Following the success of our Halloween themed writing prompt, we decided that we would have a monthly prompt, whereby each Storyslinger must write a short story of between 500 and 1000 words based on the decided theme. Our latest theme was ‘betrayal’ and here are the stories that were produced as a result;
Rock the Dock, by Mike Bailey
I can feel the ship move away from the dock and I wonder where he is. He said he felt sick and was going down to our stateroom for a pill and some brandy but he hasn’t come back. Damn him, I’m standing here saving his place for him while all the passengers wave their farewells to the crowds on the quayside. Right by my side there is a rail I have made ready for him, lifted from its pinion and just balanced in place. I need him here now in the clamour of departure. I told him I want to celebrate our lottery win. A quick kiss to make him bend towards me and a firm nudge in his weedy chest and he’ll tumble over the side and leave it all to me.
I chose the numbers, I used them on the ticket but when we won he said the money was ours. Big of him. My numbers, my ticket. Anyway as soon as we got the money the first thing we did was to go to the best jeweller in Hatton Garden to get my ring. The biggest diamond, a million pounds worth of white and blue light held on a platinum band. It feels like wearing a lighthouse, glinting out to sea to save ships or to ruin them at the flick of my finger. Very reluctantly, I left it down in the safe in our seagoing suite of a cabin because he said it would be a bit vulnerable up here with all this sea around us.
Oh damn him, always awkward, never doing what I want him to do. It goes right back to when we met. He went for my sister at first, silly twig like cow, no tits or bottom just a tangle of hair like an explosion in a wool shop. She’s a female version of him really. Of course she took after our daddy, tall and thin like a pipe-cleaner. I’ve inherited mum’s warm roundness thank goodness. He was only too happy to sink his fingers into my generous flesh once he I told him my sister was two-timing him. I had to let him know for his sake even if I had to make it up a bit. Well make it up, but the end justifies the means, doesn’t it.
Where in buggeration is he? We’re moving away from the dockside now. Everyone is waving and calling out their goodbyes. Goodbye England, next stop USA, seven whole days and nights of luxury and peace and then a new life spending the money, my money. In Las Vegas I’ll be the English queen bee courted by a hundred nubile Yankee drones.
I’m getting cold up here. I want to go down to our sumptuous cabin and take these clothes off and put my ring on and admire myself rolling on the bed in that big gilt mirror opposite. If only he would hurry up. He went away quick enough when they announced all visitors had to leave the liner. Now where is he? Late for his own funeral. Oh I can be cruelly witty, they will love that in Las Vegas. It’ll be so much more difficult to get him in the right place here by this doctored railing once we sail and I’m worried that some nosey sailor or even another passenger will spot where I have fixed things for his unexpected and terminal swim.
Now they are starting to turn away on the shore, heading back to their cars and home to their boring little houses. No more of that for me, darlings. I’m here heading for wall to wall luxury, champagne and lusty, thrusty young men with dazzling smiles and flat stomachs. I can see one couple is still staring out at us, tall and thin, arms round one another, look at her hair, what a mess.
I’ll give them a wave, bye-bye suckers. Oh look, she raised her arm and took a photograph, quite a flash, brilliant white and blue. There it is again as she waves her arm. Hang on, white and blue? It can’t be. My ring, my husband. You bastards I’ll kill you. Oh God, the railing, the fucking railing, I can’t get my balance, Noooo.
Ruin, by Elizabeth Woodgate
The girl in front of me had green streaks in her hair and cut off denim shorts so short I could see a bulge of buttock flesh through the black opaque tights she wore underneath. At my convent school we wore blue and grey kilts that hung below the knee and blue v neck jumpers. Tights were forbidden for some reason and we had to wear knee length grey socks. The teachers appointed a posture prefect in year eleven to help them monitor the juniors’ uniform. They monitored years nine and upwards themselves and were strict about neatness and polished shoes. I could imagine Miss Treves quivering at the sight of the girls in the sixth form I now attended. I was in my second week and still felt too tidy and clean even though I was in jeans and a t-shirt.
I was in the corridor trying to shuffle through the crowds to get to my History lesson but there was a jam like a crush of commuters in the underground. When I got to the steps that led out of the building, I turned and felt something yank my hair back.
– Ow! I cried out.
– Hang on. A voice behind me, male and quiet, said. Don’t turn round.
I did turn and saw a boy in a green cotton jacket with long straight hair to his shoulders.
– Your hair’s caught in my button, he said. Turn round.
A mass of bodies was gathering behind us. Impatient, it pushed forward and I stumbled down the first step, my hair still caught.
