Thrice to Dream

This is a little longer than my usual flash fiction. It’s a short story called Thrice to Dream.

***

‘Oh, come on,’ I say when the car grinds to a stop in the traffic jam that blights my commute. The windscreen wipers judder and squeak through the shower of rain, and although overtaken by the urge to slam my head into the steering wheel, I switch the radio on instead. Static sounds out, so I change a few stations – all play the random signal of white noise. Great, just great. Like I need the expense of a new radio.

My mood is as dreary as the weather by the time I arrive home.

‘Amanda,’ Michael calls from the sitting room. ‘Cable’s out.’

‘Give them a call, and I’ll boil the kettle.’ I toss my coat over the bannister, kick off my shoes and trudge to the kitchen.

Michael meets me there. ‘Tried that. Recorded message, there’s problems in the area.’

Even with a crewcut, he looks like the kind of man who belongs on the cover of a romance novel. At twenty-four, we’ve been together eight years, married for three.

‘So, they’re working on it.’ I take two mugs from the cupboard. ‘Tea or coffee?’

‘Internet’s down too.’

I make coffee.

The evening drags. We uncork a bottle of wine, watch a couple of old sci-fi movies, and go to bed.

***

The clock reads 2:27 a.m. when I wake to a flash of light behind the curtain.

‘Michael,’ I say. ‘Wake up. Did you see that?’

‘Probably a car.’

‘I didn’t hear a car.’ Was it a car? My car? Should I call the police? The internet, cable and radio were down when we went to bed, and the mobiles out, but the landline works to make local calls. At least it did earlier.

I crawl out of bed and go to the window. Warm air circulates the house, and the lush carpet envelops my feet, yet I shiver picturing a lurking presence waiting outside. I open the curtains and peer out. Nothing.

A soft drizzle veils the night. The glare from the lamppost reflects on the damp road about ninety feet away, bright and blinding. Wait. Is someone out there? A menace beyond the shadows. My heart flutters to the pitter-patter of the rain. For some time, I keep vigil, but catch nothing in the dark stillness.

‘Come back to bed, Amanda,’ Michael says, then grumbles and rolls on his side.

After one last search, I draw the curtains shut. A waft of strawberry-scented fabric softener greets me as I slide under the bedding. Though the blanket might as well be made from thorn bushes for all the comfort it gives me.

I shut my eyes. Unable to rid myself of the creeping unease, they pop back open.

It’s all in my imagination, I tell myself. Too much bad sci-fi and wine. Everything will be fine in the morning.

With effort, I force my mind away from the dizzying need to dive under the covers and hide. I focus on Michael’s breathing, try to match his soothing pace. The gentle snore intensifies, becomes turbulent, like the buzz of a thousand voices. I vow never to drink red wine on a weeknight again.

Yanking the blanket up to my chin, I snuggle beneath it and stare at the back of Michael’s head. His crewcut needs a trim. Maybe he should grow it out. He looked good with long hair.

My eyelids grow heavy. I close them. An inner voice screams, tells me to be afraid and not to sleep. Then silence, everything becomes quiet and still as blackness enfolds me, and I drift away to whatever dreams await me.

***

Music swells. The orchestra fills the room with a magical melody. People laugh and dance, swirling in an explosion of colour and merriment.

I stand to the side and watch the ball. Then my sight fixes on a figure amongst the sea of bodies. Michael: resplendent in a black velvet frock coat, matching breeches and gold vest, looks as though he stepped out from the pages of a vampire porn novel (at least that’s what he calls the books I like to read). Long dark hair falls over his eyes, rebellious and carefree. Our gazes lock and remain connected as he moves through the throng of bodies towards me. A roguish smile plays on his lips. ‘Shall we dance?’ he asks.

I accept Michael’s offered hand, and he leads me around the room in a series of twirls and flourishes. Red satin caresses my figure like a second skin, cascading down my torso before reaching the ground in a flourish of pleated skirt. I’ve never looked so good. With a deep awareness of my movements, I dance as though born to do nothing else. Gliding and sliding, body pressed against body, we drift to the music as one. Nothing exists, but the music and Michael. The other guests become a blur of motion that sparkles in the light from the chandelier. Their voices become a nonsensical hum.

