Tag Archives: short story

A Matter of Death – excerpt

This week I have decided to give you a sneak preview of A Matter of Death, a short story available by joining my mailing list here.


I kicked off my boots and stumbled to the bed, falling face down in a heap on top of the covers. My feet hurt, my head hurt, and my hair was so desperately in need of a wash, my scalp itched.

Mumbling to myself, I considered the distance from the bedroom to the bathroom and the effort required to drag myself through the house and remove my clothes to have a shower.

A slight weight joined me on the bed and a rumble sounded in my ears before Nibbler gave me an affectionate head-butt. ‘You stink of cat food,’ I said before returning the kiss.

‘You, my dear, also do not seem your fresh, cleanly self,’ Dylan said from the corner. ‘Might one suggest a shower?’

Sure, having a friendly neighbourhood ghost pop by was pleasant enough when you’re in the mood for some company and a chat, but not when you’re shattered after a hard night shift, and not when said ghost is being overly critical.

‘No one might not,’ I said, and threw a pillow in his direction. A useless act of defiance when all it did was pass through him and knock over a bottle of hand cream on my dressing table. I flopped back down on the bed and closed my eyes. ‘Besides,’ I said, ‘what do you care? Ghosts have no sense of smell.’

‘This is indeed true. However, one can see the noxious fumes coming off you and it does not require a sense of smell to know that you stink.’

Charming. The cat climbed on my back and nuzzled my hair. ‘If it doesn’t bother Nibbler,’ I said, enjoying his reassuring weight, ‘it doesn’t bother me.’

With that statement, the turncoat cat spluttered on my head, jumped onto the floor and proceeded to have a mild coughing fit.

‘Okay, okay,’ I said and pushed myself off the bed. ‘You win already. I’ll take a shower. But after that, Dylan, you can explain what the hell you’re doing in my house at five in the morning.’

The warm shower washed away the aches and pains in my body and soothed my headache. It’s a miracle how great a clean head of hair can make you feel. To make things even better, as I trundled down the stairs, the fresh scent of coffee enveloped my senses.

Opening the kitchen door, I dropped my head towel on a stool, took a seat on the neighbouring chair, and thanked my lucky stars that Dylan was an old ghost who’d mastered the art of physical manipulation. One of the reasons Nibbler got on so well with him, I was sure. Like I didn’t notice his dwindling treats and expanding girth.

Dylan handed me my hot beverage and opened the fridge. His insubstantial form flickered in the light. For once, groceries lined the shelves, as the supermarket had delivered my bi-weekly shopping the day before. ‘Would you care for some eggs?’ Dylan asked. ‘It would be a matter of moments to whip you up an omelette.’

Not that it wasn’t tempting, Dylan made the best omelettes, always light and fluffy, but I declined and asked him the reason for his visit.

‘I see you are tired. It is of no great urgency.’

Now that was a lie and we both knew it. After five years of living in this three-bed semi and being visited by Dylan, I liked to think we were buddies, even if he was dead, and it was clear something was on his mind. Plus my spidey senses were tingling and sure as hell, anything that bothers a two-hundred year old ghost was bad news for me.

I took a sip of the bitter coffee, savoured the swift injection of caffeine to my brain, and gave Dylan a look that said, ‘Oh, please!’

He closed the fridge and perched his ghostly form on the stool opposite mine. Although downcast, his pale face spoke volumes, but still he seemed reluctant to talk.

I took a long drink from my mug and then placed it on the counter. ‘That bad?’ I asked.

‘One might say, a matter of life or death, if not for the fact the dear lady is already one of the departed.’

‘Lady? So we’re talking about another ghost here.’

When he looked at me, he pushed his shoulders back, adjusted the lapels on his dress waistcoat, and straightened out an imaginary crease in his pantaloons. ‘Elizabeth,’ he said after a moment. ‘She’s in trouble. We met last night and she was most distressed. Her spirit was being drawn to the remains of her body. I stayed with her as long as I could, but, alas, fear of being bound forced me to abandon her.’

‘It wasn’t your fault,’ I said, now understanding Dylan’s reluctance. He was a man of honour and would judge himself harshly for leaving a woman in need.