– Ow! I screamed this time. The boy wedged himself behind me, his arm round my waist while the bodies streamed in front of us down the stairs. I felt his heat and smelt his smell, tobacco and weed (although I wasn’t sure about this) and washing powder. When the rush died down, I stepped away from his body and stood like a child while he untangled things.
He was called Adam. I learnt other things about him: he was in a band, he was officially doing Sociology and English Literature but he spent most of his time at college in the Music Tech suite where the teachers let him tinker about with his own recordings. He was in his second year and had only been allowed to continue because his tutor had pleaded his case with the senior management. He was on a final warning as his attendance was still crap, he said. His mum had just walked out on his dad. She was with some other bloke now and he didn’t speak to her. His dad was drinking a lot. But his parents were insisting he finish his A levels. God knows why, he said.
Then I learnt different things: the smell of him under his clothes, the touch of his skin, the shape of his ribcage, the way his toes grew out of the bones on his sinewy feet.
My mother met Adam in our kitchen. She was holding a plastic carton of organic milk and moving towards a mug of tea on the counter. She stopped when we came in and stood framed by the quartet of vegetable pictures that hung on the wall behind her. A red onion, a dark purple aubergine, a
green pepper and a yellow tomato, all bigger and bulgier than anything that gets shipped to Sainsburys. They were painted by a Spanish artist who sold his work on a stall at the market in Malaga where my parents owned a holiday apartment. Next to the pictures was a cork noticeboard where my mother pinned shopping lists and leaflets for classical music concerts and craft fairs. My A level timetable, sent by the college, was up there too.
I knew the look on my mother’s face: lips pulled together and nostrils flared so that little white dents appeared on either side of her nose. I wanted then to tell Adam to leave and that I would never see him again. I also wanted him to ruin me. To smash me up into pieces that could not be put back together by my mother or my father or my teachers. To sweep up my old self and put it in the rubbish. I felt blood banging in my skull and pumping in my chest.
Adam stepped into this moment and said,
-Hi. Great kitchen. I like your onion.
He pointed to the wall behind my mother.
– It’s massive.
She turned to look at the small square of canvas, at the bulbous purplish globe and the long strands of onion stalk snaking into the corner of the picture. She turned back and smiled with the warmth of a woman on holiday, fresh off the beach, looking forward to a mojito at a kerbside bar.
-Yes, it’s huge, she said. She even giggled.
Betrayed, by Peter Jump
Put your foot in the knickers. In the other hole. The other hole. Well use the other foot then. Come on lets just get you bloody dressed so we can get out of here. Jesus, does it always take you this long?
I’m in the changing room at our local health centre trying to get my four-year-old daughter, Sophie, changed after her swimming lesson. As you might have gathered this isn’t something I usually do. It’s always Karen’s job, taking the kids to the pool, but this evening she’s otherwise engaged. Her spin class has been moved, or was it yoga? God knows, she always seems to be out doing something different. Anyway, it means I’m now landed with the excruciatingly tedious task of ensuring my children are professionally instructed over many weeks on how not to drown. Apparently, Daddy just chucking them in the deep end isn’t good enough.
There’s a granddad next to me – well he looks like a granddad; grey hair, wrinkly face, indulgent manor with the precocious boy he’s got with him – and a couple of other dads scattered around the room. They all look pretty pissed off (apart from granddad) so at least I’m not alone in my puddle of annoyance.
I’m about to tell Sophie to not bother with knickers and just put her tights on, when a big guy in a rugby shirt slams open the changing room door. He looks about my age, mid thirties, and by the over-energetic way he enters the room and starts looking around I’m guessing he’s a man on a mission.
He then strides over to another guy in a basketball top a few yards from me and stands square in front of him, fuming (heavy breathing, red face, general twitchiness) but saying nothing. Basketball dude squares up to him, so they’re just inches from each other. They look strangely similar – same brown eyes, same undersized nose – but Basketball is taller and quite skinny.
What are those two men doing, Daddy?
Nothing. Just carry on getting changed.
Nothing is, of course, precisely the opposite of what’s going on. But what exactly is going on?
You bastard! You fucking bastard! How could you do it? How could you fucking do it? Don’t think I don’t know exactly what you’ve done. Exactly.
The full volume tirade by Rugby leaves Basketball with a face covered in spittle and everyone else in the room silent, stationary and staring.
How could you do something like that? How the fuck could you?
Basketball looks as if he might be about to respond when Rugby pushes him hard by the shoulders into the wall just behind him.
What’s happening Daddy?
