Monthly Archives: March 2017

Why All Men Kill

This is another one for my monthly group.  Since it was written for the March meeting, the theme was “The Ides of March”.

***  2:32PM, 15TH MARCH, PRESENT DAY  ***

***  BELGRAVE SQUARE, CENTRAL LONDON  ***

“Today is a dark day for London.  The Bellarabian Embassy has been taken over by the National Islamic Brotherhood; a notorious guerrilla faction who fight the perceived persecution of Muslims in Bellarabia.  Live at the scene is Anita Bashir.  What’s the situation there, Anita?”

“Well Peter, police and Special Forces units have cordoned off Belgrave Square and surrounded the embassy.  However, they do not yet have permission from the Bellarabian government to occupy the building.  Hostages have been taken, but the NIB has not yet issued any demands.”

“Thank you, Anita.  For our viewers’ information, the National Islamic Brotherhood formed five years ago, following the death of Bellarabia’s president, Gennady Yilmaz, who had laid out plans to rapidly industrialise his notoriously backward nation.  The leader’s widow, Olia Yilmaz, took over his presidency and set his plans in motion, investing heavily in the development of agriculture, mining, hydroelectricity and the petrochemical industry.  While the UN has criticised Mrs Yilmaz’s casual attitude to religious sensibilities, NIB rhetoric concerning forced evictions and brutalities levelled directly at Muslims is very likely exaggerated.”

“Wait, Peter!  Something’s happening!  A man is being led at gunpoint to an upstairs window of the embassy.”

 

Until moments ago Scarlet Wolf, the red-masked NIB commander masterminding the siege, had merely been watching over the Bellarabian hostages he had lined up on the upper floor of the embassy, their hands bound with plastic zip ties.  Now, he seized Omar Vatsiznov of the visa and immigration department by his shirt front and pulled him to his feet.

“STOP!” screamed the ambassador’s PA, Stefania Gushenko, in Bellarabian.  “He’s done you no wrong!  Let him go!”

Midnight Wolf glared at her.

“Transmit our demands to the British and the Bellarabians,” he snapped at his second-in-command, Flame of Vengeance.  “It’s time to show them we’re serious.”

Flame of Vengeance transmitted an e-mail using one of the nearby computers, while Scarlet Wolf pushed Vatsiznov towards the window.

 

Lieutenant Patrick Flynn of the Royal Marines was ensconced in a chestnut tree in the middle of the square, still bare following the passing winter.  His sniper rifle was trained on the upper floor of the Bellarabian embassy, where a bald, unassuming little man in square glasses was being shoved into view at the window.

“Wyvern, do you have a clear shot yet?”

That was Flynn’s C.O., Major Stephen Curtis, radioing him from his mobile HQ.

“Negative, King Dragon,” Flynn replied.  “They’re using the masonry as cover and with this breeze blowing I might easily miss.  Are C Squad ready?”

“Affirmative, Wyvern,” Curtis said crisply, “But still no permission from the Bellarabian government.”

Lt. Flynn cursed under his breath and willed the Bellarabian government to hurry.

 

“Your leaders and the harlot Yilmaz now have our list of demands!” Scarlet Wolf screamed across Belgrave Square in English.  “If we have no assurance they are met, we will kill one hostage every ten minutes!”

“President Yilmaz will never submit to you!” a security guard yelled in Bellarabian.

“Silence!” ordered Flame of Vengeance.

Lt. Flynn tried to take aim on Scarlet Wolf, but he was out of view behind the mullions.  Only a small part of his gun arm was visible.

“Why are you doing this?” wept Stefania Gushenko.

“BECAUSE THEY FEAR YOUR POWER, STEFANIA!”

There really was silence now.  It was Omar Vatsiznov who had spoken, yelling in English so that everyone understood.