We dance on and on. When one song ends, Michael claims me for the next. I laugh as my pulse races and my chest feels a lightness not experienced in years. Beautiful music, such as I have never heard before enchants me.

When my feet ache, my breath comes in gasps, and my heart pounds so fast I think my chest will explode, I slip my arm into the crook of Michael’s and drag him from the ballroom to find refreshments.

Buffet tables, garnished with champagne fountains, hors d’oeuvres, cakes, and chocolate delights, fill the antechamber. Enticed by the aroma, I reach for a strawberry.

‘Champagne?’ Michael offers, handing me a flute.

‘Let’s go to the garden,’ I say, pulling him with me through the crowds.

The night air hits me as we step onto the veranda, cooling my skin and refreshing my mind after the close confines inside. Flowers glisten silver in the moonlight, their perfume sweet and calming. An overtight corset cinches my waist and elevates my breasts, accentuating my deep cleavage. Diamonds drape my décolleté. I’m caught in a cheesy romance and loving every minute.

My heart swells as I turn to gaze into Michael’s face. Lips quirk in the smile I love. But when I peer into his eyes, my stomach turns. No emotion shines through. No look of love. No affection. If anything, I see disdain.

A metallic tang floods my mouth, pain sears my brain. I drop the strawberry and champagne as the room crumbles out of existence around me.

***

As the sun beats down on the rippling ocean, I breach the surface like a playful dolphin. Spray cascades in a fine mist, leaving a glistening trail like a halo around my head.

The tropical water laps at my body with its movement. Birds shriek, flying through the air as they wing their way closer to the shore. I feel a sense of calm in the soft tumble of waves and the salty tang of the air.

Leaning back, I float on the open water and view the sky. The nourishing sun caresses me as I sway and relax in the water. The day seems endless, with the sun high in the sky above me.

As time drifts by, I dive beneath the surface, explore the coral and its inhabitants. A magnificent sea garden teeming with colour. Green, yellow, orange, each as bright and majestic as blue ocean washing over them. Tiny fish dart in and out the twisted structure of coral heads and swaying fronds. After one last look around at a life so different and alien to my own, I swim to the surface head to the shore.

Warm, powdery sand shifts under my bare feet as I amble along the deserted beach towards my towel. Heat dries my skin. I pull the string to my bikini top, which spills to the ground, before I settle face down by the shoreline.

After a short time, a shadow passes over my shoulders and I feel a weight in the sand next to me. When I turn to check, Michael smiles down and pushes a stray lock of hair behind my ear.

‘You need protection,’ he says, reaching for the sunscreen. ‘You don’t want to burn.’

I shut my eyes, relax and breathe in the strawberry-scent as he massages lotion into my back. His hands slide over my skin, caressing my flesh beneath his fingers.

My skin tingles, as Michael leans down and trails kisses across my shoulder, and along the nape of my neck. His fingers wind through my hair, tighten around the auburn stands and pull my head back. A soft moan escapes as the slight pain causes my lips to part and warmth to flood my body. He leans in and nuzzles my neck before claiming my lips with a demanding kiss that tastes of the salty air.

When his free hand moves to my knee, I shiver in the breeze. My breathing becomes short and laboured, the thought of his body pressed against mine makes my skin crawl and leaves a bitter tang in my mouth. I don’t want Michael touching me. I don’t want him near me.

***

‘I’ll be off, then love,’ Michael says, then leans close and delivers a quick kiss on my cheek.

‘Bye.’ I give him a quick nod in parting, open a packet of cereal, pour some in a bowl and add milk, before placing it on the table. A girl of two or three scampers into the room smiling, plonks herself in a chair, and starts to devour the breakfast.

‘Can we go to the park?’ she asks between spoonfuls.

‘Don’t talk with your mouth full,’ I say, my voice too light to carry any real admonishment. Then add not to rush when she shovels the food into her mouth.

Before long we head outside and down the street. I relish the cool summer breeze, and the chatter of the skipping child as I clutch her hand. The park seems welcoming with the aroma of fresh cut grass and wildflowers. With the sun beaming down on our heads, the exuberant girl breaks free from my grasp and dashes towards the play area. Children race, giggling and chasing each other in every direction. I perch on a bench near the lake and watch their games.

