Category Archives: dark fiction

Dinnertime

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Showered and fragranced, she slips into well-chosen clothes; clothes with the perfect mix of sexy and casual, as if it’s only by chance that she looks that way. She smoothes down her hair and applies the right amount of make-up – not too much; she doesn’t want her look to appear contrived. She checks in the mirror, and sees the reflection of a naturally alluring woman with a lovely figure. Her disguise is perfect. She leaves the house, and walks slowly down the road, with the merest suggestion of a wiggle, a carefully designed expression of uncretainty on her face.

She catches the eye of every man she passes. They look interested, but always, something startles them, and they recoil in horror, before making a wide berth – sometimes even crossing the road to avoid walking past her. She’s getting hungry; it’s been days since she’s managed to lure anybody back to her lair.

Presently, clouds cover the sun. Shadows fade. She spots a meaty giant of a man walking her way. He sees her lost-little-girl look, and pauses to ask her if she is OK. She gives him her well-worn story about only having moved into the area the previous day, and not being able to remember her way home; it always works. He asks for her address, and offers to walk her there.

Her sensitive nose picks out aftershave, lemon soap, coffee, fresh bread, ham, the ingredients of coleslaw, an encouraging tang of lust, and knows she’ll have no trouble. Beneath those ugly scents is the delicious perfume of blood type A, rhesus positive; her favorite flavour.

She sighs in anticipation of her feast.

Written for Michelle’s Photo-Fiction Challenge

©Jane Paterson Basil

Those whose hair isn’t yellow…

“Good morning students. This morning we are going to discuss Metaphor. I’ll illustrate metaphor with my story of the little people of Halfworthy. I’ve drawn a sketch of them, showing their yellow hair, vivid blue eyes, and purple skin…

“- Yes, Calum?…

“You’re quite right. A few of them had different coloured hair, eyes and skin. These were people whose parents had moved there from other villages many years ago, or whose grandparents had been taken there by force, and purchased for slavery, before such abominations were outlawed. Although they were different colours, they were just the same as all the other villagers.

“…Halfworthians lived beneath rocks. The rich enjoyed spacious accommodation under big rocks and the poor made do with tiny, cramped rocks. The edge of the Road More Travelled was to the East, while directly to the West, beyond a sheer drop of over three feet (a considerable height for someone only four inches tall)…

“- Yes Calum, four inches is very little, now please take your feet off the desk.

“… As I was saying, there was a fast-flowing river to the West of the village. Other villages were dotted along the riverbank, and each village had its own language and customs, but these neighbours were a friendly bunch, and many years before, they had decided to start a club. All of the villages were invited to be members of this club – which was called the New Inclusive Club of Everyland, or NICE – but about half of the Halfworthy folk were of a standoffish nature, thinking themselves better than others, so they didn’t join at first.

“- Ashleigh, would you like to tell me what you’re whispering about?… Oh, for goodness sake, take this pamphlet and waft it around a little. The, um, odour will soon disperse. Perhaps Caitlin would like to go to the toilet? Go ahead Caitlin. Don’t run in the corridor, but don’t dawdle.

“…Whenever the NICE met, Halfworthy sent someone to spy through the clubhouse window, and every time, the spy returned to his village, discribing the multicultural splendour of the scene; the richness of accent; the wide variety of hair, skin and eye colours, and declaring that were they having loads of fun in there, particularly as each village placed wonderful local delicacies on the table for everyone present to enjoy.

“- Yes, Calum? … I don’t know if they had burgers… Yes, Kendal, I expect some of them brought vegetarian food… No Dan, I very much doubt that any of them were cannabals, and even if they were, it’s extremely bad form to take sweet-and-sour human to a multi-cultural function. Now could everybody stop being childish and I’ll continue.

“… In addition, between meetings, the members all helped each other out. For example, the micro-climate in Berryham was perfect for soft fruit, while the natives of Whizzbury built safe, sturdy clockwork vehicles. While club members were scratching each others backs, swapping products and services and having cosy coffee mornings, the Halfworthians were hanging around on street corners, disconsolately complaining about the price of blackcurrants and strawberries, which didn’t grow in their locality. Most of them walked everywhere, unable to afford cars, and were unwilling to to use the odiferous public transport system, which involved sitting on the back of a rat…

“- No, neither would I. Now would you all please stop interrupting… Ugh; Zavier, don’t wipe that on Dan’s sleeve.

