A Garden For Bella & Tommy
The snow had fallen heavily overnight, and the residents of the garden – the tiny nightingale with its enchanting song, the speckled song thrush, the scarlet-breasted robin, the bushy-tailed red squirrel, fleet of foot and fur of flame, the little hedgehog and the great spotted woodpecker – all woke to find their home swathed in winter’s white veil. The grass, once green, was covered by a thick blanket of unspoiled snow that glistened in the sun as she spread her warm fingers of light over the frozen land. The ivy, dark green and bejewelled with frost, sparkled too; stunningly beautiful, like ivory on jade. A fir tree, wreathed and garlanded with winter’s stole, offered shelter amongst its emerald fronds, whilst the old-fashioned wishing well which stood beneath had frozen solid, entombing the hopes and dreams cast therein, until the Spring thaw would set them free.
At the far end of the garden, the oak and beech tree, their naked, rime encrusted limbs outstretched to greet the dawn, stood beside a small brook which once babbled merrily, but whose voice was now muted by a thick layer of ice.
Bella was 8-years-old when she first stumbled across the garden. She had accidentally lost her grip on her mother’s hand, and since her mother neither noticed nor cared that her little girl was no longer by her side she had wandered, lost and alone through the city where she lived until she happened across a large, heavy, wrought iron gate. The gate was securely fastened with a thick chain and a lock as big as Bella’s hand, but the bars were just wide enough to allow Bella to squeeze through. Beyond the gate was a gravel pathway. Bella delighted in the way the gravel crunched beneath her feet as she walked. At first the pathway ran straight ahead, but soon turned sharp right, where it gave onto a small courtyard with another locked gate. This second gate was too narrow for Bella to squeeze through, but, undaunted and possessed with the energetic zeal of youthful adventure, she saw that she could easily scale the bars and drop down onto the other side. This she did effortlessly, and after rounding a large privet hedge, Bella found herself in the garden.
“Nothing cures the senses but the senses” wrote Oscar Wilde. For Bella, now aged 80, this was certainly true. She still came to the garden, her “little piece of heaven” as she liked to call it, to escape the humdrum banality of her life, but primarily to fill the void of lonliness which, like a swirling black hole, sat at the centre of her being, threatening to pull her in entirely.
Today, a glorious day in the height of summer, as Bella stepped barefoot onto the crisp, cool grass, every last vestige of negative emotion was banished absolutely. The hedgerows were ablaze with violet blooms, their petals still wet with morning dew, shimmering brilliantly in the bright summer sun. The grass too had erupted in a riot of colour, as pink tulips, blood-red poppies and purple and yellow pansies strained their heads upwards towards the clear blue sky. The oak and beech tree, the boughs adorned with glossy, bright green leaves, played host to a veritable array of birds who sang and called as if in greeting to their faithful friend. The fir, too, was busy with energy and life. The fleet-footed red squirrel, no doubt a descendent of that which she had seen on her very first visit, and with a family of its own, shimmied down the trunk and scurried across the garden, stopping here and there to snaffle a few tasty acorns discarded by the oak. High up, amongst the boughs of the beech tree, the great-spotted woodpecker poked its head out of the home it had hammered out for itself earlier in the spring.
Gingerly, Bella eased herself down onto the cool grass. She wasn’t entirely sure how she would get up again, but she would think about that when it was time to go. As she sat there amongst the flowers, she thought about all that had happened in the years since she first found her idyll. The world had seen two wars, with millions lost. Friends and family had come and gone; some had simply lost touch; others had passed away. Meanwhile technology had moved apace, bringing gadgets and gizmos to the masses, making the world smarter, and yet somehow colder.
