Train to Nowhere

“That is very beautiful, gut gemacht!”

Lauren looked up from her sketchbook and squinted in the sun. In the glare, she could just make out a man smiling down at her. He gestured to her sketchbook.

“Der Dom.”

“Oh.” Lauren said with a nervous laugh, “Thank you.” She began to close the book, hiding her drawing of the Berlin Cathedral from further scrutiny.

“Please don’t.” The man said. He knelt down on the grass beside Lauren and gently placed his hand on her arm, “I have embarrassed you. I am sorry.”

Lauren let out another nervous laugh and tucked her hair behind her ear, “No, no, you haven’t.” But the truth was he had, and not just with his praise. Now that he wasn’t standing directly in front of the sun, Lauren could see his handsome tanned face and icy blue eyes and she was suddenly very aware of how close he was to her.

“Do you have any more in there?” he asked.

“Em . . .” Lauren looked down at her sketchbook, “Yeah . . . a few others.”

“May I?” he asked as he gently lifted the book off her lap. Lauren nodded and watched anxiously as the handsome stranger looked through her book.

As he turned the pages, each one covered in a pencil sketch of various landmarks Lauren had visited on her travels, such as Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest, and Charles Bridge in Prague, he muttered words of admiration in German.

Wunderbar!” he exclaimed handing Lauren back her book and flashing her a wide smile full of straight white teeth, “You are very talented.”

“Thanks.”

He extended his hand, “My name is Nicolaus.”

“Lauren.” Lauren said taking his hand, but instead of shaking it he gave her hand a soft squeeze.

“Very pleased to meet you, Lauren.” Nicolaus said, flashing that sparkling smile again, “So, I see you have been travelling. Have you been enjoying it?”

Lauren nodded, “Yes . . . yes, it’s been amazing.”

“Where has been your favourite place, so far?”

“Well, Vienna is stunning, but I love it here, in Berlin”

Nicolaus’ smile grew wider, “I am glad to hear that.”

Lauren giggled and allowed herself to relax a little. Travelling alone had come with its fair share of pros and cons and she had never fully let her guard down when talking to strangers, especially men. But over the course of her travels everyone she had met had been friendly and nothing untoward had happened to her. Nicolaus seemed as friendly and genuine as the rest and he was particularly pleasing on the eye, which helped. She decided that he wasn’t a threat and, as she was nearing the end of her holiday, it would be nice to fully engage with someone.

“I . . . have a connection to this place,” she said meaning Berlin and not the Lustgarten where they currently lounged on the grass, “My mum and dad brought me here when I was a wee girl . . . we didn’t have much money and it was our only holiday. It was fantastic.”

Nicolaus nodded along in understanding, “You have fond memories from your childhood. Ja. I have fond memories of a holiday in Portugal with my family.” He made a show of looking around, “No mum and dad with you this time?”

Lauren stiffened, but only slightly, and if Nicolaus noticed he didn’t show it, “No . . . they, uh, couldn’t make it.”

“I see. That is a shame. So, when do you go back to . . .”

Lauren smiled, glad of the change of subject, “Scotland. I’m from Scotland. In two days. Gives me a chance to draw the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag, depending on which I like best.”

Nicolaus rubbed his chin and looked off into the distance, “Ja, those buildings are wunderschön . . . very beautiful, but, you know, these . . . landmarks, ja, are not all Germany has to offer. There is some beautiful countryside just outside of the city with very old houses and shops that I think would be very interesting to draw.”

Lauren twisted her mouth as she contemplated, “I’m quite settled here, now. And the architecture here is interesting enough to draw.”

“That must be why all the other artists who come here draw these same buildings,” Nicolaus said thoughtfully, and Lauren felt as though she’d just been jabbed in the stomach. All the other artists? Was that what she was? Unoriginal and boring? That wasn’t what art was. And wouldn’t her parents want her to add to her memories of Berlin? Even though she’d toured around Vienna, Budapest and Prague, Berlin had been her main goal, the real reason for her trip, and now she had the chance to experience more of it.

“Is there anywhere in particular you’d recommend?” she asked.

“Nirgends.”

“Sorry?”

“There is a little village called Nirgends,” Nicolaus explained, “It’s small and quaint. You would enjoy drawing it.”

“How would I get there?”

“By train. However, only two trains pass through a day. One to Nirgends and one back. It leaves early.”

“How early?”

“7o’clock in the morning and leaves Nirgends at 7o’clock in the evening.”

For the past ten days Lauren had been getting up early to catch trains and coaches so the 7am departure didn’t faze her. A day in a small country village sounded rather pleasant.

“Okay . . . I think I’ll go.”

Nicolaus’ face lit up, “Wunderbar! You will not regret it.”

Lauren smiled, “So can I just get a ticket as the train station?”

Nicolaus shook his head, “Sadly, no. You need a travel card to get to Nirgends.”

“Why’s that?” Lauren asked, furrowing her eyebrows.

“It is the same with all the small villages outside the city. They are less frequented by tourists, and they like it that way. Only citizens can buy a card.” Nicolaus explained.

“Well, how am I supposed to get there?”

Nicolaus fished in the back pocket of his jeans, “You can borrow mine.”

“Oh, no no no,” Lauren said, holding up her hands, “I couldn’t. What if I lost it?”

Nicolaus chuckled, deep and rolling and Lauren felt her skin prickle delightfully.

“I don’t believe you will,” he said. He held out to her a small blue leather wallet that contained his travel pass. He gave it a little wiggle, “Take it. Please. I want you to see Nirgends . . . and then you can return the card to me and show me what you draw.”

He looked Lauren dead in the eye, looking hopeful that she would accept his invitation. Was it for a date? Obviously, she would have to meet him to give him back his travel card, but the way he said that last part and the way he was looking at her . . .

Lauren blushed and took the wallet, “Thank you. And, yeah, I’d like that.”

Smiling his wide white smile, Nicolaus produced his mobile phone, “We should swap numbers, for when you get back.”

Lauren told him her number then entered his into her phone.

“I have to go now,” Nicolaus said, getting up, “Lunch break is over,” he took hold of Laurens hand and gave it another gentle squeeze, “I will see you tomorrow night.”

Lauren felt herself blush again as she nodded. She watched him as he walked away, passed the fountain and mingled in with the crowd. She looked down at the small leather wallet and tucked it into her sketchbook which she then put into her backpack. Lunch, she hadn’t had hers yet and she was suddenly very hungry.

* * *

The train station was busy even though it was 6:45am. There were many tourists pulling suitcases behind them or adjusting large rucksacks on their backs, as well as people dressed in suits commuting for work. There were several trains waiting to be boarded, including Laurens, but they hadn’t been called yet.

Sipping the takeaway coffee she had purchased from a stall, Lauren let her thoughts drift to Nicolaus. Nicolaus and his winning smile. She was looking forward to visiting the village that he had gushed about, but she was looking forward to seeing him later that night even more.

She pictured them both, sitting on a terrace eating fine food and drinking red wine as they looked through Lauren’s sketches of the village. Nicolaus would point to each drawing and excitedly exclaim that he had been there. Then they’d laugh, clink their glasses and share a kiss.

Bing bong.

Lauren jumped at the sound of the intercom. A polite female voice spoke first in German and then in English, announcing the trains ready for boarding. Lauren gathered up her things. It was nearly 7am, her train would be one of the ones ready to depart.

A loud crackling sounded over the intercom causing Lauren to wince. It grew louder then there was the sound of feedback. A man’s voice, deep and drawling, began to speak, dragging out each word he said.

“Train to Nirgends boarding now on platform two.”

His low lazy voice caused Lauren’s arms to breakout in goosebumps and she stared up at the nearest speaker, wondering why the announcer had changed so suddenly from a woman to a man.

“Train to Nirgends is boarding . . . now.”

Why did Lauren feel as though that second announcement was directed at her? Apart from the fact she was going to Nirgends, something seemed personal to Lauren. As she moved to platform two, realising she was the only one heading for the train to Nirgends, it felt even more distinctive.

As she approached the ticket barrier, Lauren pulled out the small leather wallet from her back pocket and folded it open. The travel card inside was more like an old-fashioned train ticket than a modern trans card. Yellowish in colour with Nirgends and Berlin, along with the expiration date, printed in fancy swirling script across the centre. There was no photograph of Nicolaus, not even a signature. No way to suggest that this wasn’t Lauren’s own ticket.

She took the ticket out of the wallet and slid it into the slot beside the barrier swing gate. The card was sucked in and then nothing happened. Lauren’s hand hovered over the exit slot were the card should have popped up from a matter of seconds later, but it didn’t appear.

Suddenly that loud crackling sounded from the intercom again, causing Lauren to spin around and stare up at the speaker again. Her heart beat faster as she waited for the voice.

“Train to Nirgends now boarding.”

The ticket machine began to whir and buzz. Lauren’s head snapped back round to look at it in confusion.

“Train to Nirgends will depart soon.”

Lauren looked around desperately for someone to help. The machine couldn’t eat up the ticket. It wasn’t even her ticket!

The whirring increased, sounding as though there were over 100 angry wasps inside. Lauren began to sweat. She had this overwhelming feeling of dread and part of her was willing her to just abandon the ticket and get the hell out of the train station. Forget Nirgends and go back to her original plan of sketching the Reichstag.

“Last call for the train to Nirgends . . . go . . . now.”

The whirring stopped, the ticket popped up and the gates swung open. After a moment of hesitation, Lauren plucked out the card and stepped through the gates onto the platform.

Obviously, some kind of malfunction, she told herself as she tucked the card back into the wallet. She began to feel at ease and soon all thoughts of the creepy announcer and broken ticket machine were lost in her mind as she moved along the platform to the front of the train. The doors to all the other carriages were closed and as she passed them she looked in the windows. They were all empty, just rows and rows of vacant seats with the occasional table. How weird it would be for Lauren to have the whole train to herself? This was obviously why only the front carriage was accessible. What a waste.

She reached the front and stepped on board. With her choice of seats, she sat at a window seat with a table so that she could work on her sketch of Nicolaus that she’s started the night before from memory.

No sooner had she sat down than the doors slid shut and the train began to slowly pull away from the station. Lauren felt excited, all feelings of foreboding gone.

* * *

About 20 minutes into the journey Lauren put on her headphones and listened to some music. With nothing but the rhythmical chug of the train for company, she grew tired of it and selected her favourite 90s playlist on her phone as she drew.

She was glad there was no-one around to see her picture. How embarrassing would it be if someone recognised Nicolaus from her sketch and told him about it? She would look like a stalker and an oddball.

She felt a gentle tug on her hair and reached back, flicking her ponytail, thinking it was caught on the back of the seat. But then she felt it again and she spun around.

Of course, there was no-one there. She was alone on the train. She ran her fingers though her ponytail again as her eyes searched the carriage for any sign of movement, for anyone hiding behind a seat. There was no-one there.

She turned back to her drawing, confused, but suppossed there must be a draught coming from somewhere. She busied herself shading in Nicolaus’ dark locks when her hair was yanked so hard her head snapped back. She cried out and jumped out of the seat, spinning around. There, crouched on the seat behind her, was a blonde girl of around eight.

She giggled as Lauren gawked at her.

“Was . . . was that you?” Lauren asked, heart hammering in her chest.

Still giggling, the little girl nodded.

Lauren took a deep breath to steady her nerves. Obviously, she wasn’t alone on the train. No way would it take just one passenger all the way to Nirgends. That was ludicrous. She tightened her ponytail, tucking in the strands that had come loose.

“You on your own?”

The little girl shook her head, still grinning.

“Where are your mum and dad?”

The girl pointed to the door at the far end that led to the next carriage.

“Maybe you should go and get them.” Lauren said, “They’ll be wondering where you are.”

The girl jumped off the seat and stood in the middle of the aisle. She was wearing a pale pink jumper, light blue jeans and white trainers. She held a hand out to Lauren.

“You want me to come?” Lauren asked, horrified. She was an only child, no cousins, no other children in the family. She’d never been around kids, never had any reason to, and now here was one wanting Lauren to take her back to her parents, “You got here on your own . . . you sure you can’t just . . . find your way back?”

The little girl simply wiggled her fingers, beckoning Lauren to come with her.

Sighing, Lauren said, “Okay, I’ll come.”

The girl giggled and skipped along to the door, looking back over her should to ensure Lauren was following.

