Anushka and the Witch

horror - sci fi, short stories

Baba’s ancient articulated finger rapped on the phone screen listlessly. Her withered old heart was indifferent to the glossy lifestyles of the equally lifeless, as they flickered like an old movie before her one functioning eyeball. With the force of a bicep curl, she squinted the other eye closed awkwardly, puppeteering her dull grey top lip, tightly upwards on that side, until only a small crescent of eye remained.




Remnants of scarlet and purple nail polish, chipped and abandoned, bounced into view as she scrolled. With her mouth open to squeeze her corrugated face together, she was caught completely off guard, and a large glob of spittle plopped from her contorted lips onto the screen. It landed as a fettered bubble puddle on the acid yellow bonnet of cute-underscore-anushka’s latest post. Her first Mercedes CLA250.

“You’ll do then,” she rattled, wheezing onto the back of her wrist in an outward breath so laboured that even the cat did a double take in case she never inflated again. Her hand fell back down to her lap as she threw her head back, mouth lolling open to inhale the sweet russkim dukhom, or Russian sweat that all old people seemed to exude. She stared at the rough wooden planks, which served as her ceiling, and touched her bony rigid hand to the side of her shrunken skull. Her long nails caught in her pathetic threads of white hair, which tugged out as her wizened talons pulled away.

“Ugh, not again!” she exasperated, looking at the web of time past in her palm. “I need some new life!”

The cat, unusually nut brown, as if he belonged to the very timbers of the house, leapt up onto the narrow windowsill, his soft paws placed with intent between Baba’s carefully curated crystal tool box. His back was arched, creating a silhouette against the tiny squares of greasy smoked glass, beyond which, the Sosnovy Bor pine forest stood in repetitive columns, keeping Baba hidden from the city beyond.

“Don’t even think about it!” she squawked, as the cat regarded a smooth weg of purple banded amethyst with a hole bored through it, eroded by water which had exploited a crack in the crystal. He lifted his front paw defiantly, and brought it’s full might down on the blue-violet rock, just hooking a sharpened nail into the hole at the last minute for maximum effect, and flung it off the ledge.

In a fly’s heartbeat, Baba’s outstretched claw caught the precious stone centimetres from the threadbare Turkish rug on the floor. In the same moment she was standing to her full height of eight feet, and with one scrawny hand wrapped around the amethyst, she backhanded the cat into the centre of the room with the other, before his feline senses could react.

“Miiiiaaaaaooooowwww,” he yowled.

“Don’t think you can outsmart me, S-a-t-a-n-a.” She said, labouring the syllables of his name, while she pushed her hips forward with her bony hands in the small of her back.

In one stride she was back at the armchair, and crumpled heavily into it, grabbing her phone as she sat down. Satana sashayed his scrawny midriff past her shins, and she absent-mindedly used the motion of his moving pelt as a miniature car wash to get rid of the muck on the screen. Her clenched skeletal fingers opened smoothly, like the petals on a flower, and she regarded the amethyst hag stone. She flipped it between her thumb and index finger, bringing it to her keen red veined eye and stroked Anushka’s name on the glassy screen. As the profile slid into view, she drilled down into the life that was Anushka Sokalov.

Cute-anushka. Where are you?

The room was doused in orange and her concentration burned with bittersweet flames in the hearth. Scouting embers whistled and cracked up, up and out of the chimney seeking to find their mark, while a distorted flesh face hung, stretched above the fireplace, it’s Frankenstein features played by the dancing firelight. There was a bold ‘pop’ of yellow flame in the grate, and Baba’s lips curled in triumph, as the grotesque mask unwittingly grinned back.

Anushka Sokalov lived in Sosnovy Bor, just the other side of the forest.

Anushka was aware of the slightest warning spark of hot embers as she left her modern build student apartment. She briefly wondered if there was a fire in the forest, but in soaking up the new greens of the pine trees which flanked her apartment block, she thought instead of the vivid yellow presence of her beautiful new car and stretched her imagination to believe it was still there. She didn’t own it, of course. Just rented it for a few hours for the insta pics, but it was 1395 rubles worth of likes, and counting.

She reached the NailBrite salon for her weekly manicure, and was picked up with the smoothness of a conveyer belt, the minute she swiped right over the stainless steel button on the doorframe. She knew all the technicians, and her Instagram presence had meant that NailBrite was hot gossip in Sosnovy Bor, and beyond. She always picked a Wednesday. Not only were there no squawking teenagers, but it was also Dobroe Delo, or kind deed day. Customers paid a bit more for their manicures so senior citizens could get free or subsidised nail treatments. The majority of the elderly received a tiny state pension and not much else, and boy did they love their Wednesday mornings! There was chatter and apple cake, and creepy tales of the old Baba Yaga who lived in the forest and ate people, all filed and lacquered to perfection. The usual Euro techno beats were replaced with a more traditional soft folksy sound. Anushka felt warm and snuggled in a blanket of nostalgia, and she could be more incognito than her Instagram persona generally allowed.

“Hi Nush – how’s our favourite celebrity?”

She was greeted in a high pitched voice by Cassandra, who emphasised the ‘-ebrityyy?’ at the end of the sentence, with sustain and a genuinely excited smile. Cassandra was a little mouse of a girl from Vietnam, whose hair was pulled back into a professional ponytail. Mouse-like because she skittled around the salon, keeping everything just so and not getting in anyone else’s way. But when it came to her manicures, she was firm and dedicated to the task in hand, and woe betide any other technician who took a gel to use without checking with her first.

“Like a lion, baby, like a lion!” Said Anushka, clawing the air in front of her. “But a lion with a terrible set of talons!” She said, over acting the despair in her voice with a tremolo, and holding her hand pitifully in front of her sulking lips.

“Aoaoaoaoao…” Cassandra came running over, absolutely alarmed at the nail crisis in her salon. “Sit down! Sit down! Here you go, your favourite soda Miss Anush – I call you over, two seconds!”

She motioned for Anushka to sit on a velvet upholstered pink chair, with vertical cerise candy stripes on the back and arm rests. There were six identical chairs next to each other, in front of a highly instagrammable wall of fake silk flowers, in every shade of pink imaginable, from the softest peach to the most decadent violet. Spotlights hung from the ceiling, illuminating each chair, ready to capture any moment in life that required it, and the words ‘# LUV MY NAILS’ pulsed across the vertical carpet of flowers in bright pink neon.

