“Are we there yet?”

Charlie opened her eyes, yawned, then asked plaintively, “Are we there yet?

Deacon snorted then said, “How old are you again?”

“But we’ve been driving for ages!”

“Yes, and you’ve been asleep for most of it,” he retorted.

“You prefer to drive anyway,” Charlie said.

“Because you’re a lead foot and I want to get to the grandkids alive.”

“Okay, Okay! So how long now anyway.”

“Still a long way. We might stop at the next motel or something”

“Haven’t seen any sign of anything for miles,” Charlie remarked,

“You saw that through your closed eyelids, did you?”

“Oh shut up. Wake me when we get to a motel,” Charlie said and settled back again.

Deacon shook his head and peered ahead at the long ribbon of black unwinding in his headlights. He hadn’t seen another car for quite some time.

An hour or so later, lights appeared in the distance. It was a service station set back from the road. As he neared it, he saw the vacancy sign of a motel behind it. He was puzzled. He didn’t remember seeing it last time. Nevertheless, he turned off onto the side road and headed for it. A sign said ‘Wayside Motel.’ He stopped outside reception, then got out. There was a sign on the door. It read, ‘If closed, go to the service station.’

He got back in the car. Charlie stirred, and without opening her eyes, asked, “Are we there yet?”

“Yes dear. Of course we are. I turned the car into a plane,” he said sarcastically.

Her eyes opened.

“Very funny. Where are we anyway?”

“Motel,” he answered, reached for his wallet that he had placed in the centre console, then got out again and walked to the service station. The man behind the counter was old, with an unruly mop of grey hair. He was wearing a wrinkled red flannel shirt that looked as if he’d slept in it. He looked expressionlessly at Deacon with red-rimmed, deep-set black eyes. His face was an unhealthy white pallor. He wondered if the man was ill.

“May we have a room for the night at the motel please?” he asked politely.

The man turned, took a key from a board behind him, and handed it to him.

“Fifty dollars,” he said, his voice a throaty rasp.

Deacon was surprised at the price, but handed him the money.

“Don’t need a receipt,” he said.

The man, nodded, kept looking at him, or almost through him, he thought.

It made him feel very uncomfortable.

“Thanks,” he said, and walked out the door. Through the window, he saw the man was still staring into space.

‘That was weird,’ he thought.

He decided not to share his feelings with Charlie. The key was for room number six. Back at the car, he got in, started it, drove into the carpark and stopped in front of room number six. There were no other cars, they had the motel to themselves.

“Want your suitcase? Stupid question. Of course you do. Here’s the key. It’s six. Go and open the door.”

“Aye aye, skipper!” she responded and got out.

He pressed the button for the boot, retrieved her suitcase, and his bag, shut it and walked into the room. Charlie had turned on the lights. The room was neat and tidy, with a queen-sized bed in the middle with a floral patterned cover over it.

“Smells musty in here,” Charlie wrinkled her nose, as Deacon deposited their bags on the bed.

‘We won’t be here long,” he said.

“ And I’m buggered, so I don’t care.”

Charlie wandered off.

“There’s a kettle and tea things over here,” she said.

“Want a cuppa?”

“Yes please.”

Deacon pulled out sleep shorts, a tee shirt and his toilet bag and went into the bathroom. He was having a pee when Charlie came in and filled the kettle. She pulled a face.

“Noisey,” she said.

“Piss off,” he told her.

“Oh, you’re so funny,” she said, left and shut the door.

A little later, he sat on the bed, sipping his tea. There’d been milk in the small fridge.

“Strange. I don’t remember this motel or the service station last time I came through here,” he said.

“When was that?”

“Dunno. Long time ago.”

“Well, you’re old. Your memory’s pretty shot,” she told him.

“Thanks, I love you too.”

He finished his tea and put his cup on the bedside table.

“Can’t be bothered brushing my teeth,” he told her.

“I’ll do it in the morning,” and climbed into bed.

“Eew,” she said.

“Disgusting creature. No good night kiss for you.”

He pulled the blanket up over his shoulders and turned on his side.

“Good night,” he said in a muffled voice.

He was asleep in minutes. Charlie looked at him fondly. She wasn’t the slightest bit sleepy, unsurprisingly, but she had her kindle. She was halfway through her latest downloaded novel. She’d finish it tonight. A few hours later, she too was asleep. Up above, the vacancy sign had gone out.

Deacon woke with a start. He’d been dreaming. There was a fire. The heat was intense, there was a roar of flames, smoke was billowing in the air. He and Charlie were watching it from a distance. There was no danger to either of them, and he couldn’t tell what the building was that was burning. He turned over. Charlie was sleeping peacefully, her back to him. He put an arm around her and drifted off back to sleep.

It was six the next morning. After showers and an early morning cuppa, they were on their way. Deacon left the key in the room. Soon, the motel and service station had disappeared from view. Two hours later, they were in a large town. They pulled into a service station, Deacon filled the car, then they went into the cafe for breakfast.

“I’m starving,” Charlie announced as they sat down. She picked up a menu and perused it.

‘Full breakfast for me,” she said to Deacon.

A smiling waitress came over.

“Ready to order, folks? “ she asked.

“I am,” Charlie responded.

“Old slow coach here is still deciding.”

“No rush,” the waitress said.

“Have you folks come far?”

“Well, we’ve been driving on the north road for a couple of hours, so not that far,” Charlie said.

‘We stayed in that motel just off the road.”

“Oh? And what motel was that?”

Charlie turned to Deacon.

“What was the name of that motel last night?”

“I think it was the Wayside Motel. It was attached to the service station,” he responded.

The waitress, whose tag said her name was Debbie, said in puzzlement, “I don’t know of any service station and motel in that area.”

Charlie put down her menu.

“We definitely stayed there last night.”

Debbie turned and called, “Len, come here a minute.”

A grey haired man came out from behind the counter and approached their table.

“Len’s lived in this area all his life. He’d know about the service station and the motel,” she explained.

Once more, Charlie told him about their previous night’s stay. His eyes widened, then he whispered, “Oh my God.”

In alarm, Debbie said, “What is it, Len?”

Deacon and Charlie looked at each other. Len pulled up a chair and sat down, while Debbie looked on with concern.

“I don’t know how to explain this, folks, but, there was a service station and motel there, just off the road. But twenty-five years ago, to the day yesterday, it caught fire and both burnt to the ground. The owner, Joe Latimer, an eccentric old fellow, died in the blaze.”

Deacon and Charlie stared at him in horror.

“But we stayed there last night!” Charlie cried.

Debbie had her hand on her chest, eyes wide,

“I’m sorry, but it’s the truth,” Len said.

Deacon said shakily, “I saw him. Old guy, grey hair, red flannel shirt, dark eyes, I gave him fifty dollars, I thought it was cheap.”

Len nodded.

“Yep. That’s him, and that’s what he charged then.”

Deacon said slowly, “I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a dream about a fire. Charlie and I were watching it. I couldn’t see what the building was that was on fire,”

The four stared at one another in silence, then Debbie said, “I guess I’d better get you good people some breakfast.”

“I don’t think I could eat now,” Charlie said.

“I can,” Deacon said.

“I’ll have the full breakfast please.”

“How can you eat after this, this weird thing that just happened to us?” Charlie asked.

“Easy. I’m hungry,” Deacon answered.

“And two teas please,” he said to Debbie.

She left.

“Thanks, Len, I think. This will be something to tell our grandkids when we get there, won’t it? Grandpa and grandma stayed in a ghost motel last night.