Lauren looked back at her seat where her sketchbook and bag were. She was sure they’d be fine where they were. She wouldn’t be long. When she turned back the girl was already disappearing through the door.

Lauren briefly considered leaving the girl and returning to her seat, but she knew that would be mean, so she pushed through the door to the next carriage.

* * *

The door swung shut behind her with a heavy thud and Lauren stopped in her tracks. The little girl was nowhere to be seen and neither were the seats and décor of a modern train carriage. Instead Lauren had stepped into what appeared to be an old-fashioned caboose. Lanterns hung from the walls, casting a dull yellow glow on the hundreds of marionettes crammed in the caboose.

This isn’t right, Lauren thought, her chest restricting in agitation. She remembered looking in the windows of each carriage of the train as she walked to the front one at the station. They had all looked the same. And as she stared around this one, there didn’t seem to be any windows at all, just those hanging lanterns.

She turned and pulled on the door handle. She didn’t want to be here. Something wasn’t right. She’d go back to her carriage, maybe talk to the driver. This was wrong.

But the door wouldn’t budge.
Desperately, she rattled the handle and pulled and pulled, but it would not open.

Grunting in frustration, she turned to face the room again. Through the crowd of marionettes, with their leering grins and large noses, Lauren spied a door at the far side of the caboose. It would lead to the next carriage and Lauren’s only choice was to go there.

The puppets were all different shapes and sizes, some dressed in modern clothing such as graphic t-shirts and jeans, and others donned Victorian garb, worn and tatty. There were children, jesters, queens, dogs, cats, soldiers, all sorts, hanging from the ceiling, sitting on shelves or slumped in baskets on the floor. Lauren eased her way through them, careful not to kick any on the ground or bump into any of the hanging ones. She didn’t want to touch them. They were creepy and this whole situation had her feeling uneasy. She just wanted out of this caboose.

Little did she know that the marionettes were watching her. As she walked by, they turned their heads to follow her, some of the smaller ones climbing out of baskets to get a better look, their strings trailing behind them. Lauren didn’t see or hear them; her attention was fixed on the door. The little girl must have run straight through here. Lauren supposed she could sit with the girl and her parents until they got to Nirgends. She’d be able to retrieve her belongings once the train had stopped.

The hanging puppets seemed to become denser and she was finding it difficult to navigate through them. She reached out and pushed some aside, but more swung into their place, seeming to hang closer to Lauren so that they completely blocked her view of the door.

She pushed and pulled at the marionettes, but there were too many surrounding her, their ugly crooked faces staring manically at her. Her breathing came out faster and she frantically yanked at the closest puppets, pulling them from their strings and letting them fall to the floor, but no sooner had she done that than another one appeared, dropping an eyelid in a lurid wink.

Feeling a tug at her jeans, Lauren looked down and screamed. Three marionettes, reaching up to her knee and dressed as clowns, were wrapping their strings around her ankles. They looked up at her, each one with an expression of sadness, anger, and glee, respectively, frozen on their wooden faces, as they pulled tight on their strings, forcing Lauren’s legs together and sending her crashing to the floor.

Marionettes fell on top of her, scratching at her back and pulling at her hair. Screaming, Lauren thrashed her arms around and kicked with her bound legs. The puppets retreated, allowing Lauren to prop herself up on her elbows.

Through tears, she could see the marionettes pressed up against the walls of the caboose, but they weren’t looking at her. Each one faced the far end of the carriage. Lauren looked, too, peering through the gloom.

To the right of the door, crouched in the corner, was a large marionette, the largest on the train. It slowly rose to its feet, reaching nearly to the ceiling. It was dressed in a frilly white shirt and dark velvet trousers. Its face was different from the rest of the marionettes, with a small nose and dull fleshy complexion – not like the shiny wooden finishes of the others – it looked almost human. It ambled forward with jerky movements, it’s strings working by an invisible force.

As it got closer, Lauren noticed two things; it’s arms were outstretched with one hand on top of the other, as though it was concealing something, and there were two black holes were its eyes should have been.

Lauren sat up and frantically tore at the strings around her ankles. The large marionette approached her then stopped, leaning over her with its hands near her face. Her breathing coming fast and shallow, Lauren watched as the marionette lifted its top hand, exposing two tiny puppets, four inches high, standing on its other hand.

Lauren let out a small mew of despair as she recognised who the two tiny dolls were supposed to represent. One was a man with tight black curls on top of his head and a bushy beard flecked with grey. The other was a woman with a short red bob and a sprinkle of freckles on her nose and cheeks.

Sobbing, Lauren reached out to touch them. Her parents. They’d been gone 18 months now and Lauren missed them terribly. If she could take the puppets, hold them, then maybe this nightmare would be worth it.

Just as her fingertips were about to touch them, the replicas of her mum and dad burst into flames.

“No!” Lauren screamed.

The tiny marionettes melted on the larger one’s hand. Their faces drooped grotesquely, clothing curled and smouldered until it had completely burned away. Lauren jumped to her feet and dashed for the door, shoving past the large marionette while all the others shook and rattled on their strings. Lauren yanked open the door and lunged into the next carriage, leaving the maniacal marionettes and the burning effigies of her parents behind.

* * *
She fell on the floor of the next carriage. It was covered in dirty hay and the offending stench of animal faeces mixed with filthy pelt attacked her nostrils.

She ignored it at first as she knelt on the floor, crying. Images of the burning marionettes where replaced by the memories of her real parents burning alive. She clutched her head, strands of hay sticking to her hair, and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the memories.

I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t help them. She thought, rocking back and forth.

The fluttering of wings caused her to look up. A hawk stood on the floor before Lauren, its head cocked. Its beak was cracked, and tiny insects crawled all over its body. Lauren covered her mouth with the back of her hand and sat back against the door. The sight of the filthy bird and the overpowering stench of waste caused her stomach to lurch.

The bird let out a screech and took off, flying up to a high perch. Bare lightbulbs swung from the ceiling, illuminating the cages full of animals in this other nightmarish caboose Lauren found herself in.

To her left was a huge cage containing a big brown bear. It pressed its face up against the cage, its snout poking through the bars. It snarled at Lauren, thick saliva dripping to the floor, beady black eyes glaring at her. Its fur was patchy and matted and, like the hawk, teeming with creepy crawlies.

Above the bear cage was another cage atop a platform. A growling tiger with only one eye and clearly suffering from mange, paced around the small cage. There was a large tank on the floor to Lauren’s right and, although it was smeared with filth, Lauren was certain she could see a large snake slithering around inside.

More birds roosted around the caboose, some practically featherless, others unable to lift their dirty matted wings, but perhaps most frightening of all was the chimpanzee with only half a face, squatting in a cage that hung from the ceiling.

Lauren stared in horror at the disgusting animals, her hand covering her mouth and nose to keep out as much of the stench as she could. Movement as the far end of the caboose caught her eye and she was surprised to see a man down there.

Dressed in dirty overalls and with a flat cap on his head, he shovelled up some of the hay and dumped it into a black bin bag. He didn’t seem to notice Lauren.

“Excuse me.” Lauren called, moving her hand from her mouth, but keeping her nose pinched.

The man carried on shovelling.

Slowly, Lauren slid up against the door. The bear continued to watch her, fangs bared.

“Excuse me, please!” Lauren called again, “Can . . . can you help me?”

The man had finished shovelling and now tied up the bin bag.

Keeping an eye on the bear, Lauren dared to take a step forward. The bear dragged its claws along the already scratched surface of the floor, growling. Up above, the tiger roared. Despite the cages, Lauren was terrified that the monstrous creatures would kill her, so she stopped and stayed were she was.

“Please, I want to get off the train.” Lauren called out to the man.

The man tossed the bin bag into a wheelbarrow and turned to face Lauren. He looked around 60, his lined face covered in grime. Without a word, he shuffled down the aisle towards Lauren. The animals grew restless. The birds that could fly circled overhead, the tiger swiped at the air through the bars, the bear roared and continued to claw at the floor. To Lauren’s right, the chimpanzee chattered and swung its cage, the chain creaked and shuddered.

Lauren shrank back against the door, terrified that the cage would fall, freeing the chimp with its exposed skull and flaps of rotten skin.

“Please, please let me off.” Lauren begged the man as he drew closer.
To her relief he pulled a set of keys from his overalls.

He’s going to unlock the door and let me back to the front carriage. She thought, with a sigh. She didn’t much fancy going back through the marionette caboose, but if it got her away from these dreadful creatures then she would.

“Oh, thank you,” Lauren said, “I’m so sorry I came through here. I was just . . .”

She trailed off as the man stuck the key in the lock of the bear cage.

“Oh my God, what are you doing?” she said.

The bear turned when it heard the lock click open. The man pulled open the cage gate.

“No!” Lauren screamed and lunged forward, slamming the gate closed again.

The man violently shoved Lauren away, sending her crashing into the snake tank, causing the lid to slide off. All around her the animals went berserk as the man opened the cage again and the huge bear lumbered out.

Lauren scrambled to her feet and ran for the door leading to the next carriage, feet slipping and sliding on the filth underfoot. From its perch, the hawk let out a shriek before flying straight into Lauren’s head.

Screaming, she waved her hands in the air, trying to fight it off, but more birds joined in, pecking at Laurens hands and arms.

Behind her the man was slowly climbing up to the tiger’s cage as the chimpanzee clutched onto the bars of its cage, jumping and screeching in anticipation of being released. The bear rose on its hind legs, its massive bulk practically filling the caboose. It roared, sending the birds back to their roosting spots.

Lauren wasted no time in moving again, but tripped over the green anaconda that had escaped from the tank. The snake slithered after Lauren as she scrambled backwards along the floor. Her eyes, open wide in fear, switched between the snake, the bear, and the man as he opened the tiger’s cage. Why had her let them out? They’ll kill them both.

But the animals paid the man no heed, the were focused only on Lauren. And now the tiger’s cage was open and the man was making his way back down the bear cage to free the chimpanzee and Lauren would be dinner for four deadly beasts, her remans a snack for the birds.

The snake reared up, exposing pus-filled blisters on its belly. It opened its swollen mouth, a thick cottage cheese like substance oozed from it gums, and hissed at Lauren. The tiger had made its way down to the floor now and swiped at the bear. The bear snarled and lashed out at the tiger, causing the tiger to take a step back and stand on the snake. The snake snapped its head around and Lauren scrambled to her feet.

As she raced to the door she heard the chattering chimpanzee land with a thud on the floor. She didn’t turn around, though. She pulled open the door and disappeared through it.

* * *
It was dark. She couldn’t see a thing. Her arms stung from all the pecking and scratching from the birds and she held them close to her breast. She shivered all over, not from the cold, but from unadulterated fear.

What was going on? What was this train? Where was it going? Had she got on the wrong train? Was there really a place called Nirgends? Had she fallen asleep on the journey? The pain on her arms told her she hadn’t, but she’d read somewhere that one could feel pain in one’s dreams. It just disappeared when they woke up.
If this was a dream, then she wanted to wake up right now. She didn’t know how much more she could take.
Gradually a soft glow illuminated the room curtesy of sphere shaped lamps running along the walls. Five figures, all dressed in black, stood at various intervals in the caboose. Their hands, encased in white gloves, covering their faces.

“No.” Lauren sobbed quietly, “No more.”

The figure closest to her slowly lowered its hands, revealing its painted face.

Cracked white face paint flaked and peeled of his face. Black paint circled his eyes making it seem as though he had none, and red paint covered his lips, running down his chin and throat, like blood. He looked shocked when he seen Lauren, holding his hands up at the sides of his face in mock surprise. He then held out his hand for Lauren to shake, but she shied away from it and the man gripped it with his other hand and pumped it, shaking hands with himself.

Behind him and slightly to his left, the next figure was lowering her hands. She was smothered in the same cakey white paint, but her black eye makeup ran down her cheeks like tears and her red lips had black lines painted over them resembling stitches. She also feigned surprised upon seeing Lauren, her hands pressed against her breast, her mouth remaining firmly closed. The two other figures nearest the back removed their hands from their face. Both were made up like the other two, but one had black diamonds painted around his eyes and a messy red grin painted from ear to ear, the other one’s black eye makeup was almost entirely rubbed off, a smeared black love heart on one cheek, and an upside-down smile painted in red to give a cartoonish sad face.

They were mime artists Lauren realised as they moved gracefully around the caboose, one pretending to be pulling a rope and another enacting climbing a ladder.

