Murder Story

August 12, 2010 at 10:40 pm (Free story)

Hey kids, it’s story time!

This is, as I may have mentioned, a murder story. It’s not especially gory, but You Have Been Warned. It won the Kerry Greenwood Malice Domestic section of the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Award (only girls can enter) in (I think) 2006.

Mascara

I lined my eyes in black, thick and luxurious, contradicting my wrinkles. My mascara was Liquid Charcoal, heavy on my lids. I sat on the edge of my toilet seat with my eyes half lowered. If I didn’t move my eyes, the wet mascara wouldn’t hit my eyelids. It wouldn’t make little black lines there, spoiling my face. I tried not to let myself think of my to-do list waiting for me among dirty dishes on my bench. If I didn’t move, I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t ruin it all. There was one small, logical moment of loathing. What kind of fool wears mascara, when she knows the risk? But I didn’t. I didn’t cry.

     My clothes were laid out on the couch, draped over mounds of unwashed underwear. I put them on in the order I’d written down two days before: Undies. Bra. Skirt and shoes and top. Why hadn’t I written down that I should dress first, and put on makeup later? Don’t think about it, I told myself. Just don’t. I stared at the ceiling and stretched my mouth into a smile. People aren’t designed to smile and cry at the same time. I hated fake smiles, even with no-one there to see. But smiling alone was good practice. I was doing well.

     My hair was too difficult to set. I brushed it. No more than that. No hiding the grey today, no clips, no spray. The cat mewled for food. It had vomited again the night before. A little might have stuck onto my shirt sleeve. I didn’t look. I didn’t want to know for certain. I didn’t want to know or care that the cat was sick. The fact of the matter was that I was a beast, a beast! not to look after her. But still I didn’t look. Good girl, I told myself. Maybe tomorrow I’ll buy some Irises for the front garden. They’ll look lovely by Mrs Peterson’s oak.

     I grabbed my keys. I grabbed my thermos of tepid tea. My breath stunk. I hadn’t brushed my teeth. The cat would be all right. I’d come back. I’d look after her later. I would! I would! I blinked my heavy eyelashes lightly and rapidly, to make the tears dry out before pitch began to run from my eyes. No tears allowed. Not today.

     I ran out the back door, frantic to escape the mourning cat. I ran without my handbag to my car. I reversed too fast and ran into Mrs Peterson’s oak. No no no, I said. No. It’s all right. Don’t cry. Mrs Peterson came out of her house. Mrs Rock-Head. She was small and grey and hard as nails, and I wished someone would hit her with a hammer.

     “Stop. Stop!” she said.

     I forgot what to do. Ignore Mrs Peterson, said my to-do list. It was engaved on my brain.

     “Stop,” she said.

     I stopped. She came to my window, and I gazed at her. Her small grey fingers tapped on the glass, tapped on the inside of my brain. She hadn’t the right. It was my brain. Mine not hers. Mine mine mine. I wound down the window and looked at her, focusing on her little grey nose hairs. They made me smile. I didn’t cry. I made a mental note to always look at noses. Noses: Look at them.

     “Sheila, really!” said Mrs Rock-Head. She was grey through and through. I hated grey more than any other shade. More than any feeling. More than life. And her oak tree shouldn’t have been so close to my property.

     “Shirley,” I said. I lifted my weak chin and glared through my Liquid Charcoal lashes. Mrs Rock-Head wasn’t wearing mascara. She wasn’t wearing anything except a faded floral print dress, sagging in unfortunate places. I won. Me. I did. Even the flowers on her dress were grey. I detested every thread. “My name,” I said, “is Shirley.”

     “Well,” she said. “Shirley. Anne. Parsnip.” She told me off like I was her granddaughter. That naughty one.

     I was older than Mrs Rock-Head. Pretty sure I was older. I was caught for a moment. Was it better to be older or younger? Either way, she had me wrong. “Parson.”

     “Excuse me?”

     “Parson. My name is Parson.” I told myself I was a worthwhile person. A good person. Someone who deserved to be remembered. Who deserved to have a name. Mrs Rock-Head was rude. That was not my fault. Not my fault at all.

