Everyday Acts of Murder: Dog Walking

On good days, Marlborough Park field was just the right side of pretty. Sun glinted off fences and goalposts while bright, bushy grass hid litter and dog excrement from immediate view. Although Marlborough Park was just off a main road, the traffic was strangely muffled, and walking one’s dog around the park’s perimeter was often surprisingly meditative. One could almost, almost, be somewhere other than a field with a large amount of dog excrement. On bad days, like today, Marlborough Park was hell. Rain beat down on Susie’s glasses while wind whipped her hood off her head. Her left Wellington boot had resigned its duties and she could feel mud seeping through her sock. She could hardly hear traffic, but that was only because the wind howled as it flew through the park, lashing rain in every direction as thunder clapped in the distance.

Diana, Susie’s large mastiff-crossed-with-something-else-big, had bounded into the car that morning without a second thought, while Susie pulled on a raincoat and gritted her teeth. Diana was the only dog Susie had ever come across who preferred rain to sunshine, and as Susie trudged to the halfway point of their walk, Diana trotted happily along the fence line, tail wagging. Susie stopped to wipe rain from her glasses – she would probably see better without them at this point – and realised Diana had bounded ahead to meet someone coming in the opposite direction. She wriggled her toes to check they hadn’t frozen off and caught a whiff of something.

It was not mud in her sock after all.

Of course it wasn’t.

As the person ahead drew closer, Susie realised she recognised both the dog and the human. The former was a chubby brown Jack Russell, the latter a skinny blonde lady with an orange spray tan and pink rain mac. A rolled-up umbrella hung from her hand just as Susie’s did; they had both concluded that using one in wind this strong was an easy way to lose an eye.

‘Morning!’ Susie called, although she wasn’t sure they were close enough to hear her. She waved instead just as Diana reached them, and the lady waved her umbrella back. She even waved at Diana – wait. That was not a wave. Mrs. Spray Tan swooped down and picked up the Jack Russell, which had started to yap. Susie hurried forward as Diana let out a bark. She did not bark often, but when she did you could feel it in your ribs.

‘Get your dog away from me!’ Mrs. Spray Tan shrieked. In one hand she grasped her dog, in the other she brandished her umbrella.

‘Diana, come back! Excuse me!’ Susie called as she hurried closer. Why, why was it so hard to walk into the wind? Diana might not even be able to hear her. Mrs. Spray Tan clearly couldn’t.

‘Your dog’s dangerous!’ Spray Tan shrieked. She held the Jack Russell as high off the ground as she could, which wasn’t very high at all. He was squirming to get out of her clasp. ‘I’ve seen you here before! You can’t control it!’

‘Diana’s a she,’ Susie said firmly as she finally reached them and grasped Diana’s collar. Her dog was growling and straining, but not in the direction of the Mrs. Spray Tan. She was straining to run away. ‘And she’s not on the lead because she’s friendly.’ Unlike you, she wanted to add. ‘What was the problem?’

‘Your dog attacked my dog!’

‘Was that before or after you waved an umbrella in her face? She’s a rescue, and she’s always hated sticks and umbrellas. We think she was raised by someone who hit her with them.’ Mrs. Spray Tan blinked.

‘Your dog ran up and attacked my dog! What was I supposed to do?’

‘Put your dog on a lead. Walk in the other direction. If you’ve seen us before and you don’t like us, why did you head straight for us?’ Mrs. Spray Tan blinked again.

‘Your dog attacked my dog!’

‘You keep saying that,’ Susanna agreed. ‘But all I saw was Diana go toward you, and you panic. If you hadn’t picked up your dog, she wouldn’t have come closer to find out what was going on. She wouldn’t even have barked if you hadn’t brandished your umbrella close to her face. She was reacting because she was scared.’

Susie made to put Diana’s lead back on. It was a strong rope lead; Diana was too big for one of those retractable leashes, and it was easy to loop the lead back around her neck. ‘Come on, Diana, let’s get home -’

‘I’m reporting you for owning a dangerous dog that you can’t control.’

