Making a Packet

Emma’s fingers curled around the mug of coffee, her knuckles white despite its heat. The Ikea kitchen clock hanging on the wall opposite ticked loudly, almost accusingly. She raised the mug to her lips and sipped. The pain of the hot liquid on her mouth was a welcome distraction from the knot in her stomach.

The door opened and her daughter, Hannah, flew into the room, all hair and gadgetry. She saw Emma’s face and froze.

“Sit down,” said Emma, quietly.

“Why, what’s–”

Do. It.” The words were like gunshots.

Hannah dropped her school bag and sat at the scrubbed pine table, her posture alert.

“Would you like to tell me,” said her mother, “what this is?” She picked a small, plastic packet full of something fluffy and green up from the table, and held it between finger and thumb.

“Oh, crap.” Her daughter’s face instantly dropped two shades paler. “Look, Mum, it’s not what it looks like, I swear!”

“Really? Because it looks like I found skunk in your bedroom, Hannah. I can’t believe how many times I’ve talked to you about this sort of thing!”

“I know, I know, Mum! But, honestly, it’s not mine!”

Emma snorted and raised her eyebrows.

“It’s not! I swear! I took it for N–, um, a friend. Look, you know that trip I went on today? To the power station? For physics?”

“What on earth has that got to do with anything?”

“They’re taking the whole year group, only they split us in half, on separate days, so’s it wouldn’t be too many at once. My friend’s group went yesterday, but, like, in form time their tutor told everyone that the security guys might search them.” She gulped a breath.

“Are you telling me, Hannah, that one of your friends had cannabis at school?

“Um, yeah, but, like, not to use.

“That’s all right then,” said Emma, dripping acid. “I’ve half a mind to call the Head.”

“Nononononono! No, Mum, don’t do that!”

Emma shook her head despairingly. Of course she would never do such a thing. That would be madness. She sighed. “And where do you come into this?”

“Well, she couldn’t leave it in her locker ‘cos she shares it with someone else and she could hardly leave it lying around and she didn’t dare risk it so…”

“She asked you to look after it, and you said yes? Hannah, what were you thinking?” Emma’s voice became momentarily shrill. She coughed and took a deep breath.

“I know I know I know, I’m sorry, Mum, I know it was stupid. But she was stuck and I felt sorry for her and it was only meant to be until the end of the school day.”

“What if a teacher had found this?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t. I put it at the bottom of my bag. They can’t go in my bag without your permission. Um, I think.”

Emma put her face in her hands. “I’m reassured by your in-depth knowledge of school policy. So why did I find this in your bedroom?

“Yeah, well, her coach was delayed on the way back so I missed her, and I was going on the trip today so, so, yeah, I hid it in my pillowcase.”

Emma picked up the plastic packet again and waved it at her daughter like a referee with a red card. “Hannah, this is a class B drug. It’s illegal to possess it! I do not want to see the police at the door.”

“It’s just cannabis, Mum, they just give you a fine–”

“That is not the point!”

“Well they–”

“Hannah!”

Her daughter stopped talking, chewed her bottom lip and looked at Emma. For a long moment they stared at each other. She had grey eyes. Exactly like her father’s.

“Do you understand what a stupid risk this was?” asked Emma, eventually.

“Yeah.”

“You’re grounded for a week. And I changed the wi-fi passcode,” said Emma, expecting protest. Given a choice between losing a toe and losing internet access, she would not be at all surprised to find her daughter removing her sock and shoe.

“Okay.”

Emma’s eyes widened.

“I’ll go and put my bag upstairs,” said Hannah, meekly.

“You haven’t got a router up there I don’t know about, have you?”

“No, Mum.”

“You’d better not have. Tidy up while you’re up there, it’s a pigsty.”

“Yes, Mum.”

After her daughter had left the kitchen, Emma stared at the packet again. Even through the sealed plastic she thought she could smell the distinctive, green scent. She took a mouthful of her coffee, letting the now-cooler liquid sit on her tongue for a moment, and considered.

