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School House Haunt

There’s nothing like searching through rat-infested darkness for my best friend’s bones – with her in my head – on Halloween night. Ugh! This school house is no friendly House of Horrors.

Hurry up. I’m over there. In the teacher’s room.

‘Nadine, come on now, there won’t be anything left of you to find.’

They – the police – didn’t find my body. Those bastards did too good a job hiding me. Plus, my clothes will be there, and my locket. Remember how much you loved my locket? Well, you can take it now, I promised you in Year 10, remember?

I squeeze through the sagging front door. ‘I’d have to untangle your locket from around your neck. From your vertebrae.’ Just the thought makes me shudder. ‘No way, Nadine. You’ve got to give me a better reason than teenage lust over your locket.’

You wanted the scoop of a lifetime, to get that stubborn editor to see you as a career reporter.

‘Yep, that’ll do it.’

The schoolhouse is old, well over a hundred years or so. Rain has made an inroad on the mud brick walls. While inside, the floor is simply packed earth.

I hear noise. A rustling noise, up above me. My torch beam reflects from several pairs of beady eyes. Yuck, rats in the roofing!

You’d be wiser to watch out for two-legged rats.

‘Nonsense. Why would anyone else come in here? We’re the only ones silly enough to do this,’ I insist, but wave my torch beam throughout the decayed schoolhouse, just in case. ‘There, I told you. Now, you promised you’d tell me why you came out here with Eddie and Matt.’

Because it sounded exciting. Visit a derelict schoolhouse on Halloween. Don’t you dare say ‘I told you so.’

‘If only I’d not been such a clutch to fall down those stairs. That staircase was supposed to be safe.’

Not if you got pushed.

I step over the rotten boards of a school desk. ‘Pushed? As in on purpose?’ I stand still, my torch beamed downward. ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’

They reckoned you would stop me going through with the dare.

‘And if I had, you’d still be alive.’

Hush!

Noise, the skidding sound of something bumped into comes from the corner room where the teacher’s study should be. Should I run, get out of here, say goodbye to a possible career? I shine my torch through the door space, to where the sound had emanated.

Alanna, listen to me! Run!

‘I want to know!’

A white blur shows up in my beam, about where a man’s face would be.

‘You!’ I call. ‘Out here.’

‘I’m coming, don’t shoot.’

Well, at least it’s a man, not a rat.

A two-legged rat.

‘Maybe.’ I – we – wait.

Long legs navigate the remnants of school desks. A man – almost 6 feet of him – steps into my light. I shine my torch up onto his face, to make sure I’ll be able to identify him if it becomes necessary.

Not bad looking.

Yeah, you’re right, but hold it for now, will you?

He stands there, in my light beam, waiting for me to speak. Finally, he relents. ‘See something you like?’

‘A pretty face bears no warranty.’

Alanna, you quoting your Nanna again?

He starts to reach down into his back pocket, pauses, ‘It’s okay, I’m a detective, just getting my ID out to show you.’

‘Uh huh.’ I wait.

He shows me.

Looks genuine.

‘So, Mister Detective, do you have a name?’

‘Zac Nolan. I’m out here investigating a cold case.’

‘And that would be what?’

‘Your turn.’

‘Huh?’

Your name, silly.

‘Alanna Jones. I’m here haunting a memory.’

Zac’s head swings up. He stares at me. ‘Would this memory have a name?’

I shrug. ‘Nadine King. My best friend from Senior College.’

‘Six years ago, tonight?’ Zac asks.

‘How did you know?’

‘You were supposed to be with her, but you fell and broke some bones?’

How do you know?’

‘And the boys presumed responsible for Nadine’s death were never charged?’

‘Released on a technicality,’ I grind out bitterly. ‘They hid her body too well.’

There was a third one, a man.

‘A third one, you sure?’ I ask Nadine.

‘Who told you that?’ Zac demands.

Tell Zac that someone’s coming. A man. He’s looking through your car’s windows.

‘Someone else is joining us,’ I lower my voice. ‘He’s outside, near my car.’

‘How do you know?’

Arg! ‘Nadine told me.’

