Short Story Writing Competition

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good summer.

A few months ago I entered a short story writing competition. The theme was hope, and the word limit was 1,000 words. I was awarded second place for my piece! I hope you enjoy.

 

Have Hope

 

He could leave him behind.

It would be easy. All he’d have to do was just get up and walk away. William would never catch him.

The paltry fire that they’d kindled had burnt out some time during the night.

He sighed, clenching his frostbitten fingers stiffly. ‘William,’ he rasped, ‘wake up.’

He half hoped that he wouldn’t. It would be easier then. But William stirred with a groan.

‘Come on, we have to get moving.’

‘I can’t, I’m too weak,’ he mumbled, his teeth chattering like the muffled echo of machinegun fire.

Alfred’s lips curled down into an ugly grimace. If William was just going to give up anyway, he wouldn’t have let him have the blanket. He looked down, measuring his own worth as a man – as a soldier… As a human being.

He rose in a moment of waning strength and laid his hands on the prostrate figure of his rear gunner, rolling him over to get at the edge of the thick woollen covering. William knew what he was doing, and said nothing. He simply looked up at him with defeat in eyes. Alfred met the apologetic stare and faltered.

He swallowed hard, his thirst riddled throat grating. ‘Come on,’ he muttered, ‘I’ll carry you if I have to. I’m not going to leave you here to die.’

William only nodded, meekly proffering his arms like an infant to its mother.

With the last of his waning strength, Alfred heaved him to a crooked stance and pushed William’s makeshift crutch against his ribs. He winced, but didn’t make a sound. He was trying dammit – with everything he had. He just didn’t have anything left.

No water, no food. Everything had been lost in the fall. What were they thinking? Sixty miles inside enemy territory. Of course there would be AA guns. Six crewman strewn across the country, lost to the white-washed tundra. The plane had gone down like a top, spinning towards the frozen earth backed by the dying scream of the engines. Alfred and William had leapt together, hand in hand, brothers until the end, but the wing had clipped William, and sent him spinning into the clouds. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed then and there, and even more of a miracle that Alfred had heard his cries before an enemy patrol. He’d found him strung from a conifer, all tangled in his own parachute cords like some mangled marionette. It’d taken Alfred an hour and a half to cut him down. By then night was upon them, bringing with it a wind that scythed through the trees and whispered of death.

Morning broke as a sick reminder of their circumstances, and there was nothing to give them any notion the others had survived. The only sign of the plane was the thin pillar of black smoke that rose into the sky over the dusted treetops. They took solace in the thought that the crash site might draw the enemy troops for a little while. Hopefully it would give them something of a head-start. They were resting their survival on might.

Progress was pitiful, and by Alfred’s reckoning, they still had the best part of fifty miles together. But they had to try, didn’t they? If they could get to the front maybe, just maybe, they could find a way to slip through and call for help. Hopefully their troops would recognise the accents, and they’d be rescued. It was all that they had to cling on to.

But then it was snatched from them. A crack, like twigs under foot, echoed through the silence of the forest. William cried out and buckled. He fell to a knee, his left leg crooked sideways at the shin. Alfred had known it was likely broken, but they had to push on. He dared not even roll up his trouser leg to look. He could see the jagged end of the bone pushing against the fabric. The crimson stain spread, black against the milky snow.

Alfred sagged backwards and sat down hard. ‘We’ll camp here,’ he said flatly.

William sobbed.

Alfred reached into his pocket and pulled out a tarnished silver case. He’d not dared light a cigarette before. His sergeant had always said that you could spot a burning cigarette from two miles off. Five in the dark. But it didn’t really matter now. Alfred was spent. All his remaining strength had been used to keep William on his feet, and now it was over. Alfred lit two and passed one to William. When he didn’t take it, Alfred stuck it between his weather-beaten lips instead.

‘Just leave me,’ he mewled, the ember dancing as he spoke.

Alfred narrowed one eye at William, took a deep drag on his cigarette, and let it out though his nose. ‘Bit late for that now.’

‘Go on, you can make it.’

‘And what, just abandon you here to die?’ He scoffed, ‘What would Christina say?’

