She knew it would change everything by walking down the pathway looking into the cages and those sad eyes. She had already been here for a while, but had been torn over what to do. Could she really give her heart and life to another? Pausing, she looked through the last wired mesh. In the back corner she could just make out a humped over shape. She clicked her tongue and wiggled her fingers through the cage.

The dog came over, looking worn down by the hard past life he had led. He stuck his tongue out, licked warm fingers and thumbed his tail a little. Sitting down, he pressed his head to the cage and was reward with an ear scratch. He knew it wouldn’t last though. Soft, sweet words he didn’t understand whispered to him then he padded away. Reaching his bed, he curled up and sighed deeply.

There was something about him, she decided. Maybe it was because he was so quiet, unlike the rest of the dogs whom were barking their heads off. Biting her lip, she went to find a staff member and minutes later, she was signing the papers and taking his lead.


First Flowers

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They were the first flowers of spring. Popping up green shoots through the frozen ground and facing brutal winds, they managed to bloom bright white. From them, everyone could draw hope that a new season was arriving and winter would become just another memory in the sand grains of time.

The Elite

For the past few months, Sora had felt guilty. Pushing her half-eaten porridge away and getting up from the stool, she left the morning meal bar and walked over to one of the circler front windows. Behind her, the voices of her parents and the whirling of machines whispered softly. Sora hugged herself, desperately wanting comfort and an escape from the guilt. It was new to her this nagging feeling and she wasn’t doing well at hiding it or the other feelings the guilt brought on.

‘I’m not feeling well. I’m going back to bed,’ she called over her shoulder then fled to her room.

The voices of her parents and their breakfast clattering rose behind her, but she shut it out with her bedroom door. Laying on her messed up bed, she looked up at the solar system projected on her ceiling, whose light glowed gently down. Her parents thought she was too old for it now, but Sora found tranquillity in the ever moving planets, stars and asteroids. Snuggling into the large pillows and pulling a microfleece blanket half over her, Sora shut her eyes and tried not to sink lower into the guilt.

She heard her parents leave, no doubt believing that because she was nearly an adult she could take care of herself. She wondered what their schedules were like today. Maybe her mother would go to the saloon and get her hair and nails done, then she might visit some friends and go shopping. Her father would make his normal mid-week tour of his business, have lunch with some business partners, then go to the gym or to play golf. It was all too predictable.

Sora put a decorative cushion on her face and breathed in the faint traces of synthetic vanilla. A light tapping, almost made her remove the cushion, but her arm flopped to the side instead. The door opened silently and soft footsteps entered. Sora knew who it was instantly, the android housekeeper, who’s soul function was to clean and cook.

‘Can I tidy in here, please?’ a female like voice asked.

‘No. I’m sleeping,’ Sora answered and tried to stay still.

‘But won’t you be late for lessons?’

‘I’m not feeling well,’ Sora counted back already getting bored with the questions.

‘Shall I get the Doctor?’ the android questioned.

Sora pulled the cushion off her face and half sit up, ‘I found out something,’ she started, ‘something I don’t think I should know and I don’t know who to talk to about it.’

The housekeeper didn’t move and continued to stare at her with lifeless eyes. From a distance any android could pass off as human, but up close they just looked like good imitations. Sora didn’t really know or care, how much the androids understood human emotions or if they even knew the differences between them.

‘I read this old book and I found out that once there were different societies of people and they could be divided into a number of categories, but most of the time they’d be divided into how much money they had,’ Sora paused and tried to judge the android’s reaction to this, but of course it didn’t have one.

‘There were three classes of people; rich, middle and poor. The rich have everything and got to do little work, just like how we all live now. The middle classes had to work, but they had comfortable lives and could have most things they wanted. The poor class, well, they had nothing or very little. They lives were all about surviving and not much else. Can you understand that?’

‘No,’ the housekeeper replied, ‘shall I get the Sympathiser? I have not been programmed to connect with humans on this level.’

Sora shook her head, ‘nor has he, it, look it doesn’t matter. Just clean,’ she waved her hand then got up and left.

In the lounge, she turned on the InterFace and giving into the whims she looked up more about the different classes and what had happened to the population. Oddly, all the information she could want was easy enough to access, though she doubted it should be so. The 2101 Freedom Information Act had seen to that and what Sora found made her feel guiltier then before.

When her parents came home and they sat to have the evening meal, Sora told them everything she had discovered and watched their expressions closely. However, if her words affected them in any way they kept it hidden and they seemed non-interested in the matter.

‘Don’t you get it?’ Sora pressed.

‘Yes, of course,’ her mother snapped.

‘It had to be done,’ her father answered solemnly and nodding at his half-eaten steak.

‘Don’t you think it’s wrong? Who decided it was okay to wipe out most of the population? And how did they decided who to keep?’ Sora demanded.

‘Didn’t you find that out?’ came a delayed response from her father.

‘Somewhat. But no real names. I just…I…’ Sora trailed off and looked down at her hands folded into her lap.

‘It doesn’t matter. You can’t change it,’ her mother cut in, ‘if it hadn’t of happened you might not have been born and we wouldn’t have be living like this.’

‘The world was too pollute, we were the cause and we were going to die out,’ her father clarified, ‘so the Tops got together and thus decided only the most important genes could stay in the pool.’

