Saturday 31 December 2022

Saturday Sample: Spooking by Gill James



The lump was in his throat again.

The first drops of the rain they’d been promising all day fell on the windscreen.

He turned on the wipers.   

By the time he got to the motorway, it was raining heavily. As he filtered into the traffic there were flashes of lightening and claps of thunder. He turned on the radio to try and drain out the noise. He pushed his right foot down to the floor, bringing Binky up to her top speed. The music matched his mood. Rousing rock. He was going to fight this and he was going to win.

He steered Binky into the middle lane. The rain was now pouring over the windscreen like a waterfall. The wipers were going full speed, but he still couldn’t see all that well. As he overtook the slower cars and lorries he also had to put up with the spray and the buffeting from the side wind as he drove out of their shelter.

He would have to be careful as he crossed the Hamble Bridge. Binky was quite light and could easily be blown off course. He lifted his foot slightly off the accelerator. Best not to go too fast in this.

He noticed the grey car first of all in his side-view mirror. A Saab, he thought. What was the idiot doing? He was going to hit him. He quickly looked in his rear-view mirror. No, he couldn’t get in to the third lane. Chances were, even if he did, the Saab would still smash into him.

It was going to happen. There was nothing he could do.

Don’t try to straighten up if he makes you skid, he thought to himself. Steer into the skid.

He tried to relax his grip on the steering wheel. But not altogether – at least it was something to hang on to.

There was a thud.

He felt Binky begin to spin. She seemed to be going in slow motion. They were going towards the parapet of the bridge across the Hamble. Would they hit another car? If they hit the bridge would it hold?

He felt the car slap into the bridge and then he heard the stone begin to crumble.  For a few seconds, he was up in the air, looking at the blue Ford Fiesta falling towards the river.

Was the tide in or out? Which would be better? If the water was deep, the fall might not do so much damage. The water would cushion it. But then, he might not be able to get out. If the tide was out, the water would be so shallow that the car would hit the river bed and both of them would be smashed to pieces.

Why was he up here looking down? Where was his body, actually?

In the car. Then he was in the car and it was plunging through the green-grey water. It seemed an age before it hit the riverbed, but hit it it did. With a silent thud which shook every bone in his body and made his teeth clench. 

He sat still for a moment. Think. What to do? There was no water in her yet. But he must get out and that would mean getting wet and swimming up through the water.

He wriggled out of his denim jacket. That would get too wet and weigh him down. It wasn’t easy get it off, what with the air bag and the seat belt.

He could hear the water glugging into the car.

He’s better get out quick.

He tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge. He would have to try the window. He leant forward towards the glove compartment. The biggest, heaviest thing in there was the handbook. He tried to smash first the windscreen than the side window with it. Neither would give.

The water was coming into the car faster and faster now.

He remembered what they’d learnt about saving lives in his swimming lessons. He used the old shirt he kept as a rag in the van to make a sort of inflatable. This might help.

The water was up to his chin now. He still couldn’t get the door or the window open. He used his air-filled shirt for breathing. But it was no good. That was getting wet as well. He held his breath for as long as he could. Then there was nothing for it but to let the water into his mouth, into his nostrils, into his lungs.

He thought he was going to burst. It was really painful for a few seconds.

Then he felt sort of peaceful. It didn’t hurt to breathe any more. The water looked beautiful. He felt warm and cosy, sleepy almost. 

A bright light hit the water. Tom watched fascinated as it spread through the grey-green murk until that gradually turned to light as well. Tom felt as if he was drifting towards it, though he could still feel the seat of the car holding him and the airbag pressing on his chest. How could he breathe, though? The water filled the whole car and it had been like that for several minutes already. Just how long could you live without oxygen? 

The light became so bright he could see nothing else.

They must be coming to get me, he thought.  I’ll be out of here soon.

“Not yet, sunshine,” he heard a voice saying. “Don’t look at it.”

Strong arms grabbed him and pulled him away from the light. Then it all went black and he felt as if he was tumbling. 

Friday 30 December 2022

The Mattress’ Story by Alvaro Lp Rossi Costa medium cafe latte


The Mattress’ Story.

