Fiction Month 4

This week’s contribution to Fiction Month is a flash fiction-a short story in its entirety.

Alfie’s Monster

On the landing, between Alfie’s bedroom and the bathroom there is a monster. He thinks the monster must be nocturnal, because he has been learning about nocturnal animals at school. Alfie has needed to go for a pee for about the last ten minutes, but as yet has been unable to muster the nerve to cross the landing under the monster’s menacing eye.

“I’ll count to twenty” he murmurs “then I’m going.” Proud of his newly acquired skill in counting, remembering that until recently he’d have had to count to ten twice, he begins as slowly as the urgency allows.

A shaft from the landing nightlight illuminates where Alfie’s door is ajar, so he darts first to the edge of the shaft before steeling himself to leap across, hurling himself into safety and slamming the bathroom door. Despite having taken a mere fraction of a second to get there, he catches a glimpse of the fiend that has been threatening to overwhelm him; a huge head balanced upon an open, slavering jaw that mocks him with a rictus grin.

The pounding in Alfie’s chest has subsided by the time he is ready to make the journey in reverse. This time, having opened the door he keeps his eyes screwed shut and launches himself in the direction of his bedroom, knocking his elbow painfully on the bedroom door handle in the process. He dives into bed, plunging beneath the duvet and rolling into a ball like a hedgehog into its daytime nest.

Next morning, as Alfie conducts yet another extensive inspection of the landing, hoping to discover the burrow that the monster is using during daylight hours he can see nothing to suggest a hideaway but for the third time in a week he trips over a plastic sword, shield and helmet that are part of his brother Callum’s medieval knight outfit.

“Watch out!” Yells Callum emerging from the bathroom. “I need that stuff today for my history project.”

Rubbing his knee, Alfie frowns back at him. “Well don’t keep it here then. I hurt my knee on it.”

The period after supper is dominated by an animated account of Callum’s day as a medieval knight, including a reprise of the outfit, during which Callum, in a spasm of over-excitement leaps upon Alfie, shrieking, “Die infidel!” and in wielding his sword manages to capsize a vase and several family photographs. The boys roll together on the carpet, locked in mortal combat, Alfie banging his head on the coffee table and Callum losing his helmet. Their mother comes in to remonstrate, rights the vase and the photos, lifts the helmet from the floor, its visor hanging open. From his vantage point where Alfie sees the helmet’s silhouette on the wall he gasps. The monster!

In the warm, safe haven of his bed, as Alfie reflects on his foolishness the tousled head of his brother peers around his door. “There’s a snake living under your bed. A huge snake! It’s coming to get you!”

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The B&B Rant

A lot of people swear by B&Bs for their holiday accommodation needs. B&Bs, guest houses, chambers d’hotes-whatever you like to call them-differ from hotels in a variety of ways, but personally I would prefer to eat my own hair than stay in them.
The reasons fans of B&Bs give for loving them are varied, but rely on the principle of the ‘personal touch’. They say things like ‘such nice people’, ‘just like family’, ‘home from home’ and it is just this that provokes me to shudder at the idea of staying in one. This judgement does not come from hearsay, reportage or conversation but from real, empirical research. In other words, my experiences of said places have been entirely negative.
I don’t want to stay in someone’s home. I can manage [just about] to stay with close family members for up to two nights, perhaps but even then I find it hard to manage.
I don’t want to sleep in an overheated, tiny, stuffy room crammed with family photos, ornaments, souvenirs of Brixham, lace doilies and knick-knacks. I don’t want to be suffocated by an enormous cloud of puffy duvet.
We are not the earliest of risers. I want a lovely, exclusive en suite [for night time needs, if nothing else] and at least two cups of tea before I face anyone [Husband excluded of course]. I may want to slob about pre-ablution watching News 24.
When I do surface, I don’t really want to eat anything until at least late morning, and then I am not able to cope with ‘full English’ [in other words: cereal followed by bacon, sausage, egg, baked beans, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, toast and marmalade].
Most of all though I don’t wish to sit at the breakfast table and make small talk with the ‘friendly, welcoming’ host or hostess. I don’t want their life story, learn what their grandchildren are studying at university or where they have been for their holidays.
If all this makes me sound humbug I don’t care. Give me a plain, simple, anonymous hotel. It doesn’t need a stupendous view, an infinity pool, a Michelin starred restaurant or four posters [although they can be fun…]. I want to be able to use a breakfast buffet-preferably up until eleven or so. I want tea and coffee making facilities [biscuits are always a bonus]. I want a TV I can watch from the bed. I want a firm, clean, comfortable bed with options for temperature control [ie covers to put on or remove]. I want a clean, efficient en suite with a shower that doesn’t need a degree in engineering to operate. Ideally, some beautiful toiletries are provided. I’d really like a late night bar where I can grab a last glass of wine before I turn in. I’d like INTERNET [included in the price!]. I’d like pleasant, non intrusive service.
I don’t mind that it is part of a ‘chain’ and every room is the same. It needn’t have an Alpine or Namibian Desert view.
Otherwise-give me a comfortable, efficient camper van, which does have ensuite, tea & coffee making, glass of wine and TV-and I don’t need to talk to anyone [Husband excluded]…

Not Just a Machine, Monsieur Corbusier!

                After a tortured, traffic ridden crawl of ten hours from bonny Scotland, where we’d disembarked from the Larne-Stranraer ferry, we arrived back at home-that is to say-the place where we live when we don’t live in our miniature, wheeled home.

                I’d be lying if I said homecomings are no different from the time when I was a proper working person. I no longer get that plummeting sensation as the first working Monday looms; that attempt to cling to every last moment; those delaying tactics at bed time. The return journey from any trip these days provides me with an opportunity to speculate on what may have happened in my absence and what may need to be done in order to mitigate these happenings, and also to appreciate the comforts and conveniences that a house offers.

                We near our street. I experience a frisson of surprise like the Narnia children’s experience of coming back through the wardrobe when I see that nothing has changed. Opening the front door and stepping into the hall feels new. There is a pile of [mostly junk] mail teetering on the hall chair, clamouring for the recycling bin. Of the mail that remains, one is a reminder to renew my car tax, one is a bank statement, one is yet another publishing agent’s rejection of my novel. Lovely.

                Even if it is dark I am always compelled to go first to the garden, where there tends to be good news- and bad. A lot of things have survived or even thrived in my absence [=good]. A lot of things that have thrived are weeds [=bad] and snails [=bad]. The lawn is not waist high [=good]. The lawn consists of weeds, moss, brown patches and ants’ nests [=bad].

                During the three weeks we’ve not been here the doorbell has made use of the time to take one of its intermittent sabbaticals, the carpets have acquired a layer of particles, the windows have taken on a smoked glass look, the fridge is empty of all but a tube of tomato puree, a few wrinkly cloves of garlic and half a jar of marmalade. Next day, after a stuffy and restless night in the luxury [post camper] that is bed, as I launch into laundering the sixteen tons of dirty washing we’ve created, the garden washing line decides, during the pegging of the last load, to make a statement by collapsing.

                But it’s not all bad. The sun is out. I spend my first sockless day for three weeks-[and not just because there are no clean socks in the drawer]. A passable duo at the local pub makes a refreshing, timely change from Irish folk ditties. And there is something to watch on the box…Glastonbury!

                So, as in the immortal lines of Frank Sinatra’s ‘It’s Nice to go Traveling’-it is quite nice to be home. Now, where shall we go next?