Anushka breathed in the counterfeit lifestyle, understanding its trickery, yet nevertheless devoted to it. She barely noticed the door slide open beside her. Neither did she feel the witch’s gaze as Baba shot her a glance on entering the salon.

Baba nearly vomited as she took in her surroundings. What was it with pink? And the lacquered air seemed to coat her old lungs with a heaviness she hadn’t known since her pipe smoking days. At least it was wrinklies Wednesday, so if she was to be seen, she’d fit in quite well. She walked slowly down the line of chairs, with her right hand wrapped around her left, leading the way in front of her. Her mind was still, and she moved smoothly, keeping her head bowed, so as not to draw attention to herself. She reached the furthest chair and sat down, silently, under the designated spotlight. She wanted to click her fingers and turn the damn thing off, but that would have broken her carefully controlled spell. Instead she looked at her own time-ravaged manicure, and again wished she could snap off the spotlight.

It hadn’t taken much to map out the movements of cute_anushka. Her life was literally an open Instagram account and she’d even broadcast the fact that she’d be at NailBrite at 10am, Wednesday morning. Baba had to work fast. She’d hung mandrake root in front of the indignant eyes of Mr flesh face back at home, which she knew would give her a certain level of invisibility. But it was a fragile fix. She needed to get in and out of that salon without drawing unnecessary attention to herself. She also carried a small mirror in her coat pocket, facing out; to further deflect any unwanted scrutiny, and project whatever was behind her into the eyes of her beholder. This was currently a multi-pink wall of flowers, and she was understandably distressed at this portrayal of herself.

“Ready for you now, Mees Anush!” Cassandra announced excitedly. “Come sit, sit please!”

Anushka’s Lev like mane bounced in a tumbling wonder with it’s own momentum as she walked. It was her hair that really got her noticed as an influencer. Shades ranging from fine alabaster through bleached sand, flaxen golds, and toffee yellows spiralled together. It incorporated the bounteousness of summer and the harsh tones of winter, all caught in exotic bubbles of champagne. She was over six feet tall, and even Baba looked up to take in her full height, almost ruining the veil of her disguise.

She settled opposite Cassandra who expertly wrapped her expired acrylics in cotton doused in acetone, and then pressed little foil cones around each nail to help lift last month’s lifestyle choices. This time she was going for her signature lion claw, starting with a rich metallic bronze at the cuticle, fading through to a white gold at the tip.

Baba shifted in her seat slightly so she could keep an eye on the proceedings. The foils were off, and after a hand smoothing treatment and massage, Cassandra was expertly pushing cuticles, trimming off excess and smoothing to perfection. Baba saw her opportunity. She moved out of her chair, like a stalking huntress, her head and line of vision perfectly still, her limbs propelling her silently forward. Her face was directly behind Anushka’s mane, and she had to stop herself gagging on the warm coconut aroma. In a duel assault, Baba wrapped a couple of silky strands of hair around her warty finger and tugged. In the same split second as she briefly captured Anushka’s attention, she reached round with the other thieving hand, and pinched up a nail clipping from the fluffy white towel on the table. Cassandra noticed this slight anomaly and looked from the towel and then to Anushka’s distracted gaze. The salon hung in a temporary time lapse, without even a breath, until the door slid smoothly shut, and Baba left the building.

“Oh, I think my hair caught in something,” said Anushka, shaking her head left, then right.

“You just want me to notice your hair – cheeky lady!” Cassandra mimicked Anushka’s movements, smiling broadly, and began applying the sculpting forms to Anushka’s fingertips.

Back in the forest, Baba was holding her head remarkably high when she reached the edge of the trees where her cottage stood. It was the first time she’d had human contact in quite a while, and she couldn’t help smiling at her successful mission of mischief. She hitched up her raggedy green skirt, and made her way purposefully through the skull topped fence posts that intermittently marked out her territory.

She got to the wide steps that led up to her front door, and rested her elbow on the wooden worn handrail. She put a foot up onto the first step, and looked up at the shabby little house with it’s rickety timbered panels, and undulating roofline, the odd tile missing and the resulting leaks re-directed to those who had wronged her. Again, she cackled inside.

“I’ve got a nice treat for you!” she said, slapping her hand on the wooden rail.

Imperceptibly, the house shifted with the weight of a bear disturbed during a long winter sleep.

“I said I’ve go a treat for ya!” she bellowed, flapping her old ankle at the bottom step in an attempt to wake her sleeping abode. The house creaked, and the windows looked a little less closed.

“That’s better,” she said. “Let’s get things ready for little Anushka!”

With a certain joi de vie, she climbed the uneven stairs. It was a few years since she’d done an actual spell, and she was properly buzzing. She danced round the kitchen with lightness and ease, plucking coloured leaves from small jars and scooping measures of pungent potions, while softly humming and spinning in a clockwise direction. She dragged her sizeable granite pestle and mortar next to the table, and began pounding the constituents together. She worked vigorously, again in a clockwise motion, holding the pestle in both hands to guide its weight as it crushed and mashed, and ground and pulverised.

Her arms and hips worked together rhythmically to the beat of the pestle and mortar, and all the while she muttered:

“Cute Anushka, come to me, your life to give, my life to live!
Cute Anushka, come to me, your life to give, my life to live!

Like the turn of the tide, she felt the ingredients surrender their original potencies and agree to join forces in a new direction. She grabbed the mortar and carried it into the living room, setting it down and flinging back the Turkish rug on the floor.

An array of bright sigils in the floorboards twitched as the removal of the enchanted carpet broke the seal, and they were connected to all things once again. Baba knew they were lively and open to intent, so she padded round softly to soothe each one. With her palms down she made circular clockwise motions, one hand crossing over the other, whilst exhaling soothingly as she coerced them to her will. Ultimately, much like bambinos, they were all eager to please. She crossed to the north side of the room and plunged her grappling hand into a large cauldron shaped wooden bowl of salt. It was a dark, dark wood; smoothed over centuries by the attrition of the fine rocks it held. With the grains spilling through her cramped fingers like an hourglass, she worked quickly, again, following the path of the sun, and prowled around the idents, sketching a large circle on the floor, and not taking her eyes off any one of them for a second.

