Worst Xmas Ever by Ian Lewis Copestick

 Worst Xmas Ever


Surely this is going to be the
worst Xmas ever.
During both World Wars, and
the years of the depression
in-between, times were hard,
and then there was rationing.
But, although people didn’t have
much materially they could still
meet up for a drink and a song.
Voices lifted in unison, and singing in harmony can make things seem that little bit
better, or at least not quite so
bad. This is why we have folk
music.
The dirt poor families of the
rural areas gathering together
at night, with a guitar, or more
usually a  banjo, or fiddle, and
they would sing the old gospel
songs of ‘ better times a-comin’.
Then some started to write their
own songs, about their own lives,
Which has led to a great tradition,
one of the few traditions that has
been worth keeping.

But, no we are denied even that
fleeting pleasure.
Friends and families aren’t allowed
to meet, never mind mingle, and
laugh, or sing.
Or do anything.

Like I said, the worst Xmas ever

And The Bells Were Ringing Out by L A Sykes

And The Bells Were Ringing Out

L.A. Sykes

I thought she was trying to kiss me. Some mistletoe trick. Tilted my head away from hers and put my hand up between us.

She hadn’t been in long and had eyed me with something bordering on outright hostility in brief exchanges the previous day, so I was surprised at how quickly the Christmas spirit had worked its magic.

Obviously inappropriate relations between staff and patients were a no-no and as such I was trying to delicately disentangle us while trying to see the funny side. Happened to look at a group of other patients sat on the little bench watching the episode unfold and thought they’d be amused. Instead I saw their expressions were ones or either horror or incredulity. Slightly odd. As was the tightening grip. Around my neck. I reluctantly faced what I thought was my somewhat amorous acquaintance, instinctively leaned back to keep out of distance of puckered lips and chanced a glance. Teeth bared, raw hatred beaming from the screwed up eyes. This wasn’t kissing. She was trying to kill me.

This entire experience happened in some kind of slow motion in under five seconds. Prised her fingers from my throat as assistance came quickly from colleagues who had rounded the corner at my voice saying something like, “Please desist from assaulting staff.” What I wanted to shout was, “Stop strangling me, you whopper,” but you’ve got to keep professional, even while someone is attempting to murder you.

“He keeps calling me names, the bastard,” she said.

“Eh? I’ve not even met you proper yet, why would I call you names?” I said.

“Don’t take the piss, I’ve heard you all day.”

Derogatory hallucinations. Torturous affliction. In this instance, attributed to me.

I tried, “I think we’ve got off on the wrong foot. I’m here to help you.”

“Don’t come that game with me, I’ll bloody give you what for, you swine.”

The other staff led her to the clinic while she bellowed threats and expletives. The nurse in charge grinned as she said, “You’re a charmer aren’t you?”

“Fuck off. I’m just glad she didn’t have mistletoe after all. Talk about a femme fatale.”

She laughed. “Get a brew and a mince pie.”

Staffroom: strong tea and a bit of buffet food. One bite was all I managed before the bells rang out. Neither sleigh bells nor Christmas bells. Instead: the alarm bells.

The infirmary, the unit, Roy Wood from Wizzard blaring out the radio at full blast. Christmas bloody Eve.

Ran down the corridor to the electronic panel that indicated the ward below. Sprinted through the unit, bleeped myself out and clattered down the stairs, thinking please nobody hanging, nobody dead or dying or beaten to a pulp. If you’re prepared for the worst and anything less is a relief.

Doors wide open, a bank staff says, “Seclusion room.”

“Ta.”

The back end of a scuffle.

Someone says, “Take his arm off me.” We lay him down on his front on the padded bed. Well drilled staff extraction, dragging out the person in front of us backwards as we hastily exited the seclusion room, slammed shut the door and bolted it locked. The fella inside the room leaped up, going apeshit and kicking Holy Hell at the door from the inside. Me and the others, outside, catching our breath.

“You’d not make a sprinter,” the nursing assistant said with a grin.

“Six seconds it took me, you cheeky bastard. I counted.”

He laughed, wiped sweat off his forehead then came over all weary. Said, “What a bloody cock up this is.”

“Go on.”

“Well to cut a long story short, this fella,” he said, indicating with his thumb to the bloke knocking seven bells out of the woodwork, “thought his missus was cheating on him, having affairs like. She said he’s going bonkers, can’t convince him it’s in his head. Gets the GP involved, who gets the consultant psychiatrist who assesses him as delusional and brings him in here.

Been with us three months. We’ve worked with him, talked with him, tried him on numerous tablets, nothing working. He’s getting in a bad state, not eating properly and all the rest of it.

