Category Archives: Thrill Reads

The Harvesters

Featuring in:  MUSE ; HARBOUR HOUSE ; KNOCK KNOCK 

“5:02”

If the finest meat and dairy in the Shady City is what you are after then look no further than the Harvester logo. Family run for generations the Harvester Farm has blossomed into a large franchise thanks to Dr G Winslow. Dr Winslow is a highly respected member of Coldford society and thanks to his efforts you can enjoy a harvester burger at one of many convenient locations around the city.

Chief clinician and CEO Dr G Winslow.

But as grand as they have become the family feel is still at the heart of the Harvester brand and none feel more like family than the dutiful farm hands, led by Glenn.

 

 

502: Slaughter Time

But with all things in the Shady City the Harvesters have their part to play in brewing tensions. Growing such a brand requires money and someone has to pick up the bill somewhere. The Harvesters are branching out to new pursuits.

The Harvesters Team: Curtis, Julia and Glenn. Three happy Harbour House helpers.

There will always be a true Harvester at the Harvester Farm and since the old Harvester is Ill that duty falls to his only daughter Julia. Julia finds herself under the gaze of a struggling artist. She can inspire him to greatness and in him she can find the opportunity her family legacy needs to break free from the tyranny that holds them.

“Enjoy this?

The Harvesters have to supply the meat and the Shady City is hungry. Check out these other thrillers currently available:

Character Profile: Vincent Baines

Age: (During the events of Maestro) 27

Occupation: Music Teacher

Features in: MAESTRO ; HARBOUR HOUSE

Son of the great composer, Fredrick Baines, Vincent has music in his blood. From the KINGSGATE area he has lived among elite society for most of his life. With both his parents being accomplished musicians – his mother a lead cellist and father conductor of the Coldford City Orchestra – it was expected he would follow in their footsteps.

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Vincent supports his home town of Kingsgate. The oldest part of the Shady City.

Adopted by the Baines’ as a small boy, Vincent showed a natural ability with music. His true love was the violin. He was drawn to the pleading strings and the feel of the bow.

Vincent is handsome, charming but most people agree also a little odd. He has obsessive personality disorder and when he sets his mind to something he will go to extreme lengths to satisfy.

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Assigned as tutor to George Beckingridge, Vincent arrives at the manor.

When Vincent meets a new pupil he believes is in danger, he will stop at nothing to uncover the horrific secret the Beckingridge Manor is hiding.

MAESTRO_vinteachinggeorge_notitles
George learns piano from music tutor, Vincent Baines.

His obsessions lead him to the darkest period of his life. But now a resident of Harbour House he can finally get those monkeys off his back.

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Welcome, Mr Baines, to Harbour House.

#amreading @VivikaWidow and I’m ready for rehab! #harbourhouse2020 😏

I warn you Mr Baines, you have your work cut out for you. Our George has been an absolute nightmare lately. We’re hoping music lessons will give him something positive to focus on.

Son of the great composer, Fredrick Baines. A concert pianist by the age of twelve. A professional violinist by fifteen. Mr Baines is by all accounts a remarkable man so what went wrong?

Knock, Knock: Episode 3: Sleep Tight Sam

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After finding our home ransacked, Theresa decided to stay with her mother. She said she would be home the following afternoon. She pleaded with me to go with her but in desperate times, my job at the newspaper was important. Through the night I had been restless. I watched the quiet streets from my window until my eyes were burning. After falling asleep on the sofa for a few hours I left to meet MADELINE for lunch at the local diner. She was already waiting for me at a table by the window with a bowl of watered-down soup in front of her. An empty one left by the previous occupant had been pushed aside.

“Are you okay?” she asked as I sat on the booth bench across from her. She hadn’t seen me since the house breaking. She was filled with genuine concern. She had spent an hour on the telephone with Theresa the night before.

The white washed walls of BOBBY’S LUNCH BOX were harsh on my tired eyes.

“I’m fine,” I said, not convincing anyone. “I don’t think they’ll be back.”

I tried a smile. Madeline shook her head sympathetically. A large middle aged, grey haired waitress with thick rimmed spectacles approached. “Just some coffee please,” I told her. She grunted and disappeared back to the kitchen to fetch the coffee. “She’s a charmer…” I commented.

“Are you sure you are okay?” Madeline asked again.

“I told you I am fine,” I insisted. “Unfortunately, these kinds of things are happening a lot these days.”

“Nothing was stolen though. If it was a robbery surely they would have taken something.”

“There isn’t much to steal at my place. We sold the best bits to pay the rent.”

“Theresa told me about your visit to the Knock, Knock club.”

“The woman I spoke to wasn’t much help.”

“What was her name?” Madeline couldn’t help but press like a reporter.

TABITHA.”

She clasped my hand.

“You should be careful Sam,” Madeline warned.

“Do you know the club?”

“I’ve been there once or twice,” she stated. “I tried get a story on it before but the owner wouldn’t give me anything. They try to keep it hush hush.”

“The house breaking and the visit to the club could just be coincidence but I’m going to have to go back and talk with Tabitha. Maybe I will get you your story after all.”

“Don’t do anything stupid SAM.”

As if I would…

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***

099

That evening I returned to the Knock Knock club. Perhaps my journalistic instinct was getting the better of me or perhaps I wanted to avoid the confinement of my empty home. Either way, there I was knocking on the door as the sign suggested. Dennis was the one to answer. 

“Table for one?” he asked with an ironic smile. “Sometimes it is more hassle than it’s worth to bring the missus isn’t it?”

“I’m not staying,” I explained to him. “I just want to speak to Tabitha.”

“I shouldn’t let you in at all after the stunt you pulled the other night. Didn’t your mother teach you that it’s rude to barge your way into a lady’s room? Luckily for you, I hate to lose a customer.”

I tried to push past him. “I’ll be quick,” I said.

“Just a minute pal. Miss T isn’t here tonight.”

“Perhaps you can help. You manage this place right?”

Dennis raised his dark eyebrows. “I shouldn’t be talking to the papers.”

“Have you seen the mayor around?”

He shrugged off my question. “You see all kinds of faces in a joint like this.”

“Surely you would know the mayor of the city when you saw him,” I pushed.

Dennis’ expression softened. “When the lights go down they all look the same,” he said.

I stood my ground, refusing to be brushed off.

“I get it. You need to be quiet around here. I don’t want to cause anyone unnecessary hassle so the quicker I get some answers the sooner I can leave you to carry on doing whatever it is you do here.”

Dennis’ dark eyes widened. “You must have a death wish.”

“Why would you say that?”

“You say you don’t want to step on any toes and you have no idea just whose toes you are talking about. Let’s not stand around here talking about it though. Come in.”

The club seemed surreal lying empty. It was like the life had been drained from it.

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“You have no idea the shit storm that would fall on me for talking to a reporter. Besides, Tabitha knows more than I do,” Dennis continued.

“Is this club hiding the mayor?” I asked.

Dennis laughed. “Not quite.”

“There is a connection here. It’s going to come out one way or another.”

“Don’t let the Knock, Knock club fool you. I mean I love the old girl like my own but she doesn’t look like much on the surface. Still you don’t want yourself caught up in what’s going on here.”

“So what is this about then?”

“We do whatever it takes to survive,” said Dennis matter-of-factly.

I knew times were desperate for the people of the city, but the way Dennis said it seemed as though there was more to it than that.