The one closest to Lauren, with the bloody mouth, moved his hands around in front of him, as though pressing them up against a wall. He walked sideways until he was directly in front of Lauren. He closed his fist and knocked on the air, making Lauren flinch. He took hold of a make-believe doorknob and pulled open a make-believe door, smiling grotesquely at Lauren.

Before she could react, he grabbed her hand and pulled her close. Together they waltzed around the caboose, twirling and spinning to non-existent music. The other mimes danced, too, holding onto imaginary partners.

Lauren squirmed in the mime’s grasp, “Let me go!”

He continued to dance with her, gripping onto her hand and waist, spinning her, dipping her, holding her close so that she could see every crease the makeup had sunken into on his face. Then, as abruptly as he had begun dancing with her, he stopped, in perfect sequence with the others.

Panting, Lauren moved away from the mimes. The one she had danced with and the female sat side by side on the floor while the other two stood at opposite ends of the caboose. The mimes on the floor slumped over, eyes closed, as though sleeping.

Suddenly, they threw their hands in the air, eyes wide with fear, the males mouth open in a silent scream. They turned to Lauren, hands reaching out to her, eyes pleading.

Help us! The male mouthed.

It was growing uncomfortably hot in the caboose. Laurens attention was fixed on the mimes, but she reached up and undid the top button of her shirt, tugging on the collar to cool down. On the floor the mimes continued to stare at Lauren as they pretended to bang on glass and throw their shoulder against invisible car doors. For that’s what they were re-enacting; two people trapped in a car, slowly burning to death.

Lauren’s parents had behaved just like this. When her father had lost control of their old Pinto after clipping a grouse on a country road, heading back to Glasgow from Aberfeldy, the car had rolled twice before crashing into a tree. The engine had immediately gone up in flames. Lauren had been able to escape and desperately tried to open the driver’s door. It was jammed, and her parents were trapped inside, her father crushed against the steering wheel and her mother’s seatbelt locked. Within seconds the flames had forced her back, preventing her from even trying her mother’s door.

She’d watched as the flames devoured her parents, as a passer-by dragged her away from the scene. She’d watched her parents die.

The heat in the caboose intensified. The mimes’ makeup melted off their faces and the females mouth ripped open, the makeup stitches becoming real and causing her lips to tear. Their bodies began to smoke and, as they writhed around in pain, their skin blistered and blackened.

Lauren edged towards the door, but couldn’t take her eyes off the mimes. Invisible flames scorched their skin and the phantom smell of cooked flesh invaded Lauren’s nostrils. They fixed their terrified eyes on Lauren until they popped with the heat.

Lauren hurried through the door.

* * *
Unlike the others, the next caboose was full of bright colours and light. Strips of sheer red curtain hung from the ceiling and a blonde woman dressed in a leopard print leotard was entangled in one, up high, back arched, watching Lauren from upside down. A man dressed in a rainbow coloured suit moved amongst the curtains, juggling rainbow coloured balls.

The woman rolled down the curtain, the thin material unravelling from around her waist. Before she hit the floor, the curtain wrapped around her leg, stopping her. She climbed up the curtain backwards, all the time keeping her eyes on Lauren.

Suddenly, one of the other strips of curtain shot out and entwined around her wrist. It dragged her from the curtain she was on. From this new curtain, she returned to her upside-down position as the curtain wrapped itself around her waist.

Lauren watched all of this without really seeing it. She felt fuzzy and numb, her experiences in the first three cabooses had broken her, but the most horrific of all was having to relive the most awful thing that had happened to her; watching her parents die.

The juggler continued to juggle and walk between the curtains. Behind him, someone was doing backflips along the caboose, heading for Lauren. It was the little girl from the first carriage, the one who had wanted Lauren to follow her.

“You.” Lauren breathed when the girl had stopped. She wanted to hit the girl, hurt her for bringing Lauren into this madness, but she didn’t have the strength.

The girl, who was now wearing a blue leotard decorated with silver stars, smiled at Lauren and, just as she did before, held a hand out to Lauren and beckoned her to follow.

Although she knew she couldn’t escape the train, Lauren still shook her head, “No.”

From either side of her, strips of curtains lashed out and latched onto her wrists. They dragged her along the caboose, each curtain releasing only to be replaced by another one. The girl led the way, every so often performing a cartwheel or a forward flip. She opened the far door when they reached it and the curtains tossed Lauren through.

The next caboose was cluttered with desks of all sizes which were covered in piles of paper, bottles of paint, cups containing paintbrushes and pencils, and buckets filled with chalk pastels and charcoal. Candlelight lit the caboose, white candles on every free surface, smears of thick wax on the floor. In the middle of the carriage was a stool and an easel.

The girl took Laurens hand and pulled her over to it. There was Lauren’s sketchbook propped up on the easel, her pencils lying on a table beside it and her bag on the ground beside the stool.

Looking around, Lauren noticed her sketches of all the different landmarks she’d visited on her trip, had been stuck on the walls of the caboose. The paper was torn and curled at the edges, but the drawings were perfectly clear. There was also a sketch of her parents. They were young in the picture, she’d copied it from a photograph of them on their first trip to Berlin, when Lauren had fell in love with the city and associated it with her parents whenever she thought of it.

This trip had been for them. To keep their memory alive, but Lauren had also hoped it would ease her guilt. Her guilt of surviving.

Instead, her emotional turmoil had sent her down the rabbit hole to the very mouth of madness.

She felt a tug on her sleeve. She looked down to see the little girl holding a pencil up to Lauren. Lauren took it and the little girl sat on the floor, back straight, smile plastered on her face, waiting for Lauren to draw her.

Lauren sat on the stool and opened her sketch pad at a blank page. She studied the girl carefully then bowed her head and got to work.

* * *

The busker put down his guitar and thanked his applauding audience.

“Please, if you can, spare some change, I would be more than grateful.” He gestured to his guitar case which contained a mere scattering of euros and cents. There was a sign that said Evicted and Unemployed. Please help.

Nicolaus, who had been watching the busker for days now, dropped some one-euro coins into the case.

“Thankyou.” The man said, his Polish accent strong, but his English impeccable.

“You play beautifully, mein Freund.” Nicolaus said, “Probably the best busker in Berlin.”

The man smiled, but wanly, “That is very kind. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay very well.” He gestured to the measly amount of coins in the guitar case, “I’ll be able to get some dinner tonight, but I really need a place to stay.”

“I see. So that sign isn’t just for the . . . pity vote?” Nicolaus said.

The man could have been offended by Nicolaus’ suggestion that he would lie to get money, but he’d seen it with his own eyes. Buskers and beggars telling the public they had kids to feed and pregnant wives to look after, when it was really a nasty drug habit they had to satisfy. But that wasn’t him. No, he prided himself in being one of the honest ones.

“I was laid off then couldn’t pay my rent,” the man explained, “It’s hard to get a job, but even harder to find a safe place to sleep at night.”

Nicolaus twisted his mouth, appearing thoughtful, “You know, I know a place that adores musicians . . . especially street musicians.”

The man’s eyes brightened, “Really?”

Nicolaus nodded, “Ja. It’s a very old village with traditional values. None of this modern music for them. No iPads or even CDs. Live and outside it how they like their entertainment.”

“Where is it?” the man asked eagerly, “Would I be welcome?”

“Oh, for sure.” Nicolaus said, solemnly, “They would pay handsomely, too. Not just pitiful change.”

The man looked down at the small amount of money in the case. He could eat tonight with that, but what if he had to travel far to this village?

“How would I get there?”

“By train. There’s one leaving early tomorrow morning.” Nicolaus explained, “There’s only two a day; one there and one back, so you would need to be early.”

“I can’t afford a train ticket just now.” The man said, looking sheepish.

“You can borrow my travel pass!” Nicolaus exclaimed, and when the man looked sceptical, added, “I have been in your shoes, mein Freund. I only want to help, but if you would rather I didn’t, I’ll be on my way.”

Nicolaus went to walk away, but the man grabbed his arm, “Wait. That would be very kind. Danke.”

“No problem.” Nicolaus said with a smile. He fished in his pocket and brought out a small blue leather wallet, the travel card inside.

The man took the card, “This is so very kind . . .”

“Nicolaus.”

“Nicolaus. I am Jakub. Again, many thanks,” Jakub said putting the card in his pocket, “Oh, what is the village called?”

“Nirgends,” Nicolaus said, flashing straight white teeth, “The village is Nirgends.”

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Scary books for Hallowe’en

Close the curtains, turn off the telly, light some candles, and cosy down on the couch with a scary book this Hallowe’en. Why not just ignore the door and eat all the sweets for yourself? Those pesky trick-or-treaters will get plenty from the neighbours, and you’ll need the comfort of those sugary snacks to get you through your creepy novel.

My bookcase is practically bursting at the seams, and the main genre? You guessed it, horror.

When I was in primary school my favourite books to read were Point Horror and Goosebumps. Silly kid stories, but fun and with just enough ghouls and gore to keep me interested.

I then graduated to the master of horror, and my hero, Stephen King. I’m not sure what the first novel of his I read was (maybe Carrie), but i was instantly hooked and am now the proud owner of all his tomes.

If you fancy delving into a terrifying tale this weekend (you should) then here’s a list of ones I highly recommend. Some may not be of the ghosts and monsters variety, but they will disturb you and stay with you long after you’ve closed the book:

  1. Intensity by Dean Koontz
  2. Midnight by Dean Koontz
  3. Dracula by Bram Stoker – the classic gothic tale of the king of vampires, Count Dracula. After English lawyer, Jonathan Harker, arrives at Castle Dracula he discovers the counts horrifying secret. And when Dracula shipwrecks at Whitby it is down to Jonathan and professor Van Helsing to put a stop to him once and for all.
  4. IT by Stephen King
  5. The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro
  6. The Shining by Stephen King
  7. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – the scariest book/film I have ever read/seen. Regan MacNeil has an invisible friend called Captain Howdy. She met him whilst playing with a Ouija board, but he isn’t a figment of her imagination. He is the demon Pazuzu and he possesses young Regan. Jesuit priests, Fathers Merrin and Karras are her only hope.
  8. Rats by James Herbert – I reviewed this novel last year in my blog. You can find it in the menu under Book Reviews.
  9. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  10. We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  11. Storm of the Century by Stephen King – a small island off the coast of Main is hit by a very powerful storm, stranding it’s residents. It brings with it a mysterious stranger who demands one of the children or the town will vanish forever.
  12. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  13. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  14. Carrie by Stephen King
  15. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  16. Books of Blood by Clive Barker – I also reviewed this book last year. It can also by found in the menu

Of course, the list could go on, but for brevity I’ve kept it short. I hope you find something here, or elsewhere, that gives you goosebumps.

If you have a favourite scary novel, please tell me what it is in the comments below.

Happy Hallowe’en x

What I’ve Been Watching #2

Over the past few months I have been watching a lot of excellent t.v. shows – too many to list in this one post, so I’ve picked three of the most recent ones to share with you.

There may be SPOILERS ahead. . .

Liar

Teacher Laura Nielson (Joanne Froggatt) is recently single and agrees to go on a date with the father of one of her pupils, Dr Andrew Earlham (Ioan Gruffudd).

Andrew is charming, polite and very friendly. Laura invites him back to hers for a drink and to call a taxi.

The next morning she wakes up feeling groggy and with very little memory of the night before. One thing she is sure of though, is that Andrew raped her.

The police are involved, but with no evidence and Andrew’s insistance that the sex was consensual, it’s a case of he-says-she-says and the police close the case before it’s even opened.

As the weeks go on Laura behaves more and more like a deranged banshee, screaming “rapist” whenever she sees Andrew and tarnishing his name on social media sites, whereas Andrew comes across as the patient, down to earth, loving father while he trys to understand why Laura is doing this to him.

Who’s telling the truth?

It’s not long until we find out and the story takes an even darker turn.

There are many twists and turns in Liar which launches it from a regular straight forward crime mystery to something that’s posed to explore the mind of a very disturbed individual.

If you want to catch up on this intriguing show then go to the ITV Hub. Next week is the finale and it’s sure to be explosive.

Dr Foster

The second series of the acclaimed BBC drama begins two years after the events of the first. Gemma (Suranne Jones) and her son, Tom (Tom Taylor), are happily living their lives, safe in the knowledge that husband and father Simon (Bertie Carvel) is far away with his new family.

