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She waits, eyes fixed on the leaden skies, nerves jangling. She starts to tidy the Sunday newspapers from the floor, but is soon pulled back towards the window, towards the sky.
She knows she will not be able to settle to anything this evening. Something is on its way and she can only kill time until it arrives.
The first flurry of soft white flakes announces its arrival. Leathery wings beat the air and snow drifts into corners to pile up by the garden wall. Its very breath causes the temperature to plummet, yet it is a creature of heat.
He called before dawn. The sharp shrill of the telephone disturbed her morning shower. Wet footsteps marked her path to the study.
“Stay indoors today.” He sounded as serious as he always did. His voice flat and emotionless.
“I have things to do.” She knew it was a pointless thing to say even before the sentence was fully formed.
“You have nothing to do today that can’t wait until tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow. Something’s coming.” He paused, but she resisted the urge to ask questions. “You will need to be ready. Be prepared. Hell is freezing over today.”
At three o’clock this morning I had the next hundred words.
Something about a demonic beast which prowled the perimeter of the garden wall. It beat its breast but, uninvited, could not enter the house.
I could see the snow melt draping branches in silvery necklaces as hell slowly thawed, leaving the world to silently slumber.
Not being one of those writers with a journal at their bedside, those night words evaporated. I, as ever, was too enamoured with the warmth of my bed and the softness of my pillow so, as the candyfloss daybreak arrived, another story drifted away.
Jonathan North strolled into the room causing all the diners seated to stare up at him. All the waiters standing by stared up too. You could say that everyone looked up to Jonathan and you would not be lying.
Clutching his pale blue nightshirt nervously, he tipped his grey top-hat to one particularly buxom woman who was fixated on his nodding head, which reminded her of a toy dog that sat on the back ledge of her car.
“How de do da.” Jonathan smiled, revealing his three remaining teeth to the stunned diners, and brushed his lank wispy fringe from his eyes.
Molly stretched her top up to her eyes. Wiping away the tears left damp patches of a darker grey along the bottom of her T-shirt.
“I lost it.” She lisped to her teacher.
Daniel Hardy felt a sharp tug at his heart as the two saucer sized eyes met his own. Her tiny face, dominated by those aquamarine oceans, crumpled and tears threatened to rain down onto his mark book.
He wanted to comfort her and his hand almost reached out to stroke the silky blond hair. Not appropriate, he mentally admonished himself, resting his interlocked hands on the desk.
“I thought kilts were meant to be tartan.” The model drawled, smoothing down the petrol blue material. He held out the giant silver safety pin. “Where am I supposed to put this?”
“This is my own design.” James positioned his glasses on his head. Taking the pin from the American’s hand he knelt at his feet and secured the flapping edges of the kilt. “There. That’s more like it. What do you think?”
James and the kilted model stood side by side, both surveying the effect in the full length mirror.
How James longed to be wrapped in those arms.
James wanted to feel the strength of those muscles as they gripped his wrist, preventing him from brushing his hand over the golden velvet knapped crew-cut.
“You done here?”
The corners of the model’s green eyes crinkled and one side of his mouth turned up in an amused sneer.
Brushing his stringy fringe from his eyes, James sighed. Was he so obvious? Such a fantasy, that a body this perfect could ever be more to him than something to peer at from afar.
James picked up his pin-cushion and beckoned to the photographer. “This one’s ready to shoot.”
Pete was almost out of gel. He’d have to go shopping on his way home from work tonight.
He smoothed the last globs of the sticky goo onto his hair. It had been Polly’s idea to bleach it. She’d said that once it was blond he could spray other colours on to change the effect. For last night’s gig she’d given him pink and green stripes and everyone reckoned it looked totally cool.
It wouldn’t do for work though. He could only just get away with the Mohawk and that was because he was hidden well away in the warehouse.
His mum didn’t like it. She said it made him look dirty.
“What d’ya wanna make your hair all oily for? You used to have lovely brown curls.”
Mothers! What could you do with them?
He started pressing his palms together above his head, molding his hair into a stiff wall that flowed from his forehead to his neck. Yeah, it’d do.
It wasn’t without problems though. People tended to take him the wrong way. He couldn’t begin to count the number of times he’d walked away from aggression, usually from some tanked up bloke who’d mistaken him for hard.
Hard! That was a laugh. Polly was always telling him what a softy he was.