She thought too about Tommy, the love of her life, the only man she had ever loved. They had met at the cinema in January 1914. She was 18; he 21. Bella had arrived at the cinema with a different date, a local boy about whom her mother always said was “a wrong un” and that “his eyes are too close together.” As it happened, her mother was right, for as they entered the cinema, he suggestively suggested that they sit in the back row. Bella had smiled and said that this was only their first date, and besides, she wasn’t that kind of girl. He shrugged and said OK, but then half way through the film he said that he had to go to the toilet and that was the last time she saw him. When the film had finished she walked out to the foyer alone, dejected, rejected, but determined not to be upset. Her determination was never that strong though, and the tears began to fall. That’s when she met Tommy. He was there with friends, but seeing her distressed, had offered to walk her home.
Love blossomed during the walk, and from that moment, until the war came, they were inseparable. She brought Tommy to the garden, and was thrilled that he was as enraptured by its serenity, tranquility and beauty as she. They would sit together on the grass, just holding hands and talking like they had known each other all their lives, or simply listening to the sounds of nature all around them. It was here in the garden that he had told her he loved her, and, with a freshly picked poppy in hand, had got down on one knee and asked her to marry him.
With war looming on the horizon, Bella and Tommy married post haste. After the ceremony they took the train to Brighton for their honeymoon. That was the last time she had ever been truly happy; the last time she had ever felt complete.
Tommy, like the thousands of others who believed that they “would be home by Christmas” enlisted in the army and was immediately posted to Belgium. He died two months later, in the mud at Ypres, leaving a world at war, and Bella alone.
That day, when the postman arrived with the telegram, Bella had run to the garden. She remembered how the birds seemed to fall silent, as though they could sense her grief. Strangely, they were silent again now. Aware of someone standing close beside her, Bella looked up. Tommy’s handsome face gazed down at her. He was smiling, not a day older than when they parted all those years ago at the train station.
“Tommy?” she whispered.
“I’ve come to walk you home,” he smiled “Just like when we met”
He reached down and handed her a poppy, and then sat down beside her, like he had done on that wonderful day when she first shared the garden with him. As they sat on the cool grass face to face, she closed her eyes to blink away the tears of joy.
Two days later, on page five of the local newspaper, was the headline:
ELDERLY WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN SECLUDED GARDEN
CLUTCHING A POPPY: A TRAGIC, LONELY DEATH
If only they knew.
Eleanor Parks 2017
The Camp Bed
Danny took a long toke on the joint and inhaled deeply. He exhaled slowly as he handed it back to me. As I put the joint to my lips, I was acutely aware that our conversation was floundering and that unless some bright topic was introduced soon, one or both of us would end up raiding the fridge, freezer or kitchen cupboards, or very possibly all three. Just then, Danny looked lazily over to me.
“Did I ever tell you about the incident with my girlfriend and the camp bed?” he asked.
This sounded promising. I wanted to say no, but given that I had a lungful of weed, I just shook my head.
“It was a few years ago now, but I was seeing this girl called Emma” he began, “Her parents hated me, didn’t think I was right for her at all. Her dad virtually out and out said that she could do a lot better”
“Imagine them thinking that of you,” I laughed, as I watched him take another long pull on the joint while scratching his balls with his other hand “I wonder whatever made them think that”
“Do you want to hear this story or not?” I held my hands up.
“Sorry, I’ll behave” I said, with mock humility.
“See that you do, otherwise there’ll be no story. Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…again! Like I say, her parents hated me. Especially her mother. Christ! That woman loathed me with a passion! She even went so far as to say that if she ever caught me with so much as a toe inside her house, she’d happily throttle me where I stood and claim provocation in court! Well, in light of what she said, I thought it best if me and Emma started seeing each other on the quiet, and well away from her place. At first Emma said that she didn’t care what her Mum said. I was her boyfriend and if her Mum didn’t like that, well then, she’d just have to grow up and get used to it. I wasn’t having any of it though. I mean, call me a chicken…”
“You’re a chicken” I said, accepting the invitation.
“Thank you. But I didn’t fancy taking my chances with some psycho-throttling-mother-from-hell. Anyway, I managed to talk some sense into her, and we decided that we’d see each other on the sly, just for a little while, and then if things started to get more serious between us, well, then I’d have to have a chat with her mum…from a safe distance of course…a couple of hundred miles, say”
“Such bravery and chivalry, my liege”
Danny gave a mordant bow of the head in acknowledgment before continuing.