Then Gemma and her friends receive a card from Simon stating that he’s moved back to town with Kate (Jodie Comer) and their wee girl.

The shit well and truly hits the fan, then. Simon is completely obsessed with Gamma, but it’s a dangerous obsession laced with sexual attraction and hate. He turns Tom against his mother and delights in harrassing Gemma by sending her flowers with “Bitch” on the card and setting up appointments with estate agents who turn up at her home thinking she wants to sell.

He is a smug, self-involved little man and I’ve never hated a character as much as I hate him – not even Lord Voldermort or Ramsey Bolton!

Gemma’s behaviour is unhinged and very stressful to watch. Her pretentious friends are no help to her plight, but the worse thing about the whole sorry affair is that Gamma and Simon are so busy trying to destroy each other that they are blind to who their actions are really affecting . . . Tom.

I was torn over the finale. It was obviously not going to end well, but I felt is was a bit lacklustre. However, you cannot fault the performances of all the actors involved.

Tune into IPlayer to catch up.

Power

James “Ghost” St.Patrick (Omari Hardwick) is a powerful business man in New York. Not only is he owner of high-end nightclub Truth, he also runs a multi-million dollar drug operation. His partner and childhood friend Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora) enjoys their lifestyle, as does his wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton), but Ghost is feeling tired and disillusioned by the whole thing, his dreams plagued by the murders he’s committed.

One night in Truth he meets his high school girlfriend Angela Valdes (Lela Loren) and the two embark on a passionate affair. What Ghost doesn’t know is that Angela is a government attorney for the FBI and is working on an investigation to uncover and take down the enigmatic druglord “Ghost”. In turn, Angela has no idea that the love of her life is, in fact, Ghost.

Meanwhile, someone is killing drug dealers and couriers on the street, with the murder of Ghost their ultimate goal. We discover that the murderer is obeying orders from Kanan (50 Cent) who is rotting in jail, put there by Ghost and Tasha.

Kanan wants revenge, but it’s a pity Fiddy’s wooden acting and mumbling dialogue makes it impossible to care what he wants. Whenever he’s on screen I tend to switch off and ask Paul what I missed.

Don’t let this put you off, though. The story is gripping, with Joseph Sikora giving an electric perform as the violent and unbalanced Tommy.

Watch all 4 seasons now on Netflix. The season 4 finale is particularly exciting.

Keep smiling x

Kat Von D Lock-it Foundation

Hello, there! Remember me? It’s been a while, but I’m back to bring you weekly reviews, short stories, and general musings.

This week I want to tell you all about my new favourite foundation; Kat Von D Lock-it Liquid Foundation.

At this moment in time I can, without a shred of doubt, tell you that this is the best foundation I have ever used. In fact, just ignore all my previous foundation reviews, Lock-it has rendered them null and void!

Of course, this isn’t new on the market, but I only purchased it a few months ago in preparation for my best friend’s wedding. I was a bridesmaid and, as we were doing our own makeup, I wanted to ensure that I wore a foundation that, not only provided full coverage, but lasted all day.

Full disclosure, I am a rather sweaty person, with my top lip getting particularly drippy, and I am rarely seen without blotting paper at hand. Most foundations, even under a layer of setting spray, cannot withstand my . . . glistening, and simply slide off my skin, but Lock-it . . . my oh my, that foundation literally locked onto my face like the facehugger from Alien.

The formula is thick, very thick, so you must be careful when applying it. You do not need a lot. I made the mistake of slapping it on with a trowel (not literally) the first time I used it and it felt like cement on my skin. Heavy and suffocating. Finished off with a dusting of powder it turned cakey and unsightly, a common complaint on other reviews I’ve read.

But I’d spent too much money (£27 for 30ml) on it to simply abandon it at the bottom of my makeup case, so the next time I just dabbed a few dots over my entire face and blended it all in with a brush.

This time I was able to appreciate just how flawless the product made me look. My skintone was perfectly even, with blemishes and dark circles obscured. As I had only applied a thin layer this time, no product settled into the creases around my eyes and it felt weightless, almost as though I was makeup- free. Almost.

I am quite pale, but can just about take a tan when the sun is out (which isn’t often in Scotland) and the shade I wear, as seen above, is Light 48 Neutral.

As for it’s durability; well, during a day filled with five bridesmaids laughing and drinking in the morning, then rushing to get the bride to the chapel in the afternoon, followed by photographs in the rain then raucous dancing until midnight, I can put my hand on my heart and say that Lock-it served me well, without a single touch-up.

Keep smiling x

The First Night

“In local news, police are still on the hunt for the killer of 18-year-old Sophie Baker. Sophie was found brutally murdered at the home of a family she was babysitting for four weeks ago. Police believe that Sophie disturbed an intruder which resulted in her unfortunate demise.

“Sophie was a pupil at St. John’s Secondary School and due to start university in September of this year. Police ask if anyone has any information on Sophie’s murder to contact their local police station. . . now for the weather. . .”

Jessica left the canteen and headed for the cloakroom just as the rest of the backshift staff were coming up the stairs, their shift finished for the night. The woman’s cloakroom was small and there were echoes of ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry’ as everyone grabbed for their coats and jostled to their lockers. Jessica crouched down in front of her own locker and felt a sharp kick to her buttocks. She looked up expecting to see an apologetic face and instead was met with the cheeky grin of her best friend, Karen.

“Where’ve you been, Jess? I looked for you all over the shop floor just before 10?” Karen said, shrugging on her denim jacket.

“Sorry, Karen, I swiped out a few minutes early,” Jessica replied as she pulled out her bag then slammed her locker shut, “I wanted to catch the end of the news.”

Karen pulled a face, “The news? Why – oh! That Sophie girl. They caught the killer yet?”

Jessica grabbed her jacket off its hook and shook her head, “No. police are appealing for anyone who knows anything to get in touch.”

The two girls left the cloakroom, calling ‘goodbye’ to their colleagues. They made their way along the corridor to the staff door which led them out the side of the supermarket. The entire left-hand side of the corridor was a window that allowed them to look out onto the shop floor of StarSavers, where the nightshift workers were busy setting up shop for another busy day in the retail world.

“Adam Johnson said that he heard she was found in the back garden . . . completely disembowelled.” Karen said.

Jessica rolled her eyes, “Adam Johnson’s a tit, Karen. Remember when he said he was spending the whole of last Summer in New York, but we seen him at the park – more than once – and he pretended he didn’t see us?”

Karen threw back her head and laughed, “We shouted his name and he hid behind a bush!”

“And when school started back he told us all about his ‘trip of a lifetime’ and how amazing it was to spend the 4th July in the states -”

“But Ashley Clarke called him out saying she’d seen him in the café she works in on the 4th with his parents -”

“- and she remembered because that’s her birthday!”

The two girls howled with laughter as they pushed through the staff door and stepped out into the moonlit night.

“Well,” Karen said once they’d both calmed down, “whatever happened to that poor girl, it’s brutal.”

“And scary,” Jessica put in, “She lived so nearby. Did anyone in our school know her?”

“Craig Lloyd said he touched her up at a party last year, but you know what he is.”

“Another tit.”

The car park was virtually empty, save for the cars belonging to staff. Karen fished her keys out of her bag, “You going to Mark’s house? I can give you a lift?”

“Nah, I’ve got homework to finish off so I’m just heading home.” Jessica said.

“I can take you home?”

“That’s okay.” Jessica said, “Mark wants me to phone him as I walk . . . so he knows I’m okay.”

“I can give you a lift and you’ll definitely be okay.” Karen said.

“I know . . . but . . .” Jessica said and left her sentence hanging in mid-air, hoping her friend would get the hint.

“Ah, you want to talk all lovey-dovey to him on the phone and you can’t if you’re in the car with me.” Karen said then held up her hands, “That’s okay, I get it. I’m not privy to that kind of talk. You would rather risk a masked murderer than have your best friend hear your conversation with your boyfriend. That’s fine.”

Jessica playfully shoved Karen who giggled.

“I don’t want to hear your smooch chat anyway,” Karen said, “It’ll turn my stomach.”

The staff door opened and the rest of the backshift workers poured out. The two friends said their goodbyes, with Jessica promising Karen that she would text as soon as she was home. They hugged and Karen headed to her car while Jessica turned in the other direction, heading for home.

Jessica’s home was only a 15-minute walk from StarSavers and the route took her along a well-lit main road, so she never felt unsafe or frightened, but since the murder of Sophie Baker a month ago the walk home at night had made her feel wary.

Adam Johnson’s rumour wasn’t the only one she had heard around school. A girl in her English class claimed Sophie’s body had been found inside the house and her head had been found just outside, in the middle of the road. She had also overheard someone in the school canteen describing how Sophie’s body was found with deep claw marks across her stomach and face, exposing the skull beneath.

Jessica shuddered and fished her mobile phone out of her bag. She had to talk to Mark, not just because she had promised to, but to rid her mind of these horrible thoughts.

Mark answered on the first ring, “Hi, Jess. How was work?”

It had been five months since they’d started going out and the sound of his voice still made Jessica’s stomach flutter. It was deep and soft and had a calming effect on Jessica, instantly settling her nerves whenever she heard the gentle stresses on her name.

“Work was work,” she replied, “but Karen was in so we had a laugh. What did you do tonight?”

“Not much, just played the computer for a bit. You nearly home?” Mark asked.

“Nearly.” Jessica said as she rushed across the road. Very few cars ever drove past at this time of night, but habit forced her to hurry across.

“Oh, listen, I’ve got good news,” Mark said, sounding excited, “Mum and dad have booked a holiday for a week in June.”

Jessica slowed her pace as she realised with disappointment that this would mean she wouldn’t see him for a whole week. Not wanting to voice her dismay or sound like a needy girlfriend she said, “That’ll be fun. When are you going?”

Mark laughed, low and silky, “I’m not going, just mum and dad.”

“Oh.” Jessica said with a smile, her pace quickening as her mood instantly lifted, “That’s good.”

“Yes, it is because it means you can stay over.”

Jessica felt a rush of excitement shoot through her body. For the past month now they had been discussing sex, with Mark reassuring her that he was more than willing to wait until she was ready. Jessica had assured him that she was more than ready, but finding some alone time was their biggest problem.

Mark’s parents were always home and, although it was just Jessica and her mum, who worked nights as a nurse, her neighbour would always pop in unannounced whenever her mum was working, just to check on her. She couldn’t risk being caught with Mark, the embarrassment would be enough to send Jessica to an early grave.

“Ooh,” Jessica squealed, turning onto her street, “I think that’s the best news I’ve ever had.”

Mark chuckled down the phone.

“I can just tell mum that I’m staying overnight with Karen.” Jessica said, “She’d cover for me.”

“Excellent. I can’t wait.” Mark replied, “You coming round to mine tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Mum’ll be sleeping all day cos she’s working tonight so it’ll be best if I’m out the house to give her peace.” Jessica said. She could see her house now, the single light on in the living room. Jessica’s mum always left it on for when Jessica came home from work. A beacon of safety.

“Cool, we can hang out here or go into town.” Mark said, then added, “Actually, I’ve got a lot of homework to finish so I’d better do that.”

“I’ll try not to distract you.”

“You can help me.”

“Ha! Chance will be a fine thing!”

“Aww, come on. It’s Chemistry, your favourite subject.”

“We’ll see,” Jessica said as she pushed open her front gate. The familiar squeak prompted Mark to ask if that was her home.

“Yep, just unlocking the front door now.” Jessica said and as she opened the door she was instantly greeted with the shrill yapping of a Yorkshire Terrier.

“Alfie’s happy to see you I hear.” Mark chuckled.

Jessica bent down and picked up the small dog. Alfie squirmed in her arm as he tried to lick her face.

“He’s always happy to see me.” Jessica laughed as Alfie covered her cheek in slobbers, “I’d better go and give him some affection.”

“Save some for me for tomorrow.”

“Will do.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Jessica hung up and dropped her phone back into her bag then let her back slip off her shoulder and fall onto the couch. Still carrying Alfie, she went into the kitchen and flicked on the light. As usual, there was a note from her mother propped up in front of the kettle, along with a ten-pond-note.

Jess,
There’s half a lasagne in the oven for your dinner. It’s not nice. Liz next door handed it in, so when you see her be sure to tell her you loved it. It was her first attempt. God knows
what she did to it, it tastes like vomit. Mines went in the bin and yours belongs there, too. Here’s a tenner, order something in. I’ll be home around half 7. See you in
the morning.
Mum.