“… Eventually, the village wrote to the club secretary and asked if Halfworthy could join. The Everyleans were delighted, and welcomed their new member-village with enthusiasm.

“At first the villagers were very happy, but, owing to the combination of greed, selfishness and stupidity of about half of the Halfworthians, some quickly became dissatisfied. They thought that Halfworthy was giving more than it was receiving. They didn’t like the rules, although those rules were agreed by democratic votes. What’s more, they were offended by the influx of people whose hair wasn’t yellow, whose eyes weren’ blue, and whose skin wasn’t purple. Anyone lacking just one of these attributes was considerd to be an enemy.

“Years passed. The rich got richer. They bulldozed the rocks of the poor to make space for extensions to their rocks. At night, those who whad been evicted sought shelter wherever they could. They were bitter and angry, but they didn’t know what to do about it. Even those whose rocks had not been taken were dissatisfied with life. They looked at the palacial rocks of the rich, and resented the meagreness of their own lives.

“- Welcome back, Caitlin… You used the boys toilet? Why?… Well, the next time you find the girl’s toilet blocked, could you please use the one beside the headmaster’s office… I’m sure you know you should have done that. Yes, you’re quite right, I did tell you not to dawdle, but… Just sit down, please, and I’ll continue.

“… People began grumbling, and the grumbles grew louder. Posters began appearing in windows. These posters declared that the people with different coloured hair, eyes and skin were to blame for everything that was wrong in the village. An unpleasant, sly faced man became their ringleader. Wherever he went, a self-appointed army of shaven haired thugs followed, aggressively displaying Nazi Swasticas, proudly brandishing Halfworthy flags, and declaring that they should throw all of the immigrants into the river.

“Now, students, you’d think that this would alarm the populance, wouldn’t you? But instead, about half the villagers agreed.

“- Yes, Billy?… no, I’m sure you wouldn’t have. I can see you don’t need this lesson as much as some, but please try to keep your thoughts to yourself, and would the rest of you all please stop acting as if you’re eight years old, rather than twelve. I’ve been patient, but it’s not funny any more. Dan and Xavier! Stop smirking, and put whatever it is you’re playing with under the desk. I don’t like your attitude.

“… The village was divided – about half the people thought the immigrants should go, while the other half considered the majority to be useful citizens, and useful to the local economy.

“Time passed. The nasty, sly man and his cohorts thought that Halfworthy should leave the NICE club, so it was agreed that all the villagers should put it to a vote. For weeks representatives of the two opposing viewpoints campaigned to win as many votes as possible. The campaign, which was unfriendly from the start, became positively nasty, and then viscious. I will not assail your delicate senses with the details, children, but instead go stright to the point.

“Polling day came and went. The next morning the 51.9% of people who wanted to leave the club were celebrating a victory, while the 49.1% wept for the future – of their village, and of their immigrants.

“Soon, as agreed, Halfworthy – which, in my opinion, should have changed it’s name to Underhalfworthy-  left the NICE club. In no time at all, villagers were complaining about the price of blackcurrants and strawberries. Almost everybody was unhappy because they couldn’t afford the things they needed, and nobody would do them any favours. Just over half of the villagers agreed that the people with different coloured hair, skin and eyes were to blame for all their misfortunes, and even if they weren’t, they had no right to live in the village because they hadn’t been born there, except for those whose parents and grandparents had moved there many years before, but they didn’t like to show favouritism, so early one morning they captured everyone who had different coloured hair, skin and eyes, tied them up, filled their pockets with stones, and threw them into the river, where they drowned. Unfortunately their bodies piled up, leaving a slipstream which affected the flow of water, wearing away the bank, making a hollow beneath the village, and one night during a particularly heavy storm, the ground collapsed under the weight of the rich people’s rocks, and everyone was drowned, not only the 51.9% of villagers who caused it to happen, but also the 48.1% of innocent people who wanted to continue to embrace the wider world…

“This story is a metaphor. Who wants to tell me wh…

“Dan! Xavier! Put down the knife! Leave Deepak al…

“All this blood… Billy… get my phone… my bag… Phone 999… Deepak… I can’t… somebody… help Deepak…”

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Mandrake of Harfinsain

Once it had been called the Old Man of Drake Lane, then the name was shortened to Drake Man, but these days the shrugging youth of the village of Harfinsain call it the Mandrake.

