Category Archives: story

The Collector

This photo was taken by Sirombo (Luca) from Italy over on Deviant Art.Another disturbing tale for Miranda, who likes them short. This one is here in its entirety.


I knew I had to have her as soon as I saw her. She was breathtaking. She was golden. Her skin gave out a faint glow; a sheen that was both powerful and sexual. She moved wildly, free of care, lost to the emotions of her dance. Her movements emphasised her shape; the roundness of her hip, the plumpness of her breasts. Her lips were slightly parted in a half-smile that sped my pulse, and an exotic difference to the cast of her eye drew me closer.

I wanted her. I was in a dark mood and I knew what I wanted, and I wanted her. The women, you see, it’s always the women. They awaken a feeling I don’t get from the males.

I waited until she was facing away from me before moving silently behind her. I grabbed her neck and forced her face down onto the pebbles. She struggled, of course, but my magpulse bracers always make any such retaliation fruitless. I pushed her face into the packed stones of the beach, and raised my machete. Three forceful hacks, and the wing came free from her shoulder blade. Her screams, as is usually the case when I obtain a new trophy, only added to the joy of acquisition. I gripped the root of her other wing, then looked up.

The blue sun was dipping below the rim of the ocean. I had watched her for too long before acting, and left myself with little time to get back to my ship. The nights on this planet could reach cryo temps remarkably quickly. Just the one wing, then. I lifted it to catch the last of the sun’s rays. It shimmered gold and blue and coquelicot. Even without its twin it would look magnificent mounted between the fin of the piscine girl I’d killed last, and that sex-frond from Anemone-3. I left her sobbing and dying, and swiftly reached the ship. I clambered through the hatch and pulled the wing in after me.

Now, where should I go next? There was a bipedal species near the outer rim, apparently, where the women only had two breasts and no sex-frond. Their planet circled a yellow sun, so I’d have to wear an EM-Veil, but it would be worth the effort to obtain a skin of that rarity. I flicked the controls and engaged the Magpulse Drive.

Chicken

Lapse by Camden Heibel-Schmidt, a photo manipulation artist over on Deviant Art called DarkStar797A very short piece for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge. You should totally go there and read the other stories. Maybe even write one yourself if the picture prompt makes you go WHOA MAMA like it did me.


“Imagine if you had clocks in your eyes and could see through time. Where – or rather when – would you look first? Would you draw down a hazy veil across the present and set your gaze instead to the dinosaurs? See for yourself the Titanic strike an iceberg? Or would you rather watch what really happened at Calvary, all those dusty years ago? Or something more personal: your own birth, perhaps?”

The professor peered across at me, eyes sparkling. I sighed, and hoisted my bosom more comfortably. “That’s very nice, Professor,” I said. Sometimes you had to humour him when he was in one of his excitable moods, all aerated and full of gusto. He’s as mad as a wet hen, but a proper genius. When it comes to science, no-one understands more, but with anything else he’s clueless. I folded my arms across my floral pinny.

“Very nice indeed, but I need a decision. Chicken or pork for your evening meal?”

“I can do it, Mrs. MacPherson!” he ignored my question, and waved a shiny object that looked like three forks taped together with a green pocket watch. “I can do it right now, with this! My calculations prove it!” he gestured towards his blackboard, a huge thing that blotted out any light that might have entered his study from outside. On it was a confusion of numbers and squiggles that only made sense to the professor. The front of his tweed waistcoat was covered by chalk-dust. I would have to pop that in the wash later.

“It has long been known that nothing can travel faster than light,” the professor raved, with nary a mention of chicken or pork. “I have discovered, however, that in certain circumstances, light itself can be accelerated beyond its usual speed. A gas of cold caesium, held within something as small as a simple pocket watch,” he waved his strange device once more, “and excited with a laser produces secondary ripples of light, leading to a wave distortion so large it causes the group velocity to become negative, which means the peak of the wave pulse appears to exit the gas before it enters! In other words, the light waves run backwards and we can see into times other than our own!”

