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Category — Short Stories

Rats Wid Wings

By way of introduction, I thought I’d say where the idea for this story came from and then I realised: I can’t remember.

Every now and then I mention a story I was trying to write and instead ended up with the ‘some other’ story being posted . This is one of the stories I was originally trying to write. It was started early but finished late, with a good many part-finished stories in between, so its creation feels strangely distant and out of order to me — my perspective is shot.

I do remember that if you have a thing about rats, be of good cheer: it’s not actual rats on l’ill budgie wings. But if you have a thing about l’ill scratchy, demony things… you might not be so lucky.  

There may be some swearing.

***

T

here are hundreds of cages in this small Edinburgh flat, and the landlord – Goresky – is at the door waving the lease, saying “No cat! No kot! Not even kotec!” Despite the incorrect species, it’s hard to believe this is coincidence.

Mikey feels a stab of worry, but continues to observe the bullish man through a slot seventy-eight inches high and one inch wide, which is as far as he’s going to open the tenement door. He has to ask himself who or what has tipped off this old gangster?

How about the pungent smell and the waft of papery scales that tend to gather under every door? Or the assorted scritters, yowels and squeaks? Or the nervous downstairs neighbours on the end of long-handled brushes prodding ceilings, saying, real quiet: please, please, no more?

Goresky has a fat lip and black stubble that could be his own crotch clippings stuck on with paste. His face is literally bristling. “I telling you, West Boy. I telling you.” He takes a cloudy breath. “And telling you!”

Waves a big fat finger.

Mikey blinks.

A white slip of paper is forced around the edge of the door, come from that dumpster fist. It’s covered in close-written ballpoint – blue and underlined in places – crumpled and now folded over.

Without thinking, Mikey rips it through. This is greeted by a leering grin, gold teeth flashing. “See you on street. Dupek!” says the Polska in soft, fierce words.  Then, be-slotted and nothing left to serve, he stalks off without looking back. His hand is waved in the air in a writhing spiral as he descends the stairs, like fat smoke in a sweaty shirt – the tenement Djinn without the wishes.

Mikey can only imagine what brutish enforcement squad he’s off to assemble. “Aye, well,” he shrieks, “fix the fucking lift, you loser” and whacks shut the door; cracking hard brass into place; jangling chain.

“Hisssss,” goes the chorus.

It’s been a bad day.

That morning began with a retching gasp into morning light and hallucinogenic wakefulness. It was followed by fist-punch eyes staring back in confusion from the flecked mercury of the wardrobe mirror.

Cages had slipped in the night. Little voices had been sing-songing from pointed tongues and sharp teeth till sun rise. Something was flitterbying the breakfast table – so small and dark and filled with hunger that Mikey couldn’t see it. A part of him would’ve welcomed never seeing it or its numerous brothers and sisters again, even though it was hard to imagine life without his leathery flock. Unfortunately, the escapee was entirely unfazed by the flyswatter in Mikey’s hand. He might as well have brought it breakfast at the end of the green plastic handle – what with the wounds it left on his arms. Still didn’t stop him swatting the air, though, as the thing flittered by, giggling nastily, the rest of them egging it on – their brave new explorer of sunlight.

Squalling, it eventually exploded into charred mystery meat.

The rats like to sit on the TV; roost on the bed frame. Congealed excrement slides down these surfaces, or is baked into cake by the central heating: black like insect casings; smells of black pudding.

Best not to think about that.

Mikey opens the windows for an airing. Something stirs. Cracks an eye.

He looks out over the sprawling tenements, a rusting play park, and the dead streets, beyond. He sees this shimmer through mucusy lickings and four-fingered paw splots on the glass, where a ‘rat’ has excitedly gobbled a moth and spat out the antenna.