I don’t think they’ll believe us, do you?”

“I can’t even believe it!” Charlie burst out.

Len got up and said, “Probably not. Maybe you shouldn’t tell anyone. They’ll think you’re nuts. Anyway, gotta go help Debbie.”

He went off, giving them a lingering look as he went.

Charlie looked at Deacon.

“I’m not sure I know how to feel about this,” she said.

“Yes,” Deacon said thoughtfully.

“I can understand that.”

He grinned suddenly.

“Why are you smirking? What’s so funny?”she said crossly.

“The Wayside Motel,” he said.

“What on earth is funny about that?”

Charlie was getting irate.

“I know what to say now every time I get asked that silly question.”

“What silly question?”

He laughed and said teasingly, “Are we there yet?”

©️Cesmo

Alien Equaliser

Mal shifted in his seat. His bum hurt. Happens when you sit for a long time, worse when it was a twenty-year clunker made before the era of airbags even. But he was on a stakeout. He couldn’t move until there was some sign of activity in the house he was surveilling, hopefully discreetly, just down the street. Suddenly, he sat up and watched as the garage door slid up. A black Lexus reversed down the driveway. It paused as it entered the street and the garage door came down again. It drove down the street and slowed as it drew level with him. The driver’s side window slid down. A hand came out, middle finger extended, and a voice yelled, “Hey Arsehole!” and the car accelerated into the distance.

Mal slumped in his seat and swore to himself. Bastard. What a waste of time. He’d obviously been made. He wondered what gave him away, but it could have been anything. It was depressing. To quote Detective Roger Murtaugh in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies, he was getting too old for this shit. The guy he had been watching was quite low on the drug dealing food chain anyway, not too low judging by the car, but the tip-off he had received indicated he might have led to someone more important.

Mal’s client would not be happy. Concerned his youngest daughter had fallen in with a crowd heavily into drugs, he’d hired Mal to do some snooping. Thus far, his investigation had led to this lowlife called Manny. So he’d been watching him.

Well, that idea was shot to hell. May as well go home. He turned the key, and with a sinking feeling, all he heard was a click. The battery had died. Shit.

Now he would have to ring roadside assistance to get him going. To top it all off, the oppressive clouds that had hung around most of the day decided that now was the time to release the deluge that had been promised so many hours before and rain bucketed down. He fished for his phone, and could not believe what he saw. Nothing, the screen was blank, the phone too was dead. He felt like screaming out loud in frustration. But he was a fifty-year adult, a male to boot. Men didn’t do that sort of stuff. But he did it anyway. The noise of the downpour muffled the sound of the ear-splitting shriek he let out. Nobody heard him, at least, nobody human.

Hidden above the dense rain cloud, by sheer chance, hovering just above Mal’s car, was an alien spacecraft, spherical in shape, containing an amorphous entity. Mal’s shriek was picked up by the craft’s external sensors. Driven by curiosity to determine what the noise was and where it emanated from, the entity left its craft and transported its amorphous form down through the cloud. It hovered above Mal’s car, then entered it. Mal, unable to believe the noise that had just come out of his own mouth, almost crapped himself when the entity materialised in the seat beside him.

“What the hell? Who and what the hell are you?” he stuttered.

There was no answer.

“Are you a ghost or something?”

There was still no response.

Mal’s heart was pounding in his chest.

A tendril reached out towards him. Terrified, he grabbed at the door handle and tugged at it. The door wouldn’t open. The tendril swirled closer, he shrank against the door, then mercifully, passed out.

Mal came to. He felt distinctly weird. But his mind was as clear as a bell. His body had been invaded, no, enhanced by an entity from another world. He felt an awareness that he now had powers that he’d never had before. Maybe like superman or some of the other superheroes like the Avengers he’d read about, and seen in the movies.

This alien appeared intent on helping him, unlike movie aliens who always seemed to be hellbent on destroying the human race, a sentiment with which he sometimes agreed. He looked forward to finding out what those powers were. Did they have any limits?. He wondered if someone shot him, for example, would he die? Now that would be handy to know!

And did the alien have a spaceship? Must have. If so, where was it? Secreted on earth or parked undetected in space somewhere. And were there more of them? He had lots of questions swirling around in his head. Hopefully, as time went by, he’d get some answers. All in all, though, he felt remarkably sanguine about everything that had just happened to him.

He reached for the ignition key and turned it. The car purred into life. The battery had been recharged. Was that the alien’s doing? He had a sense that it probably had been.

He turned on the car headlights. The downpour had passed. He eased away from the curb. As he headed down the street, a car passed going the other way.

“That’s that jerk, Manny,” Mal said aloud.

Now was as good a time as any to put whatever powers he had to the test.

He did a careful U-turn on the wet road and followed the other vehicle. It turned into the driveway of the house from which it had earlier emerged. The garage door went up, and the car drove in. Mal followed, pulling up right behind him. Before Manny could get out of the car, Mal was at his door. He yanked him out by his collar, and with a strength, he hadn’t had before, sent him sprawling to the floor of the garage. Increased physical ability, good to know.

Manny looked up at him with a mixture of fear and outrage.

“What the hell are you doing? I’ll have you charged with assault, you, you…”

He stopped.

Mal looked down at him, then pulled him up, held him in the air, then said mildly, “Ok, Manny, how about we go inside and have a chat.”

Manny looked down at him, then said meekly, “Ok.”

He led the way into the house through an interior door from the garage. He’d left the lights on earlier, and ushered Mal into a well-equipped kitchen. He sat down at the table. Mal seated himself across from him.

“So, you’re gonna tell me everything about your drug dealing, but first, how did you clock me? Never mind,” he said. Actually, Manny didn’t need to say anything. Mal could pretty much sense the thoughts running around in his head. Was that one of his new powers? Had to be. He was chuffed. Even Superman couldn’t read minds!

Manny looked at him in confusion and opened his mouth.

Mal held up his hand to silence him, closed his eyes and concentrated. A jumble of Manny’s thoughts crowded into his head. After a moment, he opened his eyes.

“You really are a scumbag, aren’t you. You’ve ruined so many lives. Even got your own nephew hooked so badly he killed himself. He O’D. Don’t know how many others.”

Manny goggled at him, open mouthed.

“How, how,” he stuttered.

Mal got to his feet.

“You’re done. I know you feel really bad about your nephew, but it hasn’t stopped you.

I know all about you now, who you deal with, where you get the stuff, how much dough you got stashed away, even which banks you got all your accounts in. The cops will get all that info. You’d save everyone a heap of trouble if you just topped yourself before they get you,” he told him brutally.

He turned on his heel, walked out of the kitchen, through the garage and got into his car. He found he was shaking with rage. Manny was just a low-level dealer but look at the carnage he’d left in his wake, the lives he’d ruined. He started the car and backed down the driveway. He decided to go home. It was quite late. He had a lot of thinking to do.

What to tell his client for example.

But now, he had enhanced physical strength and apparently could read minds, for starters. The stuff he got out of Manny’s head gave him plenty to work with. He wouldn’t tell the cops anything. He’d go after them himself. He looked forward to finding what else he was capable of and how he could best utilise whatever he had to right wrongs, and exact justice. What was that Denzel Washington movie? The Equaliser.

That’s what he’d do. Become an Alien Equaliser!

©️Cesmo

AK 47

Heston curled his finger around the trigger of the AK 47. He loved the feel of it and the sense of power it gave him. He looked at his target through the sights. He really couldn’t miss at this range. It could fire ten rounds per second. More than enough to do the job. Overkill really. After all, his target was only one man. No wonder it was illegal to buy unless you knew where to get it. Which he did. Cost a bit. But he knew someone. Got a good deal. It came with a box of ammo. He had loaded it. He really hadn’t known how until he googled it. Amazing what you could find on the internet.