Susie stiffened. She could feel Diana stiffen too, several kilograms of mastiff-crossed-with-something-big. All I need to do, she thought, is train my dog to go for people. That’s all I would need to do to make her properly dangerous. The alternative, of course, was something far less cruel and far less time-consuming.

Susie removed the lead from Diana’s neck and the Jack Russell from Mrs. Spray Tan’s arms. The dogs sniffed each other warily but as Susie suspected, they were perfectly happy when left to their own devices. Susanna then looped the lead around Mrs. Spray Tan’s neck and pulled it until she could see the spray tan flake off her skin. Diana and the Jack Russell watched.

Then she picked up the Jack Russell’s lead, removed her own from Mrs. Spray Tan’s twitching corpse and put it back on Diana, and took the dogs home for treats and a cup of tea. The rain let up just as they were leaving the field.

Thank you Liz for critiquing.

© Francesca Burke 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Burke and francescaswords.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Everyday Acts of Murder: Gardening

Finding a corpse in his compost heap was not what Graham Peters expected to do when he embarked on an afternoon of gardening one spring Sunday, but he had to admit it was more intriguing than deadheading.

Which was a funny choice of words, given that the corpse was dismembered.

A limb here, a digit there… he could count almost as many body parts as he could grass cuttings and vegetable peelings. He was grateful for the vegetable waste; it seemed to have soaked up most of the blood.

When he rang the police, there was an element of doubt in the voice of the young operator. Well, she might not have been all that young, but Graham suspected only a rookie would allow surprise to creep into their voice when repeating ‘there’s a chopped-up body in my compost bin.’

When the police arrived and trudged down the garden to inspect the scene, they concurred with Graham’s original assessment of disembodiment. In fact, they even suggested that the deed was done with garden tools. Graham wasn’t a big fan of crime dramas, although his daughter, Annie, was. If this were a Sunday night TV show and she’d come round so they could watch it together, she would have said that this incision suggested shears, while that wound indicated a rake been used to grate the victim’s skin from their muscles. Graham would have fallen asleep before the big reveal at the end.

It was all rather grisly, Graham decided, watching the police come and go from his kitchen window. He made a strong pot of Assam for the officers, and topped up the sugar bowl in case any of them were in shock. Even the senior detective seemed a bit pale when she came back from the end of the garden. Well, she probably turned pale. It was so hard to tell with these foreign types. There now, he was doing it again. Annie was always correcting what she called casual racism. It wasn’t the done thing to refer to black people as ‘the N word’ or Asian people as ‘yellow,’ apparently.

Mr. Peters wasn’t sure how his daughter got so liberal, and he wasn’t sure he approved of it. What would his wife have said if she were still alive? Just recently the two of them visited B&Q and saw two gentlemen holding hands in the garden chair section. Holding hands! But Annie had smiled and said, isn’t it nice and look that bench has a sale on.

So that was what the world was coming to. Immorality in B&Q. They’d be legalising prostitution next. Perhaps they already had. Wait, no, that was marijuana. Wait, no, they were talking about legalising marijuana. That meant they probably would. And when, Graham wondered, did detectives get so young? In his day anyone in a position of seniority in any organisation had to be at least fifty. This woman was hardly in her forties, by the looks of her, although it was hard to judge age nowadays with all these miracle magic creams. One’s facial muscles need not age past twenty-two. Maybe she was pushing eighty, like Graham.

‘Mr. Peters,’ here was the detective now, standing at the kitchen door. Her hair was coiled up in braids — what were they called? Annie would know. ‘Mr. Peters, we have a few questions for you. Is there a place we can sit down?’

‘Of course,’ replied Graham, gesturing to the kitchen table laden with tea. ‘Would you like some biscuits? My daughter makes me excellent spiced cinnamon ones…’

‘No, no,’ she replied, as Graham nibbled a biscuit, ‘it’s actually about Annie that we’re here.’ Graham offered biscuits to the other officers in the kitchen. There suddenly seemed to be quite a few of them. ‘You see, Mr. Peters, we found some evidence on the corpse in your garden,’ the detective was saying. ‘We found shoes, Mr. Peters, and a locket, and scraps of clothing. Where is Annie at the moment, Mr. Peters?’

