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The Scream Collector

The Scream Collector illustration

A quirky short story.

Mr Oddmore looked out of the kitchen window, frowning at the rhinoceros with two horns rolling in his vegetable patch and squashing a neat row of carrots.

‘What would you like for your birthday?’ Mr Peculiar adjusted the burgundy cravat he wore inside his open-necked shirt. ‘I’m afraid you can’t have my Sumatran Rhino; he’s new to my collection. I discovered him in a forest in Malaysia. But what about Shakespeare’s signature? A red diamond or the DNA of a dinosaur?’

‘I’m not a collector of rarities, like you,’ said Mr Oddmore. ‘No, what I want is a certain type of scream.’ He turned away from the window, his long gangly limbs seeming out of proportion to the rest of his body. ‘Come, I’ll show you what I’m missing.’

He led the way to the room he used as a gallery for his collection. It had floor-to-ceiling shelves full of glass bottles with cork stoppers that contained screams. A cloud of colour swirled inside each one. The screams had been ordered by colour and sound, starting with a luminous white scream in the top left-hand corner and ending many rows later with what looked like a thunderstorm.

Mr Oddmore picked up a random bottle, released the cork with a soft pop and they both leaned forward and listened. A high-pitched scream whooshed out. Mr Oddmore shivered and smiled a contented smile.

‘It’s the scream a five-year-old French boy made after seeing a headless ghost in a haunted hotel,’ he said. ‘I had to hide under the bed for two weeks to get it.’

He re-plugged the bottle, put it back in its place on the shelf and then allowed Mr Peculiar to choose a different one. The scream he picked was bright pink. He opened the bottle and a thousand excited female screams filled the air.

‘They were made during a boy band concert at Wembley Stadium.’ Mr Oddmore didn’t smile as much this time. ‘Pop concerts are guaranteed places to get screams, although they are always candyfloss pink and sound very similar.’

‘Only the rare is of value,’ said Mr Peculiar, pushing the stopper into the neck of the bottle and shutting off the noise. He placed the scream back on the shelf.

Mr Oddmore pointed further along the row. ‘You’ll notice I have a gap between lavender purple and deep plum. I’m missing an aubergine-coloured scream; one that is full-bodied, intense and emotional.’ He sighed deeply and added, ‘I haven’t been able to find it. That is what I want for my birthday.’

Mr Peculiar put his arm around Mr Oddmore’s shoulder and squeezed it. ‘Then, we will set about getting it for you. Rarities are my speciality, Old Chap!’

Over dinner ─ Mr Peculiar had brought with him a very expensive gelatinous soup made from the saliva nests of cave swifts for them to try ─ they analysed Mr Oddmore’s collection to identify the likely owner of the missing scream. He had screams from babies through to the very old; from people of every single country; and the screams of animals. He even had Mr Peculiar’s.

‘I’ve got it!’ Mr Peculiar banged his spoon on the table, making Mr Oddmore jump. ‘You’re missing your own scream!’

Mr Oddmore frowned. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself? He ran back to the gallery to collect a bottle and returned a few seconds later sounding breathless.

‘Here we go,’ he said and screamed into the open top.

‘Well, that was easy.’ Mr Peculiar returned to his soup.

‘It sounded forced ─ false.’ Mr Oddmore shook his head and peered at the colour. ‘It’s only tinged with purple, as though it’s been watered down.’

‘If at first you don’t succeed,’ said Mr Peculiar.

‘Try and try again,’ said Mr Oddmore.

Over the next week, Mr Oddmore tried various methods he used on other people to extract a good scream from himself while Mr Peculiar headed off on an expedition to Eastern Russia in search of an animal close to extinction: the Amur Leopard.

Mr Oddmore walked along a dark alleyway at midnight and tapped his own shoulder; he didn’t scream. He dropped a spider inside his shirt collar; it tickled on its way down and made him giggle and wriggle, but not scream. At bedtime, he turned off all the lights and played a recording of ghostly moans; every dog in the neighbourhood began howling, giving him a thumping headache. He sobbed rather than screamed.

As soon as Mr Peculiar returned home from his trip, Mr Oddmore went to see him at his manor house. He rang the bell and various animals answered with shrieks, barks and chattering.

