A Dish Best Served


A Dish Best Served

by Michael J. Gray


Orange flames French kissed the wallpaper. Pastel daisies peeled from the walls and became black. An immense heat filled the air. I spluttered on smoke as I stumbled down the stairs. I had to get out of the house.  Opening the door I managed to fall forwards a few feet before collapsing onto the front lawn. Behind me the second storey of the house turned bonfire. Pity no one brought marshmallows.


Right on cue a car screeched to a stop at the foot of the lawn. Vanessa stumbled out of the car. She stood metres away from me in her short black dress and heels. So much for getting away with it. She looked at her house aflame and then at me sprawled on her lawn. A gamut of emotions crossed her usually fake face – an insincere smile, now confusion. Horror. Anger. I didn’t know she was capable of such feeling. It made me question my motives.





I shook the mouse and the puppy dog screensaver disappeared from view. My boss, Kenneth, a balding baby boomer, leered over me. I felt his eyes scanning my body. I covered myself in defence.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Have you finished yet?”

“Sorry, finished what?”

“The minutes. I need them now.”

“I haven’t exactly started them yet. I’ve got tons on my plate. Since when were the minutes urgent?”

“Since my boss started breathing down my neck.”

“I know the feeling,” I muttered to myself.

“What was that?” Kenneth asked sharply.

“I’ll get right on it.”

“Good,” he said steering himself away.

I dropped my hand from covering myself and opened up the meeting minutes template.


“… Laura …”

Hearing my name I looked up from my monitor to see Vanessa chatting up Josh.


Oh Josh, the office hunk. Recently divorced. Silver fox. Biceps like mountains. I don’t know why Vanessa even bothers flirting, she’s married with two kids. I guess some people are never happy with their lot.


Josh laughed and looked in my direction. When our eyes locked his smile vanished and he turned sheepishly away.

“I’m right here, what is it?” I called out.

Vanessa pretended not to hear me.

I increased my volume. “I’m literally five metres away from you!” My voice reverberated around the office. Heads turned.

The red in Vanessa’s cheeks began to shine through the layers of foundation.

“What was it? Spit it out!” I called.

Vanessa finally looked at me. “It was nothing Laura, let it go.”

“Oh it was definitely something,” I said, standing up.


Before I could leave my desk Kenneth marched over and stood between me and Vanessa. “Laura, I need those minutes now.”

“She –”

“That’s enough!” he ordered.

“They brought it –”

“Get back to work.”


I sat down with a huff and returned to the minutes. Just when I was about to send them off, my computer dinged. An envelope popped up in the bottom right corner of my screen. I clicked it expecting an angry email from Kenneth. It was from Josh.


Hi Laura,


Sorry, I was just trying to be friendly. Vanessa can be a bit … full-on. If you really want to know what she told me, she was making light of how badly Kenneth wants to fuck you. Which is totally gross and I’m sorry I laughed.


If he ever touches you or says something I’ll back you up 100% okay?


Please don’t hate me.





I didn’t know how to respond to that. I left the message sitting in my inbox all day. I was almost going to ignore it completely when Josh stopped me on the way to the bathroom.

“I’m sorry –”

“Don’t,” I interrupted. “I read your email and I accept your apology. I just don’t understand why you and Vanessa hang out together. You know she’s a total bitch, right?”

“I was just trying to be nice,” said Josh.

“Oh, so it’s not that see-through top she wears every Friday?” I asked.

“Jesus Laura. Don’t make me reconsider my offer.”

“Your offer? To protect me from Leering Kenneth? I can take care of myself thank you very much,” I said, pushing open the ladies’ room door leaving Josh mouth agape in the hallway.


Was I too harsh? Probably. Jealous that he spends more time with Vanessa and barely notices me? Okay Laura, stop trying to therapize yourself. Staring into the mirror, I readjusted my hair, lifting the blonde curls out of my face as my mother always made me do. God, I was becoming just like her. At least I can handle my liquor.


The bathroom door opened, it was Vanessa. She slinked her way to the sink next to me and pulled out a lipstick. As if her lips weren’t blood red enough already.

“Really? You’re going to pretend that didn’t just happen?” I asked.

“I thought we had moved on?” she said, smacking her lips together.

“Look, I don’t care what you think of me.”

“Funny way of showing it,” she said, reaching for her mascara.

“I care when you start shoving your opinions onto others; my colleagues.”

“By colleagues, you mean Josh? Everyone knows you have a crush on him. It’s pathetic really.”

“I… I do not,” I protested.