They have taken great care and time building me: and at last, I am finished. Someone then attaches a label reading Super De Luxe Mattress, placed me in a large, thick polythene container, then into a storeroom with other mattresses. Some days later, I and several others, are placed carefully in a large van and delivered to a palatial hotel in London’s west end. I am then taken to room 101, where I am released from my wrapping and placed, with some care, on top of a large bed. After that I am smothered in a protective cover, thick creamy white sheets are then placed on top of that and finally an extra thick duvet completes my dressing. Now it is time to see who will be the first to sample just how comfortable I am.

A day or two later a young couple are shown into room 101. The young man appears to be rather handsome and well built. The young woman, who is exceptionally pretty, clings to him as though scared to let him go. When she finally does, both test the bed to discover how comfortable it is. Neither is disappointed – it is all, and more, that they hoped for. Within minutes they are undressed and head for the shower room, where I first hear the constant flow of water, followed a moment later by quiet shrieks of laughter, then sighs of pleasure and joy. Emerging ten minutes later, sparkling clean and garbed in nightwear: the man in nothing more than a pair of silk shorts and the young woman wearing a nightdress that reveals more than it covers. Within seconds my innards are making their maiden voyage. The couple are all over each other. It is as if they can simply not get enough of each other. First, he is rolling on top of her, then they swap, she is rubbing herself all over him, causing each to emit sustained moans of pleasure. This lasts about twenty minutes, then I am conscious of the eager groom pressing himself inside the delectable young woman. Immediately under them the crisp, clean sheets feel slightly damp, followed by a sigh of intense pleasure. They then lie quietly side by side, falling into a deep, peaceful sleep. Both wake some hours later and proceed to make love once more, but this time, without the same intensity as the night before. An hour or two later the lovers rise, shower, dress and go to breakfast. While they are there, the chambermaids come in to tidy the room and make the bed. Seeing the rumpled state of the sheets, as well as the staining on them, both girls giggle, nudge each other, then, when they manage to catch their breath, gasp that they must have had a great time last night, adding I wonder if they actually got any sleep. Having managed to finally settle down, they change the sheets, make the bed, then tuck the respective nightwear under the pillows, though not before, with yet more giggles, examining the young bride’s nightdress. As they exit the room, both, with a knowing eye, comment that it leaves very little to the imagination. Anthony and June, our newlyweds, have a splendid day out, enjoying the simple notion of being married and no longer having to consider parental approval or not. Exhilarated by their first full day as husband and wife, they decide on an early night. And sleep is not exactly on their minds. Night two is pretty much a rerun of night one, as are the following five nights. Over those nights, they have become better acquainted with the geography on each other’s body and quickly learned how best to excite and arouse each other. The week has proved to be a masterclass in the art of love making. 

A few days later an older, distinguished looking couple enter the room, survey it, and in time honoured fashion test the mattress, finding it satisfactory. They compare it, favourably, to the room and bed they spent their first night in. That was twenty-five years ago to the day. And it has been a good twenty-five years. Yes, there have been a few downs as well as ups, but that is life. Few, if any, get away without of the latter. Bert and Jane had already dined and start to get ready for bed. She gets undressed first and headed, by herself, for the shower. Some twenty minutes later she emerges, glowing and radiant in a midcalf nightdress that shows off to good effect, her still impressive, youthful figure, despite being only about three years short of her half century. All those hours in the gym have seen to that. Over the quarter of a century since their marriage, Bert still relishes bedtime, when he can continue to think of himself as the luckiest man on earth, for having married such a beauty, who for reasons best known to herself, continues to love him and is still willing to make love to him on a regular basis. Had he ever asked her, she would gladly have told him: they had been at primary school together and almost from the moment she laid eyes on him, she made up her mind that he was the boy for her. To her he was by far the best-looking lad in the class, and when she got to know him, she discovered that he was kind and decent. In their teens, they started to go steady. They spent time at each other’s homes studying, then at University both worked hard for their respective degrees. They were married shortly after, soon started a family, who were now grown-up with families of their own. She hurried Bert into the shower, urging him not to be long, as she draped herself on top of the bed, in a pose, which from practice and experience, she knew he could not resist. Half an hour later they were wrapped in each other’s arms, doing those things to each other calculated to best excite and arouse. An hour later, fully sated and agreeably tired both drifted into a peaceful, restful sleep. It had been one of the best nights of their married life, better even than their first night, when both had felt shy and inexperienced. Over the next few years, they embarked on a most agreeable apprenticeship in the art of lovemaking. The simple fact that they were here and now celebrating their silver wedding anniversary was testament to that.

