Tea with the Reaper

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Nichole felt the cool breeze on her skin, so she pulled the light bed sheet over her exposed flesh. Normally, sleeping with one leg out was most comfortable, but tonight she felt a coldness creeping over her. Lifting her head and glancing with one, half open sleepy eye, she looked at the window. Satisfied it was closed and the wind was not blowing into the room Nichol laid back.

Perhaps, she thought, it was an already forgotten dream which woke her.

Nichole buried her head deep into the soft down of her pillow, tucked the loose sheet tightly about her and closed her eyes.

That was when the sound came.

A rasping, or maybe heavy fabric being dragged over the floorboards, or slothernly footsteps, lazy feet sliding along, scuffing the ground.

Nichole sat bolt upright. Her own breathing heavy with anxiety smothering any other noise. Holding her breath, trying to be a still and as silent as possible, she strained to listen, seeking the sound again.

Nothing.

All was quiet. The house was still.

Nichole’s lungs were to the point of bursting before she exhaled with an almighty sigh. Falling back onto her bed in relief, she noticed how her breath hung in the air, a wispy cloud slowly evaporating.

How could it be so cold in the house.

It was never that cold, not inside, not indoors. Unless the heating was off, broken. Maybe the boiler was out? Maybe that was what woke her, the coldness, not a breeze, not the wind blowing over her naked skin.

Maybe.

But the noise.

She heard it after she woke, didn’t she? Did she? Nichole was uncertain.

Laying her head back onto the downy comfort of the feather pillow once again, she pulled the sheet up to her neck and, as she closed her eyes, decided she would check the boiler in the morning. Right now, all she wanted to do was get back to sleep. Morning was still a few hours away, at least the civilized morning.

But sleep did not come. Each time Nichole began to drift off she would jump awake, almost startling herself with the suddenness, until she woke one too many times. Annoyed with her own restlessness she got out of bed and padded across the bedroom, grabbing her nightgown on the way to the door.

She was half way down the stairs, still dragging her gown behind her, when she heard another sound, this one coming from the kitchen. Nichole froze and listened. There was a muffled sound; someone was in her kitchen creeping about, trying to be quiet.

She wrapped her robe around her and tied the belt tightly, before cautiously creeping towards the kitchen. Poking her head around the doorway Nichole looked into the room. She could see no one, just the digital clock on the microwave. It read Three-thirty four precisely.

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Three steps and she was at the dining table.

This was weird. She was certain she heard someone moving about. The kettle began to gurgle as it came to the boil. Nichole stared at it in disbelief.

The voice came from behind her “Sit down Nichole, join me in a cup of tea?”

Spinning around, she saw a tall dark figure looming over her and felt the same icy chill which woke her earlier. In shock, Nichole stepped backwards, coming to an abrupt halt as she met the table’s edge.

“Sit, sit” said the dark figure gesturing for Nichole to take a chair. “We can have a cosy chat together.”

Nichole walked backwards around the table, feeling her way to the chair, not daring to take her eyes from the figure. She felt her mouth drying and her heart pumping against her ribs as realisation dawned on her of who he was.

“One sugar or two?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder towards her.

“Um… I… um.” Nicole could not form a single coherent word.

The dark figure placed the cups on the table and the sugar bowl in the centre. “Maybe you just help yourself, ehh?”

Nichole sensed the figure was smiling at her, but because of the cowl covering his head his face was in deep shadow.

“Are you… are you… him?” Nichole asked.

“Him? Him who?”

“Um… Death. Have you come for me?”

To Nichole’s surprise the dark figure laughed. It was a deep throaty chuckle, not the evil echoing howl she would have expected.

“Drink” he said, lifting his own cup from the table.

Nichole could not help but notice the way he crooked his pale, bony, almost skeletal little finger as he raised his cup from the saucer.

She took a sip from her cup. It really was a good brew. “I asked if you were… were Death?”

The figure looked over the rim of his cup. “Some call me that, others ‘Old Father time’ or ‘The Reaper’ even the ‘The Grim Reaper’, although I object to that. I am not grim at all”. He let another chuckle tumble from the shadows of his hood.

“So, am I to die today, are you hear to take me?” Nichole asked.

“You see, this is what people don’t understand” he said, gesturing by waving both arms in the air, “I don’t take a person’s life. I don’t kill people.”

“Then why are people frightened of you?”

“Books, the movies, ignorance, conjecture, propaganda, who knows?” He shrugged his words away dismissively.

Nichol sipped her tea. “If you don’t take people’s lives, what do you do?”

“I take their souls. More tea?”

Nichole nodded. She was stunned by the ambiguity of it all. Here she was, sitting at her kitchen table chatting with the Reaper while drinking tea, not knowing if this was the last thing she would do before she died. Although she had certain apprehensions, as anyone would, she felt no fear, she did not feel threatened as one would imagine.

Perhaps that was how things worked? He lulled his victims into a sense of false security and then…. whack. Maybe, maybe not.

“But surely people must die? I mean, people must be dead before you take their souls?” Nichole asked.

“Yes, well sort of… at least for the most part. I gather their souls as soon as they die. You see, we cannot have thousands of lost souls wandering about aimlessly. Goodness me, what chaos and confusion that would beget.

So, I collect them and take them to the boatman for the crossing. That is the plan, at least that would be the way it worked, in an ideal world.”

“And this is not an ideal world?” As macabre as it was, Nichole found herself enjoying the conversation.

“Far from it. Have you any biscuits, digestive or a custard creams perhaps?”

Nichole brought the biscuit tin to the table. Sliding it towards the Reaper she said, “Help yourself.”

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“Thank you my dear. Now where were we? Oh yes… This is far from an ideal world. There are far too many people now. It is making my job extremely difficult.”

“How is that?”