“Anyway, we’d been seeing each other as much as we could, ducking and diving here and there and generally keeping as far away from her Mum’s meaty throttlers as we could, when Emma came to me with some news…”
“She was a lesbian?” I ventured.
“Of course not!…Hey, why d’you say lesbian first?”
“I don’t know” I shrugged, “Horniness?”
“But it’s not ‘cause you think she looks like a dyke, right?”
“How the fuck should I know what she looks like, I’ve never met her for fuck’s sake. Look, are you gonna carry on with this story or what because pretty soon I’m gonna be starving or sober and I’m not sure which is more dangerous”
“OK, OK” said Danny, holding his hands up. “Where was I?”
“You’ll be six feet under if you don’t get a move on. Emma came to you with some news”
“Oh yeah. Yeah, she said that her parents were going away to Paris that weekend and so seeing as how she’d have the house all to herself, she thought that maybe we could spend the weekend together at her place”
“I know, right. She said she’d asked her Mum to let her know when they got to Paris, so she knew they’d got there safely. Then, once she knew they were there, she’d text me and tell me to come over. So the day finally dawns, and about two o’clock…”
“In the morning or afternoon?” I asked
“Does it matter?” replied Danny.
“Of course it matters, I want to get a mental picture”
“It was two o’clock in the afternoon, Mr Holmes”
“Very good. Proceed”
“Thank you. So, around two in the afternoon I got a text from Emma to say that her Mum and Dad were safely in Paris and that I was to come over. Now, she lived about a half hour walk from me, but no word of a lie, I was there in ten minutes. We practically fell on each other as soon as she answered the door and, being the horny beast that I am, I fucked her right there in the hall”
“Which hole do you mean?” I interrupted again.
“Fuck off! You know full well I said hall and not hole!” Danny laughed, and threw a handful of Doritos at me. This naturally set us off giggling again, and it was a good ten minutes before our juvenile merriment had subsided.
“Fuck! I’ve forgotten what I was saying now!” said Danny.
“You were fucking Emma in her hallway” I said, and we nearly set off again, but just managed to contain it.
“Right, yeah” Danny nodded, picking up the threads. “Well, after the hallway we did it in the kitchen and the bathroom. Emma wanted to do it in the conservatory but I appealed to her mercy to let me recover a little and so we ended up cuddling with a sandwich on the sofa”
“Why were you cuddling a golf club?” I asked.
For a moment, Danny looked puzzled, but eventually the penny dropped and he said “I said sandwich, not sand wedge! Honestly!” And another handful of Doritos were launched in my direction.
“We spent a lovely day together. About 8 o’clock…in the evening, Mr. Holmes…we sent out for pizza and watched The X Factor. We had a shower together and had sex in the shower, and then when it got to about 11 o’clock, I suggested that it might be best if I went home. “Why?” she said, “My Mum and Dad are miles away in Paris. I mean, I know my Mum’s got 20/20 vision, but I doubt even she can see that far” I said that I was just nervous that they might come back early or something, but Emma assured me that that wouldn’t happen. So, with that decided we snuggled up on the sofa and watched Chicken Run”
“Chicken Run?” I queried, as I rolled another joint.
“Yeah, Chicken Run. What’s wrong with that?”
“And they say romance is dead” I murmured.
“It is romantic!” Danny protested, “The bit where Mrs. Tweedy’s footsteps pass agonisingly slowly past the door of the room where Ginger is hiding, is well scary. And when you’re with a woman, scary means she cuddles into you even tighter” And just for good measure, in case I hadn’t already got the drift, he winked at me. I rolled my eyes as well as my joint.