Happy that she now had the undivided attention of the energies in her care, Baba unhooked a large metal ladle from beside the fireplace, and scooped out the blended contents from the granite mortar. In the middle of the circle was a small burnt hollow in the floorboards, which she carefully poured the spellbound particles into. She squeezed some saliva into her pursed lips, and did a small directed spit into the centre of the mound, then reached into her pocket to retrieve Anushka’s strands of hair and nail clippings.

She carefully placed these in the oily mix of her saliva and powder that was starting to swirl clockwise in an ever-increasing spiral. She stepped carefully out to the edge of the circle, and placed four small yellow candles, equidistant apart, in the sprinkled salt perimeter. She took her trusted Zippo lighter with a black skull in relief on it’s case, and starting with the candle at the North side, she lit it, saying, “North wind of ice!”

She moved round to the next candle in the East, lighting it in turn and saying, “East wind of hot and cold!”

And so on to the South and West candles, “South wind of searing heat!” And, “West wind of home!”

She stamped her feet loudly and rhythmically on the floor, and one by one the sigils began to jerk and writhe as if absorbing the potency of the flames. The outer symbols caught light first, not with fire, but with a molten heat travelling through them, igniting Baba’s intent and shaping it to her will. These snapped at the heels of the resting middle shapes, which flipped to their reverse forms, reshaping her intent, ready to act in the world. Finally, the inner motifs were ablaze and began to move; vicious and vibrant, chasing each other round and round. Intermingling and interlocking, their dazzling forms eventually impossible to separate. They rose upwards, around the central crucible, creating a powerful and unavoidable vortex, hell-bent on bringing Anushka to the witch’s cabin.

Baba stamped faster and faster as the vortex became it’s own form, and then she stopped, arms outstretched in front of her, one hand against each side of the whirling mass. With a magnificent lunge towards the hearth, and with all her body weight, she willed the mini tornado to move with her. There was a blinding crack of pungent sulphurous yellow as the malignant cloud broke free from its circle of origin, and was sucked straight up the chimney, disappearing on its debauched errand of devilry.

Baba collapsed to the floor, her exhausted heart trembling unevenly against her rib cage like a wasp in a jar. She could have gone into town and simply coshed Anushka out cold and dragged her back. Or persuaded her with small talk. Each option she felt would have left her equally as ragged. Small talk particularly got her so strung out that she’d find herself clutching her arms around her body and clawing at her own elbows with the anxiety. And surely witchcraft demanded a certain amount of showomanship after-all?

With her new claws firmly in place, Anushka had a brunch date with Mila, her BFF since school days. They had absorbed tea and life until they could absorb no more, kissed each other firmly on each cheek, and slapped their right hands together high in the air before turning and going their separate ways. The sun shone brilliantly and yet Anushka could feel the skin on her arms prickling. She crossed them in front of her, hugging up to her shoulders with her warmer hands, and then thought she saw a snowflake whip round in front of her eyes.

She looked up to see a mini tornado towering above her, and momentarily stopped in her tracks. Her science mind was fascinated. She’d heard of ice storms, when warm humid air met with storm clouds and after a brief battle with gravity, generally fell as hailstones. This was really localised though, as in right above her head. She turned back to see Mila, but instead was engulfed in the swirling ice vortex, her champagne curls sticking across her face and her eyes stinging, as she was blinded by the caustic cloud.

She was finding it hard to breathe, but could just about see her feet approaching the pedestrian crossing. If she took it, she could follow the path alongside the pine forest, which would get her home, albeit the long way around. She stumbled along; taking shallower breaths, as the ground beneath her feet became more uneven. Twigs and pinecones cracked, and crunched, as she took ungainly steps forward, and she knew she was heading into the forest. The acrid smell of the cloud was drawing in fresher scents of clean pine and notes of citrus and lime, which turned to oranges and Christmas as she was guided deeper into the trees.

She put her head through her bag strap to keep it securely to her body, and held her arms out in front of her, with no idea where the next tree or hollow might be. Although she noted that although she couldn’t see anything, she hadn’t bumped into anything yet either. And then, just as quickly as the storm had arrived, the ice shroud surrounding her seemed to evaporate. She was left, a little disorientated, looking at a clearing in the forest with a small diamond encrusted house in front of her.

Her mouth fell open as the terror of the ice storm melted away. Her instinct was to use her shiny new nails to comb back the wet hair stuck to her face. But she left the motion half completed, utterly forgetting why she’d lifted her hand in the first place, and her hair being completely dry anyway. Her hand fell instead, to her chest, and she stood, rapt and enchanted.

She was pulled forwards towards the house, the front gate, latticed with metal worked gold feathers swinging open invitingly in front of her. She felt as if she was on a travelator at the airport, aware of walking, but it felt more as if she was pushing the scene behind her with her feet rather than walking through it. She arrived at a sweeping set of white marble steps with two highly polished golden Faberge eggs on either side of the handrail. They were adorned with hand painted winged fantastical creatures, and as she reached out to one of the eggs, the animals began to dance and chase each other around the smooth surface. She let her hand rest on the egg, and flinched slightly at a roughness under her fingertips.

Amazed she hadn’t thought of it before, she pulled out her ‘phone. She slipped her finger through the faux diamond ring on the back of the case, and lined it up with her other freshly manicured hand, entwined with the animals on the Faberge egg. She moved the phone up beyond the winking diamonds in the pale blue walls of the cottage, to the highly decorated windows, carved in wood and shimmering with gold. Each roof tile looked like a small gold bullion, and the eaves surrounding the upper windows were exquisitely sparkling with softly coloured lights.

The door was open, and she stepped across the threshold.

Baba’s vice like grip locked onto the back of her skull, pulling her into the room like a rag doll. Anushka’s heart beat so hard, and she flailed behind her trying to grab for the doorframe. But Baba was too strong and propelled her forward, kicking her stubborn feet as they tried to friction grip themselves to the uneven floorboards. The enchanted bling was gone in an instant. Now it was dark and menacing, a mouldy stench entered her nostrils and a low sounding frequency engulfed her body. Her shoulders contracted painfully and her stomach flipped in her chest, as she was forced through another doorway, the low frequencies rushing around her as the intensity increased.