‘Well, she’s just gone out to B&Q…’ Graham trailed off. Perhaps it was yesterday they had gone there. Yes, yesterday, when they saw those two men. Of course. That was when Graham had had enough of Annie and her determination that a kind word be said about everyone. That was when they got home and did a spot of gardening, and Graham hacked her to death with the garden shears.

Of course it was. Yesterday. Well. What a turn of events. No wonder Annie hadn’t responded when he had asked about spare sugar.

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Thank you to Liz for critiquing.

© Francesca Burke 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Burke and francescaswords.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Everyday Acts of Murder: Housework

‘Reg, dear, would you mind doing the washing up?’ Clarissa asked her husband as he slouched on the sofa. The TV was showing something sport-related, and the volume was one notch higher than Clarissa found comfortable.


‘The washing up,’ Clarissa repeated. ‘It’s just that Robbie and Hannah will be here soon.’ In fact, they would be here in precisely one hundred and forty minutes, allowing for traffic. Which meant that Clarissa had one hundred and forty minutes to finish making dessert, chop the vegetables, adjust the leg of lamb that had been simmering in the oven for hours already, have a shower and do her hair. And do the washing up. ‘I’ve done three lots already, and we’re going to need the counter space.’ What they really needed was a dishwasher and a kitchen that wasn’t the size of a small prison cell, but as Reg did not personally cook he couldn’t understand why his wife’s deepest desire was to renovate.

‘I’ll do it in a minute.’

Clarissa knew that a minute in Reg Land was a little longer than a minute in reality, but it was Clarissa who pushed for this one last dinner party with their son and daughter-in-law before their first grandchild arrived, so she took a deep breath and went to attack some carrots.

Their guests were actually ten minutes late (‘our cabbie was awful, Mum, but I wanted to have a drink,’) but Reg was not ready to greet them. His carefully constructed beauty routine – a shower, shave and possibly a hair wash – took five minutes during the week and four times as long whenever they entertained. Interestingly, the finished results were the same.

‘Clarissa,’ Hannah greeted her mother-in-law with a bottle of prosecco and a bouquet of seasonal flowers. ‘Your house looks lovely. Have you done it up?’

‘Of course not!’ The hallway wallpaper had not been updated since before Reg and Clarissa bought the house in 1990. ‘It’s amazing what some accessories can do, though, isn’t it?’ The large mirror by the front door, for example, did an excellent job of hiding the wallpaper.

‘Reg still isn’t letting you redecorate?’ Hannah raised an eyebrow. With her winged eyeliner, warm South Asian complexion and gold nose ring, she managed to make being eight months pregnant look quite comfortable. Sometimes Clarissa thought she liked Hannah more than she liked Robbie – Hannah was funny and headstrong and with her around, there was no chance Rob would inherit his father’s reluctance to leave the sofa.

‘Of course he isn’t,’ Clarissa smiled. ‘Reg doesn’t want to pay for a decorator, but he also can’t be bothered to do it himself. Don’t let your husband get into such bad habits.’

‘Bad habits as in not decorating for thirty years or bad habits as in not letting you decorate for thirty years?’ Hannah’s gaze was a little too knowing.

‘Drinks, everyone?’ Clarissa called to their guests. ‘The first course will be about twenty minutes.’

‘Mum, do you want a hand with the washing up?’ Rob asked. ‘Not like you to leave it, even while you’re cooking for the five thousand.’

‘Oh!’ Clarissa glanced at Reg, who was already animatedly talking football with Robbie. Rob was doing a solid job of pretending to look interested. From this angle, Clarissa realised, they looked almost identical. How disconcerting. Robbie was far more outgoing. ‘Don’t worry, dear, I’ll do it later.’ Clarissa took a deep breath. ‘Now, have you decided on any names yet?’

