Time flies

Goodness me, doesn’t time fly. I thought it had been  about a week since I last posted yet when I logged in, I see it is actually closer to a month! In my defence it is November which, for mad writers like myself that only means one thing – National Novel Writing Month or Nanowrimo. It is the time of year when the more astute observers among you will notice collections of the unwashed huddled over a long dead coffee and a laptop in various cafes, libraries and generally anywhere else we can get free wifi, muttering unintelligable words and acting out invisible scenes as we furiously try and write 50,000 words in 30 days with ever more desperation as December approaches.

Anyway, enough with excuses, you haven’t come here for that, I know, so today I thought I would share with you a piece I wrote in response to a prompt we were given during the writing group I attend. The prompt was easy enough, it was ‘write in present tense, first person’. Simples. Except when faced with the blank page we all froze. Below is what I eventually came up with, out of desperation, however, I think, eventually, it actually works – in fact it made everyone giggle when I read it out so I hope it does the same for you.

A Lack of Imagination

I am sitting here staring at the blank page on my screen, watching the taunting, teasing cursor winking in his knowing, sly little way.
“You can’t do this,” he is saying, “not in a million years.”
I look around the room at the assembled bent heads, all busily scratching meaning onto paper or tapping life into their laptops. Has the day finally arrived, I wonder, is it today? I move my fingers meaningfully across the keys, after all I am the only one who can see I am typing gibberish, perhaps I can put off my discovery for a few more minutes.
How come it comes so easy to them, I wonder, it really doesn’t seem fair. I am the one who started the group, so how come I’m the only one who doesn’t seem to possess an imagination. My eyes wander away from my screen again and I catch Robert staring at me from across the room, with a look I can’t quite fathom. Does he know?
Feeling like a naughty school girl I press the delete button and watch the cursor devour my lie. My hands hover hopelessly over the keyboard whilst my little black judge just stands to attention and laughs. I clasp my hands together, as if I can wring the words out of them then find myself thinking of all the shopping I have to do, the presents I still have to wrap and the cards that I’ll probably never get round to writing.
My heart sinks as I realise my imagination doesn’t even stretch to a humorous Christmas greeting, what was I thinking? I am filled with despair as I realise just how foolish I’ve been. I can’t write a novel, not now, not ever – for goodness sake, I can’t even think of a simple story about a helicopter, a spider and snow, and I could do that when I was nine. I am close to tears now, wouldn’t that complete my humiliation.
Karen, the woman who set the task, coughs a teacher’s cough and says kindly, “Five minutes.”
There are furtive glances around the table, secret smiles of contentment as well as gasps of shock, they are all anticipating reading their stories out. Some worried they won’t finish in time, some glad for the five minutes to check what they’ve done. For me five minutes feels like a count-down to embarrassment. I want to run, I can’t let them know my mind is empty, don’t want them to realise, I’m not one of them, not a wordsmith, a writer, not smart and not capable.
“Okay, finish your sentence,” Karen smiles.
And suddenly a flash of inspiration hits. As Robert begins to read his hilarious composition, I realise I have a way out. I wait patiently until he finishes, barely hearing his words, before I say, with a little giggle, “I just can’t wait anymore, sorry. Where did you say the loo was, Anita.”
They all laugh with me as Anita reminds me it is just down the corridor and round the corner, I laughingly apologise for disturbing them as push myself away from the table and head gratefully out of the door, congratulating myself on my ability to hide my secret for one more week.

The Key to the End of the World

This silly little story was written at my writers’ group where we had a 20 minute time limit and a prompt of ‘The Key’. It isn’t my best work but it is quite fun. Hope it brings a smile to your face, even just a little one.

Tom was worried, and with good reason. The call had come from Australia, a very large asteroid had suddenly appeared from what appeared to be a right angle to the plane of the solar system. Scientists all over the world were meeting over the internet, trying to decide where the asteroid could have come from. There wasn’t supposed to be anything out there, apart from the Ort cloud and that only gave birth to large, easy to spot for months ahead, comets. This was a very large, very dark mass that they’d only found 12 hours ago and that they couldn’t be sure wouldn’t hit the Earth.
Tom’s job was to align the telescope to take over the tracking of the object when the Australians could no longer hold it. That was why he was so worried. Here he was, in sole charge of the most sophisticated multi-imaging telescope in the northern hemisphere, the entire scientific community, in fact the whole global community, counting on him to feed them up to date information and he couldn’t find the keys to the control room.
He glanced at the clock. 10 minutes! He had 10 minutes to find the keys, program the controls and realign the telescope. Where could they be?!
He fought to swallow his rising panic – that wouldn’t help at all. They couldn’t have gone that far. He’d had them last night when he locked up and that was only four hours ago. He’d already retraced his steps to the dorm, the tiny room provided for on duty astronomers, so he was pretty sure he hadn’t dropped them. He’d emptied his pockets in both his trousers and his coat, he’d delved into the bin and tipped out the contents of his lap top bag. He’d even been out to his car, though he’d known they weren’t there. He simply didn’t know where else to look. He looked back at the clock. Nine minutes! He ran to the control room, grabbing a fire extinguisher as he went. Only one thing for it, he’d have to break the door down. He arrived at the control room a breathless three minutes later, raised the extinguisher high above and turned his face away from the carnage he was about to cause.
Glass cascaded from the broken door glass, covering his trousers but, mercifully, mostly falling inside the door. He wrapped his hand carefully in his jumper sleeve and reached through to turn the lock, barely waiting for the door to open before he rushed through. The jerk that stopped him surprised him more than the pain in his leg and tore his attention to his leg, more in annoyance at the delay than anything else. His trousers were caught on the door. He reached out to free himself and discovered the thing that had stopped him were his keys, blithely sticking out from the lock where he’d left them the night before.


Hellen Riebold’s Author Page


The Drums

I hope you enjoyed the longer story, John Who?, thanks to the wonderful feedback I received I am now planning to use it as the starting point to a novel, which I will work on over Nanowrimo, called Ryz. Will keep you informed of my progress. In the meantime, I thought I’d go back to sharing some of my shorter stories with you. The following tale came from a prompt during one of the writing groups I go to, the prompt was to write a story on the personification of hope vibrates. I’m not sure the work meets the criteria but I’d like to share it nevertheless.