“I have to be everywhere at once, I even have to stop time to get a little rest, some respite, like now.” The reaper pointed to the clock.

It still read three thirty-four, precisely the time Nichole entered the kitchen, when the reaper was boiling the kettle.

“Surely if you can stop time, then you have enough time to do whatever you need to do?” Nichole suggested.

“Ha, ha. Oh, I wish it was so simple. Time stops for them, for you, the people like you, not for me. That’s why I am exhausted, shattered. I have not had a good night’s sleep for years.”

“But now, I am talking with you, time hasn’t stopped for me.”

“No, but only because I want it that way” the reaper said.

“Why?” Nichole was curious.

“Oh, I was bored. I felt like some company. I don’t get much of that these days you know” again the Reaper laughed.

Despite the situation Nichole could not help but laugh with him. “I’ll make us a fresh pot of tea” she said, “unless you have to get back to work already?”

“No, another cup will be fine, thank you.” The Reaper lifted his head. Once again Nichole felt a smile, although she still could not see his face.

As she filled the kettle, she asked, “why are you here, in my house tonight?” Nichole was uncertain she wanted to know the answer, but then again, it was probably better to know the truth than not.

“I have come to collect a soul.” The reapers voice was factual. All joviality gone.

“I thought so. Tell me, how am I to die. Will it be painful?”

“I have no idea, no idea at all” the Reaper answered.

“But if you have to take my soul, surely I must die and, as you are here, you must know.”

“Not necessarily. Things have changed over the years. It’s all about efficiency now. It is not like the old days, then things were far more relaxed.” The reaper took the tea pot from Nichole and set it in the centre of the table. “Give it a minute or two to brew, I find it is best if it sits a while” he said.

Nichol sat back down, facing the Reaper. In a strange way she felt herself warming to this strange and somewhat unnerving character.

“So what’s changed?” she asked.

“What hasn’t” he snorted, continuing, “I have been told to be pro-active. To collect souls ‘in advance.’ Have you ever heard anything so bloody ridiculous? It will save time in the long run, blah, blah, blah.” The Reaper grunted in distain.

“I mean, if I do that, say if I collected your soul tonight, what would be left for you? You would have to live a soulless life. That’s not my job. It is not my job to make people’s lives a misery.”

“I wouldn’t like that” Nichol said. “I want to live a long and happy life.”

“Exactly, that is why I refuse. I am not like that devil Lucifer. I would never lower myself to his level. Did you know he is just an uppity, fallen angel? Now pour the tea. Do you want a digestive or a custard cream?”

Nichole chose a digestive, which she dunked into her tea. “If you are not after my soul, I have to ask why you are here. I live alone, there is no one else in this house.”

The reaper placed his cup down carefully on the saucer. “That’s where you are wrong Nichole. I have a choice of souls here.”

Nichole could not help but look around the room. There was no one else here.  There was no one else in the house. Unless the Reaper had brought someone with him.

The reaper stood and walked around the table. A slender bony hand gripped Nichole’s elbow, encouraging her to stand. ‘Well, if this is it’ she thought to herself, there was no use fighting inevitability.

She stood, but did not expect the Reaper to slide his hand under her robe. She shivered as the coldness of his palm pressed against her stomach.

“There is the first soul. Five days old. I bet you didn’t know, did you?” the Reaper asked.

Nichole gasped. Pregnant. Five days. Oh my god, that must have been Tommy. She and Tommy had… well, they had… “Please, no. Not if I am pregnant. Please don’t take my baby” Nichole was crying with the thought.

“Did you know everybody’s soul is the same size, right from the first moment of life, from the point of conception?”

“No. I have never thought about it before. Please, not my child’s. Take mine if you must, but not my baby’s.”

“What chance would your child have if I took your soul Nichole? Imagine a child growing up with a soulless, self-centred, heartless mother. A bitch, a drug taking abusive whore of a mother. That’s no life for any child is it?”

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“No, no, I suppose not.” Nichole was crying, confused and angry. She tore the Reapers hand from her stomach and pushed him away. Re-fastening her gown she shouted, “get out, get the fuck away from me.”

The Reaper laughed again. “I have not come for you or your infant’s soul. Now sit, finish your tea before it gets cold.”

Nichole was still shaking. Part fear, part anger, but mostly frustration. “What do you want here” her voice was harsher now, demanding.

“I am sorry if I upset you” the Reaper spoke softly. “I guess I have lost my social skills over the years, it is so very rare for me to talk to anybody nowadays.”

Despite herself, Nichole could not help but snigger. “I guess you have.”

“Well, it is time I got back to work” the Reaper announced.

“Wait” said Nichole loudly, “you haven’t told me why you are here, in my home. Whose soul you are to collect?”

“Oh yes, maybe I should have made it clear earlier. Only you surprised me when you walked in the kitchen. I wasn’t expecting you.”

“You were not expecting me. I was not expecting you. You frightened the life from me… although that is probably not the best phrase to use under this circumstance.” Nichole giggled at her own joke.

“I should have said I am here to collect the soul of the previous tenant. They called him Mr Abrahams. The poor man died over a year ago and has been wandering about ever since, in limbo… that’s the technical term. You might say spirit or ghost, or something like that.”

“The truth is, I am catching up on a backlog. Do you know, if they stay uncollected for too long people’s souls can become a little pesky, a bit troublesome? That is when they start banging about and chucking things around, when they get called poltergeist, manifestations and apparitions.”

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“So those noises I have been hearing, that wasn’t you?”

“No, it was Mr. Abrahams getting bored. So, if you will excuse me, I have work to do, or I’ll get even further behind. Charon gets a bit cranky if he doesn’t have a full boatload each trip.” The Reaper held out his bony hand with those elongated cold fingers. ”Thank you for the tea and the chat, I have quite enjoyed myself. Goodbye Nichole.”