Five hours later, the evening was over. The family had made appropriate food-appreciating noises at every turn, Hannah’s waters had not broken – something that had worried Clarissa greatly – and a prosecco bottle sat next to the recycling bin. Clarissa was just about done with washing all the dishes.

Clarissa pulled the sink’s plug and stepped back to admire her work. They hadn’t quite finished the second prosecco and Clarissa thought she might pour another glass.

‘Look, Reg, not a piece of crockery missing.’ Unable to keep pride from her voice, Clarissa rewarded herself with a dance. ‘Even that coffee mug with Christmas holly… I thought I was going to run out of washing up liquid.’ Clarissa trailed off. She really should replace her beloved Fairy Liquid with a home brand. Much cheaper. Still, it did the job – plates positively glistened; knives shone.

Even the one she’d used to stab Reg the final time he suggested he went to bed and left her to the washing up.

Get early access to stories – and have a character named after you! – by pledging $1 on Patreon.

Thank you to Liz for the critique.

© Francesca Burke 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Burke and francescaswords.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Everyday Acts of Murder: Driveways

  ‘Did you know,’ Elisa announced from her perch at the bay window, duster hanging limply from one hand, ‘that number seven down the road have four cars? A Beetle, a transit van and a Range Rover. And a Beetle.’ Her husband, Anthony, wasn’t sure if the family at number seven had a fondness for Beetles or if Elisa’s contact lenses needed a new prescription. Either way, Mr. and Mrs. Number Seven’s teenage offspring needed to be thrown from the nest before they could purchase any more vehicles. ‘Oh,’ Elisa added, ‘across the road have their Mercedes back, and Theresa next door has got the carers in for her mum, so you’ll probably have to park along another road later. Don’t bother looking for spaces here.’

In the five years since the couple across the road had moved in, Anthony and Elisa had never once received a hello, a Christmas card or an introduction. Anthony thought the wife resembled Cruella de Ville. She also hogged the road with her terribly parked Mercedes. They were nothing on the family at number seven, though. Who needed four cars? Did they have four children? Don’t even get him started on their monthly themed parties. This was Essex, not Jay Gatsby’s New York. One did not need to throw a ‘bit of a do’ every calendar month, and one especially did not need to invite a minimum of fifty people to clog up a small residential street while wearing fancy dress. ‘Is it really unreasonable to expect to park in the road I live in?’ Anthony asked. Elisa’s shoulders moved as she rolled her eyes.

‘Yes, darling, it is unreasonable. Because this is the twenty-first century and there are too many cars and not enough spaces. Because you insisted on buying an American muscle car the size of a small aeroplane instead of a nice sensible compact car, so you can’t even fit on the driveway you paid for.’

Anthony couldn’t argue with that. His pride and joy, a 1978 Dodge Charger, had been his fiftieth birthday present to himself. It was yellow, it puked black smoke every time he went into fourth gear and, best of all, it was almost impossible to park in a normal-sized space. Anthony’s wife and both daughters, along with most of the neigbourhood, usually left the grass verge nearest his house completely empty in the hope he would leave the Dodge there instead of near their belongings.

‘By the way,’ Elisa added as she finally remembered she had come into the room for housework, not gossip, ‘Mary’s coming back while you’re out later on. You know, she’s really getting confident with her driving, I think she’ll be brave enough to buy her own car soon. She’s been borrowing mine all week and hasn’t even scratched my wing mirrors!’

‘Where’s Mary going to park your car, then? In the South of France?’

Elisa tutted as she polished the windowsills. ‘Don’t be rude. She’ll probably take the space you’re in right now.’

‘The space outside our front door. The space the Dodge lives in. My space.’

‘Yes, Anthony.’

‘The space I can park in quite easily without needing hiking shoes for the walk home. The space everyone knows is my space.’

Yes, Anthony.’

‘Why does Mary get the space outside the door? Because she has successfully learnt how to drive herself home from the shops after a thousand pounds worth of driving lessons?’

