All stories


by Jenny

The brilliant flare of yellow pierced the subcutaneous layers of my sleep with a single stab and I was instantly awake. I lay still for a moment trying to understand what was different, what was wrong.

Outside my window I could hear a low continuous growl and twin flares of light stared up, penetrating the thin gauze of my bedroom curtains. Where grey soft dawn should be, something monstrous stirred instead.

I pushed back the bedclothes and rose, my bare feet padding tentatively across wooden floorboards until I reached the curtains.

Still it stared. Still it snarled.

Before fear could freeze me I wrenched back the curtains and peered outside, momentarily blinded by the blazing lights. As my vision slowly throbbed back into focus I could see it was no monster after all, just a transit van, idling lazily in the road; purring, not growling.

I looked at my bedside clock which told me it was 4.30 in the morning and I frowned. The van must be Josh’s, or one of his customers’. He didn’t sleep well and some of the other neighbours had talked to him before about keeping the garage open too late, working on engines and blasting happy hardcore, his clever fingers quick with amphetamine, his overwrought nervous system twanging with Chinese takeaway food and menthol cigarettes. I’d speak to him about it in the morning.

Satisfied with my explanation I turned back to bed when another, subtler sound caught my ears; the distinctive creak of my garden gate. I flung the curtains back again to see the dark shadow of a heavyset man hurrying back to the van, jumping inside and, in a moment, driving off down the road.

I frowned, confused - Josh’s garage was just across the road. Was he testing the van? Surely he’d loop back around in a minute. I could talk to him, tell him it was a ridiculous time to be working. He probably had no idea what time it was, poor kid.

But then I realised that my gate, always fastidiously shut, was swinging recklessly open.

The man, whoever he was - because I knew now with certainty that it wasn’t Josh - had been in my garden.

The fear I had quieted now rose like vomit in my chest and I flew down the stairs before I could give myself time to think, my thoughts full of stories of criminals who left markings on houses to flag up the vulnerable, the easy targets, the women alone to return to later.

I reached my front door and stood, my face pressed against the frosted glass, trying to see if anyone stood waiting for me, but there was nothing.

With trembling fingers I unbolted the door and turned the key in the lock. It swung open, flooding my hall with the thin watery light of the streetlights and the approaching day.

There was nothing. Everything was exactly as it should be, except the gate, which hung agape.

I cast my eyes about, searching frantically for any kind of sign or anything that would explain why a strange man would let himself into my garden in the middle of the night.

And then I looked down.

There on the doorstep stood a single bottle of creamy white milk.

Stephanie and the Spriggs

by Russ

‘So, will that be double or twin beds?’ Stephanie asked, making her twit of a manager’s mandatory joke for the twenty-seventh time that morning. Two people giggled politely and Stephanie handed over the key card while suppressing a shudder.

She hated the August Bank Holiday weekend.

The Glenmore Hotel had been hosting the UK’s annual Identical Twin Convention since before Stephanie was born and every year it gave her the heebie-jeebies. She thought it was creepy when she was a child, she thought it was creepy when she was a teenager, and she thought it was creepy now she was the check-in clerk at Brigdon-on-Sea’s biggest hotel.

‘You picked a pair yet?’

The only thing creepier was Stephanie’s manager, who slurped the words into her ear from far too close causing droplets of spittle to land noticeably on her neck. He was referring to his idea the convention provided a free-for-all for to bag what he would refer to as a ‘romp’ with a pair of twins each year. He believed this despite it never happening for him. He believed this despite his proven lack of ability to attract even a single woman in the dying resort where alcohol and sex were the only forms of entertainment for the ten months of winter it endured each year. He believed this despite the fact it was absurd actual siblings would even remotely entertain the idea outside of the three-minute videos she could hear him watching in the office whenever she worked an evening shift; most of which he watched for less than three minutes.

Stephanie took a step away and looked back at him with the faux-amused expression she’d cultivated to keep life easy.

That’s when Stephanie spotted a pair of faces, or more accurately a single face on a pair of heads, and came up with a plan.

The Sprigg sisters had been attending the convention for as long as Stephanie could remember and they were the only pair of matching faces she could stand to look at for more than a few seconds. They’d broken her with kindness - they’d bought her a Chinese takeaway after finding her crying on the promenade when dumped by her first boyfriend at the age of 14 - and then reeled her in with mischief - they’d lured the dumper into the sea for skinnydipping before Holly had run off with his clothes while Ivy put seawater in the tank of his moped, the latter causing quite a manic visit to the local mechanic. The three had been getting drunk together each year since.

It took less than a minute for Stephanie to persuade the Sprigg’s to help with her plan.

Stephanie still found the Identical Twin Convention creepy the year after when she was the manager of Brigdon-on-Sea’s biggest hotel, but it was tempered by the framed front page of the Brigdon Bugle which hung in her office showing a grainy picture of a former hotel manager who had been found handcuffed to the banquet table in the ballroom when its doors were opened for the convention’s big welcome breakfast - naked aside from an identical lipstick mark on each cheek and a forlorn expression on his face.

