of Kabuki more than the wage. Masao was different, he was stuck. His father owned the theatre group, and he’d been working in it since her was a boy. As soon as his father died, Masao planned to quit; not caring at all for taking over the travelling circus. He’d had enough of moving around and performance egos.

He watched as the man inspected the mirror, polishing the glass slightly with a rag before moving away and heading off down one of the alleyways. Slipping away unnoticed. But Masao had noticed, and decided to follow him and see where his suspicious friend was headed.