A short fiction I wrote some time ago. I think it was for a magazine submission? Thought I would post it here as I am currently going through old writings. Help me out with the genre in the comments, please. As you can see I couldn’t decide between adventure, crime and mystery. I am so rubbish at genres!

Fiction / Non Fiction: Fiction

Form: Short Story

Genre: Adventure, crime, mystery

Word Count:  2,988 words

She sat on the edge of the low footstool, her chin resting warily on her hand. She looked around at the room. It was cluttered with brown packing boxes of various shapes and sizes. “This is the right thing, isn’t it? Of course it is, stop being silly.”

The lump at the back of her throat where the tears welled made it hard to swallow. She looked through the bay window. Her eyes were drawn to the weather beyond. Black clouds hung low in the sky, ominous, willing her to step outside in order to release their fury down upon her. The weather reflected her mood which was dark and brooding. She sighed, a long, low, gut-wrenching sigh that emanated from deep within her soul.

The door chimes rang, singing jingle bells, even though it was already spring. They wrenched her out of the dark mire. She knew it was not one of her friends. She hadn’t seen much of them lately. They had left her to deal with everything on her own, at the exact time when she needed them most. The door chime rang again. She had stopped in front of the large, gilded mirror that dominated the entrance hall. The woman she stared at was pale and frightened. Her raven hair turned white almost overnight. Had it really been overnight or had it been longer?

She opened the door and stared at the grubby, fat man, who grinned at her with his brown, broken teeth. He was sweating profusely, even though it was bitterly cold outside, (even for spring) with a breeze that could chill a skeleton. She shivered involuntarily, not because of the sudden cold draft that now swept like an unbridled horse through the house but because she knew who this man was. “Mr Smith?” she queried, through clenched teeth.

“Aye, ma’am. Come to collect the items, I ‘ave.” said the fat man, his grin broadening.

Her stomach lurched, burning bile climbing up her throat. Her heart raced. She opened the door wide and stepped aside. Mr Smith slid past her. Her stomach turned for a second time as she breathed in his disgusting body odour, the combination of sweat and grime melding together to form that distinctive stench of a sewer.

She gasped for air at the open front door and peered into the gloom of the twilight. A few doors down was a parked car, facing her, on the far side of the road. A slight movement inside it caught her attention. A light flickered, very briefly and then went out. It was not bright enough nor long enough for her to make out who sat there but she sensed someone was watching her. She backed up to just behind the door frame before slowly and carefully peering around the side. She was certain that it was the same car that had been at the cemetery a few weeks ago.

She closed the door and went inside. Mr Smith was writing something down. “Well?” she queried.

He paused, his face creased into a thoughtful frown. “Ye ‘ave twenty seven boxes. Is the extra one a gift fer me?”

He said it in such a way that she felt like scrubbing herself clean with a wire brush. She scowled before replying, “The one over there near the stool is mine. You don’t take it.”

The man snort-laughed, “I’ll get me boy now. We can start the movin'” and he turned to leave.

“Wait,” she called.

He gave her a look as if to say, “What does the silly woman want now?”

The man was a pig. “You need to go round the back. There is a service alley and gate to my garden. Take the boxes through there.”

The man smirked, “Aye, ma’am. You’re the boss, right.”

Then he laughed and walked out, slamming the door behind him. “Arsehole”, she whispered.

She walked over to the packing box she had pointed out. It was significantly smaller than the rest but had been sealed with extra care. She picked it up and lovingly stroked it. “This is it. It’s all forward from here.”

She placed the box carefully near the staircase before exiting the house to the garden gate. It was very dark outside now. Large raindrops were splashing on the hard, solid ground. She quickly unlocked the gate then ran back inside. At the door, she breathed in the cold, rain-filled air. She closed her eyes, enjoying the freshness of it, allowing it to reinvigorate her. She smiled inwardly. The fat man and his skinny son were coming, their rain coats wrapped tightly around them as the wind-forced rain slashed across their exposed faces. By the time they reached the door, they both looked like waterlogged, mangy rats. “At least the fat one won’t smell as bad now,” she thought as they went to collect the first of the boxes.

She led the two wretched men through the empty rooms to where the boxes were. The men went over the boxes together, whispering quietly before the fat one said, “We’ll take these here boxes out back, as you said, and then we can call it quits.”

She nodded her assent. The men got to work straight away. She went to where her special box sat and lifted it up gingerly, as if its contents were so delicate that the slightest movement would shake it to bits. She went to her tiny room which was empty bar the small brown suitcase near the door and the rickety wooden stool in front of the window, at which a pair of threadbare curtains hung. She had cleared all the furniture out following the funeral. She had not kept a single piece. She couldn’t anyway and where she was going, she did not need it. All her worldly possessions were in the suitcase.