The sun was sinking by the time Emma reached the house, its light painting the whitewashed walls in shades of red and gold. She stood on the pavement and looked up at the building. The house was detached, with a neat driveway bordered by carefully-tended delphiniums and hostas. Its back garden overlooked some fields. Quiet, but not too far from a train station. A decent school nearby. House prices rising steadily. A good investment, she’d thought. But then the first lot of tenants had trashed the place. Thousands, it had cost.

She rummaged in her Radley handbag. Lips pressed together, she strode up the front path and slid the key she was holding into the lock.

Emma waited for her breathing to slow again after climbing the two flights of stairs to the large, converted attic. She pushed open the door. The air inside was thick with scent, catching in her throat.

She closed the door firmly behind her.

“Oh, hello, Mrs Davison! I wasn’t expecting you today, was I?” asked Jas, turning towards the sound. His crisp vowels and polite tone contrasted oddly with his ripped jeans and greasy hair.

“I thought I’d drop by,” replied Emma, curtly.

“Ah, well, everything’s fine, as you can see. Should have a new batch ready to go by Thursday.” He sounded calm. “Is there something you particularly wanted?”

“Yes, Jas.” Emma’s eyes scanned the rows and shelves of plants lit by purple light. She forced herself to take a deep breath of the pungent air, trying to relax the knot which persisted in her gut, a thrill of fear twisted up tight with strands of guilt.

Emma reached into her handbag again. “I want to know how my sixteen year-old daughter came to have a packet of my own product hidden in her bedroom.”


Author’s notes

Another thriller-type story, with a twist. It perhaps has the feeling of the start of something, rather than a complete work, but I think it just about stands on its own.

© Kat Day 2017

The Silvery Spoon

Detective Inspector Lisa Anderson stared at the iPad she’d been handed, then pinched to zoom in on the image.

“It’s a spoon,” she said, eventually.

“Not just a spoon, Guv,” said Detective Constable Ben DeSouza, adopting a pretentious tone, “it’s an ‘insight into the inconsistency of our future via the medium of a replica of a mundane object.’”

“It’s a spoon, Des.”

“Yeah,” he conceded, “but it’s a spoon worth over a million quid. It’s an original Junion.”

Lisa whistled. She considered her surroundings. The house was Edwardian, spacious, but not enormous. Round here it would be worth a fair bit, but hardly millions. The furnishings were tasteful, neither super-modern nor antiques. The parquet floor was probably original. Smells of leather and polish drifted in the overheated air – yesterday’d been the hottest day so far this year. There were a few framed photographs on the wall, but none of the usual detritus that accompanied a family. In short, this was the home of a retired, single man who was well-off, but probably not hugely wealthy.

Everything seemed to be in place, apart from a Perspex box lying on the floor below a shelf containing a small, but conspicuously empty, white plinth.

“I’m thinking Mr Ekal isn’t a millionaire art collector. So how’d he end up with a piece by Daniel Junion?”

“He was given it a few years ago by the artist, he says. Knew him before he was famous. Family friend, apparently.”

“Some people get all the luck, eh?”

“Yeah, until he got robbed, I suppose.”

“True. What happened yesterday?”

Des looked at his notes. “Mr Ekal left yesterday afternoon at 1pm. Locked everything, set the alarm. Spent the evening with friends. Came back 2am, found the back door lock smashed, spoon missing. Nothing else touched.”

“Did the alarm go off?”

“No. But logs show it was definitely set.”

“What about the cleaner?”

Des frowned. “What cleaner?”

“This place smells of polish. Maybe Mr Ekal is a lover of lemon Pledge, but I think it’s worth checking.”

“Good point. Will do.”

Lisa lowered her voice. “Is it likely he took it himself?”

“Maybe,” murmured Des, “thing is, he was massively under-insured. Says he hadn’t realised how valuable this thing’d become.”

“How much?”

“He’ll be lucky to get a hundredth of its value.”

“Ten grand is still a decent chunk of money, especially if he’s still got the damn thing to sell on.”