‘And everyone else?’ Sora spit.

‘Scarified to save the human race,’ her father explained, ‘it had to be done. Now, let’s not have any more of this and just enjoy the evening.’

‘I’m not hungry,’ Sora pushed her plate away and got up.

She went to her room and curled up on her bed. Above her the solar system glowed and a comet shot across the inky blackness, Sora let her thoughts go with it.



Bad Day

Laying in the bath tub, Amy could hear the wind whistling outside. She sighed and lent back, letting the hot water swirl around her body. Drawing some satisfaction from the sensation, she watched the steam rising to the ceiling, before shutting her eyes. She relaxed and imagined floating away from her really bad day.

A soft meowing caused her to open her eyes and glance over the edge of the tub. A white paw was curling under the door, trying to latch claws into the corner.

‘Go away, Fudge!’ Amy shouted and sank back into the water again.

The cat meowed louder and from downstairs another cat replied.

Amy groaned and tried not to remind herself about why she hated house and pet sitting.

‘It’s easier then babysitting, more money and I don’t have to be homeless,’ she muttered.

Shutting her eyes again, her thoughts went straight to the two job interviews she had had today. Quickly, she tried to stop the tumble of images and voices, but it was too late. She slipped under the water and held the air in her lungs tightly. The thoughts vanished and she came up gasping for breath. Sweeping hair back from her face, she clutched the edge of the tub and tried to calm down.

Her eyes met that of a cat’s and she groaned. Fudge had somehow opened the door and sneaked in. He was sitting on the bath mat, watching her and flicking his tail in the air.

‘Please, just go away. I need to be alone,’ Amy stated in a soft voice.

She turned away, pressed her head to the back of the tub and tried to come up with a new plan of action. Seconds later, a padding of paws and a flash of white turned her head. Fudge was balanced on the edge of the tub, looking down at her. Instinctively, Amy covered herself as best she could and sat up slowly.

‘What do you want?’ she asked.

Fudge meowed longingly, tilting his head back as he did so, before fixing her with that green star once more.

‘Do you annoy your owner like this, huh? Cats don’t like water,’ Amy added and flicked a few drops at him.

Fudge froze and jumped down. Amy lent over and watched him padding away, ‘bye, Kitty,’ she called after him. She settled once more and tried not to focus on anything. Tomorrow was a new day and she shouldn’t let today’s problems affect it.

A tapping on the door made her turn and glance over, a few minutes later. She huffed and watched the door swing open. Fudge strolled into the bathroom, followed by the other two cats. He jumped up onto the window sill via the toilet and stared down at her. The other two cats followed him.

‘What is this? A peep show?’ Amy said angrily, ‘you cats are weird. What’s wrong with you?’ She scrambled out of the tub and snatched a towel from the rack as she spoke.

Wrapping herself up and grabbing another towel, she left and went into her bedroom. Closing the door, she pulled the desk chair up against it and sat down on the bed. She listened and was reward with meowing noises coming from the other side of the door.

‘Great. Now I’m running away and hiding from cats. My day did get worse after all!’



Empty House (Part 4)

A dark wooden chest of drawers, home to a collection of pocket watches, is left inside the abandoned farmhouse

Ava hadn’t realised she had been holding her breath till she felt the tight pains in her chest. Letting go, she took in a few deep breaths and stepped into the room. A thick layer of dust and grim was across everything, empty spiders webs clung to the window sill and the furniture. She heard Dale flicking a light switch, but no bulb came on above her head. Instead shafts of light were falling from the thin and torn curtains, but there wasn’t enough to cut through the gloom.

‘I’ll get that box of spare bulbs. Stay there,’ Dale called from behind her and walked away.

Of the things she could make out, Ava spotted a baby’s crib just behind the door and a couple of soft toys poking out of a half opened box. As far back as she could see, were stacks of cardboard moving boxes. It was if someone had packed up their whole live and abandoned it in a room that couldn’t have been opened in about ten years.

Turning as she heard Dale coming back, she switched places with him and he changed the bulb in the long dangling ceiling light. He came back over to her and pushed the switch. The light flickered, hummed loudly, then settled.

‘There wasn’t actually a bulb in the fixture,’ Dale explained.

Ava nodded, ‘look at this. What do you think’s in all these boxes?’

Dale shrugged and going over to the half opened box, flipped the other side down and looked inside. He pulled out a picture frame and after looking at it past it to Ava. She handled it carefully and wiped some of the dust off. She noted the two children posing in a sun covered garden next to a fountain in the photo.

‘Your aunt had a kid…or two…’ Dale spoke.

‘I didn’t know…no one ever told me…’ Ava whispered, ‘what happened?’

‘No idea. Look at this though,’ Dale suggested and give her another photo.

This one showed her aunt standing next to a young woman in a university graduation grown. The women looked similar in face, body and hair colour. Ava’s mind whirled; did my great aunt have a daughter? How old is this photo? It doesn’t look that old…nineteen-seventies, eighties? How come my grandparents never told me?

‘There’s some postcards here…dated…nineteen-eighty-one…? Nineteen-seventy-nine or eight. It could be… ‘Dear mum, Spain is nice, hot and sunny! Having a good time, though some of the food doesn’t agree with me. Wish you were here. Hattie sends her love. See you next weekend, Adeline.’ I think…’ Dale frowned and held the postcard closer to his face.

