Thursday 31 October 2019

The Curious Affair of The Palvine Residence

By Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik 

  marshmallow mocha

As I walked down Old Oakbourne Street my eyes turned to the large manor house almost silhouetted against the whiteish sky. An odd chilled wind echoed as a concealed whisper through the twilight air, piercing it like a mirror hitting the hard ground and shattering into a thousand glistening shards of nothingness. The Palvine Residence. It stood detached between the empty cross road and the old nursery with two huge gates standing open as if to welcome unknowing visitors into their confines. The gates themselves, I noticed as I came to halt adjacent to them were comprised of tall wrought iron bars standing proudly, though harshly bent and disfigured in places with thick brown rust infecting their flesh. It was strange, that place had always somehow scared me though I cannot recall its existence before I was thirteen, though it undoubtably must have been there. odd how the mind is so selective in what it remembers. But since Halloween, it’d particularly caught my notice: I had seen no movement from the house until that day but it came to my attention that, despite the fact that no lights were on, a singular small pumpkin had been left alight outside on the doorstep, beside it, a small bowl of what looked like sweets, though I hadn’t had the courage to investigate further. I wondered who must’ve left them there.
This question had perplexed me so much over the next weeks that I had begun to ask around as to if anyone lived in the house or knew if the house even belonged to anyone and was directed to a quinquagenarian lady who’d spent the last fifty years living in a rather small cozy house with a lilac cream exterior and window frames the colour of melted butter. I was informed her name was Rita Pearlhall and that if anyone could tell me about the odd house on Old Oakbourne Street, it would be her. So it was for this reason that after school on an unusually warm day at the end of November, I arrived at the her door in my smartest black dress and jacket with a camera bag and note pad and told her that I was a local investigative journalist, a lie she had readily believed.
She had invited me into her home with an offer of biscuits and a hot chocolate if I’d like one, I obviously obliged. I followed her through the Cornish cream carpeted hallway and up the wide shallow staircase to a large brown door, behind which there was a lounge-like room with three white sofas, an armchair, a coffee table and a bureau with several odd items and photos on top of it. The walls of the room were perfect white with large windows that allowed the dying daylight to seep in. She’d invited me to sit down on the sofa furthest from the door and asked what I wished to investigate , to which I was not sure how to respond, so I began by asking if she’d noticed anything strange in the weather patterns to which she told me that she had and the wind was very strong for this time in the season and swiftly moved onto the topic of comings and goings in the neighborhood to which she had responded “ Well, there ain’t been much going on round here recently, except crying since the girl at number ten had her baby…” She trailed off “I really must pay her a visit sometime, which reminds me, I promised you hot chocolate didn’t I?” 
I smiled at her, she was a traditional cockney sparrow of a lady, lively bright green eyes and greying hair with a cheerful willing smile. She bustled off back down the stairs to where I assumed the kitchen was and disappeared from my view. It was at this point, against my better judgment that I decided to take a look around the room, gently spinning the old globe, at a loss for anything notable, so I continued to pour through Rita’s things listening keenly for footsteps outside. It was then that my attention turned to the photos on the bureau, in old dusty frames holding moments, one was of what looked like a much younger Rita in a long white dress outside a church kissing a strangely handsome man with curls who looked scarcely more than a teenager, another was of her holding a small baby what looked like thirty years ago and one was of her all in black with a hat and a handkerchief which looked rather more recent. My heart skipped a beat as I suddenly heard heavy footsteps outside the door and quickly tried to rush back to my seat upon the sofa.
I didn’t make it, she opened the door with a tray laden with hot chocolate and biscuits to find me with old photos in my hands.
“What are you doing?” she questioned abruptly. 
“I’m sorry” I stammered. 
Rita placed the tray upon the table calmly and indicated for me once more to sit down “You’re here about The Palvine Residence aren’t you?” she said in a hushed tone. 
“Do you know anything?” I asked unsure of how she felt on the subject. 
“As a matter of fact there is a lot I could tell you about that place, but I warn you, it’s the sort of thing a young girl ought not to be getting involved in…” she whispered as if afraid someone might hear her. 

