The Frost Castle

Freya The Fearless or Foolhardy as her father opted to call her, drove her axe into the ice and lowered her head, as a spray of snow showered over her. She was halfway up a steep wall of ice, using her pair of dual axes as makeshift ice picks. Every now and then she had to pause, as a strong gust of wind buffeted against her, flattening her against the cliff face. She looked up. It was hard to make out the summit of the ice wall, as there was so much snow and mist swirling above her. Trying not to dwell on her predicament too much, Freya raised her free arm and drove the second axe into the ice wall, a little higher than the first. She was eager to reach the top.

The longer she delayed here, the more danger Horatio would be in. At the same time, she had to remind herself then rushing could be costly. The wall was slick and footing scarce. One wrong move and she would plummet to a certain death. So, gritting her teeth, Freya pushed on, choosing her path carefully, as she ascended to her destination. With her heavy furs and dark skin, she looked like some winter animal scaling the wall. The only thing that stood out in the blanket of whites and greys was her hair. Long, tied into a tight braid and shaved on one side, she sported a shock of purple hair. From afar it looked like a blank canvas with a single fleck of purple paint in its centre.

She was making steady progress, despite her aching arms and legs, when she heard something that made her pause for a moment. Freya had grown up in the woods of the Salam Valley, taught at an early age to track and hunt, sharpening not only her eyesight but also her hearing to best locate her prey. She cocked her head to one side and listened intently. There was a very faint crunching of snow underfoot from somewhere in the distance.

A second later an arrow thudded into the ice wall beside her. Freya flinched but maintained her grip on the wall. She had come too far to be bested by some irrelevant bandits. Another arrow buried itself into the wall, mere centimetres from her right foot. It was time to move. She heaved herself up and drove an axe into the wall. There was a deep rumble and crack from under the ice. Freya bit her lip. The wall was starting to crack. It couldn’t take much more. An arrow whizzed through the air. Freya’s quick reflexes kicked in and she ducked down, the projectile smacking into the wall where her head had been mere moments ago.

She breathed out deeply. That was too close. Another tremble shook the ice wall. One more arrow and it would fall. She glanced up, to try and see where she was in relation to the top. But it was too concealed by the cloud of snow and sleet shrouding the sky. Narrowing her eyes, she thought she could just make out it’s dark outline. It didn’t look too far but that was assuming her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her.

Another two arrows were loosed, Freya picking out the elastic twang of the rope pinging back. Tensing all her muscles, she let out a warrior scream and launched herself backwards off the wall and up into the air. The arrows struck the ice wall and there was a tremendous cracking noise, as a jagged fork spread throughout the ice. There was a deep groan from beneath and parts of the wall began to break off and tumble down into the abyss. Freya flew upwards, blood pumping madly in her ears, as the wind rushed past her. She cleared the ravine and kept going up.

As she rose, she looked down and caught sight of the three archers crouched at the edge of the chasm. As gravity began to tug her back towards the ground, she gripped both axe handles tightly in her palms. The three archers looked up in stunned surprise, as she shot like a bullet towards them. The first to recover, raised his bow but received an axe in his chest for his efforts. He fell forward in the snow and lay still. With her one remaining axe, Freya gripped it in both hands and landed on the second archer with an almighty force, driving the axe deep into the man’s head. He was wearing a helmet, but the force of her attack was so strong, it tore through the armour like a knife through hot butter.

She let go off the axe as she hit the guard, rolled forward in the snow and came to a stop a little way away, face down. The one remaining archer, who had watched these quick successions of events open mouthed, took hold of his senses. Stringing an arrow in his bow, he moved forward cautiously to the felled warrior. She was still lying in the same position, completely still, her face buried in the snow. He stopped in front of her and pointed his bow at her back. There was a moment’s hesitation.

A tremendous rumble made him start and he looked round in time to see the rest of the ice wall detach itself and avalanche down into the ravine. Freya’s arms shot out. She seized the archer by both ankles and pulled as hard as she could. The man let out a yelp of surprise, as he was flung backwards. The arrow he had ready, rocketed up into the air and was gone.

Next moment, Freya was on top of him, reigning blow after blow on his face. He tried to fight back but she was far too strong, her muscular arms pounding him unflinchingly. Freya brought back an arm, muttered something incomprehensible under her breath and delivered her final blow. It was so powerful, that in drove the archer’s head deep into the snow, so only a blooded patch amongst the white was left to show.

Freya knelt in the snow and regarded her bloodied fists for a moment. Her face was burning hot with rage and her fists throbbed with a dull ache, yet the cold around her made her shiver. Wiping the fresh blood from her knuckles on the snow, she stood up and turned around. The other two dead archers lay before her. She retrieved her axes, the one embedded in the second archer’s head taking a bit more effort to wrench free then the first.

Inspecting the archers, she found nothing to indicate where they had come from, but their lack of armour or clothing puzzled her. Even if they had a camp nearby, being out in these frozen wastes with these measly garments, they would have frozen to death in a matter of minutes. Sheathing her bloodstained axes, she looked up.

A great, towering black shape slumbered in the distance, concealed by the thick screen of falling snow. It rose and fell at certain points, giving it a jagged, broken outline. This was her destination.  Taking one last glance at the corpses in the snow, Freya began to trudge her way around the ravine. The mystery of the measly garments would have to wait. She had more important matters to intend to.

On the other side of the ravine there was a wide and snaking path or more accurately what once was one. The continual downpour of snow had hidden it but after a few moments of digging with her axe, Freya hit stone. It was a cobbled path she ascertained, by the smoothness and unevenness of the stones. She glanced up, surmising in her head. The path was leading away towards the black outline in the distance. It was quite possible that it could lead off in another direction further down the line, but it was a good bet to assume that it led roughly in the direction of her destination.

Although, she now had a clear indication of where she was going, progress wasn’t easy. The six inches of deep snow tugged at her boots, sucking on her legs with every swathe she made forwards. She looked up at the looming black shadow. It was growing steadily closer and beginning to take more shape. Not soon enough, Freya thought to herself. All her muscles felt stretched to breaking point. The jump she had performed off the ice wall had worked in her favour, but it had taken a great amount of energy and strength. Fatigue was starting to set in, not aided by the awkward terrain and cold weather.

She hugged her furs closer to her body. When Freya had become an adolescence, she had to take part in a clearing test. This involved enduring extreme conditions and temperatures from searing hot to bitterly cold, not to mention fighting such formidable foes as trolls, giant arachnids and swarms of Skrill. She shivered at the memory of the winged, skinless creatures with their razor-sharp teeth and forked tails. Despite all this, she still spent most of her time in her native woodland and as such, was less accustomed to sub-zero temperatures.

Freya gritted her teeth and trudged on through the snow. Pull it together, she told herself. She had made it this far. To turn around now would only result in shame and ridicule from her tribe. Neglecting a tribe’s and elder’s orders was heavily frowned upon. But her punishment and shaming would be far worse if she returned empty handed. So, bearing this in mind, she powered on to her goal, pushing all thoughts of cold and discomfort to the dark recesses of her mind. The path she was following snaked its way through a tall ravine, towering ice walls either forming side of her. Although, Freya disliked being in tight spaces, it was a relief to be sheltered from the wind for a moment.

She paused and alighted on a partially submerged rock. A small pouch hung from a belt at her waist. From it, she withdrew a small package constructed of leaves and twines. Unwrapping it, she extracted a sticky round brown substance. It was formed in a circular ball and although light, had a certain denseness to it. Freya took a small mouthful and wrinkled her nose. Gum bread was a popular choice among travellers and hikers, as only a small morsel could keep an adventurer going for hours. The problem was that it tasted awful and tended to stick between one’s teeth. Freya sighed, as she chomped the tough bread, trying to stop her mouth from cementing itself shut.

There was a rumble and shudder from the wall to her left. She eyed it cautiously, pausing mid chew. It fell silent once more. Thinking nothing of it, Freya returned her attention to finishing her meal. The icy surfaces made strange noises. Freya had heard that first hand on her climb up. Although it still made her uncomfortable, she had trained herself to become accustomed to the sounds. It was only natural.

Freya was packing away the remainder of her gum bread when a shadow fell across the ravine. She shivered. The clouds must be passing over. That wasn’t a good sign. Where they were clouds, storms were bound to follow. The last thing Freya needed was to be caught in a blizzard. She hopped down from the rock and brushed the bread crumbs from her furs.

Then, without warning a tremendous force slammed down behind her. The rock was obliterated, shards of the structure flying outwards. A section caught Freya in the shoulder and she was spun round, falling on her back in the snow with a heavy thump. The pain in her right shoulder blade was excruciating and she covered her head to block her face from smaller chunks of rock raining down through the air. There was a tremendous rumble that seemed to vibrate through the walls and ground beneath her.

She forced herself to look up and immediately wished she hadn’t. Two giant frosted hands gripped either side of the ravine. They were attached to a ginormous creature. Its body constructed entirely out of ice. Only it’s eyes showed any semblance of sentience. They were steely blue and swivelled around in their ice encased sockets with a strange liquid like sensation. Freya felt rooted to the spot, as the ice monster leaned back and let out an almighty roar. The ground and walls shuddered so violently this time, that Freya felt her teeth rattle in her skull. Portions of ice broke free from the force of the roar and plummeted towards the ground, where Freya lay. She rolled over just in time to avoid a large patch of ice colliding with her head.

Scrambling to her feet, she made a dash for the ravine exit. The ice giant bounded after her, his large hands and feet thumping into the ice walls. Freya had to zigzag, jump and roll to avoid dislodged loose ice that was raining down around her. The giant was getting closer and Freya noticed with a sickening churning of the stomach, that the ravine was starting to collapse in on itself. The exit was a little way off, but the walls were starting to landslide in. She made a dart for freedom. If she could just make it a little further.

The giant landed above her and thrust an enormous hand down into the ravine. Freya sidestepped out of the way and attacked it viciously with her axe, chipping off bits of the giant’s hand. The creature roared in pain and retracted it. Freya instantly regretted her decision. The giant’s roar was the final straw. The exit caved in on itself, the walls crumbling and land sliding into the ravine. Freya felt fear flood her body, a sensation she had never been familiar with. There was no way out.

Two fragments of the wall crashed into the ground either side of her. She looked up. The giant was staring down at her, it’s cold blue eyes narrowed. In any moment, the ravine would collapse in on itself entirely and she would be flattened to death. She returned her attention to the exit. Before she knew what was happening, Freya was running forwards at speed. There was a little outcrop in front of her, where some of the fallen ice and snow had landed on top of each other and formed a slight ramp. Freya raced forwards. As she darted towards the ramp, she reached behind her back and pulled a small staff from out of a holster on her back.

The giant ascertained what was going on, a few moments too late and rushed forwards to try and stop his fleeing prey. Freya jumped up onto the bottom of the ramp and twisted the staff in her hand. It instantly grew several feet in length and suddenly Freya was making her way up the ramp with a full length fighting staff. At the top of the ramp, Freya drove the end of the staff into a rut into the ground and gripping the pole as tightly as she dared, pushed off from the ramp.

She vaulted up and through the air in a circular arc. At the highest point of her arc, Freya let go and soared through the air. It was all a blur, snowflakes covering her eyes and wind screaming in her ears. The blocked off exit rose out of nowhere and Freya felt her stomach lurch, as she flew towards it. She cleared it by a hair’s breadth, the layer of snow covering the top, whipping up in her wake.

A large hand swung out at her from towards her left. There was nothing she could do. She was wind milling through the air with no control over her body. The hand whooshed past, the outstretched fingers brushing Freya’s streaming hair. There was an almighty bellow of rage, as Freya descended towards the ground. She braced herself for a rough impact. She hit the ground hard and skidded several feet in the snow before coming to a rest, spread eagled in the snow, completely still.

Freya was awoken by a strange sensation. Something cold and wet kept brushing her arms and legs. She tried to roll over, but she had expended all her energy. Her muscles were exhausted. The cold, wet sensation had gone, and, in its place, Freya was assailed by stinging pains at various points over her body. Next moment, something large pushed on her side. She tried to push it away, but her arms were like jelly and fell back uselessly. Again, the large thing pushed on her side and this time with so much force, that she was turned over onto her back. A sky of pure white blinded her.

Then a large shape appeared above her, blocking out most of the light. Freya squinted, trying to make sense of what it was. After several blinks of the eye, a large wolf’s head swum into her vision. Its yellow eyes looked down at her curiously. Instead or scream or try to wriggle free, she smiled. It was the first time since she had set foot in these cursed wastes and it felt good. Somewhere, an unknown strength gripped her, and she sat bolt upright, grabbing hold of the large wolf’s body and hugging it tightly.

‘Dagur, you came.’ Freya said overjoyed, her face buried in the large beast’s fur.

The wolf said nothing but licked one of the wounds on Freya’s forehead. The cut remained but the bleeding stopped. Freya sat back and regarded the Dagur with tired eyes.

‘I lost my staff.’ She said despondently.

‘But you are still alive.’ Dagur’s voice said in her head.

The wolf spoke seldom, preferring to communicate with action rather than words. But when he did, Dagur only ever spoke telepathically to Freya. The wolf was Freya’s spirit animal, gifted to her when she was a child. The two forever shared a bond.

‘Have you been sent here to bring me home?’

Dagur nodded, watching her with keen eyes.

‘Well you can tell my father that I am not coming back till I rescue Horatio.’ She said defiantly.

In her fit of passion, Freya tried to stand up. Her legs gave way and she tumbled back down to the ground. The wolf grinned, exposing his sharp, pointed teeth. Then he moved forward and lowered himself onto the snow.

‘Come child. Horatio needs your help.’

Freya looked at Dagur in surprise and grabbing hold of the wolf’s fur, clambered onto the beast’s back, where she lay panting. Dagur stood up on all fours and glanced at the castle. It was visible now, just. The high towers and peaked battlements thrusting up into the winter sky.

‘Hold on.’ Dagur advised and howling loudly, dashed forward towards the castle.

Freya was used to riding Dagur. She had grown up hunting with the animal, using him as a mount to hunt down their prey. Even so, her legs and arms ached sharply, and she had to summon great energy and focus onto holding on. Dagur leapt over a fallen log, that was hidden in a coat of snow and thundered on, his strong legs pounding the snow below them. She felt an immense love for her spirit animal rise within her. Dagur had come to help her, when no one else would. Even though, she knew deep down he was against the idea.

The castle rose out of the mist and snow to meet them. It was an imposing sight with its black stone walls and ramparts, yet Freya felt no apprehension. Instead, the sight of the towering castle served to renew new life in her. After days of trekking through snow, fighting off attackers and not to mention the harsh landscape itself, Freya had finally reached her destination.

Dagur slowed, as they reached the castle’s entrance. Freya pulled out one of axes, glancing all about her, as the wolf padded forwards. So far, she had been attacked by bandits and a frost giant. She was not about to go charging full steam ahead at a castle door, not matter how tempting the idea might be. There could be sentries, guards. It was quiet. The only sounds to be heard was the rush of the icy wind and the soft crunch underfoot, as Dagur padded forward.

The castle was surrounded by a circular moat with a drawbridge. Typically, the bridge was up, meaning there would be no straightforward walk in the door scenario. The water in the moat however was frozen solid. Dagur stopped, sniffing the ground in front of him and glancing from side to side tentatively. Only when he felt the coast was clear did he allow Freya to dismount.

She climbed down off the beast and blew a loose strand of hair out of her eye. Her cheeks and nose were rosy red, and her eyes had begun to run from the sharp wind. Yet, she strode forward confidently to the moat. Just having her faithful hound Dagur by her side had instilled new purpose in her task. The wolf watched her approach the moat, his ears pricked up, searching for anything out of the ordinary in the snowy landscape around them. The castle from the outside appeared to be abandoned but that didn’t comfort Dagur in the slightest. The animal was aware of the Mage’s power and trickery. It was the complacency which got you killed around wielders of magic.

Freya eyed the frozen moat apprehensively. It wasn’t her first choice by any means. The ice although thick creaked and moaned from time to time. The last time Freya had been on top of an ice structure, the whole thing had collapsed, her nearly with it. She looked up at the drawbridge fixed firmly in place and ran an eye over the walls and sides of the castle. There was no other way in. Even if she wanted to climb the castle walls, she would still have to cross the frozen moat.

She placed a foot on the frozen moat and applied a little pressure. It held. Lowering herself onto the ice, still holding onto the bank for support, she scrunched up her face, waiting for the inevitable crack. But nothing happened. The ice didn’t break, and Freya found she could stand upright without fear of the ice breaking. Footsteps approached from behind and turning she saw Dagur padding towards her.

‘No.’ She commanded, holding out her hands firmly.

The large wolf growled at her deeply.

‘You are too heavy. Wait here and I will climb over the drawbridge and lower it for you.’

Dagur eyed her sceptically for a moment, before huffing and sitting back on his hind legs. Freya nodded.

‘Won’t be long.’

She turned and started making her way across the wide moat. The occasional rumble and crackle from beneath set her on edge but she carried on regardless. This was no time to be getting cold feet. Not when her objective was in arm’s reach. Well nearly. A long shadow passed underneath Freya and she froze on the spot, glued to the ice. There was a tense moment, as she waited for the shadow to return. When it didn’t she let out a sigh of relief and went to step forward.

The ice in front of her shattered, as something very large and long burst out from underneath. Freya fell back, sliding across the slick surface. Broken chunks of airborne ice rained down around her, forcing Freya to curl into a ball and cover her head. A long shadow fell over, so all-encompassing that it nearly blocked out the entire sky. She looked up, higher and higher her eyes went, until finally she was able to look upon the creature’s face.

It was a hideous sight. The water creature’s body was long and windy like a snake’s, with four stubby limbs hanging limply from its torso. But it was its head that drew the most attention. A long narrow face with a pronounced snout and small, beady eyes, jet black and devoid of any emotion. Freya watched in horror, as the sea serpent pulled back it’s elongated neck and opened its huge mouth. Inside were mammoth sized, razor sharp teeth. There was some thick liquid dripping from the side of its mouth, making the sight even more nauseating.

Dagur was barking and growling fiercely, his whole body taut and tensed. He was stood at the very lip to the moat but had obeyed Freya’s orders of staying on land. There was a horrible, gurgling noise and Freya watched the great sea monster. Its neck was convulsing and jerking spasmodically. Freya started to scramble backwards. Something bad was about to happen.

As if in answer, the sea serpent brought its head forward and a ball of green mucus shot out of its mouth. It was headed straight for Freya. She rolled out of the way just in time, jumped to her feet and started sprinting across the ice towards the drawbridge. The ball of green slime hit the ice and then was a sizzling noise, as it began to eat through the surface. Freya stumbled, as the ice gave way to the acid patch.

The sea serpent let out an almighty shriek. It was so high pitched that Freya winced in pain but continued. Reaching the wall of the castle, she paused and glanced over her shoulder. The sea serpent had disappeared. Freya began to climb. This was no time to hang about. The fact that the creature had disappeared back under the ice was more unsettling then being able to see it.

The wall was hard going. It was slippery and had little in the way of hand and footholds. Freya persevered however and reached the bottom of the closed drawbridge gate in good time. She swung an axe up into the wood and tugged on it, to make sure it was secure. Satisfied, she brought the second axe up next, a little higher. Repeating this process, Freya slowly began to make her way up the wooden surface. She glanced over her shoulder at Dagur. He was pacing up and down the shoreline, watching the ice anxiously. Freya glanced above her. She was nearly to the top.

A tremendous crash broke the still air and for the second time, the sky was full of flying ice. Freya concentrated on the task in hand, reaching the top of the drawbridge. That long, enveloping shadow began to rise behind her, until once again it loomed over her like an angry cloud. She heard the weird retching noise and the shadow began to quiver and shake. Knowing what was coming, Freya sped up. She reached the top of the drawbridge in the nick of time.

Another acid patch thudded into the wood beneath her and immediately, it began to eat through the thick surface. The shock of the blow made the drawbridge shake and Freya held onto one of the chains, keeping it in place to steady herself. Steeling herself up, Freya turned to face the monster, her two axes extended out in each hand. The serpent pulled back its head, ready to strike. Freya closed her eyes and breathed out slowly.

The serpent went to strike. Freya’s eyes sprang open, as she raised her axes, ready to meet the beast. The serpent was jerked back suddenly. It screamed that high pitch scream and then tried to dart forward. Again, it was wrenched backwards. It turned its head and glared at Dagur, who had jumped onto the monster’s tail and was biting at it savagely.

‘Go.’ Ordered the wolf, attacking the serpent’s scaled skin with a savage clamp of its mouth.

Freya turned and brought the axe down on one of the gate chains. It slackened slightly but still held firm. She attacked it again, hacking it with all the energy and strength she could muster. The links broke, and the chain gave free. The drawbridge lurched forwards a foot then stopped. The other chain was still holding it up. Freya shimmied along the top and began attacking the next one. A sudden loud whimper made her glance round. The serpent had shaken Dagur free and the wolf had been sent flying across the ice. The poor animal lay against the bank on its side.

‘Dagur.’ Freya screamed and paused in her chopping.

The wolf lay still for a moment. Then very slowly, Dagur climbed to his feet. One of his legs was bleeding. The serpent turned back to Freya and began to move in to attack her instead.

‘Lower the bridge.’ Dagur said so forcefully, that Freya did as she was told.

She hacked and sliced at the chains, not caring about the approaching sea monster, or the inevitable plummeting drop that would come from the fall. The monster started to regurgitate its vile acid liquid for a third time. Freya delivered the final blow to the chains. The links broke free and the drawbridge came loose. At the same time Dagur rushed forward and leapt. The wolf slammed with all his weight into the side of the serpent, knocking it over onto the ice.

The sea serpent screeched and re righted itself, just in time to see the drawbridge swinging down towards it. There was a loud crunch, followed by a splat, as the wooden surface crushed the creature beneath it. Freya landed on top of the drawbridge heavily. The air was knocked from her lungs and it took her a while to recover her breath. Finally, she lifted herself up onto her knees, her chest heaving up and down heavily. One of her axes lay beside her. The other was nowhere to be seen.

‘Dagur.’ She said hurriedly and scrambled over to the edge of the drawbridge.

The serpent lay flattened to the ice, completely still. Dagur was nowhere to be seen. There was a sudden crack and the ice beneath the still sea serpent gave way. Freya held onto the corner of the bridge, as she watched the monster sink beneath the water, it’s long and slinky body slipping slowly under the surface. She waited until the last bubble had risen, and then turned and climbed to her feet, clasping her now only weapon. Her face, which was an expression of sad acceptance suddenly morphed into one of ecstatic joy.

‘Dagur’. She exclaimed and rushed forward.

The large grey wolf was sat at the now open entrance to the castle, watching her curiously. She embraced the wolf in a tight hug but pulled out quickly, when Dagur winced.

‘Sorry, I forgot about your leg.’

The fur was bloodied and stained dark red, but the wound seemed to have stopped flowing.

‘Where’s your other axe?’

Freya looked down at her feet awkwardly.

‘I see. Well try to hang on to that one. I hate to think what is waiting for us inside if that was the sentry guard.’

Freya gripped her one remaining weapon in her hand tightly and nodded. She glanced down the drawbridge at the castle’s now visible inner courtyard. There wasn’t an army of soldiers waiting on the other side or a line of archers posted along the ram tops. Freya took the opportunity to recover her breath and check Dagur was alright. The large animal’s wound had already begun to scab over, aided by the creature’s tongue. Freya had learned from a young age, that wolf’s salvia has incredible healing properties, hence why she had recovered so quickly herself after the fall. Still, it was an instinctual reflex that she worried about Dagur, when he was badly attacked.

‘Onwards and…inwards I guess.’ Freya announced, composing herself.

The stone archway to the courtyard rose over the two travellers, as they stepped off the drawbridge and into the castle itself. As soon as Freya passed underneath and onto the other side, she felt a strange tingle, as the hairs on the back of her neck stood to attention. Dagur sensed it now, sniffing the air with his large snout. But that was it, the lack of air was unusual or rather the stillness. The archway was tall and wide, and the courtyard wasn’t sheltered from above, but the wind seemed completely non-existent. The air was stagnant and thick. The two glanced at each other warily.

At some point a great battle had been fought here. Dust covered skeletons littered the ground, their armour cracked and broken. Freya inspected a few of the corpses, out of morbid curiosity. One of them was slumped against a stone wall, a fancy curved rapier protruding from between his ribs. Freya sheathed her axe and gripped the sword’s handle. She had to place her foot against the dead soldier’s head, as the blade had been rammed so forcibly between the victim’s ribs. Eventually though, with a great tug it came free and Freya stumbled back, holding the rapier up in the air victoriously. She looked round at Dagur. He was watching her with a disapproving expression. She shrugged her shoulders and moved on.

Dagur barked to get her attention and Freya looked in the direction the wolf’s head was pointed in. At the very rear of the courtyard, stood a tall, crumbling and frankly unfit for purpose tower. Despite it’s apparent state of decay with half of its roof and left side of the wall missing, there was a light coming from within. Even Dagur’s keen eyesight couldn’t make out clearly if there was anyone in there. Freya had a feeling though. This was her destination. The ice wall, archer bandits, frost giant and sea serpent had all led to this.

There was one problem however. Their way was barred by an immense wall of debris. During the great battle, a catapult must have been launched at the castle, because their way was barred by a huge section of half broken wall. Freya looked around and spotted a section of the castle rear wall that had been blown out. Dagur was strolling up and down in front of the blockade, trying to see a gap or way through. She didn’t mention it. Dagur wouldn’t be best pleased if she revealed that they could have just snuck in round the back.

Freya glanced around at the devastation. Bodies lay piled up on one another. A few horse skeletons were dotted here and there where presumably a cavalry charge had been attempted. Discarded weapons scattered the ground and arrows were embedded in crates, barrels or corpses alike. A door stood in the corner of the courtyard drew her attention. Two bodies were tangled up in front of it, one of the skeletal hands was attached to its handle. She wrenched the joint free, making a horrible snapping sound and cast it aside. Then she kicked the corpses out of the way and rattled the handle herself. It was locked. No surprise there.

Freya took a step back, then rushed forward and shouldered the wood as hard as she could. The door’s jamb snapped from the force and swung backwards, smashing into the wall. Freya wind milled, her arms flailing, as a descending spiral staircase rose to meet her on the other side. There was a tug on her hood, as she was pulled backwards. Regaining her balance, she straightened up.

‘You can let go of me now.’ She instructed Dagur, who was still gripping her hood in clenched teeth.

The animal consented and padded forwards, sniffing the air. A torch affixed in a bracket on the wall inside burst into life. Dagur snarled at it. Freya laid a hand on the wolf’s giant head and stroked his fur soothingly.

‘It’s okay.’

Dagur didn’t look convinced but the pandering did help. Freya unhooked the lit torch from the wall bracket, gripping the newly acquired rapier in her free hand and started down the spiral staircase. She could feel Dagur watching her, sensing his apprehension. Freya understood his reluctancy to go on. Self – lighting torches were not just creepy but also indicated there was magic about and from what she had witnessed so far, it didn’t seem like the friendly, good natured type. Nevertheless, she had a mission to complete and this appeared to be the only way to reach the tower, so she had no choice but to push on.

The two had to be careful descending the tightly coiled staircase, some of the stone steps were slick and partially broken. The torched helped a little and Dagur had strong night vision but even so, it was slow going. It was with a welcome sigh of relief that they reached the bottom of the staircase and emerged out onto a low roofed but wide underground chamber. Freya felt the tight sensation in her chest alleviate somewhat. She was not claustrophobic by nature but combine that with poor light and dodgy footing and she had found her breathing becoming a little strained at points. A sudden gust of wind rushed through the chamber, extinguishing Freya’s torch and spraying dust and grit into her eyes. The two coughed and spluttered.

‘Dagur…. can you see anything?’

The wolf was about to reply, when several torches lining either side of the chamber flickered into life. Dagur growled again and Freya gripped her rapier more tightly. The chamber was made up of several black and darkened cells, lining either side of the walls. Freya discarded the now useless torch and made her way forwards through the chamber. Some of the cells were open and Freya paused to peer inside. Dagur kept glancing behind him but there was nothing there. There were more corpses in the cells, although these ones were adorned in half rotted hoses and shirts of simple design and plain in colour. Most of them had chains around their ankles with heavy lead balls attacked at the end. Some of them even had metal collars around their necks. Freya shivered. The skeletons themselves didn’t scare her. She wasn’t easily frightened by corpses but the thought of their no doubt torturous imprisonment put her on edge.

