Forbidden Beauty [flash fic]

Hey there you wonderful people!

So my housemate and I had another short story competition, as outlined in my previous post about Vocal.

Now I don’t want to insist you read my work on some other site, so you can read it below if you want! This is how this one’s going down:

If you want to support me by reading the piece on Vocal, just click here. You’ll earn me like $0.003 and I’ll be super grateful. My housemate’s piece, for comparison, is on Vocal too.

[fun aside: Vocal has a ton of different categories, and you have to pick one for each piece, and they all come with a range of preset tags, so I can’t be my usual inventive tagging self. This one’s in the ‘Criminal’ category and tagged ‘fiction’, ‘guilty’, and ‘mafia’.]

If you’d rather read it here, just read on! No hard feelings. The piece is in full below, with the prompts used, and some chat, at the end. Enjoy!

Forbidden Beauty

I’ll tell you how I died, and you can tell me why. The cause was simple enough: a fall from as great a height as the 13-story Lindenberg Building will wreak havoc with anyone’s structural integrity.

Excuse the jargon—even in death I’m a typical engineer. So how I got mixed up in all this is beyond me.

It started when I met Grace, the born-again Christian evangelist, behind the scenes on her show. I was there advising the production company on the new stage they were building specifically for Grace’s energetic and dramatic performances. She used ‘the power of God’ to heal the sick and crippled live on prime-time TV, and to bring in millions of dollars in pledges, naturally.

Of course, Grace was as beautiful and charming as you’d expect, but she was a celebrity, you know? At first, I thought nothing of my crush. But as the weeks past, and we saw each other more and more, I started to get the impression Grace felt the same way.

One day, I let my touch linger on her arm a moment too long. She turned, looked me square in the eyes, and mouthed, “Patience.” I didn’t need to wait long. The next day, she invited me for a drink after work in a discreet bar downtown. From there, a chauffeur took us back to her place. The night was a first for me, but not for Grace, I learned.

All of this did not sit well with the man about town: Jack “White Baby” Lindenberg, head of the Faith Network Guild. It was his money, or his family’s, that ultimately funded Grace’s show, and that was no coincidence. He’d apparently had his eye on her from the start, and well before I arrived on the scene. I was told by reliable witnesses she had not reciprocated. It was one of those reliable witnesses, I’ve no doubt, who also took news of my blossoming romance with Grace back to Jack.

Someone had seen us backstage, snatching a kiss between shoots. We heard them scuttle off, but didn’t see who. We laughed it off.

A day later I found myself invited up to Jack’s penthouse apartment atop the Lindenberg Building where the studio was housed. After a few drinks from his extensive collection, Jack invited me out to the roof to ‘admire the view’.

“Sure is a beautiful sight,” he mused as we looked out over the city. “I love beauty, you know? I’ll do anything to keep hold of it.”

The statement sounded odd, and I turned and searched Jack’s face with my eyes. I knew he didn’t like people looking at him, given the skin disfigurement that earned him his nickname—a curiosity in a noble black family. But I figured I was in too deep anyway.

There was cold resolve in those eyes. A bodyguard stepped from the shadows.

“I’m sorry, Angie,” he said to me as the hulking great man approached. “But I can’t let you take her.”

[502 words]

[prompts: “It’s a boy!”; from a great height; Grace, the born-again Christian; Jack “White Baby” Lindenberg, head of the [] guild]

[Once again, this is the result of a bit of friendly competition between me, my housemate, and our latest competitor, his girlfriend. Find the full explanation with the first piece I wrote, Division. We added a few new prompts to the disc, drew four again, and gave ourselves around 15 minutes—the buzzer this time was when a friend we were expecting rang the doorbell. The eagle-eyed among you will notice I missed a prompt! So I may or may not be DQ’d. Still, hope you enjoyed it!]

[I won’t be putting my housemate’s entry on here, because it’s his, so I’ll just give you the Vocal link. Of course, reading his and not mine on Vocal puts him ahead in our competition, so if you read his, please at least click through to mine here :)]

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Trying out Vocal [Getting paid to write stuff!]

Vocal

Heard of it? Vocal’s a publishing site that rewards its authors for how well their content performs. You can find it here: https://vocal.media/

Anyway, my housemate and I had a little short story competition this weekend based on a few prompts, and we decided the only fair way to judge art was, of course, to monetise it.

So I’ve signed up (he already had an account) and we’ve each stuck our stories on there.

You can check them out here:

Division

The Brightest Star

And we’ll get stats on views! And very small amounts of cash!