“I can keep your name off record if you tell me what you know,” I suggested.

Dennis shrugged his shoulders, unmoved. “It wouldn’t matter. You have no idea what they are capable of doing and how high this goes. You would be dead before anything got to print.”

It wasn’t the first time someone had threatened me to stay away from a story. It just made me bite down harder. Before it all got out of hand I admit I did think this was going to make one hell of a story.

I followed Dennis across the club. His lean frame was much taller than mine. He strode confidently with long legs. An older woman stopped him. She was dressed in a black dress and her raven hair was pulled severely back. She was the matron of the dancing girls and she had been an employee of the club since before Tabitha’s time. Her face was so thick with make-up it almost looked like a mud mask.

“She’s on the phone again,” she whined.

Dennis shook her off. “Not now Bette. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Bette was relentless. She continued pleading her case. “If your little whore is going to keep calling here I’m telling the Boss Lady.”

Dennis gripped both of her shoulders. He was clearly frustrated but he still spoke in a calm tone. “Listen, why don’t you tell T all about it when she gets back.”

Bette must have decided that it wasn’t such a great idea. Her expression changed from sour to fear.

“She just needs help okay. I’ll deal with it,” Dennis groaned.

Without another word the girl dashed off towards backstage. Dennis flashed me a charming smile.

He showed me to an empty room that appeared to be having some work done. He pointed over to the bar where Lisa – the blonde serving girl I met before – was playing a game on her phone. She looked up and beamed her pretty and engaging smile.

“I’ve gotta go,” Dennis said. “Tabitha told me to give you a drink and send you packing if you stopped by. I highly recommend you not be here when she returns pal.”

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Dennis was ensnared by the club. If Tabitha wasn’t around I thought there was no point in me being there. I had hoped to nosey around but since there were few people in the club at that time I wouldn’t go unnoticed. By the sounds of how tightly Tabitha kept a hold on things, I doubted anyone would be willing to talk to me anyway. I could only count on Dennis’ support so far and that wasn’t much.

Lisa dropped her phone and hopped behind the bar.

“Nice to see you again sweetie,” she said.

Dennis nodded to her and disappeared deeper into the club to deal with the drama on the telephone. Lisa filled a glass with clear liquid.

“How long have you worked here?” I asked.

“Oh long enough,” she replied.

“Do you like it?”

She shrugged her shoulders and giggled. “It pays the bills.”

I lifted the glass and sniffed it. There was no real detectable scent.

115

“What is this?” I asked.

Lisa tipped a wink and beamed. “It’s on the house is what it is honey. We don’t give much away for free in here you know. You may as well take it whilst it’s going.”

116

She was right about that.

I took the glass and gulped the liquid down. It did taste like very dry gin with little life left in it.

Lisa waved me off.

“Bye bye!” She called. “Come back later when we’re open. It’s sure to be a real hoot.”

Tabitha clearly hadn’t told her what I was.

***

117

The drink rested warm in my belly. As I left the club behind me and made my way from the ominous dark alley to the bright lights of the street I actually started to feel quite giddy. By the time I reached my home the giddiness had given way to haziness.

118

I fell in the door, barely able to hold myself upright. Theresa was home. I hadn’t expected her. Before I could question her I felt myself fall over. The last thing I remembered as my vision clouded was her terrified expression as she looked down at me.

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The next morning, I awoke to a thundering headache. My mouth was filled with cotton. Slowly I came back from the land of nod into the land of reality. The questions that plague us every morning queued up like always. ‘Where am I? What has happened?’ I realised quickly that I was at home in my own bed. The sun was streaming through the window so I guessed it was around noon. As I turned I felt a heavy object beside me. The haze in my eyes cleared. I felt Theresa beside me. I shivered.

“I don’t know what happened last night,” I said. “I must have had way more than I should have.”

Theresa didn’t respond.

130

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I looked beside me and that’s when I saw her. Stone cold dead. A bullet wound from an expert shot in her forehead.

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#amreading the #thriller #graphicnovel #knockknock by @VivikaWidow


Sam is on a mission to find the missing mayor and you can now have the complete season 1 of the Knock Knock series on the go! Download for kindle at the link below. Free on Kindle Unlimited.

No Toys In The Attic

She smelled the air. It all felt so brand new to her. It was almost like she hadn’t sampled the scent of the city before.

“You have a whole new life ahead of you peaches,” said Dennis.

He always called her peaches. He said it was because it was how her hair smelled. Dennis was the only person that had ever been nice to her. Even her parents disliked her. Her dad called her a retard. Her mother could barely look at her when her sister was so much smarter, so much more beautiful. Dennis had rescued her. He had climbed the tower of HARBOUR HOUSE and carried her away. The doctors had told her she was sick. She didn’t feel sick. They called it intellectual disability but when the doctors backs were turned the nurses called her an idiot or a simpleton. All she knew was that she didn’t think about things the way people seemed to want her to and it made them mad. She was seventeen years old but she remained locked in her childish imagination. Her parents didn’t love her but she still loved them and her pretty sister. They didn’t want want her in the home so when the doctor called and told them she had conduct disorder they locked her away in the hospital and didn’t want to see her any more.

Dennis came to see her though. He came to see her all the time and he smiled for her and he was so handsome. He held her and comforted her and she never wanted to leave him. One day he came to her and told her he had rescued her from the nasty hospital and was taking her home.

CHLOE knew she was lucky. She was the luckiest girl alive.

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Dennis took her to a place called the KNOCK KNOCK CLUB. He told her she would have to earn her keep and she was okay with that. He had rescued her so she didn’t want to upset him.

The first few nights at the club were quiet. A woman who worked behind the bar befriended her. She was kind to Chloe and as Chloe stood with an empty tray in her hand the bar maid told her that if she needed any help to come find her. One of the members of the band that played at the club smiled at her. He shook her hand and introduced himself. He was a black man with a wide smile and he made her smile too. Dennis had instructed her to tell all of them she was twenty.

At the end of the night the club began to clear. It was late. It was a lot later than she would normally have been awake. At the hospital they always told her she had be in her bed and asleep by ten o’clock. At the Knock, Knock club she had no bedtime.

After the club cleared Dennis came to her.

“How was the first night?” he asked.

Chloe hid her tired eyes behind an excited smile. “It was fun,” she said. “I liked it.”

Dennis wrapped his arm around her. She felt so safe by his side.

“Glad to hear it,” he said. “I have something more for you.”

Chloe was tired but she didn’t want to make Dennis sad so she feigned enthusiasm.

“What is it?”

Dennis tightened his grip. Now they were walking up the stairs to the upper floors of the club. He was leading her to the room she could have. It didn’t smell as clean as the hospital but she would love it all the same.

“I have new friends for you who want to visit your room,” he said. “They want to give you special cuddles.”

Chloe was confused. She had heard of special cuddles before but she always thought those were between a mother and a father.

“Do I have to?” she asked.

Dennis stopped. At first his expression was blank but then his teeth were bared and his eyes brightened. He rested a hand under her chin and petted his lip.

“You don’t want to be selfish do you? You want more friends like me don’t you?”

Chloe lowered her gaze. He didn’t like the way he was looking at her. She didn’t want him to be angry with her.

“I guess,” she said.

“I can tell them all that you don’t want to be friends with them and want special cuddles,” he said but his voice sounded upset.

“No please!” she grabbed his arm. “I can be friends with them too.”