“Please tell me what you know… I’m just interested as I’ve never seen anyone go in or out or anything but there was a pumpkin outside on Halloween and…” I stopped “I know this all sounds very odd.”
"Yes, it does, I didn’t think he was still living there, ” she murmured.  
“What ever do you mean? Who lives there?” I said rather too excitedly.  
“A teenager, well he was a teenager when I last saw him, when anybody last saw him for that matter, must be a young man now, we all thought he’d gone… didn’t think the family would let him stay on the estate after what he done…”
“What did he do?” 
“Well, all these strange things are connected you seen… think about it; first, all the noises at night, then the couple opposite that house have a daughter die, then there was that incident with the nursery and then…” she stopped speaking “and then my husband passed away.” She sighed as she finished her sentence. 
“I’m so sorry…” 
“Oh don’t worry, the man had it coming to him… my late husband may have been a wonderful man for me, but others were so fond of Lieutenant Miles Pearlhall as I was.”
 Deciding not to pry, I asked no more of her late husband. “Who did all this?” I asked, carful not to seem too interested. 
“Sylvester Spence Palvine. At least that’s what I knew him as, whether that’s his real name I don’t know. He was about sixteen at the time of the death of that little girl Clara and at the time of the indecent assault and seventeen when my dear Miles died. No one has seen him since. No one goes into that place. No one leaves. You know, I’m sure that pumpkin was just a stupid joke. He can’t still be there, that’s all I’m willing to say on the matter. If you’re stupid enough to want to know more then you should find the parents of poor little Clara, but you already know too much, you’re not going to like what you’ll find.” 
“But please Rita, if all this has happened surely Sylvester is in jail? Or he’s at least moved a very long way away?” I shouted.
“My husband was poisoned. But when they went to find Sylvester, he was gone. Vanished. No one could find him anywhere. Now I’d like you to leave.” She finished. 
“I know it is stupid to continue with this, but what are Clara’s parents’ names?” I said calmly. 
“Florence Parker is her mother. He father is long gone.”
I thanked Rita Pearlhall readily and left her home.
I had spent the next three days being intimate with my phone book – calling every Florence Parker I could find. No success. Then every Florence Parkes, Parke and Park. No success. But everyone I called I left a message with them of my name, address and phone number and the idea that I might know something about the death of Clara Parker. Nothing. I got the increasing sense that I wasn’t going to get an answer to all this. Perhaps all this about Sylvester Spence Palvine is just a fairy story. Perhaps there is no Clara Parker. Perhaps Miles Pearlhall died of old age. Perhaps The Palvine Residence is empty and someone put the pumpkin there as a joke. Or Perhaps Sylvester wanted to be found.
Nothing had happened on the front of The Palvine Residence for about a month and I had a wonderful Christmas without him in my life.
I began to forget out all I had heard as my inquiries had so clearly come to a dead end.
That was until the new year on a particularly miserable grey day when a small note lay in my front porch. My first thought was how did that get into my house, then I realized it came in via a medium know as a letter box. I picked it up and read it carefully;
I got your message on my answering machine. I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you sooner, I don’t use my land line much anymore. Please meet me tonight under the willow tree on the corner of Addison Avenue at 10pm. Come alone. I’m so sorry you’ve been involved in this.
So, I did just that. I came alone. Against my better judgment I waited in the cold under the willow tree that night until I saw a surprisingly young woman with waist length auburn curls in a long trench coat and red heels. 
“Hello” I whispered. 
“Are you here to meet me about Clara?” she murmured.  
I nodded and she lead me to a cold alley way with very little street lighting and it suddenly dawned on me that she might be intending to mug me. She took my arm and pulled me up a flight of metal steps to a small white panel door which she opened with a key and locked firmly once we had entered.
“What do you know?” she said oddly calmly as she indicated to me to sit down on a plastic chair beside a dining table. 
This room was quite different to that at Rita Pearlhall’s house;indeed, this was much less neat and tidy and had a much darker colouring with photos on the walls without frames and a small fluffy blanket on a red sofa. 
 “Can I be completely honest with you, Florence?” I asked kindly. 
She nodded.  
“I met with a lady a short while ago about a very strange place called The Palvine Residence… she seemed to think it was deserted by a young man called Sylvester Spence Palvine about five years ago, but I have reason to suspect it's not. She told me that she believes he murdered her husband with poison… but the police couldn’t find him. She also told me that if I wanted to know more, I needed to find you. And that’s what I've been trying to do for about a month. She seems to think that the death of your little girl Clara might be somehow related to Sylvester Spence Palvine…” I paused for breath “Does this make any sense?” 
“No. I don’t know what happened to my daughter, but I don’t think she was murdered by my lover,” she responded. 
“What? Sylvester? Then you must have some idea what happened to him.” 
“I don’t know what happened to Sylvester. How should I? The last I saw of him was when he showed up here when I had Miles over and worked out little Clara wasn’t his… yes he was angry but I don’t believe for a moment he’d kill Clara.  He loved her.” 
Then it began to make sense. For of course Sylvester had killed both of them, the man his lover had cheated on him with and the product of her betrayal. “I’m sorry Florence, but do you know what happened to Miles?” I whispered, checking if my assumptions had been correct. 
“Unfortunately I don’t. I saw him again a few times after that walk in but not much longer. Three months if I had to guess. Then he just stopped picking up my calls and I couldn’t find him.” She shook her head as she finished her sentence 
“What if I told you Miles was married… his name was Miles Pearlhall and he died about five years ago. He was the husband of the woman I met,” I whispered shyly.
 “Oh I knew Miles was married. Those two got married when he got back from Vietnam but his future wife was beautiful when he left and shed found herself a lover and they had a child sortly after he came home, her and her lover, which, rumor has, he killed. That’s why she kidnapped a baby from the old nursery down on Old Oakbournne Street before it closed down.” 
I was astonished at what she’d told me. She began to weep a little. “Are you alright?” I asked.  
“Yes yes just surprised he's dead… I always thought he’d stopped seeing me because Clara was gone.” 
Seeing the time had passed 11pm, I told her I must leave and she unblocked the white door and took me back to the willow tree on the corner and said goodnight.
It had become clear to me now. If I was to ever find Sylvester Spence Palvine, I would have to go to the Palvine Residence – a place which had scared me so much and confront the man himself. And if the man was indeed no longer in residence, then I'd hope the building itself would provide some answers. This prospect did not fill me with relish. Tomorrow night was the night. I would go alone. Armed with my wits, my camera bag and – if the situation required it – a swift kick in the balls with my stilettos.