‘I am a coward. I should have stayed with her to the last. No matter the personal cost.’

‘And where would that have got you? No, Dylan. If you had stayed, you could have been bound, and whatever trouble you think Elizabeth is in, you would be in too.’ I downed the remains of my coffee. Sleep would have to wait.


Don’t forget the full story is available for free is you join my mailing list (you can unsubscribe at any time)


Least Respected

Another short story this week. This one is called Least Respected.


‘That’s Lucy. Lucy Willows.’ I shiver in the cold air of the morgue: it smells like lemon, antiseptic, and whatever disinfectant they use to mask the scent of sickness and death. But it’s in the space around me, carried along with the incessant hiss of the ventilation system.

That’s all this backwater planet brings: death.

White walls surround me. Seventeen years ago, I stood in this claustrophobic room as a distraught young girl of six, newly arrived on Entusha. A morgue attendant stood beside me as I watched my parents’ bodies file past. ‘Come along, Isabella,’ she said leading me through another door. ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ She scanned the hallway and gnawed on her fingers. ‘Where is that damn social worker?’

Funny how I remember the slobber of her chewing her fingernails more than anything else about that day.

The room seemed much larger then, I guess everything seems bigger when you’re a child. But now it feels too small for the four of us: me, Detective Byron Abene, the morgue attendant, and Lucy.

Tears form in my eyes as I stare at my friend lying outstretched on the table. A white sheet is drawn back, exposing her from the shoulders up. Long blonde hair falls flat around her head. Her face – serene and beautiful in life – looks swollen and unsettled in death, as though her parting had been anything but easy.

‘What happened?’ I say forcing the words out.

‘I’m sorry, Miss Grace.’ Detective Abene places his hand on my arm. Although the words appear automatic, something in his tone makes me feel as though a part of him cares. ‘You’re registered as her next of kin, but I need to know if there is anyone else we should contact, Miss…’

‘Please, call me Isabella.’ I wipe away my tears and attempt a smile, but the lump forming in my throat prevents it. ‘No. There’s no one else.’

‘No family to notify? No boyfriend?’ It sounds like an accusation, as though Lucy and I are to blame for being orphans.

‘As I said, there’s no one. I’m sure the records show that her mother died when she was five, and there was no father to speak of.’

‘When did you last see her?’

‘Last night, we were at Club Tusa together.’

‘Where you work as prostitutes?’

I close my eyes and shut out his question. Any notion I have that he might care leaves me. Lucy wasn’t some common prostitute. She was Earthborn. She deserves better than some jumped up Entushian Detective judging the way she lives – lived her life.

‘Was she working?’ he says again. The air of entitlement and money clings to him like his over-expensive woollen suit. Not a natural find on Entusha. Hell, the import tax alone on a suit like that would pay for my fare home to Earth. No wonder he made Detective so young. A rich kid playing at being a cop.

‘There were a few men she talked to. None I thought she’d go home with.’ I shake my head. ‘She left after only a short while to meet someone. Ron, Ronnie, maybe. But I didn’t get the sense it was work related.’ I remember the grin on her face, the sparkle in her eyes when she told me she’d see me tomorrow. ‘She was happy.’

‘Did she tell you why?’

I reach beneath the sheet and clasp Lucy’s hand. ‘She was always happy. Positive. She didn’t need a reason. It was her nature.’

‘You were taking Halleam?’

The question unsettles me. It feels like another accusation. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ The euphoriant has long since left my system. With the comedown overshadowed by the death of my friend, all that remains is the telltale dry metallic sensation within my mouth.

He pulls a record console from his pocket, scrolls through some notes on the screen before turning it to me. ‘The preliminary autopsy reveals abnormally high levels of Halleam in Miss Willows’ system. So much, that she went into cardiac arrest.’

I feel the blood drain from my face. No, this isn’t right. I look around the morgue for somewhere to sit, but find nowhere. ‘That’s impossible,’ I say. ‘I took Halleam last night, not Lucy. I offered, but she refused.’

‘She must have taken some later.’