There was another door at the end of the chamber room. Freya moved forward to inspect it. It was similar in design to the cell doors with its heavy metal bolts and iron bars. Once again, she tried slamming her weight against the door but this time it held. Damn. She unhooked a nearby torch an inspected the door more closely. There was a keyhole in the right-hand corner. A rustling noise made her spin round. Sword raised, the two waited for another sound. A small, dark shape scurried out from one of the cells. Dagur leapt forward, bringing a paw down on the scurrying shadow. There was a high-pitched shriek and then silence. Freya relaxed, as the wolf set about feasting on the captured rodent.

The ante chamber fell silent again, albeit for the soft tearing sounds, as Dagur worked on his meal and the occasional flapping of the torch flames, as the wind rose and fell again. Freya was about to turn back to the door, when a sudden strong gust of wind swept the room, extinguishing all the torches, bar Freya’s. Dagur paused in his devouring and lifted his giant head. The torch lit up a small area in front of Freya but beyond that it was a wall of impenetrable darkness. With all the torches lit, Freya had felt a little warmth return to her bones but that had now gone.

She shivered, her long hair lying limp and damp against her skin. There was still a coating of snow and ice on her fur hood. A grinding noise began somewhere far off in the darkness. It sounded like metal scraping against stone. Dagur continued to growl, his thick fur standing on end like a feral cat. He backed towards the door and came to a stop next to Freya. His legs were spread apart and his muscles tight and tensed, ready to spring into action of necessary.

A soft clinking sound had joined the scraping noise. It was growing gradually clearer and more pronounced, as whatever it was evidently drew closer. Both had keen eyes and they made out the shapes well before they reached the torchlight. Nevertheless, both hound and human had to take a moment to fully absorb what their eyes were telling them. Several of the recently deceased skeletons were lurching towards them. The scraping and clinking sounds revealed themselves to be the clank of the dead’s shackles and jangle of the heavy balls following behind. Freya and Dagur eyed one another, then dashed forward to encounter their foes.

Dagur reached them first, as he took a small starting jump then launched himself at his attackers. Freya gave a satisfied smile of triumph, as he landed on two of them and they immediately disintegrated, their bones rattling across the stone floor, as they fell apart. Three of the dead prisoners were closing in on Freya. She swiped the torch at them, forcing them back momentarily. But it only worked as a temporary solution, as they regrouped and advanced again.

Freya cursed and threw the torch on the floor. It remained lit. That was good. It would aid her in combat. One of the skeletons swung its leg round and the ball attacked to its ankle whizzed around in an arc. Freya jumped up, avoiding the ball and accompanying chain by a millimetre. She landed and responded by slicing both the undead prisoners legs off with her sword. The skeleton fell to the stone floor with a loud rattle. Another lunged forward and seized her arm. Its bony grip was strong and dug into the flesh. She roared and brought her sword down on the attacker’s arm, severing it off completely. The dead assailant stumbled back, surprised but the severed arm remained attached to her arm. She tugged on it hard, but it refused to budge.

The other undead cellmate was drawing closer. Freya gave it one last yank and it came free. The action overbalanced her, and Freya spun, swinging the skeletal arm. By a stroke of luck, the arm connected with the approaching skeleton, resulting in slapping its head clean off. Freya couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of the headless skeleton staggering forward. She stepped forward and kicked it hard in the rib-cage with her boot. The headless prisoner was flung back into the darkness. A bony hand curled around her ankle. She looked down. The first undead inmate had crawled forward on his belly and was now hanging off her foot. Freya had to give them their dues. They were committed. Lifting her foot, she shook the skeleton free and drove she sword down into its skull. There. That should stop it.

It was a bit of ordeal heaving her sword out of the crawler’s skull but eventually it came free. Two metal chains flew out of the darkness, wrapping themselves around both of Freya’s wrists. They cut into the skin, forcing her to drop her sword. Next moment, Freya was swung sideways, her legs lifting off the floor. She flew around the room, tethered to the chains. Everything was a blur of blacks and oranges, as she spun through the air.

Suddenly, she collided with something very hard and solid. Freya groaned, as she collapsed to the ground in a crumbled heap. The chains began to tighten again, as the inhumanly strong skeleton began dragging her slowly across the stone floor towards it. Freya groaned and looked up. Her vision was swamped with black spots and her head was bleeding from a nasty cut on her forehead.

Dagur roared upon seeing his master felled but every time he tried to run forwards towards her, more skeletons would jump upon him, weighing him down. Freya had to get up. If she didn’t do something soon, then this chain wielding skeleton would have her in his bony clutches. But she was weak. The blow she had sustained had not only knocked the wind from her but cracked one or two of her ribs. She had been travelling at speed, when she had collided and despite her tough tribal skin, her injuries were besting her. Freya did the only thing she knew how to do.

She concentrated hard, drawing on all the anger and rage she felt at the undead opponent. But it was not enough. She focused deeper, remembering all the moments of fury that had fuelled her journey here. Anger at the warlock for stealing her betrothed, anger at her family for disapproving of her courtship and her mission and anger at these cursed beings for hurting her Dagur. She cocked her head to the right and observed the ferocious wolf. He was battling hard, but the hordes were relentless, and she could see him beginning to tire, his back legs buckling under the weight of the clambering corpses.

Freya’s torch went out and the chamber was bathed in darkness once more. Then from underneath Freya, a purple light began to glow. Dull at first but then brighter and fuller. The skeleton dragging the felled Freya towards him paused, intrigued by the light emanating from under her. It was spreading, rising from beneath her, until she too was surrounded by the purple light. It was bright now, severely so and the skeleton had to shield its socket less eyes from the glare. He went to pull on the chain but this time the links did not budge. The undead executioner forced its head into the light. Freya was no longer on the floor.

She was now stood before the skeleton, her whole body encased in the purple force-field, which was pulsating brightly. He gave the chains another tug and this time instead of doing nothing, they gave him a tug instead. He stumbled forwards, confused. Freya opened her mouth and roared, a jet of purple light bursting from her lips. At the same time, she gave the chains a flick. Purple lines streaked down either chain, setting the metal alight with violet flame. The skeleton exploded in an indigo inferno and let go off the chains. It ran around like a headless chicken for a moment, before the blaze became too much and the undead assailant fell to the ground, where it began to smoke.

Some of the skeletons who had been surrounding Dagur turned to advance on Freya. Still gripping the chains, Freya stepped calmly forwards to face her foes. She tore through the skeletons like they were pieces of paper, swinging, thrusting and slamming the chains into their brittle bodies. Dagur, who was still fighting off the remaining climbers, watched on amazed at his master’s mastery of the chains. She moved like a dancer, twisting and twirling her way through the room, spinning the chains around her like some choreographed routine. Lines of skeletons were knocked back as the chains decimated their ranks. When she had cleared a path to Dagur she let fly her chains.

One wrapped itself round one of the mounting minions’ neck yanking it back, another was caught around the foot and pulled off. In a matter of moments, Freya had stripped Dagur’s back of the skeletons. He looked round. She was stood a few feet away from here, glowing chains still gripped in her hands. Her face and arms were glistening with sweat and her hair lay plastered to her moist forehead. Her chest and shoulders rose and fell deeply, as she glanced about taking stock of her victory.

Burning piles of skeleton remains littered the underground battlefield around her. Dagur went to say something but was interrupted as Freya thrust out her arms. The chains streaked through the air and affixed themselves to the iron grilled door. She pulled sharply on them and the door wrenched free of its hinges. It landed with a loud bang and a cloud of dust rose into the air.

‘I’m impressed.’ Dagur said.

Freya knew that wolves couldn’t grin, but she could swear that the large animal’s mouth was curled in an expression of amusement. Now the threat had been dealt with, Freya could feel the anger leaving her body. At the same time, the purple glow began to fade. After a few moments the purple hue had disappeared completely, and Freya was back to her old self, apart from the purple hair of course.

‘That was new.’ She said, dropping the chains and retrieving the sword.

The room was dark once more, but the burning bodies did an adequate job of lighting the way. Freya moved over to the now open doorway and peered gingerly inside. A set of stairs rose before her, curling round and up.

‘Great, another spiral staircase.’

She felt something wet and soft press up against her arm. It was Dagur’s large snout. She gave the large wolf’s head an affectionate stroke. The two glanced at one another and in that one look, they understood each other. This was it. At the top of this staircase their final opponent waited dormant for them. That or some other trap the magician had devised. Either way, there was only one way forward and so doing her best to mentally prepare, Freya mounted the first step and began the long climb to the top of the tower.

It was a narrow and steep climb, but Freya hardly noticed how many steps she had climbed. The dull ache in her thighs and feet was a distant memory. Something had happened back in that room. That purple source of energy had not only given her unknown strength and speed, but it had also driven the pain and discomfort from her body. Occasionally she would pass an alcove in the wall and shiver, as the night breeze washed over her. Dagur padded softly behind her, panting slightly with the effort.

The staircase was lit by a series of burning torches, hanging from metal brackets set into the wall. Another breeze assaulted her from a gap in the wall. Freya thought nothing of it, as the flame of the torch flickered in the wind. A moment later, she froze on the spot. The torches in front of her had changed colour. Instead of the familiar orange glow she was accustomed to, they had turned to an eerie shade of purple.

Dagur brushed his large head against Freya’s shoulder. It was a simple action, but it did reassure her slightly. She pushed on, telling herself that this was good, as it was evident she was getting closer. A moan from somewhere above echoed and bounced off the walls, distorted by the accompanying draft occupying the staircase. Nevertheless, Freya and Dagur pressed on. They had fended off archers, escaped an ice giant, outsmarted a sea serpent, defeated an army of the undead. Despite those challenges paling in the shadow of the powerful magician she was about to face, it still resonated inside of Freya.

The purple light was growing stronger now, bathing the walls and steps in its deep violet hue. Freya’s sword hand was slick with sweat, but she held on to it tightly. Dagur’s fur bristled and he closed the gap between him and Freya. The large bulking shape of her beast friend gave Freya a burst of confidence and feeling a sudden surge of strength, she dashed up the last few steps and shouldered open the door at the staircases’ summit.

It swung open with a loud thud, as it smashed round into the wall. Freya and Dagur leapt into the room, the foremost with sword raised above her and the latter snarling and barking, his large paws dug into the soft patterned rug of the tower room. A bizarre and disturbing image rose to meet them. A body was suspended in mid-air, their arms and legs stretched out, held in place at the hands and feet by four glowing purple orbs. The floating figure’s head was tipped forward, slumped awkwardly on his chest.

A robed figure stood in front of the trapped prisoner, adorned in midnight black garb. He didn’t turn upon hearing them enter but there was a low murmur coming from his covered hood, accompanied by a low rumbling hum from the purple orbs. There was that disturbing moan once again and the suspended experiment raised its head. Freya gasped. It was Horatio. But something was different, something wrong. His eyes were not the dark brown they should be but a misty grey.

‘Don’t be hasty.’ Dagur advised.

But Freya wasn’t listening. Her feelings of concern for Horatio had morphed into burning anger at the robed conjurer. Before Dagur had a chance to stop her, she had dashed forward, sword in hand. The black clad figure turned at the last moment and in the second before Freya’s sword met him. The magician she loathed so deeply, flashed a smug smile of satisfaction. Freya drove the sword straight into his chest, pushing the blade through with such force that it broke free the other side. She released her grip on the sword and stepped back. The skewered magician dropped to his knees, as blood began to spread between his fingers, that clutched at the wound in his gut.

‘I won.’ He grinned, toppling forward onto the stone floor with a loud thud.

Freya stood frozen to the spot, the bloodied sword still thrust outwards in front of her.  Dagur moved over to the fallen magician and snipped the body inquisitively. Both were at a loss for words. What had just happened? Freya should have felt victorious, relieved even but there was the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Like something was not quite right. The daze they found themselves in was soon shattered, when the purple orbs of light Horatio was attached to, vanished and the suspended prisoner fell to the floor.

Woman and wolf rushed forward, as Horatio staggered awkwardly to his feet. Freya threw herself at him, embracing the weak man in a tight hug. Horatio couldn’t help but go deadweight in her arms. Freya didn’t mind. She was twice the size of him and twice as strong. Dagur was watching them fondly but stole a glance at the murdered magician every now and then. The dead warlock did not stir but the wolf was still cagey.

‘I knew we could free you.’ Freya said, gazing at Horatio with tears in her eyes.

His face was ghostly white, and his eyes were heavily bloodshot but reassuringly brown once more. There were a few cuts and grazes on his face and his floppy hair was slick with sweat. His legs buckled, as fatigue began to take hold. Freya hoisted him up, refusing to let him fall.

‘Stay with me.’

Horatio’s eyes were drooping, and his head kept lolling forward like a ragdoll.

‘He needs help.’

Dagur nodded his large head and padded forward. Settling down on his belly, he allowed Freya to place Horatio on his muscular back. He slumped forward onto the large beast’s neck.

‘Hold on tight.’ Freya whispered in his ear, wrapping Horatio’s arms around Dagur’s neck.

The wolf stood up. Horatio looked like he was about to slide off but at the last moment, he gripped Dagur’s fur tightly in his fingers.

‘We need to leave now.’ Freya said, shivering as a breeze entered the tower, and ruffled the dead magician’s robes.

As they reached the door, Horatio’s eyes flickered opened. His head was pressed into Dagur’s shoulders. He raised his head ever so slightly and his face morphed into that of the magician. A smile creased his features, Freya glanced his way, as his face changed back and saw him smiling. She smiled back at him. They were going to be alright.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


Echo Mark Eleven

Echo Mark Eleven was nervous. It was the first day of his new job at the Brightstone Factory. There was no reason why he should be nervous. The latest line of artificial intelligence workers were built with the necessary skills for all the various job positions at the company. As Echo inched forwards in the long line of new employees, he kept trying to remind himself of this. He was a logical and rational piece of technology, as were the other androids who stood in front and behind of him but that didn’t completely dispel the tingle of nerves that flitted through his circuitry. The newest upgrade of AI models had been installed with an emotions chip. This was due to complaints from humans that the androids were too unnerving with their lack of emotional response and attachments. A small minority had objected to this decision but in the end, had been overruled and thus Echo Mark Eleven found himself standing in a slowly trickling line, feeling anxiety despite his highly advanced mechanical brain telling him otherwise.

At the entrance to the facility there was a fingerprint and retina scan and a full body x ray detector. Echo should have been used to these security measures by now. Since he had been switched on three days ago, he had been subjected to endless tests, monitoring sessions and scans before he had been deemed fit for duty. As such, he wasn’t afraid of the checkpoint up ahead or the armed security personal, also androids, but rather felt a flit of excitement spark within him. Just one more security checkpoint and he would be free. Not that working nonstop every day in a windowless facility could be called an escape. But for an android who has spent the last seventy-two hours in a lab being prodded and poked, it was the closest thing to freedom that he could think off.

The unit in front of him, a short android by the name of Gamma Mark Eleven was tapping his foot ever so slightly. Echo was relieved to see that he wasn’t the only one who was excited. Glancing behind him, he met eyes with an imposing figure. Unit Beta Mark Nine stared back at him with hollow eyes. He showed no signs of interest or alarm at the building ahead of them. Being one of the older models, he had no emotion chip and as such seemed unbothered by the fact that it was his first day. Echo quickly returned his attention to the queue in front of him. There was something unnerving about the older models. Of course, the fact that they possessed no emotions was one thing. But it wasn’t just that. They looked intimidating. From their immense height and square jawline to their steely eyes and sharp cheekbones. These facets had been tampered with in models ten and eleven, giving the androids a more friendly and approachable appearance.

Chained metal fences lined either side of the pathway that the new android workers shuffled along. Echo squinted through the gaps in the fence and saw androids milling about a small enclosed yard. Some of them were sitting on benches smoking, others shooting hoops in one corner. There were even a handful working out on a rusted, paint peeling structure of monkey bars. A group of the smokers gawked at them like hungry coyotes eyeing up potential prey. Echo shuddered. He knew violence was forbidden amongst Androids. More than that it was technically impossible. Even the latest batch had been designed with a non-violent protocol. This puzzled Echo somewhat because if he had been made with the ability to experience emotions then surely, he knew anger. And from consulting his in-depth bank of database files, he knew that in many recorded cases of murder the convicted perpetrator had committed said act in a moment of passion. It was the one area of his coding that held no clear or definite answer. An aspect that worried him somewhat.

The two guards that stood at the security checkpoint wore hats and vests emblazoned with the Brightstone logo, a silver pyramid. Echo glanced from the logo to the building itself. The real structure was far more impressive than the one on the employee’s clothing. Several stories high, raising from a wide square base into a sharp defined point at the top. If he squinted though, he could just discern that it hadn’t been finished. The needle point hadn’t yet been completed and as a result the roof was half completed. Builders moved about on scaffolding, seeing to the remainder of the work. Echo shifted his gaze. The sides of the building were flat and the colour of dark grey. On first inspection, it’s height and scale were enough to make Echo’s mouth drop open in alarm, but it wasn’t until the sun fell upon the building that he was truly stunned. The grey had been designed to reflect the sun’s rays, making it illuminate and sparkle like an upside-down diamond. All androids were in built with an automatic light filter, to prevent themselves being blinded by the massive landmark but Echo still found the sight dazzling.

‘Move forward.’

Echo jumped. It was Beta Mark Nine who had addressed him. The line had moved forward but Echo had not, too distracted by the Brightstone building. He stepped forward hurriedly, as the first guard gestured him forward. Despite not physically having the ability to do so, Echo felt his ears burn hotly, as the guard raised a device to his eye, to scan his retina. The older models sure were rude, Echo thought to himself, as the sensor buzzed and hummed. There was a ding, a green light and then the guard had taken hold of his hand and placed it on a glass panel. More whirring and humming, then a second green light and a ding. The guard waved him along to the next guard, who instructed Echo to step into a tall booth. The humming and buzzing was much louder in here and there were several flashes of bright light. Then the third green light and ding and he was out on the other side.

The guard waved him through. Echo flashed him a friendly smile, but the unit simply gave him a blank look before returning his attention to the screen in front of him, that provided diagnostics and readouts sent from the scan pod. A pair of automatic doors stood before Echo. He paused and took a deep breath.

‘Move along.’

Echo glanced over his shoulder. The guard was glaring at him impatiently. The doors hissed open and Echo stepped through the doors into Brightstone facility. A massive foyer greeted Echo. The floor was immaculately clean and brilliantly white. An immensely long desk stretched the width of the foyer, manned by several attractive looking androids or pleasure bots as Echo called them. He had encountered a few of these at his birthing clinic. They were by far the most lifelike of all the android classes and if anything, there apparent lack of imperfections gave them away as being too artificially generated. One of the test during his second day was to converse with one of these pleasure bots, to see his emotional response. While he had no working reproductive organs, the allure they evoked had a certain effect and Echo had found the session particularly frustrating.

A set of high stairs flanked either side of the foyer, leading up to a higher level, where more androids were situated. Echo zoomed in with his camera enhanced right eye and located several enclosed booths positioned along the floor. More units sat in these booths, staring at two and three tier monitors on high backed chairs. There was something about the way they sat and were dressed, that gave them an air of importance.

‘Welcome to Brightstone Facility, I am your tour unit Foxtrot Mark 10, will you please follow me this way.’

Echo started. The android who had addressed him was a thin, slender machine with a clipped tone and narrow eyes. Having not waited for a response, Foxtrot had turned and was walking towards the long reception desk. Echo hurriedly followed.

‘This facility was founded in 2024 by CEO Shinto Fumugazi with the initial aim of creating the first line of self-aware artificial intelligence.’

As Foxtrot walked and talked, she gestured to several plaques on the white marbled floor, which detailed specific dates in the company’s history and founding. Echo caught sight of himself in the reflection of the marble and paused for a moment. He had never seen himself before. Doctors and technicians had described his appearance to him, but the true image was different from the one assembled in his mind. He was as tall and muscular as the imposing Delta unit that had waited behind him at the assembly line, but his face was very different. It had a softness to it with gentle, watery eyes and soft, full lips. His cheeks were slightly podgy, and his skin was dotted with freckles. There was a polite cough and Echo looked up. Foxtrot was observing him shrewdly.

‘Something the matter?’ She enquired, tight lipped.

Echo shook his head and tried to appear at ease, although he felt anything but. He couldn’t help staring at her sharp cheekbones and stern eyebrows. She was the opposite of him.

‘Good, this way then.’

She led Echo up to the reception. Some of the other queuing androids were stood along the desk, each talking to their respective recipient. He spotted Delta, two along from him, back rigid, talking to the receptionist android in a short, blunt manner. Echo observed her. She was flicking her synthetic hair and rolling her pen in between her fingers. There was no need for this. Everything was done on computers in this day and age. Another of Brightstone’s hair brained schemes to make androids act more human.

‘Why hello there handsome.’

Echo turned his head and felt his circuits skip a current. The android sat opposite him was breath-taking. Being a new born, Echo, like all newly commissioned machines was extremely inquisitive, curious and overly analytical. As such he had spent a great deal of time studying the various models and types of androids he came into contact. And he had to admit that this android was a masterpiece of creation. She had dark brown skin and large, chocolate eyes. Her lips were full, parted ever so slightly and her nose and ears were the smallest and petite ears that Echo had ever seen. The only thing that troubled Echo was the lack of imperfection. She was too flawless.

‘What’s your name then?’ She said, tilting her head to one side in a playful manner.

Echo opened his mouth to respond but for the first time in his life had no answer to give. Foxtrot leaned on the counter and glared at the receptionist.

‘Stop messing about and book him in, as your job dictates.’

There was something in the receptionist’s eye. Not a flash of anger as such but a slight enlargement of the pupils. Echo frowned. These models shouldn’t have any trace of emotion in their circuity. Their purpose was to seduce and charm but that was the limit of their capabilities. The Echo range was a test line. If the input of emotions failed, then they would be decommissioned. This way the losses would be minimal. The pupils returned to their usual size and the receptionist was focused on the screen in front of her, her expression blank and professional.

The booking in process was completed and Echo was given a key card with the company’s logo emblazoned on its front. Foxtrot led Echo away from the desk. He shot the receptionist a look as they left. She was smiling and had pinned her hair back behind her ear, as the next android stepped forward to be processed. Everything appeared normal, but Echo had a funny feeling. He tried to centre himself. These emotions were hard to get a handle on.

‘This is Zone E, where you will be working.’

Foxtrot had led him over to a small pod sized elevator with the letter E sprayed on the front in big gold paint. Several other pod lifts surrounded this one. Echo watched as androids stepped forward, swiped their key cards on the panel fixed to the side and waited as the doors swished open. They were dressed in uniforms, each with the corresponding letter of their work area.

‘You activate the elevator by…’

‘By swiping your key card here.’ Echo finished and swiped his card before Foxtrot could finish.

The door hummed, gave a ding, the zipped open to reveal a tiny cabin sized space, which was just big enough for Echo to squeeze in.

‘Cosy.’ He said and turned to face Foxtrot.

She had turned and was walking back to the foyer.

‘Is that it?’ He called after her.

‘There will be a colleague waiting on the other side to instruct you further.’ She said coldly and was gone.

Echo looked at the small pod interior and stalled for a moment.

‘Hurry up.’ Came a voice from behind.

He glanced behind and saw himself. Or rather another Echo model. This one was slightly older with tougher looking skin and slightly longer hair. One of his hands twitched every now and again. Behind him more units were arriving and forming a queue. Some of them looked unhappy, others plain bored. The impatient android flapped at him to hurry, so Echo climbed into the pod. It was cramped and didn’t feel particularly sturdy. As soon as he was in, the doors zipped close and the shuttle was racing downwards.

Another Echo was waiting for him outside the lift. He was an older mark, as his eyes weren’t as well developed, and his speech was more limited. He had a badge with the name Eric scrawled in untidy writing. As Eric led him down the corridor, he explained that all workers were given a name beginning with E to avoid confusion among addressing each other. Echo was given the name Ephraim, although he would have preferred something else, but he couldn’t see the point in arguing the matter.

Eric showed him around the factory floor. There were three levels with android workers on each. The different levels were working on different parts of an android chain. The lower level on the legs and arms. The middle on the chest and spine and the top on heads.

Eric explained the process of soldering and assembling the various parts and where Ephraim would be working. Ephraim pretended he was paying attention but was more interested in the plethora of androids milling about. He was astounded in how far the line had come and further still when he spotted some of the older machines. They had no skin casing at all or very minimal, exposing their circuity and inner working. Eph would have thought they have would have been discontinued but here they were, working to build the latest and newest.

When Eric had shown him his resting quarters and his work station, Eph was given a uniform and left on his own. He was sat next to an Echo Mark Five, who had one mechanical eye that swivelled of its own accord. His name badge read Elliot. There was another Echo sat opposite him who was a slightly overweight version of himself. He was chewing gum nosily and testing the digits on a hand with a long instrument by prodding the tendons of the exposed circuity. His name was Evan. Neither of them paid Eph any attention and saw to their work in solemn silence. Eph felt suddenly out of his depth. He hadn’t listened to a word Eric had said. Hurriedly, he consulted his databanks and relaxed. The advantage of being a later model was that he had an in-built recorder. Unfortunately, Eric hadn’t gone into detail or explained fully how to do his job. In the end, Eph observed both Elliot and Evan until he started to get an idea of what to do.

A few hours later and after several incidents of mild electrocution, much to the amusement of both Elliot and Evan, a bell went off somehow high in the factory. As if in unison, the Echo units began to pack away their tools and alight from their stations. Evan had a hefty toolbox, whilst Elliot carried his gear in a belt wrapped around his waist. Eph looked at the half-finished arm in front of him. He didn’t have any tools and had been using his hands for the most part, which was probably part of the reason, he had suffered electrical shock many times.

‘Where do we get the tools from?’ He asked Elliot.

The bespeckled android looked at him for a moment blankly then laughed shrilly before turning and leaving. Eph looked at his blackened digits and sighed. A heavy spanner thudded into his palm. It was greasy and rusty. The bulky shape of Evan lumbered into view.

‘They don’t provide tools here. You must find them yourself. If I was you, I would keep that somewhere safe.’

He tapped his toolbox, which Eph noticed had a heavy padlock on the front and shuffled on.

‘Thanks.’ Eph said, stuffing the wrench in his overalls and glancing over his shoulder before leaving the factory floor.

Work finished at 8.55 and workers were given five minutes to return to their sleeping quarters before curfew and floor lockdown was put into process. Once the clock turned nine, all quarter doors were locked and none of the worker’s key cards would work. There was also a scan pulse at 9.05 to double check each android was secure in their quarters. When Eph climbed into bed at 9.03 and waited for the scan pulse to do its thing, he didn’t feel tired in any sense of the word. Questions, thoughts and feelings fought for space in his head. He could solve this problem quite easily with a simple mind wipe but Eph refrained. He was an Echo Mark Eleven, designed with the capabilities to experience emotion and to question everything and anything. So why with his advanced technology were they keeping him cooped up in this factory like some sort of mindless worker robot? The green light of the pulse swept over him and then he was bathed in darkness once more.

The next few days went past without anything particularly of note. Eph managed to acquire some more tools, dropped or discarded by other workers in place for better, more functional ones. Whilst not the best equipment, it did prevent further bouts of mild electrocution, that was always a bonus. Elliot and Evan started to become more talkative, as time went on and although they weren’t the most thrilling of company, it was still nice to have someone to talk to whilst he worked. Guards patrolled the decks of the factory, ensuring that the workers were meeting their daily objectives. They didn’t seem to be bothered about the stealing of tools, only when arguments or scuffles broke out between the workers and even then, they usually left it to the last minute before they decided to intervene. Eph progressed quickly. Being a later model, he had one of the most advanced systems of the floor. A factor that had drawn the attention of his two friends. Evan insisted that it wouldn’t be long before he was promoted to the second level and Elliot could only gape in wonder, as he watched Eph squirrel away on several arms and hands at the same time.

His fast progression was not only noticed by his friends but also by a handful of other workers. Eph felt their eyes lingering on him and whenever he glanced their way, received dark looks of jealously and contempt. He should have been more worried by this but Eph was too heavily involved in his work to pay it any real concern. This had the effect of backfiring on him one evening, when he was jumped by two workers, roughed up and had his precious tools taken from him. As Evan had suggested, he had invested in a safe place to keep them. His idea was to sow inside pockets and holders inside his work overalls to keep them close to his person always. Unfortunately, this didn’t deter the assailants, as they bypassed this issue by ripping open the front of his uniform and plucking them from within. Eph had tried feebly to fight back but he wasn’t designed for combat. These older models had been originally crafted for use in war zones and they possessed far greater strength and dexterity. By the time that the guards finally decided to do their job and investigate, the perpetrators had fled, leaving him bruised and battered on the floor.