As I walked down Old Oakbourne Street my eyes turned to the large manor house almost silhouetted against the sky. An odd chilled wind echoed as a concealed whisper through the twilight air, piercing it like a mirror hitting the hard ground and shattering into a thousand glistening shards of nothingness. The Palvine Residence. It stood detached between the empty cross road and the old nursery with two huge gates standing open as if to welcome unknowing visitors into their confines. The gates themselves, I noticed as I came to halt adjacent to them were comprised of tall wrought iron bars standing proudly, though harshly bent and disfigured in places with thick brown rust infecting their flesh.
I bit my lip as I stepped across the threshold to the pathway of sickly mud and grey rough cobblestones. Oddly, the mud was bone dry despite the subtle dew in the air. I walked softly. Suddenly very conscious of my breath rate. Why had I got myself involved in this? Couldn’t I just see the house on Halloween and think oh look, there’s a pumpkin like a normal person? It would seem not. I stood at the black front door which grew thickly with moss and leafy waxy green ivy and swallowed as I felt a lump growing to the size of a golf ball in my throat. I blinked in case I was about to wake up one last time and then I reached out an arm to knock on the door with he iron lion head knocker. Once. Twice. Three times I knocked. Nothing. It was at this time that it came to my attention that the door wasn’t locked. Or even closed. Gulping, I pushed the door open with a rusted creak and stepped into The Palvine Residence and closed the door behind me. “Hello…” I whispered, taking the phone out of my bag to use as a torch “Is anybody in here?” I continued walking through an old slightly dusty hall, as I cast the glow of my phone torch around, it came to my attention that someone obviously lives here. The place was in a fairly good condition; no cobwebs or broken things or other items would one associate with an ‘abandoned’ house “Hello, I’m not here to hurt you…” I shouted. I started walking up a huge flight of stairs “I know who you are… You’re Sylvester Spence Palvine. You’ve been alone for so long… I’m just here to talk to you…”. The stairs creaked as I walked and as I assented into the blackness, I noticed a strange tinkling sound: the patter of grand piano keys playing Eine Kleine Nacht Musik perfectly. It grew louder the higher I climbed. I stood outside a door with brassy fixings which separated me from the source of the noise. Me from a murderer.
I pushed the door as softly as I dared, careful not to startle such a man. I was so unsure as to what to expect. What does a murderer look like? How could one creature be capable of such evil and be personified into a man? No, barely a man, he’d be only a matter of years older than myself. I finally opened the door to its fullest to reveal a black shining polished grand piano central to a dark room, mostly shrouded in inky black shadow. Any possible light from the large windows was blocked out by sweeping crimson curtains which were suspended by golden rails deathly still. He sat lightly upon an oak piano stool gazing intently at the crisp white sheet music before him as he played. His dark waves of hair hung beautifully about his face, framing his pale handsome features as a waxy portrait. His blue eyes flashed delicately over the piano keys as he tinkled them softly until he calmly turned to face me.
I froze.
He wasn’t as I had imagined at all. He was beautiful. “Hello…” I whispered, half hoping he wouldn’t hear this utterance. But he had, for Sylvester Spence Palvine was a man who heard everything, and nothing. He was like me in that way. 
“Come into the darkness, ” he said in a strong clear voice. Shaking somewhat, I obeyed. Stepping across the floor, I become very conscious of the sharp thud my heels made as I stepped. “Good evening my dear” he said softly, his ruby lips allowing the words to slip out. I gulped and greeted him likewise then preceded to tell him who I was but was cut off by a sharp utterance of “I know who you are. You know who I am. Why on earth would you suppose I don’t know who you are. You saw my pumpkin on Halloween. You were meant to.” I looked at him perplexed and he continued “I needed someone to come here. Someone suitably nosy who’d look into it and realize that I am not a murderer.” I looked at him totally blankly. “Think about it. You’re a clever girl, who would kill those innocent people. Not me. I loved Florence with all my heart, and I loved Clara even more. I was undoubtedly angry with her betrayal of me, but I was just a teenager at the time. I didn’t kill Miles. And I’m not responsible for taking the child from the nursery.” 
Then it hit me. How could I have been so stupid. Of course, is wasn’t Sylvester. It was Rita. Rita had kidnapped the child after Miles had killed the child she'd had with another man. She had then discovered his affair and the offspring of his affection and murdered them both. With poison. Seeing this in my face he then began “why would I kill them? Do you take me for a fool? I am innocent. Sylvester Spence Palvine is an innocent man who has had his life ruined because he was an easy target. Now I live here; in the darkness, with only my music for company. While she lives in the Lilac House to torture me and mock an orphan’s disappearance. I’d had such a wonderful time you know. I’d left school and worked on my music for hours and then I’d visit Florence and when she had Clara, I dreamed one day her and I would be wed. But one night I came and found her with another man. I never saw her again,but I heard of Clara’s death and then the death of her lover. I was shocked. Twisted with grief. I locked myself in this place. I never imagined it’d be eternal solitude. Oh, how I wish I could know a lover’s comfort again.” He sighed as he finished. 
A heavy patter of rain began on the roof.
“You can’t leave now. It’s dark outside and it’s pouring with rain. At least stay here until the morning,"  he whispered as he stood up from the stool. 
“But I must find Rita! We have no evidence, but I can at least confront her. Get her to drop the charges on you, then you’d be free. You could be happy Sylvester. Not alone anymore.” 
“All that can wait until morning. You are here and you are the first human face I have seen in about four years. At least stay the night.” His eyes seemed to twinkle as he spoke and I realized that while I may never be able to clear his name, I could keep him company. He walked towards me slowly, as if scared he’d frighten me. “Well I wouldn’t be being a very gentlemanly host if I didn’t offer you a seat and a drink.” He directed me to a scarlet velveteen armchair by the lit fire and I perched upon it gently and swiveled to face him as he walked to a small dusty drinks cabinet with oaken embossed swirling patterns and poured us two large glasses of what looked like golden rich brandy. I noticed Sylvester was a tall man with broad shoulders and large arms as he walked towards me with the glasses. Pulling up his piano stool, he sat beside me, folding his legs.
“My dear, I hope you like brandy... I have a few other drinks in the cabinet for later...” he whispered as he passed me the glass. 
“I’ve never had brandy before” I murmured softly as I looked into his eyes, which, despite the darkness, shone clearly. 
“It’s a good drink to start a long night with if it’s a night you intend to remember... Florence told me that when I was your age...” He took a sip from his own glass “but enough about her... I want to know about your love life...” 
“Well...” He looked keenly at me.  “There isn’t much to say... I’ve always been scared by all this ‘doing it’ because I think it must be so much nicer to make love, if there is such a thing, it’d be far more intimate and loving,” I said rather shyly. “So you’ve never tried it?” 