‘She didn’t take any with me, and I don’t believe she took any later, certainly not enough to kill her.’ The thought doesn’t sit right. I look at Lucy, the most alive person I’ve ever met. ‘She would never overdose’

‘I know this is hard for you to accept, but your friend OD’d. It happens.’

‘I don’t believe that. Have you found the man she was meeting? Have you questioned him?’ I look into Detective Abene’s eyes and all I find is dismissal. ‘You’re not even going to investigate are you?’

‘Your friend OD’d. You need to accept that.’ He sighs and puts the console away. ‘Look, the truth is, no one cares about a dead prostitute.’

‘I care,’ I say as I squeeze Lucy’s lifeless hand, then place a kiss on her forehead. ‘And I intend to find the truth of what happened.’


Three hours later, I find myself in a shuttle on the way to Club Tusa. Night has fallen and streams of Entushians scurry about like ants in the arid dust. No moon circles the planet. No stars brighten the night sky, at least not in the city.

The constant hum of engines, the flitter of discordant lights, and the oppressive chatter of the two million colonists encased within the city limits, batter my senses. I close my eyes and remember the day I met Lucy in the orphanage.

‘Leave her alone.’ Lucy charged at the bullies who pushed me to the ground. Streaking towards them and striking out at the largest with her fist. He surged forward to retaliate, only to be restrained by the other orphans. There was no shame in terrorising someone your own age, but fighting a diminutive girl of five was a different matter.

We became inseparable.

Until now.

I was six when my parents dragged me across the galaxy to the distant planet of Entusha. Through the transport window, I managed one last look at Earth – bathed in sunlight, her perfection floated amongst the stars – a majestic blue marble swirled over with clouds.

For 21 years, 4 months and 16 days, tears lay frozen against my cheek; the soft warm pressure of my mother’s kiss caressed my forehead.

‘Sleep tight, Isabella,’ my mother said when she placed me is stasis. ‘It won’t be forever. We’ll return when the time is right.’ Those were her last words to me. All lies. The truth is, she was never going home.

I was still a little girl of six when I awoke to the sound of alarm bells ringing, emergency personnel surrounding my parent’s pods.

Mechanical failure I heard them say as they checked my vitals. Mechanical failure, two simple words and I lost everything.

But Lucy changed that. She’d taken away my loneliness. Together we could do anything. Together, we would get back to earth.

Now she’s gone, and I will never see her smiling face again. Never hear her laughter. Never tell her that she was my whole world. My home.


My mind returns to the present as the shuttle pulls up outside Club Tusa. Tears stream down my face in the unashamed way only a child allows — Damn, I hate feeling sorry for myself. I wipe them away and thank the driver for the courtesy of his silence with a hefty tip.

Located at the northern edge of the city, Club Tusa is built within the cavernous rock face. Crowds line the pavement waiting to get inside. Entushans with outlandish costumes and weird hair: dyed purple befitting the latest trend. A flashing neon sign bathes them in luminous pink.

After a nod to the doorman, I slip past and enter the packed club. People stand around chatting. They dance under pulsating lights. The world they know hasn’t come crashing down.

Noise bombards me, and the scent of drugs, alcohol and sweat mingle to make me nauseous as I push my way to the bar, and call to the barman. ‘Val, you seen Tex?’



‘In the cellar.’ He gestures to be understood over the music and points to the back of the club.

I’m not sure Val can hear me, but I wave my thanks before making my way through the throng and into the employees’ only area.

The corridor lies empty. A fluorescent light flickers through a small window in the cellar door. Rusty hinges creak in protest as I hold it open and call down the stairway into the twisted catacombs that house the cellar. Nobody answers.

‘Hello. It’s Isabella.’ Still no response.

The muted thumping of the bass thrums through the wall, and vibrates through my fingers when I grasp the banister. As I descend the concrete steps into the coldness of the cellar, the door screeches behind me then clicks shut.

Wine racks lines the maze like tunnels and cast giant shadows in the dim light. The rotten egg stink of sulphur follows me as I step along the dirt floor towards the area where the beer kegs are stored, and pumped through lines to the taps above.