As her eyes adjusted to the gloomy horror, she became aware of the origin of the menacing sound waves. A pulsing dark oblong in the corner of the room was emanating a roar of such disquiet, that it engulfed the very essence of everything. But she was picking up shapes in it too – it was her reflection. Dark and distorted, her own horrified face being pushed into the edges of this nothing, and the hideous witch behind her relentlessly forcing her forward.

Baba took the final step, with one last brutal shove to Anushka’s head. At the same time she slammed her shoulder, with the full force of her scrawny yet sizeable body, into Anushka’s back.

In an instant, she knew things had gone horribly wrong.

Anushka had seen the over sized pestle and mortar leaning against the fireplace. In a final fight or flight bid for freedom, she gasped a lung full of the thickened odious air, and flung her two outstretched hands towards the pestle handle, at the exact same moment as the witch had come at her with full force from behind. As Anushka hurled herself out of the way, Baba’s momentum catapulted her directly forward, and her face met that of her reflection in the glassy abyss that she had conjured in her own living room. She clung on desperately to Anushka’s skull, but only managed to lock on to a few strands of hair, which ripped out as she rushed headlong over Anushka’s head.

“Uuuurrrgggghhh not again!” she cursed, and screamed, an ancient visceral scream as the air in the room was torn apart. Anushka’s eardrums were grated with jagged shreds of noise as she grabbed the heavy handle, and swung round in a full circle to slug the remaining few inches of the witch into the dark abyss that had been meant for Anushka.

The vacuum that Baba’s scream had created imploded in on itself with an explosive thunder-crack, and the portal slammed shut. The house gave a huge involuntary shudder, and ornaments and potions crashed around her. Anushka was breathing heavily, still holding the pestle handle, its heavy load resting on the floor, so she looked as if she was ready to take a baseball swipe down a dark corridor which no longer existed.

A noise a bit like a balloon inflating attracted her attention from above the fireplace. The most grotesque fleshy face was stretched flat across a wooden frame, and was freakishly distorting, its eyes seeming to bulge with rage, its mouth ready to spit venom. She leant the pestle back up against the hearth, and although her stomach churned in revulsion, she couldn’t help but look at the monstrously pudgy profile. It’s meaty bottom lip kept bulging out pathetically, while its eyes blinked angrily, and she realised that a ringlet of blonde hair was hanging directly over its left eye, and it was unable to do anything about it. Without breathing or touching the corpse like features, she steadily reached up and tucked the fetching fringe over the top of the frame, causing the meaty cheeks to burn a deep crimson. There was a faint waft of coconut and familiarity – it was her hair that the witch had torn out. Somehow Baba was now trapped in the mask, and Anushka was the one who felt a surge of power as she stepped back from the fireplace.

She had defeated the witch in the forest! The Baba Yaga.

This was gonna be big insta news.

She hung her head down in front of her and whipped it up again, shaking her mass of curls into a triumphant photo shoot finish. The house itself seemed to pull its rafters together as if absorbing this new life force of possibilities. Anushka held up her phone and looked coyly sideways at the convulsing creature on the wall, as Satana brushed past her ankles.

“Come on Baba.” She said. “Smile for the camera!”

The Outfit I Will Never wear again

short stories

My fingertips played through the pyjamas on the H&M rail. The call of the Bat logo was strong but the hospital had said I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms above my head. I’d never get my bat chic on. Maybe I’d have time to make some….

My ‘phone rang:

“Lucy? It’s Gillian from Southampton Hospital. We’ve had a cancellation, you can come in this afternoon.”

Eeek – did she mean a death?

I called my husband Bassalot (because he likes bass – a lot) who very calmly, said “Well, what do you want to do?”

What did I want to do? I was actually just on my way to meet a good friend, Katy, for a couple of glasses of Prosecco at Southsea castle and earlier that morning I’d said I’d cover at Avalon all day Friday (tomorrow) where I worked. I was feeding my friends cats at the weekend while she was at a festival, had barely started my iron rich diet and – my pyjamas weren’t ready.

All weighed up against the very serious matter that my heart needed fixing. I decided against the cancellation and Gillian was very understanding. Both realities co-existed in my mind over the next seven weeks but project pyjama was back on! Well, if a fashionista has to go into hospital for a hi-octane heart bypass operation completely out of the blue, said fashionista is gonna need some lo brow frivolities to take her mind off it. So I bought a pattern, scoured the fabrics on offer locally and had decided on some purple leopard print velour with skull buttons from Amazon. De nerr!

Finally in hospital, I scrubbed up for the last time with fluorescent pre surgical purge. As I’d be asleep for a while, I decided I should have ‘good hair’ so gave it an extra condition. I then slid my pink, iron laden body of antimicrobial goodness into my purple leopard velour jim jams. Rod Stewart looked back at me from the mirror.

I texted Bassalot and told him I loved him with all my achy breaky heart and he should probably be drinking tequila about now. I also relayed my Rod Stewart concerns. He sent me the selfie he’d taken before he left and assured me that Mr Stewart was the coolest. Then he sent me a picture of a bottle and a shot of tequila.

Night time was sweaty. The synthetic velour adding an extra layer of shrink wrap to my steely resolve. I took the heat though as I had read an article saying velour pyjamas were big news.

I had a heart bypass operation.

Two nights later Kung Fu nurse strode into my room and hooked my neck in the crook of her elbow to swing me into a seated position like a rag doll.

“You can get out of this gown now and put your pyjamas back on.”

I had dared to imagine this moment. Dared to imagine my life post op: hopefully pain free, unregimented by pills and iron consumption, and gloriously enrobed in purple leopard velour. I did put them on and looked in the mirror.

Hi Rod. After it’s well coiffed entrance into theatre, Rod‘s hair was now a fashion crime. There was a narrow white dressing covering my protruding chest bone, showing small red dots disappearing down my cleavage. Like the ‘Cut Here’ line on a sewing pattern.

Kung Fu nurse did checks every four hours and I got hotter and hotter until I overtook the safe mark. There was talk of blood tests and charts and doctors and eventually the velour was laid to rest in favour of a sleeveless shirt and pants.