“Don’t reckon that’d be easy, guv, Junion’s pretty famous. Something like this up for sale would be hard to keep quiet. And if Ekal really wanted to get rid of it, why not just sell it publically? From what I can make out, he’d easily get seven figures at auction, especially with some publicity. Why go to all this trouble for a measly ten grand?”

Lisa drummed her fingers on the iPad’s screen. She had to admit, if it was an insurance scam it wasn’t the smartest she’d ever seen. “Anyone hear anything last night?” she asked.

“Nothing from the neighbours. And before you ask, the only fingerprints are Ekal’s.”

“Damn. Looks professional.” But, she mused, why would a pro silently disable the house alarm yet clumsily smash a lock?

Lisa stepped towards the plinth on the wall. It was a small, slender cylinder with “Number 31” etched onto one side. A hairline crack split the letters. The top surface was slightly concave. She looked again at the image on the iPad, which showed the elaborate, bluish-silver spoon balanced vertically in the dip, handle upwards.

“No crack here. When was this photo taken?”

“He said two days ago. A friend wanted to see it.”

“Follow up that ‘friend’.”

“Already on my list.”

“Why Number 31?”

Des shrugged. “That’s what the sculpture’s called. It’s an arty name, I suppose.”

“How does it stay upright? I can’t see any wires.”

“There’s a spike on the rounded bit at the bottom. It sticks in here.” Des pointed. Standing on tiptoes, Lisa peered and saw the small, dark hole.

“Why,” she muttered, half to herself, “would you leave the plinth?”

#

Mum? You never listen to me!” complained Lisa’s daughter, Ella, as Lisa opened the front door of their home.

“Hm? Sorry, I was… never mind. What did you say?”

“I said, can I go round to Ruby’s tonight?”

“How much homework have you got?”

“Nothing, honestly.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow.

Ella scowled. “I’ve got a bit of chemistry to finish. It’ll only take ten minutes.”

Lisa’s eyebrow remained raised.

“All right! History. And art, but I’ve got another week to do that.”

“You can go when you’ve finished chemistry and history. And don’t leave the art until the last minute.”

“I won’t, Mum.”

“You say that, but last…” Lisa stopped, staring at one of the books Ella had just opened on the kitchen table. “Why’s this bit a different colour?” she asked, pointing.

“Oh, yeah, Mrs McCastra told us this story. It was, like, quite interesting. I coloured that in as she was talking,” Ella shrugged.

“Really? Tell me.”

#

“I think,” said Lisa, that you know exactly where the spoon, or should I say Number 31, is, Mr Ekal.” She picked up the plinth. It was heavy in her hands.

Mr Ekal ran his hand across his balding head. “I don’t, I told–”

The cylinder hit the wooden floor with a crunch. “Oops,” said Lisa, “butterfingers.”

“How dare you! I’ll sue, I–”

Lisa prized apart the plaster to reveal a lump of silvery metal. “Goodness me, what’s this?”

“I have no idea!”

Lisa gazed at him, letting silence fill the space. Mr Ekal’s left eyelid twitched.

“It’s the spoon, isn’t it?” she said eventually. “It was made of gallium metal, element 31. It melts at thirty degrees Celsius. It was very hot yesterday, it must’ve tipped over that with all the doors and windows closed.”

For a moment, it looked as though Mr Ekal was going to argue. But then he made a sound like a deflating balloon and slumped into a chair.

“We’ve spoken to Daniel Junion. He insists that he warned you.”

“He didn’t! Not properly! He… told me not to handle it. He said people used to make joke spoons out of gallium, because they melt in hot tea.”

Lisa smiled. It was the same story Ella had told her when she’d asked why the square for element 31 was coloured in pink in the periodic table in her chemistry book.

“He never said it would melt in a room,” continued Mr Ekal. “When I found it missing I thought it had been stolen.”

“But then you saw the plinth was cracked and… what? You picked it up and realised it was heavier?”

He nodded despondently. “I… panicked.”

“So you smashed the back door and reported a theft.”