I shook my head permissively. 
“Well, I suppose you’re curious in different ways than I was at sixteen. I wanted to make love and play music every minute, simultaneously if I could, but you go around looking for rough pumpkins.” 
I saw a strange smile creep over his face as he laughed at his words. We continued to talk like this for some time on topics such as his music and his anecdotes on love making and he poured many more drinks until he noticed the time. My mind grew weaker as I drank, and strange thoughts swam into my head. Perhaps he was an angel. An angel of music. This place was his heaven. And I’m an unworthy earthly winner of his affection. As he noticed the time, he suggested we get some sleep and took an old white night dress out of a wooden trunk for me to sleep in. “Where should I change into this?” I asked. 
“Wherever you want. I have never been one for shyness.”
Before I knew it, Sylvester was undoing his coppery belt buckle and pulling his white shirt over his to reveal ripping muscles and huge defined shoulders. “Sylvester, what are we doing?” I gasped as I stared at him. 
“I was hoping to share with you the benefit of my experience. It has been years but I doubt my skill has deteriorated," he whispered softly. “As I said, I was quite the lover in my day.” He was looking directly into my eyes .
“But doesn’t it bother you that I’m a virgin?” 
“Of course not. Virginity is simply a societal construct, build only to stop us from engaging in passion.” He smiled at me softly as he stepped slowly towards me. 
I blushed as he reached out and gently ran his soft hand over my cheek and whispered to me that I had ‘a virgin’s blush’ to which I replied that he had a soft loving innocence about him. He permissively leaned his head forward towards me. I leaned into him. Our ruby lips met in a pure moment of lust and lust and passion and simple, harmless curiosity. And it was heaven. Everything I’d ever wanted. It seemed to wipe my guilt and worries and fears away until there was nothing but him. Only him.
As he broke away, he slipped his hand up my thigh. Our eyes met once more as he suddenly stopped and brushed his head into my dark hair “My dear, are you sure this is what you want?” he whispered as his soft words slithered into my ear and calmed all my thoughts. 
Sylvester had the sort of voice you only hear once in your life; pure, true and hopelessly passionate. “Of course, Sylvester. This is perfect and it may be wrong. t I’ve only just met you but in trying to discover your history for so long I almost feel as if I’ve known you all my life. But please take it slowly with me… I’ve heard it hurts…” I finished looking away from him, hoping he didn’t think I was a child. 
“I’ve been told it hurts… but I hope to suppress  the pain with pure passion. Please tell me if the pain is too much for you, my dear.” 
I felt he was true and sincere in his words. I smiled at him as he looked me up and down. "The dress undoes from the back…,” I whispered. 
He turned me around slowly so I faced the glowing hearth. Gently he began to undo the zip on my black dress and allowed it to flutter to the floor and began to kiss and caress my neck as he placed his other had on my hip. Before I knew it, I was undoing the fastenings on his trousers slowly and he’d led our naked forms to the black thick animal skin rug by the fire. We allowed a passionate embrace to lead us to making love. For the first time.
We finished gently at the same moment and French kissed for a time as we held each other. “That was wonderful, my dear,"  he whispered as I relaxed my head into his muscular chest. I felt he knew I agreed because as he spoke I clutched his strong body a little closer to mine, almost in the hope we could become one again. As we left the room to go to bed, a million thoughts rushed through my head and as I looked around the room with its old iron candelabra, odd phantasmal black hangings about the bed frame, my thoughts turned to the implications of the act we’d just performed. Our bodies lay, still warm, between the crisp white sheets, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant: did Sylvester Spence Palvine love me? Did I love him? Is he capable of love? Was I capable of caring for him truly and passionately? I wonder ed if love is like how its written in books; so desperate and wanting and so perfect when achieved. Or was it as I had experienced; so desperate and wanting and so perfect when achieved but so boring once attained. I prayed it was the former and began to fall asleep in his arms.
I woke up with the delicate sunlight peeping in from between the harsh black drapes. His body shone as the pure rays danced upon it. He was mine and I was his and it would be this way forever. He awoke with a sudden heave of breath into his lungs and immediately looked own to see me resting against his form and running my left hand permissively over his chest, my eye bracing to the morning light. “Good morning, my dear. I see you stayed the night, did you sleep well?” 
“Indeed I did Sylvester,” I replied .
“Did you enjoy last night?” he continued. 
“Of course… it was perfect... it was the stuff of fiction…” I whispered, imagining I was in some sort of romantic novel.
“But… why the sudden formality? Do you regret what happened?”
 “No! Never, my dear! It was heaven…” he trailed off. “Look out of the window, ” he said, changing the subject “what do you see?"
I gazed out of the window pane and was shocked at the sight. Cherry blossoms. The Palvine Orchard was fully in bloom. And it was wonderful. I had been a part of the two most beautiful things I’d ever had in my life in one day. “It's what has kept me sane. My orchard. I always wished I could plant a blossom tree in the front… make the place a little more homely… but I cannot. If I’m seen…” he trailed off once more. “The blossoms are beautiful” he said in a very ‘matter of fact’ sort of way. 
I nodded. “Oh God! I forgot! I have to find Rita!” I shouted in shock. 
“No, ” he said in the same matter of fact tone. “That cannot help. She knows what she did and you bothering her will not do any good.” 
"But I could clear your name! You could be free.” 
“No. I couldn’t. You have granted me more freedom in this night that I could’ve hoped for in a lifetime without you.”
I didn’t understand that. How could such a young man not dream of freedom?
As I left the Palvine Residence, I couldn’t believe what had happened. I had lived my own story. I had learned that it is not always what seems important that is important. I had learned to love. And I would make that man happy and as free as he would allow me every day. Forever. Until I died. 
It was that day after school that I returned to the house. But I couldn’t find him. I ran around the old, empty rooms but nothing. He was gone. Had he run away for a better life in Vienna or Florence or Venice? Run away to be a musician? I prayed that to be the case. I went to the room where I had first found him and, with tears in my eyes, I sat at his piano to run my hand over his sheet music where I saw a note in place of it:
My Dear, know that I love you. I love you too much to curse you to live here with me forever. You will not see me again. But know that I will love you and miss you and dream of you forever. Until we can meet in heaven. There is only one way to truly be free. 
My hot tears blotted the black ink so it ran down the parchment. He was gone. But why? I survived but doing the one thing I could for him, to make him happy, maybe attract him back home to me. I planted a blossom tree. In the front. And I prayed one day he’d see it. 
But In my heart, I knew he never would.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Was It Just My Imagination?