But Zac heard a branch crack under someone’s weight. Our lights switch off. Maybe Zac has gone, or at least I felt the movement of air as he passed.

I crouch. Should have taken more notice of the room. Where to go? Where to hide?

The screeching of aged timbers assails my ears, and then a strong light snares me. I stand up.

‘You’re not half bad, all grown up,’ a man’s voice growls. ‘You should have been here, that night, with the other one.’

It’s him, it’s him!

Nadine, hush now. I’ve got to concentrate.

‘She wasn’t all that much, not for the three of us.’

‘Three of you? Were you in on the plan together?’

‘Who do you think was going to drive? I wasn’t letting them wreck my car.’

Where are you, Zac? ‘And I wasn’t going to be letting Nadine get into your car anyway!’

‘Ha! So you’ve got yourself to blame for a few broken bones.’

Keep him talking.

‘You put Eddie and Matt up to it?’

‘They wanted a real Hallowe’en Treat. And what was better, than this here haunted Schoolhouse?’

‘Never heard of it being haunted before.’

‘Ha! It is now, isn’t it? You’ve got that girl in your head, ain’t you?’

I ignore his jibes.

‘So how did you know I was here?’

‘Saw your lights flashing, didn’t I?’

‘Devlin. Devlin D’angelo. Your farm’s across the road, isn’t it?’

‘Bitch! You’re too smart at that.’ He starts to lunge towards me. I step sideways, and trip over some blasted piping. I’m noisy going down, but I didn’t make all that racket.

Then come Zac’s blessed words.

‘Devlin D’angelo, you’re under arrest for the murder of Nadine King ….’

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Georg Grembl

‘What the .. !’ A blur of movement, where no movement could be. Impossible.

I’m focused on my computer screen, writing the last few chapters to my novel. I have a deadline, with an unforgiving editor: I don’t need distractions!

Hubby is off, and he’s taken the kids, just to help me out. All should be quiet, peaceful, here in our home.

But.

My stomach’s starting to roil. There it goes again!

No! Can’t be. I shake my head; I’m just imagining movement.

Must be.

I look again, to make sure, but can’t see anything out of place. Am I going nuts? Hey, I’m a writer; I’m supposed to have an active imagination!

I get back to typing and …

Whizz!

I spin around, my arm zaps out and catches the snow dome as it races towards my desk.

‘Got you!’

But how? I pick it up, turn it around and around in my hands. No mechanism exists to make it move, yet it did. Many times.

‘Tell me how you did it!’ I demand. And feel foolish, seeing as how I was expecting to get an answer from a snow dome.

All is quiet. Too quiet. My nerves prick.

I carefully place the snow dome down where I can watch it out of the corner of my eye, and reach towards the keyboard.

An elf appears; he nudges the snow dome forwards.

Elves are much bigger that this creature. Don’t ask me how I know; I’m not on any elfish calling card list.

I spin around, grab the creature before he can move.

‘Who are you?’ I demand.

His arms, his legs flail from between my fingers. I hold firmly onto his green body. The whole substance of him seems to be green. He struggles for a moment, and then he goes still. His black eyes glare up at me.

I wait.

‘Snow dome fairy?’ he suggests. The words sound in my head, bypassing my ears.

‘Try again.’

He continues to glare at me. We wait each other out.

‘I’m a gremlin, Georg Grembl, thank you very much. Now let go of me!’

I do.

We stare at each other. My deadline keeps niggling at me.

‘I don’t care who you are, or what you’re here for, but I’m busy, I’ve got my story to write. So go on, disappear, vamoose, get it?’

He doesn’t answer. I ignore him and struggle to get my heroine’s predicament back into focus. Let’s see, she – the Princess – is trapped in a bamboo cage in the evil Sorcerer’s cave high in the Himalayas. Ahmed the hero has got himself up into the Abbey’s secret conclave which is even higher in those same mountains. By dint of hiding where he can overhear, he now knows the Abbot is clearly insane, and the monks follow suit. They’re going to fire this huge rocket off to summon the gods to break through into the Earth dimension.

Ahmed’s also found out where the Princess is trapped.