Mikey found a lot of things hard to accept. Sure he was happy enough, he supposed, if he kept the door shut on the room with the cages and turned Jeremy Kyle up to fifteen, and there was footy and chips from Ginelli’s and Cobra beer on promo at the Co-op, but his other life had started to intrude. That other life was mean. It had teeth. Lots of little teeth. And it was hard to get away when it could fly on shitty little wings. And while the big thing he couldn’t accept was the death of his sister, Margret Lee Maine – God bless her broken little body – he wasn’t about to kid himself that his new life on her behalf wouldn’t turn on him and eat him at the first chance it could get. In fact, as the ring leader of Von Micken Mousen’s Festering Flying Circus – as he’d labelled his crazy enterprise – he would grudgingly admit that might be entirely appropriate. Revenge was hungry. It liked to be fed. And if you considered that pile of empty cat food tins, revenge was particularly fond of ‘real meaty chunks of chicken in gravy’ when it couldn’t get what it really wanted; if you took too long and it had to eat in. It also tended to grow arms and legs… on fishhook claws.

There’s a strip of Margret’s camisole is in the living room, complete with pink, reconstructive makeup stains. The edges are fleshy and curled, ragged with hurried cutting and tearing with an Exacto Knife. Mikey guesses you might call that an act of desecration, concealed by a mid-funeral breakdown over the open coffin. Perhaps to lessen the deed, he uses it as a bookmark which makes all his paperbacks bulge by the end of the reading – you can tell a Mikey book (that and the tarnished brown of the pages and the sign of small but excited gnawing, claw scratching, and the tiny corrosion of urine stains).

Geegaw says it ain’t the best, that camisole – synchronicity, alignment… something, whatever. Says she wasn’t wearing it when she went and the attacker never touched it, but she’s has been wearing it dead. That’s gotta count for something. “‘Course”, said the diminutive Glaswegian scratching out a brief flurry of chin scurf, “you may end up doin’ for all them lasses wearin’ the same perfume in a five mile radius. Heh.”

No laughs there, then.

The flat hasn’t been cleaned in months. Pizza flat-pack is the new Mondrian architecture. Styrene plazas. Dark rustlings in the crumpled fishhhhh and chip wrappers on the kitchen floor, where scavengers wander under the fatty, autumn leaves. Mould cascades from one plate to the next in the kitchen-sink-Vesuvius of plates – egg stains reborn as culture. Occasionally, the tiny Reavers come to this Babylon on shredded wings, scaled to its populace, and sup on the green velvet layered on the orange putrid flows.

Geegaw had warned all about this.

“This isn’t bloody Gremlins, he said,” smacking Mikey up around the face. “These things don’t turn into toothy beasties if you feed ‘em after midnight.”

“Oh?”

“No, son. They start out annoyed. These things like meat. Meat, meat, meat.  And if you don’t feed ‘em meat, they like you. And if you point ‘em out the window, they like anything on two legs or four. But if you do that, son, make sure you’ve got somethin’ under their nose to go after, or they’ll go through the neighbourhood like a dose of salts.”

“Oh, man.”

“Yeah, ‘oh man.’ So, cages. Eye drops. Litter. Pooper-scooper…”

Armloads of stuff from a back of a van, a van so full of rust the neighbourhood showed through the holes. Up twelve flights as the lift was out and presumably never coming back.

“You can stack ‘em in, but they fight. Li’ll scrappers,” Geegaw said. Not quite affectionately, as he tweaked at something fleshy under his eye patch.

“That about it?” says Mikey, keeking in a cage. He could feel something pitter-pattering inside, but it looked empty. A strange mewling came from another.

“No receipts.” The dealer gave him a narrow look and laughed nasty. “An’ if you don’t pay, you know what’s coming after you.” And then he left so quiet Mikey had to check all the rooms to make sure he’d actually gone.

There is no manual, only trial and error. What follows are rashes, and cat scratches from chin to forehead (so he says to the Housing Benefit) and bad, little necrotic gasps of breath at his ear as something shadowy hisses at the moonlight and settles a tail around his neck, prickling, as it rides him like a horse.

“What are these? Pony nuts?” he’d asked Geegaw, holding up a handful of freeze-dried, desiccated pellets.

“Pig nuts,” he’d said. “Pig nuts.”

“What they really?”

“Pig nuts.”

Thing loves them – head wedged between Mikey’s fingertips, rooting them out. When it misses – malicious or no – its teeth nip like nail clippers. The neck-stretching gobbling is followed by enthused lip-smacking from mid-air.

That night, Mikey takes out the strip of camisole. Slides it under a quivering darkness poised with nostrils, and whispers lines from Shakespeare or Church, or Ibiza – for all he understands them – amazed at how the little thing perks up and shoots out the bathroom window to a jangle of wind chimes; the plastic dolphin clapper detecting something hungry in the breeze.

