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Short Stories

This short story was inspired by a prompt given to me at my local writing group

“You die and go to heaven. You’re the first.”

It didn’t hurt, not really. I was frightened though. When I heard the squeal of brakes and turned my head I knew the car would never stop in time. A red Audi, with a dent on the right side of the bumper and a cracked headlight. Funny how the little details stick in your mind, isn’t it? I expect the dent’s a lot bigger now.

One minute I’m minding my Ps and Qs, if not exactly minding where I’m going, the next thing I know I’m drifting towards a light. It was like I was flying through the sky, but there was no rush of air. No sunshine, no cold, just a serene sense of travel. I wasn’t trying to move in any particular direction. It’s just that this way, towards this place, seemed the proper thing to do. The light was streaming through the parting in a pair of heavy, red velvet curtains.

Inside there is a large circle of sawdust within a raised ring. And surrounding the centre, tiered seats as far as the eye can see. There’s nobody else around. I try calling out and that’s when I realise the acoustics in this place are amazing. They really shouldn’t be, but even without a mic I can tell my voice is carrying all the way to the back of the tent. And that’s so far away I can barely see it.

It’s weird, I feel like I belong here. I have no idea why. After all, the inside of a Circus Big Top is not a place I can remember ever visiting before. OK, so I do have a bit of a thing about Hugh Jackman and I have watched The Greatest Showman about a million times. If this is my brain’s idea of paradise, where are the performers? Where is the audience? And when the hell do I get to meet Wolverine?!

Strangely apt, I guess, given my life story. No special skills, no friends to share this place with. I used to tell myself that it was my choice not to make friends. It was my choice to stay home on Friday evenings. I know Mum and Dad were getting worried. Even tried to hook me up with one of the neighbour’s son’s. As if!

Well, if the after-life is going to be more exciting, I guess I’ll have to get some people to come and be in my show. Once I have them, I’ll work on selling some tickets. Nothing too expensive mind, I don’t want this to be exclusive. Just an odd prayer here, a wish there. Good behaviour’s my sort of currency. And their reward can be an eternity of entertainment.

Me? I think I’ll call myself the merciful MC. How hard can it be?

 

© David Barker 2018

TWENTY GUINEAS

Nobody had told the rain to stop, just because the fighting had ceased. A man was trying to pull a glistening leather boot off somebody who would never use it again. The mud beneath the corpse was deep and hungry. Another tug and the man fell backwards as the boot finally came off.

Something soft broke his fall. And groaned.

The man scrambled to his feet and turned to peer through the gloom.

“Please. Help.” A pale man in an officer’s uniform.

“Reckon I will help meself.”

“They’ve already taken my valuables.” The officer winced as the other man tugged at his braided jacket.

“Still got yer teeth, ain’t you?”

“I have plenty of money back in Brussels. I’ll furnish you with twenty guineas if you’ll guard me this night.”

“Twenty?” He whistled. “‘Ow do I know you’ll keep your word?” The man stood up and waved a knife through the air, testing its balance. “Easy to promise things, lying there in the shit, sun going down. I’ve seen what ‘appens after battles. You lot trit-trot back to yer ladies. Forget the rest of us, living off second-hand boots and teeth.”

“I, sir, am an officer of the Royal Dragoons. My word is like the British Army. Unbreakable, sir, unbreakable.”

“We sure gave them Frenchies a taste of what for, didn’t we?”

The officer looked around at the bodies. Once-bright uniforms, washed brown by the blood and the dirt and the setting sun; it was hard to tell the armies of the dead apart. “Damned close thing, I should say.”

The other man’s eyelids squeezed together. “Alright Lieutenant, I’ll keep ya safe. Nuffink will happen to you while ol’ Bert is by your side.”

“I’m grateful to you.” The officer stared at the little man. “Where’s the rest of your troop?”

The man shrugged. “We was holding the centre when Bony’s Himperial Guard themselves pitched in. Right at the end. Hacked most of me mates to pieces. I were lucky to get away.”

“Damned good job the blue Prince turned up when he did.” The officer reached out with his arm and scratched where his knee joined the carved wood.

“What’s yer story then?”

“I’ll remind you to address me as an officer, corporal.”

The man ducked his head slightly. “Apologies, Lieutenant.”

“My story, eh? Yes, it might pass the time. Be a good man and fetch me some brandy first, will you? Deuced cold lying here. And see if you can find something to eat. Breakfast was an awfully long time ago.”

The soldier snapped to his feet. “Right you are, sir. Be as quick as I can.”

The Lieutenant leant back and exhaled. The plan was working. He went over his backstory one more time in his head. Old Bert might have been easy to ensnare, but he was no fool. Any inconsistencies now could ruin the whole thing.

Bruxelles, j’arrive.

 

© David Barker 2018

BAD APPLE

She glanced up as the siren wailed past her house. Blue strobes penetrated the slits in the bedroom shutters. She frowned and tried to concentrate on the I-pad she was holding. A mild glow illuminated her face as the words on the screen reached out to caress her. Her eyelids began to droop and the tablet tumbled gently onto the duvet as she drifted off, dreaming of Sebastian’s Seduction.

She awoke, heart thumping, straining to listen. A draught was playing across her face. The door and the windows had been shut when she went to bed, she was sure of that. A floorboard creaked. A floorboard in her bedroom. She closed her eyes wondering whether it was safer to pretend to be asleep.

“Hello Fay.”

She sat bolt upright. A man was perched on the end of her bed, casually turning over the tablet with bright red hands. She looked up at his face and saw that it too was the colour of fire engines. Fay stared more closely. It didn’t look like make-up. He wore a crisp grey suit and, under the jacket, a t-shirt with ‘Bite Me’ written across his sculpted chest.

“In case you were wondering, you’re not dreaming.”

“Oh.” She hugged her knees to her chest while her eyes darted around the room.

“That won’t work, by the way,” he said pointing to the bedside table.

Fay lunged for her phone and, for the first time ever, selected emergency call. Nothing happened.

The man shrugged and put the I-pad down. His long, blackened fingernails caught on the tablet cover. “These are not good for your soul, you know?”

“What?”

“Porn. Online gambling. Erotic books.” He arched an eyebrow. “Trolling. Sexting. Misdemeanours, all stored up in the clouds. The Angels are kept so busy these days.”

“I didn’t realise anybody checked.”

“Not that I’m complaining.” He grinned and drew his tongue across his teeth. “He tried to warn you all.”

“Who?”

The man jerked his head towards the ceiling. “Him.”

Fay looked blank.

The man picked up the I-pad again and showed Fay its back. “The forbidden fruit? He did put an apple on every device.”

© David Barker 2016