A chill creeps up my spine and I find myself straining to hear even the slightest sound in the heavy air. The muffled music from above now just a distant memory. I jump at a grating, scraping sound, followed by the shuffle of feet, then reach my hand into my shoulder bag and grasp the pulse-pen within.

‘Tex. You there?’ I wonder if the pen works: renders a person unconscious. Too late to test it out now. The shuffling gets closer. A glint. The flash of a silhouette in the bottles. My grasp on the pen tightens.

‘Hell, Isabella. You scared the life out of me.’

Tall, muscle-bound and brooding, Tex epitomises crazy stalker. I retreat a step, but my hand relaxes its grip on the pulse-pen when he pulls the plugs from his ears.

‘What are you doing here?’

An excellent question. ‘I’m sorry. I did call.’ I gesture to the earplugs in his hand. ‘I guess you couldn’t hear me.’

‘Yeah. No worries. Forgot to take them out.’ For an instant we stand facing each other, then Tex purses his lips. ‘I heard about Lucy,’ he says. ‘She was a good kid.’

‘That’s why I’m here.’ I shiver in the cold air and wonder if I made the right choice to approach Tex alone. But, hell, I have my trusty pulse-pen, and it’s not as though I have anyone to come with me. ‘I figured if anyone knew anything, it would be you.’

‘What d’you mean?’ he says more than a little defensive.

‘She OD’d, Tex.’ I shake my head not believing my own words. ‘At least that’s what I’m told.’ I glance up into his eyes, but he turns away. ‘We get our Halleam from you.’

‘Hell, people can get that stuff in any bar on Entusha.’ This time he does look at me. ‘Don’t put this on me.’

‘People can, but we don’t,’ I say, ignoring the unveiled threat in his gaze. ‘We only come to you.’

‘Yeah, well, not recently. Lucy hasn’t had any in over two weeks. Said she was taking a break.’ Tex hesitates. His glance drifts around the cellar looking at the racks of wine bottles without seeing them, but then something crosses his face and he turns to me frowning. ‘OD’d. On Halleam. Are you serious? That’s damn near impossible and you know it.’

He’s right. I do know it. Lucy had to be murdered.

‘Could she…’ Tex grabs a bottle of wine and pulls the cork before taking a long swig. ‘She wouldn’t have killed herself. Would she?’

My head spins, and with nausea rising in my stomach the chemical stench of synthetic wine threatens to overwhelm me. A metallic tang floods the back of my mouth before I quench it down. ‘That’s ridiculous,’ I say, brushing down my dress and composing myself. ‘Don’t even think that. No-one loved life more than Lucy.’

‘Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry.’ He offers me the bottle, but I turn it down with a shake of my head. ‘But OD’d. Maybe if you took a huge dose. It would have to be the purest form of Halleam, but there’s no way you could pick that up round here. No way.’

‘She was murdered, Tex. It’s the only thing that makes sense.’ I trail off hearing my own hollow voice.

Tex seems to consider my statement for a while before downing another swig of wine. ‘Have you spoken to her boyfriend?’


‘Yeah, Ronnie.’

Her boyfriend. How could I have not known? I look for a place to sit but find nowhere in the labyrinth of catacombs.  As though sensing my need, Tex rounds a corner and returns a moment later with an empty cask for me to rest on.

‘Take a drink.’ He forces the bottle into my hand as I take a seat. ‘They’ll catch the guy.’

The red liquid tastes as bitter as the thoughts in my head. ‘Catch him. They’re not even looking.’

He smirks. ‘Maybe not. But we are.’

Despite myself, I return a smile, realising I’m not as alone as I thought. Funny how Tex had gone from being my prime suspect to my only ally. ‘You’ve met Ronnie? Know where we can find him?’

‘Nah. Saw the back of him once. Some rich guy in a fancy suit. Lucy said he was eyeing a position in the Governor’s office.’ He lays a hand on my shoulder. ‘I’ll ask around. Someone will know something.’

I turn to him. ‘I didn’t even know she had a boyfriend. My best friend, and I didn’t know.’


When I leave the club, the thought that Lucy had a boyfriend nags at my mind. How could I have been so wrapped up in my own affairs that I didn’t notice?