Now, he had finally tracked down his quarry, Hilton Dearden. His little hideaway, this cabin, more a shack really, miles off the beaten track had been in the family for generations. When he dropped off the face of the earth, it had taken a while to locate him. He had gone to ground, just after Heston had got out of prison, obviously fearing for his safety. Rightly so. But finally, a google search had revealed the fact that his family had it and also its location. This had to be it. And some discreet surveillance had verified that he was here.

So now, he was ready. He was well within firing range. A line of trees hid him from view. Dearden had disappeared around the side of the cabin. But he was a patient man, he would wait till he came out again.

He thought, with quiet fury, of the circumstances that led up to this point. Unremarkably perhaps, it was a double-cross. He had approached Dearden with a proposal. He had researched a high-end jewellery store run by a wealthy widow. He knew exactly what he wanted. Rings and bracelets worth over five hundred thousand dollars. He needed a wheel-man, Dearden had a good rep. He was one of the best. It took some persuasion. He had declared he was going straight, but the lure of a hundred k as his share changed his mind. Of course, Heston had no intention of giving him anything.

So on the day, Dearden pulled up just down the street, and waited, engine running. Heston went in. They were about to close. No customers were inside. He showed the woman his gun and pointed to what he wanted. She pulled out the tray. At the same time, cops burst in behind him, guns drawn. He knew he’d been shopped. He swore he’d get Dearden. The fact that he was going to screw him over, had nothing to do with anything.

He got seven years. The gun he’d used was real. He had previous convictions. He was out after four and a half with good behaviour. It was while he was inside that he’d become fascinated with the AK 47. He’d come across a book about it in the prison library.

Now, he looked once more down the sights. He drew a breath. Dearden had company. It was the widow who owned the jewellery store! No wonder he shopped him. How had the two of them got together? Before or after? He didn’t care. He’d get them both. There was plenty of ammo to go around. He steadied himself against a wall. His finger caressed the trigger, then he pulled it. It blew up in his face and he fell to the ground.

As he lay there dying, his last thoughts were, ‘no wonder I got such a good deal. The damn thing was defective.’ Ironically, his fascination with the AK 47 had killed him.

©️Cesmo

Adrian’s Good Deed

Adrian walked along, head down, moodily kicking at the odd stone as he went along.

“Bloody Matthews,” he muttered to himself. He was doing his best. So what if he forgot the odd comma or full stop. You got the gist of it. Thank goodness it was Friday. No school for the weekend and Monday was a public holiday. Yay! He had plenty of homework If he got that done early, he’d have three days free. He looked up as he passed a weathered old house. It belonged to old Mr Hastings. He would sit on the front porch on a battered old chair, watching the world go by. Adrian waved at him from time to time, but the old man generally ignored him, just staring into space. His mother had gently pointed out that he may not even have seen him, lost in thought, or just had bad eyesight.

He wasn’t there. Which was unusual. He hadn’t been there yesterday either. He wondered idly if the old man was alright. He knew he lived alone. He had home help and meals on wheels several days a week. He stopped and stood uncertainly at the rickety timber gate. Should he go in and check? They had never actually exchanged any words. Still. It wouldn’t do any harm, he decided.

He pushed open the gate, walked up the path, mounted the well-worn steps and slowly approached the front door. He stood for a moment, then knocked on the door. There was no answer. He stood uncertainly, then knocked again. There was no one home yet on either side. The neighbours were couples all of whom worked during the day. He walked to a window and tried to peer through, but the curtains were drawn. He went back to the door and tried the handle, but it was locked.

He stood there indecisively, then shrugged his bag off his shoulders, dropped it on the floor, and descended the steps. He walked around the side of the house, along the fence, to the backyard. It was mainly weed-infested grass, with a border of shrubs, and the odd tree. The grass badly needed a mow.

Fleetingly, he thought, ‘I could offer to come and mow over the weekend,’ then mounted the back steps of a back patio with a few odd bits of furniture on it. He walked to a back door and tried the handle. The door was unlocked. He pushed it open and ventured inside.

“Mr Hastings?” he called.

No answer. He was in a small room, and to his right, through an open door, he saw a laundry. Ahead was a kitchen. There were some dishes in the sink, but it was what was on the table that disturbed him. There was a plate of congealed food, a knife and fork lying on it, a chair pushed back. Alarmed, he called out again, “Mr Hastings?”

No answer. He walked past the table and into a hallway. He gasped. Mr Hastings was lying unmoving on the floor. He was on his side, a mat tangled in his feet. Without hesitation, heart thumping in his chest, Adrian ran to his side. To his relief, the old man was breathing audibly. but his eyes were closed. He seemed to be unconscious.

‘How long had he been lying there?’ he wondered.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and punched in 000, the first time he ever had to do that.

‘They’re on their way,’ he was assured after explaining what he had found.

He ended the call, put away the phone and looked down at the old man. He must have tripped on the mat and knocked himself out. What should he do? He went off, looked into a bedroom, pulled a pillow and blanket off a neatly made bed, then returned. He gently inserted the pillow under his head and draped the blanket over him. Then he walked to the front door and opened it. He stood outside, pulled his phone out again, and called his mother. It went to her message bank. He left her a brief message explaining what had happened. She was a nurse at a nearby hospital. She would have it turned off while she was on duty. As he ended the call, an ambulance pulled into the driveway.

Some minutes later, he watched as they wheeled Mr Hastings out to the ambulance.

“He seems ok, but he may have a fractured hip,” a female paramedic told him.

“Good thing you found him. He probably wouldn’t have been able to move.”

She patted him on the shoulder. Soon the ambulance pulled out of the driveway and set off. It had aroused very little interest in the few people passing by. They just looked and kept going.

Adrian went back inside. He picked the plate up from the table, emptied it into the rubbish bin, then washed it and other dishes and cutlery he found in the sink. He dried everything with a dish towel and stacked it neatly on the draining board. He looked around. Everything was neat and tidy. He locked the back door, then pulled the plastic bag half-filled with garbage out of the bin. He would drop it in the big bin outside next to the house. He saw a set of keys hanging up on a key rack.

‘Should he take it?’ he wondered. How would Hastings get back again? He took it just in case and walked out of the front door. He would call the hospital later to check on the old man, He picked up his backpack, dropped the garbage bag in the bin, and set off for home.

Ten minutes later, he was drinking deeply from a carton of vegetable juice. His mother would not be impressed, but she wasn’t there to see him. He put it back in the fridge then went into his bedroom, dropping his bag on the floor. He lay back on his bed, pulled his phone from his pocket and pushed a button.

“Hi Aidie,” a voice trilled.

He felt warm inside. His favourite person in the whole world, well, apart from his mother.

“Hi Simone,” he answered.

They’d only been seeing each other for two months. It was exciting. She was the first person he’d ever dated.

“You’ll never guess what happened to me today.”

“What?”

So Adrian proceeded to tell her all about his good deed.

©️Cesmo

According to Alice…

“God, there’s just miles and miles of nothing!” Stacey complained.

Aaron looked at her with amusement.

“A. It’s kilometres, B, this trip was your idea. ‘Let’s go somewhere different,’ you said.

I did tell you it would be like this. Hundreds of k’s between little towns that have nothing much in them. ‘Let’s be adventurous,’ you said. That sense of adventure didn’t last long, did it.”