P.S. remember to take Alfie out. His wee legs will probably be crossed when you get in.

Jessica pocketed the tenner before putting Alfie down. She bent down and pulled open the oven door. Inside was a ceramic dish with half a cold lasagne in it. She took it out and gave it a tentative sniff.

It didn’t smell bad, but she trusted her mother’s judgement. She took the dish over to the bin and tipped the lasagne inside.

“Thanks, Liz, but no thanks.” She said, and placed the dish in the sink. She looked down at Alfie who was standing at her feet, wagging tail thumping against her calves, “Do you need to go out, wee guy? Want to go out?”

The wagging grew faster and Alfie let out a little yap. He turned and dashed off to the alcove at the far end of the kitchen where his lead was kept. Chuckling at the small dog’s enthusiasm, Jessica followed, plucked the lead from a hook on the wall and clipped it onto Alfie’s collar.

“Just a quick one, mind,” Jessica said as Alfie pulled her to the back door, “I want to order a Golden Wok before it closes at 12.”

The pair headed out into the back garden. Jessica closed the back door, but left it unlocked. They were only going to the park behind her house, and wouldn’t be any longer than 15 minutes, what could happen in that time?

Jessica and Alfie went through the gate at the back of the garden and crossed the dirt path that separated the houses on Jessica’s street from the small park behind them . . . well, they say park, but it’s really an old running track that’s surrounded by thick trees and overgrown vegetation. Jessica’s mum said that it belonged to a local high school that once stood where StarSavers now is. Once the supermarket company brought the land, twenty years ago, they knocked down the school, but the council just left the running track to ruin. Now it was used by dogwalkers and joggers.

The small gate leading into the park had long since fallen off and disappeared, now thorny bushes formed an entrance way. There Jessica let Alfie off the lead and he dashed over to where the ring of trees began and sniffed around until he found the one worthy of him relieving himself on.

Jessica made her way over to the running track knowing that Alfie would follow once he was done. They would circle the track twice then head back. Jessica couldn’t wait to order some Chow Mein then settle down with a movie. Homework could wait.

Alfie came trotting over and fell in pace at her side. Clouds drifted across the full moon, blocking out the only light there was. There were no lamps in the park and it could be oppressively dark and creepy at night, but Jessica had been coming here that often she didn’t get scared anymore. This was a safe area and there had never been any reports of any kind of attack in the park.

Her mind drifted to Sophie Baker. Poor Sophie who’d had her skin ripped to ribbons and her throat torn out. Had she felt safe in a familiar place before she’d been killed? Had she settled down to eat some Chinese food before she was attacked? Had she left the front door unlocked after the delivery man had been and that’s how her killer had gotten in?

They were half way around their second circuit when Jessica stopped in her tracks. Alfie walked a few steps ahead then turned and looked up at her, head cocked to one side. She’d left the back door unlocked, just like she did every night she brought Alfie here. She’d done that before Sophie Baker was murdered and she’d done it these four weeks since Sophie’s death, but this was the first time the possibility that someone could be in her home right now waiting for her had occurred to her. Abruptly, she bent down and clicked Alfie’s lead back on.

“C’mon, we’re going home.” She said. She decided she would knock on Liz’s door and ask her for help searching the house for intruders.
Just as she was about to head off out the park, Alfie began to growl. Jessica froze and looked at the small dog. He was standing rigid, his hackles up, glaring fixedly at a spot in the trees ahead. Jessica followed his gaze, struggling to see anything through the thick foliage.

She gently tugged on the lead, “C’mon, Alfie, there’s nothing there.”
Alfie continued to growl, louder with every tug on the lead. Jessica had never seen him this agitated before and her heart began to pound. What had got him so worked up? It had to be another animal, but what? The only thing close to exotic animal around these parts were urban foxes and Alfie had seen plenty of them around that he now just ignored them.

This was something else.

Jessica made as if to scoop Alfie up, but stopped mid crouch. She could now see what he could see.

At the far end of the running track, just where it began to curve around to the left, glowing in the darkness of the trees, were two blazing yellow eyes. They were like nothing Jessica had ever seen before. Even from this distance she could see how they burned a bright yellow, unnatural and sickening. The ominous glow they cast into the darkness made Jessica feel revolted.

She took hold of Alfie and slowly straightened up, and as she did, the eyes followed suit. They had been roughly 3ft off the ground, seemingly belonging to a large dog, larger than any Jessica had encountered, but now they stopped at least 6ft in the air and grew smaller as though narrowed in concentration.

Jessica’s breathing came fast and shallow. She held Alfie close to her face, taking small comfort in his soft fur. Alfie continued to growl, teeth bared, tongue occasionally flicking out. They had to get out of here, had to get away before whatever was in the trees stepped out. Jessica didn’t want to see it. She didn’t know what it was, didn’t care, and she definitely didn’t want to find out.

Unfortunately, it was too late.
The yellow eyes moved closer until the creature they belonged to emerged from the darkness. Jessica couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was shaped like a large muscular man, but completely covered in thick dark grey hair. What looked like tattered clothing hung from around its neck and waist.

Alfie stopped growling and began wriggling violently until he slipped through Jessica’s arms and fell to the ground. He immediately sprinted as fast as his tiny legs could carry him toward home, his lead trailing behind him.

The creature paid Alfie no heed and instead stepped closer to Jessica so that she could see the large pointy ears twitching on top of its head.

What better to hear you with, my dear.

It never took it’s burning eyes off her and Jessica felt the warm sensation of urine running down her left leg. This was a monster, not just some lunatic who’d overdone the testosterone hormones and steroids. What was stood before Jessica was a nightmare, and now that the clouds had drifted across the nights sky and exposed the full moon, she could see its hideous face in all its ugly glory. It had a long wide snout that ended in a shiny black nose; its lips pulled back in a greedy sneer exposing huge sharp teeth from which thick saliva hung in strings to its barrel chest.

Now, bathed in moonlight, the monster arched its broad back, stretched out its bulging arms, threw back its head and let out a haunting howl.

Jessica snapped out of her paralysis and began to move sideways towards the park gate. Her legs felt stiff, as though she was dragging them through cement; she couldn’t run, only crabwalk and watch in absolute horror as the creature’s body began to contort in a series of jerky movements and sickening crunching of bone until it was down on all fours, padding the ground and glaring at Jessica.

That was enough to get her moving.

The park gate wasn’t far, just the other side of the track, Jessica had raced Alfie to it many time and it had never taken her more than three minutes to get there. But tonight, the park seemed to stretch on for miles, all the time the gateway getting smaller and smaller the further away it seemed. Running towards it felt like running through jelly and that’s when she knew it must be a dream. Only in dreams did she feel this way whenever she was being chased, and monsters that looked like man-dogs and howled at the moon only lived in dreams. This wasn’t real. She’d fallen asleep on the couch after work and the Sophie Baker attack had caused her to have a nightmare. That was all it was. It was laughable really. And if Jessica hadn’t felt herself being dragged down onto the ground by a twenty-stone monster she would have laughed.

The beast placed one large paw on her back to prevent her from crawling away. It pressed down hard and Jessica groaned into the grass. Then, with one swipe of its paw, it turned her over so that she was facing it. This close Jessica could see it’s odd face, how it was shaped like a human but with round eyes, and a wolfs snarling snout, and one terrifying word entered her already terrified mind.

Werewolf.

With a snarl, it swiped at her face with its sharp claw, tearing her left cheek so that it hung from her face. Jessica screamed and sobbed uncontrollably as the beast swiped at her forehead, tearing off part of her scalp in the process.

Face now soaked in blood and near hysterical with pain and fear, Jessica screamed and screamed. Even when the creature was chomping down on her throat she screamed until her screams turned to gurgles and then silence.

* * *

Liz Barr was yanked out of a dreamless sleep by the sound of howling. It wasn’t little Alfie from next door – the tiny dog could barely bark let alone howl – and it didn’t sound like the Labrador that lived around the corner . . . it didn’t sound like any dog at all.

She didn’t dwell on it and before long she had fallen back asleep. Then she heard the blood curdling scream. It dragged on for what seemed like an eternity then faded out to nothing. Liz sat bolt upright in bed, clasping the covers to her chest.

Eventually, she got up and walked over to the window. She pulled back the curtains and peered out into the night. Her bedroom window looked out onto her back garden and the park beyond. The trees obscured her view of the running track, but she didn’t think the screams had come from there. In all the years she had lived here nothing bad had ever happened in that park. This was a safe place.

She thought briefly of the poor girl who had been murdered a month ago, but she immediately pushed it away. Whoever that girl’s murderer was he was long gone. You don’t commit such a heinous murder then hang around while the police are conducting a manhunt. No, he’d have left the city, maybe even skipped the country.

There was the howling, too. What kind of creature could make such a noise?

Then Liz got it. Someone was at it. Watching a horror movie with the volume cranked right up and all their windows open to scare the neighbours. Practically everyone had surround sound these days, and it would be easy enough to place the speakers near open windows and doors to share the wealth, as it were. There was a weird boy who lived a few doors down. Liz had seen him wearing black t-shirts with that movie villain who’s got knives for fingers, it was probably him.

Well, she’d just need to go to his door in the morning and have a word with his mother, Liz thought as she climbed back into bed. This was a safe and respectable area, behaviour like that just wouldn’t do.

Liz settled down into her large bed and was soon back in a dreamless slumber.

* * *

There was a click as the front door unlocked and then it was pushed open. Kathleen entered the house and locked the front door behind her. She sighed heavily and headed for the kitchen, shedding her coat and dropping it on the couch, unaware that she’d dropped it on top of Jessica’s bag.

She flicked on the kettle and prepared a cup of tea. It had been a long night in the hospital. They had been terribly short staffed and she’d been doing the work of three nurses. All she wanted now was a cup of warm tea and her bed. She had a sinking feeling that tonight would be the same so she needed as much rest as possible.

While she waited for the kettle to boil her eyes fell on the dogfood bowl in the corner. Where was Alfie? He normally came rushing down the stairs to meet Kathleen when she came home. Maybe he spent the night in Jessica’s room and couldn’t get out. She would have to go up and get him before he woke up Jessica.

Just as she was about to leave the kitchen she heard scratching and a faint whimpering coming from the back door. Furrowing her brows in confusion. Kathleen turned to the door and noticed the key was still in the lock. Kathleen took hold of the key and tried to turn it to the right, but it wouldn’t budge. She pulled down the door handle and the back door opened. It was unlocked. Why was it unlocked?

If Kathleen hadn’t been feeling anxious yet then the sight of her tiny trembling dog with his lead still attached to him made her chest constrict so tight she swayed a little on her feet.

Alfie stepped into the kitchen and nuzzled Kathleen’s leg. She picked him up and unclipped his lead. He was cold and shaking so badly that Kathleen wrapped her cardigan around him and he licked her face in gratitude.

“Where’s Jessica, Alfie?” Kathleen asked. Her voice came out as barley a whisper, as though she was afraid of what the little dog would tell her . . . if her could tell her anything.

She quickly looked out into the garden. Although it was early it was Spring and the sun had been up for hours now. The garden was awash with sunlight and there was no sign of her daughter. The back gate swung open slowly in the cool breeze.

Kathleen closed and locked the door then headed, quickly, for the stairs. Maybe Jessica was still in her bed? Maybe Alfie had run away from her when she’d taken him out last night and she couldn’t get him back so, to teach him a lesson, had left him? He’d never done anything like that before, but there was a first time for everything, right? Jessica would never have left him alone in the dark all night, but maybe he had stressed her out?

Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?

Still clutching Alfie, Kathleen ran upstairs and burst into Jessica’s room. She let out a small moan when she saw the empty bed, still made from the day before.

Kathleen’s breathing came hard and fast as she let Alfie fall to the floor and grappled in her pocket for her phone. She selected Jessica’s number and clamped the mobile to her ear, eyes closed as she waited for it to ring, mouthing, please, pick up.

A sound from downstairs caused Kathleen’s eyes to spring open. Her heart sank as she recognised the familiar tune. With Alfie close at her heels, Kathleen went back downstairs, her mobile now hanging at her side. No point listening for an answer now, she wasn’t going to get one.