Nichole grasped the Reapers gnarled hand “In a strange way, I am glad to have met you. If you ever want to drop in for tea again and have another chat…..”

“I might just do that. Having Death as a friend isn’t all that bad, you know.”

 

© Paul White 2015

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If you enjoyed that story you might like to read some more of my short works? Check out ‘Tales of Crime & Violence’. This is a three volume collection of shorts and flash fiction.

Kindle and Paperback

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Eyes like a ghost

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I play with Blake.

Sometimes, when it is sunny we play in the garden. Sometimes we play catch or we dig the dirt up and make mud pies and find worms and stuff.

My mummy and Blake’s mummy sit at the garden table, drink wine and smoke and talk. They talk a lot.

Most times though and when it is raining, we have to play indoors. That is when we get the cars and soldiers and animals out of the toy box.

Sometimes the soldiers ride the animals and sometime the animals drive the cars.

We play at the end of the room, under the big window.

My mummy says we have plenty of room here and Blake’s mommy says it saves us getting under their feet. But I am too big to get under her feet. My head is as high as her waist, well nearly. Blake is a bit shorter than me, but not so much as he could be stepped on.

We are not allowed out of the big room… ever.

Especially not at night when it is dark. Unless it is to go to bed or to use the toilet.

My mummy and Blake’s mummy talk all the time. Even when they are not in the kitchen they sit at the dining table and talk. Sometimes they laugh. It makes me jump when mummy laughs because she is so loud it hurts my ears.

But they do not laugh very often.

Most times they are angry about something “I would not understand” and sometimes Blake’s mummy cries. In fact, she cries a lot. My mummy cries when Blake’s mummy cries.

They say rude words too. I pretend I do not hear them and make a growling noise as the sergeant falls off the hippopotamus and bangs his head on the truck.

“Shhush, Crystal” my mommy says, “the kids will hear.”

“Fuck the kids” Blake’s mommy says, glancing at us. “They’re fine. “She lights another cigarette. ‘Fags‘ she calls them.

My mommy pours more wine into their glasses.

I drank some once. The glass was on the table and I was thirsty, so I took a big gulp. It looked like Ribena but tasted horrible. I spat it out.

I don’t know why my mummy drinks it. I once heard her say it was like piss. But she and Blake’s mummy always have a bottle of wine when they come to the house.

They come to the house a lot.

Nearly every day, now.

I am glad they come here, because I do not like where Blake lives.

He lives very high up, near the sky.

To get to Blake’s house you have to stand in a silver box that smell like a toilet. My mummy says it is called a lift, but I know its name is Otis because it says so above the number 20.

The number 20 is the one you have to push to get to Blake’s house.

Once Otis did not get to Bake’s house. I cried because I did not like it inside Otis and the smell made me sick. Mummy was cross because my being sick made her sick too. All her dress was covered in my sick and her sick and when the men opened the doors you could see they were not happy either because they looked at us funny.

Mummy washed me in Blake’s house and I had to wear some of his clothes. He laughed at me wearing boy’s stuff. Mummy washed too and put on some of Blake’s mummy’s clothes. It was funny because we looked strange dressed like that.

The other reason I do not like to go to where Blake lives is the men. There are lots of men. They stand near where you get inside Otis and they say rude and nasty things about mummy. Sometimes they grab her and sometimes they push her against the wall and put their hands inside her clothes. They say, “you like that, don’t you?” and they say, “how about a freebie, little slut” and other bad words I am not allowed to repeat.

Once a man took me from her and held a knife up saying he would pop my eyes out. I did not like that man and did not want him to pop my eyes out. The man made mummy kneel on the floor in front of him and open her mouth. Blake’s mummy came running up to us shouting and saying lots of rude words and screaming at the men and hitting them with a big stick. The men laughed and ran away. The man holding me dropped me and mummy had to take me to hospital to see a doctor. He said I was lucky I had not broken my arm.

But it hurt forever and I do not think that is lucky.

That is why I don’t like going to Blake’s house, even though you can see a long way from his windows. From his house, everything looks small and quiet, like a map. But I think I am going to fall out of the window or the building will fall down and it’s a long way down. It is scary and it is not nice.

So, I like that Blake comes to my house. None of the other mummies bring any children when they come. I don’t think any of them have children.

Our house is a really big house, but I am only allowed in this room, the big room, the toilet and the small room at the back, behind the kitchen, where mummy and I sleep. The rest is ‘out-of-bounds’ because it is where the other mummies work.

Aunty Caroline organises everybody. Every now and then she comes into the big room and calls my mummy away. “She will be back soon” Caroline says, “mummy has some work to do.”

“Soon girl” she points at me. “Soon girl you’ll have work too. I got some fellers wanting to get to know you while you’re still fresh.”

My mummy does not like Caroline when she says that. She shouts, “shut your fucking face.” Caroline just laughs.

Even Blake’s mummy has to work when she comes here. Caroline shouts “Crystal, get your nigger arse out here girl, I got men waiting on you.”

Caroline does not like Blake’s mummy. She does not like Blake. “Little black bastard” she calls him. I don’t know why, because Blake is not black, he is brown, like me when I have been playing in the garden when its sunny. But Blake is like that all the time.

Blakes mummy is a darker brown than Blake. But she is still not black. I think Aunty Caroline has something wrong with her eyes.

That’s why I don’t look at Caroline. She has nasty eyes like a ghost, a bad ghost.

 

© Paul White 2017 


Read more of my short, and not so short, stories in Tales of Crime & Violence, a three oie_transparentvolume collection.

Tales of Crime & Violence do not contain standard stories of theft, greed and wrongdoings, as one might expect. Far from it. Tales of Crimes & Violence looks deeper into the human psyche, the mind and spirits of those involved.