“It’s why all men kill, isn’t it?” Vatsiznov continued.  “It’s the same reason Brutus and the senators killed Caesar, today, on the Ides of March, two thousand years ago.  It’s why all murderers and assassins kill.  Strong as they may seem, they, or someone else, fears the power the victim has.”

Lt. Flynn was stunned.  In all his years in the military, he had never seen a civilian show such foolhardy temerity at such a time.

Then, an idea flashed into Flynn’s head, one so crazy it just might work.  He only hoped Vatsiznov had that little bit more courage left.

“Thirty seconds, gentlemen,” Scarlet Wolf shouted, remembering himself.  “Our demands or his life.”

A tiny red dot blinked on and off at the tip of Vatsiznov’s shirt collar.  He thought he had imagined it at first, but then he saw it again.  Scarlet Wolf, however, failed to notice it.

Will he understand? Flynn wondered desperately.

“Twenty seconds,” warned Scarlet Wolf.

Again, Flynn turned his laser guided sights on and off, aiming at Vatsiznov’s shirt collar.  Vatsiznov gave the very smallest of grins.  Flynn’s heart rose.  Somehow, he had understood.

“Wyvern, what are you doing?” Curtis snapped in Flynn’s ear.

“Major,” his communications chief announced, “We have permission from the Bellarabians to send in C Squad.”

“Ten seconds,” Scarlet Wolf shouted.  “Nine, eight…”

Omar Vatsiznov moved like greased lightning; spinning round, wrenching Scarlet Wolf’s gun arm skyward and hurling him to where he had been standing a heartbeat before.

A shot rang out across Belgrave Square.

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Ayres’ Ice Cream Parlour

A first now; a story written freshly for my blog!  This is a story I tried out for my tale about the taxi that takes you where you need to go, rather than want to go.  I discarded it, however, when I found I couldn’t make it short enough.  Enjoy.

Not.  One.  Pound.  LIGHTER!!!!

Gordon felt himself scream the words in his mind.  First Kirsty had turned him down, then the packaging company had announced they wouldn’t be renewing his contract three days before rent was due…

And now this!

Gordon pounded his fist against the feeble bathroom wall, causing everything in the two metre square space to shudder.  Once more, he looked down at the needle on the scales, barely visible over his overhanging belly.  His vision began to blur with tears.

What’s the use? he thought to himself.  Those Weight Watchers classes haven’t helped at all.  It’s no wonder Donald quite.  I’m fat, I’ve always been fat and I’ll die fat; alone, jobless, homeless, not a hope in the world.

Then, in his despair, Gordon came to a foolish and misguided resolution.  He took off his towel and robe, returned to his unkempt bedroom and put on fresh clothes.

If I’m going to die fat and alone, he thought bitterly, then let it be doing what I love best.

Gordon lived, irony of ironies, in a tiny flat above a fried chicken shack, not far west of Limehouse station.  It was shortly after sunset on a chilly evening in early March when he walked from there to the minicab station in the nearest side street and announced his intended destination to the attendant there.

“The Baskin Robbins restaurant on Whitechapel Road, please.”

No point walking if I’m going to make myself fatter, Gordon considered.

Gordon wasn’t sure why, but the look that the sour-faced, middle-aged lady behind the glasses seemed far more searching than it should have been.  It was like she wasn’t just observing him, but also seeing into his heart, and disliking what she found there.

Without a word, the woman picked up the receiver on the radio set next to her and spoke.

“Passenger for the Baskin Robbins parlour.  Theo, this is one for you, I think.”

Once Gordon had paid his money, three silent minutes passed before a pitiful-looking apple green Yugo sputtered to a halt in the orange haze of the streetlamp outside.  Gordon stared in bewilderment at the archaic little car, driven by a swarthy chap with a broad smile and oily black curls, beckoning wildly for him to jump in.  Gordon turned back to the attendant, nonplussed that she expected him to ride in this!

Well? her withering gaze seemed to say.  Are you getting in or not?

