The Sea Witch’s Revenge Part III

Part I / Part II

‘So you will ask your grandfather tonight?’

‘Yeah. We always have him round for dinner. I’ll… I’ll see you at school tomorrow?’

Roger nodded. ‘Good luck.’

The next day Roger didn’t cross paths with Jimmy once. Given the size of their school, this was a cause of mild concern. Perhaps Jimmy had made it home only to realise he was insane and hallucinating mythological creatures and skipped school to recover. That’s what Roger had considered. But at the end of the day, as Roger headed for the gates, Jimmy caught up with him.

‘Granddad gave me this.’ Jimmy pulled a small bronze telescope from his pocket. ‘I told him everything, and he admitted he had a ‘brief romantic encounter’ with a sea witch at some point during the 1940s. I refused to ask any more questions. He said that explained why I had refused to go fishing with him for the last six months. He was quite relieved, actually, he thought I was distracted over a girl.’

‘What a relief,’ Roger agreed. They did not speak again until they reached the beach.

There she was, lurking in the surf. Her hair, on second viewing, appeared to be made of seaweed.

Jimmy stopped, wincing. ‘I can’t go any further.’ He handed Roger the telescope. ‘Tell the hag that my grandfather apologised for stealing her coral. He would have come himself, except he’s got one leg and several cats to look after.’ He paused. ‘We’ll know if this works because I’ll be able to join you.’

Roger approached the beach feeling like he was approaching a dog of questionable repute.

‘I’m quite surprised you’re here, dearie,’ the hag said. Her black eyes never left his face. ‘I wasn’t, to be honest, expecting to see you this far down the beach again.’

‘I imagine you weren’t,’ Roger agreed. He inhaled salty air and wondered how Jimmy had stayed sane all those months, staring at the sea but never stepping towards it. ‘Here, I have something for you.’ He held out the telescope. ‘From James I, with deepest apologies and kindest regards. He would have come himself, except he’s got one leg and several cats to look after.’

The hag stared. Roger imagined no one had managed to surprise her for at least sixty years. ‘How did you know?’ she asked. Roger pointed back up the beach.

‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘if you’re going to try to curse somebody around here, you should probably check they don’t go to school with somebody you’ve already cursed. Or that they don’t know the sailor who broke your heart and stole your tropical plants.’

‘Fair,’ the hag said grudgingly. There was a silence during which a small crab made its way from the end of a strand of her hair to the top of her head, where it buried itself. She exhaled. ‘Well, I suppose my coral is dead after all these years. This telescope is… well, also not alive.’

‘That’s true,’ Roger said swiftly. ‘But you were never going to get your coral back, alive or dead, because you banish everyone who touches it from the sea for eternity.’

‘You may have a point,’ she admitted. ‘But what do I get in all of this? I have no coral and no revenge on you ridiculous humans.’

‘Well, now you have a new ornament for your tropical plant collection. Gardens could always do with a bit of decoration, don’t you think?’ Buying gifts for his grandmother had come in useful, after all. ‘And wanting something you can’t have takes its toll eventually.’

‘I suppose you’re right.’ The hag sighed. ‘Very well. I, Mildred of the North Sea, do accept this gift as compensation for my loss, and henceforth lift all curses inflicted upon anyone I have deceived.’

‘Your name is Mildred?’

‘Your name is Roger,’ she pointed out. ‘I didn’t judge you for that.’

‘True,’ Roger agreed, ‘sorry.’

‘You know, I could still give you that potion,’ Mildred offered. Now she clutched her telescope, the teeth missing from her mouth appeared to be growing back. Her hair was starting to look a bit less seaweed-y and even the stench of rotting fish was receding. Maybe Jimmy was right: harbouring emotional baggage aged you.

Roger thought about it. ‘I’m all right, thanks.’

Mildred shrugged. ‘If you ever need me, wade into the sea and shout my name. I probably won’t try to drown you.’

‘Thanks,’ Roger said, and watched as she disappeared into sea foam. He wondered where the crab would go when her hair turned back into hair.

Jimmy joined him at the water’s edge. ‘Why didn’t you take the potion?’