Ava slipped it out of his hands and held it more under the light. She read quietly to herself, repeating the words that Dale had just spoken. She chocked slightly at the name, then let it die on her lips before turning back to him. ‘Didn’t you find anything about her the documents?’

‘No,’ Dale replied thoughtfully, ‘but there’s so many we’ve not gone through yet. It’s hard not knowing what to look for.’

Ava put the postcard on top of the photos which she had balanced on a sealed box. She went to the box and began looking through the other things inside. Dale moved on to a shoe box that had been balanced on top of a small bookcase, which was half filled with children’s books.

‘Let’s see what else we can find. Do you think she’s still alive?’

‘Adeline? No idea,’ he replied and opened the shoe box, ‘But wouldn’t they hAva told you? Or the lawyer or someone else? You’re the last member of your family, so, if anyone even thought that you might have an a live cousin, why would they hide it? Unless…’ Dale trailed off as he fully understood the piece of paper he had just found.

‘Unless what?’

‘She died,’ he stated and handed her the death certificated he’d found.

‘Adeline May Higgings, born March second, nineteen-thirty-nine. Died August eighth, nineteen-thirty-nine. Aged six months. That doesn’t make sense…’ Ava stuttered, ‘There’s been a mistake…’

Dale pulled a face and looked once again into the shoe box, ‘look, little booties. They’re cute. There’s a photo and a baby’s rattle…ivory handle, the birth certificate and some pressed flowers. Look, Ava. Ava?’

‘This can’t be right,’ she said to herself and studied the postcard and the death certificated together.

‘Maybe your aunt had a friend called Adeline? And it was her that wrote the postcard? It’s a popular enough name, isn’t it?’ Dale suggested.

‘But what about this graduation photo and this one with the two kids?’ Ava interjected, feeling frustrated by the situation.

‘I don’t know…let’s see what else there is. Maybe there are more clues in here?’

Sighing, Ava joined him in looking through the boxes. They found tons of baby and children’s clothes for both genders neatly packed away, more toys, books, games and photographs. There was also some children’s bedroom furniture, two landscape paintings and other things. Coming back to the front most boxes, Ava found a second death certificates followed by one for the birth. She called Dale over and showed him.

‘My aunt had another baby in November nineteen-fifty. A boy called George Higgins. He died ten years later of Scarlett Fever.’

‘Oddly, that makes sense going off some of the boy things we’ve found. Is there anything else?’

‘I don’t think so…but I could do with a break…what time is it?’ she asked.

Dale checked his phone, ‘almost one a clock.’

‘Let’s go to that chippy and get some lunch. Unless you want to do something else?’

‘No, that’s fine let’s go.’

Leaving the room and house, they got in the car and drove a few streets over to a fish and chip shop. The weather had quietened again, but it was still raining. Ava stayed silent, lost in a large ripple of thoughts. Dale tugged her arm and missing what he said, she took the hint and got out of the car. The chippy was warm and the windows were foggy. They ordered and eat in the car. Ava felt thankful for the lack of conversation.

However, when Dale prepared to drive them back, Ava suggested that they only stay at the house for another hour or so, ‘I want to go home and think,’ she added.

‘Suits me, I’m really tried,’ he responded and yawed.

A few minutes after they had arrived back and got searching through the boxes again, Ava found a letter. It had been roughly shoved in a box with some old newspapers and other rubbish which had been causing Ava to wonder if someone had accident forgotten to throw them out. Sitting on the floor, she opened the yellowed envelope and unfold a single sheet of paper. The words she read seemed to stop her heart.

Shakily, she muttered Dale to come over, but he didn’t hear her, so she had to call him louder, ‘Dale? I think I found that clue you were looking for…’

‘Huh?’ he said coming over.

Ava handed him the letter and watched him quickly reading it.

‘Adeline is aunt Araminta’s daughter,’ Eve spoke slowly, ‘and she knew about Araminta’s double life and wanted to know who her father really was.’

Dale nodded his head, ‘it’s dated nineteen-eighty-three. A year after George Herman’s death. She says she’s moving to Spain…maybe that’s why we can’t find her documents and maybe she’s still alive.’

‘Let’s gather everything up and go home,’ Ava said excitedly, ‘I need to find out if…’

‘Alright, but let’s not rush okay. I don’t want to miss anything important.’

Ava hummed and patted his arm, ‘thanks. I’m sorry about what I said before.’

‘It’s okay,’ Dale answered softly, ‘I guess I’d feel the same why about things. Just,’ and he pressed his hands to her shoulders and kept her in place, ‘I don’t want you to get all excited about this and then find out we were wrong, alright? It won’t be fair.’

‘I’ll try,’ Ava mumbled and glanced at the floor.

Giving her shoulders a rub, he let her go and started together all the papers they had found in a box. She helped and soon after they left with the single box and went home. From that point on weeks of searching and piecing more of the puzzle together, led Ava to connecting a few people and after the years and months of hoping, Ava found that she wasn’t the single surviving member of her family and she did have an estranged cousin, Adeline, who was living in Spain.