Anyway, the consultant decides we need some drastic action so he prescribes emergency ECT. Thinking hopefully we get a rapid response and he can have some Christmas dinner with his wife. So we give him something to keep him calm for the treatment and walk him up to the suite. In the meantime one of our staff has gone for a run round the flash on his break. You know the flash is a dogging hotspot. Well, he goes for a piss in the bushes and who does he see on a Christmas dogging sesh in the woods? Only this chap’s missus. Apparently she’s a regular. She’s just admitted on the blower. She had to, she’d been seen in action.”

“Bollocks.”

“Swear down. Our staff phones the ward to tell us, but obviously nobody is in the office. Meanwhile yon mon is having his frontal lobes zapped. Staff gets back, frantically explaining, we run up to ECT but it’s too late by then. Our patient is sat there chewing on dry toast.”

“Oh my God.”

“We bring him back down to the ward, and tactfully inform him of the situation. Needless to say, he went absolutely fucking ballistic.” He puffed his cheeks out and shook his head. “Can you watch him for five minutes while I nip for a quick fag.”

“Aye,” I said. That’s all I could manage. Aye.

It was important when secluding someone to ensure they could see a clock and another human through the reinforced glass panels so as not to go into sensory deprivation. Also you had to watch in case they fashioned a makeshift ligature from clothing, so I pulled up a chair and took a seat.

He came straight over and shouted, “Who are you?”

“I’m from upstairs, I’m just covering for a while.”

“Well these fucking crackpots have kidnapped me, drugged me up and run electric through my brain. Have you ever heard owt like it? I fucking told them she was messing about, I told them. Look what they’ve done! Telling me I’m delusional for months? They’re delusional. I’ll rip their fucking heads off,” he shouted.

I just nodded empathetically. What could you say to that?

Slade. Merry Christmas Everybody on the radio. Me, thinking: what the fuck is going on.

The Infirmary, the unit, Christmas bloody Eve.

Staff came to take over and another one let me out. We did the merry Christmases and the like and I went outside for a smoke myself.

Snow turning to slush.

Bewildered.

The consultant was sucking on a cig and pacing up and down under the canopy. From cocksure to a shivering wreck in three hours.

“These things happen, Doc,” I said.

“You think so?”

“It’s a funny old profession, psychiatry.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

He didn’t seem reassured and I couldn’t have given two fucks whether he was or not in all honesty. Saved by the emergency bleep. It was a little black pager type of thing then and the voice came over to instruct me to go to a ward the next shelter down. Dementia and alzheimer’s and other degenerative neurological conditions.

Flicked my cig and kicked up snow. Through the main doors, thinking please nobody hanging, nobody dead or dying or beaten to a bloody pulp. Very different environment from the acute, this. It needed folks with the patience of Saints and not a sinner amongst them, and that’s what they had.

Commotion at the top of the ward. A big bear of a bloke with a nursing assistant in a headlock. Was saying, “I’ve towd thee to keep out my bloody road.”

They were trying to change his trousers for clean ones and he was confused and disoriented, lashing out. Non-threatening body language, non-confrontational verbals, continual reassurances muttered every twenty seconds and they got him sorted. Clean clothes, fed, cared for. A very different type of work from the acute. Staff with the patience of Saints.

We swapped Merry Christmases and cliched jokes along the lines of, “Never mind three wise men, can’t seem to find one in this office,” and the odd flirt saying, “You playing Father Christmas, gracing us with your presence? You can empty your sack for me tonight if you want.” Banter and gallows humour flowed as fast as the non alcoholic wine. I said I’d let myself out and as I neared the exit I heard a nurse crying in the toilets.

Back on my unit. Had a good look for my assailant but couldn’t see her, thank fuck. Local church group choir were entertaining about fifteen patients in the dining area with carols.

Get handed the observation file to do my hour. Had to check certain people at specific intervals, assess their mental state. Three suicide risks, one intrusive behaviour due to hypomania, and the last one recently added to the list because her family couldn’t make it to visit given the long drive and the weather. She was the lady in the green dress, a shade of green similar to the light flaking paint on the corridor walls. Upset. Feeling abandoned. Little to no response to interactions or reassurance.

Did laps of the unit, eyes peeled, ten minute intervals. Playing along with the jollity and joviality with the patients on my route, festive cheer breaking up the usual routines of ward life. No incidents as I hand over the file to the next staff for their turn at the top of the hour. No respite as a congregation gathered at the far end harangue for smoke time. I take a walkie talkie and unclip the fire door as the folks file out with their fags out ready.

Lead them down the stairs to the courtyard with the high fence, no smoking rooms inside these days. Stand at the door lighting them up one at a time. The lady in the green dress, all done up and nowhere to go, preoccupied. Spark the lighter and she inhales but doesn’t go out. Instead she goes to my left. I light another one from the queue with my peripheral vision doing overtime. Split second. The hand with the cigarette drops from the mouth to the dress. Singe. Fuck. Snatch the fag and lash it on the floor. Press the ring of flaming green material with my palms and thankfully it stops the burn. A bit longer and the dress would have gone up like a fountain firework. She weeps softly as I speak into the walkie talkie and staff come running. I mime what she did and then do a talk mime and they nod and walk her back upstairs.