So, it was with a heavy heart that Eph sat down to work the next morning. His head was ringing, and his eye kept twitching every now and then. All his body hurt even though they had primarily focused their efforts on his head and upper chest. They had eased the pain a little in the medical bay, but resources were limited and the medical androids who worked there looked like they too needed a semi decent check-up. Evan offered to pay the offenders a visit and reclaim Eph’s lost goods. He was a strong android. Although not a combat unit, he had been initially made as a labourer droid and as such had a broad back and massive forearms. Eph however declined. He felt sick at the idea of any more violence. Elliot offered him one of his own tools. Despite Eph appreciating the offer, it didn’t really make up for the loss of his swanky tools, that he had built up from scratch. Any chance of promotion was now scrapped. He couldn’t produce the same level of work and at speed with his limited tools and besides, he had lost the drive to do so. With each passing day, Eph grew more despondent. What had before seemed like a rewarding task, now became an endless slog.

Eph’s mind began to wander. He longed to know what was outside. To venture outside these windowless walls and explore the unknown. He was a highly advanced and intelligent piece of AI with endless capabilities and potential and all that talent was being wasted on tinkering with broken arms and legs. It was during his second week, that something rather odd occurred. He was standing in his room, etching a drawing on one of his four walls with a piece of chalk he had found on the factory floor, when a noise outside his door had made him look around. One of the only windows an android could look through was the porthole sized section of glass built into the door, the main use of which was for the guards to keep an eye on the workers. Not that they checked very often. The security was so lazy that Eph sometimes forgot they were even there. Curious at the sound, Eph moved to the door and peered outside. A handful of androids were skulking down the corridor. From their uniforms and garb, Eph could ascertain that they weren’t guards, so how on earth had they got out of their cells? Overcome by a desire to suddenly join them, Eph rapped on the porthole window with his knuckle. One of them looked round and Eph felt fear flood his being. It was one of the androids who had attacked him at the start of the week. They looked at each other for a moment. Eph with pleading eyes, despite his hatred of the man. Then the assailer smiled and turned on is heels and left. Eph sank down on his knees and banged his head against the door.

The next day, Elliot noticed that Eph seemed distracted at work. He was behind with his workflow and every or any time he tried to talk to Eph, the android seemed not to hear. It was only when they had paused for lunch, that Eph finally found his voice again. All morning he had been watching the android from last night, trying to figure out how he had found a way out of his room the night before. Nothing had screamed out as obvious to him at first but then something had happened, which had drawn his attention. It was a small thing, only noticeable If you were watching out for it. An android had left his workstation and could be seen walking across the floor. At the same time, a guard was strolling the opposite way. The guard was scanning the workers either side of him and hadn’t noticed the approaching android. The two bumped into one another and a key card had dropped to the ground. The guard responded by angrily shouting at the worker to watch where he was going and made him crouch down to retrieve his fallen key card. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a minor mistake on the worker’s part. Or was it? Eph had eagle vision and a zoom function on his right eye. When the two androids had collided, he had immediately zoomed in, scanning the two AI’s hands and sure enough he found something interesting. The key card that had been dropped was not it fact the worker’s but the guard’s. At the same moment, the worker had slipped something small into the guard’s pocket. It was a masterfully done sleight of hand, almost undetectable but not to Eph.

Later, when he had sat down to talk to Elliot and Evan, his circuits were sparking with excitement. But the disclosure of said event seemed to have no effect on either android. Evan apparently knew of this sort of thing already. Apparently, it was common knowledge that a handful of workers paid off the guards, in return for certain allowances. When Eph asked who he needed to talk to, to get one, the two men suddenly became very silent and glanced around, paranoid someone might be watching. After which they promptly left, advising Eph it would be in his best interest to leave the matter alone. Eph spent the rest of the day observing the androids around him. The two he watched earlier were part of the crew that had escaped last night but it was evident that they were not the ringleaders. That individual he spotted a few hours later. He was one of the rotund and slightly hairy androids that could be seen hanging around the chest floor of the factory. Eph wouldn’t have noticed him at all, if he had not come down to talk to one of the guards, at the close of the day’s shift. The android who had stolen his weapons was there also, hovering behind his shoulder like some evil gremlin. The guard in question, a young android appeared to be nervous because his left leg trembled every now and again. Words were discussed and then the guard was dismissed, the overweight android sending him away with a flick of his meaty hand. Eph never understood the purpose of this model of Echo. They were unattractive to the eye and physically disadvantaged with their protruding flab.

Intrigued to find out more, Eph followed the kingpin and his gang out of the factory floor. The hairy android waddled down the corridor, barging other androids out of his way. Any who went to protest were soon stared down by the three androids following behind him. They turned into another intersecting corridor and Eph hung back. He didn’t want to tail them too closely, otherwise he might get rumbled. Other Echo units moved quickly past him. The shift had officially ended now. Soon, the curfew would be in effect and then scan and lights out would follow. Eph hesitated before turning into the passageway to follow them. Was this really a good idea? If he was found out late after curfew, then he would be in big trouble. They might even demote him further. Evan had heard rumours that the rule breakers were taken to an area known as the scrap heap. Here they would have to rummage through piles of junk and rubbish, to salvage parts deemed worthy for repair and rebuild. Eph shuddered. The thought of rooting down there in the dark was a harrowing prospect. Suddenly the corridor around him was very quiet. Everyone had gone. Then the alarm sounded, signalling curfew was now in effect. Eph turned into the corridor. There was nothing for it now.

Echo Mark Eight or Eddie as he was known, stood examining his podgy face in the bathroom mirror. He really hated his face. No, in fact what he hated more was seeing other newer models walking around with much nicer and appealing versions of his face. He pinched his jowls between two fingers and waggled them. Perhaps it was time to request an upgrade. Usually, workers on the factory floor held no power when it came to altering their appearance but Eddie was no ordinary worker. He had connections and better yet, he had money. The door to the bathroom whished open and a young android was flung into the room. He landed heavily on the stone floor and skidded a distance on his side. Eddie turned around and leant casually on the sink basin.

‘Why are you following me…Eph?’ He said sternly, pausing to inspect the android’s badge.

Eph groaned and sat up.

‘Your dogs are friendly.’

The android who had flung him into the room, made to advance on him and Eph scrambled backwards into the wall. Eddie held out a hand. The android paused, glanced at Eddie, then stepped back.

‘You’ve got balls kid, I’ll give you that much.’

‘Actually, I don’t. Androids don’t have genitalia, as we have no need for reproductive organs.’

Eddie glared at Eph and nodded at the android. Before Eph had time to react, the android had darted forward and seized Eph by the collar. He lifted him up with ease and slammed him hard against the wall. Eph tried to struggle but the android was too strong. His eyes fell on the replicant’s badge. It read Eames.

‘You are a pretty one, aren’t you?’ Eddie said, pushing off from the sink and strolling over to the pinned Eph.

He stroked Eph’s face with one of his meaty hands. Eph felt sick to his stomach. He knew that Eddie and Eames couldn’t sodomize him. They physically were incapable of doing so. But by the nasty glint in Eddie’s eye, Eph feared that there were other things that they could do, which could cause him discomfort. As if in answer to his fears, Eddie produced a small handmade shiv and rested it against one of Eph’s cheeks.

‘If you don’t tell me why you are following me, I will carve off that pretty little face of yours and nail it to the wall.’

Eph felt his stomach do a somersault. Why couldn’t he have just gone back to his room? He would be tucked up safely in bed now, instead of being held knifepoint by two thugs.

‘Do you hear that Eames, he thinks we are a couple of thugs.’

Eames’ nostrils flared and his hand around Eph’s collar tightened. Eph stared at Eddie shocked. He could read minds. No wonder they had done away with these models. An android with the capability to know your every thought. A scary prospect, even for another android.

‘Well, I haven’t got all day.’

Eph opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a weird wheezing sound. Eddie looked deep into his eyes for a moment and then retracted the shiv. He nodded at Eames, who released his grip. Eph slid down the wall onto his bum, his hands gripping his knees in shaking hands.

‘Even if I could get you out of here for a night, what makes you think I would help you.’

Eph got shakily to his feet, using the wall for support.

‘I am one of the latest models, my learning capabilities far exceed most if not all of the other androids working on the floor.’

‘I’m listening.’ Eddie said, twiddling the shiv in his fingers.

Eph eyed it nervously. Why didn’t he just read his mind if he wanted to know why?

‘Because I want to hear you say it and besides it doesn’t work like that.’

‘How does it work?’ Eph said curiously.

Eddie gripped the shiv tightly.

‘Okay.’ Eph said, holding up his hands. ‘What I mean is…given the right tools…I can work three maybe four times as quick as the other men.’

‘So?’ Eames said bluntly.

Eddie sighed and clipped Eames around the head with one of his meaty hands.

‘What he is saying you cretin, is that he is offering to do our work as well.’

Eph nodded enthusiastically.

Eddie pondered this for a moment.

‘I’ll make you a deal. You continue with your own work and mine…’

‘And mine.’ Eames interjected.

Eddie glared at Eames.

‘And Eames’, then I will grant you one night of freedom on the town.’

‘Yes…. that would be…. thank you…’

‘But listen here.’ Eddie said, stepping forward, brandishing the shiv once more. ‘If you fall behind or fail to meet my targets, then I will take a hand.’

Eph gulped and nodded very slowly.

‘Good, then we have an accord. Eames show Mr Eph back to his room. We wouldn’t want him found out and about after hours now, would we.’

The next day Eph found his work station piled high with an assortment of android arms, legs and chests. The guards paid his new workload no attention but gave him the occasional look that clearly stated, he would need to keep up with his own work as well as his side projects. Despite wanting to find out when he would be able to escape his prison compound, for a night at least, he stuck to his work. Eph figured that if he kept up with the demanding workflow, then the closer he would get to his night of freedom. It was difficult to concentrate however, as he felt a tense atmosphere at his table. Evan kept pestering, pleading with him to reconsider his deal with the devil. Elliot on the other hand, just resorted to throwing him dirty looks. To improve his chances of completing his assignments, Eph asked one of the guards if it would be possible for him to move to another table. The guard just laughed in his face and moved on. After lunch though, Evan stopped pestering him and he had a chance to properly crack on with his work.

By the end of the day he was tired but complacent. He had managed to complete his work assignments, as well as the extra ones from Eddie. So much so, that when Eames came to collect the finished work, Eph gave him a broad smile.

‘What you smirking at freak? Well, you won’t be grinning by the end of the week.’

Eph thought he was only trying to scare him and thought nothing of it. But by the start of the next week, he suddenly realized what Eames was talking about. The problem with being good at your job, is rather then get rewarded for your hard effort, instead more work is lumped onto your desk. This caused an issue for Eph because as a new gen model of android, he felt compelled to do his job to the best of his ability and as he excelled so too did his workload. At the midpoint of the second week, Eph was frazzled. As a principle, androids do not need much sleep, but this is going on the assumption that they are performing a steady and well-paced work pattern. Now that Eph was doing double, even triple the required work, he was returning to his room each night completely exhausted. Then in the morning, he would be overtired. His work hadn’t suffered but Evan and Elliot had noticed a change in his personality. He became more snappy and irritable when bothered. When a guard approached him near the tail end of the week and escorted him away, Evan and Elliot were honestly kind of glad to see the back of him.

Up until now, Eph had been keeping up enthusiasm and motivation for the added work, by telling himself that one night soon, his time would come. But with the promotion to second level, the concern for his welfare and ability to perform sky rocketed. Chest work took much more time then arm or legs, which would be fine had it not been for the increased amount of work he had been getting from Eddie and Eames. It was on his second night, when he was lying awake in bed, exhausted from having to work on not only a half-finished chest piece but also two arms and another chest, that he heard something strange. Physically, he was shattered, every neuron, wire and synthetic joint in his body protesting in pain. But his brain was running into overdrive. He had been tossing and turning for a few hours now, without being able to drift off. He sat up and frowned at the door. A loud beep had sounded. The only noise that ever came from the room was the initial beep when the door was locked and the whir of the room scan.

Intrigued, Eph climbed out of bed and crept over to the door. He peered through the porthole window. The corridor was empty. Not knowing why, Eph tried the handle and almost cried out in alarm as it depressed. The door was unlocked. Trying to be as quiet as possible, he pulled the door slightly ajar and poked out his head. He checked left then right. The corridor was empty. He took a step forward and his foot brushed against something soft. Looking down, he found a small bundle of clothes piled at his feet. A piece of paper was stuck to the top with a sign that said, ‘wear me’. Eph scooped up the clothes and returned inside his room. He undressed and dressed quickly, all previous evidence of fatigue suddenly gone. They were a simple hooded black jumper and jogger bottoms with a pair of plimsoles. The jumper was baggy and loose, but the trousers were tight, the bottoms of which were riding up his ankles. The plimsoles were the only piece of the outfit which fitted but had that stiff starchiness of new shoes. He stole a brief glance in the bedroom mirror. The figure that looked back at him was a stranger. He looked so alien. Up until now the only attire he had ever worn was that of a uniform nature. In the clinic, it had been hospital gowns and here work overalls.

Eph exited the room, making sure that he checked both ends of the corridor on his way. It was still empty. Eddie may be springing him as per the agreement, but he didn’t want to have to rely on anybody but his own wits. The bundle of clothes had been his first instruction but looking up and down both ends of the corridor, Eph couldn’t see any further directions. He stood there for a moment, debating whether to go left or right. Left led back to the work floor whereas right led to the lift. He chose right. Heading towards the actual exit seemed like the most logical choice of the two. As he padded down the corridor, passing the various doors of his fellow worker’s rooms, Eph felt a rush of exhilaration wash over him. He was out and about after curfew. He threw up his hood, telling himself that it was to further hide himself. In reality, it was because it felt cool and rebellious. He turned a corridor and caught sight of the elevator. It sat idly, it’s red front with the emblazoned yellow E looming over him.

He bit his lip. What was his next course of action? He went up to the lift panel, outstretched a hand and then hesitated. He could travel up to the lobby and head for the main entrance but that was a risky move. There would surely be sentries posted at the reception desk and a handful of patrolling guards. On the other hand, he had expected to run into a guard down here and had so far not come across another soul. Eph didn’t know if there were any security cameras on the corridors and the rooms but if so, Eddie must have had them disabled. That or bribed the security guard. Either way, he had been fortunate. It was as he was standing here, contemplating this that the panel lit up. There was a ping and Eph felt the synthetic hairs on the back of his neck stand rigidly to attention. He looked around for somewhere to hide but the corridor was bare and open. At the last minute he dived into the corner beside the lift and pressed himself flat against the wall. The doors zipped open and an imposing guard stepped out of the elevator. He was talking into a radio, as he moved out of the lift. By some miracle he didn’t notice Eph plastered to the wall, perhaps because his attention was focused in the radio at his ear. Not wasting any time, Eph slipped inside the elevator soundlessly. For the second time, he climbed into the shuttle, trying not to make any noise. The guard was moving slowly forward but the elevator door was still open. Eph prayed for it to shut and eventually after several panic inducing seconds, it whisked shut.

The shuttle began to rattle and vibrate, as it shot upwards. Eph’s teeth rattled and his cheeks flapped. He had forgotten how unpleasant a sensation this was. No wonder the guard hadn’t noticed him. His head had probably still been spinning when he had tumbled out of the shuttle. Eph closed his eyes and focused on trying not to vomit. He was pretty sure he was about to pass out, when the shuttle sped to a grinding halt. The door whirred open and a wall of cold air hit his face. His eyes flung open and he gasped loudly. Androids don’t have tear ducts but if Eph’s eyes could have watered from the shock of the wind, then they would have. The shock was not merely from the alarm of the shuttle slamming to a halt but more the fact that he was somehow out in the open. He staggered out. Having forgotten what riding the shuttle was like, he immediately fell on the floor. He hit hard concrete. It hurt. Even for an android with reinforced alloy enhanced limbs it stung.

Once recovered Eph climbed unsteadily to his feet. He was stood on a wide and empty roof. The wind that had first hit him upon the elevator door opening was buffeting against him with gusto. Apart from the elevator and shuttle from which he had emerged, the only other points of interest were a cluster of scaffolding structures on one side of the roof. He found his legs moving off their own accord, as he looked up at the vast dark night sky. As he got closer to the edge of the roof, he could see a big cluster of lights in the distance. Using his enhanced vision and zoomed retinas, he could make out tall buildings and small square shaped vehicles zipping around like scurrying insects. Switching his attention to floor below him, he inched slowly forwards. He gasped. Androids do not suffer from vertigo but Eph was still caught off guard by how high he was. He leaned gingerly over the lip and saw the grey side of the building stretching downwards. It was slightly trippy, as it was curving away from him at a ninety-degree angle. He must be at the very top of the building, he thought to himself. The wind rose again and Eph took a step back, afraid that he might be blown right off the edge.

Eph frowned. There was something else. Another sound. Barely audible over the whoosh of the strong wind. But it was there. A low hum. He looked out towards the skyline over the city. The light pollution made it hard to discern anything clearly but in the distance, hovering towards him was a faint light. He felt his mechanical cogs begging to spin with excitement. Was this it? His ticket to the city. Eph glanced around him apprehensively. It appeared that none of the security guards patrolled this high up, but his nerves kept getting the better of him. The hum grew louder, and the faint light was stronger now.  In the mass of thick clouds, he could discern a large black shadow moving with purpose towards him. With it’s two front facing beams of light and shadowy outline encased within the clouds, it looked like some sort of great deep-sea creature, slinking through the abyss. Two things then happened in quick succession. Eph was hit full in the face by the beast’s glowing eyes, as it burst through the dense wall of clouds. At the same time, a vacuum of air so strong it took Eph by surprise whipped up and he nearly toppled over from the force. Shielding his eyes and digging in his reinforced limbs to the ground beneath him, Eph forced himself to look. The light’s harsh glare was still on him, but his lenses had adjusted to deal with their intensity.

A giant hover ship loomed above him. It’s twin fan engines built into the wings were spinning frantically and hot jets of air shot out from various point’s in the aircraft’s hull. With its wide wings, long neck and rounded cockpit, it looked like a huge mechanical bird. If Eph hadn’t been so amazed by the design of the aircraft, he would have been shaking in his boots. But Eph’s curiosity always got the better of him. The aircraft dipped and drew level with the building lip, turning itself side on. A large door built into the side of the hover craft slid open and Eph’s elation was suddenly met with crushing disappointment. Eames was knelt inside. Sitting in chairs built into the aircraft next to him were androids Eph recognised as being part of Eddie’s crew.

‘Get in.’ Eames shouted over the roar of the fans.

Eph hesitated. This was what he had been waiting for since he had arrived. A chance to escape the facility and explore the world outside. But something seemed off. When he had seen Eames breakout the first time, he had been with other androids. Everyday workers that Eph knew and recognised. So why was it just him and his cronies this time?

‘Get a move on Eph. You have two seconds, or we leave without you.’

Eph swallowed and climbed in. This was the only opportunity he had, and he be damned if he gave it up, due to his own paranoia.

‘Sit down.’ Eames instructed gruffly, pushing him down into a chair between two of his cronies.

Eph glanced at either one of them. The one on his left was sneering at him like a weasel but the one on the right appeared to be fast asleep. The aircraft began to rise and Eph felt his whole-body lurch. He had never been in the air before. Queasy was not what he thought would be his immediate reaction but the aircraft full of cronies seemed to be exacerbating that.

‘Have you been to the city before?’ He asked Eames.


‘What’s it like?’

‘You’ll find out.’

A few of the other androids cackled and chuckled. Eph felt uncomfortable suddenly. There was something about the way he said that, that made the synthetic hairs on the back of his neck begin to tingle. Trying to remain calm, Eph looked out the window next to the dozing android. The city was growing steadily closer, it’s tall brightly lit buildings piercing through the lower level of clouds. Eph leaned forward to get a better look and the sleeping android beside him grumbled in his sleep. He refrained. He leant his head back against the metal wall and closed his eyes. His desire to gaze out at the city lights was high but the queasiness in his stomach, as the aircraft lurched and wobbled on the air currents was overpowering. He closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. He would have time to appreciate the city when they landed.

Elliot woke up feeling tired but happy. The day had finally come. Seven years as an arm technician and he was finally being promoted to head department. Most arm workers traditionally elevated to the chest floor but Elliot had proven that he had much more to offer the company. Whilst an older model, he was one of the most experienced of workers and as such, knew a lot about building androids. His friend Eli, a head worker had also helped him in his spare time and put in a good word for his interview and assessment. Elliot had thought he had done well in his interview. His nerves had gotten a little better then him at times, but he had completed the trial tests in record time. After two days of not hearing however, he began to get worried he had messed it up. He had applied for the role nine times and each time been turned away. They had offered him a chest placement, but he had declined. If he was going to be promoted, then it would have to be to the head department. Chests were okay but not that much different from arms and legs. Heads on the other hand were a whole other ball game entirely. So, he had nearly keeled over in shock, when it had been announced on the work floor the previous day, that he had been successful in his application.

He felt sad to be leaving his friend Evan behind, but they were too different. Evan was complacent with his position. He had no desire to advance in the company. He had told Elliot as much. But Elliot had big dreams. He longed for a position in the offices above the lobby, where the real magic happened. For now, though, he was grateful enough to be given the opportunity of working with heads. The start of the day was your standard introduction to the basics. Heads were more complicated then arms and chests and even though Elliot had a deeper understanding then most, he still had to sit through power points and shadow other head workers. At lunch, Evan had pulled him aside to inform him that Eph hadn’t turned up for work.

‘He’s probably fine. Perhaps he is doing some errand for Eddie. You know he is always off doing some dodgy business for them lot.’

And that was that. He returned to the head floor and sat down at his own workstation for the first time that day. There was an android’s head on the desk in front of him, lying face down. It was in a bad state. Part of the skull had been bashed in and loose frayed wires dangled out of the neck. Elliot sighed. What did he expect? Of course, they were going to give him a hard one to begin with. He inspected the head in his hands, turning it over, examining the various issues with it. Then, suddenly, he dropped it on the work table. It bounced on the hard surface, rolled and fell to the floor. It came to rest side on with the android’s face staring up at him. He stumbled backwards knocking over the chair and looked in horror at the head on the floor in front of him. One of the eyes had been wrenched out of it’s socket, leaving a messy tangle of exposed wires poking out. But there was no denying who the face belonged to. Eph Echo Mark Eleven, Elliot’s former friend and workmate stared glassily up at him through his one remaining eye.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


Subject 123

Xenophi Klondall, the newest and youngest addition to the security unit assigned to the institute for human development, strolled down the immaculately clean white corridor, twiddling his electric night stick in his six fingers. Doors lined either side of the long hallway, a fingerprint scanner on the wall beside each of them. He whistled as he paused at each door in turn and peered in through porthole sized windows. The children inside, human, slept quietly in their beds or sat about on the floor doodling on paper or throwing a ball against the wall. Xen felt a rise of bile fill his throat and his gills flared alarmingly. Soon now and they would able to dispose of these bloodsucking pests. He moved onto another door and peered in. His four sets of eyes narrowed for a second, before widening in alarm. The room was empty. He flicked a switch on his baton and it began to buzz and hum, as electrical currents pulse through the stick. Hurriedly, he carried out the hand scan and the door slid up with a mechanical hiss. Cautiously, he inched inside the room, his baton held aloft in front of him, the bright flare of it’s electrical conduit reflecting off the walls. He tensed himself, ready for the child to spring out from the shadows but after a thorough search of the room, he discovered no child at all.


Dr. Allandre Pandar moved hurriedly through the many brightly lit corridors and hallways that comprised the institute. In one hand she was cradling a tiny newborn child and hanging off her other hand was a young girl of around five or six. The baby was quite silent, dozing quietly in the nook of her arm but the girl kept moaning every five minutes.

‘I’m tired and hungry. Where are we going?’

‘We’re nearly there. Not much further. Keep hold of my hand.’ Allandre said breathlessly.

She glanced over her shoulder, expecting there to be a squadron of security guards bearing down on her but the corridor behind was empty and still. She rounded a corner and had to duck back suddenly. Two doctors were conversing a little way down the hallway. The girl, who was oblivious to what was going on, carried on trotting along and Allandre had to yank her back out of view sharply. The girl opened her mouth to protest but Allandre covered her hand with her mouth, forcing her to be silent. The girl grimaced. Allandre was one of the Plethi, a species of alien who were distinctive for their long slender bodies and pale, almost translucent skin. Currently, it was tinged red in colour, a clear sign that she was in some state of distress. She glared at her blossoming skin with a look of contempt. Damn her ancestry. Why couldn’t she have been gifted with a useful trait like invisibility or the power of foresight. No, instead her skin simply changed colour dependent on her emotions.

A few of the children clustered behind her, shuffled around impatiently. Allandre hissed at them to be silent. She didn’t like to snap at the infants but it was for their own good. If they were caught and returned to their cells, their fate would be far worse. It was at this moment that her skin suddenly flushed icy grey, as fear took hold of her body. Sarah, one of the youngest and slowest of the children had disappeared. Allandre searched the faces of the dopey children hurriedly, praying that she had made a mistake. The younglings looked back at her with dull, vacant eyes. Each had a hand placed on the shoulder of the child in front. Allandre has insisted on this. It lowered the chance of any of them falling behind or wandering off. Or so she had thought. Her eyes darted along the corridor and through the glass windows of the empty labs either side of her. Then she spotted her. Somehow, Sarah had managed to enter one of the nearby labs. Someone must have forgot to lock it. Allandre’s skin dimmed slightly as she watched Sarah. She turned to the foremost child of the group. He was slightly older then the rest with sandy blonde hair and dark eyes.

‘Stay here and don’t move.’ She whispered in a hush tone.

The blonde boy looked at her blankly for a moment and Allandre was about to repeat the instruction, when he slowly nodded his head, indicating he understood. Allandre nodded, gave his shoulder a tight squeeze, which he looked at for a moment puzzled and then she backtracked down the corridor, to where the lab door stood a fraction open. As her hand reached for the edge of the door frame, she hesitated and took one look back at the huddled children. Her skin morphed pink, as guilt flooded her mind and body. Then she slipped through the door into the lab.


Sarah was standing at the other end of the lab, staring fixedly at a rack of test tube phials on a rack on the table in front of her. Allandre approached her slowly and cautiously. Humans were like gleamdings, the four legged creatures that roamed the wilds of the planet. Any sudden movement would startle them and they would either panic and make a noise or bolt away. Neither were options Allandre relished the thought of. The newborn still huddled in the crook of Allandre’s long arm, shifted in his sleep and she paused, not wanting to wake the baby. Sarah had tilted her head to the left and was examining the brightly coloured liquids in the phials curiously. The newborn wiggled about a bit, then fell back asleep. Allandre breathed a sigh of relief and inched closer to Sarah. The girl glanced to her left and saw Allandre, who stopped and smiled. She didn’t seemed surprised or perturbed by the doctor’s sudden appearance. She smiled back with a toothless, goofy grin. Then she did something that made Allandre’s skin flash both red and grey simultaneously. Sarah reached out a hand to one of the phials.

Time seem to suddenly grind to a halt, as Allandre watched Sarah’s hand outstretched towards the test tube rack. For a moment it felt like they were frozen in some sort of temporal time distortion. Allandre’s mind whirred like a bullet train, as possibilities, ideas and outcomes popped into her head and then out again milliseconds later, to be replaced by another. If she called out to Sarah to stop or dashed forwards to intervene, she risked waking the baby. That would alert the two doctors stood in the hallway outside. Alternatively, if she did nothing, Sarah might drop the rack in her clumsiness. Humans were notorious for their poor motoring functions and reaction times. Allandre didn’t know what to do and time although slowed was still progressing, Sarah’s hand moving steadily closer to her goal.

Allandre was just about to step forward and intervene, when Sarah suddenly withdrew her hand. Her head had swivelled to look at the other door of the lab. Beyond was the second corridor, where the two doctor’s stood conversing. The sound of one of them laughing had drawn her attention. Allandre used the opportunity to move closer still.

‘Sarah.’ She whispered.

