How Not to Write the Ending of a Short Story… Karma – Part 6 – Final

Hello dear Readers! Finally we’ve reached the end of my serialised fiction story, Karma.

But before we find out what happens to Celia and Hamish and their dream house, first, a confession. I wrote ‘Karma’ about a year ago but never finished it. When I decided to serialise it for my blog, I assumed I’d finish it with a well-rounded ending. However, time and life got in the way and I found myself  panicking on Friday afternoon about getting the final episode out in time.

So, I wrote it… and it’s a bit rushed… but at least it’s here. Without further ado, please find the final episode of Karma – A Short Story.

KARMA – A SHORT STORY – PART 6 – FINALGirl staring at sea

Celia sat at the kitchen table waiting for Hamish. She’d dressed for the occasion in her best black frock, sheer stay-up stockings and stiletto heels. Her eyes were smoky, her mouth a crimson slash. She hesitated then poured herself a second glass of wine. Already mellow, she couldn’t afford to be drunk when Hamish arrived but hey, what the hell. She’d earned it after everything she’d been through lately.  Celia heard a key in the front door and Hamish’s footsteps heading towards the kitchen. She sat up straighter and crossed her legs.

“Wow!” A grin spread across Hamish’s face. “Have I forgotten our anniversary or something? Where are we going?”

Celia smiled a small, secret smile. “I’m going out but, unfortunately, you won’t be. You’ve got… responsibilities.”

A look of confusion replaced Hamish’s grin. “Responsibilities? What are you talking about?”

Celia opened a shiny, black, patent-leather handbag, removed a bag of white powder using a tissue and placed it on the kitchen table. “It has your fingerprints all over it. There’s no question it’s yours.”

“I don’t understand. I know this already. We’ve talked about it. I promised I’d get rid of it.”

“Ah. Promises.” Celia tapped a long red fingernail on the wooden table. “What about the promise you made when we got married? To love and to cherish, to have and to hold…? Would you call peddling drugs for a dangerous gangster and selling him my house the actions of a loving, devoted husband?”

“Celia? What are you talking about? Are you playing with me?”

Celia shook her head. “I’ve never been more serious in my life.” A car sounded on the gravel driveway. Celia clapped her hands. “Good! They’re here!”

“Who’s here? Celia, are you ok? You’re scaring me.”

Celia fixed Hamish with a withering stare. The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” chirped Celia. She headed towards the front door, heels clicking on the floorboards and opened the door to two women. One sat hunched in a wheelchair with gray hair, thick glasses and wearing a blue dressing gown. The other woman was much younger. Tall and beautiful with thick, honey-coloured hair, she stood behind the wheelchair. “You’re right on time. Please, come inside,” Celia said and led them into the kitchen.

Hamish’s eyes bulged. “Mother! What are you doing here? You should be in the hostel!”

Hamish’s mother stared up at her son with watery blue eyes from beneath a straggly fringe. Her mouth moved but no words came out, only a dribble of saliva. The blonde woman pulled a tissue from her sleeve and wiped the old woman’s mouth.

“Hamish, meet Sonja. She’s your mother’s carer… well, she was your mother’s carer.”

Sonja extended an elegant, white hand towards Hamish. “I am so pleased to finally meet you Mr Hamish,” she said in a heavily-accented voice. Hamish took Sonja’s hand and shook it limply, unable to meet her eyes.

“Unfortunately, Sonja is no longer able to look after your mother,” Celia explained to Hamish. “She has new horizons to explore. That’s why I suggested to Sonja it would be nice for her son to take over. After all Hamish, your mother brought you up for all those years: she fed you with a spoon and wiped your bottom and changed the sheets when you wet the bed. I think it would be lovely for you to do the same for her.”

“You’re mad!” Hamish spluttered. “You’d better get her back to the hostel before they call the police‑”

Celia shook her head. “They won’t call the police. In fact, they were thrilled when they heard a family member is actually taking responsibility for an elderly relative. They’ve got such a long waiting list for beds, they were only too happy to send your mother home.”

“But you know I haven’t got time to look after my mother, Celia! I have to earn a living, look after this house, look after you‑”

“Don’t worry, Hamish! It’s all good. I’ve done the research for you. Did you know that, with your mother’s special needs, you’ll qualify for a full-time carer’s allowance? Isn’t that wonderful? It won’t be easy, but you’ll survive.”

Hamish sank into a chair. “Alright Celia. Joke over.” He ran a hand through his hair and turned a pair of desperate eyes on his wife. “Tell me what you want.”

Celia crossed her arms. “It’s no joke Hamish. If you don’t look after your mother, I’m turning you in to the police with this piece of evidence.” She dangled the bag of powder in front of Hamish. He grabbed for it, but she flicked it out of reach. “Do you really think I’d let you drag me down with you? Look at it this way: at least you won’t be tortured and killed by the Russian mafia or spend the next ten years locked up with murderers and rapists. You should be thanking me!”

“You bitch!” Hamish hissed. “But why? I thought you loved me!”