“I wasn’t sure my insurance would pay out anything if I just admitted…” he tailed off. “Are you going to arrest me?”

She paused, “I should. This has been a serious waste of police time.”

“Oh.”

Lisa took pity on him. “But I think you’ve probably suffered enough, losing a million quid’s worth of spoon. Tell you what, though, I could murder a cup of tea.”


Author’s notes

This is my attempt at a mystery, and naturally I wanted to include a dash of chemistry. Poison seemed a little obvious, but I’ve always liked the story of the disappearing gallium spoons (I also wonder if perhaps this is the secret behind certain spoon-bending “psychics”?) Mr Ekal’s name, by the way, is a little nod to Mendeleev – the scientist who developed the periodic table. He predicted the existence of the as-yet undiscovered gallium, and named it eka-aluminium.

© Kat Day 2017

Out of the Doorway

supermarket-507295_960_720Jem let the heat of the shop wrap around her like a blanket. She stared at the rows of bright packets. Saliva filled her mouth.

“Have a nice evening!” The door swished as the customer left. Jem’s fingers caressed warm metal in the pocket of her jeans.

Coins. But not enough.

She headed for the door. Claws of cold air reached out to claim her as it opened.

“Did you forget something?”

Fingers gripped her arm, pulled her round.

Three packets of fig rolls fell from underneath her jacket, thudding softly as they landed, one after the other, on the linoleum.

“Cat got your tongue, eh? God, I’m so sick of you lot. Bloody freeloaders, think you can come here and just help yourself to everything.”

Jem kept her eyes down, letting the words wash over her head, like a wave. Hold your breath. Stay calm.

“I’m calling the police.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone.

“No,” she looked up. “Please.” Not that. “I’m– I’m sorry.” She looked up, pleading.

“Oh, so you speak English, eh? Well that’s something!” The shopkeeper peered at her. “Here, how old’re you?”

Jem didn’t answer. His mouth was hidden by a huge, ginger beard, but his eyes had a touch of kindness around the edges. She was short, and skinny, and it was a long time since her face had seen makeup. With luck…

“Oh for chrissakes. When’d you last eat?” He shook his head. “I’m too soft, that’s my problem. Here,” he picked up one of the packets and thrust it at her. “They’ll be damaged, anyway. Now get out of my shop.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Jem, blinking. She stepped into the night before he could change his mind.

#

“Haha, lookit this guy, Jem.” Her friend, Kev, rubbed his hands together, more out of habit than of any hope of generating warmth.

Jem squinted across the road where a bearded man was running, huffing and puffing. A yellow light blinked in the distance.

“E’s missed that cab,” said Kev. “He’ll be lucky now, this time of day.”

“Yeah,” muttered Jem, watching as the man leant against a lamppost and reached into his back pocket for his phone.

“What a muppet! Now he’s dropped his mobile!”

Instinct had her legs moving before her brain registered what was happening. The man was lying on the pavement by the time she got there.

“Shit, he’s had a heart attack. Kev, call an ambulance!” Jem thrust the dropped phone at Kev as she started chest compressions. A black chuckle bubbled up as she remembered her army instructor’s advice: ‘Use Another One Bites The Dust by Queen for the right rhythm. Keep it in your head, though.’

“Why’d you care? He’s probably a gonner. As if he’d give a fig for one of us.”

“JUST DO IT!”

She heard Kev mutter something, but then, a few seconds later, she also heard him say ‘ambulance’.

“He did give a fig,” she muttered, between presses.


Author’s notes

A story inspired by Aesop’s Fable of The Lion and the Mouse. It also seems appropriate, given current events, to remember the importance of a little compassion.

© Kat Day 2017

There’s a monster in my house

old-clockThere’s a monster in my house. I see its shadow flicker under the door. It smells of sweet, and must, and life. It trickles its detritus into corners and along shelves. Sometimes, as we eat our breakfast porridge, or walk on bright, autumn leaves, or drink hot, steaming tea it seems very far away. I think we are safe. But then I blink. Cherry blossom drifts like snow. The monster has been again. Tick. Tock.