The End

Empty House (Part 3)

A dark wooden chest of drawers, home to a collection of pocket watches, is left inside the abandoned farmhouse

Ava could feel herself drifting off. Right before she surrender to sleep, Dale rubbed her back hard and disturbed her. Pulling a disgruntled face at him, Ava dropped her head back to his chest and snuggled down again.

‘Let’s go to bed,’ Dale suggested.

Ava groaned and mumbled something.

‘Okay fine, but I’m going,’ he declared and eased himself out from under her.

Ava tumbled into the space he had just left and buried her face in a cushion. She felt too tried to move, her stomach and head were hurting. She felt Dale poking her arm and reluctantly she got up and let him take her to bed.

‘So much for an ‘early night’ hey?’ he said as he tucked her in.

Ava moaned and apologised and let the blissful sleep claim her fully.

After checking she was alright, Dale settled into the large double bed and opened the book he had found in the spare room. The photo fell right out, no longer sticking to the spine due to having been removed so many times. In the dim lamp light, Dale looked at the small black and white photo. He could make out the teenage faces of Araminta Costello and George Herman well enough. Araminta had been very pretty with curly hair and small features, or so the photo led Dale to believe. George looked skinny, had a slight moustache, flat hair and was clutching a bowler hat in his hands. He was wearing a suit, Dale noted and Araminta had on a summer dress. They both looked happy.

Dale turned the photo over and looked at the handwritten title again; Newchurch in Pendle, Lancashire, England, 1934. A weird feeling crept over him and Dale decided something wasn’t right. Not with the photo itself, but with the actual date someone had claimed it to have been taken on. Quickly, his mind tried to recall all he knew about Araminta from what he had glanced at in the paperwork he had seen, but he couldn’t be sure about any of that information.

Kissing Ava, he slipped out of the bed, but a dressing gown on and crept down the stairs. He went into the dining room, which they were didn’t really use and had now become a storage room for Araminta’s things. Turning on the light, he crossed the floor and put the photo on the folded down dining room table. Around him were stacks of cardboard and plastic boxes, a chest of drawers and a number of bin bags.

Scratching his head, he searched through everything till he found a plastic box marked paperwork. Popping off the lid, he discovered a wealth of documents inside and decided to go through some of them. Most of the paper was in readable condition, but there was no organisation and Dale didn’t have a clue what he was really looking for. Still going off his hunch that something wasn’t right, he spent the rest of the night sorting through that box and making notes in a notebook.

He finally went to bed around five in the morning, his mind still buzzing and reflecting on what he had found. As he settled behind Ava, he was half-tempted to wake her up, but decided she really needed to sleep. Anyway, he wasn’t sure what he had discovered and he now knew it was going to take a while to put all the puzzle pieces together.

Ava work up as the alarm went off. She struggled to free her arms from the duvet and switch it off. Rolling over, she found Dale fast asleep and breathing hot breaths on her face. She kissed him and tried to wake him, but he turned away with a long heavy moan. Wrapping herself up again, Ava watched his moving back and debated getting up. She shut her eyes and tried not to think about anything, but she couldn’t get back to sleep.

Getting up, she went to the window and peering through the curtain looked out on to her street. The weather was still stormy and the rain was pouring down. Growling at the gloomy sky, she let the curtains fall back and went to hAva a shower. After, she dressed and went downstairs for something to eat. However, it seemed her mind was in a very reflective mood and as she reached the bottom of the stairs, she couldn’t help but look at the collection of photos that covered the wall to her left.

They were all of her parents and family. Trying hard not to think about the smiling faces of her parents looking down on her, she hurried away and had breakfast. Still though, images lingered at the front her mind and she couldn’t help but think how great aunt Araminta’s death was reminding her of the loss of her parents and grandparents. Fighting back tears, she went back upstairs and woke up Dale.

Half-asleep he wrapped his arms around her and tried to comfort her, but she was beyond that for a few moments. Finally, when she was calm and he fully awake, Dale took her downstairs and showed her what he had been doing during the night. Picking up his notebook he read to her as they sat on the floor.

‘So, Araminta was born in nineteen-fifteen,’ Dale started, ‘and she got married to William Higgings in nineteen-thirty-four, aged twenty. Here’s a photo of their wedding day,’ he added.

Ava took the large photo from him and looked at it, ‘I knew she had two husbands,’ she shrugged, ‘where’s this going?’

Dale nodded and held up the Pendle photo, ‘George and her had been childhood sweethearts, but for whatever reason and maybe we’ll find out about it later, Araminta didn’t marry him first. They got married in nineteen-fifty, but and this is the interesting part, Araminta married him under a different name.’

‘What?’ Ava asked puzzled.

Dale handed her a few yellow papers and she looked through them as he carried on talking. There were two birth certificates, a small photo of a baby sleeping and a few letters.

‘Araminta’s parents had another daughter, but she died as a baby. Araminta stole her baby sister’s identity, Amaranta Costello, to marry George because William refused to divorce her and she was desperate to be with her true love,’ Dale concluded.

‘I guess that’s interesting,’ Ava remarked, though she still didn’t understand why her boyfriend was so excited.

‘Your aunt then led a double life,’ Dale explained, seeing the confused expression on Ava’s face and eager for her to become as interested in this as he was.

‘She carried on being Araminta Higgings up until William died in an accident in nineteen-sixty. She then changed her surname back to Costello, but,’ Dale paused as he handed Ava more documents he had found, ‘she carried on living as Amaranta Herman separately, even after George’s death in nineteen- eighty-two.’