“I did… once. But you killed it. And that was before I met Sonja at your mother’s hostel.” Celia smiled at the tall, beautiful woman and reached for her hand.

“But the drugs! They belong to Vincent Grant.” Hamish’s eyes narrowed. “He’ll want them back and, when he doesn’t get them,  both you bitches will get what’s coming to you!”

“Probably not Hamish.” She glanced at Sonja. “Sonja has some pretty important friends in the Russian mafia who don’t like Vincent Grant very much. They’ve  been wanting revenge for the shooting of one of their members for some time.” Celia checked her watch. “Right now, all ten of Grant’s fingers would be lopped off. I’m not sure what bit they want to take off next but I can hazard a guess!” Celia smiled sweetly.

Sonja moved towards Celia and placed a protective hand around her waist. “It’s time we were off Celia, my Sweet. The agent waits for us to sign the final papers.”

“What papers?” Hamish asked.

“Didn’t I tell you?  Sonja bought the beach house!” Celia stroked Sonja’s face then turned to Hamish. “And all for me, , didn’t you my Darling? So it’s Farewell, Adieu, Aufwiedersehen and all that, Hamish. Have a wonderful life! I certainly will.”

Celia and Sonja linked hands and walked from the kitchen. When she reached the doorway, Celia turned. Hamish stood forlornly, looking so much like a lost, frightened child, she almost felt sorry for him.

“Celia… why?”

Celia’s gaze turned steely. “Karma, Hamish. It’s called Karma.”

Then she slammed the door and disappeared.

 

THE END

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Revised: Karma – A Short Story – Part One

Hello lovely Readers!

First, apologies for the ‘gaps’ between postings, especially when the next instalment of a short story is due. Some of you may know my lovely husband and I are in the process of renovating an old warehouse. In the meantime, we are housesitting all over Adelaide, South Australia. It has been (and still is) an amazing experience and I never cease to wake up without thanking God for the opportunity and privilege of looking after somebody’s home and their precious fur-children. Sometimes, however, moving from house to house takes precedence over my writing and my blog doesn’t get updated.

So, to remedy that, I’m committing to getting my story Karma out in three parts. Part One includes the earlier section I released three weeks ago to avoid confusion.

So dear Readers, please enjoy Part One of Karma

 

__________________________________________________

She had lost all hope when the call finally came.Girl staring at sea

“You’ll never guess what,” Hamish said. Celia could hear the excitement in his voice.

“What?”

“We’ve got ourselves a beach house… we’ve got ourselves a beach house,” he announced in a sing song voice. “I’ve found us a buyer for Queen Street!”

Celia’s stomach turned over. “No way!”

“Yes way!”

“But I thought we’d lost the house by the beach. What happened to the other buyer who wanted it?”

“I’ve just spoken to the agent. He says if we sign the agreement in the next few days, it’s ours.”

Celia dropped her pen to the desk and watched it roll off the table onto Sam’s head below. The border collie had been sleeping at her feet until the telephone rang. Celia leaned back in her chair and stretched her legs. She still couldn’t believe it. After six months on the market, somebody wanted to buy their house! Now they could buy the gorgeous, ramshackle house by the beach they’d fallen in love with last summer. After the tense waits, the disappointment, the dashed hopes… it seemed too good to be true. “So who is it – the buyer I mean?” She pushed her marking to the side. Grade 4 Creative Writing could wait.

“Just a guy. He called the agent and said his father used to live in Queen Street. Apparently he has happy memories of visiting his Dad when he was a kid. And C” Hamish’s voice lowered to a whisper, “he’s going to offer us even more than we asked for. There is something else though…”

Celia’s heart contracted. So it was too good to be true. She straightened her back. “What is it?”

“We need to be out of the house in a couple of weeks.”

“Hamish!” Celia moaned. “How are we possibly going to manage that? You’re spending countless hours at work to drum up your business and I’m right at the end of term – my busiest time with reporting and parent-teacher interviews—” Celia slumped back in her chair and yanked the scrunchy off her ponytail.

“But C—”

“And your Mum! What are we going to do about her. I won’t have a spare minute to go and see her

Celia could feel Hamish shaking his head in frustration at the other end of the line. “Don’t worry about Mum. She won’t notice you’re not there. She barely even recognises me anymore – her only son.”

Yeah, right. And when was the last time you visited your only mother? But Celia banished the uncharitable thought from her mind. It was the first time in ages Hamish had sounded so upbeat. They’d been waiting on tenterhooks trying to sell the house with not even a whiff of an offer and then Hamish had been knocked off his bike and injured his knee. Karma, Celia had thought at the time. They’d been greedy – wanting more than the Universe was willing to offer – and Hamish falling off his bike was their punishment.

But now this. The answer to all their problems. What did it matter if it was the end of term and she’d be horrendously busy packing and moving in fourteen days? A mere blip on the massive television screen that is life, Celia decided. She swallowed and tried to inject the right amount of excitement into her voice.

