Danger in the Countryside
I walked home the usual way after a night out: on an isolated country road, which led to a forest. It was pitch black but I was not afraid. The area was safe.
Suddenly, a hand came out of nowhere and clamped my mouth. I felt myself being lifted into the air and bundled into a minivan. Before I could even catch a glimpse of my abductors, several hands held me down and a band was tied over my eyes. There was the screech of tyres and the van sped off.
The journey was quiet but long. The van drove through several road turnings, so that I did not know where I was. When we arrived at our destination, the same number of hands virtually pushed me out of the van and a hand clamped me on each side, dragging me towards a house. I heard a key turn into the lock. I was shoved through a corridor then virtually thrown onto the floor of a room.
Someone grabbed a chair and tied my hands and feet to it in a tight knot. I tried to struggle, but a boot clamped hard onto my foot.
"Stay still," said a gruff, male voice.
The blindfold was abruptly torn from my face. There were seven men in the room, all hard-faced, glaring at me with hate. I had never seen them before.
"You are the daughter of David Fielding, the oil magnate," the original man said. "Don't try to deny it because I know."
How on earth did he know?
"I will set you free on one condition: You will kill one of us every hour. If not, you will lose a finger per person that you do not kill, but not a thumb and if all seven of us are still alive at dawn, you will also lose your head. Literally, do you understand?"
I stared at them, as if they had gone insane. I had never heard such a proposition before. I had never even hurt anyone, let alone tried to kill them.
He indicated the clock on the wall.
"Eleven o'clock. Your time starts now."
He untied me and gave me a knife. I wanted to run out, away from this crazy place but I did not dare. There were seven of them and he seemed deadly serious.
I took the knife with trembling hands. One of them led me to the leader, as if afraid that I would try to escape. Then held me in a way that forbade any escape. I began stabbing the leader. I stabbed and stabbed, until he lay in a pool of blood and died. The others just looked impassively, as if the sight of a person being stabbed to death in front of them was nothing. Then, hour by hour, I did the same to all the others, until there was just me left in the room. The room was bathed in blood. My legs trembling, I walked out of the place without even turning back.
I cleared out my sister's room. After throwing away discarded shoes, cosmetics and uneven pairs of stockings, I decided to empty her chest of drawers. There was the usual mess of scarves, gloves and other small items almost blocking the drawers from closing, but she had never been the tidiest of people. By contrast, I was the one who would fuss even over a speck of dust.
I had almost finished clearing out her top drawer when I found a buff coloured envelope addressed to her. I was of a mind to throw it away. She had moved out three months before. I was pretty sure that if she wanted it, she would have taken it with her or, if she no longer needed it, she would have taken it with her. It must have been important to her at some stage.
Quickly I opened it up. I read:
You owe me £100,000. I have not forgotten. Pay it now or there will be dire consequences.
I swallowed nervously. £100,000! She was working as a nurse in Colchester. How on earth would she pay up £100,000 and more importantly, what had she got herself into that she should receive such a threatening letter? Did she borrow £100,000 from anyone and, if so, why?
I did not tell Mum or Dad. The shock would have killed them.
At dinner, I was unusually quiet and barely ate. I excused myself from the table saying that I thought that I was coming down with a bad cold, went to my room and reread the letter.
I seriously thought of forwarding that letter to Samantha, but then I thought that I should try to help her. Why did she leave that letter behind? Who was Darren? As far as I knew, she never had a boyfriend. Although I was three years younger than her, I was the more extrovert one and it was assumed that I would marry while she would remain single.
Darren did not leave a forwarding address or telephone number. More importantly, he did not leave a surname. I could not contact him.
Drugs. That was all I could think of.
Yet my sister did not seem to be the type of person who took drugs. She was slovenly, yes, but there was no indication of her being a drug addict. She was always cheerful and bubbly. She seemed sensible enough.
I phoned her number, but it went straight to voicemail. I left a message for her to telephone me, but she never did.
I phoned her several times after that, but she never returned my phone calls. Worried, I took the envelope with the note demanding the £100,000 and set out to her new address, but when I got there, a thin, dark-haired, young man answered the door.
"Is Samantha Lewis in?" I asked. "I am her sister, Louise."
The young man shook his head.
"There is no Samantha Lewis living here. No woman in fact. I am the sole occupier of this flat."
"Did she live here before you?"