The girl ignored her and moved over to the other door. Allandre felt her green blood run cold and her cheeks flush silver. She dashed forward but had to skid to a halt, as the newborn gave a disgruntled moan in its sleep. She shushed the tiny infant soothingly and rocked it back and forth in her arms, until it became calm once more. She looked up. Sarah had opened the door and was wandering aimlessly into the corridor. Panic seized her. She moved forward and was about to proceed after her, when a concerning thought struck her. The doctors would see her. There was no doubt about that now. The only way out of this conundrum would be to talk her way out of it. Problem being that the moment she stepped into that corridor, her red and grey pigment of skin would give her away to the doctors almost immediately.

Allandre closed her eyes and placed a hand gently on the cool surface of the door. As a child, she had experienced much bullying and teasing from other doctoral students, in regards to her skin changing condition. The plethi were a dying race, their lineage almost extinct. Most women and men of the plethi race chose careers that suited that strange genetics, such as emotional companions for down on their luck individuals or even worse, as performers and dancers. Allandre had seen the latter of the two first hand and it was a barbaric form of entertainment. Participants would find different ways to evoke emotions out of the unlucky plethi, then sit back and watch the light show it produced. When Allandre had announced she had aspirations of becoming a doctor of medical research, her parents had scoffed and then when she had begun her training, her classmates had poked and wound her up, to force her emotions to reveal themselves.

So, with the help of her uncle, the only member of her family who had encouraged her to follow her passion, she had learnt how to control her emotions. To clear her mind and repress the emotions fighting to be seen. She took a deep breath and emptied her head. Sarah was getting closer to the doctors. It sounded like one of them had noticed her. Allandre forced herself to ignore this. She needed to concentrate. After a few seconds, the red tinge in her cheeks and arms began to fade and then the silvery grey also began to dissipate. Her brow was furrowed, as she willed all of her power on dampening her emotions. Allandre opened her eyes and looked down, smiling. Her skin was milky white. To any outsider it would appear, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She smartened down her lab coat, checked the baby was still alright, which it was, then nodded curtly to the door in front of her, before opening it and stepping into the corridor.


Doctor Jamala Ark paused in her detailed explanation of human subject 44, as she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. The many cogs and wheels of her mechanical brain whirred, as she moved her head around to look down the corridor. She was an android, as were most doctors who had joined the clinic. Due to their design and intelligence, they were usually hand picked for important roles such as medical work or research. The doctor standing with her was a younger model, built by the same technology but more advanced in design. He followed her gaze and zoomed in on the approaching figure with his bi focal lenses.

‘Subject 29.’ He said, as images and words filled the upper right corner of his mechanical right eye.

Jamala nodded, although hastened to not mention that it had taken her a full thirty seconds to figure that out. She liked spending time in the company of the younger androids, as she found their conversations always stimulating and challenging but she sometimes found a small amount of bitterness for their superior design. Then typically, she would berate herself for thinking that because emotional interference had been ironed out in the later models and it would only serve to reinforce her disappointment in her own inferior limitation.

‘Stop.’ She commanded, holding up her hand.

Sarah continued walking on, oblivious of the doctor’s instruction. She didn’t even seem to have noticed the two doctors stood there. The young android reached for a panel on the wall next to him. This would alert the guards to the escape subject but at that moment, another doctor stepped out of a lab and into the corridor. Jamala took the opportunity of her younger companion’s distraction, to scan the approaching doctor first. Her bi focal lens hummed and vibrated, as it zoomed in and registered the individual.

‘Allandre.’ She said with a satisfied clip to her tone.

The younger android, whose name was Artemis looked puzzled. This was a rare occurrence with one such advanced as himself. Jamala had to remind herself that he was still very new to the institute. She only knew of Allandre herself, as they had attended the same medical school some years prior. Since then, the reclusive doctor had mostly kept to herself. She never socialized with the other nurses and doctors.


‘She is carrying an infant with her. Looks like a new subject. Yes, 123 I believe.’ Artemis noted, in his calm and even manner.

Jamala tried to scan the small bundle in Allandre’s arms too but she could feel an eye migraine worming it’s way into existence. She needed another check up. Her bi focal was suffering from wavers and trembles again. The thought of which was not pleasing. Although she had proven herself a valuable asset to the company, if the check up came back with too many faults, she could very well be decommissioned and removed from the program all together.

‘Doctor Jamala isn’t it?’ Allandre said, slightly short of breath as she reached them.

‘Doctor Allandre. It’s been a while.’

She observed Allandre closely, despite the niggling pain behind her eye and consulted her data banks. That was right. She was of plethi descent. The race famous for their colour changing skin, when reacting to emotions. Allandre was watching Sarah, who had stopped in her tracks and was looking up at Artemis in stunned awe.

‘You won’t believe what happened with this one. I was tending to this little fella and S….subject 29 just ups and walks out of the room. I tell you, you can’t take your eyes off these humans for a moment.’

Jamala and Artemis exchanged sceptical looks. Allandre swallowed and forced herself to remain calm. She had almost blurted out Sarah’s name by accident. She was the only one that gave the humans real names. The others simply referred to them as patients.

‘Why was subject 123 in subject 29’s cell in the first place?’

‘A study. I wanted to see if there was any difference to 29’s behaviour. when introduced to another subject.’

Artemis frowned.

‘Was this medical study sanctioned by your acting doctor in charge?’

‘Of course.’ Allandre said evenly.

Jamala observed Allandre closely, particularly her face and arms to see if any emotions would betray her. There was a slight blue to her skin, which exhibited a small level of anxiety but that could be due to the runaway subject.

‘Check if it has been approved.’ Jamala said to Artemis.

Artemis nodded and moved away to consult his own data banks. He was a top of the range model but even retrieving information such as medical sanctioned orders took a bit of time. Jamala turned back to Allandre.

‘It’s nothing personal. Just have to follow these things up. You understand of course.’

Allandre nodded. She glanced at Artemis. He was still searching. His back straight and eyes misty, as androids did when they were deep inside the online data banks of the cloud.

‘Would you mind holding hi…subject 123 for a moment?’

The request was so unusual that even Jamala’s fast mechanical brain had trouble comprehending it. Before she knew what had happened, the infant had been thrust into her arms. She looked down at it in surprise and then felt something sharp and cold pierce her neck. The lights went out but she didn’t fall down. Her body stiffened and her eyes turned completely black. She was frozen solid on the spot. The baby woke up suddenly and started to squirm and kick but Jamala’s stiffened arms kept it from falling out of her grasp.

Artemis had scanned the entire set of records from the east wing head office. There was nothing pertaining to any such sanction. His eyes flickered back into life and he opened his mouth to alert Jamala to this revelation, when a new sensation hit the recently commissioned android. Surprise. Allandre, subject 29 and subject 123 had disappeared. He glanced to his right and had his second surprise of the night. Jamala, his colleague was frozen to the spot, her arms outstretched in a peculiar fashion. He turned to press his hand against the alarm but was beaten to it, as a moment later, the corridor was bathed in darkness. The lights flickered on a second later but had changed to red and were flashing urgently. This was accompanied by a high pitched siren, emanating from speakers placed at various points throughout the building.


Allandre herded the children as fast as she could down the corridor. It was like trying to herd cattle. Some of them were crying and the baby was kicking wildly in her arms, howling it’s mouth off. Allandre tried to keep stock of her bearings but it was extremely hard with the distraught children and poor lighting. Her tempered skin was changing from colour to colour in a myriad of tones. She could hear running footsteps behind her and shouts. She refused to look behind her. It would only confirm her worst fears. She steered the procession of confused and wailing children into another corner and skidded to a sudden halt, her skin turning completely silver in the crimson glow of the light. Two guards were running towards them from the end of the corridor.

‘Stop.’ Allandre screamed at the top of her voice.

The children who had been stumbling and tripping over one another in their confusion and panic suddenly came to a rigid halt. Allandre was taken aback. This must have been the first time the absent minded juniors had done as she had asked. The guards were advancing on them, their granite sized teeth bared, their webbed feet echoing across the marble floor, as they slapped their way towards them. Allandre looked back the way they had come and she could make out the hunched shadows of other guards. This was it. They were penned in. In her desperation, she ran over to a lab door and press her hand to the panel. It flashed up with a security measure saying access denied. Of course. The place would be on lock down.

Then something very peculiar happened. Two human children were suddenly in the middle of the corridor. Allandre studied them. Even from this distance, she could tell they were not any of hers. It was as if they had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It was a boy and girl, dressed in the white overalls all human children wore in the facility and they were holding hands. The encroaching guards paused and hesitated, then assuming them to be with the rest of the small ape like beings, began advancing forward again. They reached the two children, who seemed quite still and calm. Unlike Allandre’s brood, who were snivelling and sobbing in front of her. One of the guards smiled a wicked grin and reached one of his slimy reptilian hands towards her.

There was a brilliant flash of white and a moment later the guard recoiled, clutching his arm. No correction, clutching the stump where his arm had once been. The child had torn it clean off and black oily blood poured from the exposed wound. There was another bright flash and the second guard’s head flew into the air, more of the black blood spraying across the corridor wall in an arterial fashion. Allandre winced at the bright light. The one armed guard was scrabbling backwards on the floor, using his remaining hand and arm to pull him away from the dazzling light. It dimmed and the two children had gone. In their place were too strange looking creatures. They were both completely blank, like shop floor mannequins. The one who had been the small boy moved forward and leapt into the air, landing on the guard’s stomach. There was a scream from the creature, as it’s whole chest caved inwards. It jerked and twitched around violently for a moment, before falling still.

The second blank figure, who had been the young girl, turned to face them and as she did so, there was yet again another bright flash of light. When Allandre’s eyes had adjusted, she was met with two plethi? But that couldn’t be. No other of her kind worked in this facility. The female plethi spoke.

‘Come with me now if you want to live.’

Allandre thought about asking who she was but the grunts and shouts of the rear guards were growing nearer, their loud booms bouncing off the walls of the corridor. There would be time for questions later. If they made it out of here alive. She began waving her hands wildly at the children to follow the two strangers and after they didn’t move, she screamed at them in the same manner as before. It seemed to work and they began to trot down the corridor, their snivels and wails slightly more subdued. The baby was coughing alarmingly and Allandre tried her best to comfort it, whilst still moving. The poor thing had cried itself hoarse. The male plethi had already reached an exit door which led to the stairs of the compound. Allandre was just about to point out the place was on lockdown, when there was a third flash of light. She wished they would warn her before doing that. The light faded and a guard stood facing them. He was stood slightly left to the door, which was now open.

Her initial reaction was to backtrack, as her brain automatically assumed that it was the enemy. Then she reminded herself that it was the shape-shifter, in yet another disguise. He beckoned them through hurriedly. They all bundled through the door. The female shape-shifter held back and as Allandre passed through the door last of all, she gave her a sharp, purposeful nod and closed the door. There was the sound of gunfire and shouting from the corridor they had just left and some of the children ducked down frightened. Sarah grabbed hold of the shape-shifters leg. The ditto glanced at her momentarily but seemed unfazed by the child’s behaviour. Allandre felt bad for the other one who had remained behind to stall the enemy but at the same time, she had to focus on getting the children to safety. From what she had witnessed, the shape-shifter could take care of herself.

She went to descend the stairs but got no further then the first step. The shape-shifter had grabbed her roughly by the arm. Allandre shot him a furious look of indignation. The shape-shifter looked at her blankly, not caring about her feelings and knelt on the floor. He placed one hand on the cold surface and closed his eyes. Allandre glanced at the door they had just exited and saw shadowy shapes shrinking and expanding, through the frosted glass. Then a scream made her jump and some unspecified liquid sprayed across the glass. It didn’t take a genius to work out that it was blood. She turned around. The shape-shifter was moving up the stairs instead of down. More bizarre was the fact that the children were following obediently behind him. Allandre glanced over the railing and understood why. There was movement on the stairs. Barely audible. The guards had some kind of way of concealing the noise of their footsteps, as they were ascending extremely quietly.

Allandre and the children tried to keep up with the shape-shifter but they were much slower then him and his speed and endurance never seemed to run empty. Allandre glanced behind her, despite knowing it was a bad idea and felt a silent scream trap in her throat, as a guard leapt onto the rail and squatted. His reptilian eyes flickered evilly. A forked tongue darted out of his mouth and shot across the space towards Allandre. The tip was poisoned. Allandre knew from studying the creatures at medical school. If it touched her, she would be paralysed in seconds. A shadow fell across her and the shape-shifter dropped from above. He landed between them, severing the guard’s tongue in half with his arm, which had transformed into a long metallic blade. The guard toppled back in surprise, falling down the stairs and landing on the rest of the pursuers with a loud crash. The shape-shifter turned to Allandre and gestured upwards with his blade arm. Green acid sizzled on his chest. When he had sliced the guard’s tongue, the poison had sprayed onto him. The shape-shifter went to lower his hand but the paralysis had already set in.

‘Thank you.’ Allandre said to the stranger and turned and ran.

The guards were fast, aided by their ability to leap several steps at a time and cling off walls and rails with their webbed fingers and toes. Yet the troupe managed to make it to the roof exit before them. The shape-shifter’s interception had delayed the guard’s advancement. Sarah was at the front of the procession and Allandre at the rear. Despite their lack of coordination and awareness, they were all moving at a steady pace and Allandre nearly knocked over the child in front of her, when the group suddenly came to an abrupt halt. She pushed her way through the children to the front. Sarah was stood in front of the roof door, pushing it repeatedly with her hand. But the facility was on lock-down. The customary panel flashed at her from the wall beside the door, waiting for authentication. Allandre tried to dull down her panic, so as not to frighten the children.

Not knowing why, she put a hand into her pocket. There was nothing in there that would help. Only the guards could unlock the doors. A lump formed in her throat, as her fingers touched something wet and slimy. The soft, moist pad of the guard’s feet were getting closer. Stomach doing somersaults, she pulled out the unknown object from her pocket. It was a guard’s severed hand. Some of the children recoiled at the sight, others looked at it with macabre interest. Fighting the urge to throw up, Allandre moved forward to the panel and placed the six digits on the lock screen. There was a whirring sound and a click. Sarah was still pushing on the door and as it unlocked, she stumbled forward onto the roof.

They bundled through and Allandre closed the door behind. The guards would be able to open it easily but at least it would add an extra stage of delay. A landing pad stood before them with a large black helicopter sitting idly. Allandre squinted and could make out one of the automated flight bots at the wheel. There was no sign of anyone else. As they approached it, the side door slid open automatically, whilst at the same time the engine began to whir into life. Allandre had to assume that the bird was part of the escape plan. Besides it was not as if she had any alternative. The children reached the copter, as the propellers began to slowly spin. One of the children, entranced by the circulating blades tried to raise his hand to touch them. Allandre seized the child before he could do it and forced his arm to his side.

It took a while but eventually, Allandre managed to get all the children into the helicopter, leaving just her and the baby, as the last two to get in. It was at that moment that the rooftop door burst open and several guards spilled out onto the roof. Allandre bit her lip and then did something dangerous. She handed Sarah the baby, closed the door shut and slammed on the driver’s window. The bot turned it’s mechanical head to face her and did nothing for a moment. A bullet thudded into the side of the aircraft and the bot suddenly seized control of the situation and began to lift off from the landing pad.

Allandre watched the helicopter rise into the air, saw the terrified and confused expressions of the children inside, felt the heat of the engines and the whoosh of air rush over her. Then with a swallow, she turned to face the guards. Seven of the reptile guards stood facing her, their guns pointed at various points on her body. Her body flushed grey for a moment and the lead guard sniggered at her fear. Then something strange happened. Her body transformed into purple. Fear had momentarily vanished, to be replaced by anger. Screaming, she ran forward. The lead guard fired his gun. It had been aimed at her heart but her unexpected movement took the shooter by surprise and instead the bullet hit her in the shoulder. Allandre was thrown back into the air and crashed down to earth with a dull thump. She lay there for a moment, pinned to the ground by the shock and force of what had happened.

In the sky above her, Allandre could make out the large black shadow of the helicopter ascending into the clouds. She smiled and a tear ran from her eye. The flip flop of the guard’s padded feet were growing closer and closer. They were advancing to finish her off. Allandre’s shoulder felt numb but she could feel the hot blood soaking her arm and breast. From somewhere deep below, there was a low humming. She thought it was her imagination but as the guards drew closer, it grew louder and stronger. The ground beneath her was beginning to vibrate. With an almighty effort, Allandre raised her head to look at the guards. They had paused and were eyeing the floor curiously. The building began to shake and Allandre felt the tiled roof beneath her tremble and rattle. There was a pause and the lead guard smiled satisfied and turned his attention back to Allandre.

Then an almighty force shook the foundations. The ground beneath the lead guard disappeared, him along with it. The other guards looked at one another, confused. A shape flew out of the hole, high up into the air. All Allandre could see was a massive, black shadow. It rose for a good while, then arched and began to speed back down towards the ground. The shape was headed directly for the remaining guards. Some of them tried shooting at it, others attempted to dive out the way. Neither succeeded. The shape smashed into their ranks, sending guards flying in all directions. Concrete, brickwork and creature exploded into the air, in a cloud of destruction. Allandre tried to keep her head up but the loss of blood was making her light-headed.

Allandre felt the roof beneath her disappear, just before she drifted into unconsciousness. She didn’t fall though. The last thing she remembered before being consumed by blackness was being lifted into the air, almost by a pair of invisible hands. Then darkness consumed her entirely, as she let go and allowed herself to be taken by it.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content



The three officers stood at Clandowey rail station, waiting for the 12.15 to London Waterloo. A day had passed since the capture of Vera Mayhew. After her arrest, Vera had been taken back to Llangarthen Station for further questioning. Like at the house, Vera hadn’t put up much resistance. In fact she had refused a lawyer. Fran and Gethin had been pleased by this. And so they should be. This was a big triumph for a couple of small town cops. Plus, they had prevented the death of the third victim, delivery driver: Simon Barnes, who was now recovering in Clandowey hospital under close surveillance.

Bridge was not so satisfied. Whilst he had technically completed his case, meaning there was no reason for him to stay, something didn’t quite sit well. In her confession, Vera had detailed her reasons albeit motives for killing the three victims. She explained in detail, how all three men had been evil men, responsible for harm to others. That was why she had removed those particular body parts. In her mind, the eyes, mouth and genitalia were tools. Tools that these men had used in the most evil of ways. What was further discomforting was that these were not the only three victims. Vera had a number of bodies buried out in the field and woods surrounding the property. A factor that made Fran very uncomfortable, considering she had traipsed over them not only a few hours ago.

However, he had no choice in the matter. His superiors had decided that due to Vera being in custody and proven guilty, the case, in their minds was closed. Bridge’s presence was required back in London and as quickly as possible. So here stood the three weary officers. Collaboratively, they looked like they had been three rounds with Mohammad Ali. Bridge with his head wound from his run in with Gareth, Gethin with his bandaged hand from his encounter with Rhion and Fran limping along the platform with her ripped coat and twisted ankle.

‘So.’ Bridge said rather awkwardly, clasping his hands together. ‘It’s been an eye opener, that’s for sure.’

Fran smiled, inclining her head in agreement. Gethin looked rather sullen. It seemed to him that they had only just got to know one another and now Bridge was leaving.

‘Are you sure you guys will be alright with this body business?’

Fran rolled her eyes.

‘Honestly Bridge, I think we can handle a few dead bodies. Hell, we should be used to it by now.’

Bridge grinned. A musical tone came on the station speakers, followed by the nasal announcement of the station master, detailing the arrival of the Waterloo train.

‘Well….I guess this is it.’ Bridge said stiffly.

The three of them stood in somewhat awkward silence for a moment. Then without warning, Gethin seized Bridge in a deep hug.

‘Take care Bridge.’

Bridge, somewhat unaccustomed to human interaction, tapped him rather gingerly on the back. He glanced at Fran, who was desperately trying to hide her amusement at the whole situation.

‘You too Gethin.’

Gethin finally released him, as the train pulled up behind the three of them.

‘Travel safe now Bridge.’ Fran said warmly, as the two shook hands.

‘Good luck with the rest of your investigation and call me Nick.’

Fran and Gethin both smiled.

‘See you Nick.’ They both chorused, as the train doors hissed open behind Bridge.

Detective Nicholas Bridge smiled, then stepped forward onto the train. Locating a carriage that was not too crowded, Bridge settled himself down in a window seat and grinned through the glass at Fran and Gethin stood watching him on the platform. There was the whistle of the station master and then the lurch of the train, as it started to move away from the station. They waved goodbye at each other through the glass and soon Fran and Gethin had vanished from view, as the train exited the station and made it’s way away from Clandowey. Bridge sighed and closed his eyes. A frown rippled across his forehead. He felt a sense of loss grip him. It was an odd feeling. Bridge never usually got close to a case. There was a reason he was known for his cold and detached manner. But this case was different. He had strangely grown attached to the bolshy Fran and the naive Gethin. In truth he was forced to admit, he was sad to see them go.


Some time later, Bridge woke from a troubling dream. It had involved Vera. In the dream he had been strapped to a metal gurney and Vera stood above him, that same razor sharp knife held aloft in her hand. The last thing he had remembered before waking, was her leaning towards him, the knife growing closer and closer to his unprotected face. He dry washed his face and sat up, shaking his head to try and dispel the horrid dream. Bridge yawned and glanced around. The carriage had filled up a little bit and by the looks of the scenery outside, they were nearing the outskirts of London.

A small boy, sat a few seats down was staring at him intensely. Bridge gave the kid a warm smile but the boy didn’t smile back. Instead, he continued to stare at Bridge, not blinking, his whole concentration seemingly fixed on the dozy detective. There was something odd about the boy that made Bridge shift uncomfortably in his seat. He tried to focus his attention on something else but he could still feel the boy’s eyes upon him. There was something familiar about the boy. Some aspect of his being that Bridge found recognizable. Fortunately, Bridge was saved by the boy’s mother who quickly busied herself, grooming the child’s face, which was plastered with muck.


Bridge made his way through Waterloo and into the waiting Taxi, as if on auto pilot. The rush and hum of activity should have been a welcome relief for Bridge. He had escaped the hum drum dullness of the Welsh Valley. However, he sort of missed the simplicity of life on the other side of the border. He had never noticed how hostile people were in London. But now he was back here, Bridge realized it with stark realization.

His sister was waiting for him at his flat. She greeted him with a hug. Up until now, Samantha had been the only person allowed to hug him and even then it was a brief and somewhat stiff encounter. So she was slightly taken aback, when he gave her a strong, lengthy embrace.

‘Everything okay?’ She asked, running a hand through her strawberry blonde hair.

Bridge gave a tired smile.

‘Yeah…just happy to be home.’


Bridge didn’t even unpack, as was his normal routine when returning home from a trip but instead dived straight into the shower. It was as he was resting his head against the cool bathroom tiles, letting the hot water pour down upon him, that a thought crossed his mind. He recalled now who the boy reminded him of and why it had been so hard to deduce upon first seeing him. It was in fact two people. The boy looked almost identical to Darren Rhion, be it smaller and without the ear piercing and shaved eyebrow. But the eyes. The eyes were not like his but rather reminded him of someone else and the realization of who, made him shiver despite the warm water. They were Vera’s eyes.


Fran breathed out heavily and wiped her sweaty forehead with the back of her arm. She was stood in the middle of the field she had been in not two days ago, whilst trying to track down Simon Barnes’ Van. However, today she was stood here for an entirely different reason. Several open graves stretched before her, the contents of which housed the bones of Vera’s past victims. Fran had been advised to take some leave and rest after her ordeal of the big case but she had protested. She felt a responsibility to see this through to the bitter end. Not just for Bridge but for herself too. It was her duty to find the remaining bodies and put to rest this terrible ordeal once and for all.

Although Vera had been cooperative in terms of informing the officers where she had buried some of the other bodies, she hadn’t revealed how many they were in total and where to find them all. Her coordinates had been vague, more rough guidelines. They had struck gold with the field, finding not one but four of the other deceased victims but from visiting Vera’s living room, Fran knew for certain that there were still more to find. She sighed and straightened up. Her ankle was still sore from her fall and she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for some time now.

Fran had suffered freaky nightmares both last night and the night before, almost in tandem with their arrest of Vera Mayhew. It was a reoccurring dream, involving a wild horse. The horse was whining and neighing, jumping around in a frantic manner. As Fran approached, the horse had bolted. Jutting out of the ground, close to where the horse had been stood was a grey hand, extended out into the air, the hand frozen into the shape of a claw, as if trying to grasp the very air. Each night, Fran had woken in a cold sweat and a deeply unsettling feeling that it meant something.

It was as she was stood here, contemplating on the nature of her dreams that something large and brown caught her eye in the screen of trees at the bottom of the field. Before Fran knew what she was doing, she found herself walking as if on auto pilot, towards the line of trees. Ducking under a low branch, Fran emerged into the wooded area and froze on the spot. A wild, brown horse was stood a few feet away from her. It regarded her with large eyes before turning and trotting away. Fran felt her heart beating loudly in her chest. She moved over to where the horse had been standing and knelt down. She couldn’t quite explain it but Fran suddenly had the uncontrollable urge to search the ground. She began digging, her nails dark with soil and mud. Her finger scraped against something hard, She paused and tugged the thing free from the earth. It was a bone and not just any sort of bone. Fran felt a lump form in her throat, as she held the human femur in her outstretched hand.


Gethin walked around the Owen’s farm, accompanied by Gareth and his faithful hound. Since the whole debacle with Vera had passed, it was not likely that anyone was going to try causing any more trouble on the Owen’s farm, especially with Rhion out of the equation. However, Gethin had offered to come up and do a perimeter sweep with a couple of officers just in case. Despite Fran, Gethin and Bridge trying their best to keep Gareth’s relationship with Arthur under wraps, it had somehow leaked and become talk of the town. Gareth didn’t see what the big deal was but Maggie and Gethin had both agreed that keeping an eye out was a good idea. Despite it being the 21st century, more remote areas such as this always had a minority who held on to slightly archaic prejudices.

No threats had been made yet but Gethin had overheard some nasty remarks by some of the locals and wanted to make sure nothing would come of it. Besides, since Bridge had returned home and Fran was busy with excavating the bodies, Gethin felt he needed something to keep him busy. Life had grown dull once more and although this may not be the most thrilling of duties, it felt good to be doing something proactive.

Gareth was just describing his plans for this year’s harvest, when Gethin paused by a nearby tree. He was frowning at it with a fierce concentration.

‘You alright there Geth? You look as if you have seen a ghost.’

Gethin moved closer to the tree. A circle had been engraved on the trunk of tree. This wouldn’t have struck Gethin as odd but it was the inner markings of the circle, which gave him cause to investigate. It appeared to represent one of the war medals that had belonged to Arthur Babcock. It was so intricate in its design that even the dates had been etched into it’s hard surface.

‘Did you do this Gareth?’

Gareth sidled up to take a look.

‘I should think not. Have those bloody kids been up to no good again?’

Gethin looked at Gareth, as if he were mad.

‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ Gareth said uncomfortably.

Gethin pointed at the tree.

‘Because this is an exact copy of Arthur’s medal.’

Gareth frowned at the tree.

‘Possibly. He never told me about his time in the war.’

Gethin looked back at the etching, a shiver coursing down his spine. If Gareth hadn’t done this, then who had.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content




In The Lion’s Den

There was some debate over how best to approach and potentially apprehend Vera. Gethin wanted to go in gun’s blazing, so as to save the delivery driver in time before it was too late. However, Bridge had wisely pointed out that seeing as they were unable to locate said victim, if they charged in like the light brigade, they  might never find him or Vera. Bridge was of the opinion that it would be a better idea, to leave the cars out of sight and sneak on to the property. By doing this, they would hopefully be able to spy Vera entering her secret lair without raising the alarm. Fran sided with Bridge but agreed with Gethin, in the respect that they shouldn’t take too long, as there was still a chance of saving the delivery man.

Add to the equation that they still hadn’t located the delivery van and the three of them had quite a challenge ahead of them. Fran didn’t want to split up, thinking that it would be best to stick together, considering how dangerous and unpredictable Vera could turn out to be.

‘Be that as it may, it would be a more effective use of our time to spread out, take different points, so as to more effectively tackle the situation.’ Bridge insisted, as the three of them waited in Fran’s car, just round the corner from Vera’s den.

Gethin sighed and sat forward, gripping Fran’s headrest in his arms.

‘Look, the more we sit about trying to come up with a plan, the less time our victim has.’