‘Because, darling, she is your daughter and you are supposed to sacrifice things for her. In the same way that I am sacrificing my Saturday afternoon for the cleanliness of this house.’

Parking spaces, Anthony reflected, were not on the list of sacrifices he had prepared himself to make before his children were born. Reinventing swear words, pretending he agreed with his mother taking the children to church and watching the latest Disney until his eyes hurt, yes. But not the parking space outside his own home.

As he heaved shopping bags along the pavement that afternoon – he really should have worn better shoes – Anthony spotted Elisa’s Mondeo by the house. Mary had arrived home and was probably installed in the bathroom. Still, he had to admit she had done an excellent parallel park. She also paid her own parking fines, which was more than Anthony’s eldest daughter had done when she borrowed the family car. Wait, he had praised Mary too soon; she had actually parked over their neighbour’s driveway. In fact, Elisa’s Mondeo was totally blocking next door’s driveway. As he got closer, he realised why.

Mr. Number Seven was washing one of his Beetles, parked badly on the verge outside Anthony and Elisa’s house. Mr. Number Seven’s driveway, about five houses down, was completely empty save for a couple of children chewing sweets. Elisa was definitely watching from her perch upstairs.

‘Afternoon,’ Mr. Number Seven said cheerfully as Anthony reached them. A stream of soapy water was dribbling its way down the pavement and across Anthony’s toes.

‘Good afternoon,’ Anthony replied automatically. ‘Actually, Mr. Number– Daniel. Actually, Daniel, would you mind moving your car onto your driveway please? I’ve just had to park a whole street away.’ Anthony bared his teeth in what he hoped was a nonchalant smile and gestured to the overflowing shopping bags. ‘You’ve also blocked the verge so my daughter’s had to park over our neighbour’s driveway.’

‘I…’ Mr. Number Seven seemed to notice for the first time his car was outside the wrong house. ‘Well, the kids are coming back in the van soon, so I thought I’d leave the drive open for them. Don’t want a great Ford transit blocking the road.’

‘Quite,’ Anthony agreed. ‘When are they expected back?’

‘Tomorrow,’ called a small child, teeth gummed up with caramel. ‘Daddy says they’re back tomorrow.’ Mr. Number Seven flushed slightly, but did not blink.

‘Tomorrow. I see.’ Anthony bared his teeth again. ‘Well, if you’ll excuse me a moment.’ Anthony felt Mr. Number Seven’s eyes follow him as he hauled his groceries back down the road to where the Dodge was parked.

Two minutes later a 1978 Dodge Charger crashed into the verge, the Beetle and Daniel.

At the police station that evening, Anthony was glad to learn that the noise had been enough to rouse Mary from the bathroom and Elisa from her observatory.

Get early access to stories – and have a character named after you! – by pledging $1 on Patreon.

Thank you to Liz for the critiques.

© Francesca Burke 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Burke and francescaswords.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Community Spirit (as seen in Trawler magazine)

Originally published in Trawler magazine, November 2016.

As long as Cicely had lived in her village, which was as long as she could remember, she loved to count trees as their leaves turned each autumn. She liked to compare trees along her road to ones she spotted on walks into town, and judge them on degrees of colour. On Monday she spotted five with a pleasant red hue, on Wednesday seven, on Thursday eleven and so on. Bonus points if a tree was entirely yellow before it dropped a leaf. She also enjoyed counting the number of tacky Halloween shops that sprang up in Southend as September seeped into October (although her personal favourite was a Christmas shop that opened in August and stocked Halloween supplies in the front window until punters could be persuaded to cross the threshold for tinsel).

Halloween was Cicely’s most favourite autumn event. She had grown up with tales of ancient Samhain celebrations and of Jack, who was doomed to wander the land in search of his final resting place with only a lantern to light his way. Everything about modern Halloween fascinated her, from devil costumes to séance sessions to asking strangers for sweets. Her quiet neigbourhood came alive for a week, with children’s parties and horror film evenings, pumpkin carving afternoons and minor scandals when youths broke into the cemetery. Cicely was too shy to invite herself to any events – her neighbours never seemed to notice her in the local shops or at church – but she did love to amble around and people watch.