Basketball looks shocked by the sudden violence, but I sense he’s more likely to cry than push back. In fact a few seconds later I do hear crying, from a small boy at the far end of the changing room.
Rugby now takes his hands off Basketball and steps back, still staring hard at him.
How could you? How could you?
Rugby almost whispers the question, and now looks as if he’s the one going to cry. Then he looks around the room, looks at Granddad and his boy, locks eyes with me and Sophie.
God, this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.
And with that he turns away and marches out the way he came, to the sound of the small boy’s wailing.
Why did the man push the other man?
I don’t know why the man pushed the other man.
Why don’t you go and find out?
I have to admit, I’m more than curious to know what that was all about. Some might say the answer’s obvious. But why here, why now?
See if you can dress yourself, Sophie. Daddy’s just got to pop off for a second.
It’s a daft impulse I know, but I can’t help going outside the centre to see if I can spot the man and get a clue as to what that was all about. It’s daft but I can’t help it.
In the car park it’s cold and windy and dark already – Christmas is only weeks away. I can’t see him and I’m about to go back when I notice a car door open off near the exit. The interior light is on and I can see Rugby sitting in the passenger seat next to someone. It’s a woman, with long blond hair. She shifts position to talk to the man and suddenly her face is lit up by the dash lights. She puts an arm round his shoulders as he puts a hand to his face, then they embrace, then they kiss, on the mouth. They kiss on the mouth as she stokes his head and he puts a hand on her waste. They’re still kissing as I turn to go back inside.
Did you find out why the man was angry?
Just get your vest on so we can get out of here and watch your sister having her lesson.
Did you find out?
A Blacksmith Courted Me (Story based on folk song ‘The Blacksmith’), by Richard Foreman
Oh what’s the true meaning of all that transpires?
I look in the glass again and again, see only my own wan face, my dark ringed, uncomprehending eyes, and I shake my head once more. And the curls and the tresses around my face do dance and waver as if there had never been strange news, as if he had never gone abroad or stooped to gather the sweet primeroses.
There are stages where these tales are forever acted out. And there are acts, one after another, in which the stages of this tale unfold. With what does it begin? Ah, bliss. It begins with faith, with hope, with love and trust.
It begins with his hammer, striking the anvil, so clever, so steady. The sparks that flew across the smithy. With his smile as he paused to hear my entreaty, a request from my father, shoes for the horses, equipment in need of repair. And his tender eyes as he watched me, clutching my shawl close, a little afraid – for all the times I had walked past the smithy I had never once set foot inside. His broad and sturdy arms. The rosy glow in his cheeks. Oh, I had seen him many a time before. Ours is a small town. But that day I saw as if for the first time. I saw my love.
Said he: “Your father is a good man. This work I’ll do and he’ll settle with me when he can.”
As soon as I was able, I hurried away – for I could barely remain stood fast upon my own two feet, such were the feelings that o’erwhelmed me. Yet why should I mistake kindness for affection? Better not to let imaginings rob me of my good senses.
The trust, it grows, as sapling does to oak, seeming sure and steady. His ready smile and greeting whenever our paths did cross. The light in his eyes that shone for me alone, as he played so neat and trim upon his pipes for the young girls to dance at the summer fair. And then came his letter, the coarse paper near scorched by the ardour of which he wrote. So mayhap the fault is mine. I should not have lain beside him that night. I should have listened to some better counsel. I should not have believed him when he said he’d marry me. When he said he’d not deny me.
And then comes the break – the call to other lands to fight for king and country. Oh, with what concern he’d listen to my entreaties then. “You must not go,” said I, “to where the sun will burn your beauty.” “I cannot stay at home,” said he and spoke of duty. Duty I know. That cannot be denied.
The weeks of waiting. The months. The years. And set to steer me through it all, my wedding plans, my hopes, my foolish dreams. Whilst he did march to fife and drum from battlefield to battlefield. And all would be well if only he lived, had not the call to gather primeroses come upon him.
At last came that news so strange, a whisper from lips to ears, a buzz of words that spreads through the town. “He is married.” How can this be? My love is married to another and will not return to his forge, where I loved so well to watch him at swing with his hammer. I can find no sound meaning in this. And yet it is so.
What was there to be done? A message, perchance? A former claim to consider right well? A protest to rend his heart? Of these I thought, oft, at length, day after day, night after night. But too well I knew what he might say. For witness had I none of what he’d promised. And of where he’d made that promise, I knew I dared not speak.
God may reward him well for the slighting of me. I cannot speak for the Divine Will nor yet, like some practitioner of witchcraft or wizardry, can I seek to sway its course.