So Gordon squeezed into the back seat of the Yugo.  He literally did; his vast gut had to squash up behind the front seat even when the driver rolled it forward for him.

“Sit tight, my friend,” beamed the man.  “I’m Theo.  I take you where you need to go.”

It was a brief journey but one of the wildest Gordon had ever had the misfortune to experience.  Theo drove like a madman; roaring along streets like he was a rally driver, following about 2 centimetres behind a ten-ton lorry, wrenching the wheel the instant a corner came up, and all the time jabbering like a parrot.  Pandemonium!

It was only when Theo slammed to a halt ten minutes later that Gordon noticed something was vitally wrong.

“This isn’t Baskin Robbins!” Gordon fumed.  “This is nothing like it!”

“Is an ice cream shop, no?” Theo chuckled.  “‘S what you wanted, eh?”

Instead of Whitechapel Road, Theo had taken Gordon to a narrow side street, scarcely lit except for the bright, pleasant-looking establishment that he had stopped in front of.  A clean, white-tiled counter with stools beside it shone through the plate glass window.  A green neon sign read;

Welcome to Ayres’ Ice Cream Parlour

“I can take you to other place if you like?” Theo sang.

“No, never mind.  This is good enough.  See you,” Gordon muttered, slipping painfully out of the car.  He didn’t fancy another death-defying ride in Theo’s old banger.

Gordon opened the door of the restaurant.  The tinkle of the overhead bell caused the blonde-haired lady behind the counter to look up from the sundae glass she was drying up.

“Good evening, sir,” she said warmly.  “How can I help you?”

For a long moment, Gordon didn’t speak.  The lady had a startlingly disarming manner.  She didn’t look much in her short-sleeved blue-and-pink check shirt, plain white apron and matching glengarry, but something in her manner left Gordon feeling like he was in the presence of someone truly special.

“Er… I’ve never been here before,” Gordon stammered.  “I don’t quite… know… what..”

The lady giggled sweetly.  “Not to worry.  Why don’t I choose for you?  What about and Ayres Special?  Best ice cream in the house.”

“OK, I’ll try that,” Gordon shrugged.

Swiftly, deftly, expertly, scooping and pouring, twizzling and twirling, scooping and pouring, the lady put together the largest, most mouthwatering, most perfectly sculpted ice cream sundae Gordon had ever seen.  Twelve beautifully rounded scoops of ice cream sat in the glass, all different flavours, along with chocolate shavings, chopped nuts, crushed honeycomb and a bright green sauce covering it all that somehow made it seem all the more delicious.  The whipped cream on top was light yellow rather than white, with a gleaming glacé cherry plonked expertly on top of it.

“There you go, Gordon,” the lady said warmly.  “Eat up and I’ll put it on your tab.”

Gordon seized the long-handled spoon she offered him and started to devour his Ayres Special with relish.  It was only when he was outside, 90 minutes, three sundaes and £24 later, that he realised the woman had known his name even though he hadn’t introduced himself.

 

Gordon was back in Ayres’ Ice Cream Parlour one sunny morning some time later, finishing off another Ayres Special, when the bell rang and someone called his name.

“Hi, Gordon!  Put it there, pal!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

Gordon stared blankly at the proffered, sinewy hand, then at the handsome, beaming face attached to it.  A sense of déjâ vu came over him.

“Do I know you?”

“Of course you do, mate!  I’m Donald Prentice!  You know, from Weight Watchers.”

Gordon broke into a delighted smile and seized Donald’s strong hand in his own, now much firmer, grip, pumping it like mad.

“DONALD!  This is unbelievable!” Gordon cried joyfully.  “Not only is it great to see you, but you look so… well…”

“Not fat?” Donald grinned.

Gordon was speechless in the best way.  Six months ago, with Christmas looming, Donald had quit Gordon’s Weight Watchers class, not a gram lighter than before, and none of the members had seen him since.  Now he stood before Gordon a changed man.