“You really think he would be interested in a girl like you? You’re far too young.”

“I’m nearly 30,” I said.

“What Josh wants, is someone with experience,” said Vanessa.

“Oh, like you?” I asked.

“Of course not me, I’m married.”

“Like that’s stopped you before,” I snorted.

Okay, that was low, even if she deserved it.

Vanessa stopped halfway through her application and put the mascara down. She looked at me for the first time since entering the bathroom. “I’d appreciate it if you never brought that up again. That’s my business.”

“Oh come on Vanessa, the whole office knows,” I prodded. “That’s why Andrew left remember?”

“And I’d really like you to drop it,” Vanessa said through gritted teeth.

“Okay, I’ll stop. Just remember who has more dirt on who,” I said, as I left the bathroom, leaving yet another co-worker mouth agape. What a total mum move.




I collapsed onto my sofa, disturbing Pickles next to me. She stretched and gave me the evil eye before returning to her default position of head tucked into belly. I took a healthy sip of my drink. Nothing like a gin and tonic to take the edge off a day at work. My phone vibrated on the coffee table. It was a message from Josh.


Josh: Sorry about today. Hope this cheers you up


Attached was, well… ahem, a photo of his penis. Jesus almighty! Josh sent me a dick pic? Maybe I really did get to him today. Was this a submissive act? Am I supposed to insult the size to make him feel ashamed? Was Josh even into that stuff? I mean I’m flattered and all, truth be told, and I felt a little flushed. Did that mean Josh was into me? Or was that just the gin?


Another message came through.


Josh: Are you there?


I wrote back.


Laura: I’m here, just admiring your err… selfie.


Josh: I want to see your selfie


So, maybe not a submissive after all. Does he want a picture of my… pussy? I’ve done the phone sex thing before, but this is new territory even for me. I found the Santa hat I was saving for the work Christmas dinner tomorrow and put it on. I unbuttoned my shirt a few notches and posed cheekily before sending off a message.


Josh: More


Laura: Like more selfies, or more… more?


Josh: More more


There were lines and then there were lines. What ever happened to first dates? No chickening out Laura. You’ve been doting on this guy for months now. He’s finally expressed interest. Comply or lose him forever. I looked to Pickles for guidance, but she just slept wistfully. I looked to the half-finished gin and tonic. Batten down the hatches. I swallowed the rest and dropped my knickers.




That next day at work I was as giddy as a school girl. I could barely focus on my work. I’d look over to Josh and he’d flash his perfect teeth at me. I’d blush and shyly smile back. The work Christmas dinner was tonight. Drinks were involved. Perhaps Josh and I would finally seal the deal?


The work day dragged on until 5 o’clock finally rolled around. The function was at the local racecourse, one of the meeting halls with an adjoining kitchen for the caterers. I rocked up in my red dress and Santa hat. Now where was my Santa? Everyone was starting to mingle around the bar. I ordered a Sav and stood around awkwardly waiting for more people to show. Finally, McDreamy himself walked in. I smiled from across the room and he made his approach.

“Hey you,” I said.

“Hi Laura,” Josh said back.

“Looking sharp,” I said, eyeing up his black suit. “You scrub up good.”

“Please, it’s just a jacket. You look amazing tonight, I hope you don’t mind me saying.”

I blushed. “Do go on.”


Before Josh could compliment me further Kenneth moved to the centre of the room. He was wearing the same clothes he’d worn at work, an un-ironed buttoned up shirt that bulged at the waistline, and trousers that hung too short exposing old brown socks. His eyes lingered on the ladies closest to him in their short dresses.

“Can I have your attention please? Katherine has put together a slideshow for us this year. If you’d all be silent during the presentation.”

Katherine, the office goodie-goodie, was huddled over a laptop. Dear God, I hope Kenneth wasn’t taking advantage of her. Katherine hit play and the projector threw up some Word Art on the wall.


Aedox – A Year in Pictures


Photograph by Nickelback began playing. I groaned audibly and play punched Josh in the shoulder.

“Your favourite song,” I whispered.

“Please, I grew up in the 70’s remember?” he said.

The wall flicked to the first photo, St. Patrick’s Day. A snap of Vanessa prancing about in her green lipstick and matching frock.


Eugh! I ordered another drink from the bar.


I looked back at the slideshow. It was now Halloween. How could I forget Josh’s zombie costume? Half his shirt was missing. Sure, he had on a face of the living dead, but that doesn’t make me a necrophiliac, okay!


I drank back the rest of my wine and stared at Josh’s face. The way his chin dipped, the curve of his lips. How did I get so lucky? He didn’t see me looking. He seemed preoccupied with the presentation.