He winced, reaching for his leg, ‘She would understand.’

Alfred laid his head back and stared into the slowly darkening sky. He didn’t want to focus on the puddle of blood that was widening around William’s leg.

‘I’ll go and get some firewood in a little bit. Let me finish my cigarette.’

‘There’s still hope, Alfred.’ William breathed softly, ‘Don’t forget that there is always hope.’

Alfred smiled sadly and looked at his brother, ‘Of course there is. There’s always hope.’

They stayed there for a while, speaking little, but saying much. And then, just before dusk, two gunshots rang out and muzzle flashes lit the undergrowth.

Two snipers, clad in grey with rifles slung over their backs, approached the snow-covered corpses and inspected them. One still had a half-smoked cigarette burning between his blackened fingers.

‘You got this one in the head,’ One said haughtily. ‘What about that one?’

‘He was already dead. Bled out from this,’ He remarked bluntly, kicking William’s broken leg.

The first one snorted. ‘Good. I’m glad he suffered. Nazi scum.’

‘You think there are any more?’

The sniper looked around and a sinister smirk crossed his lips. ‘I hope so.’

My second short story

Hello everyone!

Apologies for the long absence. One thing led to another and this blog unfortunately got put on the back-burner a little bit. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up again now I have a whole summer of nothing ahead of me.

Anyway, here is the second piece I wrote as part of my course. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction with it, and that it’s quite a bit more emotive than my first piece.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

A loud crash woke him with a start. It didn’t sound good.

Arthur let out a wheeze as he put his creaking joints into motion. He prayed it wasn’t an emergency. He couldn’t move fast enough for one of those. Damn, he’d left his walking stick somewhere. He steadied himself on the door frame and braced for the next leg of the journey. It was only four feet, but right now it seemed like four miles.

He eased the door open, afraid of what he might find. He was greeted by the odour of sickness. It was a clinical smell, like the disinfectant used in hospital wards. He had always found it stifling, and oppressive. Mary was hanging out of bed in a tangle of sheets and wires, like some sort of woeful marionette. She was a sorry sight, and he felt sick with pity.

“Mary, what are you doing?” He asked, unable to hide the frustration in his voice.

“I want my nice hat and gloves. And I need some makeup. Arthur is coming home and I must look my best.”

Arthur let out an exasperated sigh. She was completely oblivious to the mess she was in. Her mind was in another time. A happier time, hopefully.

“Mary, I’m Arthur. I’ve been home a long time now.” He thought there was a flicker of recognition in her glazed eyes, but it was nothing more. “Come on, let’s get you back into bed.” It was a struggle to lift her. She was no help, merely hanging limp like a piece of wet lettuce. His arms strained with effort as he heaved her back onto the soiled mattress. He pulled the sheets up to hide the mess. He was panting. It had been too much effort. His knuckles turned white around the arms of the chair as he tried not to fall back into it.

“But you can’t be. My Arthur is young, and you’re so old. Who are you?” She eyed him warily, cautious of the stranger in her house.

He hobbled over to the dresser and found their wedding photograph amongst the discarded pill bottles. He wiped off a thin layer of dust and looked at the grainy picture. The sunlight through the trees had illuminated her dress perfectly. She looked like an angel descending from heaven. He took the photograph back over to the bed and showed it to his wife.

“Mary do you remember this? Do you remember the beautiful church, and the service? It was the most perfect day, remember?” It was a long shot, but it had worked in the past.

“No, no. You’re wrong,” she said, visibly distressed. “Arthur has been stationed away for months. He’s due home today. I must get ready for him. He would be ashamed if he saw me in my night-dress at this time of day.”

Arthur gave up. It was obviously no use this time. He had stashed a bottle of Diazepam in her bedside table for just such occasions. He loathed using them, but sometimes he had no choice. He tipped one out into his hand and snapped it in half. She only needed enough to calm her down.

“Here Mary, take this and then we can see about finding your nice gloves.”

Mary eyed the pill in his outstretched hand, cautious like a wild dog being offered a treat. “What is it?”

“Medicine. You haven’t been well, remember?”