“Chicken or pork, professor?” I persisted. “If I don’t get it in the oven soon it’ll be brawn sandwich again.”

“What? Chicken! Chicken, woman! What does it matter? I must commence my experiment immediately – but what should be my first port of call? I could watch Romans invading Britain, or perhaps look ahead to the unknown? Hmmm, perhaps…”

“Chicken it is,” I said, and left him to his experiments. Honestly, if it wasn’t for me I’m certain he’d forget to eat entirely. I busied myself in the kitchen for the afternoon; plucking and preparing the chicken, doing a little cleaning, having a small sherry, putting taters on to roast. When the meal was ready, I put his on a tray and carried it through to the study.

He was clearly dead, but I neither screamed nor dropped the tray. We do not do that sort of thing in Scotland. I put the tray down carefully and crossed to where the professor lay sprawled across his desk. His strange fork-watch device was attached to his eye, from which a grey fluid oozed. Beneath his hand lay a scribbled letter, which he had clearly been in the middle of writing:

These brief scratchings must serve as my final will and testament. Through hubris I sought to tread paths of scientific glory, but they have indeed led me to the grave – Thomas Gray had the right of it. My new time device works. It is a scientific marvel indeed, as proven by my first experiment. I had thought to look into the future, to see where science may take us in fifty years. What I saw, however, was my own end, brought about by the very device that I was testing. I can feel it now, pushing ever more forcefully against my eyeball. I am unable to disengage its mechanism. I fear I do not have long.

My house and all its contents I leave with gratitude for all her ministrations to the redoubtable Mrs. MacPherson, to do with as she wishes. I commit my soul into the hands of Almighty God, my final act on his earth.

Professor Fletcher Campbell, 3rd Marc…

Here the note ended. I sat down and ate the chicken.

AVAILABLE NOW: “The Museum of White Walls”

The Museum of White Walls front coverFancy forty-one tales and three poems from out of my head? Read tales of Robin Hood, torture, unicorns, death, poo, toffee apples, giant spaceships, stuffed dogs and more. With additional stories from the highly talented Alex Brightsmith, KJ Collard and Ellie Cooper, this collection might just burst all over you while you’re reading. So, you know, sorry about that.

If you get the PAPERBACK HERE, or download it for your KINDLE HERE, I will adore you forever.

COVER REVEAL: “The Museum of White Walls”

One problem with publishing a collection of forty-one disparate short stories (and three poems!) is deciding what to do with the cover. Do you clutter it with references to every story, or just pick a few items? I decided to go a third way, and just embrace the title story. When Thom White graciously agreed to continue our association for a fifth book, I specified “spare, simple, almost brutalist” for the cover. Here’s what he made:

The Museum of White Walls, cover by Thom White

He did a brilliant job. I love how the fold between front cover and spine form the corner of a wall spattered with blood. That wonky ‘THE’ emphasises the original subtitle of this book: forty-one tales of a world askew. It’ll certainly stand out amongst a slew of other covers on Amazon, and be easy to find on your bookshelf. Notice also that my running man motif continues, here making his first appearance on the spine.

“The Museum of White Walls” will be available on Saturday, for Kindle and in paperback from Lulu (then a few days later on Amazon when it filters through). Thom, you talented bugger.

Beginning–Middle–End

A short story for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge, which comes in at 770 words rather than the prescribed max of 750. I’m a rebel writer on a highway to hell, me, stuff your rules. The story grew from a seed planted by lovely Helen White, who likes stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end.


Week2Photo“You have to stop yourself, Helen,” Keith said. “See what your weapon wrought. It’s all gone. Everything: animals, plants, people … civilisation. No more schools, shops, churches. No vicars, no football players, no scientists. No children.”