I still have Rod in a drawer. But there he will stay.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with coronary heart disease and was told I needed a heart bypass operation. I had a lot of time post surgery so thought I’d write the whole thing down.

As a forty something year old relatively fit female it had taken 18 months to diagnose why I was getting stomach pains and what had led to my human malfunction one Monday morning in the local Post Office.

Luckily an ambulance was nearby, I wasn’t billed for my overnight stay with the NHS and 6 months later I got the surgery I needed to give me my best chance of continued life on planet Earth.

I wrote these 500 words as a competition entry entitled ‘The Outifit I Will never Wear Again’ and subsequently used it as a spoken word piece as part of ‘The Front Room’ Women’s Day event.

To read the full story of the funny / sad / gruesome events unfolding, follow my blog and hold on for the ride!

Chapter 1 will be here on Monday 26th August at ten past six pm!

Love in the Time of Covid #2 – Red Fox

covid 19, short stories

A note from the author – this isn’t a happy feelgood story. I would largely call it a future/horror. It was written before the current covid lockdown and I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to write evil stories in the current climate of uncertainty. If you’d rather not read it then close this chapter for now but if it’s your thing then strap in!

Lucy gripped the arms of her chair and stared straight ahead as the shaking started. She was ready for this. Aero-braking into the Martian atmosphere. Her eardrums were battered by the mass of the engine noise, the fluid in her eyeballs trembled and her entire core clattered against itself. The integrity of her body felt at stake like that of the Starship that had been her home for the past seven months. But still she looked forward, not wanting to miss a thing.

A vivid red wave of heat smashed into her retina as if Mars had entered her very soul. The craft lurched at an awkward angle as the windowless underside faced towards the planet to act as a heat shield and take the force of the red hot glow. There was one final Godzilla like impact as the engines fired again to slow its descent. And gradually, gradually the first transportation of genpops touched down on planet Mars.

Genpops, or the general population, were the first group of non-scientists, non-business, non-rich elite space tourists to move to Mars. They each had to red-pledge $1 000 000 for the priviledge. But this guaranteed them flight, food and a roof on Mars and companies were falling over them selves to fund future inhabitants to promote their own self interests.

Lucy was Mars mad. She had plopped into the world prematurely when her mother’s waters broke 7 miles over the Pacific on a flight to South Korea. So she well and truly regarded herself as a child of space. As a small kid she even refused to go outside without some sort of helmet fashioned from packaging or domesticity. One time, after carefully running the fish a bath, she boldly went where no one had gone before with an acrylic aquarium on her head. On another, whilst fashioning a washing up bowl with a bread knife, she very nearly took off her thumb and had to have it stapled back on at A&E. The scar of the staples formed a perfect ‘M’.

For Mars.


And her obsession never waned. She experimented for hours with her Dad’s 3D printer, coming up with ideas for space exploration and cutlery in equal measures. She even met Elon Musk and he gave her a grain of regolith encased in perspex. She held that small piece of martian top soil every day vowing that some day she would pick up her own piece of regolith. Fast forward to 2045 and she applied for sponsorship on Starship Pioneer. She made the grade and got the gig. A one way ticket to the red planet.

Her parents were both devastated and delighted. It had always been the unspoken yet inevitable future for Lucy.

She’d shared her Starship cabin with Cara, who could mesmerise the whole crew with her beautiful karaoke renditions but also ate really noisily. Lucy was amazed how the same mouth could produce two noises that were so different. Their most intense bonding was actually silent where they lay on their backs below the honeycomb windows filling the entire nose cone of the craft. They would grin like Cheshire Cats and absorb the light of so many stars it overpowered the eternal night. Their stillness in space was thrilling as they slid towards their swelling red lodestar ahead

They sat together now at the monumental touch down. In total there were eighty genpops all arranged in neat semi circles across three decks of the vertical Starship. There was nervous movement among the shiny helmets all air suctioned into their chairs with the force of an epoxy resin. The final release was euphoric and a massive silent cheer erupted like a muted volcano as people whooped and cried and laughed into their solitary helmets. She and Cara fist bumped with gloved hands. Cara turned on her comms first.

“One giant fist for mankind!” She said triumphantly.

“To infinity and way beyond!” Lucy retorted. “Come on space buddy!”

Four hours later, the pioneers, helmet free, were ready to take their first steps onto the red planet. Lucy and Cara were standing about thirty people back from the front of the queue and were aware of a commotion breaking out at the Starship’s exit. It sounded as if a voice outside was saying:

“Danger – beware the foxes!”

Lucy’s heart tightened ever so slightly. On the InstaMars platform they’d used on their journey, it was as if a glitch, every so often would show a foxes face. Then it would disappear and no more information. The more tech savvy of the pioneers had spent hours trying to hack into the programme and managed to isolate the image but couldn’t identify the source of the transmission.

The disruption at the front of the queue continued followed by a hollow thud to the door of the Starship from the outside.

“What is it do you reckon?” Said Cara straining to see down the line.

“I don’t know,” said Lucy, her index finger rubbing the scar on her thumb. “It’s weird he did seem to mention foxes and…”

They were interrupted as the doors of the Pioneer Starship slid open to reveal a larger than life showbiz character with massive gesticulating hands proclaiming:

“Hello – and welcome to Mars! My name is Rupert and I’m your mentor as you take your first steps in this historic chapter for humanity! Welcome aground! And – don’t trip over the boxes.” He seemed to add as an aside.

“Oh, boxes.” Said Cara raising an eyebrow to Lucy. Lucy was less convinced.

Rupert continued. He had the largest and whitest front teeth and incredible eyebrows that were curled up at the ends like a moustache would be. The man was impeccably manicured. Lucy was surprised there were such facilities available.

“Each of you will receive your Skydose to help your bodies adjust to the different conditions here on Mars. We can-not WAIT to get to know you all personally,” he massively over-emphasised. “Please – step this way!”

The expectant crowd surged forward. With a massive smile on his face he placed one of his unfeasibly large hands on a sensor and another door, ahead of the first, slid upwards and open with a comedy fart noise to accompany it. A wave of giggles wobbled the crowd. They should have been used to Elon’s sense of humour from the Starship but a fart noise rarely fails to amuse. Rupert dramatically spun round and headed through the door. “Mars awaits!” The tone of his voice sliced through the air and the new recruits eagerly followed his enchanting invitation.