     Mrs Rock-Head opened her mouth, and it stayed open. She sat down heavily. I poked my head out of the window and looked at her. “What are you doing?” I said.

     “Having another bleeding stroke,” she said. “You made me have a stroke.”

     “I did not. You were rude.” My audacity went to my head. “Take some responsibility for yourself.”

     Her little grey face scrunched, and then it unscrunched. “There we go then.” She rocked her fat grey self back and forward, meaning to get up. Meaning, her stroke was finished and her lecture was not. “You could have killed me.”

     I had an idea. It was unusual, and difficult to do. My heart pounded in my throat at the thought of it. I hadn’t written down what I was going to do. Anything could happen.

     I offered her the thermos. “Tea,” I said. “It’s tepid. Tepid tea. From yesterday.”

     Mrs Rock-Head took the thermos of tepid tea. She screwed off the two lids. The first lid was a cup, metal on the outside, with thermal qualities. She ignored it and took a sip directly from the flask.

     “Excuse me,” I said. “That was for my husband.”

     “I’m not well,” she said, and tipped up the thermos, dripping drops down the sides of her mouth. She looked up at me with wrinkled eyes. Old, cold eyes.

     “Give me the thermos,” I said. She passed it up to me. Empty. “Excuse me,” I said. “That tea was worth a great deal of money to me.”

     “It tasted terrible,” she said.

     “Give me the lids.” At least she was obedient in her actions. Almost polite. “How do you feel?” I said, taking the lids from her grey hands.

     I waited a long time for her response. She didn’t say anything at all in the end. She started curling up, like a worm. Like a retching worm.

     I smiled, all by accident. My practice smiles were paying off. I drove away quickly, with the last drops of Foxglove tea staining the passenger seat. Foxglove. Also known as Witches’ Gloves. Also known as Dead Man’s Bells. Little wonder it tasted terrible.

     The smell mixed with the smell of vomit from my shirt sleeve, and morning breath from my mouth. I opened the window a crack. The radio played, “You are my sunshine” for me. I was afraid to sing. To get the words wrong. Embarrassed, even though no-one was there. I hummed. The witch was dead. Singing was appropriate. Humming would do nicely. Goodbye, Mrs Rock-Head. Goodbye. Tomorrow, I’d buy some Jonquils, and plant them near the letterbox. I was doing so well.

     The carpark at the dementia home was empty except for the nurses’ cars. I unclicked my seatbelt and realised what I’d done. How could I have been so thoughtless? My Foxglove tea was gone. It took hours to make, and I didn’t know if I could trust myself to get it right a second time. I was always bad at cooking. It was hard to remember the timing. But I’d done it. I’d held it together. Then I’d wasted it on Mrs Rock-Head. I blinked.

     One of the boy nurses brushed past my car on his way inside. He made me jump and drop my keys. I blinked more, remembering to blink as lightly as butterfly wings. I hadn’t cried. Hadn’t dropped a smeary tear, even though Mrs Rock-Head ruined my to-do list. I was doing so well. So well. My keys touched my bare big toe.

     I put the lids back onto the thermos, taking my time, screwing them on properly. It was a beautiful little thing, sleek like a bullet, with a rounded head. I’d done a good thing, with Mrs Rock-Head. A brave thing. I smiled a second time, to think I’d never see her again. My to-do list was broken, broken. I was in trouble. But I didn’t cry.

     I picked up my keys, congratulating myself for remembering not to lock them in the car. My body was dragging at me, exhausted from so much to do in one day. I couldn’t cook a meal, and I was trying to perform murder. My head was full, sloshing with the dregs of Foxglove tea. It was heavy with the fragrant smell of death.

     I walked to the door of the dementia home and put in the code to get inside. The code wasn’t for people like me. It was for the people inside, who tried to escape sometimes. It was so they couldn’t wander off unsupervised in the sunshine. I myself walked unsupervised down the pastel hall. There was no-one left to supervise me. I walked to George’s room.

     “Hello, sweetheart,” I said, standing in the doorway.