Ava shook her head and handed everything back to him, ‘I don’t think that’s right. I never knew she had a sister, but everyone knew about her two husbands. So, if she was leading a double life why would the family know about George?’

Dale paused, thinking over what she had said.

‘The story I remember, Ava said softly, ‘is that William died in the Second World War and that was how and why she married George. Maybe you just got confused with all the dates? You were up all night, it could easily hAva happened.’

Dale looked down and shuffled through the paperwork, glancing at the dates of events.

Ava patted his arm, ‘get something to eat and get ready. We have to go back to the house today. I’ve decided we’re going to try and break that lock on that other bedroom, I really want to know what’s inside of there.’

‘Yeah,’ Dale sighed, ‘maybe there’ll be more paperwork and it might be the proof I need.’

Ava swept hair back and tugged his chin up, so that their eyes could met, ‘Why does it matter? She’s gone and so has everyone else. Maybe we should just let it rest with her.’

Dale pulled a face, ‘but it…interests me…I want to know what happened. It was like yesterday and wanting to find out how she’d ended up on a council estate. Doesn’t it just grab you a little bit?’

Ava shook her head and got up, ‘I just want it over with. I need to move on, Dale. Come on, let’s get ready.’

Dale opened his mouth to press her further, but Ava had already left the room. Sighing, he but everything back in the box and got ready to go. Blocking out his thoughts, he had a shower, got dressed and ate breakfast. He met Ava by the front door and she drove them over to the house. The car smelt damp and of last night’s pizza. Pulling upside the house, they got out and went to the front door. The wind had picked up again and was howling around them.

Once inside though, they didn’t feel any safer. Ava shivered and couldn’t help but think she had just walked into a tomb. They went into the living room and took off their things. The room was empty but for the big pieces of furniture like the sofa, arm chair and large cabinet.

‘We’ll have to get a charity or someone to remove these,’ Dale spoke gently into the gloomy atmosphere.

‘It’s on my To Do list. Let’s get into that room,’ Ava whispered back.

‘I think there’s a hammer in the kitchen. It might be useful.’

‘I’ll meet you up there then,’ Ava replied and left the room.

She turned on the light in the hallway and climbed the stairs. At the top she turned right and went to the locked door. She tugged and moved the handle, but the door stayed firm. Dale joined her and after a few moments, decided that the hammer might damage the door too much, but the screw driver he had also found and brought with him would probably do it.

Ava stepped back and Dale got to work, trying to break the lock. The air pressed heavily and dusty around them, making it difficult for Ava to catch her breath. She glanced up and fixed her eyes on the attic hatch which was above her head. She remembered going up there during the first day they had come to the house. It was in there that they had found lots of cardboard boxes containing documents, postcards, birthday cards and letters. Ava recalled how they had brought everything down, re-boxed it in plastic crates and took it home for them to go through later.

That’s where Dale found all that stuff last night, wasn’t it? she thought, Could it really be true what he said? I guess we’ll have to go thoroughly everything to find out for sure.

‘I think I’ve got it,’ Dale’s voice called her back.

Ava stepped forward and watched him push up the door. Together they peered into the room.

To Be Continued…

Empty House (Part 2)

A dark wooden chest of drawers, home to a collection of pocket watches, is left inside the abandoned farmhouse

Dale opened the front door and almost had it ripped out of his hands. A blast of cold mid-February wind hit his face and barged passed him down the hallway. The kitchen door banged open, making Ava jump. She clutched his arm and dug her fingernails sharply in his skin.

‘It’s fine,’ he said, prising her fingers away, ‘just that storm rolling in like the weather forecast said it might.’

They both peered out of the door and saw rain lashing wildly about, threating to come inside. The empty flower beds on either side of the cracked pathway, looked like mud baths. It was growing darker too as the evening had already set in the sky was a jumble of dark grey and black thundery clouds. The working street lamps flicker on, bring them back.

‘I forgot to ask, did you want to bring any of those bin bags down?’ Dale spoke.

Ave turned to him, but her eyes looked passed him and up the stairs.  ‘Yes, but they can wait…’

‘Be easier now. Which ones are they?’

There’s three; two near the bookcase and one I’d nearly finished which was…on that side and where I was sitting.’

‘Okay. You get in the car then,’ Dale said and handed her the keys from his pocket.

‘You’ll need to lock up,’ Ava replied and after a few seconds of digging in her pockets she pulled out a large single key with a tattered strip of faded red ribbon on the end.

Dale took it from her and headed back up the stairs. Ave stepped outside, bracing herself to run straight for the car. From out of nowhere, she recalled leaving her jacket in the living room. Stepping back in, she turned to the door on her left and went through. The light had been left on, but the room was still gloomy. She went to the sofa and pulled her cotton jacket off the arm. Then she walked out quickly, trying not the let the image of the room imprint on her mind.

Battling against the coming storm, she got into the car and sat huddled, watching the front door. Dale appeared carrying the two bin bags. He dropped them, opened the boot and shoved them inside. Without a word he went back inside the house. Left alone, Ave listened to the rain hitting the car. She tried to keep her eyes fixed ahead, but she could easily make out the wasteland that seemed to surround her.