‘How did you know?’

Jimmy crossed his arms. ‘Lucky guess.’

Roger exhaled. ‘I thought I might… stick around for a bit. What about you?’

‘Yeah, I was thinking about doing the same.’

‘So,’ Roger said as they walked up the beach, ‘did you pay to enter the museum every single day?’


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

Thank you to Liz for critiquing, as always.

© 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.

Advertisements

The Sea Witch’s Revenge Part II

Part I

‘Are you here to steal the coral?’

‘Maybe,’ Roger replied. Jimmy stuffed his hands in his pockets.

‘That coral carries a curse. If you touch it, you’ll never be able to go near the sea again.’

Roger found he was not surprised. In fact, if he examined his feelings, he would discover that he was more shocked that Jimmy knew his name.

‘I can prove there’s a curse,’ Jimmy said after one of those awkward silences that gets worse the longer you leave it. ‘I mean, if you want to know I’m not lying.’

‘All right.’ Roger followed Jimmy down the path he had taken from the beach as seagulls danced above them. Not ten feet from the shingle, Jimmy stopped. He gazed at the horizon as he waited for Roger to understand.

‘You got cursed,’ Roger realised. ‘You… can’t go near the sea anymore?’ To be honest, they were already fairly close to the sea. Close enough for most people, anyway.

‘Nope.’ Jimmy squinted out at the beach. ‘I mean, I physically can’t. If I try to walk any closer-’ he stepped forward then stopped abruptly like a cartoon character who had just walked into a glass wall. ‘I can’t move any further. Not that I’d want to try, though, because the closer I am to the sea – or that bloody coral – the more I get these awful headaches. It’s like I can hear the sea inside my head, screaming at me.’ He said it lightly, like he was describing a migraine, but Roger caught the edge in his voice. ‘I tried to take the coral to the sea hag,’ Jimmy continued, ‘but when I realised I couldn’t reach the sea I put it back. I thought that might un-curse me.’ He shrugged. ‘No luck.’

‘Why did you do a deal with the sea hag?’ Roger asked. What could a boy born to thrive in a large city’s financial sector want with a bit of coast on the edge of the map?

Jimmy pointed up the gulls.

‘You want to be a seagull?’

Jimmy laughed, taken aback. ‘I want to fly.’

‘Oh.’ Roger allowed himself a moment of embarrassment.

That, too, got worse the longer he left it.

‘I want to breathe underwater,’ Roger confessed.

Jimmy’s mouth quirked. ‘You want to be a fish.’

‘Sea person,’ Roger corrected. Jimmy waited. ‘I don’t like this town,’ Roger admitted. ‘It’s too full of people who know your full name. I’ve always wanted to be able to leave whenever I like.’

Jimmy nodded. ‘But it’s hard to leave.’

‘Not if you’re good at school,’ Roger argued. ‘Not if you’ve got a family who would be proud to wave you off to sunnier climates.’ Not if your name isn’t Roger.

Jimmy shrugged. The handknitted sweater was a little bit worn on the shoulder seam. ‘There are things other than bad grades that keep you in this town.’ Roger nodded. His hands were starting to feel cold as he had forgotten to put his gloves on, but there are times when one must forfeit comfort for a seminal conversation with the most popular boy in school, especially if that boy has just confessed that he experiences excoriating pain on a regular basis. ‘I like my family and I like my life,’ Jimmy continued, oblivious to Roger’s goosebumps, ‘but I’ve always wanted to be able to, well, fly away.’

They stood until drizzle started to fall. Roger tried not to think about the hope he had allowed to grow in his chest while he was talking to the sea hag.

‘I’m sorry,’ Jimmy said eventually. ‘I know how tempting that deal is.’

‘That’s okay,’ Roger managed. ‘I’ll find another way,’

Jimmy, to his credit, did not enquire further. Roger, to his credit, did not ask how Jimmy had met the sea hag himself.

‘I want to stop her from cursing anyone else,’ Roger decided. ‘I’ve not got the time to come and stop the next person she meets.’

‘You think I had the time to come and stop you?’ Jimmy asked drily.