Everyone inhaled around me. I heard stifled giggles. I looked up at the wall to see myself in nothing but a Santa hat. Another photo. And another one, and another one. All from the night before. Josh looked as bewildered as I was. He half pretended not to look. Kenneth gawked at the photos.


I rushed over to the projector and stared daggers at Katherine. “What the fuck is this?”


“I swear I don’t know how these got on there,” insisted Katherine.


“Turn it off!” I commanded.


“I can’t – it’s on auto-play.”


“Shut it down for fuck’s sake!”


Katherine started clicking the mouse as I tried wrestling the cord from the projector loose. Bloody thing. Finally it came free. My nakedness disappeared from the wall. But it was too late. They had seen everything.


All eyes were on me. Vanessa was across the room in hysterics, keeling over. I marched up to her in my heels.

“It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I could see the lies seep through the cracks in her plastered makeup.

“You evil bitch!” I slapped her across the cheek, expecting a retaliation. But she just rubbed her face and looked at me with disgust as if I was something rotten. I turned and fled out of the hall.


“Laura!” Josh called out after me.

My left heel snapped and I fell to my knees. Grazed, I got up and kicked off the heels, leaving them discarded at the entrance. I ran like hell.





I pulled up outside Vanessa’s place. I had tracked down her address from an old Facebook event – a Halloween party I ignored. No way in hell was I going to show up to one of Vanessa’s snore fests. The invitation read ‘no alcohol’ because her kids were going to be there. Please, have mercy! Someone had to put Vanessa in her place once and for all. I got out of the car and my bare feet touched the cool tar seal.


There was her perfect house where she lived with her perfect little family. Mark and the kids were away on a school camping trip.


No time for subtlety. I yanked a pink flamingo from along the garden path and swung it around my head before it connected with the glass pane in the front door. The pane cracked. I swung the flamingo again and some of the glass shattered. The flamingo snapped in two. I reached a hand through the gap and unlocked the door from the inside. The security alarm triggered. Blasting sirens pierced my eardrums. I had better make this quick. I found matches by the fireplace and rummaged under the kitchen sink for anything flammable. Methylated Spirits. That would do.


I ran upstairs to the master bedroom. I yanked open the wardrobe doors and found Vanessa’s most prized possessions. With both arms I lifted up the skimpy dresses and the expensive jackets, the coat hangers coming free. I heaved them down the hall to the bathroom and dumped them in the bathtub. I poured the purple liquid over the mound of clothes and it splashed over the leather, the cashmere, and the cotton. The bottle ran dry and I tossed it in there too.


I lit the match and felt the warmth of the flame in my hand. Such potential in such a little thing. I tossed it into the bath. The clothes engulfed in flame. I watched with satisfaction as I imagined Vanessa’s reaction as she came home to find all of her beloved and expensive clothing destroyed, nothing but ash in the bottom of her bathtub. The small bathroom began filling with black smoke. I shielded my face. Bang!  Something exploded in the corner. Flames spread. It was Vanessa’s beauty bag containing nail polish, hair sprays and who knows what. Okay, that was enough. I spun the shower dial and water sprayed over the clothes, smothering the flames. But the small fire in the corner continued raging. It was spreading to the walls. I cupped my hands under the falling water and threw it at the corner but it was no use. It did little to perturb the flames. I tried prying off the shower head, but it was fixed in position. Oh God, Laura, what have you done?


Orange flames French kissed the wallpaper. Pastel daisies peeled from the walls and became black. An immense heat filled the air. I spluttered on smoke as I stumbled down the stairs. I had to get out of the house.  Opening the door I managed to fall forwards a few feet before collapsing onto the front lawn. Behind me the second storey of the house turned bonfire. Pity no one brought marshmallows.


Right on cue a car screeched to a stop at the foot of the lawn. Vanessa stumbled out of the car. She stood metres away from me in her short black dress and heels. So much for getting away with it. She looked at her house aflame and then at me sprawled on her lawn. A gamut of emotions crossed her usually fake face – an insincere smile, now confusion. Horror. Anger. I didn’t know she was capable of such feeling. It made me question my motives.


Nah, it was totally worth it.



Creative Commons License
This work by Michael J. Gray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Noise Control

Warning: The following story may contain offensive material.

Noise Control

 The thudding next door continued for the seventh night in a row. My wife lay next to me eyes open, staring at the ceiling.

“This can’t go on Beth,” I said.

“There’s nothing we can do,” she replied, turning her silver head towards me.