She squirmed.

“But there’s not even any phone coverage,” she said.

“Told you that too,” he reminded her.

“I said there’d be places with no coverage.”

“But hundreds of miles, sorry, kilometres?” she cried.

He shrugged.

“So, you wanna turn back? We haven’t booked anything. You said not to. It’ll be part of the adventure, you said.”

“Stop doing that!” she said crossly, “Reminding me what I said. You could have tried harder to talk me out of it!”

He laughed, “So now it’s my fault, is it? Luckily, I’ve got a great sense of responsibility. Anything you do and don’t like, I’m responsible. So, shall I turn around?”

“Oh, shut up! And stop being so reasonable. Keep going till the next town. I’ll decide then.”

“Yes ma’am,” he responded.

“It’s only a few more k’s. It’s called Shelby.”

“What’s there?”

“Dunno. It’s a bit off the highway. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess. Don’t even know if there’s anywhere to stay.”

“There wasn’t at that last place or anything to eat either. Good thing I packed sandwiches wasn’t it.”

“Yep, chicken and avocado. My favourite.”

“Oh shit! You hate avocado! I forgot. You never said anything!”

He grinned cheerfully.

“Yep, I’m just a angel.”

“Oh God,” she wailed, “This trip has gone to Hell. Why did you let me talk you into doing this?”

He laughed.

“Because I wanted to go as well. Don’t worry about it. The avocado didn’t kill me.”

“There’s the sign to Shelby,” she pointed.

“Okay, let’s see if there’s anything there,” he said as they reached the turnoff, and saw the

small town unfolding in front of them.

“It looks a good size,” Stacey commented.

“Hope they’ve got a motel.”

They drove down a wide Main Street, with a few houses on the approaches, then a number of shops, a hotel and a service station. Stacey pointed to a sign.

“That says motel down that side street,” she said.

Aaron turned and soon, they saw a motel sign. He stopped in front of reception. Stacey jumped out and strode inside. He watched her go. She was tall and lithe, as tall as he was. He was amused that she wouldn’t wear high heels when they went out, telling her he didn’t care if she towered over him. She hadn’t as yet. He noted the carpark was quite full. It was late afternoon. Maybe something of note was on in the town. The ‘no vacancy’ had not been lit up, so perhaps there was still an available room. Stacey came out, brandishing a key. She set off and he slowly followed her. She opened the door to number 15, and he parked in front of it. He hauled their cases out of the back of the car and carried them inside. Stacey had already turned on the kettle.

“I want a cup of tea,” she announced, as he put their cases on the floor. He looked around. The room appeared quite neat and spacious, the double bed covered with a colourful duvet.

Stacey plumped herself down on the bed.

“Something a bit weird happened in reception,” she said to Aaron.

He sat down on the only chair in the room.

“Oh? Like what?” he asked.

“There was no one in reception when I went in, then a little girl, about twelve, came out. I said I wanted a room. She gave me this strange look for quite a long time, said, “Are you sure?” then this lady came bustling out, ordered her back inside, and we did the business. Only cost $80.00.”

“So?”

“Why would that little girl ask me, ‘Are you sure?’ And that strange look.”

“What was strange about the look?”

“I dunno. Just made me feel, I shouldn’t get the room. Now why would that be?”

Aaron shrugged.

“Who knows. Maybe she’s just a weird little girl. Anyway, what about that cup of tea.”

“Don’t feel like one now. How about we wander down the street and maybe get a drink at the hotel”

“Sure, why not. Just gotta go to the loo first.”

A little while later, they left the motel and walked down the street. They turned from the side street into the Main Street and headed for the hotel. As they passed a narrow lane, a hand reached out and clutched at Stacey’s sleeve. Startled, she realised it was the little girl.

She beckoned them to follow her down the lane. After exchanging puzzled looks, they followed her. She walked to a large dumpster, looked around anxiously, then ushered them behind it, and crouched down. She said urgently, “Bend down! Don’t want anyone to see us!”

They obeyed, then Stacey said, “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

“Why did you come? What are you doing here?” the girl asked.

Confused, Stacey said, “We’re on a road trip. We just needed somewhere to stay for the night.”

“Well, you picked the wrong place,” the girl said.

“Why?” Aaron asked.

“Tonight’s the night they pay homage to Thanatos, and they need the blood of a human to do it, so they need a human sacrifice.”

“Okay, “ Aaron said quietly.

“Let’s back this up. First of all, who are you, who are ‘they’ and what makes you think we’re the ones marked for sacrifice?”

The little girl said earnestly, “My name’s Alice, my Mum’s one of them, and they’re Satanists who worship Thanatos, the god of death, and one night a year, they pay homage, and tonight’s the night.”

“Okay, so why us?” Aaron asked, glancing at Stacey who had listened in sceptical albeit petrified silence.

“You’re the only strangers in town. They always pick strangers,” Alice said.

“I thought Satanists worship the devil,” Stacey spoke for the first time, her voice tinged with fear.

“Not them. They’ve always worshipped Thanatos,” Alice said.

“Why are you warning us?” Stacey asked.

Alice struggled to speak, then, tears filling her eyes, she said, “I was here last year with Mum. There was a lady and her little boy, they checked in. I saw people take them out of their room because I had woken up to go to the toilet, in the middle of the night and I heard the noise and looked out the window. I was half asleep and went back to bed. The next morning, they were gone. Their room was cleaned out, and when I asked Mum, she said they’d left early in the morning.”

“That’s possible, isn’t it?” Aaron asked.

“I found their cases in the storeroom,” Alice said.

“Did they have a car?” Stacey asked.

“Yes. It was gone,” Alice said.

“Alright Alice,” Aaron said gently.

“Thank you for telling us. I’m not some helpless young woman with a child. I was in the army. I know how to look after myself, both of us actually. So you go back to your Mum before she misses you. And thanks again for warning us.”

“Alright,” Alice said, getting up, peering around the dumpster before scurrying off.

“Well?” Stacey asked.

“What do you think? Overactive, vivid imagination or have we stumbled into a Satanists lair?”

Aaron straightened up and pulled Stacey to her feet.

“She didn’t explain how she knew about the human sacrifice, or where this sacrifice is supposed to take place. Let’s go and have a drink. If there’s anything going on, maybe we can pick it up by listening to some of the locals.”

Hand in hand, they walked out of the lane, down the street and entered the bar of the hotel. A few moments later, they were seated at a table, Aaron with a beer, Stacey with a rum and coke.

“I think I need something strong,” she declared.

Aaron nodded in agreement and looked around. There were plenty of people around considering it was midweek, and he idly wondered why. It was a small town. A gathering of Satanists, perhaps? They all looked pretty normal to him, but then, he didn’t know what Satanists were supposed to look like.

“Want something to eat?” he asked.

“Yes please! I just realised I’m starving,” Stacey responded.

Aaron got up and headed for the bar. He came back after a few moments bearing a menu. He sat down and said, “I asked the girl behind the counter about all the people. She said there’s a white witch convention in town.”

“They’re the good ones aren’t they?” Stacey queried.

“Supposedly,” Aaron replied.

They perused the menu, decided what they wanted and Aaron went back to the bar to order. He came back bearing a buzzer, and another beer sat down and pulled out his phone.

“Let’s see what white witches get up to,” he said.

Stacey sipped her drink and waited expectantly.

“Well, it’s all about goodness and ethics, according to Wikipedia,” he reported.

“So white witches are the good ones,” Stacey said, “But aren’t they all women?”