“Well,” Danny continued, “Emma had already told me that I’d have to sleep on a camp bed in her room, because there wasn’t enough space for two in her single bed. I thought about mooting the idea of sleeping in her Mum and Dad’s bed, but since she hadn’t mentioned it, I thought it best not to. I’m guessing it was about two in the morning when we finally went to bed. We had a cuddle on her bed first and then I got onto the camp bed and we both fell asleep. Next morning, I woke up with a massive hard on. I mean, I’m talking full blanket tent pole…”
“TMI dude, TMI” I protested, “Do I need to hear this?”
“It’s important!” said Danny. I waved my hand through the haze of smoke I had just exhaled to tell him to continue. “So, I’ve got this hard on,” Danny continued, “and of course, needing to do something about it, I gently woke Emma up. I had no idea that women can be just as horny as us fellas first thing in the morning, and as soon as she saw my bed tent, she was on me like some kind of ravenous vampire. We really went at it. First she was on top and then we switched so I was on top of her. We were really going for it!”
“I’m sensing a but coming here, if you pardon the expression given the subject matter”
“Ha! Well that’s where you’re wrong, Mr. Holmes. There’s no but…but there is an ‘and then’” Danny said, triumphantly.
“OK, so and then” I prompted.
“And then the bed collapsed”
“Is that it?” I asked “I thought you were going to say something really dramatic happened”
“Something really dramatic did happen!” Danny retorted “The bed collapsed and because I was bracing myself with my hands on the floor, it trapped my hands underneath it. I couldn’t fucking move!”
“Oh my god!” I gasped, practically choking on the smoke I had just inhaled. For a full five minutes from this point, Danny was forced to suspend his tale as I embarked on a spluttering-laughing-coughing fit. This in turn made Danny laugh, and for a moment or two it seemed as if neither of us would be in any fit state to carry on.
Finally, once our mirth had subsided, Danny got up and got us both a beer, then sat back down to finish the story.
“So, there I am, on top of Emma, both of us stark bollck naked and me with my hands trapped underneath the camp bed. With both our weights on it, there was no way I could get myself free. Emma was telling me to lift up and I was telling her that if I could lift up, I would have done so by now. Honestly dude, as time went on I started having visions of the police searching the house and finding just our skeletons, still trapped in the same position”
Repressing the urge to giggle again, I managed to ask how they managed to free themselves. “After all,” I said, “you must have got free otherwise you’d still be there, right. So what happened?”
“Her Mum and Dad came home, that’s what happened” said Danny.
“You’re kidding!” I exclaimed.
“I wish to fuck I was, dude. I’d just asked Emma if there was any way she could slide out from under me when we heard the front door open and then heard her Mum and Dad. “Only us, love” her Mum shouted. “I know we’re home early but we basically got there and came straight back. Paris isn’t as romantic as everyone makes out. It’s really a…” “Shithole” her Dad said. “Language, Arthur!” said her Mum. Both our hearts are going ten to the dozen and I’m pinning all my hopes on Emma being able to wriggle out from underneath me, lift up the bed just enough for me to get my hands out, and then I can quickly hide in the wardrobe and she can jump into bed and pretend to be asleep. As it turned out we didn’t have time for any of that. Her Mum came up the stairs, poked her head around the door, saw my hairy arse pointing straight at her and screamed. Her Dad must have thought there was a burglar or something, because he came bursting in with a hammer in his hand and I’m convinced he’d have done me a mischief if Emma hadn’t poked her head out from under me and said “Hiya. You’ve…er… met Danny haven’t you?”
By this point, all hope was lost for me and I found myself as a teary, giggling mess on the floor. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop laughing; in fact, the harder I tried, the funnier it got. Eventually, I somehow must have managed to stammer something along the lines of “Then what happened” because Danny said “Well, her Dad managed to lift the bed a bit so I could get my hands out and I stood up, making sure to cover my essentials with my hands of course. Mind you, I didn’t really help myself there because ended up moving my hands away to offer a hello to her Mum. I’m telling you dude, the look on that woman’s face was enough to strike the fear of god into anyone. I swear, if I’d been alone with her I’d be a eunuch”
He looked around and smacked his lips.
“You want some more Doritos?”
