Coldwater Cottage – 17: The Promise

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16


Coldwater Cottage“I’ve seen your memories. Now I’ve shown you one of mine.”

Part of Ian’s mind refused to believe it, but the knowledge of how little air he had left was more powerful. It didn’t matter whether the voice was real or not, only whether it could get him out of here.

“Look up.”

Ian looked up and saw a rectangle of grey light that could only be the front door and was Ian’s whole life as soon as he saw it. All he had to do was kick his fins and he’d be in the light with nothing between him and the surface.

“Do you understand who I am?”

It didn’t matter who the voice was. Nothing mattered but light and air, but Ian found himself hesitating.

“Don’t you remember the promise you made to Jack? Over and over?”

That wasn’t fair, Ian screamed at himself. To bring up the one thing that would hold him here.

“She believed you, so she made it true. She kept something of you with her.”

Ian thought again about how similar the voice sounded to his own.

“She kept believing you till she was sixteen. It took that long to realise she was depending on a shadow of you. So she left to build another shadow out of Mum.”

Ian couldn’t help but phrase his thought as a question. You’re the shadow of me that she built? That makes no sense.

“You’re in the sea. How can you hope to understand it when you don’t understand your own sister. Now go to her before you join me.”

Ian flicked his fins and wondered how he was going to explain the voice to Jakki, or even to himself once the reality had become a memory.

“You’ll manage. You’ve banged your head and maybe got a touch of narcosis. Your conscious mind didn’t know how to get you out, so it gave up and let your instincts take over. You’ll half believe it by the time you get to the surface.”

Surface. Light. Air. Life. The ideas flooded Ian’s mind, and with it came another thought. He hadn’t seen Dad, so where was he?

“He was in the garage when the cliff collapsed. Now get the hell out of here.”

Next week: Coldwater Cottage concludes with The Ascent


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

Tyburn Tree

TyburnTree

(diamond geezer [CC / Flickr])

Dark, late, rain.

Bad combination.

If Emilia hadn’t been dwelling on the combination as she dashed across Hyde Park, she wouldn’t have turned left instead of right at the Marble Arch exit. But her feet ached from shoes that weren’t designed for high-speed progress across royal parks and half her mind was on the painstaking – not to mention expensive – work of the hairdresser that would be reduced to a bedraggled tangle by the time she arrived. She was standing at the end of the Edgware Road before she realised.

Bayswater Road was deserted, as though even the usual taxis and buses had gone home in disgust with the weather. She took the chance to scurry across, so she’d at least be on the right side when she backtracked to Oxford Street.

The wail of a horn announced that the road wasn’t as deserted as she thought. She bounded on to the traffic island, her heel tipping her on to her hands and knees. Swearing at the receding tail lights didn’t solve anything, but it was all she could do for now so why the hell not?

When she paused for breath, she felt grass rather than paving stones beneath her hands, which was strange because grass wouldn’t have made her palms sting like this. What it would do was cover the knees of her trouser suit in mud, so she let rip with another torrent of language she very rarely used.

It was just after she ran out of words that she heard the creak. She looked up, seeing three wooden posts in the gloom in front of her. She could barely see them, which was strange because Bayswater Road had to be one of the best lit streets in London. The orange light was still there, but it had faded as if all the lights were running at a fraction of their power.

Or as though they were much further away than from across the road.

She stood up carefully, relieved to find she hadn’t twisted her ankle. In front of her, the three posts reached up to where they were joined at the top, by horizontal beams forming a triangle. Each beam suspended a large bundle that hung just above the ground.

Forgetting for a moment that she was late, she stepped closer. Surely these bundles weren’t what they looked like. It was no more than a trick of the anaemic light.

She stepped to one side, to where the light allowed her to see slightly better. She wanted to pretend that she wasn’t looking at a woman’s face. Even more, she wanted to pretend that the rope suspending her from the beams wasn’t around her neck.

The light was poor, she told herself. She could be mistaken.

A stronger light flickered across the hanged woman, leaving Emilia no space for doubt. The light was of a similar orange tone to the streetlights, but it was stronger and getting more so.

Emilia spun around to face a flame advancing on her. She wanted to back away, but then she’d back into the hanging woman and her feet refused to let her do that. As she watched, a figure in a dark cloak resolved behind the flame. The flame wasn’t floating in the air, she saw, it was a lantern that the cloaked figure was holding before it.

“Heard you shouting.” A man’s voice shouted from behind the lantern. “Was you calling the watch?”

“What?” Emilia wiped rain from her eyes. “Who are you?”

The man held the lantern closer.

“What’re you doing here?” he shouted. “Go back to where you came from!”

“I…”

She stepped back before she knew she was doing it. She whirled round, horrified at how close she was to the corpse.

There was nothing behind her.