Some locals have different ideas, but many of us believe it was damaged in the wake of some long gone storm, which left it looking for all the world like a man turned to wood. The top eighteen inches of what is left of the trunk are torn into the macabre facsimile of a tortured man, his head thrown back, his nose pointing towards the horizon, his mouth agape as if screaming out to an unlistening God, his eyes screwed up in misery. Beneath that, two branches stretch upwards like arms, as if in supplication. The human look is finished off by the lower part of the trunk, which has a vertical groove in the centre, giving the impression of two narrower trunks fused together by time and growth – or of two legs pressed together. There are two knots in the area where knees would be, and at the base the roots give have the eerie appearance of feet.

Nobody can identify what kind of tree it is. It is claimed that experts have examined it, taking away small samples, but been mystified. It appears not to be related to any known tree in the world, and the age it had reached when it died cannot be calculated, as the rings are blurred, or perhaps non-existent. Rumour and mystery surround it, giving it an air of dark  glamour which attracts the children and young adults who live hereabouts.

From where it stands it offers an excellent view of the sunset, and sometimes a boy will entice a girl to sit with him, next to the tree, in the twilight. As the light fades and the sky turns to navy, he may tell an elaborate story of an evil man whose pleasure was to devour young, female flesh, and who was turned into a tree by an angry fairy. At this point in the tale, his voice may lower to a whisper, as he explains that the fairy added an extra cruelty to his punishment – that for one hour every year he would become human again, and have the ability to roam the villlage, but when that hour was up, he would be pulled by magnetic force back to his roots, and become a tree again. He would never be able to relax into his tree state – the longing to be human would torture him for evermore. After an eerie pause the boy will ask the girl what the date is. This he will whisper , as if suddenly unnerved – frightened, even. On hearing her response he will stammer while he tell her that he’s not sure, but he thinks it this is the day of the year when the tree becomes a monstrous flesh eating human…

The girl nearly always falls for it, which gives the boy’s friends – who are hiding behind the hedge – no end of entertainment. From time to time someone comes up with a more imaginative version of the story, and the friends behind the hedge are employed to add sound effects. Young men were ever this way, and a certain kind of young woman can always be relied on to be gullible and easily frightened.

Edie Penrhyn is the oldest woman in the village. A nimble lady of a hundred and two, she is often to be seen, walking-stick grasped firmly in both hands, angrily thrashing nettles in the garden beside the village hall. She has no more objection to the nettles than anything else which has the temerity to push through the ground in that area – many years ago the garden was a mass of colour, spilling over with roses, lavender and a profusion of lovely flowers, but she thrashed them into extinction. While this has nothing to do with my story, I mention it because it is just one example of her many eccentricities. It is those eccentricities which cause neighbours to doubt her tales of folk-lore.

Her favourite tale involves the Mandrake. Being so far from even the smallest town or place of interest, we get few visitors around these parts, but occasionally someone takes a wrong turn and and finds themself in the village. Often this someone will go to the Post Office in the hope of buying a postcard (postcards of the village are available, and they looked very pretty twenty years ago, but they rarely sell, so now they lie faded and forgotten in a corner, stuffed into an old toast rack, scuffed and curling at the edges), or wander into the village shop looking for a Mars Bar (79p) or a quaint souvenier (no chance). At such times, Edie almost always happens to be in the vicinity, as she is today, when a tinkling bell in the back room announces the presence of a new customer in the shop.

Edie has been installed in the shop for the past two hours, trying to choose a birthday card for herself, as her birthday is only eleven months away. This is not a vanity on her part, but a reminder for the proprietor, who generously allows customers a free sniff of her smelling salts on their birthdays.  Edie’s eyes light up at the sight of new blood. She abandons her search for greetings cards and prances over to the new customer, her grey side-ponytail bobbing and prancing like the item after which it is named, her thin lips grinning. Her old brown cardigan fails to conceal – and is loudly upsage by – a nineteen twenties chiffon flapper dress of faded emerald – replete with ragged swathes of sequins which have seen many, many better days, and striped over-the knee-socks in bright shades of pink, purple and orange cover her legs. Her choice of footwear is strictly ruled by the day of the week – on Wednesdays and Saturdays she wears no shoes unless it is also the first day of the month. The first day of the month is riding boots day. Today is a Monday, so she is wearing one green wellington, and one black one.

Edie says that if you lead with the feet, the bowels will follow. Don’t ask her what she means, it infuriates her not to be understood. She will scream at you “If you maintain regular habits with your footwear, your bottom won’t take you by surprise at incommodious times,” and she will smack you across the behind with her stick.