She rummaged through the contents of the suitcase and pulled out a battered old book. She sat on the stool and pretended to read. She was perfectly positioned to view the black sedan that had been watching her all day. Over the top of her book, she could see a man smoking (a growing pile of cigarette ends lay on the ground next to the driver’s door). She wondered who he was: a policeman, taxman or someone with more sinister intentions? She glanced over to the packing box. At least he appeared to be on his own, which was one good thing.

After about an hour, she went down the stairs. The front room was quiet. It was now as vacant as the rest of her little house. This was it then. She flicked off the light and then quickly made her way back into her room. She looked at the car one more time, making certain the man was still in it before closing the curtains. The light cast her shadow onto the closed curtains. She made a movement as if she was lying down and pulled the cord for the light. It sputtered then went out. She crawled over to the door and carefully picked up the box and suitcase. The house was in total darkness now but she knew every nook and cranny and could walk around the place blindfolded a hundred times over without ever losing her way. Crouching low, she crept through the rooms before making her way out the back and through the still-open garden gate. She closed and locked the gate. Her trainers squelched beneath her as she walked down the muddy service lane, round the corner and then street lights lit her way ahead. She checked her watch: eight twenty-four, six minutes before the taxi was due to arrive at a house on the street behind hers. She walked halfway down the road and stopped in front of a red post box. She popped an envelope through the front. The letter would take a few days to arrive. That was plenty of time. She looked at her watch again. Eight twenty-nine. She arrived at the designated meeting point exactly as the taxi was pulling into the drive.

Traffic on the highway was heavy and it took them a good half an hour longer than expected to arrive at the airport. That meant she would have to rush through the airport to make her plane on time. She had planned it so that she could walk through casually, even stop at the public loos to change but there would be no time for that. She took in a deep breath to calm her nerves and then strode casually through the airport. At the check-in counter, she handed in her printed ticket and her passport. The lady asked if she was checking in any of her luggage whilst eying her precious packing box. She held on tightly to it and explained that it was her late husband’s ashes. The woman’s embarrassment was obvious and she allowed the box on board but said the bag had to be checked. The final boarding call rang out and she rushed off to the gate.

She stopped suddenly as a rough voice behind her, called out her name. Her body was chilled to the core. The person was right behind her now, so close that she could feel his breath on her skin as he whispered into her ear. “Caroline James?”

She looked straight into the steely eyes of the man who had just called her name. “Can I help you?” she asked steadily.

“Where are they?”

“What are you talking about? Look I am late for my flight, if you don’t mind.”

She tried to walk but the man grabbed hold of her arm. “All I want is for you to return them to me and I will leave you alone.”

“I cannot help you.”

“Then you will have to come with me…” he tried pulling her.

“I most certainly will NOT!”

Her voice was raised and it was not long before the airport security was heading their way. “You’re in for it now!”

“Oh, really?” he sneered.

She frowned. Why was he not concerned about the security man, who had now arrived? “Excuse me, what seems to be the problem…” the man paused briefly before saying, “hey, Mike, I didn’t realise it was you! What’s going on?” his tone was now jovial, an old friend.

“Oh, no”, she thought, “Just what I need.”

“Just on a job, John. Can you help me out with a room?”

“No problem.”

The man called John got onto his radio and before she knew it, she was being whisked off to an interview room.

The first thing that Mike did when they were alone was confiscate her precious box. “My late husband’s ashes are in there and if you do one single thing to disturb them I will ensure you get the harshest punishment possible!” she shouted furiously.

Mike laughed at her. “Mrs James, I don’t believe that your husbands’ ashes are in here and I’m going to check for myself, if you don’t mind.”

With that he tore off the brown tape and forced the box open. It had a lot of packing in it. He rummaged furiously through it until he felt something hard. He looked at her with a sneer. “Are they in here then?”

“That is my late husband’s urn.”

He pulled the jar out of the packing, sending polystyrene flying all over the table and the floor around him. He studied the small jar, from every angle before carefully opening the lid and peering inside. “Small amount of ashes, don’t you agree?” he stated.

“My husband was not a large man.”

“Hrmph.”

He studied the lid then placed the items on the table. “Okay,” he conceded, “I don’t see any hidden detachable compartments on this thing. So I’m guessing they’re inside it.”

