Migraine

I wake to the sound of hammer banging on metal and curse the builders through the thin walls of the hallway. Half asleep, only a slither of my eyelids apart, I wrench myself from beneath the moss like rug and poke my head out of the hallway window. I glare at the two men who are trying to manoeuver a metal table up a set of narrow stairs. An innate desire to ball all my rage out the window at them rises within me but I refrain. In the same way I get rudely awaken by early morning builders, I stay up late into the night watching TV and listening to music.

I return to bed, cursing the fact that despite all my efforts I seem to constantly remain in a nocturnal like routine. This wouldn’t be so bad but for some reason the larger majority of the human population have decided that a nine to five work routine is more appropriate then say night work or being a student. The sensible thing to do now would be to make myself a cup of tea and force myself to stay awake so as to switch to a more daylight efficient routine. However I soon find I am back in bed, quickly dozing once more.

When I wake three hours later, after several snoozes of the alarm I am groggy and fuzzy. The early morning disturbance has resulted in me oversleeping and now I feel lethargic and grumpy. Getting out of bed is an insurmountable task. My muscles ache with a sharp acute pain and my head weighs like a cannon ball. To add salt to the wounds, it is bitterly cold outside the warm confines of the duvet and I frantically pull on my slippers and thrown on my dressing gown to stave off the chill.

The worst part of my morning is opening the living room window for the cat. I pull up the blinds, always forgetting the harsh sunlight on the other side and receive a flash of pain to the head as my recompense. It only gets worse as I push open the window. A wall of noise assaults me through the gap, accompanied by the sub zero February gales. It’s all too much, a cacophony of whines assail me from the Sainsbury’s car park, consisting of barking dogs, tantruming toddlers and reversing cars.

I retreat to the darkness and safety of the kitchen. Even the cat thinks twice before disappearing through the window gap, her eyes puffy and her ears pricked up high. The bubbling of the kettle and the clink of the cups in my hand grates on my ears and I cut of the boiling of the water as quickly as possible, to nurse my throbbing cranium.

It is far too bright and cold in the living room but I force myself to sit in my armchair anyway. Slowly, the pain lessens, aided in full by the steaming cup of tea in my hand. However, as I grow more accustom to the world inside and out, a deep hunger grips me and I feel my neglected stomach rumble in protest.

I search the kitchen desperately for some form of sustenance but realize with a sinking sensation that there is nothing salvageable for consummation. Grumbling, I dress quickly and sloppily, beyond caring that I am not wearing any socks and the jumper I am wearing has several curry stains emblazoned upon it.

Sainsbury’s is almost too much too bear and I hastily make a beeline for my pre decided breakfast choice, pain au chocolat’s. I am confronted by my three worse things on this journey: lots of people, loud noises and far too bright displays. A loud bang explodes in my head, as a Sainsbury’s worker throws a crate on the floor absent-mindedly. The rattle of trolley wheels and clang of shopping baskets against shelves follow me around like a bad curse and I speed up, eager to grab what I need and get out as soon as possible. I jump and nearly drop my purchase when the all powerful intercom announcement trembles around the store from an undisclosed location. Sweating, I make a dash for the self-service machine, narrowly avoiding two intersecting trolleys and nearly collide with a curious toddler who is wandering away from his father straight into my path. The self-service machine is slow and when it does finally accept my money it insists I take my change in a highly aggressive and persistent manner. I rush through the automatic doors and power walk to my courtyard. I see the cat by my window and hurry towards her, sensing an ally amongst the chaos.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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.

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The Hike

Graham swore under his breath and wiped the stinging sweat that had dripped into his eyes. He stared dead ahead at the uneven path in front of him, willing on his already aching legs and stretched out arms. He was as usual, at the tail end of the company, flagging behind woefully, whilst the other more hardy soldiers pushed on determinedly. He hoisted the heavy backpack further up his shoulders, in an effort to relieve the sharp edged straps that were digging painfully into his armpits. This was the final training session of the most grueling week Graham had ever experienced and to keep himself going, he kept an image of a steaming bath in his mind. He was starting to forget what it was like to rest. The last seven days he had been subjected to crack of dawn awakenings and ice cold showers with the other cadets. Most people have a fairly significant reason they join the army. Either they truly believe in the idea that serving one country is both their duty and an honour or alternatively and most often the case, they come from a bad family situation and see it as a way out. Graham didn’t join for either of these. In fact the only reason Graham was doing this was to lose some weight and prove to his friends and enemies he was not a useless fat lump. And this is why Graham was struggling to keep up, a combined lack of psychological and physical strength. The other cadets were not only in better shape then him but they also knew why they were they, giving them a much more focused and stable state of mind.

Graham was just wondering how much further he could run, when his jelly like legs buckled slightly as the ground suddenly sloped upwards. He kept his gaze lowered to the dusty ground, refusing to look up, knowing that one of the many insurmountable hills of the Brecon Beacons rose above him. Graham could go on, would go on. It wasn’t so much that he was fearful that he was suddenly going to collapse. In fact he was more scared about the fact that he didn’t need to stop. The first few days had been the hardest but at the mid week point he had been beaten, bullied and forced so much against his will that he had been broken like a dominated horse. Yes he had lost some weight and proven to himself more then anyone that he was strong enough to do it but at what cost? He had been humiliated, tortured and laughed at by the other cadets as well as his Sergeant. All that Graham had achieved was to put himself in another situation where he was picked out as the weakest. Was this what his life had become? Prey to other more clever and stronger predators. Graham was brought back to a reality with a mouthful of dirt. He was lying face down on the ground, his arms crushed beneath him. He had tripped on a concealed root, a lapse in concentration.