Then he’s suddenly convinced he’s lost it. “Oh fuck.” Runs to the living room and rumbles aside the glass. On the balcony. Can’t of course see a thing. Gone now.

Hours later – watching Weakest Link, and a few Cobras to the wind – a bottle of shampoo goes over in the bathroom like a bomb. Jumps the height of himself. Ear to the door. Mewling and skittering. Plinks on the light with a tentative tug on the cord.

Snarling inside.

Opens the door and finds a network of threaded blood all over everything, like red paint seeping into folds of watery paper. Floor to ceiling. Little doosh at an epicentre, near a corner shelf in the tiles. A splatter ball. Whether it’s the blood sticking all over it or it’s temporarily sated, it’s quite visible – and it’s a horror.

Mikey briefly contemplates picking it up with tongs or a fish slice, but instead brings its box with fresh newspaper, and slides open the trap. Yellow eyes glitter, hips sway and it fracks out its wings, a hiccup-like burp, the snout scrawls up into a leering nightmare of bat and Piranha.

Mikey holds out the box. “Mmmm… pig nuts,” he mumbles.

The rat hops inside, weight dropping the box a little. Within, a tiny delightful purr like a diamond drill as it tucks into pig entrée. Mikey feels sick. Clack goes the little door. Greedy claws fish out trying to snag his fingers.

Hours of painstaking cleaning.

“Bloody things are leaving more mess than if I just went out there with bare hands and a fire axe,” he whines to Geegaw a day or two later.

Gets a finger pricked in his chest. “What did I say. You gotta be a linguist, son. Say the exact word and they go. ‘Fact, say the word and I’m gone. But, be that as it may, pacts are pacts. You got ‘em for 99 years.”

Given his likely lifespan, that term seems rather optimistic. “What then?”

“Haaa, ha. What then indeed. Listen son, this ain’t a Playstation.”

Gone again.

Mikey wishes he wouldn’t do that. Takes out the camisole. Folds it.

How many murdering scumbags are there in the world? he wonders. Excepting him, Goresky and Geegaw, that is.

One less each night – Mikey and the circus wronging the wrongs.

November 3, 2012   12 Comments

Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ

Thankfully, with folks popping by to read ‘Lion on the Court‘, I’ve managed to get past that rather shaky moment of 666 comments sitting on the Café. Dark shadows loomed, the door rattled. I was scared to cash up. But next day, sunshine and clouds, following some kind words of appreciation. I’m past all that. The Café is now open to its 676th comment, which must surely happen if you click below.

This week, a darker tale (perhaps slipped through the letter box on the night before).

What kind of Café is this? ’#119 SUICIDE?’ ‘Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ?’ (complete with strange ‘æ’)?  Yeah, I’m going to have to get some nice things on the wall. But in the meantime,  mama is missing. 

***

A

n empty glove box and the knife is gone. The blade has scratched the paint down to the van’s old, tin bones.

I wish I was back at school. School is the one place where the wheels don’t move and the scenery stays still, and I can find one place to call my own. It doesn’t have to be a big place: a carved up desk; a step and a book; a sit on the cloakroom spars beneath the jackets. I don’t look to life to be generous.

Mamma has gone again and returned and gone once more, and in between there have been monsters in the truck yard, where the old families lay their vehicles down. It’s like a graveyard here – except there is rust rather than decay, and weeds for stones, and windows of algae and bird shit for eyes.

I was worried. That maybe… I don’t know what. I saw the way that Nicolæ was staring at mamma; like he wanted to own her. I’ve seen her flick her skirts away on more than one occasion; slap his butcher’s hands, cursing while covering my ears. The last time, I ran to hug her and turned like a caravan dog, all spiked up and mongrel, skinny fists to the looming bulk of spit and gold, and wondered how I might beat Nicolæ to bloody dog steak, though he is like an ogre and – as mama says – twice as ugly. Look at the hams on him. An ogre would be preferable, but still, papa taught me to box; beat me to box, until I was my own bloody dog steak. I want to believe I could take Nicolæ, but my own fear keeps me warm.