In the place of a shapeless torso, multiple chins and thighs so fat they constantly touched, Donald was trim, clean-limbed and handsome, with a firm layer of muscle evident beneath his t-shirt.

“Donald, what happened to you?” Gordon babbled.  “You were fatter than I was when I last saw you.”

“One sec, Gordon,” Donald replied.  “Steffi m’dear, could you fix me up with an Ayres Special, please?”

“Of course, Donald, my lovely,” the blonde-haired waitress called back.  She proceeded to make up Donald’s order with a flourish.

“Now, Gordon, you asked how I got this way,” Donald said.  “I’ll answer that by asking you, how do you think YOU started losing weight?”

This was an apt observation.  Gordon too was much leaner than he used to be; no worse than the average person on the street, and getting better, he was sure of it.

“I guess I’ve been eating better,” Gordon shrugged, scraping up the last of his ice cream.  “These few months I’ve not craved any of the usual muck I used to guzzle down all the time.  I just sorta stopped.”

“And yet you visit this place regularly?”

Steffi finished Donald’s immense sundae and slid it down the counter into his outstretched hand.

“Sure, I love it,” Gordon replied.  “I just can’t get enough of these Ayres Specials.  I had three on my first visit and can’t stop eating them.”

“Oh Gordon,” Donald sighed.  “Isn’t it sinking in yet?”

“Isn’t what sinking in?” Gordon said, with a puzzled expression.

“The reason you’re here,” Steffi piped up, “The reason you’re slimmer, the reason you keep coming back.  It’s because of this ice cream parlour.”

“I think it’s time we told him, Stefania,” Donald smiled.

“I think so too,” Steffi nodded.

Steffi pointed a slender finger at the door and windows and muttered something.  In a flush, the shutters slammed and a sign popped into view outside;

BACK IN A FEW MINUTES

Another muttered phrase, and Steffi’s apron, shirt and little white hat fell to the ground, replaced by a white shift, like something out of an ancient Greek epic.  Steffi’s hair now hung around her shoulders in flowing tresses, and Gordon actually gasped at finally seeing what stunning, nymph-like beauty she truly had.

“Gordon, my true name is not Steffi Ayres,” she said with a winning smile.  “I am Stefania, enchantress of the Sisterhood of Circe, friend to the Gods of Old.  Donald was helped by the ancient arts of my husband and I to reform both his body and his spirit.  And we aim to help you too.”

Gordon wondered if Steffi had slipped something strange into his sundae.

“You…  Your husband?”

“Douglas!” called Steffi.  “Could you come in here, please?”

There was now less light in the restaurant due to the closed shutters, but to Gordon it felt like there was even more shadow hanging over him when the man he now beheld angled himself through the kitchen doorway.

Douglas was well over two metres tall and twice as broad as Steffi (or Stefania).  He wore a purple toga that left his arms and legs bare.  These seemed as thick as tree trunks, while a great arch of sinew curved over his mighty shoulders and chest.  His thick, curly beard and hair were flawlessly brown and perfectly coiffed.  Even the lines of time that creased his face seemed to melt into one another and make the smile he wore all the more winning.  Douglas was the most perfect specimen of masculinity Gordon had ever met.

“My dear Gordon,” Douglas said in mellifluous tones, “Welcome to my ice cream parlour.  And to your new life.”

“What is this place?” Gordon squeaked.

“Its common name, and ours, you already know,” Douglas explained, “But secretly, it’s a gateway; a gateway to a world beyond yours where Stefania and I nurture the most unlikely individuals.”

“Like you and me, old friend,” Donald said, patting Gordon on the back.

“You made Donald this way?” Gordon spluttered.

“Easy when you’re a demi-god,” Douglas shrugged.

Demi-god?!?”  Gordon was doubting his sanity.

“You see, Ayres is a variation of my father’s name,” Douglas went on.  “I’m the son of a mortal woman and Ares, God of War.”