She wandered into the living room following Jessica’s ringtone to the couch where she’d dumped her jacket. She moved it aside to reveal Jessica’s bag. Rummaging around inside, she fished out her daughter’s phone to see a picture of herself smiling back at herself.

Kathleen hung up, dropped both phones onto the couch and hid her face in her hands. No, no, no, this cannot be happening. Jessica had to be somewhere, there was no way something bad had happened to her. No way. She was safe. Probably still outside looking for Alfie.

A ray of hope made her heart slow down for a beat. Maybe she was right about Alfie running away? But maybe he had run away this morning and not last night? Yeah, yeah that sounded about right. And she probably told Liz next door so that Liz could let Kathleen know and save her from worry. It was all so obvious now that Kathleen let out a bark of laughter at how silly she had been. She didn’t let herself consider how early it was or how Jessica never rose from her bed before 10am on the weekend and certainly not to take the dog for a walk.

Keeping these thoughts at bay and daring to allow herself to believe the scenario she’d made up in her mind, Kathleen left her house, stepped over the small dividing hedge, and rang Liz’s doorbell. She waited 5 seconds then rang the bell again, keeping her finger on the button for a little longer than what would be considered appropriate. The door was yanked open and there stood Liz, wrapped in a housecoat, her eyes still small and puffy from sleep.

“God’s sake, Kathleen,” she said, “what’s the problem?”

“Have you seen Jessica?” Kathleen blurted, her body tense, hands wringing before her, “She’s not home and her bed hadn’t been slept in and Alfie was outside did she tell you if she’d gone out this morning to look for him I thought he might have ran away and she’s out looking for him did she tell you that?”

Liz was wide eyed now and staring at her rambling neighbour with her mouth hanging open. Jessica was missing, and from the back of her fuzzy sleep interrupted head, the memory of a girl’s screams and an unearthly howl pushed its way to the forefront of Liz’s mind. Her hands went to her mouth and she gasped in horror.

The Wife

He was dead. There was no doubt about it. The blood pool had stopped spreading, but was still roughly the size of a bathroom mat. It was going to take a lot of bleach and elbow grease to clean that up.

Mary was sitting at the kitchen table, looking down at her husband’s lifeless body. She couldn’t believe what she had done, but she didn’t regret it. It had been a long time coming. Just one more slap was all that was needed for her to take her iron and bash it over Frank’s skull. The iron had still been hot and the stench of burnt hair had invaded Mary’s nostrils, but that had merely spurred her on. Again, and again she had hit him, even when he was on his knees, gazing up at her as though he had never seen her before, she swung that iron until she thought her arm would pop out of its socket.

She fumbled around in her handbag and fished out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. She smoked in private, out of the house and as far away from it as she dared to go. Frank didn’t like her to smoke, in fact forbade her from smoking. The last time he had caught her puffing on a ciggie was two years ago, at a friend’s 50th birthday party. Mary had been having a wonderful time and was feeling pleasantly merry after a few wines that she forgot herself and lit a cigarette. She hadn’t noticed at the time, but Frank had stopped engaging with their friends at that moment and simply glowered at her for the remainder of the evening, clenching his fists so tight that his fingernails left indentations in his palms.

Once they’d returned home, Mary had opened her mouth to comment on the night, but Frank punched her mouth, smashing her lips against her teeth. Before she could recover, Frank had grabbed her hair and tossed her back against the wall. She’d slid to the floor and put a shaky hand to her mouth, it came away sticky with bright red blood. Frank crouched down in front of her and she had held up her bloody hand to ward him off. He’d snatched her wrist and squeezed it tight.

“You fucking stink of smoke,” he’d hissed, mere inches from her wincing face, “If I catch you sucking on one of those rancid sticks again, I’ll smash your mouth so bad you’ll need to suck your dinner through a straw.”

That alone should have been enough to make Mary quit there and then, but smoking was the only pleasure she had in her life. So, she waited until Frank went to work every morning, then took two buses until she was several miles away from home, at a park where she wouldn’t bump into anyone she knew, and enjoyed her one and only smoke of the day.

She pulled over her tea cup and tapped the ash from the cigarette into it. She looked back down at Frank and wondered what she was going to do with him. This hadn’t been premeditated. She didn’t have a plan, she’d just had enough.

Like every night after work, Frank had gone to the pub. He usually spent a couple of hours there then came home any time after 7pm, drunk and sometimes angry or sometimes horny. Mary hated him either way, but could deal with him when he was angry. Taking a few hits was nothing compared to the utter humiliation and pain she felt when he forced himself on her.

The first time it had happened was on their wedding night, and Mary had known from that moment that her life would never be the fairy tale that she thought it would be.

Mary had met Frank when she was 17 and working in a news agents in town. Frank would come into the shop every lunch time and buy a newspaper. He was tall, over six feet, with broad shoulders and a small waist. His hair was black and thick with curls and blue eyes stared out at Mary from a permanent furrowed brow. He was dark and brooding and Mary looked forward to his visits every day. At the beginning, he never said a word to her, simply picked up his paper, put the correct change on the counter and left. A few times Mary would try to strike up a conversation by commenting on inoffensive things such as the weather, but each time Frank would simply grunt in acknowledgment and leave.

Mary began to think that he wasn’t interested or maybe already had a girlfriend, so gave up trying to talk to him. Then, one day around six weeks after their first encounter, Frank came into the shop carrying a bunch of flowers. He placed them on the counter and fixed his piercing blue eyes on Mary. Her legs instantly turned to jelly and it was all she could do not to collapse in a heap on the floor.

“Do you want to go for dinner with me?” he asked. He was so confident in his manner that Mary was certain that this was a man who nobody said no to, and that excited her. This was a man who would get things done and would never let anything stand in his way. This was a man who would look after his own, whose children would want for nothing, and whose wife would be treated like a queen.

Although this had been completely unexpected, Mary didn’t hesitate to say yes.

After then Mary’s life had been like a dream. Frank was the perfect gentleman, the type of man every girl wants to take home to her parents. He devoted all his time to her. When he finished work at 4pm he would walk round to her shop and wait for her to finish at 5pm. Then he would either take her home or for dinner in one of the fancy restaurants that Mary had only ever dreamed of dining in. Every weekend they would have plans together. Frank would buy them theatre tickets, book seats at the cinema, make lunch or dinner reservations, whisk her away for an overnight stay in the country, or simply spend time with her and her parents.

He wanted to be with her all the time and Mary couldn’t feel more loved. This strapping, handsome man had chosen her out of all the girls in the city, and he enjoyed her company. As a young girl, Mary had always worried that she would never find a man. She had lank fair hair that couldn’t hold a curl no matter how much hairspray she used, her hips were wide and her thighs so thick that they looked like sausages in trousers and forced her to constantly wear floaty skirts, she was very pale, but with dark eyes that gave the impression that she never slept, and she was awkward in the company of others.

Boys hadn’t looked twice at her in school and her parents had stopped asking if she had a boyfriend, had probably come to accept that their socially inept daughter would die a spinster. So, when she had brought Frank home for the first time they had been so excited that he could’ve had two heads and they wouldn’t have cared.

Mary didn’t see much of her friends once Frank had come into her life. She would occasionally talk to them on the phone, but she was usually too busy with Frank. He was just so devoted to her that she never had time to go out with the girls. By the time they had been going out for six months, Mary didn’t have any interaction with her friends, but Frank was all that she needed. He often whispered into her ear as they cuddled together on the couch that it need only be the two of them, that he wanted only her in his life and no one else mattered. He made her feel so important and loved, that she never questioned him. Everything he said and did was how she lived her life now and she was deliriously happy.

One thing that she insisted upon, however, was that they wouldn’t have sex before they were married. Mary wasn’t religious, but she had some old-fashioned values, and Frank shared them. She had been nervous bringing the subject to him. As unexperienced with boys as she was, she knew that they all expected their girls to put out eventually. Frank had never tried to grope Mary, but as their relationship had developed she knew that he would be looking for something more soon.

Frank had simply taken her face in his hands, planted a soft kiss on her lips, and told her that he would wait as long as she wanted. Could this man be any more wonderful?

After a year of dating, Frank proposed. He asked Mary’s father for her hand in marriage, then took her out for a meal in the restaurant where they’d had their first date. He didn’t get down on one knee, he wasn’t ostentatious. Instead, he clasped her hands over the table, looked deep in her eyes and said:

“Mary, will you marry me?”

She cried, but softly, Frank wouldn’t want her to make a scene. He placed the ring on her finger; diamonds and emeralds (her birth stone) and she cried some more as she nodded her head vigorously. This was it. She was going to get her fairy tale. No longer did it matter that she hadn’t had a boyfriend at school, who cares that she’d lost touch with her friends? She had found her Prince Charming and they were going to be together forever.

The wedding was small, but perfect. They were married in the town hall with only close family in attendance. Mary wore a floor length white satin dress, with long floaty sleeves and high collar. Frank wore a dark grey suit and his pensive furrowed brow. Afterwards, they had dinner at a local hotel where the married couple were to stay the night. Mary had champagne for the first time ever and the bubbles went straight to her head. The fuzzy feeling wasn’t unpleasant, but she knew that if she had too much she would regret it the next day. She did notice, however, that Frank was throwing back the pints as though they were going out of fashion. His usual reserved demeanour changed to loud and raucous. He laughed with her father and his own, smoked cigars with his uncles, and charmed her mother.

She had never seen him drink before and was surprised at how much he could put away and at how much it changed him, but today was a celebration. He was obviously happy and enjoying himself.

Their room for the night was your bog standard double room, but the hotel had provided a bottle of champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries for the still celebrating couple. Mary had had enough to drink and nibbled on the fruit, whilst Frank cracked open the bottle and poured himself a large glass. He downed the drink and looked at Mary.

Her stomach did an involuntary flip. Frank wasn’t looking at her in his usual sombre way. No, he leered at her, drawing his eyes over her body in its tight dress, lingering on her breasts. It was a way he hadn’t looked at her before and it made her uncomfortable. She put down the strawberries and moved towards the bathroom, announcing that she was going to get ready for bed.

He grabbed hold of her waist.

“Come to bed just now.” He said

“I need to get my pyjamas on.” She said, heart hammering in her chest.

“You don’t need pyjamas,” Frank said and pulled her close. He smelled of cigars and lager and Mary almost gagged when her thrust his tongue into her mouth.

She pushed him away, “Let’s just go to sleep, Frank, it’s been a long day.”

Without warning Frank grabbed her face with his hand, squeezing her cheeks so hard her lips pursed.

“It’s been a long year waiting for you to spread your legs,” he sneered, “So get on that bed right fucking now.”

He shoved Mary back on the bed and clambered on top of her. He tore at her beautiful wedding dress until her bare breasts were exposed then proceeded to suck and bite them. Mary let out a shriek and Frank placed a hand over her mouth.

“You make another noise,” he whispered, “and I’ll bite off a nipple.”

He then unbuckled his trousers and yanked up her dress so that the skirt was practically covering Mary’s face. She lay there, frozen, too scared to move, too scared to make a sound as her new husband thrust himself violently inside her for the next ten minutes.

This was how Mary spent her wedding night, but it would only be the first time her husband raped her.

* * * *

For the next 35 years Mary was raped in her own home frequently. The youngest of her three sons was a product of rape, but not the only pregnancy that resulted.

When Frank had returned home from the pub tonight, he’d had that same lecherous look on his face as he’d had on their wedding night and Mary had known what was coming. And for the first time she’d decided to stop it.

He’d come for her – stinking of sweat and booze, the smell she always associated with sex. He’d tugged at her jumper and she’d shrugged him off. Then he’d stuck his hand up her skirt and pulled at her tights. She’d slapped his hand away and he’s spun her round to back-hand her across the face. Mary had fallen back against the ironing board, but managed to keep her balance. Behind her Frank had slurred abuse. Calling her ugly, useless, only good for a shag. Everything that she’d heard before. He’d beaten her down so much with his cruel words that she was numb to them now, but tonight something inside her snapped. She snatched up the hot iron and pressed it against his face.

At first Frank simply stared at her with wide eyes, then he screamed like a little boy and she yanked the iron from his face, pulling melted skin with it, then brought it crashing down on his skull. He instantly shut up and swayed a bit. Mary watched him, iron held high, and when he took a step toward her she hit him again and again until he fell to the floor.