"No. I bought it from a family of three."
So she had lied about her address. Anger, as well as worry, built up in me. I thanked the young man and went to a local park. I sat down on a bench and reread the letter. Where could she have gone?
I worried that she may have committed suicide. I did hear of people who had got themselves into trouble ending their lives. I did not wish to believe this of my sister.
Tears began blurring my eyes. I wanted to throw the letter away, but I was afraid. It seemed genuine enough. I was afraid to show it to the police. I did not want to incriminate my sister, even though I could not find her.
I returned home, none the wiser.
I typed the name "Samantha Lewis" onto my computer. Thousands of identical names sprang up. As she had not left a correct forwarding address, my sister could be anywhere. She could even have gone abroad. At this point, I was so desperate, I wished that she would phone me, even to confess that she had committed a terrible crime and stolen or frauded £100,000 - anything to hear from her.
I could not wait any longer. I decided to go to the police.
The kindly desk sergeant told me to sit down. He waited patiently as I took out the letter and showed it to him.
"I- I was clearing out her room after she moved out," I babbled. "I don't know anything about this - I promise you."
He read the letter.
"Darren," he said slowly. "Darren White. A criminal. He was jailed three years ago for mugging an elderly man."
My head began to spin. What had my sister got herself into?
"So you know him?"
"He was always trouble. I remember him being brought here by his own mother for stealing a mobile phone. He grew up on a council estate. His father died young."
"Are you sure that it is the same person?"
"Pretty sure. We have only one Darren White on our records. He is my nephew."
The biggest challenge as a writer, I find, is writer's block.
I do not mean to turn anybody off writing; it is a creative and, sometimes, even a lucrative, hobby. The more competitions you enter, the higher your chances of winning a prize, even it if is not the top prize. You may even decide to take up writing for a living, i.e. enter into a publishing contract and earn quite a fortune.
Writer's block is the nuisance which hinders you.
Today I am writing, but there are days when I visit this website and stare blankly at the screen. No inspiration comes to me. I so badly want to enter into competitions but my mind goes blank. I wish that I could kickstart myself into being able to write every day but, most days, I cannot. I wish that I could get out of this dilemma.
I often wonder. Were things really better in the past or are we just looking at it through rose-coloured spectacles?
One reads the news. Crime seems to have short up 1000%. It is not safe to go out anywhere, yet, during World War Two, millions of innocent civilians were murdered. Were those not more dangerous times?
Social attitudes were more repressive. The early twentieth century was little better than the nineteenth century: long working hours, bad health care, starvation, women could not vote until 1928 or get a mortgage until 1968. What was good about that?
Some say that technology and internet have corrupted society. Those are the same people, who in the 1950's, said that television corrupted society. There is good and bad in everything: we just have to judge what is good and what is bad for us. If anything, technology has improved things. Half of us would be dead now if not for technological advancements and the internet provides information at one's fingertips instead of having to crawl outside in all weathers to find it outside. We should count ourselves lucky to be alive today.
This may not be the right place for this post, but it is in my thoughts nonetheless.
We have all heard about the senseless murder of transgender schoolgirl, Brianna Ghey, who was killed by two pupils from her school. They lured her to a park under the pretence of trying to befriend her, but, instead stabbed her to death and left her body lying under a pile of leaves in the park. Why murder her? Because she was transgender.
Why hate transgender people? What have they done? All they want is to live their lives: to go to school/work, earn a living and get their own place to live. In other words, they want to live like the rest of us. Why hate them just because they have gender-changing operations and dress like the opposite gender? The same goes for gay people who do not change their gender. Why hate them because they make different life choices? I do not understand it.
A Romantic Dinner
I had always considered Valentine's Day a load of rubbish. Surely your lover knew that you loved him every day that you loved him.
I continued thinking that until I met Ernest. He was a serious, young man whose name matched his character. After a whirlwind romance, we married.
For a while, our marriage was happy, but he was so dull. Every evening, he would plonk himself down in front of the television set and not talk.
One day, I bought a bottle of cyanide and added it to his dinner. He keeled over and died instantly.
My Partner in Crime
I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I was wearing a dark red dress, a pair of strapped black shoes which I wore only for special occasions and I wore my usually tied up hair loose, in waves created by a styling wand. On my neck, there was a gold locket and on my ears, two sparkly drop earrings.