Dennis smiled. He was happy again. He ran his finger gently down her cheek. Her heart beat a little faster.

“As long as I am always your best friend.”

Chloe agreed. She agreed to have lots of new friends but Dennis would always remain her best.

That night the first of the new friends visited her room. They were mostly men much older than her. She let them undress her and gave them the special cuddles whichever way they asked her to. At first she didn’t mind. Sometimes she even enjoyed it. As time went on it became more frequent. It even became painful. She didn’t like the new friends any more and she certainly didn’t like them leering at her naked, helpless body.

One came to her room. He wasn’t kind to her. He barely spoke to her. She let him into her room and immediately he pulled off his shirt revealing an obese, middle aged body. He pushed her onto the bed with such force she cried out. Her head hit the wooden bed frame and she began to sob.

“Leave me, leave me, leave me!” she repeated over and over again but the man took no notice. He was not a new friend.

“Shut up!” he spat on her. “I’ve paid good money so you will do what you’re fucking told!” he screamed at her.

She was frightened. She tried to climb out from underneath him but she couldn’t get away. He held her hands above her head. He kissed her but all she could do was continue to cry. She called for Dennis but he didn’t come to rescue her this time. She couldn’t wriggle away so she had to just let him have what he wanted.

“You need to get a hold of your girls,” complained the client to Dennis as he handed over a thick pile of bank notes. “That one gave me some trouble.”

“I’ll have a talk with her.”

“I’ll be back,” he warned. “Get it together or I will letknow what you are doing behind her  back.” He growled. “You remember what happened to Rex. They are still looking for it …”

Dennis shook his arm playfully. “Come on,” he said. “We’re all friends here. I’ll have a talk to her. She’s just a little overworked.”

Dennis found Chloe in her bed. She was clutching white sheets to her. The area over her lap was blood stained. Dennis sat on the bed beside her.

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“What’s wrong?” he asked her. Chloe fell onto his shoulder sobbing. “I thought you liked giving special cuddles.”

She didn’t want to upset him. He was the knight that had come to rescue her like in the story books. He had taken her away from that horrible hospital and loved her when her own parents didn’t.

“I do like special cuddles,” she said. Her teary eyes were still wide and unfocused. “I love them and I will give more if you want me to.”

Dennis patted her back.

“Good girl.”

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The Knock, Knock series is free to read here at Vivika Widow Online or click HERE to download for kindle.

KNOCK, KNOCK: Episode 1: Welcome to the Club

Knock, Knock: Episode 2: Don’t Come Knockin’

Knock, Knock: Episode 3: Sleep Tight Sam

Knock, Knock: Episode 4: Take A Bow

Knock, Knock: Episode 5: A Room With A View

Knock, Knock: Episode 6: Picking Up Strange Women

Knock, Knock: Episode 7: No Kids Allowed

Knock, Knock: Episode 8: Kids These Days

Knock, Knock: Episode 9: Shootin’ The Breeze

Knock, Knock: Episode 10: Calling Last Orders

KNOCKKNOCK_samandtabsclose

Out of Key; Adapted from Maestro

Being a student is a time when young men and women learn the delicate balance between work and play. For music students there are particularly high expectations, especially for Vincent Baines whose mother was a first chair cellist on one of the world’s leading orchestras. This orchestra happened to be under the direction of his father – Fredrick Baines – also a prominent musician.

At the age of nineteen Vincent abandoned the travelling life of the orchestra that he had become so used to and joined Filton University to complete his studies. He had been a concert pianist by the time he was twelve so the qualifications were merely a formality, but one his parents insisted he had. He adored the twinkling ivory of the piano but the instrument he was drawn to most was the violin. The violin understood how cruel the world could be and in turn could turn its sobs into the most beautiful sounds.

Normally a stickler for punctuality, a conference with the head of the school made Vincent late for his first class. He rushed across the courtyard clutching his violin in a battered old case he had been given for his tenth birthday. Too busy reading the paper which stated ‘Professor Tim Heath – Room 106’ he almost collided with the door to the main building. The receptionist saw him struggling with the case so rushed over to help him by holding the door open.

“Thank you,” Vincent gasped as he pushed indoors.

The receptionist – an older woman with sparkling silver hair and a gentle face – let the door go when the student was free of its grasp. “You better hurry. Professor Heath’s class has already started.”

Vincent made a dash to the right. “Young man!” the receptionist called after him. “Room 106 is that way,” she said pointing to the hall on the left.

Vincent quickly changed direction and made his way to class.

He could hear instruments warming up. A booming, authoritative voice called over them. Vincent pushed the door open, hoping to slip in unnoticed.

Professor Heath, dressed all in black but for a loose hanging emerald tie, was holding his large hands in the air.

“This is our first day so let’s hope we don’t continue to sound like a cat sent through a mincer, tale first.” He turned and his owl like gaze fell upon Vincent. “Ah our star pupil!”

He gripped Vincent’s free arm and pulled him closer. “Listen up everyone!” he boomed again. The warming instruments fell silent. The eyes of the entire class darted their way towards the new arrival. “This is Vincent Baines.” Professor Heath stopped. “You are Vincent Baines right?” Vincent nodded so the teacher continued. “He is the son of the great Fredrick Baines. If you ever want to hear what good music sounds like, listen to his recordings.”

After having successfully alienated Vincent from his classmates he pushed him towards them. Their puzzled looks turned to derisive stares. Vincent chose to sit next to a fellow violinist, a raven-haired girl in a black t-shirt and torn jeans. She was holding a shining, black violin with red trimming.

“I’m a big fan of your dad,” she said as Vincent took a seat and began to fish his own violin from the case. “He’s one of the best,” she added.

“He’s something else alright,” Vincent agreed.

By the time the hour was over, Vincent had learned that the girls name was Ruth Browning. She had attended Filton because it was the as far away as she could get from her home life. From her t-shirt and worn jeans Vincent assumed she had spent what little money she had on tuition and her beautiful violin. Her long hair was hanging loosely. It seemed likely she had no real female role model around to show her anything more elaborate. This was probably also the reason why her eyes were shadowed heavily in black eyeliner whilst the rest of her face was void of make-up.

From an early age Vincent had been a keen observer. He found that more could be revealed about a person in their mannerisms, dress and general demeanour than they would be willing tell.

Observing her Vincent was able to decipher her life story without her saying anything. She was a forgotten child with a drunkard father – no doubt abusive. She had never had any proper parental guidance so she was fiercely independent. She was closed off but that passiveness in her manner showed how frightened she was.

Vincent and Ruth became fast friends. They were equally as talented and equally as bemused by their classmates. Together they found a common bond. Ruth had a history. It was written on her face. Vincent was drawn to it. He very much wanted to read her story.

***

Time moved on like the unstoppable force that it is. Attending classes became routine.

“I gotta run,” said Ruth when the regular Tuesday afternoon class had ended. She kissed Vincent’s left cheek and slipped a note into his right hand. “That’s my address. I’ll see you tonight,” she explained before disappearing into the crowd and away to parts unknown for an appointment that she seemed sketchy on explaining. Ruth wasn’t an affectionate girl but she kissed people a lot. Most people keep a safe, professional distance but Ruth wouldn’t shake hands, she always kissed. The first day they had met, Vincent bought lunch for them both and Ruth hadn’t said ‘thanks’ like most people would, instead she pressed her lips against his. She had even kissed Professor Heath when he had given her some one on one instruction. He was of course uncomfortable with his but Ruth thought nothing of it. It was never with affection, it was almost like a chore she felt was necessary.