But I digress. Where was I? Ah, yes, Edie has just sighted a victim and is dashing full-pelt towards him, tail flying and tiny sequins tinkling across the floor. She accosts him with a torrent of nonsense.

“Yer, you over there, you wi’ the noo plastic an wet tarmac ‘smell o’ the city on yer kaks.’Tis a bit o’ luck you run inta me. Come on, I’ll show ‘ee summin inter’sting.”

(just a quick note at this point: unless addressing a stranger she speaks in a rather refined accent – her fake rural accent is for the benefit of unlucky tourists – but after a few minutes of her barrage, she generally slips back to her natural way of speaking, as she feels that if they have stayed to listen to her for that long, they deserve to be considered naturalised)

Having made a suitable introduction to her quest to educate him in a small portion of the history of the village, she grabs his arm and pulls the protesting man out of the shop – showing herself to have a remarkably firm grip – to the general laughter of all around, except the shopkeeper, who was hoping to aquire 79p from the sale of a (three years out of date) Mars Bar.

For a woman of a hundred and two, Edie sets a fast pace. She’s a diminutive four-foot ten inches in height and she’s inadvertantly pulling his arm in a downward direction, so he’s stooping, staggering  and almost falling over at times. As they dash along the road, people are coming out of their houses and following behind, making a procession. They know when there is entertainment to be had.

Down past the church she drags him, past the old house that is said to be haunted by a ghostly giraffe (though some think it is more likely to be a pair of Armadillos), beyond the pond which only fills up when there is a drought, and down Drakes Lane, situated opposite the invisible football pitch (which some claim doesn’t actually exist. I haven’t managed to work out their reasoning). The Mandrake is towards the end of the lane, on the left hand side, or the right hand side if you are walking backwards.

By this time Edie’s unwilling companion is shaking with terror. The Lane is regularly used by the villagers, as its purpose is to provide access to a wall. This wall is the width of the lane, twelve feet high. The locals do not like to be in the shadow of a twelve-foot wall, but unless they stand beneath it they cannot escape it, as it is impossible to escape something which isn’t there in the first place. It gives us peace of mind to know we have escaped the shadow of the twelve foot wall, so most of us go and stand beneath it every day, and then walk (or run) away. But the poor stranger knows nothing of our customs. Between the people who are in the process of escaping the shadow of the twelve foot wall, and the procession behind him, all he sees is a huge gang of locals who appear to be planning a lynching, and at this point he wishes he’d had a chance to pay for the Mars Bar. To be hanged for a debt of 79p is humiliating, to say the least.

Edie stands in front of the tree, and points up at it’s twin branches.

“See ‘e there,” she says, and then realises her new companion has spent almost eight minutes in her presence,so she drops the accent and starts again:

“Now, my good man, what do you think this is?” she asks him.

His eyes stare. He tries to think of an escape plan, but nothing comes to mind. He is frozen to the spot.

“Well?” she asks, a crease on her forehead forming something that for all the world looks like a question mark.

“A… a… g-gallows tree…” This is a statement, not a question. The stranger is too frightened to notice that no rope hangs from it.

“Why do they all say that?” Edie mutters, shaking her head, (thinking, these foreigners are so peculiar – what horrors they must have witnessed.)

Edie turns to her audience “Tell the gentleman what this is,” she says.

A young man tells the story of the flesh eating man who was turned into a tree.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” scoffs Edie.

A woman in her fifties says that it is true that the tree was once a man, but he had committed no crime. It was he who had built the wall, but as stood at the top of the ladder, finishing the top course, his wife came along to give him some lunch. She was carrying their new baby, and he didn’t hear them approach. They were under the ladder when the baby let out a sudden wail, alarming him. He fell off the ladder, killing both wife and child, andwas so grief stricken that he was unable to move. His feet took root, and he turned into a tree.

“That’s just plain silly,” says Edie. “This tree is over twenty feet from the wall. If he took root where he landed, he would be closer to the wall.”

Nobody notices the stranger as he walks away, feeling rather embarassed but no longer afraid. It had become obvious that these people, though a little peculiar, were harmless. Life in a village such as this would probably be a riot of fun. He would have stayed longer, but he had urgent matters to attend to.

The young man speaks up again.

“My grandma told it to me, and her grandma told it to her. My story is true, and what’s more, she said he buried the bones of all those girls he killed, right there, beneath where the tree stands. We know why are there no female children in the village. It’s because as soon as one is born, the family move away. They don’t want to lose their daughter to the monster.”