At his prompt Mary snatched the pill out of his hand and stuck in her mouth, swallowing without water. The pill seemed to have a placebo effect, and calm washed over her almost instantly.

She looked Arthur in the eye, happier already. “I’m rather excited to see him you know; I have so much I want to say. I think you’ll like him. He’s a noble man.”

Arthur’s heart fluttered. Even through the illness she knew she loved him, as if it was innate. She relaxed back into the pillows and began to sing. It came in fits and bursts, and she was very out of tune. She used to be such a good singer.

“What are you singing Mary?”

“Delilah. I like that Tom Jones, he’s such a handsome man. I sing to the children when they won’t settle.”

Arthur smiled. At least some of her was still in there. He reached out and took her hand. She flinched at his touch. It was almost invisible, but he felt it. The smile quickly left his face again.

Her hands had been so beautiful. She had long, elegant fingers, and she had always kept her nails neat and painted. She had been so talented with her hands. She could cook and sew, as any woman worth her salt back then could. But she had also loved to paint. They used to go out into the countryside and she would paint landscapes for hours on end. He would sit and watch her, always in awe of her talent.

He remembered how she always used to rub cream into her hands every night before bed. Lily of the Valley. That had been her favourite. He could recall the smell; it had become part of her after so long. Her hands were frail now, gnarled by arthritis. Her skin was thin and translucent, like tracing paper. She was a spectre of her former self.

How much longer could they continue like this? How much longer could he care for her? He had his own ailments, but they were nothing compared to Mary. He didn’t sleep much anymore, and when he did it was his tatty old armchair. It didn’t feel right in bed without Mary next to him. She hadn’t slept upstairs for months. Not since the fall. There wasn’t room for two in her new bed, she had too many machines keeping her alive.

He had taken it all in his stride. It was his duty as her husband. What kind of man would he be if he couldn’t even care for his wife? The kids had suggested that she be taken into care so professionals could look after her. But what kind of life would that be? Keeping her body alive long after her mind had died.

Eventually it would become too much for him, and then they could waste away in a home together. No, that wouldn’t do. They couldn’t lower themselves, become dependent on other people for their basic needs. Pride prevented him from accepting help, even if he wasn’t capable any more.

Arthur sat until dusk, deep in thought. Mary had drifted off to sleep some time ago, her delicate hand still enveloped in his. He knew what he had to do.

Arthur’s joints were stiff after being sat still for so long. He slowly made his way to the small kitchen at the back of the house and fetched two mugs from the cupboard. They used to have a little tradition, a glass of warm milk in the evening. Not since Mary got ill though.

While he waited for the milk to warm, Arthur stared out the window at the dying sun casting its warm glow over the garden. Mary had taken such pride in their garden. She loved to grow flowers; carnations, chrysanthemums, tulips and lilies. Tulips were her favourite. By summer, the garden would be a sea of colour; pinks, reds, yellows, and blues. It was beautiful. It was her. Tears welled in Arthur’s eyes. He wiped them away. This is how it had to be.

Arthur took the bottle of Diazepam out of his pocket and poured the contents onto the counter. He separated out five pills, savouring the crunch of each one as he crushed them with a spoon. He tipped the powder into one of the mugs and filled it with warm milk. Then, hastily, almost as an afterthought, he crushed up the remaining seven pills and tipped the powder into the other mug. Till death do us part.

“Mary,” Arthur gently stroked her hand to ease her awake. “I’ve made you some warm milk. Sit up and drink it.”

Mary roused and sat up, meekly accepting the mug, like a baby accepting a bottle. She inhaled the warm, soothing aroma and took a sip. She looked at Arthur and surprise crossed her face.

“Oh Arthur, it feels like an age since I saw you. How I’ve missed you!” She sounded happy, relieved almost.

He felt the tears coming, and didn’t hold them back. “Mary, my love. I’ve missed you too.”

Arthur climbed into bed next to his wife. He needed to feel her warmth on his body, one last time. She took his hand. He looked into her eyes and saw something new. It looked like understanding, or acceptance.

“We’ve had a good life, haven’t we?”

“Yes my dear, yes we have.”

“I love you, Arthur.”

“I love you too.”

Recommended Reads: Roald Dahl’s short stories.