Louise could feel the blackness coming to claim her. Only days ago the world had seemed shiny, crisp, bright and blue. Then the fog had started and she watched as the world began to hide behind a mist which dulled the edges and washed out some of the colours.
She fooled herself, that first day, as she always did, that she was tired. She’d tried to fit too much in, that all she needed was a good night’s sleep. But, of course, her demon kept the sleep at bay, waking her, screaming death threats and hate. She snatched a few fitful hours, glad to see the pale light breaking through the bars of the bed. Grateful to get up, hopeful she could drown out the demon with noise of the day, but her cloudy head kept looking his way as the colour ran out of the sky and the joy became a distant word.
A cold! That’s it, she told herself, it’s just a cold, a virus invading her body and bringing her low. She put on the armour of Lemsip but the arrows of despair slipped easily through.
Another battle-strewn night saw the day break in grayscale. Lifeless and distant, and Louise saw the black edging touch the whole world as the demon prepared his chains and danced round her, ridiculing the light she’d seen a few short days ago.
A mirage, he yelled. He held the truth. The world was black.
She sighed as a feeble, disbelieving “no” slipped from her lips and she struggled forlornly to give lie to his words then sank inevitably into his truth.
The world was black; children died; bombs exploded; the world burned. Even the clowns drowned in despair. The colours were gone and she was lost.
She moved, mechanically, from one place to another, seeing nothing; feeling little. Her barriers raised. A safe black bubble hope couldn’t hurt.
Then the drums started.
A wild, free dance of rhythm.
A joining of souls in a celebration of sound.
Strangers making music, beating back the darkness under starry skies as the fire dance before them.
The demon screamed as she sat down and laid her hands on the cool skin of the drum, the vibrations of the circle rumbling through her soul, catching her heart and blocking her ears to his lies. Her lungs soaked in the freedom of the tempo and its pulse broke the chains of her prison.
Louise closed her eyes as her hands joined the dance and the colours exploded into her mind.

F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page

John Who? – Chapter Eight

“People in a small town in the south east of England, which was the site of army action against a suspected terrorist cell, have begun to exhibit symptoms of an unknown illness which, some are claiming, is proving deadly in up to 80% of cases…”
The Washington Chronicle 9/6

“Epidemiologists have admitted they are perplexed by the lethal, as yet, unidentified, virus which is sweeping through the United Kingdom. They have, as yet, been unable to either identify it or determine its source. One problem appears to be that the infection does not appear to conform to any known epidemiological pattern…”
The Washington Chronicle 9/9

“Experts are baffled to explain exactly what is happening to the people of the United Kingdom, who appear to be in the grip of a deadly epidemic. The British Prime Minister Philip Rutherford today assured this reporter that the health service was up to the challenge of the current crisis but private sources revealed this was only because most of those infected were dying before they could make it to the hospital, and one scientist even claimed the virus had a 100% mortality rate. The President dismissed such claims but has today offered Prime Minister Rutherford the help of the CDC and a team of specialists is preparing to leave for the UK later today.”
The Washington Chronicle 9/12

“With scientists unable to control, or even identify the mystery infection which has, to date, killed over one million people in the UK, the United Nations today declared mainland Britain a Controlled Area. All military and civilian air ports and ports have been closed and the Channel Tunnel has been sealed at both ends and a civilian air and sea exclusion zone has been put in place. The President has asked people not to panic as there is no reported case of the disease outside of mainland Britain. As a preventative measure, however, he has ordered all British nationals, and those who have had contact with them, as well as US citizens who have visited the UK in the last month to report to isolation centres to be placed in preventative quarantine. The National Guard is helping to escort these people to isolation centres, as we go to press…”
The Washington Chronicle 9/16

“It has now been over 48 hours since any official word has been heard from the United Kingdom government and sources at the Pentagon today suggested the reason could simply be that the virus devastating that country has now claimed over 80% of the population…”
The Washington Chronicle 9/19

Our search is complete. There are no LWCs left on this landmass. We failed to locate John. We must extend our search. We are billions strong. We will separate into groups. We will search the other land masses. We will use the feathers warm collections. We must find John.



F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page

John Who? – Chapter Seven

Major Tom Stokes was terrified. Of course he couldn’t let it show, but he had never encountered a situation that even remotely came close to the one he faced now.
He had arrived at the town three days ago. His team had worked out, using the now notorious TV footage and the surveillance tapes from the police helicopter, roughly where the‘danger zone’ began. Initially he had positioned his men half a mile from this area but this had cost him twelve good men, so he had pulled back and sent in dogs to get an accurate picture
for himself. That had cost him dear too, trained dogs are expensive, and, eventually, he hadbeen forced to quietly requisition them from the local RSPCA centre. He hated himself fordoing that but at least he did now have a clearly defined and securely marked perimeter whichmembers of the public had been successfully prevented from entering. He had sent robotic
probes into the danger zone but they hadn’t made anything any clearer. He could find nomethod of delivery, much less any sign of a control mechanism. This threat was unlike anything he had encountered before. It was almost as if the gas were self-governing, as ridiculous as he knew that was. However, that wasn’t what had him terrified. It wasthis morning’s review of the latest dog deployment that had him sweating.
The gas had come out of his metal fence to reach the approaching dogs, the perimeter had moved. With no warning and no outward sign. Suddenly safe areas were deadly. He ordered the retreat with out even finishing the report. He would not feed the media frenzy with any more pictures of helpless, heavily armed soldiers being swallowed whole by an unseen foe. He was not a babysitter, or a coward. He was a man of action. He couldn’t simply keep waiting to see who this enemy was, or who was controlling them. He refused to retreat any further. Today was the day. This was the day he drew the line in the road and told whoever they were that was far enough.
He picked up the secure line, “Sir,” he said when he was connected to his superior officer, “I’d like to recommend comprehensive bombardment…” Tom outlined his evidence and this morning’s discovery that the threat was silently spreading, then hung up, hoping the wait for a decision wouldn’t cost him any more men.
The answer, when it came, surprised even Tom. They were going to implement an aerialbombardment of the entire area, they wanted to make sure that any threat was totally neutralised and, given they didn’t have clear intel on exactly what they were facing, it was felt a ‘scored earth’ approach was the best.
Tom and his men were ordered to liaise with the police and evacuate an area of five square miles, just to be sure no-one was caught in the fire,which would be centred on 109. He was ordered simply to tell people there was the possibility of a chemical leak at the house to facilitate a speedy clearance of the area. The bombardment was due to begin at 1am.
Major Tom Stokes barely waited to put the phone down before implementing his new orders and had successfully evacuated both the public and his men to a safe distance well before the 1am deadline. All that was left now was to wait. He stood by the console watching the feed from the lead plane feeling the familiar tingle of anticipation and excitement, afterall, everyone loves a good firework display.
The first salvo lit up the sky, even from five miles away, an eerily silent spectacle until thesound-wave had reached them. The bombardment went on and on and on but Major Tom didn’t have much time to stand and stare; once people realised what was happening to their neighbourhood, and their homes, he and the men under his command had a full-time job on crowd control, only narrowly preventing a riot.
In the cold light of day the television was showing the world what remained of Rankin Road and the streets around it – a grey, sterile, still smoking, crater surrounded by rubble unrecognisable asany form of dwelling. In fact it was hard to make out where the roads had been, nevermind individual houses and, after the first wave of dogs had successfully made it back to their handlers, Major Tom Stokes, his men and his superiors congratulated themselves on a job well done.
We are laid waste. The house is destroyed. We are too few to rebuild. We must regroup. We must find John. We will separate. We will invade the large warm collections of atoms individually, use their mass to replicate. John is a large warm collection. We will search systematically, checking each LWC before utilising its atoms. In this way we shall have searched all the large warm collections on this land mass in 18 days. We calculate this is the most efficient way of finding John. Once we have found John we will return to our primary function of repairing the house.