Christmas bloody eve.

The smokers are having a singsong and then they say they’ve got a surprise for us staff. I join them with a cig, not giving a fuck if they grass me up. Couldn’t care less, but they never did. “Go on, what’s this surprise then?”

“You’ll find out in a minute,” one says, and they laugh together.

They throw their stumps in the ashtray and go back inside then I lock up and follow them, flicking the door shut and reactivating the alarm.

Sat on the table at the top of the ward and saw what they’d done. They must have been out earlier in the day, those that were allowed, and had sneaked in a spread for us staff from them. Out they came out of the patient’s kitchen with plates of sandwiches and pasties and little cakes.

“Surprise!” One shouted. “Merry Christmas. We’ll look after you lot seeing as you look after us the rest of the year” shouted another. 

I could have bloody wept.

Radio on full blast. The Pogues. Fairy Tale Of New York.

No fairy tales here, in England, in the infirmary, on the unit, behind the locked doors, with the flaking paint on those walls.

Drug companies raking it in, folk like us giving what we could of the human factor, providing those intangibles that were more than just words, that seem to go missing when reducing life experience to neurotransmitters or whatever else, as best we could, on Christmas Eve.

Shift ending. Stood in the dining room near the nine foot tree the local gardening centre donated with my coat on, waiting for the handover to finish. Laughing at a funny story a patient is telling. Tired, maybe a bit emotional for many reasons, looking back. Lost in thought.

Footsteps.

“You’ll not call me a cunt again you swine.” I glimpse tinsel looped over my head and down past my eyes and round my neck as I try and place the voice. Then it dawns on me, my assailant is back with a vengeance.

Dragged backwards. Struggling with my balance. I grab the tree to keep me up. The entire thing topples towards me as I fall backwards. One set of fingers under the tinsel. The other activating my alarm, setting off the electric orchestra of emergency.

Patients shouting, “Ger off ‘im.”

“Towd you I’d get you, you bastard,” she says through a cackle.

More footsteps and another scuffle as the tinsel slackens. Me on the floor, with the Christmas tree on top of me. Baubles rolling all over.

Couldn’t help but laugh.

In the infirmary, on the ward, on Christmas Eve.

Radio blaring: …and the bells were ringing out…

The End

Bio L.A. Sykes is the author of the short story collection Noir Medley and the novellas The Hard Cold Shoulder and Benediction For A Thief (The Atherton Town Escapades).

War Words by Travis Richardson

War Words

We entered a toy store, wanting to buy presents for our children. It has been an awful year, and they’ve been troopers. Literally. Loading ammunition into magazines. Bringing provisions to the front lines. Treating the wounded and burying the dead. Only eight and five years old. Nobody should witness such horrors at those tender ages. With the shaky armistice in place, we held onto a naïve hope that maybe we could reassemble our lives back into some semblance of how things used to be. Walking on the streets again to buy presents without the fear of attacks seemed like a step in the right direction.

While the busy store had a Christmas tree against a wall, a large nativity scene dominated the center aisle. My wife, Grace, shuddered. I pulled her close.

“Take a breath,” I whispered. “It’ll be okay.”

A clerk turned, his one good eye giving us a suspicious once over. A patch covered the other one. Many of us carried our physical wounds on the surface, but we all had twisted physiological pain buried much deeper. Shrapnel in my shoulder limited the range of motion in my left arm. Grace lost her pinky. And all of that suffering and sacrifice for naught. We’d been on the losing side and had to make concessions. The same hostile feelings that tore our communities apart had not vanished overnight.

I gave the man a reassuring nod and ushered Grace into another aisle.

“This was a bad idea,” she whispered. “We aren’t ready for places like this. Not yet.”

“We need to get something for the children.”

Not only were our kids deserving, but buying gifts for children under 17 was required by law. By the 25th of December, all homes must display Christmas trees, stockings, and wrapped gifts. The victors had pushed for mandatory nativity or religious icons to be displayed, but the negotiators on our side held firm. Wanting to finish the war before Christmas, the other side finally relented.

I lingered by a basket full of plush animals and picked up two.

“Would Laura like a pink unicorn or a purple bunny?”

Grace looked at me with wide, exasperated eyes.  “She’s seen corpses. Built bombs. How can she…”

“It’s a return to innocence.”

She shook her head, her eyes glassy but incapable of any more tears. “There’s no going back.”

My heart ached. Grace, a former progressive who used to brim with hope, wanting to make the world a better place, had become a shadow of that woman.

I tossed the bunny back. Might as well go with fantasy. Reality was too bleak.

Next we needed to get Josh a present, and then get the hell out of here before Grace made a scene. No need to rankle the zealot shoppers with violence still simmering in their brains. Taking her hand, I turned the corner into a crowded aisle. Toy guns and knives lined the shelves.  