“Why are they working after god forsaken nine o’clock?”

‘They don’t have time during the day, they’re working,” said Beth.

“Why is that my problem?”

“I don’t know Neil.”

I dove under two pillows and pressed them down around my ears. It only dulled the sound of hammering. I erupted from my cocoon and tossed the pillows aside.

“You know what? I’m going to have a word with them.”

“Neil, don’t.”

I climbed out of bed and stood up in my tartan shorts and white singlet.

“They’re disturbing the whole of Trentham, and us especially.”

My throat clutched and a coughing fit took over. I shook it off.

“Honey, you already called Noise Control, and they said it was below the threshold for them to act upon.”

‘I don’t believe that for a second. He works for the Council; he’s got them under his thumb.”

I pulled up a pair of khakis and tightened my belt.

“I’m just going to have a word Beth. Maybe they’ll listen to old fashioned reason. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll have something I like to call human compassion.”

I slipped on a pair of tatty brown slippers and left my neat little house. The noise got louder; a screeching of metal belonging to what could only be a circular saw.

Grumbling I strode along the cobbled path between my freshly cut lawn on either side. The lights were on next door and a white van was parked outside with its boot open, long planks of wood jutting out the back. I marched up the steps to the garish, peeling green door. They should just tear the whole eyesore down, but not while my wife and I are trying to sleep. I rasped my knuckles on the door, harder than they could take. I clasped my hands together and gritted my teeth as someone came to the door.

It opened to a thirty-something yokel in a white singlet, a lot grubbier than my own, blocking the light from inside. He had a crop of short blonde hair, and a pair of ear muffs hanging around his neck. In one hand he clutched a scrap of wood.

“Listen here, my wife and I are trying to sleep next door. It’s after nine for goodness sake. You have been at it all week.”

The wretched man simply shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m sorry gramps, have you heard of ear plugs? Actually shouldn’t you be hard of hearing at your age?”

My chest boiled over. “Have I heard of ear plugs?!”

The yokel began to close the door. I shot a slippered foot inside. He stopped.

“You might wanna move your foot, gramps. I don’t wanna shatter any bones. God knows you’re fragile.”

I removed my slipper and the door slammed in front of me. I marched off to my house and slammed my own front door in retaliation. He did not hear it; the sawing had already recommenced. Defeated, I climbed back into bed. Beth’s eyes were closed and she was already lightly snoring. That, I didn’t mind. It was almost soothing, but it didn’t help. I could not sleep with that yokel next door playing with his power tools.

The next morning I slipped out of bed. The kitchen called to me. In a daze I paced up and down the kitchen pulling out implements, laying them on the counter. My heart raced as I looked upon a stainless steel butcher’s knife, a sealed ziplock bag of green 1080 pellets, a rolling pin still dusted in flour, and a greased cast iron pan. Was I thinking this through? This was a path with no return. I shut the whimpering voices out and turned the oven dial to 180 degrees; Bake.

Hours later Beth came into the kitchen in a fluffy pink dressing gown as I lifted the muffins out of the muffin tin and lay them to cool on the wire rack.

“Mmmm they smell good,” said Beth reaching for one of the freshly baked cheese muffins.

I pushed her hand away. “No!” I barked. “These are for our neighbour next door.”

Beth was taken aback, but smiled. “Did you two make amends?”

“Not exactly,” I said, keeping my eyes on the muffins. “But I do want to extend our greetings, a welcome to the neighbourhood. That’s what good neighbours do.”

“Let me help,” said Beth.

I waved to the table where I had laid out a basket and coloured paper. Truth be told, I left it out for her. I wasn’t in the mood for ‘arts and crafts’.

We stood on our neighbour’s front steps and the yokel opened the door. He was now wearing a suit and tie. He shot a filthy look at me. Beth produced the basket of cheese scones sitting on a bed of red and white frilly paper. His expression changed.

“We would like to officially welcome you to the neighbourhood,” said Beth.

“I’m just about to head out, but I’ll take one for the road,” he said hungrily.

Beth took the basket back. “They are better when they have cooled,” she said. She glanced at me and I nodded. He reluctantly put the basket down inside.

“I’m Jake, and you are?” he asked, extending a hand.

Beth shook his hand gently. “Beth, and this is my husband Neil.”

Reluctantly I took his hand firmly and forced a glimpse of a smile. It was painful.

“I’m sorry about all the racket. With this job,” he gestured to his suit, “I don’t have much time for renovations.”