“Take a look at the photos on the walls,” said Stefania.

Lining the wall behind the counter were photographs of many seriously overweight men tucking into Ayres Specials, all bearing written recommendations, as if they were celebrities.

“Now take a look what these men look like… TODAY,” Stefania grinned.

With a twist of her finger, the photos vanished.  Now it was as though the picture frames were windows into an immense, ancient courtyard, where massive sets of weights were being pressed, curled, deadlifted, hauled and more by the most powerful, God-like men Gordon had ever seen.  More remarkable than the men’s bodies, however, was the fact that some of them had clearly once been the obese men in the photographs!  And now every one of them was a mountain of pure muscle!

“Those men all became my students,” Douglas said proudly.  “Once they though they’d never get slimmer.  Now they can tear down trees, wrestle with elephants, tie knots in iron girders and snap ships’ mooring ropes with their bare hands.”

“The Ayres Specials are how it starts,” Stefania explained.  “I’ve discovered a serum that I mix into the green sauce.  It burns off your fat, bulks up your muscles and most importantly, gives you the impetus to avoid the wrong foods and get stronger and fitter still.”

“So what do you think, Gordon,” Donald beamed.  “Are you willing to let Doug and Steffi make you fit enough to take on the Gods?”

Gordon could scarcely believe anything he was seeing or hearing.  An ice cream run by a witch and a man whose father was a war god?  Sundaes that could turn you into an athlete who could wipe the floor with an Olympic weightlifter?  It was insane; he must be insane!

Any yet he couldn’t disbelieve it either.  His friend, once 200 kilograms of pure lard, had become a love letter to strength in just 6 months.  He himself was not trimmer having eaten vast ice cream sundaes most days for 12 weeks.  He had just seen a woman pull down iron shutters without her hands and turn photographs into portals to another world.

He looked down at his empty sundae glass.  Then, he looked round at Donald, Douglas and Stefania, all smiling in welcome.  He smiled back.

“Just show me what to do.”

There was a joyous group hug, (Douglas’s, of course, was especially powerful,) then Gordon was led into the kitchen while Stefania put the restaurant back to the way it should be with her magic.

“Come along, Gordon,” Douglas said happily.  “You’ve got work to do and people to meet.”

Medea’s Choice

This story was written for a competition, in which entrants had to write about a character (not necessarily a likeable one) who undergoes a change in themselves.  My entry was somewhat controversial, but it’s important to note (as the judges didn’t realise) that Edward is NOT a bad person.  Not in all things at least.  He simply can’t help his feelings.

Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I pick up my bag, hurry down the steps and set off along the pavement.

My eyes are smarting from lack of sleep.  Serves me right for waking myself up at 6 AM on the weekend, but it’s lucky Brooke chose to stay at Ralph and Jeremy’s place last night or I’d have woken her too.

Shame nibbles away at my conscience as I go.  I know I’m letting a lot of people down by running away, especially Brooke, but the die is cast.  If there are recriminations later, I’ll take them as they come.  Not everyone on Earth would judge me harshly for objecting to today’s events anyway.

I quicken my pace, steeling myself and trying to think about the day to come.  My heart is starting to feel a bit lighter, when…

“Edward!  Edward!

Something had to go wrong, didn’t it?

“Edward, what are you doing?” Brooke calls out as she runs towards me.  “It’s a bit early to be up and about.”

I swallow my impulse to say “nothing”, realising how foolish and suspicious that would sound.  Instead, I act casual.

“Hi, Brooke,” I reply sheepishly.  “You surprised me.  What are you doing here so early?”

“I woke up before the alarm and thought I’d come round and, I don’t know…”

She gives me a smouldering gaze and puts her arms round my waist.

“Have a quickie before the big day or something.”

Come on, Edward!  Think of something fast!

“OK,” I say huskily, “Pop inside and get ready while I’m at the shops.”