I grabbed my new shiny black handbag and set out for my evening out at a new posh restaurant in which I was to meet the date whom I had met via a dating app. His name was Benjamin Green and his profile picture showed a smiling, friendly face, with light brown hair, side-parted and worn away from his face. He had blue eyes and described himself as a warehouse stocker. For our date, he would be wearing a pale blue shirt, a dark blue tie with a white stripe and a light brown jacket. The date was fixed for 8p.m. He would be sitting at a table near the entrance of the restaurant, so that I would not fail to see him.
I felt slightly uneasy at the idea of meeting someone from a dating app. I had heard of a few people coming to a nasty end because of some unsavoury characters whom they had met on a dating app. You never knew who hid behind a keyboard! But I was not one for socialising: I would come home from my job as a hairdresser tired enough to crash on the sofa. It was only my friend, Denise, who worked with me who suggested that I needed to get more out of life and where better than from a dating app, so I decided to try it, just for fun.
I arrived at the restaurant. True to his word, Benjamin was waitng for me. He jumped up from his seat as soon as he saw me and pumped my hand with a vigorous handshake.
"Miss Louise Mitchell?"
"Yes. Benjamin Green?"
A waiter came to our table with menus. Benjamin ordered chicken soup, steak-and-kidney pie with rice and peas and I settled for pea soup, fish and chips. He chose apple pie and I chocolate cake as dessert.
"What do you do for a living, Louise, if may call you that?"
"You may. I am a hairdresser."
"I am a warehouse stocker, as you probably know from my online description. Nothing to write home about."
I giggled nervously. It is not the sort of confession you make to someone that you have just met, but then there was nothing stopping me from seeing him just this once and then never again.
"I am thinking of spreading my wings. I have been working there for five years and I feel that I am going nowhere. I just cannot afford to leave."
"Why not take out a loan?"
"I do not see how I could pay it back."
My heart sank. What if he was bankrupt and expected me to help him out? What if he did not even have a job and had lied to me? I had heard about some gullible women lending men endless amounts of money only to be bankrupted themselves eventually. Alarm bells rang in my head and I was tempted to run away from this date, but something held me back.
"We close at six o'clock. How about I take you there?"
"To the warehouse?"
"Yes. We could fill a van with items that we see there and sell them for a profit online. There is no CCTV there and, at nights, we are not likely to get caught. Wear black clothes, a black anorak and gloves, so as not to leave fingerprints anywhere. The whole thing will not take more than an hour."
I felt sick. He was asking me to help him commit a burglary. Whatever my family's financial situation, it had always been drummed into me never to steal or burgle. Even if was not going to get caught, the idea of committing a burglary still repelled me.
"What are you afraid of? Most of it is old stock that they would like to get rid of anyway. I doubt that they would miss it very much."
"Yes, but it is still theirs. You are asking me to become a thief."
"Trust me, Louise, that they are making a big loss keeping those old items and it would be a blessing if those old items were disposed of and new items placed instead. What do you think?"
I fell silent. I could see the appeal of wanting to make extra money by disposing of old items - it was just the method used that I did not like. I had been raised in an honest household where one did not commit crimes.
"I don't know," I blurted out.
Benjamin was persistent.
"Nobody will see us, Louise, I promise you and I am doing them a big favour by getting rid of their old, unwanted stock and making way for new stock. Where there is muck, there is brass, as they say."
I hesitated again.
"OK," I finally heard myself say.
I could have kicked myself.
We arranged to meet again at 8p.m. on a Saturday night. Benjamin scribbled down an address opposite a local park where I was to meet him. He would be driving a grey van. Parking a van outside a block of flats on a Saturday night could arouse suspicion.
Benjamin was wearing black as arranged and so was I. We drove to his warehouse in silence, as I was too nervous to speak. When we arrived, Benjamin managed to force open the door with a thrust of his shoulders.
The warehouse contained rolls of fabric for both clothes and curtains, ready-made clothes and shoes and gold, silver, gilt jewellery and expensive watches. Benjamin grabbed one bin liner and handed me another. Together, we depleted the warehouse of most of its stock and then jumped into his van. When I arrived at my flat, I could not sleep. The enormity of what I had done hit me like a brick.
A bin liner containing all the items that I had stolen lay across the room from me. My first instinct was to throw it away, but it contained expensive items, which I secretly admired and expensive items, if unwanted, were usually sold, rather than dispensed of. I did not k ow what to do with those items.