The intrepid travellers filed through the first set of doors each receiving a small pin badge with their designation number and placing their thumb on a blue silicon pad which administered the skydose via a small prick to the skin. Lucy was thrilled with her designation, LZ0007919. Her initials and validation that she was, in fact, the 7919th person out of Elon’s million to set foot on Mars.

“Get me – a prime number!” She said to Cara

“You are such a geek girl!” retorted Cara throwing up her hands. “Hey, I think Rupert’s actually wearing a foxes tail!”

The second door opened out into a larger round room and it was full of people. People seemingly in fancy dress. But pretty splendid fancy dress at that. Really over the top stuff. Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, and an almost naked Hercules. Rupert was indeed wearing a foxes tail and Cara grabbed it in her hand as they went past, stroking it and feeling the depth of the fur between her fingers as she ran her hand along it.

“I think it’s a real foxes tail!” she said in a hushed and slightly conspiratorial voice to Lucy, her eyes shining incredibly brightly and her face slightly flushed.

“Hey Rupert – I like your tail!” She said, slightly slurring, still holding the tip seductively between her index and middle finger. “We could make this bad boy work for us!” She put her other hand on Rupert’s chest as she rounded him to face him full on.

“Oh yes,” said Rupert, his eyes narrowing. “You’ll do nicely. Very nicely.”

Lucy staggered slightly. She’d felt a rush as soon as the jab had gone into her thumb. Now she felt a bit nauseous and made a grab for Cara’s arm. But Cara was besotted with Rupert who was already draping Cara over another younger guy dressed as some sort of highwayman. He swung her away like a rag doll, her feet barely making contact with the floor but under no protest. She flung her arms around him in fits of giggles grabbing his faux ponytail hard and biting his bottom lip as she was carried away.

Lucy fought back her gag reflex and tried to find something to hold onto. She looked up again. Rupert looked down at her.

“It’s not looking so good for you chicken.” He said, fastening a full on industrial respirator around his head. The central filter covering his nose was elongated into a furry snout, and he looked menacingly at her through two amber eye pieces. And he’d added a pair of ears. He cocked his head to one side. It was the head of a fox.

Her legs could barely hold her weight now and she was aware of a bitter almond stench in the air. She lurched forward but the crowd was surging in on a pulsating wave. Their big wigged heads were all she could see and more and more of them were now wearing the fox respirators. She wasn’t the only one. Other Genpops were being corralled with her. And she could hear the murmur of a chant:

“Foxes forever – genpops out! Foxes forever – genpops out! FOXES FOREVER – GENPOPS OUT!”

And then an explosion. From behind Rupert maybe ten helmeted individuals, in much more sensible Mars attire, stormed through an opening in the wall ripped through by the blast. They had weapons. One took an axe to Marie Antoinettes neck and half severed it grotesquely. A geyser of blood ejected like a mains water leak. She crashed vertically down to her knees like a perfectly demolished chimney, her deformed fox’s head slowly falling to the right.

The crusaders spread out into the room. Their surprise attack and There was utter pandemonium around Lucy. A huge pressure in her right ear from the explosion, and then a firm gloved hand clasped over her mouth and nose.

“Try not to breathe!” a woman’s voice said. But that was all she said as Rupert lifted a recycled door handle spear high above his head and brought it down with such force it splintered straight through her saviour’s helmet.

But Lucy didn’t see that because she’d already breathed too much.

She should have had a helmet on.

She felt Mars beneath her.

She touched her scar to her lips.

She’d made it to Mars.

With eyes closed, she watched Carl Sagan’s pale-blue dot through the honeycomb windows of the Starship getting smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

She’d made it to Mars.

Chapter #16 welcome to my nightmare – alice cooper – 1975

heart surgery, short stories, short story

I woke up one morning to an intense scenario, gripped by a dream I was having.

It was a crisp evening. The puddles on the ground seemed almost to pulsate with the heavy raindrops. As Jules looked up, the vertical force of the water was turning to slo-mo the more she tilted her head.

“Fuckwit – get inside!” yelled Nate, bundling out of the cab, holding a handful of take out menus over his head. He stayed low and in a rugby tackling move, grabbed Jules around the waist. Because her legs stayed rooted to the pavement, his grip slid up her body so her top half bent forward and the two of them ploughed into the bus stop laughing.

“JEEZUUS!” said Jules sucked back into real time. She grabbed the menus and paper whipped Nate around the face, showering raindrops as she did so. He deflty grabbed both her arms and held them behind her back

“Yeah? Yeah?” he said planting a firm kiss on her lips, which got even firmer when Tarok and Romey barrelled into both of them. The Uber drove off, and after a brief silence the four burst out laughing.

Jules and Nate were always on, always off. Sorry, not sorry, engaged, married, fuck buddies, you name it, they’d done it. Always a drama, but deep down, devoted to each other. Romey had slept with both of them, both individually with Nate (tho more times than Jules was actually aware) and with both of them together. She was a high IQ girl and good friends with Tarok as they both moonlighted for extra uni money for a local independent animation company called Z-iD.

Z-iD was near perfect employment as it payed a mint and the working hours were as flexible as you needed them to be. The offices were in a disused building called The Pyramids, home to a music venue, gym and swimming pool. The gym and swimming pool were still in operation, now with slick LED lighting and video walls. All free to use by Z-iD employees. The 1990s flumes had been replaced with an uber aqua assault course but the venue now housed the offices. The inside of the venue had been the largest pyramid and was now an array of split levels connected by seamlessly gliding paths and travellators, not unlike a Harry Potter film. The place was kitted out with T-Ware, the latest Tesla computers. This enabled a keyboard to be viewed on any of the T-glass desks which could be operated by hands or sight and then viewed on a see through visor worn by the user.