Roald Dahl is one of my favourite authors of all time. As a child I grew up reading his children’s fiction, then began to explore his adult works in the last few years. His short stories are possibly some of his best work, and at times are just pure genius.

 

So to celebrate Roald Dahl I have written a list of my five favourite short stories. Enjoy!

 

Lamb to the Slaughter

This is a fun little tale about devoted housewife Mary Maloney reacting to her husband giving her some bad news. The news is never said explicitly, but it’s safe to assume he plans on leaving her to raise their baby alone. Mrs Maloney proceeds to murder her husband, and manages to hide the murder weapon right under the noses of the investigating officers. This story is genius, pure and simple, and is one of my favourite works of fiction ever.

 

Skin

This is a story about a destitute ex-tattoo artist named Drioli reminiscing about a young painter supported before the outbreak of World War 1. During the flashback, both artists get very drunk and the painter is convinced to tattoo his work on Drioli’s back. Flash forward to the present, and Drioli finds himself at one of the painter’s exhibitions trying to convince patrons the work on his back is by the same artist. Several patrons then attempt to buy the work straight off his back, with Drioli finally accepting the offer of a seemingly kind man. The ending of this story is rather macabre, but possibly left open to some interpretation.

 

The Great Automatic Grammatizator

This story focuses on inventor Adolph Knipe looking for purpose after inventing a new mathematical computer. Knipe reasons that the rules of English grammar are governed by almost mathematical principles, and uses this theory to build a massive machine that is capable of writing award-winning novels in a very short amount of time. Knipe and his old boss go into business and attempt to buy out all of England’s successful writers. It turns out the story is written by a writer whom Knipe is attempting to buy out, and serves as a warning for any future recipients of the offer.

 

Poison

Set during the British rule of India, this story is set almost exclusively in the bedroom of protagonist Harry Pope. Harry believes a poisonous snake has crawled under his bedsheets and is lying on his stomach. Harry then sends his friend Timber Woods to fetch the local doctor, Ganderbai. As tension builds, Ganderbai works to try and remove the snake from Harry’s bed, only to find there was no snake there. The story then ends with Ganderbai attempting to lighten the mood by suggesting there was no snake, only to be met with Harry shouting many racial slurs. Timber attempts to diffuse the situation, but Ganderbai’s only reply is that Harry is in need of a long vacation.

 

Dip in the Pool

This story is set on a cruise ship that has its own betting pool, based on how many miles the ship will travel in a day. The protagonist, William Botibol, bets his entire savings on a “low pool” bid, hoping bad weather will slow the ship down. When he wakes up the next morning to find the weather is fair, William decides to cheat to slow the ship down. He decides to jump over the side of the ship so it is forced to turn around and save him. Before doing so, he makes conversation with an elderly woman whom he believes will raise the alarm. Little does he realise she is evidently suffering from dementia, and after he jumps overboard, she is not believed that a man is in the water. This is another very macabre tale from Dahl, but told with his usual dark humour.

 

 

These are my five favourite short stories by Roald Dahl, but there are so many more that are worth a read. I would recommend getting hold of several of his collected works, as there’s bound to be something in there for everyone. Thanks for reading!

Recommended Reads: Queer Fiction

Afternoon friends! I hope you’re all having a lovely weekend.

 

I’ve decided that after I review a book, I’ll post a list of recommended novels to try. Either by the same author or in the same genre. So off the back of my Mysterious Skin review, I’ve decided to recommend a list of Queer fiction.

 

Queer fiction is an interesting genre title. It is both uniting and exclusionary. By its separation in book shops it is kept away from “normal” fiction, and as a result is not explored or praised as much as it should be. Many novels that fall into the genre of Queer fiction are complex and powerful tales, and some certainly deserve more attention than they receive.

 

Anyway, I digress. Here is a list of five novels I have read, or am going to read, that are similar to Mysterious Skin. Enjoy!

GAW

The Great American Whatever – Tim Federle

 

This is award-winning author Tim Federle’s first venture into YA literature. The story focuses on Quinn, a gay teen, struggling to come to terms with his sister’s death. It follows the traditional queer Bildungsroman narrative, but in a fun and flirty way while never letting Quinn’s sexuality be the primary focus. This is a book I am very interested in, and it’s certainly placed high on my to-read list.