     He didn’t move at all. I looked around for nurses, and there weren’t any. There was another man in the second bed, pulling his shirt up to lay his hands on his belly and smile at it. I liked him.

     “George,” I said, and walked over to pull on my husband’s arm. He opened his eyes and looked at me.

     “Hello sweetheart,” I said.

     “Ung,” he said. His blue eyes looked at me with the same tolerant confusion as when I tried to explain the menstrual cycle half a century before. He didn’t quite believe I was all there. He never had.

     “My name is Shirley,” I said. “Shirley. Anne. Parsnip.” I gasped at myself, and quickly blinked. I focused on the wrinkles on his head. A hairdresser visited the home and shaved him for me, so he wasn’t grey any more. No grey for my George. “I made a mistake,” I said. I didn’t cry. “My name is Parson. Not Parsnip. Sometimes I get my words a bit mixed. That’s all.” I was doing well. “My name is Parson. Parson. Parson. Your name. Your name is Parson too.”

     “Ung,” he said, benevolent as ever. He didn’t believe me. That was his right. He was happy enough, and quite healthy, in a way. There were no tubes in his arms or in his nose.

     “We’re married,” I said. “You and I. To each other. You see, I’ve remembered this time. To explain what’s happening to you. The nurses told me I should.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     “You used to look after me.” I blinked, but I found the words were enough to distract me from tears. “My own sweet George. I liked us, together. I liked our kids and our grandkids. Except for Joey, but that’s his mother’s fault.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     I stood up and walked to the doorway. No-one was pacing the pastel corridor. No-one was looking at me, asking, Why do you have that thermos? I closed the door, like I’d written on my to-do list that I would. George didn’t move. George never moved. He hadn’t moved for such a long time.

     I had to stand beside his bed. There was never a chair. I always visited, and there was never a chair. “The cat threw up today,” I said, although I hadn’t meant to mention it. “I just left it on the floor, again.” My eyes were hot and shaky. “Are you –“ I stopped. I walked to the man with the belly and looked at his smile. I went calmly back to George. “Are you angry with me?”

     “Ung,” he said, without rancour.

     “I keep buying things,” I said. “I don’t need them, but I still buy them. Bulbs, mostly. Daffodils and Lilies. Even Tulips, which don’t match the garden at all. Most of them are stacked in the front hall nowadays. They’re beginning to smell.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     “I wish I could throw them away. But I’m too busy trying to stop myself buying more. I thought, Maybe if I fill the hall I’ll stop. But last month it was full. There were so many bulbs I had to go in the back door. Some of them are growing. Some are growing quite well.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     “And then I felt sick, to think of all the bulbs. Because I felt sick, I went to the nursery. While I was there I accidentally bought five hundred dollars worth of bulbs.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     “There’s not enough money,” I said. “For bulbs.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     “There’s only one way to get extra money at our age.”

     “Ung,” he said.

     “You’re my husband.”

     “Ung.”

     I put my thermos on the floor, and put my hands on his neck. He looked up at me, confused. I tried to smile, and couldn’t. It wasn’t how things were meant to be. This was not what I wrote on my to-do list. Not what I wrote, but close enough to manage. I was doing so well. George could still look after me. In a way.

     I pushed down until his eyes began to water. He looked up at me, trying to believe what was happening. Trying to move his arms. He hadn’t moved his arms in eighteen months. They used to wrap around me, a long time ago. My arms and fingers ached with the effort of holding him. He frowned in concentration. He was trying so hard. Finally his fingers began to curl. They curled like Mrs Rock-Head had curled up, scrunched up, on the ground. “Uh,” he said, “hhh. . .”

     I let go and looked down at my dead husband. George had always wanted to die in bed. He promised I’d be allowed to die first. So I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t blame him for breaking his word. Not eighteen months after he stopped talking. Not when I broke it for him.

     I pulled at his pajamas, straightening the blue and white lines. Blue and white pajamas, with pearl buttons. I hated those pajamas. Why had I brought them to the home at all? Surely I knew he’d wear them. It didn’t make any sense.