All things are a question of belief – mama says – and she also says that all things are possible, if we just believe in them enough, though that does sound like one of the well-turned, palm size, polished stories from her ‘shameless magazines’ (shameless as she calls them). I believe they are quite shameless, but mama reads them because she really is so beautiful and, she says, cosmerche was made for her thick lashes and large brown eyes and… bones.

They don’t wear makeup in the ‘other’.

I try to get comfy and there’s a baggy-ass creak of springs. A copy of Cosmo twists and rips under foot. I consumed it hours ago, word for word, like a chop dog thrown a lamb hock. I guess I was trying to remember her in pictures – in that feminine thing. I read ‘Ten Ways to Keep Your Man’, while the blower had battery, though that article doesn’t seem to have worked for her: that’s ten, small failures on two to three long outsiders.

Boys shouldn’t read that stuff. She doesn’t like me reading too much English, anyway, because we belong to a different world with its own tradicae. But I think the old ways are just another way to keep us apart from the people here, and what more so than: ‘believe enough, and so it is’? But the joke is, you don’t need to believe in the Twilight for it to creep up and get you. It’s real, anyway. That boy Sam with the light up trainers at school (blue like jaybird); and that blackbird, perched right there on a fender like a glob of watery, black marrow; and that little drop of blood on the steering wheel that hums like a hammer; and the Twilight, are all as real as each other – belief or no. I bet that boy, Sam, doesn’t vanish if I don’t look at him, either – he’s still lit up, dancing. The Twilight still darkens down; hunkers, and waits.

Papa’s old watch creaks round, buzzing like a shrew in my hand. In the van, the condensation on the windows takes on the tartan and scruffy wool of the blankets where my moving presses out.  If I could just stop breathing, perhaps that wobbly underwater of cars, stuffed high like coral, would resolve into their actual elements: tin and rubber tyres, fat like squeezed bread, treads exploding as the rubber corrodes.

My deep sea view suits the old yard well – I imagine it a place of wide mouthed things with teeth and whisp-fyre lures; or perhaps it’s the high-tide line, where what’s washed up can be much worse, more alien, than that. In the place beyond the yard, nothing is known for certain and only folklore can provide the answers.

I yank my hand away as I find spittle in my hair.

Mamma and a drop of blood. Mamma and blood. Knife gone. Mamma, blood, knife. Took it in tears and pushed me – pushed me – on the crown of my head, palm like a spider and she hurt my neck and scratched my cheek – I can see a little fleck of skin in the scab in the rear-view mirror – and took the knife. It has a blade like the edge of a dog-food tin: ragged and shiny and meaty, all at once.

Mamma said she’d never needed me to stay in the van more than now, and now she is gone walking again in the other world, and I am terribly, terribly scared. But I won’t show it. The door slam made my chest hurt with the whomp of the air.

Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ – for what he has done.

***

Jaya has come and there is to be council. I am not to bring Rahdi, because ‘this is no time for toys, boy’. And no crying, or hugs, or touching and Jaya won’t say where mama is, except ‘they will come to that, boy. Now get your shoes, and smarten that face. No need for a jacket.’ And he has a spade-struck expression, jutting with gold-capped teeth, and a firm hand on my back propelling me along so fast, I think I might fall in the truck tracks and mud, and I must carry on or lose a foot of height when he pushes my head off. This is more friendly and scary-making than I have ever seen him, and he won’t talk about mama and the knife.  I am running over my own running.  How I hate the mud.

***

This is a court of sorts.

Nicolæ has done and gone into the Twilight.

Here there are tall thrones on the heaps, and the masks of elongated whiskery hares, eyes stitched, fur worn, like a well-loved toy. Flies pick across them. The ears are like strips of sun-dried meat. They tell me, I can take the knife and follow Nicolæ into the Twilight, or I can burn the van and never come back – go to school, get my own blue jay trainers.

But mamma is as dead and blackened and blue – in that strangely deep blood in a tyre furrow – as she’s always going to be.

I pick up the knife, feeling the tape on the handle like ribbed bone; note the bloodied blade; weigh the decision.

Jaya looks away.

That’s fair.

Others look on as if I am about to give a concert.

“It is his right.”

They are bitter and funny and pooled like decay, and for a moment I wish I could take a photo of them all. But I believe in what Nicolæ has done…

So I and the knife are gone.