“You’re right darling. Tell him Yes. We’re going to get ourselves a beach house!”

**********

“Once upon a time there lived a dog who was very hungry so he went in search of some food. To his great delight, he found a big, juicy bone.”

The temperature was in the mid-thirties and her legs were sticking to the seat through the fine cotton of her skirt. The kids had been fractious all day so when Harrison Reynolds asked her to read them a story instead of practicing subtraction, she’d relented and gathered them around her on the floor.

“So the dog – let’s call him Rex – happily trotted home with the bone in his mouth. On his way, he had to cross a creek and, lo and behold, when he looked down from the bridge into the clear, glassy water, he saw another dog with what looked like an even bigger bone! That bone looks even juicier than mine, Rex thought. I want that one too!”

“So he barked at the other dog in the water to try and frighten him into dropping it so he could have two bones instead of one.”

Celia paused, enjoying the look of eager anticipation on her students’ faces. “So what do you think happened?” she asked.

Marion Chan’s hand shot up in the air. “He dropped it in the water!” she said triumphantly.

Celia nodded in mock sadness. “That’s right. When he barked at the other dog, he was barking at his own reflection in the water and the moment he opened his mouth, the bone fell into the creek. So Rex not only didn’t get his second bone but he lost his own bone and had to go home hungry. Girls and boys: What do you think that story is trying to tell us?”

Marion’s hand waved in the air again but Celia decided to ignore it. “Raoul?” She addressed the small, dark-haired boy sitting quietly at her feet. “What do you think it means?”

Raoul closed his eyes and did not speak for several seconds. When he opened them again, he spoke in halting English. “It means that if we are greedy, we lose the things we love.”

Celia nodded, smiling.

Ever the pragmatist, Harrison Reynolds piped up. “But what’s wrong with getting more of what you want?”

**********

“I saw Sarah today,” said Celia.

Hamish, his fork midway to his mouth, put it down and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. “How is she?”

“Not one of her better days…I’m sorry,” Celia added as though it was her fault.

“It’s never one of her better days anymore,” Hamish muttered. “When did you find the time to go and visit my mother?”

Celia smiled. “I fitted it in after school – and before boxing all the books in the office and making your dinner—”

“Ok, ok,” Hamish held up his hands. “Look…C…I know it’s tough on you. I’m so busy at the office and I know it must seem I’m leaving all the hard work for you…but what can I do? Slowly but surely I’m getting more business – we took on another client today, did I tell you?”

“Not yet.”

Hamish reached across the table and squeezed Celia’s hand so tightly her engagement ring dug painfully into the fleshy side of her little finger. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate everything you do.” Hamish’s voice cracked. “Every day I wake up and thank whoever’s up there that I found you and somehow convinced you to marry me. You’re…amazing. And what you do for Mum…you’re a much better daughter to her than I am a son.  And now that business is slowly getting better and you’ve got permanency and our dream house is just around the corner—I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the entire world—”

He broke off and sat back in his chair, gazing in wonderment at her face. “What baffles me though is how on earth you manage to put up with a struggling lawyer with barely two cents to rub together and his mother who’s losing her marbles?”

Her pinky was really hurting now. She pulled her hand away gently. “That’s easy. I happen to love you.”

End of Part One

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Short Story: The Evangelist

sustainability-1190327_1280“Come in, come in…so you’re the new assistant? Welcome to the Climate Change and Ecological Sustainability Department! Bit of a mouthful I know but we think it’s important people know exactly what we do and understand we mean business. Please…take a seat. Oh, sorry about that. Just put the plastic bags on the floor. You’d think they’d be able to make disposable nappies less bulky these days, wouldn’t you? Still, they’re so handy… when I think about how they washed and re-used all those cloth nappies years ago… we’re pretty lucky nowadays aren’t we?”

What? You haven’t got any children of your own?

Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it but I’m a bit of a sceptic about doom and gloom predictions of people having too many children and using up all the world’s resources. Besides, I’m bringing up my five kids to be eco-warriors… like my Honeyblossom Petal when she told me she’d just joined one of those online forums to save the endangered New Zealand Hopping Cockroach…nearly 2000 Likes already on Facebook! And I’m damn proud she’s more interested in causes like Teens Against Methane instead of that Myly Whatshername or Justin Bibby­–hey, guess what she said in the car on the way to school the other day? If we fed cows garlic tablets, we’d cut methane emissions by 20% which would have the net effect of slowing down global warming by a stunning 0.002% over the next decade! Amazing kid isn’t she—what’s that?

Well, I suppose she could walk but you hear stories these days about kids getting abducted only a block away from home so I’d rather be on the safe side and it’s far too dangerous for the kids to ride their bikes on the road with all the cars, so the wife takes three of them in the SUV and I take the older two to school and pick them up at 4.00–

No, the University doesn’t mind  me leaving early. That’s the best thing about working in a family-friendly workplace. Besides, I have a great assistant who’s happy to stay later and take any messages. Now…what was I saying? Yeah, I like to think I’m a pretty good influence on my kids when it comes to caring for the environment. I’m proud to tell my kids I’m a climate warrior. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say I’m an evangelist. Well, it’s the greatest moral challenge of our generation, isn’t it?