Some people laugh, others feel the hairs on the backs of their necks rise. A few come up with increasing outlandish theories, but all of them have been heard before, like a favourite play attended once too often. People get bored and begin to wander off. The insistant young man remembers another detail told to him by his grandma, and somebody else recalls being told about a seven-year old girl who disappeared in the night over thirty years ago, and a toddler who was lost just a few years before that.

Edie becomes increasingly impatient, declaring it to be no more than a dead tree, leading me to wonder, as oft times before, why she dragged another stranger down Drakes Lane to look at what she averred was no more than a dead tree  – but as I said before, she is eccentric – and that is the signal for the party to break up.

As the last of the villagers turn away from the tree, and walk down the lane to go home, if anyone cared to listen, they would hear strange creaking sounds coming from the tree. If they turned back to look, they would see its eyes open, showing otherworldly twin stars that twinkle red in the waning light, and the gaping mouth widen into a cruelly mocking smile, as the jagged shard that resembles a nose twitches, sniffing the air, and smelling something. Something young and sweet. Something delicious. The earth around him shudders as he shuffles his roots,stroking and carresssing, wrapping them possessively around small, perfectly preserved bones, counting each one.

Beyond the invisible football pitch; beyond the pond that only fills up when there is a drought; beyond the house that is said to be haunted – either by a giraffe or a pair of armadillos; beyond the church and the Harfisain village shop, there is a thatched cottage with clematis growing up the wall. In front of this cottage is a removal van. The stranger helps the removal men to carry furniture into his new home. In the kitchen his wife pulls a kettle, some teabags, sugar and mugs out of a box. She fills the kettle with water. She stops and listens. Her face lights up with love, and she smiles softly. Her eighteen month old daughter is stirring. She has woken from her nap.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Love will make you free

It’s a lovely room. Along one end wall there are fancy double doors which look as if they would lead into the garden, but when you open them, you find the prettiest bathroom behind the one on the left, and a toilet behind the other one, with a wall separating them. The carpet was already down when I came, but it’s exactly the shade of pink I’d have chosen for myself. Everything else was selected by me from catalogues, and paid for by Charles.

We painted the room together. He said it would be fun, and it was. It gave me a sense of achievement – I’d never done anything like that before. It was so exciting when the furniture and ornaments started arriving, like being someone with a family, and having a birthday every day (people with families get loads of presents). He helped me put everything in the right places, because it was heavy, and anyway, he knew more about that kind of thing.

I think that was about six months ago, although I can’t be sure, as I’ve lost track of the time. Because, for obvious reasons, I’m not allowed to use the rest of the house – although all of that came as a nasty surprise, – he sends my meals down via the lazy butler. When I’ve eaten I return the empty plate, it goes back to the kitchen, and he does the washing up.

I’d never dreamed that I would live in a place like this, but I honestly didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when he offered me a cellar room fee of charge, and promised he’d pay for whatever furniture I chose. He said he wanted to make up for all of the things I had missed out on, all the suffering I had gone through in those children’s homes and with that foster family.

Charles seems surprised and disappointed when I say I miss the life I had before. My bedsit wasn’t much, but I enjoyed the freedom. I had a couple of friends, too, and I miss them, too. Before I came here, I wanted to tell them about what I believed to be my lucky break, but Charles said it would be better to move in first, and then surprise them by inviting them round.

If you were a person, and not just a painting of a kitten, hanging on a beautiful, pale pink wall, I can guess the way you’d be looking at me right now, but how was I to know?

I’d like you to understand that I never led him on in any way. For one thing he’s far too old for me, being well into his thirties, and he has a really irritating, high pitched laugh – not that I’ve heard it much lately. Also, he’s, well, funny looking – kind of chinless, with tiny eyes and a mis-shapen mouth.

He comes down at roughly the same time after dinner every evening, always with the same begging request. He says he will give me the world if I will only learn to love him. We can be like a proper family, cook and eat together, and sleep in the same bed, maybe even have children. When I tell him I could never love him, and I want to leave, sometimes he gets sad, but other times he is angry, and when he leaves he slams the door behind him.

It’s a funny thing though, even when he’s in a temper, he always tries to lock the door, and pull the bolts across, quietly, not wanting me to hear – as if he feels ashamed.