Author’s notes
This is another piece of micro fiction written for Paragraph Planet. Entirely coincidentally, but rather aptly, it was featured on their website on my youngest child’s first birthday. There’s nothing like a first birthday to make you wonder where the last twelve months could possibly have gone!


© Kat Day 2016

Hidden

 

dinosaurWhen he looked, it wasn’t there.

The plastic hangers in Olly’s wardrobe squeaked along the metal rail as he pushed them back and forth.

He screwed up his nose. In amongst the usual smells of pinewood and clean laundry was something else. It reminded him of the greenhouse on a hot day, and honey, and dust.

‘Mum! MUM!’

She appeared in the doorway. ‘What’s the matter, Olly?’

‘I can’t find my red t-shirt!’

‘Oh,’ she touched her face, eyes darting upwards. ‘Isn’t it in the wardrobe?’

‘No!’

She chewed her lip. ‘I’ll look in the airing cupboard.’

He watched her head up the stairs to the top floor. He picked up his T-Rex and stomped it around his room for a few minutes, then followed.

‘No, I haven’t.’

Mum was talking on her phone. He sat down on the stairs just out of sight. His fingers caressed the bumpy surface of the small, plastic dinosaur.

‘He might’ve said something to Peter–’

Below, the front door clattered. Olly dropped the toy and hurtled down the one and a half flights of stairs to the hallway. ‘Dad! You’re home early!’

His father slipped his mobile into his pocket, then swept Olly into his arms. His breath was thick and sweet. ‘Where’s Mummy, sport?’

‘She’s upstairs, looking for my t-shirt.’

‘Okay, kiddo. Go and find that book we were reading yesterday. I’ll be down in a bit.’

He put his son back on his feet and started up the stairs.

Olly walked into the front room. He heard his mother say ‘Peter!’ and someone must’ve dropped something, because there was a thump. It probably wasn’t anything important though, because he didn’t hear anything else. Olly thought about the book. He was sure they’d left it on the coffee table.

But when he looked, it wasn’t there.


Author’s notes
This was written in response to a challenge to write a 300-word story that both started, and ended, with the words “when he looked, it wasn’t there”. I came up with the idea of a parent ‘putting something away’ while their child wasn’t there (as I was tidying some old bits of artwork ‘away’ in the bin) and then asked myself for a more dramatic reason for a child’s things to be packed away.


© Kat Day 2016

Two-faced

Quarry“You bloody idiot!”

I plucked at my sodden jeans and glared at the red BMW as it disappeared into the distance. Muddy water trickled into my wellington boot. Buster tipped his head to one side, gave me a doggy grin, and then shook himself.

“Get away!” I ordered. I frowned and looked up at the sky, where the sun had just emerged from bruised clouds. I rubbed at my thigh. The old wound ached when it was cold.

Buster gave me an expectant look. “Oh, all right,” I said. “I’ll dry. Come on, boy!”

We veered to the left, away from the road and into a narrow strip of trees. The smell of leaf mould filled my nostrils. I picked up a large, fallen branch and let the damp, coarse bark slap against my palm. The weight was comforting.

I didn’t throw it for Buster. It was too big, and anyway, you shouldn’t give dogs sticks.

The trees opened out to the edge of the quarry, the stepped rock of the opposite wall making me think of an amphitheatre. I imagined a violent battle in the bottom of the basin, where now a pool of calm, green-blue water sat. I could almost hear the cheers and smell the sweat and dust. I could almost taste coppery blood in the air. I held the branch high and let out a roar.

Buster gave me a puzzled look, then ran down the rocky path and cocked his leg against a sapling.

I followed him, scuffing my feet, kicking up dust and gravel.

Something caught my eye. I squatted, dug my fingers into the coarse dirt and yanked. I pushed the grime away from the surface of the small object with my thumbnail. A coin, made of dark metal, stamped with a horned figure on one side, a winged one on the reverse. Strange.

My thigh complained again at the squatting position. Self-defence, they said. I never actually touched her; she put a kitchen knife in my thigh. How is that fair?