“Dear God,” Grace gasped.

Several customers turned our way. With crew cuts, coifed or bobbed hairdos, it was obvious they served for the other side. I pulled Grace away. Spotting a set of toy cars, I grabbed a pack and stood in line. People who tried to kill us a month ago surrounded us on all sides. And while we tried to murder them as well, we never fired the first shot. Nor the second or the third. I will argue until my dying day that all of the violence I inflicted on my fellow man was done in self-defense.

Keeping our heads down, Grace squeezed my hand tight. We’ll just check out and go home. Easy-peasy.

“Merry Christmas,” the woman at the checkout counter said. She wore an elf hat with a button that read, Remember the Reason for the Season. “Will that be all?”

Nodding, I pulled out cash from my wallet.

“You two have a boy and a girl?”

I nodded again. She made change.

“So glad y’all are gettin’ to celebrate with your children, especially after these rough past few years.”

“It’s been hard on them.”

She put the toys in a plastic bag and handed it to me, a big toothy smile across her cheeks. “Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.”

I took the bag, feeling hopeful. Maybe our two sides could reconcile in spite of everything. Before I could stop myself, the words “Happy Holidays” escaped my lips. 

That’s the phrase that cannot be spoken under the terms of the armistice. The punishable war words. According to the opposing side, the phrase “Happy Holidays” instigated the war. It denied Christmas and the birth of their savior. They felt attacked and responded with violence, dividing the citizenry into two camps: you either said “Merry Christmas” or you were the enemy.      

The woman’s cheery pink complexion drained to snowman white. Voices in the store hushed while “The First Noel” played in through the overhead speakers. The exit stood twenty feet away. I looked into Grace’s fear-widened eyes.

“Run!” I shouted.

I threw the bag of toys at the one-eyed clerk as we sprinted out the door.

A mob of Christmas veterans chased us down the street. Eventually we eluded them in alley, buried under a heap of garbage. Under the cloak of night we grabbed our kids and some provisions, and fled. I understand our apartment has been ransacked and search parties are hunting us with shoot-to-kill orders. We are currently hiding out in a bombed out elementary school. Our third hiding spot. The four of us huddle close under a blanket to keep warm not wanting to keep a fire burning longer than a few minutes. 

I’m not sure if we’ll live to see the new year.

“Daddy?” Laura asks.

“Yes?”

“What day is it?”

I look at my watch and sigh.

“It’s Christmas, isn’t it?”

I nod. She doesn’t say a word, but her shoulders drop as she stares at the bullet-pockmarked dry erase board.

Merry fucking Christmas.

Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. His collection of short stories, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED came out in 2018. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. His second novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, came out in 2014. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and All Due Respect. He used to edit the SINC/LA newsletter Ransom Notes and reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories at http://www.chekhovshorts.com. He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles. http://www.tsrichardson.com

The Christmas Miracle by Morgan Boyd

The Christmas Miracle

By Morgan Boyd  

It’s Christmas eve, and my wife thinks I’m out buying a necklace for her, and a Barbie doll for my daughter at Walmart, but the truth is I blew the last of our cash on crack. Everything was peachy keen before the pandemic.  My job afforded food, rent and amenities for my family, and crack for me, lots of crack. But once the plague hit, everybody stayed home, the economy tanked, and I lost my means to a steady income. 

I keep at it though. What else is there? I’ve got so many bills I can start a football team in Buffalo. Goddamn, I just need that one big payday, and bang: my family gets the Christmas they deserve instead of jack squat pissing down the stove pipe.

This is the one, I think, pulling my beater truck to the curb. Hustling up the walkway, I notice a security camera above the wreath laden door. Pulling my trucker hat down my forehead, I sprint up the house’s steps. I’m within inches of the package when the door swings open. Instinct throws me into hard reverse as a pile of a man appears on the porch.

“This ain’t the right house,” I say, practically jumping over my own ass to get back to my truck. 

People get their heads blown clean off for this type of shit. It’s open porch pirate season. Hell, I’m no great philosopher or nothing, but it seems to me that something’s horribly wrong with our society when folks like me become less valuable than the contents of a brown cardboard package.

Looking back as my truck leaves the safety of the curb, I cut off a cop car. Shit, I don’t have a license or insurance. I don’t even have a pink slip. It’s going to be a merry Christmas in the clink.

Popo’s lights flash, and I contemplate stomping the gas, but before I make an incredibly stupid decision, Hawaii Five-O swerves around me, and guns it through a red light. I breathe a sigh of relief, and agree with myself to check my drawers when safe to do so.

As the sun sets, the cold, bitter realization that this year’s Christmas ain’t happening for me and mine hits me like a freight train hits a snowflake. The pang of regret explodes inside me like ghost pepper hot sauce, but the rueful ache of failure quickly dissipates into indifference as a UPS truck scutters by me down a cross street.

