Reader’s Choice (shiver): Evolution or Murder in the Forest?

Evolution or Murder in the Forest?

by Isabel Flynn

The old Mountain Ash stands at ease feeling her life force energy. With her roots gathering strength grasping the earth tightly, she takes one deep breath. A quiver goes up her mighty trunk, taken up by the branches and the lowest leaves fluttering in excitement. The shiver vibrates upward through all the leafage escalating faster and faster until it explodes out of the crown. Tiny vibrations fill the air with the joy of the morning, golden motes fly high and dance amongst the wind curls. There is electricity in the air. The ice crystals in the ‘toffee pulled’ nimbus streaks join the dance of summer.  The sun smiles.

Deep in her heartwood the tree is alive. Life has been good. Mistletoe caresses the canopy, and thick mats of moss provide tender comfort.

But communication has come through the feeder roots in the soil system from the other trees at the front. The foresters have returned and are culling what they deem dangerous. As her branches dip slowly up and down, trickles of water move up arteries to hydrate all of her individual parts. All work together synthesising a lullaby.

But she knows now there will be no more naps when drowsiness hits in the afternoon heat. At ninety-seven metres she is the tallest of the Eucalyptus Regnans in her community and proud of the fact she has lived to over two hundred and fifty years. She has buttressed herself to the forest floor for survival from wind, rain, snow and fire. Luck has also played a part in that she grew up in a distant corner. She was not harvested for the building industry where her name would have changed to ‘Tassie Oak’.

In Autumn, she blossomed snow white posies which evolved to gum nuts holding seeds ready to spill and generate her descendants. Now she prepares herself for the inevitable.

She shakes her head and the dried seed pods tumble.  She listens to the tinkle of the tiny nuts as they are carried to their birthing places by the evening breeze. One final murmur to her friends, a farewell sigh and she folds her foliage inward giving herself over to quiescence.

Isabel Flynn: I am new to writing and loving it too much. It has become a late addiction for this septuagenarian.

Our Reader said:
This sad story is told by a tree about to be cut down. It is very topical as we now understand that trees communicate and deforestation is such a force in global warming. Beautifully written.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): Wanted

Wanted

by Jess Chua

Ad posted: 14 June
Subject: Victim Wanted

Want to do something new this Sunday?
It’ll blow your mind!
No, really.
I have a murder fantasy that I’d like to make a reality.
What’s it like to kill?
I want to know / I need to know.
I’m dead serious.
I’m not wasting your time / don’t waste mine.

P.S. No cowards.

* * *

From: fanatiic@email.com
To: a71a55f3586891@reply.cl
Date: June 15, 10:34 AM
Subject: Your Post

Interested in your ad. What’s the method you’re thinking of?

I’m no stranger to suicidal ideation. Too much going on in the world and all that. I swing like a pendulum… hopeful one minute and hopeless the next.

Would you consider making a compassionate killing? I’d like to go painlessly. So a clean shot in the head would be mandatory, if I caught your drift with blowing someone’s mind.

* * *

From: ccr90210@email.com
To: fanatiic@email.com
Date: June 15, 5:34 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Hey man,

Clean shot is the intent. Don’t like any messes. Like Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Time and Place: Tomorrow / Sunday, 11PM. Abandoned backwoods church before Gaitskell Cove.

Good?

* * *

From: fanatiic@email.com
To: ccr90210@email.com
Date: June 15, 10:14 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Good. See you tomorrow.

* * *

From: fanatiic@email.com
To: ccr90210@email.com
Date: June 16, 11:34 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Where you at?

* * *

From: ccr90210@email.com
To: fanatiic@email.com
Date: June 16, 11:44 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Hey,

You all right? I was just playing when I made the ad.

Sorry!

* * *

From: fanatiic@email.com
To: ccr90210@email.com
Date: June 17, 12:00 AM
Subject: Re: Your Post

I have your IP address. I know your location based on Google Earth.

You asked for no cowards—I take commitments seriously.

I’ll show you how it’s done, with you in the hot seat 🙂

I think that’s only fair after your no-show.