“Stop looking at me with those big Bambi eyes Pete. It won’t work with me you know!”
But it had - eventually. He’d worn her down. That’s what she’d said. He’d leant on her desk in dispatches every day for three months. In the end she’d agreed to go for a drink. That was a year ago. How time flew, and here he was, a different guy to back then. He would never have been seen dead in this lurid pink shirt in those days.
Being with Polly had given him the confidence to break out of the straightjacket of his old life. It was her who’d said she liked his poetry, but had he ever thought about writing song lyrics? She was the one who’d taken him along to the pub where the band rehearsed. He’d never have put himself forward like that.
“Pete writes songs you know.”
It was so far from the truth he’d almost spat out his beer.
Now they played his songs. How cool was that? They’d tried to get him to sing, but he had not changed that much.
She ambles along the beach front poking at odd bits of seaweed with her stick. Occasionally she bends down to inspect something closer, allowing the tips of her faded blond dreadlocks to drag in the sand.
She’s too old for her hippy hair. She should have a blue rinse over grey permed curls, but instead she has that bushy bleached mess. You could almost imagine tiny detritus from her beach tours entangled in it – a single Barbie doll arm, the shell of a long dead baby crab, some string, plastic rings from a six pack of beer, a used condom.
But she’s no modern day Miss Haversham in a horrific flotsam and jetsam veil. That’s just one of my more fanciful imaginings tacked on to a few vague facts like - she is always alone in her wanderings. Day in, day out, wearing the same faded black swim suit, with a sky blue sarong fanning out behind as her bridal train.
Sometimes our eyes meet. Then I see her as a toad escaped from one of her own brews. Eyes wide set, warty face, wand raised to hubble, bubble up a storm. Sharpened teeth flash towards me as she smiles.
Hag from a thousand stories, green baseball cap replacing the more traditional black pointy affair. What are you doing there? What spells need these salty ingredients today?
Then one day she bursts my little characterisation by having her grandchildren with her. Two blond curly heads bob alongside. One girl, one boy - both with sticks to poke and prod in rock pools or to turn over dead fish.
Is she going to turn out to be very ordinary? A slightly eccentric hippy gran?
Or are the two mites with the Germanic features really named Hansel and Gretal?
Another story begins…
He waited, eyes fixed on the leaden skies, nerves jangling.
He began to tidy the Sunday newspapers from the floor, but was soon pulled back towards the window, towards the sky.
He knew he would not be able to settle to anything for the whole evening. Something was on its way and he could only kill time until it arrived.
He had been like this since last week when he decided to search the internet and see what he could dig up. That’s when he came across the site about alien invasions and how to stop them reading your mind.
When he saw the first flurry of soft white flakes he knew they were coming. Their engines ran on cold fusion which froze all moisture in the atmosphere and it had been snowing for most of the week, so they must be up there somewhere – invisible – silently watching – listening to human brains ticking over, but not his.
He didn’t know how he’d lived before the internet. How thankful was he now for that invention? Without it he wouldn’t have known about the tin foil – that wonderful protective layer now covered his brain and prevented any aliens from reading his thoughts.
Of course, he’d made sure that Tiddles was protected too, not that aliens would get much from her fluffy, all over the place, brain. Still, they wouldn’t be able to inhabit her now. They wouldn’t be able to force her to scratch out his eyes while he slept.
Just one less thing to worry about.
He’d had to ring in sick of course. He could just about manage to get down to the shops wearing a beanie hat lined with foil, but he couldn’t wear that at work. Not in the back office and certainly not at the front counter.
The moment Karen drifted off she found herself flying high above London in a helicopter with her husband and mother. In the seat behind sat her gran, which was weird because she had been dead for seventeen years.
They flew along the Thames towards the estuary and then veered up the Lea Valley, past a landscape devoid of all structures.
Gone were the landmarks Karen knew so well from her youth - the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge. Gone also were the ones built since she’d left London some 30 years ago – Canary Wharf, Docklands and the barrier.
I am not a natural born traveller.
Don’t get me wrong – I love being somewhere different, exploring new places, tasting unfamiliar foods, but the travelling – I could do without that.
I’m packing. One weekend bag, that’s all I’m allowed on el cheapo flight (run by criminals, as my husband constantly points out). It’s taking me all day to assemble my minimum requirements; all downsized into less than 100ml bottles in clear wash-bags.
It should take half an hour tops, but I prevaricate and am unable to settle to anything else.