What do you think of the pieces, the site, the idea? Let me know 🙂

All Jobs Considered

blaine_mansion_-_washington_d-c

Paul parked the van and stepped out into the drive. It was a grand old house, several stories, each cluttered with small, fragile windows. ‘A specialist job,’ he thought. ‘Good money.’

He rang the doorbell – an intricate gnarled gargoyle – and heard a voice call faintly, “Come in.” The hall was richly carpeted, with plush furnishings visible in all the rooms offshooting from it. Bouquets of flowers were strewn everywhere, messages of condolences attached to the stems. ‘Poor dear,’ Paul thought, ‘The husband probably used to clean the windows’. There was no one in sight.

“Hello?” he called. “Upstairs,” came the reply. After a moment’s consideration he climbed the stairs. She’d sounded frail on the phone. Paul remembered her creaking voice: “I saw your advertisement in the Yellow Pages. I could so use your services.” The ad was brand new, and already it was paying off. On the landing, he called again and received another reply, from an open door ahead of him. He stepped into the doorway –

The woman lay sprawled in a clawfoot bathtub in the middle of the room, a thin layer of bubbles preserving only bits and pieces of her modesty. Wrinkles, whether caused by age or the water, traced lattices across her skin. There was a wild, sorrowful look in her eyes.

“I…uh,” Paul stuttered, lost for words. Was this some sort of joke? A trap set up by his estranged wife to hasten the divorce? He held up his hands as if to protect himself from her unashamed nakedness.

“You came, didn’t you!” the woman snapped. “What are you waiting for? If you’re going to advertise…”

Paul ran from the doorway, down the stairs. The woman shrieked.

“But your advert – come back here you horrible man!” As he skidded round the corner at the stairs’ base, he collided with a low table and sent a vase of drooping lilies crashing to the ground.

“Vandal!” the deranged bat screamed from upstairs. Paul heard thudded footsteps – she was coming for him! He staggered back to his feet, blood dripping from where he’d caught his hand on the broken vase, and heaved the front door open.

“You lied!” he heard the woman shout, shrill with rage. “Your advert!”

Paul jumped into the van, slammed it into reverse and spun round in the expansive drive. Gravel flew up from beneath his tyres as he left the house behind with a roar of the engine…

Ten minutes later, Paul pulled into a layby. He had been driving without thinking, on autopilot, and now realised he had been heading towards his old school, in totally the wrong direction for home. The woman’s voice still echoed in his head. What had just happened?

The advert. He pulled out a copy of the Yellow Pages, flipped to W, found ‘Window Cleaning’… his ad wasn’t there. Confused, he turned back a page, maybe it had run over two…

There it was, with the smiling picture of him in front of his van, just above where ‘Window Cleaning’ was listed in bold. The ad read normally, it seemed:

“Paul Scott: Widow Cleaner. All jobs considered at hours to suit you. Friendly chap open to any assignment. Call now”

What was the woman –

Ah damn. That missing n.

Paul sat for a moment in reflection, then shrugged and threw the van into gear. Turned back towards the woman’s house.

‘All jobs considered…’

Auto-neuroticism [A horrific short story]

[Hi all! Sorry for another long silence… here’s to breaking it! I’ve been reading a bit about paranormal investigators lately and am of the mind to write something of that ilk – before that (and while I’ve the time to blog but not the time to write) I thought I’d share an old piece of mine – my one previous foray into the horror genre. The following is a short story I wrote for a Halloween competition at work years ago.(Thanks to my good friend Hamish Hay for the adventure that inspired it and the photo that accompanies it!) I’ve refrained from editing it much, wanting to show how my style has (hopefully!) progressed since, but I’ll warn you now it’s a longer read at a couple thousand words! Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to plough through it – any and all suggestions, criticisms and comments welcome as I’d happily rewrite the whole thing with enough feedback! Enjoy]

He had chosen the perfect venue for the evening; a surprise he was confident she’d love. Having walked past it every day for two months now, it was only last week, when he’d caught it framed by the sunset, that Ryan realised how perfect a setting The Auto Abode could be. Once a glamorous car showroom, it had closed over a decade ago amidst a blaze of controversy and local newspaper coverage, which Ryan had poured through, fascinated to learn the remarkable story behind the now derelict building.

The owner, Sam Hughton, had been a well-liked figure, always ensuring that the high-spec supercars out front were complemented by a fleet of trade-in vehicles, serviced as comprehensively as those selling for ten times the price, which he reserved for members of the local community. Mothers often stopped at the showrooms for a chat, admiring of his generous nature and the lone-raising of his son Kevin, whilst the boys from the nearby estate came to marvel at the streamlined coupés, slowly turning on the rotating floors and gleaming under the hanging lights.