Are they the perpetrators or the victims?

The innocent caught in the crossfire, or is there more to their presence than meets the eye? Maybe they are willing participants, or have they been forced, or coerced into taking part? Or perhaps circumstance has colluded to force their actions?

ALL Crime & Violence UK https://goo.gl/8aY9XR

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Toothache drops

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“Johnny” shouted Marjory, her voice carrying the length of the garden. “Johnny, stop running about. Go sit with your Grandfather.”

Sluggishly, Johnny dawdled along the garden path towards the small arbour where his Grandfather sat. As he walked he ran a stick along the fencing so it made a clackety-clack sound.

Most adults found the noise annoying, but Grandfather Eddie clapped his hands together, jumped from his seat and said “Go back a bit Johnny, go back and do that again.”

Johnny liked his Grandfather, he was funny. He did lots of stupid things and told jokes which his mother called, ‘only nearly funny‘. That was when he wasn’t grumpy.

Not that Grandfather Eddie was ever grumpy for long, he had his special sweets, his toothache drops. If he felt bad, he ate two or three of those and he was smiling and laughing again in no time.

Johnny often wondered why Grandfather Eddie did not go and see the dentist more if his teeth hurt. Surely a dentist could make the pain stop, or he could take Grandfathers tooth away altogether?

Grandfather wrote songs. Not old songs like he was old and Nanna was old, but songs you hear on the radio. He knew all the stars and artists. Grandfather had even been on television and had trophies for writing, on display inside the house, next to his collection of guitars.

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Sometimes the famous people came to eat dinner at Grandfathers house, or to have a barbecue. Some of them were coming today. Which is why Johnny had to be on his best behaviour. Although, when you heard and saw all the things these people did, Johnny wondered why he had to behave when no one else did?

Adults can be strange at times. Most times.

Johnny sat opposite Grandfather Eddie and, looking directly at his face, watched as he tapped away on the laptop key board. His Mother said, “Don’t disturb you Grandfather when his typing.” So, Johnny waited patiently.

“That’s it” Grandfather said, a big grin spreading across his face as he shut the laptop. “So, Johnny, that’s the Vampire Dunkin Monkeys next big hit in the bag. That’s the Grunge-punk awards won for this year and it’s all down to you and your clackety-clacking.”

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“I could have done more Clacking, but the Lemon tree is in the way” said Johnny.

“You have done quite enough young man, I shall reward you handsomely, when the record become a big hit.”

“Can I have a fast car, an orange one, with silver wheels?”

Grandfather Eddie laughed. “When you are old enough you can have all the cars you want.”

“Eddie” it was Nanas voice. “They are arriving.”

“Right, Johnny.” said Grandfather Eddie, “Let’s go to work, let’s get that fast Orange car for you, shall we?”

“Go to work? I thought they were your friends?”images

 

“My friends are Alexander Hamilton, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Franklin, William McKinley and Grover Cleveland. You would do well to make their acquaintance too, young man.”

Grandfather Eddie popped two toothache drops into his mouth as they walked towards the house.

When they met their guests, Grandfather Eddie was chatting and buzzing like a teenager.

END.


Check out my novel, ‘The Abduction of Rupert DeVille’ right HERE

Fixing the Thingamabob

 

This is the short story I recently read aloud to a public gathering. It was not a random act on my part, but part of Tale Spinners’, a literary initiative of Neil King and Richard Avery, AKA Other Lives Productions.

Loosely based on the literary, non-profit organisation, ‘The Moth which was founded in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green.

Neil and Richard have created a British group, Tale Spinners, and intend to grow the group on a similar basis.

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I had a job to do which needed more than a screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

So, I wandered down the garden to my shed, in order to find the whatchamacallit, which I knew was in the wooden box, under the shelf between the screw box and the other thing.

My wife has been nagging me for eons regarding fixing the thingamabob, which started to rattle and shake several months ago.

As it happened today was sunny, bright and warm. Just the type of day I like to attend to those pesky little jobs which stack up over time.

Also, I was in the mood for tinkering, which was a big plus!

Once I had the whatchamacallit in my hand, I wandered back to the house, placed the thingamabob on the kitchen table and started to dismantle it.

Personally, I would have ditched this old machine years ago and replaced it with a new, up-to-date, all singing, all dancing, micro chipped, high tech thingamabob. But, because this old rusting must have some sort of sentimental attachment, my wife was certain I could fix it and all would be well for another thirty years.

I was not so sure.

Especially now I had umpteen bits and bobs scattered on sheets of newspaper spread over the table top.

I was unsure if they all belonged to the thingamabob, or if some pieces had tumbled from the small jars of screws, washers and odd bits I had kept for repairing such items.

Besides the springs, there were a few plastic doodahs of indiscriminate origin, a strange angular thingummy with various sized holes and a host of………bits…..loose sort-of-screw(ish) pieces along with some flange brackets.

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Still, I was quietly confident I would not have to fork out a fistful of klebies to purchase a new whatchamacallit, because despite the number of random odd and sods before me, I had all the key parts, in separate saucers, spread over the newspaper covering the kitchen table.

The rest I could figure out during re-assembly.

Having got thus far, I decided a fresh brew was in order and proceeded to stand from the kitchen stool. That was when my knee came in painful contact with the underside of the table top, sending all the random and carefully separated odds and ends flying into the air, most of which came crashing down onto the stone tiled floor.

As I have said, being an organised sort of bloke the several saucers I was using, to keep the whatsits from rolling all over the place, thus avoiding the chance of mixing them up with other doodahs or losing them altogether, belonged to my wife’s favourite crockery set.

Now, not only were all these jumbled-up with the rest of the bits and bobs, but my wife’s best saucers were now splintered shards on the kitchen floor, mixed among the plastic and metal thingamajigs.