I will be alright once someone invents a matter transporter.
Looking around as she walked through the carved wooden doorway Annie took in the abundant opulence hanging in the velvet drapery, plumped into the satin cushions on the sofas, carved into the vines of the rich cherry tables and glittering from the crystal chandeliers. All around, the room blazed with jewelled tones of gold, topaz and deep crimson and the furniture curved in elegant and sensuous lines.
Catching sight of herself in one of the huge gilt mirrors Annie knew the disgusted grimace on her face betrayed her feelings, but the stench overpowered anything fine or pleasant in the salon.
Before the blazing fire two armchairs, upholstered in rich brocade, presented their high backs to her. The odour emanated from that direction – a strong reek of putrification and decay.
Annie could only compare it to a rotting pork chop she had once found. It had lain hidden for many days where it had slipped between the kitchen unit and the side of the fridge and when retrieved had brought forth much retching and heaving as it dangled on the end of the broom handle on its short journey to the dustbin.
Every brain synapse screamed turn around, get out, retreat.
Gripping her crucifix tightly she walked confidently towards the fireplace. From one of the chairs a voice greeted her.
“Good evening Annie.”
Covering her mouth, she gagged and gasped for air. In front of her, with legs crossed at the knee, the perfect picture of elegant composure, sat the decaying corpse of her late husband George, a broad smile flickering around the upturned edges of his withered and flaking lips.
“I thought I would surprise you darling. Care for a glass of Rioja?”
Backing away, her calves stopped at the second chair and Annie sank into its softly cushioned depths.
“I know it’s a bit of shock darling, but I’m so glad you got my message.”
His message? The priest had told her to come here this evening. It was Monsignor Salvatore, bedecked in sumptuous trappings, as if to remind his flock of the glory that awaits in heaven, who had clutched her hand firmly after she had received communion.
“Meet me at Villa Ronori later, my child. I have something important to discuss with you.”
Like an obedient daughter she had come and now here she was, face to face with George, who had been dead for six months.
He was meant to be lying in the family crypt under the stylishly engraved lettering of his stone sarcophagus – loving husband, dutiful son. This was not resting in peace, however comfortable he looked in his surroundings, and Annie felt compelled to tell him as much.
“George. Georgio. I think you have some explaining to do.”
He smiled and despite the smell, which was barely endurable, he still had that old something about him - that dancing light in his eyes and those endearing dimples, albeit surrounded by rotting flesh, which flapped annoyingly, drew Annie’s gaze and made her fingers twitch.
“I know it is a shock for you Annie, but I had to return to make arrangements.” George poured a glass of wine out for his wife, and handed it to her. She barely noticed the taste of the fine red as she gulped a nerve steadying mouthful.
“And what has Monsignor Salvatore got to do with all this. Does he…does he know you are here?”
“Of course he does dear. The priest for the Vinciari family always knows about this little secret.” George sounded so matter of fact about it all. It was beginning to get on her nerves.
“So Monsignor Salvatore is a go between for the dead is he?”
“Who better? There has to be someone around who can legitimately go down into the crypt and open the coffin.”
“You mean this has happened before?” Annie stood and moved closer to the fire. A certain chill was creeping into her bones and she was convinced it originated from George.
“It has happened to every first born of my family for seven generations.”
Annie’s hand flew to her mouth in shock and she turned to face her dead husband.
“And what exactly is it that is happening George?”
“It’s a wonderful opportunity. I can be reincarnated and stay with you.” George’s smile was sunny and loving, but the decay continued to perturb Annie.
“Reincarnation, as in come back to life? Won’t there be a few awkward questions from those who attended your funeral?”
She couldn’t believe that she was having this calm, matter of fact conversation with her dead spouse. Annie wondered whether she might be drunk. She had been consciously numbing her pain and emptiness since George’s death. Perhaps this was what people called being in denial.
“Silly girl. I can’t come back as the old me!”
“Of course not George. How could I have thought that?”
No, she was not hallucinating. George, in all his putrid glory, was actually here and what’s more, their family priest knew all about it. Well, if it was sanctioned by the good monsignor it couldn’t be the work of something devilish could it.
“George. Is all this above board with the powers that be?”
“Powers that be my angel? Who on earth do you mean?”
“I don’t actually mean anyone on earth.”
Annie looked upwards to indicate a far higher authority.
“Oh, him upstairs! He knows all about it naturally.”
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