How did my aunt ended up like this? Ave wondered. She searched deep in her memories, but could only recall Araminta a few times. There had been a holiday at her Cornwall cottage, a birthday party, the funeral of another relative, a wedding and maybe a holiday in Scotland.

Shaking her head, she watched Dale returned, having first wrestled with the front door and the lock. Dale placed the last bag in the car, closed the boot, then opened his door. Ava took the horse and book from him and Dale’s eyes darted back to the house. He drew in a couple of deep breaths.

‘Are we stopping for pizza on the way home then? Or should we order in?’

He grinned and Ava couldn’t help the small smile on her lips.

‘I know, I know. If I phone them now, it’ll be almost ready by the time we drive over.’

‘You still have the number in your favourites?’ Ava asked.

Dale pulled out his phone, ‘yeah.’ He found the number and called it. ‘What do you want?’

‘My normal…Though thinking about it I’m pretty hungry…’

‘Hello? Hi. Can I order for pick up please? Yeah, sure. Can I get two medium pizzas; an Hawaiian and a meat special. BBQ chicken wings, wedges and a garlic pizza bread? Ah, good. Yeah that’s it. Twenty minutes? That’s fine. Yeah. Thanks.’

Dale ended the call and turned to her, ‘Done. You ready?’

Ave nodded and settled back in her seat. Balancing on her lap was the book and horse. She looked down at them and relaxed her grip on the horse’s legs. Dale started the engine and pulled off.  The CD player came on and Drowning Pool began wailing songs from their latest album.

Ava shut her eyes, she felt tried, but not sleepy. She wanted to block out the blurred, wet view going past the windows. The faster they got out of council estate the better she’d feel. As she was sort of drifting off, she heard Dale humming along to the music. He was trying to stay in high spirits she knew and it made her wonder how long he could keep it up. Switching her thoughts she tried to guess where they were just by the feel of the road. It was a game she’d often played on car journeys. I should know the route well enough now, she thought, this has been, what? Our fourth weekend here? Yes.

‘Hey, Ava? You going to sleep there?’ Dale’s voice cut through her thoughts.

She opened her eyes, ‘No. Just thinking.’

‘About that photo? It still gives me the creeps too.’

‘Not really…’

‘So… George Herman was like your great aunt’s second husband?’

Ava swapped around the horse and book in her lap. Opening the book she looked at the photo again. Dale glanced across then fixed his eyes back on the road.

‘I think so…I’ll check when we get back. I’ve not really read through all the documents yet. I never know any of them…at least I don’t have any memory of them. The memories I have just of her are so few and blurry.’

‘You’ve told me, I remember that. Maybe, I can help you look? You know I like a good mystery!’

Ava stared out of the window. A row of boarded up houses went by. The weather making them appear to be in a more dilapidated state then they were. She looked down at the photo and the figures staring back at her. She turned it over and re-read the inscription. That in turn made her think about the phone call she had received at work and the news of her great aunt’s death, which had now changed so much.


‘It’s difficult,’ she heard herself say.

‘I know, angel, but it’ll be alright. I’m here and we’re going to get through this. You’re going to let me help, aren’t you?’

‘Of course…it just feels…so unreal.’

‘It can be like that. Damn, those speed bumps are coming up again.’

Ava looked up and saw that they were on Wood Street, going past the  Doctor’s clinic. Dale over took a bus pulled up at a stop and went over the first of the bumps. Forgetting to brace herself, Ava jumped in her seat then slammed down again.

‘Ouch. Do you have to go over them so fast?’

‘Fast? I’m doing like fifteen. It’s because they are so high.’

‘Yeah, you said before…’

The car bounced over another bump. Dale growled and tightened his grab on the wheel. The car before them had really slowed down so he was force to as well. They went past the Catholic and the Protestant churches, both of which looked more inviting than some of the houses. They were silent for the rest of the journey. Ava tried to stop thinking about her great aunt. She turned her thoughts to the week of work ahead and how many orders she had to complete. Her online business of handmade clothes, furnishings and toys might have taken years to get established, but she was getting more and more orders every month. That and working part time at the Vintage Clothes and Home shop, kept her busy.

However, she couldn’t keep Araminta out of her thoughts and giving in decided that though her great aunt might have only died four months ago, she was still making her presence felt. In a way, Ava was worried she was becoming haunted by the woman. Once the house is sorted and sold, I can get back to my life again, she thought.

Dale pulled up on the curb and Ava looked at the window. They were outside Palace Pizza. Switching off the engine, Dale turned to her, ‘be back in a few,’ he said then got out and walked inside the takeaway.

Chilled by the wind he had let in, Ava rubbed her hands. Her nails caught against the horse and a small scratching sounded squeaked in her ears. Tutting, she put the horse and book in the foot well. The wind and rain lashed out at the car as if angered by its present. Looking out on to the street, she saw a figure hurrying for cover. Turning back again, she saw Dale coming out of the door.

She reached over and popped opened the driver’s door for him. Dale handed her the pizza boxes, a paper bag on top and the bottle of coke cola from under his arm. Ave took them gratefully and placed everything around herself. Settling the hot boxes into her lap, she was careful not to knock the horse at her feet. Dale got in the car and started the engine again.

‘It smells good. Pass me a chicken wing,’ he said.