“Alice said ‘people,’ she didn’t say what sex they were, but she may have dreamt the whole thing. I’d say she’s just got an overactive imagination,” Aaron commented.

“What about their bags she said were in the storeroom?” Stacey asked.

“Could have been anybody’s. How did she know it was theirs?” he responded

The buzzer went. They ate their meals in silence. Afterwards, they strolled back to the motel. Their car was the only one in the carpark.

“They must all have gone to their convention,” Stacey remarked.

Aaron nodded. They entered their room.

“I still feel uneasy,” Stacey said.

“Understandable,” Aaron responded.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I’ll wedge the chair under the door handle,” Aaron suggested.

“That way, no one can get in, just on the off chance.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The rest of the night passed without incident, although neither slept very well. They were up early the next morning. The carpark was full.

“Wonder how their convention went,” Stacey commented as they drove out of the carpark.

“And whether they found someone else to sacrifice,” said Aaron with a wry smile.

“I hope we never find out,” Stacey said with a shudder.

“Let’s hope it was just Alice’s over active imagination.”

As the car disappeared down the street, they were unaware that Alice had come outside. She stood clutching a teddy bear and watched them go, an expression of relief on her face.

©️Cesmo

Accidental Hero.

Danny lay on his bed. He sighed heavily as he stared at the ceiling. He had just returned from another day of unsuccessful interviews. Well, not the whole day. After all, he’d only had one. The first one they’d said they’d let him know, but he could tell, they wouldn’t bother. At least, he’d got an interview, they hadn’t just ignored his application, like so many of his others had been. And the second one was way across town. By the time he got there by public transport, he’d been 20 minutes late, so they refused to see him. He’d sat despondently on a park bench outside for quite a while before wearily making his way home. He’d gone straight to his room and laid on his bed. He drifted off.

“Danny!”

He awoke with a start. His mother was standing over him. She was angry, he could just tell. He struggled to sit up.

“What?”

“You forgot to bring in the washing. It’s rained, and everything’s wet!”

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“And you promised to wash the dishes, and clean the kitchen, it’s disgusting! And your room’s a mess. I keep asking you to tidy it, but that’s obviously too much for you, And I suppose you forgot to pick up bread and milk as you walked past that milk bar too, didn’t you. God, you’re useless!”

She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room. He stared after her resentfully.

“I’ve had a bad day too, Mum,” he felt like shouting but refrained. He knew he was at fault. He had promised to do all these things, but still. That was no reason for her to yell at him like that. He got up. He’d go for a walk just to calm himself down. He donned his hoodie and headed for the front door. His mother’s bedroom door was closed, but he was too angry to tell her he was going anyway. He opened the door and was tempted to slam it, then thought better of it. It had a stained glass pane in it. It wasn’t the best, but she had made it when she was attending a class once. She would be enraged if he broke it. So he closed the door gently and set off. It was drizzling slightly, and almost dark. It didn’t deter him and he set off, head bent.

He walked in the direction of the Main Street. There was a pub further along. Maybe he’d shout himself a beer, but he realised rather ruefully, that he only had about twenty-five dollars in cash and probably not much more than that in his account. Still, at this moment, he didn’t care. As he turned into the Main Street, someone cannoned into him. He staggered slightly, but the other person, a man, went down heavily. He must have twisted his knee. He gave a yell. He dropped a bag he was carrying, rolled over, looked at Danny, then back past him up the street, scrambled up and hobbled off, leaving the bag behind. Danny picked it up. It was a woman’s handbag.

Realisation dawned. He must have stolen it. He looked up the street. In the distance, he could see a woman. She was leaning against a car. As he watched, she opened the passenger door, and sat down, leaving the door open. He headed for her. The car was a Lexus, he noted. The drizzle had eased. He approached the car, and asked hesitantly, “Are you ok?”

The woman looked at him. She seemed unfocused.

“Sorry?”

“Are you ok,” he asked again.

“No, I’m not, young man,” she answered.

“I’ve just been mugged, I think. That’s what you call it, isn’t it? Some man grabbed my bag as I was walking back from that atm up the road. There were no parking spaces any closer, that’s why I had to walk so far. He just came up behind me and grabbed my bag and ran. I got such a fright!”

She was almost gabbling, but he thought, ‘Poor thing, she must be in shock.’

She was an older lady, very well dressed, and he could smell her perfume, probably very expensive, he thought. She was sitting in a Lexus after all.

“Is this your bag?” he asked, holding it up.

“Oh my goodness, yes!” she cried.

“Did you see what happened and catch him? My purse is in it and my phone, so I couldn’t ring the police or anything. Thank you, thank you.”

She took the bag, rummaged in it and said excitedly, “Everything’s still here. You’re a hero!”

About to tell her what actually happened, he thought, ‘I’m a hero!

How often is anyone going to call me that. Never! I’m taking it!’

So he shrugged self deprecatingly, “Well, I tackled him, but he got away.”

It was sort of true.

“Thank you again young man, I am most grateful.”

She opened her purse and thrust two fifty dollar notes at him.

“I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to reward you for your bravery and honesty.”

He stared at the money, then said reluctantly, “Oh, I couldn’t take it.”

In his head, he heard, ‘You idiot! Of course you can. You need it. Take it.’

“I insist,” the woman said.

So he took the money, thrust it into his pocket, and said, “Thank you, although it isn’t necessary.”

“Money is always necessary,” she said. “It’s how the world works. Now, is there any other way I can help you?”

Without thinking, he said, “Well, if you can find me a job, that would be good. I’m in between at the moment.”

She looked at him, then said, “I just might at that.”

He stared back at her, then stammered, “Sorry, that just came out, but did you say you might be able to?”

She rummaged in her bag again, then handed him a card.

“My son runs an online business. He’s looking for delivery people. He was only complaining to me today, that his last one just left him in the lurch. So would that be suitable? He supplies the van and a phone, so he told me.”

“That would be great,” Danny said, putting the card in his pocket.

“Good, go and see him in the morning. I’ll tell him you’re coming.”

She added with a laugh, “I suppose it helps if I know my hero’s name?”

Danny squirmed, “It’s Danny Taylor.”

She put out her hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Danny Taylor. I’m Helen Thompson.”

They shook hands, then she said, “Just help me out of the car please, Danny. I can get in but getting out is a bit of an issue.”

He helped her out, shut the door, then escorted her around to the other side and opened the door for her. She got in. He closed the door. She put the key in the ignition and lowered the window.

“Thank you again, Danny. I’m sure I’ll see you again sometime.”

He nodded, walked around the car to the pavement and watched her slowly drive away. He walked in the direction of the pub, his mind in a whirl. He could well afford that drink now. A bit of money and the prospect of a job. He could hardly believe it.

A few moments later, he was downing a welcome beer. He thought about his mother. She was justified in having a go at him, he supposed. Normally even-tempered, she must have had a hard day at work to lash out at him. But he did need to pull his weight a bit more.

He confined himself to one beer, then wandered through the poker machine area. He could afford to put the last twenty dollars through. After all, he had a hundred dollars he didn’t have before he left home. He was down to his last three dollars when it happened. Flashing lights, bells, and envious looks from other patrons, and a dazed Danny was walking home with $2400 in his pocket. He remembered to buy milk and bread at the milk bar as he was passing. It was just closing.

He walked into the house. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, several papers in front of her. They looked like bills. He put the bread and milk on the bench and sat down next to her.

“Sorry Mum,” he said.

“It’s ok,” she said quietly.

Her face was tired and drawn.

“Bills?” He pointed at the papers.