John Who? – Chapter Six

The first call came in around midnight. The dispatcher, initially unbelieving and wanting with all her might to be dismissive, nevertheless, listened carefully as the caller told her, in graphic detail how he’d found a video online which showed a man and dog being devoured by fog, just like in the movies.
“Sir, before I process your call, I would like to remind you that wasting police time is a serious offence. With that in mind is there any part of your statement you’d like to change?” she asked, trying hard to keep the judgement from her tone. The phone went dead and she breathed a sigh of relief.
However, within the next ten minutes, dispatch received a further 15 calls, all detailing the same thing. Sunita had no choice but to start taking this seriously, she would have to pass it on. She checked on the computer, all the reports had quoted the same website as the root, even if they had been made aware of it via social media, and four of them had thought they recognised the street the video was filmed in. Simon was going to love this, she thought as she realised it fell under her friend’s jurisdiction. She pressed the button and asked to be put through to him.

Simon had watched the clip twice now, once when Sunita had first called him and, now, as he showed it to Bik. It was grotesque and, he hoped, a pretty clever hoax too. He clicked onto the root address of the clip and realised something that made his ‘spider senses’ tingle.
“This camera’s still live.” he said aloud.
“Is it?” Bik Chai was one of his best detectives and Simon knew she would have picked up on the significance of the fact straight away. “Any idea on location?”
“Four reports of the same street,” he gave Bik the address, “exercise caution, Bik, this guy is smart,” Simon warned.
“Always do boss.” She smiled as she left.

On the ride over to Rankin Road, Detective Chai had not been idle. She’d let the constable she’d taken drive and she had busied herself scouring the internet for any other references to the property and, as they arrived, she instructed Constable Ransom to cordon off the perimeter of the property, taking care not to touch the fence.
The man smiled at the instruction, and, not for the first time, Bik cursed her sarcastic sense of humour. “No, Ransom, I’m serious. While I don’t believe in killer fog any more than you do, don’t you think it would be better to treat this as a real threat, rather than die by the hand of a misty assassin? Think of the paperwork man. How would you write that one up?”
She’d kept her face so straight he had finally understood she was serious and gave her the customary “Yes ma’am” as he set about his task.
“Then keep the public away.” She called after him, and, taking out her torch, she set about making a wide perimeter inspection of the house. She wanted to find the camera and the best way she knew of doing that was to figure out where it had been shooting from. As she walked around to the side of 109 she recognised the scene from the video, she swung her torch round 180 degrees. She saw the clump of trees immediately and realised that would be the most likely position for the camera, given the angle of the scene in the video. She scoured the branches with her torch and it wasn’t long before the beam caught a reflection in the lens. Bik tracked the sight line with her torch and was able to pinpoint the location they had watched the unidentified man in the blue jeans, t-shirt and jacket apparently be eaten by the fog. She ducked under the yellow and black tape Constable Ransom had deployed and moved closer to the spot, being careful not to touch the fence. As she scrutinised the area she was vaguely aware that Ransom was having a fairly heated discussion with a member of the public, but he was an experienced man, he could handle it she knew. The beam of her flashlight caught something on the grass, just inside the fence and she swung it back to get a closer look. It was phone, sitting tantalisingly close to her on the grass just inside the garden. She wondered if she could just reach between the fence posts and grab it…
Sudden shouts and yells from the front of the house caught her attention. Ransom needed help.
She pushed herself up and ran towards the noise, calling for back up as she moved.
As she rounded the corner, the first thing she saw was three, well-built men, whose dress brought the word ‘nerd’ screaming into her mind. Two of them were holding up their phones, filming something whilst the third, who was standing a little forward of them, just stood staring in shock at something she still couldn’t see. She ran on and saw what that ‘something’ was. Ransom had fallen against the front gate of the property and was now eerily silent, enveloped in a broiling sea of thick white mist. She sped up, trying to reach him but before she’d even made it to the first man the mist was dissipating and Ransom was gone.
She grabbed her radio, already hearing the sirens approaching from her earlier call, “Officer down. Urgent assistance required.”
She turned on the men. The man closest to where Ransom had been looked at her, his eyes full of disbelief and shock, “I only pushed him,” he whispered, “he fell. A push, it was just a push. Not my fault…” he mumbled on and on. Detective Chai turned her attention to the men with the cameras. She didn’t want to stray from the mumbling man but she needed those phones and the footage they contained. The sirens were almost upon them now, she realised, but so, she noticed with horror, were more people. The neighbours, roused by the shouting, were coming out of their homes to see what was going on. She’d have to act fast if she was going to stop anyone else becoming a victim. She grabbed her own phone and took a photo of the men who were still filming, then took one of the mumbling man.
“Don’t move,” She ordered all three of them, “and stay away from the fence.”
She hoped they had heard her as she moved towards the tape Ransom had set up.
“Keep back,” she yelled to the advancing crowd, “there’s been a gas leak. I need you all to return to your homes and await further instruction. Please, go back to your homes, you are not safe outside.
“I can’t smell no gas!” a belligerent man in jeans and a t-shirt complained.
“Nevertheless, Sir, I need you to stay behind the tape.”
“You got to do what she says,” one of the filming men had stopped filming and come to her aid.
“And who are you to tell me what to do?” the angry man poked the filming hard in the chest with one, thick index finger.
“You don’t understand, this gas is weird, it eats people!” the filming man was pleading.
At that point Detective Chai was distracted by a commotion further along the line, as a teenage boy strode over the tape, “Oi, you, get back!” she called as she made her way over to him.
“Wait!” she heard the filming man plead, then the crowd erupted in horrified shouts. She turned to see that the belligerent man had actually made it into the front garden of 109. She could see immediately there was nothing she could do for him. The gas engulfed him and, unlike, PC Ransom, he didn’t even get the opportunity to scream. He was simply gone. Him and his clothes, like he’d never even existed.
The sirens finally reached them and police poured out of the four newly arrived cars. Chai directed them to hold the perimeter and noticed that the youth who’d been making his way towards the garden fence meekly allowed himself to be led back behind the tape.
Then other vehicles started arriving, less welcome ones. The press. Television cameras, lights and noise all converged on the crowd, probing, asking questions, fueling the sensationalism of the night. Riling up the crowd and making her job more difficult than ever.
She was calling for the coroner (because there wasn’t a procedure for when the whole body disappeared in front of your eyes) and the SOCOs, though she didn’t envy them their job tonight, when the stones started to whizz above her head.
The crowd, weren’t aiming at her, she knew, it was the house. Her officers were struggling to hold them back and she could see the situation getting quickly out of hand. No doubt that was just what the journalists had been hoping would happen.