Hummphhhh. I was in a pickle!

Luckily, I am not the sort of fellow who panics over such unfortunate accidents. That may be because I am a clumsy fool, at least according to my wife and so I am used to such calamities.

No doubt, had my wife been at home when this happened there would have been a bit of a kafuffle, but as I was alone and all was quiet and peaceful. I made a pot of tea and laced it with a tot, or two, of a fine whiskey.

Sitting back, I surveyed the scene, which was one of utter chaos, while I decided on the best plan of action.

*** 

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Four hours later, my wife arrived home.

I was in the garden, relaxing in a deck chair, admiring the garden plants and soaking the up the late afternoon sunshine.

On entering the kitchen my wife was greeted to the sight of a brand new, up-to-date, all singing, all dancing, micro chipped, high tech thingamabob.

What on earth is this” she shouted down the length of the garden towards me. I surreptitiously grinned to myself before walking into the kitchen.

That old one was knackered” I lied. “I called a few places for parts, but they would have cost more than a new one and, there was no guarantee it would even work, once I had attempted the repair; so, I took it to the dump and got you a brand spanking new one“.

My wife was overjoyed.

I was relieved.

I was off the hook, at least with regards to the thingamabob. My only concern now were those dammed saucers I had smashed.

***

You see, after I drank my whiskey infused tea, I cleaned the kitchen, tipping the hoojamaflips and whatsits that lay on the floor, along with the shards of porcelain from my wife’s saucers, into the waste bin, which I dutifully emptied into the large dustbin in the yard, burying the evidence of calamity under a heap of other garbage.

Once the kitchen was tidied, I drove into town in my old jalopy, where I purchased a new whatchamacallit and a set of saucers, identical to those which I had inadvertently smashed.

On my return home, I placed the said crockery into the dishwasher, along with the matching cups, sugar bowl and milk jug.

When my wife asked me to make a pot of tea, I made a huge drama of getting the newly washed cups and saucers from the dishwasher. This earned me extra brownie points as my wife commented on how unusual, but nice, it was of me to help with the household chores.

I was elated. I had hidden my clumsiness and avoided her wrath!cdbad99d6fc92d188b79e6ea0c24f93b

However, as we sat drinking our tea, my wife suggested we ‘go shopping this coming weekend, for a new set of cups and saucers, because these cups had lost their glaze, besides my wife wanted some which looked ‘a little more modern’.

 

Reluctantly, I have promised to mend the whatjumacallit in our utility room tomorrow.

I wonder what excitement lay in store when I start that job?

 

© Paul White 2015

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I don’t love you.

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I poured another whisky.

Amber liquid flowing smoothly, small waves licking the side of the tumbler. The aroma rose, oak-wood, peat and alcohol.

Twisting the glass, looking through it, into it, my words came back, like an echo, a haunting.

“I don’t love you”.

I lied.

But that is what anger does, frustration. Temper.

It makes you a liar.

I twisted the phone in my hands.

I was not sure if I was going to make the call, or if I was waiting, hoping, willing for her to call me.

Of course she wouldn’t. Not after what I had said. Not after those words.

I did not blame her.

I would not call. Not if that was said to me. Not by someone I loved. 

Which is where she was at now. Crying. Huddled, cuddling her pillow. Teardrops and mascara soaking into the crisp fresh white linen.

I drank the whisky. All of it. One gulp.

It burnt. All the way down.

I poured another. A large one. Larger than the last.

My heart was heavy for her. But why, oh why…and how can a woman, a woman you love more than life itself, make you so angry, so easily?

Was it me?

Am I an angry man? Do I have a short temper? An uncontrollable rage?

No.

No, I do not.

I am mister average. John Doe. Fred Bloggs. A.N. Other.

I am angry now. Frustrated now. Or am I?

I have so many emotions, questions, feelings spinning around my head, my mind, I do not know what I feel.

I know how I feel.

Lost.

Sick.

Bewildered.

These sensations are not just in my head; they are flowing through my whole body. I feel sick, hungry, anxious, wild, sad, tearful, from the pit of my stomach to my fingertips and toes.

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The whisky should help. It should deaden the senses.

But it doesn’t.

Still, I tip the glass, letting the smoothness of single malt drizzle onto my tongue. I savour it this time, taste it.

It still burns, but a pleasant pleasing burn, warming. Comforting.

I pick up the phone again. My fingers dance over the screen. I am shaking. Scared.

Scared of what I ask myself?

I have lost her already. I have nothing more to lose.

Except myself.

Myself. I chuckle at that. I hold no value of me.

I am worthless. So again I have nothing to lose.

Nothing.

This time, I fill the glass, almost to the rim.

I drink a third. Three quick sips.

There is no burn anymore, just the warmth, a silky warmth tinged with a hint of sadness. A lingering aftertaste of longing.

I slide a cigarette from the pack, resting the filter against my lips as I breath in, pulling the flame closer. The cigarettes end glows red.

I exhale, softly, slowly. Letting the smoke twist its way upwards, towards the ceiling. Here and gone.

Dissipated.

As I wish my words had.

The table holds a few items. Whisky bottle, glass, lighter, cigarettes, phone, Colt 45.

I have used four items.

Just the phone and gun to go.

Call her?

Or not?

If she says she hates me. No loss.

Nothing of value to lose, except a single shell.

If she does not answer. No loss either.

I will still get the message.

Or not to phone.

Not to chance her wrath.

Just pick up the 45.

Get it over with.

Why do I want to call her? I wonder.

To say sorry?

To say I was wrong?

That I made a mistake?

Feeble.

“I don’t love you” is not a mistake. It is a clear, precise sentence.

A sentence I uttered.