The iron had cracked his skull open at his left temple and blood poured out onto the linoleum. His left cheek sagged and blistered, giving him the look of a comic book villain. He stared up at Mary, but didn’t see her. He was dead. She’d killed her abusive, rapist husband.

She finished the cigarette and looked up at the clock. It was only 8:40pm although Mary felt as though the whole evening had passed. She got up from her seat and stood over Frank’s body. She couldn’t leave him here on her kitchen floor, but she had no way to get rid of him. They had a car, but Frank had never allowed her to learn how to drive. He would have to stay in the house until she thought up a plan.

She looked around until her eyes settled on the cellar door. He could stay down there for the time being. She opened the door and switched on the light. The cellar was sparse, Frank had no time for clutter. All that was down there was Frank’s tools, a chest freezer, Christmas decorations, and spare dining room chairs. Mary walked over to Frank and grabbed him by his ankles. Mary might have been in her fifties and Frank over 6ft, but many a night she would have to support his drunken dead weight up the stairs to bed. The strain had taken its toll on her back over the years, but she was fit and secretly proud of her strength, no matter the reason for it.

Shuffling backwards she dragged Frank’s body over to the cellar. She backed down a few steps so that his legs were resting over the top few treads, then she moved around to his head. She didn’t want to touch his blood, but she really had no choice. Bending over she took hold of Frank’s shoulders and shimmied him forward until he was in a sitting position at the top of the stairs, and then, with an all mighty heave, Mary pushed her dead husband down the stairs. She watched as he tumbled arse over elbow all the way to the cement floor. He landed in a heap, head and an arm at an odd angle. Mary turned off the light and closed the door.

She looked down at the blood on her hands and sleeves and felt her stomach lurch. Nope, nope, don’t throw up now, she thought, you’ve still got a lot of cleaning up to do. Get that done then you can throw up in the shower.

There was a bucket, bleach and cloths under the kitchen sink and a mop in the alcove by the fridge. She fetched all these things along with paper towels. She left the bucket to fill up in the sink and scattered paper towels over the floor until the blood was mostly covered – she used these to soak up as much blood as they could before she washed the floor. Once she’d placed the bloodied towels in the bin bag she retrieved the bucket from the sink. It was filled to the brim and hot water sloshed out, soaking the front of her jumper. She squirted some bleach in then got to work mopping up the rest of the blood.

The linoleum became slippery and several times Mary had to grab the mob tight to stop from falling. Once she was finished, she emptied the bucket down the sink and poured neat bleach all over the kitchen floor. The blood was gone, it was clean, but Mary knew it had been there and no amount of cleaning would be enough to convince her that the blood was gone. Maybe she should get new linoleum? In time. Right now, she just had to ensure that there was no trace of blood anywhere.

She noticed some spots on the wall by the door and scrubbed away at them with more bleach and a scouring pad. Her eyes and nostrils burned with the strong fumes, but she welcomed its clean burn until she began to feel lightheaded and knew it was time to get fresh air. She couldn’t go outside in her blood drenched clothes so she headed upstairs to the bathroom where she stuck her head out of the window and gulped in the cool air.

It was quiet outside. The neighbours still had some lights on and Mary imagined the families all sitting together watching t.v., wee ones tucked up safe in bed, lovers in each other’s arms. Oh, how they were blissfully unaware of the horror that had taken place in Mary McDonald’s house. Not that Mary’s house was particularly pleasant on any other night, but tonight certainly exceeded the level of heinousness these four walls had witnessed over the years. And Mary didn’t feel a thing. She felt no remorse for what she had done, just revulsion at the sight of his blood. It was peculiar really, she’d seen her own blood many, many times and was never sick, but the sight of someone else’s caused her stomach to lurch. Even when her sons were little and cut their knees, it was all Mary could do not to throw up over them when cleaning them up.

She closed the window then ran the shower. Her boys; Kevin, Liam and Christopher. Horrid, selfish brutes who had looked up to their father as though he was some kind of God. She understood that small boys idolised their father, but she’d also tried to teach them compassion and kindness, but all they’d learned in this house was how to beat a woman until she was nothing more than soft putty. Soft putty that could be moulded and manipulated anyway that they wanted.

Kevin and Liam both had wives (she’d always suspected that Christopher was gay, and suppressing it was the core to his anger problems) and the few times Mary had met them had been harrowing. They were both mousy little things who hung onto their husbands every word, were at their beck and call and Mary just wanted to take hold of them and scream at them to run. Run far away and never look back. Live the life of a single woman and be happy. She wanted to tell Liam’s wife, Laura, that she wasn’t a punchbag, and no matter what Liam said, she didn’t look like a beached whale. She wanted to tell Sue, Kevin’s wife, that she wasn’t worthless, that she was smart and not a disappointment. She wanted to help these women like she’d wished someone had helped her . . . but she didn’t. Of course, she didn’t, because she was one of them. She, too, was worthless and a human punchbag, how could she possibly help anyone else when she couldn’t even help herself? She would just sit there and watch as her two eldest beasts belittled their wives in her company as her youngest laughed and joined in.

As she stood under the trickling water she wondered what she would tell them? She had a few days to worry about it. In the past Frank had gone missing for days on end on drinking binges. He was known to the local police who had stopped taking Mary’s missing person reports seriously after the third occasion. As time went on his disappearing stints went on for longer, but he always found his way back home. Mary figured she had at least five days until she’d have to involve the authorities and boys. This was plenty of time to get rid of the body. . . but how?

Once she was all washed and changed into clean pyjamas, Mary stuffed her dirty clothes into the binbag with the paper towels. She would throw this in a bin far away from her house, maybe even take it to some waste ground and burn it. For now, she left it under the kitchen sink, made herself some hot sweet tea and went to her bedroom.

She wasn’t tired and sat poker straight on the edge of the bed. Her room was covered in photographs of her family. Her, Frank and the boys when they were young at the beach, in her parents’ house, on Christmas day; her and Frank on their wedding day, and the boys with their wives on their wedding days. They looked as happy as Mary had felt on her special day. Had they been duped, too, or had they known what they were signing up for? Had they thought that they could change their man once they had become his wife?

Looking at these photographs gave Mary an idea of how to dispose of Frank’s body and, secretly, pay back her sons at the same time.

* * * *

The next day Mary got on with her usual chores. She had some bills to pay so she walked to the bank in the morning, then to the post office to post some letters. She then went to the shop and bought more bleach, bin bags, disposable aprons, washing up gloves, bread and milk and then headed home.

There was still a basket full of ironing to finish, so she erected the ironing board up in the living room and ironed as she watched day-time t.v. – something that she had never done. When it started to get dark, and Mary had finished all her chores, she took everything she’d bought at the shop – minus the bread and milk – down to the cellar. Frank was still where she’d left him – of course he was. His neck was broken, his head twisted at 180º and his glassy eyes stared lifelessly up at her.

She stepped over him and busied herself placing bin bags all over the floor. She then looped one of the disposable aprons over her head and fastened it around her wait. She was wearing leggings and a tatty old jumper, but she wanted to keep mess to a minimal. Frank’s tools were stored neatly away in a large tool box which Mary rummaged around in now until she found a pair of safety goggles and a large saw and shears. She placed these on the bin bags along with her gloves.

When Mary had woken up this morning there was a niggle at the small of her back and the tops of her arms ached. She knew this was from shifting Frank’s dead weight and furiously scrubbing the kitchen, but the hard work wasn’t over yet. She looked over at Frank now and sighed, it was time to move him again. She grabbed him by the ankles once more and slowly dragged him onto the bags. He felt heavier today and Mary’s back screamed in protest. She ignored it and vowed to take pain killers and apply a heat pack once she’d done what she had to do. Next step was to put on the goggles and gloves. She stood looking down at her dead husband. Should she strip him? It would probably be easier if he had no clothes on. After a few seconds thought, she took off the gloves and goggles and began to unbutton Frank’s shirt and unfasten his trousers. She decided to leave his vest and boxers on, she didn’t want to see his penis or pigeon chest if she could help it. She put his clothes, socks and shoes on the bottom step then put the goggles and gloves back on.

Kneeling beside the body, Mary picked up the saw and took hold of Frank’s right arm. Where to start? The wrist? Or the shoulder, just take off the whole arm? It was a bit awkward to get to so Mary opted for the elbow.

There’s no going back now, Mary thought as she placed the saw against his skin, this is it. You’re going to do this. Do it.

Mary began to saw.

* * * *

For the next four nights Mary spent her evenings cutting up her dead husband. She tried to saw his limbs as small as she could so that she could place them in plastic bags and store them in her chest freezer. There was never really much food in that freezer, it was just handy to have come Christmas time when she had no room in her fridge-freezer for the turkey and other festive foods.

Once she’d finished with Frank’s limbs she planned to move onto his organs and store them in separate bags, but she found it difficult to build up the courage to start. This part was going to be messy and Mary had already vomited in a bucket twice since starting. She had no choice, though, so she opened his torso with a large butcher’s knife and fished around inside for his liver, kidneys, heart, and whatever else she could yank out. When she’d bagged everything, and placed it all in the freezer she stopped for the night. The stench of blood and flesh was making her feel sick and her body ached. She knew she had to finish before Frank became too . . . spoiled, but her back begged for her to rest.

She cleaned herself up, popped two paracetamol in her mouth and lay down with a heat pack and hot water bottle. The first part was nearly over, soon she could move onto the second part of her plan. All she had to do was keep her nerve and get on with it.

The next two days she spent hacking up the rest of Frank’s body into chunks until she was only left with his head. His ugly, swollen putrid head. She wanted it out of her house, but there was nowhere she could take it where it wouldn’t be found. And she didn’t fancy carrying it around with her in the street. In the end, it went in the freezer with the rest of him – right at the bottom. She wasn’t done yet, though. All week she had been cleaning as she’d been working, but now she gave the whole cellar a deep clean like she had in the kitchen that first night so long ago. The bin bags with all the bloody rags and bags could get dumped in the skip down the road – she had heard her neighbour mention that it was being lifted tomorrow, so everything would be away from her and her home by the time she put part two of her plan into action. But first she was going to have a well-deserved bath and a couple more paracetamol. She had a feeling she would sleep well tonight.

* * * *

“He’s not been back since and I haven’t heard from him.”

Mary sat on the couch and watched as the male police officer scribbled what she’d been saying down on his pad. The female officer put down her tea cup and looked at Mary with a kind and sympathetic face.

“I understand that Frank’s gone missing in the past?” she said.

“Oh, yes, but not for this long,” Mary said, “I held off reporting him missing because he’s done it before, but I’m really worried now.”

Mary fidgeted with the tissue she held in her hands. She’d managed to squeeze out a few tears and noisily blew her nose for the benefit of the officers.

“Have you spoken to any of his friends or been down to his local” the female asked.

“Going to the pub was Frank’s thing. I don’t know any of his drinking mates. And I don’t know what pub he goes to, either.” This wasn’t true. Frank frequented The Black Goose which was a good twenty-minute bus ride away. Frank preferred it to his local because he shared the same sexist and misogynistic views as the rest of its clientele. There was no way Mary was going down there.

“We’ll check out the local pubs ourselves,” the female said, “If he frequents one more than the others then no doubt someone would have seen him on Sunday. In the meantime, we’ll file a missing person report. Please try not to worry, Mrs McDonald, I’m sure he’ll turn up.”

Mary thanked the officers and seen them out. She leaned her forehead against the front door and allowed herself a sigh of relief. So far so good. Parts one and two of her plan had went without a hitch, now she just had to execute part three, which she had been looking forward to the least.

In the hall bureau Mary kept her phonebook. She fished it out and looked up Liam’s number. She didn’t know any of her son’s phone numbers by heart, she didn’t call them much and they didn’t call her much. Taking a deep breath, she called Liam and waited for him to answer.

“Hello?”

It was Laura. Mary hesitated. As relieved as she felt that her son hadn’t answered, she was certain that Laura wouldn’t accept her invitation. She could hang up and try again later, but the sound of Laura’s small childlike voice as she said hello again stirred something inside of Mary and she felt she should converse with her daughter-in-law.

“Hello, Laura, it’s Mary.”

“Mary?” Laura’s small voice squeaked with surprise, “Liam’s not here.”

“That’s okay, Laura, can you pass on a message?”

“Em . . . yeah, okay.” Laura said, but didn’t sound entirely sure.

“Could you please tell him that you are both invited round to mine for dinner tomorrow night?” Mary said.

“Em. . .”