She turned back to the cloaked man. The traffic island was bathed in sodium light, but there was no one else standing on it. A bus droned past on its way toward Oxford Street.

Where Emilia was supposed to be.

“I’m late,” she said as she followed it.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Coldwater Cottage – 16: The Light

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15


Coldwater CottageThe voice was silent, and Ian began to think the hallucination had passed. He felt sick when he wondered how long he’d spent debating with himself. He had to concentrate. He had to get out of here.

“You really think I’m a hallucination, don’t you?”

Ian groaned without opening his mouth. There was something hypnotic about the voice, something that commanded Ian’s full attention.

“Close your left hand.”

Ian stared at nothing, unsure whether his eyes were open or closed.

“I said close your left hand.”

Ian’s fingers closed on something flat and solid. It was about the size of his palm. He ran his thumb along the back of it to feel the pin of the brooch. How had it got into his hand?

He must have blinked because suddenly the room was lit before him, but something was wrong. The mattress was on the camp bed, and there was a sleeping bag thrown over it. The door opened and a girl sidled in. Ian recognised Jack, but she was older than when he’d left, perhaps thirteen or fourteen. She turned and whispered to him. “Where’s Dad now, Ian?”

Dad must be out of the house, or she’d never dare to come in here. Jack nodded as though it was a reassuring answer and opened a cupboard. She pulled out the silver jewelry box and lingered over Mum’s picture. She opened it and held the brooch up to the window. Ian’s throat was tight with fear for her. He couldn’t bear to think what might happen if Dad found her. He could almost see Dad trudging back to the house after a search through a dozen empty rabbit traps, and silently begged her to get out of the room. Jack looked up as though she heard him and replaced the brooch in the box. She closed the box with a precision that told Ian that she’d done the same thing many times before and knew how to get away with it. She closed the cupboard, left the room and closed the door without making a sound.

The room faded to darkness. Ian was sitting in the dark, waiting for his air to run out.

Next week: The Promise


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

The Unexpected

TheUnexpected

(Tom Waterhouse [CC / Flickr])

“Something a tad unexpected happened to me on the way to the office,” I said.

“Unexpected?” Sandra’s eyes were wide. “Your sleeve’s hanging off your suit, your toes are poking out of your shoe and you’re meeting the clients in ten minutes.”

My secretary has a knack for summarising a situation.

“Yes,” I said. “Well, the clients were expected so I didn’t mean them.”

Sandra rolled her eyes. “Give me your shoe. And your jacket.”

I had the shoe off before it occurred to me to ask why.

“Because I keep a tube of superglue in my desk,” she said. “And because if you get fired, I’ll end up working for Gordon Wanderhands down the corridor. So give me your jacket, and you’d better retie your tie while I’m at it.”

“Right-ho,” I said. “Who’s Gordon Wanderhands? Surely you mean Gordon Watson – oh, is that his nickname?”

“You didn’t hear it from me,” said Sandra who was bent over my wounded shoe.

“Why d’you call him that?” I asked.

She looked up. “Tellme again how you were made a partner.”

I thought about it.

“Unexpectedly,” I said.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Coldwater Cottage – 15: The Past

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14


Coldwater Cottage“I gave you every warning, and still you had to go straight for the box. It’s hers.”

The hiss and roar of his breathing told Ian that he was still alive, but he knew he wouldn’t be for much longer. He was hallucinating when his life depended on clear thinking.

“Like I said, I warned you.”

The voice sounded exactly like his own. He railed silently for it to shut up.

“I’ll shut up when I want to shut up. This is my house now.”

Ian felt his arms wrap themselves around his knees. He thought of Jakki adrift in the boat, waiting for him to come back up. What if no one saw her and called the coastguard? She’d never be able to steer the boat back to land. He was abandoning her for a second time. The thought sank into his stomach like a lead weight.

“What’s that?”

A torrent of memories surged through Ian’s mind. Of him and Jack clinging to each other while Dad raged through the living room. Of the trust in her face when he said he’d never leave her. Of the day he broke his promise and walked for miles to the nearest town, only to get collared stealing a Mars bar from a newsagent. Memories of the image of her that he’d conjured up to give him the courage to keep his mouth shut when the social services asked where he’d come from, convinced they’d send him back to Dad if they knew. Then the years of foster homes and college as he trained as a social worker, to help people like himself and Jack only to find that every lost soul was a poor substitute for the one he’d left behind.

“It’s you?”

He ignored the voice this time, as his memories brought him back to Jakki, alone in the boat above him.

“She’s up there?”

Yes damn it, she’s up there, Ian thought. Happy now?

Next week: The Light


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

London Rain

LondonRain

(Su-May [CC / Flickr])

Jim was lost.

That’s a problem with London suburbs: there’s so much of them that no matter how well you think you know your way around, it only takes one wrong turn and you stumble into one of the gaps in your knowledge.