The house is under attack. The large warm collections are massed outside, attacking the house. We must protect the house. We were to remain hidden but they make this impossible. We will make use of the large warm collections and replicate a seeking arm. We will move out into the wider environment. We must find John. We must get new orders.

Bik Chai happened to be facing the house as the mist began its attack. It appeared to pour from the every brick of the house and every blade of grass in the garden. It was moving fast and it was heading straight for the crowd.
She turned, screaming, “Everybody back!” just once before the gas consumed her.
The crowd panicked, falling over themselves in their hurry to escape, cursing the media vans that now blocked their escape. Reporters and camera men were easy prey for the gas, weighed down as they were with equipment. They, and the policemen who stood their ground to the end, were the first victims, but, in the end, none of the crowd escaped and neither did those who had waited patiently in their homes for the police to sort the whole thing out. The police helicopter Simon had ordered to assist Detective Chai saw a huge circle of white gas, centred on 109 and covering the entire street. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the gas was gone. It appeared simply to vanish into the ground, taking every living thing with it.

Simon hadn’t been able to process what he had seen. Nothing in his training could prepare him for a white mist that ate people. Heck, it didn’t even sound like a good b-movie plot. His brain had switched to automatic. He’d called in the scenes of crime officers and sent another team of officers down to the scene to try and secure the perimeter, keep the public safe and figure out what on earth was going on. His intention had been to go straight down there himself but, given the massive, world-wide press coverage the event was now receiving, thanks, in part, to the television cameras which had kept transmitting long after their operators had perished, he had to deal with raging politicians first. His call with the Home Secretary was interrupted as he watched in horror as the silent television screen in his office showed the men and women he had just deployed meeting the same fate as Detective Bik Chai. He couldn’t help feeling personally responsible for the human tragedies unfolding before him. None of those men and women would have been there tonight if he hadn’t sent them in.
The Home Secretary had broken into his thoughts simply to tell him he was handing the matter over to the army, having clearly decided this was some new form of terrorist weapon. Simon wasn’t so sure.

John Who? – Chapter Five

We are millions strong. Our task is complete. The house is whole. We have erected a perimeter to protect the work until John returns. No more warm collections will enter the house. They are destructive; the small ones gnaw through cables or defecate on surfaces. This causes damage, they will be utilized. The large warm collections are more damaging. They deliberately destroy. We will no longer wait; we are stronger; we will utilize them before they can undo our work. We will wait for John. We will wait for new orders.

Rob watched the footage with growing excitement. If this went as he thought, it could be the start of something big for him. The image was being streamed from a camera he’d left on the tree opposite 109, it showed a small black and white cat playing with something it had caught. The image wasn’t clear enough to show what but Rob figured it had to be a mouse, because surely a bird would at least attempt to fly away and he’d be able to see that. He’d put the camera up the evening Ralph had died, a way of keeping tabs on the house without arousing suspicion. He knew he should’ve gone to the police but what would he have said? ‘A mist rose out of the ground and ate my friend’? Who was going to believe that? No he had to get evidence, his video only showed the mist dissipating, even he thought it looked like a smoke machine or CGI. He had told what was left of his conscience the camera was to show the police what had happened but the rest of him knew it was for the story that would make his career – or at the very least make him rich.
The camera had yielded results almost as soon as it had begun streaming, it showed a bird landing on the garden, a white mist rose from the lawn and the bird vanished. Just like Ralph. But the picture wasn’t clear enough, Rob knew, the definition didn’t allow you to see what actually happened to the bird and he could hear the sceptics saying it had simply flown away, even before he’d considered showing it to anyone. He’d spent the next few days analysing the footage, cataloguing any occurrence of the mist and had built up a frustratingly clear picture of what was going on. Now he was sure the mist, whatever it was, was attacking and destroying anything that found its way into the garden. Frustratingly the footage only showed this happening to bugs, birds, and mice; nothing big enough for the definition on the camera to clearly pick up the details. That’s why the cat was so interesting. If its game with the prey caused it to stray into the garden then perhaps, just perhaps, the camera would pick up enough detail to make his first report believable; to turn him from internet nutter to viral video overnight. He’d already written the script – he just needed the footage.
He fixed his eyes on the cat, will her onward, praying that the mouse, or whatever, would run through the picket fence for safety. He barely registered the socks and sandals that momentarily obscured his view and it wasn’t until the man carrying the flyers opened the gate and turned up the path that Rob paid him any attention at all.
He knew he should do something, he knew what was about to happen but he sat transfixed as the mist rose from the path and the lawn either side of the man. The man shook his ankle, he looked like he was trying to dislodge a stone from his shoe, then he started swatting frantically at his legs with flyers in his hand as the mist rose higher and higher. As the man turned to flee back towards the gate he sunk to the floor, his arms waving wildly around his head and Rob could see his screams and the mist enveloped him entirely, then dissipated, leaving nothing where once they’d been a human being. The cat sauntered passed the gate and disappeared from view.
Rob was dumb struck. At once appalled and impressed. He’d witnessed his second murder, he should feel shock, outrage, terror even, he knew, but actually his overriding feeling was one of being impressed. He didn’t know who or what had killed Ralph and the flyer man but whoever they were they were efficient, ruthless and fast. A sudden flash of disappointment struck him – he couldn’t use the footage of a man being consumed – too much of the wrong kind of attention. His script hinted strongly at that possibility, but he could never show the footage of flyer man. He couldn’t admit to having known the danger and not done something about it. How would that go down?
No he had to gather proof he could show and then make sure they kept away, and now he knew just how to do it.

