The Photograph (new short story idea)

An annoying mist hung on the air as I sat on the bench outside the bookshop on Wells Street; the bag of flour I so desperately needed resting beside me.  No birds, just mist and flour.  The mid afternoon sky was the color of metal.  Not a color at all actually.  My coat, heavier then I needed, was just barely darker.  I had chose this spot on purpose, so many years ago when the smell of the sea brought with it a joyful feeling.  Children laughed, carefree on the beach front.  Music played from a phonograph through some open window.  Lily’s hand rested in my own.  The smell of the sea remains in abundance.  However, the joyful feeling has left for more auspicious surroundings.

I had just left the bookshop, purchasing a copy of Tom Sawyer to replace the first edition she had taken with her, when an odd looking man passed in front of me.  I got no good look at his face but he limped slightly as if there were a pebble in his boot.  A curious gait indeed.  His charcoal newsboy cap fitted snuggly atop a mass of long grey hair; matted and unkempt.  His black trousers were stained with what appeared to me to be bird droppings; not unmatched by a dirty, black pea coat, two sizes to large for the man’s frame if you asked me.  Despite his unruly appearance, I found the man rather mysterious and interesting.  And in stark contrast to my normal routine, I pocketed the book, grappled the bag of flour and followed him along the beach road.

The man pushed his hands into his pockets and turned left up the steep incline of Falls Hill Road towards the church.  Clearly, I thought to myself, the church was his destination.  He was in need of boarding.  But when he stopped at number 302 to take a seat on the steps, I must admit I was a bit confused.  Confused because his unwelcome appearance would offer him no assistance at that particular house.  Number 302 Falls Hill Road belonged to Miss Corrina Holmes.  An attractive young lady to be sure, but she was in no state to take in a boarder.  Certainly not one as suspicious.  Her husband had recently passed during a terrible robbery while he was in the states on business.  Many a gentleman have called on Miss Holmes, only to be turned down flat.  Corrina has confessed to me on more then one occasion that she considers me her only male friend.  I am honored, of course.  I wonder though: what would my Lily think?

I passed the gate at number 302; to keep up my pretenses, and hurried along as If I were simply on my way home.  I glanced back, and to my shock, saw that he was walking up the steps to the front door.  I stopped and turned; not giving a damn if he saw me.  He was about to enter Corrina’s house uninvited.  It was ghastly.  I simply could stand no more.

“See here now!”  I yelled to him while marching towards the gate.  “What are you doing there?”

His attention did not waiver.  He peered through the front door window and I climbed the steps towards him.

“You there!”  I should’ve brought my cane.

Before I could grasp his collar he turned at once in my direction, stopping my momentum, and I was once again caught by his odd and interesting way.  His face was clearly not what I expected.  It was not full of scars or infected by pock marks.  He was quite handsome if I must say.  How could such an unruly brute have such a charming face?  He held a gnarled finger up to his lips to calm my shouting and set his attention back to the door where he slowly turned the knob.  I was silent and without any such protest.  I was bothered just as much by my unwillingness to stop him as I was him entering.  But without a single word of objection, I followed him in.

I was still carrying the bag of flour as we entered the house at 302 Falls Hill Road.  Inside Corrina’s home I felt, for lack of a more logical word, uncomfortable; as if I had entered her bedroom while she was undressing.  I cringed uncontrollably.

The man searched quickly from room to room; looking for something.  I stood just inside the doorway and watched.  He ran to the kitchen, then to the bathroom, then back to the kitchen.  He rummaged through a stack of books in a sitting room.  Then he stopped at a tiny shelf in the hallway by the dinning room.  He plucked an item from the shelf and peered at it through dark brown eyes then shot a glance back to me, still waiting by the door.  The item was a photo and with a finger motioned for me to join him in the hallway.  Anything to get this entire business over with.

The photo that the man was staring at was of Corrina and I having an afternoon cup of tea for her birthday last July.

“So?”  I had seen the photo many times.  “Have you led me into this home to discover a photograph of me that I have seen several times?”  He smiled keenly and reached into his dirty coat pocket.  Exasperated, I looked around the home and wondered why Corrina had left her front door unlocked.  Those of us that had lived on the island for more than a decade never felt safe enough anywhere to leave our homes unlocked.  Corrina arrived from America only 5 years ago.  The idea made no sense.  I warned her of the evils in the world but she never would listen.