ColorPurple

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

 

Walker won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for this novel, and it was later adapted into a film and musical. The story focuses on a group of African-American women in 1930s south USA, and addressed themes of race, class and sexuality. The book has been widely censored since its release, due to its explicit content and scenes of violence. If you haven’t read this book before, do.

OrangesAreNotTheOnlyFruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

 

This novel is a coming-of-age story focusing on a young girl called Jeanette, who attempts to understand her sexuality in a heavily religious family environment. The book is semi-autobiographical in nature, based on events from Winterson’s early life. The story is at times saddening and chilling, and while I’m not the biggest fan of Winterson’s work, I have to appreciate the concise way in which she tells her tale.

City_and_the_Pillar

The City and the Pillar – Gore Vidal

 

This novel came out back in 1948 and is recognised as the first novel featuring a gay protagonist who was not killed off for their sexuality. For such a novel to be released at a time when homosexuality was still illegal is an incredible thought, and of course sparked massive public controversy. The story focuses on Jim Willard, a young man growing up in 1930s Virginia, coming to terms with his own sexuality. If there was ever a queer novel to read solely due to its historical importance, it’s this one.

gilded razor

The Gilded Razor – Sam Lansky

 

The Gilded Razor is a memoir of Lansky’s early adulthood, and addresses his descent from Ivy League hopeful into broken teen, by way of drug addiction. Lansky attempts to fill the void in his life with copious drugs and a string of affairs with older men, but manages to tell the story in a frank and sensitive way. Lansky manages to look into his own life and reveal common issues we all face. I would recommend this book to everyone, regardless of its applicability to your own life.

 

Well that’s my five recommended novels, I hope you like them. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, I’d be happy to hear. Thanks!

Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim. A review.

Mysterious Skin is certainly not a novel that is approached lightly.

 

Scott Heim’s coming-of-age story centres around two young boys who are connected through a life-changing event, and it explores the very different ways they are affected. Heim certainly doesn’t hold back in this novel, and chooses to explore some very dark themes in the protagonists’ journey to realise who they are.

 

The story begins with a young Brian Lackey being found bleeding in the crawl-space beneath his house, seeming to have lost five hours of his life. After years of strange dreams, he eventually he becomes convinced he is the victim of an alien abduction, and devotes his life to discovering the truth. The second protagonist, Neil McCormick, is fully aware of the events that led to this moment, and realises he is the only one who can help Brian deal with his missing time.

 

Neil is certainly the anti-hero of the novel. His life is centred around the events of his childhood, and the love he believes he has found in his baseball coach. Fast-forward ten years, and Neil, having come to terms with his sexuality, works as a teenage hustler with dreams of something more. He moves to New York with his soul-mate Wendy but eventually falls back into his old ways, landing himself in more trouble than ever. Some of the events that take place with the New York “johns” are genuinely some the most harrowing the book, and that’s saying something. Neil is a very complex character with an incredibly strong sense of agency, he knows exactly what he wants and is willing to manipulate anyone to get it. He also has a soft side however, taking his friend Eric and Brian under his wing to guide them through their own troubles. Neil is wise beyond his years, and loyal to a fault, and for me was the break-out character of the novel.

 

Brian however is a sweet kid. He deals with his experience by becoming introverted, and after his dad walks out on the family becomes rooted to his home town. His inability to move on from his supposed alien abduction forces him to become obsessed, eventually befriending another abductee; Avalyn Friesen. With her help Brian is able to uncover more details in his dreams, leading him to Neil. The closing scenes between the two characters are some of the most emotive I have ever read, and it is incredibly satisfying for Brian to finally find closure. Brian’s quiet obsession perfectly balances out Neil’s explosive voice, and their narratives are linked in complex and interesting ways. They are yin and yang, light and dark.

 

A special mention should be given to the supporting cast too; Wendy, Eric, the moms. It is with their help that Neil and Brian are brought together, and are able to move on from their traumatic childhood. Something from which they can all benefit.