by Jim Bates

Hot Apple Cider

I'll never forget that Halloween when I was in fifth grade. The day started weird and just kept getting weirder. I woke up on my own, which was one thing. Mom didn't have to rattle my bones to get me to wake up like she normally did. Instead, I got up all by myself, excited for my favorite day of the year, Halloween. But my excitement was tempered by a strange ringing in my head, like a doorbell going Ding...Dong...Ding...Dong and it wasn't just one time, either. It lasted all day.
            My clothes didn't fit right either - shirt and pants too tight and shoes too big.
            Downstairs Mom fixed pancakes for breakfast instead of my normal bowl of milk and cheerios, something she only did on the weekend, if then. Like I said, weird.
            Outside, the day was dark and foreboding, made even more so by a flock of blackbirds that followed me on my walk to school. An owl flew by with a mouse dangling from its beak. I even had to go by Old Man Jasperson's house by myself because neither of my friends, Tim or Jay, met me on the way like they normally did.
            At school the weirdness continued because all of the teachers had dressed in costumes for Halloween. Mr. Stevens, my fifth grade teacher, was Dracula which was odd because he was a quiet and withdrawn type and should have dressed up like some poet I'd never heard of. Plus, Dracula was exactly what I'd planed to dress up as later that night. Big time weird.
            Tim and Jay approached me in class wondering where I'd been. "Why didn't you meet us?" Tim asked, popping his bubble gum.
            "Yeah," Jay added, running a comb through his curly hair. "We were both waiting outside and you never showed. What's up with that?"
            Before I could answer and tell them that I'd walked by both of their houses and hadn't seen either of them, the bell rang and we had to sit down.
            By the end of school I had pretty much forgotten about all the weirdness of the day, my excitement for Halloween taking the place over everything else. At the final bell my friends and I bolted from the building, agreeing to met at my house at five in the afternoon to start treat or treating. Which we did.
            Tim showed up wearing a werewolf mask and an old fur coat of his grandmother's. Jay was dressed like a sorcerer in a light blue cape and wearing a pointed hat with sequenced stars and planets on it. I wore my Dracula outfit, complete with black cape, pointed teeth and slicked back hair.
            "See you, Mom," I yelled as I ran out the door, clutching a pillow sack bag for my treats.
            "Be home by nine o' clock," she called back.
            I told her I would and Tim and Jay and I spent the rest of the evening running up and down the streets of our neighborhood collecting candy. We made a real haul.
            At the end of the evening we decided to make one last stop at Mr. Jasperson's house.
            Tim was not excited. "Hell, he'll just give us apples, like every other year. It's not worth it. Let's just head home." He pulled out a small bag of M&M's, ripped it open and started munching away.
            Jay had a different thought. "I heard he was going to give out caramel apples this year. Those would be good. I like caramel."
            I liked caramel too but was unsure about stopping. Mr. Jasperson always struck me as kind of gruff. His wife had died a few years earlier and my mom told me he was just lonely.
            "You could talk to him, you know. He used to teach science at the University. You might learn something from him."
            Right, I thought to myself. Me talk to a college professor? An academic I wasn't. I didn't even know how to spell the word, let alone talk to a smart person. My best conversations were with my calico kitty, Jessie, only because she didn't care what I said as long as I kept her fed.
            But getting back to the suggestion of stopping at his house. I thought about it and finally said, "Sure, why not? What have we got to lose?"
            Tim and Jay hung back while I walked up the brick walkway to the steps leading to the covered porch and then the front door. There was a single light on, barely illuminating the door knob. The rest of the lights were turned off. I turned and looked at my friends, who by now had stepped back to the sidewalk. I looked past them and noticed something strange; the street was empty and the neighborhood was deserted. Where were all the other trick or treaters?
            A gust of wind blew leaves that swirled around my feet. The night had suddenly become cold and windy. Nearby trees swayed and a branch cracked and fell to the ground. I shuddered, glad it had missed me. I turned and faced the front of the house, not noticing until then all the vines that were entwined along the railing and the door.  I took a deep breath, told myself to not be a sissy, climbed the two steps and crossed the porch. My hand started trembling as I reached out and rang the doorbell. Ding...Dong...Ding...Dong and it occurred to me at that moment it was a sound just like I'd been hearing in my head all day.
            Behind me I thought I heard a voice and turned. I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then I realized to my horror that Tim and Jay were gone. I was all by myself. My heart began beating faster and faster. Hey, guys...I was just about to call out into the darkness, when I heard a scraping sound behind me.
            I turned around with the words trick or treat innocently forming on my lips. Then I saw the door swing wide open and, awestruck, I gazed at the entrance, not believing my eyes. There before me was a wall of caramel apples stacked one on top of the other and completely filling the entryway. I stood frozen in place unable to move as slowly they began falling, dropping one by one, until the entire lot of them cascaded down upon me like a caramelly waterfall, knocking me onto my back and burying me in a sticky, messy mass of apples.
            I panicked and pushed them away and scrambled to my feet. It was then I felt a cold hand grip my arm. What now? I was afraid to look, but I steeled myself and did, then immediately wished I hadn't. There, latched onto me was Mr. Japserson. He was dressed in a black cape like mine. His face was white, he had pointed teeth, and thick red lips that were curled back in a sneer as he intoned, "What kind of a trick did you have in mind for me, young fella'?" Which was weird enough except for this: he was holding his head in the crook of his arm. He was a headless Dracula! The world started spinning and I began screaming. Then I fainted.
Mom woke me in the morning with a cheery, "Hi there, sleepyhead. All ready for your favorite day? Halloween? Tim and Jay are waiting in the kitchen to walk you to school. Better get a move on." She raised the window shade, letting bright sunlight in.
            I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, confused."Wait, Mom. Hold on. It's Halloween? Today?"
            "Yes, dear, it is. Your favorite day, remember?"
            What was going on? I was major league confused. What about last night? What about Mr. Jasperson and the caramel apples? More to the point, what about the headless Dracula?
            "What about yesterday, Mom?" I asked. "I thought yesterday was Halloween." I'll admit  I was freaking out a little, on the verge of completely losing it.
            "Oh, sweetie," Mom bent down and hugged me, calming me. "No, it's today." Then she looked at me, deep concern in her eyes. "But you were acting strangely all day yesterday. Don't you remember? I had to keep you home from school. You had a pretty high fever, but it broke overnight. You're lot's better now." She looked at me again and felt my forehead."You sure you're feeling okay or should I keep you home from school for another day?"
            So I'd just had a high fever? Yesterday's weirdness really hadn't happened and I'd imagined it all? Better yet, today really was Halloween? Hot dog! It sounded good to me.
            I swung my legs over the side of the bed, ready to embrace the day. "No, Mom. I'm good. Tell Tim and Jay I'll be right down."
            "You sure, you're okay?"
            "Yeah, Mom I'm better than okay. I'm great!"
            She left my bedroom and I got dressed already picturing myself in my Dracula costume and heading out trick or treating later in that evening. It wasn't until I was combing my hair that I saw it - a bit of caramel stuck on my ear. I looked at myself closely and then saw some more on my neck. Then more caramel on my other ear. I got a wash rag and cleaned it all off glad Mom hadn't seen it. To be honest, I wasn't sure I could even explain it to myself, let alone to her.
            Tim and Jay and I had a great time trick or treating that night. We made a real haul. Our last stop was at Mr. Jasperson's . He greeted us warmly and even asked me if I'd like a job raking leaves later that week. I told him sure.
            He also gave out caramel apples for the first time that we could ever remember. They were pretty good, I have to say, even though there were kind of messy. Real sticky.