My mobile phone rang. It was Benjamin.
"Louise? How are you?"
My heart began to throb. It was now or never. I decided to bite the bullet.
"About last night, Benjamin. I don't think that we should see each other again. I feel bad about it. The stuff that I had taken is lovely, but it is stolen and I feel bad about it."
"We won't get caught-"
"That is not the point, Benjamin. The point is that it was stolen. We had no right to take it. Come to my place or give me your address and I will give it to you. You can dispense of it as you wish."
I gave him my address and he came to collect the stolen items. I never saw him again.
I am not a person who complains a lot. Generally, I am a happy person, at least, inwardly, not a bubbly extrovert, but, happy.
There is one thing that annoys me, however: the amount of competitiveness that there is in the world. I do not blame the internet for it. That existed long before the internet. It is just an ugly trait of human nature.
Some people are chatty, others are quiet. There is nothing wrong with either. Some need to work in a factory of three hundred people, others prefer to work alone. Again there is nothing wrong with either.
I have always been a quiet person. Every school report mentions that I kept myself to myself. Most days, I went to (secondary) school alone. There were times when some girls used to ask me to accompany them on the journey to school and, of course, I accepted; it would have been churlish to refuse, but, rather than indulge in conversation with them, I preferred to listen in silence.
When I reached the age of eighteen, most of the visitors who came to our house, started talking about marriage. At that age, I was little more than a child myself and had never thought of marriage. I had to sit in silence and endure endless insinuations that it was time that I got married and had children. It was very annoying and went on for a number of years.
I never imagined that people chose to make my life so miserable. My family, well-meaningly, told me never to divulge my age after I reached twenty, but what if the people who asked me were somewhat related to me, e.g. their grandmother and my grandmother were first cousins? Before you ask me how come that those people who asked me my age did not know it, I can honestly say that I have relatives on the other side of the family, whose children and even some grandchildren I have met and I am sure that their parents, who knew me from child onwards, would tell them my age anyway, so what is the point of trying to conceal my age when there are people who know me for too long to know that I am not a teenager anymore and that they would tell their children how old I am anyway? In other words, people would find out how old I am anyway, whether I hide it from them or not.
Being single and childless at sixty-three is somewhat unusual, but why should I have married and had children "just in order to fit in with the world?" I have no maternal instincts, so I am not sure how good I would be to that child, so it is good that I chose to remain single and childless.
A Summer’s Tragedy
It was a hot, airless summer's evening, the type that you get after a humid, windless day. Horrible. The sort that wants to make you want to drop everything and head to the nearest beach and soak in its cold waters until your skin turns blue.
That was not the choice for Doris. She lived in small cottage in Battersea, not far from the park in which funfairs used to be held. Not that she had much fun nowadays, now that her beloved husband, Donald, was dead. Her two sons lived overseas and never visited her.
She opened the patio doors. Not that there was much of a breeze but she could not afford air-conditioning and she hoped, with the setting sun, some cool air would refresh her stifling home. There was none.
She opened the door of her freezer and took out some carrots, peas and mushrooms. She was a vegetarian and did not eat meat. In another pot, she began cooking rice - a copious amount because she loved rice. She added too much of it to a medium sized saucepan and the boiling water spilled onto the stove. In fact, you could say: "The pot was boiling over."
She was so engrossed in her cooking that she did not hear he stranger creep behind her, clad in black, his eyes concealed by a black balaclava, a knife in his hand. She was still tidying up the mess that the overfull saucepan had caused and did not even have time to react when he plunged his knife into her back, ending her life instantly.
My Old Home in Tel-Aviv
I lived in a flat in Tel-Aviv, Israel until 1968, when I was eight years old. It was on the top floor of a three-storey building, standing on pillars - typical of its time. There was enough room to park a few cars under the pillars, not that many people in the flat owned cars at the time.
There was also a small garden from which the inhabitants would pluck flowers. One afternoon, my brother and I went to pluck flowers. Two policemen saw us and one said to his mate: "Chase those kids away!" We ran like hellfire.
In 2015, my brother and I went to the area in which our old flat still stood. The "garden" was still there, but to our adult eyes, it looked like a tiny patch of greenery. The flowers were still there. We laughed at the memory of the afternoon when we ran away from the policemen, but we could no longer gain access into the block of flats. A security code had been installed.