Short Story: Vigilante

Moon

Sleep was the worst when it eventually came.  Night terrors they call it on TV. I watched a lot of TV.  I hadn’t been to bed since I returned home from the hospital.  At best I dosed in front of the TV, only occasionally sinking into a deep enough sleep for the nightmares to appear.  Those movies that show people sitting bolt upright, sweating and gasping isn’t just make-believe.  It happens.  It’s a primal fear that seems to envelope you.  It makes you tremble and, more often than not, cry.  I can’t live like that.  I won’t live like that.

I remember this much: It was a cloudless night with a full moon and I was pretty cold.  Blood loss does that.  Makes you shiver.  I kept my eyes on the moon until it disappeared as I entered the ambulance.  I passed out.

Around £25, my bank cards, my watch and my phone.  My phone might be worth a fair bit and maybe the watch, but the bank cards were cancelled.  No villa on the Costa del Sol for them.  They’d have to rob a lot more people for that.

14 stitches.  It should have only been 13, but the doctor said I had been unlucky enough, so he put an extra one in.  That’s all I need, a superstitious doctor.  I guess I should be glad he didn’t shrink my head or sacrifice a chicken to save me.

I gave the police a description.  The usual stuff they must hear: it was dark; I didn’t get a good look; it all happened so fast, etc.  That was the truth, I guess.  I’m certain I’d recognise him if I saw him, but I can’t visualise him enough to describe him.  And I know, as soon as he sees me again, I’ll see that look of recognition in his face that will confirm it.  And he will see me again.

Every city, in fact almost every place, has dodgy areas: the places you don’t walk alone at night and this city is no different.  I’d been in one such place when stabbed and robbed.  You could say it was my own fault.  I’d missed my bus and so I decided to walk home.  The shortest route took me through this neighbourhood.

So, yeah, if you’re thinking that it’s my fault I got stabbed and robbed because I chose to walk home, then in your mind you’re probably right.  In my mind, I should be able to walk wherever I choose without fear of violence.  Especially if I miss my bus and take the shortest route home. In my mind I’m probably righteous.

I spent 2 weeks in the hospital.  I returned to my flat and a heap of post to open.  I found myself pausing to consider the potential damage my letter opener could do if used with malice.  In my mind’s eye I pictured an entity of the guy who stabbed me.  I smiled.

The guy in the store had to check my ID.  Technically it’s a camping knife.  Technically I was going to use it for outdoor pursuits.

After a week of sitting at home, lost in my own thoughts and troubled by nightmares, I made a move. Although still not yet fully mobile, I walked the exact same route, at the exact same time as the night I was attacked.  I walked the route every night.  I gripped the knife tightly in my pocket every time.

Nothing happened.  That frustrated me.  Could it be such a random occurrence?  Like the flip side of winning the lottery?  No.  You make your own luck.

I changed my route.  It took me deeper into the heart of the neighbourhood I had skirted around when attacked.  It’s a labyrinth of narrow streets, alleys and passageways.  Graffiti tags and trainers looped over telephone wires mark out gang territories.  Not a hospitable place for an outsider, yet people still visit daily.  Drugs & prostitution seem to be the main exports of this economy.  Cash, violence and intimidation are the main currencies.

I used my phone to guide me on a circuit of the estate: the dilapidated shopping centre, the pubs with heavy drawn curtains and steamed up windows, debris littering the streets.  With phone in full view, it took all of half an hour for someone to approach me.

He asked me if I was lost.  I said yes.  He offered to walk me to where I wanted to go.  I followed.  We called each other mate and small talked about sports.  He advised me not to walk these streets.  There are some dodgy people around who’d take advantage and take the phone.

He walked me to a dead-end.  He no longer called me mate.  His instant aggression caught me by surprise.  He was on me before I had a chance to catch my breath.  He shoved me hard in the stomach and I felt as though my lucky 14 stitches were torn.  A burning sensation and dampness seeped from my wound.  Pushed up against a fence in the darkness I smelled the weed and the booze on his breath as he came in close.  My wallet and my phone or I will die.  I told him ok and he stood back arms folded.  I grinned and waited long enough for that to register with him before producing my knife.  It scared him momentarily and then he tried to face me down.  He taunted me to do it.  He didn’t have to ask twice.

The blade went in through his jacket and I felt the edge of the blade grind up against the inside of his ribs as I plunged it upwards.  He screamed and I covered his mouth.  He bit down hard on my hand.  With no free hand I head-butted him to knock his jaws loose.  His nose emitted a large cracking sound and blood splattered over his face and my forehead.  His eyes rolled up into his head.  He passed out.

I splashed water on his face from a leaking gutter.  He was slumped up against the side of a garage.  His face was a mess and his eyes and nose had already swollen.  He clutched at his wound as though trying to keep the blood from leaking out of him.  I knew that feeling.  He tried to speak, but he caught sight of the blade in my hand and thought better of it.  Dogs barked in the distance. I wasn’t sure if I’d have long, so I got to the point.  “I just wanted to make sure you knew this was happening”. I grabbed his hair, pulled his head back and sliced the blade across his neck.  He gurgled and panicked. He kicked his legs out and grasped at his neck.  When he stopped moving, I left.

I’d expected to feel more.  I was numb.  But I slept soundly.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Film Review: Skyfall

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To the manor Bond

There’s nostalgiaabout this film as it marks 50 years of Bond.  It also fulfils audience requirements in that since Casino Royale thrust Bond back into fashion audiences have been waiting for another action packed Bond Film (considering Quantum of Solace garnered less enthusiasm).  Plus, a Bond film is one of those films that you go to the cinema knowing you will like: you may be able to see its flaws, but on the whole you know you’re gonna like it.  It inspires and revisits the excitement of when the new Bond would be out (or even an old one on television) from childhood.  But…

…Don’t believe the hype: this is not the best Bond film ever made.