What? Really? Are you one of those? I don’t think I’ve ever met a denier in the flesh! Ah, only a sceptic. Well, it’s a slippery slope… anyway, now you’ve started work here, I’m looking forward to converting you! Now – about that test. We’re getting everyone in the department to do it. It’s a simple matter of logging on and answering some questions about your carbon footprint.

What sort of questions? They’re pretty innocuous like how much rubbish your household generates, how many cars you have and how many kilometres you drive each day—

Oh, you ride a bike? Well, I suppose you can if you don’t have kids. Kids need to be ferried to school, to sports practice, to music lessons and play dates—anyway, the point of the exercise is to make us think what we might be able to do to lessen our ecological impact. Did I mention I’m doing a paper at the sustainability conference in Albania later this month? Three weeks later, there’s another one in California. About seven of us from the department are attending. We’re planning to hire some cars when we get there and take a trip to Las Vegas after the conference–

No, the University’s paying and none of us mind sacrificing our time. It’s all in a good cause isn’t it? Like saving the world for our children–

Oh, you have to go? Shopping? Love your bag. Sustainable sea-grass if I’m not mistaken? I’ve got about six of them at home. Where are you going shopping?

The farmers’ market? Isn’t that pretty expensive? I couldn’t afford to feed five kids if I shopped there. Sometimes it’s just easier to take them all to McDonalds–

Yes, it’s been great meeting you too. Before you go, would you mind photocopying my paper for the conference? I’ll probably need about three hundred copies… use the recycled paper of course—Hey! What the…?

Tuesday, 23 August

The police department is asking for the public’s assistance to locate a missing man.

Mr Matthew Pleasant was last seen at about 4:30pm on Monday in his office. He informed colleagues he was meeting a new staff member after which he planned to head home.

Mr Pleasant lives in Natureville and is married with five children.

Friday, 26 August

Police believe they have identified missing man, Mr Matthew Pleasant, whose dismembered remains were found in organic waste disposal bins at the University earlier this week.

Detective Superintendent Gumb confirmed the man’s body was decapitated, with arms and legs removed from the torso. The man’s tongue and testicles have yet to be located.

“We are hopeful we might be able to locate the killer via the means of disposal of the body. The killer was meticulous and placed Mr Pleasant’s body parts in special eco-friendly rubbish bags designed to bio-assimilate in the open environment similar to the decomposition of a leaf. The technology used is new and relatively rare.”

Anyone with information about this crime is asked to contact the police on 000 555 000.

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Serialized Fiction: Love Him to Death Part 2

Hello again dear Readers!

Claudia’s lover, Dominic, has died in flagrante delicto leaving her in an impossible dilemma. What will she do next?

To find out, keep reading and… enjoy!

Love Him to Death Cover 2LOVE HIM TO DEATH

Part 2

The bottle of wine sat, half-finished, on the side table next to the sofa so Claudia emptied it down the sink and rinsed away all traces. She put the bottle into her bag; she’d get rid of it later. Her brain clicked into automatic cleaning mode and she wiped the kitchen bench then washed, dried and put away the glasses. The bedroom door was wide open, so she pulled it half-closed. Claudia returned to the living room, plumped the sofa cushions and surveyed the scene. She nodded, feeling calmer.

Claudia had two choices.

One: she could call the police. But they would want statements. His death might be deemed suspicious which meant the coroner would call her to court to give evidence. His wife and Wilson would find out. Strike choice Number One.

That left her with Number Two: leave him here. But how long was his friend away? A month? Or longer? Dominic’s wife would report him missing. A search would take place but nobody would find him because they didn’t know about the apartment. Would the smell of his decomposing body alert the neighbors? How long would that take? It didn’t bear thinking about.

What if she rang the ambulance anonymously and left before they arrived? But the paramedics would call the police and, even if she spent the next two hours scrubbing every surface, the cops were sure to find enough DNA to prove somebody else had been in the apartment. And what if a neighbor saw her arrive or glimpsed her leaving? It would only be a matter of time before the police knocked at her door. Claudia shuddered, picturing a pimply faced, uniformed constable requesting she accompany him to the police station to answer questions, the look of bewilderment on Wilson’s face followed by shock then hardening into suspicion. No! Wilson would never forgive her. He’d be ruthless. She’d lose everything.

What if she called the police herself and explained the situation to them? Mightn’t they understand? They were human… chances were they’d seen it all before. They might accept her statement and let her go. Maybe they’d agree to inform his wife without mentioning the circumstances in which he was found. Claudia gave a bitter laugh. In your dreams, girl.