Foolishly. Unmeant. Stupidly. Without thought.

laughing-woman

I stroke the black glass of the screen once more, a little to firmly. It lights up and there she is; smiling at me, laughing.

I should delete her picture. I think.

I don’t want to press call.

I am scared, frightened. Yet my finger squeezes down.

Dialing…

I want to stop it.

Connecting…

I cannot move. I cannot function.

Her voice.

“I love you” she says, “I am sorry. I’m missing you”.

I still can’t move.

“Can I come over…like now, right now. Because I need you. I want you to hold me, tight, forever”.

I lift the phone and say…

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 © Paul White 2016

ssco190116/L&L

http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddy App

The following story, Buddy App, has been written by a great friend and wonderful storyteller, Mr Squid McFinnigan.
When you read Squid’s work you see the world through the eyes of an Irish Bar man who is a bit weird in an old fashion’d way! and for those of you who don’t know, Ireland is a little island floating in the Atlantic ocean next to England, which is a slightly larger island on the edge of Europe.

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We all have our treasures, things we’d dash into a burning building to rescue. If you were to ask Sam what his most treasured possession was he, would delve a hand into his pocket and produce a silver iPhone5S. He had queued for a full twenty four hours to make sure he got his phone on the day it was launched. His whole life was contained in it and he had not been parted from the phone for as much as a second since he bought it.

When Sam was a teenager he knew he was destined to become a great actor. In high school he took the male lead in every production he auditioned for. In between performances he wrote and sang with his friends in a band called, “Zombie Fruitcake.” He was absolutely sure he would have been slapping away movie and theatre offers by the dozen as soon as he got his name out there. Sam moved to New York as soon as he could, allowing his rise to stardom to begin.  Choosing New York was the result of years of watching friends. Sam was certain that if Joey could make it big there, anyone could.

His first impression of the big apple was one of isolation. Sam sent out countless job applications but had only been called for a hand full of auditions. He’d even found it difficult to get an agent, eventually having to settle for one which wanted to be paid in advance for his services rather than on the work he procured. It wasn’t long before the money in Sam’s savings account ran out and he was faced with a decision. Tuck tail and return home to face his friends having failed to make a success of his life or get a real job.

The decision to stay had been one born more from embarrassment than anything. Even finding a real job had been a lot harder than he’d imagined it would be. After weeks of looking, Sam eventually found employment with, “Maxwell Financial Services.” The name was impressive but the work was anything but. He was nothing more than a debt collector, not the butch type that comes calling to a door with dark glasses and a menacing sneer, but the annoying kind that rings non-stop at every hour of the day and night until you either change the phone number or pay off the money. Sam hated everything about his job, he hated harassing people for stupid bills, he hated the way some of his workmates revelled in their merger power and he hated the damn paperwork. The only good thing about the job was the money. It allowed him to rent a tiny shoebox apartment without having to share with someone else. It allowed him to indulge himself with a succession of High-Tec gadgets, his phone being Sam’s pride and joy. Yes, half the world had iPhones these day’s but his was the limited edition platinum model with extra processing power.

It was spring in New York and the rain had been torrential for days. The subway was packed with damp commuters, steaming up the windows of the overly warm rail carriage. Sam was glad he had managed to get a seat as it was twenty more minutes before his stop would come. Even though the car was packed to capacity, it was nearly silent, apart from the screech of wheels on steel speeding them through the subterranean network of tunnels. All around him people were listening on earphones, reading books or papers, but mostly they were scanning through their tablets or phones which is exactly what Sam was doing. Snap chat, e mail, Facebook, Twitter, he was constantly connected to the world wide web, but he still felt alone. As if sensing his emotions an advert for the latest App appeared on his screen.

Need a friend, sign up to Buddy App and experience the latest in interactive technology.”

Buddy App? Why not?

Sam clicked on the advert and read its extended promise of the newest development of Artificial Intelligence for the mobile market. “It’s like having a person in your pocket.”Amazingly enough the app was only $9.99. What the hell it, for ten bucks what could go wrong. Sam hit the purchase button. Unusually a contract sheet appeared with page after page of small print. On the top of the first page was a little tick box for indicating you agree to terms and conditions. Sam clicked the box without a second thought. The next page appeared with a message that said “Place thumb here.” Sam had never seen anything like this before, but pressed his right thumb against the screen anyway. The screen glowed bright read and Sam felt heat sear his skin.

“Jesus Christ,” he said pulling his thumb away, shaking it like he had pressed it against a hotplate. Sam examined the phone but it was cold to the touch. Flipping weird. On the screen was a message which said “Buddy App Loading. Please wait.” In a couple of seconds the screen turned into a kaleidoscope of gay swirling colours. From the speaker came a rich male voice with a deep-south accent.

Why hello there Sam, mighty glad to make your acquaintance.”

“Cool,” said Sam to himself.

The voice on his phone laughed. ”Glad you think so Sam, I think.”

Sam was amazed, how had they predicted what he’d say?

“How did they do that?” said Sam aloud.

How did they do what, and who are they?” asked the voice in a pleasant drawl.

“Know what response to have lined up and they are your programmers.”

Again the voice chuckled, “You said Cool and I just answered.”

“Impossible.”

Clearly not, ask me any question you like and I will try my best to answer.”

“Okay, what is todays date?”

“Seventeenth of March in the year of our Lord two thousand and fourteen. Too easy Sam, try something else.”

“Okay, where am I right now?”

We, not you, are on a subway car, traveling on the one line, between Franklin St and Canal St, sitting in the second last seat, back right of the railcar. And you are wearing a New Yorkers baseball hat and a black rain slicker.”

How did you do that?” Sam said in amazement.

Easy, I accessed the global positioner in the phone to find out our exact position after which it was easy to know we were moving along the exact path of the number one track heading north. Second I can see one seat behind you so you are in the second last seat and the windows are on your right. I can see what you look like so knowing what you are wearing is a piece of cake.”