Vincent tucked the address into his violin case without looking at it. It wasn’t until he got back to his dormitory room he finally read it. From the moment he met her he knew she wasn’t a Filton girl. The way she wore her hair, the quality of her clothing were all giveaways but what stood out the most for Vincent was the subtle way she would observe her surroundings. It was like she was seeing everything for the first time. There was a certain admiration in her eyes for the décor. Filton girls expected nothing less.

Ruth lived in South West of Coldford, the nearest city to Filton, in an area known as the Shanties. Vincent took a bus from Filton Main Street which happily stopped outside a coffee shop he had decided was his favourite upon arrival.

Two older women had perched themselves at the front of the bus and were a little disgruntled as Vincent swung his violin case round, trying to pass them whilst still balancing his coffee in his other hand. He knocked the pink hat off one and narrowly missed the face of the other. They both shot deathly stares at him. Vincent smiled politely and said, “So sorry,” but in his mind he was groaning, ‘sit somewhere other than up the driver’s arse and maybe I’ll be able to pass you, old bags.’

The journey into the city took about twenty minutes. A few passengers had alighted then disappeared again except the whining old witches at the front. As Vincent passed them again, holding his violin like a javelin stick he could still feel their derision. They stayed on the bus, probably heading up to the business district in the north of the city. People with that kind of attitude always came from the business district.

He followed Ruth’s directions to a run-down apartment building. He checked the address again but he already knew he was in the right place. There was a buzzer entry system but when he pushed the button for Ruth’s apartment it made no noise. He tried the door and found he could push it open.

He climbed to the third floor where Ruth lived. The hallway was littered, the lights were blinking, ready to surrender their life to the darkness. The air was thick with the smell of urine.

Ruth’s door was painted a sharp red unlike the flaky brown of the others. Vincent knocked twice heavily then instinctively turned towards the stairs to watch for anyone coming.

The door was pulled open with a loud creak and Ruth greeted him.

He held his violin up. “Ready to practice?” he asked.

Ruth had tied her hair up in a red bandanna. She pulled the door open wider and let him in. “Did you find the place easy enough?” she asked as Vincent followed her down a narrow little corridor decorated with hand drawn pictures of trees, strange shadowy figures and the letter S. She seemed quite keen on the letter S.

The single room that served as both lounge and bedroom was cluttered with pizza boxes and takeaway containers. More drawings covered light purple walls. On her magazine covered coffee table she had sat three vanilla scented pillar candles.

“I’m sure you are used to much better than this,” she commented when she noticed Vincent looking around.

“Its home isn’t it?” he replied. Vincent had travelled so much as a child with his parents and the orchestra he never had anywhere he felt he could truly call home. What came before the Baines’ adopted him he never thought about.

Vincent cleared a space on the sofa and sat his violin case down. Removing the violin and bow he settled into his playing stance, perched at the edge of his seat.

Ruth’s violin was sat against the wall. She lifted it, rummaged a little while for her bow and sat beside Vincent.

They played together through melodies they were learning in class. Ruth became so absorbed in her playing Vincent stopped to watch her. Her composure, the timeless beauty of her face contrasted with the rustic surroundings of her apartment. Her playing was perfection, her composure statuesque. There were violinists in his parent’s orchestra that didn’t have such natural and raw talent.

She stopped suddenly. She flicked open her black shadowed eyelids and smiled when she noticed him staring at her. “Rendered you speechless have I?” she quipped.

“You are very good,” he said, the simple words failing to reach the true heights of his admiration. “How long have you been playing?”

Ruth sat her violin down. She snatched up an ashtray, took the half-smoked cigarette from within the ashes and placed it between her lips. It must have tasted fowl, Vincent surmised. Judging by the several other half-smoked cigarettes in the glass tray – cut crudely in the shape of a leaf – she was in the habit of leaving them. She was a lonely girl so she needed something to go back to, although she would never admit it.

“My gran gave me a violin when I was six. One of her boyfriends had left it behind. My dad got drunk one night and smashed it up. He felt bad about it the next day so he bought me a new one. It was probably the most expensive thing in the whole house. He made sure I learned if he was shelling out money on what he thought was a useless instrument.”

When Ruth spoke of her father she always cleared her throat and clouded her voice in a nostalgic tone, like she was recalling a horrid memory. It was very subtle; most people wouldn’t notice but most people didn’t pay as much attention as Vincent. Because of those minor changes in vocals Vincent could deduce that her parents were dead. The gran had been something of an aside thought in her anecdote. She was probably dead too. Mrs Baines had always admired how observant her little boy was. Vincent couldn’t understand why others couldn’t see the world as well as he could.

They played on together for a little while longer. Around eight Ruth decided to call it a night.

“Are you sure?” Vincent pushed. “I’m in no rush.”

Ruth shrugged her shoulders. When it reached six o’clock she had started to become edgy. She kept glancing at the clock. She wanted Vincent to leave but he wasn’t ready to tear himself away. He could tell she was in trouble. You didn’t need Vincent’s special intuition to be able to deduce that.

“Are you alright?” he asked. She was shaking a little as she leaned her violin back against the wall again. There was a case beside the weathered grey sofa but she didn’t lock her instrument away. “You should keep your violin in a case. It’s such a nice one you have it would seem a shame for it to get damaged.”

“Don’t touch that!” Ruth cried but it was too late. The latch on the case was broken. It swung open and spilled out hundreds of photographs.

“I’m so sorry,” said Vincent.

Ruth rushed to scoop them up but not before Vincent caught sight a small girl. She had dark hair like Ruth’s. Her eyes were wide and frightened. She was reaching out to the camera. She had such similarity to Ruth that one might have mistaken her for Ruth as a child if it were not for the mole that Ruth had on her left cheek that was absent from the little girl.

“I’m sorry,” Vincent said again as Ruth closed the case over with some ferocity.

“You had better go,” she said. “That bus back to Filton can be a bitch.”

Vincent packed his violin away. He struggled to remove his gaze from where the photos were hiding. Ruth had a secret that even Vincent couldn’t deduce.

The girl in the photograph had been in distress but who was she? Why was Ruth keeping those photographs? Vincent wandered into the chill of the evening air. The kiss she had given him in the doorway was still buzzing on his forehead. She wanted his help. He knew it. Even if she hadn’t said it she wanted him to stick around. Even if she didn’t realise it she didn’t him to leave.

There was a small park area just across from the apartment building. It was the local authority’s way of appeasing their conscience, knowing that the children living in the most deprived areas of the city had a broken swing or rusted chute to play on. At least then they could have some semblance of happiness. What more could they want? There were two benches. One was bathed in the lamplight the other cast in shadow. Vincent chose the dark. It looked directly onto Ruth’s apartment. Vincent watched for about an hour. He pulled the collar of his coat up as the temperature dropped rapidly. Finally, the light from Ruth’s lounge went out. Minutes later she appeared in the doorway with a cigarette between her lips and pulling the door over as tightly as she could. She placed both hands in the pocket of her denim coat and disappeared up the street at an above average speed.

Vincent wondered if she wanted him to follow her. Probably, but not that night. The bus to Filton was a bitch after all.