It is a Bond of two halves:

It’s definitely Casino Royale mk2 for the pre-title sequence: a pulsating chase through Istanbul that culminates in a reasonably edgy segue into the titles.  I liked the titles and the song is fittingly Bond-esque (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adele involved in further films).

The film continues apace punctuated with a couple of dull moments that are clearly there to show depth to Bond’s character, but feel clunky and ill-conceived in relation to the rest of the film.  It seems that in this “Bond universe”, contrary to the rookie Bond in the previous two Craig outings, Bond is a washed up (literally) drunk: battered and bruised and self-aware enough to know that espionage is fast becoming a young man’s game where technology outfights brawn.

But, with a list of secret agents being leaked by a disturbingly camp former agent Silva (Javier Bardem), Bond is soon found to be useful, particularly as this adventure becomes more personal.  Silva is potentially Bond of the future: as an agent he pushed the boundaries of his remit too far and M hung him out to dry.  Silva explains as much to Bond, but the similarities between them seem to pass him by and, unfortunately that theme does not get revisited.

There are some great set pieces and when the action does get going it grabs the film by the scruff of the neck and lifts it way beyond the shaky plot.

At some point the main plot, the secret agents list, is discarded and it becomes a film about Bond protecting M from all-out assault from Silva.  This second half of the film seriously loses its way for me and I began to lose interest.

Silva also inexplicably discards his clever scheming and terrorist tactics in favour of all out warfare.  Perhaps it was to show that the list was trivial to him and all that mattered was M, but this was not really represented in the film.

What this film does do is give M much more screen time than previous Bonds.  Judi Dench’s clipped and matronly interactions with, particularly Craig’s, Bond have always been well worked.  Unfortunately, in this film Judi Dench shows more of her “As Time Goes By”, rather than her Academy Award winning acting chops.

Although the “Straw Dogs” style siege at the end offers up impressive action again, the shine is taken off by the manner in which we got to this point.

At times it feels like fan fiction: revealing more of Bond’s past and knowing nods and winks to previous films (and Bonds).  That’s not to say that it doesn’t work, but it places Daniel Craig’s Bond in that uneasy area where previous Bonds are regarded as the same person: George Lazemby clearing his desk in OHMSS springs to mind. 

This might seem like a damning review, but I actually enjoyed the film.  You do have to suspend belief when watching Bond and I’m more than ready to do that.  I suspect the hype led me to believe that this really could be the best Bond of all.  It always helps when you like a Bond and, Brosnan aside; I’ve liked all Bonds (yes, some more than others).  I honestly think that Daniel Craig is a great choice and conveys Bond’s ruthlessness and charm extremely well.

The film redeems itself massively in the final 20mins and I also suspect that audience members leaving the film on a high and full of anticipation for the next film in the series will have also added to the rave reviews.  It sets up the next phase of the series really well and I will be relishing when…James Bond will Return…

My Rating 3/5

Happy Times

Greg knew it was old-fashioned, but he liked it.  It reminded him of when he was a kid.  He and his mum and even his sulky older brother George would eagerly await his dad’s arrival home from work the Friday after they’d returned from holiday.  It was always a special occasion.  They’d get a Chinese takeaway and load the holiday photo slides into the projector.  They’d project the photos from the holiday on the wall and the room would fill with their excited chatter as they all regaled each other with anecdotes as to what the circumstances of the photos were and any other funny stories that they remembered.  It was light-hearted banter with plenty of laughs.  Even George would laugh and join in.  The total opposite of the monosyllabic grunts he’d make the rest of the time.  It was a cosy, joyful bubble of a world for that night.  The biggest laughs often coming when the slide was loaded upside down and Greg would swiftly twist himself upside down on the sofa only to be tickled by his dad until flopping down onto the floor. Happy times.

Greg made sure that he kept that tradition alive much to Amy’s chagrin.  She couldn’t see the point in having some corny old projector when they could hook up the laptop to the 42” plasma TV and view the photos in high definition. But he’d done it all through their relationship; even their wedding photos were on slides and she’d endured it up to a point.   They had to put up with poor quality pictures shone onto a patchy wall in their living room.  It wasn’t so much as a special occasion, it was a chore.  Even the Chinese food was unwanted.  Greg was the only one who liked it.  His twin son and daughter had never enjoyed it and so they’d all be forced to choose one of the “English specials” from the menu because Greg would flatly refuse to walk the further 100 yards to the curry house.  Greg’s enthusiasm failed to rub off on Amy and subsequently their kids.  It was an effort to get through the slide session and his moronic commentary to placate their dad.

This occasion was different.  It was the first since the divorce.  Everyone bar Greg sat in silence.  Even the curry, for which Greg had gone the extra yards to bring, was left untouched.  A palpable atmosphere hung in the room of the flat in which until 4 months ago Greg had called home.  The lights were off throughout.  Only the whir of the projector provided a soundtrack to Greg’s commentary as the sole source of light projected photos from their past on the wall.

“Great Yarmouth 2008:  Do you remember?  Burning hot summer we had.  You kids turned 6 just before we left for the holiday.  The car was loaded up with toys.  You always got boys and girls versions of everything.  When did that stop?  You get your own stuff now don’t you?  You get what you want now.”

The next photo showed Amy and the kids lined up and posing awkwardly in front of a static caravan.  Everyone is squinting into the sun while Greg takes the photo.  His shadow stretches out from the bottom of the frame, elongated by the sun’s angle.  His elbows are high up on his frame holding the camera.  Sun seeps through the gaps between his arched elbows and his head.  The shadow looks like a giant eye on a man’s body.