Mr Peculiar opened the door a fraction and peered out. ‘Give me a second, Old Chap’ he said. ‘I just need to shut the cat in.’

He disappeared inside.

Mr Oddmore heard a low growl and a hiss and, somewhere deep inside the house, another door being banged shut. He wondered if he should come back another time, but a moment later his friend welcomed him inside. Mr Peculiar’s ginger hair looked ruffled and he had a jagged rip in the sleeve of his tweed jacket.

‘So, what have I missed?’ asked Mr Peculiar, showing Mr Oddmore into his study and opening a rare bottle of wine thought to have belonged to King Henry VIII. ‘Have you managed to perfect your scream?’

‘No.’ Mr Oddmore slumped on a tan leather chair. ‘I can’t make it sound convincing. I think it needs to be spontaneous, and I so very rarely scream.’

Mr Peculiar’s eyes sparkled and a smile started at the corners of his mouth. ‘Leave it to me. Collecting rarities is my specialty!’

‘What are you planning?’ asked Mr Oddmore.

Mr Peculiar poured the wine and said, ‘None of your business.’ He chinked his glass against his friend’s. ‘Here’s to a magnificent scream.’

‘I second that,’ said Mr Oddmore, smiling back at him.

***

Several days passed. Mr Oddmore expected to see Mr Peculiar’s face pressed against the window when he opened the curtains, or for Mr Peculiar to dangle him from an upstairs window. He wondered if his friend would tie him to a train track… He had constant butterflies.

But nothing happened, and the thrill of anticipation turned to sadness. He thought Mr Peculiar had forgotten all about making him scream, especially after the thought-to-be extinct dodo bird was found alive in Madagascar.

On the day of his birthday, Mr Oddmore felt thoroughly depressed. He went for a walk and got caught out in the rain. His shoes squelched from where he’d plodded through puddles, rather than edging around them.

When he arrived back home, his front door hung open.

Must have forgotten to close it, he thought. But part of him was worried he’d been burgled and he strode straight to his gallery to check on the screams.

He breathed a sigh of relief at finding nothing out of place. It wasn’t until he reached the middle of the room that he saw a leopard with rusty-orange and spotted fur crouched under a table, watching him. It padded out from its hiding place with its head extended forward and eyes fixed on its target.

Mr Oddmore ran for the door, screaming. The leopard catapulted towards him.

Mr Peculiar appeared in the doorway with an open bottle in his hand, blocking the way out. ‘It’s a good scream, but I think you can do even better!’

The leopard caught the back of Mr Oddmore’s shirt. Mr Oddmore screamed a terrified scream and pulled away. The material ripped, leaving his skin exposed.

‘That’s more like it!’ said Mr Peculiar.

Mr Oddmore began climbing the shelves, trying to keep his feet away from the bottles. The shelving rocked and creaked.

He glanced over his shoulder at the leopard looking up at him. His heart was thumping in his chest.

‘I don’t want you to make me scream any more,’ Mr Oddmore shouted to Mr Peculiar.

‘No need.’ Mr Peculiar held up the bottle. It was the shade of purple Mr Oddmore had been missing. ‘Happy birthday, Old Chap!’ He took a bag of cooked chicken out of his pocket and turned to the leopard. But before he had a chance to say, ‘dinner time,’ the big cat leapt onto the shelving, its paws knocking off bottles as it scrabbled upwards.

Glass cracked, screams escaped and flashes of colour criss-crossed the room.

Mr Oddmore screamed and cried, ‘Make it stop!’ as he climbed higher.

‘Come down this instant,’ Mr Peculiar said to the leopard in a commanding voice.

It took no notice of him and lunged for the shelf above. The shelving tilted in the direction of the floor. The leopard fell off, but twisted in mid-air and landed gracefully on its paws. The remaining bottles flew off the shelves and shattered, producing an orchestra of screams.

But no scream was more intense or vibrant than the one Mr Oddmore now made as he watched his entire collection being destroyed.

The shelving followed the bottles and crashed to the floor with Mr Oddmore still gripping onto it.

‘My collection ─ it’s all gone,’ he said, his eyes filling with tears. ‘The only scream I have left is my scream.’