Jim stared around him, looking for something familiar and wondering how he got here. He backtracked, hoping it would take him back to the familiar street he’d been on a few minutes ago.

Five minutes later, he was still lost. He must have turned right when he thought he’d turned left. Or left when he thought he’d turned right.

It had to happen on the day he’d forgotten to charge his phone, and when he’d finally persuaded Millie from the office to meet him for a drink. He quelled a vision of her sitting in the pub they’d agreed, checking her watch every half minute until she left in disgust.

He walked straight ahead. If he kept going in a straight line, he’d come to something he recognised soon enough.

At least it wasn’t raining.

He regretted the thought immediately, because it started to rain. He quickened his pace as the first drops darkened his jacket. Millie wouldn’t be impressed if he turned up looking half-drowned as well as late.

The first drops turned into a deluge, closing his view of the street ahead to the next couple of hundred metres. He pulled his jacket up around his head and ran, splashing through puddles forming beneath his feet. Rain ran into his eyes, blurring the view of even the small bubble of London the rain allowed him to see.

A red circle with a blue bar swam into view in front of him.

An Undergound station.

Sanctuary.

There were three tube stations within a couple of minutes’ walk from where Millie would be waiting, and all he needed to get there was a wave of his oyster card. Better than a magic carpet.

The ticket hall was deserted. The tiles gleamed as if no one had walked on them since their last polish. The wet footprints he left on them made him feel he was trespassing, but the gates swung open readily enough.

The escalators shone like the tiles and they weren’t moving, so he walked down. He stepped off into a corridor that branched right and left to the platforms. It was the same layout he’d seen in more stations than he could count, but there had always been a schematic on the wall he was now facing, which would tell him which line he was on and where the trains went from either side. Instead, he faced pristine cream tiles with no sign of having had a hole drilled into them to support the sign.

Perhaps he’d blundered into a brand new station that wasn’t yet in use.

Before the thought took hold, a rumble of sliding doors made him look to his right. A train stood at the platform, which was strange as he hadn’t heard it come in while he’d been descending to the platform level.

Without knowing which line he was on, a train was better than an empty platform. If it was going the wrong way, he could change at the next station.

He boarded a carriage in which someone was sitting in every seat but no one was standing between them. He looked around to see that all the men were wearing dinner jackets and all the women were wearing ballgowns. He must have jumped into the middle of an outing to the opera or a wedding party. Or something.

Every head turned toward him.

He was suddenly very aware of the rain dripping from his jacket and the mud splashed up his trousers.

Every mouth split into a grin.

Jim tried to smile back. If they were going to laugh at him, he could be a sport about it.

As one, every passenger leapt to their feet.

Jim was looking in the opposite direction to the first handclap so he didn’t know who started it, but then every passenger was beating their hands together, filling the carriage with a thunder of applause so loud it almost drowned the sound of the rumble of sliding doors behind him.

He whirled around and dashed for them, but they closed before he could leave.

He wondered if Millie would still be waiting for him, but she’d probably given up and gone home already.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Coldwater Cottage – 14: The Dark

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13


Coldwater CottageThe flashlight went out.

That was odd; he’d charged the battery and the bulb was fairly new. There was no need to panic, there was a light on his buoyancy jacket. Not as powerful as the flashlight, but it would give him enough light to get out of here. There was no need to panic. The fingers of his left hand closed, and Ian knew he had dropped the box. His right hand found the large switch on the spare light, which had been thoughtfully designed so Ian could find it in the dark while wearing gloves. He felt the switch click. Nothing. He jerked the switch back and forth but the light was dead. He felt the check of the regulator as his breathing threatened to accelerate out of control.

Calm down, he told himself. Think. There should be a faint light from the window, but Ian’s eyes were still too used to the flashlight to make it out. Not that he could get through the window with the tank on his back. That left the door he had so carefully closed, which was behind him and to his right. Or was it to his left? If he could find the wall behind him, he could grope for the handle. He flicked a fin. His co-ordination betrayed him and his shoulder bumped the wall — or was it the floor or ceiling? — against his shoulder. He was disorientated, and now he’d have to search the whole room. He angled the backlit face of his dive computer toward his air gauge. It gave him just enough light to see the needle. Seventy bars wasn’t much to get out of this room, get out of the house and ascend twenty meters slowly enough to avoid the bends, but it was possible if he kept his breathing under control and didn’t panic.

The dive computer went out.

“Can’t you take a hint?”

Ian froze and pressed his hand to the ache in his head. The voice had sounded as though it came from inside his skull, as if he’d spoken himself.

Next week: The Past


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

Tell it to the Birds

TellItToTheBirds

(DJ Cockburn [CC / Flickr])

Do you think a man who talks to a bird is bonkers?

You cock your head on one side, so I know you’re listening. But what are you thinking?

Don’t answer that.