If love him still I do, and still do I, then all that’s to be achieved in this the final act is to wish him well. Him and his new love, may they prosper and thrive, may their babies be happy and blessed with health. May he deceive no more.
And there I am, still pale and drawn, staring at myself from out of the glass. Trying to make sense of what I cannot know, that tidal ebb and wash of the human heart, its vagaries, its weakness.
There is but one thing that I can be sure of.
If I was with my love, I’d do my duty.
Just Relax, by Becky Bye
I yawned, making my jaw click. I wondered if I had in fact dozed off, or simply been lulled into a state of semi consciousness by the heady scent of lavender and the eerie, yet comforting crooning of the whale song. I could no longer feel any hands on me and so gingerly, I raised my face from the hole, feeling a tattoo of towel fibres emblazoned across my forehead. Feeling awkwardly stiff, I tried to raise my arms in order to give myself leverage away from the table, but my limbs were frozen. My head throbbed as I heard my heart thundering in my ears and as I attempted to swallow my increasing fear, my mouth felt dry and rough.
I suddenly felt that cold delicate hand on my shoulder and that soft voice in my ear;
“Just relax,” his voice smooth like silk.
He placed his hands underneath me and began to gently raise me up. I was astounded that my body moved in one complete motion, alarmed that my limbs appeared unable to move independently. Very slowly and with one hand remaining at the small of my back, he eased me back onto my knees. With staggered movements like that of a wooden puppet, he inched away from me, his hands outstretched protectively, anticipating a fall.
As I looked down at myself, the once familiar contoured map of moles and purple webs of stretch marks had completely gone and under the amber glow of the candlelight, I flashed brilliant white.
“Perfect,” he said, looking at me with pride in his eyes and holding a mirror in front of me.
I gasped and felt my throat contract, but no sound would escape from my open mouth. I was, as he said, perfect. A beautifully sculpted goddess, like the ones I had seen scattered around the relaxation lounge as I waited for my appointment. My skin was white marble and my muscles pinched uncomfortably within their new body.
He was surprisingly gentle as he scooped me up in his toned arms.
“I know I promised you a 40% discount for the hour’s neck, back and shoulders,” he whispered, “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep you with the others.”
It’s Only Rock & Roll, by Stephen Pellow
I wonder if this night will be the night you decide to do something. Is tonight when you finally take action? I’ve been expecting a confrontation now for months. I’ve been playing these 4000 capacity theatres for weeks and weeks up and down the coast and I know you’re out there. You’re probably dressed head to toe in dark clothing and standing way off at the back – probably next to one of the drinks vendors so you can steep your anger in liquor.
I wouldn’t know if you’re watching or not. Truth is you could be standing in the front row waving right at me and I wouldn’t see you. Is that because the spot lights blind my eyes? You didn’t get this far, you wouldn’t know. You should see it from here… all those people; their faces just sort of “melt” together as they parrot back my vocals, my ears hearing it as a dull echo falling flat across the crowd.
The label was looking for a front man. Someone with presence and swagger they could get behind and market the hell out of. So I changed my name and my image and I already knew all the songs, it didn’t really matter where they came from. I changed a couple of the titles here and there. They didn’t really need you, or the others. It was me they heard on the demos so why not me be the one who signed that contract? Okay so maybe the contract was for the band but like I said they wanted a front man and until I came along, there really wasn’t a band now, was there?
You don’t have much luck with your singers do you? What was I, the third? Or forth? I even heard that you had quit music altogether. You went back to, what was it again? Sales? That’s a mugs way to make a living, mate. Oh, that’s right. Never mind. The others just seemed to move on, but you took it so personally. Was that because they were your songs? Your babies? What I did is no different than those wannabies who go on those television talent shows and sing other people’s songs.
Were you there at all tonight? Probably, and you heard us open with Raising my Love. Of course I tweaked it a bit and it’s now Waiting for Love, which the execs at the label assure me the chick demographic are lapping up. And Shower Song is now Only Forgiveness. I mean, Shower Song? How do you sell that?
These venues are only the start. As soon as the album launches we’ll be booking arenas nationwide. Your songs will be performed all over the country, downloaded all over the world.
As I finish the set and take my leave of the stage again I wonder; have you been listening? Watching? I bet you don’t even recognise your own music now. It must burn you to hear that audience bellow out your words, in your melodies, as I bask in their praise. Is tonight the night you’re waiting for me backstage? When I get what’s coming to me?
But not to worry if it is, it’s only rock and roll.