I straightened up, leaning on the branch for support, and dropped the coin into my jacket pocket

#

            “Buster! Heel!” I hissed, looking through the trees towards the road. He trotted obediently to my side.

A woman in black, high-heeled shoes was talking loudly into a mobile phone while she stared at the front driver’s wheel of her car. A red BMW.

“It’s the car from earlier,” I murmured, grinning. “She must’ve got a flat on her way back.” My hand slipped into my pocket and found the coin I’d picked up.

I flipped it in my fingers. The surface felt oddly warm. My eyes drifted to the heavy branch in my other hand. I’d been leaning on it, like a staff.

Buster let out a soft wuff.

The woman stabbed at the screen of her phone and thrust it into her handbag, shaking her head.

I made a decision.

“Flat tyre?” I said, stepping into view. “Would you like some help?”


Author’s notes:

The challenge with this story was to stick to 500 words, and it is EXACTLY 500. So on that basis alone, I’m quite proud of it! I rather enjoyed the slightly sinister, thriller-like atmosphere, although it does feel more like a prologue than a full story (but come on, 500 words!) Hints of the supernatural crept in, too. I might pick this one up again some day…


© Kat Day 2016

Breaking the Ice

Ice skater

I sit on a moulded plastic chair, watching skaters on the ice. Some are slow and stumbling, others lean gracefully, crossing their boots over one another as they circle the rink. Laughter and squeals fill the chilly air.

The cold is making my left thigh ache.

And my knee. Which is odd, really, since it’s not there anymore.

A man wearing a red sweatshirt printed with the rink logo skates towards me and stops gracefully.

“Hi! I’m Lewis,” he says, extending his hand. His cold grip is firm yet gentle.

“Cassidy.” I smile and waggle my left foot, or rather, the prosthetic where my foot was. A white ice-skating boot is secured to the metal extruding from flesh-coloured plastic. “Everyone calls me Hopalong.”

His brow creases slightly. “You know,” I add, “after the guy in the films?” He nods and clomps onto the rubber floor, boots clumsy off the ice, and sits next to me as I babble about old cowboy movies. I’d rather chatter than risk the dreaded sympathy.

“We just have to wait for my colleague over there,” he gestures to the ice when I finally pause for breath. “So, what’s your aim for today?”

“Oh, you know, I miss the hospital,” I say with a sideways glance. “Figured if I break something I’d get to go back.”

He chuckles. “We’ll try and avoid that, if that’s ok. My boss doesn’t like it if we have to get the ambulance in. The paperwork’s a nuisance.”

“Shame,” I say with mock disappointment. “In that case, I suppose I’d just like to move on ice again. I played hockey as a kid.”

“Brilliant! We’ll get you whizzing about in no time.” He pauses and glances towards the rink. “What do you do when you’re not here?”

“I’m in the–” I stop, thinking of the sealed envelope sitting on the table at home. Why bother opening it? I know what’s inside.

“I used to be in the army,” I say.

“Ah. Is that how…?”

“Yes.”

“Here you go, Lewis!” calls another red-sweatshirted helper, pushing what looks like a bright yellow Zimmer frame towards us. It slides across the ice and bumps against the barrier.

“It looks a bit like the bottom of a Dalek,” I say, glad of the distraction. “Got a sink plunger?”

“Hah! Yes! Perhaps we’ll change your nickname to Davros, eh?” Lewis grins. “Right, put your gloves on. We don’t want to take any chances with your fingers!”

I do as I’m told, and he stands up and offers me his arm. I almost refuse the help out of habit. Then I remember not to be an idiot.

Thirty minutes later my session is over. I sit back down on the plastic seat, feeling exhilarated. Somehow the muscle memory was still there, even if some of the muscles weren’t.

My left thigh is still aching, but now it’s the pleasing burn of exertion.

And I still hear squeals and laughter, but now they’re in my head.


Author’s notes:

This is another general fiction story which was written in response to a challenge to write an ‘uplifting’ story that included some potentially sad elements. 


© Kat Day 2016