Several days passed before more guests booked the room. When it is, they cannot truly be described as a couple. They are aged around forty something, not disagreeable in appearance, but decidedly so in manner. They speak only when it was absolutely essential, and there was no physical contact between them: no holding hands, no kissing, not even a hint of a smile. It is late, so they got ready for bed. The lady retires fully dressed to take her shower, reappearing after about fifteen minutes, wearing a most unflattering nightdress, which covers her from neck almost to her toes. She climbed into bed, lying as close to the edge as possible. The gentleman then takes his turn to shower, emerging shortly in thick pyjamas, that likewise covered every inch of flesh. He too clings to the other edge of the large bed, leaving a gap of at least a foot between them. They bid each other a perfunctory goodnight, roll over and go to sleep. It is some years since they last made love, or at least anything that could be graced by that name. Almost right from day one, their marriage had not been a happy affair. For a variety of reasons, it was not possible to put an end to it and look elsewhere for true love and happiness. Despite this both had come to realise that they must just make the best of it and go on till the end. They had come to this hotel some years earlier, before things took a turn for the even worse, hoping that a return visit might rekindle at least a small spark of affection and hope. But it is not to be. Both are miserable, hoping at least to get a good night’s sleep, before returning to their semi-detached lives, next day. Even as they sleep I can  sense the tension in their bodies. I did my best to provide such comfort and rest for the poor souls as I could. However, I was not sorry when the door closed behind them in the morning.

What had transpired in those first weeks was, by and large to form the pattern of my existence over the years – some good, some not so good, and others down-right bad. Then twenty-five years later, a happy couple aged around fifty deposited their case on me, passionately embraced, rapidly undressed, then fell on top of each other under the new luxuriant duvet and proceeded to make genuine, sincere love. There was something familiar about them. It took some moments to register, then it dawned on me. Anthony and June, the newlyweds from my first day here. I am overjoyed to see and feel them bouncing about on top of me, as though this was their first night together. Over the years I have seen and heard much in this room. I have been the guest to happy couples and, sadly, to all too many unhappy couples. But I am especially happy to see them, still together and still as much in love as in those first days. God bless them and good luck to them. May the next twenty-five years and perhaps more, see them still as much in love as they are at this moment.  


About the author 



Alvaro has passion for reading and writing. He has had two novels published. Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc

Thursday 29 December 2022

The Trouble with Santa by Julie Blaho, egg nog


Tonight’s tips jangle in my coat pocket. It’s enough to buy a second Santa present for Judy. A small one, yet, together with the other, the joy on her face will make Christmas rich this year. Last year, Toys for Tots only had dolls, but if she was disappointed in Santa, I couldn’t tell. Judy’s a good girl. She never complains.

I knock on Mrs. Wheeler’s door and gather Judy from the couch. She shifts her arms around my neck. Her hair smells like cigarette smoke, but Mrs. Wheeler is all I’ve got, so I don’t complain.




“Santa came!” Judy tugs me into the living room and rips into the smaller package first. Her eyes light up. “Colored pencils! I won’t have to borrow Sara’s anymore.”

Then the big one.

“Pony monopoly?” She deflates. “Last year Sara got PlayStation from Santa. I tried to be good all year, so he’d bring me one too, but Santa loves Sara more.”

“Santa loves all kids equally.” I squeeze out the words around the lump in my throat. “I’m sure there’s a reason he picked this for you.”

“Maybe it’s because I love ponies. Will you play with me?”

“Dibs on the blue horse van, but I’ll let you go first.”

Judy giggles and doles out the play money. Christmas is as rich as I’d hoped.