     I picked up my thermos. I found my keys on the floor. Perhaps I dropped them when I was strangling George. We used to say that if things got tough, he’d fake his death and we’d move to Tahiti. I never mentioned that I preferred Australia. I walked away, quickly, and put the code into the outside door so it would open for me. I walked to the car. While I walked I held a picture of the belly man in my head. A happy picture. A happy man. He remembered all he needed to remember. He was completely satisfied.

     I blinked, too hard, and felt my lashes knock against my cheeks. I shook my head. No. No. No. Don’t cry now, Shirley Anne Parson. I was doing so well. The sky was dirty and grey, the colour I detest. But there was no rain. I slid into my car, and put my thermos in my lap. I dropped my keys. I picked them up, quick sticks, before they made me want to scream. Before they made me claw my Liquid Charcoal eyes from my head and brain myself on the new black and red striped steering wheel cover.

     I didn’t let myself think about how stupid I was. I didn’t let myself think about the bulbs. My fingers curled and scrunched around the dimpled black and red plastic of the new steering wheel cover. I drove straight home, and saw the morgue van in my driveway, loading up Mrs Peterson. They were in a hurry. Hurrying to get her loaded before the rain started. There was vomit on the Peterson’s lawn.

     Mr Peterson stood under the oak tree. He was wearing his pajamas, in the middle of the day. He was stooped with age and with the heavy sky. He was hosing his wife’s vomit toward the drain. There were no police. Police don’t come to such occasions. There were only the morgue staff, two strangers. The strangers made me nervous. Strangers always did. They made me want to cry. I blinked. Held my breath. Smiled. I was doing so well.

     Mr Peterson signed the clipboard for the morgue van driver. I knew what it would say. He had to sign that yes, his wife was dead, and no, she wasn’t wearing any jewellery, except her wedding ring. The van drove out. I drove in.

     My car shuddered as I pulled the keys out too quickly. I didn’t cry. I thought, Why do old men love pajamas, and old women love flowers? My eyes cooled enough that I could take a breath. I went to my front door, forgetting I couldn’t get in that way. Even the screen door was latched. I hurried around the back, blinking fast, and discovered I’d forgotten to shut the back door. The cat was out. Good. I didn’t want to trip over it. Poor sick thing.

     I waded through the newest load of bulbs, and into the bathroom. I stepped in more cat vomit on the way, but I didn’t let it stop me. I looked in the mirror. There were my eyes, plain grey eyes, outlined almost perfectly in black. I nodded at myself, with a smile that looked forced. But I kept smiling, because I’d earned it. I’d done what I wrote down to do. All of it. I breathed. My problems were over. I watched without judgment as the tears broke through my mascara lines to rain liquid charcoal down my cheeks.

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Horror Story

September 16, 2009 at 12:15 pm (Free story)

Hi

I don’t write horror much (mostly because it freaks me out), but one  of my best horror stories is podcast here http://pseudopod.org/2009/08/28/pseudopod-157-wave-goodbye/

WARNING: unsuitable for most children. Supernatural themes/horror.

And here’s another picture of my cat. Because I’m pretty sure she’s the best thing about this blog right now.

Ooh, that nap made me sleepy

Ooh, that nap made me sleepy

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TwitterTales

July 18, 2009 at 4:26 am (Free story, Writing Ranting)

I’ll be writing a brand new “novel” – this one about 2000 words (2 months) – just for twitter. Twitter is a unique phenomenon, and no author has become known through twitter – yet. It’ll feature Salty (now called ‘Sol’) and her much-abused first mate. The blog for it is here:

twittertales.wordpress.com

JOIN ME

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Tar (Warning: mature unpleasant content)

June 20, 2009 at 4:49 am (Free story, speculative fiction) (, , )

Welcome to another free story. This has been made all pretty by the people at Drollerie Press as a tease for their ebook, Needles and Bones, which features another story “At Sea”, which takes place after this one. This character appears in a LOT of my stories. “Tar” is chronologically her beginning.