About the author 

Jim's favorite holiday is Halloween and this story is dedicated to all those who enjoy the mystery and magic of that special day.

Monday 28 October 2019


by Allison Symes

bitter lemon

When going to work is an odd thing to do, you know you're in trouble or shortly will be. And when you are the chief tester of every imaginable practical joke going, trust me, the gags soon wear thin.
There really are only so many times you can sit on a whoopee cushion and find it funny. Children's humour may not change but I have.

I stopped telling people what I do a long time ago. I soon tired of forcing a Cheshire Cat grin every time people said 'oh that must be fun' or other similiar banalities. Trust me, there is no limit to crap like that.

But the bosses pay well, I still have a mortgage, and I tell people if I revealed anything, I would have to kill them. They laugh, subject gets changed, and I have a nice time at the pub before going home and watching a documentary on the curse of umbrella making or something like that.

What I don't watch is anything they call funny. Not now. Not anymore. That explains the salary. There should be a price for losing your sense of humour.

I sometimes wonder if I could kill someone with a deflated balloon. And yes I could... so if you know what's good for you, don't ask. They say once someone has killed, they get a taste for it. Best I don't start then.

About the auhtor

Allison Symes, who loves writing and anything to do with books, is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafelit, and Bridge House Publishing.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  A round-up of her writing is at and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today -

Sunday 27 October 2019

The Wife of the Bodyguard

by Susan Willis 

a cup of strong tea

Where is he, Sheila thought for the umpteenth time in the last two hours. She started to pace around the lounge wringing her hands. Her mind was in fast-forward and she didn’t know how to slow it down. 
She’d heard on the news about the incident near the royal garden party at the palace and the whole of her insides had sunk with a worrying sickness. 
Her husband, Jack, was one of the personal protection officers to the royal family and, although for security reasons she never knew exactly where he was, she remembered his words this morning. 
“More tea and cakes this afternoon,” he’d grimaced struggling to fasten the button on the waistband of his trousers. “I’m going to have to go on a diet.”
She’d tutted and lovingly put her arms around him snuggling her face into his neck. “No, Jack, I love you just the way you are.”  
Over the years, Jack had risen to Inspector working for The Metropolitan Police Service and then had been approached to train and successfully became one of the family’s bodyguards. He’d always said, “I don’t think of it as a job, Sheila. It’s an honour to look after them.”  
And she’d agreed with him but the worry and concern that went with the job wasn’t easy to live with. She smiled now remembering when they were first married. And yes, she’d been extraordinarily proud of him, and still was, but the job had never been conducive to family life. However, she’d had her mum living close by which had been a blessing. She’d been on hand when the girls were young to do the school runs and after school activities. “Where’s Dad,” they’d often asked. Or, “Is Dad not coming to the zoo?”
She’d tried to explain that he couldn’t tell them because his work was a big secret, which had sufficed but as they grew into teenagers, she’d often seen disbelief and mistrust in their eyes.  
It had been difficult because no one ever knew where he and the other bodyguards were because they were covertly dressed in ceremonial uniforms. Riding on the back of the carriages at the royal weddings, tours abroad, and even Scottish dancing up at Balmoral Castle. Maybe, she thought now, if she’d been able to point him out on TV to the girls, they’d have believed her more?  
She recalled his stints up at Balmoral and how she’d teased him about the kilt he’d had to wear. But then sighed remembering his darker words. “Sheila,’ he’d often said. ‘The family are just as vulnerable, if not more so, to an attack in the Scottish Highlands as they are in any of the London palaces.”  
She picked up her cup to sip the tea but realised it had gone cold and clattered it back into the saucer with trembling hands. 
Oh, where is he, and why doesn’t he ring? She fretted and felt tears well-up in her eyes. She longed for her mobile to ring so she could hear his voice, but, at the same time dreaded a call on the landline to say he’d been injured, or worse? 
He had a lovely voice. It was one of the things she’d loved about him when they’d first met. Deep and mannish with just a hint of his old North East accent. Now, with age it was gravellier and more authoritative, yet you could still hear his kind and considerate nature that was at the very core of him. 
She slumped down onto the sofa and looked up at his photograph on the mantelpiece. It was taken last year, and he is surrounded by the young recruits he trained now-a-days. They are all looking at him with respect and adoration in their eyes. It’s what he instilled into them. Respect and diligence. And, although he was mainly office-based now, he did still fill-in when they were short-staffed. Hence today.  
Their daughters were in a photograph next to his. Of course, they were young women now and seemed to regard their father as some type of super-hero? They thought it was a terribly exciting job to have and only last week had teased her, “When he was younger, was Dad like Richard Madden in the Bodyguard program, Mum?” 
She’d smiled and because she’d always played down the danger of his job to stop them worrying, she’d nodded. “Yes, he was a handsome young devil and I fell for him hook-line-and sinker.” 
However, she thought, on days like this there was nothing exciting or impressive about being concerned for his safety. 
Only recently she’d tackled Jack and insisted they have the dreaded retirement discussion. She’d retired this year and wanted him home with her to do all the things they’d planned. “It’ll not be long now, Sheila,” he’d said. “I just need to finish this program I’m working on. Then I’m all yours!” 
She’d known he was trying to pacify her. She’d seen the wary look in his eyes. The, please trust me look, that she’d seen countless times over the years. But now, she pulled her shoulders back, determined when he got home the retirement issue was going to be top of her agenda. She felt too weary to go through any more of these agonising days.  
Suddenly, a text pinged onto her mobile and she snatched it up from the coffee table. She held her breath and pressed the read button. 
“I’m okay, Sheila. Just sorting out a few things that have happened and will be home soon. XXX”
Sheila burst into tears as blessed relief surged through her body. She clutched the mobile to her chest and looked upwards. 
“Thank you, God,” she whispered and grinned knowing he was safe once more. 

Saturday 26 October 2019

Her Will

by James McMillan 

a shot of brandy 

I asked the children to allow me to spend some of the last few minutes of their mother’s life alone with her. They agreed but very reluctantly. 

I sat by her bed and held Kay’s hand and watched her children slowly leave her room.  ‘We will just be next door mum, call if you need anything,’ said Jen.  ‘She can’t hear you,’ said her brother William and pulled her arm. Jen shook off his hand and as the door closed a furious row began outside.