Greg leaned forward being careful to use his left arm to raise his beer can and have a drink.  Amy was snuggled under his right arm and he didn’t want to spoil the moment.

“Brilliant holiday that was.  One of the best.  Great caravan park with a kids club and everything.  Beach was only 200 yards away.  We’d spend all day every day on there.  I don’t think any of us wanted to come home after.”

Greg pressed the button on the control.  The next slide shone fuzzily.  It is Greg, buried up to his neck in sand on the beach.  The kids are either side of him.  They are all smiling.

Greg laughed.  “What a wally, eh?”  He extended his right arm around the back of Amy and nudged the boy curled up on the sofa next to his mum.  The boy ignores him; doesn’t move.  “Fancy doing that to your old dad, eh?”  Nothing, but silence.  “Gruesome twosome I used to call you.  Your mum didn’t like it, but you didn’t mind.  You knew I was just kidding.  It was her and her spoilsport ways.”  Greg’s face turned from a smile to a look of disgust as he gazed down at Amy.  “Always spoiling the fun you was.  Couldn’t just have a laugh could you? No.”  He shrugged Amy off him and stood.  He walked to the wall, picking up a prawn cracker on the way.  He cast a large shadow over the centre of the picture.  His head, protruding from the sand on Great Yarmouth beach, projected onto his shirtless back.  The twins still shone brightly on the wall.  Greg studied them seriously.

“Look at your faces.  Unbridled joy.  So innocent.  Just fun isn’t it?  That’s all.  The sort of unblemished enjoyment of doing something so silly.  Enjoy it while you can kids, it doesn’t last.  Once you get the weight of the world on you, you don’t have fun.  You just exist in an endless cycle of work.”  Greg crunches noisily on a prawn cracker.  He spits crumbs as he talks. “ If you’re lucky, you get family.  Like us.  And you experience that fun again when you have kids.  If you’re lucky you won’t get divorced.  You won’t get a restraining order for trying to put your family back together.  To stop everything from falling apart.”

He stood hands on hips staring intently at the picture; His own beaming grin from yesteryear shining brightly on his glistening wet back.

He turned from the wall and looked back into the room, hands still on hips, like a craftsman surveying his work.  Amy had remained on the sofa as though limply trying to still snuggle up to the space where Greg was sat.  Her hair matted with slowly congealing blood.  Her dressing gown shredded and bloody.  The kids were both coiled in the foetal position, save for the boy; his arm was outstretched in self-defence, punctured and bloody from the wound he caught trying to protect himself from the knife.  The girl had slumped further onto the floor.  She was limp and ragged.  Her eyes remained open with a look of fear.  They had lost their shine, but the light from the projector still flickered on them.  In the dim light seemingly black streaks of blood splatters had touched almost everything in the room.  Greg himself is covered, but none of the blood is his own and in the light of the projector it remains a vibrant deep crimson.

Greg’s eyes filled with tears.  He picked up the knife from the table on which the projector sat.  He studied it in the light from the projector: blood and torn flesh on the blade.  He turned and sat back on the sofa.  He pulled Amy back under his arm and cuddles her still warm body gently.   Hands shaking he fumbled for and retrieved the control for the projector.  The next slide appears.  The photo shows all of them together, but it is projected upside down.

Greg laughed.

A siren wailed in the distance.

Accident

Charlotte Clarke looked again at the clock on the mantel piece as she crossed living room, drink in hand.  It must have been the one hundredth time she had looked at the clock and, as before, the time had only moved on a few minutes.  She placed the highball glass of gin and a splash of tonic down on the coaster next to her husband.  It was only the rattling of the ice in the glass that caused him to notice, he was so far gone.

He picked up the glass and guided it unsteadily to his mouth.  Charlotte had been fixing his drinks all night and she had been fixing them good and strong.  He noticed at first and she offered to replace it, knowing that he wouldn’t want her to.  It’s not that Philip was an alcoholic, but he did like a drink and when Charlotte offered to make him a G&T she knew he would not say no.

That was several drinks ago and although Philip was still alert and reasonably coherent, he swayed when he went to the toilet, his head now looked too heavy for his neck and he slumped in the armchair more than before.  Charlotte had had two glasses of red wine; more to combat the nerves than to enjoy a drink with her husband.  She glanced at the clock again: almost nine.  He should be here soon.

At 9:02 Todd came through the front door and into the lounge looking distressed.

“Dad, Mum, there’s been an accident.  I think someone is hurt.” Todd didn’t take his eyes off his mother.  They both turned to Philip.

Philip was already getting unsteadily to his feet.  Todd had only passed his test months before and Philip had reluctantly allowed him to drive his car.

“What?  Where? How?  Are you ok?”  Philip’s words slurred a little, but the shock had seemed to rouse him from his stupor.

“On the Old Mere Road…I…I crashed your car, dad.  I’m sorry!”  Charlotte exchanged glances with her son once more.

“Don’t worry about that son.  Are you ok?  Who’s hurt?”, asked Philip.

“I think I hit someone.  We need to help them.”

Philip swiftly took command of the situation.  “Charlotte, stay here and call the police and ambulance.  We are going out there to see what we can do.”

“Perhaps I should come with you.”

“No, call the police and stay in case Laura wakes up”.

“I am awake!  What’s going on?”

Their 5 year old daughter stood halfway down the stairs that led into the living room rubbing her eyes.

Philip looked up at Laura while Charlotte and Todd looked for meaning in each other’s faces.  They’re eyes darted nervously.  Philip looked at his wife.

“Hell, we’ll all go, but Laura, you have to stay in the back of the car with your mother, OK?”

“OK”

Charlotte was thankful that no one had seen her sigh with relief when those words passed Philip’s lips.