‘Private, on your feet now.’

Graham lifted his face from the ground and groaned, his lip red from a fresh cut. The company Sergeant was storming towards him, a look of fierce fury burning in his eyes. The other cadets had halted progress and were exchanging smirks and making snide remarks.

‘Shut it!’ The Sergeant roared and the company fell silent.

Graham tried to lift himself up but the heavy backpack pinned him to the floor, preventing any escape. The Sergeant kicked Graham hard in the shin.

‘Get up, you shit.’

Graham clenched his teeth, forcing back a yell and tried again desperately to get to his feet. He got halfway and gave up, flopping back onto the floor like a marooned fish.

‘We will not wait for you Private.’

Graham said nothing.

‘Turn back or find your own way.’ The Sergeant spat and kicked a cloud of dirt into Graham’s face.

Spluttering and coughing, Graham watched hopelessly as the Sergeant marched back to the front of the company and they resumed their jog up the hill. Graham lay there for a few minutes, hearing the crunch of the soldier’s boots become steadily fainter until eventually a deep silence descended around him, only broken by the occasional birdsong. It was while he was laying there, contemplating whether or not to bother getting up at all, that he thought he heard a voice high above him. Using all of the little strength in his possession, Graham forced himself up onto his knees, straining with the almighty effort. The hot midday sun bore down on him, making him sizzle like a fried egg on a car bonnet. He grimaced and spat dirt and blood from his mouth. Not caring anymore, he slipped his arms out of his backpack and let it topple to the floor. It was the best feeling in the world and went some way to making up for a face full of dirt. He coughed and looked up. A dark outline could be just glimpsed peering down at him from the top of the hill. He raised an arm to shield his eyes from the unrelenting rays. The shape was small and blurry. He blinked once and the shadow suddenly disappeared. Maybe it was one of the cadets sent back to retrieve him.

With a great effort he heaved himself to his feet and began to gradually climb the steep hill. It was much easier without all his kit and he reached the hill top quicker then he anticipated. A wide stretch of undergrowth stood before, lined on either side by a dense wall of trees. He scanned from left to ride, looking for signs of the mysterious figure but to no avail. Then a movement in the left wall of trees caught his attention. A tiny pink hand was curled around one of the trunks of the large trees. Graham narrowed his eyes. Two small eyes peered back at him through a gap in the foliage. Before he had time to register what he had seen the hand and the eyes vanished, followed by a loud rustling and snapping of twigs underfoot.

Without even realizing Graham found himself running towards the trees. He tore through the screen of leaves and ducked just in time to avoid a very low hanging branch. He glanced around wildly as he ran, desperately searching for the owner of the tiny pink hand. A flash of blue caught his eye and he made a beeline for it, oblivious of the thin twigs and branches whipping at his face and arms. Graham emerged into a small clearing and was temporally blinded by the harsh light in the gap in canopy high above. When his eyes readjusted, he stopped dead in his tracks. A young boy of about four or five was sitting on a large moss covered stone in the centre of the clearing. He was wearing a small, navy blue raincoat and had his back to Graham. As Graham approached cautiously, he could discern that the young boy was giggling to himself and rocking backwards and forwards. Closer and closer Graham inched, who was moving slowly so as not to startle the young boy. As he drew nearer he realized that the young boy was not laughing but instead crying. Not sobbing or wailing like one expects from a small child having a tantrum but tiny whimpering sniffs, barely audible over the wind rippling through the trees. Graham went to open his mouth, to maybe attempt some words of comfort but was cut short when all of the sudden the young boy jumped off the rock and hurried out of the clearing.

Graham had been traipsing through the trees for sometime, with no sense of direction or idea where he was going. The young boy had disappeared and Graham was beginning to grow worried. It was getting dark and there was a young boy lost somewhere out there, afraid and alone. The trees had begun to thin out and the ground was rising before him up to a another crest, dotted with a few taller trees. Graham exhaled loudly under his breath, wondering how on earth such a young child could have made it so far in these conditions. A few minutes later he emerged at the top of the ridge and took a minute to catch his breath. He was standing on the edge of a wide flat hill, looking down across a large valley. Set into the middle of this hill was a large stone monument and to Graham’s great surprise, stood the young boy facing it. From where Graham was standing, the young’s boy face was obscured and so he sidestepped to the right but as he did so, a sound made him glance to the left. A series of loud voices could be heard, drawing nearer. Graham recognized the harsh bark of his Sergeant and suddenly a great panic seized him. He ran around to the front of the monument and ducked down, flattening himself against the cool stone. It was only when he was crouched down here, did he realized that the young boy had vanished again. He was about to move again but the loud grunt of his Sergeant glued him to the spot.

‘Move it ladies. I haven’t got all day.’