From his pocket, the man who would not speak, presented another photograph and held it out for me to examine.  Which I did.  The photo depicted the same café as in the previous photo.  I held the photo closer, puzzled by what I was looking at.  It was summer, and not too long ago for that matter.  Corrina looked the same as she does now.  It was the person that Corrina was sitting with at the café that gave my stomach a bit of a turn.

It was only two years ago, on a pleasant autumn day like today.  I had returned home from my daily walk along the shore.  Sometimes Lily would join me, but not on this day.  She chose instead to enjoy the day from the inside; with Tom Sawyer on her lap and Chopin on the record player.  Personally, I prefer Miles Davis.  Those old dusty nocturns were so depressing I would tell her.  She didn’t care.  She loved that music and I loved that she loved it.  We had many things in common but it was our taste in music that set us apart and kept our marriage interesting.  So when I heard one of these oppressive nocturns as I entered, I assumed she was there still; reading her favorite book.  She wasn’t.  The east window in the living room remained open and the throw blanket she had used rested on her leather chair.  I checked the kitchen.

A pot of freshly brewed tea sat unused on the stove top and a plate of scones waited on the table.  I was yet to feel concerned.  I took a bite and made my way to the stairs, thinking that she had decided to take a nap.  She was not in bed.  Nor was she anywhere to be found within the home.  Neither was she out in the garden.  I rang the constable but was unable to convince him of foul play.  After a day or two, I was forced to come to the understanding that my Lily wasn’t taken.  She hadn’t befallen some monstrous incident.  No; this was much, much worse.

Her wardrobe was empty.  Not a single article of clothing remained.  She had left.  She had left and taken Tom Sawyer by the hand.  This was what I believed.  That was until this last summer when I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Brent Farhey.  The man, who was from California; told me that he had spoken to my wife a few days prior to her disappearance and that she had spoken very highly of me.  Brent, a journalist by trade, expressed to me that he had know my wife in school when they were a few years younger.  Mr. Farhey’s call brightened my spirits a bit but I never got over the pain.  If she had left, I needed to know why.  If she was taken; was she alive?  Where were the usual ransom demands?  Demands that I would not be able to meet.

I looked closer at the photograph and tried to quell the feeling of anger that was swelling inside me.  Her dark brown hair fell just below her slender shoulders.  Her light blue eyes glowed in the warm summer sun.  It was her alright.  Sitting there next to Corrina;  the only good friend I had on the island, was my wife Lily.  This photo was clearly taken after she had left.  More mystifying to me however, was that my dear Corrina never told me that she had even knew or met my wife.

“Where did you get this?”  I demanded.  He shook his head and stumbled towards the front door.  I grasped his color, dropping the flour.  “Answer me, would you!  Where did you find this?”

The dirty speechless man pointed up and I took that as meaning that he found the photograph upstairs.

 

 

“A Mother’s Whisper.”

I’m so excited to be nearly finished with this.

 

Walter is in trouble.  Not from the law or from his place of business, but from himself.  Walter Kirk is suffering from severely debilitating nightmares.  As he struggles to reattach the frayed fabric of his existence, he learns more about his life than he cared to.  At the center of this struggle is a mysterious box.  Inside the box; well, that depends on Walter.

The trouble begins when Walter meets a girl: Penelope.  Upon meeting this wholly beautiful woman, Walter’s world comes crashing down around him in a single lightning flash of terror.  Once the Nightmares begin, Walter becomes unable to free himself from his own mind.

In order to free himself and discover the mystery behind his Mother’s death, Walter must place himself in grave danger.  What that danger is, only Walter can know.  And what he has yet to learn is that things are not always what they appear to be.

This just in…

Bob Scott Publishing.

We are pleased to announce the signing of Brian Kelly Irons and his Princess Jessie series. The debut book, Princess Jessie And Her New Friend, will be released early in 2019, with more to follow.

The Blood Red Box cont…

A fire must be lit.