“I know what’s at stake,” Helen snapped. “Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Mine is no different. Thanks to you I can go back to the beginning of this one and stop myself from creating the weapon that destroys the world. I’ll make a happy ending instead of, well,” she gestured at the surrounding expanse of bone and ash, scoured by an ice wind. “This.”

“You never told me how you knew where the bunker was,” Keith said, adjusting the straps of Helen’s backpack. “Nor how it happened to contain exactly the equipment I needed to build my time machine.”

“I didn’t, did I?” Helen smiled, and stepped through the rectangular portal into the past. Keith wondered how long the change would take. Helen would have a two-step journey back to her younger self, thanks to the limitations of his time device. She’d have around ten minutes at the half-way point, waiting for the temporal calibrations to reset. Then she would be able to return to prevent her younger self starting the chain of events that had led to the destruction of the world. He shivered as the image of Helen disappeared from the portal as it began to reset.

“Gan canny, lass,” he sighed, and sat on the cold, hard ground. He hugged his knees, and waited for the hell around him to disappear, replaced by a better world.

***

Helen stepped out into the middle of the story. Behind her the time portal crackled as it began the reset process. She felt warmer. Above, the sky was blue, and the road beneath her feet no longer shattered and melted. She was also, to her surprise, not alone. Amazingly it took her a full half minute to recognise that the person sitting by the side of the road was an older version of herself. She crossed and sat by her doppelganger.

“Well, this is weird,” she said.

“Tell me about it,” the other said. “I’ve been waiting for you. “I’m from …”

“A different timeline?” Helen rummaged in her backpack.

“Yes,” the other said. “I’ve been through once already, on the same mission as you.” Helen took two cheese & banana sandwiches from her pack and passed one over. The other ate it eagerly, cramming it into her mouth as though she’d not eaten for weeks.

“You found our younger self?” The other nodded, her mouth full. Helen continued. “You directed her away from creating the weapon?”

“I didn’t have to. She was never going to make that discovery left to her own devices. Remember? The professor who gave us vital information?”

“You’re right! Horn-rimmed specs, grey hair in a bun? I’d forgotten about her.”

“Well, it turns out … but let’s keep this short since we only have ten minutes. I simply stopped the professor from passing on the vital information. Voila! World saved.”

“So why are you here?”

“Turns out saving the world wasn’t such a great idea. Mankind sucked it dry anyway, destroyed almost all plant and animal life. And,” she checked her watch, “with the exception of a very few elite rich, people were enslaved. The food ran out and, well, those in charge began using people for food. Murdered on their fortieth birthday, and processed into chicken-flavoured goo. There’s no cheese and banana there.”

She looked at Helen with a grim expression. “You have to allow the weapon to be made, rather than condemn the human race to that horrific existence. Eventually nature will overcome the devastation and life will begin anew. Green shoots from seeds buried deep.”

The portal fizzed and crackled. Was it possible? Could there exist a future that was worse than the destruction of the world? Helen thought for a moment, nodded, then stood and entered the portal …

***

… and emerged at the beginning. Her younger self – oh so young, with her beautiful red hair – was at the far side of the laboratory, working at a computer. Helen took a white coat from behind the door and put it on. From the pocket she took a pair of horn-rimmed specs. She tied her grey hair into a bun and stepped forward.

“Interesting theory! Now, I have an idea that might just make your experiment work. And then I’ll tell you about the bunker.”

Poor Keithy, hugging his knees in the ashes of the world, forever at the end of time.

Boxes

c512574b7df800cdcc0c36cfb24036e2Ayup, fancy a new story, written just today? Written for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge. I turned the prompt picture on its side, which worked better for me.


Where was he, the utter bastard? It was Ginny’s fiftieth birthday, after all – a big, special, scary number – and where had Hector been all day? “Out,” was all he’d said that morning. No other explanation, just ‘out’. He’d been just ‘out’ every day that week. Her stomach felt tight, the ball of anger that had been growing there for seven days rubbing her frazzled nerves raw. ‘Out’, leaving her stuck in this tiny box of an apartment, itself in the middle of a vast box crammed with other identical tiny apartments.