He closed the door behind him saying, “I have to go now, but thank you for the muffins,” and passed us to get to his van.

I walked Beth back to our home while the white van trailed down the street, its exhaust huffing grey fumes.

I sat outstretched in my armchair with a newspaper and the telly on, keeping an eye on the street outside. Finally the white van chugged up beside the curb and Jake opened his boot for more building supplies. “An empty apology,” I scoffed. Beth looked up from her historical romance novel, peering over her reading glasses. “What was that?”

“Nothing dear,” I said, returning to the paper.

An hour passed.

“Just going out for a wee stroll,” I said as I headed for the door.

“Supper will be ready in twenty minutes,” said Beth from the kitchen. I walked hastily down the path and up Jake’s stairs. The door was half open. Not bothering to knock I stepped inside.

The smell hit me first. I walked past the new beams and exposed walls, their Pink Batts showing. The lounge had been stripped completely. I stepped over chunks of plaster and made way past the still screeching circular saw, for the hall where Jake was hunched over the toilet bowl retching. He turned when he heard me approaching and wiped his mouth. “You…” He said scornfully, before quickly turning and heaving into the toilet.

I continued my approach. He struggled to his feet and faced me. Jake’s eyes were bloodshot and he panted heavily.

“You… poisoned me? You… You crazy old bastard!”

He stumbled forwards and swung at me. He missed and hit the wall.

“This was the only way Jake. The only way to make you quiet,” I lectured, retreating into the lounge. Jake was up again and stumbling towards me, madness overtaking him.

“It’s not long to go now; the poison has already taken affect. Soon your lungs will shut down completely, your body will start convulsing, and you will die of either respiratory failure, or heart failure. That’s up to your body.”

Jake charged at me. I turned to get out of the way only to trip over plaster. He crashed down on top of me, snarling, his mouth foaming.

“Fuck’n… gramps!”

He pinned me down and began tearing out what little hair I had. I looked around and reached out for something… anything. My hand felt solid wood. I grasped the plank and whacked him across the face. He fell backwards. The saw was right there, and he was already back on his feet like some kind of rabid dog. I picked myself up and, using the wood like a bat, swung at him and connected with his chin. He went over easy and toppled onto the circular saw, its blade naked and blurred. The screeching was outdone by Jake’s screams as it cut at his flesh, sawing through his arm. He lay there twitching as the floor became covered in a pool of blood and sawdust.

I yanked the cord from the wall and the noise stopped. Jake whimpered one last time, made one final gasp, as the shock took over and killed him. I took the basket of possum muffins and left the house. Looking up into the black night sky, the world felt so small. Curtains were drawn. Every house light was out. The street was dead and oh so still. I went home, ate my sausages, mashed potato, boiled peas and carrots, kissed my wife, and I slept for the first time in seven days.



Creative Commons License
This work by Michael J. Gray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

image source (1) – Clarissa Leahy/Getty


Business As Usual

Author’s note: The following story was written as part of a collaboration challenge for our super secret writer’s group. Together with Patrick I wrote the following mystery. He took on Angela while I wrote Robert, and we helped each other along the way. Enjoy! 



Business As Usual

Winsbury, Tuesday 5 June 4.30pm

Three days and no word from Sally. This was so out of character. It was bad enough she missed our lunch date on Sunday but the fact she hadn’t answered my calls or text messages was beginning to freak me out. Something was wrong. Friends since childhood, I know her as well as I know myself. You name it and we’ve shared it: toys, lunches, clothes, secrets, dreams, hopes and fears.

Obviously the first thing was to check if Sal turned up at work today. Unfortunately I couldn’t just ring Montgomery & Patterson and ask to speak to her as the company has a policy which prohibits staff from making or receiving personal calls on the firm’s landlines. Miserable bastards! The only option was to wait in the car park opposite Montgomery House to see if she came out.

Scanning the faces of hoards of people exiting the building en masse was not easy, but gradually the numbers thinned until finally there were only the stragglers coming out in ones and twos. I had all but given up when I saw Robert Greenwood who worked with Sal. She was forever showing me photos of him on face book. “We’re just good friends,” she had said when I’d asked her about him. But I have my doubts.

Waving frantically I called his name until he finally saw me and stopped. Hopefully he’d know if Sal had been at work today.


Winsbury, 5.08pm

Today was a particularly shitty day at the office and Sally hadn’t been in to work for two days. I swiped my card and shambled out of the building. I was about to head to the bus stop when I heard my name being called. I didn’t recognise the voice. Across the car park some strange woman was waving anxiously at me. She was about my age, with short dark hair, and standing beside a VW Golf GTI. I walked up to her.