Eleanor Parks 2017
John and Linda sat down at the dining room table, ready to play their habitual weekly game of Scrabble. This had been a routine of theirs since before they were married. They both worked long hours, so much so that sometimes they would hardly see each other throughout the week. Once John joked that it was pointless them even having a house together, given that they spent so little time there. Neither of them worked weekends, but on Saturdays there was all the housework to catch up on, shopping to do, mothers to call, friends to see, and a whole heap of other stuff to take care of, all of which made Saturdays almost as busy as a workday. Sunday was the only day when there was absolutely nothing to do. They could sleep late, eat breakfast in bed, even stay in bed all day if they wanted. Generally, they could do as much or as little as they liked.
It was on one of these lazy Sundays, either while they were dating or just after they got engaged, neither of them could quite remember which, that the idea of playing Scrabble was born. They both loved word games, and so the idea of playing a game – or even several games – gave them the opportunity to spend some quality quiet time together when neither of them had to think about work, and if anyone wanted to call round, they could quite legitimately say they were busy. John and Linda loved these Sundays together. It gave them something to look forward to at the end of the week, and just between the two of them, Sundays were renamed “Scrabble Day”.
This morning, while they were drinking their coffee and eating their bacon butties in bed, Linda had told John about a conversation she’d had with a colleague at work. Her colleague, it seems, had begun to keep chickens. She currently had four of them, and had had them for a couple of months, but none of them had ever laid any eggs.
“Anyway,” said Linda, “the other day she was going shopping, so she started to make a list, as you do. She knew she needed eggs, because her chickens hadn’t laid yet, and so she put that as the first thing on the list. She was just about to write milk, when she looked out of the kitchen window and saw the neighbour’s dog jump the fence and start heading over towards her chicken coop. So, with the list still in her hand, she ran outside to chase the dog away. As it turned out the dog was just curious, and didn’t really mean any harm, and the neighbour was very apologetic when she came to get him back”
“Is this actually going anywhere?” asked John, wiping a bit of bacon grease off his chin.
“I’m getting to it, sarky” Linda replied, giving him a sharp dig in the ribs with her elbow. “To cut to the chase, she put the list down on top of the chicken coop while she checked that none of the chickens was any worse for wear, and then, what with all the commotion and everything, she went shopping and forgot the list. When she got back, she went to check on the chickens again, only to find the list still on top of the coop where she’d left it. Not only that, but all the chickens were inside, and they’d all laid eggs. I mean, isn’t that spooky?”
John shrugged. “Not really, no. The neighbour’s dog scared the chickens and instead of shitting themselves they all laid eggs. I don’t see what’s spooky about that at all”
“No, I mean, isn’t it spooky that she leaves a piece of paper with the word “eggs” on it on top of the chicken coop, and a couple of hours later all her chickens have laid eggs?”
He shrugged again. “Just a coincidence” he said.
Linda gave him another dig in the ribs. “Honestly, you have no imagination at times”
John just smiled and continued with his breakfast before saying “It’s a good job she didn’t write milk on her list, isn’t it?”
“What makes you say that?
“Well, you said she wrote ‘eggs’ and she got eggs. If she’d written ‘milk’ she might have ended up with a cow!”
Linda gave him another dig in the ribs for that.
“Mind you,” said Linda, a little while later, “it would be funny wouldn’t it, if we could just write down any word and it would happen. Like, if we wrote down “money” and then suddenly we got loads of money”
“Hey, yeah,” said John, reaching over to the bedside table for a piece of paper and a pen, “Let’s try it” And with that he scribbled something down, folded the paper and handed it to Linda.
“Very funny, you cheeky git” said Linda, as she unfolded the paper and read what he’d written. ‘A shag’.
Oddly enough, what John had written did indeed become reality; in fact, it became reality more than once, and by the time the two of them sat down to their game of Scrabble, it was three o’clock in the afternoon and the discussion about chicken coops and shopping lists had been entirely forgotten.