***

Ruth didn’t come to class the following day. Vincent decided he would visit her that evening and make sure she was okay. He tried calling the number she had given him several times but there was no answer. The first time her answering machine clicked on with a generic voice that came with the phone. He hesitated and hung up. Then he convinced himself she would have wanted to hear from him so he called again.

“Ruth? It’s Vincent. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. Call me.”

The classes broke for a lunch hour. Since Ruth was absent Vincent sat out front alone. The air was dry but icy. He knew he was hungry but he couldn’t eat. His mind was too consumed with thoughts of Ruth. He stood up from the bench outside the music building. He couldn’t contemplate an afternoon of practice when he knew Ruth was in trouble.

Another young student took his place on the bench. “Vincent Baines right?” he piped up.

Vincent looked back over his shoulder. He was a self-assured man with long legs crossed casually and the wide grin of the cat who didn’t just get the cream but devoured it. Vincent didn’t like him.

“Yes,” replied the musician coolly. He really wanted to go to Ruth’s house and check on her. If she wasn’t there he could get in somehow and have a look at the photos of the scared little girl. Just to be sure she was okay. She needed him.

“You’re friends with Ruth Browning right?” The young man on Vincent’s bench added, “She’s bad news bro.”

Vincent’s teeth gritted at the use of the term ‘bro’. He hated when people used such colloquial terms. It was so boorish.

Vincent raised his chin. “I’m quite sure I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m not your bro.

The detest washed over the young man. He was unfazed but his Cheshire Cat smile faded. “Just be careful having her as a girlfriend.” He was trying to be reasonable now that he realised over familiarity with the musician was not working.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Vincent volunteered which was more information than he would normally volunteer. “It’s not like that.”

“So you’re gay then?” he called after Vincent who tried to walk away from him.

He was making Vincent angry. Vincent didn’t like to get angry. It came from before his adoption by the Baines’. He wasn’t allowed to be angry. This young man was making him very angry indeed.

“That’s none of your business!” Vincent spat. It wasn’t unlike him to become so temperamental. He was a calm young man, a good boy. He was always more concerned for others than himself.

The young man on the bench raised his hands. “I’m sorry, but she was with one of my friends. He wasn’t that interested in her so when he got up to leave …”

“That’s despicable form treating her that way,” Vincent snarled. He was starting to feel angrier than he ever did as a boy.

The young man didn’t seem too concerned by this.

“Well she thought so too. She went crazy. She picked up a kitchen knife and cut him pretty bad. His hands were shredded, his arms needed stitches and his chest is scarred.”

Vincent calmed down a bit at this image. It even brought a smile to his lips.

“Well, that’ll teach him.”

This did seem to stir something in the bench warmer. “She didn’t say no or anything. She knew exactly what she was doing. He didn’t know what more she could possibly want from him.”

Vincent let a snort of derision flare from his nostrils. He had to leave then. He had to catch the bus to the city. He had to check on Ruth.

***

The bus to The Shanties didn’t seem as long as the last time. Vincent left his violin back at the university so manoeuvring was much easier. It was still early in the afternoon so there was only one other passenger aboard – a woman in her thirties who kept her suede hat on. She spent most of the journey staring from the window.

Vincent rushed to Ruth’s apartment. He wasn’t exactly sure what he would find but his heart was racing. On the first stairway of the apartment building an old man was stretched out. Vincent couldn’t decide if he was drunk, drugged or both. His chest was rising and falling steadily so Vincent stepped over him.

He knocked on Ruth’s door. There was no answer. He pushed open the letter box. He could see down her hallway into the lounge but there was no sign of life within.

Vincent pushed the door open. Ruth never locked her door. She told him so. She claimed that apart from her violin there was nothing worth stealing. As Vincent let himself in and crossed the threshold of her home he thought of how dangerous a philosophy it was. Any weirdo could come wandering in.

In the lounge the violin wasn’t standing in the corner. The case, however, was on the floor. It had been thrown open – empty.

There was a scorched box by the window. Vincent’s instincts told him that the key to Ruth’s troubles lay in that box. He pulled it open and there were the photographs. Some of them had been burnt beyond recognition but some were still intact. He lifted one and examined it closer. It was the little girl he had seen before. Her eyes still staring, terrified. Her hands were tied behind her back. Her mouth was gagged with a piece of black cloth. The ground she was sat on was filthy, the lighting very low.

“What are you doing?” a voice behind him dragged him back to reality. He hadn’t heard Ruth come home.

Vincent dropped the photograph. “I was worried about you. I thought you might be in trouble. I wanted to help you.”

Ruth was eerily calm, her face stoic, her lips pinned in an expressionless clench. “It’s too late to help me,” she said. “It’s over.”

“The little girl was your sister wasn’t she.”

“Yes,” she answered simply. “And my daughter.”

“Who did that to her? Who killed her?” Vincent didn’t have to look at any more photos to know what grisly end the child had met.

“I did,” Ruth said. She gripped the collar of Vincent’s white shirt. “I told the police everything today. I couldn’t go on pretending. They’re not far behind and you don’t want to be here when they arrive.”

***

“Ruthy! Ruthy!” she squealed. “Please let me go! I’m scared Ruthy!”

Dad was a drunk and mum was a stranger she could pass on the street without knowing. Dad was gone now and Ruth was expected to look after the little brat kid she didn’t even like. Ruthy couldn’t take it anymore.

“We’re going on a trip,” she told the child at first. She gripped Ruth’s hand with dumb naivete. She even skipped ahead when they were finally on the forest path. Her red coat was like a siren in the distance. An old house began to emerge. It had once belonged to Ruth’s gran. It had long since been abandoned. No one ever went there.

Ruth had the only key. She opened the door, wincing at the stench of dampness.

“I don’t want to stay here,” complained the little girl. “I want to go home.”

“You don’t have a home,” Ruth scolded. “You are just living in mine.”

The house was overrun with wicker furniture. Ruth took a seat by the window. She used to enjoy reading in that window chair as a child. This house had been the only place in her miserable existence that felt like home to her. The little girl didn’t realise how lucky she was to be in such a place. She didn’t have to contend with half of what Ruthy did. She didn’t have the responsibility, the horrid memories. Even the violin that she loved so much was a constant reminder of her father’s sick, twisted shame. The little one wouldn’t have to endure that would she?

Ruth grabbed the little girl by the arm and pulled her off amidst sobs and uncertain, terrified screams.

She kept her alive for a little while but the constant visits became too much. Ruth had to take care of herself. She was practically a child too This had been done to her. She was a victim. She didn’t ask for a child. The people who were supposed to protect her turned a blind eye.

She used an axe. She chopped the girl into as little pieces as she could manage. She put the remains through the wood chipper. She didn’t think she would get away with it. She didn’t care.

***

Vincent took the box out of the policewoman’s hands and laid it on his desk.

“It’s just a few things that Ruth wanted you to have. She was quite adamant.”

Vincent shuddered. “The photographs?”

“We’ve kept what was left of them in evidence. There’s nothing of real value or importance but she insisted.”

“Thank you officer,” said Vincent as he closed the door behind her. ‘The police can be such busybodies’ he muttered to himself. If they had done their jobs in the first place Ruth would not have suffered the childhood that she did and she would still be playing her beautiful violin. It wasn’t her fault her father was a monster. The police were the ones who failed. If they had stopped him the little girl wouldn’t have been murdered.