Why hadn’t Dominic gone home when she suggested it? Why did he have to be so darn greedy for sex?  If he’d listened to her, Dominic would be at home right now with his bitch of a wife and she’d be at home with Wilson. Then Dominic would still be alive and she wouldn’t be going out of her mind with a dead body in the next room. Claudia pounded her fist against the armrest. Damn him to hell! Damn! Damn! Damn!

Stop it! She had to think straight or she was lost. Had anyone ever seen them together? Claudia didn’t think so. Whenever they were out in public, they always met at an obscure bar or café where nobody knew them. Kate was the only person she’d ever told. And Dominic swore he’d never mentioned her name to his friend with the Aston Martin. Claudia exhaled a long, slow breath. Maybe it would work out after all and—

A scuffling noise at the door.

Claudia froze as a key turned in the lock. The door opened. Something dragged across the floor. A suitcase? The door slammed shut. She struggled to her feet. Where could she hide? Frantic, Claudia’s eyes scanned the room. There were no curtains on the windows, only blinds. She ducked behind the sofa just in time.

Purposeful, masculine steps strode down the tiled hallway towards the kitchen.

Her bag! It was still on the sofa! What if the man noticed it? She held her breath. Water ran in the kitchen. Claudia peeped above the back of the sofa. No sign of the man. She grabbed the handle of her bag and yanked it towards her, her heart thumping against her chest.

A cupboard door opened and closed. Footsteps again. They walked towards the bedroom.

“Shit!” the man exploded. She glimpsed him as he darted towards the kitchen. He was tall and slim and blonde; a handsome, elegant man… like James Bond… a man who drives an Aston Martin BD5.

What if he found Claudia hiding behind the sofa? How could she explain what happened to Dominic? He might detain her against her will and call the police. Then she’d be up shit creek without a paddle. Why hadn’t she left earlier when she had the chance?

Buttons beeped on a telephone. It was now or never. She had to risk it. Rising from her hiding place behind the sofa, Claudia swung her bag over her shoulder and tiptoed towards the front door, her legs feeling like cooked spaghetti that might give way at any minute and send her tumbling to ground. She stopped when she reached the entrance. The man was on the telephone, his voice demanding and authoritative. Claudia heard snatches of the telephone conversation: “Yes… in the bedroom… dead… worked… I don’t know… soon… wait…”

The front door opened noiselessly. She slid through and closed it behind her, the lock barely clicking. The elevator dinged, stopping on the floor below. Claudia pressed the button and waited, stealing sideways glances at the apartment door, praying the owner wouldn’t emerge. Hurry up, she begged. The elevator arrived and the door rolled open.

It was empty. Claudia exhaled and stepped inside watching the numbered lights descend until the elevator reached the bottom. She peered from the open door, her finger poised above the Close Door button. The coast was clear. She scurried towards the stairwell. Inside, there was another door. Claudia opened it tentatively: a large room with a cement floor. Four washing machines and four dryers lined the far wall. Untidy rows of garbage bins flanked either side of the fire exit door. Claudia navigated her way through the bins, pushed open the door and sneaked outside, finding herself in a tiny alleyway at the back of the apartment building. She looked left then right. Head down, she clutched her handbag to her chest and hurried along the street, only slowing when she turned the corner and the apartment building was out of sight.

She’d made it! Nobody had seen her leave. Dominic was dead but his body would not lie, rotting and stinking, in that lonely king-sized bed. His friend – the tall, blonde man – would have to break the news to Dominic’s wife. Even if he called the police, the trail would never lead to Claudia because nobody knew she existed.

Claudia took a deep, slow breath and gazed at the sky. Delicate wisps of white fluff swam in a sea of bright, clear blue. Tears of relief welled behind her eyelids and blurred her vision. The horizon resembled a Monet painting. She wiped her eyes with her hand. Wilson loved art. When Claudia got home, she’d suggest they visit the Art Gallery­—or, better still, what about the Louvre? It would be autumn in Paris now.

Claudia sailed down the street, peering at the displays in the shop windows, mentally planning her wardrobe for the upcoming trip while she waited for an empty cab. What if she rang Wilson now and suggested the trip to Paris? He’d be charmed, she was sure. He was always saying how much he loved her impetuosity.

Claudia checked her bag for her cell-phone. Where was the damn thing? She always kept it in the side pocket. Had it fallen to the bottom? She rummaged around: keys… wallet… lipstick… tissues… sunglasses… but no ‘phone.

Shit!

Her cell-phone must still be at the apartment! Claudia had pulled it out when she’d contemplated calling the ambulance earlier. She groaned, remembering how she’d chucked it at the sofa in frustration. It must have fallen behind a cushion. What if the man found it and rang her home number?And what if Wilson answered? She’d have to go back. But if she pressed the buzzer, people might see her. A garbage truck rumbled past, heading towards the apartment block. Recalling the bins littering the doorway, Claudia followed the truck. It turned down the alley and stopped in front of the building’s fire exit door. A man wearing overalls climbed from the passenger seat and pressed the intercom button at the side of the door. The door clicked and the man propped it open. She waited until he wheeled out two garbage bins to the back of the truck before sneaking back inside.