 Needles & Bones is now available in the Drollerie Press bookshop (buy page: http://drolleriepress.com/bookshop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=11&products_id=85  description page: http://drolleriepress.com/needles-bones/)

“Tar”

I woke up sticky. My eyes were glued shut, and I smelled that coppery smell. Not again. I remembered the night before, when my rescuer came into my room and smiled, and grabbed at my hair. He licked me on the face and pulled me across the room. I struggled a bit, but I let him throw me down on the bed. That’s where I kept my knife. That’s where I killed him.

Not my first. Not my last, either, the way things are going.

His blood smelled off already, like meat hung on hooks in a drying room. I was tangled up with the sheets on the floor, and my legs ached from kicking his dead body. He was a lot bigger than me, and it took a lot of effort to kick him thoroughly. I pushed the bloody sheets away, and was glad I wasn’t like other girls. Other girls can’t make objects move like I can. A knife, for example, diving into a man’s chest and wriggling around inside.

Time to run away again. Another solo voyage, another deserted beach, and most likely another rescuer. Hopefully a better one.

I rubbed my eyes hard and cracked them open. My mouth tasted rank with blood. I stretched out my sore fingers and chose not to look too long at my rescuer still lying on the bed, frozen with his mouth gaping in stupid surprise. Sleep hadn’t made it better.

I smell awful. I smell of blood.

Tidy up, or you’ll never get away. I went to the door and leant my head against it. My body was sluggish. I wanted to go back to sleep.

‘Shut your face,’ I said to the wood, and it smoothed itself across the lock. No-one would open the door without an axe. That bought me some time. The usual headache came a few moments later, but I ignored it. My stomach rumbled. Wash first, then eat. And don’t wash in the house, or you’ll be seen.

The sea outside my window reached for the shore again and again, but never caught hold of it. I slid out over the sill, banging my elbows, and walked to meet it.

The water caressed my ankles, warm against my tired skin. It would be a hot day. I went deeper, until my feet couldn’t keep hold of the sand. The water filled my ears and nose, and made me clean. I walked back to the house and strode in by the front door, still dripping. My hair fell rough against my shoulders. Good. Pretty ringlets don’t suit me, and shouldn’t belong to me. All they’ve ever done for me is cause trouble.

The kitchen buzzed with sleepy servant girls. I wondered which of them were playthings of the master, and how they’d feel when they found his body. The food smelled off to me, but I ate it anyway; ate til I felt sick. I drank until I thought my stomach would burst. Remember how thirsty you were, when your little boat finally reached the sand. Don’t ever get that weak again.

Still I smelled that coppery smell. No. I definitely washed all the blood off. . . didn’t I? First my father, now my rescuer. What’s wrong with me?

A hand clamped on my shoulder. ‘Oi,’ said the head cook. Her thick face was wrinkled up in concentration. ‘Why are you eating here, instead of at table with the master?’

My mind left me, and I twisted out of her grasp and fled. Every step sloshed in my stomach, and I swallowed hard to keep from losing my precious breakfast. I heard the cook lifting her voice after me, but I didn’t hear the words.

No-one chased me. They don’t see pretty little me as a threat. Not the little ringletted girl who washed up on the master’s beach. I slowed down and looked back. Smoke from the cooking fires leaked from the doorway, dirtying the sky. The air still smelled of blood to me, and my stomach twisted in revulsion. Still I gazed at the kitchen, where I could find everything I needed. With no supplies I’ll die of thirst in days. No-one knows thirst better than me.

I went back, and made myself apologize to the cook. All I need is five minutes alone to grab supplies. ‘He’s in my room.’

Her face softened. She knows what he wanted from me. But she doesn’t know me. Not yet.

She whistled for the butter boy, and he jumped up from his churning stool. ‘Give the girl whatever she needs, Ulandin. She’s had a rough night.’

He nodded his head, and looked at me. I glared back.

His golden eyes widened, and he glanced guiltily at the cook. ‘You need a boat,’ he whispered as she left. ‘Don’t you?’

He knows. But he knows not to tell. Smarter than he looks, then. ‘I have a boat already, remember? Fetch me water, and quickly, and I’ll be gone before she gets back.’

He nodded. ‘I want to come.’