The three founders of Z-iD (Zak, Ian and Daveed) were all Portsmouth Uni grads. Zak and Ian were in IT but Daveed was a BioChem student whose dissertation was following trials of a series of pharmaceuticals used to treat patients with OCD. The premise was to suspend disbelief as a way of forgetting the irrational thoughts associated with OCD by allowing patients to be more absorbed in the activities around them. Daveed, a keen gamer had been investigating (and personally trialling throughout his three year uni course) whether the drugs could alter our perception when hearing or watching a fictional narrative – such as a computer game. Our systems for assessing reality can easily be shut down when watching a film. We go into perceiving mode and our brains turn off the systems for acting or planning to act. The drugs rely on deep brain stimulation, historically a surgical procedure, but, confident in its research, Z-iD had recently launched DEBS for Beta testing with a new series of immersive gaming.

So far the trials had gone without a hitch and tonight’s entertainment came in a blue padded envelope containing disc Scenario #5, The Whodunnit. Also, four small blue and yellow plastic oval capsules containing a timed release dose of DEBS, suitable for the length of the scenario and four small round white recovery pills. These were to be taken as an extra calm me down, if required, as some people found the transition between game time and real time a bit of a headfuck when the scenario had finished.

It was possible to watch the movie as an enhanced DVD, but, as an employee of Z-iD, Romey had 4 of the visors at home and had configured them to her apartment. This meant the viewers were able to have a virtual reality experience whilst walking around and interacting without the usual cumbersome VR headsets. Courtesy of £10k worth of T-ware.

They ducked through the rain again, Romey reaching between Jules and Nate to activate the key lock and the light wooden door opened as they practically fell into the hallway.

“Are you scared?” said Jules “I mean have you actually done this before?”

“Yeah loads.” said Romey “But we weren’t involved in this story. It supposedly is pretty sick, and not exactly on script… if you know what I mean.”

“Bring it on – c’mon!” Tarok leapt up the stairs two or three at a time grabbing Romeys keys out of her hand and flung the first floor door open. The room was quite emptied out, so the four could easily move around without bumping into furniture. There was a door to the kitchen off the main large room which had a QR code printed out on A4 paper and blue tacked up at eye level. Some stairs led up to the next floor almost like a mezzanine to the bedroom and bathroom which overhung the front room. Along the front of the split level was half wall and half glass, divided horizontally and the glass had some fancy 70sesque frosting decals on it put on by the previous tenant.

“Beers, beers bee-eers!” Chanted Nate heading straight to the kitchen. Coats came off, beers were opened, spliffs were rolled and Romey put the blue envelope on the table.

“Ok, kitchen is the safe zone. ANY hint of freaking out, just look at the QR code on the door and the programme will do the rest and calmly bring you out of the storyline. I know cos I’ve done it a thousand times. We’ll be believing what we see but also able to see each other in reality and piss about if we want to. It’s kind of up to us as a group how real this shit gets.”

“Well you might be dead, see how real you think this shit is then Watsooon!”

“Yeah ok Sherlock, you might be dead yourself! We all need to choose a visor, A, B, C or D which will identify us as the murderer, the murderee or the two left to work it out. Is everyone cool with this, it is gonna be a bit of a headfuck? I know the girls who wrote this shit!”

“Let’s do it! Come on, we’ve talked this through a million times at the pub.” (putting on a fake american accent) “What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll take care of me Nate won’t you honey?” Jules gave Nate her best doe eyed come to bed eyes.

“Pick a visor – any visor!” Romey swung the eye wear round her head.

“3 – is my lucky number!” twerked Jules suddenly standing up.

“Magic number, it’s magic number!” Nate came back at her whacking her arse with a cushion “I’ll have a number 2 please Bob – haha!”

“Well obviously as top dog I’ll be Romey number 1 so it’s 4 for you Mr Tarok! Talk amoungst yerselves everyone, I’m gonna set it up…”

She put on her visor and booted the console in the corner of the room.

“Ooeer shit, I am quite scared now – in a good way…”

Nate put both his arms up in a protective embrace. “Oh little Julsey, I’ll protect you from the big bad murderer – unless I am the big bad murderer mwahaha” and went to grab Jules about the head but she deftly ducked out of the way pegging it to the kitchen yelling “Safe zone! Safe zone! You can’t get me!! – oooh look a bottle of tequila – shall we?”

“Tequila – it makes me happy! Hey Romey, where’s your poncho, that makes me happy too!” Tarok rummaged through the coat rail until he found the orange and turquoise fringed poncho on a hangar at the back. He threw it over his head and joined Jules in the kitchen.

“Ha-hoo! A fresh bottle of agarve!” He deftly made his way through the kitchen cupboards until he found a tub of salt and yelled “Romey! Lemons?”


“Apples it is then!” He threw an apple from a wire bowl on top of the microwave, and caught it in his other hand while grabbing a knife from the draining board. He cut it into quarters, peeled off the skin and cut out the core. Using a plate as a small tray, he put the tub of cooking salt in the middle and arranged the apple pieces around the outside. He made his way to the kitchen door with the bottle of tequila in his other hand and shook his poncho tassles triumphantly at the awaiting ensemble. With the prowess of a cocktail waiter he laid the tray on the small table with the bottle, picked up four mis matched shot glasses in one hand from the windowsill and proceeded to arrange them around the tray:

“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila – floor!”

“Oh Tarok, you are sooo creative.” said Jules pulling out her phone and snapping a pic of the visually perfect tequila display.

“Like a native babe, like a native!” he racked up the tequilas

“Ok, we’re on!” said Romey swinging round from the console, hand on hip and jauntily pulling her visor down slightly so she was able to peer at the expectant crowd from underneath it. “Visors on boys and girls!”

The visors needed to sit quite low on your forehead so they connected with pulse points and your reactions could be incorporated into the game. A small blue light at the side indicated when they were sitting at the right level and the happy foursome were good to go. Romey popped the pills out of their small plastic casings and popped one in each glass of tequila, like a small multi coloured mescal worm.

She looked at Jules, licked the back of her hand seductively and poured out a few grains of salt. She sucked the salt off slowly and picked up a shot glass.

“Whoooooh.” she exhaled and knocked it back.

“Attagirl!” said Nate “Come on then, 3, 2, 1…”

He poured out a mountain of salt and slathered his tongue in it before handing it to Tarok and Jules. Together the three of them chinked their shot glasses and downed the contents then stuffed the apple into their mouths and chewed ferociously like tiny hamsters.

There was a brief bus stop moment where again all four were silent before errupting in giggles and laughter.

“Oh shit, shit shit” said Jules “I need more tequila!”