Fran and Bridge looked at one another. He was right. They couldn’t afford to sit here going over semantics. Not when a man’s life was in danger. Fran drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, mulling it over. Bridge’s leg bounced up and down anxiously.

‘Right. The bottom line is that we need to find this delivery van. So we know for sure he is here.’

‘I would bet my twin brothers on it.’ Gethin said decisively.

‘Nevertheless, Fran is right. We find the van, we have her dead to rights.’ Bridge concluded.

Gethin huffed indignantly.

‘It will all take too long, I’m telling you.’

‘Will you two be quiet a moment, I hadn’t finished.’ Fran snapped sharply.

Gethin sat back rather sheepishly and Bridge cleared his throat.

‘I will go looking for the van.’ She looked across the nearby field. ‘There must be a way around the back of the house. Meanwhile you two flank the house, get in there and try to capture Vera or better yet find out where she is keeping her victim.’

Bridge and Gethin actually looked rather impressed.

‘Fran, that’s brilliant.’ Bridge said, Gethin nodded in agreement in the rear-view mirror.

‘I have my moments.’ Fran said smugly.

Gethin and Fran went to exit the car but Bridge motioned for them to sit still a moment.

‘Bridge we really don’t have time.’ Fran highlighted.

Bridge reached into his deep, overcoat pocket and produced three small walkie talkies. He distributed them out to Fran and Gethin.

‘Stay on channel 1. This way we can keep in contact. I have also linked it up to the patrol car radio, so if any of us run into trouble we can call for backup.’

It was Fran’s turn to look impressed.

‘Good thinking Bridge.’

‘I have my moments.’ Bridge retorted, taking his moment to look smug.

Plan established, the three of them climbed out of the ancient vehicle, clipped on their walkie talkies and set off in their respective directions.


Fran slipped through a gap in the fence to the nearby field and cursed, as her farmer’s jacket snagged on a piece of rogue barb wire. Instead of pausing to untangle herself from her predicament, she wrenched it free, tearing a sizable rip in the material. Under normal circumstances she would be upset. It was her favourite winter coat after all. But this was not an everyday situation. So she pressed on, eager to find the vanished vehicle as quickly as possible. At the lower half of the field, Vera’s house came into view to the right. She ducked down instinctively. There was no way from this distance that Vera would be able to see her but Fran didn’t want to take any chances. Luckily the grass in the field was overgrown and combined with her olive green coat, Fran was well camouflaged.

She popped up every now and then to glimpse the house. She had circled round in a wide arc and from her new position,she could see past the rear of the house. No van out the back, as far as she could tell. The field began to slope and Fran had to take care not to slip on the uneven surface. A thick wall of trees stood at the bottom of the slope. Fran paused and followed the tree line to her right. They stretched all the way to where the back of the house lay. Fran wondered. If the back of the house led directly into the woods, then maybe Vera had hidden the van somewhere beyond the trees. Climbing over the fence, taking care to avoid catching any other parts of her clothing on the barb wire, Fran dropped down on the other side and pushed her way through the trees.


Meanwhile Bridge and Gethin were making their way cautiously to the front of the house. Gethin had never been in a situation like this before and was entirely reliant upon Bridge for direction. Fortunately, Bridge had seen enough action and been through suitable training to prepare himself for this contingency. As they tiptoed their way along the dirt track road to Vera’s house, Bridge made various hand signals to Gethin, indicating if he should, follow, stay or that they should split up. Gethin suddenly felt like he was a Marine on a tactical assignment and berated himself for not bringing face paint. Although half of Bridge’s hand signals went completely over Gethin’s head, he got enough of the gist to get by.

It was with great care and trepidation that the two police officers approached Vera’s front garden. This had been the last place either of them had seen her and there was the chance that she could still be there, hidden behind one of the overly large and ornate plants. They both entered at different points of the garden, under Bridge’s hand orders. Gethin felt even more like a Marine, as they brushed past the towering plants and foliage of the front garden. Both Gethin and Bridge navigated their respective routes of the garden until eventually they reconvened at the top of the garden path, just a few feet away from the front door. Vera was nowhere to be seen. A factor that was either very good or very bad.

‘You take downstairs and I take upstairs.’ Bridge instructed, in a low barely audible whisper.

Gethin nodded gingerly, swallowing hard. That same fear and panic that he had first felt, when searching Arthur’s house for the first time had taken hold once again. Sensing, Gethin’s nervous state, Bridge rested his hand on the young officer’s shoulder and gave his arm a tight squeeze. It did actually go it’s way to easing some of Gethin’s anxiety. The two of them both took a deep breath, steeling themselves for what was about to come, then crept forward into Vera’s lair.


Fran made a sound like a disgruntled bear, as another stray twig slapped her in the face. She was a mess. Her hair resembled that of a crow’s nest and her clothes were so askew, that she looked like she had been pulled backwards through a bush. Which she kind of had, in a manner of speaking. Fran had been stomping through the undergrowth for some time. Due to the natural slope of the land, she had been forced to walk at an odd angle, in order to get closer to the rear of the property. Unfortunately, at one point this had caused her to slip and twist her ankle painfully, forcing her to limp on like a battle weary soldier.

Why had she volunteered for this part of the assault? Gethin was much younger and fitter. Fran now deeply regretted her decision to search for the van. She hadn’t made the decision to pursue this lead out of any sort of noble intention. It was more to shut up Bridge and Gethin’s infernal bickering on what they should do. On a number of occasions, she had thought about turning around or radioing Bridge and Gethin to inform them that she hadn’t found anything. But despite the pain in her ankle, Fran pushed on. They were so close now. How could she possibly give up? Something caught her eye. A glimpse of blue amidst the browns and greens. That looked out of place. Taking care to trace a safe path, Fran made her way towards the mysterious blue thing.


Gethin’s heart hammered loudly in his chest, as he searched first the hallway, then the kitchen and finally the living room. Each time he had stepped into a room, his stomach had lurched, as he expected to find a demonic Vera, standing over the delivery driver’s body, a knife raised above her, ready to strike. But every time he passed through a doorway, he was met with an empty room. As he stood in the living room, trying to work out what to do next, Gethin heard a creak from upstairs. He tensed but then forced himself to relax. It was only Bridge checking up there.

Bridge hadn’t had much luck upstairs either, although he did notice that in the bedroom, the doll of the delivery driver had mysteriously disappeared. This was rather unsettling. There were no secret hatches or hidden passages, much to Bridge’s dismay. In the end, he returned downstairs to find Gethin stood aimlessly in the living room. The young officer shot him a hopeful look but Bridge shook his head. The two of them stood for a moment, trying to work out what to do next, then Bridge whispered.

‘I’m going to check the back garden.’ And moved out into the hallway before Gethin had a chance to ask him what he should do.

He was about to radio Fran to see how she was getting on, when he heard a creak from underneath his feet. He looked down at the rug he was stood on and strained his ears to hear better. Again there was another creak. Heart leaping into his throat, Gethin squatted down and threw back the rug. A wooden trap door lay underneath. For the second time, he reached for his walkie talkie to radio Bridge but paused upon hearing another creak. If Vera was down there then maybe there was another way out. If he radioed Bridge, she might overhear and bolt. He glanced round to see if Bridge had returned. He was still outside.

Gripping his torch tightly in his hand, Gethin eased open the trap door and descended into the dark underbelly of the living room. There was a low passage, lit by lights in the wall at various intervals. He made his way cautiously down the tunnel, the torch at the ready in case anyone should pop out suddenly. The low passage led into a small room. Something round and pale hovered in the middle of the room, illuminated by another ceiling light above. Gethin flinched as the object moved. A low moan reached his ears. Despite every urge to turn and run, Gethin raised the torch and pointed it at the floating white ball.

‘Oh, dear god.’ He gasped.

The delivery driver, strapped to a hard back wooden chair stared back at him wild eyed. Gethin had to force down the urge to throw up. The man’s eyelids had been removed and by the looks of things, his upper lip had been sliced off as well. His hands and feet had been restrained and his arm had been hooked up to an IV, which hung from the hook to left of him. Gethin moved forwards to help the poor man and jumped at a loud bang from behind him. The trapdoor had been shut, locking him in with the lidless man.


Fran stopped to catch her breath. She had located the source of the blue object. It was a large tarp thrown over the top of something bulky and rectangular shaped. From the gap in the bottom of the tarp, Fran could tell that it was the van. The large rubber wheels poked out the bottom. Once, she had suitably recovered, she moved forwards and with a great effort, dragged the tarp off the stationary vehicle.

‘Got you know you bitch.’ Fran said with a satisfied smile.


Bridge heard a loud thud from the inside of the house, followed by Gethin’s crackly voice through his walkie talkie.

‘Bridge, I found the victim. There was a trapdoor in the living room but she’s locked me in.’

Bridge had already started running for the house before Gethin had finished speaking. He burst into the kitchen dived into the hallway just in time to see Vera making a beeline for the front door.

‘Stop.’ He commanded.

Vera paused and turned to face Bridge. She held a long, sharp blade in one hand. There was blood mixed in with the soil and dirt of her gardening clothes. Bridge swallowed hard. What was his plan now? He had no weapon to hand. His hand dropped to where his walkie talkie was clipped. Vera’s eyes flicked to it like a predatory hawk. With the two of them stood either end of the hallway, they resembled a Mexican standoff. Unfortunately, Vera looked in a much favorable position then he did.

‘Bridge, I have found the van. We’ve got her now.’ Came the slightly muffled voice of Fran through Bridge’s walkie talkie.

‘Give it up Mrs. Mayhew. There is no escape from this.’ Bridge stated.

Vera sighed and pointed the knife at Bridge.

‘You think I want to get out of this.’

Bridge held out his hands.

‘Don’t be hasty now. We have the place surrounded.’

Vera laughed. It was cold and cruel.

‘No you don’t.’ She said, calling his bluff.

Bridge tried a different tactic.

‘Just put the knife down and we can talk about this.’

‘Talk about what. You still don’t get it.’

It was Bridge’s turn to laugh but he couldn’t help masking the shakiness of his nerves.

‘There’s nothing to get. You killed these men in cold blood. You’re a serial killer, plain and simple.’

‘No my dear, I saved them. They wanted to be taken from this world.’

Bridge flashed her a cynical look. Maybe if he could keep her talking, Bridge could distract her long enough to…to do what? Gethin was stuck under a trap door and Fran was somewhere at the bottom of a field.

‘And why would these men want to die?’

Vera gave her a very knowing look. Bridge, although certain of her guilt felt a moment of doubt cross his mind. No, he told himself, she was responsible for these crimes. He tore his eyes away from hers. She seemed to have this hypnotic ability.

‘These men’s crimes are far worse. I have cleansed them of their sins.’

Great, Bridge thought to himself. Another raving fanatical. As if there wasn’t enough of them about these days.

‘What crimes are those?’

Vera gave him a sly look.

‘You’re the detective, you tell me.’

Bridge shifted uncomfortably.

‘Nevertheless. You are a murderer Mrs. Mayhew and as such you must answer to the law.’

Bridge was expecting resistance. For her to dash forwards and plunge the knife into his chest or alternatively turn and make a break for freedom. However, Vera did neither. Instead, she did something that took Bridge totally by surprise. She dropped the knife on the floor, the blade clanking loudly on the floorboards.

‘Well…then…are you going to arrest me officer?’ She said, holding out her hands.

Bridge hesitated. This could be a trick. Keeping his eyes on her, he moved cautiously down the hallway. Vera watched him, intrigued, her arms still held out. When Bridge was close enough, he kicked the knife away, and took a step back. Vera gave him one of her even smiles, which only made Bridge more cagey. Bridge pulled out his handcuffs, trying his best not to show that his hands weren’t trembling. He could feel Vera’s unrelenting stare upon him. Finally, after what seemed an age, he managed to whip on the handcuffs, securing them quickly before it was too late.

‘Mrs. Mayhew, I am arresting you for the murder of Arthur Babcock and Darren Rhion. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.’

Vera sighed heavily.

‘You’re making a mistake.’

‘Yeah well, we will see about that.’ Bridge replied.

He retrieved his walkie talkie and pressed down on the button.

‘Fran, Gethin. I have Vera Mayhew in custody.’

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


The Three Musketeers

Fran, Gethin and Bridge sat in tense silence on the drive up to Vera’s house. Although, they would not know 100 percent for certain that Vera was the killer until they arrived, all three of them had that uncanny feeling that she was indeed the culprit. Following behind them was the patrol car, Fran had called upon earlier that morning. 

As they pulled up outside the house, the three of them spotted Vera pottering in her jungle like garden. She was holding a pair of large gardening shears and wore a wide brimmed straw hat on her head. She waved at them cheerily, before returning to her pruning. Apparently, Vera wasn’t unnerved by the sight of the three of them and the rear vanguard of the patrol car. 

Gethin felt a little jolt of satisfaction, as the three of them exited the car. The merry band was back together once again. For a number of years Gethin had struggled to find a sense of belonging. That was why he had acted up so much as a teenager. He had temporarily combated this by joining the police force but even then he hadn’t felt truly at home. He had never had any particular interest in crime. But in the last few weeks, working together with Bridge and Fran, Gethin had finally found purpose and direction, not to mention he was surprisingly good at it. 

‘You ready?’ Bridge asked Gethin. 

The three of them stood in front of Fran’s car, the two uniformed officers waiting patiently a few feet away. Fran gave the two men a disapproving look.

‘I still don’t think Gethin should have come. He is on temporary leave. What sort of example are we setting?’

Gethin rolled his eyes.

‘Come on Fran. You wouldn’t have known to follow up this lead if it wasn’t for my snooping around.’

‘And besides, we took Gethin off the case because of his…assault on Darren Rhion. But now Rhion is out of the picture, there is technically nothing preventing Gethin’s return.’ Bridge chimed in. 

Gethin’s eyes widened in alarm. 

‘What do you mean…Rhion’s out of the picture?’ 

Bridge drew a finger across his throat, which Fran felt was in extremely poor taste. 

‘Really?’ Gethin said, stunned. 

‘Well technically it was eyes, lips and genitals but you get the point.’ Bridge explained. 

Gethin stroked his chin thoughtfully. 

‘Same MO as Arthur?’ 

‘Yep.’ Fran confirmed, feeling that she had already lost a losing argument. 

‘This ties in about Fran’s theory on it being a ritual killing.’ 

Gethin gestured at Vera, who was knelt down in the soil with her back to the visitors. 

‘I don’t know how dream-catchers and wild plants fit into the equation but she is definitely some sort of crotchety witch.’ Gethin whispered, raising his eyebrows dramatically. 

Fran looked sort of smug, at the fact that she had one over on Bridge. Bridge on the other hand, looked highly skeptical. 

‘A witch? You do realize we live in the 21st Century and not in 1632.’ 

‘I’m telling you there is something odd about her. She gives me the creeps.’ 

Fran straightened out her coat and flattened down her hair. 

‘Well, I guess we will soon find out.’ 

Bridge was mesmerized by the array of colours and smells that greeted him, as he stepped into Vera’s garden. Fran and Gethin were already a way ahead, having visited Vera once before but this was all new to Bridge. Either side of him walked the uniform officers, they too entranced by the wild array of plants brushing up against their arms and legs. There was something slightly hypnotic about the garden, like Bridge had just wondered into a strange dream scape.

‘Vera Mayhew?’ 

Vera turned upon hearing her name and cupped a hand against her forehead, to better see Fran and Gethin in the bright afternoon sunlight. 

‘Sergeant Thomas, what brings you to my humble abode today?’ 

Gethin glanced around the lavish garden. There was nothing humble about this place. Fran tried her best to keep an even smile but she couldn’t help hide her serious tone of voice. 

‘Am I to assume that this is not social visit?’ Vera asked sweetly, noting Bridge approaching with the two uniformed officers. 

Bridge eyed the elderly lady cagily. She appeared for all intense and purposes like a regular older woman. Her clothes, although slightly muddied from soil and sweat were almost fashionable and her skin although wrinkled and aged, looked well cared for and maintained. But there was something about her that unnerved Bridge. She felt his eyes upon her and looked directly at him. There it was. Some darkness hidden in her large emerald eyes. It was almost predatory. Like a cat, watching its prey with dangerous intent. 

‘And who is this handsome man?’ Vera said. 

Fran went to introduce him but Bridge stepped forwards, offering a hand. 

‘Detective Nicholas Bridge. You must be Vera Mayhew.’ 

Vera removed a gardening glove and shook his hand. Her grip was limp and cold to the touch. It made the hairs on Bridge’s neck, tingle ever so slightly. 

‘We have a warrant to search your property.’ Gethin blurted out, producing the official piece of paper and showing Vera. 

Vera gave Gethin the most venomous of look and for a moment Bridge thought she was going to lash out at the young man. However, the expression soon vanished and once again the even smile and calm temperament returned on her face.  

‘Well, I guess I have no choice but to comply. I only ask you to be respectful of my belongings. My possessions are very important to me and I don’t want your men chucking stuff around willy nilly.’ 

Bridge noticed it for a second time. A slight fluctuation in her even tone. This woman was playing the part of a kind and polite elderly lady but Bridge could tell this was only a disguise. He may not have a degree of skill talking to people but Bridge had an uncanny ability to study people’s mannerisms and behavioral traits. And what unnerved Bridge the most was that it felt like Vera also had this uncanny ability. When she looked at him, Bridge felt as if she was looking directly into his soul. 

‘Of course Mrs Mayhew, my men will treat your house with the utmost respect.’ 

Whilst Bridge and Fran found a spot in the overgrown garden to chat some more with Vera, Gethin and the two uniformed officers entered the witches’ lair. 

‘You two start down here. I will check upstairs.’ Gethin instructed. 

The two uniformed officers shared glances. Gethin sighed. 


They grunted but moved down the hallway in their respective directions. Gethin mounted the stairs, his Nike trainers causing the carpeted steps to creak loudly under foot. There were a number of abstract paintings dotted along the wall. He glanced at them on his way past. There was something unnerving about the subjects of the paintings. Many of them depicting a shadowy figure in a broad landscape. 

There were more of the strange, vibrant plants dotted here and there along the second floor landing. Intrigued, Gethin ran his finger along one of the leaves and cursed, as it pricked his skin and drew blood. There was nothing particularly strange about the landing itself, bar the tropical plants.

Gethin pushed open a nearby door and found himself in the upstairs bathroom. There was a low ceramic bath with one of those bar supports for the infirm. The bath mat was floral in design and one of the walls had been painted in vibrant shades of greens and blues. It was evident that Vera was a bit of an aged hippy. Gethin caught sight of himself in the mirror above the sink and paused for a moment.  He smiled at his reflection. Not in a ponsey pretentious way, he had alreadtpy been through that stage of his life. It was more a acknowledgment of himself. For the first time in a long while, Gethin felt comfortable in his own skin. 

Gethin’s eyes located a handle situated in the bottom left hand corner of the mirror. He pulled on it and the mirror swung open to reveal a small cabinet inside. Gethin was expecting to find a myriad of bottled pills and prescriptions like at his Nan’s house and to a certain degree that was true. However, as Gethin stepped forward for a closer look, he realized that this wasn’t your average cabinet of bottled medication. He picked up one of the clear bottles and inspected it closely. Scrawled in neat handwriting across the label was words that Gethin couldn’t comprehend. It was Latin. Gethin now regretted skipping on his Latin classes in his younger years. Underneath the Latin name, was a note advising to take twice daily, 6 hours apart. 

Gethin placed the bottle back and ran an eye over the rest of the cabinet. There were different sized and shaped bottles, some with liquid contents, others with pills. Some even with small seeds and berries. All had the same writing etched on the front, a Latin name and a set of instructions. So, not your average medical cabinet then. Gethin extracted his phone from his pocket and took a series of photos, both close ups and mid shots. When he had got a suitable amount of photographic proof to show the others, Gethin put his phone away and moved back onto the landing. 

He tried another door. It led into a large bedroom, the master room by the looks of it. It had that same rustic feel, as the rest of the cottage with its oak bed posts and mahogany furniture. There were no curtains but instead brightly coloured sheets and drapes that were layered upon one another to block out the light. Gethin moved into the room cautiously. There was something intense about the room. The lack of light and crowded furniture was one element but it was more then that. Gethin felt as if he was stepping into the monster’s lair. Like that scene in ‘Silence of The Lambs’, where Jodie Foster steps into Hannibal’s underground domain. 

Like in the downstairs living room there were objects hanging from the ceiling. Gethin squinted, moving forward in the dim light. There was a few dream-catchers which Gethin had half expected but what was different was the other objects. Paper animals. Vera was apparently a fan of origami, amongst other things. Gethin flicked one of them absentmindedly. It was in the shape of a dog. It spun lazily on its string. Something caught Gethin’s eye and he glanced at the big chest of drawers. A row of dolls were lined up along the top. Similar to ones Fran had seen in the downstairs living room on her previous visit. 

He moved forwards and studied them. There were three of them. There was something recognizable about them but Gethin couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. He also noted that there was space at the end of the row for another one to fit in. Gethin whipped out his phone and took some photos. He also captured some of the hanging dream-catchers and origami figures. He wasn’t entirely sure of their pertinence but maybe the three of them could figure it out together. An incense holder and a pot of incense sticks were placed on one of the low bedside tables. There was also an ornate looking brass lamp with intricate markings and patterns. 

Gethin started by searching through the chest of draws and wardrobe. There was nothing alerting apart from maybe the garish choice of colours. There were a few personal trinkets in the bedside draws and a couple of paperback books and magazines but nothing of notable value. Gethin sighed and sat down on the bed heavily. This was harder then he thought it would be. I mean admittedly all this stuff was weird but there was nothing incriminating that he had unearthed. One of the offices popped his head around the door. 

‘Found anything?’ Gethin asked hopefully. 

The officer shook his head. 

‘Sorry Geth. Just some creepy dolls. She is a weirdo that’s for sure but I don’t think she’s your killer.’ 

Gethin nodded, looking slightly disheartened. The officer drummed his fingertips on the door frame and quickly vacated the area. Gethin fished in his pocket for his phone. As he was retrieving it, his keys slipped out and fell to the floor. Gethin sighed heavily and dropped to his knees to retrieve them. He was about to stand back up, when he noticed something poking out from under the corner of the mattress. He gave it a strong tug. It was the corner of a large hardcover book. Prizing it free, he sat back down on the bed and studied the cover. It was a book of plants. Gethin opened it a random. There were black and white illustrations and various Latin names in fancy handwriting. Some of the pages had post-it notes stuck to the top of them. There were words scribbled on them, the same handwriting as on the bottles. Gethin was just about to take a closer look, when voices made him look up. 

Vera, Fran and Bridge were coming up the stairs. Gethin felt a sudden panic grip him. He didn’t know why but he felt compelled to hide the book from sight, even though they had a warrant to search the property. Hurriedly, he lifted his shirt and stuck the book down the top of his trousers. He dropped his shirt just in time for the three of them to enter the room. 

‘Have you finished yet, I am not accustomed to strange men in my house?’ Vera said brashly. 

Fran looked at Gethin expectantly. It was time to go. Gethin clasped his hands together. 

‘Sorry to intrude Mrs. Mayhew. We will get out of your hair.’ 

As Gethin moved past Vera and out into the hallway, he could feel her penetrating stare burning into his back. Did she know he had the book? How could she? Gethin had stowed it away, far before she had entered the room. However, he couldn’t help the feeling that she somehow knew what he was up to. Ears burning, Gethin made his way quickly down the stairs and out the door. 

It was only when he was back inside Fran’s car, that Gethin was able to relax. The book was still stuffed into the back of his trouser belt. It dug uncomfortably into the small of his back, making sitting a particularly arduous task. But he dare not retrieve the book. Not with Vera standing in the garden not ten feet away. Fran and Bridge said their goodbyes and most likely apologies before rendezvousing with Gethin in the car. They both turned in their seats to face him.

‘So, did you really not find anything?’ Fran asked, looking slightly crestfallen.

‘Can we just drive?’ Gethin said irritatedly.

Bridge and Fran exchanged uncomfortable looks. It was obvious that they thought he was just tetchy because he had turned up nothing solid. If Gethin was being totally honest, that was part of the reason but it was also the sharp edged book digging into his spine.

Desk Sergeant Paul stood up eagerly, as the three musketeers entered the lobby. If the three of them had not been so occupied by their own thoughts, they would have noticed how out of ordinary this was. There was a reason why there was a Desk Sergeant Paul shaped outline in the desk chair. He opened his mouth. Now was his moment. He would outline his importance as an asset. His previous setback had been disappointing but he would not give up that easier. Desk Sergeant Paul had always been the type of person who rolled over. He never saw the importance of fighting for something. If it wasn’t meant to be then it wasn’t meant to be. Well, where had that gotten him? Stuck behind the desk with only his own thoughts for company. This time he would fight his corner, prove his worth.

‘Detective Bridge…I…’

‘Not now.’ The three of them said together and disappeared through the doors to the offices beyond.

Desk Sergeant Paul stood there for a moment in stunned silence. Well, that hadn’t gone particularly well. Maybe he had caught them at a bad time. Yeah, that was probably it. He would try again at a more opportune time. He sat back down and smiled. Well at least he had tried.

Inside the offices, Fran threw her bag down on her desk and sank into her chair with a loud thump. Bridge remained standing, gnawing on the tip of his nail and pacing backwards and forwards, like an energetic school teacher. Gethin reached behind him to extract the book.

‘What are you doing Gethin?’ Bridge asked, catching sight of Gethin, as he paced to and fro.

It was awkward work but eventually Gethin managed to retrieve the stowed away book. Fran was sat like a deflated balloon, her shoulders sagging and her expression melancholy.

‘Well another dead end. And there I was thinking we were on to a winner.’

Gethin sat down at his desk and began to leaf through the book silently, his entire attention focused on the material in front of him. Bridge moved over to peer over his shoulder.

‘What do we now?’ She continued, looking to the heavens for an answer. The heavens in this case being a patch of damp on the ceiling tile above her.

Bridge pointed at the book and the two of them nodded in agreement. Fran sighed and returned to earth.

‘What are you two looking at?’ She said irritatedly.

Neither of them answered, so with a loud huff, she got to her feet and traipsed over to where they were huddled.

‘What is it?’ She asked curiously.

‘A book of plants.’ Gethin said casually.

Fran massaged her eyes with the tips of her fingers and gave a low groan.

‘Gethin dear, we know she has plants. When I last checked that wasn’t a crime.’

Gethin produced his phone and brought up the gallery of photos he had taken.

‘Do either of you know Latin?’

Bridge shrugged.

‘A little but…its rusty to say the least.’

Gethin handed Bridge the phone.

‘What am I looking at?’

‘Whilst I was searching around the house, I found those bottles in the bathroom. Do they strike you as odd?’

Bridge squinted at the photos, trying to make out the neat writing.

‘I’m not 100 percent sure but I think these are some sort of herbal remedies.’

Fran moved closer to Bridge to inspect the phone pictures.

‘Let me take a look at that.’ She said to Gethin, gesturing at the book.

He handed it to her begrudgingly. Fran took the book and flipped through it, glancing from the phone to the book and back to the phone again.

‘Aha.’ She said.

‘What?’ Bridge and Gethin said eagerly.

Fran placed the book down on the table and pointed at one of the diagrams.

‘Recognize the name?’

Bridge frowned and stared at the phone.

‘It’s the same as in the photo.’


‘So Mrs. Mayhew is a herbalist. I can’t say I am surprised. What’s the relevance?’

Fran flipped hastily through the pages.

‘These post-it notes detail herbal remedies that Vera has concocted. Some of them have healing properties, others particular uses…’

She paused, her hand hovering over one post-it note in particular. Gethin couldn’t stand it. The anticipation was killing him.

‘And this one details a recipe for….’

‘For what?’ Gethin persisted desperately.

‘…how too cause paralysis.’

‘Why would Vera need a recipe for paralysis?’

And then the penny dropped. Gethin and Fran looked at each other, the shared understanding needing no verbal action.

‘There’s another thing.’ Bridge said, holding up the phone.

‘Recognize these fellas.’

‘Oh yeah, those creepy ass dolls in the bedroom.’ Gethin said with a shiver.

‘Wait a minute.’ Fran said, grabbing the phone off Bridge and inspecting the screen intensely.

‘No…it can’t be. Surely.’

‘I think you will find it is. Look at the likenesses.’ Bridge advised, moving to the evidence board and holding up the phone by the pinned up pictures of the deceased victims. Gethin’s jaw hit the floor.

‘Voodoo dolls. I told you she was a witch doctor.’