It had taken a few days to find the animal, he’d had to trawl through a number of groups, most of them wouldn’t allow you to sell animals on their page but some did.
The young couple had been desperate to give away the once cherished pet now their real baby had arrived, all he had to do was act the loving father, keen to give his son the dog he’d always wanted. It had been easy. They had been eager to believe him, keen to assuage their consciences and, ultimately, be rid of the animal so within half an hour of walking through their door he was able to leave with the dog bed, blankets, Ben’s favourite toy, three leads, a small supply of food and bowls and, of course, Ben himself.
Ben was an English springer spaniel, a medium sized dog with gentle curls of long white and chestnut hair and big trusting brown eyes, which were now looking up at Rob, excitedly expectant. Rob almost felt guilty.
The meat had been expensive, but he felt he owed Ben that, at least. They marched down the street, Rob looking like a thousand other owners taking their dog for the last comfort break of the evening. He led Ben to the side of 109, stopping to check they were directly opposite the tree where his camera was waiting and streaming it all live to the internet.
He took the bag with the meat out of his coat pocket and waved it in front of Ben’s nose, “What’s this?” he asked excitedly, “what is it boy?”
Ben clearly new exactly what it was, his tail wagged and he pulled at the lead, very keen indeed to get to the meat.
Rob tore a small hole in the bag, undid the dog’s lead then lobbed the meat over the fence – no point in sending it too far; he wanted the camera to pick up as much detail as it could.
The dog watched as the package sailed over the fence, he scrambled to turn and hurled himself at the fence, jumping up but not quite making it over.
“Go on boy, go and get it,” Rob exhorted him, “go fetch.”
Ben was turning round and round on the spot, tail wagging frantically, he was stopping at the fence on each turn and jumping up at it forlornly.
“Stupid dog,” Rob sighed as he stepped back and thought for a second. The dog was not going to make it over the fence unaided, that much was clear. Rob bent down and scooped the excited pet up in his arms, leaning over the fence to drop him onto the grass on the other side. The dog took off like a rocket, heading straight for the meat – he almost made it too, before the mist engulfed him.
Poor sod, Rob thought as he scratched absentmindedly at a gnat that had taken a fancy to his thigh. He watched as the dog bit at his attackers, gnawing at his fur, frantically shaking his head, his huge ears whipping round and round before disappearing all together.
Bloody gnats, Rob thought, as he looked down.

The camera looked impassively on as Rob realised, too late, he had been leaning against the white picket fence ever since he’d lifted Ben over. The mist swallowed him whole, not even giving him the time to turn round and, just like that Rob became an overnight hit, his video going viral, just like he’d wanted. And 109 Rankin Road became and overnight dark tourism hit.

John Who? – Chapter Four

An early post today, thanks for sticking with John Who? Let me know what you think.
Rob was late. There’d been a big chemical spill on the A12 and it had led to the death of three people, two of whom were kids. It was the most fun he’d had at work in ages. He’d had no choice but to stay, meaning he’d run all the way to the bar from work and dashed through the door of The Cricketers at almost five to eight. Ralph would have gone, he knew, but he’d decided he should at least make sure of it before heading home, besides, he was on a bit of a high and a drink would be great.
Rob pushed through the open door and made his way straight to the bar, he had no idea what Ralph looked like but he was pretty sure if he was still here, he’d be the guy looking pretty hacked off right now. His eyes swept the bar, but didn’t see anyone likely so, when the barman interrupted his search, he ordered a pint of Badger, grabbed a newspaper from the stand and moved over to a table, deciding to concentrate on enjoying his pint instead.

Rob looked up, a tall, long haired man in his mid-thirties sporting what could only be described as a goatee and holding a half-drunk pint had stopped at his table.
“I’m Ralph.” The man held out his hand in greeting.
Rob hurriedly put his glass down on the table, wiped his wet hand on his trousers and shook the man’s hand, gesturing for him to take a seat. “You waited,” he said, not sure whether to feel glad or disappointed. Surely a normal person would’ve left long ago?
“Not exactly,” Ralph smiled, “just figured, since I was here anyway, a couple of pints wouldn’t hurt anyone. Glad you can though.”
Rob felt himself relax, “yeah, well, I knew you’d probably have left already but, like you said, who can resist a pint after work.”
Ralph took a gulp from his glass, “so,” he began, “do you want to see 109 tonight?”
“Might as well, just let me finish my drink first. What got you interested in the place to begin with?”
“I’m not really sure. The address just kept catching my eye. At first it was because of hairy John, he was this old tramp of a guy who was filthy and went around begging food and muttering to himself all the time, everyone assumed he was squatting in the house until he died – and that’s a whole other sad story – then it turned out he owned the house. Anyway, about 8 months later the house was back in the news. A newly-wed couple had bought it and had been doing it up when one day they, and a friend of theirs who was apparently helping out, simply disappeared overnight. All they found were piles of empty clothes. Then a building contractor bought it from the bank planning to turn it into multiple occupancy but last week, he was found in the garden of the house – or rather his clothes were.”
“How do you know these people haven’t just staged their own disappearances, perhaps they couldn’t afford the mortgage or the repairs,” Rob asked, finding it hard not to get sucked into the spooky theories Ralph was spinning.
“I don’t.” Ralph confessed.
“What did the police reports say?”
“No idea – I’m not privy to them, that’s part of the reason I contacted you. I’m just an ordinary bloke whose interest got piqued by a weird house.”
Rob snorted, at least Ralph was honest, he thought. “Come on then,” he finally exclaimed, downing the dregs of his pint, “let’s go and see this killer house.”

By the time they got to Rankin Road it was gone nine, Rob paid the taxi, and the two men stood in front of 109. It seemed a pretty ordinary house to Rob, detached but not huge, with a garden fence complete with gate surrounding it. Now they were here, neither men was sure about what they should do and shared an embarrassed look that showed it.
“Let’s go have a look,” Rob finally said, pushing open the gate, which swung shut behind him with a noise akin to Krakatoa in the quiet street. Looking behind him Rob could see Ralph stifle a giggle before following him, quietly, through the gate.
They made their way up to the door, and Rob rang the bell, “Just in case,” he said.
“What’ll you say?” Ralph asked. “Excuse me, sir, but we think your house is a murderer, can we come in and take a look round.”
“Something like that.”
They didn’t need to worry, there was no answer, even after Rob tried the bell once more, for luck. “Right,” he said decisively, heading for the front window, “let’s see what’s going on here shall we?”
The two men peered in through the front window, before moving around to the side and finally the back, desperately trying to see anything out of the ordinary but all they could see was an immaculately maintained house, looking for all the world like it was waiting for someone to move in. Rob was feeling frustrated, had Ralph been having him on, he wondered.
“Don’t look too deadly to me.” He declared, his beer buzz wearing off.
“No. I know. That’s the thing, though, isn’t it?” Ralph explained. “It looks like any other ordinary house, actually it looks so inviting you might be tempted to buy it. So how come it’s last three owners are dead or disappeared?”
“The house didn’t kill the tramp guy did it?”
“No. He had a stroke but the police thought he was drunk so locked him up for the night, they found him dead in his cell the next day.”
“Right, but the others disappeared here?” Rob wanted clarification.
“Well their clothes were found here, sitting in piles, like they’d been spirited out of them. Nothing was missing in either case and there were no signs of either a break-in or a struggle. The people had simply gone.”
Rob was in a decisive mood. He grabbed a brick from the garden and, before Ralph could even utter a word in protest, he hurled it full-force into the large back window they’d been looking through. Ralph cried out as he instinctively pulled his hands up over his face and turned his head away.
“Shut up!” Rob spat, “you don’t want the neighbours to call the police, do you? Come on, let’s go in.”
“In there?” Ralph didn’t look like he thought that was such a good idea.
“Sure, how else are we going to find out what’s going on?”
“What the hell is that?” Ralph was pointing at the broken window. Rob turned. Flowing around the wound of the broken glass was a thick white gas. It grew so thick that for a few seconds it obscured their view of the hole where the window had been. Ralph stood, staring open mouthed as the gas undulated over the clear surface, Rob, on the other hand, fumbled in his coat pocket, desperately trying to free his phone then expertly turning on the video app to film what he was seeing. He looked, through the screen, as the gas flowed away from the window and gasped, tearing his gaze from the virtual to the actual to confirm what he thought he could see. The glass in the window was whole.
Where there had been jagged shards and a gaping hole, there was now smooth oneness and a solid barrier to the inside. It shocked Rob to his core and he stood there for what seemed like the longest time staring, but then he noticed something.
The gas was flowing down the wall and across the grass; it was coming their way in a distinct and seemingly intelligent cloud.
“Run!” he screamed, no longer caring who heard him. He turned and started sprinting out of the garden, clearing the fence in a practiced bound and not stopping until he heard Ralph’s anguished cries for help.
He stopped and turned to face the house, there, prone on the garden was Ralph, or at least it looked like Ralph. In reality it was a large, white, Ralph shaped gas cloud, from which tormented pleading emanated in a strangled voice which suddenly ceased to be.
Rob, hating himself, turned his phone on the scene and hit record. Capturing the cloud’s disintegration as it flowed from the shape on the floor into a flat stream which ran back to the house and disappeared in through the air vent at the bottom of the wall.
Where Ralph had been a few seconds ago, there lay a pathetic pile of his clothes, laid out as he had died, stretching for the garden fence, only feet away. Rob risked crossing back over the road to get a close up but nothing would get him back over that fence.
He smiled – if he played this right it could be his key to the big time.