Jess Chua‘s short fiction has appeared under a pen name in Cha Journal and Akashic Books. More at innerlifegoals.com

Our Reader said:

This story is cleverly told through a series of emails from a would-be murderer and their volunteer victim. The cold, impersonal language of the murderer perfectly suits the storyline. The reader is left fearing for the murderer when the tables turn.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): The Imaginary Friend

The Imaginary Friend

by Robbie Porter

When I was little my parents decided to move. They said the old place was too small, and they wanted both of us kids to have our own rooms. I never wanted to leave. When the removal van came I threw a tantrum, throwing myself on the floor and screaming.

I knew in my bones that things would never be the same again.

The new house was on a housing estate. We lived on Galalaw Road, which I’m told comes from ‘Gallow’s Law’. It’s where they used to hang horse thieves and the like back in the day, at least according to the older folk.

The older folk had a lot to say. They told us about how ‘the deil’ would go on his ‘nightly wanderings’ about the neighbourhood, looking to catch young children unawares and lead them astray. Best not to be out too late, they said. Much better to be safely home and tucked up in bed.

I never made the acquaintance of ‘the deil’, but I did make a friend soon after moving in. I can’t remember his name or what he looked like. I remember telling mum about him, and mum telling dad that I was ‘sensitive’, whatever that means.

My friend lived at the bottom of the garden. I would go down there and visit before school and first thing after getting home. He lived in a bush, and I although I couldn’t see him I could hear him in my head. He could be quite mean, and sometimes got me into all kinds of trouble.

Once he told me to leave the bath taps on so we could race our paper boats down the stairs. Then he wanted me to sneak into the kitchen when mum was making mince and tatties and drop earthworms into the mince. Worst of all was the time he told me to burn the house down, so I found some matches and tried to light them. When I finally managed to get some dry leaves and twigs smoking in the middle of the bedroom floor my sister panicked and went to tell Dad. I felt the bottom of Dad’s slipper that night.

Soon after, we moved away: Mum said we had to make a new start, for us kids’ sakes.

Now I’m a dad myself.

Little Jack was at the bottom of the garden; I could hear his reedy voice talking to… who was he talking to?

“But I don’t know where to find any matches.”

Robbie Porter is a lecturer and charity worker from Worcester, England.

Our Reader said:

A chilling story of a little boy with a dangerous imaginary friend. An eerie tale.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): The Caller

The Caller

by Marsha Webb

Christine shut her front door, locked it, checked the lock again, then went through the house looking behind the curtains and doors. After all her checks were done she gave an involuntary shiver and turned on the television.

A text message startled her, she took a deep breath and looked at the phone – unknown – she opened the text. “I saw you today wearing a new coat, you’ve just got home, enjoy your evening.” Christine’s heart accelerated. She was shaking, close to tears.

She couldn’t keep living like this.

“Who are you?” she typed, staring anxiously, waiting for the reply.

This had been happening for a month now and It was taking its toll. She was blocking the numbers, but the next day the messages would come from a different number.

Christine lived alone in a two bed flat, she had been happy and content in her own space until this happened.

The phone beeped again. “You don’t know me but I know you, I watch you, always.” Christine burst into tears and walked around the flat checking the locks again and again.

Suddenly the phone trilled to life, prompting a wave of fear and dread that almost took her breath away. The screen flashed up – Mark. Relief flooded through her, Mark had become a good friend recently, they had met online had a few dates, then both decided they would be better off as friends.

“Mark,” she answered tearfully.

“Christine what’s the matter?” Mark’s concern started the crying again.

“He’s watching me, I’m so scared,” Christine sobbed.

“I’m on my way,” Mark replied firmly.

Christine put her phone down and saw another text: “I know you’re alone, maybe I’ll call on you tonight?” She blocked the number with trembling hands, then paced the room until Mark arrived.

As soon as Mark walked through the door Christine sobbed in his arms. “I’m so scared, Mark.” She showed him the last text.

“Look, Christine, I’ll stay tonight and you should go to the police first thing tomorrow and show them everything.”