But how is he to get over to her? The snow outside is more than knee deep in places, no way he can climb down this mountain and across to the evil Sorcerer’s cave in time to rescue his love.

‘Bloody hell!’ I can’t see the keyboard clearly enough. Fine time now to wish I could touch type, because this idiot’s playing leapfrog over my fingers. ‘Georg Grembl. Stop that this minute!’

He leaps onto my left thumb, and balances there, his fists on his hips, mocking me!

‘I’ll get you,’ I say, as I reach for him. Georg leaps onto my right hand, then onto my blouse, then across to the snow dome and starts whizzing it along the desk top.

‘Right, you’ve had it.’

I spring out of my chair and scurry into the kitchen, to return brandishing the fly swat. ‘Where are you, you little green demon?’ A few swats here and there, and of course Georg is nowhere to be seen.

Maybe he’s gone.

One can live in hope. I return to my typing.

Georg flies the fly swat across the desk, a hand’s width from my nose.

‘Got cha!’ I grab the fly swat.

Georg hands on top of my head. He grabs handfuls of my hair and tugs this way and that.

Hah! Of course I’m not going to use the fly swat to hit him while he’s on top of my head. No way; he’s got me there.

I toss the fly swat behind me, and sit still until he appears in front of me, sitting on my keyboard.

‘Why are you here’

Georg hops from letter to letter on my keyboard.

I   A M   Y O UR I N SP IR ATION.

‘Well, must admit,’ I say, as both his balance and aim improves, ‘you’re a quick learner.’

Georg crouches and trembles.

‘You expect me to hit you? Are you here for punishment?’ I ask.

Georg nods. He types: SENTENCED TO COMMUNITY SERVICE.

Duh. ‘You’re supposed to help me?’ I regard this diminutive creature. Idiot, moron, I castigate myself for even considering the possibility; in what way could this wisp of green energy actually help me?

He nods again. Is he reading my mind? Georg waits me out.

‘Maybe I could use some help.’ I stop and consider. ‘Okay, here’s where I’m up to. My hero’s stuck up in a cave high in the mountains. Deep snow everywhere. Ahmed’s just found out that he’s miscalculated, and the Princess is in another cave across the valley. Only it’s the evil sorcerer’s cave, and the kindest thing the sorcerer ever did was once, when he accidentally killed someone quickly.

‘My hero’s got only minutes to get across to rescue the princess before all hell breaks loose. How’s he going to do it?’

Georg grabs two pencils, and skis himself across the desk.

‘Good idea, but it won’t work,’ I tell him, ‘the mountain’s too steep.’

Georg grabs hold of a pencil, climbs onto it as though he were straddling a broomstick, and flies it over my head.

‘Flying pencil? That’s not much use to my hero.’

Georg stamps his foot, then bounces on his feet while throwing his arms up in the air. Then he straddles the pencil again, holds it pointing upwards on a slant, and seems to be trying to kick-start his mount.

Light bulb moment.

‘You mean the rocket! For Ahmed to fly on the rocket! Good one.’

I’m dimly aware of Georg doing a triumphant dance as my fingers fly over the keys. Ahmed has hovered, waiting for the Abbot and his monks to proceed with their ritual. The robed men chant their way around the cave. They proceed towards the shrine at the back, their robes swaying along with their hypnotic chant.

Ahmed realises that he is being caught up in the hypnosis, and shakes his head to free himself. He darts forwards to the fire pit, snatches up a blazing stick, and sets the rocket’s wick alight. A glance back reveals that the procession is returning to the cave mouth. One of the junior monks is less bespelled than his fellows. The sound of the fizzing wick snaps his attention into the here and now. The monk’s yell calls forth the rest of his fellows and they dash forwards.

‘Here goes nothing,’ says Ahmed. He swings his leg over the rocket, leans forwards and winds his fingers through the elaborate strapping. ‘Now to the cave where the princess is trapped!’

Which is when Georg slams into my nose.

‘Ouch! What did you go and do that for!’ I demand. I’m busy rubbing my nose, when he rams into my hand. ‘Okay, okay then. What are you on about? It had better be something good!’