The three of them looked at one another and then began to laugh.

‘We got her the son of a bitch.’ Fran said ecstatically, high fiving Gethin.

Bridge did not look as pleased.

‘Hold your horses guys, we are not out of the woods yet.’

Gethin and Fran looked at him puzzled.

‘You can’t be serious Bridge. The proof is right there.’ Gethin protested.

‘What we have is a strong case. These photos and this book build a strong case but we have no hard evidence.’

‘But…’ Fran began.

‘Plus, Gethin took this from the crime scene without mentioning it to anyone. What is to stop Vera from denying it is even hers.’

Gethin bit his lip gingerly. He hadn’t considered that.

‘There must be something we can do though.’ Fran said desperately. They had it all there in front of them.

Bridge massaged his head, deep in thought.

‘We can definitely push with this. Try and force a confession out of her or at least get her to mess up.’

‘You think that will work?’ Fran asked hopefully.

Bridge screwed up his cheek, as if he were sucking on a sour lemon.

‘It’s unlikely but we have a good case. Maybe she will slip up.’

They both looked at Gethin. He hadn’t said anything for a long while.

‘Gethin? What do you think?’ Fran said.

Gethin looked up. He had been staring at the edge of the book, turning something over in his mind.

‘How often does that food delivery service go out to Vera and Arthur’s house?’

Fran thought about it.

‘Once, maybe twice a week. I’m pretty sure they bring a few meals to last for several days.’

‘Why, what are you thinking?’

‘I’m thinking I might know who the next victim is. Bridge hand me the phone.

Bridge and Fran waited patiently as Gethin put in his phone call, both studying the relevant evidence for anything else they might be able to use.

‘Yeah thanks.’ Gethin said into the phone, hanging up.

He turned to face Bridge and Fran. They looked up expectantly.

‘Vera’s designated driver was supposed to be back from his shift an hour ago.’

‘Well, maybe he got stuck in traffic.’ Bridge suggested.

Gethin shook his head.

‘Not likely, he also didn’t make an appearance at the house after Vera’s. That was the last one on his route. Plus, he confirmed all deliveries up until Vera’s, as completed.’

The three of them exchanged worried looks.

‘And this third doll bears a remarkable similarity to Vera’s delivery driver. I remember interviewing him.’ 

‘Wait, so that means…she could have him there now.’ Fran said.

Bridge frowned.

‘But there was no delivery van.’ Bridge highlighted.

Gethin moved to the evidence board.

‘Look at the murders she has committed so far. They are pre meditated and calculated. I don’t think she would be so careless as to leave the van lying around. Vera must have moved it before we arrived.’

Bridge glanced at Fran to see what she thought. She was staring at her own phone with a frown.

‘That’s not all. Daisy has just compared the blood reports on both the victims and there are traces of plant extracts in both the victim’s blood.’ She said and glanced up. 

The three of them once again shared a look with one another.

‘Get the car.’ Bridge said in a serious tone to Fran.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Home Sweet Home

Bridge hung up the phone and placed it gingerly down on the coffee table beside him. A makeshift bandage had been wrapped around his head, to nurse his blow to the base of his skull. He shifted uneasily in the worn, dog eared armchair, the palms of his hands sweaty and ever so slightly trembling. 

‘Fran is on her way.’ He said, forcing a smile that was supposed to come across mild mannered but in fact gave the impression that he had stubbed his toe on the corner of something heavy. 

Gareth was in another frayed armchair opposite him, a double barrelled shotgun pointed directly at Bridge’s chest. Upon discovering an intruder on his land, Gareth had knocked Bridge out and carried him back to the farmhouse. There, he had tended to his head wound but making sure Bridge’s hands were tied, so as to prevent him trying anything whilst his’ back was turned. 

Bridge now massaged his wrists, where the tight rope had rubbed and scratched at his skin. He was relieved that Gareth had removed them for Bridge to make the call but was still dubious about the hostile looking weapon aimed in his direction. 

‘You know…there really is no need for the gun….now that Fran is on her way.’ 

Gareth glared at Bridge and gripped the gun even tighter in his hands. 

‘Let’s get one thing straight Bridge. I don’t like or trust you. You sneak onto my land without permission or so much as a warrant and you expect me to comply with you. After you all but invaded my privacy and broke the law yourself.’ 

Bridge opened his mouth but couldn’t quite generate a strong line of defence. Instead, he eyed both the gun and the man holding it, trying to devise if there was anyway out of this situation. Gareth’s eyes glinted rather dangerously. 

‘Don’t try it. It won’t end well. You are on my property illegally and I can claim self defence but sure go ahead, try and take it from me.’ 

Bridge studied the stubborn farmer deeply. He wasn’t bluffing. Besides, Bridge’s head throbbed severely and his senses and reflexes were all out of whack from the blow to his head.  

‘So?’ Gareth said eventually. ‘Are you going to tell me why the hell you were on my land in the first place?’ 

Bridge hesitated. He needed to play this right. He doubted very much that Gareth would shoot him intentionally but at the same time it was prudent to not say anything that might anger Gareth. It felt odd to be monitoring and considering his words so carefully. Usually, he just said the first thing that came to mind, no matter the consequences. Maybe being held at gunpoint was a good way of Bridge learning the correct ways of polite and appropriate conversation.  

‘Well?’ Gareth grumbled, readjusting his grip on the gun. 

‘….I..wanted to revisit the crime scene…see if there was anything we missed.’

Gareth studied him intensely. Bridge swallowed, trying to keep an even, calm and composed manner. 

‘If that were the case, then why wasn’t Fran with you?’ 

‘We had a disagreement. She is pursuing another lead.’ 

Gareth nodded, but still remained unconvinced. 

‘That doesn’t explain the secrecy. If you just wanted to visit the crime scene, you could have approached me first.’ 

‘Would you have said yes?’ 

Gareth shrugged. 

‘Maybe, maybe not but I don’t believe that was why you were really sneaking about my farm.’ 

Bridge sighed. There was no point in this. Gareth was never going to believe his story. Being totally honest, Bridge couldn’t deny he had partly snuck onto the farm, in the hope of finding Gareth up to something. 

‘Okay….so it is possible…that I had my suspicions about you?’ 

A flash of fierce anger burned in his eyes and Bridge tensed. This was it. He was going to die at the hands of an irate farmer. Not the way he had envisioned going out. 

‘Thank you.’ 

Bridge frowned. What was going on?

‘For what?’ 

‘For being straight with me. I think that is the first time you have not fabricated the truth Detective Bridge.’ 

Then Gareth did something even more surprising. He lowered the gun. 

‘Wait…aren’t you pissed off with me? I just told you that I thought you were the killer.’

Gareth shrugged, reaching for the shotgun again. 

‘I can point it at you again if that’s what you want?’ 

‘No…no….down is good.’ 

Gareth smiled. It was the first time Bridge had seen the man’s face change from that of a permanent frown. However, it wasn’t a particularly comforting smile. More of an evil sneer. Gareth was obviously taking pleasure from tormenting Bridge. 

‘So…Detective…how exactly have you deduced that I am the killer?’ 

Bridge fingered a loose thread of the arm of the chair agitatedly. 

‘Maybe we should wait until Detective Thomas arrives.’ 

Gareth shook his head. 

‘I’m asking you.’ 

Bridge sighed. 

‘You had a grudge with Darren Rhion did you not?’ 

Gareth looked non nonplussed. 

‘If your trying to say we didn’t see eye to eye with each other, then I hold up my hands but I wouldn’t say it was a grudge.’ 

‘You threatened Darren on a number of occasions that if he ever set alight to your fields again, you would kill him. Is that not correct?’ 

Gareth scratched his stubble irritably . 

‘One, that was only to scare him off and two, I would only have done that in self defence. If he tried to bring harm to Maggie or myself.’

Bridge folded his arms.

‘Mr Owens, we know about the love letters.’

‘What…letters?’ Gareth said gruffly but there was a subtle twitch in his cheek and some of the colour had drained from his face.

‘The letters between your wife and Arthur Babcock. The first victim we found on your property. You held grudges against both these men. You can’t tell me this is a coincidence.’

‘The letters aren’t what you think.’ Gareth said defensively.

Bridge leaned forwards, his hands clasped together in front of him.

‘Then what are they? Because to me it looks like you found out about your wife’s affair and went after Arthur. ‘

‘I didn’t kill Arthur or Darren. The letters have nothing to do with it.’

Bridge looked at Gareth, who had grown increasingly shifty all of a sudden. His eyes were trying to communicate something. Some deep secret that he couldn’t force himself to utter.  There was the sound of a car engine from outside and both men looked round at the window with interest. Bridge went to stand but Gareth levelled the gun at him steadily. 

‘You stay there.’ He ordered and rising himself, he moved to the window. Pulling back the curtains, he cursed under his breath.

Fran’s Volvo was not alone. It was accompanied by another patrol car. The roof lights were not flashing nor the siren activated but it was evident that Fran had taken precautionary methods just in case. Gareth thrust an accusatory finger at Bridge. 

‘You told her to bring backup didn’t you?’ 

Bridge looked completely out of the loop, which threw Gareth for the moment. Perhaps he didn’t know. 

‘I…swear that was not my idea…you have to believe me…’ 

Gareth said nothing but continued to stare out the window at the approaching vehicles. 

‘I’m sure it is just a precautionary measure. You know…protocol and all that.’ 

‘Shut up Bridge.’ Gareth said bluntly. 

Fran pulled up just inside the farmhouse courtyard and motioned for the patrol car tailing her to do the same. She did not want to get too close, as to provoke Gareth in anyway. She killed the engine and turned to face Maggie, who was sitting in anxious silence. 

‘You sure you want to go through with this?’ 

Maggie nodded with a brave smile. 

‘He’s my husband and he may not love me in that way but he is still the only one who will listen to me.’ 

Fran nodded and gave her shoulder a squeeze. Maggie took a deep breath and climbed out of the car. It wasn’t a long walk from the courtyard gate to the farmhouse door but it seemed to stretch on for ever. All she could hear was the loud crunch of gravel and small stones under her shoes, as she neared the house. Maggie knew her trepidation was irrational. It was her house and Gareth her husband but the whole situation put her on edge. It wouldn’t have been such an issue if it had not been for the patrol car and the two officers on duty sat inside. Fran was different. She was not only a friend but wore informal clothing, which made everything that tiny bit less official and intimidating. 

As she entered the front garden and began her way up the footpath, she saw the curtains twitch and glimpsed Gareth’s face peering out the window. For some reason, she felt it best to knock, even though she had keys but before she had raised her hand, the door swung open. 

‘Maggie, what are you doing here? Where’s Fran?’ 

‘Calm down Gareth. Everything is going to be fine. Fran is waiting back there. She thought it best to give you some space.’ 

Gareth chewed his lip pensively. He looked like an unsure schoolboy, who had got himself into trouble and didn’t know what to do next. 

‘Can I come in?’

Gareth gave her an odd look. 

‘Yeah….I mean you don’t need to ask…it’s your house too.’ 

Maggie stepped inside, allowing Gareth to close it behind her. Up close, she could see how frightened the man was. He obviously hadn’t expected the cavalry to turn up on his doorstep. 

‘Where’s Detective Bridge?’ She said gently, resting a hand on his shoulder. 

Gareth gestured for Maggie to follow him and the pair made their way into the living room. 

Bridge was still sat in the same armchair, fiddling with the bandage on his head. It itched at his skin terribly and gave him a headache from how tightly it had been wrapped. Maggie didn’t cover her mouth in shock at the sight of Bridge’s bandaged head or do a double take, as is common in most thriller films. Instead, her eyes simply widened somewhat before she gave Gareth a scolding look. Gareth, like a child caught in the act, bowed his head shamefully. 

‘Hi Maggie.’ Bridge said cheerfully. 

Maggie didn’t return the greeting but regarded her husband disapprovingly. 

‘What were you thinking Gareth? Assaulting a police officer like that? Do you know how much trouble you could be in?’ 

Gareth opened his mouth to protest but Bridge interjected quickly. 

‘It is quite alright Mrs. Owen. Your husband was under the impression I was an intruder. I won’t be pressing charges.’ 

Gareth looked relived at Bridge’s words but Maggie appeared even more disappointed by his interjection. 

‘Don’t you start Detective Bridge. A man of your reputation, sneaking around like a criminal. You ought to be ashamed, the pair of you.’ She said harshly, glancing back at her husband, as she did so. 

The two men fell silent, both wavering under Maggie’s stern words and bearing. 

‘Now can you two put an end to this madness, so I can call Fran over to settle this?’ 

Gareth nodded but Bridge perked up. 

‘I appreciate your peacekeeping tactics, Mrs. Owen but your husband is still under suspicion on this case. The love letters…’ 

‘Oh for god’s sake.’ Maggie burst out suddenly, throwing her arms up in the air dramatically. ‘They were between Gareth and Arthur, not me.’ 

‘Maggie don’t…’ Gareth began but Maggie shot him the daggers and he soon fell silent again. 

Bridge looked confused. He looked from Gareth to Maggie to Gareth again. They were waiting awkwardly for the penny to drop. 

‘So ….you mean….that your husband and Mr Babcock…were…were.’ 

‘Were lovers. Yes that it was I mean.’ 

Bridge pursed his lips together thoughtfully. 

‘Well there you have it. I feel like a bit of prat now.’ 

‘You’re not the only one.’ Gareth said. 

The two of them shared a grin. The first time either of them had seen eye to eye on anything. 

‘Well I’m glad you two find it so amusing. Can I call off the cavalry now?’ Maggie said, arms crossed. 

The two men nodded and Maggie huffed out the room. 

It was a quiet drive back to the police station. Bridge had soon dozed off to sleep and Fran was focused on the road and her thoughts.  It had been a morning of surprises. First finding Maggie at the crime scene. Then learning the revelation of Arthur and Gareth’s secret relationship and finally, Gareth’s assault on Bridge. She felt frazzled. It wasn’t even afternoon yet and she was already desperately in need of a third coffee. Fran knew it would most likely send her over the edge and she would spend the rest of the afternoon and evening suffering palpations but at this current moment in time, she really couldn’t give a monkeys. She heard Bridge stir beside her and glanced at him for a moment.

His eyes flickered slowly open and he let out a loud yawn. He sat up and cradled his damaged head.

‘How you feeling?’ Fran asked, returning her attention to the road.

‘Like I have just been beaten over the head with a mallet but apart from that…peachy.’

They both grinned.

‘Well…when I say you only have yourself to blame…’

‘I know…I know. Got enough of that preaching from Mr and Mrs. Owen.’

Fran let the matter drop. Bridge was an idiot. In more ways then one. But even Fran knew when to call it a day.

‘So.’ Bridge said, dry washing his face. ‘Who knew?’

‘Indeed. Was a bit of a turn up for the books.’

‘You mean because they are gay?’

‘No, not at all. I was thinking, more because I have known the Owen’s for years and never realized.’

‘I guess you never really know someone as well as you think you do.’ Bridge said thoughtfully.

Fran took a deep breath and thought how best to phrase her next words. When she had arrived at the farmhouse with Maggie, Fran had been a boiling kettle about to explode. Her so called partner had broken laws both legal and of a personal nature. Not only that but his actions had nearly put himself and Gareth in particularity dangerous positions. This was her town, her people and Bridge had the audacity to traipse in here like some misguided rhino and wreak havoc in the Welsh hills.

She gave him a sideways glance. He was fiddling with the wrapping of his bandage, a section had come loose and he was unsuccessfully trying to pin back into place. Her anger was still there, seething away at the back of her being, like a lurking beast but her prey was weak and she wasn’t cruel enough to kick Bridge, whilst he was down.

‘So…I’ve been thinking.’

Bridge glanced round at Fran’s words and grimaced instantly as a flash of pain struck his head.

‘I know we both have different methods….and approaches to solving this case.’

She stole a glance at Bridge who was watching her blankly. Christ he didn’t make this easy.

‘But considering what just happened in there it might be better for us to work together from now on.’

Bridge nodded, again regretting the decision, as his vision swung about violently.

‘To be fair.’ He responded, as soon as the nausea had dissipated. ‘I did try and contact you, on numerous occasions. ‘ Plus you were the one who left me alone at the county morgue car park.’

Fran opened her mouth to retort but was at a fail at what to say. Whilst it was true that Bridge’s actions had been inexcusable, Fran was also guilty of exhibiting reckless and unprofessional behaviour.

‘I know.’

‘And another thing….you….’

Bridge paused.


Fran held up her hands, which made Bridge nervous for a moment, as they weren’t on the wheel where they should be.

‘My actions were just as unprofessional. I was just lucky enough not to get hit over the head with a shotgun.’

Bridge looked taken aback.


‘What?’ Fran said defensively.

‘Nothing.’ Bridge said quickly.

He may have suffered an injury to the head but he had enough brain cells left to know it was best to leave the matter be. Maintain this moment of peace. For who knows how long it would last?

Despite Fran trying on a number of occasions to convince Bridge he should see a doctor, the stubborn detective would have none of it. She had given up. Fran too, wanted to maintain this moment of peace between her and Bridge. As per usual Desk Sergeant Paul was sat at the waiting room desk. There was something different about the man. Usually, he would be engrossed in the latest newspaper crossword or beating his high score on his tablet Scrabble. Today though, Desk Sergeant Paul was doing neither of these tasks but instead staring forlornly at the desk graffiti scrawled on the table surface.

‘Hey Paul.’ Fran said cheerily.

‘Fran, Detective Bridge….boy am I glad to see you.’

Bridge and Fran exchanged looks.

‘Everything alright Sergeant?’ Bridge said.

Desk Sergeant Paul sighed deeply and leant his chin on his palm.

‘Yeah….I suppose.’

‘If you don’t mind me saying Paul, you seem a tad out of sorts.’

‘Well to be honest with you Fran…I’m bored out of my mind. I have finished all my crosswords, beaten every game and read the whole station library…twice.’

Bridge leant on the side of the desk.

‘Well you know we are a man short…if you would rather get out in the field and do something more dramatic?’

Desk Sergeant Paul suddenly looked alive with interest. He sat up and glanced with pleading eyes from Fran to Bridge and back again. Fran sighed.

‘I think we should probably discuss this first….eh Bridge?’

Bridge shrugged.

‘I don’t really see the problem, with Gethin away we are a man down and it won’t take long to familiarize Desk Sergeant Paul with the details.’

Fran frowned at Bridge and folded his arms.

‘And how’d you figure that?’

‘Desk Sergeant Paul has an ear for these things, don’t you Paul?’

Desk Sergeant Paul blushed suddenly. Fran raised an eyebrow at him and went to open her mouth but a noise behind her made her turn.

Gethin, dressed in civilian clothes stood in the doorway, a small backpack slung casually over one shoulder.

‘Hi.’ He said gingerly.

‘What are you doing here? I thought you were on holiday.’ Fran said, moving forwards and giving him a warm hug.

‘ I was…I mean I am but I’ve got something important to tell you guys. Shall we?’ He gestured at the office doors.

Gethin led the way, accompanied by Fran. Bridge followed behind. Apparently this day was full of surprises. As he passed Desk Sergeant Paul, the man called out.

‘Hey…what about my field assignment?’

‘Yeah…that might need to go on hold for a moment.’ Bridge said and darted out the lobby before Desk Sergeant Paul had a chance to say anything else.

Desk Sergeant Paul’s excitement dissipated and once again he returned to his forlorn state, his chin resting on his palm and an expression of disappointment plastered to his face.

Gethin breathed in deeply, as he entered the dingy police offices. The musty, slightly damp smell was not nauseating but instead comforting to Gethin. He felt like he was home again. This was where he belonged. In a dilapidated government building with sludge like coffee and temperamental central heating. He located his desk and traced a finger over it’s surface, letting it locate the grooves and imperfections he’d come so well to know and love. He perched on the desk and smiled at the two police officers in front of him.

‘It’s good to be back. I tell you something, London. Not all it’s cracked up to be.’

Fran looked to Bridge for confirmation.

‘He actually has a point. ‘ Bridge admitted.

Fran looked genuinely surprised by this but she soon returned to frowning.

‘Why are you here Gethin? I mean…it’s lovely to see you and all but you are supposed to be on leave. In fact I don’t recall it being an option.’

Gethin squirmed uncomfortably under the suspicious stares of his superiors.

‘So when I told you I was going away to London for a few days, to see the sights, that was true but…it also wasn’t the only reason.’

Bridge gave him a sly look.

‘Gethin Jones, what have you been up to?’

Gethin privately felt rather pleased with himself but made a conscious effort to not let that show in front of Fran and Bridge.

‘It just so happened on this trip that I ran into Arthur Babcock’s daughter.’

Fran’s eyebrows raised so high, Gethin was afraid that they were going to climb right of the top of her head.

‘You just happened to bump into her?’

‘So….she put me on to some of Arthur’s old army pals.’

Fran put a hand to her forehead and sighed.

‘You have got to be kidding.’ She muttered moodily.

Bridge who had settled down in a chair by Fran’s desk was not as concerned. In fact, he looked almost on the verge of joyful tears.

‘Unsurprisingly, I didn’t turn up anything major but it did lead me back across the border.’

‘Does this story have an ending anytime soon…or better yet a point?’ Fran said brashly.

‘Bear with me…I’m getting to the good bit.’ Gethin paused, allowing a suitable amount of time for an adequate build up. ‘In Clandowey, there is a food delivery company.’

‘Wait that isn’t the same one that delivers to Vera and our recently deceased Mr. Babcock.’ Bridge queried.

Fran shot him a look, which translated as something along the lines of ‘Don’t encourage him.’

‘The very same.’ Gethin continued, waving his bandaged hand around energetically. ‘So I talked to the driver there, who was their designated delivery man.’

‘And?’ Fran said curiously. She was angry with Gethin but she couldn’t help but be intrigued by his findings.

‘He claimed that a woman rung up on the day of the murder to cancel the delivery.’

‘Right, the note you found when exploring the house.’ Bridge said eagerly.

Gethin pointed at Bridge with a decisive finger.

‘That’s the one. And according to the driver, the woman who phoned sounded old and somewhat posh.’

Bridge and Fran frowned at one another. Gethin leaned back on the desk and smiled, as he watched the two officers work it out. After a moment’s silence, they too began to smile. Then Bridge and Fran opened their mouths and said at the same time. ‘Vera.’

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


Fran turned her phone off on the journey home to Llangaerthen. It was the only way should could silence the incessant beeps and rings, that were most definitely an irate Bridge trying to get hold of her. Christ, even when he wasn’t with her, Bridge could still be the most infuriating of characters. The sky was gradually growing darker, as she reached the outskirts of Llangaerthan and she flipped on the car’s central heating to ward off the chill night air pervading the lumbering vehicle.

She slowed, as the police station came into view. The lobby lights were on, which most likely meant Desk Sergeant Paul was busy manning the fort. In other words, ignoring the phone and playing scrabble on his tablet. Fran had a moment’s guilt and deliberation. What she should really do is park up, go in and use the phone to call Bridge. Then have a look over the forensics report and straighten this messy case out once and for all.

A car’s horn jerked her suddenly back into the present and she glanced in the rear view mirror to be met with harsh headlights and an irate looking driver. Realizing, she was stopped in the middle of the road, Fran pulled away and left the police station in a cloud of dust.

As she got home and climbed up the cracked and weed infested stone steps, Fran couldn’t help but thank the impatient driver outside the police station. Her whole body ached to such a severe degree, that Fran was worried she was about to break entirely and crumble into a pile of dusty bones. The case could wait, she had decided. There were more important things she needed to see to. In particular, a hot bath and a generously sized glass of wine.

As ever she was greeted inside the door by her excitable Labrador, who danced around giddily, jumping up and down, as if he hadn’t seen her for an eternity. To be honest, with the hours Fran had been pulling of late, the house had felt more like a glorified Bed and Breakfast then her humble abode. Despite her fatigued state, she paid ample attention to the big dog. There was something comforting about a living animal’s presence. Human contact was pleasurable and rewarding in certain respects but homo-sapiens tended to be unnecessarily complicated. There was something simple and easy going about the company of an animal, that it was seldom difficult to find with people.

Fran noticed that something was different about the house, as she made her way through to the living room but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. She paused in the hallway to remove her work boots and heard the familiar sounds of her husband Steven swearing at the television. However, as she staggered through the living door, Fran was greeted with an entirely different scene to the one she had expected. Whilst Steven was in his usual spot on the sofa, glued to his latest video game, the living room and adjoining kitchen itself looked drastically different. The pile of washing up had vanished to be replaced with an empty sink and spotless counter. Even the floor had been vacuumed, resembling the original colour it had once been.

‘Hi Honey.’ Steven said joyfully, pausing his game and climbing to his feet with a groan.

‘Hey.’ Fran replied, still recoiling from the immaculately clean living room and kitchen.

‘Cup of tea?’ Steven offered, appearing next to her with a steaming mug of tea.


Fran took the tea gratefully, cupping it in her hands to help warm them up. She moved to the sofa and sat down heavily. Steven joined her, Fran assuming to jump straight back into his game.

‘How was your day?’

‘Long, as per usual but productive. We may have made some headway on the case.’

‘Really? That’s good right.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

She eyed Steven with a look of curiosity. First he had cleaned the house and now he was asking her about her day. This was strange behaviour indeed.

‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ Steven said with a grin.

‘I…don’t know….you just seem…very cheerful is all.’

‘Well I didn’t realize that was a crime officer.’

Fran slapped his arm playfully.

‘Of course not. I was just wondering why so chipper this evening. Anything interesting happen today?’

Steven shrugged.

‘Nothing in particular. Just woke up on the right side of bed this morning I guess.’

Fran smiled, relaxing all of a sudden. On another night she may have persisted with the matter further but this evening she was just happy that Steven was clearly in a good mood.

‘Thank you.’ She said, resting her head atop his shoulder.

‘For what?’

‘Cleaning the house, putting up with me and my ways and for this blessed mug of tea you have brought me.’

Steven grinned.

‘Anything for you my dear.’

The two of them sat there for a moment, enjoying the silent but peaceful company of one another before Fran remembered her tea. She sat up and took a large gulp.

‘Argh, that’s the ticket.’

She gestured at the television.

‘What’s this one then?’

‘Uncharted 4.’

‘Any good?’

‘You bet. Wanna go?’

Fran chewed on her cheek for a moment.

‘Yeah, why the hell not? What are the controls?’

Fran was awoken early the next morning by her energetic Labrador bounding up the stairs and shoving his large head into her pillow. She groaned and sat up, shaking out her messy bed hair. She glanced to her left, half expecting to see a dozing Steven, half hidden under the blankets. To her surprise however, the mattress was unoccupied, the crumpled sheets and bunched up duvet and slight depression, the only indication someone had been there previously. Fran yawned and rolled over onto her other side. The bedside clock showed the time as nearly eleven. Shit. She had slept in late. No doubt Bridge would be on the war path once she made an appearance at work. Part of her wanted to remain in bed and doze for another hour. It was so warm and comforting and the world outside was bitter and cold. Unfortunately, Fran knew this wasn’t an option afforded to her and so with a deep sigh, she staggered out of bed. 

Steven wasn’t laid out on the sofa playing his video console, as Fran had suspected but was instead sat up at the kitchen table. He was studying a collection of papers, which he had set out on the table in front of him. 

‘Morning.’ He said, smiling at Fran’s disheveled and sleepy state. ‘There’s coffee in the pot.’ 

Fran nodded gratefully and got herself a mug, pulling out a chair and collapsing into it beside Steven. The two sat in silence for a while, Fran waiting for the caffeine to hit her system, Steven consulting his documentation. It was on her second mug, it was going to be that sort of day, that Fran felt ready for conversation. 

‘You shouldn’t of let me sleep in so late.’ 

Steven paused for a moment and rested his hand atop hers. It was warm and reassuring. 

‘You needed it. You have been working hard of late.’ 

Fran gave his hand a squeeze and nodded. 

‘Even so. I shouldn’t have slept in as long as I did.’ 

‘I’m sure they can handle the situation for a few hours without your supervision.’ 

Fran sighed deeply. 

‘I wouldn’t be to sure of that.’ 

Steven didn’t say anything. He had returned his attention to the documents. Fran frowned. There were photos mixed in with the other pieces of paper. A stack of folded letters were piled on one corner of the table. 

‘Steven. Is that my case file?’ 

Steven looked up guilty and pursed his lips. 

‘I thought I might have a look at it….you know….a fresh pair of eyes.’ 

Fran gave him a disapproving look. 