 

I think this book can only really be summed up with my opening statement; do not approach it lightly. But I don’t say that as a warning, simply guidance. The novel deals with its themes in a mature and sensitive way, and is certainly thought-provoking literature. So if you haven’t read it, please do. And if you have read it, read it again.

Thanks for reading!

My Top 5 Books (or Series)

A small taste of my favourite books

Hello all!

Hope the weather is good where you are, it certainly is here.

I’ve decided to write a list of my favourite books. Granted, this list could probably be 10 times longer than it is, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet. The five books I’ve chosen are ones that I can read again and again, and have inspired me to become a writer. I’ll probably expand on this list at some point, but for now, enjoy!

Thegirlwiththedragontattoo

Millenium Trilogy – Stieg Larsson

Genre: Thriller

 

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I have read this series. Focusing on disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist and expert hacker Lisbeth Salander, Larsson seamlessly blends his own journalistic knowledge of Swedish crime with a truly dark imagination that few possess on such a level (looking at you, Mr King). The original Swedish title of Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) is certainly more appropriate, as Larsson takes a very harrowing look at the issues surrounding female abuse. Larsson sadly passed away in 2004 before the series was published, and didn’t get to see its success.

lotr

The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Genre: High Fantasy/ Mythopoeia

 

This series was a childhood favourite of mine. The depth of the world Tolkien has created is truly awe-inspiring, having written a vast collection of works throughout his lifetime set in the universe of Ea. Tolkien and I share a love of all things Old English, and its influence on his work is evident in almost every grain of detail. The term “Middle-Earth” actually comes from the Old English term middangeard, the Germanic name for the world of Men. For anyone that’s interested he also did a brilliant translation of Beowulf, edited and published by his son, Christopher Tolkein.

american psycho

American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis

Genre: Psychological Thriller/Satire

 

Well, what can you say about this book? It’s dark. Really, really dark. And that Ellis is a genius. His satirical take on postmodern consumerism shows what happens when a man thinks everything is a commodity, including human life. Patrick Bateman is the stereotype of yuppie culture, and Ellis’ attention to detail around this is perfect. The narrative is funny, bleak, and at times downright chilling, but you still care for Patrick. It’s not his fault. Society made him this way. I genuinely don’t think I will ever get tired of coming back to this book, each time I read it I take away something new.

roald dahl

My Uncle Oswald – Roald Dahl

Genre: Speculative Fiction

 

My family’s copy of this book got read so many times both covers fell off, and eventually we lost some pages too. I don’t think it ever got replaced. Roald Dahl was a very versatile writer, being a bestseller in both adult and children’s fiction. This novel offers a few hours light reading, and focuses on Oswald Cornelius and his partner Yasmin Howcomely attempting to set up the world’s first sperm bank. The themes of the novel could be considered somewhat outdated, but if taken lightly can be amusing in a drunk-grandma-telling-dirty-jokes kind of way.

Shiningnovel

The Shining – Stephen King

Genre: Psychological Thriller/Horror

 

I imagine this book appears on a lot of people’s lists, and it would hardly be a surprise. Everything about this novel works. Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is a harrowing tale, taking on a very Gothic tone at times. There is a certain nuance to the book that Stanley Kubrick failed to capture in the film, and this is definitely helped by King’s mastery of the word. King manages to get inside Jack’s head while still keeping the reader at a distance. After all, how can one care for a character hell-bent (literally) on murdering his family for a place at the table?

 

So there you have it. My top 5. I’ll review some of these books in more detail at a later date.

Thanks for stopping by!

My First Short Story

Hello everyone! Hope you’re well.

I’ve decided to share my first creative writing assignment with you. It’s a short story, which is something I’m quite new to, but I’m very happy with the outcome. Enjoy, and please let me know what you think.

 

Swept Under the Rug

 

Julie clicked the Hoover off. She let out a frustrated sigh and pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail. She looked a state. Rosa hadn’t turned up this morning, she hadn’t even called. So Julie had decided to do the cleaning for once, mainly just to keep herself busy. She hated housework; that’s one of the reasons she chose to marry rich. Ben’s job kept him busy though, and she didn’t really have a lot to fill her time with while he was away.