She said tiredly, “Nothing for you to worry about,”

He pulled his winnings out of his pocket, laid it on the table, and with a broad smile, said, “Will this help?”

Wide eyed, she looked at him, and said, “Did you rob a bank?”

So he told her all about his evening, his winnings, his new job prospect and his $100 reward. All because he had just been an accidental hero.

©️Cesmo

Absent in Mind

Caleb threw back the blankets and searched for his slippers with his feet. They weren’t there. He normally left them next to the bed because that’s what he wore, the last thing at night before he retired. Obviously not last night. He needed to pee, so he didn’t have time to look for them. After he finished, he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. Not particularly impressed with what he saw, which was not unusual, he ran a hand through his increasingly sparse greying hair which was sticking up everywhere. His equally grey eyebrows were becoming alarmingly tufty. And was that hair sticking out of his nose? Hadn’t he only just trimmed them a few weeks ago? He was only sixty. What was going on? Premature ageing? Or was this just what was supposed to happen.

But the forgetting stuff, like his slippers, that was the most concerning. Over the last week alone, he recalled misplacing a number of items. That was all he remembered. Not what he’d misplaced or where just that he had. He sighed. At least he didn’t have someone constantly nagging him for his forgetfulness. Maggie had long since departed, but her reasons for leaving were simply that she was tired of living with such a boring do nothing dullard.

He wandered barefoot into the kitchen and put the kettle on for his usual morning cuppa. Normally, the matching canisters containing teabags, coffee and sugar were lined up next to the kettle, but the one with teabags was missing. Now, where could he have put it? He looked around but couldn’t see it anywhere. He opened the pantry, cast his eyes over the shelves, but there was no sign of the missing canister. He sighed in frustration. Was this just another sign of his increasing memory loss? The kettle boiled. He’d have to settle for coffee, but he liked to heat the milk in the microwave first.

He opened the fridge. The teabag canister was sitting on the middle shelf. He simply stared at it. He had no recollection of putting it there. Shaking his head, he retrieved it.

A short while later, with a mug of tea in hand, he was sitting on a chair in the lounge. He turned on the television, his Saturday routine, to watch the news. He never turned it on during the week, preferring to get ready for work without its distraction. But it was never good news. This morning was no exception, so after a few moments, he abruptly turned it off.

That was a first. He generally sat there, apathetically watching. He sipped his tea and mulled over in his mind what he was going to do that morning.

First look for his slippers. They had to be somewhere. He cast his mind back. When was the last time he’d worn them? Frustratingly, he couldn’t remember. He finished his tea, He had planned to go somewhere this morning. He’d read something in the community newspaper early in the week. Now, what was it? Oh yes, it was an art exhibition by locals in the nearby community hall. His friend Angie had several paintings on show. He had told her he was going to drop in and have a look. He grimaced slightly. In his opinion, Angie was no artist. She called herself an abstract painter. Trying to make sense of her paintings drove him to distraction. She had told him they weren’t supposed to make sense, she was expressing her inner soul, whatever that meant. It looked like a very tormented one to him. But what did he know? He didn’t have an artistic bone in his body.

He got to his feet. He’d hunt for his slippers. They had to be somewhere. But 30 minutes later, no luck. So he had his morning shower. When he finished, he looked for his nose hair clippers to deal with the hair he could see sticking out of his nose. Once again, something else he’d mislaid. He couldn’t find them anywhere. He gave a groan of despair.

He really was losing his mind.

He dressed and went to the kitchen to have his usual Saturday breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. He only had it on Saturday. The rest of the week was cereal and tea. He opened the fridge. To his dismay, he had no eggs. He’d forgotten to buy any. He remembered using the last ones last weekend. So he at least remembered that, he just hadn’t gotten any more. Annoyed with himself, he decided to treat himself, which he did from time to time. He’d go out for breakfast, then go to the art exhibition. And on the way home, buy some eggs. Maybe it would be a good idea to check whatever else he needed although his usual shopping night was Friday, on his way home from work. He probably didn’t need anything, but he’d forgotten the eggs, hadn’t he.

A short while later, keys in hand, he opened the back door on his way to the garage.

He stumbled and almost fell over his slippers. They were sitting on the mat. He recovered his balance, then snorted in remembrance. He had worn them last night when he’d gone out and deposited some rubbish in the bin. It had rained, he’d gotten some mud on them so he’d left them there rather than track mud inside.

He opened the side door of the garage and got into his car. As he pressed the button on his key fob to open the garage door, he reflected that at least he’d remembered where his car keys were, he had his wallet, and he just recalled where he’d left his nose hair clippers. So perhaps not so absentminded after all. He backed down the driveway and watched the garage door close. He turned into the street and set off for the nearby coffee shop which served a very nice breakfast. A sudden realisation hit him. He sighed, then pulled over. He needed to turn around. He was going the wrong way. His previous thoughts about his absent-mindedness might have been a bit premature. Damn.

Oh well, once he had his breakfast, he might forget where he was going afterwards and miss seeing Angie’s atrocious works of art. Maybe there were some positives to being absent in mind.

©️Cesmo

My Birthday

Well, the sun’s just come up and it’s my birthday

And a chance later, for my so-called friends to say

Happy Birthday you decrepit old so and so

Yes, some of them certainly do sink that low

But then looking back over the long long years

Given my state of health and despite all my fears

Perhaps I’m luckier than most to have lived this long

For these two deaf ears to hear that birthday song

So many others have shuffled off this mortal coil

Passed away, kicked the bucket, gone off the boil

But lucky? Maybe not a word I’d use to describe my state

Bad heart, bad hip, can’t move too well, that’s my fate

And I hate that the mind’s not what it used to be

Though I’m not sure why I should let that bother me

It’s expected isn’t it, that old people do forget stuff

My brain’s full, I reckoned I’ve remembered enough

I actually can’t quite recall what happened last week

But they tell me that some part of me sprang a leak

I think it may have been a vein in my arm

They fixed it, it didn’t do too much harm.

Of course that’s not all that’s happened to me

It’s quite an extensive list, a whole long litany

But who wants to hear an old man whinge

It goes and on, it’ll just make you cringe

I never wanted to be someone who’d moan

To everyone around me, who’d simply just groan

Sadly, afflictions and ailments are what we all share

But don’t tell me about yours, I really don’t care

I’ve got enough of my own, thanks all the same

Talk about something else, like last night’s game

I expect they’ll get me a cake and one big candle

Blowing out a heap would be more than I can handle

I hope it’s caramel, that’s what I really like the best

Though I suppose that I should have put in a request

I don’t expect to get a visit from my one and only son

He found me this home, and when it’s all said and done

He did his duty, he’s done his bit,

I can’t complain, because here I sit

In my comfortable room, a room with a view

There aren’t too many of them, just a few

And I can see the sun as it rises in the morning

As the poets say, watching a new day dawning

Well, they’ve been and brought me some tea

And now wheeled me out for everyone to see

Mike’s at the piano, playing the birthday song

All the other geriatrics are all singing along

I smile with thanks and gratitude

And don’t give anyone any attitude

It’s my special day and I’m happy to be above ground

Until I slide to the floor without even making a sound

And the last words I’ll ever hear as I slowly fade away?

“Oh my god, the old bugger’s carked it on his birthday!”

©️Cesmo

Yes, it is Cesmo’s birthday today

A day in the life of Shelby Marriott.