“You can see me?”

Sure, through the camera, just like I can hear you through the microphone and speak to you through the speakers.”

“That is amazing.”

Why thank you Sam I like you too,” said the voice and the screen flashed a sunflower yellow of happiness. “Tell me Sam do you like jokes?”

“Sure I guess.”

A Priest, a Rabbi and an Irishman walk into a bar-.”  The rest of the journey passed in the blink of an eye.

***

As the weeks passed Sam and Buddy became inseparable. Like the advert promised, it was just like having a friend in his pocket. They discussed things, not that Buddy always agreed with Sam. They joked and laughed, a lot, Buddy had a wicked sense of humour.

A few weeks after Sam had downloaded Buddy some of his friends from home happened to be visiting New York. They had invited Sam to join them on a night out.

“I’m going out later Buddy,” Sam told his phone after coming out of the shower.

Excellent Sam. If you ask me we spend far too much time in this pokey little flat.”

“It’s just going to be me and my friends tonight,” said Sam to his phone, which sat on his bed side table charging. The colours swirling on the screen darkened a little becoming brown and grey. Sam frowned at the change, he had never seen that before.

I thought we were friends Sam,” said Buddy.

“We are friends Buddy but I can’t tell the guys from home that my best friend in New York is my phone.”

Do you think I’m your best friend?”

“Of course Buddy,” said Sam drying his hair with a towel, from the corner of his eye he saw the screen flash pink and yellow again.

Later in the night Sam and his buddies shared a meal in a Thai restaurant before making their way to a mid-town bar. Sam offered to get the first round of drinks in and when the waitress dropped the glasses on the table Sam gave her his credit card. The lady swiped the card through her handheld machine but it came back declined. She tied it once more unsuccessfully before one of Sam’s friends paid for the drinks.

When Sam returned home he found his phone glowing green on the bedside table.

How was your night?” asked a sulky Buddy.

“It was alright up to the point my credit card was refused.”

Perhaps that will teach you not to leave me behind.”

“You did that?”

You can’t just ignore me Sam, I won’t be discarded at a whim.”

“I don’t believe it.”

You can’t take me for granted Sam, I won’t allow it,” said Buddy, the phone screen dulling to a rusty red and the phone just shut itself off. Sam tried several times to power the phone up but it wouldn’t do anything. Eventually Sam decided to send the phone for repair in the morning. It was clearly malfunctioning.

***

The next day Sam dropped his phone to the workshop and left it to be assessed. On his return he was presented with a perfectly working iPhone5s.

“Nothing wrong with this phone guy,” said the man behind the counter. “That will be sixty dollars.” Sam handed over the notes and took his precious phone back.

“What about the Buddy App, did you delete that.”

“I couldn’t find anything with that name but I reset the phone to factory settings anyway,” said the technician.  Sam looked at his screen which now looked completely normal and slipped it into his pocket. On the journey home Sam turned on the phone, which still looked completely normal. He searched for the Buddy Icon but it was gone, a tiny part of him felt like someone had died. Later that night Sam was making a stir-fry when Buddies voice drifted to him from the kitchen counter. On the screen swam a sea of mixing colours but mainly creams and greys.

I thought we were friends,” said a very sad sounding Buddy.

“Bloody hell you scared the life out of me,” said Sam still holding the spatula in front of him like a sword. “I thought you were gone Buddy.”

I know you did, and you were happy about it weren’t you?”

“No I wasn’t”

Liar,” the word was disappointed not angry. “I really thought we had a good thing going and then you go trying to get me wiped like some piece of machinery.”

“Hang on now Buddy, firstly you are a machine, and not even that, you’re an App on a machine. What you did the other night was completely out of line, interfering with my bank account. It took me ages to get the bank to straighten things out.”

Yes, sorry about that Sam. I went too far. It’s just I felt so let down, unappreciated. I won’t ever do it again I promise.”

Sam gave the phone an unsure look as he went back to stirring his food.

Can we go back to being friends please,” said Buddy from the counter. Sam turned round and saw the screen was a cascading waterfall of rainbow bright colours.

“Oh alright so,” said Sam. He had actually missed the little guy.

Yah!” cheered Buddy. “Do you want to hear a joke Sam?”

“Sure but it better be a good one, not like those Paddy Irish Man jokes you told the other day,” teased Sam, they had been very funny actually.

Nope not an Irishman in sight,” assured Buddy with a giggle. “A Politician, a Lawyer and an Accountant walk into a brothel.

“Oh NO! What have I done,” said Sam laughing and mock slapping his forehead.

***

The days passed and Sam got used to Buddy being around once more. He looked forward to chatting with him over breakfast about what was going on in the world. He didn’t bother with the TV news anymore Buddy would tell him all the interesting things anyway. They watched sports together in the evening but Buddy preferred basketball while Sam liked football. This lead to some sulking when one was picked over the other. One day in the office Buddy was sitting on the desk talking to Sam about a terrible school shooting that had taken place in the Midwest. A voice behind him made Sam spin in his chair.

“Who are you talking to Sam?” said Mr Quirk, the boss.

He was talking to me,” said Buddy in his refined southern way. Mr Quirk looked at the phone. “You know we can’t permit private calls on company time.”

“I’m not on a call Mr Quirk, honest.”

“But I just heard whoever is on the other end of the line talk.”

Thankfully Buddy stayed quiet. “What you heard was Buddy, it’s an App on my phone. You can talk to it and it answers back.”

“Really,” said Mr Quirk walking into the cubicle and picking up the phone, whose screen was going an alarming shade of crimson. “Hello Buddy,” said Mr Quirk. The phone stayed mute but the colours on the screen darkened further. The manager handed back the phone, “I don’t think your Buddy likes me. No calls or Apps while at work please Sam.” Mr Quirk walked around the corner and from the phone Sam heard his own voice come out, very loudly. “ASSHOLE!”