‘I could get into serious trouble for that.’ 

‘You’re right.’ Steven agreed and began to put the various documents away but Fran held out her hand. 

‘Find anything?’ 

Steven paused and scratched his chin thoughtfully. 

‘Possibly. There is something about these letters that doesn’t sit well.’ 

Fran dragged her chair closer to Steven, so they could scan over the paperwork together. 

‘How so?’ 

Steven sat back and folded his arms. 

‘Well for all intense and purposes most of the evidence at the moment points towards Maggie as being the prime suspect or involved to a certain degree. Right?’ 

Fran nodded, watching Steven’s mind tick over with fascination. 

‘It doesn’t make sense.’ 

‘What doesn’t?’ 

‘The letters.’ He picked one up and unfolded it. 

‘If Maggie had a relationship with Arthur then the assumption would be that Gareth is the killer.’ 

‘I guess so.’ 

‘Then why is Darren Rhion dead. If it was a crime of passion, then why was Darren murdered?’

Fran rubbed her eyes. It was still far too early for her brain to keep up yet. 

‘Maybe Rhion discovered who the killer was and so Gareth took him out of the equation.’ 

Steven nodded but didn’t look entirely convinced by that theory. 

‘Possibly but both these murders are ritualistic. They are cold, calculated and precise. Does that really sound like a jealous husband to you?’ 

‘No.’ Fran admitted. 

‘Plus, we have known Gareth and Maggie for years. Not once have they mentioned this Arthur character. Hell, you didn’t even know him until last week.’ 

‘So…what are you saying?’ 

Steven mulled over his thoughts for a moment. 

‘I just find it all a little too convenient. The letters being found so easily, almost as if they were left there deliberately. Plus, if Gareth was the killer then they did a poor job of disposing the body, considering it was found on their property.’

‘I must admit that Gareth seemed genuinely shocked by the discovery of the body.’

She ran her finger around the ring of her coffee mug.

‘So where do we go from here?’

Steven blew out his cheeks exasperatedly.

‘Couldn’t tell you but I definitely think that there is more to this then meets the eye. Maybe you missed something at the house. Another clue perhaps.’  

‘You think I should go back to Arthur’s house?’ 

‘I do but what do I know…I’m no expert.’ 

Fran smiled and put her arms around his chest, pulling him into a deep bear hug.

‘Steven Thomas, you are full of surprises and I love it.’ 

Bridge had given up on trying to reach Fran. He had returned to the station to look over everything, including the new report on Darren Rhion. His intention was to wait there until Fran eventually turned up. However after a few hours, it looked unlikely she was going to make an appearance. He had half a mind to go to her house and give  her an earful. Only problem was he didn’t actually know where she lived. He could ask Desk Sergeant Paul but then that would ultimately end up with him sticking his nose in and that was the last thing Bridge wanted at the moment. 

It was an odd sensation sitting alone in the police offices. He worked quietly by the light of the desk lamp, occasionally making a trip to the kitchen for a refill of coffee or tea. Bridge had done this countless times back at his station in London but due to the building being so big and always well lit, as well as the constant activity outside on the streets, Bridge had always felt some form of human presence nearby. This was different. He had Desk Sergeant Paul to hand but there wasn’t exactly the most thrilling of conversations to be had with him. For the first time in a long while, Bridge felt lonely. 

The next day he rose later then planned but it was still early enough that the roads outside were only just becoming busier. He prepared himself for an awkward morning with Fran, as he made his way into the station lobby. However, Fran had still not dropped by, according to Desk Sergeant Paul. 

‘Everything alright between you two?’ Desk Sergeant Paul asked, giving Bridge the eyebrow. 

‘Of course. I expect she is working from home today. Long day yesterday.’ Bridge replied, attempting to act as casual as he could. 

‘Right you are.’ An unconvinced Desk Sergeant Paul said with a slight nod. 

Bridge made tracks before the situation became any more horrendously uncomfortable for the two of them. If Fran had decided to avoid him and hide at home, that was her business but Bridge had work to do. He was still keen to pursue the lead regarding Gareth and Maggie Owen. The letters although not concrete were the best trail he had and he didn’t want to wait around and do nothing until another body turned up. 

With no lift, Bridge had to rely on public transport. The bus journey out of town was pleasant enough, even if it did seem to take forever. On the plus side he had plenty of leg and seat room. A luxury not afforded to commuters in the heart of London. The bus could only take him so far. Alighting at the bottom of the hill to the farm, Bridge made his way up the steep track. There was a strong smell of manure on the breeze. Bridge liked that he associated it with the countryside but couldn’t help feel slightly nauseated by it. Unfortunately, it reminded him of vomit, which in turn reminded him of his past university days. 

Halfway up the hill, Bridge began to struggle, his lungs and legs protesting at the steep incline. He felt incredibly unfit. Not overweight but the opposite. He was rag and bones, a diet of coffee and ready meals leaving him with a weak and skinny build. That was the problem with the police force. Everyone started out at the peak of their physical prowess but soon the lack of sleep, time spent behind a desk and lack of any sort of yearly fitness test ruined all the hard work that had been put in.  

Bridge didn’t head in the usual way over the cattle grille and into the farm courtyard but instead, veered off the main track and climbed into the first of several fields encircling the farmhouse. He recalled their first visit to the Owen’s farm. Bridge and Gareth hadn’t got off to the best of starts and he was pretty certain that without Fran, he wouldn’t be welcome. Not that sneaking into their property was any better but Bridge had never been very good, at doing what he was told. 

He had to cross two more fields, navigate an overgrown and unstable wooded area and climb over several fences before he reached the field in which they had first found Arthur’s body. By the time Bridge got there, his jacket was covered in fern and twigs, his skin was littered with pin pricks and white bumps from catching it on holly and stinging nettles. He had given up on any hope of keeping his shoes clean, as they were now caked in a layer of mud and leaves. 

He sighed, taking a moment to catch his breath and watched the morning sun peeking through the drifting clouds moving lazily above the field. He should be tired and irritable but there was something exhilarating about his trek up here. He hadn’t felt this sense of escapism and freedom since he was young boy and his mother and father had taken him out of the city for the summer holidays. 

He was just thinking what a lovely day it was turning out to be, when he heard a twig snap behind him, followed by a mechanical click. He tried to spin around in time but was beaten to it, as something blunt and hard hit him square in the temple. Bridge crumpled to the floor, his vision swimming. A pair of dark, green wellies were the last things he saw before everything turned to black and he passed out of consciousness. 

Fran knew she should have gone to the station to try and convince Bridge that it would be a better use of their time returning to Arthur’s house, instead of pursuing the Owen’s. However, she really didn’t have the energy in her to start an argument, especially this early since rising. Besides, if she knew Bridge at all, Fran expected him to go ahead of his own prerogative and surely it would be a more sensible use of their time to split up and hit two birds with one stone. Or that was what Fran told herself anyway, to avoid having to actually deal with Bridge.

As she approached Arthur’s small run down house, she couldn’t help her attention being drawn to Vera’s overly colourful front garden. Vera was nowhere in sight. The curtains were closed and no visible sign of life from within. There was something nagging Fran concerning Vera. Perhaps she should pay her visit after looking around Arthur’s house once more.

Fran slammed the brakes on suddenly, as she nearly collided with a large 4×4 parked in the middle of the path. She took a deep breath and loosened her tight grip on the steering wheel. She should have been keeping an eye on the path ahead of her. Not that she had expected a jeep to be parked there. Both Vera and Arthur owned no vehicles, hence why they shared the same food delivery service. Was it something to do with that, which was bothering her? Possibly. Turning off her engine, Fran climbed out of her rust bucket Volvo and wandered over to the stationary jeep.

There was something familiar about this particular jeep. Fran had seen it somewhere before but she couldn’t place where. She peered in the dusty window. The interior was empty. There was an assortment of gardening related tools on the seat and a bobble head of a dancing farmer on the dashboard. She stepped back from the hulking vehicle and glanced around. There was nowhere else around. Feeling her hairs prickle slightly on her neck, Fran moved towards Arthur’s house, trying to focus on the real reason she was here. As she reached the front door however, she hesitated. The police caution tape was still up but something red was caught on it. Fran took a closer look. It was soft woolen cloth, possibly from a scarf or jumper. It could have belonged to one of the three of them or perhaps a scene of crime officer. But Fran doubted anyone would be that careless.

Despite not wanting to appear paranoid and a chicken, Fran got out her phone and dialed Bridge’s number. No answer. She cursed and tried again. Still no answer. She left a answerphone stressing the importance of her discovery and sent off a quick text to cover all basis. Fran waited for a minute. There was a creak from inside the house. Fran felt a shiver course down her spine. Pull yourself together she told herself. It was only the house buffeted by the wind. Fran had to make a decision now otherwise she was just going to stand on the doorstep all day long. Finally, she put in a call to the station and told Desk Sergeant Paul to keep trying Bridge and send up a couple of officers for her own backup.

Then she popped the phone back into her pocket, took a deep breath and opened the door. Fran was going against protocol doing this. Even Desk Sergeant Paul, the most unprofessional of policeman had advised her to hang fire until backup arrived. But Fran was keen to get in the house and look around before more bodies clogged up the crime scene.

The house smelt fusty and dust mites hung on the air, illuminated by the morning sunlight filtering through the glass surface of the front door. Her foot connected with a small tennis ball that rolled away down the hallway. She bent down to retrieve it and almost toppled backwards in shock, as a woman burst into the hallway and darted away from Fran. She was heading for the kitchen, which led out into the back garden.

Body tensing, Fran extracted a walking cane from the nearby umbrella stand and moved cautiously down the hallway. The sheer brightness of the large white kitchen contrasted heavily with the dim hallway and it took her eyes a few moments to acclimatize to the new room. The rear kitchen door was open and there was a distant scrabbling and scurrying noise from the garden. 

Gripping the cane to steel herself, Fran stepped out into the neat back garden. She was confronted with an extremely peculiar sight. The woman who had startled Fran in the house was at the foot of the garden. She was attempting rather unsuccessfully, to clamber over the garden fence. To the woman’s dismay, she neither had the height nor strength to pull off the task as intended. 

As Fran neared the fleeing woman, her eyes widened in surprise, as she recognized who it was. 


The woman froze, mid scrabble and turned reluctantly to face Fran. There was no doubt about it. Maggie Owen, the nervous farmer’s wife stood before Fran. Her knees were muddy from her sorrowful attempts to scale the fence and there was a layer of gunk under her nails, where she had scraped against the fence. 

‘Hi Fran.’ Maggie said awkwardly. 

Fran sat in stunned silence at the kitchen table, the mug of tea Maggie had made, lay untouched and losing heat by the second. It was clearly evident that Fran was still in the process of absorbing what Maggie had relayed to her. Fran was a notorious tea addict and the fact that she hadn’t even touched her brew, was evidence of her shock at Maggie’s news.

‘Say something.’ Maggie pleaded anxiously, pacing up and down behind the kitchen counter. 

Fran’s mouth was dry and her hands clammy. 

‘How….long?’ She finally managed in a hoarse whisper. 

‘Five years, give or take.’

‘Five years!’ Fran repeated, astounded. 

Maggie shrugged awkwardly. 

‘You saw the letters. It wasn’t just a summer’s romance.’

‘I know but still…five years.’

There were both silent for a moment. Fran frowning hard out the window and Maggie returning to her jaguar like pacing. 

‘Did you always know?’ Fran queried, wrenching her gaze from a Robin, bobbing about on the garden paving slabs. 

‘No, of course not.’ Maggie scoffed loudly. ‘I mean I had my suspicions but…’

‘And the M. Why M?’ Fran interjected quickly.

‘Oh that. Yeah well…Gareth’s middle name is Mark and they needed a code of sorts so as to avoid detection.’

Fran nodded slowly and sat back. When she had caught Maggie trying to sneak out of Arthur’s garden, she had discovered Maggie had come here to find the love letters. Putting two and two together she had thought she had finally got it all figured out. Maggie was having an affair with Arthur. So it took Fran by shock, when Maggie revealed that it was actually her husband Gareth who was having the affair with Arthur. 

‘But why keep it a secret all this time…I mean it’s not like homosexuality is frowned upon in the same way. Arthur and Gareth could have come forward.’ 

Maggie sighed heavily and pulled out one of the kitchen stools, sitting for the first time since the pair had entered the kitchen. 

‘Look, Arthur is an ex army man and Gareth is a fifty year old man, who comes from a traditional family of farmers.’ 

‘So, you think they would have felt ashamed.’ 

Maggie rubbed her arms, her method of trying to relax herself. 

‘Partly but it was more to do with their age. They are both from a generation where the concept is alien. I think they were just coming to terms with themselves, as well as each other.’ 

Fran let that sink in a moment. She had never considered that. The length of time this relationship had been going on. Perhaps they had been working to help bring it to light over the course of a few years. 

‘And you just let them get on with it? I can’t believe you just took a back row seat during the whole duration.’ 

Maggie sighed. She looked suddenly aged in that moment. Her wrinkled skin and tired eyes showing evidence of great strain. 

‘It’s complicated.’ 

‘You’re telling me.’ Fran said, shaking her head. ‘Sorry.’ She followed up, catching Maggie’s expression. 

‘Believe me, I hated him with a passion when I first found out. So much so that I threatened to expose their relationship…’ 

Maggie paused, her gaze wandering to the window. She contemplated the sky outside thoughtfully. 

‘But the funny thing about the whole situation is that I never stopped loving Gareth and I don’t think he ever stopped loving me. When I saw how happy they were together, I couldn’t bring myself to expose them. I can’t really explain it very well.’ 

Fran took a sip of tea for liquid strength more then anything. 

‘So why come back here to get the letters and why run when I found you. Those are not the actions of an innocent woman.’ 

Maggie groaned in frustration. 

‘To save Gareth. Arthur is gone and I wanted to prevent their relationship getting out. All it would result it is more pain for Gareth, where nothing could be gained by revealing the truth.’ 

Fran mused on this for a moment. It did make sense, in a messed up sort of way. Not to mention that there was still the matter of Rhion’s death. It was possible that it was a revenge killing for the arson attacks but Fran wasn’t entirely convinced by that. She had known Maggie for several years and although a little bit out there, she found it highly doubtful that she was the culprit. 

‘You will have to come down to the station to answer some questions. Routine procedure of course.’ 

Maggie looked taken aback. 

‘You don’t think I am the killer do you?’ 

Fran flashed a smile. 

‘Honestly…no but I wouldn’t be a very good cop if I took every one by their word.’

Maggie nodded understandably. 

‘Fair enough…I have nothing to hide.’ 

Fran gave her a cynical look. 

‘Nothing else…that is.’ Maggie further explained. 


Fran reached for her tea but was interrupted by the low hum of her mobile in her pocket. She sighed and whipped it out. Any hopes of actually finishing this cup of tea were fading fast. It was Bridge. She was very tempted to decline the call, adding it to the long list of unanswered ones collated from yesterday and this morning. However, she chose instead to accept it. Pillock or no pillock, Bridge was her colleague and it was her duty to inform him of this break in the case. 

‘Hello Bridge.’ She said shortly. ‘Wait…what…slow down.’ She shot Maggie a nervous glance, who sat up curiously. 

‘Okay…calm down…we will straighten this out…don’t do anything stupid…I’m on my way now.’ 

She hung up and hurriedly got to her feet. 

‘What’s up?’ Maggie asked. 

‘We need to get to your farm now.’ 

Fran threw on her coat and quickly rushed into the hallway.

‘Why….Fran what’s going on?’ 

‘Your husband caught Bridge trespassing on his land.’ Fran called over her shoulder, throwing open the main door. 

Maggie grew very pale all of a sudden. She snatched her keys off the kitchen counter and made after the departing Fran. 

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Fran and Bridge stood opposite the coroner, the skeletal remains of the charred body on the metal gurney between them. The coroner was a young woman in her late twenties with strawberry blonde hair and a sharp, angular face. Bridge had been surprised by this. He had expected it to be an stuffy, reclusive man with grey hair and even greyer skin. Not this twenty something girl with tattoos and an ear piercing. Fran didn’t seem to be aware of this or if she was, it hadn’t bothered her in the slightest.

‘How’s Jamie doing, he must be what…five now?’ Fran said casually.

The blonde haired girl smiled as she flicked through a clipboard in her hand, her eyes glancing every now and then at the bag of bones on the trolley.

‘Six actually.’

‘Six.’ Fran repeated, astonished. ‘How quickly they grow up.’

‘Tell me about it. Luckily he is still at that cute stage. I dread to think what the next few years are going to be like.’

‘Eight and nine are the worse. Tantrums and arguments all the time.’ Fran said with a fond look in her eyes.

Bridge couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening. He was under the impression that they had come here to discuss the body but apparently Fran and this coroner girl were more interested in discussing the matter of child rearing. Fran must have picked up on Bridge’s impatience to get on with the case at head, as she cleared her throat suddenly and gestured to the body.

‘So any luck identifying the body?’

The coroner girl puffed out her cheeks exasperatedly.

‘Well it wasn’t easy given that any fingerprints, DNA or hair traces were incinerated by the fire…’

‘Excuse me, sorry to barge in…Ms..?’



Both Daisy and Fran glared at Bridge, so he quickly got back on topic.

‘Wouldn’t you be able to identify him from his dental records, as his teeth are still intact.’

He reached over and pointed at the open jaw. Fran slapped his hand away irritably. Daisy looked somewhat offended.

‘Well if you had let me finish….Mr…?’

‘Bridge. Detective Bridge.’

‘Right well as I was saying…Bridge…really?’

Bridge felt his ears burn red, as Fran hid a smirk behind her hand.

‘What I was going to say was that it was very hard to retrieve any DNA samples, apart from the dental records of the deceased victim.’ She whipped off the top sheet from her clipboard and held it out in her hand.

Bridge moved forward, attempting to eagerly snatch it from her hand but Daisy purposefully redirected it to Fran. Bridge pulled a face like a petulant toddler, as Fran studied the sheet intensely. Bridge tried to sneak a peek but Fran returned it to Daisy before he had a chance.

‘Interesting.’ She commented and the two woman nodded, keeping their secret knowledge between one another.

‘So…..?’ Bridge exclaimed desperately. ‘Who is it?’

‘You said they were similarities to the last body. How similar are we talking?’ Fran asked, ignoring Bridge’s pleads of desperation.

‘That is interesting.’ Daisy said excitedly, moving closer to the body to demonstrate her findings.

Bridge sighed and gave up. It was obvious the two of them had resorted to using power play to reprimand him for his rude behaviour. He didn’t mean to be so blunt. It wasn’t his intention. He just didn’t see the point of small talk and general courtesy. Not when there were much more important things he could be doing with his time. The irony being in doing this, he had actually placed himself in a position further from the information.

‘Like on the previous victim, the killer has performed a castration on the gentile region.’

‘I know how he feels.’ Muttered Bridge quietly.

Fran and Daisy ignored him.

‘On the last victim, the lips and eyelids had also been removed. It’s that the same here?’ Queried Fran, growing intrigued.

Bridge watched the two enviously. He liked these parts of the case most of all. Fran wasn’t supposed to be interested in this stuff. It was his area of expertise. Without it, he was just a Detective with a lot of questions. And god he hated asking people questions.

‘That’s where it becomes tricky. If the killer did remove the lips and eyelids, it is hard to tell because the rest of the flesh burnt off in the fire.’

Fran looked somewhat disheartened at this last statement.

‘However.’ Continued Daisy, noting Fran’s disappointment. ‘It doesn’t look like he was alive when he was set alight.’

‘Aha…so it’s a he.’ Bridge announced dramatically.

Fran and Daisy looked at him agitatedly. Feeling like a naughty toddler caught out in class, Bridge glanced at his feet.

‘Continue.’ He said in a small voice.

‘Do you think it could be blood loss from the wounds?’

Daisy tapped her lips, thinking.

‘Possibly but I don’t think it’s likely. I will run some more tests. Get back to you when I know more.’

‘Thank you Daisy and sorry about Bridge…he’s from London.’

Daisy nodded, as if it all made sense and before Bridge could object, Fran had guided him swiftly and efficiently out the doors.


‘What exactly did you mean by ‘he’s from London’?’ Bridge demanded, as they climbed inside Fran’s Volvo, parked in the rear corner of the Clandowey Morgue car psrk

‘Are you kidding me Bridge, after the way you just acted in there.’ Fran threw back.


Fran gave him a extremely cynical look.

‘Okay maybe I was a little bit to the point…’

‘A little bit. You were downright rude is what you were.’ Fran stated, switching the engine on and putting the gear stick into reverse.

‘Well come on. The girl was barely out of college and what so of coroner is called Daisy?’

The car jerked wildly, as Fran slammed her foot on the brake and glared menacingly at Bridge.

‘Daisy happens to be one of the brightest and intelligent forensic specialists this side of the Seven Bridge. She knows more about bodies then you and me put together.’

‘I highly doubt that.’ Bridge said assuredly.

‘Just because she is a little on the young side and god forbid has tattoos, that doesn’t mean she isn’t good at her job.’

‘Okay okay. You made your point. Can we please just leave already?’

Bridge was worried Fran was going to thump him, the shade of red she had turned.

‘You really don’t get people do you? All you see is a puzzle that needs solving.’

‘Well, I am a detective.’ Bridge pointed out.

‘Oh are you? I didn’t hear you mention it. Oh wait yeah I did, like a hundred times.’

‘Well at least I actually do my job instead of chatting about my social calendar with every person we interview.’

Fran looked thunderous now, the veins in her temple right on the verge of exploding.

‘Get out.’ She hissed vehemently.

‘You what?’ Bridge asked flummoxed.

‘I said get out.’

‘Fine.’ Bridge said hotly, climbing out the door and slamming it behind him. Fran put her foot to the floor and roared off, leaving a trail of petrol fumes and a stranded Bridge in the middle of the car park.

‘Great.’ Bridge said. ‘Now what?’

The car park was empty. His ride back to Llangaerten disappearing from view before him.


Gethin’s journey home from London was slightly subdued. On the one hand he felt a sense of accomplishment, as he had spent his time on leave productively and ruled out potential wrong turns and red herrings. However, the revelation that he had traveled all that distance to find out that none of the people he questioned were guilty or linked, left him empty and feeling a sense of defeat.

He did not get off at his usual stop however but stayed on the train for a couple of extra stops. Gethin wasn’t going home. Not yet anyway. He was making a slight detour. As well as housing the county morgue, Clandowey also happened to be the town where the food delivery service Arthur used were based.

Stepping off the train and leaving the station through the side exit, Gethin felt a warm feeling enter his chest. Even though he was not home home, being back on his side of the border made him feel a sense of belonging. Gethin had always found his hometown and county boring to say the least. Whilst it was true that London was full of exciting and varied culture, it was also very busy, smelly and cold. Not in terms of temperature but more in regards to attitude. People were unfriendly to the point of rude. Having now visited the big lights and sights of England’s capital, Gethin suddenly felt a new found appreciation for the wonder of the Welsh valleys.

After taking a moment to breathe in the fresh air and listen to the chirping songs of the birds, Gethin made his way to the bridge that stretched over the river towards Clandowey. The food delivery service was located on the outskirts of town, a fair walk from the train station but Gethin was glad for the chance to stretch his legs. He had been cramped up in a metal carriage all morning with about enough leg space for a small shrew.

By the time he got to the supply shop and attached delivery depot, Gethin was getting out of breath. Although refreshing and much needed exercise, Gethin was still tender from his encounter with Darren Rhion and he had stopped at the entrance to the building to nurse a sharp stitch in his side. He studied the outbuilding, as he regained his strength. The shop itself was a single level storey building with glass fronted windows and doors and large green letters emblazoned on the roof that read ‘Snacks on Tracks’. A front and side car park surrounded the building with an assortment of customer vehicles and large lorries, bearing the same company name on their doors and roofs.

Once recovered, Gethin straightened up, smartened himself up as best he could and made his way across the car park to the shop door. He stopped in front of the door to the shop, catching sight of himself in the glass in front of him. He looked so different. Obviously, the injuries he had sustained were evidence of that but it was more then that. His eyes seem to possess a different quality about them. As if they were suddenly more serious and thoughtful. His face as well looked more haggard. The five o’clock shadow which he normally would have seen to giving him a more rugged and worn look. This case had changed him. In some ways for the better and in others not so much. Either way, Gethin was undergoing some kind of transformation. He just had to find out whether or not it was something he was comfortable with.


Bridge had given up phoning Fran. It was clear that if she wasn’t going to respond to his previous eight texts and three phone calls, then it wasn’t likely she would be picking up her mobile anytime soon. It had taken him a good fifteen minutes to ascertain why she had blown up at him to such a degree. In his mind, he hadn’t done anything particularly unacceptable or untoward. Yet, as time had gone on, Bridge had given the subject more thought and he had begun to see why his actions may have been taken the wrong way. It was strange of late. Bridge didn’t feel that different, his argument with Fran had been evidence of that. However, his realization of other people’s emotions or reasons for doing things was becoming much more apparent of recent. This was both concerning and intriguing for the clinical detective. On the one hand, this insight into human beings and his fellow species gave him an advantage of sorts. If he was savvy, Bridge could use this to his advantage. Maybe it would help in the case when interrogating, no correction, interviewing suspects. But on the other hand, there was the concern that these feelings and intuition were clouding his precise and objectionable judgement. He had to be careful not to allow his feelings get in the way of his methods of deduction.

He shivered, as a cold breeze whipped up in the car around him, sending a plastic bag tumble-weeding across the gravel in front of him. He walked to the edge of the car park and sighed. The road ahead of him was lined on either side by a screen of bushes and trees. No accessible pathway or notable footpath. Plus it was starting to get dark and the road in both directions was unlit.

Bridge was just about to hit the road and start walking into town, despite the lack of pavement and light, when a noise behind made him pause. Daisy, the young tattooed coroner was making her way out of the morgue side entrance. She carried a large box in her arms and was having a bit of difficult getting out the door. Bridge hurried over and held the door.

‘Here, let me help.’

‘Thanks.’ Daisy acknowledged but she made no effort to carry on with the conversation.

Instead, she made her way over to a small purple Ford Fiesta and starting loading her box into the boot.

‘What’s in the box?’ Bridge asked, lingering around by her car.

‘Body parts I stole from the morgue.’ Daisy replied in a dry tone, shutting her boot forcefully.

Bridge nodded with a slight smile at her joke. Seeing that this was a far as Daisy was willing to converse with him, he turned on his heels to hit the road.

‘Where’s Fran?’

Bridge turned. Daisy was lent against the back of her boot, puffing on one of those infernal vape gizmos.

‘She ditched me.’

Daisy nodded, puffing out a large cloud of smoke.

‘Can’t say I blame her. Not much of a people person are you?’

Bridge stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed.

‘It is what it is, I guess.’ He gave her a brief polite smile and turned once again to leave.

‘Come on. I’ll give you a lift.’

Bridge stopped and turned once again.

‘Sorry…I couldn’t have heard you right. I thought you just offered me a lift.’

Daisy raised her eyebrows dramatically, opening her door and sliding in the driver’s seat. Bridge watched her silently, confused at what exactly was going on. He jumped in surprise, as the engine of the car roared into life. Daisy revved it a few times before letting it fall back into a gentle and consistent rumble. The passenger window whirred into life and slid down to allow Bridge a glimpse inside the car.

‘Are you coming or what? I haven’t got all day you know.’

Unless Daisy was a serial killer, which perhaps was a possibility, considering her job description although Bridge didn’t think likely, then she really was offering him a lift. Bridge was willing to take the risk. He climbed in quickly, thankful for the car’s interior warmth.


‘Don’t mention it.’ Daisy said casually and pulled away from the parking space, heading for the exit at the back of the car park.


The two sat in silence for the first five minutes of the journey, their awkwardness rife in the air. Bridge cleared his throat in an attempt to dispel the awkward silence. It didn’t have it’s desired effect.

‘Awfully nice of you to drive me all the way back to Llangaerthen.’

Daisy shrugged.

‘I have an aunt who lives there. Was dropping over to see her anyway.’

‘Oh right.’ Bridge said.

The conversation died there again and Bridge started to wonder if maybe he would have been betting walking into town and catching the train. It was as he was contemplating this whilst looking out the window, that he noticed something odd. A tall figure walking along the pavement. He did a double take as they drove past. Daisy noticed his fidgeting and frowned.

‘You alright there?’

Bridge craned his neck round to try and glimpse the man again but they were driving too fast and the figure had already disappeared from view.