At my apartment, I’m about to punch the code in my lock, when an image of Lucy stumbling through the door laughing sends a rush of warmth over me. The planet goes silent to my ears, the hiss of the ventilation system stills. All I hear is Lucy’s laughter, her musical voice calling my name. Like the sun, she radiated joy and light on everyone around her.

I look along the corridor towards Lucy’s door. Always close. Always there when I needed her. She would’ve had a reason for hiding a boyfriend from me. Maybe answers lay inside.

Twenty easy steps take me to her apartment. I enter the code into the keypad and let myself in. The motion sensor lights respond to my presence as I shut the door, enclosing myself with the sweet fruity scent of Lucy’s perfume.

The room abounds with mementos: Holo-photos depicting fond memories, a battered degrading image of her mother, a globe of Earth, synthetic replications of plants that grow there. A strange tranquillity settles in the air. A stillness that awaits the energy of Lucy’s presence.

I set my bag on the breakfast counter separating the living and kitchen area, before my gaze alights on the Holo-screen terminal lying on the black cubic sofa. While the pad of my footsteps echoes the beating in my chest, I fight the feeling I’m invading Lucy’s privacy: a valued commodity when you spend your childhood sharing a room with thirty other orphans.

A deep inhaled breath calms me and I focus on the notion of Lucy’s trust. With the supplied knowledge of her key-codes and passwords, she didn’t intend to hide things from me. Well… a boyfriend, maybe, but nothing else. Did she?

Relieved at the validity of her password, I stare at the Holo-screen as it comes to life. I scroll through her search history, discard the ones relating to new feeds, show times, restaurant reviews. But then something causes me to pause: Trans-Earth. Why would Lucy be searching Trans-Earth?

Then I notice one of the pages detail the confirmation of a communication. I enter the contact details and await an answer not knowing what to expect.

‘Greetings from Trans-Earth.’ A soft female voice answers the call. ‘How may we serve your transport needs?’

‘I wonder if you could help me?’ I pace the room and worry at the tension in my voice. ‘This is Isabella Grace. I’m calling in relation to Lucy Willows.’

‘Ah. Yes, Miss Grace. I can confirm that your passage to Earth is reserved on the next shuttle, leaving in one month.’ I freeze in my tracks as she continues. ‘We have the deposit for both yourself and Miss Willows, and the balance will be due one week prior to travel. The details have been forwarded in a communication with Miss Willows.’

Overwhelmed by what I hear, I thank the woman, end the call, and adjust the Holo-screen to display Lucy’s communication logs. Sure enough, I find the documents from Trans-Earth detailing transport arrangements for both Lucy and myself. The implications of this discovery astound me: how on Earth did Lucy hope to get the money to pay the outstanding balance?

The desire to run away, to hide from all that’s happened, shakes me as one thought repeats itself over and over in my mind: She was doing this for me.

Whatever got her killed, she was doing to get me home. I’d never wanted anything more than to return to Earth, but not at this cost. Not without Lucy.

Wrapped up in my thoughts, I almost miss the communication logged with the medical centre from two weeks previous. With blurred vision, I open the link. My heart breaks as the words “Pregnancy: Positive” come into focus.


I’m resting on the sofa destroyed by loss when the door to the apartment opens. ‘Detective. I’m glad you’re here.’ I stand and fumble with the Holo-screen terminal in my hands. ‘Does this mean you’re investigating?’

‘Miss Grace.’ Detective Abene gives me a quick glance, then casts his eye about the room.

‘She was pregnant. Lucy was pregnant. She would never have taken Halleam knowing that.’ The words rush out.

‘Indeed,’ says Detective Abene. ‘That does, however, bring up the possibility of suicide.’

I shake my head. ‘Lucy would never kill herself.’ Scanning through the communications, I bring up the documents from Earth-Trans on the Holo-screen. ‘She booked passage to Earth. For both of us. Both of us, Detective. Why would she do that if she intended to kill herself?’ As I say the words I realise how much the idea had implanted in my head since Tex brought up the possibility. But there was no way. No way. ‘It all has to connect with her boyfriend, Ronnie. If we find him, we find the answers.’