Graham waited nervously, his arms and legs trembling with a combined panic and the sheer physical ache. The ground trembled beneath him as several pairs of heavy boots drummed across its surface. Graham remained hidden until the last pair of boots had died away before unfurling himself from his awkward position. He got up and massaged his sore back, glancing as he did so at the large stone monument beside him. Words were etched into its worn and weather beaten surface. Leaning closer he inspected them with a curious eye.

It read: This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones aged 5 was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login on the night of August 4th 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his body was found on September 2nd.

A cold sensation seized Graham’s entire body and he felt a silent scream trap within his throat.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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.

Flash Flood

Mac slicked with rain, I wade my way through the ankle high rush of water streaming through my legs. It is hard going and the continual downpour only serves to blur my already misted glasses. I dart into a bus shelter and take a moment to ring out my sodden hair. My fringe lies plastered to my forehead and every now and then a bead of water will break free and roll under my glasses, stinging my eyes. I glance absentmindedly around, surprised that the flimsy looking construction hasn’t been swept along in the current’s wake. Water pours through every available gap, hiding the concrete path in a layer of brown liquid. A loud creak issues from one side of the shelter and sensing it might be wise to move, I brace myself and head back into the flood. As I push determinedly up the submerged road my fingers are gripped tightly around a small waterproof bag. Inside lies my prized possession. My Nikon D40. Streams of snot trickle from my red and irritated nose. My legs are starting to ache from the relenting flow of water but still I struggle on. I spot a railing on my left and make a beeline for it, using my last reserve of strength and energy to power me on. I reach it just in time as a stronger wave picks up. The bus shelter I previously inhabited makes a loud groan and breaks apart, its three sides separating. Gripping onto the railing with a deathlike grip, I utilize my free hand and fumble hastily for my camera. By the time I have managed to wrestle my camera out of its bag and raise it to my eye, the shelter has drifted out of sight. Cursing I go to return it to the bag when I notice something in the water up ahead. I wipe at my glasses frantically, trying to improve my already poor vision. The mysterious dark shape floats nearer and my eyes widen in surprise as I register its identity. Its a person. I pull myself up the pavement, using the railing as support, desperate to catch a glimpse of the stranger’s face. I recognize it with a sharp intake of breath, the bottom of my stomach feeling like it has fallen out. Drifting towards me, bobbing unconsciously up and down in the freezing waters is none other then Bono. To my surprise it isn’t fear or concern for the man that fills my body but instead a deep hatred. I hate Bono with his pompous self righteous attitude and false image. We get it man, you give a lot to charity. Well done you. This immediate reaction is replaced quickly with a sudden guilt. A man, famous or not is in mortal peril and all I can think about is how overrated U2 are as a band. Even as I say this though I am reaching for my camera. What an image this would make and its not like the bus shelter, I actually have enough time to take it. I raise the camera to my eye and lift my finger, ready to catch the image. But I can’t. My finger hovers shakily over the button. If I take the shot Bono could be pulled under by the current or became impaled on the side of a car or a tree. Maybe if I take the shot quickly and then jump to his aid. No. There isn’t enough time for both and he is getting closer now. Resignedly, I force myself to lower the camera and trundle towards the approaching Bono. My foot snags on something under the water and I stagger forwards on to my knees. Seeing an opportunity to exploit my weakness, the current rushes against me and before I know it I am being dragged along in the fast flowing stream. As I am sucked under the surface, my lungs fill with water. I splutter and cough, flailing wildly with my arms and legs. The panic abates for a moment and my head is suddenly clear. The last thought that crosses my mind is that I am drowning and I would have survived if I had just taken that photo.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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 Waiting Room

I shift uncomfortably in the hard backed, plastic chair and glance at the clock on the wall anxiously. The waiting room is stifling hot and I wipe at my sweaty forehead with the back of my already damp sleeve. My eyes dart around the room, searching for something, anything to distract me from the never-ending boredom of waiting for my turn. The room is near empty with only a few other occupants to keep me company. The occasional awkward cough momentarily breaks the prolonged silence. One of the occupants flicks through a gardening magazine, his face stuck in a permanent expression of non-interest. An extremely overweight man sits opposite me, wheezing heavily. I run my eye over the rolls of fat that constitutes the man’s neck, wondering if it is just air escaping from the gaps in the bulging layers of skin. He stares at me with large, dead eyes and I shift my gaze away hurriedly, a sharp shiver coursing through my spine. The remaining visitor, an elderly man with a walking stick is huddled in a chair by the door, his head bowed low and his eyes shut. His mouth hangs open limply and I begin to grow worried that the elderly gentleman may have passed away in his sleep. The door to the waiting room opens and a extremely slender man, wearing dark blue scrubs, unfurls himself out of the doorframe. He glances around the room with a cold, penetrating stare. I shrink back into the chair, trying to make myself as small as possible, in order to avoid detection. My pitiful attempt to escape selection fails and the dark eyes latch on to me. The willowy man’s thin lips curl into a wide arching grin, making the hairs on my arms stand to attention. With a thin bony finger he beckons me towards him and I swallow hard, forcing myself out of the chair on trembling legs. The intense stare still lingers in the dentist’s black eyes and I feel myself inevitably drawn over to him, like a lamb to the slaughter. He swivels on the spot and strides through the door, his back straight and his arms pressed tight against his side. Just as I am leaving the room, a hand shoots out, grabbing me roughly by the arm. I glance to my right and recoil in surprise. The elderly man stares up at me, his face a mask of pain. His pupils are alarmingly diluted and the nails of his fingers dig deep into my sleeve, pinching my skin. I wrench my arm free and the elderly man opens his mouth and howls loudly, like a wounded animal. I shudder as I peer inside his mouth. The majority of the man’s teeth are missing and the few left are smashed, chipped and deformed. His gums are black and rotting and feeling repulsed I hurry through the open door, trying to shake the horrid memory from my mind.