The evening carried on, albeit slightly enhanced. It was difficult to pinpoint the difference except that everyone was slightly more in tune with everyone else. Tarok was finding Jules’ dimples irresistible, and he’d never even noticed them before. It was as if sometimes any one of them would have a first person glimpse of what another of them was actually seeing through their visor. Tarok and Nate assumed their beanbag posture in fits of giggles while playing a mash up game of Forge of Empires populated by blue Sonic hedgehogs. Romey and Jules were upstairs talking about Nate, last night’s episode of Westeros and how well Justin Beiber was coming across on the new reality Mission to Mars show.

“Holy crap!” said Nate suddenly swinging round. “How long’s that been going on?”

Through the mezzanine frosted glass at the top of the stairs they could see one of the girls suspended by her arms slightly swaying while the other girl stood in front of her. Although Romey was darker skinned than Jules, when looking through the visor, they couldn’t tell who was who. As they squinted through the gaps in the frosted decal it became clear that whoever was suspended had a V shaped cut on their body running from her shoulders down to a mid point between her breasts. But they weren’t just cuts they were like previous surgical or psycho killer cuts that had since been sewn up and hence, no blood, just a slight pinking. The other girl was however holding a large knife and was still ‘working’ on the suspended body. The boys looked at each other again. They both had the same sensation of fight or flight. Their arses were firmly rooted in the bean bags but their legs were trying, and failing, to get up due to being completely liquefied. They stared fervently as if hooked in a really gripping horror movie watching their two closest friends psycho out on each other.

Romey, suspended, was thinking “Fuck me I’m dead! That’s just completely surreal. I’m like out of the story. I kind of remember losing hold of my life.”

Jules was thinking intently whilst twirling the knife tip against her index finger. All the cuts were done to finish the job and it had been a good job. She was now working on a tribal henna paste style pattern of cuts on Romeys thigh which was gonna look awesome when it had scarred over.

The boys downstairs were going insane. At the back of their minds they knew this was the game and their eyes shone with heightened excitement. Their arms grabbed each others arms at the elbows and their fingers gripped almost in rigor mortis as they were unable to move.

“Fucking hell this is MENTAL!!” said Nate “We’ve got to save her whoever ‘her’ is!”

“I don’t know how we’re supposed to work it out” said Tarok “What, are there like clues or something somewhere?”

“Oh my God.” Nate was still sitting down and hugging his own knees now. “Jules!” he yelled.


Without moving, Tarok and Nate looked at each other. 5 and a half seconds went by although it felt like more like 5 and a half hours. Things were metrosexually getting a little uncomfortable between them.

Tarok broke off their little arrangement first. “Shit man, we gotta get a grip! I’ve played dozens of games like this. Everything we need is here, we’ve got to get up those stairs and suss out who’s killed who.”

He turned his head around quickly to look upstairs, but there was no sign of either of the girls.

“SHIIIIT!” said Nate and laughed. “You Z creeps certainly know how to put the spooky shits up someone!”

By now they’d managed to summon a combined courage and headed up the mezzanine stairs, Tarok taking some kind of reluctant “I should be knowing what I’m doing” lead. He peered nervously through a gap in the 70s frosting.

“Uh-eeerrrrr!!” he vocalised sounding slightly strangled himself. He could see something body like lying on the floor and covered by a duvet and it looked strangely long and the duvet went down in the middle. After a furtive check both ways along the corridor, their other friend was nowhere to be seen and he gingerly turned the brushed aluminium doorknob. Soundlessly the door opened and the two guys, barely breathing, for fear of breaking the moment took in the devils duvet on the floor.

“Jules!” whispered Nate, slightly stooping towards the motionless duvet. “Is that you?”

“Hah! Wro-ooong!!” giggled Jules from the end of the corridor “I’m the murderer!” She strode purposefully towards them grabbing a corner of the duvet and whisking it off Romey’s body as she approached them. Or at least the two halves of Romey’s body. The three of them now stopped in stunned silence. Romey was well and truly in two halves, severed straight through the middle with the tribal henna design carved in a raw bloody and beautiful design over her skin.

Nate slowly removed his visor still taking in the vision of horror. Automatically Jules and Tarok did the same. Tarok steeled himself as a wave of reality washed over him, spinning his mind, and he knelt down removing Romey’s visor and placed it by the side of her head. He put his hand on her shoulder and, as he watched, her eyes opened. Her severed legs grotesquely contorted to right themselves with the angle of her body. Then, as she pushed herself up with her arms, her legs bum walked themselves over to her midriff. Her top half was raised to normal height and she seemed to walk for a few steps as her legs straightened out and caught up. Tarok’s eyes opened to their absolute widest as if not wanting to miss a moment of this game sensation but eventually his real senses took over.

“Holy shit, that was a freak out” he managed to stammer eventually.

“A freak out, A FREAK OUT!!! I DIED!!” exclaimed Romey “And you killed me!” She stared wide eyed at Jules gesticulating her arms wildy in front of her. Her rational head knew it was the game and that Jules had had no choice about this but at the same time she was livid. She trusted Jules, they were good friends, and she’d experienced Jules killing her. Her wildly gesticulating arms were all she could do to communicate just how messed up she felt about this.

Jules was mortified. Her eyes filled with tears and she flung herself cautiously at Romey in a sorrowful embrace.

“Romey, honey, I don’t even remember why. I think it might have been that Justin Beiber comment that pushed me over the edge…you wouldn’t beliebe!” she flashed Romey a cheeky glance to check her response. Romey had recovered her cool and was looking haughtily hot again.

“Oh you and your Beiber love” she said. “You’re right though, beliebe or die you said. Oh God, I died for Justin Beiber and he’s not even on the planet!”

Tarok and Nate both took a deep breath and exhaled over a long time with raised eyebrows.

“Hi five my man” said Nate. “Let’s get one of these chill pills down us and hit a BK – I’m fucking starving.”

You may have very vivid or bad dreams. This may be because of the anaesthetic you had, or medicines you are taking, or just because of what you have recently been through. These dreams will pass with time.

British Heart Foundation – ‘Having Heart Surgery’ booklet

Chapter 17 ready to be released Monday 2nd December at of course, ten past six. See you there for First, Last and Always. XX