They left the house, not noticing the bike Todd had leaned against the garage wall, and made their way to the car.  Instinctively, Philip got into the driver’s seat and studiously followed Todd’s directions to the scene of the crash.  Laura soon fell asleep in the back of the car, safe in the knowledge that were anything to happen, she would not miss it.  They journeyed in silence.  Charlotte smelled the stench of booze emitting from Philip and she smiled and looked out of the side window to avoid him seeing it.

Over the brow of a hill, by a humpback stone bridge Todd opened his mouth to tell his father to stop, but he had already seen the car and was slowing down.  Deep grooves were fresh in the mud where the car had left the road and the trail led to a large old tree.  The car was mangled up against it, nose first.  The airbag had deployed and billowed like a used parachute in the open doorway of the driver’s side.

Philip got out of the car open mouthed and he walked towards the steaming mass of metal.  Charlotte and Todd followed behind.  Charlotte allowed herself to give Todd a congratulatory hug.  Todd smiled.  Philip turned to them and their smiles dropped immediately.

“What did you do?” asked Philip, but he expected no response.  This was not the time for questions.  Todd had moved to the back of the car and was rummaging on the boot, presumably to get a blanket for the victim.

Philip turned back to the crash and thought to himself that if Todd had hit anyone with the car, they were surely dead and the blanket would only serve as a shroud until the ambulance arrived with a body bag.  He trudged closer, looking to the front of the wreck for a sign of a body.  Instead, he noticed, at the base of the tree, a shining object.  He couldn’t make out what it was, but even in this mess of wreckage, it looked out of place.  He moved closer and shouted over his shoulder for Charlotte to call the police and an ambulance.  Charlotte lifted the phone from her pocket, raised it and switched it off just as Philip reached the base of the tree and picked the object up.  It was a crash helmet.

“What the hell is-“.  Philip did not finish the question.  As he had turned back toward his wife and son, Todd had moved in and struck his father with an almighty blow to the head.  The crowbar made an audible clang.  Philip stumbled forward onto his knees with a loud gasp.  Todd moved in with the crowbar raised.

“Wait! Wait.” Charlotte reached her arm out to Todd and he paused at the top of his swing.  “The impacts have to be consistent with the crash”.  Charlotte moved over to Philip’s prostrate body and rolled him onto his back.  She squatted beside him.  He now smelled of alcohol and blood and he wheezed and gurgled for breath.  After removing the tape measure from her pocket and measuring the distance that she had memorised from his neck to his chest; a distance that equalled that between his neck and the airbag’s most significant point of impact were he to have been driving the car; she instructed Todd to strike.  Philip wheezed and gurgled no more.

Todd lifted his father into position in the car and then went to fetch the log that he had earmarked for the final touch.  He brought the log to the front of the car and smashed it through the already cracked windscreen and into his father’s face.  He picked up the crowbar and held hands with his mother, holding the crash helmet as they made their way back to the car.  Laura was still asleep and they drove back to the house in silence except for Charlotte checking that her son was ok and, apart from a sore neck and a bruise that he could feel, but not yet see on his chest, he was.

Upon returning to the house, Todd carried Laura to bed and tucked her in and then he went to bed himself after a kiss and a hug from his mother.  Charlotte finished her glass of wine.  Her hands were shaking; must be the adrenaline.  She went to bed.  Todd had had his big moment.  Charlotte’s was yet to come.

The police arrived an hour or so later.  They regretted to inform Charlotte Clarke that her husband Philip Clarke had been killed in a car accident.  Charlotte questioned the reliability of the information; her husband had been drinking at home that night and would have had no reason to have gone out in his car.  It couldn’t be him.

Denial:  The police had encountered that reaction before.  It was natural.  They comforted her and re-enforced the information until she understood the facts.  She sobbed.  An officer would stay with her until a doctor could come and give her a sedative.

Upstairs, Todd intercepted Laura making her way to the top of the stairs to see what was going on.  She heard muffled voices and what sounded like crying.  Todd told her it was the television and that she should go back to sleep.  Laura complied.  Todd returned to his room too, knowing he had only postponed the inevitable questioning that would come from Laura.  Her arrival on the stairs when Todd came home had not been anticipated.  Hopefully, mother would know what to do.

The following morning Charlotte broke the terrible news that the children’s father had gone out for a drive last night and had an accident.  Todd was shocked for Laura’s sake and he also supported his mother when convincing Laura that she had dreamt going out in the car with mummy, daddy and Todd.  It would be better for Laura that way.

Over time Laura’s nightmares went away and she eventually, with coaching from her mother and brother, learned to hate her father for being so reckless as to drink and drive.  Even more so when it came to light during the police investigation that Philip had most likely been on the way to his lover’s house at the time.

The insurance money afforded the Clarke family a much more luxurious lifestyle.  It turned out that Philip had been much more valuable dead than alive.  They became a closer family unit.  Todd and his mother often exchanged furtive glances, but never spoke of the events of that night.

The years passed until Charlotte, now old and grey was the matriarch of a family that had never moved on.  Todd, now in his 30’s had not yet found a girlfriend, let alone a wife and remained in the family home.  Laura too would not stray far from the home comforts and had few friends.

On Todd’s 35th birthday, Todd had chosen to spend the evening in with his mother while Laura was out running an errand.  Following some champagne and some rather strong cocktails that Todd had made, Laura burst into the room looking distressed.

“Mum, Todd, there’s been an accident!”

Charlotte turned to her son and saw him grinning.

The back wheel of the bike, where Laura had left it on one side in the garden, ticked as it spun gradually to a standstill.

Foresaken

“What time is it?” Ellie Kirkwood had been unable to keep track of time since her abduction.