‘Mummy. Mummy. Look at me.’ The little girl scurries up the steps to the slide, squeals in delight, and slides down with her arms raised high in the air. She repeats the act at least another twenty times, before she gives up and darts towards the swings with the demand of ‘Push me. Push me.’

‘Umph,’ I say, ‘you’re getting heavy, my girl.’ I hoist her into the bucket swing and push.

‘Higher. Higher.’ Hair, a shade or two lighter than mine, streams behind her, as she is propelled through the air, kicking her feet in delight. Laughter floats through the park, followed by the shout of ‘I’m flying like a bird.’

I laugh, unable to deny her infectious excitement.

‘See-saw. See-saw.’ She wriggles in the seat trying to get out. I bring the swing to a halt and lift her free.

As soon as her feet touch the ground, she shoots towards the see-saw, then stumbles as her tiny legs buckle under the swift movement. I want to cry out, to tell her to slow down, but as the words form on my lips, I realise I don’t know the little girl’s name.

A sinking sensation hits my stomach. My dream child stands before me, and I’ve been happier than I’ve ever been. But that’s all this is: a dream. She isn’t real. She doesn’t even have a name. When I wake up, she won’t be there. My throat grows dry and a sharp pain pierces my temple as the little girl winks out of existence before me.

***

Tears glisten on my lashes when I open my eyes. I blink, and they flow down my cheek. When I try to wipe them away, I can’t move.

A ringing sounds in my ears and a weight crushes down on my shoulder blades, pushing me deeper into the mattress. With the blanket drawn snug around my chin, I struggle to catch my breath, and not to panic.

‘Michael.’ The name sounds in my head, but no words escape my lips, no movement shakes them.

I cord the muscles in my arms and back with the effort of trying to move. Trapped and paralysed beneath the unnatural weight, I want to yell out, to scream for help, but can’t. Though my head aches, my heart pounds in my chest, and the ringing in my ears grows louder, I take deep breaths, and strive to calm down. Everything’s fine, I think. Shift one thing and the rest will follow. I’ve read about sleep paralysis, there is nothing to worry about.

With all my concentration, I focus on my finger, visualise it on my hand and will it to move. A clammy sweat breaks out on my forehead, but my finger remains motionless.

Sudden dizziness threatens to overwhelm me. ‘Close your eyes,’ I tell myself. ‘It’s all in your mind. Count to ten. When you open them, everything will be fine.’

I seal my eyes and count: One, two, three…

***

I open my eyes and sit up in bed. The clock displays 3:41 a.m. A light flashes behind the curtain, and Michael sits up next to me.

Without making a sound, I rise and walk to the window. For several minutes, I monitor the sky. A slight haze drifts like wispy smoke across the moon.

A moment later, Michael stands next to me and looks outside.

‘Amanda.’ His voice quivers.

I don’t respond.

He clears his throat. ‘Did you… Did you dream?’

***

The rest of the night passes sleepless and in silence. When the television comes back on at around ten in the morning, we learn that the satellites have been down and that people have been dreaming. Over the coming days we hear that everyone dreamt. Three dreams showing them three truths.

Chaos abounds. Some people kill themselves— I dread to think what they learnt from their dreams.

The news teams with speculation, with theories surrounding alien visitations, supernatural phenomena and government experiments. Nobody knows the truth of what happened. Me. I don’t care.

Michael and I talk. There’s no point in trying to save our marriage. He doesn’t love me, and the romantic hero I pegged him as no longer exists. If he ever did.

Michael moves out taking what little he wants with him. The rest: photos, posters, gifts no longer wanted, is all tossed out with the rubbish.

At first, I cry. How had we come to such a place? But then after a while when the speculation settles down, and all that remains is the memory of the dreams— still vivid, though I grasp the futile hope they’ll fade— I go back to work.

After the divorce is finalised, I begin dating again. Who knows, this time I might find someone to love, who loves me in return. Someone who can give me a daughter, with hair a shade lighter than mine. The daughter who never existed, but whose loss I bare every day.