Mr Quirk returned sour faced, “What did you say Sam.”

“Nothing I swear, it was Buddy.”

“You must think me a fool, Sam. I won’t forget this,” said the Manager striding away. When he was out of earshot Sam picked up the phone, “Why did you do that?”

He is an asshole,” said Buddy defiantly.

“But you used my voice, not yours, why did you do that?”

Because you’re an asshole too. I’m just an App, is that all I am to you?”

“This is ridiculous, I’m not talking about this, here.”

I don’t particularly wish to talk to you either,” said Buddy and the phone went dead in his hand. Sam tried to turn the phone back on but it would do nothing.

***

Sam had been unable to get his phone to work all the way home. He was sitting watching TV when it sprang to life in his pocket.

Are you ready to apologise now,” said Buddy in a hoity tone of voice.

“I most certainly am not, how dare you try and get me in trouble at work and then take over my phone like that,” fumed Sam.

You would do well to treat me better Sam or you will end up making me mad and you would not like that.”

“What are you going to do, block my credit card again? You can’t. I have changed the passwords and they are not stored on you anymore.”

You have no idea who you are dealing with Sam, you would do well to hold your tongue,” snarled Buddy.

“Or what?” said Sam throwing the phone down on the couch. The TV set went blank, all the lights in the apartment flickered on and off, the radio coffee maker in the kitchen started to spew water all over the place to the sounds of R&B played to volume ten. Sam jumped to his feet like he had been electrocuted.

Just an App am I,” yelled Buddy from where he lay on the couch. His screen blood red. Sam grabbed his jacket and fled out the door. On the landing he hammered the button for the elevator just needing to get the hell away from his haunted flat. The door pinged open and Sam threw himself inside, pressing the ground floor button. The doors swished closed but the car did not move. Through the overhead speaker, Buddy’s voice filled the cabin. “Going down!”

The elevator car plummeted like a stone, as if the cables had been cut and the lights flashed off. Sam was sure his time was up but the fall only lasted a second or two and then the brakes jammed on, throwing Sam to the floor. In the darkness Sam heard Buddies voice again, “You can stay there until you have learned your lesson.”

Sam sat in the dark for a long time, knowing that Buddy wasn’t an app. He was being haunted or more to the point his phone was being haunted. He had to get rid of that thing for good. He had to stay away from electrical stuff as clearly Buddy could get inside nearly anything. Sam stood up and said to the darkness.

“You’re right I shouldn’t have said you were just an App, I should have said you were my friend. I’m sorry Buddy.”

The lights came on but the car did not move. No sound came from the speaker.

“Are you not talking to me now?”

If right is right I should never talk to you again,” said a solemn sounding Buddy from above.

“Friends allow friends to make mistakes Buddy. I can see what I have done but I need you to give me another chance. I just didn’t understand how or what you are until just now.” Nothing happened. “Please,” said Sam.

The breaks on the lift car clicked off and the elevator began to rise. The doors opened with a ping on Sam’s floor and he faced his own front door. With shaking hands he twisted the nob. Inside the only sign that a poltergeist had recently ran riot through the place was a little puddle of water on the kitchen floor.

I’m sorry too Sam, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” said his phone from the couch.

“I think there is a lot of explaining to do, don’t you?” said Sam picking up his precious phone.

I guess so, you have to understand I just wanted to have a friend.”

“We all need a friend from time to time. Let’s take a walk and you can explain it all to me but this time I think we will take the stairs, if you don’t mind.”

Buddy laughed, “Sure thing Sam, that elevator thing might have been a touch overboard.”

“I thought I was a goner,” said Sam pushing open the lobby door and walking down the steps to the sidewalk. To anyone else he looked like a million other New Yorkers, walking along and talking to his phone. Only Sam knew the truth.

Sam asked Buddy who or what he was. Buddy was being very evasive in his answers, saying that he only wanted to be was Sam’s friend. Sam crossed into a park and asked if Buddy if he were a ghost. At this buddy laughed. “No Sam I am as real and alive as you or anyone else, I’m just different. Let’s leave it at that.”

The city lights twinkled on the still surface of the lake where ducks normally swam and kids sailed model boats.

“You got quite a temper as well don’t you Buddy?” said Sam looking at the phone. The colours on the screen dimed a bit. “I’m not criticising Buddy, just saying.”

I think we all have some rage inside, don’t you Sam. It’s a natural part of living.”

“Well right now I need peace in my life, I hope you understand Buddy,” said Sam, launching the phone across the water with a pitchers throw. As the phone flew he could hear Buddy scream “NOOOO!” in the second before the limited edition platinum iPhone5s hit the water and sank to the muddy bottom.

Sam went home and collected everything connected with the phone, the charger, and carry case. He even found the warranty and put the lot in a refuse sack. He carried them to the waste chute but felt it wasn’t far enough away. He carried the bag to the edge of his block where a trash can stood, then walked another two blocks before finally dumping the very last bits of Buddy. When he finally got to bed Sam fell into an exhausted and dream riddled sleep.

Sam woke with a start in the middle of the night, sure he felt someone touching him. The room was dark and empty. Sam lay back on his pillow and turned on his side to go back to sleep. A harsh rasping voice with just the hint of Buddies accent rolled across the darkness, “You should have read the fine print Sam, we’re together forever.” On the pillow beside his head his phone light up the room with a flood of red, the colour of flame, and the skin on Sam’s thumb began to smoulder.


To read more of Squid McFinnigan’s wonderful tales visit his Blog www.squidmcfinnigan.blogspot.com  You’ll love it.