Inside the box were some sheets of music from a violin concerto Ruth had been writing. On it, in a very careful hand, was note stating, ‘I hope you can play this for me.’

Underneath it all was a key. It was old, slightly rusted. It had a green tag hanging from it. It was the key to the house that Ruth had kept the sister she had given birth to.

That day in class no one had asked for her. No one had spoken of her. Professor Heath carried on as though she had never been there.

“I have written some music you might like to look at,” said Vincent, passing Ruth’s incomplete concerto.

“Amazing work!” Professor Heath gasped as his eyes darted over the notes. “Your parents’ talent has definitely rubbed off.” He beamed a wide smile.

Vincent thought about telling him that it was actually Ruth’s work but he would wait until they played it, filled it with praise then he would tell them the real composer.

Later that evening, after class Vincent went to visit Ruth. She was being held in Coldford in a women’s prison called the Monte Fort. He was sat staring at his own reflection in the glass separating the free from the imprisoned. A door opened on the other side. Ruth was ushered in by a brutish woman officer. Ruth’s thick black hair had been shaved off. She was sporting bruises where her eye liner normally was. She was sat down in front of him and the officer.

Vincent lifted the telephone receiver beside him. Unconsciously the clasped it between two fingers and kept it as far away from his face as possible.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Very well,” she said. “It’s like a big party in here.” She smiled through her sarcasm.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Vincent said sincerely.

Ruth was still smiling. “You would be the only one.”

“Why did you give me that key?” he asked.

Ruth took a quick glance behind her at the officer and lowered her voice so she wouldn’t hear. “I wanted you to have it.”

“What about the police? It’s going to implicate me in your crime.” Vincent followed suit and lowered his voice too.

“They don’t know that’s where I kept the little bitch. They just know I murdered her and that’s all they care about. They’ll never know about it.”

“What do you want me to do with it?”

“It’s always been a great place to lock away your problems,” Ruth’s smile widened. “That is my gift to you.”

The officer looked at her thick silver watch. She stepped forward and pulled Ruth back from the window. Ruth dropped the receiver. Waved as she was escorted from the room.

Ever since he was a small boy Vincent longed for somewhere he could lock his problems away. They followed him around like an over eager pup. Now they didn’t have to thanks to Ruth and her house in the middle of nowhere that even the police had no interest in.

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The Story He Left Behind

The room was small but clean. The carpet was thick under foot and the smell of various cleaning products filled the air. Sally had never lived on her own before so to her it was the smell of progress. It was the smell of a new life. She hadn’t met her new room mate yet but the student housing officer assured her they would be joining her the following day.

‘I wonder what she’s like?’ thought Sally to herself. ‘If we have to share this room then I hope we get along.’

Her phone jingled in her pocket. She pulled it out and on the screen was the smiling face of her long time boyfriend Brad. She opened his message and smiled warmly.

I HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT FIRST DAY.

Where Sally had come to Filton University to study English Literature, Brad had gone to art college in the city.

“It’s only a bus ride away,” he had said. Nothing had to change between them.

She smiled as she began to type a message back. As she looked at her new surroundings a panel on the wall caught her eye. It was a lighter shade than the others. She put the phone back inside her pocket with her message unfinished.

She gave a tug and the panel clicked. She pulled it away. A few of the previous occupants of the room had stored miscellaneous items in there. Most of them were student treasures like packets of condoms and empty beer bottles but someone had stored a pen drive. It was a simple, silver device that gave no indication of the information it contained.

She removed the drive, leaving the other items behind.

‘I wonder who this belongs to?’ she mused.

She figured it would be old assignments that were no longer needed but she wanted to check and make sure. There could be photos on it. Some people were quite sentimental about those kinds of things. They may appreciate them back.

Forgetting the message she had started to Brad she pulled her lap top from the red back pack she had dropped on the bed she was claiming as her own. She plugged the drive in. She patiently waited on the start up screen to finish loading. Her desk top flashed with a picture of her and Brad’s smiling faces on a recent visit to the beach. Brad’s round nose and cheeks were red from the sun. Sally’s smile was warm and wide.

She opened the drive folder. There was only one file. It was a video file. Sally’s first reaction was to just delete it. The room had been unoccupied all summer. If someone really wanted it back they would have come to retrieve it by then. She couldn’t delete the file though. If curiosity killed the cat it certainly wreaked havoc with the human. She clicked on the video. The video player opened.

A young man of similar age to Sally appeared on screen. His greasy black hair had fallen in front of his eyes and he was smiling shyly.

“Say cheese!” another male voice teased from behind the camera.

The dark haired boy raised his grey eyes to the camera and his smile widened. The camera turned and the owner looked directly into the lens. He had a longer, slimmer face. His hair was fair and a growth of stubble had gathered on his chin.

“He’s a shy one,” he said and gave an over exaggerated smile.

The camera leapt as it was set down facing a bed. The room was bare. It was one of the university residence rooms but not the same one Sally stood in. She was going switch it off but then the two young men fell onto the bed together. Sally giggled. The dark haired student rolled onto his back. The fair haired one -the more confident of the two – stroked his face. He leaned over and kissed him. The dark haired one pulled him closer and his hands ran up the faired haired young man’s back, pushing the mustard coloured tee shirt he wore up.

“Oh dear!” Sally exclaimed with another giggle. She reached over to the computer to switch the video off before things between the two men went any further but the video cut to the dark haired student on his own. Sally would still have switched it off but for the horrified look on the young man’s face. He was crying. This time he was in the same room she stood in.

“My name is Dorian McElroy,” he said. His grey eyes stared directly at the camera without flinching. “I did a terrible thing,” he continued. “I don’t know who will see this or if anyone will but I have to tell someone or something…”

He sighed. His voice cracked. He cleared his throat.

“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I don’t know what I was thinking. Mum, if you are watching. I love you and I am sorry but I couldn’t take it any more.”

Some one came into the room. Dorian gave a quick glance behind him before switching off the camera.

Sally took a deep breath. What had began as an intimate moment had changed direction really quickly. Her heart stung for Dorian. He called out for his mother and this made Sally feel even more distraught for him. She wiped the tear that had formed in the corner of her eye.

***

“Dorian McElroy had your room last year,” the student housing officer explained.

Carol was a full figured woman who could barely fit on the swivel chair she sat upon.

“Sadly he took his own life,” she added in a more sombre tone. “You say you found belongings of his? I can have them sent to his mother,” she offered.

Sally thought about it. She thought of handing in the short video but she wanted to hold onto it a little longer.

“It was just some old notes. It’s nothing worth sending I don’t think,” Sally dismissed.

“Do you want to move rooms?” Carol asked. Her fingers poised over the keyboard of her desk top computer, ready to produce the necessary paperwork.

“No, it’s fine,” replied Sally.

She decided she wanted to get to know Dorian a little better. Staying in the room where he had lived, worked and died would bring him closer to her.

ed the air. Sally had never lived on her own before so to her it was the smell of progress. It was the smell of a new life. She hadn’t met her new room mate yet but the student housing officer assured her they would be joining her the following day.

‘I wonder what she’s like?’ thought Sally to herself. ‘If we have to share this room then I hope we get along.’

Her phone jingled in her pocket. She pulled it out and on the screen was the smiling face of her long time boyfriend Brad. She opened his message and smiled warmly.

I HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT FIRST DAY.

Where Sally had come to Filton University to study English Literature, Brad had gone to art college in the city.