About the author 

Julie Blaho is a creature-crazy country girl who divides her free time between teaching kids to ride horses and writing. She writes in Italy and has work published in Flash Fiction Magazine. You can find her on Twitter: @FelicioneFarm or Instagram: felicione_farm 


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Wednesday 28 December 2022

An Unknown Woman by Barry Vitcov, rye

 The Pacific is leaning toward the coastline. A full moon casting vibrating light on the breakers, the creaks of seabirds punctuating the light tympani of tides. With a full view, he sits with Beatrice, a nine-year old, black standard poodle, watching a sloop making its way from north to south. He wonders about the sailor's destination while Beatrice patiently waits for another treat. It’s been a pleasant day of walking the bluffs, reading the latest Silva thriller, and enjoying the vista with a Knob Creek rye at hand. The mood is broken by a knock at the door and a quick bark from Beatrice who leaps toward the entryway tail wagging and eager to meet whoever is there.  

            He opens the door to a tall woman with long, black hair and binoculars hanging from her neck. She wears a loose fitting, white linen blouse and black pajama-style pants. She smiles and casually tells him she’s late because she was watching whales spout and breach in the bay. She gives him a light peck on the cheek, reaches down and gives Beatrice a playful squeeze behind her left ear, and strides in saying she would soon have dinner on the table. He closes the door, turns and asks, “Who are you?”

            She pauses, looks back at him with a smile that dares him to ask again, and suggests that he return to whatever he was already doing while she goes into the kitchen. Beatrice seems unfazed by the woman’s appearance; in fact, is accepting of her affectionate gesture. He has always trusted Beatrice’s instinct toward novelty, so he returns to his leather chair without a thought for the peculiar nature of what was happening. He resumes his attention to his whiskey and the view of the ocean. He is a writer by profession, a dreamer by nature, and a seeker of harmless adventure. He takes a sip of rye and waits patiently for whatever may ensue while Beatrice curls at his feet.  

            Minutes later cooking sounds and smells emerge from the kitchen. The fragrance of onion and garlic with the sizzle of sautéing ground beef fills the air with familiarity and he thinks a sauce is being made, perhaps a Bolognese to go with some fresh pappardelle pasta he had recently purchased at the Italian deli in town. The refrigerator door opens several times and there is crack of lettuce being torn and the clack of a knife cutting other produce. He figures she must be making a salad. She calls from the kitchen saying dinner won’t be long and he should open a bottle of good red wine and set the dining room table with a salad plate and bowl for pasta. He’s pleased with his knowing. 

            Beatrice alerts him to a flock of gulls swooping low over the shoreline. She’s shown an interest in birdlife since early puppyhood. Fortunately, her incessant barking as a young pup has matured into a low growl and single yelp whenever sighting any of the many birds who make their home in Sea Ranch.  He pushes himself up from his chair, walks to the dining room, with Beatrice at his side, where wine is stored in a climate-controlled closet and chooses a zinfandel from the Dry Creek terroir. He opens the drawer at the end of the table, removes placemats, retrieves plain white bowls, salad plates, and cutlery from a sideboard and sets the table for two. He uncorks the wine and places a couple of Riedel wine glasses beside the place settings. She calls out from the kitchen to thank him for having San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry and that dinner is only minutes away. He knows it will be at least another thirty minutes before the sauce has a chance to develop and mellow its distinctive flavor, so he pours himself another Knob Creek and settles back to watching the ocean. Beatrice looks at him with a cock of her head and slightly raised ears before curling at his feet without any verbal comment.  

            As he expected, a simple dinner of pasta a la Bolognese and green salad lightly dressed with a vinaigrette expertly made with olive oil, lemon, minced garlic, salt and pepper. They sit without saying a word. Beatrice finds her regular spot under the table and safely away from pesky feet that might disturb her own dinner dreams. Having allowed this beautiful, unknown woman into his home felt like a reverie, a story conjured from his overly active imagination. He looked into her jade green eyes before filling the wine glasses and taking a bite of pasta and commenting, “One of the best I’ve ever had. Where did you learn to cook?”

            She lifted her glass toward him with a suggestive look and answered, “Here and there.”

            He had once read a short story where two strangers met in a coffee shop, ended up spending several hours over espressos before leaving for his beachside apartment and an unforgettable one-night stand. They had never learned each other’s names and said goodbye after post-coital lattes at the same coffee shop where they began an inexplicable fantasy. The story enchanted him with its improbability and eroticism. He often wondered if such a scenario were really possible or just the lustful thoughts of male libido.