The dentist opens another door and leads me into a room with an operating chair in the middle and an accompanying steel table with an assortment of painful looking tools. The dentist’s immaculately polished loafers echo across the linoleum floor. The hollow sound reverberates around the room, reinforcing the dread rising within me. With one of his skeleton arms he motions for me to get into the seat. Every fibre of my body wants to turn and flee but I remain frozen to the spot, too petrified to move. I feel hands curl around my arms and glancing to my left and right, I find two nurses standing either side of me, surgical masks covering the lower part of their faces. Their grip is surprisingly strong, considering they are both short, petite women. I flail and thrash about wildly as they force me over to the chair. The one on my left slackens her grip slightly and I seize the opportunity and deliver a swift elbow to the woman’s face. To my surprise she doesn’t release her grip or stagger backwards from the force. In fact the nurse doesn’t even register the blow. I am pushed roughly into the chair and my blood runs cold as I spot a set of straps, attached to the chair’s armrests. Kicking and yelling, the straps are forced around my wrists. The nurses move down to my legs and repeat the action. When I am completely strapped down, the nurses position an overhead light above me and switch it on. The bright intensity of the light hits in me full on in the face, instantly causing blindness. The pain shoots through my temples. Eventually the harshness of the light lessens and I see the gaunt, skeletal face of the dentist towering above me. Clutched in his bony hand is a small electrical drill. His finger slides over the button and the high-powered whir of the drill fills the room. As he leans in towards me, I can glimpse my own terrified reflection in the dark, coal pits of the dentist’s eyes. His mouth spreads in a wide arc and he lets out a cold, shrill laugh. I thrash about wildly, twisting my head from side to side, in a desperate attempt to escape the rotating shard of metal. All of a sudden, a pair of icy hands grab either side of my face. Looking up I spot one of the petite nurses from earlier. She stares down at me with the same charcoal black eyes as the dentist. My attempts to tear myself free from her grip are fruitless and I am taken aback at her strength. The other nurse appears by her side and claws open my mouth with her long fingers. A metal clamp is thrust between my lips, preventing me from closing my mouth. My cheeks feel extremely stretched, on the point of tearing. Helpless, I watch on in abject horror as the dentist moves in close and guides the drill towards the bottom row of my teeth. There is a ear wrenching crunch as the high powered drill enters into a tooth. I let out a bone-chilling scream, my eyes bulging from their sockets. The dentist pushes on, a mischievous grin plastered across his face. The drill powers through, cracking the tooth in two. A shard of broken tooth flies out, flecking the dentist’s cheek. He ignores it and pushes on, through the remaining chunk of tooth and straight into the gum. Blood spurts onto the dentist’s face and splatters down his uniform. I gargle as the remaining blood clogs up my throat. My whole jaw feels as if it is on the verge of exploding and my temples are almost ready to burst. The last thing I see before my world turns black is the mad dentist laughing manically above me, his clothes and face drenched in crimson blood.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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 Installation

I weave my way between the glamorously dressed guests, their fake laughter and mocking smiles making my stomach churn. A bead of sweat slithers down the nape of my neck and disappears under the hem of my collar. I glance around at the small groups of men and women, discussing the various canvases mounted on the cream white walls. Their perfectly neat white teeth and all too clean fingernails, clasped around bubbling glasses of champagne reflect the blank whiteness of the walls they stand before. The illusion of perfection disgusts me and I push on, eager to escape the airless environment that surrounds me. A slender man with floppy hair and a turtleneck is chatting loudly with two elegant older women. He beckons me over excitedly and the two women regard me with hungry eyes. I avoid eye contact and dart to the left, disappearing behind a long wall of paintings. He shouts after me and I speed up, trying to distance myself from his pitiful cries. With my crumpled suit, stubbly face and long hair, I feel out dressed and out of place. People turn and stare at me with morbid curiosity, as if I am an exotic yet dangerous animal one would find at a zoo. The tie around my neck feels tight, the creeping hands of claustrophobia choking the oxygen from my closing throat. The hum of chitchat, the clink of the champagne glasses and the nauseatingly repetitive music plague my already throbbing head and I burst through the toilet door, on the verge of exploding.

I yank my tie down, unbutton the top of my shirt and stagger to the nearest sink. I vomit heavily into the bowl and reel back, gasping for air. My legs buckle slightly and I slide down to the bathroom floor, resting my head against the cool tiles of the sink unit. Although there is a terrible taste lingering in my mouth, the large empty bathroom eases my anxiety and the tightness in my chest alleviates. I close my eyes and soak in the silence of the room. When I feel recovered enough I force myself up onto my feet. I am still slightly dizzy so I wash my face and hands in one of the other sinks. All I want to do is stay in the serene, isolated bathroom but I know I have to go outside and mingle with the infuriately dull company. So gritting my teeth, I straighten my tie, flatten down my suit and leave the bathroom.