Things started to go wrong when Sam fell ill after 20 years of good business; diagnosed as terminal and bedridden he installed the irresponsible Kevin, now in his twenties, as the manager. Before long the trade-ins were gone as Kevin turned The Auto Abode into a solely high-end outfit, alienating the locals, including then-girlfriend Stacey Robson, an impressionable young girl Kevin had promised the world to. Seeing her cash-strapped family having to go elsewhere for a car for the first time in her life changed the young girl’s mind however, and she joined a mob of protesters demonstrating against Kevin’s ownership. Later that night, some of Kevin’s former schoolmates – his arrogance not having endeared him to them – snuck into the yard and wiped out over a million pounds worth of cars with a single can of petrol. Kevin Hughton soon disappeared into hiding racked with debt and wanted by the police, with Stacey having gone missing days earlier. Neither were seen again.

Soon home, Ryan could hardly hide his excitement as he prepared the picnic hamper. Kate would love the setting, he was so sure! Both aspiring photographers, the couple often spent weekends travelling to find the most picturesque locations, and here was one right on their doorstep- it was perfect.

He called up the stairs once he’d finished packing their meal, and Kate duly arrived, skipping down the stairs with her SLR tucked under her arm. That was all he told her to bring, an instruction that had been met with incredulity, as they’d covered the city’s main attractions within days of moving in.

Kate’s curiosity was piqued further when Ryan strolled past the car and set off down the road on foot. Unable to maintain the silence Ryan had requested until they reached their destination, she burst out,

‘There’s nowhere original in this city we haven’t photographed, you know! If this is some sort of joke you’ll be in trouble, wasting my time… where are we going?’

Ryan turned and smiled, “You’ll see, it’s worthwhile. God knows I’ve heard about how little time you have!”

He couldn’t resist the little dig at her, after all he’d been busy too, and while for her it was a complaint, for him it was a crime that he’d been away from home so often. Well, he’d make up for all that tonight.

Seemingly placated, Kate followed him obediently, and within minutes they were out of the housing estate and onto the busy main road. Deliberately slowing down as they approached the showrooms, he allowed Kate to overtake him and she instinctively headed past them for the footpath towards the city centre. It was only when she no longer heard his footsteps that she turned around.

Ryan watched her blue eyes as they bore into him, confused, and then slowly widened as they travelled to take in their surroundings. He lips parted in surprise, and she whispered a single word,

“Oh.”

It was all Ryan needed to hear.

Taking her slender hand in his, he guided them through a smashed window, treading gingerly on the broken glass and grateful Kate had chosen to wear her thick-soled hiking boots, clearly expecting a weekend trip away. He left her standing by the entrance and darted around the room, lighting several candelabras to soften, rather than erase, the deep shadows.

Illuminated with a flickering glow, the room lived up to the artistic expectations Ryan had held. Faded posters, their ripped edges now smooth, seemed to drip from the walls, some held up only by glistening cobwebs. Bright, bold and proclaiming sales, banners curled down from the ceiling, some wrapped around the hanging light-fittings like lampshades. Curious but unhopeful, Ryan flicked a switch on the wall and was surprised to see two bulbs stutter into life, casting blood red shadows across the walls. A scraping noise behind him made him turn, and a giant flatscreen TV rolled out from behind a fake wall panel, miraculously unscathed but showing no signs of life; apart from a small red LED it remained black. He sighed, thinking of the wild extravagance once on display within the walls.

“This is perfect.” Kate finally managed to talk, and her words delighted Ryan, who was busy unpacking a laptop from his bag. “And you brought the studio, Ry, how lovely, we can edit them here while we eat.”

“My plan exactly! Now let’s set up and tuck in.” They did just that, juggling trifles and tripods as they prepared their cameras. Within minutes, Kate was contentedly snapping away, and Ryan went to inspect the TV further. A button at the rear sprang the screen into life, and after a bit of adjustment came to display black and white photos of the site. Ten second shots from various vantage points rolled by, but it was after spotting a raccoon scurrying across the screen that Ryan realised these were CCTV images, broadcast live. He shivered involuntarily, but shrugged it off and called Kate over.

They watched as the pictures changed, soon spotting themselves from a viewpoint outside the front door. Eager to find it, Ryan ran outside, calling back to make sure he was still on camera.

“Is it still on?”

“Yes”

“Can you see me?”

“Yes….and still….stop it!” Ryan stopped pulling faces and frowned, puzzled.