August 17, 2012   12 Comments

I Made £65.70 for Sick Cats Last Week

Hello wonderful readers.

Fear not, work progresses on my ‘Black Door’ serial. I’ll have the next instalment up today or tomorrow, digital gods willing.

Thing is, the latest Black Door is quite long (and pretty dark) so I thought: I’ll post a #Friday Flash as well and I’ll make something a bit, y’know, upbeat. So here it is, my ‘little flashy’. And, I think there’s plenty of quirk in this one, but it’s also too darned long at around 1370 words.

In all conscience, I couldn’t call this Flash Fic, so it’s posted in Short Stories. Yeah, what a dimbo.

As for the serial, I’m probably gonna chop the latest episode in half, or I might wear you all out. On the plus side, it features Mr Softly, and he’s all about chopping things in half.

Stephen.

I

’m Laura [60p!]ing Campbell, and No, I’m not proud of myself.

Did you know that fairies can’t stand bad language?

I didn’t know that.

I mean, I can totally imagine those razzy, little, flittery critters dropping the ‘F-bomb’, so why should it bother them?

Stupid Sindy Dolls with wings.

Well, apparently, fairies have a ‘sensitivity’ to such things, and you aughta’ stop-up your gums if you’re gonna cuss the ‘blue end of a bus’, or a fairy might just jump out and do you in with Chinese rope burns n’ stuff.

Or maybe, a good old cuss-word or two could save your life. How about that?

That’s what I tell my mom, now, every day.

And she says, ‘Little miss, just you stick another 20p in that swear box. I heard that language what you was using, so delicate, like.’

An’ I say, ‘It’s not a box, dearest mama, it’s a [60p!]ing bear with a slot in its head.’ Then she says something equally rude, in the steamy hiss of a kettle, and the Sick Cats of Bearsham and Barthem get £1 for both us slackers.

Shakespeare we ain’t.

Short an’ up, I pretty much got a paper-round to support a forty-a-day F-word habit. I really did – Gordon Ramsey aught’a come cook in my kitchen. Then he’ll learn a word or two.

But think of the kitties – I’ve got them all on-board the ‘rabbit in gravy’ train with every exquisite expletive.

Anyway, there’s this old set of allotments down by the railway. I help out the oldies there: Toothless Tony, Nick the Nettles, Fingers M’ilotment and the rest of the Green Gardening Mafia. It ain’t all Dons, either, so a shout out to Molly Flower, Two Tins Tallulah, an’ the rest of the ‘Rattan Pack’.

Their whole area might once have been romantic, when the steam chuffers went past, taking coals toNewcastle, or whatever (or is that just a euphemism?).

Anyway, now, it’s kind of red crumbling brick at the bottom the hill, grass grown over old plots, walls shrouded by ivy, the occasional hoop of corrugated iron; while to the top, it’s pristine allotments, neat little sheds, shades of blue paint, dahlias dancing in the wind.

They call me Little Sweet Pea Soup up there, on account of me bein’ fourteen and three quarters (which is fifteen goin’ on sixteen right?) an’ a lay-dee an’ all, an’ a Campbell.

That nickname put at least 60p in the tin, day one.

I hate the nicknames those old codgers and codgettes come up with for me. Couldn’t they get a cool name from Ben 10 or something?

But mom says mind your P’s and Q’s [I don’t know any swear words that begin with ‘Q’. Those that start with ‘P’, kick off at around 10p and peak at around £2.10].

Anyway, down at the railway end, they’ve let the allotments grow over. I asked why. They said, “On account of…”

And that was it.

Uh? Hello?

See them little dots. That’s actually what they said. No, not ‘dot, dot, dot’, but nothing. Then, like they forgot or was havin’ a senior moment, they’d add: ‘Oh, hey… there’s a plant that needs watered’ or ‘Hey, Jim, got a lovely set of marrows there.

[To which Jim now owes 30p on account of his ‘Ooooh, Matron!’ shenanigans. That’s 3x10p = 30p for sick cats, which is cheap on the account of no actual rude words bein’ spoken, but plenty of Nintendo].

What I’m saying is, that all I got was ‘On account of…’ avoid, avoid, avoid.