Georg climbs onto the pencil again, takes off and rams his mount into my Collins Dictionary. The pencil falls, and Georg hovers in from of my face, with his head shaking sideways. Then he picks up the pencil and mounts again, flies towards the books then veers off sideways.

‘Of course. That will ramp up the excitement. Thanks.’

Ahmed looks behind him, I type, and laughs at the monks frantic movements. ‘You look like a disturbed wasps nest,’ he yells back at them. He had twisted his body to look back at the monks. Which unbalanced his mount. ‘Allah,’ he cries, ‘help me!’ His twisting movement meant that he was now veering towards the nearest rock face. Ahmed swings his body weight to his right. Which is when he notices the degree to which his body weight – clinging so far forwards on the rocket as he was – has forced the nose of the rocket into a dive.

‘Now what? Can’t have him squashed against the rock below the Sorcerer’s cave. Ahmed won’t be any use to the Princess then.’

Georg – again on the pencil – throws his body backwards.

‘Yes, that should do it. Let’s see.’

Ahmed leans backwards – but not too far, least the velocity breaks his grip on the gilded strapping and turfs him free of the rocket. Gradually, it’s nose rises, though not much. ‘Hang on there, Princess,’ he calls. ‘Ahmed is coming. I will rescue you!’

‘Big deal, man to the rescue while the helpless Princess twists her hands, I don’t think. No, Georg,’ I say to the stubborn gremlin, who stands on my space bar with his hands fisted on his hips, or what I take to be his hips. ‘She’s not a helpless wimp. Just you watch.’

Meanwhile, in the sorcerer’s cave, Princess Jasmine also stands with her hands fisted on her curvy hips, glaring at her jailer. ‘You really don’t think you are going to overwhelm my father’s army, do you? A pitifully weak magic tumbler like you?’

The sorcerer roars with laughter. ‘Pitifully weak, am I? The greatest sorcerer who ever lived? When I have those fools up in yonder cave performing the most powerful ritual even now as we speak? They think they are calling in the Almighty blessings on themselves, when in fact they are bringing in the might of inter-dimensional magics to do my biding. Your father’s miserable soldiers will run like frightened rabbits from my hunting dogs!’

‘You think so? I suppose that firecracker the Abbot set off is a part of your paltry magic?’

‘Certainly. I will become the greatest of the greatest.’

‘My father the Emir has many magicians in his army.’

‘Hmmph, those idiots, too weak to know how little they know.’

‘But so many of them,’ Yasmine adds.

‘May be, but still not a match for the strength I will have,’ gloats the sorcerer, as he turns to watch the glory of his unfolding plan. ‘But. There’s something wrong,’ he says, and leans forwards from the cave mouth to see better. ‘The rocket should not have been fired, I haven’t sent them my signal,’ he cries, as he leans further out of the cave mouth.

Jasmine, meanwhile, slips the fruit knife out of her waist band and reapplies herself to sawing at the bindings on her bamboo cage. She looks up in time to see the rocket approaching. And sees that Ahmed, her one time playmate, is riding that rocket. His face seems so white, yet he has a grin stretching from ear to ear. ‘Tomfool idiot, he’ll hurt himself,’ she mutters, and saws more quickly on the bindings.

The bindings give way. The uprights of her cage collapse around Yasmine as Ahmed rides his mount into the sorcerer’s cave. He lands just shy of the fire pit. The sorcerer raises his arms to cast magic at Ahmed. Yasmine grabs a stool, and swings it at the sorcerer’s head. The sorcerer crumples at her feet as Ahmed rolls off the rocket.

‘Aren’t they supposed to explode?’ Yasmin asks Ahmed.

‘Yes, any minute now I reckon,’ Ahmed replies. ‘We’ve got to get out of here, and quick. Down the stairs.’

‘Can’t, Yasmin tells him. ‘The sorcerer bespelled the door sealed.’

I turn to Georg. ‘Okay, what are they going to do now?’

Georg springs up to my Tiffany table lamp, and swings on the fringe.

Fringe. Table lamp. ‘Oh, I get it. Thanks.’

‘Where is this bespelled door?’ Ahmed asks.