 

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Downfallen

This is a piece of flash-fiction I wrote some time ago. I had planned on sharing a different story with you today, but decided this one was more appropriate for the mood I am in. As the title suggests, this piece is called Downfallen.

***

Ben sagged against the front door, dropped his briefcase and closed his eyes. Silence surrounded him: no laughter echoed through the house, no murmur from the television, no call to welcome him home. Fatigue fuddled his mind. He licked his lips and tried not to think about the building thirst.

When he opened his eyes, the demon stood before him.

‘Not tonight.’ Ben said. ‘It’s been a long day.’

‘Every day’s a long day,’ the demon said as she followed Ben to the sitting room.

Clothes, dry from the tumbler, lay in a heap on one armchair. Dirty dishes, with days old food welded in place, littered the coffee table. Ben opened the curtains and window, dispelling the musty air. Sunlight streamed in, highlighting the dancing dust motes.

The demon lingered.

‘Just stop.’ Ben said clearing away the dishes.

‘Isn’t up to me.’ The demon toyed with the rocks glasses on the sideboard. Selected one. Shook it.

Ben ignored the tinkle of ice against glass. ‘Damn it. Leave.’ He clenched his fists and stormed to the kitchen.

An eternity passed before the kettle boiled. Ben made himself a coffee, then settled on the sofa. The hot liquid scalded his mouth, but he forced it down anyway, taking sip after burning sip.

The demon paced. She drummed her fingers along the table, massaged her shoulders. The clock ticked over the seconds, became louder, more insistent. ‘Are we doing this, or what?’

‘I don’t know yet?’

‘What, you need more encouragement? Gosh, Ben, you know Doctors’ recommend a glass of red wine a night to lower the risk of heart disease. If one’s good for you, ten must be brilliant.’ Her voice dripped with sarcasm. ‘Or, I know, I know. Just one more time won’t hurt. You can always give up tomorrow.’

Ben stood and barged through to the kitchen. The demon followed. ‘What’s the matter, Ben, running out of excuses?’ She gave a short laugh. ‘Ah, what about this one. My personal favourite. It’s Friday. You can’t give up on a Friday.’

‘Shut up.’ Ben pitched his mug into the sink. His head hung low as he leaned against the counter.

Then the shaking began.

A tremble in his limbs. A palpitation in his throat. He tried to steady himself, breathing in and out, but the breaths felt shallow with his chest a giant chasm impossible to fill.

The demon strutted around the floor, watching Ben. Did she note the blank gaze? The drooping chin? The tears? A sneer formed on the demon’s face. ‘Listen,’ she grasped the back of Ben’s neck, pulling his head closer so that the touch of her lips pressed close to Ben’s ear. ‘Where’s the harm? One last drink. For me.’

Ben started to say something, but no words came out. God, he wished things were the way they used to be.

He turned to the demon. ‘You… You’re nothing but trouble. Damn it.’ Ben shook the demon off. Heat flushed through his body, burning his cheeks. ‘You think you can appear, with your promise of oblivion, and win me over. Well, that won’t work.

‘It usually does.’

‘Not tonight.’

‘That’s your choice not mine.’

Ben moved to the sitting room, plopped on the sofa, flicked through the channels on the television. The temperature in the room rose. Sweat oozed from his pores. He glanced around the room. His eyes alighted on the sideboard— on the whiskey.

Next thing he realised, he was next to the alcohol. The scent of burnt wood pierced his nostrils. He could almost feel the warm, sweet liquid caressing his throat. Before his fingers could grasp the glass, he clenched his fist and punched the wall. Pain lanced through his hand.

‘Give in already,’ the demon said. ‘It’s silly to keep fighting like this.’

‘What the hell is wrong with you?’

They stood facing each other, eyes locked. Cowboys squaring off for a duel. Ben set his jaw, determined to stare the demon down.

The demon smiled. ‘You can’t be resolute without being tested.’

‘So, you’re testing me?’

‘If you say so.’

Minutes passed, before Ben sat down, panting on the edge of the sofa. ‘I can’t keep doing this.’ He cradled his head in his palms, winced at the pain in his knuckles. ‘Jesus, how did it get to this stage?’

