Teddy

It was too good to be true. Zara hadn’t had a successful trip out since Emily realised she could say words and get out of her pushchair. And today was no different. It was going well right up until they passed a dirty old teddy in the middle of the road. Zara had planned to walk straight past it but of course Emily had spotted it. ‘Teddy,’ she said.

            ‘That’s right,’ Zara agreed, ‘teddy.’

            She walked on hoping that that was the end of it, but Emily was a strong-willed little girl. Like mother like daughter. And deep down she knew where this was going.

            ‘Teddy, Mama, teddy,’ Emily said more urgently.

            ‘I know Emily, but it’s not yours, we must leave it here in case the owner comes back for it.’

            ‘Mine. Teddy mine.’ Emily arched her back and tried to free her arms from the constraints of the straps. Zara stopped and pushed her back down. An Emily tantrum was imminent. Zara had seen this many times before but she was never prepared. She was about to move again when Emily let out the most ear-piercing scream Zara had ever heard. She was sure that Emily’s screams went up few decibels with each new tantrum. It echoed down the cobbled street. It bounced off the walls and off the ground and spread across the rooftops. The whole town had probably heard the commotion. ‘My teddy, Mama. My teddy.’

            Emily kicked her legs and thrashed her arms; the pushchair shook from side to side. Tears rolled from her eyes and into her little mouth. Zara gave in as she so often did; anything for a quiet life. She walked back to the teddy and picked it up, wincing at the thought of all the germs that had probably made a home in its fur. She shook it off and gave it a wipe with her sleeve. The teddy’s face was familiar. Didn’t Emily have one like this? Didn’t it have a missing eye though? Then the label caught her eye because Emily’s name was written on it. Zara couldn’t believe it, this was Emily’s teddy. She lost it a few weeks ago on this very route. She’d spent ages retracing her steps to find it but it was lost, and now here it was. She’d forgotten all about it. Poor Emily she thought; now riddled with guilt that she hadn’t listened to her daughter. No wonder she was so upset. She handed the teddy to Emily whose tantrum had now reduced to a sniffle, but she was smiling. ‘My teddy,’ she said as she squeezed him tight.

            Zara was relieved it was all over, another tantrum she could tick off the list. But as she was about to move off she felt a tap on her shoulder.

            ‘Um, excuse me.’ Zara turned to see a woman standing in front of her, she was holding a little girls hand. ‘I think you’ve picked up my daughter’s teddy, thank you for finding it.’

            Zara looked from the woman, to the teddy, to Emily and imagined the shit storm that was about to occur; and she ran.

Dead By Breakfast

Dead By Breakfast is a dialogue only short story that I wrote for a competition…I didn’t win (cries) but it means I can now share it here for my lovely readers to enjoy. It was weird writing a story without dialogue but I enjoyed the challenge. I’d love to know what you think.

‘What have you done?’

            ‘Nothing! One minute he was tucking into his fish the next he, he…’

            ‘Calm down Max, hysteria won’t help anyone.’

            ‘Claire it’s the third one this month, we can’t keep burying them in the garden.’

            ‘What’s the alternative, call the police?’

            ‘That might not be such a bad idea, they were all accidents. We haven’t intentionally killed anyone, have we?’

            ‘Of course not, but if this gets out they’ll close us down. We can’t afford to be closed down, Max.’

            ‘So now what?’

            ‘Make sure the other guest is busy so we can bury him, it’s the only way. Stop pacing, you’re making me nervous.’

            ‘Oh I’m sorry, dead bodies seem to have that effect on me. Why do we only have a couple of guests at a time anyway?’

            ‘There’s only the two of us. We take on what we can handle.’

‘But we don’t handle it. Men arrive and never leave. How can you be so calm?’

            ‘Getting used to it I suppose. We’ll cover him up ‘till we’ve dug a hole, then you won’t have to look at him. Pass me that table cloth… better?’

            ‘Not really.’

            ‘Right, come on, we’ve got work to do.  Let’s get digging before someone else is dead by breakfast.’

            ‘Not again Claire, I don’t think I can.’

            ‘We’ll get the job finished much quicker if you quit being such a baby and help me. You look like you’re gonna puke. Are you gonna puke? Come on, grab the spade.’

***

‘What if the police come sniffing around?  I’m scared, what if they arrest us, I don’t wanna go to prison.’

            ‘Max, don’t make me slap you. We’ve already buried two, did the police show up?’