“It’s only a bus ride away,” he had said. Nothing had to change between them.

She smiled as she began to type a message back. As she looked at her new surroundings a panel on the wall caught her eye. It was a lighter shade than the others. She put the phone back inside her pocket with her message unfinished.

She gave a tug and the panel clicked. She pulled it away. A few of the previous occupants of the room had stored miscellaneous items in there. Most of them were student treasures like packets of condoms and empty beer bottles but someone had stored a pen drive. It was a simple, silver device that gave no indication of the information it contained.

She removed the drive, leaving the other items behind.

‘I wonder who this belongs to?’ she mused.

She figured it would be old assignments that were no longer needed but she wanted to check and make sure. There could be photos on it. Some people were quite sentimental about those kinds of things. They may appreciate them back.

Forgetting the message she had started to Brad she pulled her lap top from the red back pack she had dropped on the bed she was claiming as her own. She plugged the drive in. She patiently waited on the start up screen to finish loading. Her desk top flashed with a picture of her and Brad’s smiling faces on a recent visit to the beach. Brad’s round nose and cheeks were red from the sun. Sally’s smile was warm and wide.

She opened the drive folder. There was only one file. It was a video file. Sally’s first reaction was to just delete it. The room had been unoccupied all summer. If someone really wanted it back they would have come to retrieve it by then. She couldn’t delete the file though. If curiosity killed the cat it certainly wreaked havoc with the human. She clicked on the video. The video player opened.

A young man of similar age to Sally appeared on screen. His greasy black hair had fallen in front of his eyes and he was smiling shyly.

“Say cheese!” another male voice teased from behind the camera.

The dark haired boy raised his grey eyes to the camera and his smile widened. The camera turned and the owner looked directly into the lens. He had a longer, slimmer face. His hair was fair and a growth of stubble had gathered on his chin.

“He’s a shy one,” he said and gave an over exaggerated smile.

The camera leapt as it was set down facing a bed. The room was bare. It was one of the university residence rooms but not the same one Sally stood in. She was going switch it off but then the two young men fell onto the bed together. Sally giggled. The dark haired student rolled onto his back. The fair haired one -the more confident of the two – stroked his face. He leaned over and kissed him. The dark haired one pulled him closer and his hands ran up the faired haired young man’s back, pushing the mustard coloured tee shirt he wore up.

“Oh dear!” Sally exclaimed with another giggle. She reached over to the computer to switch the video off before things between the two men went any further but the video cut to the dark haired student on his own. Sally would still have switched it off but for the horrified look on the young man’s face. He was crying. This time he was in the same room she stood in.

“My name is Dorian McElroy,” he said. His grey eyes stared directly at the camera without flinching. “I did a terrible thing,” he continued. “I don’t know who will see this or if anyone will but I have to tell someone or something…”

He sighed. His voice cracked. He cleared his throat.

“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I don’t know what I was thinking. Mum, if you are watching. I love you and I am sorry but I couldn’t take it any more.”

Some one came into the room. Dorian gave a quick glance behind him before switching off the camera.

Sally took a deep breath. What had began as an intimate moment had changed direction really quickly. Her heart stung for Dorian. He called out for his mother and this made Sally feel even more distraught for him. She wiped the tear that had formed in the corner of her eye.

***

“Dorian McElroy had your room last year,” the student housing officer explained.

Carol was a full figured woman who could barely fit on the swivel chair she sat upon.

“Sadly he took his own life,” she added in a more sombre tone. “You say you found belongings of his? I can have them sent to his mother,” she offered.

Sally thought about it. She thought of handing in the short video but she wanted to hold onto it a little longer.

“It was just some old notes. It’s nothing worth sending I don’t think,” Sally dismissed.

“Do you want to move rooms?” Carol asked. Her fingers poised over the keyboard of her desk top computer, ready to produce the necessary paperwork.

“No, it’s fine,” replied Sally.

She decided she wanted to get to know Dorian a little better. Staying in the room where he had lived, worked and died would bring him closer to her.

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I Confess!

Tracey Campbell was a go – getter. Since she was a girl she always knew she was destined for greatness. Things got tough for her in her second year of medical school.

Nothing was going to get in her way. She would reach the top of her class no matter how many bodies she had to climb over to get there!

Tracey first featured in Myths and Tales volume 1. Click HERE to read the short story – Confessions of an Anatomist.

After ten years in prison Tracey is back on track. She has a new career path and a new dastardly plan in mind. Click HERE to read – My Silly Little Confessions.

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Return to Sender

Jessica unlocked the front door. Nerves began to flutter in her stomach. She had been seeing Tom for a few weeks now but she hadn’t dated since Walter left so she wasn’t sure of the etiquette. She turned to him. They had had a lovely meal in the city. Tom had left his car at her home and they had taken the train. He didn’t drink but she had had a glass of wine with dinner. Now standing at her front door Tom looked more unsure than she did.

“Would you like to come in?” she asked.

Tom was a middle aged widower with a strong chin and warm eyes. They were members of the same book club. Jessica’s friend, Tina, had encouraged her when Tom asked her to coffee.

She opened the door and they both entered the little suburban home that was nothing special but Jessica kept beautifully. They had to step over a pile of mail.

“Take a seat,” said Jessica as she retrieved the letters. “Would you like some tea?”

Tom nodded in agreement and wandered cautiously towards the living room.

There was a small television. Jessica was more of a reader so she had never upgraded to an up to date model. Tom smiled to himself thinking how very like her it was.

He sat on the sofa that didn’t seem to have been used too much leaving the arm chair under the lamp alone. It was clearly Jessica’s favourite.

After setting the kettle to boil she followed him. She was still clutching the letters in her hand. Tom watched her. He sat with the same straight backed pose he would adopt in the doctor’s office.

Jessica’s eyes widened. She was staring at a simple white envelope. She recognised the handwriting immediately. The bold script hit her heart sharper than a knife.

“Is something wrong?” Tom asked. His concern was genuine. The colour had drained from her so quickly and so completely she looked ill.

Hair had fallen in front of her face. She didn’t push the strands back. She just continued to stare at the letter. Several post marks had been stamped across it. It had circled the city several times before finally reaching its rightful destination. The messy but determined hand writing had probably confused the post service.

“Do you want me to leave?” asked her date sensitively. Tom’s voice sounded like a faint echo in her ears. It brought her to her senses.

“This letter is from my son,” she explained. She couldn’t bring herself to open it.

Tom had heard mention of Jessica’s son. His name was Dorian and such an unusual name stuck in his mind. He knew Jessica didn’t see him any more but he had never pressed her as to why. A photo sat on the mantle showed Jessica proudly holding tightly onto a boy in his late teens with ink black hair and a lip piercing. He was smiling too but there was an air of melancholy about him. Some may call it a poets spirit.

“He’s dead,” she blurted out. Her voice danced sadly on the edge of a sob.

“He died?” Tom had to clarify.

Jessica gathered herself, still keeping the letter between her fingers, unopened.

“He took his own life. A few months back.”

Tom sat forward. “I’m so sorry to hear that Jess.”

“He sent this letter before he died. It’s been lost in the post all this time.”

It was like Dorian to send a hand written note. He always thought emails were so impersonal.

With courage Jessica peeled open the letter. Her heart fluttered again when she saw Dorian’s scrawl fill the page. And so she began to read the last thing Dorian had ever thought to say to her.

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Tell me it’s not true!