‘Behind the Sorcerer’s Peacock chair,’ Yasmine yells at him.

‘That Peacock chair, with the satin canopy?’ Ahmed laughs, and appreciatively eyes the runners connecting the chair legs. He quickly drags the chair forwards to the lip of the cave mouth. ‘Hurry, climb onto the chair seat.’

‘What about you?’

‘I’m coming,’ Ahmed reassures Yasmine. He kicks the rocket onto the fire pit, pushes the chair forwards and swings his legs up onto the nearest runner. Yasmine shrieks as the chair wobbles. She grabs hold of the chair back. Ahmed swings himself up over the arm then plops onto the seat as the chair tips over the lip of the cave. They plunge downwards into the valley.

‘Hold on,’ he cries, quite unnecessarily, and reaches out to Yasmine. The canopy billows with the updraught, steadies, and gently sways as it sails out above the valley.

I turn to Georg. ‘Okay so far?’ I ask. He nods enthusiastically.

‘Come on; lean towards me,’ Ahmed instructs Yasmine.’

‘You’ve got a nerve,’ Yasmine says, and leans in the opposite direction.

‘No, this way, we need to use our weight to steer the chair towards your father’s army.’

She looks at the cheeky glint in his eyes, then looks down into the valley before deciding to lean towards Ahmed as instructed. The chair slowly sways around to the right and softly settles on the snow covered valley floor.

Soldiers run forwards. Several cheer. Their Sergeant orders Ahmed out of the chair, while others are delegated to bear the princess in the chair back to the commander’s camp.

Meanwhile. the rocket explodes, and flares brilliantly, lighting up the cliff face. Some of the watchers ooh and ahh. The sorcerer’s head tumbles out of the sky, and lands in amongst the enraptured soldiery.

Then a mighty boom sounds as the air above the valley appears to split.

‘The sorcerer’s demon,’ cries Yasmine, ‘it’s here!’

The Emir’s magicians send concerted blasts at the forming demon, determined to destroy it before the demon can complete its transition. Its essence expands and shatters, as brilliant as the flares from the rocket.

Yasmine and Ahmed are escorted into the Emir’s pavilion. Yasmine starts to tell her father of the sorcerer’s intentions, but he cuts her short, and has his aide-de-camp usher her into the women’s tent. She fumes as she listens – her ear to the tent walls – as Ahmed relates the activities of both the sorcerer and the Abbot.

‘Time will come, father dear, when women will be heard!’ Yasmine vows.

There. What do you think of that?’ I ask Georg.

WAS IT FAIR TO YASMINE FOR HER TO BE PUSHED AWAY?

‘No, not at all. And today, she would be heard. Far more than back then, at least,’ I respond. ‘I’ve made my deadline. Thank you for all your help.’

I CAN GO NOW?

‘First, can you tell me what you did? Why you needed to be punished?’

ONE OF YOUR SHORT PEOPLE WAS RIDING HIS TWO WHEELS. HIS FIRST TIME EVER. HE LOOKED LIKE ONE OF THOSE BIG PEOPLE FALLING OUT OF THE SMELLY DRINKING PLACES DURING THE BLACK HOURS. I TOLD HIM SO.

‘You told the child he looked like a drunk?’

I DANCED IN FRONT OF HIS NOSE AS I TOLD HIM. HE FELL. HE CRIED. BIG BABY.

‘No doubt he did.’ I sit there, looking at Georg. ‘Will you do something like that again?’

I WILL SIT ON A TREE BRANCH AND LAUGH. INSTEAD.

‘An improvement,’ I tell him, and watch as this belligerent, yet ultimately helpful gremlin fades from my sight. And, as I go through the manuscript for one last spell-check inspection, I keep checking out of the corner of my eye in case he decides to return!

TRAVELLING BY SATT. (c) G. V. Robinette 2015

Oh, I do love gadgets!

It bulks on my left wrist, this brand new Spatial and Temporal Transponder, aka SATT. Of course, given time, they will develop slimmer models. That’s okay. I’m in on the ground floor.

I’m buzzing with so much energy! Just imagine being chosen – with others – to trial the SATT – we’ll prove its usefulness.