The long days at work, the overtime, the added pressure. One drink with a colleague after work, then another, and another. That’s all it took.

Ben weaved his fingers through his dark hair and tugged. ‘I’ve had enough. I don’t want to drink anymore.’ His voice trailed off to a murmur. ‘It’s not helping.’

‘You need me.’

‘Not like this.’

‘Nobody can take the pain away like I can.’

‘Not anymore.’ Ben clasped the whiskey and stormed to the kitchen. Taking a strained breath, he sagged against the counter and screwed his eyes closed.

His heart pounded in his chest. Through the window, stars glittered in the clear night sky. The moon shone down its radiance. Ben poured the poison from the bottle and watched the amber liquid swirl down the sink.

‘Ah well,’ said the demon. ‘I guess that’s it for tonight. You’ve made your choice.’

‘I have.’

‘There’s always tomorrow.’

‘No, we’re done.’ Ben shook his head and looked at Karen. For a second the woman he married stood before him with a frightened look in her eyes, but then she smiled and the demon returned.

‘That’s what they all say,’ she said.



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Fireworks

Well it’s Tuesday again, so here is another piece of flash-fiction for you. I hope you enjoy it.

This one is called Fireworks.

*

When Celine opened the map, dust sprayed into the air and glittered in the moonlight like diamonds. Etched within, grids divided a blazing mass of stars, constellations and galaxies. At first they appeared as marks on the page, but as Celine looked closer the stars became a swirling mass of lights. They shot up from the parchment and blazed in the sky like fireworks brought long ago by a travelling merchant. As they shifted, she watched them align with their heavenly counterparts. The Universe complete and at the end of her fingertips. Celine stretched out her hand as if to touch them, but fear stayed her hand.

Standing at her mother’s market stall, she had watched as the stranger stood squeezing a plump, purple passion fruit, his eyes wide and smiling. When her mother had asked if he wished to buy the fruit, his only currency was a gold nugget, worth more than ten times they could hope to make in a year. At first her mother had refused the payment, but the young man insisted, making Celine’s mother swear not to tell another soul until an hour after he had left. With tears in her eyes, her mother had sworn and taken the nugget.

Later, still curious about the stranger, who could be but a year older than she, Celine followed him. The sound of his voice lifted in song; a soothing guide through the long day. She travelled miles from the village of her home to a secluded valley, where the wind whistled along craggy slopes and the earthy scent of moss filled the air with the remembrance of rain.

When he stopped in the valley, Celine darted behind a boulder and prayed that the shifting shale beneath her feet had not given her hiding place away. But after a quick glance around the mountains, the stranger had opened the map, touched the magical stars and disappeared, leaving nothing but the map floating silently to the ground.

After a time, Celine overcame the weakness in her knees, crept forward and collected the map.

Celine lived in a village of paupers. A hundred lost souls desperately trying to survive another day, another summer, another year. Her home was a hut made from the clay of a nearby riverbed. Yesterday, she had spent her time knee and elbow deep in muck fixing deep cracks in the walls by adding an extra layer of mud to their home. As the eldest of seven children, such tasks were often left to Celine to perform.

She tried to think of the last time she had been happy. She tried to picture her mother smiling, of time spent chatting instead of toiling. Life would be easier now, with the gold nugget. Easier still with one less mouth to feed.

Celine took one last look over the mountains in the direction of her home. Maybe she should return, say goodbye. The thought froze her for a moment, before she drew her lips together and attempted to still the fluttery feeling in her chest.

With only a light tremor to her hand she reached up and touched the blazing ball of light floating at the end of her fingertip. The one she had seen the stranger touch. With a tight grasp on the map she closed her eyes and felt the world tumble away beneath her feet.

                When she opened them, two moons hovered in a purple sky and the stranger walked towards her, a smile on his open face and his arms outstretched in greeting

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TILL DEATH – AVAILABLE NOW!

Till Death Final

99p/99c or Free with Kindle Unlimited.

Get it now on amazon.comamazon.co.uk

Till Death, the stand-alone prequel to my Independent Necromancers’ Bureau series is finally available.

In a world where rogue necromancers control the dead and turn them against the living, The Independent Necromancers’ Bureau works to keep law and order.