 

I awoke with a shudder to a sound that I can only describe as sawing wood.  And as my eyes adjusted to the glow effusing through the portiere, I was relieved at the realization that it had all been a dream.  I was safe at home; in bed – worrying about nothing more than the unrelenting din of life from down upon Herald Circle.  I smiled with childlike mirth on the occasion.  Summer had finally arrived.  I stepped onto the cold oak floor to retrieve a match from the mantle.  T’was still early and a fire must be lit.  With loving posture, I kissed my mother’s picture and opened the flue.  A curtain of dust-filled sunlight caressed the wood floor and I halted.  Something was amiss.  Perhaps my mind was having its way with me, or maybe this was a residue leftover from the previous nights horrible dream, but I had always known sunlight to be golden yellow.  Yet the glow of light radiating through my bedroom window was a fiery burnt orange.

The clock on the mantle read 7:32 AM.  I quickly ran to my night table to reference my wristwatch.  The time was accurate.  I stood staunch before the window with my hand upon the draperies.  My body went cold as I pulled the curtain apart and spied the scene below.  The world as I knew it; or as I had once come to know it, was gone.  In it’s place was an inferno.  A blazing mass of fire.  The library on the corner of Wilshire and Primrose was engulfed in flames as large as the building itself.  The market where I was to purchase my rice for this evening’s supper was all but gone; a pile of red and white embers infused with soot black as night.

I quickly thought of the helpless people that might have been caught in this hell on earth but noticed almost instantly that there was an odd lack of movement.  Where was everyone?  Where were the sirens, the emergency crews?  Why was there no effort being put forth do stop the blaze?  The only vehicles in view were those left abandoned on the street – gutted by fire.  Walter, get a grip on yourself.

I spun on my heels to face my bedroom door.  The voice had come from that direction.  The room had gone cold and turned a dark grey like the color of a winter evening.  The room itself felt smaller and the fire that I had only recently lit had gone out with out even a memory.  My heart began to palpitate and I reached for the glass of water sitting innocently unaware on my night table.  The voice that I had heard was the same.  The same from my dream.  My nightmare.  I placed the glass onto the sill and turned back to the horror below.  What will become of me now?  I thought.  All that I know is gone. 

I wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my nightshirt and regained my composure.  Absurd.  My rationale had returned in earnest and I moved with haste to my wardrobe.  I must go down and help whoever I can.   I dressed for the occasion, as I always do: jeans and my new white Provatchi t-shirt.  One must look dashing even during the worst of situations.  While lacing my boots I stole one last glance out my window.  There, in the middle of the westbound side of Sweetwater was a child.  And if my eyes did not deceive me, it was a girl.  I was guessing of course but she appeared  to me to be no older than 7 or 8.  I put the laces in God’s hands and ran down the stairs and burst though the front door and out into the heat of purgatory.

Down on the street my boots fell upon an endless beach of broken glass and debris.  The smell of rot covered my once beautiful city, and at once I turned round to see my own building engulfed in flame; the windows broken, shutters turned to ash.  The very front door that I had just exited was in black pieces upon the steps themselves.  But I had no time to ponder.  I turned east down Herald Circle and quickly turned left onto Sweetwater.  The girl was there, just as I had seen her from my bedroom window and I was forced to look back upon my apartment that was no longer standing.  Her dress was blue like the sky once was.  There was a ribbon of white silk holding ruby red curls in place.  White stockings were worn underneath shoes of shinny black.  She had her back turned to me as I approached. 

    “Walter.”  She said – her back still turned.

I came closer and asked her if she was alright and where her parents might be.  I would be more than happy to help her to find them.

    “Walter.”  The sound was that of a whisper yet vociferous in my ears.

 

Her Face

 

The flames from the surrounding neighborhood threw intense heat on my face as I circled her.  I stood, yes, but my legs felt as if they were no longer holding me erect.  I must say now that it is quite arduous and painful to describe what I saw once I faced her.  Her hair, once bouncy with curls was dirty with soot and matted to her face,  Her dress was burned and fell in rags off her shoulders.  The skin of her limbs was blistered and broken; puss oozed from open wounds.  Her face was a mask of death.  Charred pieces of flesh hung off of her face like torn meat.  There was a gash that ran from her chin down to the top of her neck; open and black with dried blood.  Her nose was flat as if she had fallen directly on it.  The eyes – no, I cannot speak of her eyes for she had none.  In their place were two black marbles – lidless – that dripped down her burnt cheeks as if they were melting from the intense heat.  When she opened her mouth, her teeth appeared to match the color of the surrounding devastation.  Her breath was that of rotten flesh.