Plus, this gadget’s got to be large enough for me to work the interface, to get my fingers exactly where they need to go to make it work.

Work.

I start a new job today, down in Melbourne. Anticipation has me so edgy. There’s an hour wait for my train; so I decide to prowl the Market Place.

A latte later, and I’m sharing my table with another woman as miserable as I am happy. Talk about extremes. It only takes a question or two and her woes come pouring out.

She’d missed her train Friday. He – this amazing guy she’s known for truly months– was to meet her, take her to spend the weekend with his family. He’d suggested – hinted – that maybe he’d have an important question to ask, and this after getting her to tell him how she’d feel about living in a rural area.

‘I know what he wanted to ask me.’ Fat tears plop out of her eyes. ‘Dracie, he was going to propose marriage, I know that’s what he’d meant.’

I wince. He could have intended to ask any variation on that theme. But I keep quiet. We share my battered pineapple rings. She needs the calories more than I do, anyway.

‘Dracie, you couldn’t believe how wonderful he is.’ Terri proceeds to extol his many attributes. If she is accurate in her assessment, he is – indeed – a fabulous guy.

Then she notices my SATT and asks about it. Let’s face it; being more bulky than a wrist watch makes it noticeable. I extol the fabulous attributes of my new gadget. ‘It’s a Spatial and Temporal Transponder.’ I turn my wrist to display it more clearly.

‘Spatial is …?’

‘Three dimensional, your space, where you are sitting, your feet on the floor, your bottom on the seat, your hands holding your coffee cup. The space you are actually occupying right now. Okay?’

‘Of course! If you could pluck me out of the air, right now, right here, I’d sort of leave an empty hole.’

‘A vacuum, which the surrounding air would quickly infill. Nature doesn’t like a vacuum, you see.’

‘If only you could pluck me out of this space and send me up North to be with my guy.’ Terri sighs. ’That would be great.’

‘Interesting you should say that.’

‘But no good, either, as he’d be on his return journey now. Back where he lives and works in Castlemaine.’ Terri hauls out a tissue and mops up more tears.

‘Yet.’ I wait. Should I or shouldn’t I? I’d promised Joe to be careful. And I am. But isn’t this the sort of emergency for which SATT was created?

‘The first T in the name stands for Temporal.’

‘Which means Time?’ Terri looks at me, quizzically, yet with growing hope.

‘Time, chronology, things happening sequentially.’

‘Sequentially?’

‘Following on in the proper order.’

‘Or reversing?’ Terri’s hands grip the table. Her breaths are short, frequent. Definitely anticipatory.

We’re on the same wave length here.

‘And the second T? You said there were two T’s, didn’t you?’

‘Transponder.’

Terri blinks at me.

‘Transponder – in this sense – is to relay something, someone to another time and space.’

‘Oooh.’ Terri gathers up her bags. She looks across to me. ‘Do it.’

‘What?’

‘Dracie, do it now. Send me back to last Friday, so that I can meet him on the evening train northwards. Do it now.’

‘You’re certain?’

‘Yes. Hurry.’

‘But this gizmo is still in the final stages of testing. It might not be safe.’

‘Do it, please. For me? If that doesn’t work, if I’m lost somewhere out in the ether, I don’t care. Really. If I can’t be with my man, life has no value for me.’

‘O-kaay.’ I scan her. Terri does look determined. My fingers work the interface and a moment later – the slightest rush of air in-filling a void and I’m alone. A nearby woman jerks towards me, only to carry on talking on her mobile as though nothing happened.

And time is indeed passing. Only ten minutes to go, to catch my train.

I head outside, and literally bump into Henni.

‘Catching the taxi today?’

‘Not today, Henni. I’m for the Melbourne train.’

‘Have fun. I’m off to Tassie to get a key for my Honey.’

‘I can help you get there more quickly.’ I twiddle, and a moment later Henni has gone. Success! I air punch.

‘Dracie!’

I look around and see a radiant Terri, holding the arm of a gorgeous guy. She grabs my arm. ‘Dracie. Your friend. She said that she was going to KFC to get some Tea for her Honey.’