Roger immediately felt bad. Clearly Jimmy had less going for him than his aura suggested. Roger wondered if he had a family business to look after – or, worse, just members of his family. ‘How did you know I’d come to the museum today?’ Roger asked.

‘I’ve come to the museum every day since I was cursed,’ Jimmy said, stuffing his hands back into his pockets. ‘I didn’t want anyone else to get cursed either.’

‘Am I the first person you’ve met trying to steal the coral?’

‘Yeah.’

‘How long ago were you cursed?’

‘About six months.’

Six months of voluntarily returning to a place that caused horrific agony. The longer this conversation continued, the more Roger realised how badly he had misjudged the charismatic star of his science class.

‘I did some research on sea hags when it first happened,’ Jimmy said tentatively. ‘The legends vary, but often sea witches are meant to be really proud and hate sailors.’

‘We gathered that,’ Roger pointed out.

‘Yes,’ Jimmy said, with the manner he took when he answered an obvious question in a lesson. ‘But what if we made it up to her? We could ask for an exchange. Something in return for un-cursing everyone.’

‘I would suggest giving her coral back,’ Roger mused, ‘but since you’re the only one of us who can touch it and I’m the only one who can reach the sea, that might go badly. Besides, I don’t think she really wants it back. If she did, she wouldn’t curse everyone who tries to bring it to her. I think she’s doing it because she’s wants revenge on humans for stealing from her. Maybe… maybe we could give her something she would appreciate, like something of the sailor who stole the coral originally.’

An eye for an eye, or thereabouts, felt suitably logical. Roger felt rather like he was organising a birthday present for his grandmother.

‘About that…’ for the first time all afternoon, James looked uncomfortable. ‘I think I know who the sailor was.’

‘Wait, you’re not him, are you?’ Roger demanded. ‘You weren’t also cursed to live forever and haunt the museum?’

‘What? No! It’s, um…’ James cleared his throat. ‘He… he was my grandfather. James I. He was a sailor, and my dad is always bragging about how half the stuff in the museum is from him. Sorry, I should have mentioned it earlier. I didn’t want to… put you off. Any more than you might already be.’ He coughed.

‘James… the first,’ Roger echoed. No wonder Jimmy had a royal air about him. ‘No, it’s fine. This is already quite a strange afternoon.’ Jimmy still looked uncomfortable, but maybe he had another headache. Or maybe Roger just had that effect on people. ‘So you think we should give her something of your grandfather’s? Like what?’

‘He always carries a telescope,’ James said thoughtfully. ‘I think he picked it up in the navy. I’ll ask him tonight.’

‘You mean he’s still alive?’

‘Why wouldn’t he be?’

‘I just… The sea hag seemed really old. She looks ancient. As in, should have died a century ago ancient.’

‘Maybe she grew into it. Maybe that’s what people do when they spend their entire life wanting something they can’t get.’

‘Maybe,’ Roger said quickly, fiddling with the gloves in his pocket. He wondered how old he would look in a decade. He wondered how old Jimmy would look.

They walked back to the museum and stared at the coral as though it might impart wisdom from its pedestal. It was impressive to look at, but not as impressive as it would have been when it was alive. Roger didn’t want to linger; Jimmy was doing a mediocre job of hiding that his hands were shaking.

‘So you will ask your grandfather tonight?’

‘Yeah. We always have him round for dinner. I’ll… I’ll see you at school tomorrow?’

Roger nodded. ‘Good luck.’


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

Thank you to Liz for critiquing. Part three is online next week!

© 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.

The Sea Witch’s Revenge Part I

Once upon a time, there was a boy who wanted to be a merman. He knew it was supposed to be the other way around — a mermaid wanting to become human — but the heart what it wants, and he wanted to own a tail, breathe underwater, and talk to fish.

After years of longing and days walking along the windswept grey harbour and unforgiving grey beach of his miniature coastal town, a chance encounter brought him a step closer to achieving his only desire. As he trudged home from school along the shore, boots hitting pebbles a hair’s breadth away from the water, a voice interrupted his thoughts.

‘Child, will you do me a favour?’

He whirled around and found himself nose to nose with a… a crone?