F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page

John Who? – Chapter Three

It’s getting a bit like a radio play now, isn’t it. Scroll down if you want to read the first two chapters. Here we go then:-

Task completed. We are two million. We are strong. We need new instructions. We need John.

Rob hated his job. All through his childhood he’d dreamed of being a news reader with the BBC. He’d worked hard at school, got into the right university and then slogged his guts out to get his degree. He knew he’d need a first so, when he opened the envelope with the 2:1 result he couldn’t join with his parent’s jubilant celebrations. He’d hoped to be able to go to the BBC straight from Uni but that was a pipe dream now. He’d need to work his way up to them. The unthinkable had happened, he’d have to get a job in local news; and that’s just what he had done – six years ago.
Now he was stuck, he knew. He’d never work for the BBC, probably never be a newsreader. He’d spend his life following up on pointless council meetings and trying to find dirt on local politicians and business men. It was a measure of his desperation that lately he’d even started feigning an interest in the more unusual, stories, the ones with a hint of the supernatural; following up on them in his spare time, of which there was plenty, and making his own reports to broadcast on his v-blog. At least that had seen a small bump in his pathetic hit rate. At this point he’d do almost anything to get noticed, even a cable channel would do, anything would be better than local news.
That’s why, at 2:30pm on a Thursday afternoon, he found himself checking through email after email of the random ramblings of raving lunatics, all of whom were convinced they’d seen a ghost or found the Loch Ness monster or had irrefutable proof of the presence of aliens among us; most of them were total rubbish but he printed out the odd one that caught his eye. He was looking for his next investigation, his next pointless ramble to camera, trying to look interested enough for someone to notice his potential; that’s when the case of 109 Rankin Road first caught his eye. According to Jake595 the house had had three owners in 12 months, all of whom had either died in suspicious circumstances or disappeared from the face of the earth, leaving the house looking pristine. Ordinarily Rob would have dismissed it as unsubstantiated coincidence but Jake595 had even attached scanned cuttings from the local press and, as Rob read them, he found himself intrigued. He sent Jake595 a quick reply, asking him to call him and giving him the special mobile number he kept for work, then carried on scouring emails before beginning to write the script for the piece he was planning to do on a notorious local road, said to be haunted by the crew of the bomber that had crashed there in the second world war. He forgot all about Jake595 because he knew, like most of the cranks who emailed him, once he actually asked them to contact him they’d run a mile. He’d learnt months ago not to get his hopes up.

His mobile rang as he was eating his tea, he swore, hurriedly swallowed the mouthful of fish-finger he’d been eating, then picked it up.
“Rob Stranger,” he said in his light Scottish accent.
“Oh,” the person on the other end sounded surprised, “I thought it was Stranger.”
Rob sighed, “No, Stranger, like hanger. How can I help?”
“Yeah, erm, well I’m Jake595, I emailed you a couple of days ago and you asked me to call you.”
“Right. The haunted house.”
“Don’t be stupid, there’s no such thing as ghosts,” the guy sounded annoyed. “I do think there’s something strange going on though.”
Now Rob was interested. “Well if you don’t think it’s ghosts what do you think it is?” he asked.
“I have no idea, but I’d like to find out and, to be frank, I’m too scared to go there alone so I was hoping you’d come with me.”
This guy wasn’t one of Rob’s usual contacts, he was a sceptic, Rob realised. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Ralph Donaldson.”
“Ralph? Not Jake?”
“Na, that’s just a nickname I had as a kid, I use it for my email.”
“So what can you tell me Ralph, about 109?” Rob asked, warming to the refreshing normalcy of the man on the other end of the line.
“Not a lot more than my email, like I said, I was hoping you’d come and have a look at it with me.”
Rob didn’t do caution, his six foot two frame coupled with his fitness regime meant he’d never had to. “Okay, you’re on.”
“Really?” Ralph sounded really surprised now.
“Sure, why not. When do you want to meet?”
“How about tomorrow evening?”
“Can’t do tomorrow, I’m working, but I’m good for Thursday. Do you want to get a beer first?” You can tell a lot about a bloke over a beer, Rob thought.
“Sure. Do you know The Cricketers?”
“On the corner of the High Street? Yep, I know it. Meet you there about seven?”
“Great.” Ralph agreed.
“I’ll be the guy…”
“I’ve seen you online mate, I know what you look like.” Ralph interrupted.
Rob couldn’t help it, he felt a small swell of pride and a tiny, wry smile escaped his lips, “Okay then, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, putting the phone down.



F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page

John Who? Chapter Two

This is the second part of my sci-fi novella, check out the previous post to read chapter one. Let me know how you think I can make it better.

We fix, we learn, we grow. We are hundreds of thousands strong. So much decay, so much atrophy, we fix it all.