Every Sunday at exactly 07:30am, Ellie would leave her first floor flat in Temple House and complete a 5 mile run.  The route was simple enough, taking her out of the cul-de-sac of large Victorian houses, all of which were now converted to flats, and across the main road and onto the canal towpath.  Exactly 2.5 miles along the towpath was a bridge where Ellie would cross and run back along the other side.

Sunday 25th July was no different.  The alarm awoke her at 07:07am and she briskly got out of bed and into her jogging gear, being sure to pick up her ipod from its position by the window where it was on charge and filling her water bottle. Although Ellie lived alone, she was conscious of the fact that at 07:20am on a Sunday, most people would still be tucked up in bed.  So she was especially quiet when exiting her flat onto the first floor landing.  She did not want to disturb Mr. Hardy upstairs, who she knew worked nights at the city’s landfill site; nor did she want to wake the elderly Mrs, Carvalho whose door she would have to creep past in the hallway downstairs to leave the building.  They were the only people living in Temple House; although there was a basement flat available, it had not had a tenant since Ellie had moved in 6 months ago.

Ellie had considered making sufficient noise to wake Mr. Hardy, as he never seemed to bother being as conscientious when he would return from his shift at dawn.  But, she didn’t want any confrontation with him or run the risk of waking Mrs Carvalho, especially because she had been so nice to her.

She would have mentioned the noise to Mr. Hardy was she ever to see him, but it was unlikely that their paths would cross.  He gave her the creeps.  There was no real reason for it, but Ellie did wonder if her first impression of Mr. Hardy had given her cause to be wary of him.  When Ellie had first moved in she had encountered Mr. Hardy on the stairs, as he returned from working in his workshop in the garden and she was leaving for work.  She had extended her hand and said hello, only to be greeted with a grunt and no eye contact as Mr. Hardy brushed quite forcefully past her.  Rather taken aback, Ellie had always listened at her door for footsteps on the stairs before leaving her flat so she would not bump into him again.  Her tactic had worked so far.

Something about Mr. Hardy was intimidating: he was a hulking, imposing man, unkempt with dark hair, greying at the sides and thinning on top and a growth of stubble that seemed to spread from beneath his dark eyes and across his wide face and double chin, meeting perfectly with the dark tufts of hair protruding from his t-shirt and, once fluorescent, now dirty, overalls.  He walked with a stoop, but still looked well over 6 feet tall.  Ellie guessed that he was in his late forties, but apart from seeing him on the stairs that one time; she had only viewed him from afar either going to or coming from his workshop.

Mrs Carvalho, who Ellie still could not call Rosa, despite Mrs Carvalho’s constant requests, was quite the opposite.  She was small and frail in stature, with grey hair swept back from her dark, weathered face into a tight bun.  Ellie suspected that Mrs Carvalho owned the house, as she had interviewed Ellie, discussed the tenancy details and agreed the rent.  The rent was also paid in cash only to Mrs Carvalho who claimed she was just managing the property for the landlord who lives abroad.  Ellie assumed it was a tax scam, but to get a flat in such a nice area of the city for such a small price, it was worth turning a blind eye to a little old lady making some cash in hand.  Mrs Carvalho was originally from Portugal, although she moved to England in the 1960’s she still talked with a flamboyant Portuguese accent and dressed like she belonged on a postcard from the Greek islands; always in black.  Mrs Carvalho had greeted Ellie on her first day with a warm roasted vegetable pie and had gone on to provide Ellie with many more homemade snacks and meals.  Ellie had felt a connection with Mrs Carvalho straight away, as though she was the grandmother she had never had and perhaps that was why Ellie could not become familiar enough with her to call her Rosa.

Mrs Carvalho was vivacious in character and would gesticulate wildly to accompany and punctuate her pigeon English phrases.  Ellie suspected that Mrs Carvalho laid the accent on a bit thick to keep herself interesting and eccentric, but as she was the only person Ellie would consider a friend, it was of no consequence.  Mrs Carvalho did not think too highly of Mr. Hardy either.  “He is fat.  He is rude.  He smells!” she would break into a chortle as she finished and wave one hand in front of her face while the other held her nose.

Ellie would stop in for tea at Mrs Carvalho’s at least twice a week.  Ellie wasn’t sure how it started or how it became such a regular thing, but it was a welcome distraction from her work and her non-existent social life.

Ellie had been a solitary person for much of her life; abandoned as a baby (she was named by the nurses who gave her last name as the Kirkwood estate where she was found) but neither adopted nor able to trace her biological parents, she had moved from care home to care home until she turned 18 and found herself a job in the city.  Moving around so much, coupled with the ever-changing care home personnel and residents had made it impossible for Ellie to make friends.  The regular visits from prospective parents through her early childhood became much more sporadic as she got older and the realisation that she would reach adulthood before she would be adopted sank in slowly and formed a low sense of self esteem.

It was hot in the box.  Ellie had felt her way around in the pitch darkness as best she could; there was hardly room to move from her position bent double in the box.  It was a wooden box, she could recognise the texture, but she was unable to find where the lid to the box might be or find any source of light that might help her see where she was or to check that she was ok.  She felt ok; a little woozy at first which made her wonder if she had been hit on the head, but she could feel no bruising and she felt physically fine and untouched.  She was hungry which gave her no indication of how long she may have been in the box, as she always felt hungry following her run.  Her ipod had gone, which would have supplied a source of light at least, but she was otherwise fully clothed.  She held her breath to listen for sounds, but heard nothing.

Getting the job, albeit as a receptionist for a relatively small car and van rental company had given Ellie a boost and she had seen this as a new chapter in her life where she would put down roots, gain friends and begin to enjoy herself and feel good about herself.  That’s why she took up jogging.  She had always been a little overweight and not being able to afford a gym membership made her come up with an exercise regime that would help her lose weight and gain confidence.  She had already lost several pounds, not that anyone had noticed yet.

