All stories

A faceful of firmness

by James

Mr Lewis tried to concentrate on the set of plans for the conversion of a grotty dark passage into a wonderful grotto, but it was a useless hope. Scroggs was off on the spout again, in full on rant mode, railing against the plasterers and the electricians and the carpenters, the whole dirty lot of them.

‘Firmness! That’s the ticket,’ Mr Scroggs said. ‘Give these young fellas an inch and they’ll take a mile, and like as not help themselves to the bloody signpost as well while they’re at it.’

The issue – the non-issue – was a couple of young plasterers up high on the scaffolding who had come up with a novel solution to avoid the long climb to the bottom to use the toilets, namely a big bucket.

‘One of them was a Catholic man,’ Mrs Boothroyd said, ‘and one of them was most clearly Jewish.’ She realised that both Mr Lewis and Mr Scroggs were staring at her, so she quickly added, ‘So Wendy said.’

‘She should get their phone number,’ Mr Lewis said. ‘Three storeys up, weren’t they, and she can make out their religious affiliation from that distance? Either that or she has some damn fine zoom on her camera phone.’

Both Mr Scroggs and Mrs Boothroyd considered this for a few moments, and then Mrs Boothroyd begin to tinge slowly pink. Mr Scroggs opened his mouth but couldn’t think of anything to say. Mrs Boothroyd began to fan herself with both hands, pink of her cheeks giving way to raging scarlet. Mr Lewis smiled pleasantly as he fought the urge to grin. From the colour of her, clearly it had not been Wendy who’d been so offended by the antics of a couple of plasterers high on the scaffolding.

‘Right! I’ll not stand for it,’ Mr Scroggs said. ‘Don’t we provide facilities for the workforce? I can’t abide the thought of it, such lewdness from our workers, out in public like that.’

‘Three ladders down,’ Mr Lewis said, ‘just to take a-’ He caught the eye of Mrs Boothroyd and smoothly said, ‘just to use the facilities?’

‘No, no, no!’ Mr Scroggs said. ‘A bucket of….a bucket full of…effluence! And what happens to that? It gets left on the scaffolding for some bugger to trip over. No, no, no! Animals, they are, and I’ll not stand for it. Firmness, that’s the ticket!’

With that, he leapt from his chair and seized his hi-vis jacket with a flourish as though it were a fine cape and dashed from the portacabin.

Mr Lewis smiled at Mrs Boothroyd. ‘Jewish, huh?’

Mrs Boothroyd gathered herself up stiffly. ‘So the young lady opined. Mr Scroggs though, he really shouldn’t. I’m just doing the envelopes for those two plasterers, it’s their last day on the job today.’

‘Last day, really?’ Mr Lewis said. He rose from his chair and languidly plucked his own hi-vis jacket from its hook. ‘Poor Mr Scroggs, he really overly worries himself needlessly. And as to his latest worry, about that bucket full of…effluence being left up on the scaffolding. Well…he really needn’t worry himself about that at all, no, no, no.’


by Jenny

It is dark. I am late. Ten minutes could mean the difference between a ticking off and a round with the belt so I have little choice. Da and the belt scare me more than Father Jacob’s stories do.

The others eye me with pity as I climb the railings to the shortcut through the cemetery. It’s raining hard, the railings are slippery and the drop to the ground is a long one, but I land intact in the pool of darkness on the other side.

Slowly my eyes adjust to it. The shadows of headstones jut haphazardly from the ground, like broken teeth in a rotting mouth, the outstretched wings of a stone angel tower above me, its eyes blank and dead. The only sound is the rainwater gushing through the spouts in the gargoyles’ leering mouths.

I begin to walk.

The dead can’t hurt you - it’s the living you need to worry about, says Da. I repeat it in my head like a mantra. But Father Jacob says different. He knows about the wights that walk from their graves at midnight, and the baobhan-sith that take the form of a wolf to stalk their prey, and the dearg-due, who seduce men to tear out their throats and drink their blood.

He tells us that the dead can, most definitely, hurt you.