A deathly silence greets me on the other side of the door. I look around puzzled, expecting to find the bourgeoisie art lovers indulging in conversation and alcohol. However to my surprise I discover the room to be devoid of any sounds. Everyone has their backs to me and as I cautiously move further into the large studio, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck begin to prickle. No one is moving. They are glued to the spot, some of them with their glasses of champagne raised in the air, permanently frozen in time. My heart throbs loudly in my chest as I move towards a small group of people nearby. I swallow hard and move around to face them. A silent scream traps in my throat and I stumble backwards into a painting, knocking it to the floor. To my utmost terror I find that the people standing in front of me have no faces. All of their features are missing: Their eyes, noses, mouths, eyebrows and ears. In its place resides a blank piece of flesh. My eyes drop to their hands and I shudder. The fingernails, knuckles and palm lines are all absent. Not believing my eyes I move to another group and investigate. I am met with the same results, blank canvases, each and every one of them. Starting to panic, I dash from group to group, trying to find a face among the featureless. In a desperate attempt to restore normality I rush over to the turtleneck man and grabbing him by the shoulders, spin him round. His body feels stiff and heavy, like a corpse that has undergone rigor mortis. Another blank face presents itself. I extend my shaking hands towards the fleshly patch of skin and touch it tentatively in trembling fingers. It feels soft and clammy and it throbs ever so slightly against my fingers. I recoil in fear and clasp my hands to my chest protectively. Although he is immobile, the skin itself feels as if it is breathing. I shiver, imaging there to be some semblance of the man still trapped inside, conscious but unable to see, hear, smell or move. I move towards the glass doors of the building, wanting to escape the horrid nightmare that surrounds me. I reach for the handle and freeze as I catch sight of my reflection. I raise my hands to my face and prod the empty flesh of skin. I go to scream but the lack of a mouth prevents me from doing so. I stare in abject horror at my faceless reflection, trapped forever in an empty vessel.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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 Tunnel

Billy cycles like mad through the dark underpass, the large wheels of his bike spraying up water as he slices through puddles. Behind him, he can hear raised voices. A moment later, two kids speed into the tunnel entrance, whooping and yelling. Billy glances over his shoulder and feels a silent scream rise within his throat. They are gaining steadily on him, their legs pumping the pedals energetically. Billy looks in front of him and can see the tunnel exit drawing steadily closer. He pushes onwards, desperate to make it out of the tight confines of the tunnel walls and into the bright, afternoon sunlight. A sudden concern floods his mind. He peers behind him a second time. The two older boys shout out to him, the one in front ringing his bicycle bell playfully. Billy starts to panic. Where is Alistair? The ringleader of the gang. As if in answer to his question, a shadow appears in the tunnel exit, blocking out some of the intruding sunlight. One of Billy’s tires skids over a slippery patch of ice on the ground and he loses control of the bike. Alistair’s laughter echoes through the dark tunnel, as Billy crashes to the floor and cries out in pain. The next thing Billy knows, he has been hoisted off his feet and pinned against the wall.

‘Let go off me.’ Billy protests and flails and twists under the tight grip of Alistair’s cronies.

‘Keep him still.’ Alistair commands and produces a flick-knife from his leather jacket.

Billy’s eyes widen and a small whimper escapes his lips. The older boys cackle devilishly, seeing the poor creature struggle desperately.

‘Teach him a lesson A.’ One of the bullies sneers.

Alistair mimes wet shaving his 5 ‘o’clock shadow and then moves in close to Bill, his flick knife pushing gently into the tender skin beneath Billy’s left eye. A small trickle of blood trickles down the blade as it pierces Billy’s cheek.

‘Hey.’ A voice calls, making them look round.

A bearded tramp staggers down the tunnel towards them, a skinny greyhound padding along beside him.

‘Get lost old man.’ Alistair says stubbornly, stepping back from Billy and waving his knife around.

‘You don’t scare me you little shit.’ The tramp hisses through yellow stained teeth.

Spittle flies from the tramp’s mouth and lands on Alistair’s brand new Docs.

The bully pinning down Billy slackens his grip, momentarily stunned by the old tramp’s stubbornness. Billy seizes his window of opportunity and knees Alistair hard in the groin. Alistair crumples to the floor, clutching his crotch and letting out a howl. Billy slips out of the bullies grip and darts towards the tunnel exit. The old tramp croaks with laughter and one of the bullies covers his nose with a hand, overwhelmed by the tramp’s pungent aroma. Billy darts hastily down the tunnel, longing for freedom. His cheek is hot and throbs dully, as shooting pains run up and down his right leg from where he fell.

‘Deal with the damn hobo.’ Alistair gasps, pulling himself to his feet with the aid of the tunnel wall.

His face is bright red, his temple veins bulging and his eyes burn fiercely. His two cronies glance at one another, slightly worried by their ringleader’s demonic expression. Alistair scoops up the flick knife and hobbles towards the tunnel exit. The skeletal greyhound growls and bares it teeth, as the two bullies turn to face the old tramp.