He looked around the room. A small bucket sat on the floor in the corner. The picture on the front indicated that it was a sick bucket. He picked it up and positioned it on the table before opening the jar and emptying out the contents. She jumped up in a rage and screamed, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

“Relax, madam, I am merely doing my job. If I believe you are hiding something in here, then I will check in here. NOW SIT DOWN!” He leaned over the table and through gritted teeth said, “Don’t mistake me for someone nice. I’m not nice.”

She sat down again and scowled at him. “Well, just make sure you put every last bit back.”

After some time she said to him, “Who are you? You’re not police or security but you knew that man out there…”

“I used to be a personal security officer. Now I am a collector. Freelance. The pay is better and the person who hired me wants what your husband stole from him.”

“Well, I have no idea what you’re looking for.” she stated, indignantly.

“Funny isn’t it, that your late husband happened to work at the very bank they were stolen.”

“What are you looking for? What is ‘they’?”

“I cannot say here. There are ears everywhere and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone getting wind of what I am after. Besides, you already know.”

“If you won’t tell me then I cannot help you.”

He smiled although it looked more like someone had run their finger along an ugly piece of clay in an attempt to make a smile. “You will.”

He had finished emptying out the jar. He stirred the ashes, looking for something amongst them. “Well, nothing in here. What else did you bring with you?”

She had forgotten about the checked bag. It would have gone on to the plane, the one she had missed. She scowled at that unfortunate turn of events. Now there would be more time-wasting trying to locate that bag. “Nothing.” she replied.

“You were getting on a plane with this (he indicated the box) and nothing else? No clothes, nothing?”

“I was only going overnight and back here in the morning. My husband wanted his ashes scattered in the sea off the coast. I’m not some baddy you know!” She stood up. “Now replace my husband’s ashes at once. I know my rights and I am leaving. You have had more than enough of my time!”

Mike grimaced and then casually tipped the ashes back into the jar, spilling a fair amount of it on to the table. “You are free to go, for now.”

She walked to the door, threw it open, and stalked off indignantly.

After some time, a bit of frustration and a large amount of squabbling (mostly with a lady at the ticket office), she rebooked her ticket and discovered that her bag had arrived in Spain and, finally, she found herself on the flight she had been looking forward to for so long.

A few days later she was relaxing on the deserted beach of Los Caños de Meca, her wide-brimmed hat protecting her face from the searing sun. A tatty old book on her chest ebbed and flowed. Her eyes were closed as she enjoyed the quiet, perfect day. She felt a shadow move past her and could sense the person sit down next to her, the strong smell of sunscreen filled her senses. She did not move. Then, a smooth, scintillating voice said, “What’s that jar next you?”

Still she did not move. “My late husband’s ashes.”

“Oh, what happened to him?”

“He jumped off a cliff.”

Really? Why on earth would he do that?”

“To get away.”

“Away from what? Did he do something wrong?”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, I hope he left you something then.”

“He did. Some stones.”

“Worth anything?”

“Yes.”

“What did you do with them?”

“Sold them.”

“You used the money to come here?”

“No, I already had some money put away.”

“I see. Were you ever in danger?”

“Not really.”

“So, what did you do with the money from the stones?”

“I bought this.”

She moved now and lifted the small jar out of the box it sat in. It was very plain, white and, hand-painted in blue, was a scene of a fierce-looking Chinese warrior astride a horse, sword aloft. Surrounding him, and in stark contrast to his demeanour, was a calm, peaceful scene of woodland and nature. The man studied it closely for some time before saying, “It’s very ugly, isn’t it?”

“Indeed, but sometimes the most unremarkable things are also priceless.”

“What makes you think it’s worth anything?”

“I heard that it’s the missing piece of a collection worth millions, well it would be with this jar.”

The man raised his eyebrows and handed the jar back to her. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Sell it to the collector, of course.”

“The collector knows you have it?”

“I have communicated with him, yes. He will be here in a few days.”

“And what then?”

“Then I will live out the rest of my life, here, in paradise.”

“You do know that money won’t buy you happiness?”
“I know but it can certainly help. Anyway, I won’t be alone.”

“Really, who will you be with?”

She looked closely now at the man and smiled, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “My husband, of course.”

At this remark, the man, who now leaned so close to her that their noses were just about touching, whispered, “Good.”

He touched her cheek gently and kissed her warmly. “I missed you.”

“And I, you. But we’re home-free now.”

Together they walked over to the waters’ edge, the cool water lapping at their toes. He wrapped her in his protective embrace. The setting sun turned the aqua water into a beautiful deep scarlet and silhouetted the two souls who stood together as one on this deserted stretch of beach. A feeling of renewal filtered in on the fresh sea breeze.

Copyright © 100315 by Karen Payze

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