My mind does an instant replay. ‘Blast.’ I get busy, and there is Henni standing beside me. ‘So sorry,” I start.

Henni looks frazzled, blue eyes huge in her white face. ‘Gotta go,’ she says, and is gone.

‘Dracie, bye.’ This beaming Terri waves the back of her left hand at me. Sunlight flashes on the diamond solitaire. We grin at each other, and I watch the happy couple walk into the shopping area.

A shrill whistle makes me jump. Oh God, not my train. I watch it pull out of the station. Without me. All the angels in heaven, what am I going to do? There goes my new job!

I could use the SATT. The gadget beams up at me, enticing me. Would only take a few moments and i could be on that train. Forget the train; I could be in Melbourne, right now, standing on the platform.

But if I use the SATT to get me onto that train, how much of today does SATT affect? Terri and her guy might totally miss each other. Or Henni; would she be stranded in Tasmania?

Decisions.

A wonderful gadget, but such scary ‘what ifs’.

There’s no help for it. I phone my new boss, and wait for the next train. It’s obvious he’s not happy when he asks me if I really want my new job. Ouch.

I slip my SATT into my handbag: thrust temptation into oblivion. Then purchase another latte at the station.

The Grotto

THE GROTTO © Grace V. Robinette 2015

w/c 1,285

We crouch down in the shadows. That thar oil lamp on the altar don’t put out much light, the oil being so low in the bowl. That’s cos we got here early enough, before the silly girl got to refill it.

She keeps whimpering. Gets on your nerves, that whimpering. Capt’n orders her to be taken as far back as the grotto goes, then keep her quiet, mind, but not to kill her. Not yet. She’s still our bargaining chip.

Me, – Smerg – Capt’n wouldn’t let me have a go at the silly twit. All the other men used her. Why not me? Still, the Capt’n says I can use the Priestess; after ‘im, that is, ‘The twit would be too sloppy now, too slack to be much fun,’ he sez.

Priestess it is, then.

This priestess, she’s a patsy, a push-over, our sentry sez. She cares. And they only send a small troop to guard her; we’ve had our man a’watching, this past se’en-night.

‘Capt’n,’ I keep my voice a low growl. The footsteps sound a bit louder now, with the jingle of harness. That means swords. Belly prickers.

Light flickers coming down the passage. It’s them torches they carry. Our men knows better ’n to stir, to breathe even.

Cor, ain’t she a beauty! So tall. Got a good pair of knockers on her. Like to get my hands on ‘em.

Lookee all those gems she’s got a’round her neck. Ooh, Smerg, we’d love to grab us some of those emeralds, pearls, ‘em twinkly diamonds. Stash ‘em in our hidey-hole afore the Capt’n sees us!

Them gems. They’re just winkling and sparkling, a’calling, Come and get us!

Just you wait, my pretties, Smerg is a’coming!

Lookee how the priestess is a’standing in the grotto, with her guards behind her. We all hold our breath.

‘Something’s wrong,’ she’s said.

Too right, me beauty.

‘Yes,’ her Captain replied. His head swivels around. He hand-waves his men to crowd in around the priestess; they hold their torches out to light the grotto.

‘You’re so right, my pretty.’

The Capt’n’s voice booms. His voice – his roaring gale voice – sends echoes around the grotto. Eerie, gives one the shivers, it does. It’s really spooky in the dark. Gives me the jelly-spine making chill we love our prey to feel.

The Priestess and her poncy guards mutter amongst themselves as we ease out from between the rocks. Out into full view, where they can see how much they’re stuck, like rats trapped on a sinking ship!

Lookee them lookin’ round the grotto. They see us, see the torchlight glittering on our grinning teeth, our eyes, on our oiled muscles.

And a’shinning on our knives. This is how we like it!

‘I thought I smelled a rat,’ said the Priestess.

‘Never, me darling, not when I sweetened up for you.’

That’s our Capt’n, always got a quick answer.

‘Yes, I noticed the Attar of Roses is spilled,’ she sez.

Ooh, ain’t she the spunky one. We edge closer, let them get a feel for us.

Let them nerves quiver.