Following at a distance, I see the delivery woman pull over, and leave a package on a darkened porch. Scurrying up the path, I liberate the box and quickly disappear into the silent night.

Behind a strip mall, I park and open the package: a Christmas miracle! a bracelet and a child’s doll. It’s not exactly what my wife wanted, nor is the toy name brand, but any port will do in a storm. And holy shit. I’m no theologian, but it’s damn hard not to believe in jolly old Saint Nick in an instance like this.

Best Christmas ever, I think, heading downtown to pawn the bracelet and doll for a crack rock.

Santa’s Helper by Bill Baber.

It was a job and a shitty one at that. Wasn’t going to do much more than pay the rent for the month and make a small dent in a growing mountain of bills. It sure as hell wasn’t going to buy presents for her two kids- it might not leave enough for a goddamn tree and lord knows her rotten prick of an ex wasn’t going to contribute anything.

She had hoped she might have landed a job at the cosmetics counter at Goodall’s Department Store. Or, if not that, maybe in lingerie. Even fitting fat woman with bras and helping horny husbands and boyfriends pick out red satin and white fir trimmed nighties to dress their women in on Christmas Eve would have been better than this.

It started with the outfit. A scratchy, too short green felt dress. A goofy red hat, red tights to match and some stupid looking things she wore on her feet that curled up at the ends. On top of that, they expected her to paint two bright red dots the size of a silver dollar on her cheeks.

She was supposed to be an elf, Santa’s helper. Santa was half in the bag most of the time and smelled like the crapper at O’Malley’s pub. On top of that, the fat bastard – she knew for a fact that he didn’t use any extra padding- goosed her every chance he got. She took the wee ones from their mothers and loaded them on the old goat’s lap. Then tried to coax a smile out of the poor things while some bored looking junkie took pictures.

It was a week before Christmas and, it was payday. The idea hit her like a lump of coal. Santa was especially frisky that evening. He had lewdly lunged at her breasts and slapped her rump twice.

The assistant manager handed them each an envelope at closing time-his obviously fatter than hers.

“So Santa, what do you say we grab a drink and then have a little fun?”

He fixed his pig eyes on her and grinned wickedly.

“Ho Ho Ho, let’s go!” he replied.

They stood at the bar at O’ Malley’s and the cheap bastard didn’t even buy her a drink. Instead, he kept trying to reach under her skirt. She wasn’t sure if she could go through with her plan. But it would mean a tree and the Nintendo game little Jake wanted and the Barbie Ferrari for Julie underneath it.

The lecherous sot was downing shots like water. She sipped a beer. After a while he said,

“Let’s go to my place.”

He got a pint of Black Bush to go.

His room was just a block or two away and looked like something out of a 40’s movie; single, un-shaded light bulb, a stained mattress with a couple of dirty old blankets and a hot plate. A yellowed blind was pulled down over the window, trash strewn around and a stink permeated the small room like meat gone bad.

As soon as he closed the door, he forcefully threw her on the bed and started groping. Her purse flew across the room. Put his mouth close to hers and tried to kiss her. His breath was like reindeer poop.

“Wait, wait Santa!” she pleaded, “I gotta pee and put my diaphragm in.”

With a grunt, he rolled off of her. Started peeling off his Santa costume. He had started to sweat and the stench was overpowering. She thought she would be sick.

She retrieved her purse and as Santa was tugging his black boots off she pulled a .38 revolver from her purse and shot him twice in the side of the head.

Grabbing the envelope with his pay and the unopened bottle of whiskey, she fled the apartment.

She stopped at Wal Mart and brought presents for her kids and two boxes of cheap ornaments along with a string of lights and some wrapping paper. After taking them home, she went back out and at a lot three blocks away bought the cheapest tree they had. When she returned, she poured a stiff drink from Santa’s bottle, wrapped the presents and decorated the tree. The look on the kids face the next morning made it almost worthwhile. She found it ironic that she had killed Santa Claus to provide Christmas for her children. But a girl had to do what a girl has to do sometimes. After a while, she was okay with what had happened.

No one was too surprised when Santa didn’t show up for work the next day. When the cops found him, they discovered he was an ex- felon who among other things had done time for rape. They wouldn’t spend much time on this case. They figured someone had done them a favor.

He was replaced by a kindly old gent who called her “dear” and always seemed to have a seasonally appropriate twinkle in his eye.

On Christmas night, after the kids had gone to bed exhausted and happy, she sat at the kitchen table, looking at the sparsely decorated tree. She poured the last of the dead man’s whiskey and smiled to herself. In the end, old St. Nick had come through, just as she had promised her kids he would.

BILL BABER

 

The Gift That Keeps On Giving by Paul D. Brazill

PAUL D BRAZILL

Living well is the best revenge, or so they say, apparently. And, for most of my life, I did live well – very well – once I’d broken free of Seatown’s umbilical cord, which had been strangling me like a noose.