The great hopes for the future had taken some hits along the way.  Her work colleagues had not taken to her at all and she was largely ignored throughout her working day unless work details forced one of them to talk to her.  Her new flat, although lovely, stretched her wages to a point where she could barely afford to eat, let alone socialise in the thriving bar scene.  Which she guessed was ok, as she would have been drinking alone anyway.

Aside from Mrs Carvalho, Ellie’s only other acquaintance was Jill, a lady who ran a book stall on the market, who Ellie had encountered many times.  Jill had said that Ellie was the most fervent reader she had ever known.  Ellie’s secluded nights in consisted of a seat by the window, a good book and a glass or two of red wine.  Jill and Ellie often exchanged pleasantries and talked about which books they had liked and why.  It wasn’t much of a friendship, but it was good to talk to someone about a subject she cared so much about.

Ellie had tried screaming at first.  She had been listening intently for sounds or movement and she thought she could hear a faint sound of a car alarm, but it was too distant to be sure.  She was certain that she must not be alone; she felt that there must be someone outside the box.  She tried begging and pleading and even hurling insults, but none provoked a response.  Her position and her anxiousness had caused her to panic, which led to heavy breathing and hyperventilation which had made her extremely dizzy, almost to the point of passing out.  She cast her mind back to try to understand what had happened.

Warm sun greeted her when she left the house.  An early morning where direct sunlight offered warmth and shade seemed bitterly cold lay ahead of her.  She pressed play on her ipod and began her warm up: a brisk walk to the end of the road.  As usual, she saw no one on her run.  It was too early for dog walkers and people heading to the shop for a Sunday paper.  As a self-conscious jogger, Ellie liked to run when it was quiet.  She had attempted a run one Friday evening; to take her mind off all of the people going out for the night, but it actually made things worse.  People were queuing at the bus stop, dressed for a night out; laughing and joking; and the chip shop and the pizza place threw out wickedly delicious and equally nauseas smells.  It put Ellie off her pace and made the run and subsequent night reading unbearable.

After crossing the main road and reaching the canal towpath, Ellie had adjusted the volume on her ipod and begun her run in earnest.  The music had seemed a little lacklustre and began to fade.  Ellie realised that, although she had diligently plugged her ipod into her charger, she had failed to switch the plug on.  Ellie left the music to fade and be replaced by her breathing and the pounding of her trainers on the canal path.

Ellie hated running without music.  Music seemed to help her focus and develop a running and breathing rhythm without being conscious of it.  Without music her mind wandered from it’s usual flights of fancy to consider her pace and whether she was blowing out or sucking in air at the right intervals.  This made her pace and breathing fluctuate.

She tried to remember if she had seen anyone on the towpath.  No; there was no one.  It was so rare to see anyone that she was sure she would have noticed if anyone had been there.  She had felt that she was huffing and puffing already and that it was not going to be one of her good runs.  She smelt a whiff of pollen and floral tones and made a mental note to take her hay fever pill when she got home.  She drank from her water bottle and tried to focus on her pace and rhythm.  She found herself humming a tune in an effort to get her rhythm back.  It felt like a struggle to reach the bridge.

She had stopped at the bridge gasping and her hands rested on her knees as she tried to regain some composure.  Her head tilted back and the sun warmed her face as she made her way up the steps, drinking heavily from her water bottle.  The water tasted a little funny; she made another mental note to use filtered water from now on and to wash the bottle properly, rather than just rinsing.

The water; was she drugged?  How could she have been unless the whole flat’s water supply had been contaminated?

She felt dizzy and staggered down the steps to the other side of the canal.  Her eyes struggled to stay focused on the path ahead of her.  Her vision was reminiscent of an action movie she had seen, where it was all filmed using hand held cameras to bring the action closer.  It was disorientating.  She clung onto the wall for support before falling to the ground.

In the darkness she closed her eyes.  She could not remember seeing anything more than the towpath on which she was now fully laid upon stretching out ahead of her.  But she had heard footsteps.  Heavy footed; with a hollow sound, like oversized steel toe-capped workman’s boots.  The view of the towpath turned to blackness.  Was it a blindfold or a hood?  Her sense of feeling and touch had deserted her; something she had read was a side effect of date-r*pe drugs.

More sounds followed.  A grunt: a male grunt; from the effort of picking her up from the floor.  Steady irregular footsteps from the same boots accompanied by soft thuds; her feet knocking against the steps as she was dragged up them.  A van door sliding open, further grunts of effort and the same van door sliding shut.  There were more shuffling sounds and what sounded like a heavy piece of wood moving across the floor.  The noise came from over head and Ellie realised she had been placed straight into the box.  The lid was hammered shut.  12 nails, at least.  Ellie passed out before the hammering stopped.

She smelled sweaty.  She must have cooled and reheated, although her running gear had seemed to have smelled a little lately; no big deal when you run on your own.  The air in the box was acrid and hot.  She had found it more difficult to focus and was breathing heavily.  She wondered if the box might be air tight.

Her body ached.  Her feet were numb from the position she was in.  She sobbed weakly.  She’d cried herself dry within minutes of awaking and realising she was trapped.  She had little emotion left to offer than despair and resignation.

When her eyes had first strained at the darkness and searched the box for a source of light she had wondered not only how this happened, but why.  She thought of episodes of crime documentaries and movies, but could think of no reason why anyone would choose to abduct her.  She felt that she was inconsequential; a “plain Jane”, but one with no hope of the makeover that would set boys hearts a flutter.  Chubby with a heart-shaped face stamped with a small hook nose and two sunken eyes with dark circles beneath she looked much older than her 18 years.  She was genuinely frightened of social situations which made her demeanour and dress indistinct.  People often forgot her name within minutes of meeting her.  Ellie was pleased, rather than jealous that she had no invitations for work nights out, even the work experience girl got that and she was only there for a week.  Nothing; nothing made her think she was worth abducting.