Holding the Pillow

by Russ

He’s talking with our guest now. His guest. His helper. I haven’t spoken. I’m not sure when I last did. They are also silent. Side by side in the double rocker my mother dropped off. They are looking at the same empty point in the air. Empty to us at least.

I agreed to one baby. I agreed because he was persistent. I agreed because I was tired. I agreed because it was clear he would do most of the work. I agreed because, well, because who goes through their entire twenties without even a scare? I agreed because I assumed that part of me was broken so it would never come to fruition. I agreed because I was a twit.

So that night, the night I agreed, we ordered a Chinese takeaway and he emptied himself into me.

Afterwards, it would be theorised the single heartbeat in the scans had always been two but in perfect synchronisation. That was their first trick.

The truth was betrayed by the face of the midwife and the mutterings in the corner of the room. A sheet was lifted between my eyes and my body like the hood of a car between a windscreen and engine. The doctor scrambled manically around my numbed insides like a pit lane mechanic. The frenzy abated, nobody breathed, and the world changed.

They placed one on the left of my chest, another on the right, and four unfocused eyes destroyed me without emotion. Then they emptied their lungs.

In the legend of the banshee, wailing signals the end of a life.

It’s his cousin today; we’ve been through all the closer relatives and friends.

I’m not to be left alone, you see.

That’s not accurate. I’m always left alone. I’m alone when we sit together, him between me and them. I’m alone when he leaves me with whoever has been brought in for the day shift. I’m alone when he sleeps in the nursery. I’m alone now. I’m just not to be left alone with them.

It hasn’t been said, but it’s because he found me holding the pillow that night.

I try not to look but they consume the room with their ongoing gestures and incantations. An eerie dance. Synchronised but unrehearsed. Preparing, cursing, summoning.

There are background noises of thanks and farewell and the front door clicks shut. I realise the room is empty aside from me - and them. My first reaction is to shrink but I see the knife he’s left on the crumbed plate where a cake had been. I lurch towards it and then to them. My wrist is arrested mid-flight. He twists it. The knife falls. He holds me. My arms fall. He holds me. My heart falls. He holds me.

Later, when it’s time to sleep, I will hear him lock the door of the nursery from the inside.

The Terrible Twins

by Dan

Bob. Said Dean. You know them twins?

What twins? I replied .

Them gymnastics ones? .....

In the Olympics....

Oh yes the gadirova. Twi....

Dean placed his cupped hands over my mouth.

He seemed to be terrified

Sush they'll hear he whispered hoarsely.

Pass the monkey wrench he added matter of factly.

Then, when we were huddled over the bonnet he started to cry.

I can't leave the house he declared if I do they'll be at me, flik flacking like something out the matrix.

Down me garden path. Triple somersault, handstand, cosh.

One of em stands by with a sawn off.

The other addresses me in a deep hoarse voice. She ain't mucking about.

"Buy us a Chinese Dean. Go on Dean you want your fambly to be safe don't you."

I wouldn't mind but them gymnasts can't half put it away.

And they invite all their mates.

Max Whitlock had a whole crispy duck last time.

And now they've starting inviting people from other sports.

Them BMX kids come in last night and that 13 year old skateboarder..

Thanks girls but how can you afford it they ask!

Don't worry Dean's paying.

Then in a threatening tone .

Ain't you Dean?

There's nothing I can do. They're eating me out of house and home.

And now, I gotta tell you mate they want a cut of the business too, like a protection racket. Be a good boy now, and don't cross us! The last mechanic that did is now a pommel horse.

The Mrs thinks I'm having an affair, said Dean. Before stomping off to the toilet to read the sun.

I told professor Sternberg about it in the boozer that evening.

Ahhh he said a classic case of Olympiacos toomuchwatcheus.

He needs to be diagnosed.

And that was it really.

How I came to own the business.

They took Dean away a week later, blubbering like a fish he was.

It was for his own protection, it can be that people with Olympiacos toomuchwatcheus are prone to injure themselves with archery arrows or javelins apparently.

I've moved into his house too, with his Mrs.

She says, kids now bobs yer uncle like.hurr hurt hurr

So all in all its ended pretty sweetly for me.

Today I'm under the bonnet of a beamer, nice little earner, me assistant Terry's gone to make the tea.

Radio twos playing some russian type waltz for some reason.

Then the music cuts and all I can hear his the crackle of sequinned leotard.

Then I sees for bare feet on the forecourt just in front of me.

I can hear a deep hoarse whisper.

Hullo Bob, we're the Gadirova twins, you've probably heard of us, if you play nice with us we'll leave you alone, if you don't we could be your worst nightmare. Hey sis, do you fancy a Chinese tonight? Just you me and the entire Slovakian hockey team.

Bob here's paying.

Ain't you Bob?