Fame. Money. Drugs. Travel. Fast cars. Faster women. All of the above.

And it felt good. Bloody good.

Or, at least, it used to.

***

The taxi crept along the coast road, past the worn-out Bed & Breakfasts, half-empty amusement arcades and deserted kebab shops. A shabby looking Santa Claus pissed against the side of a mangy looking Christmas Tree that stood shaking in the wind outside the public toilets.

“Do you get home much these days, Mr Stroud?” said the crumpled tissue of a taxi driver with the big, bushy eyebrows.

“Not so much, these days,” I said, half yawning.

The radio was playing a medley of Christmas carols at a volume so low it was sending me to sleep.

“Bet it’s a fair bit different to life down the smoke, eh?” said the taxi driver. “Bright lights, big city and that.”

He slowed down as a raggle-taggle group of rat boys staggered across the road.

“Vive la différence,” I said.

The taxi pulled up at a red light. It was early evening and allegedly rush hour but there weren’t too many cars on the road. The granite sky was filling with black storm clouds.

I gazed out of the window at Booze n News, Seatown’s popular chain of newsagents and off-licences. Booze n News had been the brainchild of Frank Griffin, a local Conservative Councillor and father of Nigel, my childhood tormentor and font of all of my bile.

Outside the shop was a familiar looking woman being hassled by a whining toddler as she struggled to put a buggy into the back of a Renault Espace. Karen Griffin, Nigel’s wife.

Once she’d been the glam of glams but now she was looking more than a little shop soiled. I smiled to myself with satisfaction. This is what I really came “home” for. Bathing in the misery of the people that had caused me so much unhappiness during my youth. Taking pleasure in seeing any spark of life that they’d had dampened by the drab hand of domesticity.

Karen locked eyes with me and smiled but I just turned away and looked at the torn billboard outside the shop.

In red marker pen it proclaimed:

“Best-selling thriller author Julian Stroud to host Rotary Club Christmas Charity Lunch”.

“Bet it’s gone downhill since you came here last time, eh, Mr Stroud?” said the taxi driver.

“Plus ça change,” I said, as I slowly let out a silent fart.

“Aye,” said the taxi driver, winding down the window.

***

I used to lay awake at night thinking of my childhood humiliations. How much I was ridiculed. Laughed at. And over the years I let my hatred marinade. And congeal.

And then the doctor told me about my body’s uninvited guest. The plague that crawled through my veins. And then I had an idea.

For revenge.

***

“So, you never heard about Fast Eddy then?” said Karen Griffin.

She downed her fifth Baileys with a gulp. Her face flushed red and her eyes sparkled.

“No, I hadn’t,” I said. I looked out of the Carvery window. Out at sea, a fishing trawler adorned with Christmas lights bobbed up and down on the waves.

“They say he met a lass on the Internet. Was getting on really well, too, until he sent her his picture, that is, and then she blocked him,” said Karen.

I remembered Fast Eddy and could understand the girl’s consternation. He was once described as being like an uglier version of Shane McGowan. Without the charm.

“And what happened?” I said, almost interested.

Karen was looking good, I had to admit. She’d dolled herself up pretty well. Her idiot husband had apparently been in a drunken sleep on the sofa and hadn’t even noticed her sneak out.

The fatigue was behind her eyes, though, and I almost felt sorry for her. I was starting to wonder if I could go through with this nasty little plan that I’d hatched.

“Well, he had an idea of where she lived. Some village in Scotland. And so he started to spend every weekend going up there on the train and walking around the place looking for her. Until he got picked up by the police for being drunk and disorderly. Thing is, though, he’d got the wrong village, anyway!”

And then she laughed.

Karen Griffin’s cruel cackle hauled me back to my teenage years and the agony of just living. And made up my mind for me.

***

The motel room was dimly lit. Outside, I could hear the heavy bass of an old Public Image song. I finished my brandy, popped a Viagra and crawled into the bed.

“Speak French to me Julian, you know it really turns me on,” said Karen, as she pulled me towards her.

I took out a condom that I’d earlier pricked with a pin, and put it on.

“Le Petit Mort,” I said with a smirk.

Well, Christmas is a time for sharing, after all.

THE END.

PAUL D. BRAZILL

 

The Loneliest Greeting Card by John Patrick Robbins

The Loneliest Greeting Card

The streets are all vacant and the city a ghost town.
I didn’t belong but then again when did I ever?

Least no one would notice a bum with a bottle, drunk off his ass walking down the seawall in Portsmouth.

The few out weren’t here for the sights , for the homeless knew no holidays.
And as I sat there on the bench I knew this life was not a blessing but a curse.

I watched two marriages crumble and now I burned the candle at both ends.

Looked at the red ribbons battle with the winds as they fought to remain intact.

Everywhere was closed but for drunkards and bums it was the loneliest day on earth.
The kind that reminds you pain knows many forms.

I took another hit from the bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.
Watched the ships in the harbor pass.