And I knew the mysterious thing wasn’t dry plants, or Jim and his oogly marrows, but something strange that made the committee of Red Barns and West Allotment Association let their greenest and most abundant plots – judging by the size of those hocks – go to waste.

But another thing, didn’t my grandfather have one of those plots? If he did, well, there’s a kind of inheritance scheme up here…

So I went through the records, secretly one night, then tabled a hostile motion over a wheelbarrow. The Sunflowers (the ‘yays’) carried the day, but the Sprouts (the ‘nays’) weren’t too happy about it.

Elbows nudged back and fore, glances exchanged, there were dull harrumphing sounds behind soup strainers, the odd heave of a bosom and potting trowl, until one Mr Roy-Boy Berloti was pachinkoed forward, hat in hand. His fingers ran along the peaked brim of his cap like he was typing LOL over and over.

He says – wait for it – he says, “Sweet P” –”  [20p in the bear] – “SP,” he says. “You can’t go dig that allotment on the account you may get grabbed.”

“Grabbed?” says I.

“Grabbed. Yeah. Your old man, Al Capon [Gramps, on account of his chickens] knew what’s what and he let that strip go fallow.”

“Well tough rhubarb,” I say. “It’s time for a stiff broom, and afore that, a stout spade and a spruce up with a fork.” What-the-fork? Ha, ha. [0p – No, that doesn’t count. Besides, I only thought it.].

“Anyone got a scythe?”

“Out back,” said the long faces.

I went and got it and a whetting stone and some oil. Grass flew and then I broke and I spaded and finally I pricked out some seeds.

The sun was shining, there wasn’t an F-word in sight.

When, I was grabbed [£3!].

Old door and peeling paint, crawled up and crazy-paved like that old painting mom has over the fridge (I call that poster ‘Moaning Lisa’, on account of  her looking a right moany moo, and she’s obviously hot-breathing a few choice words).

Anyway, grabbed.

And when I say grabbed – really grabbed. I couldn’t move. At first I think I’m lying on a compost heap. There’s old wizened carrots, and leaf, and an earthy smell, of rot and humus, sweet beets maybe. Tar from the roof.

My new, best joggies were covered in clart [20p!]. I looked around. It was cold [20p!], dark [40p!] and unfamiliar [50p!].

There could’ve been [80p!]ing rats.

Only faint slivers of sunlight rafted in through the wood roof, and even those gaps were shrouded in leaves. Dust motes danced in the fingers of light. I tried to sit up. Nothing doing.

Then the mound shifted. [£1.50!].

I was sprawled in the lap of what can only be charitably called a heafter of a huge, fat hag (my, my how delightfully PC).

There was no fee, fi, fo, fum. But this old, bearded besom had me held tight, my head resting aside her crook chin, back to her breasts. I could see right up her nose, to nose-hair like root-bound geranium. Warts bulged like splitting rose buds, fingers clasped around me like roots and twigs grown in.

“Stop with your yammering, child. Your mother teach you to talk with a mouth like that? All cussing up words like old broken stones? No good trying to twist n’ turn, little missy, I got you held, as close as ivy spreading its leaves, or flesh grown to the bone.”

And her organic fingers synched in all the tighter.

I was of course polite and reserved, in this situation of extremis.

“Well, I wish I was a pile of [£1.85!]ing [£3!] what you was holding. How’s about them potatoes?” My voice was all hand on hip, red lippy, snark-snark.

The hag twisted uncomfortably, her stubble scraping my neck.

“And another thing,” – as those hands crushed tighter – “you old [50p!]er, you aughta stop [£1.50!]ing around and let us go. Eh?”

With that, ma exquisite potty-mouth was too much for the old dear. A hag all dainty and proper you say? What courtly places she been lately? But still, there’s a screech that could lay-off a slug at fifty meters on a cloche frame.

“[2/6d!] Take her away!” she commands.

There’s a patter of ickle wings. Zoot I’m out cold, zoot I’m back on the ground, earth in my hair, ants on my face, grit on my tongue, and sunstroke, so they say.

–oOo–

“Laura Campbell? Yeah, that’s the [50p!]ing ragamuffin down the bottom of the [50p!]ing allotments. She’s got us all [60p!]ing swearing, on account of the [80p, 60p, 60p!]ing fairies!”

 

September 16, 2011   10 Comments