Want to read my latest short story? It was JUST published by Short Fiction Break literary magazine. Read it here and let me know what you think in the comments!
You have no idea!
Want to read my latest short story? It was JUST published by Short Fiction Break literary magazine. Read it here and let me know what you think in the comments!
You have no idea!
‘I’m not like other men,’ said Dan. ‘I’m not even like other werewolves.’
‘I don’t understand Mr Shaffer,’ the psychiatrist shuffled his papers and coughed. ‘…like other werewolves. There is no such thing as a werewolf or lycanthrope as it’s really called. It exists only in myths and legends. Please explain further.’
‘I can do better than that,’ Dan was slowly sipping a blended cappuccino laced with sugary hazelnut syrup. ‘I can show you.’
He licked some syrup off his designer stubble and bared his teeth. They seemed to be growing as he spoke. His voice was distinctly becoming lower, more like a growl. ‘It’s the sugar in the drinks.’ He was twitching as he spoke. Long black hairs began sprouting from his face and the backs of his hands. ‘No-one believes me you see. And that has a tendency to make me angry.’ He slipped off the couch and squatted on his haunches, still holding on to his coffee with his claws. He took another sip through his elongated fangs. ‘I wouldn’t mind so much if it was triggered by the full moon like in the stories. That at least would be predictable. Once a month and all that. But I have to be so careful. Checking the labels of everything I buy. Looking at the sugar content. Sucrose, fructose, it doesn’t matter. It all has the same effect.’
With which he leapt at the hapless psychiatrist, his teeth bared and jaws slavering.
‘I guess you believe me now,’ he said, leaping through the open window.
For Jan it was a night like any other. A nice dinner of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas and gravy. Followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard. All washed down with a large glass of cola. That was Dan’s version. For Jan it was a low fat sugar free yoghurt instead of the pudding and sparkling water instead of cola. She allowed herself only two tiny roast potatoes and passed on the cauliflower cheese even though it was her favourite. She had to stay in good shape for her job. She worked as a rep selling diet shakes and nutritional supplements and though she didn’t actually use the products, she needed to look as though she did.
Dan had popped out for a walk as he did every night after dinner. He was usually out for a good hour but she didn’t mind as it gave her time to do the washing up, watch EastEnders and get in some practice in front of her Pilates Weight Loss Workout DVD. She would have preferred to exercise on an empty stomach but Dan’s nightly absence gave her some privacy. And the opportunity to create a new menu that would subtly knock a few pounds off her portly partner. She set to work. It was time to start making a few changes. First of all, she would secretly replace the cola with a sugar free version. He wouldn’t notice so long as she poured it into a glass and threw away the can. Then she would start preparing low calorie desserts like fresh fruit with a single cream alternative or a sugar-free lemon sorbet. Just these two changes would make such a difference. Little did she know just what a difference it would really make.
There are three ways to become a werewolf. Be born a werewolf because your parents were both werewolves. Be bitten by one, or be ‘cursed’. So legend would have us believe. Dan on the other hand knew different. He was the exception to the rule. He never really believed that he was the only one but even though he had been told he would instantly recognise another ‘sugar-induced-werewolf’ as he jokingly called himself, he hadn’t so far. At least not in Bromley.
This new ‘shape-shifting’ syndrome he assumed, was the result of decades of sugar rush and over-indulgence in sweet foods and drinks from coffee chains. He was addicted. Cappuccino, latte macchiato, mocha and luxurious hot chocolate, all served with extra syrup and those cute little marshmallows on the top. For most people it resulted in being overweight (he knew he was too) but for him it had an added ‘curse’. Except he found it rather fun. He could induce it at will with little more than a large chocolate bar, but he could also be easily tricked. Hidden sugars in so many things. He had to take a packed lunch to work at Altered States Tailors in Bluewater. He didn’t dare to pop into his local peri peri chicken in case the BBQ sauce made him start howling at the moon-shaped overhead lights in the Build-a-Bear shop. That would frighten the little buggers! How hilarious that would be but he would instantly get the sack. There would be no verbal or written warning for spontaneous lycanthropy. It would be out on your furry butt sunshine or should I say moonshine.
So Dan waited till he got home. He was starving. Maybe it would be sausage and mash tonight or spag bol followed by chocolate pudding and raspberry ripple ice cream (his favourite). Then it was a pint of full-fat cola and out for a walk. The transformation wouldn’t take long if he had enough sweet stuff. He hadn’t decided yet where he would go. Somewhere he could freely howl and chase a few squirrels in the churchyard maybe, or perhaps he would aim a bit higher tonight. A night club was always fun. Most of them too pissed to acknowledge his existence.
Horror of horrors! Tonight’s dinner was a tuna salad (yuk!), light on the mayo and even worse there was no pudding. Only fruit and 0% fat free yoghurt and Jan had already replaced the cola with the sugar-free variety. That’s it, he thought, I’ll take a walk through the churchyard to the One Stop Shop and get myself a bar of chocolate or two. Because I’m hungry. The cola will trigger the ‘other thing’.