‘Nope. We are five minutes from home. You can wait.’


Ave smiled and shook her head.

‘Let’s see if we can make it in less than five minutes then.’

He put his foot down and the car shot off the curb. With Ava shouting a no in his ears, he slowed down just enough as he got back on the road. There was no traffic to get stuck in, so they did make it home in just less than five minutes.  Pulling up outside Ava’s house, which he’d moved into a year ago, Dale cut the engine.

The rain and wind hit the car louder than before and as they looked out, they saw a bin in the road. Rubbish was flying about and the wind was shaking the hedges of neighbours and the trees that appeared out above the end of the street, wilding.

‘Run for it,’ Dale said.

Juggling the food, Ava opened her door and quickly stepped out. She heard Dale do the same behind her. Car doors slammed then they were both on the doorstep. As Dale unlocked and opened the door, the wind whipped it out of his hand. The door banged loudly against the wood window sill, but the noise was hardly heard. Hurrying in, Dale closed the door and Ave went straight through to the kitchen.

Dale took off his coat and shoes, placing them in their respective places in the hallway. He then turned and walked into the living room. Flicking on the lights, he walked over to the windows on his left. There lined up on the window sill, was a collection of twenty pot shire horses. Most were the same height and colour, but others were bigger or small, white, black, dappled or bay. Some wore leather strips, looking ready to be attached to a plough, others looked weary and the rest seemed happy enough.

Dale added the horse he’d found today almost them and it fitted in perfectly. Once again Dale wondered how many more he’d find before they were through. He didn’t mind really and the collection did look nice. It made the house feel more lived in. That was the biggest difference between this place and Amanita’s.  Her house was packed full of stuff, old treasure, loved objects, antiques, everyday things. There was something on every surface, wall and floor. Behind every door, there was something stored and secrets. There were so many of them and they had just been scratching the surface of it all.

‘Pizza!’ Ava’s voice called from the kitchen.

Giving the new horse a final look, Dale walked into the kitchen.  They ate in the living room, watching the news on the TV, lost in their own thoughts. Afterwards, they snuggled on the sofa together and Dale pointed out how the new horse was fitting in with the others.

‘Seems she was a collector and a hoarder,’ Ava said. ‘She had nice taste in clothes though, but far too many.’

‘What and you don’t?’

Ava giggled softly, ‘Just if you’d have seen that wardrobe before, you’d have understood.’

To Be Continued…

Empty House (Part 1)

A dark wooden chest of drawers, home to a collection of pocket watches, is left inside the abandoned farmhouse

Ava Costello sighed and cast her dark blue eyes around the bedroom. A fresh wave of tears stung in her cheeks. She wiped them away with a shaking hand then swept her blond hair back. Even though she had tied it up in a bun, strands had come loose and were sticking out all over the place. She caught sight of herself in the dressing table mirror.

All I need is some hair gel and I’d look like a punk…well…a washed out one at least, she thought.

The footsteps on the stairs caught her attention. She turned to the half closed door and watched it slowly pushed open by a scruffy grey trainer. Her boyfriend, Dale Butler, stood in the doorway. He was holding two mugs in one hand, with a small book under his arm and a pot shire horse in the other hand.

‘Oh no, I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone,’ he said in a soft voice.

Ave turned away and dropped her head. She swept both her hands across her face and tried to make herself look better. Dale walked over to her, whilst she did so. Bending down, he placed the horse on the floor then the mugs, before sitting down on the floor beside her.

‘I’m okay,’ Ava replied, though her voice didn’t sound it.

Dale rubbed her shoulder and offered her a mug, which was actually a china tea cup. Ava ran her finger over the delicate hand printed roses. Taking a few sips of sweet, milky tea she wondered if the cup might be worth something. She quickly chastised that thought and hung her head in shame, why do I have to keep putting a price on things? And when did it start becoming so easy?

The silence pressed down on them like a heavy weight. Ava stared into her cup and then turned to look at Dale. He had the other mug, which was a souvenir from the Queen’s coronation, balanced on one knee of his folded legs. His short, wavy brown hair looked mused. He had her favourite expression on his face. He was staring at the floor to ceiling fitted bookcase, but he seemed to be staring more distantly. The boyish features of his face were calm, thoughtful and he almost seemed happy. However, Ava knew him better and he was trying to hide the sadness he felt for her.

‘What did you find?’ she asked suddenly to draw his attention back and to break the silence.

He pointed at the horse. ‘That. It’s fine. No breaks or mends. And this book…which seems to be interesting. Well, to me anyway.’

As he handed her the book, he caught her hands. Ava almost threw herself at him and cried hard into his shoulder. Somehow, she held herself back and let him dropped his hands away. She looked at the book. The paper cover was half coated in dust still and the title was quite faded, The Lancashire Witches.

‘It’s about the Pendle witches,’ Dale explained, ‘open it.’

Frowning, Ava flipped the cover and saw a small black and white photo. A woman and a man were standing either side of a gravestone. She stared at the tiny writing and could just make out the name of Nutter.

‘It’s her, isn’t it?’ Dale continued. ‘I got a bit of a shock when I saw it. It looks just like the one we took ourselves two years ago. Ava?’