“It’s been on me a while hasn’t it?”

“Yes baby, you’re the star of the show!” Kate giggled, sipping her second glass of champagne.

“No, you don’t get it!” snapped Ryan, “It should’ve switched by now.” He rushed back inside and indeed, the view was still fixed on the couple. Kate wandered off disinterested, and after staring at the screen for several minutes, Ryan had to admit defeat- even if it was a bit strange, he couldn’t do anything about it. He joined Kate and began taking photos, but his eyes constantly flicked back to the screen, and he saw the change as soon as it happened.

“There, Kate, look at that!” His voice cracked momentarily as he ran back towards the screen, now showing the two of them from even closer than before. Scanning the room, he was unable to locate a camera, but that didn’t stop the shot zooming in even further a few seconds later. He could now see his and Kate’s faces clearly, and they both looked worried. Walking over to the computer, he whispered to his fiancée,

“Let’s go.” Kate stood still, and motioned silently to the screen. The scale even smaller, Ryan’s shoes were projected larger than life-size, alongside the computer, whose screen showed the untitled album in the making. A line flickered across the header, and then slowly, letters appeared.

I A M

Ryan looked down, his laptop’s screen was unchanged, but up on the TV the letters still came..

W A T C H I N G Y O U

Darkness. Kate screamed as the lights flicked off, and a rush of air extinguished the candles as a low drone started. The air-conditioning unit had powered into life, leaving Kate and Ryan with only the faint glow of the laptop.

“Ry?” Kate’s voice called out, and following the sound quickly brought Ryan to her side. He took her hand, and they walked in silence back to the laptop. Only when they’d got there did they remember the TV screen, and looking up in unison saw themselves huddled together, the viewpoint now back to the camera outside.

Leaving the equipment scattered around the room, they headed towards the entrance, only for a low grinding sound in front of them to halt their progress. Standing still, they realised the noise was coming from all sides, and they were losing their balance as well- the rotating floors had started moving. The racket grew louder, and Ryan could tell that the other sections had to begun to turn also.

Panicking, he grabbed Kate and dashed for the entrance, but lost his balance and crashed down hard onto the stone floor. A scream echoed out from his left and he crawled towards it, only to collapse again when blinding pain shot up his left arm. Inspecting it with his right hand, he felt damp warm stickiness and then- his stomach turned- smooth stiff bone. Ryan’s head felt light, and his voice came out in a desperate croak before the darkness enveloped him…

The room was quiet, a shaft of moonlight pouring in through broken glass the only light. It was towards this that Ryan headed, after clambering lopsidedly to his feet, left arm throbbing. As he got closer, the outlines of the walls became visible, and following them he located the light switch. Gratefully he depressed it, bathing the surroundings once more in the red glow of the two surviving bulbs.

Seeing the room empty, he crossed it in three quick strides, heading for the only other exit- a small door adorned with a faded ‘Manager’ label. He did not notice the TV screen buzz into life, if he had perhaps he would not have found the energy for what was next. The door was locked, but adrenalin surged through Ryan’s veins, it gave in to his second shoulder-barge and he was sent sprawling by something lying on the floor.

For the second time in a minute, Ryan gingerly climbed to his feet, before bending back down to investigate the obstruction. His hand touched cloth and he shuddered and pulled away, before grasping the material once more and dragging the object into the showroom. Exhausted, he collapsed back onto the floor before recoiling in horror at the body lying next to him.

Moth-eaten clothes hung loosely from stiff limbs, over which stretched pallid skin. Decay had worked slowly in the sealed office, but some areas had been slashed and decomposed faster. The worst though, was the face, which had been ripped off down to the bone, leaving only a grinning skull thinly veiled in dried blood. Retching, Ryan backed away as fast as his legs and one good arm would carry him, continuing until he met the far wall heavily. Slumped against it, his eyes rolled back and caught sight of the TV screen above him, showing a picture he couldn’t make out from below. Once he’d turned round to see it, he immediately wished he hadn’t.

It was Kate, even from behind he could tell. She hung from a chain, suspended above the scorched tarmac of the yard. Swaying gently in the breeze, her body turned gradually until she was facing the camera. Ryan, now prone on the floor, gasped for breath and cried, losing consciousness as the will to live drained from him. Kate hung from the chain, but the face Ryan saw, projected greater than lifesize from the screen, was another familiar to him. Countless times he’d seen it, in all the newspaper clippings he’d researched, and even decayed and stitched over that of his girlfriend’s, there was no mistaking the face of Kevin’s lost love Stacey Robson.