He’d been walking for a good 15 minutes before he begun to realise something was wrong. No hair on the back of his hands or all over his face. No elongated fangs. No growing fingernails. Something was up. This couldn’t be happening or not happening in this case. He was standing in the middle of the churchyard shivering. He hadn’t worn a coat because once he was covered in fur he wouldn’t need one. And that’s when he saw him. Another werewolf. Drinking a chocolate mocha cappuccino in a paper cup. He recognised it instantly. He could even see the marshmallows. Dan tried to howl but his throat dried up. He tried to growl and snarl but it came out like a whimper. Then he tried to run but wolves can outrun a human without even trying.
‘But I’m the only one in Bromley,’ he cried as he went down in a mass of teeth and hair and saliva.
When they found him the next day he was lying face down in the churchyard with his neck torn open. In his hand he was clutching an empty cup of chocolate mocha cappuccino. He had tried to grab it and take a swig but he never stood a chance. Jan had thought she was doing him a favour. Little did she know.
“An Irrational Fear of Dogs” is a collection of short stories that is sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always entertaining:
An Irrational Fear of Dogs
The dog was staring at her with small red eyes, its slavering jaws ready to clamp around her small thin arm.The children are coming, the children are coming, look out, look out! Phoebe felt safe here in the bushes for now, but did they?
The Sweet Smell of Lilies
Lilies always reminded her of funerals. But then Grace was inclined to let her over-active imagination run away with her. Only this time, however, she couldn’t have imagined the real truth about her family.
Goodbye Sarah. I bet you thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were.The two of us were going to stand here and watch as Bill’s coffin was lowered into the ground. But things don’t always turn out as you expect them to…
‘How long have you been dead?’ asked the angel. ‘About 30 years,’ she replied, ‘is that my time?’ Tess was becoming impatient, ‘What’s my indulgence, are you going to tell me what it is?’‘Tomorrow’, the angel told her…
Believing in Fairies
‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’Mia’s world was one of waking dreams, but no-one believed her, not even Dr Williams. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’she told him.
‘It doesn’t matter you know, any of it,’ said Jack. ‘It’s all rubbish, global warming, climate change, holes in the ozone layer, all that stuff.’Or is it? Martha though otherwise and the result would come as a bit of a shock.
Stage of Fools
‘It is a simple tale. What begins in love and jubilation ends in hate and misery. And revenge is so sweet.’ The opening night of Peter’s Medea would be a spectacular performance if it all went to plan, but not as spectacular as Justine’s parting shot….
Click here to buy An Irrational Fear of Dogs for Kindle
The following is an extract from a short story called The Sweet Smell of Lilies. Phoebe is fanciful teenage with a very over-active imagination. She sees murder and intrigue wherever she goes, even in the most innocent situations. But nothing is as strange as the eventual outcome of the story. The story is written from the POV of Phoebe herself, using her voice.
But before I carry on, I had better tell you a bit about me. My name is Phoebe and I am going to be a renowned crime writer, like Agatha Christie or Dorothy L Sayers. I am working on my first novel right now.
I was born in the Cotswolds, eighteen years and eleven months ago, the only daughter of Marion and James Partridge. We were an ordinary family, just like any other with a cat, two dogs and a goldfish. Then suddenly, when I was almost five, my father vanished. I barely remember him now. He was also a spy like my uncle. One day he went on a secret trip to the city, but he never came back. No-one ever saw him again, not even my mother. He was kidnapped by the Russians. They tortured him for days on end, using thumbscrews and other instruments of medieval torture. They shone bright lights in his eyes and stuck matchsticks under his fingernails. He never talked of course. He was such a brave man….
‘Phoebe,’ my mother would say, ‘Don’t tell such stories. You know it’s not true. Your father was not a spy. He’s just another missing person now.’
I’ve been sitting on my story Miss Havisham’s Ghost for over two (or even three) months, unable to go anywhere with it, so I decided the best thing to do was to give up. Not give up on writing the story but on trying to combine the two stories into one.
I have done this – bring in something autobiographical – before in a story and one of my friends thought the real person I was talking about was the grown up version of the child in the story. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would, but I thought if that story was confusing then this one would be even more so! So this morning I split them up.
And now I have two stories – each one almost 4,000 words. One is a traditional (so far) ghost story without a title, while the other is mainly autobiographical. All I need to do is progress the ghost story without the added complication of weaving in the other. The challenges of course, remain the same as ever!
About a year ago I wrote the first chapter of a novel for an assignment. It was called Miss Havisham’s Ghost and was loosely based on my own childhood but was intended to be a work of fiction. To be honest it didn’t get that good a mark so I shelved it.
Then a couple of months ago (or more) I started writing a ghost story. The story is really two stories which come together about half way through. At some point I decided that the original assignment could be stripped down, rewritten and incorporated into the story along with some other real life incidents I wrote about for a life writing project.