Claudia debated taking the elevator but decided against it and trudged up three flights of  stairs, her elation of a few hours ago now a distant memory. Her mind was awash. What would she say when he answered the door? She’d have to confess everything and hope the man was a good enough friend to Dominic so he would keep their guilty secret.

She gave two soft knocks on the door. Claudia’s heart raced as she waited for his footsteps to approach.

But there was no sound at all. She planted her ear against the door. 

Silence.

Claudia’s fingers fastened around a key-ring in her handbag. Dominic gave it to her in case he was ever late. “I had a copy made,” he’d said as he dropped it into her palm and closed her fingers around it. “Now you won’t have to wait outside if I’m held up.” So far, she’d never had to use it.

Claudia knocked again, feeling bolder. After two minutes, she inserted her key into the lock and opened the front door. She sniffed. Aftershave… glorious and expensive. What if he was showering and hadn’t heard her knock? She stopped and listened. The apartment was empty. He must have left straight after his telephone call. But where had the man gone?

Claudia tiptoed towards the bedroom. She had to see Dominic one more time. The door was ajar. She raised her hand to push it open. Wait  a minute. Could she really bear to see him lying there when she was responsible for his death? She shook her head. No. She’d said her good-byes. Dominic was gone but she still inhabited the real world and now she had to save her marriage. Claudia closed the door.

There was no time to waste. She had to find her cell-phone and get out. Her eyes searched the sofa. There was no sign of her phone. She thrust her hand down the back of the sofa then lifted the seat cushions and swore. Her cell-phone had disappeared into thin air!

The kitchen? She ran to the doorway. The benches were bare. She gripped the side of a chair to stop her hands shaking. If it wasn’t in her bag, it must be in the apartment somewhere for God’s sake! Where else could it be?

The faint wail of a siren broke the silence of the empty apartment. Claudia’s blood froze as the siren grew louder. It was coming closer! Brakes squealed as two vehicles rounded the corner. The siren gave a final wail and petered out.

Claudia lifted the blind and peeped from the window. A police car and ambulance parked in front of the building and two uniformed police officers climbed out of the car. The woman officer was thickset with short, blonde hair. She approached the ambulance and spoke briefly with the driver before nodding at her colleague and donning her cap. The officers walked towards the entrance door of the apartment building.

Claudia’s heart pounded. They’d find her alone in the apartment then arrest her when they found Dominic’s body. She had to get out… now.

For the second time, she crept towards the front door and let herself out. The elevator dinged. They’d gotten in and would reach the fourth floor in a matter of seconds. Claudia dashed towards the stairwell, pulled open the heavy door and flattened herself against the wall.

Another ding. The elevator door opened. Muffled voices—she couldn’t make out their conversation—then a knock at the door. A few seconds passed. A loud thump. Wood splintering. They must have broken their way inside. Claudia pulled off her shoes, stuffed them into her bag and ran down the stairs, gripping the handrail for leverage and jumping the last few steps of every flight. When she reached the street level, she stopped. What if she ran into the ambulance officers?

But as long as the paramedics entered from the front, she couldn’t be seen. Claudia slipped through the  basement door and sagged against the outside wall, her legs still shaky. For the second time that day she’d had a narrow escape.

But Claudia still felt uneasy. What about her missing cell-phone? Had the police found it in the apartment or did the blonde man take it? What if he tried to blackmail her and demand a massive amount of money? What if he went to the police—or worse—to Wilson and told him everything? Claudia moaned and sank to the ground, burying her head in her hands.  

A soft breeze rustled the trees above her. Three yellow leaves fell to the ground and tumbled away with the wind. Claudia’s thoughts returned to autumn in Paris. She raised her head and smiled. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought. She’d searched high and low and hadn’t found her cell-phone in the apartment which meant the blonde man took it with him. That left her two courses of action. 

One, she could erase her ‘phone data. Claudia remembered reading somewhere about deleting stored information remotely using a connected laptop. Once she’d wiped the information, the man would be unable to use the ‘phone to track her down or contact Wilson.

But there was another way. The apartment owner was an attractive man—tall, slim, debonair—just her type. What if she approached him and made him an offer? Claudia had yet to meet a man who’d refused her. It would be poetic justice if he took Dominic’s place in her bed. 

She hailed a passing cab and climbed in. Her driver was a woman this time, grim-faced and officious, resisting all attempts to engage in conversation. When the cab pulled up outside the stately nineteenth century mansion Claudia shared with Wilson, she threw the money onto the front seat and slammed the door. Then she smoothed her hair, took a deep breath and headed towards the portico, her shoes crunching on the white gravel driveway…

End of Part Two

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A Short Story: Maddy – The Making of a Psychopath

vintage-1203860_1280When a case perplexed him, Dr Malcolm Orens could be found sitting at his desk playing with an abacus. He didn’t realise that his left eyebrow twitched as he played – a source of great amusement to his Modern Psychiatry students at the university.