She raised her arms and it was then that I saw that in her hands she held a box.  I gasped at the sight of that box.  Yes, the same box from my dream of the night before.  The same glossy red finish.  The same boar’s head clasp, with hinges made of brass.  She held it aloft towards me – urging me without words to take it from her.  I resisted.

    “Walter.”  My name, issued from her, but not her mouth set my skin to chill.

Without warning or fanfare, the box opened of it’s own purpose.  I had expected to see the same thick crimson blood that was my own, but I was momentarily relieved when the box appeared to hold nothing at all.  The girl held the box higher, willing me to relieve her of it.  Reluctantly I did.  And upon doing so, the girl changed.  Gone were the charred pieces of hanging flesh.  Black, lifeless eyes were replaced by eyes as green as a meadow.  Her hair was a dark red; bordering on mahogany.  And when she smiled, the sun reflected off of her pretty face.  She had changed, but she was no longer the little girl that I had seen; that I had spoke to, and taken the box from.  As if some sort of magic or trickery was taking place, the girl was now a beautiful young woman; easily the age of 35.  She was tall and slim, but not too slim.  Athletic yes, that’s more like it.

I had forgotten about the cursed box I was holding and continued to stare at her.  The holocaust that had taken over the city was now gone.  The colors of summer had returned and all around me was life.  The sound of children rang throughout the streets and shop owners turned their welcome signs to “open”.  Cars and busses drove passed me as I stood still, in the middle of Sweetwater Drive as she lifter her hand to touch my face.

    “Do I know you?’  I asked.  She didn’t speak.  A nod of her head and a smile was her answer.  “How do I know you?”  Again, she did not answer, or refused to answer, I’m not sure of which.  She held my face and my gaze and smiled a smile of the heart.  The smile of an innocent child on a snowy Christmas morning.

I noticed a silver bracelet on her wrist as she touched my face.  It was small and inexpensive but with inscription: “To my darling Beatrice” and knew right there who she was.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“Mom?”  It was the only word that I could say.  Again she nodded her head – unable to speak.  “What are you doing here?”  She pointed at the box that I held and stepped back to leave.  I wanted to ask her how she was: what was it like there?  I wanted to know why she had to die.  I wanted to tell her about all the nights that I lay awake dreaming of all the times she sang to me; that it made me feel safe and protected.  I wanted to tell her that I loved her and miss her so very much.  But most of all I wanted to say thank you:  Thank you Mom.  Thank you for my life.  I wanted all these things but she just kept pointing at the box as she faded into a soft blue mist.

If I seemed at the time to be somewhat apprehensive, It may have been because I was standing in the middle of the busiest street in the city, holding a box that once held my blood; given to me by my Mother who had been long dead.  Once on the sidewalk and out of harms way I looked again at the life around me.  I felt my cheek and could still smell my mother’s hand upon me.  I breathed a well earned sigh of relief.  And it was then that I saw the box.  I had placed it down on the concrete after reaching the side of the road.  I could see the window of my apartment from where I stood and I felt comforted that I was okay, and that I was going to be okay, and that the world was okay.  So I lifted the box.  It had closed after the dead girl had given it to me.  I quick glimpse of fire in my mind held me fast and within a second, it was gone.

I carefully lifted the clasp and opened the box.  The hinges once again protesting.  To my surprise, the box was not empty.  Though it did not hold the gore that was in my dream, I still remained on guard.  Inside the box; resting on soft, red velvet, was a folded piece of torn notebook paper, like a note passed in English class to the girl you want to take to the dance.  I retrieved the note and placed the box carefully on the grass.  With this, the air around become like ice.  The colors of my long awaited summer were gone, replaced by grey and black.  There was a hideous growl from behind me and the ground shook under my feet.  cold breath expelled visibly into vapor from my mouth as I unfolded the paper to read one word written in still wet red ink. 

Run!