©Jane Paterson Basil

#atozchallenge Easy

AE

I watched him lolloping towards me like an unusually handsome spaniel, and checked my watch. Exactly on time, as always.

He was so naïve; he actually  thought we were best friends. My plans for today would put an end to that idea.

“Hi Sophie, what shall we do?” he said.

I was sick of hearing those words, day after day. I took a deep breath, smiled, shrugged.

“I don’t mind,” I said, “I’m easy.”

“Shall we go swimming?”

“I haven’t got a swimsuit.”

“What do you want to do?”

I reminded myself that once the deed was done, I would never have to hear him speak those words again.  “I’m easy,” I replied.

Shall we go for a walk?”

“It’s too muddy for walking.”

“Well, what shall we do then?”

“I’m easy.” I paused, and, as if it was an afterthought, added “Let’s go back to your place.”

Back at his place he said “What shall we do now?”

We’re going to make sure you never ask me that stupid question again, I thought, but I said “Why don’t you show me your room?”

I followed him up the stairs, reaching inside my bag, reassured by the feel of cold steel against my fingertips. He opened the door to his room, blithely unaware of what he had coming to him.

“What do you want to do up here?”

I sat on the bed, patted the counterpane beside me in invitation, removed my cardigan, and, grasping the metal concealed in my bag, said “I’m easy.”

Who’d have thought that little wimp had it in him? He suddenly leapt at me and pushed me onto my back. He pinned me down with his legs and roughly shoved a hand beneath my T shirt, hurting me. This wasn’t the way I wanted it. It was meant to be my show. I struggled to escape, but the handcuffs must have fallen out of my bag, because he grabbed them and cuffed me to the brass bedstead.

I cursed my failure as he pulled off my jeans. It was meant to be the other way round; him helpless and me terrifying the daylights out of him, before taking my pleasure through applying a carefully balanced combination of force and seduction.

It was disgusting. Forty seconds of grunting and he was boringly, messily, spent. If I had done it my way, at least one of us would have enjoyed it.

Next time I’ll target someone with loftier morals.

When I started writing this, it was intended to be humorous, but as I worked my way through it, the protegonist became a sinister predator, and I was horrified when her intended victim turned out to be just as bad.

She had intended to rape him. The subject of male rape often elicits a titter or two, and someone usually asserts that a man cannot be raped by a woman. I disagree. Some years ago a male member of my family suffered such an attack, but no-one believed him. He recently shared with me his feelings about the incident. It was a horrible experience, made worse by his friends’ reactions. He has carried those feelings of violation and humiliation with him ever since. It must have been about ten years ago, and in all that time he has not had any desire to be in a sexual relationship.

When a woman rapes a man, it is only possible because his body lets him down by becoming stimulated. The  physical reaction overcomes the psychological aversion. I am a woman who was raped a long time ago. It didn’t stimulate me sexually; such feelings would probably have added fellings of self-loathing and shame to my already considerable distress.

©Jane Paterson Basil

 

All but his heart

a post

Thanks to Sue Vincent for this lovely photo prompt, which I was lucky enough to find as a result of reading  Donna’s great take on it.

When they first began to appear we thought they were ordinary animal dens. But soon people noticed there were knots of them in all the affected towns, and that’s when we began to suspect.

Our town had not yet been touched by the horror. That poor child saw one of those holes, and reached his hand into it. He struggled, but stood no chance. I heard his screams. A few seconds later they spat him out in pieces, all but his heart, just like the others. The vultures circled, but didn’t swoop. They knew the danger.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The final cure

She watched the smoke rise, aimlessly observing that today it looked more blue than grey; and trying to figure out exactly what trick of light caused it to sometimes appear more grey than blue.

But this was not an important consideration. In the depth of her belly the longing, the hope, was always present. She stared at the narrow, hand-rolled stick, at the wisps rising from the ember in twirling lines, dispersing into the atmosphere, and she thought of all those death-giving chemicals disappearing into thin air. She took a hungry suck at the spit-dampened tip, and another, felt the poison sink deep within her. She would not let the smoke be eaten up by the ether. The cigarette burnt down to the end. She extinguished it into the overflowing ashtray, and rolled another thick one.

All troubles receded into the background in the face of her resolve. Ignoring the nausea, she focused on her lungs, on disease, on death. Cancer, a final cure for all of her ills. She put her faith in it.

If it worked, her children would grieve, recounting the times they had begged her to stop smoking before it killed her. Mercifully, they would never know that they had given her the idea.

©Jane Paterson Basil