Bid the sun farewell and eventually made my way back home before handing another lost soul some change.

Greetings from the lost on the earth’s loneliest day.

 

John Patrick Robbins
Is the editor-in-chief of the Rye Whiskey Review , Under The Bleachers and Drinkers Only .
He is also the Author of,  A Perverts Christmas available now from Whiskey City Press  on LuLu.
His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine , Ariel Chart, Piker Press , The San Pedro River Review, The San Antonio Review,  As It Ought To Be Magazine and Oddball Magazine. 
His work is always unfiltered
JPR Nov

THE NAUGHTY LIST By Tom Leins

It was a bitterly cold day when the bodies appeared. Not the coldest day of the year, but pretty fucking chilly. The half-cut eyewitness said they floated up from the bottom of Paignton Harbour like bubbles in cheap champagne.

From what I heard, ‘bodies’ was overstating the case – the corpses had been dismembered and wrapped in binbags before they were launched into the murky, oil-streaked saltwater. John Gladman was only identifiable by his grisly dental records. Thomas Nashe by the three missing toes he hacked off in Dartmoor Prison in 1979 to avoid manual labour. The third man was easier to identify: he had his National Insurance number tattooed on his broken neck. His name was Nicholas Saint.

Between them, the three men had a rap sheet that spanned five gold heists, four squalid prisons, three home invasions, two unproven murders and a shotgun cartridge in a palm tree. Naturally, I only found this out later…

***

Christmas Eve.

The Dirty Lemon.

“You Rey?”

The man is wider than a grit bin and nearly as short. He’s wearing a voluminous yellow tracksuit and a stoned glaze.

I nod.

He drops a fat envelope in my lap.

“Christmas has come early this year, motherfucker.”

He leans against my table and takes a hit on his e-cigarette. His pockmarked face creases with pleasure.

“Christmas Pudding flavour. I bought it online. You want some?”

“No thanks, mate.”

He shrugs and gestures towards the painfully thin girl performing the floorshow.

“I had her in the handicapped toilet last year. Fanny like Santa’s sleeve.”

I shake my head as I open the envelope. Inside is a scuffed-looking portable telephone with a cracked screen. There is an elastic band around the phone, holding a newspaper cutting in place.

“Whatever you do don’t lose the fucking handset. It was smuggled out of Channings Wood in two different arseholes – one of them mine.”

I scratch at the crust on the screen with the edge of a beer mat. Is that shit? Or blood?

“There’s one number saved on the phone. Ring it when you have the old bastard in front of you. You know how to make a videocall, right? Nicky said you’re kinda old-school.”

“I’ll figure it out.”

His chunky body undulates as he laughs.

“You better fucking do.”

***

I signal Spacey Tracey for another Kronenbourg. I can’t tell whether her oversized earrings are supposed to be baubles or fucking ballbags. I return to my table and start to read the press cutting that was attached to the phone. The arse-sweat has blurred the newsprint in places, but I get the gist.

The headline says: THE NAUGHTY LIST: Chrimbo crooks crime-spree catalogued and the article details the exploits of four middle-aged career criminals who ripped off a Securicor van in December 1991 – dressed in fucking Santa suits.

The wheelman ploughed into the security van in a Transit, while the triggerman shot out the tyres with a bolt-action rifle. The third man snapped the aerials to render the guards’ radios useless and the fourth man cut into the side of the van with a disc cutter.

Before they fled the scene, one of the Santas dragged the driver out of the dented cab and made him kneel in the gutter before bludgeoning him with a lump hammer that had been attached to his belt with a length of twine. The four men escaped with £123,000 in low-denomination banknotes and were never seen again.

I’m not the sharpest Stanley knife in the fucking toolbox, but it’s immediately apparent that the only man who didn’t end up in a watery grave was ‘Slack’ Jack Frost – a small town sadist with a lazy eye and a rubbery, partially paralysed face.

Time to go to work.

***

Rossiters department store, Palace Avenue.

Hand out enough free pints at the Cock ‘n’ Whistle and the local juiceheads would probably sell out their brothers, mothers and lovers. An old lag like Slack Jack is definitely fair game for the loose-lipped local lushes.

When I find him, he’s in the downstairs grotto at Rossiters – bawling kid on his lap, an Oxygen cylinder next to the velvet pouffe he is awkwardly perched on. I slip the midget in the elf costume a fiver and join the queue. His name is Small Paul and he used to work on Paignton Pier, manning the Helter Skelter – despite not meeting the minimum height requirement.

Slack Jack yanks down the fake beard and takes a greedy hit on his Oxygen, before gazing at me through rheumy eyes.

“Little old for the grotto aren’t you, son?”

I fumble with the smartphone. I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m doing.

“Hello? Nicky?”

“You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap lousy faggot…”

It sounds like a cellblock singalong.

“Rey? Press the videocall button, you dickhead.”