“I know it’s short notice,” Mary quickly added, “but I need to talk to all of you about Frank.”

The other end of the line was quiet and Mary waited patiently for Laura to reply. She knew the young wife was wondering if she could remember all of the message exactly and if relaying it to her husband would mean hassle for her.

“Yeah . . . yes, okay, I’ll tell him.” She finally said.

Mary sighed with relief, “Thank you, Laura. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Laura hung up before Mary could reply.

One son down, two to go.

Next, she phoned Christopher who made no effort to hide his annoyance at her phone call. With grunts, sighs and monosyllabic words, he eventually agreed to dinner. Mary’s heart pounded in her chest as she dialled Kevin’s number. If Kevin wouldn’t come then Mary would have to reschedule, which meant less chance of the boys all agreeing to come together.

“Hello?”

“Kevin? It’s your Mum.”

“I know.”

“Can you and Sue come to dinner tomorrow night at seven?”

“Why?”

“Well, I haven’t seen you all in so long . . . and we need to talk about your Dad.”

Silence at the other end. Mary tensed, waiting for Kevin to ask what was wrong with Frank. She wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t want to worry him too soon so that he ended up coming around right away, but she didn’t want to play it down either.

“What we having?” Kevin asked.

Mary had never been so pleased to have such a heartless child.

“Pies.”

“Okay. See you tomorrow.” He said then hung up.

Mary exhaled deeply. That had gone as well as she could have hoped, now she just had to pray that they would all turn up. But, there was no point in worrying about it just now. She had to get all the ingredients for dinner and start to prepare it. So, Mary put on her coat and, for the second time that week, went to the shops.

* * * *

Mary finished setting the table in the kitchen. It was nearly 7pm and, so far, she hadn’t heard from any of the boys saying they had to cancel . . . in all honesty, though, Mary’s selfish offspring just wouldn’t show up if they didn’t want to come.

Despite this, Mary had spent the rest of yesterday making homemade meat and gravy pies and three spinach and ricotta quiches. Six of the pastries were currently in the oven and potatoes and vegetables were boiling on the hob. Everything was ready, she just had to wait now.

The doorbell rang making Mary jump. She smoothed down her skirt and went to answer it. Liam, Christopher and Laura all stood in the doorway. The boys pushed their way inside without looking at their mother and Laura hung back looking uneasy.

“Come in, Laura,” Mary said, “It’s good to see you.”

Laura entered and gave Mary a tentative kiss on the cheek. Mary noticed faded bruising around the young woman’s neck.

“Kev not here yet?” Christopher called from the living room.

“No,” Mary said as she and Laura entered the room, “But I’m sure he’s coming.”

“He’d better,” Christopher said, reclining on the couch and putting his dirty boots up on the coffee table, “Wee bastard owes me 20 quid.”

Mary was curious as to why, but she knew better than to ask. She would just get a mouthful of cheek about minding her own business. Sometimes they would set her up just to verbally abuse her. Nothing made them feel bigger than seeing a stricken woman.

“He’d better fucking turn up or I’m leaving,” Liam growled and Mary felt Laura flinch beside her, “If he’s not here then I don’t see why I should be.”

Christopher laughed, loud and throaty.

“Well I . . . I need to talk to you all about your Dad,” Mary said, “so -”

“What’s the old git done now?” Christopher groaned.

“I would rather wait for Kevin -” Mary began before a knock at the door interrupted her, “Oh, that’ll be him now.”

She rushed to the door and yanked it open. There was Kevin with a face like thunder and, behind him, Sue was snivelling into a handkerchief.

“We would’ve been here earlier if it wasn’t for her.” Kevin said thrusting a thumb over his shoulder. He went straight into the living room where the three brothers greeted each other with profanity and Christopher harped on about that “20 quid”.

Mary took Sue’s arm and pulled her gently into the house. She noticed Laura watching them with large eyes, so Mary took her hand and guided both of her daughters-in-law into the kitchen

“Come, girls, let’s get dinner ready.”

* * * *

With her five guests sitting around the table, Mary busied herself pouring gravy over the meat pies. She blocked out the noise behind her; she wasn’t interested in the many “women” Christopher had shagged, she didn’t care about Liam thumping a work colleague for daring to question his authority, and she couldn’t listen to Kevin telling Sue to “stop crying like a little bitch”. She had to make sure that this meal was perfect, that the boys would find it delicious enough to take home the spare pies that Mary had in the fridge.

“God’s sake, Ma, we’re starving,” Liam cried, “Hurry the fuck up.”

Mary plastered a smile on her face, picked up two of the meat pie dishes, and turned to face everyone.

“Dinner is served.”

She gave the boys theirs first then served Sue, Laura and herself the quiche dishes.

“What is this?” Christopher asked, pushing the vegetables off his plate and onto the table with his fork.

“Meat and gravy pies,” Mary said, “Homemade.”

“Aye, but what kind of pies?”

Mary cleared her throat, “A bit of everything, really. The supermarket had loads of fresh meat reduced, so I stocked up the cellar freezer with as much as I could. There’s liver, kidneys, rump -”

“Aye, alright, Ma,” Kevin put in, “we don’t need your life story.”

Christopher erupted with laughter.

The boys all picked up their cutlery and just as they were about to dig in, Mary held up her hands.

“Be . . . before we eat, I need to tell you something about your Dad.” She said.

Kevin groaned and let his knife and fork drop on the table with a loud clatter. He turned blazing eyes on his mother and shrugged, “Well, what is it?”

“Aye, where is he?” Liam asked, as though he’d only just noticed that his Dad wasn’t there.

Mary took a deep breath, “I don’t know.”

Everyone at the table turned their gaze on Mary.

“What the fuck do you mean you don’t know?” Kevin asked.

“He didn’t come home on Sunday night.”

Everyone continued to stare at her and Mary felt herself begin to sweat. She’d held it together so far, but Kevin’s pensive stare made her feel that he could see right through her lies.

“I . . . I’ve told the police,” she continued, “they came around yesterday morning and I filed a missing person’s report. They’re going to visit all the local pubs and ask around . . . hopefully someone knows where he is.”

She trailed off and looked at her three boys in turn. Christopher wore his usual smirk that Mary had always wanted to wipe off his face, Liam looked confused and turned to Kevin, the older brother, whose lead the other two had always followed. Kevin looked angry, but he always did. Mary couldn’t tell what her sons were thinking so she continued to sit quietly as a drip of sweat ran down her spine.

Kevin heaved a deep sigh and pulled a face, “He’s fucked off before. He’ll come back . . . or maybe he won’t. Who the fuck cares? You’ve wasted the police’s time.”

“Aye,” Liam piped in, nodding, “The old bastard’s probably just on a week-long bender.”

“Or shacked up with some wrinkly tart.” Christopher said then threw his head back laughing.

Wanting to seem concerned about her husband, Mary continued, “But he’s never been gone this long. What if something’s happened to him?”

Again, Kevin shrugged, “What if? He’s old enough and ugly enough to look after himself.”

Christopher slammed his hand down on the table, making Sue and Laura jump, “Nobody would mess with Da. He’d knock them out!”

Mary thought about the hot iron melting Frank’s skin.

“You’re right,” she said and smiled, “I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Can we eat now?” Kevin asked.

Mary nodded and watched, heart hammering in her chest, as her three boys, the three children that she had borne and raised as best she could, the three sons who had bitterly disappointed her, cut into the overfilled pies that Mary had made, from scratch, the night before. The pies that were jam packed with the meat from the downstairs freezer.

Liam and Christopher shovelled the pies into their mouths, barely bothering to chew before swallowing. Laura picked at her dinner and Sue just pushed the food around her plate. Only Kevin looked thoughtful as he slowly chewed the meat. He caught his mother’s eye and Mary felt her blood run cold.

He knows.

“This actually tastes alright, Ma.” He said taking another bite.

“There’s more in the fridge for you to take home,” Mary said, then quickly added, “I don’t think Sue and Laura will like them, though. Too meaty.”

“Think they get enough meat at home.” Christopher sniggered.

Kevin was nodding, “Keep some back for Da, for when he comes back. He’ll like them.”

Looking at the lumps of meat swimming in the thick brown gravy on Kevin’s plate. Mary smiled and said;

“I’ve made plenty. He’ll be stuffed with pie when he gets home.”

What I’ve been watching #1

Since the new year there have been a lot of great shows on the telly . . . whether they’re Netflix Originals or BBC dramas, there’s no denying we’ve all been entertained since January.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months now, but I have been concentrating on my creative writing recently so the blog has been on the back burner. However, I want to get back into regular blogging and share with you some of the programmes I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and think you will, too.

The O.A.

This is a beautifully written and passionately acted Netflix Original about a girl who returns to her parents 7 years after going missing. The intriguing thing about Prairie Johnson’s return is that she has somehow regained her sight, having been blind from a young age.

Despite questions from the police and her parents, Prairie refuses to discuss how her sight became restored or what happened to her during the 7 years she was gone. What they don’t realise is that Prairie does want to tell her story, but only to a certain chosen few. Five local people, mostly high school students and each living their own anguished lives, meet with Prairie – who now refers to herself as The OA – every night to listen to her amazing and emotional tale.

I was sucked right into this show from the get go. It’s slow moving, but with so much depth and intrigue it keeps you gripped and constantly guessing as to what exactly is going on. The acting is incredible, with the writer Brit Marling taking on the role of OA, one, which is obvious from the very beginning, that she is completely invested in. OA is a complex and ethereal character that only creator Marling could bring to life.

As with any show, you know that you’ll reach an explosive – and hopefully satisfying – series finale, but I was completely blown away with The OA’s climax. It initially seemed that it had came completely out of left field, but I believe that it was always heading that way, OA and the five just didn’t realise it.

I cried uncontrollably at the end and have watched the final scene many times on YouTube, it’s incredibly powerful and moving.

If you’ve scrolled past this show on Netflix, unsure if you should devote any of your time to it, do me a favour and give it a shot. But have your hankies at the ready.

No Offence

It’s been two years since the 1st season of this exciting drama aired on Channel 4 and I had been waiting impatiently for season 2, but it was worth the wait.

The show follows the Friday Street police station and it’s unconventional detectives, particularly DC Dinah Kowalska, DS Joy Freers and, their boss, Detective Inspector Viv Deering.

Season 1 focused on the team trying to solve the murders of girls with Down’s syndrome, and was a great introduction to the predominantly female cast. DI Deering and her gang of gutsy girls are a force to be reckoned with and leave you punching the air at their awesome show of girl power.

The shocking twist at the end of Season 1 caught me totally off guard, but left me wanting more and Season 2 delivered. This time the detectives have to investigate a Manchester crime boss called Nora Attah, and with more twists and turns than a roller coaster you’re never quite sure if Nora is fully aware of the atrocities taking place within her criminal world, until the very end.

The writing and acting on this show is impeccable, and although the subject matters are very serious, the show isn’t afraid to pull out a few laughs and poke fun at its characters.

If you like police shows that are a wee bit different, then check out No Offence and let me know what you think.

The Moorside

You may all be very familiar with the case of 9 year old Shannon Matthews who dissappeared for 24 days in 2008. She was last seen outside of her school at the end of the school day, but didn’t make it home.

After a huge manhunt and lots of publicity, Shannon was found concealed under the bed in a flat owned by Michael Donovan – the uncle of Shannon’s mothers boyfriend. It later transpired that Michael and Shannon’s mother, Karen Matthews, had orchestrated the whole thing hoping to pocket thousands of pounds generated from the publicity of Shannon’s “kidnap”.

The nation was shocked and disgusted by this so-called Mother’s actions, but no more than the community where the family lived.

This BBC drama tells the story of Shannon from the point of view of all Karen Matthew’s friends and neighbours, who all rallied together to find the little girl. They searched the streets, they comforted Karen, they campaigned publicly – never wanting the country to forget poor Shannon . . . their lives revolved around Shannon Matthews and reuniting her with her poor mother, and then they had to face the sickening realisation that they had been duped.

I found this show very interesting and we’ll executed. With most true crime programmes, the focus is mainly the victim and criminal, with very little detail on those close to the people involved. The Moorside not only featured the community’s tenacious spirit in helping others, but also the fallout in being deceived so cruelly, with one couples’ marriage falling apart thanks to Karen’s lies.

It shows the ripple effect ones actions can have and how there can be no coming back from it.

Keep smiling x