‘What?’ Not so smart.

‘Take me with you. I can keep us moving when you need to sleep. We’ll get farther together.’

He’s no older than I am. I looked at him more carefully. Pale yellow eyes, tight black hair. Good arms – too good. I won’t want to fall asleep near him.

‘Please,’ he said. ‘Take me with you. Kill me later if you have to.’

Now there’s a generous offer! He’s definitely serious, too. I held back a smile. ‘If you so much as look at me like the master did –’

‘I know better.’ He saw me wavering, and relaxed. ‘Master keeps – kept – water in his pleasure boat. It will be enough.’

‘I told you I have a boat.’

‘This one has a sail.’

‘Fine.’

He grabbed a near-empty flour sack and filled it with fresh bread. I helped. Even the bread smelled of blood to me. Bile rose in my throat, and I forced it down. Ulandin and I ran to the water; him with bread, and me with more water. There can never be enough. Though I suppose if he bothers me I’ll end up with twice as much.

The boat shed was locked – I told the door to move out of my way, and it did. Ulandin ran his fingers through his hair, but he didn’t speak.

A new smell hit me: tar. Thick and rich and sour as blood, but sharper. My stomach curled inside me, which was good. No blood smell. Not with that around.

There was a barrel of it on the jetty, shadowed by the shed. I made Ulandin lift it with me, and put it in the boat with our bread. It was too big for me to carry alone, and I’d need all my magic to shift the boat itself; an unsteady task when it was sitting on the sea. The only other boat was mine; a little toy of a thing. I left it there.

Ulandin was right; there was more water on board than I could have brought if I’d worked all day. Maybe he is smart after all. Maybe he’s just smart enough to live, without being smart enough to die for it. We’ll see.

I heard shouting as we sailed out of the open sea-doors, pushing ourselves away with long oars like poles. By the time the people reached the beach my magic had gotten our vessel past the breakers. The sail clapped against the mast as it gorged on sea air.

My head screamed at me. I collapsed onto the deck and half-closed my eyes to shut out the glaring sun. The smell of blood tore at my mind. It’s in my head. It will never stop.

     Ulandin jumped over me and did something to the sail above my head. He was careful not to touch me. Good boy. I’ll give you a biscuit later.

How can I still smell blood? There’s no death here. Just me.

     I sat up carefully. My arms were black with bruising where the master’s body had pressed against mine. I shuffled over to the barrel of tar. The stink of it shimmered the air. I reached in and buried both my hands in the muck. It was warm already from the sun. I took up handfuls of it and smeared it into my hair, pushing it in hard and sweeping back my black curls. No more girly hair. No more blood smell.

     The tar sunk in and stuck to me; hot against my scalp. I scooped out more and filled my hair with it until my curls vanished into a solid mass. The smell of it overwhelmed me. I almost fainted. But I didn’t.

I stood to my feet, and turned my back to the shore. The ocean stretched out before me, ready to be beaten.

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Naked Man in the Bushes

June 11, 2009 at 10:38 pm (Free story) (, , )

Ben (no longer anonymous, you fool!) often starts conversation with, “Today, on the bus. . .”

This causes people who know him well to duck and cover. There’s something about Ben that makes the crazies congregate, and the public bus system helps it happen. Here’s a (published) story that actually happened to him. . .

“Naked Man in the Bushes”

There’s not much to do in Canberra.

     I walked home from Belconnen Interchange on a Wednesday night. It was ten o’clock, so there were no more buses. Drunk men were everywhere, and they all seemed to be stalking their ex-wives. They talked to contacts on mobiles. ‘Yes, she’s going toward Ginninderra Drive now. See if you can head her off.’

     My concern rose significantly when I noticed an adult male crouching in bushes by the roadside. He was nude.

     I kept my eyes forward and debated whether or not I should call someone. Unable to remember the number for the naked stalker hotline, I walked by on the other side of the road. A second naked man burst from a tree immediately in front of me and sprinted to the traffic island splitting Belconnen Way.

     ‘Marco!’ he yelled.

     ‘Polo!’ came the reply.

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