Ginny stared out of the window at a wall of other boxes across the courtyard, a grid of cramped spaces that stretched from side to side, from below to above. They filled the window, those boxes, each one containing a life, or maybe two – there wasn’t enough room in these ‘bijou homes’ for more than two adults. Boxed lives, boxed dreams; lives without ambition, lives without a future. Like hers, trapped in her own tiny box, in her own insignificant, pointless life.

People who had ambition and a future would not live here. Not for them a closed-in existence, trapped by the four walls of work, sleep, food and death. The rich, the fortunate, the ambitious would all be out in the leafy, sprawling suburbs, thriving amongst nature, and with room to breathe.

It was approaching evening now. One or two lights had begun to appear in the wall of apartments opposite. She had been alone all day. Happy birthday, Ginny. Happy fucking birthday.

Where was Hector, anyway? His laptop was still here, so he wasn’t away writing somewhere else, like the library – somewhere where his imagination had the space to spark and to fizz; where perhaps he at least managed to find some breathing space. Maybe there was something on his calendar. She lifted the lid of the machine and watched the screen flicker into life. She’d cracked Hector’s password months ago. Seriously, Hector, who would use ‘password’ as their password?

Before she could open the calendar app the machine warbled to announce a new email, and flashed up the subject line: “Come and see me”. Ginny idly clicked the notification, and the email opened up.

“Hey, Hec, it’s on for today. If you can manage it without raising Ginny’s suspicions, please come over early. I’ll be waiting, you lovely man. Love, Miranda.”

What was this? Ginny frowned. Hector had been distracted, cold, for a week now, spending all his time ‘out’. Ginny had assumed he might be mulling over a story idea, but perhaps … was it possible? Could he be having an affair with this Miranda? Shit, he was, wasn’t he! Twat! The more she thought about it the more it made sense, and the ball of anger inside flared into incandescence.

The front door opened behind her, and Hector’s voice announced “Hi, Ginny, I’m home!” How fucking dare he? How dare he act normal when he was shagging some scarlet whore in another box? Her vision sparked with fury, and she grabbed up a heavy metal jewellery box. She swung around and smashed it against his head, hard.

“Bastard! That’s for fucking another woman on my birthday!”

Hector sprawled on the rug, a thickening pool of blood soaking into the rough fibres. Somehow she couldn’t bring herself to care. A knock at the door startled her. She opened it automatically, just wide enough to see a beautiful woman smiling eagerly.

“You must be Ginny,” she said. “Hec’s told me so much about you!”

“Um, wh…”

“I’m Miranda, by the way. I’ve been helping Hec arrange your birthday surprise. Do you know, it took all week, going from apartment to apartment? You’re lucky to have such a lovely man. Oh, by the way, he forgot this – and that’s the best bit.” The woman thrust a small oblong box into Ginny’s free hand.

“Surprise? What?”

“He hasn’t shown you yet? The idiot, it’s almost time. Look, I’ll not keep you, he’ll be wanting to take you to the window. See you later at the party!” The woman pulled the door shut.

Ginny stared at the box the woman had given her. She opened the lid and found the most beautiful necklace, along with two first-class tickets to San Diego. She turned back to the window, and watched darkness fall outside while the lights in windows opposite came on, one by one, in a pattern of letters that spelled “I LOVE YOU. HAPPY BIRTHDAY.”

Familiarity (part 3)

The continuing adventures of Sebaster the cat and Johannah the raven. You can read Part 1 here and then Part 2 here. The whole story, as far as I’ve written it by then, will appear in the soon-to-be-published “The Museum of White Walls : forty monkeybonkers tales and three poems”


SebasterThe hellbeast sat on the windowsill outside and laughed.

“Sebaster!” Johanna scolded the laughing cat, “you terrified me!”