‘Where is my acolyte?’ the Priestess demands. ‘What have you done with her?’

‘Bring the girl out,’ the Capt’n orders. There is a stir at the farthest end of the grotto. Everyone, almost everyone watches as the acolyte, a trembling slip of a girl, hangs between two burley men. They drag her towards the altar. Her robes hang in rags, her face – and what we can see of her body through the gaps – is bloodied.

Yep. No fun left.

The Priestess turns back to the Capt’n.

‘You have been a bad boy, then, haven’t you?’ she says. Sweetly.

A bad boy? Something’s not right. She should be a shaking so hard her jewelled chains sound like bells.

‘Capt’n,’ I start.

‘Not now,’ he snarls. ‘A bad boy, is it?’ he says to her. ‘Try a bad man. Not like these poncy brats you got round you.’

Her guards reach for their swords, start to draw them. That’s more like it. We’ll swarm those pansies, three to one.

She’s touched her guard leader. He hand-waves his men down.

‘I came here to dance,’ she says.

Did she? Why is her acolyte looking so queer?

‘So dance,’ roars the Capt’n. We laugh. Now, this is good fun.

‘You can clap hands. Beat out the tempo.’ She turns to her guard. Why do they look so odd? ‘My men know the beat. Start!’ she demands.

Her men start clapping. Slow, easy to get into the swing of it.

The Priestess removes her cloak, uses it to cover her acolyte. She shakes out her gold chains. Cor, they do chime.

She starts to move. She really starts to move. Even when she’s standing in one spot all of her is moving!

‘Room. Back off, I need room,’ she orders her men. They slowly edge outwards, leave wider gaps. The clapping gets faster.

She sways, and shimmies. Her chains glitter, her gems beckon. She dances towards the Capt’n.

He swaggers up to her, and growls.

She touches her fingertips to his chest. ‘Not yet,’ she says, and laughs.

He laughs, and backs off.

The Priestess dances here and there, towards one of our men and back again. She’s a bloody tease, that’s what she is. The clapping gets even faster.

Each time she dances back towards the altar, our men go after her. I’m thinking, what is she up to?

Then she dances towards me. Away from me, then back to me. She’s looking at me, into my eyes, glancing over me body like she likes what she’s seeing. She dances, hips swaying, enticing. Stands there with those ripe, rounded hips shakin’ at me. Calling me.

I reach out to grab a’hold of ‘em rounded hips, to pull her towards me, grind meself into ‘er.

Capt’n growls. He yanks me back.

She laughs. She curves her arms up, twirls around, and calls out “Now!’

That bloody witch!

Capt’n roars. Bloodied froth bubbles at his lips. Men – our men, not ‘em pansies –fall around us. That witch keeps twirling. Me, I can’t move. One of those poncy guards plunges his sword into my chest. I watch beautiful rubies scintillate in the torch-light as they run down his blade. Watch as he twists his blade, pulls his sword out. He swipes me blood off his sword onto me breeches.

Me knees turn to jelly.

The grotto dims – then somehow warps, twists so that there is two of everything, and more.

That witch keeps chanting. The grotto fills with light.

More people appear. Somehows they float.

The guards are dragging bodies out of the grotto. Me mates hang arounds, watching with me as two of them poncy guards grab a’hold of me feet.

‘Hey. That’s my body. You lot leave it. I ain’t finished with it yet!’

A screeching echoes through the grotto. Shapes squirm their way out of the cracks in the grotto walls. Red, they is, with bulging bodies and pointed mouths filled with shark teeth. They swarm all over my crew mates, bite hold and drag them back into the crevices. Now they’re coming for me.

‘Help! Save me!’

One of ‘em light people comes. The red ones, them pulls back from ‘er.

‘You’ve got to save me from ‘em!’

‘What about the acolyte. What if she asked you to save her?’

‘She’s a wimin. Wimin don’t feel, they don’t think.’

‘But if she had asked you?’

‘Who listens to wimin anyhow?’

‘Perhaps you need to learn what it feels like.’ She turns to the red ones. ‘You can have him now.’

All I kin see is rows of jagged teeth a’coming for me.

‘Ayyyyyyyyy.’