“The shops?” she says, with a quizzical look.  “You sure they’re open yet?  And why the overnight bag?”

“To avoid the carrier bag charge, of course.”

“You’re using a full overnight bag to carry shopping home in?” Brooke says suspiciously, letting go of me.  “Edward, what are you really doing?”

I place the bag down carefully.  I can’t tell her the truth.  She’ll only give me the puppy dog eyes, or the righteous indignation act, or something like it and emotionally blackmail me into going when I had planned to sneak away.  But then, how can I lie to her, of all people?

“Edward, what are…”

“I can’t go to the wedding!”

There, it’s out.  The metaphorical plaster is ripped off.  Now let the chips fall as fate means them to.

“What?”  Brooke’s face creases into a look of dismay that’s torture to behold.  “Why?  Is it because it’s… Well, a…”

“Yes,” I say firmly, steeling myself once more.  “Exactly.”

There is silence as I look straight into her brimming eyes, drawing on all my reserves of resilience to prepare for the coming war of nerves.

“Edward,” Brooke manages, “Why didn’t you say something before?”

“How could I?” I say forcibly.  “Nearly everyone else was overjoyed when they heard, but inside I’ve never able to stop telling myself it’s wrong.  How could I voice those doubts when it would mean blowing against the wind?”

“Edward, you have to come,” Brooke pleads.  “It’s the most important day of Ralph and Jeremy’s lives.  They’ll be heartbroken if you refuse.”

“Why?” I protest.  “Ralph’s your brother, not mine.  I’m not family.”

“You’re my fiancé, Edward,” Brooke whines.  “We’re as good as family.  Ralph’s always admired you, you know.  And I thought you liked him.  What’s more, you accepted the invitation.  They’re expecting you.”

I sigh and look down at my feet.  Brooke takes my hand in hers and I dare to look up again.  A tear has broken free from her eyes and is running down her cheek.

“Edward, please come,” she sniffs.  “If you won’t do it for Ralph, Jeremy or my family, then do it for me.  You would do it for me, wouldn’t you?”

The conflict inside me is unbearable.  Choices are battling each other to a standstill and I can’t break the stalemate.  Ordinarily, I would do what she wants without hesitation, but my doubts are so strong I simply can’t ignore them.  How can I persuade Brooke to let me be without breaking her heart?

Then, I realise there is one tactic that I might use.  I take a step backwards and try to speak as earnestly as possible.

“Brooke, you’ve always loved movies, right?”

“What are you getting at?”

“Have you ever seen Jason and the Argonauts?

“No.  Why?”

“Well, there’s this one scene that really resonated with me when I saw it.  There’s this priestess called Medea.  Her father, King Aeetes, is holding Jason prisoner, but Medea’s in love with Jason and wants to help him escape.  She prays to her goddess, Hecate, for guidance, for she knows that by freeing Jason she’d be a traitor to Hecate, her people and her father.  But if she doesn’t free Jason, she’d be betraying herself.  Don’t you see, Brooke?  That’s me right now.  I’m Medea, facing the choice between betraying myself, or those I care for.  What would you do?”

Brooke casts her reddening eyes down a moment, then looks back up at me.

“What does Medea do?”

“She stays true to herself.”

There’s a long pause.

“Where were you thinking of going?” Brooke asks flatly.

“The south coast, I guess,” I reply, managing to smile, “Brighton, Bournemouth, somewhere like that.  It’s a lovely day for it.”

“Would you like some company?”

As she starts to smile, it feels like seeing I’m seeing the sun after years of darkness.  The guilty burden lifts from my shoulders and I throw my arms around Brooke.  I plant a lingering kiss on the crown of her head, for I know in this moment that I love her more than ever.

“Go and grab some stuff, Brooke.  I’ll be waiting for you.”

Fifteen minutes later we’re walking to the station arm in arm.  It’s going to be a day to remember.