Not that you can, being a robin. That’s rather the point. Last time I needed to tell a secret, I told a magpie. Not that I was looking for a magpie in particular; he just happened to be there.

I’d been carrying the secret for so long that I felt I’d burst if I didn’t tell someone, but you can’t tell someone a secret, can you? That’s the point of the secret. When that magpie landed on the tree I was sitting under, it looked like the perfect solution. If I told him the secret, I’d let it out and keep it at the same time.

How was I supposed to know magpies can talk?

Next thing I know, he was flapping around the park, squawking, “Ray loves Carla, Ray loves Carla.” Some of the local kids thought it was hilarious. They took to chanting “Ray loves Carla” in magpie voices all the way to school. Yesterday, I saw it graffitied on a bus stop.

So that’s not the secret I need to tell you. It’s no secret anymore, thanks to that snitching magpie.

You see, my feathered friend, it didn’t end there. It was embarrassing enough when Carla heard about it, but then that husband of hers managed to find out. Stan, his name is. Big bloke. Not too bright.

He cornered me on this very bench and demanded to know why that magpie was going around telling everyone I’m in love with his missus. Most mortifying conversation I’ve ever had. It’s not as if I was going to run off with her, was it? I hadn’t even told her. It was my secret until that magpie told everyone about it.

You understand that, don’t you Cock Robin? I’m not some homebreaker. I’m just a man who fell for the wrong woman. Not that Birdbrain Stan could grasp that.

No, don’t go, I apologise. Calling Stan a birdbrain would insult the dullest bird, let alone your fine self. My deepest apologies. Please stay…thank you, you’re very gracious.

Stan had got it into his thick head that a talking bird must be some sort of divine warning. He said he might not have thought much of it if he’d heard it in the pub, but when he heard it from a bird…let’s just say it was all I could do to talk him out of punching me. He’s a nasty sort. Nowhere near good enough for Carla. Not that anyone is, least of all me.

Stan said his piece and lumbered off, dragging his knuckles on the ground. He thought he’d made his point, but then he doesn’t know me very well. I might not be able to persuade Carla she’s wasting herself on a Neanderthal, but I know Stan’s weakness and all I needed to take my revenge was a basket full of Tesco chicken.

You may have seen Stan wandering around looking like he’s lost his shadow and shouting, ‘Fluffy!’ Serves him right for giving her such a stupid name. His cat is perfectly comfortable, sleeping off all that chicken on my sofa…

Whither flutter thee, Sir Redbreast? Did I say something you didn’t like the sound of?

Posted in Uncategorized

Caresaway Discount on Kindle

CaresawayThe Kindle edition of Caresaway is down to 99c this week, or whatever Amazon decides that is in your local currency. If you’d like to read a novelette about what happens when a psychopath reaches a position of great power, it’s the read for you. I promise you that it’s fiction – at least, as far as I know.

Grab it here!

If you like it, or even if you don’t, I’ll always appreciate a review on its Amazon page, on Goodreads and / or anywhere else you’d like to post it.

Many thanks to Melanie Nelson at Annorlunda Books for publishing it and pushing it out there.

Preview

Author notes

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Publishing news

Coldwater Cottage – 13: The Box

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Coldwater CottageThe tools of Dad’s obsession were strewn across the floor. A compass, a gas stove, a few shotgun cartridges. All that was left of a lifelong quest to become a man he could never have been. The beam caught the etched sides of a silver box that did not belong in Dad’s macho dream. Ian flinched when he saw he hadn’t been mistaken. It was a jewellery box. He shoved the handle of the flashlight into his buoyancy jacket and picked it up. He turned it around, and the glare of the flashlight faded from a glass cover over a miniature photograph. He hadn’t seen that face since he was six years old, but his mother’s smile stabbed through him like a knife. His eyes stung as he searched for a memory of her smiling like that. It didn’t come. Her smiles had been rare and fearful, smuggled beneath the radar of Dad’s disapproval of everything from coddled children, to living in Didcot and working in a department store.

Dad must have brought the box with him after she died in the car crash. All that time he’d forbidden him and Jack to mention her, and Ian had thought Dad had erased every trace of her from his life. He had thought Mum’s death had been a dream come true for Dad, as he’d been able to buy Coldwater Cottage cheaply and play at self-sufficiency between trips to buy booze. Yet what was this box if not proof that he’d never escaped from the memory of her? Proof that he had loved her even if he’d never known how to show it? Ian’s eyes stung, and not from sea salt. Dad, you bastard!

The catch on the box was tiny and it took Ian several attempts to get it open. There wasn’t much inside. A pair of pearl ear-rings, a gold necklace, and pinned to the velvet under the lid, a silver brooch in the shape of a Celtic cross.

Next week: The Dark


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized
Follow Cockburn's Eclectics on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 455 other followers

Goodreads