Unfortunately I’m struggling with the bringing them together part. I’ve been stuck on 7,600 words for so long I don’t know where to go with it now. Should I give up at 10,000 words and call it a long short story or keep going till I get to however long a novel has to be? It’s still called Miss Havisham’s Ghost. This is the last bit of the first chapter (the ghost story) and the start of the next chapter (autobiographical):
…In the middle of the room a coffin was laid out on the oak dining table. She had never been in this room before; it was dark and strange with old dusty books lining the four walls. It smelt a little like the school library. She had also never seen a coffin before or a dead body, if there was a body. There must be someone inside or why would it be here? Her breath came in shallow gulps as she moved closer. The lid was open and she could see the satin lining around the edges, pure white like her skin in winter. She didn’t want to look inside. It was bound to be someone she knew. Someone she knew and loved.
She was not prepared for what she saw inside. At first she could see only a small pair of feet encased in gold pumps sticking out from underneath the white gossamer dress, with its pink sash, like the one she had worn for her first communion three or four years ago. Then she saw the flaxen hair spread out like a fan on the small rosebud-embroidered pillow, the cold pale hands pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. Then finally she saw the face – her face. The body in the coffin was hers. As dead as she was alive, the lips were slightly blue and there was a tiny trickle of blood in one corner of the mouth. She tried to scream but no sound came out. And then everything became blackness as she fainted.
In 1978, when I was in my twenties, I went to Poland with my father. He hadn’t been there since before the war so it was both a treat and a surprise for him. Even when his mother died in 1966 he had been unable to return. Then just when we were about to leave he received a message from his younger sister Frania that Halce, the second oldest, had passed away. The funeral was arranged for the day after we arrived and we were told that we could pay our respects beforehand.
Oh the shock! I had never seen a dead body before that day. My first impression and most lasting memory was of a small coffin (she was only about five feet tall) with its lid open and a pair of feet in laced up boots sticking out from beneath a calf-length black dress. I went in a little closer. She can’t harm me. What was I afraid of? I saw that her cold pale hands were pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. She was at peace….
In one corner of the church a group of widows dressed in black sat huddled together, wailing and crying and crossing themselves. Such was their custom.
‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.’
‘May Almighty God have mercy on me, forgive me my sins and bring me to everlasting life.’
Of course. That made everything alright then.
‘Stage of Fools’ is a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, I used it as the title of a short story in which a theatre director decides to stage a production of The Medea, a Greek tragedy by Euripedes. Peter, the director, is a pretentious fool with ideas well above his station and talent. In the meanime his marriage to his French wife, Justine, is falling apart and while Peter is looking for funding by seducing the daughter of a rich publisher, Justine (like Medea) is plotting her revenge.
I have always had a ‘thing’ about The Medea ever since I studied it in the second year of my OU degree. However, I never imagined it would become the plot of a short story!
Here is an exceprt from Stage of Fools, the last and longest story in An Irrational Fear of Dogs and other short stories.
It was a fascination with Greek tragedy, brought on no doubt by a boy’s experiences of the Classics at public school that led Peter Meadows to follow his childhood ambition and stage a West End production of Medea. Now approaching that milestone age which shall only be spoken in whispers when one is quasi-famous, he believed it to be now or never. Justine preferred never, but then always more pragmatic and less self-indulgent than her husband, she was the one who paid (or frequently didn’t pay when they had no money) the ever increasing bills that fanned themselves out on the floor of the porch like the spreading flare of a peacock’s tail feathers, vying for attention.
‘They’ll take care of themselves,’ Peter would say if she tutted and then throw them over his shoulder to land in a pile on the floor.
‘Non cherie, they will not,’ she replied and picked them up, stuffing them into the sagging pockets of her long brown cardigan, before adding them to the teetering pile that was now becoming a fire hazard in the conservatory.
Thus began the daily ritual of will they won’t they which perfectly demonstrated the widening chasm between two people who had met at university when the whole world stretched out before them, filled with happiness and opportunity. Peter, two years older than Justine, was dashing, attractive and extremely persuasive. The year was 1988 and he was in his third year reading Drama at Reading University when the beautiful exchange student walked into the bar of the Student’s Union and asked for a glass of Chardonnay in perfect, yet broken, English. Slim, chic and better dressed than the average university student, she was obviously French.
‘I’ll get that,’ Peter said to the barmaid (another of his recent conquests but no hard feelings eh), who was pouring Hock out of a wine box, ‘and I’ll have a beer.’
It didn’t take him long to discover that Justine, as her name turned out to be, was in her first year studying the Classics at the Sorbonne and was in England to discover the museums and art galleries.
‘J’adore Oxford, en particulier le musée Ashmolean.’
‘Then we must go there,’ Peter replied, everyone at his school had at least passed basic O level French, ‘I know, let’s go tomorrow and take a picnic and go boating on the river.’
Within a week they were sharing his digs and were head over heels in love.