            ‘That’s what makes me paranoid, why hasn’t anyone shown up? No police, no family members. The only reason nobody would be looking here would be if no one knew they were here in the first place. What’s with the face Claire? Is there something I should know?’

            ‘Like you said, you’re being paranoid. Right, let’s get the body.’

***

‘Wipe your feet, I don’t want that mud in my kitchen.’

‘I know, I know. Poor bloke, he had no idea today would be his last day.’

            ‘He was an asshole, Max.’

            ‘How would you know?’

            ‘Oh, you know. This steak isn’t cooked enough, the room’s too cold, the wine is cor…’

            ‘The wine! Claire, what if…?’

            ‘There’s nothing wrong with the wine.’

            ‘It wouldn’t hurt to check.’

            ‘Get back here, I said there’s nothing wrong with it.’

            ‘We might need to get rid of it.’

‘Max.’

‘Ouch! There was no need to slap me.’

‘Yes there was, you’re losing it. I need you Max, I can’t do this on my own. Go and check that the other guest is in his room before we move the body.’

 ‘Ssssh! What was that?’

‘What was what?’

‘Didn’t you hear it? Listen…’

‘Um, excuse me.’

‘Mr Pechman, you made me jump. How can I help you?’

‘I just thought you should know; there’s a dead body in your restaurant.’

‘It’s all part of the, um… role play, Mr Pechman. Tomorrow there’ll be a nurse, then the fun will begin. Close your mouth, Max.’

‘Well he’s either a great actor or he really is dead, because I checked his pulse and he definitely don’t have one.’

‘I’m sorry Mr Pechman.’

‘For what?’

‘For this.’

‘Claire, don’t …’

‘Sorry Max, he left me no choice.’

‘You’ve killed him.’

‘It was just a smack on the head with a frying pan, he’ll be alright.’

‘He’s n…not alright. We have to call the police; we can’t just keep burying people in the garden.’

‘I get that you’re scared, Max, but crying isn’t helping. We stick to the plan. Let’s go back and dig deeper, we’ve got two bodies to bury now.’

***

‘Any chance you could dig a bit faster? I wasn’t anticipating two deaths tonight.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Nothing. Gees, what’s with all the questions?’

‘It’s just a strange thing to say that you weren’t expecting two deaths tonight. It kind of suggests that you were expecting at least one.’

‘You’re so weird.  Right, after three we lift and drop him in. Ready?  1, 2, 3… Next!

‘You know something, don’t you?’

‘You have what they call an over-active imagination. Ready?  1, 2…

‘I’m just finding it all hard to take in, why is it that everyone who stays here ends up dead? Come to think of it, there are lots of things that don’t make sense about this place. I need a break.’

‘Max get back here, we haven’t finished filling the hole.’

‘Do it yourself.’

‘Fine. I don’t know why you’re so worked up, it’s not like you knew them. But I can tell you they won’t be a huge loss to the world. There, that’ll do the job. We can make a nice flower bed here; it’ll be beautiful by March. Cup of tea?’

***

‘They’re bound to have family that’ll miss them.’

‘It’s quite cute how much you care. Pass the sugar will you.’

‘What’s this?’

‘Looks like anti-freeze to me.’

‘Why do you need anti-freeze in the kitchen?’

‘I’d hate to state the obvious. Max, where are you going?’

‘It’s in the wine, it’s you isn’t it? You’ve been killing the men that stay here. Oh my…get off me Claire. What are you gonna do, kill me as well?’

 ‘If I have to… Damn it. I didn’t mean that.’

‘I think you did. I don’t want to work here anymore, I quit. You’re on your own, I can’t trust you.’

‘You can’t quit.’

‘You can’t stop me.’

‘Max, you’re as much to blame as me.’

‘Don’t you dare. This is on you, you killed these men, I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. You’re a murderer; you’re in so much trouble.’

‘About as much as you, Max, you’ve been helping me bury the bodies.’

‘Until tonight I thought they were accidents.’

‘The police won’t see it like that.’

‘You’ve got to help me. Make it stop, make it stop.’

‘Max, deep breaths, you need to calm down. There’s nothing we can do but carry on. We’re in this together whether you like it or not, you’re just gonna have to suck it up.’

‘Easy for you to say.’

‘Easy for you to do if you have any sense. But by all means, report me to the police. I’ll admit everything, including how you helped me bury the bodies. It’s only 15 years inside for assisting a murder, I’m sure you’ll cope.’

‘You’re mad.’