 

Billy jogs down a chocolate brick footpath that runs alongside a wide, fast flowing river. It is a frosty morning and the surrounding landscape is covered in a thin sheet of treacherous ice. Billy had emerged from the doomed tunnel in a fluster and made quick progress up the hill and onto the river path. Bad weather conditions had intervened however and he was forced to slow down in order to not loose his footing on the slippery cobbles underfoot. He felt a tad guilty for leaving the poor tramp alone in the tunnel to fend for himself but it was too late now. If he turned around now he would be met with the snarling form of Alistair limping after him, one hand still clutched to his groin. A droplet of blood splashes onto Billy’s shoe and he touches his cheek tentatively. Pulling his hand away, he is surprised at the amount of blood from such a small nip.

‘I’m gonna kill you, you little brat.’ Alistair roars from behind.

Billy panics and speeds up. Bad idea. His foot gives way on a patch of hidden, black ice and Billy’s arms shoot out as he scrambles to remain upright. Luckily he manages to stay on his feet but presses on at a slower rate, more cautious about his footing. A few seconds later, Billy hears a loud yelp and he stops and turns around. Alistair, blinded by fury had attempted to gain on Billy by speeding up. Unfortunately due to his ignorance, he had stormed straight over the same spot of black ice and lost his footing. Billy watches on, mouth agape as Alistair skids towards the edge of the path and slides underneath the gap in the railings. He scrambles frantically at the path and railing but to avail. They are too icy and slip from his grip. There is a loud splash as Alistair disappears beneath the water. Billy moves carefully to the railing and peers over into the dark waters. For a few seconds the waters are still and Billy fears the worse. Then all of a sudden Alistair’s head appears. He claws at the air around him but the current is too strong and pulls him along like a rag doll. He catches sight of Billy and cries out for help. His call is cut off halfway through, as he smacks into a large rock. He rolls over on to his front and lays still. Billy stares at the rushing waters with a horrified expression. The sound of approaching footsteps makes him glance round and to his surprise, he recognizes the old tramp with his dog. As the two pass the tramp flashes him a toothless grin. Billy looks back at the water and feels his mouth curve into a slight smile.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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 Roof

I stand outside the lift to my flat, my hands dug deep into my jumper pockets to abate the evening chill. I exhale deeply and the oxygen spirals from my lips in a frosty stream. I stamp my feet to keep the blood circulating in my toes. The panel at the top of the lift is still stuck on the number three and I jab the button impatiently, growing tired of waiting. A noise behind me makes me start and I spin round to investigate. It is pitch black on the other side of the road. The only lamp post stationed there is still out of order. I squint into the thick wall of darkness and feel the hairs on the nape of my neck prickle. Underneath the lamp post I can just discern the outline of a tall figure. I swallow hard and turn back to the face the lift. As if mocking me the lift remains stuck on the third floor, adamantly refusing to come down. I stab the button repeatedly, willing the metal machine to respond. Over my shoulder I can hear the sound of footsteps on gravel and realize with a sense of impending doom that the shrouded figure is crossing the road towards me. I bang on the heavy metal doors, pleading for it’s consent but the lift remains unresponsive. The footsteps are getting steadily nearer, the crunch of gravel amplified. The realization that the lift has abandoned me to my fate hits me suddenly and I dash to the left, making a run for the stairs.

I bound up the concrete stairs two at a time, like a startled hare. I can hear the dreaded presence behind, it’s footsteps slapping hastily after me. By the time I reach the fourth floor my lungs are straining with the effort and my legs are screaming out in angry protest. But I push on, far more afraid of the cloaked terror hot on my heels. Two levels later I finally reach my floor and dart along the balcony to my door. As I frantically produce my keys I can hear the loud footfalls and heavy breaths of my pursuer gaining on me. In my frenzied haste I fumble my keys in my shaking hands and they fall to the ground with a loud jingle. I don’t have enough time for a second attempt so instead I dart to the other end of the balcony and mount the opposite stairwell. I hear the keys clanking as the night demon’s boot knocks them aside and force myself onwards.

By the time I reach the final level, my lungs are about to burst and my legs feel like jelly. A door at the top of the step leads to the roof and I let out a yell and charge at it, fearing it to be locked. Luckily it isn’t and I stumble out the door onto the wide, empty rooftop. Cold air hits me hard in the face, knocking what little breath out of my lungs. The sense of tightness and claustrophobia that had descended upon me in the stairwell has momentarily been lifted but I soon feel the panic grip my chest again as the predator’s footsteps echo up the stairwell. I walk backwards from the door, unable to tear my gaze away from the rusted door and what ever waits behind it. My heel catches on something and I nearly topple back. I hold out my arms, managing to steady myself. I slowly swivel round and take a sharp intake of breath. I am standing at the edge of the rooftop. The roof’s lip had been the only thing stopping me from walking right off the building. My stomach flips as I glance down at the sheer drop. A strong wind whips up and I feel myself sway as it buffets against me. The footsteps behind me have died out and a tremendous fear takes hold of me, as I know the terrible creature is standing right behind me. I force myself to turn and face the nightmare. My mouth falls open in astonishment as I discover that I am staring at myself. I go to speak but no words escape my lips, my mouth opening and closing silently. The other me smiles and shoves me hard in the chest. I fall back from the ledge and plummet to the ground. The wind rushes past me, and as I hit the concrete ground I stare into my eyes, staring coldly from the roof. They are the last thing I see.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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 Nest

‘Have it!’ I yell and punt the tattered football towards the goal.