She nodded, unable to think clearly and turned the photo over. In faded blue ink there was a flourish of handwritten letters.  Araminta Costello and George Herman. Newchurch in Pendle, Lancashire, England, 1934. Turning it back again, she studied the woman.

‘Yeah, it’s her, my great aunt,’ Ava replied, quietly.

‘Still a bit weird though,’ Dale cut in, ‘what are the chances that your aunt and her husband went there almost a hundred years before us, I wonder?’

‘I don’t know,’ Ave responded.

Sliding the photo back inside, Ava closed the book and placed it next to the horse. Not wanting the silence to envelope them again, she thought of something else to add. Her throat felt chocked and all her mind could come up with was a string of nonsense words. Taking up her cup again, she drank the tea.

‘It’s getting late. Shall we get out of here and ordered a pizza?’ Dale spoke.

‘I suppose so. What time is it?’

‘Half four,’ he answered, ‘I know it’s a bit early for tea, but I’m starving.’

‘How did tidying the other bedroom go?’ Ave cut in suddenly and as if she had only just remembered what her boyfriend had suggested he go and do an hour or so ago.

‘All right. I didn’t find the key to the other bedroom. Just some more books, papers, ornaments. Nothing special really,’ he finished with a shrugged.

Ave nodded, ‘I guess the key will turn up. Anyway, I should finish emptying the wardrobe first before we go. At least, I won’t have to think about that when we come back tomorrow.’

They both looked over to the large, early Victorian wardrobe that took up the entire far wall. The flame mahogany was brightly polished and the different colours of the wood looked striking, even in the dim glow of the single light bulb. There were no handles on the double doors or the single doors that flanked the sides.  However, each door was decorated with a raised panel in the centre and foliates carvings. It was easy to imagine the piece of furniture in a grand Victorian bedroom.

‘If only it could talk,’ Dale muttered.


‘The wardrobe,’ Dale stood up and walked over to it. ‘I wonder what happened to it. How did it end up…here in a council estate house from the sixties?’ he waved a hand around the bedroom.

Ave shrugged, ‘I don’t know what happened. Aunt Araminta was rich, she had houses everywhere. Or so it seemed to me. I thought she was living in Cornwall…I never knew about this house.’

‘You’ve told me. Many times,’ Dale said over his shoulder.

‘Sorry,’ Ave frowned into her tea cup.

‘Don’t be. It’s not your fault,’ he said softer this time, ‘come on, I’ll give you a hand.’

For the hundredth time, as she stood up, Ava examined the room. The other furniture; the dresser, completed with stool, bedding box, the bookcase and the bed matched the wardrobe. Somehow all of them had been squashed into the small double bedroom. The gaps in-between had to be walked through sideways. There was heavy, burgundy velvet curtains covering the three panelled windows. The wallpaper on the other two walls had a dark, gone off white colour with small red flowers dotted across. The floor was un-polished wooden boards.

Dale opened the double doors of the wardrobe and saw that the space had been divided into two shelves with a chest of three draws underneath. It was empty, Ave having already cleaned it out. Leaving it, he pulled open the other two doors and saw that both racks were full of clothes. A range of bright colours and pastels seemed to blind him and trap him into a dying era of fashions. There was a multitude of dresses for all occasions, skirts of every length, tops made out of so many different fabrics and trousers that seemed oddly out of place and yet suitable for the lifestyle the wearer of all these clothes had once lived.

Ava came to his side, hugging herself.  A sudden chill had made goose bumps break out across her arms. As she went to rub her skin, Dale turned sharply to her, breathing out a deep breathe. He grabbed her as she practically fell into him. Ave wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her head into his shoulder.

‘We’re so getting out of here, now,’ Dale said.

He hugged her tightly and kissed her hair. Ave, not trusting herself to speak, nodded. He led her out of the room and into the corridor.  Opposite them, was the locked door with the key missing and what lay beyond in that room they had no idea about.  A few steps took them to the top of the staircase, but the corridor ran on to make space for two more doorways on the other side. The first on the left was a bathroom and the other the second bedroom where Dale had been looking through stuff.

Gingerly, he led her down the narrow staircase at the bottom was the front door and the short hallway off which led two doors marking the entrances to the living room and kitchen. He thought about taking Ave into the living room to sit down, but changed his mind as she shakily grabbed his arm.

‘I wish we didn’t have to do this,’ he said.

Ave bit her lip and waited for him to go on.

Dale banged his fist against the wall and fully turned away from her,’ is there no one else who can empty her house?’

‘No,’ Ave muttered and squeezed his shoulder.

‘Can’t you just sell it as it is?’ he pressed, ‘It’s not good for us doing this! Especially you, Ave. I’m worried about you.’

Dale turned back and took her face in his hands. Ave pressed her hands over his and took a deep breath. From somewhere deep down inside her, she found the courage and replied, ‘I already told you I didn’t want to do that. There could be things from my parents or my grandparent here. We will get through this, Sweets. It’s hard, but it’s a fact of life. Please just bare it and help me get through it.’

Gently, she planted a kiss on his lips, then pulled him in for a deeper one. He kissed her back, feeling desperate to become lost in her kisses and her body. Ave felt his hands sweeping up her body and rubbing against her. She smiled, realising what he needed at the same time as noticing it herself.

‘Let’s go and get pizza, and have an early night,’ she whispered then licked his ear.

To Be Continued…