 

Julie clicked the Hoover back on. The drone filled her ears and cut her off from the world. She made her way into the dining room from the large, open plan kitchen and ran it around the elegant acacia-wood dining table and chairs. Julie moved into the entrance hall and lifted the edge of the Persian rug that dominated the room. She had difficulty moving it to get underneath, it was far too heavy. It was a hand-restored antique, obviously incredibly expensive. She had begged Ben for it. Eventually he had given in, he always did.

 

She gave up and moved on to the study. It was easier to clean in here. The floor was a luxurious oak, stained dark and polished to a light shine. She got right into the corners and closed the door to get the dust bunnies behind. She began to open the door but paused. There was a bit of fluff stuck on the bottom. She bent down to get it.

 

Julie looked up. There was a man, standing in the doorway. She fell back in surprise and felt around for the Hoover’s switch.

 

The man towered over her. He was gruff-looking; dressed in a black turtle neck and jeans with an expensive looking grey overcoat. His leather gloves and black fisherman’s hat gave him the look of a Hollywood movie bank robber. Salt-and-pepper stubble covered his square jaw. Julie got to her feet and looked him in the eye.

 

“Who are you?” She tried to sound threatening, but it came out as more of a squeak.

 

“Mrs Carson?” He spoke with a strong accent. Eastern European. Russian maybe?

 

“No, I’m the cleaner. Mr and Mrs Carson are out for the day. Again, who the fuck are you?”

 

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. He held it up and the colour drained out of her face. It was a picture of her.

 

“Try again.” A sly smile crept over his face.

 

“Wh-What do you want?” Her heart was racing.

 

“I’m here on behalf of my boss, Mr Sokolov. Your husband owes us a lot of money Mrs Carson, and he has missed a few payments.”

 

“My husband isn’t here. H-He’s away on business.”

 

The man chuckled, but it came out more of a growl.

 

“Is that what he tells you? There’s obviously a lot you don’t know Mrs Carson.”

 

Then Julie realised. He wasn’t here for Ben.

 

“Mr Sokolov wanted me to give you a message to pass on to your husband.” He made a grab for her. She dodged under his arm and made for the door.

 

Julie ran out into the hall, aiming for the front door. She stole a look back to see if the man was following. She caught her foot on the edge of the turned-up rug. Julie tripped, and her head hit a side table with a sickening crunch. She slumped to the floor.

 

The Russian walked into the hall and surveyed the scene in front of him. He took a phone out of his pocket and dialled. He spoke in a low snarl for a few minutes and then hung up. He slipped the phone back into his pocket.

 

He crouched down and looked closely at her face. Blood was dribbling out the corner of her mouth. She must have bitten her tongue on the way down. Was she breathing? He couldn’t tell, and he wasn’t going anywhere near her face to find out. He couldn’t take that chance. He knew of people living through worse injuries and if he could get away with not being here, then all the better for him.

 

He had to make sure, somehow. He assessed the situation and decided on the best solution. He rocked back onto his haunches and placed his hands either side of Julie’s body. He carefully knelt on her back until all his weight was on her. He stayed there for a couple of minutes until he could be certain she was dead. Then the Russian stood up and made his way back to the study.

 

He looked around the room, admiring its grandeur. This guy certainly knew how to spend his money. He smiled to himself at the irony of that thought. He looked at the photos on the desk. There was one of Mr Carson shaking hands with some important looking man, and a smaller one of him and his family. The girl was cute, shame she’d have to grow up without a mother. He tried the drawers. Locked. Hardly a surprise, considering Mr Carson’s secrets. He decided there was nothing else to see here and made his way to the door.

 

He stopped in the doorway and turned around. He unplugged the Hoover and carried it into the hall. He lay it on the floor next to Mrs Carson’s body and trailed the cord to the nearest plug socket. He turned the socket on and dropped the plug on the floor. As he made his way past the body he looped the cord once around Mrs Carson’s ankle. He smiled at his genius.

 

The Russian walked through the extravagant dining room and into the kitchen, selecting an apple from the fruit bowl on his way. He paused at the back door and made one last check to make sure everything was in order. He took a bite of the apple, and left.