One Halloween Annabelle, a teenager who lived at number fourteen with about fourteen relatives, dressed up as a cat to go trick or treating and Mr. Brown from number twenty-six was told off by Mrs. Brown from number twenty-six for making a comment about her catsuit. Then Annabelle’s dad egged number twenty-six. Cicely felt bad for Annabelle, but she also hadn’t seen such soap-worthy scenes since the wife at number three ran off with the girlfriend at number thirteen.

Then there was the year Cicely followed a few acquaintances down the pier, because the evening promised to be foggy and autumnal and atmospheric. There was a ghost train, but Cicely hadn’t realised and accidentally wore her normal clothes instead of dressing up like everyone else. Nobody noticed, but she felt silly all evening.

As October ticked by and Essex turned from green to gold, Cicely decided to go trick or treating. She had never been before, not properly, but a few families from the close were going as a group and she didn’t want to miss out on another Oscar-worthy performance from her neighbours.

31st October that year was the most picturesque Halloween Cicely had ever seen. Leaves crunched underfoot. Mist snaked across fields and swallowed junctions. Ravens laughed in the distance. Cicely took extra care with the bed sheet that made up her ghost costume and was at the meeting point – the lamppost by number one – well before seven thirty. Everyone turned up in dribs and drabs, talking amongst themselves. A zombie here, a vampire there. Two knights in plastic armor, and the entire cast of Suicide Squad. Annabelle was wearing a devil costume.

Eventually someone brandished a broomstick and got the evening underway, booming ‘Don’t forget – it’s one family to the door at a time, then on to the next one. Booty will be shared equally!’ It all felt very neighbourly.

‘Treat!’ smiled the Polish couple at number six as they dished out Heroes.

‘Treat!’ laughed the elderly lady at number ten as she held out a basket of homemade cakes.

‘Trick!’ cackled Annabelle’s dad as he pelted them all with fake spider webs.

By number thirty, Cicely was brave enough to venture forward. She couldn’t remember who lived there – it might have been the accountant with the grumpy boyfriend or might have been the lady with at least four overfed Pomeranians.

The door opened and all Cicely could smell was Pomeranian.

‘Trick or treat!’ Cicely beamed.

All four Pomeranians began to howl.

Their owner began to scream.

Cicely turned to the others, bewildered. They screamed too.

‘She’s a ghost!’ Annabelle shrieked, backing away. Her devil horns had fallen off.

Cicely stared around – were they talking about her? Of course she was a ghost. She was wearing a white sheet. Then she realised her costume had slipped.

‘Technically, I’m a witch,’ Cicely replied. ‘Well, technically, I’m the ghost of a witch…’ Cicely couldn’t believe nobody had noticed before. From the moles on her hand that caused her so much trouble, to her black and purple bruises, shattered limbs and oozing welts, inflicted during interrogation in the town jail, to the rope marks around her neck where she was hanged. Definitely a witch.

She would have thought it pretty obvious that she was dead, too, given that most of the crowd had walked through her at some point during the evening. Was it her fault they weren’t paying attention?

No one was listening, though. Every eye on the street had turned to their phone – possibly to call the police, possibly to take a picture. Cicely hoped they had the right settings. Despite four centuries of hanging around the village in plain sight, nobody had ever managed to take a full photograph of her. Everything always blurred, even on All Hallows’ Eve. At least today they had all seen her, she reflected. Usually it took her hours of wandering about for the most observant pedestrian to catch something out of the corner of their eye. She would have to steal a bed sheet more often. Or maybe next year she would find a black cat and broomstick… After all, her outfit was already sorted.

Get early access to stories – and have a character named after you! – by pledging $1 on Patreon.

© Francesca Burke 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Burke and francescaswords.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.