Here's a short story to keep you going while I write my new book! Enjoy!
Loud applause erupted from the studio audience of the Wheel of Fortune. Her family would have no doubt complained that the volume was too loud, just as they would have complained that the room was too warm. She liked it warm. Maybe they would have been right. Maybe it was too loud. But Gladys wasn’t listening.
Her eyes had strayed as they so often did to the wall behind the television where the photograph had hung for the past fourteen years. It was, had been, her favourite photograph, at one time. That was a long time ago, shortly after it had been taken. Now she hated it.
It had been taken at her 40th Wedding Anniversary celebration. At her and Ron’s favourite restaurant. The Cow and Crab. A steak and seafood place out in the sticks that they’d stumbled upon on a scenic drive back from the coast. She and Ron were pride of place in the centre of the photograph, with the fireplace a warm and welcoming backdrop. She and Ron were seated, with Tony, Stephen and Janice standing behind them – their three kids in order of age (it also looked good because Stephen was the tallest). And beside them stood their two grandchildren, Timothy at one side, and Jackie at the other. Sarah (Jackie’s mother) had shouted smile!, and smile they had. It was an evening that Gladys would always remember fondly. But the photo? The photo she hated.
She’d tried to get rid of the damned thing, after Ron died. She took it down and put it in the shoebox that she kept all her special memories in. The shoebox beneath the bed. It seemed a sin to put this awful object in there with the cinema and concert tickets she’d kept from special occasions, but at the time she couldn’t bring herself to throw it away. That afternoon, when the photo was gone, she had been able to focus on Wheel of Fortune. And all of the shows that came after it. Her eyes no longer drawn to that cursed picture lurking in the background serving as a constant reminder of…
That night, she’d gone to bed and slept well for the first time in God knew how long. The following morning, she peered beneath the bed just to check the shoebox was still there. And it was. British Racing Green with a thick tan elastic band, corners a little tattered. For the first time in years she went to the kitchen and prepared breakfast with a smile on her face. But the smile disappeared when she sat in the living room to eat. On the wall, behind the television, like it had never been away, was the photo.
At that time only three of the seven people in the picture had died. Ron most recently, of his heart condition. Before him Stephen, victim of a motorcycle accident. The first to go had been young Jackie. Only seven years old. Kidnapped and missing for four weeks. Gladys had been the first in the family to know she was dead. Earlier that week, before the police visited Tony and Sarah with the awful news, Gladys had found that God forsaken photograph not on the wall, but on the floor. Frame intact, string in one pristine piece. She looked up at the nail where the picture had been hanging, and it was fast in the wall. She’d never been the superstitious type, but that morning when she found the photograph on the floor, she knew. Balls to bones as Ron would say, she just knew.
It had, of course, fallen again in the week of Stephen’s motorcycle accident. And again in the week Ron was rushed to hospital. That was the first time she’d taken it down. After Ron had died. She never told the family. They’d make fun of her. After the first reappearance of the photo, she locked it in the cupboard where Ron kept his whiskey, only for it to be back upon the wall the next morning. She even took it into town. She removed the photograph and gave the frame to a charity shop collecting for cancer research. And when she got back home she cried as she put a match to the smiling faces in the aluminium kitchen sink. She watched as the flames consumed them one at a time. She sat in a chair and sobbed as the acrid blue smoke hung in the air. She’d cried until the smoke cleared, and when it had, she hoisted herself up and staggered into the living room. As she slumped into her chair, the chair she was sitting in now, she screamed. She screamed at the seven faces smiling at her from the wall behind the television.
Now, as she sat staring at the photograph in the warmth of her living room, another burst of applause exploding from the studio audience, she cried. That picture had fallen three more times since Ron had passed. Once each for Tony, Timothy, and Janice. Now there was nobody to complain that the volume was too loud. It was just Gladys and the picture.
There was no one to complain that the room was too warm. But was it? Gladys pulled the thin cardigan up over her shoulders and tight around her chest. She rolled the sleeves down over her forearms where the goosepimples had formed. The sound from the television seemed to fade as once more her eyes were drawn behind, to the wall – to the photograph.
Now her eyes went from the blurred soft lines to hard focus. Onto those seven smiling faces, six of whom were now gone. Onto the frame that she’d left behind in the charity shop years before. She looked at the faces and they smiled back at her. Suddenly she realised that for the first time in years she didn’t feel the old bitter animosity towards that picture. She didn’t feel the fear. As she stared now, the old feelings of warmth and happiness came back. The happy memories. The love of those in the picture.
The picture. And as the warmth crept back into the room, she stared at the picture. She stared at the picture: then it fell.
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The finale to the series. If you've missed it (where have you been?!), here's a link to Part One.
I drop at his side, eyes stinging from hot tears. I should have come sooner.
I gently try to rouse him. There's no pulse. I thump his chest, desperately trying to restart his heart. I know the only chance I’ve got of saving him is if he was alive when I got here. But didn’t I feel that? Did he feel that too? Did he hold on until I did? Until I died at the hands of the thugs downstairs? Until Iggy killed me a few months back, I had no religious beliefs whatsoever. Since then things have changed. All I can hope now is that somebody is watching. His flesh still holds a faint warmth.
