Category Archives: story

Sweet Annihilation

gingerbreadvillage

Our ancestors were four escapees from a jellybaby factory who persuaded a kindly eagle to carry them high into a distant mountain where they might live in safety. These industious jellybabies immediately set to the task of sourcing ingredients for gingerbread, and built two little gingerbread houses. Jellybaby nature being what it is, by and by baby jellybabies emerged. The settlement was extended to make room for a growing community. It became a thriving village. We jellybabies are sweet, gentle folk. We don’t eat sentient beings, instead relying on gingerbread alone for our sustenance.

The few quarrels that ensued between villagers were generally caused by a naughty jelly-tot taking sneaky bites out of a neighbours picket fence, or a gaggle of jelly-teens dismantling a gingerbread shed in food-fight frenzy.

Aside from that, life was ideal as long as we stayed out of the sun, which tended to make us sticky. That was why the hospital was built. All too often, two jellybabies would adhere to each other and have to be surgically separated. Imagine the embarassment of an amorous couple, the humiliation of struggling – in flagrante – to reach the jellyphone and call up emergency services, the shame of being transported on a stretcher all along the street the the hospital – jelly-neighbours politely averting their gaze or pointing and whispering, jelly-tots sniggering and asking awkward questions.

As you can imagine, during surgery, it was the jellymen who came off worst.

And there was that time when all the grown-ups had a massive party, drank a little too much gingerbread wine and went outside in the heat of a July day to join hands in a circle and do the hokey-cokey.  We kids had fun feeling our feet while our parents were getting their hands freed by the doctor, who had fortunately not attended the party.

No community is perfect, but ours was as close as it comes. We were peace-loving. We trod lightly on the land.

We were happy until the humans beat their way to our door.

Huge fingers grab me, squeezing my waist, winding me. two giant eyes glint, with no trace of hatred, only gleeful anticipation. Acquisition. Satisfaction.

A voice thunders in conversational tone, “Head first. Always.”

Giant teeth bear down on me. Spittle from overblown saliva glands rain from the glistening mouth, drenching me. 

“Please don’t, I’m a…” I squeal.

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Written for The Haunted Wordsmith’s Daily Writing Challenge.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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Her mother’s daughter

aknife 123

Option A:

I look around at my colleagues with envy.

“Are you ok,?” Shirley asks, stopping her filing for a moment and looking straight at me.

I nod my head. Blink a tear away. Force a smile. Shirley starts filing again. How can I tell her? How can I find the words to say how I really feel?

I suddenly feel irritated. She would be unlikely to believe me anyway. Her life is so simple. Nothing like this could never happen to clean Shirley, with her squeeky clean Christian parents, her clean shaven, clean living fiance and her sickeningly clean life.

Then there’s Kazza, sitting at the desk which she apologetically insisted upon pushing up against the wall on her first day here, because she thought she was taking up too much space. She’s such a mouse, always trying to make herself invisible, stooping slightly because she’s so embarrassed about her height, constantly apologising for her existence. She should try living with my problems for a while.

I hear Kazza’s chair scrape as she stands, her whispering footsteps, and now she is behind me, a hand on my shoulder, lips close to my ear as she bends her tall, willowy frame. I can feel kindly concern emanating from her in waves, and I guiltily curse myself for having such uncharitable thoughts. What is happening to me?

“You’re finding it tough, aren’t you Sophie? You know you can talk to me any time. It’ll take a while for you to come to terms with what’s happened, but I’ll be here for you if you need me.”

Kazza knows all about my mum. It happened just over a month ago. She launched a viscious physical attack on another inmate at the prison. The woman had somehow managed to fashion a sharp knife, which she drove into my mother’s jugular vein. They told me that my mum died quickly. At first my only feeling was one of relief that it was finally over. She had her retribution.

The following day was Friday, and I went to work as usual. I was able to start making telephoned  arrangements for the funeral; after all, it wasn’t as if I had any interest  in selecting a quality coffin or sitting in the undertakers office discussing special arrangements while tearfully dabbing at my eyes with a wad of soggy tissues.

I explained to Kazza and Shirley that my estranged mother had died, so they wouldn’t wonder what was behind the unusual phone calls. At lunchtime Kazza and I went to the little kitchen where we eat our lunch. Shirley didn’t join us because she was leaving early to travel to a family wedding somewhere in Scotland. Kazza had suggested that although I didn’t realise it, I may be in shock.

