‘Dark’ short story to end 2022. Colin Devonshire
‘Wake up; what is the matter with you?’ Maxine left a cup of tea for Al, her husband. Al grunted and turned over.
‘What’s the matter with her?’ he said.
Thirty minutes later, Maxine stamped up the stairs, slamming the bedroom door back against the wall. ‘Asleep again? Get up, you lazy sod.’
She shook him awake.
‘What? Can’t you leave me alone?’
‘No, we have bills to pay, and you have a book to write,’ Maxine said as she pulled the duvet back and left a curled-up husband to face her fast-disappearing body. She clomped down the stairs. ‘Toast will be sitting here next to a hot cup of tea. Get down here and prepare yourself for work. I’m going out. See you later.’
The front door slammed.
‘Thank God,’ Al decided he needed a cuppa more than retrieving the bedding. So he slumped to the kitchen. Al played with the toast but enjoyed the tea. He went back upstairs to the third-bedroom come office to see his lonely Mac. He had not missed it. The supposed author sat and stared at it.
‘A shave and shower can wait until I open the laptop,’ he laughed at his feeble comment.
His mobile vibrated, and Maxine’s name appeared. He was in two minds to answer.
‘Yes, darling, I’m sitting here banging keys.’
‘Liar,’ she answered. ‘At least you are up.’
He read through what little he had drafted. ‘This will be a great story. But, I must get my ideas on paper, not swimming around in my head.’
He could picture the cover, a skinny little man holding a hunting knife and blood running up to his elbows. But, of course, the publisher would have different ideas. Then his phone disturbed his dream.
‘Hello, Mack. Yes, I’m rattling ahead. Oh, it’s about seventy of the eighty thousand words. How many did you want? Also, I have ideas for the cover. No, I see you have a designer for that. Yes, I can come to see you, oh, a few days. Is that okay?’
Al napped at his desk. Then, dreams battered him with death, snakeskin and unbearable pain. Finally, voices ordered him to finish the text. “Get that damn book printed”.
‘Hi, honey, I hear you are doing well with your novel,’ Maxine shouted as she arrived home.
‘Eh? Where did you hear that?’
‘I bumped into your publisher in the supermarket.’
‘Christ, I thought he had someone do his shopping for him.’
‘And you are meeting with him next week? That’s great, and I thought you were skiving all day,’ Maxine said.
They went to bed early that night. Maxine was in a frivolous mood. Al played along, but he had a lot of thinking to do. ‘How to get out of that meeting?’
Dreams hit hard at around 4 am. At 5 am, Al was hammering away at his keyboard.
‘My hero,’ called Maxine, ‘Shall I fetch you a coffee?’
She got no answer, and when she delivered a steaming mug, Al was head down; he didn’t even lift his head. Finally, his wife left him to it. She called ‘Cherio’ at 8.30 when she left for her office. Al was still banging away.
At 4 pm, the front door creaked open. Maxine was limping as she threw her holdall on the kitchen table. ‘Christ, why am I aching all over?’
She went upstairs, and Al was still at the keyboard, his head still glued to his Mac, unshaven and in his pyjamas.
‘Baby, have you been there all day? No shower, nothing? I’ll get some food for you.’
A plate of toast slid next to him. He didn’t react.
‘How about a “thank you?” You are not the only one working. And I think I may be coming down with flu.’
She was answered by his fingers moving across the keyboard.
Maxine drifted off, and sweating, she jarred herself awake at 8 pm. ‘Christ, what is the matter with me?’
She was close to tears as she rolled off the sofa. ‘Al, I need help,’ she shouted.
‘Did he hear? Maybe not if the door is shut, or he is sleeping after typing so hard for hours?’
She failed to stand. On her hands and knees, she climbed the stairs. The office door was wide open as she had left it. Al was picking at keys; his back was arched and bent forward.
‘Al!’ she screamed, ‘I need your help to get into bed.’
She lifted herself enough to flop onto her bed, then curled into a ball and cried as the aches hit all parts of her body. She couldn’t feel her toes or fingers, and the agony hit her joints. Al did not move.
Minutes or hours passed, she did not know, but she knew she needed medical help. She screamed louder than ever as she tapped her pockets to find her mobile. Maxine tapped the “mugger alert” button. The alarm caused movement at the laptop.
‘What the hell is all that noise?’ Al looked at the white skin of his wife’s face.
‘My God, are you alright?’ he asked.
He dashed to the bathroom for a glass of water.
‘Hey, I’m feeling better, just like that. The aches have eased. What did you give me?’ asked Maxine.
‘Nothing, only water.’
‘The pain has gone. How odd, I feel better already.’
They sat together for a few minutes, and then Maxine said, ‘You stink. I think it’s time you had a shower.’
He sniffed at his armpits, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ Then, he disappeared to the shower. Finally, Maxine felt well enough to prepare some food.
Al felt clean and fresh. He couldn’t resist a quick look at his manuscript. ‘The final chapter, this is where it all comes together.’ He opened the Mac and his book looked back at him. He couldn’t walk away without adding a sentence or two. Then, with a scream and smashed crockery from downstairs, he slammed the laptop and rushed to his wife.
‘What is it?’
‘It all came back, the pain, the aches the lot, now it is easing. How weird.’
‘Forget cooking. I want to get you to the surgery.’
Maxine explained to the doctor the problems she had suffered during the day.
‘I’ve run some tests, and nothing is wrong with you.’
Maxine went to the kitchen and finished preparing supper.
Al had to finish a paragraph, and he started another as Maxine’s coughing was loud enough to make him run. She was face down in a puddle of vomit. He turned her and gasped at the colour of her skin. Green and slimy, lizardlike, black and brown patches split the leafy feel to her cheeks. Al jumped back when he heard her croak, ‘Do you want to finish me or the novel?’
Next year I will publish 10 short ebooks!
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