Rich dives for the ball, his arms outstretched. It brushes past his fingertips and he crashes to the ground.

‘Goal.’ I roar triumphantly and pull my t-shirt over my head.

As I jog around the garden in my victory dance the ball thuds into my ribcage, knocking the air from my lungs. I collapse to the ground with a grunt and lay still. I can hear my brother laughing goofily. I spring to my feet despite my tender ribs and pull down my shirt, glaring angrily at Rich.

‘You’re in for it now Rich.’ I growl and scoop up the ball in my hands.

I dart after him, jumping over a pile of jumpers that serve as one of the goal posts. Gaining on him, I deliver a swift kick, aiming for the back of his head. To my dismay, I overpower the shot and the ball soars over the fence.

‘Ow.’ I whine, as Rich dead arms me.

‘Nice one dillbert.’ he sniggers.

‘It wasn’t my fault.’

‘You kicked it over.’

‘Yeah but only cos you hit me.’ I moan.

Rich crosses his arms and jerks his head at the fence.

‘No.’ I shout defiantly and turning on my heels, head towards the house.

Rich follows and wrestles me to the ground. I scream and thrash wildly beneath, trying to buck him off. He is a lot bigger then me and weighs considerably more. After several agonizing minutes of having my face shoved in the dirt, I finally relent. Bruised and muddied, Rich pulls me to my feet and slaps me hard on the back.

‘Come on, I’ll give you a leg up.’

I spit grass and dirt from my mouth and reluctantly move over to the fence with Rich. He intertwines his fingers and nods.

Rich heaves me up with surprising force and I nearly topple right over the fence into the next-door garden. I grab desperately on to the top of the fence and manage to perch upon it. The ball sits on a patch of grass, a few feet away from a huge nest of leaves and twigs.

I am just about to jump down, when I notice a bony hand emerge from underneath the pile and reach for the slightly deflated ball. I feel a scream rise within me but when I part my lips all that escapes are my fevered rasps of breath. The skeletal hand closes around the ball and drags it inside the auburn den.

‘Hurry up.’ Rich calls and shakes the fence impatiently.

I clutch onto the fence for dear life, nails digging into the painted wood and hiss at Rich like a feral cat. He grins devilishly and wanders away into the garden. I glance behind me. The den is silent. I seize my window of opportunity and attempt to lower myself back into the garden.

‘Uh, uh, uh.’ Rich says, returning with a long branch.

Damn. Too late. The stick is thrust up in my direction and I try to bat it away, nearly losing my balance in the process. It catches me painfully in the side and I howl. Rich laughs and goes in for a second jab.

‘Okay.’ I cry, giving in.

Rich smirks triumphantly and crosses his arms again. A sinking feeling grips me, as I lower myself cautiously into the garden. I drop the last few feet and land nimbly on my toes, holding my breath for any signs of movement. Nothing. I wait patiently, my heart beating loud in my chest, my breathing irregular.

A loud bang behind me sends me scrabbling across the ground. I spin round and realize that it’s just Rich hammering against the fence with his stick. I curse him silently under my breath and unfurl my clenched fists, pulling away handfuls of grass. I pull myself to my feet and eye the large nest in front of me anxiously. Some of the larger branches have been bent and tied together to form a makeshift canopy.

I approach slowly, feeling the fear well up inside of me. A tattered piece of cloth hangs from a section of the canopy, serving as a door. A twig crunches underfoot and I freeze on the spot. A pair of dark eyes loom out of the darkness and watch me from one of the gaps.

Overwhelmed with fear, I turn and bolt towards the fence. I can hear shuffling and rustling behind me and push on, refusing to glance behind. The mud clings to my legs, sucking me down. I push onwards, desperately trying to wrench myself free from the sinking ground. In my haste to escape, I trip on a half hidden twig and smack my head on the edge of the brick wall lining the bottom of the fence. My vision is swamped by a murky grey and then everything turns black.

I wake to the sound of rustling and shuffling. I open my eyes slowly, afraid of what I might find. Thin slits of bright light shine down on me from above. As my vision slowly returns to me, something soft brushes my cheek and I hold it up in front of me. It is a small, brown leaf. I glance up again and realize that the roof above is made of an assortment of twigs and leaves. I hear that rustling noise again and pull myself up into a seated position. A sharp pain shoots through my head and I cradle it in my hands.

‘Here take this?’

I feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickle and look up slowly, my heart thumping loudly in my ribcage. An elderly woman peers back at me in the half-light. She has a wild tangle of grey hair that is littered with dirt and leaves. Her skin is wrinkled and shriveled and covered in what appears to be flour. Her clothes are torn and ragged, her feet bare and caked with dry mud. Her bony fingers are clasped round a dripping flannel that she offers to me in an outstretched hand.

I swallow hard, realizing that it is the same hand that crept out from under the bush. My eyes hover on hers for a moment and I scuttle hurriedly back into one corner. They are the same eyes that were watching me in the garden.

‘Don’t worry.’ She croaks. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

‘Where am I?’ I ask in a panicked tone, looking round at the unfamiliar surroundings.