            He asked, “Did you walk far?”

            “You already know the answer,” she replied with the smile of an enchantress.

            The fiction he had read involved gorgeous people. Like the woman sitting at his table, she was tall with long dark hair and jade green eyes. The man in the story was also tall with a well-proportioned body and an athletic walk. Unlike the man in the story, he has no athletic ability, is tall with poor posture, unstylish reddish-brown hair beginning to gray at the temples, and a face blotchy with freckles. He doesn’t drink espressos or lattes and has difficulty carrying on a conversation for more than a few minutes. His friends describe him as shy with a receding personality. The redundancy is unfortunately appropriate. He’s thinking he must be the victim of an elaborate practical joke.

            With every bite of Bolognese and sip of wine, he becomes both more curious and comfortable with the situation. He relaxes into a deeper state of ambiguity, in which he is edgy about where this scene is going and yet at ease with this unknown woman’s company. Until sitting at the dining table, he felt caught in a visual fog, but now details began to emerge. He notices a small, almost imperceptible, scar on the ridge of her right cheekbone, which acts to highlight her perfect olive complexion. Her fingers are long and elegantly manicured and painted magenta. The few words she’s uttered remind him of what he imagines a Southern belle might sound like, a slight musical drawl but without the blond hair. She sits with perfect posture, slowly savoring the meal she prepared. How did she know what was in his kitchen and where to find the necessary cooking gear?

            “Just visiting Sea Ranch?” he asks.

            “You might say that.”

            When he was a boy growing up in San Francisco, he became a fan of a group of jugglers who regularly performed in Golden Gate Park. Every Saturday at noon, a VW bus brightly painted in a psychedelic motif parked near the panhandle and six jugglers emerged. Three men dressed as clowns and three women in harem outfits, sporting pierced navels and bodies that moved like octopuses. They loudly drew attention with poor puns, dry wit, and skillful juggling with an assortment of objects. He watched for the entire hour’s performance savoring the encore when flaming batons were tossed back and forth without a care for personal safety. The only miscue was when a tossed knife nicked the cheek of one of the woman jugglers causing a gasp from the observers and indifference from the performers. The crowd that had gathered broke into hoots and applause and filled the juggler’s hats with coin and paper money after the show. He thought it was a great way to earn a living and tried for months to teach himself how to juggle. Unfortunately, his lack of coordination led to many broken plates and bruised fruit and he abandoned all hope of being a performer. Instead, he used the experience to write a series of stories about a troupe of traveling jugglers who popped up unannounced at parks across the country. Those stories eventually became a ten-volume set of bestselling young adult books affording him the luxury of living at Sea Ranch. He remembered that one of the women jugglers looked very much like the woman sitting before him.

            Dinner continued without conversation until Beatrice stood, walked over to the woman and placed her shaved muzzle on her right thigh. The woman looked down at Beatrice, put her fork on the edge of her plate like a well-mannered sophisticate, and reached down to scratch Beatrice behind both ears. Beatrice had a way of developing relationships whether ongoing or temporary. The woman smiled at Beatrice and told her she was a sweet girl. Beatrice reacted to the compliment with all the nonchalance of a well-schooled debutante.

            “Beatrice doesn’t like everybody,” commented the man.

            She said, “I have a way with dogs.”

            The first glasses of wine were finished and another poured. Dinner was also finished and the woman stacked the dirty dishes, collected the used silverware, and took them to the kitchen. She directed, “Wait here, we’ll have dessert.”

            He sat savoring the wine. Dry Creek was a region not far from Sea Ranch. It was famous for lush vineyards and world-class wines, especially its zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons. He kept a good selection in his wine closet, but rarely had the opportunity to share a bottle and certainly not share a bottle with a woman who mysteriously shows up, enters his home with hardly a word, and makes a fabulous meal, which they eat in relative silence. Who is this woman? Why did he allow her into his home? Did this bode for a tragic ending? Were there compatriots waiting outside to storm his home, cause bodily harm, and steal whatever they might find? And what could she possibly be offering for dessert?