“God, that was hilarious!” he snorted, muffled by the glass but still audible. “You even did a little crap as you somersaulted gracefully into the ceiling.”

“A polite creature would not mention such things of a lady,” she huffed, returning to the inside sill.

“Cats don’t do polite,” he said. “Come on, shift your arse. Let’s get going.”

“But how? How did you suddenly appear outside? Was it a relocation spell? Perhaps you transmogrified yourself into a mist to slip through the keyhole?”

“Nah,” he said. “Catflap. Come on, buggerlugs, get out here and we’ll set off. We can pick up some food on the way.”

Johanna cocked her head and regarded the cat. He seemed serious about going out into the fog-shrouded world to search for Natty G, despite all the dangers that would entail. For one thing, there was the weather. At the moment it was so foggy that they could not even make out the trees at the far end of the stony lane that led up to the cottage. It was cold, too – and what if it rained? Where would they shelter? Would they be able to find food? Come to that, how on earth would they be able to find Bee Ewe Rye? Above all else, though, one particular thing was stopping her joining Sebaster outside. What on earth was a catflap? She would have to ask, and hope beyond hope that it was not some distasteful habit of his.

“What is a cat flap, Sebaster?”

“Oh! Little door in the big door. Just push it, you’ll see. Get a wiggle on – adventure awaits, JoJo!”

“Once and for all,” she said, exasperated, “My name is …” but the cat had jumped down, and she was speaking only to the fog. She flapped down to the door, and pecked once or twice at the square of plastic that she had always taken for a ridiculously low-set window. It moved in response to her taps, swinging a little on a top hinge. Johanna gathered her courage and bustled through, which proved surprisingly easy. Sebaster sat on the paved path nearby. The air was chill, and smelled of damp ashes.

Johanna hopped to Sebaster’s side, and the two set off, the onyx-feathered raven side-by-side with the powerful ginger cat, his marmalade-and-fire fur glistening with tiny droplets of fog-water. As they rounded Natty G’s herb garden, Sebaster said “I’ve had a thought.”

“Wonders never cease.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Sebaster said jovially. “No, I was thinking – can’t you just do a spell to transport us to Bee Yew Rye?”

“Well, no. You should know that. We are but familiars. We cannot actually perform magic; we simply assist Natty G as servants, spies, protectors and companions, aiding her on occasion by strengthening her magic when she bewitches enemies, or divines information, or turns one thing into a different thing. That is why she created us, after all. Ah, the day she created me was a mighty day indeed! I was mindlessly pecking away at the rotting eyes of a dead sheep when Natty G happened along. She willed me to open my mouth and she blew into me a fairy which gave me self-awareness and a command of language, along with a ridiculously long life-span.”

Sebaster was staring at her. “You’re pulling my plonker,” he said.

“I beg your pardon, I am most certainly not. Why, how came you into Our Lady’s service?”

“She bought me from that pet shop in the village; ‘One Man Andy’s Dogs’.”

“You did not have a fairy blown into you?”

“Like fuck, I did.”

“You do not suckle from the witch’s teat as a reward for helping with magic?”

“The who the what now? Natty G’s tits? Ew!”

“You don’t have a spirit name? The name of the fairy that was blown into you?”

“No, just the usual three names here; my regular name – Sebaster, my fancy name – Zingiber Officinale, and my secret name that only I know.”

“So you are not Natty G’s familiar? You are …”

“Just a moggy, yes. Sorry.”

Lindenbane

Rather than just post the concluding part of Lindenbane here and link you back to the previous two episodes, I’m posting the whole story now to save you clicks. This is very much a raw version, so I would welcome ANY feedback, please, especially any mistakes you spot. Now read on, gentle reader.


Moth Girl moon<scrit>

What was that? Rick looked up from his laptop. The uncurtained window was dark, but for a light grey smudge: a small moth fluttering against the other side, bathing in the butterscotch glow of his desk lamp. He watched it for a while, but the soft wings brushing the cold glass made no sound. Rick went back to his writing.