“Robert,” she said.

“Yes, you keep saying that. But who are you?”


I thought for a moment. “Angela. You’re Sally’s mate, right?”

I stopped giving her the uncertain eye. “Can you tell her to get off her ass and come to work. I’m bored as hell.”

“That’s the problem; I don’t know where she is.”

So Angela knew of me … well that certainly makes things interesting. “Wait, she told you about me?”

Angela threw her hands up, “Yes, she won’t shut up about you. But this isn’t about you.  Something’s wrong. We were supposed to have met for lunch on Sunday but she didn’t turn up, and she won’t pick up her mobile.  Now you tell me she hasn’t been coming in to work?”

I put my hands inside my coat pockets and braced against the wind chill. “What should we do?”

“I’ll drive over to her flat in Daleford,” said Angela.

“Should I come with you?”

“No, I need you to check out her desk. See if you can find anything. Here, take my number so we can keep in touch.”

“Alright,” I said giving her my phone.

She typed in her digits and gave it back to me. I sent her a quick text and her pocket chimed.

“But um, I don’t know what I’m looking for,” I said.

“Oh, for God’s sake! Just look okay?”

I gave her a wary glance.

“This is urgent. Alright?” she said.

And with that Angela gave me a look that could cut steel and tore off out of the car park. I glanced back at the building I was glad to have escaped and walked right back to the blasted entrance.


Daleford 5.20pm

Sally’s flat was just out of town in the village of Daleford. The large Victorian home had once been run as a Bed and Breakfast, but the new owner converted the bedrooms into individual flats with a communal lounge, recreation room and laundry.

I rang the bell at reception and waited. A whiskery old fellow approached saying, “If you’re looking for the landlady you’ll have a long wait.”

“Is Mrs Marsden not here?” I asked.

“She was around the back in the courtyard ten minutes ago. Looking for a room are you?”

“Thank you,” I said curtly, and walked off. Unpleasant little man; he made my skin crawl.

Mrs Marsden was stacking the garden chairs as I approached. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m Angela Cox, Sally Green’s friend. We met —”

“Oh, yes, I remember you. I never forget a face.”

“Sally hasn’t turned up at work for the last two days and hasn’t returned my calls.  I was wondering if you would be kind enough to let me into her room to take a look around. I wouldn’t bother you except this is most unlike her.”

“Well,” said Mrs Marsden pausing, “It’s not something I’d normally do, but I suppose the circumstances are somewhat unusual. Wait for me at reception whilst I go and wash my hands and then I’ll take you upstairs.”

She hesitated briefly outside Sally’s door then unlocked it and we entered, stepping over mail which had been pushed under the door. Nothing appeared to be out of place and there were no signs of a hurried exit. A quick glance in the wardrobe confirmed that wherever she was, Sally hadn’t intended being away this long; she would never leave town without her Louis Vuitton leather tote bag. Purchased on eBay last year it is her pride and joy and we often joked about her obsession with it.

As I carried the wilting pot plant over to the sink I noticed a rubbish bin beside the fridge.  “Is it alright if I leave this plant to soak?” I asked. Then, without waiting for a reply, lifted the plastic bag out of the rubbish bin saying, “And I’ll empty the rubbish too.”

“Excellent idea,” said Mrs Marsden. After casting another cursory look around the flat she led us out into the hallway and locked the door.

Thanking Mrs Marsden, I added, “There’s probably some perfectly simple reason why Sally’s not here and we’ll all laugh about this in a day or two.”

She smiled, but judging by the worried look on her face she didn’t believe me either. If Sally wasn’t found soon, the Police would have to be informed.

I threw the rubbish bag into the boot of my car – I’d check that later, climbed into the driver’s seat and headed back to town in search of coffee. “Keep calm – don’t panic,” I kept saying out loud as my fingers drummed on the steering wheel.


Montgomery House, Winsbury 5.15pm

I strode into an almost empty office. My team leader was busy adjusting the straps on her handbag. “Can’t get back to work fast enough eh?” asked Philippa.

I shrugged. “Just forgot to finish off something. Hey, have you heard from Sally yet?”

“Not a peep,” she said between mouthfuls of a chocolate nut bar. “Wondering if she’s found something better.”

I thought about how Sally hated this place. Maybe we were just blowing this out of proportion. Maybe she had finally moved on … but that didn’t explain why Angela hadn’t been able to reach her.

“Don’t look so heartbroken. There are plenty of single girls left in the building.”