I walk faster, sodden from the rain overhead and the long wet grass at my knees. The shush-shushing of my strides fills my ears and I think of nothing for a time. But then I hear something else, something jarring; a counterpoint to the rhythm of my steps. My heart is thudding in my chest. I force myself to look ahead, but ahead there’s only darkness.

Ahead is where the sound is coming from.

There is only one way. I break into the run, but the sound speeds up too, it is an urgent, ragged, sound. I picture rotting flesh dragging itself determinedly towards me, spindle fingers of bone and bloody nails reaching to drag me back to the dark passages they have torn in the earth.

I begin to run, but the sound grows louder, more insistent.

There is a light in the vestry. I almost weep with relief. Father Jacob will help me. I throw myself towards the burning square of yellow light and press my face against the glass. It is bright inside, and I blink against it. Slowly a dark shape comes into focus as my eyes adjust. It is moving strangely. There is something jerky and ragged and wrong with it.

And then I know where the sound is coming from. Father Jacobs is inside, his black robes and long cape are lifted to his waist and his trousers lay crumpled on the floor as he thrusts himself over and over into the prone figure on the table beneath him.

At first I am convinced that it is the Dearg-Due about to rise up and tear out his throat. I open my mouth to shout a warning, but then he turns his face to me, his eyes meet mine and his lips split open in a wet, red wolfish grin.

I turn from the window and run for home as if my life depends on it.

Yes, Ma'am

by Russ

Things she’d described as ‘ghastly’ (arse, not ass) since she sat down: the taxi driver speaking to her; the bald patch on the old woman who had done her pedicure; the smell of the ‘poor person who must have been lost’ in Waitrose; her soup; the glass of wine she’d just been given for free after complaining that her soup wasn’t ‘soupy’ enough; the sun; the parasol brought for her to block the sun; the shade; the waiter being ‘Polish or Uzbekistani or whatever’; the ‘overtly phallic’ spouts on the teapots; socialists.

I did my best to concentrate on reading as my subconscious formed thoughts of dragging her down some dark passage and showing her just exactly what ghastly (ass, not arse) meant. I ordered another coffee, politely, and turned a page, though I wasn’t really taking in words anymore.

She sipped her wine, making sure to pull a face with every swallow, and looked towards the trees which lined the park opposite. A small boy wearing a cape and mask was weaving between the trunks as his mother chatted to a friend. She screwed up her nose, no doubt appraising the scene. Her top hung off one shoulder and the shadows which formed made her long pale neck look devastatingly elegant. I refocused on my page, determined not to give her the satisfaction of seeing me look. Or worse, adding me to her list.

I had just succeeded in immersing myself in a full paragraph when her voice cut through the air once again.

‘Hey, you! Garcon, herr, Manuel, whatever,’ she clicked her fingers. I kept my eyes low so as not to see the waiter’s discomfort. ‘I’m sorry, this wine is just too ghastly, do you have something else?’

She’d drunk two-thirds of it.

‘Yes, ma’am.’

I heard just the right amount of attitude in the waiter’s voice and coughed back a smile. Fortunately, she didn’t, or she chose to ignore it. I looked up slightly and, as she turned her head away from the waiter, she caught my gaze. Her eyes were emerald green and actually glistened in the sun. The moistened lips which she’d pushed into a pout all but lifted me involuntarily from my seat.

I looked to my coffee, almost cricking my neck with the abruptness of the movement. In my periphery, I saw the waiter return with new wine and casually wondered just what he might have added to it.


I wasn’t looking, but I could tell the word was directed at me. I ignored it but it was swiftly followed with an insistent throat clearing and I acquiesced. I lifted my eyes to see her smiling at me, it looked like a promise and a threat.

‘What did you buy me, you ghastly little man?’

I pretended to myself for half a second that I could just walk away, but we both knew that wasn’t how this worked. I reached into my jacket pocket for the freshly procured half-dozen grams of metal and rock that would weigh on both my credit and my conscience for months to come.

I watched as she opened it, and waited for her review.