<scrit>

There it was again. The whisper of something small scratching against the window, out in the spider-black night.

<scrit scrit scrit>

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST ON PATREON (IT’S FREE TO READ, DINNAE FASH YERSEN)…

Teaser

A little teaser from one of the stories in ‘The Museum of White Walls: forty tales of a world askew’, to be published soon.

Shiver me timbers“No, no! Listen,” Crow explained hastily, “The skinny bloke reckoned that this map would lead us to treasure. Buried here, where there’s a big ‘X’, near this pool that feeds down into the bay.”
“What does the ‘X’ stand for? Oh hell, it’s not ‘xylophones’, is it? Not much call for xylophones along the Skull Coast. No wait, it’s ‘xenopus’, isn’t it? You want me to load the Little Mavis with xenopusses.”
“No no no, the—” Crow began, then paused. “What the flaming hell is a xenopus?”
“African clawed frog. Produces eggs in response to the urine of a pregnant woman. Used for pregnancy testing.”
“Oh,” said Crow, pausing for a moment to consider the odd mind of his captain. “No, it does not indicate the location of a xenopus. The ‘X’ doesn’t stand for anything. It just marks the spot where the treasure is buried.”
“Then why didn’t they put a ‘T’, for ‘treasure’? That would make much more sense.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t put a ‘T’,” sighed Crow, “It doesn’t matter why they didn’t put a ‘T’. What matters is that the skinny feller said that here,” Crow’s grimy fingernail indicated a scratchy ‘X’ in the centre of the map, “is a treasure more valuable than gold coin.”

All The Crepuscular Dudes

Inspired by KJ Collard’s poem ‘The Eternal Muse’, this short tale will appear in my forthcoming collectioon, ‘The Museum of White Walls’.

Kolonisatie van Europeanen te Suriname. Opheffing van het pauperisme, ontwikkeling van handel en industrie, met ongeveer 90 platenI remember only shards these days. It’s all fading away. Except for a few things, most of my short time with Aoide has gone already, but the feel of her breath on my neck, the curl of her fingers interlaced with mine, the swirl of my mind when the side of her mouth curved in a half-smile – those things will stay with me forever.

We met at a party held in a large Georgian house. I had gate-crashed earlier that evening, looking for some mindless distraction to wrench my mind away from the latest job, and the desperate pleading in the target’s eyes just before I put a bullet between them. The Service pays its operatives well, but not well enough to completely erase the pang of shame that eats at our souls. I needed bright lights and noise to wipe away the patina of guilt, and the ever-growing thought that one day my Glock might just fire a bullet between my own eyes. This shindig promised lights, noise and more. It turned out that the celebration was for the eldest daughter of the house, who was about to get married to – God forgive her – a futures trader.

The family was hideously rich. A thirty-piece band played swing tunes, the champagne was Dom Perignon White Gold, and the food was magnificent. I had just made my selection from the menu for the first three courses, which oddly still sticks in my mind – miniature pastries filled with spiced cheese, a meat tile (pieces of veal, simmered, sautéed, served in a spiced sauce of pounded crayfish tails and almonds), to be followed by fig and ginger frumenty.

As it turned out I never even saw the dining room, for at that moment I saw her. Aoide; a pretty thing in a white dress, bobbed dark hair held in a circlet of silver, a graceful nose, and a full mouth with a delicious overbite. I’ll swear as she floated down the wide staircase at the other side of the room that she gazed at me directly with eyes large and ocean-pearled. I found it impossible to look away.

She half-smiled at me as she crossed to the stage, climbed up, and joined the band as they played “Serenade in Blue”, singing with a voice like liquid gold. As the final notes faded, no-one applauded, no-one took any notice of her song. She crossed to my side and took the glass of champagne out of my trembling fingers. I felt a tug in my chest as I gazed slack-jawed at the curve of her neck, the freckles spattering her bare shoulders.