‘I’m a sea hag, dear,’ said the creature soothingly as if she (it?) could read his thoughts. ‘You know, a standard mythological being of the ocean with various magical powers and a penchant for deals with humans.’ Her chalky skin was speckled and cracked like a rough seashell, and she wore a dress that looked like it had been woven from trawler nets. Her eyes were like a shark’s: completely black and unblinking.

The boy noticed he was cold; all the hairs on his arms stood up and when he inhaled he could taste rotting fish.

‘Hello,’ he tried. ‘It’s… Nice to meet you.’

‘You too, dearie,’ chuckled the hag. ‘Now, about that favour. I need you to do something for me. I’ll give you a handsome reward,’ she added after a beat. ‘Anything your heart desires.’

‘If you’re offering a reward, it’s not a favour, is it?’ the boy pointed out. ‘It’s a deal.’

‘I suppose you’re right,’ the hag sniffed. ‘Well, do you want to hear it or not?’ The boy considered. Deals were hard to come by in this part of the world. Optimism was harder.

‘Go on then.’

‘I can’t leave the sea, dearie. It’s an occupational hazard. And I need something returned to me that was stolen by upstart sailor many years ago.’

‘What is it?’ the boy asked.

‘A piece of coral,’ the hag replied. ‘It was a part of my collection of tropical plants, and he stole it on a dare one day.’

‘Rude,’ agreed the boy. ‘Do you know where it is?’

‘Oh yes,’ breathed the hag. ‘It’s in a museum. Your town’s museum. He donated it on return from his voyage. Didn’t even want to keep the stolen property, no, just wanted something shiny to bring home.’

‘What will you do for me if I steal it back?’

The hag grinned, revealing approximately three and a half teeth. ‘I can brew you a potion that will free you from your earthly bounds, human, and give you the life of a sea dweller you’ve wasted nights dreaming about.’

That was a melodramatic way of putting it, he thought, but why not.

‘All right,’ he said after a moment moment’s consideration, just to be sure. ‘I’ll meet you back here this time tomorrow.’

The town’s four-room museum (dedicated to fishing, naval exploits, marine life and the region’s history respectively) was conveniently situated not five minutes’ walk from the beach – although around here, most things were not five minutes’ walk from the beach.

The only people who visited the museum – and the rest of the town, come to that – were tourists who had been on their way to a sunny corner of the coast and missed the turn off. Even seagulls decided not to take up permanent residence in the area (the young people who lived there were of a similar mind). Entering the museum was easy — it was open to the public six days a week but unstaffed for five of them, and entrance was fifty pence. Not bad for the fulfilment of one’s lifelong ambition. Finding the coral was easy, too — it was one of five exhibits in the marine life room. None of the exhibits were actually alive. Perhaps fifty pence was a rip-off after all.

The boy approached the coral, now bleached and perched on a pedestal, and allowed himself a moment of trepidation. This is it, he thought, from this moment my life is going to start —

‘Don’t touch that,’ said a voice. The boy nearly had a heart attack as for the second time in an hour as he turned to see the last person he would have expected in a museum on a weekday afternoon: a boy from his science class. The only notable boy from his science class, in fact, a star pupil destined to move to a faraway city and visit on seasonal holidays.

‘Jimmy. James. Hi,’ he remembered too late that James was only called Jimmy in his head. He looked like a Jimmy. The boy had only ever seen Jimmy across a classroom; in person his eyebrows were slightly asymmetrical and his nose slightly crooked. He wore what looked suspiciously like a handknitted pullover over his reasonably fashionable jeans.

‘Hello,’ said Jimmy amicably. ‘It’s Roger, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ the boy said uncomfortably. Perhaps now you can see why we’ve called him ‘the boy’ until this point. When you think of mer-people, you just don’t think of Rogers.

‘Are you here to steal the coral?’

‘Maybe,’ Roger replied. Jimmy stuffed his hands in his pockets.

‘That coral carries a curse. If you touch it, you’ll never be able to go near the sea again.’


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

Thank you to Liz for critiquing. Part two coming next week!

© 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: 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.


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

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.

‘Hm?’

‘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.