‘It’s started already,’ I said to Kay their mother but her eyes were closed and she made no response. Kay would never hear anything again. She had gone. I placed my hand on top of hers. To my surprise, I was angry. Why Kay of all people? And why now?  But there were no answers.  

I can’t remember much of the next twenty-four hours. I don’t really want to. Jen’s husband Tom came and comforted her before taking her home but William stuck around and just got in the way.  When he left he asked if we could meet on the following evening at seven.   

He was on time and Jen and Tom were with him.  I offered coffee or something stronger but there were no takers.  Jen seemed reluctant to look at me but I understood the situation. I guessed William was anxious to get something off his chest and she was embarrassed about it.

‘We have found Mother’s will’, William said. He held a crumpled envelope and showed it to me. I looked at him but said nothing.  ‘It was in an envelope addressed to Jen and me so I opened it. You should know what it says’.   

‘Do I get to read it?’ I asked and extended my hand. 

He ignored it and said simply ‘She left everything to Jen and myself’. 

He moved his hand that held the will as far away from me as he could. Did he think I would snatch it out of his hand and destroy it?  

 ‘I would imagine her solicitor has a copy William,’ I said gently. 

‘Perhaps,’ he said.  'I hope you will understand your situation is now very different?’ 

‘Yes, as your mother and I never married, I have no right to anything. I will move out tomorrow. You can call me when you have made the arrangements for the funeral. I would like to be there’. 
‘Of course,’ he said but he hadn’t expected that. He paused briefly then looked at his sister and said, ‘I don’t expect there will be all that much in her estate after taxes and the funeral costs and so on, and we won’t bother with a wake. She didn’t many friends left.  No, there won’t be much I expect.’

I couldn’t let that go. ‘Well, there’s this place,’ I looked around me. ‘A good-sized property in a nice area and this is London where even an old shed in the middle of a dung heap would be worth a million nowadays so my guess is that William and Jen you will do quite well.

‘Where are you going?’ Jen asked. 

‘My folks haven’t seen me for a while so I will visit them and then I might go travelling and see a bit more of the world.' 

‘Your mum and dad are lovely.’ Jen said with a big smile. ‘Mum got on famously with them’. 

‘Well, they were about the same age,’ said William. I was quick but Tom Jen’s husband was quicker and got between me and William. 

‘Watch what you say William,’ I told him. 

‘What? It’s true!’

‘I think we should go now,’ said Tom looking at his wife. 

‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘William and I will call you to let you know the funeral arrangements’.   

‘Shove the keys back through the letterbox when you go.’ said William. He looked as if he was going to add and just take away what you brought with you two years ago.  If he had Tom wouldn’t have been able to stop me again. But William didn’t say any more.  He was a young fool in a hurry. I wondered if he had already been in contact with an estate agent.  

After they had gone I needed a drink and poured myself a large brandy. It was time to finish what needed to be done.  I knelt in front of the fireplace and tore up the envelope I had carried since Kay gave it to me and found some matches.   

‘Do you mind if I watch? Jen said. 

'I thought you left with the others.' 

'I have a key, remember?  And there’s things that still need to be said’

‘You can watch,’ I said as I lit a small fire.

‘I presume you have just destroyed her last will, and I presume that one she made in your favour?  You didn’t have to. William would have got some nasty lawyers to grab a share, no matter what Mum said.'

‘But your mum and me was never about her money or this place.  And if I had taken anything your brother and all those people who said it was, would have been able to look at each other and say I told you so’.

‘Why didn’t you get married?’ 

 ‘There was no need. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to be on my own’. I pecked her on the cheek and this time Jen did leave.

I poured myself another large brandy and settled down in Kay’s favourite armchair.  The brandy was helping and I finished the bottle.  At some point I am convinced I heard Kay’s voice. ‘I still had lots of friends. If he had ever bothered to come around to see me, he would have known that. And I was a fair bit younger than your mother!  He will buy a very fast car and will crash it. My son. He is not in a good place and probably never will be.’

Friday 25 October 2019

Palvine Part 12

 by Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik 

Parisian red wine

I jumped a little and turned quickly to see Marius standing just behind my right shoulder. He then swiftly joined me at the edge of the balcony and looked down over the city with me and apologized for startling me. 

“You mustn’t get upset over Camille. She’s just one of those people who loves people.” He smiled. I took a moment to this about what he meant by this; one of those people who loves people. Did he mean she actually loved Sylvester? She couldn’t possibly love him more than I did. “Don’t worry about her and Sylvester. I’ve heard all about all his romantic exploits he’s had since he was 13, he definitely never loved any of his lovers anywhere near as much as he loves you. But you have to understand about Sylvester that he’s just one of those people who loves people. He’s had so much suffering in his life because he likes to hand his heart out and share it with everyone but with you, you didn’t just take his heart, you kept it safe for him all this time and you will keep it safe until the end of time, ” he finished.

I looked him squarely in the eyes and realized he spoke truth. I had been keeping Sylvester’s heart safe all these long nine months and I would always keep his heart safe for he was never going to be allowed it back. I had stolen it and I would never return it. He was mine. And I felt like he was truly mine. He loved me; I truly believed he loved me. He loves me. Together we looked out over the city and I began to feel somewhat attracted to him. Not in the same sort of loving way I felt for Sylvester but in a much more passionate – perhaps – the way Sylvester felt about Camille. Marius told me about himself and all I wanted to do was kiss him. Maybe I should.