            She returns with two dishes of ice cream. He forgot about the unopened quart of spumoni in his freezer. He had purchased it several months ago at the market in Gualala and now it was being served after a delicious Italian dinner. Coincidence? Planning? None of what was happening made any sense. Beatrice was fond of spumoni. There were no other foods she would beg for, but now she sat at the stranger’s side faithfully waiting for the icy treat. Without asking him permission, she scooped some of the ice cream with her forefinger and offered it to Beatrice, who happily licked it and sat waiting for more.

             It suddenly dawned on him that this woman might be an employee at the grocery store and maybe that’s the connection. “Beatrice has made a lifelong friend,” he said. “By any chance, do you work at the Surf?”

            “She’s a sweet girl. No, I don’t work.”

            He wanted to ask the most important question, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” but didn’t want to break the mood or the spell he seemed to be under. Between the two Knob Creeks and two glasses of zinfandel, he was feeling warm, cozy, and safe in this woman’s presence. Beatrice continued to approve of the woman while consuming most of her dish of ice cream as it was offered finger scoop by finger scoop. He had not eaten any of his spumoni and it had melted into a gob of dried fruit, nuts, and a pool of watery gelato and whipped cream.

            She suggested taking their wine and going to the living room. He sat back in his maroon leather chair cradling his goblet, as she on the matching sofa across from him. He did not want to be so forward as to sit next to her. They both had views of the ocean, which, in a full moon’s light appeared magical with lit whitecaps and shadowy tides. They sat quietly for almost thirty minutes. Beatrice jumped up on the sofa and snuggled against the woman’s hip. Beatrice had no problem being forward.

            Finally, the woman broke the silence. “I once read a story about a beautiful, dark-haired member of a traveling troupe of jugglers. One day she met a handsome man at a coffee shop where they drank espressos, talked for hours, and had a torrid love affair without ever sharing identities. It’s the strangest story I ever read.”

            “I believe I know what you mean,” replied the man. 

About the author 

Barry Vitcov lives in Oregon with his wife and brilliant poodle. His collection of poetry "Where I Live Some of the Time" was published in February 2021 by Finishing Line Press. A collection of short stories The "Wilbur Stories & More" was published by Finishing Line Press in July 2022. 


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Tuesday 27 December 2022

Krampusnacht by Liz Cox, a glass of warming Gluhwein



By Liz Cox

A glass of warming Gluhwein


Peter woke. It was black outside his bedroom window. His hands shook. Through the bare window he watched the big star glinting in the wintry night. He shivered as he tried to pull the thin blanket around his shoulders. It was Krampusnacht.

‘You’re a wicked boy.’ He could still hear old Frau Stein’s rasping voice ringing in his ears. He hadn’t meant to break her flowerpot; he’d just tripped over because the sole of his shoe was flapping, ; letting in the melting ice. Was that enough for the Krampus to come to get him? He didn’t think so, but you couldn’t be too sure. The Krampus watched for every little misdemeanour; he’d been told. He wriggled down to try and keep warm and to hide. He hoped the monster wouldn’t find him.

Ice had formed on the inside of his window; he admired the pretty leaf-like patterns, but he would rather they were not there. His mum said he was young and shouldn’t feel the cold. That was a lie. His t-shirt only covered his shoulders, and he lifted the sheet to examine his legs which were stuck out of the bottom. He waggled his toes, but his legs were still thin and white.

His dad was gone. They hadn’t seen him for ages. Mum hadn’t been the same since. She cried and drank all the time from that bottle with the funny label. Why she wanted to drink all that chilly water when it was already cold, he couldn’t understand. And why buy it from the shop when water came from the tap? Sometimes she would slip the bottle under her coat and forget to pay for it when they got to the till. She always remembered to pay for the day-old bread. Once when he tried to tell her she’d forgotten it, she slapped him hard on his face and made him cry. Afterwards, although she cried, hugged him, and said she didn’t intend to hurt him, he never reminded her again.

He didn’t mean to upset his mum, but he seemed to do it all the time. Perhaps he really was a naughty boy and deserved for the Krampus to beat him with its twigs. He wondered what would happen if the monster did come for him. Would it take him away? He wouldn’t want to leave his mum; what would she do then? She would be alone, but maybe his dad would come back then, it could be Peter’s fault he had left. Who would want to live with a bad boy? His mum would be happy again.