I press the icon on the screen, and Nicky Saint appears. He is a swarthier, sweatier version of his dead Dad. His eyes are an unsettling shade of dye-pack blue, and like his father, he also appears to have his National Insurance number tattooed across his neck.

“You did well, pal. Grit-Bin is on his way with the shooter. Now, put that dirty bastard Frost on the blower.”

Before I can hold the phone up – and let Nicky trade pleasantries with the decrepit specimen who dismembered his father nearly 30 years ago – Slack Jack lashes out at me with a fucking lump hammer.

“I’ve put harder men in the ground than you, son.”

“And the fucking harbour…”

All around us, women and children are screaming – trampling the cheap winter wonderland décor in their haste to get away from Santa – ratty beard dangling from his scrawny chicken neck.

He snorts.

“And the fucking harbour. £123,000 split four ways equals sweet fuck all. Even in the fucking ‘90s.”

He swings the hammer at me again and makes contact this time – sending a spasm of pain across my right shoulder-blade and down my arm. Motherfucker.

He grins nastily through his lopsided mouth and the next blow batters my ribcage. I drop to the floor like a sack of unwanted presents. Slack Jack wheezes as he raises the hammer above my head.

Fuck this.

***

Before he can finish me off, I grab his oxygen tank with my left hand and slam the metal into his legs – shattering his elderly shinbones.

“Fuck you, old man.”

I lift the tank and prepare to stove his ruined face in.

Then I feel Grit-Bin’s chubby fingers on the back of my neck. In his other hand he is holding the ruptured smartphone.

He holds it over Slack Jack’s screaming, contorted face for Nicky’s inspection – and then removes the sawn-off shotgun from the waistband of his jogging bottoms.

He presses the ragged snout against the old man’s nostrils.

Tears of rage well up in Slack Jack’s eyes. He starts to say something, when Nicky’s sneering voice cuts him off.

“Merry Christmas, motherfucker.”

THE END

Bio: Tom Leins is the author of the Paignton Noir mysteries: SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SPINE FARM, SLUG BAIT and BONEYARD DOGS.

Other books include the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES and REPETITION KILLS YOU and the novella DIRTY BULLION – a collaboration with Benedict J. Jones, author of the Charlie Bars series.

Looking ahead, THE GOOD BOOK: FAIRY TALES FOR HARD MEN – a collection of wrestling noir – will be published by All Due Respect in January 2020.

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

The Naughty List - Paignton Noir Mystery - Tom Leins 

 

Barely Crimbo by Graham Wynd

GRAHAM WYND

Here it is barely Grimace;

Time to deck the malls.

Wish you a hairy crossbus;

Fall down all the golden balls.

Hark the Harold angles bring

Glory to the edge-lord bling.

Dashing through the pub,

With a one-horse foamy ale,

Oh, what fun it is to slide

Through tat that’s cheap on sale.

Olé.

Grimble bells, Batman tells,

Robin to get stuffed.

Mangles we have heard on high,

Sweetly sleeping rough.

Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o’Rhea

For that Galileo.

 

Lost & Found Gods that could have Been Worshipped by Anybody by Ryan Quinn Flanagan

rqf

Blast moved to rural Argentina.  The first thing

he did was take to horses and burn his passport.

It had his real name from a previous life and the sun

that ate through the back of his neck each day

demanded something different.  His parents sat in

dusty old bingo halls where the winter still iced the roads

sitting on numbers that would never come up.  Wiping tired neck sweat

from hanging clouds of nicotine and praying to clumsy Lost & Found

gods that could have been worshipped by anybody.

Replaced just like that.  And the gauchos of the Rio broke

the horses with a handsome stern brutality. Escaped Nazis in the new land.

Herding cattle through these blood crazed hills as though their daughters

were bleeding for the heavens and even the slop in the dog bowl

could see that.  The sign of the cross over the chest from everyone

you passed in the street.  Blast never believed all that nonsense

but he knew who ran the town.

 

And his current live in was the daughter of the local sheriff.

That meant there were rules to everything.  Rules to break.

His girl had changed her name as well.  To Lolita after watching

the movie.  She never had the temperament for Nabokov or the

patience for books.  All she knew was that she was young

and the world was old which meant it wanted her or what she had

in the worst way.  She was desirable and she knew it.  Each time

she opened her legs was an event.  Blast was busy with the horses

which meant the other horses around town were busy with her.

And soon word got around that the easiest horse to break

wasn’t a horse at all and that Blast was in over 20 grand

to the local madam for goodies.  Which meant he started taking

side jobs for the cartels and drinking three times his share.

 

Blast never talked, but the wrong people thought he had

which meant his tongue was cut from his mouth and sent

to the lead prosecutor in Buenos Aries.  Wrapped as a Christmas gift 

because even the murderous want to be festive.  His body was likely feed

to the very horses he broke.  No one knows anything if you ask

them, which a few have done in the inevitable form of a question.