Thursday 24 October 2019


by Bec Lewis

a glass of red wine

 Martin Clarke re-read the e-mail, wondering how it had bypassed the spam filter. ‘Donate to Heart’s Desire Retirement Facility, and as a thank-you we’ll make your wish come true! Please be generous.’
            Well, it was different. Most places sent you a free pen or a set of adhesive address labels.
            Who lived at this facility? Aging lamp-less genies? Retired fairy godmothers? Did they really think he’d part with his hard-earned cash so some old biddies could laze around all day? He had all he could wish for, anyway, thanks very much: a million in the bank, a luxury mansion and cars, plenty of friends. Everything, except…
            He typed inside the ‘wish’ box: ‘To be irresistible to women,’ and made his donation. No harm in having a go, he thought. Oh, girls threw themselves at him, of course, but he knew from their glazed looks in the bedroom that they craved his fortune, not his body. A twenty-something stunner wouldn’t normally look twice at a bloated fifty-something like him.
            The front door slammed.
            He rushed into the hall. Three scantily clad beauties stood there, and before he knew what was happening, they’d pushed him gently but firmly through an archway into the antique-strewn sitting room.
            ‘Steady on, ladies. We haven’t been introduced.’ He hoped he didn’t sound as nervous as he felt. ‘How did you all get past the security gate?’ They were a gang of girl-thieves; that was the answer. It couldn’t be that stupid wish thing; he didn’t really believe in that stuff.
            ‘We’ve been sent by Heart’s Desire,’ purred the tallest one, as she pushed him down onto a sofa and began unbuttoning his shirt. She leaned into him, so that her long dark hair tickled his chest. She smelled of vanilla and musk.
            ‘You wished us here,’ said another, stroking his thighs. Martin’s body started to respond. He’d remember this night forever, he thought. He was the luckiest man alive.
            The third girl pressed Martin’s hand against her left breast and began licking his ear. ‘You really are irresistible,’ she whispered.
            He groaned softly, and tipped his head back in pleasure. As he did, he caught a glimpse of the girl’s unusual dentition.
            His last thought, just before feeling the sharp pain in his neck, was that he should probably have donated more than one lousy dollar.

About the author 


Wednesday 23 October 2019

Bloody Mary

by Laura Barnes

Bloody Mary

  Brenda and Susan were roommates.
   One day, Susan came home with a gaping stab wound in her stomach.  She didn’t say where she got it, but presumably, she had been stabbed.
   “Well, you really are making a mess!” Brenda huffed good-naturedly, taking Susan’s hand, and guiding her to the sofa. Brenda had actually been tending to her broken ankle before Susan came in, practising the exercises the doctor had given her, but she dropped it all without a second thought upon Susan’s arrival. Susan was Brenda’s roommate, after all, and one of her best friends to boot. It was the least she could do.
   “Now, Susan,” Brenda began, her tone serious – but not too serious – as she stitched the wound closed with her First Aid Kit. “I don’t mean to pry, but would you like to tell me where you got this?”
   Susan shook her head vigorously - she really really really didn’t want to tell Brenda where she had been stabbed.
   “Well, then, okay,” Brenda smiled sadly, “But you know, I’m always here if you want to talk, right?”
   Susan nodded  – Brenda was always there whenever she wanted to talk.
   Knowing that she had done all she could for Susan, and that it was best just to give her some space for now, Brenda pulled herself up from the sofa with a wince, just about ready for bed. Until she noticed the mess, that was...
   Blood. So much blood. More blood than Brenda even though the human body could hold. A huge puddle of it dominated the living the living room, framed at either end by collections of slightly smaller, but no less gruesome, droplets. To make matters worse, the blood was dark and discoloured, and would most certainly stain the mahogany floorboards if it wasn’t mopped up pronto.
   With another one of her good-natured huffs, Brenda hobbled into the kitchen to fetch the mop.
   The next day, Susan was lying down on the sofa, poking at her stitches. Picking at them.
   “Honestly!” Brenda said good-naturedly as she spun her ankle in a circle with a wince, “You keep on poking those stitches like that n’ it’ll just open right back up again!”
   Susan rolled her eyes.
   “It’ll be fine,” she mumbled. “You worry too much.”
   “I suppose I do,” Brenda sighed, despite knowing full well she actually worried exactly the correct amount, thank-you-very-much, “Anyway, can I get you anything?”
   “A cup of tea would be lovely, please, Brenda,” she looked up from her stomach just long enough to flash Brenda a brief smile, “I really appreciate this.”
   “It’s what I’m – ouch - here for, Susan.”
   And thus, she hobbled into the kitchen.
   This excruciating trip proved to be futile, however; the moment Brenda stepped back into the living room, the steaming cup of tea slipped out of her grip and smashed into a thousand pieces. There, in the centre of the room, lay Susan, curled up in an almost foetal position. The wound had re-opened.
   Freshly boiled tea seared her toes and shards of porcelain became lodged under her feet, but that didn’t stop Brenda from running towards her roommate.
   “Susan!” Brenda cried as she grabbed her friend’s hand and gently pulled her back onto the sofa, “Why, oh why did you keep on…” she paused, looking for the right word, “…Fiddling with it?!”
   “Was… Itchy…” Susan shrugged through the pain.
   This time, Brenda’s huff was not good-natured, not good-natured at all. In fact, her huff was actually rather bad-natured, as she limped to fetch the First Aid Kit, the mop, and the dustpan.
    Thankfully, Brenda’s short spell of grumpiness did not last long. After being patched up once again and given strict instructions not to pick at the wound, Susan became a model patient and eventually – like all things – the wound began to heal. Sure, she’d be left with a nasty scar on her belly, but it was hardly like Susan to go around wearing crop tops anyway. Soon enough, Susan returned to work, Brenda’s ankle healed, the mahogany floor was clean, and life resumed as normal.
   It was a peaceful few weeks, filled with uneventful days.
Fifteen uneventful days after the ~incident~ - as Brenda and Susan referred to it – Brenda returned from work with a grin even wider than Susan’s scar, looking happier than anyone in a grey pantsuit ever should.
   “Susan, Susan!” Brenda cried as she burst through the door, brandishing a letter, “You’ll never guess what!”
   Which was true – Susan never did guess what. Or at least, if she did, Brenda never had the opportunity to hear the answer. You see, Brenda had not looked before running into the living room, and slipped on yet another, unnoticed puddle of blood. She cracked her head open and tragically died. Dancing in the air behind her was the letter she had been oh-so excited about back when she was amongst the living. As it hit the ground, the words ‘We Would Be Thrilled To Offer You The Promotion’ were quickly swallowed up by the blood.
   “What’s happ- oh, no!” Susan exclaimed, raising her arms in exasperation before reaching down to check Brenda’s pulse, “Brenda, you’re dead!”
   Brenda didn’t reply – she was too dead.
  “Why, oh why didn’t I mop up that blood straight after I’d stop bleeding?!”
   Brenda didn’t reply – still too dead.
  “Why, oh why, did I keep on going to those “Who Can Survive The Most Stab Wounds?’ competitions she disapproved so much of?!”
 With a long, drawn-out sigh – Susan was never really a ‘huff’ sort of person – Susan went to fetch the mop. It looked like she’d have to clean this mess up by herself.