Shelby Marriott strode up the street. The wind was quite cold. He was glad to be wearing his Burberry coat. It kept the cold out. His driver had dropped him several blocks from his hotel. He needed the walk and the fresh air. Eight hours cooped up in an office with back to back meetings needed some release. Especially as some had involved heated disagreements that had taken all his negotiating skills to navigate. It was getting dark, the sunset early this time of the year. He walked past a figure huddled on the steps of a closed office building. It was a man. He was dressed in shabby clothes, had no jacket, and was shivering. He stopped, turned back, pulled out his wallet, and put two fifty dollar notes in his coat pocket. He stripped off the coat and draped it around the man who looked up at him in surprise. Shelby patted him on the shoulder and said, “There’s some money in the pocket. Get yourself something to eat,” and walked on.

The Palace hotel was only a block further on. He hurried up the steps. A bus had just pulled in. Three lines of people stood at the the reception desk. The three staff members were flat out checking everyone in. Shelby walked past everyone in one of the queues and caught the receptionist’s eye. She gave him an impish grin, and turned from the woman she was serving, found a key card in a rack and handed it to him. He smiled at her and headed off.

“Hey! What the hell? I was here first!” the woman erupted. “Sorry, Ma’am, the gentleman just wanted his keycard.” “Not the point! You should have finished serving me first.” The girl looked at her quizzically, and asked, “So what do you want me to do?” “Finish booking me in, then I want to see the manager!” The woman had a distinct American accent, and was rather loud. “Are you freaking kidding me? We’ve been standing here as long as you. You’ve held us up longer than that feller did!” The man standing behind was becoming quite irate. “I don’t care!” the woman said stubbornly. “He got served ahead of me and he shouldn’t have.” “Ma’am, I think you should know, that gentleman was the owner of this hotel. If he was made aware of your behaviour, he might ask you to leave. That’s his right,” the girl said. The woman was silent. The receptionist handed her her keycard and she marched off.

The man behind her stepped up and said, “ She’s been a pain in the butt since our trip started. Can you really get her kicked out? We’d all appreciate it.” The girl smiled and shook her head, leaned forward and whispered, “He’s not really the owner, just a frequent guest.” The man burst out laughing. “The best thing I heard all trip!”

Upstairs, Shelby had a shower, then decided to go down and have something to eat. The restaurant wasn’t full. He found a corner table and ordered a glass of white wine while he perused the menu. He’d been there often and ordered the Chef’s special, which was always good. After a very satisfying meal, he went back to his room. Some emails needed to be answered, then he would have an early night. It was a little later that the phone rang. The girl at reception informed him that the police had arrived, and wished to speak to him. “Oh. They’ve finally caught up with me have they?” he remarked. Flustered, she said, “What should I tell them?” “Send them up,” he responded cheerfully. “I’m ready to turn myself in.” “Alright,” she said uncertainly.

Five minutes later, there was a discreet knock on the door. He opened it. Two people stood outside, a man and a woman. The woman introduced herself as detective sergeant Ashley Manners, the man as detective John Kopetnik. Both showed him their warrant cards. He invited them inside. Ashley Manners looked around the room appreciatively. It was a spacious suite with expensive furnishings and comfortable chairs and a sofa. They sat down. “So,” Shelby began, “ How can I help you?” The woman looked at him. He was tall, trim, with short black hair, not particularly good looking, she thought, but she felt he had something. He also had a dimple in his chin.

“We arrested a man earlier tonight. He was causing a disturbance in a restaurant just down the street. Apparently, the staff were familiar with him, they knew he was homeless, often found him scrounging food out of the dumpster. He insisted he could pay, they didn’t believe him, they tried to eject him, and he hit one of the male staff. They were about to call us, but we happened to be in the restaurant having dinner. We took him into custody, and when we searched him, he did have a hundred dollars on him, but the coat he was wearing was a very expensive Burberry, and it had a card with your name in an inside pocket.”

“I see,” Shelby said thoughtfully.

“He said you gave it to him, and he saw you go into this hotel. We just needed to verify his story.”

“Of course. Well, it’s true. I gave him the coat and the money.”

“That coat is worth over two grand!” Kopetnik exclaimed. Shelby smiled slightly.

“It’s just a coat, and he was cold.” “So you’re verifying his story?” Manners asked.

“I am,” he asserted.

She got up. “Thank you for your assistance. The restaurant may still wish to press charges.”

“Oh, will they now?”

“Yes, the owner was quite adamant. People like that scare patrons away, he said.”

“I imagine news of a restaurant prosecuting a homeless man wouldn’t do too much for their reputation either,” Shelby remarked.

“I suppose not. I might point that out to him. Thank you for your time, sir.”

“Oh, call me Shelby, please. Will you let me know whether they’re going to proceed with the charge? I might need to have a word.”

She looked at him for a moment and wondered what motivated a man to give away a two thousand dollar coat and defend a homeless man. It would have been interesting to find out.

“I will. Goodbye.” They left. As they descended in the lift, Kopetnik exclaimed, “Wow, what sort of guy does that?”

“A very interesting one,” Manners said thoughtfully.

Shelby lay back on his bed and thought about his two recent guests. Sargeant Manners was quite an attractive woman. Not pretty in the accepted sense of the word, but nicely put together, with short auburn coloured hair and curves in all the right places. She intrigued him. He hoped she would contact him about the homeless man. Of course, she could be happily partnered with no interest in him whatsoever. Hopefully, he’d find out.

There was another knock on the door. Then, it opened. The receptionist who had given him his keycard came in hesitantly.

“Are you alone?”she asked.

“Sadly, yes,” he answered. She closed the door, then walked to the bed.

He sat up and folded her into his arms.

“It’s so nice to see you, uncle Shel,” she said.

“Me too. Pumpkin” He released her. “Still enjoying the job?”

“Love it!” she exclaimed. “Thanks so much for putting in a good word for me.”

“I put in several actually. Threatened to take my custom elsewhere if they didn’t take you on.” She giggled. “I told that lady I was serving that you were the owner when she objected to me giving you your keycard.”

“Well, I’ve been here so often, I should probably have taken shares in the place. Anyway, how’s your mother?”

She pulled a face. “Same old, same old. She complains about everything! No wonder Dad left her. I’m so glad you’re not like her.”

He ruffled her hair affectionately. “Yes, I’m afraid she takes after your grandma.” “Are you going to see Grandma while you’re here, uncle Shel?”

“Probably. Apparently, she’s driving everybody in the nursing home nuts.”

“I can imagine. What about Mum?”

“Honestly? I don’t know if I want to see her. Last time, I got a long lecture about the things I’ve done wrong over my life.”

“I don’t blame you. Best thing I ever did was to move out and share with Bethany. But I know she’s a bit lonely.”

“I’ll think about it, but no promises. So, are you off duty yet?” “No, just popped out for a moment to see my favourite uncle. I’d better get going.” She reached out and hugged him again, then got up and walked to the door.

“Bye Emily.”

She blew him a kiss, then left the room. He lay back with a smile. What a lovely girl she’d turned into from the pigtailed little tot he used to take for walks, to the park, and the zoo, and so many other places. How fast they grow up, he thought to himself. But as for her mother, that was another story altogether. He really didn’t want to see her if he could help it, but he probably would. Most of his friends thought he was far too much of a softie, considering he was a highly regarded senior executive for a very prestigious corporation. Wouldn’t they be appalled if they knew what he’d done with his Burberry coat. But it had been a gift from a grateful client. He would never have bought one himself. Speaking of which, he wondered what had happened to the homeless man. Just as the thought occurred, his phone rang. He didn’t recognise the number.

“Hello, Shelby Marriott.”

“Mr Marriott, this is sergeant Manners.”