It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that she had been taken at random.  It wasn’t unheard of.  But what chance would it take for her abductor to be looking for a victim at exactly the point of her run where she had stopped, feeling dizzy?  How could someone have drugged her other than within her water?  And that water bottle was sat in her house all night because she filled it herself the previous evening; unless, someone had been inside her flat during the night.  In the cop shows, murders are usually by someone the victim knows.  Ellie thought quickly about the people she knew: it was a short list.

No one spoke to her at work.  The mechanics kept away from reception and she kept away from the garage.  Her boss, Mr Wilcox, barely spoke to her other than to check that everything was going ok and, other than that, there were only the customers.  None of which were regular or particularly memorable.  Aside from work and the book stall, Ellie only ever spent time at home.  Her thoughts turned to Mr Hardy.

Following her first encounter with Mr. Hardy, Ellie had always been curious about him.  She often noticed the light on in his workshop late at night at weekends whilst she sat reading.  Mrs Carvalho said that he made chicken coops, but Ellie had never seen Mr. Hardy take anything to or from the workshop.  Mr. Hardy was as much of an enigma to Mrs Carvalho; she did not know his first name; all his correspondence came addressed to Mr Hardy and she knew nothing much of where he had come from.

“Hardy is his name; that is all I know.  He pays his rent on time.  He works the night shift at the dump.  Always he work the night shift.  And he pay extra to use the workshop for his chicken houses.  I never go in there.  I care not for chicken’s houses.  Oh! And he shops at Morrisons…I see the bags!”

Mrs Carvalho would laugh and pat Ellie on the arm when she said something that she knew was amusing and caught Ellie off-guard, like the time she called the postman “a sexy boy”.  Her laughter would fill the room.

Mr Hardy wore workman’s boots.  Mr Hardy had a van.  Mr Hardy had a workshop where he could make and store a box without anyone knowing.  Ellie tried to be calm, “Mr Hardy?  Is that you Mr Hardy?”  Silence; apart from that same distant car alarm.  “Please Mr Hardy, I can’t breathe in here!” Silence. “Mr Hardy?”  Her voice wavered and she whimpered quietly.  She found she was wheezing slightly.  She mustered up all of her strength and screamed “MR HAAARRRDDDYYY!!”

Seagulls squawked as they raced across the huge landfill site full of waste, drowning out any sound that Ellie may have forced through the walls of her box and the many feet of rubbish that it was buried under.  Their regular, high-pitched hoots resembled a car alarm from afar.

Mrs Carvalho looked at her kitchen clock; 11:15am.  She stirred the loose tea in the pot and replaced the tea cosy.  She set aside the strainer and the cups and saucers for two alongside a plate of biscuits.  The front door slammed and she listened to heavy footsteps make their way along the hallway.  They shuffled to a stop at her flat door.  She instinctively pulls the top of her cardigan together in a white-knuckled clench with her right hand as her left hand helps her steady herself by gripping the top of a chair.  Holding her breath she heard a key slide into her front door and felt the draft as the door opened and then closed quietly.  Her eyes fixed on the kitchen door as it pushed gently open.  Mr. Hardy stood in the doorway with a fiendish look in his eye and a smirk on his lips.  In a swift movement he reaches forward and grabs Mrs Carvalho by the forearm, pulling her towards him.  He kisses her roughly and she responds in kind with small moans of pleasure.

With the tea stewed, Mrs Carvalho poured each of them a cup as they both sat at the table:  A picture of domestic bliss.

“When you gonna clear the flat?  I have put the “for rent” notice up.” asked Mrs Carvalho, between sips of tea.

Mr Hardy reached across to take a biscuit from and dunked it in his tea.

“I’m going to start right now.  It took a long time to sell the last tenant’s stuff, especially the bits I had to break up to sell as scrap.  Perhaps we should wait a while before we get a new tenant in.” He wolfs down his biscuit in two swift bites.

“Don’t be silly.  All she has is books.  Is books!”

They smiled and sipped their tea.  Mr Hardy reached for another biscuit to dunk.

THE END

My Best Man Speech: the script

I recently had the honour of being my brother Rob’s wedding to Henrietta…despite my nerves and having to follow Rob’s very good, but also very emotional, speech, it went down well.  Of course I stole some jokes when writing, but I did come up with a few of my own too.

Here it is in full (try and imagine where the laughs came):

Good afternoon everyone,

It’s good to know that after many years of sibling rivalry, my brother has at last realised who the best man is!

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Rob on a truly great speech.

I always knew it would be difficult to follow one of your speeches and I was right…I couldn’t follow a word of it!

You can probably tell that I’m a bit nervous giving this speech.

I feel slightly better knowing that I’m not the only person in the room feeling apprehensive – but then she has just married my brother!

It is a real honour to be here, in such a prominent role, celebrating this special day between my brother and “now” sister-in-law.

I know I speak for us all when I say that you both look fantastic.

It is truly a pleasure to formally welcome Henrietta into our family.

So, Henrietta, welcome to my family…and by the way, you’re welcome to them!  I joke of course and I only say to formally welcome you because you have been a cherished part of our family pretty much since we met and this occasion is the icing on the cake.

When Rob asked me to be his best man, I first thought it was because he had no friends – experiencing the stag do and now looking around the room, I can see that’s clearly not true.

I must admit, I did take it as a fairly casual thing at first, but as I thought more about it, it became a much bigger deal for me.