‘There is no point in you keeping it,’ said Mr Peculiar, sealing the bottle with a stopper and popping it into his blazer pocket. ‘I’m the one who collects rarities.’

Mr Oddmore thought about starting his scream collection again from scratch. But he remembered his own scream and decided against it.

Instead, he accumulated the world’s largest collection of rubber ducks.

 

Story by Kim Donovan. Illustration by Julia Draper. Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.

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Driving Home for Christmas

I love a good ghost story at Christmas – I’m currently re-reading The Woman in Black. Here’s a spooky story with a quirky twist. I hope you like it!

driving-home-for-christmas-picture

The traffic slowed to a stop in the darkness. Jeremy sighed and stared through the windscreen at two lines of blurred car lights glowing in the pouring rain. A traffic report interrupted the song Driving Home for Christmas he’d been half-listening to on the radio.

‘The A30 southbound is partially blocked due to an accident at Okehampton.  Emergency services are on their way,’ said the reporter.

Jeremy shook his head. The clock on the dashboard flashed 20.00hrs. He was still a good two hours’ drive away from his parents’ house in Lands’ End.

God knows when I’ll get there now, he thought.

He was at a junction, and in a moment of impulse indicated left and pulled off the dual carriageway. The Sat Nav told him to ‘take the 3rd right at the next roundabout.’

He passed through small towns with please drive slowly signs and then onto the wild, rugged moor. The so-called beast of Bodmin moor had been blamed for slaying livestock again. It was out there somewhere, watching, waiting, concealed by the night. The roads became narrower until they were only one car wide and Jeremy prayed not to meet another car, or worse a tractor, coming the other way. The windscreen wipers swished back and forth. Jeremy’s eyes stung from concentrating so hard on the road.

This is taking me miles off course, he thought. But Jeremy wasn’t going to admit defeat ─ he never did ─ and he kept going. He hoped he might come across a country pub to take a break from driving, but there hadn’t been a village for miles.

Just when he was thinking things couldn’t get any worse, he lost control of the car’s steering. Luckily, there was a lay-by nearby and he wrestled the car into it. He threw on his coat and climbed out to check the tyres. He expected to find one flat tyre, but not three.

He tried to call the AA for breakdown assistance. No signal.

Lightning flashed and thunder boomed only a split second apart. Momentarily, the sky lit a large, ivy-clad house set back on the other side of the road.

He hurried across, pushed open the creaking gate and zigzagged his way through a tangled garden to the house. Candle flames trembled in the windows and, oddly, the door had been left wide open.

Jeremy knocked on the door and called, ‘Hello.’

No-one appeared, but he could hear fast tapping coming from a room on the right.

‘Hello,’ he said more loudly. ‘My car’s broken down. I was wondering if I could possibly use your phone?’

The tapping stopped briefly and then continued.

He turned away from the door and looked for another house. Blackness had consumed the entire landscape.

He swivelled back, hesitated for a moment and then stepped inside.

‘Hell─ooo,’ he said again, as he wiped his squelching shoes on the doormat and then followed the tapping along the corridor. Even more oddly, the walls, staircase, ceiling and floor were all made entirely of books: old, new, hardback, paperback, a hotchpotch of colours and sizes.

A girl of about ten years had been making the tapping noise. She sat in a room behind a chunky, black typewriter with silver keys. The table the typewriter rested on was made of books too, as was her chair. She had long, blonde hair and wore a pale blue dress underneath a starched, white apron. A small glass bottle, containing purple liquid, had been left next to the typewriter. A brown label hung around its neck.

‘Is your mum or dad at home?’ asked Jeremy.

The girl didn’t answer, but kept hitting the keys.

He walked over to her and glanced at what she was writing. She had nearly reached the bottom of the page.

‘Are you making up a story?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she replied without looking up.

‘Is it about a princess?’

She smirked and said, ‘No, it’s about you.’

‘Me!’ He looked closer at the page and read:

 

The traffic slowed to a stop in the darkness. Jeremy sighed and stared through the windscreen at two lines of blurred car lights glowing in the pouring rain. A traffic report interrupted the song Driving Home for Christmas…

 

‘You’re a new character,’ she explained. ‘I get most of my cast from the other stories.’