‘I thought….but it couldn’t have…’

Daisy drummed her fingertips on the wheel, waiting for him to complete his sentence.

‘It doesn’t matter.’ He said finally. ‘Just looked like someone else I know.’

‘Right.’ Daisy said slowly.

She was starting to wonder if it really was the best idea to give the detective a lift back. He had been so rude and odd in the morgue that she felt no obligation to offer him a ride. Yet there was something intriguing about the eccentric fellow. He was different somehow. A social outcast that’s for certain. But then who was Daisy to judge. She spent most of her days talking to the dead.


The building was not just simply a shop. It housed a sizable restaurant as well. As Gethin made his way around the complex, he couldn’t help but cringe at the blatant methods the business had used to squeeze as much money out of their frail, old customers as possible. The majority of which were packed into the brightly lit restaurant or shuffling aimlessly around the shop floor with neither purpose or pace.

Eventually after much patience and several diversionary tactics, Gethin made his way to the shop counter. A short, stout man with greying hair and a large bristly mustache greeted him merrily. The contrast between this friendly fellow and the sorts Gethin had encountered on his trip to London was sizable and he took a moment to appreciate the bliss of simple life.

‘Can I help you sir?’ He repeated, noticing Gethin had not said anything for a good thirty seconds.

‘Sorry…’ Gethin said, giving the man an equally pleasant smile. ‘My name is Officer Jones. I am investigating a case local to the area.’

The stout man looked taken aback. Gethin was pleased to see this reaction. There was something almost adorable about a small town inquiry. Everyone had such tame sensibilities. Not like London. On the number of occasions he had pulled out his I.D or declared his status, people just nonchalantly rolled their eyes, like it was an everyday occurrence.  Gethin eyed the stout man’s name badge. It read Declan.

‘Declan. I know it is a big ask but would it be possible for me to talk to some of the drivers. You would be helping in solving a case and possibly in bringing closure and justice to the victim’s families.

‘I…don’t see why not…of course anything I can do….to help.’ Declan stammered, wringing his wrinkled hands nervously.

‘Then lead the way.’ Gethin said with a warm smile, gesturing towards a door behind Declan, which read ‘Staff Only.’

There was a moment’s deliberation from Declan, as he considered whether or not he should allow Gethin into the staff area. Eventually, though he conceived. Obviously the representation of the law stood in front of him was too powerful to resist and Declan was too much of a gentle soul to demand a warrant. As the stout men lead Gethin through the private door, the young officer felt his own hesitation develop. This was not his area of expertise and although he had become more adept at the methods of investigation since the case had begun, he still felt a degree of trepidation every time he had to act in an official manner.


Had it been Gethin, Bridge and Daisy had passed on their way out of Clandowey or was it just his mind playing tricks on him. It certainly shouldn’t be. According to Fran, the lad had used his time on leave to visit London for a few days. Surely it was just a look a like. What reason would Gethin have for visiting Clandowey anyway? Unless he knew something that he and Fran didn’t.

‘Penny for your thoughts.’ Daisy said, breaking Bridge from his train of thought.

Bridge sighed and scratched the rough skin underneath his collar irritatingly.

‘This case. It is proving more tricky then I first anticipated.’

‘Thought it would be a simple closed book affair in a backwater country town did you?’

Bridge bristled defensively.

‘I’m joking. Besides, I thought you liked this sort of thing. The thrill of the chase and all that.’

‘Well….yes…but this isn’t as much of a chase as more of a pitiful attempt to stay in the race at all.’

Daisy smirked.

‘I was being serious.’ Bridge said with a confused side glance.

‘I know.’

Bridge grumbled like a disgruntled bear and returned to looking out the window. Daisy rolled her eyes. Why were men such drama queens? Always making such a big song and dance about everything.

‘It’s Darren Rhion.’ She said, breaking the silence once more.

Bridge looked at her in stunned surprise.


‘The body in the morgue. It’s Rhion.’ Daisy repeated.

Blimey. Did she have to spell everything out for this guy.

‘But….why…tell me?’

‘Does that really matter?’

Bridge took a moment.

‘I guess not…it’s just…’

‘Look Fran was right when she said you were a rude and brash individual…’

‘Fran said that.’ Bridge cut in, looking taken aback and slightly hurt all of a sudden.

‘But I can tell that you are at your core…a semi decent bloke.’ Daisy carried on, unheeded.

‘Thank you.’ Bridge said, looking pleased with himself.

‘I said semi decent Bridge. Let’s not go getting cocky now.’ Daisy stressed with a stern glance.

But Bridge couldn’t help smiling. Not only did this mean that his theory on Rhion not being the killer was right but also that neither Gethin or his brothers had been harmed. He should have felt bad for late deceased Rhion but his sociopath tendencies made that incredibly hard, not to mention the fact that Rhion wasn’t the nicest of people to begin. Bridge relaxed back into his seat and closed his eyes. Maybe today wasn’t such a bad day after all.


Gethin readjusted himself in the low, frayed waiting room chair and glanced at the clock. It was nearly ten to five. He had been sitting here for nearly an hour now. This was nobody’s fault but his own. After showing him to the back office, Declan had consulted the ancient desktop to ascertain which driver had been assigned to Arthur’s delivery the day of the murder. The driver was a man named Simon Barnes. Now it was just a simple matter of talking to Mr Barnes and seeing if he could recall the women he spoke to on the phone. Problem was Barnes was out on delivery. Declan had advised that Gethin could come back at a more appropriate time to save hanging around. Although Gethin had appreciated the gesture, he had not come all this way to be turned around at the last minute.

So here he sat, in a stuffy waiting room with only a stack of well thumbed magazines for company. Every now and then a driver came in to help him or herself to a cup of tea or a drink of water but for the most part Gethin was alone. He was almost drifting off when finally to his great relief Simon Barnes entered the room, bringing with him a gush of cold, refreshing air.

‘Simon Barnes.’ Gethin said, getting to his hands and holding out his hand.

He knew it was Barnes without any introduction. Declan had advised that he was hard to miss, considering he was the only driver with hetechromia. This condition meant Barnes had one blue eye and one green. Much like the famous music artist David Bowie.

‘Yes.’ Barnes said cageliliy, not shaking his hand.

He looked skittish, like a wild horse about to run from an approaching human.

‘My name is Officer Jones. I am following up on a case.’ He held up his I.D.

He was beginning to get good at this. Maybe he should talk to Fran about the possibility of a promotion. He scoffed at the thought. That was the last thing Fran needed. It wasn’t like she had enough on her plate already. Noting Barnes discomfort, Gethin gave a reassuring smile.

‘Don’t worry it’s nothing serious. I just want to ask you a few questions about one of your customers: Mr Arthur Babcock.’

Barnes thought for a moment. He was an extremely tall man with a broad chest and deep, heavyset features. The little hair he had took the form of a ginger goatee, which he scratched absentmindedly as he thought. Gethin would have found the man intimidating if it had not been for the way he talked and held himself. It reminded him instantly of an overgrown child, confused and nervous.

‘Come and sit down. You must be tired from your routes.’

Barnes looked hesitant but eventually allowed himself to be led over to one of the waiting room chairs. The chair groaned under his substantial weight.

‘Did you know Arthur well?’

The giant Barnes shrugged, his broad shoulders pulled back to attention.

‘Sort of. He kept to himself mostly. We didn’t chat with each other much. He is not as talkative as some of the other ones.’

There was something odd about the way Barnes said ‘others’ but Gethin couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

‘So you heard about what happened to him then?’ Gethin continued.

He was trying to stay focused on his line of questioning but it was hard to concentrate. Barnes’ different coloured eyes were absorbing and he felt his gaze drawn to them every time the man spoke.

‘A terrible crime indeed.’ Barnes said morosely, bowing his head in what appeared to be respect for the deceased victim.

It was very hard for Gethin to get a read on Barnes. He was a strange mixture between an overgrown child and a gentle Buddha with the appearance of a Hell’s Angel’s gang member thrown in just to confuse the situation more.

‘Before the incident involving Arthur took place, a phone call was made to you, do you remember?’

Barnes nodded slowly, his lower lip jutting out, as he concentrated on remembering.

‘Good. Now I know it was a while ago and I am sure you have received hundreds of calls since…but can you remember who you spoke to?’

Barnes closed his eyes and a deep frown crested his Neanderthal forehead.

‘I….remember speaking….to a woman…’ He said finally.

Gethin inched closer, growing excited. This was it. He just needed a bit more to go on.

‘Did she give a name?’


Gethin sighed.

‘Wait…she said she was…Arthur’s daughter.’ He opened his eyes, looking pleased all of a sudden.

Gethin didn’t share his enthusiasm. The killer had obviously made this bit up to conceal their identity and shift the police’s attention. Which had worked out perfectly, Gethin brooded.

‘Did I do good?’ Barnes said hopefully.

Gethin gave him an encouraging nod.

‘You’re doing very good Simon. Now this woman, what sort of a voice did she have? Was it old, young, did it have an accent of any sort?’

Barnes frowned so hard this time, that it was hard for Gethin to make out his eyes under his mammoth eyebrows.

‘Older I think….maybe middle aged or even a little older…argh it’s so hard to remember.’ He cursed, massaging his massive egg like head.

‘It’s okay…I know it’s hard…’

Barnes nodded, sweat forming on his cheeks and temples.

‘She had a strange accent…like she was posh or well to do like…’

Gethin racked his brains, thinking of the suspects and witnesses they had interviewed. One particular witness sprang to mind.

‘Sorry…I can’t remember anything else.’

Barnes looked crestfallen, like he had just witnessed his favourite puppy being run over. Gethin reached out a hand and gave Barnes’ shoulder a tight squeeze.

‘You have done really well Simon. In fact I think you may have helped a lot.’

‘Really.’ Barnes said surprised, his face lighting up suddenly.

Gethin left it at that. It was obvious that Barnes didn’t know anything else. Even so, he did check with Declan on Barnes’ whereabouts of the night of the murder. Barnes had a alibi. He was out on deliveries most of the night. Gethin hadn’t thought Barnes was involved but he had to be thorough just in case.

As he left the food delivery depot and headed back in town, Gethin felt a sense of elation take hold of him. He hadn’t cracked the case yet. A rough description from a simpleton adult wasn’t nearly enough to prove anything. However, there was one thing that Barnes had mentioned that could put them that step closer to unveiling the truth. The killer’s accent. Now it was only a matter of trying to convince Fran and Bridge to hear him out. He just hoped he wasn’t too late before the killer struck again.


© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


The List

Bridge woke to the sounds of banging and shouting. Under any normal circumstance he would have consider this a common occurrence, however the bright light shining through the gap in the curtains made Bridge sit up and pay attention. He rubbed his bleary eyes and groaned, as he extracted himself from the duvet covers and tiptoed gingerly over to the window. It took him three attempts to peer out the curtains, the first gave him too much of a headache and the second was far too bright for him to discern anything but blinding light.

‘Bridge, get up you lazy sack of manure.’

Bridge did not need to look out the window to confirm the visitor. He could recognize the dulcet tones of Sergeant Francesca Thomas anywhere. Pulling on some trousers, Bridge hefted up the rusty window and stuck his head out into the cool morning air.

‘Morning Fran, how are you on this lovely brisk morning?’

Fran’s stout frame sidled into view and placed her arms very pointedly on her hips.

‘Well, let me see. I am cold, tired and just been lumped with some more bad news concerning our ongoing case.’

Bridge’s eyes, although barely open, seemed to regain some semblance of attentiveness.

‘What sort of bad news?’

‘It’s better I show you then tell you, if you catch my drift.’

Bridge swallowed.

‘I’ll be down in a minute.’ He said and disappeared quickly from view.

As he hurriedly ran about searching for his various clothing, Bridge tried to focus his mind on what could have possibly happened to Darren Rhion. Yet try as he might, his head was a foggy blur. Respected detective or not, Bridge could not function without coffee. Not with the lack of sleep he had received the night before. It had been a noisy night at the pub. Some local boy’s birthday or some other such nonsense. This had been the main reason for Bridge’s late rising. That and the fact that shouting and banging outside his window was normally linked to the local youth’s late night antics.

By the time Bridge had gotten himself cleaned, dressed and somewhat half presentable, Fran had relocated to inside her car, the engine ticking over and her finger tapping irritably on the side of the wheel. She almost took Bridge’s leg off, putting her foot to the pedal before he had properly entered the passenger’s seat.

‘Could have waited till I got in the car.’ He said irritably.

‘Drink that coffee it will help.’ Fran replied, gesturing to a takeaway cup in the armrest.

Bridge opened his mouth to protest at Fran’s gruff behaviour but changed his mind. Instead he picked up the coffee cup and cradled it gratefully in his hands. It wasn’t particularly nice coffee but Bridge did not think it would be wise to highlight this qualm with Fran. Not with her current temperament anyway. Besides, the caffeine was slowly helping to cope with the crushing fatigue he felt.

When Bridge had cottoned on to the fact that they were not going to the station and rather heading out of town instead, he cleared his throat.

‘Are you planning to fill me in on where we are going at any point?’

‘You’ll see.’ She said bluntly.

Bridge sighed and stared out the window. He was obviously not going to get any answers any time soon. There was something familiar about the route Fran was taking. If he had been more knowledgeable about the area, he may have been able to hazard a guess. Unfortunately, the majority of the time Bridge had spent on the outskirts and back roads of Llangaerthen, it had been at night.

The smoke was the first thing Bridge noticed. It had drifted over from a field hidden by a low set of hills. He shot a quizzical look at Fran but she remained stoically silent.

‘Can you give me a clue at least?’

Silence. Bridge huffed and squinted at the faraway smoke. He tried to recall the last few nights. A lot had happened. But by the far the most memorable moment had been the burning field. He tented his fingers and bit his lip.

‘Is it to do with the field from the other night?’

Still Fran said nothing and pretended to concentrate on the road in front of her. But Bridge knew her well enough to tell she was deliberately ignoring him.

‘I’ve got it…you’ve found something at the crime scene. A piece of evidence.’

Fran glanced at him but remained silent, her expression blank.

‘No, that’s not it. The fire would have died down by now.’

He sat back, looking puzzled and a tad irritated. Then it hit him like a cannonball to the gut.

‘It’s a different fire…which means…’

He looked at Fran ashen faced. Her expression was grim. Bridge swallowed hard and refocused his attention on the trail of smoke, a tight knot forming in his stomach.


The area had been cornered off already by the time they finally arrived. Bridge was half expecting to discover the arson had occurred in a different field and so was surprised when the realization dawned it was the same field as before.

‘It’s the same field.’ He announced to Fran.

She nodded in response and parked the car as close to the field gate as possible. This turned out to not be very near at all, considering there were two fire engines and a patrol car in front of them. As they unfurled themselves out of the vehicle and approached the police caution tape, Bridge noticed something different from last time. There was no ambulance at the scene. This was either a very good thing or a very bad thing. No ambulance meant no wounded people which was good. Unless of course they were dead, which was not so good.

Ducking under the tape, Bridge recognized the young officer from the other night. Bridge felt his skin flush red with embarrassment, as he replayed the awkward situation from that night. The young officer smirked and gave a friendly smile, as Bridge passed. Fran raised an eyebrow but Bridge said nothing and hurried his step.

As they stepped into the field, he realized with a sickening lurch in his stomach that it was the latter of the two. This was mainly brought to his attention by the rancid smell of burning flesh filling his nostrils. The smell got much worse as Bridge and Fran neared the tree at its centre. Bridge felt his stomach lurch horribly but it wasn’t due to the rotting smell of flesh. He had been around enough dead bodies in all manner of grisly cases to stave off any sense of nausea. The butterflies in his belly came more from the thought of who the burned body belonged to. It was a weird sensation to feel concern over the welfare of another human being. Bridge had always had the ability to detach himself from the victims he investigated. Yet the merest possibility of it being one of Gethin’s brothers or worse yet Gethin himself, made Bridge feel utterly terrible.

There were a couple of SOCO officers in their signature white overalls inspecting the crime scene but apart from that the area was empty. It was obvious that many of the younger and more inexperienced officers assigned to the area had stayed back, not able to stomach the sight and smells of the crime scene. As they approached the blackened tree, Bridge could discern a red and white skeleton slumped against the trunk of the tree, its mouth slung open in an eerie laugh. Since having been burnt twice, there wasn’t much of the tree left standing and most of the high top branches and foliage had fallen off and lay scattered around the field.

Bridge and Fran halted a little way away from the body and watched the SOCO officers for a moment, as they huddled around the blackened bones and half dead tree.

‘Who is it?’ Bridge said darkly.

‘Not sure yet. It will need to go back to the morgue for further inspection.’

Bridge nodded solemnly.

‘I’m sure its not…’ He trailed off, noticing Fran’s ashen face and not quite knowing how to finish that sentence anyway.

‘Fran, we found something.’ One of the SOCO officers said, retrieving something from the ground and rising to his feet.

Bridge and Fran eyed one another before moving forwards to inspect the discovery.

‘What is that?’ Fran queried, holding up the small evidence bag in front of her.

‘Looks like a stud earring.’ Bridge suggested.

Fran squinted then gave Bridge a suspicious glance.

‘How do you know so much about men’s jewelry?’

Bridge flushed red with embarrassment for a moment and he quickly changed the topic.

‘Who do you think it belongs to?’

Fran chewed on the inside of her cheek, thinking.

‘Doesn’t Darren Rhion have one of these?’

‘Yeah and half the youth population of Llangarthen.’

Fran handed the evidence bag back to the SOCO officer and folded her arms.

‘Again, you seem to know a lot about men’s fashion. Something you’re not telling me Bridge?’

Bridge massaged his eyebrow anxiously.

‘My…sister makes her own jewelry.’

‘Right.’ Fran said slowly, not looking convinced at all but not pursuing the matter any further.

‘Do you think it’s Rhion?’ Fran suggested.

‘I hope so.’ Bridge answered but hurried on, as he noticed Fran’s outraged expression. ‘I mean rather then someone more important…I mean its terrible either way but…’

Fran held up her hand to stop him from rambling.

‘Bridge…it’s fine. I know what you meant.’

Bridge relaxed and turned his attention back to the smoking body.

‘Guess we will soon find out either way.’ He said grimly and turned around to head back to the car.

Fran watched him go. She felt exactly the same way which wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was that Bridge felt the same way too. He seemed to be changing. The Bridge she was looking at now was a far shot away from the one who had arrived just over a week ago. She turned her attention back to the scene in front of her. He wasn’t the only one who had changed.


Gethin glanced from the creased piece of paper in his hand to the grey block of buildings looming over him. There was a light misting of rain that flecked his pale Caucasian skin and made him shiver a little. There were the sounds of children playing in the nearby park, their shouts, laughter and screams competing for the most noise. Challenging them were the loud barks of dogs and cars backfiring, as gangs of kids zipped around the estate, blaring deep bass music out of their windows.

This was the last name on Gethin’s list. The others he had crossed out in thick black felt pen. He flipped up his collar to keep his neck warm and crossed the road to where the chewing gum infested concrete steps led up to the stony faced block of flats. One of the boy racers, honked at him loudly, as he made his way briskly over the road. Gethin ignored him and the insults they shouted out the window in their wake.

Mounting the steps, he felt the muscles in his legs begin to stiffen. It had been a very long day, most of which Gethin had spent either on public transport or on foot, travelling to the next person of interest on his list. He assumed it must be late, not that there was any definitive way of knowing, as the sky had remained a permanent grey since he had arrived that morning. Since his meeting, Gethin had repeatedly hit dead ends and brick walls. After talking to Arthur’s daughter, he had decided to look up his own army pals. This had proved more difficult then he had expected. A handful had passed away and a few others had moved abroad, making it impossible to contact them. The few he had managed to speak to only had good things to say about their old comrade in arms. Either his behaviour had been much less sadistic in the forces or his buddies were covering for him. Whichever one it was, he had got nowhere and he was expecting more of the same with his last visit.

Caught up in his own thoughts, Gethin nearly trod in an unpleasantly large pile of dog feces in one corner of the stairs. He wrinkled his nose in disgust and sidled past the horrid sight, continuing up to the third level, where his last hope of finding anything concrete on the killer lay.  According to the last veteran he had visited, Ex – Lieutenant David Barnes lived at number 45. It was the third door down. Gethin didn’t need to read the numbers on the door to know this was the one. It was the only door on the whole level that was immaculately maintained. The paint wasn’t peeling or cracked like the others but complete and well preserved. It was also the only flat with flowerbeds lining the windows. Gethin pulled to a halt outside the door, straightened out his collar and cleared his throat. He pushed down on the doorbell and heard the sharp ring echo through the flat.

No answer. Down below on the estate, a group of kids were riding their bikes around in a large circle. From Gethin’s position on the balcony, they looked like hungry sharks circling for the kill. He let out a sigh and went for a loud rap on the wood of the door instead. Still no answer. He was considering packing it in, when a ruffling noise to the right of him made him turn.

A man in his late fifties/early sixties was moving towards him. It was hard for Gethin to determine an exact age, due to the fact that the man was in very good shape for his age. He also moved with a litheness and ease of a prowling cat. As the man got nearer however, his age became more apparent due to the creased forehead of wrinkles and slight jowls underneath his chin. He eyed Gethin suspiciously as he approached.

‘Whatever it is you’ve got to sell, I’m not interested.’ He said gruffly, pulling his keys out of his pocket and moving in front of the door with his back to Gethin.

‘Lieutenant David Barnes.’

Barnes was halfway inside the door, when he stopped and turned to face Gethin, a hostile look on his face.

‘Who wants to know?’

‘My name is Officer Gethin Jones. I am investigating a case related to one of your former war associates.’

‘Officer.’ Barnes replied with a raised eyebrow. ‘You got any I.D?’

This would have proven tricky, seeing as Gethin had been placed on leave and his I.D. temporarily confiscated. Luckily, the young officer had had the foresight to plan for this. Just before he had departed for London, Gethin had enlisted the help of his younger brothers to retrieve the I.D. It hadn’t been particularly hard to accomplish. There were a plethora of ways to get pass Desk Sergeant Paul, be that a distraction in the form of an semi attractive female or even simply calling him out on a certain crossword answer. Once this had been achieved it was a simple matter of sneaking into the evidence room and locating his confiscated I.D. In any high tech or remotely modern police station this would have proven tricky, as a door code would bar the way. Fortunately, the code on the door had never worked. Members of the public did not attempt any break in, as they assumed it would be locked. Only officers of the law knew the truth and thus they avoided any circumstances of burglary. Until now.

Gethin produced his I.D and held it for Barnes to inspect. The ageing Lieutenant gave it a long hard look before returning his attention to Gethin.

‘How come you are not in uniform son?’

Gethin had been prepared for this as well. He had encountered the same kind of hostility and questioning from the previous contacts on the list. This was why he had stolen back his I.D. Dylan had suggested a fake one instead, to avoid having to sneak into the station but Gethin had objected. These men were highly trained and sharp witted. Everything he said and did needed to read from the book. Appear kosher, so as to avoid a shut door in the face.

‘Due to the nature of the case, my superior Detective Nicholas Bridge has sent me to ask you a few questions. We have a list of known associates with the victim and rather then spend a lot of time working through them together, we decided it best to split up duties, so as to most effectively conserve our time.’

Barnes eyed him warily for a moment. Gethin was worried that it had come across too rehearsed. It had been his speech of the day. Memorized over and over again on the train journey down. However it seemed to do the trick, as Barnes nodded. He moved inside his flat but didn’t shut the door in behind him.

‘I suppose you will be wanting tea. I will put the kettle on.’

Gethin assumed that was an invitation to come in, so without waiting any longer to find out, he brushed his shoes off on the door mat and stepped inside the dinky flat.


Gethin readjusted himself in the squeaky wooden chair and took a sip of the mud coloured builders tea. Barnes was stood in the corner of the room, looking out the window at the traffic streaming past on the main road, opposite the council estate.

‘Me and Arthur had our differences but I never would have wished for him to go like that.’

It was the first time Barnes had spoken since Gethin had revealed the nature of his former colleague’s death.

‘The other members of your squadron had nothing but praise for Arthur. What was he like as a soldier?’

Barnes moved away from the window and placed his mug down on the table beside Gethin. It echoed loudly through the flat. Gethin felt like he was sitting in a ghost apartment. The living room, if it could be called that, consisted of a couple of hard back chairs and a plain unadorned table, a roll out mattress, a half empty bookshelf and a slightly medieval TV set. The only thing that had struck Gethin as odd was a modern looking games console. It looked rather out of place against the minimalist furniture. The kitchen wasn’t much better. Cooker, kettle, bin and a small table pushed against one wall. Everything of use resided there, yet the place lacked any semblance of homeliness. It was very hard to gauge what sort of a man Barnes was, when his flat gave no hints or clues about his lifestyle or interests.

‘Arthur had balls. Not the most cunning or strategic of men. But I have never seen a man with such defiance or gall in a fight.’

Gethin sighed. This was the same answer he had gotten from every other member of Arthur’s team he had managed to visit. Yet there was something different. When the others had spoken of Arthur’s bravery or bullheadedness, it had been in a tone of adoration for the man. Barnes was different. He agreed with the assessment but his tone was clinical, sterile almost, as if he was merely stating a fact. Gethin took a sip of his tea and swilled the liquid around in his mouth, contemplating.

‘You were his superior right?’ He eventually asked.

Barnes nodded matter of factly.

‘Did Arthur have any problems taking orders? What was your working relationship like?’

Barnes frowned, folding his arms across his chest defensively.

‘Why do you say that?’

Gethin took a punt.

‘Some of the other guys said you two didn’t always see eye to eye.’

Barnes shot him a sharp look. None of the others actually had said this but he needed more to work with.

‘It’s true that me and Arthur weren’t best of pals.’

Gethin felt his body relax, as the punt paid off.

‘Arthur was a good soldier but the man thought he was a walking one man army.’

‘How so?’

‘He had issues taking orders and his attitude was…lacking to say the least.’

‘Did you ever feel like he undermined your authority at all?’ Gethin egged on.

Barnes glared.

‘Is this a fucking therapy session?’ He spat bluntly.

‘No…of course not.’ Gethin stammered. ‘I just want to find out what sort of a man Arthur Babcock was.’

‘In other words you want to know if I killed him or not.’ Barnes retorted, looking angry. ‘Well, I didn’t. Arthur was a pain in the arse but there are far more people I would much rather seen done harm to. I can assure you that.’

Gethin gave him a scrutinizing look, trying to decide whether he was telling the truth or not. It was very hard to tell. Barnes’ poker face was on point.

‘Is there anyone else you can think of, who would want to do Arthur harm?’

Arthur stroked his stubble, contemplating. Eventually, he shook his head.

‘No, the men loved Arthur. Looked up to like an idol. If I’m being honest, I was a little bit jealous of the bloke.’

‘Jealous?’ Gethin said intrigued.

‘I was the commanding officer and for the most part the men did as I commanded. But secretly they all favoured Arthur. Especially since he ignored my orders repeatedly.’

Gethin steeled himself for the hardest part. This was normally where the interview tended to go south.

‘Mr. Barnes. Where were you on the night of Tuesday 14th January?’

Barnes smiled ruefully.

‘I was wondering when you were going to ask that. Probably assume because I live alone that I have no alibi.’

‘Well…do you?’ Gethin said frankly.

‘I do as a matter of fact. I was at my AA meeting. You can check with my sponsor if you must.’


Barnes nodded. Gethin studied him hard. He seemed genuine enough.

‘Fair enough.’ He said, rising to his feet. ‘I appreciate you sparing the time for me Mr. Barnes.’

Barnes rose as well and held out a hand.

‘I hope you find the bugger who did it. Like I said, Arthur was a bullheaded prick but he was part of my team and it is a loss to us all.’

Gethin shook his hand and left the near empty flat. As he made his way down the concrete steps, taking care to avoid the present left by the dog, Gethin felt the tiredness of the day wash over him. Like the air pressed from a balloon, Gethin felt deflated. He had been travelling all day and talking for a good few hours, yet he felt as if he had gotten no further in solving the case. If the aim of the day had been to establish who wasn’t the killer, then Gethin would have passed with flying colours. But that wasn’t much of a consolation when there was a killer roaming the Welsh valleys.

The one tiny shred of hope Gethin now clung to was that something would turn up from visiting the home delivery service. If they could determine who cancelled the meal, even if it was a vague description, they would be one step closer to solving the case. Gethin had to stay positive. Because god knows Bridge and Fran needed help if they had any hope of catching the killer.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content