‘And this has all been thirsty work; we may as well enjoy a cup of tea.’

‘I could still call the police; you’ve manipulated me. I helped you, but it’s only your word against mine.’

‘You could. But it’s much more than words, there’s evidence. Your finger prints will be all over that spade, and now they’re on the anti-freeze and that bottle of wine. In fact, you could say I’ve been manipulated by you. There’ve only been deaths since you started working here. A poor scared lonely woman like me out in the middle of nowhere, vulnerable.’

‘Bitch.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Why do it Claire? Why are you killing our guests?’

‘They deserve it; I don’t kill anyone without good reason.’

‘Good reason? What do you mean good reason?’

‘Did you know they all come here to cheat on their wives? They think they’re here for a “gentlemen’s weekend”. This place is a man’s dream, what happens here stays here.’

‘Why haven’t I clicked before now? There’s a reason why we only accept cash, why nothing goes through a computer, why no one turns up in their own cars, and why we’re out here in the middle of bloody nowhere.’

‘All of those things would have been suspicious to anyone else, but not you, faithful, gullible, trusting Max. An untraceable naughty night away, how could any man resist such benefits?’

‘How do you even advertise this place?’

‘I seek them out; I know where to find men like them. I offer them the best night of their lives, they’re all so desperate they can’t refuse.’

‘This is messed up; you know that?’

‘Messed up feels good. Think of the favours I’m doing for those poor women they’re married to.’

‘But no one deserves to die, no matter what they’ve done.’

‘Only a man would say something like that. They don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong; how will they ever change if they can’t see what they’re doing is wrong?’

‘Maybe they do know that it’s wrong, but they just don’t care.’

‘Even more reason for them to die.’

‘So what happens now?’

‘First things first, I need to know I can trust you. Remember Max, if you tell the police you’ll be in trouble too, 15 years.’

‘You’ve left me with no choice, have you? I’ll keep quiet, and I’ll even keep working for you. But I’m not burying any more bodies. You kill them, you bury them.’

‘You’re such a baby, Max.’

‘I’m serious.’

‘OK, OK, leave the killing to me. Don’t tut.’

‘What do you expect? I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough drama for one night, I’m going to bed. Why are you grinning like that?’

‘No reason. Sleep well Max, we have a guest arriving tomorrow.’

Flash Fiction – The Edge

It’s been hard. His life is almost over now, but mine has been over since he got the diagnosis. I can’t do it anymore. ‘Come on, love,’ I say, ‘let’s get you wrapped up; we’re going for a drive.’

            I tighten his scarf, put a blanket over his lap and tuck him in tight. All these little things I do for him that he never remembers. I thought I could cope, and when I couldn’t cope I thought I’d just get used to it. But none of those things have happened. He hasn’t known me for the last two years. Everyday I’m a stranger. It’s not fair on either of us. I wipe a tear from my cheek and cringe at the lines under my fingers. I don’t remember getting them, it’s like one day nothing, and then they were there.

            I push his chair into the back of the car and drive to our favourite place. ‘Where are you taking me,’ he says.

            ‘Nearly there, love.’

            We always loved it at the top of this hill. There’s a bench near the edge that looks out to sea. We used to sit here and listen to the waves crashing against the rocks below. He points at the bench as though he’s remembering something, but it will be gone again in a moment. This is where it all started, our first date, our first kiss, where he proposed and where it will end. The wind tries to steal his scarf; I tuck it into his coat. He shivers.

            ‘Home,’ he says.

            ‘Not yet, love.’

            I push his chair toward the bench but this time I don’t sit, I walk straight past until his chair rests on the brink. I wipe away another tear, ‘I love you,’ I whisper as I push him over the edge.

Flash Fiction – Desperate Measures

Liam wasn’t sure how it had come to this. One minute he was hosting a meeting with his colleagues, the next he had his hands around Andy’s throat. It took precisely one second for him to vacate his chair, punch Andy to the floor and pin him down. Everyone agreed that this was unusual behaviour for Liam, he was always so calm.

            Of course he regretted it as soon as he did it, but he needed that money. He looked at his colleagues pleadingly, hoping they would step in and stop this lunacy but they just sat there, jaws hanging, staring. Liam tried to move his hands but it was as though they were stuck with glue. Any longer, Andy would be dead; he’d be a murderer, and then what? But Andy’s knee collided with Liam’s privates knocking him back and rolling onto the floor holding his crown jewels.