Jeremy only half heard her. He re-read the paragraph, unable to believe his eyes. It was as if she had been in the car with him, could read his thoughts. His skin prickled as if ants were crawling all over him.

‘I’m going,’ he said.

‘But we’re getting to the exciting bit now ─ the climax.’ She paused, her fingers suspended over the keys, and glanced up at the books that together made one of the walls: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Woman in Black, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Arabian Nights… She narrowed her ice-blue eyes. ‘Hmmm,’ she said and then resumed writing.

 

A vampire walked in through the door, his face white and glowing like a full moon. He still had blood smeared over his mouth from his last kill, but he was still hungry…

 

Jeremy’s head snapped towards the door. Just as she had written, a vampire appeared out of thin air and walked slowly and carefully towards him.

He scanned the room for a weapon but only saw books. How could he defend himself against a blood-thirsty vampire with Jane Austen? He moved in the opposite direction to the vampire, keeping his eyes locked on him. The girl’s typing grew faster and louder.

The typewriter! he thought (and she wrote).

He tried to pick it up, but it was unbelievably heavy. The vampire stepped too close for comfort and Jeremy grabbed the glass bottle instead. The label on the bottle brushed his hand, and he noticed the words: DRINK ME.

He knew the book it was from. Another quick glance at the girl confirmed to him that she had come out of the same book too. He lifted the bottle to his mouth, knowing its contents would make him huge or tiny, but then stopped. It wasn’t the answer to his problem. The writer would still decide what happened to him in the end.

‘You’ve forgotten to include something really important,’ Jeremy said to her.

‘No, I haven’t.’

‘You have, and it’s going to ruin the story.’ He kept moving in time with the vampire; it was like a strange macabre waltz. ‘A white rabbit hops into the room and disappears down a rabbit hole; the vampire stops to watch it and Alice follows it into Wonderland.’

She paused, wrinkled her brow and said, ‘That sounds familiar.’

She returned to typing the story.

Just then, a rabbit hopped through the door and disappeared into a hole at the base of the wall of books. Jeremy could see it led to a tunnel full of swirling sentences.

Alice jumped down from her chair and shouted, ‘Wait for me!’

The vampire froze in time.

Jeremy sat at the typewriter and used one finger to clunk the keys. He wrote:

 

Jeremy left the house and drove away in his new Porsche. He never went there again and lived happily ever after.

 

Thanks for reading my story. Wishing you a very happy Christmas. Kimx

Story by Kim Donovan. (c) copyright. All rights reserved. Image: pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home for Christmas

starfish-picture

Jake found the little orange star washed up on the shoreline on a winter’s afternoon out walking with Mum. The star was no bigger than his small hand. It didn’t glow, twinkle or shine like normal stars but he decided it must have fallen from the sky.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Jake. ‘I’ll help you get home.’

He threw the star as high as he could into the air, but it tumbled back down and he caught it. He tried again and again….

‘You were too low anyway,’ Jake said to the little star. ‘Seagulls would have bumped into you.’

When Mum said it was time to go, Jake put the star in his pocket. They walked through the town and saw two fishermen decorating a Christmas tree next to the lifeboat station. A glittery star perched on the very top of the tree. It gave Jake an idea.

He persuaded his mum to stop off at the park, just for a few minutes. He left her on a bench with a takeaway coffee and ran over to the tallest tree.

‘You’ll be very high when I reach the top,’ Jake said as he started climbing.

He stepped onto some branches and pulled himself up onto others. Normally, Jake wasn’t brave enough to climb more than a few feet off the ground but today he didn’t allow himself to look down and kept going.

When he ran out of branches thick enough to take his weight, he took the star out of his pocket and reached up and placed it on top of the tree. But when he let go, it toppled over and fell to the bottom.

Jake quickly climbed down after it. He picked it up; it didn’t seem to be hurt, although it looked very pale. ‘Don’t be sad. I promise I’ll get you home for Christmas.’

There was only one thing for it ─ he’d have to take the star back himself.