‘Peter!’ his mum groaned, her voice sounding like cracking glass. ‘Peter come here!’

Peter slid out of bed and peered around the door which led into the other room. His mum lay on the floor, surrounded by the shards of a broken bottle. Blood was gushing from her wrist, soaking her thin trousers.

‘Get Frau Stein,’ she croaked, ‘I need a doctor.’ Her voice was fading, and her eyes rolled back in her head.

‘Mum, Mum what have you done. Don’t leave me please.’ Peter snatched the tablecloth and wound it tightly round his mum’s arm. The tablecloth turned scarlet.

Even though he was scared he had to go out into the night, he knew that. He rushed to the bedroom and grabbed his joggers, dragging them on as he ran back. It was dark in the yard and every shadow could be the Krampus. The frosty moon gave a faint glow to light his way. He crept around the walls feeling his way until he came to Frau Stein’s steps. They were glittering with ice, but he pulled himself up with the rail, slipping and sliding. He fell on his knees, screwed his eyes up and bit his lip drawing blood.

Having heard the kerfuffle, Frau Stein was already at the door, looking grim, holding a large lump of wood ready to strike out at the intruder stumbling up her stairs. She had a woollen shawl gripped around her shoulders and Peter noticed that she was thin, and her face had a yellow tinge. He’d never noticed that before.

‘Peter!’ she cried. ‘What’s going on? What do you want frightening an old lady in the middle of the night?’

She turned to go back indoors and tried to close the door in his face. Peter stuck his foot in the door, grabbed her arm and attempted to drag her down the steps. Frau Stein wrenched her arm out of his grasp and peered at him in the darkness.

‘Frau Stein, my mum’s hurt, she’s bleeding. She needs a doctor, hurry up!’

On hearing this Frau Stein opened the door wider, enough for Peter to wedge his scrawny body in the hall so she couldn’t close it again.

‘Come on, hurry up,’ he screamed, his face red.  ‘My mum’s dying!’

‘Wait here Peter. Let me get my coat and telephone for an ambulance. Then I’ll come with you. Come into the warm.’ She turned to go back into the house and beckoned him to follow her.

Peter hopped from one foot to the other, willing her to hurry up. After what seemed to him to be ages, she returned wearing her coat and carrying another one for Peter.

‘This used to belong to my son. He died a long time ago, but it should fit you nicely.’

Peter looked up at her and saw that her eyes filled with tears. Peter scowled. Was this the same Frau Stein that was always shouting at him?

As Frau Stein picked her way down the steps, Peter rushed ahead, skittering, and sliding. In the distance he could hear the siren of the ambulance getting closer and louder.

Frau Stein followed him into his home. She knelt beside Peter’s mother.

‘Kirsten, please wake up, the ambulance will be here in a moment.’ She shook the girl’s shoulder.

Frau Stein examined Kirsten’s arm, and although the blood had soaked through the cloth, the bleeding seemed to have stopped. Kirsten’s eyes fluttered, then closed again. Peter leaned over his mother and shook her arm. He draped the coat Frau Stein had given him over her.

‘Wake up Mum!’ Silent tears made dirty streaks in Peter’s face. ‘Don’t die Mum! This’ll keep you warm, Mum.’ Frantically, he tucked the woollen garment around her still body. Kirsten’s brow creased for a moment. ‘Frau Stein gave it to me, it belonged to her son.’

Peter felt a slight pressure on his fingers and looked down. ‘You’re a good boy Peter.’ Kirsten breathed.

‘Yes,’ said Frau Stein bustling around, ‘Peter has been a very brave little boy. Don’t worry about anything, I will look after him until you are well again.’ She stroked the still woman’s hair. ‘Don’t worry.’

The flashing blue light stopped on the street outside their yard, and they heard the crunching of the men’s feet on the frosty cobbles.

‘Will the Krampus get me Frau Stein?’ Peter’s teeth were chattering as he wrapped his arms around his thin chest and huddled into her body.

‘No Peter, the Krampus will not be looking for you tonight.’ She smiled and placed an arm on his shoulder.


About the author

Liz writes short stories and poetry and is just finishing her first novel. She lives in North Yorkshire and at the time of writing is looking out over beautiful, inspirational snowy fields. 


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