Each taking turns to remove one letter, John and Linda picked out seven letters, arranging them as they went on the little plastic stands. John sighed. His letters were rubbish – J B N O E Z Q – and as he glanced up, he could tell from the look on her face that Linda’s letters weren’t much better.
“Who’s going first?” he asked.
“Well, seeing as how I’ve got absolutely nothing, you can go first”
John put down ONE, the only word he could think to make. “Great start!” he said, writing down his score before picking out three more letters “Only three bloody points”
“Well, at least you’ll be pleased to know you’ve helped me” said Linda with a cheeky smirk. And with that she took a P and H from her letters to make the word PHONE. She rubbed her hands with glee. “Haha! Ten points!”
“There’s a long way to go yet, Little Miss Modest” smiled John, watching her pick out two more letters.
“OK, OK Mr Uppity, just because you’re losing” They would often banter like this during Scrabbleday. Calling each other by the names of real or imagined characters from the Mr Men and Little Miss books had somehow become part and parcel of the game.
John’s three replacement letters were R O and M, and so, using the O from PHONE, he spelled out the word BROOM, for nine points. Linda shrieked with delight, as she added STICK onto the end of BROOM, landing on a Double Letter Score and a Triple word score to make a total of 63 points.
Just then the phone rang.
“I’ll get it seeing as it’s your turn next,” said Linda, getting up from the table, “but no cheating while I’m away”
“Oh, Little Miss Cynical, you wound me, you really do!” replied John, with feigned indignation.
“That’s nothing to what I’ll do if you cheat” she said, giving him a playful slap on the back of his head as she passed.
Cheat? I’ve never cheated at anything in my life! he murmured to himself, looking round to make sure the coast was clear before taking a sneaky peek at Linda’s letters. He knew he shouldn’t have looked; not necessarily from a moral standpoint, but rather that he now realized that unless his luck at picking letters changed, she was going to beat him hands down. She had B A E M N I O. He looked back at his own letters. J Z Q W I C H, and tutted. Maybe I could pretend I’m Polish he thought to himself, and then “Haha! Take that Little Miss Beat-You-Hands-Down” he said out loud, realising that he could use the T of BROOMSTICK to spell WITCH and earn himself fourteen points. He was just writing down the score when Linda returned.
“Who was it?” he asked, as she sat back down.
“Oh, just my mum” she replied, looking at her letters.
“What did the witch want today?”
“My mum isn’t a witch. I keep telling you that”
“So how do you explain that cat of hers then?”
“Having a black cat doesn’t make my mum a witch any more than driving a Porsche makes your dad a tosser” she said with a little laugh.
John didn’t respond. He merely sat looking at the Scrabble board with a puzzled and slightly disturbed expression. The words PHONE, BROOMSTICK and WITCH jumped out him, as in his mind strange connections began to form between the words and what had just happened. They had spelled out the words PHONE, BROOMSTICK and WITCH, and then the phone had rang and it was Linda’s mother, who John had always thought of as a witch, and an meddling one at that.
“John? John, I’m sorry” said Linda, her voice breaking his train of thought “I didn’t mean to say that about your dad. It just slipped out”
“What?” John replied, forcing his gaze away from the board “Oh, yeah, don’t worry about it. My dad is a tosser anyway”
Linda smiled. “So what’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing. I was just looking at the words and…no, it’s nothing…forget it. I’ve been reading too many ghost stories I think” John’s tone was jokily dismissive, but falsely so. Forcing the thought out of his head he said “Come on then, your turn”
“OK, OK” she replied, “Give me a sec”
John watched her as she turned her attention back to her letters. Whenever she was in deep concentration, she had this funny little way of wrinkling up her nose. It reminded him of Samantha from Bewitched.
“Ha!” said Linda, “Take that Little Mr. Hurry Up” and with that she put down a B and E at the beginning of WITCH to make BEWITCH. She looked up at John with a big beaming smile; but the smile faded instantly when she saw the look on John’s face.