At home he headed straight into his dad’s garage and built a spaceship from lots of different cardboard boxes, using masking tape to join them. He collected a few things from the house for the journey: a packet of cheese and onion crisps, a torch for when it grew dark and his favourite teddy to be co-pilot, and then dragged the spaceship onto their driveway and climbed in. There was only one rubber ring to sit on, so teddy and the little star perched on his legs.

‘Three, two, one… We have lift off!’ he said.

The spaceship shot into the sky above their seaside town and kept rising until the houses looked no bigger than those on a Monopoly board. Jake ate his crisps and switched on the torch as the sky turned inky-blue and then black. Millions of bright stars appeared in the darkness, and Jake lifted the little star so it could see that it was back home. But it still didn’t shine.

‘Can’t you see your family?’ Jake chewed his bottom lip, knowing the answer. With so many stars in the sky, it might take years to find the star’s parents.

He needed help. So, he touched down on the surface of the moon and climbed out.

‘Excuse me, have you seen any stars like this one?’ He showed the moon the little star.

The moon smiled and replied, ‘Oh, yes. Down there.’

Jake followed his gaze. He was looking towards Planet Earth at the ocean, where a cluster of tiny orange stars shone in the dark water.

‘He’s a sea star,’ said the moon.

‘I did find him on the beach,’ said Jake. ‘Thank you for your help!’

He climbed back into his spaceship and they took off once again, this time flying back to Earth and low over the ocean until he spotted some sea stars. It was like the world had turned upside down and the sky was beneath him.

‘You’re home now,’ said Jake and he dropped the little sea star into the water.

It sank down and down until it reached the sea floor.

And then it began to glow.

 

A note about Sea Stars

I have wanted to write about sea stars (starfish) glowing, like stars in the night sky, ever since I read A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. The truth is only a few sea stars shine as a result of bioluminescence, not all of them. But it makes a nice story!

Story by Kim Donovan. All rights reserved. Image: Pixabay.

 

 

 

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The Shoemaker’s Secret

heels-1236641__4801The Shoemaker’s glass slippers and soft leather boots were coveted by celebrities and the very rich. Other shoemakers wanted to know the secret techniques and materials he used to craft them, but his big secret was he didn’t make the shoes; they were the work of elves.

He had found the elves working in his shop late one night, stitching fabric. They were no bigger than dolls and wore tatty, green tunics over woollen tights. He thought he should pay them in some way and presented them with new clothing; they were like excited children on Christmas morning.

Over the next few months the elves produced more and more new designs while The Shoemaker took the credit for their craftsmanship, gaining considerable wealth and status. He continued to pay his workers in tiny shirts, trousers, underwear and socks, but then one night the elves turned the tables. They took something belonging to him before they made the shoes: the book he was reading. He bought another copy and thought no more of it.

But the following evening, the same thing happened. This time they chose a framed picture of his baby daughter and paid him five pairs of sandals. The day after, they took a curl of her blonde hair.

The Shoemaker held his child tight to his chest and said to his wife, ‘I’ll put a stop to it.’

The next night he waited up for the elves. They appeared on the stroke of midnight.

‘I don’t need your services any more,’ he said firmly. ‘Please go.’

They smiled smugly, bowed and left the shop. He hoped this was the end of it all, but in the morning he discovered a pair of sparkly silver shoes taking pride of place in the shop’s display window. His daughter’s beloved teddy bear had disappeared.

He tried moving his family to a nearby coaching inn, but that night they took the child’s little toe. The Shoemaker wept, not knowing what to do. The elves would take her bit by bit; he was sure of it.

The bell tinkled as the shop door swung open and a young man walked in.

‘I’m enquiring to see if you have any jobs?’ he said. ‘I want to be as good a shoemaker as you.’

‘Do you have a wife, children?’ asked The Shoemaker.

‘No, it’s just me,’ he replied.

The Shoemaker sighed with relief and smiled. ‘You can have my business for free,’ he said.

He handed the bewildered man the keys to the shop and left immediately with his wife and child. They were never seen again.

The new shoemaker was the talk of town. His glass slippers were exquisite.

 

Story by Kim Donovan. Image Pixabay. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Beauty & the Witch

I’m about to go to a lecture on Europe’s Great Witch Hunt. Clearly, I have witches on the brain because here is my latest micro story. Hope you like it!

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