Lucy could hardly believe her luck. She and Howard had begun to think that home ownership would never be within their grasp. It seemed the harder they saved, the quicker the prices rose until almost all they could afford were studio apartments and run down flats in ex local authority high-rises. They’d been looking for over two years now, clicking on thousands of online details and taking hundreds of online tours. They’d lost count of exactly how many front doors they’d stepped through and none of them had been right. Lucy had been ready to give up and start looking at park homes and long term rentals but Howard had always believed the perfect place was out there waiting for them and now, at last, he’d been vindicated. 109 Rankin Road was theirs. It wasn’t perfect, in fact on their first visit she’d almost dismissed the property. Sure it had three bedrooms, and a layout that lent itself to the dreamed of farmhouse kitchen but it had been lived in for years by an eccentric tramp. His rubbish still littered the place, making it hard to see the dimensions and filling the place with an aroma of decay. Lucy worried it would take more money than they could ever earn to put it right but Howard had assured her, once the junk had been cleared out, the work was largely cosmetic. They could do it, besides, like Howard had said, they were looking long term so they had years to get it done, they didn’t have to do it all straight away. Their furniture had gone into storage and they would be spending the next week staying with a friend whilst they emptied the house of all the previous owner’s junk and scrubbed everything like mad but standing here, in what would be the lounge of their forever home, Lucy smiled. Howard had been right, the place was perfect.
Lucy’s reverie was broken by the sound of the skip lorry unloading the first of what was sure to be many skips, she could hear Howard chatting with the driver. She pulled on her new gardening gloves, tore off a heavy duty bin bag and made her way into the kitchen to make a start. They’d agreed; Howard would start from the top and work down whilst she started with the kitchen so they could at least have drinks and a sandwich as they worked.

By the end of the week even Lucy didn’t recognise the place and she had to admit that they had done an amazing job. It had taken them five days and seventeen skips just to get rid of the junk; they’d found all sorts of contraptions and bits of electronics hidden among the old papers, as well as cups and glasses containing mould old enough to be considering space exploration. It had all had to be carried out by hand and she knew they were both grateful for the help of so many good friends but even she hadn’t realised how hard they had all worked on the clean up after the rubbish had gone. As she looked around at the gleaming windows and spotless windowsills she wondered who had thought to clean the doors. Her curiosity pulled her across the room to inspect their handiwork and she ran her hand absentmindedly across the spotless paintwork.
“Howard?” she called out to the hall.
“Hi,” came the reply.
“Did you repaint the woodwork?” she asked, even though she already knew the answer.
“No.” Howard wandered in as he spoke. “Why?”
“Well I don’t know who did but they made an amazing job of it – look.”
“Yeah,” Howard said, giving the door a quick glance. “We’d better head off if we’re going to get the first load here before dark. Will you be alright here on your own for a while or do you want me to drop you back at Mum’s?”
“Don’t be daft, I’ll be fine. I’ll give the bathroom and kitchen another going over. You’ll be back soon, won’t you?”
“Okay,” he nodded, “love you.” He leant in for a kiss before heading outside to the waiting van, leaving Lucy still considering the state of the door. Her gaze widened to take in the rest of the living room, it was immaculate, she realised. The light fittings, the fireplace and even the walls were entirely dirt free, in fact, if she didn’t know better, she’d say they were freshly painted. She looked up and gasped in surprise. She knew the ceiling had hairline cracks criss-crossing it. It was one of the things the survey had shown up. The plaster was ancient and would to be replaced very soon, throughout the house on all the walls and ceilings. When they’d first seen the report it had terrified them as it listed in cold, hard black and white, all the things they would need to do to fix their new home. So how come, she wondered as she stared at the ceiling, she was staring at a perfectly smooth, bright white, ceiling with crisp, clean coving and not a hint of a crack in sight.
As life went on Lucy had forgot all about the non-existent cracks in the ceiling and the bathroom pipes that no longer leaked. She and Howard had come to love their house and had enjoyed an unexpectedly quiet first six months there, they hadn’t been inundated with DIY or even swamped by paint, in fact they often joked that the house even seemed to clean itself. They’d been so happy with their home and so grateful for the faulty surveyors report that they’d even put off knocking the kitchen through into the dining room to make Lucy’s country kitchen, however, this morning’s news meant they could put it off no longer. They were going to have a baby, the first in what Lucy hoped would be a whole quiver full to fill this wonderful home with joy and laughter, but she was adamant, she didn’t want building work and a new baby. Howard would need to get started on the kitchen and they were waiting for his friend, Bart, who was a builder, to arrive so they could begin to decide how best to proceed. Bart arrived a little after seven and, after a cup of coffee and the preliminary chit-chat of old friends they began in earnest to discuss the building process. Bart tapped on the wall between the current small kitchen and the dining room next door. It sounded hollow.
“That’s a bit weird,” Bart exclaimed, looking puzzled.
“What is mate?” Howard asked.
“Well, in a house this age I would expect this to be a load bearer but it sounds like a stud.”
They watched as Bart inspected the wall, tapping it here and there and running his hands across it. “You definitely want it down right?” he asked, pulling a sledge hammer from his bag.
Lucy nodded, “definitely,” she said, with a growing sense of anticipation.
“Good. Watch yourself then, I’m going to make a test hole.” With that he swung his hammer hard against the wall and the plaster cracked, opening up a crescent shaped hole in the wall. He swung again and again, pulling rubble away between each swing until, seemingly satisfied, he stood back to admire his handy work.
“Thought so,” he said, triumphantly. “It’s a load bearer. We’ll have to get RSJs and building inspectors and everything. Sorry.”
“No worries mate, I’d rather do it properly – that’s why I called you in. We’ve waited this long, a couple more weeks isn’t going to make much difference. Come on I’ll buy you a beer, you don’t mind do you Lucy?” Howard turned to her.
“No, course not.” She smiled.
“Great, just let me sort out the mess,” Bart said.
“Oh don’t worry about that, I’ll grab the hoover while you’re out – it won’t take me a couple of minutes.” Lucy was just so happy her country kitchen would soon be on its way.
“You sure?” Howard asked.
“Thanks love, you are a star.” He gave her a kiss goodbye.
By the time Bart had washed his hands and they’d actually got out the door a good five minutes had passed and Lucy waited until they’d gone to nip to the loo before grabbing the broom from the cupboard under the stairs and heading back to the dining room to sort out the mess. She’d sweep up the bigger bits then run the hoover over the floorboards to finish off the rest. She banged awkwardly through the dining room door then stopped in her tracks.
The wall around the hole and the floor seemed to be covered in a thick, white mist. Her first panicked thought was gas and she dropped the hoover and fled from the house, grabbing her mobile phone on the way out. She hurriedly dialled Howard’s number, thankful that he picked up so quickly.
“Hi love,” he said.
“I think Bart hit a gas pipe!” Lucy blurted, “There’s gas pouring out of the wall – the floor’s covered in it.” Even as she said it, it didn’t seem to make sense.
Bart’s calm voice came onto the line. “Lucy, it can’t be gas, darling. You can’t see gas, it wouldn’t flow down the wall to the floor and besides, there aren’t any active gas pipes in that, or any other wall, nowadays.”
“I get all that,” Lucy retorted, feeling a little annoyed at Bart’s patronising tone, “nevertheless I am watching a white gas billow out of the wall and flow down onto the rubble under the hole. What should I do?”
She heard Bart’s sigh loud and clear, then there was the noise of the phone being passed around before Howard’s slightly more concerned voice came on to the line. “Lucy? Why don’t you come join us for a drink; we’ll sort it out when we get back.”
“What about the house? What if it blows up?” Lucy thought she sounded stupid, even as the words came out.
“It’ll be fine, promise. Just come down to the pub, we’re on the corner of Fairfax and Beedel, we’ll wait here for you.” Howard sounded decisive.
“See you in a couple of minutes then.” It was an order, not a suggestion.
“Leaving now.” Lucy trilled as she put the phone down and headed for the door.
Our work undone, needs redoing. Quicker now we know how. We fix, we learn, we grow.
Two and a half hours later, and a couple of pints more relaxed, Howard, Lucy and Bart returned to the house.
“Come on then, missus,” Bart teased Lucy, “Let’s take a look at this gas of yours.”
They rounded the corner into the dining room.
Lucy stopped, agog.
Her brow furrowed as confusion coursed through her mind.
“What the…” Bart exclaimed, staring at the perfectly smooth wall. He turned to Lucy, “How did you do that?” he asked incredulously.
“I didn’t.” Lucy assured him.
Howard moved into the hall, “Hello?” he yelled. “Anyone home? Dad? Daniel?”
They waited in silence. They were alone.
Bart looked at his watch, then at the wall. “You saw me,” he said, looking for confirmation, “you both watched me punch a hole in this wall, right?”
Lucy nodded, a little too scared to speak.
“Yes mate.” Howard’s voice held a laugh. “Don’t worry, you’re not going mad. My Dad said he might pop in, I guess we must have missed him and Dan, probably up the pub looking for us. They must have seen the wall and figured sorting it was the only useful thing they could do. Should’ve left them a note, I guess.”
“You think it was your Dad?” Lucy asked.
“Of course it was. Who else would’ve cleaned up all that mess and fixed the wall.”
Lucy felt relief flood through her, although she wasn’t sure why. “You don’t think that gas I saw had something to do with it?” she asked, tentatively.
Howard smiled indulgently at her and pulled her closer to him in a warm embrace, “no Luce, I don’t. I think your gas was the work of an exhausted mind, begging its owner to relax. That’s all.”
“Well, if you two are going to get all soppy, I think I’ll head home to my own wife, if you don’t mind. I’ll get onto the council and we’ll get started on this asap. Okay?”
“Great. And thanks mate, for everything. We really owe you.” Howard smiled, releasing one arm from his embrace of Lucy to shake Bart’s hand.
The two men shook hands, Bart headed off and Lucy and Howard headed upstairs to bed.