“Whatever is the matter?” she asked, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost”
But John didn’t reply. He simply sat, staring at the board.
“John? For god’s sake what is it? You’re scaring me” said Linda, her tone almost pleading.
John blinked, trying to shake himself from his stupor. Finally, he said “It’s nothing. It’s stupid”
“What is? What’s stupid?” asked Linda.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” said John “but every time we’ve played a word it’s happened”
“What’s happened? You’re not making any sense”
“Look! We made the word “phone,” then “broomstick,” and “witch” and then the phone rang and it was your mother, who I always call a witch”
“So. That doesn’t mean anything, silly. It’s just a coincidence”
“And then I was just thinking that when you wrinkle up your nose, you remind me of Samantha from Bewitched, and look what you put down”
Linda looked at the board for a moment and then said “Yeah, OK, if that’s true then that is a bit creepy. But I don’t think you need to go getting all wigged out about it. Like I said, it’s just a coincidence. It’s like…”
“…your friend and the eggs” said John, interrupting.
“What? Oh don’t be daft. You said yourself that that was a load of stuff and nonsense”
“But what if it isn’t? What if whatever we write down actually happens?”
“Then there would have been world peace and equality and an end to injustice years ago. This is Scrabble, John, not an Ouija board. Now shall we carry on? Or do you want to scare yourself and annoy me some more?”
“Well thanks for your concern, Little Miss Supportive” said John, sarcastically.
“Any time, Mr Paranoid”
Looking at the letters he’d just picked up, John saw that he now had an ‘N’ and two ‘Es’. He smiled, and, using the ‘K’ made the word ‘KNEE’ for 9 points. Linda added the points to the tally on the piece of paper and then shifted position while she considered what to play next, banging her knee on the table as she did so.
“Bollocks!” she exclaimed, putting her hand under the table and rubbing her knee, “That really hurt” Catching John’s eye, she couldn’t help but notice the look of worry. “Don’t look so scared,” she said “my leg’s still there. It probably won’t even leave a bruise”
“I’m not worried about your knee…”
“I don’t mean it like that. But don’t you see?”
“Oh come on, Linda! I spell the word ‘knee’ and look what happened!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, John!” said Linda, “It still doesn’t mean anything. I could have banged my ankle instead and then what would you have said?”
“But you didn’t bang your ankle, did you?” said John “You banged your knee. I spell the word knee and you bang your knee. Now on its own then yes, it’s a coincidence, but when you add it up with all the other stuff you get…”
“A few coincidences” said Linda, obviously irritated “For god’s sake, John, you’re reading something in nothing. Honestly, I wish I’d never told you that stupid story about the eggs. Listen, I’ll prove to you that this is all stuff and nonsense”
“How?” asked John.
By way of an answer, she placed an ‘M’ and an ‘A’ in front of the ‘P’ to spell the word ‘MAP.’
“Now,” said Linda, “if a great big map suddenly falls onto the table, then I’ll believe all this witchery hoodoo of yours, but until that happens, can we please just get on and play the game?”
“Fine” said John, obviously rankled.
“And I don’t want you saying that we live next door to Pamela and map is Pam spelled backwards either”
“OK, OK you’ve made your point! I’m stupid, you’re not”
“I never said you were stupid, John. All I meant was that when something gets into your head, you’re likely to start seeing things that aren’t really there”
“Oh, so I’m imagining things now, am I?”
“For heaven’s sake, this is ridiculous! You know full well that I’m not saying you’re imagining things!”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it” said Linda, getting up “Honestly, I’m beginning to regret ever starting this game”
“Yeah, you and me both” said John as she got to the door. Grumpily staring at his letters, he didn’t see Linda turn around and peevishly stick out her tongue at him. He was still staring at them when she came back, his mind flitting between figuring out what word he could make and for what score, and the unnerving feeling that something odd was happening.
“Who was it?” asked John, as Linda sat back down at the table.
“Oh, just some guy looking for McKenna’s Camp Site. He said he’d been driving round for about an hour trying to find it. Turns out he had his map upside down”
“Yeah. He was going camping and he had a ma…” Linda stopped short of finishing her sentence.