Ignoring the comment I walked over to my desk and logged onto my computer under Philippa’s watchful gaze. I bided my time until she was finally ready to leave.

“Catch you tomorrow Rob,” Philippa cooed, jangling her keys as she waved over her shoulder.

The door closed behind her and I clicked my neck in reflex. She was just so damn perky. I moved over to the desk next to mine and opened up the first drawer; nothing but pens and scraps of paper. The next drawer down contained work folders. Standing back from the desk I looked around. Now what? A black and white kitten licking its paw caught my eye. It was Sally’s cat calendar. I didn’t know she used the thing, but it was worth taking a closer look.

Friday was  Sally’s last day at work. Drinks at The Quick Brown Fox. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Something had to have happened over the weekend. On Saturday, there smack in the middle, was a meeting with a certain Derek. I dialled Angela’s number.

“Got anything?” she said, forgoing any actual greeting.

“I found her calendar. Says she was meeting someone named Derek on Saturday around lunchtime.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.

“Angela, are you there?”

“Derek …” Angela sighed. “Why would she meet up with him, after all that happened?”

“Who is he? What did he —”

“Ex-boyfriend. I can’t go into it right now, but we have to find him,” she said.

“We have a first name. That’s not much to go on.”

“He works at Fitzroy’s on High Street. I’m on my way to Harrison’s Cafe. Meet me there.” Angela promptly hung up. I inhaled deeply and zipped my coat to the collar. Perhaps I would finally leave this place after all.


Winsbury 5.42pm

No sign of Robert when I got to Harrisons so I ordered for both of us. He arrived just as I came out. “Here,” I said, thrusting a coffee at him, hop in the car and I’ll bring you up to date as I drive.”

“Where are we going?” asked Robert as he struggled to find his seatbelt whilst holding the coffee.

“High Street, we’re going to speak with Derek. Fitzroy’s close at six so we should be able to catch him before he finishes for the day.”

“So, what’s he like, this Derek?”

“In a word … he’s a self-righteous, stuck-up, possessive, asshole.”

“That’s more than one word, but I think I get the picture. How long were he and Sal … you know … together?”

“About six months or so, but that’s not important right now. We need to know why he met her on Saturday. Hey, is that chap coming out of the loading zone? Perfect – we won’t be long.”

We went into Fitzroy’s, took the lift to the Home Furnishings Department and were heading towards the service desk when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

“Can I help you madam?” I turned and faced Derek.

“Oh, it’s you, Angela. What do you want?”

“This won’t take long,” I replied. “I was wondering if you had any idea where Sally might be.”

Sally!” said Derek. “We broke up ages ago. How would I know where she is?”

“Because you met with her on Saturday,” said Robert.

“And you are …?” asked Derek, frowning at Robert.

I interrupted. “This is Robert, a colleague of Sal’s. She hasn’t been seen for a couple of days and I wondered if she might have mentioned anything to you about going away, or something.”

“She rang and asked me to meet her for coffee, that’s all. So I did. Not that it’s any of your business.” said Derek impatiently. “Now, if you don’t mind, some of us have got work to do. Oh, and if you find Sally, please tell that new-lease-on-life-bitch—”

“Fuck you!” said Robert. He stepped forward, standing mere inches away from Derek, and stared him down.

“Forget it, Robert. He’s not worth it. Come on. We’re out of here.”

Leaving the shop I muttered, “Don’t know why we bothered with Derek. Lying bastard wouldn’t tell the truth in any case. No way would Sal have contacted him.”


Winsbury, Wednesday 6 June 9.33am

“Yes Sir, I understand your frustration. I’ll have our team investigate the issue for you. Yes Sir, have a good evening.” I ripped off the headset and disconnected my phone. “Jackass!” Philippa eyed me from across the room and returned to her work. I looked to the empty cubicle next to mine. Sally, where the hell are you?

A shadow fell across my computer screen. “Robert,” said a calm female voice.

I swivelled my chair to face the big cheese herself, Ms Ellen Temple.

“You’re not arguing with the customers again?”

“Of course not. I switched off my mic. Some days it just gets to you, you know?”

Ms Temple nodded, as if she knew the pain of being yelled at by complete strangers for eight hours a day, five days a week.

“Do you have a minute? Come on through to my office.”

“Sure,” I said switching off my monitor.  This didn’t feel good.

“Close the door please,” she said. “Sally hasn’t been at work all week and I was wondering if you knew why?”

“No, I’ve got no idea,” I said. “None at all.”