She took my hand in cool fingers and led me outside into the warm twilight. Bats flitted and swooped, and an occasional travelling silence marked the flight of an owl overhead. Aoide spoke of the kinship she felt with the twilight creatures; the owls, bats, nightingales and moths – all the crepuscular dudes, as she called them, often heard, rarely seen. She felt the music in their sounds; the hoots, clicks and warbles all melding together into a magnificent vespertine symphony.

She led me to a walled garden, where the air caressed us with the scent of evening primrose, sweet rocket, phlox, honeysuckle, moonflower vine, angel’s trumpet and night-scented stock. Her hand on my shoulder nudged me to a chaise longue in a summer house, and there in the dark we talked like old friends. We laughed and lamented, spoke of our fantasies and our deep dark shames.

She confessed her envy of her two sisters; Mneme and Melete. For my part, I opened up more to Aoide than I could ever have imagined doing with anyone. I did not go into details about the Service, but she could see the fury raging inside me, the eternal struggle against a yawning maw of empty despair. Her eyes offered understanding and hope, but no pity, and I loved her for that.

She laid her head on my shoulder, her warm breath on my neck setting my mind awhirl, then she was kissing me, undressing me, seducing me there among the scented night flowers, our soundtrack the music of all the crepuscular dudes. I asked if she’d stay with me. She said that she would be with me always.

Afterwards, half dozing in her warm embrace, I wondered whether I should tell her what I did for a living, how many innocent lives I had ended, how many families destroyed. I questioned whether I would, after all, welcome the chill kiss of the Glock against my forehead. I decided that, unworthy though I was of the breath of life that Aoide had offered me, to turn my back on such sweet serendipity would be a disgrace greater than admitting to my iniquitous occupation as a destroyer of lives.

A bright future with Aoide flickered in my mind, but before it could grow into a warming flame I noticed that my back was cold. Aoide had gone. She hadn’t moved, or stood up – I would have noticed – she simply was no longer there. It was as if she had become a night-scent herself and drifted away on the soft breeze. As strangely as our union had begun, so too had it ended. I was devastated. A lifetime with her had slipped from my grasp almost before I had dared to dream it. An opportunity to turn my life to good things, missed.

I dressed myself and stumbled home, and though I visited the Georgian house time and time again, initially to enquire fruitlessly about Aoide, then later as a family friend and eventually as owner, I never saw her again. The agony of her abandonment swallowed my self-loathing whole, and suicide became less important than discovering what had happened to the girl who had seduced me in the twilight. I never did make that discovery.

I’m an old man now, and my memory plays tricks. If I did meet Aoide again, I’m not even sure that I would recognise her. Time can be a cruel tide to drift away on. However, the ocean of time has helped me to recognise one thing – after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, I have realised that our brief encounter wasn’t a missed opportunity at all.

In the half century since that night I have lived life as a good man. I left the Service behind and took a job as a gardener. I buried the Glock deep under my potato patch. I fell in love with a good woman – the daughter who had married, and then rapidly divorced, the futures trader. We raised two other good women, and we travelled the wide, mesmerising world. Yes, we lived in contentment rather than bliss, but who’s to say that’s not the better state? And, over time, I forgave myself. Aoide was the source of all of that. She breathed spirit and integrity into my lungs one twilit evening, and I’ll be forever grateful to her for that.

There have been difficult days, too. My wife died four years ago, my eldest daughter the year after. I cry sometimes. Occasionally, in the dark, I can still see the horror in a target’s face; smell the acrid pistol shot, the iron splash of blood. But then, every evening, I receive a remarkable gift. The moths appear, then the bats and owls – all the crepuscular dudes.

Then I remember her breath, her touch, a heartbeat, a tingle and a moment of dizziness. Aoide joins me every evening as the blanket of night settles about us. She is with me still and always, just as she promised that night long ago, and every evening at dusk I softly sing our song. When I hear that serenade in blue, I’m somewhere in another world, alone with you.

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