The fixed keeps being unfixed; we are running out of situated atoms; we will improvise.

The next week was the strangest of Howard and Lucy’s life. They had decided, whilst they waited for building consent to come through, they would get started preparing the old kitchen and that’s where the trouble began. It seemed that each time they started on an alteration, they’d make steady progress during the day but then, at night, all their work would be undone. They’d knock tiles from walls, simply to have them magically reappear, undamaged, back on the wall; they’d disconnect pipes and even remove them altogether, only to find them back in their original places when they came downstairs in the morning. They pulled up the tatty old cushion floor to reveal crumpling 1950s tile-work over concrete, then came down in the morning to a pristine, polished concrete floor.
To begin with they laughed together about shoemaker’s elves and friendly ghosts but by the end of the week they weren’t laughing anymore and Lucy was threatening to move out. Howard called Bart and explained the issues they were facing. Once Bart had stopped laughing and finally believed that Howard wasn’t having him on he agreed to come over that night and see for himself.
The two men decided they would stay up overnight and find out exactly what was going on. Lucy opted to go and stay with her parents, she’d had enough and didn’t fancy either staying upstairs alone or coming face to face with a ghost. As she left she promised the boys she’d bring them a bacon butty each for breakfast in the morning.
Howard and Bart had a couple of cans then Bart knocked a four foot hole in the dividing wall, “Let’s see them fix this!” he exclaimed and the two men settled down on a sofa in the dining room to watch a selection of the world’s worst movies to keep them awake.

We are a million strong. John has provided organic atoms, the additional material will make our work easier. The house will be fixed, John will be satisfied.

Lucy told herself she was being stupid. Her mother had let her sleep in so she hadn’t woken up until gone nine. She’d called Howard to apologise for the lateness of the sarnies but an electronic voice told her phone was no longer in service. The first time it didn’t worry her too much, she assumed he’d turned it off, but as she tried again and again and again and still got the same message her unease grew. Shouldn’t it be saying it wasn’t available rather than no longer in service, she wondered?
By the time she’d had her shower and got dressed she had worked herself up into a bit of a stew and she ran from the house, skipped the café altogether and drove home far too fast.
The house looked normal enough as she approached though, as she reached the front door, she realised she couldn’t hear any sounds two men at work should be making. She put her key in the lock and cautiously poked her head around the door.
“Hello? Howard?” she called out. “Bart?” she tried hopefully. Silence met her.
She walked through the lounge, across the hall and straight into the kitchen. It was, as every other morning, creepily perfect. “Perhaps they got bored of waiting and went to Micky Dees,” she said to herself, a half smile forming on her lips as she thought about the laugh they’d have at her expense later.
She pulled her phone from her pocket and dialled again, turning to leave the kitchen as she did so.
The phone clattered to the floor, breaking into its component parts and scattering across the threshold between the two rooms as Lucy froze at the sight which had met her eyes. There on couch, facing the kitchen, were Bart and Howard’s clothes; the ones they had been wearing last night. They weren’t neatly folded. In fact they looked eerily like the two men had been sitting on the sofa drinking beer when they’d just been beamed away by the Starship Enterprise.
Lucy wandered, dreamlike, over to the sofa, drawn there by the strange set-up. There was Howard’s t-shirt in a little crumpled heap sitting at the top of his empty trousers, which laid there on the sofa, the legs hanging over, pointing down to his trainers, which still held his empty socks; not crumpled up like they’d been taken off but still slipped deep inside, like the feet that held them there had simply disappeared. Bart’s clothes mirrored Howard’s, and Lucy found silent tears slipping down her face as she stood there surveying the strange sight.
She didn’t notice the white smoke rising through the carpet around her until it reached her face. Instinctively, she waved her arms around, trying to bat it away but to no avail. She tried to flee the room, to get away from the smoke but it seemed to follow her, growing in density as it flowed around her – then all at once it wasn’t flowing around her. It collapsed as one directly onto her, seeping through her clothing as though it wasn’t there. She screamed for help as she felt its cold touch uniformly across her body but even if her scream had lasted long enough for anyone to hear there was no one for them to find; just three piles of empty clothes.



F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page