“Hello, sergeant, nice to hear from you. I thought I told you to call me Shelby, or Shel for short.”

There was silence for a moment, then, “Alright Shelby, I just wanted to tell you I spoke to the restaurant owner and he’s decided not to proceed with charges against Mr Watts.”

“Good to hear. Very sensible. The homeless man’s name’s not Charlie, is it?”

“As a matter of fact, it’s Charles. Why?” She sounded mystified.

Shelby laughed. “Oh sergeant, or can I call you Ashley? Haven’t you heard of Charlie Watts?”

“No, not really.” “Oh dear, there’s something sadly lacking in your musical education, Ashley. Charlie Watts has been the drummer for the Rolling Stones since 1963.”

“Oh. I’m an Eagles and Fleetwood Mac fan myself.” “Not bad. You’ve got some good musical tastes. Now, was there anything else?”

“No. I just wanted to let you know what happened.”

“Thank you.”

“Why on earth did you give him that expensive coat?” she blurted.

He laughed. “Oh Ashley, it’s just a coat, but if you want to know more, you’ll have to have dinner with me, unless there’s a Mr Manners who might object.”

She didn’t answer for a moment, then she said cautiously, “No, there’s no Mr Manners, or anyone else for that matter.”

“Great!” he said enthusiastically. “Do you want to have dinner here? I can highly recommend the food.”

“Alright,” she agreed. “I’m supposed to finish at five tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow’s fine. About 6.30?or so?”

“Yes.” “Good. Look forward to seeing you.”

“Ok. Goodbye Shelby.”

“Goodbye Ashley.”

She was gone. He lay back on the bed again. He had an idiotic smile on his face. He reviewed his day in his head, It had been very interesting. Successfully resolved meetings, helping a homeless man, he’d given away his coat, met his adorable niece, and finally, secured a date with an attractive woman. All in all, a very rewarding day.

©Cesmo

A box of Chocolates

“Life’s like a box of chocolates? More like a pile of rubbish,”

Ren muttered.

Peta looked up from her desk and asked, ”What on earth are you talking about?”

“That Forrest Gump movie quote. It’s a pile of rubbish.”

Peta looked at him with amusement.

“It’s just a movie you know. And why are you referencing it anyway?”

“My mother quoted it at me last night at dinner. ‘You never know what you’re gonna get’ he parodied in a high pitched squeaky voice.

Peta laughed.

“Very good. You sound just like her.”

“Yeah? Well, I got a pile of rubbish this morning. Derek rejected that programme I worked on all weekend in favour of that idiotic braindead moron Sean’s piece of rubbish!”

“You’re starting to repeat yourself,” she told him.

“But what did you expect. Sean’s his nephew. And his brother’s got a stake in the company, don’t forget.”

“A company that’s going down the toilet if he adopts Sean’s programme..”

“No, it’s not. Derek’s smart enough to modify it so it doesn’t do too much damage. He’ll probably use bits of yours too.”

“Yeah and I’ll get no credit for it,” Ren huffed.

“We are in a mood today, aren’t we?” Peta said.

“Tell auntie Peta what’s really bothering you.”

He looked at her askance.

“You’re the same age as me!”

“But so much wiser and more mature,” she observed.

“Hell,” he muttered.

‘He was really getting very tiresome,’ she thought.

But normally upbeat and quite fun to be around, she knew something was bothering him. She waited and said nothing further.

He sighed, then said abruptly, “I’m going off.”

“You can’t. You just got here,” she protested.

“What will I tell Derek?”

“Tell him I got a severe attack of diarrhoea. My mother’s cooking. It could be true, she’s a terrible cook,” he said, picking up his laptop bag, slinging it over his shoulder and walking out the door.

She watched him go. Derek was going to be pissed, but it wasn’t her problem. Still, she worried about Ren, it was quite unlike him.

Ren strode out of the building. He had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get out. They were located on the outskirts of the bustling city and there was a park nearby. He headed for it, passing a coffee vendor on the way. He bought a cappuccino, found a bench and slumped down on it. He stared moodily at his feet while he sipped his coffee. He had no idea why he felt so unsettled and frustrated this particular morning. It was a mild day. There were quite a few people about in the park. Didn’t any of them work? he wondered. He closed his eyes and took another sip of his coffee and tried to marshall his thoughts into some coherence.

He’d worked at the company for two years now. At first, he’d quite enjoyed it. He liked the relaxed atmosphere, and Derek wasn’t a bad bloke. He liked Peta too, a lot, but she had a boyfriend. He still enjoyed the work, but Sean’s arrival had changed the dynamic. It hadn’t bothered him at first, but increasingly, he found himself more and more frustrated. No matter how good he was, Sean would always be the favoured one, only because he was the boss’s nephew. Maybe that was it. All the suppressed frustration had boiled over into this feeling that he felt barely able to contain. So, what was he going to do about it?

He opened his eyes. He was startled to see a tall dark-haired girl sitting on the other end of the bench. She had a laptop on her lap and was engrossed. Her lips were pursed, a frown marred her forehead. Quite attractive, he thought, if you liked them tall and skinny.

Suddenly, she said, “Damn!”

He was amused. Just like him that morning. Everything had been rubbish.

Impulsively, he asked, “Problem?”

She looked around at him and said in a frustrated tone, “It’s frozen,”

“Have you tried rebooting it?” he asked.

“I’m too scared to in case I lose everything,” she said.

“Would you like me to try?”

“Do you know anything about computers?”

“I work for a software company, so, a little bit,” he said.

“Well, if you’re sure, I really can’t afford to lose all this work. I spent all weekend on it.”

“And you haven’t backed it up?”

She shook her head.

“Alright.”

He moved to sit next to her. She was wearing a perfume that he quite liked.

“May I?”

She handed the laptop to him.

He looked at it critically while she watched fearfully. It only took him a few minutes.

He handed the laptop back to her.

“There you go,” he said.

“I’ve backed it up as well so you can’t lose it.”

“Thank you so much,” she said.

“You’re a lifesaver,”

She looked at the screen, then closed the lid.

“I really appreciate what you did. It’s so lucky I ran into someone who knew what they were doing.”

He smiled self-deprecatingly.

Impulsively, she said, “Would you allow me to take you to lunch? As a thank you?”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Ren demurred.

“I’d like to. Please.”

‘You idiot. How often do you get an offer like that?’ a voice in his head asked him.

“Alright. Thank you. I’m Ren,” he said.

“Jasmine. I’ll meet you at the Romano at twelve. You know it?”

He nodded speechlessly. It was the most expensive restaurant in the city.

“Don’t worry,” she laughed.

“On the company expense account.”

She added thoughtfully, “It might be a business lunch. My computer guy just quit. If you’re interested, maybe I can steal you away from where you’re working now.”

Ren stared at her, then nodded.

“Sure, we can talk about it,” he managed.

“Alright.”

Jasmine got up.

“See you at twelve,” she said, and strode away.

Ren watched her walk out of sight. She had a very trim behind.

He picked up his coffee and sipped it. It was cold. He put it down again, thoughts swirling around in his head. Then he thought about his mother. He smiled ruefully to himself. He owed her an apology, even if only in his head. He had a few hours to kill before his lunch appointment. Would it be a date or business? He wouldn’t mind if it was both. He wouldn’t go back to work. He’d text Derek, let him know his diarrhoea had laid him low, then go off to visit the art gallery. He hadn’t been there for years.

On the way home later, he’d drop a box of chocolates off at his mother’s. He figured she deserved it.

©️Cesmo.