She sat down on the uncomfortable, plastic chair. The room was cold. Paula Campbell wished she had worn a heavier top. She wrapped her arms around her frame and rubbed heat into them.

The guards watched her. She wasn’t an inmate at the Montefort Prison for women but she couldn’t help but feel the guards were suspicious of her.

When her sister was led in Paula’s breath caught in her throat. Tracey was the younger of the two. Her usual sci fi T shirt and stone washed jeans had been replaced by an orange jump suit. Tracey’s short, stocky frame didn’t wear the outfit well.

Tracey was seated across from her sister. She rested her cuffed hands on the table. Her brown hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Tracey said.

Paula shook her head. “Neither of us should be here.”

Tracey’s lips stretched into a smile. She had a pretty face with warm blue eyes but Paula couldn’t help but think she didn’t recognise the person sat across from her.

“Tell me it isn’t true,” she urged. “The things they said you did.”

Tracey raised her hands demonstrating the cuffs.

“They don’t put you in this flattering attire and give you free digs at this five star hotel for nothing,” she said sarcastically.

Paula was glad Tracey hadn’t lost her spirit. It was something of a comfort.

Tracey had been studying to become a doctor. She had always been studious and aimed for the stars. She had a more promising future than her elder sister. Paula couldn’t help but wonder where it all went wrong.

“How could it have come to this?” Paula asked.

Tracey raised her eyebrows.

“Clearly I’m not as good as I thought I was.”

When her sister shook her head she added, “They wouldn’t let me finish my final exam. The bastards arrested me right in the middle of it. I would have gotten an A for sure.”

Paula interrupted. “After what you did it wouldn’t make a blinding bit of difference! They would never let you become a doctor.”

A large woman in a guard uniform unfolded her arms and looked over at them. Paula calmed herself and lowered her voice.

“You still haven’t denied it,” she said in a stern big sisterly tone as though Tracey had borrowed an item of clothing without asking rather than finding herself behind bars for the next few decades.

“Why should I deny it?” Tracey replied. “I did it. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Paula looked distraught. Her eyes clouded with tears. “I can’t believe it,” she gasped.

Tracey laughed. “The only thing I can’t believe is that I actually got caught. It took them long enough.”

Paula sobbed. “Think of those families,” she urged. “All those people.”

“Twenty all in,” Tracey finished for her. “Roughly half of my anatomy class.”

Paula used her index finger to wipe underneath her eye. “Do you feel no remorse?”

Tracey’s gaze moved to the guard at the back watching them.

“You don’t understand, Paula,” she said finally sounding serious. “I am destined for greatness. I was failing the class. They were breezing through and they weren’t caring. I worked so hard. I really did. I spent days and nights at the library. The little coffee lady even refused to serve me more expresso. My eyes were popping out of my head. Did it make a difference? Not in the slightest. I had to correct it somehow.”

Paula wasn’t convinced. “All those people are dead.”

“Trust me, they were a sorry bunch. I did the world a favour.”

Paula had heard enough. She stood but before she left the table Tracey said, “ You don’t know the full story. Hear that and then you will understand.”

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Checking out Teacher

People in the well to do town of Filton were always a little cautious of new comers. They were a close knit community and scrutinised those new to their town with wary eyes, especially those who would be close to their children.

“Have you met the new teacher yet?” Mrs Wan asked Mrs Jole.

Mrs Jole raised her eyebrows. She hadn’t been made aware there would be a new teacher at the Pettiwick school where her daughters attended. One was in the preschool and would be joining the prestigious classes after the summer. Pettiwick was the best education money could buy.

Mrs Wan could understand Mrs Jole’s concern. At Pettiwick the parents always came first. As such they were always kept in the loop.

“He’s a music teacher,” explained Mrs Wan.“He isn’t permanent. He’s just helping out with the fall concert. Vincent Baines is his name. He’s the son of Fredrick Baines. Do you remember the concert in the city?”

Mrs Jole nodded her head in agreement.

“That was his father. The only reason I know all about this is because he’s teaching Simon violin. It’s only been a few weeks but he’s come on leaps and bounds.”

Mrs Jole’s concerns seemed to be soothed.

“Maybe he can teach the girls. Elle could really use some extra help with piano.”

Elle was Mrs Jole’s eldest. The annual Pettiwick concert was a big occasion in the town. Parents became blood thirsty in their attempts to have their child in a starring position. Ten year old Elle hadn’t shown any interest in music but her mother’s encouragement never stopped.

Mrs Wan pushed her white ceramic cup aside. Half of her decaf soya macchiato still remained. She leaned in closer to her companion.

“I must admit though, there is something a little off about him.”

At first Mrs Jole assumed her coffee mate was fearmongering so her son Simon would have an advantage at the concert.

“How do you mean?” Mrs Jole pressed.

Mrs Wan raised her hand. “I can’t really tell exactly what. There is just something a little off.”

Mrs Jole pursed her lips. She wasn’t buying any of it. If Mrs Wan truly believed that Vincent was odd she would never have him in her home. She would especially not allow him near her precious Simon.

“He’s started teaching at the Beckingridge house, little George I believe. The daughter, Catherine, was been shipped off to boarding school in the city by that aunt,” Mrs Wan continued.

Mrs Jole nodded. She pushed her own cup away. Unlike her companion she had finished her skinny vanilla latte. She had also devoured the gluten free brownie she had ordered with it.

“The child murderer!?” she gasped.

This was a reference to the Beckingridge home. Some time before a body of a child had been found on the land. It was something the suspicious little town rarely spoke of but they would not easily forget.

The door of the coffee shop opened. A young man in his late twenties, carrying a violin case pushed his way in. Mrs Wan – who was facing the door – watched as he approached the barista for attention. He was fair of face and well groomed. His chin was clean shaven, his brown curls styled. He wore a dark purple cardigan that his youth made seem quite trendy.

Mrs Jole looked over her shoulder to see what caught the attention of her friend.

“That’s him,” Mrs Wan explained.

Vincent waited patiently for a black coffee which the barista fetched in record timing. He paid with cash. As he turned he pulled the lid from the takeaway cup and blew on the steaming hot coffee. His eye caught Mrs Wan. He smiled and straightened up. He approached the women. The barista watched the musician, wiping his hands on his black apron.

“Good to see you, Mrs Wan,” Vincent said politely. “How are you?”

Mrs Wan returned the smile. The same warm grin she used for all the Pettiwick faculty.

She gestured with her hand towards Mrs Jole.

“This is Mrs Jole. She’s another Pettiwick parent. You’ll find her eldest daughter in your concert.”

Vincent laid the violin case on the ground and took Mrs Jole’s hand in a firm shake.

“It’s a pleasure,” he said.

Mrs Jole retracted her hand after sufficient time passed. She folded her arms across her chest.

“I think most people are around here are Pettiwick parents. It’s really is the best school by far.”

Vincent lifted his violin again and nursed the coffee in his other hand.

“It’s been nice meeting you Mrs Jole. If you ladies will excuse me I have to rush off.”

He waved the women goodbye and headed to the door. As he reached it it was opened by a large man with a baby strapped to his chest who allowed the musician sufficient room to leave.

Music lessons would do the Elle the world off good Mrs Jole agreed. Vincent was charming and pleasant. Mrs Jole had suspected Mrs Wan was deliberately trying to put her off. She was right though, there was something a little off about the teacher.

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