I began to understand the emotions and the importance of the day for Rob and Henrietta and hoping that I would not let either of them down and that was a bit overwhelming.

I realised that, out of everyone Rob could have chosen to be his best man, he chose me and that is pretty special, so thank you Rob.

I know that you have both put in huge amounts of effort organising this whole event to enable us to share and celebrate this very special moment with you…

…so on behalf of everyone here, I thank you for that too!

[Initiate a round of applause]…it actually says here “initiate round of applause”, so I’m glad that worked.

In preparation for this speech, I did a bit of digging for anecdotes about Rob and 2 words kept cropping up…but I couldn’t possibly say them here…no, the 2 words were actually Pony Club:

The Pony Club started back in Rob’s Newark council days and was all about going to Southwell races, having a few bets, a lot of laughs and, of course, a lot of drinks.

After one race meet, the Pony Club were in a Pub in Southwell that had a giant Jenga game and one of the games was to play it blindfolded.

When it came to Rob’s turn, the others blindfolded him then proceeded to pack away the Jenga game leaving Rob grasping at thin air.

40 minutes he kept going! I think everyone else had moved onto another pub by the time he took his blindfold off.

But you have to admire his dedication…

Rob showed his dedication in a more productive way when he worked extremely hard to become a qualified accountant and I greatly admired him for that.

He was so dedicated to becoming the perfect accountant that he also became boring, nerdy and a bad dresser.

Of course, he already had a head start on some of those!

But, back to the Pony Club: Simon Curtis told me about a game they used to play called the Kit Kat challenge.

He said “It’s a bit gross, unhygienic and gets very messy – can you imagine what it is?”

Turns out its passing a Kit Kat finger from person to person using only your mouth – and not what I thought which was how many Kit Kat fingers you could shove up your…eh…ahem.

Anyway, the only thing I learned from the Kit Kat challenge is that I have a particularly disturbing imagination.

Which may be a family trait because during one of mine and Rob’s many nights out in Newark we’d had several drinks and were talking and setting the world to rights – I forget exactly about what.

But, I said to him “You know what? You can’t polish a turd”

And he replied “Ah, but you can roll it in glitter”

I mean, I love the guy, but I wouldn’t go to a craft fair with him.

I’m not sure if Rob helped out with the centre pieces, but you might want to be wary, just in case!

Rob’s stag do was hopefully a weekend he’ll remember forever:

I’ll remember that it took me half an hour to convince Rob that he’d read the event listing wrong and it was Dirt Buggies, not Dirty Buggers…

And that it took me another half an hour to convince him to put some clothes on!

One of my main concerns on the stag do was whether Rob would actually last the night and, if he did, that it wouldn’t be spent chundering in the toilets.  He’s got a bit of a reputation for this after a few drinks:

On another Pony Club do he missed all 3 courses of a meal while he made a long distance call on the porcelain telephone.

I, too, have experienced this disappearing act: most notably in a strip club where the only explicit and graphic content that Rob got to see that night was of his own stomach.

You may have seen some of the photos from the stag do: we all dressed up as Miami Vice, but to be honest in some of the pubs we were the best dressed people in there.

In fact, in one pub, I thought they were having an idiots and whores theme party – but it turns out that’s just Yates’s on a Saturday night.

My main abiding memory of that night is standing in an 80’s themed club watching Rob’s blond Don Johnson wig slowly moving around the rotating dance floor with Rob busting out his best moves beneath it.

He was grinning from ear to ear, so I trusted he was having a great time.

And that smile was only surpassed when he entered the kebab shop and his whole face lit up like it was Christmas morning!

Fair play and much kudos to Henrietta for taking Rob on: there’s the extremely cheesy music for a start:

I think he tried to keep it hidden at first, but Henrietta finally twigged when his first 3 valentine’s cards read: “You’ll never stop me from loving you”, “I’m never gonna give you up” and “I should be so lucky, lucky…lucky”.

With taste like that, it’s a bit of a surprise that Rob has been a hit on hospital radio – but, then it is sort of a captive audience!

Apparently Rob’s DJ style and music selections have had a massive impact on the coma ward – they have never been so busy!

Seriously though, Rob is an award winning DJ which we’re all really proud of and I’m sure his audiences appreciate Rob’s enthusiasm for music, no matter how dubious his taste might be.

When Rob told me he was seeing someone called Henry, I bet I’m not the only person in this room that though “I knew it!” But it was, of course, the lovely Henrietta.

So I lost that bet with my dad!

Actually, the fact that Rob is now married means I lost my other bet with him too!

How about double or quits he’s spewing before the night is out?!

Speaking of dad: I hope you both don’t mind, but I took a peak at some of your presents:

I know dad has got you a miniature set of aftershaves and perfumes called Ample.

Try to ignore where he’s scratched the “S” off the label.

As for later, I think Rob may be planning something special for the wedding dance.

I heard he phoned his local gym and asked them if they could teach him how to do the splits.

They said “how flexible are you?”

And Rob said “I can’t make Tuesdays”.

This wedding is the highlight of a very big year for both of them:

Rob is actually going to be 40 later this year.

And Henrietta has only just turned 30.

Let’s face it; had all this happened when Rob was 21, he’d have been signing a very different register today.

Seriously though Rob: I looked up to you when we were kids and I still look up to you now.

You’re one of my best friends and you are a good, kind-hearted man: I’m very lucky to have you as my big brother.

And, knowing you as I do, Henrietta clearly makes you very happy and I trust that you will make Henrietta just as happy too.

All of your joys will now be magnified by 2 because you will share them together.

And all of your trials and tribulations will be halved because you will solve them together.

So, if everyone will please stand.

Please raise your glasses to: THE BRIDE & GROOM!!