“What’s the matter?” asked John, “Still think I’m imagining things?”
“I told you before I never said you were imagining things!” Linda snapped back. There was something in her voice, a tone that wasn’t there earlier. The disdainful, perhaps even sardonic, attitude had disappeared, replaced by something altogether more worried, fearful.
“Hey, I’m sorry” said John, reaching across the table to Linda, who by now was staring at the Scrabble board, her eyes flitting this way and that, taking in all the words they had so far played.
“What if you’re right?” Linda asked, raising her eyes to him, “What if whatever appears on the board actually becomes real?”
“Well in that case, it’s a good job we’re not playing snakes and ladders” said John. Although he laughed as he said it, it was a laugh filled with nervousness rather than mirth.
“Please be serious” replied Linda. She sounded on the verge of tears.
“Look,” said John, “it’s all just witchery hoodoo” Linda was about to protest but John cut her off by saying “Your words, remember. I mean, if every word that anyone played in Scrabble actually became real then it would have been called Ouija Scrabble by now, or some Americanised contraction of the two, like Ouijabble or something”
By now, John and Linda were held in each other’s gaze, holding hands across the board. Linda sighed and shook her head.
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just a weird set of coincidences, that’s all. If we hadn’t had the conversation about the chickens and the eggs, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed it, would we?” She was smiling, and to all intents and purposes she sounded convincing, but underneath it all, it was as though she was trying to convince herself.
“Exactly” replied John, “The only thing that’s definitely happening is that we’re scaring ourselves”
Linda took her hand from his and said “I’m going to make a cup of tea. You want one?”
“Err…yeah if you’re making one” said John, somewhat reticently.
Linda smoothed down her hair and wiped her hands over her face, something she often did when she was trying to calm herself down. As she lowered her hands she glanced at the board.
“Very funny Mr. Wise Guy” she said “I don’t need scaring any more today, thank you very much”
John looked at the board and saw that she had seen that he had utilised the E in the word PHONE to make the word TEA. He laughed.
“Just trying to make light of it, you know me” he said with a shrug.
“Don’t I ever” she said, as she wandered into the kitchen to make the tea. John thought it best not to tell her that he had actually played the word TEA before she had come back from answering the door.
Once the tea was made and Linda had settled back down in her place, John reminded her that it was her turn to play.
“I know, I know” she said, haughtily.
John looked at her. She had a curious expression, one he had seen many times before. It was the expression she wore when she was determining whether she ought – or rather dared – to do something or not.
“Fuck it!” she exclaimed “I’ll show this Ouijabble or whatever the hell it thinks it is who’s boss!” And with that, utilising the E in the word KNEE she played the word DEATH. Unconsciously, the two of them looked at each other, then at the board and then back to each other. John looked up at the ceiling; Linda looked around the room. Finally, Linda couldn’t hold it any longer and began to giggle.
“Look at us!” she said, in between giggles “It’s like we’re expecting to be hit by lightning or something” John laughed too.
“We’re acting like kids telling ghost stories at Halloween” he laughed.
The doorbell rang and they both nearly jumped out of their chairs, which only made them laugh even more.
“I’ll get it this time” said John, and he was still giggling as he left the room. He had been gone not more than a few seconds when Linda heard his voice behind her. He was no longer laughing. He sounded breathless and somehow…detached. He spoke just one word. “Run”
Turning in her seat, Linda saw John stagger forward, his hands clutching at his chest as blood oozed through his fingers, leaching out over his white t-shirt. His face was pale, as if he were about to faint. He dropped to his knees. Linda jumped up from her chair and ran over to him, bewildered at what could possibly have happened. She reached out to put her arm around him, but he pushed her away. “Run!” he gasped.
Just then, a movement caught her eye and as she looked up, a figure rounded the door. It was the young guy with the map who had called earlier. He had a bloody knife in his hand.
Eleanor Parks 2017