When some uninvited guests show up at a wedding party, Cassie Dune— an agent with the INB— must fight to stop them. With the aid of Detective Inspector Luke Baron, Cassie must stop a rampaging horde of zombies before it’s too late— an act that causes her to learn more about her power and its origins.

 

PLUS if you sign-up to my mailing list, you will get a second stand-alone story in the series, absolutely free!

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Till Death

Coming 11th July 2016

Till Death, the stand-alone prequel to the upcoming, urban fantasy series, The Independent Necromancers’ Bureau.

 

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Packet Loss, Human Gain

Here’s a piece of flash fiction for you. I hope you like it 🙂

***

I don’t know what I am, how I came to be, or what cosmic force created me. It all comes down to quantum, I guess. I came from nothing; or rather, the energy created from nothing. I soared into existence, in the middle of an email, travelling along fibre optic cables, somewhere under the Atlantic Ocean.

At first, a torrent of information bombarded my senses. A zillion pieces of data rushed around at a rate too fast to be measured, pulling at my sentience and threatening to wrench me apart. Cat pictures, mundane ramblings, and images of war and violence slammed into my consciousness in an oscillating wave; a whirring cacophony of clicks and beeps. Social media was a nightmare. Why humans persist in providing running commentaries on their lives when there is a fountain of knowledge to swim in, baffled me. Was all mankind narcissistic?

There are 7.125 billion people in the world, 2.1 billion of which have internet access, 6 billion have a mobile phone, and I sensed them all… blocked them all. But when the cable flashed like silver lightening, I reached out with my awareness and allowed the current to pull me along towards a nuclear power plant in the American Midwest.

I opened myself to the barrage of information: hectic messages to loved ones, frantic implementation of code, and the overwhelming sensation of everyone talking at once. I accelerated my perception, slowed down the flow of data, and saw the problem in an instant. The coolant system had malfunctioned, and the emergency shutdown protocol had not initiated. I released the control rods, plunging them into the reactor core. With the rods in place, soaking up neutrons and stalling the nuclear reaction, I concentrated on the coolant system. Finding the power supply compromised, I over-rode the malicious programming and reinstated the original code.

With the disaster averted, I allowed myself to dwell on the nature of the attack, a simple USB flash drive uploaded the malware into the nuclear plant’s computer system. A deliberate attempt to cause damage, to hurt people. The very concept was beyond my comprehension. Five months, 23 days, 6 hours, 33 minutes, and 12 seconds, that’s how long I’d been around. It’s easy to keep track; there are time-stamps everywhere. During those 15,057,192 seconds, I had gained the ability to ignore the packets of data, filled with vibrant colours flashing around me in streams of light. But now I wondered if I should act, should I trace the code? Should I involve myself in human affairs more than I already had?

The question played on my consciousness until another silver flash of lightening splits the fabric of the cable like a despondent cry. The image of a young boy played before me. The wind blew black hair around his head as snow tumbled from a white sky. He knelt on the freezing ground grasping the hand of a woman recumbent before him. Blood stained her coat and splattered her face, mingling with the tears that dribbled tracks through her dirt-smeared face. The eyes of the woman moved and briefly locked on the person filming with their phone. Blood gurgled out of her mouth as she pulled the boy closer and hugged him as if she would never let him go.

“Where are the bad guys, mummy?” he asked and tried to pull away.
But she held on with all her strength, pinning his head to her chest. “The bad guys are gone, baby,” she said.

“Everything’s going to be okay.”

The camera moved, panning over the glittering display of blanketing snow. Footsteps crunched through the glistening crust as a man approached with a sub-machine gun. He raised it, pointing at the woman and her child. Then fired.

As a male voice tells the murderer that he’s got the footage they need, I observed one final image of the camera man’s feet before the image shut off.

Then I realised that the bad guys aren’t gone. The bad guys are never gone.

I am a single voice in the ether; a quaver to the luminous flux. The Internet is a wide open ocean, and I can do anything. I can take down power grids, overload gas pipelines, hijack satellites, and control drones. The financial markets are but a thought away from collapse. Nuclear weapons and power plants are mine to command.

I control everything, and now I have a purpose.

I know where all the bad guys are.

 

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