“They won’t do anything because he’s not done anything physical to me. And his phones are just pay-as-you-go – they’re not traceable,” Christine blurted out.

Pulling herself together, she went into the kitchen to get Mark a drink. She felt much calmer now he was here.

Mark followed her. “Go and lie on the sofa for an hour watch some TV. I’ll make us dinner. Why don’t you leave your phone with me and if he rings again I’ll answer it – give him a piece of my mind.”

Christine was exhausted, her sleep was disturbed and fretful every night, so she agreed, and gratefully lay on the sofa and closed her eyes.

Mark put a pan of pasta on the stove and quietly checked on Christine, she looked peaceful. He picked up her phone, scrolled through the messages, pressing delete on each one. He took his burner phone from his pocket and deleted the messages there too. He would destroy it later, when he was finished here.

Marsha Webb: I am currently a high school teacher who has been writing about two years. I had my first novella published recently, it’s called “You can choose your sin…but you cannot choose the consequences”.

Marsha Webb’s story, ‘The School Trip, featured in our anthology Museum Collection, published by Enliven Press in December 2019. You can buy your copy (paperback or kindle) here.

Our Reader said:

This is a cleverly constructed story. Through the writing we feel her anxiety. I didn’t see the twist at the end coming!

Reader’s Choice (shiver): Not a Single Shiver

Not a Single Shiver

by Alice Coen

I open my eyes. It takes a minute to come back to reality, remember where I am, remember what happened. All that remains from the previous night is a bunch of remote images and blurs. And, of course, the man lying under the sheets, next to me.

I do this sometimes, turn off my mind and my feelings, go for a rampage, disappear for a day or two. I’m not a loner, I have friends, but they don’t deserve to be pulled into my affairs.

I stand up and open the blinds to discover a beautifully sunny morning, illuminating tall mountains in the distance and the crowns of what seem like a million trees nearby. Still only wearing my dark blue lacy underwear, I walk to the other side of the bed. I chose well. My date from the night before was incredibly handsome, tall, dark hair, blue eyes. Deadly combination, isn’t it? I reach under the sheets and pull out the knife from his chest. I can’t believe I actually used this expensive antique on a cheap one-night-stand.

I get in the shower, his blood still on my hands and face. The chunks of my memory start coming together. I relieve those few hours while I let the hot water wash away my sins.

“If you’re gonna keep staring at me with those eyes for the rest of the night you better buy me a drink,” I said to the attractive stranger sitting next to me at the bar.

It’s weird. How some people like to seem confident and rebellious, until you actually confront them face to face. Then, they might just as well be a furry little bunny staring at you with scared, watery eyes.

So I continued: “Are you worried I might be too much for you?”

“I’d like to find out.”

I don’t know what it is. It gives me a calm feeling to know I have that kind of power over someone. I wasn’t always like this. I used to have respect for human life, but I was taught early enough that life is a game, that only a certain type get to win: the strong ones, the ones with no respect for human life.

“I’m staying at a motel not far from here. Want to just skip the formalities?”

So the shy, handsome man came back to my room, intrigued and scared at the same time. I didn’t plan what I was going to do. Sometimes I do things I shouldn’t do, but who’s gonna tell me not to?

I step out of the shower, wrap myself in a warm towel and go back to the bed. After spending half an hour watching meaningless TV dramas I put on my little black dress from the night before, gather my purse, shoes and keys and step out the door and into my car. As I start the engine and the village starts to fall behind, so do the memories of my most recent conquest.

Alice Coen: I’m a 16 year old Italian girl living in Germany. Mostly writing short stories and poetry.

Our Reader said:

This story is told in cold, unemotional language reflecting the calculated way the protagonist selects and murders her victims.

Winner (shiver): My First Ice Cream

My First Ice Cream

by Shalom Jacobs

Mum once said ice cream tasted like dreaming: sweet as the moment before bad things happen. But ice cream was always three food tokens too expensive when I was little. So I never got the chance to eat ice cream and didn’t get what she meant.