There’s a chance.
I breathe air into his lungs, hoping that as I do, I’m also breathing life. I work his chest again. The kids are crying behind me. Filling me with the twisted hope that they’re crying because they saw him die and that will give me a chance of bringing him back from the brink. I breathe again, before checking for a pulse. Still nothing. As I work I happen to glance at his wrist, and see a number 9. He looks to be at least 7 years old now.
“Come on, Jamie.”
I pump his chest again, before taking a lungful of air, knowing that it’s the last hope.
Then, something amazing happens. The kids stop crying. It’s like they see something. Or feel something. Jamie coughs. I grab a half-empty bottle of water from the counter, gently wetting his dry lips. I untie the kids, both of whom are younger than Jamie, and scoop his tired body up in my arms. And just as we leave the office, there’s a noise from downstairs – more precisely from the door. I turn, hoping for all the world to see Dax and the guys.
Shit. There are six of them. Three car’s worth. All with guns pointed at me.
So fucking close. I was almost free. We were almost free. Then it hits me. They don’t know who I am.
“The fuck have you assholes been?”
The cop at the front is bigger, burly, scowling. Like a man with responsibility pressing on his shoulders like a deadweight. The man in charge.
“Where the fuck are you going?”
I struggle down the stairs, with the kids in tow. “I had to kill that prick,” I say, pointing to the guy I dumbfounded by landing aflame at his feet.
“Where are you going with the kids? You know the rules.”
I ignore him, hoping he’s not aware of my ignorance of his rules. By the time I get to the bottom, the cops are around me. A semi-circle, guns still drawn. I’m armed only with a kid I had to bring back to life.
“You do know the rules?” the cop repeats.
I guess what he’s talking about, though the idea of it turns my stomach inside out. My heart drops in my chest, and I’m careful not to squeeze Jamie too much. “I just thought that you know, if we could save them…”
“They’ve seen us, you asshole.”
I nod. Placing Jamie on the ground, I turn to the big cop, “Mind if I do it?”
It’s a ploy, trying to get a gun in my hands and giving me an edge. The big cop knows it.
He smiles. “Nice try.” He raises his gun, but not at me. At Jamie. He looks at me, wanting to see my anguish.
I look back.
And all I do is smile. Over his shoulder, I watch as a huge silhouette fills the doorway. It quietly enters, a small skinny guy and delicate woman behind him.
The cop is unaware. He lowers his gun at Jamie. I dive in front of Jamie as his gun fires and again I feel the bullet rip into me. But before the darkness falls, the shadowy figures in the background all open fire. And knowing those shadows as I do, three against six is odds I like.
I land and something happens. This time the darkness doesn’t fall. The cops all do, cut down by a hail of bullets. The bullet I took is another hit to my poor fuckin’ shoulder, but I’m alive. The guys come over and Iggy helps me to my feet. Dax scoops the kids up in his huge arms, and Sadie picks up fragile little Jamie.
Everybody stops. I reach into my back pocket and pull out the piece of paper, shocked it’s still there. I unfold it, to see the picture I printed. An Ouroboros – the snake curled into an infinity symbol eating its own tail.
Iggy reads the words printed there, “We know who you are. And we’re coming.”
He looks at me, and smiles. I stuff the page into the big cop’s mouth. “Okay, let’s go home.”
Jamie comes round a little as we drive. He drinks water like a lion after dry season. He’s fragile, but he’s alive. I’m comforted to know that his parents will get the chance to give him the Last Party he deserves. As we head back to the city I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had died. But I’d like to think it was a damn sight different from the first time. Sadie checks her phone as Iggy drives. She finds missing person’s reports on Jamie and the kids. With addresses. We head over to Jamie’s place first, stopping outside his parents’ house.
“You ready, little man?”
He nods, with a striking confidence considering what he’s been through.
I scribble a note, saying he has to go straight to hospital. And that the guys that took him are dead. That they should say that he was missing, not kidnapped. My phone number is there too. We’ll escort them to the hospital, just in case.
We slowly walk up the driveway and ring the doorbell.
“Okay buddy,” I say, “this is goodbye.”
Without a word, he throws his scrawny arms around me. His mom opens the door and her mouth drops. I hand her the note and walk away.
I climb into the car and look back and watch as the owner of that haunted voice from the park scoops up the boy with a relief I can’t imagine. And yes, if you must know, I cried.
All we have to do now is drop the other kids off, then it’s back to the hangar. Back to the hangar for some well-deserved R&R. Not for too long though. Because we’ve got a job to do. And check-books to balance.
That's all folks! Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If I may ask those of you who enjoyed the story, if you have a friend you think would like Infinity, please tell them about the blog. I'll be back soon with more short stories for you!
In this blog I'll be bringing to you short tales of things that go bump in the night, true stories of weird and unexplained events, and the real-life news of all things odd and macabre, and entertain you along the way.