The doctor pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and pushed the button on the old-fashioned cassette recorder to play the old audio-cassettes containing the reminiscences, admissions and musings of long-ago patients – before the advent of compact discs and personal computers.

Dr Orens leaned back in his chair, folded his arms over his chest and closed his eyes. He did his best listening that way.

Papers rustled and chairs scratched across an uncarpeted floor. Dr Orens heard the sound of a tissue being pulled from a box.

Thanks for coming in Mrs Finniss.

A sniff.

With Maddy in prison, it’s important we talk – to help both you and Maddy.

Another sniff and a muffled, damp-sounding voice.

I know.

Let’s start at the beginning. What can you remember about Maddy as a child?

Well, I always felt there was something a little ‘off’. That must sound terrible coming from a mother but it’s the best way I can describe her. She was a beautiful child – so was Jessie – but they were different in their appeal. Jessie was an angel with her blond curls and big blue eyes—and I’m not just saying that—she really had the kindest heart of any child I’ve ever met. She cried if she accidentally stepped on a beetle… if a bee stung her, she was inconsolable knowing it would die.

Tell me more.

Maddy was a beautiful child too but her hair was brown and her eyes large and dark. The thing was, you couldn’t ‘see’ into Maddy’s eyes – they were like dark, bottomless pools of water. She smiled… but only with her lips. Maddy actually enjoyed squashing insects and killing them—in the most inventive of ways. I still remember arriving home one day and finding her pedalling her bike furiously back and forth over a family of caterpillars while Jessie watched, screaming and wailing. Maddy was five… and the look on her face when she climbed off her bike and kicked the leaves away to see the squashy mess she’d made. She stared at the dead caterpillars. Then she looked at me and Jessie with a satisfied smile on her face. I should have done something then… but I was too concerned with consoling Jessie…

Were there other instances of Maddy hurting animals?

Yes. I caught her trying to flush our pet kitten, Muffy, down the toilet. I caught her just as she was about to press the flusher a second time. Of course I grabbed the poor little kitten from Maddy and wrapped him in a towel. I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen! But, worst of all was Maddy’s reaction when I confronted her. There was no guilt, no remorse… nothing. Maddy had a habit of gritting her back teeth when she was angry… that’s what I saw on her face – not shame, but anger at being found out and chided. I told my husband about it that evening. When he went to talk with Maddy, she shook her head and told him it never happened. He said she sounded so calm, so convincing, he almost believed that I’d imagined the whole thing.

What was Maddy like, generally?

What do you mean, ‘generally’?

In day-to-day life—how did she react to you? How did she deal with things?

She was a hard child to get close to. Neither my husband nor myself could ever establish a connection with her. She could be terribly sweet and loving… but I realise now she only acted that way when she wanted something. If she didn’t get what she wanted, she threw terrific temper tantrums.

How was her relationship with her sister?

A loud sigh. A cough. The sound of clothes rustling and shoes shuffling.

I can admit it now—and may God forgive me for saying this about my own child—but I never felt happy leaving the two girls in the same room. My husband told me not to be silly but too many things happened that made me worry.

What sort of things?

Maddy was a terrible tease. I’ve already told you about the caterpillar episode. It wasn’t just her obvious pleasure at squashing the wretched creatures… it was Jessie’s distress… Maddy loved it… it was almost like Jessie’s anguish turned her on. I know that sounds shocking and I can hardly bear to say it.

The sound of another tissue being pulled from the box. Eledora Finniss continued in a watery voice.

Once I was feeding Jessie with a bottle and the telephone rang so I asked Maddy to hold the bottle so Jessie could continue to drink. I was only gone for about two minutes. But when I walked back into the room, I found Maddy holding the bottle with both hands – like this – over Jessie’s lips and forcing the nipple deep into her mouth. Poor Jessie was gagging and spluttering… I grabbed the bottle from Maddy’s hands—

What did you say to Maddy?

I was like a tigress protecting her cub! I grabbed Maddy by the shoulders and shook her. But it was like shaking a rag-doll. There was no resistance… her face was blank with no expression whatsoever. I screamed at her never to do it again; that she could have hurt Jessie and made her choke… even die. And again, that same reaction… that small, self-satisfied smile. When I finished shaking her and yelling at her, she brushed herself down and walked from the room, her body stiff and straight. When I asked where she was going, she said she to play with her dolls.

Did you check on her later?

I still can’t believe I didn’t get help for her then! She was on the floor, building a house with her Lego blocks. I walked inside intending to hug her and tell her how sorry I was for shaking her so hard—that I was just upset about Jessie. And then I saw it…

What did you see?

In a box by her bed were her dolls and teddy bear. The dolls’ heads were twisted around to their backs. Great chunks of hair were torn from their scalps. They were naked, their clothes torn into strips and used to bind them together. The teddy bear had both his eyes torn off… his tummy was ripped open and the stuffing was strewn around the room. It was like discovering the multiple victims of a serial killer…

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Arthur’s Lie – A short Short Story

Bertha Image for Blog post“I saw a woman hung when I was a boy.”