I’ll never forget how it tasted the first time I finally had it.

I was ten, tall for my age. I had a splash of freckles that I hated because Dad would tease me by playing dot-to-dot on my cheeks whenever I was concentrating on the wireless.

That day, school let out early. They said on the wireless there might be an air raid later, so our teacher said we should go home. I didn’t though. I know I should have. But really wanted to hang out with Carrie, my best friend, at Mr Lippy’s grocery store.

Anyway, Carrie and me were flicking through magazines when the bomb hit my street.

Everyone heard it.

When I got home, my bedroom was burning. Loud, screechy sirens bellowed out from nowhere and everywhere at once. Our roof, which Dad was always fixing up, had crumbled in on itself like a deflated balloon.

I found something shiny and warm in the rubble, something that reminded me of Mum. It was sticky, and it smelt like burnt roast dinner. The smell made me retch a few times, but I couldn’t let go—so took it and walked away.

Mr Lippy brought me inside his shop when he saw me coming. He tried to take away my horrible treasure when he realised it was dripping on his floor. So I slid Mum’s special ring off her finger first.

It was a little tricky because her wrist was now a bit burned and swollen. Bits of bone poked through the skin on some of her fingers too, like little whitish-red splinters. But I managed to twist the ring around them somehow.

Mr Lippy wanted to clean me up, but he couldn’t unclench my hand from around Mummy’s ring.

He didn’t understand, I didn’t want to open my hand, not even to wash the blood off. My palm had this warm and itchy tingle. It felt as if Mum had been holding my hand before, instead of me holding hers, and she still was.

I didn’t like it.

To open up my hand, Mr Lippy gave me an ice cream. He pushed the pointy tip of the cross-patterned cone into the curl of my fist. It dug in and slowly forced a separation into my fingers. The ice-cream poured a chill into my palm.

That chill replaced the tingly, itchy sensation in my skin and chased off the sticky heat that wouldn’t go away until I couldn’t feel Mum’s ghostly warmth in my hand anymore, just icy numbness.

Eventually I stopped feeling altogether and just ate my ice cream. It tasted like before the sirens.

After, Mr Lippy took me home to stay with him and Mrs Lippy while the authorities searched for Daddy.

Shalom Jacobs is a creative writer with a love for stories in all forms: be it words, drawings, drama, poetry, etc. A new girl on writer’s block with a 1st class degree in creative writing, she’s worked as an English teacher and in digital marketing. Now she hopes to return to her creative craft, plant roots and grow.

Our Reader said:

This story stayed with me long after I’d finished reading it.  The horror is underplayed, the description of it using child-like language entirely appropriate to the character. A well written and haunting story.

 

Our Reader for November (shiver)

Our Reader back in November, for our ‘shiver’ theme, was Patricia McBride. Thank you to Patricia for reading all our entries so speedily, and picking her favourites.

Patricia 195.jpeg

Patricia McBride is the author of several self-help books and training manuals. She is also the author of four fiction books including a trilogy set in World War Two. She is currently writing a witch mystery. Her favourite author at the moment is John Boyne. Her facebook page is at https://bit.ly/2DHc43o

If you would be interested in judging our competition in 2020, email didcotwriters@gmail.com and let us know a bit about yourself and your writing experience.

Competition winners for November – SHIVER

November seems like a long time away now, but some days are still pretty chilly – so please enjoy our winter-themed stories over the next few weeks! The winners of our November competition, themed SHIVER, were –

Winner:
My First Ice Cream, by Shalom Jacobs

Reader’s Choices:
Not a Single Shiver, by Alice Coen
The Caller, by Marsha Webb
The Imaginary Friend, by Robbie Porter
Wanted, by Jess Chua
Evolution or Murder in the Forest? by Isabel Flynn

You can read all these pieces here over the next few weeks, or Follow the site to receive emails straight to your inbox as each piece is posted.

Our current theme is CLOUD, and the competition is open until the end of February 2020. And if you would like to be Reader in a future month, please get in touch at didcotwriters@gmail.com.