I was looking out of the window, feeling strangely blank and distanced from reality, as she told me about how she switched off when she heard about the death of her abusive father, and the grief and shame she felt when it hit her. She was apologising for him; explaining that he hadn’t always been that way – it was only when she hit puberty. He couldn’t help the way he felt and maybe her skirts had been too short, maybe she did inadvertently egg him on…

As she was talking, I saw Shirley walk past the window with her parents. They had come to pick her up in their car, so that they could all travel together. Mr. Clean, the boyfriend, was with her. I suppose what triggered my reaction was a combination of what Kazza was saying and the sight of that carefree family knot outside; suddenly all of the grief and pain and anger and horrible, horrible childhood fear and loneliness exploded through my eyes, nose and mouth.

Through tears and bubbling snot I ranted and screamed. Spittle was flying from my lips, but I didn’t care.

“You can forgive your bastard father if you wish, but I will never forgive my mother. I was there when she raised the butcher’s knife in her left hand. I saw my father’s look of terror as his arms jerked in an effort to protect himself.” I shouted. “I saw the blade sink into my father’s bare chest and the blood that escaped from the hole it left when she pulled it out to stab again. I saw the blood and heard that last gurgle as his life leaked into the carpet. I heard her gleeful laugh as I ran for the door and escaped.”

And now I lay my hand over hers. I lean towards her. I tell her the half-truth that she expects.

“Yes, it has been a shock. I thought my mother could never hurt me again, but she has, and it doesn’t go away.”

I don’t tell her about the phantom night-time visits from my mother when I am trying to sleep, or the way she conjures up the spectre of my gentle father for her grisly theatre. He’s bare chested as he was on that hot summer day, accidentally knocking over a vase of plastic flowers on the table, apologising, apologising, apologising – even though no harm was done, nothing was broken, dirtied or damaged – inciting the rage that caused her to stab him to death. I don’t tell her how I have to hear him apologising over and over, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop the thing that happens next.

I also omit to mention the blind rages that fly up from nowhere, or of coming out of them in a different place than I was when I became angry. Each time it happens I seem to be gone for longer. I tend to take walks late at night, to put off the time when I must go to bed. Although my mother’s ghost doesn’t visit me every night, there’s no knowing when it will happen, and I dread it. I was out after midnight last night. The streets were empty apart from a drunk, who was lurching along. When he got alongside me he staggered and stumbled against me. He immediately started slurring his apologies, trying to brush my coat down, and saying “There, see? No harm done,” before saying sorry again. I became angry at his constant repetition. Everything else is a blank until the moment when I found myself standing in my bathroom with both taps running, rinsing something off my cuff. I was distressed to discover, later, that I had somehow lost my coat.

I sit in that small room with Kazza. I cut up an apple with a sharp kitchen knife as I talk instead about my memories of my mother during those times when she was well.

Our lunch-hour is over. I pick up the dirty plates and the kitchen knife, and take them to the sink to wash them up. Kazza brings her cup over. She didn’t drink all of her tea, and it’s gone cold. There’s something slippery on the floor, and it causes her to lose her balance for a moment. The liquid flies across the room, splashing my closed handbag. It’s plastic, so it won’t stain. She grabs a cloth, and starts wiping at it, repeatedly telling me how sorry she is, how clumsy. There’s nothing to apologise about, and yet she’s apologising again. I’m beginning to feel angry. It’s all just pointless, maddening noise.

It feels just like that time way back, before they locked me up, when my irritating husband wouldn’t shut up. He just kept on and on about those stupid plastic flowers, while he tried to arrange them properly in the vase, and apologising because he couldn’t make them look the way they did before. I had to kill him. It was the only way to get some peace.

I feel young and rejuvinated. The strength has returned to my fingers. I switch the knife to my left hand, and grip it tighter, and turn towards the tall babbling woman who is wiping at a spotless bag on the floor. It’s good to be back. It will be better still once I’ve silenced her.

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This is my response to this weeks challenge from Esther Newton.

Esther says:

This week I’m going to give you two choices:

Option A: I’ll give you a story opening and the challenge is to continue the story from that point.

Option B: For this choice, I have a story ending for you and your challenge is to write story up to the ending. 

Here is your opening and your ending:

Option A:

I look around at my colleagues with envy.

“Are you ok,?” Shirley asks, stopping her filing for a moment and looking straight at me.

I nod my head. Blink a tear away. Force a smile. Shirley starts filing again. How can I tell her? How can I find the words to say how I really feel?

Option B:

I was wrong. I thought finding a ghost would be exciting and fun. At the very least I thought it would be scary. But it was more than that. So much more.

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I was inspired by Option B, so I used the idea, but I started the story with Option A.

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©Jane Paterson Basil