Catherine pursed her lips. She was here to visit her grandmother, not listen to the prattling of a silly old man.

“Gran? Are you awake?” Catherine patted her grandmother’s hand.

“She can’t hear you,” the gravelly voice behind her said. “She’s been asleep for the past hour. Come over here and keep me company for a while.”

Why did they always pick on her? Her mother used to say it was because she had a kind face. Was that why even complete strangers tried to take advantage of her? Catherine turned around reluctantly.

The old fellow sat in his chair like a king on his throne. He must have been close to a hundred, his face as brown and creased as an Indian chief’s. He wore his thick, white hair long and gazed at Catherine with a pair of black, twinkling eyes.

He patted the chair beside him and extended his hand. “Arthur Lipman’s the name.”

She took it and gave it gentle shake. “Catherine Weston. How do you do?”

“Not a word of a lie,” he said. “I was there when The Cremorne Poisoner went to meet her Maker.”

Catherine took the seat beside him. “Who did you say it was?”

“Bertha Mackenzie. Executed at the Melbourne Gaol in 1924 for poisoning her husband and seven children with strychnine—she put it in their tea,” he added.

“And you were actually there?”

The old man nodded proudly. “You bet. My uncle was the hangman and he sneaked me in. They came for Bertha at eight o’clock and escorted her up the stairs to the gibbet. My uncle strapped her hands close to her body and slipped the noose over her head. Then he asked if she had anything to say…”

Arthur’s voice faltered. He stared at the floor and tugged at his ear. “Her lips moved but no-one heard her speak, so my uncle moved closer to hear the final words of Bertha Mackenzie. Suddenly he jerked backwards like she’d just hurled acid into his face. I saw his hands were shaking as he pulled the death hat over her face and drew the bolt. Then the trapdoor opened with a loud click and dropped away from Bertha’s feet.” Arthur shuddered. “It was horrible. Her neck snapped. Then her body jerked and twitched like a rabid dog’s. I saw my uncle standing there, watching Bertha’s body as it swayed from side to side. He was pale as a ghost…like someone who’d just had his first glimpse of hell.”

Catherine’s scalp prickled. She moved her chair a little closer to Arthur’s. “What did Bertha say to your uncle?”

“He wouldn’t tell me. He said it was a secret he’d take to his grave.”

Catherine sat back, disappointed. “So you never found out what she said that day?”

Arthur nodded slowly. “On my twenty-first birthday. He was retired by then and had taken to drink. He made me promise never to tell another living soul. They found him the next day—stone dead—not a mark on his body. He was still sitting in his chair, his cup of tea beside him on the table.” The old man’s voice was a whisper now. “They tested the tea in his cup. There was enough strychnine in it to kill five men.”

Catherine felt the hair lift on the back of her neck. “So what was the secret he told you?”

Arthur raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure you want to know?”

Catherine laughed nervously. “Of course I do! I don’t believe in curses or ghosts or anything stupid like that,”

“Come closer then.” The old man leaned forward and whispered into Catherine’s ear.

She gasped.

A stout nurse bustled into the room pushing a wheelchair.

“Mr Lipman,” she clucked disapprovingly. “What are you still doing here? It’s way past your nap-time.”

The old man struggled to his feet, groaning and clutching at his back. The nurse helped him into the wheelchair.

“I’ll be back for Mrs Weston in a minute,” the nurse called over her shoulder as she wheeled the old man away.

It was deathly quiet in the room and the ticking of the clock on the wall sounded unnaturally loud. Catherine stayed in her chair and stared into space, her fingers busy at her throat, buttoning and unbuttoning the fastening at the top of her blouse.

“Arthur telling you his secrets, was he?”

Catherine jumped.

The nurse waddled over to Catherine’s grandmother and lifted the blanket from her knees. “Don’t believe a word of it—it’s all lies,” she said, folding the blanket neatly into quarters. “Which one was it this time? Was it the one about his uncle the hangman who executed Bertha Mackenzie or when his father single-handedly nabbed the McNulty Gang in Terowie? Or was it about his grandmother? Arthur tells everyone she was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting.”

Catherine smiled, her tense shoulders relaxing. She was being silly. Of course Arthur was lying. And she had swallowed it, hook, line and sinker! Catherine picked up her handbag. “See you tomorrow, Grandma,” she whispered, kissing the old lady’s forehead.

Arthur wasn’t in his chair the following day.

“Where’s Arthur?” Catherine asked the nurse on duty.

“Haven’t you heard? They found him this morning. Died in his bed. Must have happened while he was having his cup of tea—it was still half-full on his bedside table.”

Catherine felt the blood drain from her face. Her chest felt so tight she could barely breathe. “What happened?”

The nurse shrugged. “Not sure. There’ll be an autopsy of course. But he was an old man. It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

Not a word of a lie, Arthur had said.

And now his secret was hers.

Until it was Catherine’s turn to die.

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