Detectives Abene’s eyes lock on the screen. ‘How about some tea?’ he says after a moment. ‘Then we can discuss your findings.’

A wave of relief washes over me now the Detective is willing to look into Lucy’s death. I perch on the sofa as he walks into the kitchen area, opens the cupboard and removes the tea jar and two cups.

With his back to me, he turns his head towards the screen and asks, ‘Is there anything else useful on there? A communication from Ronnie perhaps?’

The log of communications flash across my vision, but nothing else stands out.

‘Here. Drink this.’ Detective Abene hands me the cup and sits across from me on the other side of the coffee table.

‘Thank you.’ I take a long sip, surprised at the sweetness, but enjoy the scent of honey and the warmth it brings me. ‘There must be some way to trace Ronnie? Private calls, not logged here. Witnesses that saw them together.’

‘Indeed,’ he says again. ‘The case is officially closed, but maybe with my new position in the Governor’s office, I can pull some strings to get it re-opened.’

The Governor’s office. Tex mentioned the possibility of Ronnie working there. I stare into his eyes as he takes a drink from his cup.

As I take another sip from mine, I realise his lack of hesitation. He went straight to the tea and cups, didn’t ask, didn’t open any of the other five cupboards, went straight to their location.

With a smirk on his face, he places his tea on the coffee table and stands. As I lean forward in a move to do the same, my head snaps down – I yank it upright as my cup crashes into the table with an ear-shattering clatter.

‘Halleam,’ I say, my tongue dry and swollen. As my lips start to tremble, I realise I’ve had too much.

I stand, then feeling as though I’m looking down from a great height, I reach out to steady myself on a wall that seems to melt with my touch. For a moment I wonder where I am, then it all floods back to me in a pulsating wave. The expensive suit. His knowledge of Lucy’s apartment. Her pregnancy – why hadn’t he mentioned it?

Lucy gone…

‘Detective Byron Abene.’ The words float above my head as though whispered in another place, another time. ‘Ronnie.’

He laughs. I hear the fragmented sound and see a jester’s smile distort his face. ‘Should have left things alone,’ he says. ‘Lucy mentioned you were tenacious.’

‘You’ll never get away with this.’ I stumble around the room, edging away from his shapeless mass pursuing me like a dark cloud.

‘She wanted to marry me, you know. Thought I would because of the baby.’ While I try to focus, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a stoppered vial. ‘When that failed, she turned to blackmail. Thought I’d pay for the two of you to return home.’ He snorts and flashes a cold smile. ‘Well, at least the two of you will be together. A tragic suicide after your loss. Not that I need to make up a story, nobody cares about another dead prostitute.’

Then everything changes, the room becomes a part of who I am. The colours flare: Earth spins and blazes a magnificent blue. The replicant plants grow – their luscious green wraps me in serenity.

Then I see Lucy.

My angel. Unbound hair billows around her head in a golden halo of waves. Her love beams out at me. Shining. Glowing.

‘I care,’ she says, then places a gentle hand on my shoulder-bag and beckons me forward.

On unsteady legs, I wobble to Lucy. My fingers alight on hers, when Ronnie’s hand wrenches me backwards by my hair and flings me to the floor. The strap of my bag gets caught in the fall and pulls it to the ground with me.

I flail, claw at Ronnie. He sits on my chest. Pins me. The more I struggle, the tighter his knees press into my sides.

‘Just stay still and this will be over in no time.’ A large hand grasps my chin as he pops the cork from the vial in his other hand.

With a twist of my head, I see my bag lying to the left and inch my fingers towards it. If I can reach inside.

My fingertips alight on a metallic pen shaped object and I pray they have found what I’m looking for. Gripping with all my strength, I pull it from the bag and swing it towards Ronnie’s head.

A brief flash from the tip of the pulse-pen as it impacts. His body jerks, and Ronnie falls to the ground unconscious.

I catch the vial of Halleam before it tumbles from his grasp, and wonder at the sad tale of a heartbroken boyfriend killing himself following the tragic loss of his girlfriend, and their unborn baby.



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.