            Andy stood and straightened his tie, ‘what the hell’s wrong with you?’ he said, ‘I’m calling the police.’ He stormed out of the room.

            What was wrong with him? He knew he’d over-reacted, but desperate times call for desperate measures, before he could stop himself he shouted, ‘if I see you again, I’ll kill you.’

            He pulled himself up and swiped his hand across his forehead and looked up to find a whole audience had entered the room while he’d been possessed. And then another thought crossed his mind; witnesses. ‘Fuck,’ is all he said.

            The crowd parted as his director approached. ‘It’s probably best if you go home.’

            Liam took a slow walk of shame out of the door. The cold air hit him like a slap in the face. He felt the first drops of rain that would soon be a storm. He lifted his head to the sky and thought about what had just happened, the news there would be no bonus, the fight, the witnesses. Would Andy call the police? A worse thought crossed his mind; he had to tell his wife that the money was gone.

He made his way home.  

The Time Has Come…

How long ago did you finish your first draft, a month, six months, a year? It’s taken me almost a year and a half since writing the first draft of my book Never Too Late to conjure up the courage to edit it. I’ve always been fine editing short stories, even other people’s novels but I couldn’t face my own. But now the time certainly has come. This year I’m making good progress on moving my manuscript on. But how? I realised I’d been complicating things by trying to fix everything at once. I’ve now broken down the task into small steps and am ticking them off one by one. If you’re struggling with where to start your edits, you can follow this structure too.

Index Cards

If you haven’t done so already, get yourself a pack of index cards, or if you’re more inclined to use technology you can do the same thing on websites such as Scrivener and Trello.

On each index card, write down what happens at the beginning middle and end of each of your chapters. This will allow you to view your whole manuscript at a glance, like this:

Now it’s time to look at which of your chapters move the story along. If a chapter doesn’t do this, then that card can probably be removed. Keep doing this for all of your cards but don’t be alarmed if you seem to have cut your pile in half, like this:

You’ll replace the gaps with new scenes that do make a difference to the plot.

At this stage I’d recommend labelling all the cards that are essential to your story, the Big Moments with BM01, BM02 etc. Providing you know your beginning an end all you need to do then is add the scenes that will get you from A to B, connect the dots that lead up to each of your big moments.

If like me you wrote your first draft without any planning what-so-ever (a ‘pantser’), then this is where I’d recommend going back and finishing your research. It will be much easier to add scenes to your manuscript when you know the finer details.

This is as far as I’ve got with my first edit, I will let you know the next steps as soon as I’ve figured them out so do check back for further updates.

For now I think we all have enough to be getting on with!

Happy Editing

Flash Fiction – Broken

‘What are you arguing about?’ asked Lilly. She’d noticed it a lot lately. One minute they were a happy family, and then it seemed her parents didn’t like each other anymore.

            ‘We’re not arguing,’ her father had said. He pulled her in for a cuddle. Lilly loved cuddles with her dad; it was warm and cosy, her safe space. It never usually lasted this long though. When he released her he held her hands and looked into her eyes, Lilly wondered if he was starting a staring contest. ‘I love you, Lilly, don’t ever forget that.’

            Lilly giggled, ‘I know, you tell me everyday, Daddy.’

            She let go of his hands and ignoring her mother, she ran out to the garden. Unlike the atmosphere inside, the garden welcomed her; the flowers smiled, the trees waved, the insects kept her company. Outside, she felt wanted.

She sat cross legged on the grass and hummed a tune while she busied herself making daisy chains. For a moment the only sounds were the breeze and a little blackbird calling out for some attention. Then she heard her mother shout, making Lilly jump.

            ‘If you’re going to leave then go, we don’t need you, me and Lilly will be fine without you.’

            Leave? Lilly didn’t understand. Her mother was wrong, Lilly wouldn’t be fine without him, she needed him. She left her daisy chain and marched up the garden path, she had to make them see. A door slammed and she knew it was too late. Her walk turned into a sprint and then words came out of her mouth that she hadn’t planned on saying, ‘Daddy,’ she called as she entered the house, ‘don’t go. Mummy’s wrong, I do need you Daddy.’ But he had gone.

Tears escaped from her eyes and she turned to her mother for comfort, but her mother had none to offer. She was sat at the table with an opened bottle of wine. Lilly recognised it as the drink that made her parents happy. She’d never seen them drink it at breakfast though. Her mother picked up the glass and Lilly said, ‘I hope you feel better after that, Mummy.’ Her mother looked at her as she pressed the glass to her lips.