I am sitting in one corner of what appears to be a large den. The ceilings and walls are a canopy of leaves and branches and the floor hard ground. The leaves of which have been swept into a small pile. Occupying the den are an assortment of different odds and ends, ranging from a frayed armchair to an empty birdcage. The elderly woman forces a smile in an attempt to put me at ease but it just comes across a creepy.

Not knowing what to do, I smile back nervously. She thrusts the soaked flannel at me and lifts her hand to her head, motioning for me to do the same. I look down at the flannel. It is grimy and oily but I dab at my head, not wanting to upset her. It is cool and soothes my aching head.

‘Better?’ She asks with a concerned expression.

I nod mutely.

‘Do you live here?’

‘Yes.’ She replies, glancing around the den with a great fondness.

‘It’s nice.’ I lie.

Her eyes narrow and she says nothing. The silence is unbearable and I feel my throat begin to close up.

‘Why thank you. That’s very kind.’ She eventually says, her expression morphing into one of delight.

I breathe out, relieved at my close shave.

‘Would you like some tea?’ she asks, her face brightening up at the prospect.

‘No…thank you.’ I stammer.

She wrings her long, murky coloured dress in her hands, a pained expression on her face.

‘On second thought. Some tea would be nice.’ I say and force a smile.

‘Wonderful.’ she exclaims excitedly and begins pottering about in one corner of the den.

I feel that things may be alright as long as I don’t do anything to upset her. She seems friendly enough on the surface but there seems to a darker presence lurking beneath. One that when angered could prove dangerous.

A loud clatter brings me back to the present and I glance over at the old woman. She stands in front of an unstable looking bookcase, pulling odds and ends from the shelves, that she flings to the floor, muttering to herself as she goes. The small frayed armchair, its covers warped by rainwater, sits a few feet away. I crawl over to it and dump myself in the seat. It’s damp and smells of mould but my muscles comply, happy at a soft alternative to the hard, rough ground.

The elderly woman cackles in delight, as she discovers what she is looking for. A rusty, old teapot. A shopping trolley catches my attention and I look at it intrigued. It’s filled with assorted bric and brac, containing such gems as a half bent trumpet and an orange traffic cone. As I gaze at the various different items I suddenly spot my deflated football and I am just about to go and retrieve it, when the elderly woman returns.

She carries a silver tray in her shaking hands, laden with the rusty teapot, two teacups, a mini milk jug and a sugar bowl. They bounce and wobble across the tray as she shuffles forwards, threatening to topple over the edge. Upon seeing me sitting in the armchair she lets out a loud yelp and drops the tray, the tea set spilling over the floor with a loud crash. I flinch expecting hot water and milk to cover the ground but realize the jug and pot are empty.

‘Get out of his chair.’ She screams, clutching her hair in clenched fists.

I scrabble out of the chair and return to my spot on the floor, holding out my hands, palms upwards.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.’ I splutter.

The elderly woman moves over to the chair and smooths over the seat, removing any trace of my previous occupation.

‘Only Robin sits there.’ She mutters in a low voice.

I glance at the empty birdcage.

‘Is Robin your bird?’ I coax.

‘What?’

The words slip out of her mouth like a whisper, a vacant look in her eyes.

‘Robin, your bird?’

Her eyes drift to the cage and she runs her slender fingers across the metal bars.

‘Yes I suppose he was.’ She says with a slight frown.

‘What happened to him?’ I ask, already knowing the answer.

She turns towards me, her eyes dark pits of coal.

I swallow, tensing myself in case I need to run.

‘How about some tea?’ She announces all of a sudden, the cloud passing.

I nod silently, at a lost for words.

The elderly woman drops to her knees and begins gathering up the scattered china. When everything has been meticulously replaced, she picks up the teapot and mimics pouring hot tea into the cup.

‘Milk?’ she queries, holding up the empty milk jug.

‘Yep.’ I say, tight lipped, staring in disbelief as she pours the imaginary milk into one of the chipped teacups.

She hums a tune to herself as she goes. I am getting really worried now. The elderly woman is beginning to frighten me. I climb steadily to my feet and clasp my hands together anxiously.

‘On second thought. I really must be going.’

She looks up suddenly, as I inch slowly towards the canopy door.

‘You can’t go. You have only just arrived.’

‘I…know but I need to get home for my dinner.’

The elderly woman climbs to her feet and moves in front of me, cutting off my escape route.

‘No. You must stay.’ she demands, growing angry.

I rush over and grab the empty birdcage.

‘No.’ she screams, horrified.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a flash of red and looking down, I notice a dead Robin lying on the bottom of the cage. My stomach flips, at the sight of the limp creature.

‘Let me pass and I will give it back.’ I order, my arms wrapped around the birdcage.

She mulls over this proposal and for a second, I fear that she is going to lunge forward and try to wrestle it free. But to my relief she consents and moves away from the doorway. I cautiously sidestep past her, keeping my eyes locked on hers. I reach the door and place the birdcage on the ground. She goes to move forwards.

‘Wait.’ I instruct.

She obediently listens and waits patiently. Seizing my window of opportunity, I turn and flee. I scramble over the fence into my garden and dart towards the house. I reach the patio doors and scurry inside. I turn and peer through the glass slit of the door, expecting to see the elderly woman climbing over the fence after me. But she is nowhere to be seen. I let out a deep sigh of relief and collapse to the conservatory floor.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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.