“Forgive me,” said Ms Temple, her cheeks turning bright pink. I understood you two were ‘close’. I thought you might have known …”

“Can I ask why you’re asking me? It’s more than just her absence isn’t it?”

Ms Temple hesitated, then continued. “This is in the strictest confidence, you understand?”

“Of course.”

“You would have heard about the Office Manager’s position we advertised?”

I nodded.

“Yes, well Sally applied for it and, um … we were going to tell her the good news on Monday.”

“She got it?” Sally as head honcho? Well that would certainly make things interesting. “She’ll be stoked.”

“However, seeing as Sally is nowhere to be found, unfortunately it looks like we’ll have to offer the position to our second choice.  I think you know who that would be,” she said, looking over in Philippa’s direction. Have you ever considered yourself Team Leader material, Robert?”

Across the room Philippa, pretending not to be looking in our direction, polished off yet another chocolate nut bar.


Tudor Lane
, Winsbury, 11.10am

The good thing about my job is the flexibility in working hours. Hardly slept last night worrying about Sal so I took today off. Even got up in the middle of the night to sort through the rubbish bag which I’d taken from her flat earlier in the day. Not sure what I was expecting to find, but empty sushi trays, disposable coffee cups, egg carton, vegetable scraps, juice bottles and assorted chocolate wrappers didn’t give any clues as to her disappearance. Common sense told me it was time to call the police and report Sally missing, but I couldn’t face it; not yet. I decided to ring Robert first, just in case Sal had turned up at work today.

I dialled his number and waited. Finally he picked it up.

“You took your time! Any sign of Sally?”

“No, nothing,” said Robert.

“Damn! There was nothing in her rubbish either.”

“What rubbish?”

Sally’s rubbish, from her flat, idiot! Do you think I drive around town looking for stray … Forget it. Not your fault. I’m at my wits end here. Sorry. I forgot to check the rubbish ‘til last night. Didn’t help though. Just usual household stuff, no notes or anything. Something’s been worrying her though, judging by the amount of junk food she’s been eating. Sal always eats chocolate when she’s worried but she’s really gone overboard this time. I can’t put off going to the police any longer, can I?”

“Hang on a minute. You say Sal’s eaten far more chocolate than usual, right?”


“So, maybe it wasn’t just Sal. What sort of chocolate was it? Have you still got the wrappers?”

“It’s all out in my bin now, but I can find it if you want. Why?”

“Get it, and then I’ll tell you. It’s just a long shot.”

“Hang on.”

Heading outside I grabbed the rubbish bag by the curb and rushed back inside, emptying the contents onto my kitchen floor. I picked the phone up again.

“Alright, here goes: Double Decker – that’s got coffee in it, might be nice; Wispa; Rockin’ Nut Road—”

That’s it! … It’s got to be. Listen. Can you take your lunch break now?  How soon can you be here?”

“I’m not working today. I can be at your place in ten minutes, max. What’s this about?”

“Just come. I’ll tell you when you get here. See you in the car park!”


Winsbury, 11.20am

I paced up and down the footpath outside of work. Angela pulled up alongside me, reached over the passenger seat and threw open the door. I clambered in saying. “29 Cruikshank Grove” and we took off.

“That’s not too far from here,” said Angela. “Why are we going there?”

“It’s Philippa Montgomery’s place.”

Angela looked at me, “Sal’s boss?”

“Ms Temple came to see me this morning. Sal got a promotion… well would’ve gotten one, if she hadn’t vanished.”

“And you think Philippa had something to do with her disappearance?”

“She was the second choice, and guess who has a penchant for Rockin’ Nut Road?”

“Shit! It’s a long shot,” said Angela “but worth a try, I guess.”

We turned onto Cruikshank Grove. “It’s the one at the end, with the hedge.”

“Do I want to know how you know this place?” asked Angela.

Snorting at the notion, I explained. “She invited me over for coffee. Nothing happened.”

“Oh really?”

“Honest. I downed two flat whites and got the hell out of there.”

We parked the car across the road by the dairy, in case there were nosey neighbours, and approached the house.

“Philippa lives alone, correct?” asked Angela, as she peered through the nearest window.

I nodded. “It’s her mother’s house, but she died last year after a long illness.” I tried the front door. Locked, as expected. Angela disappeared around the back. I followed her around the house, glancing behind me to make sure we weren’t being watched.

“Back door’s locked too, but you’ll be able to get in here,” said Angela, pointing to a louvre window. She removed a couple of the louvres, placed them on the grass and stood back.

“Are you sure you don’t want to do the honours?” I asked.

“Just get in there,” snarled Angela.

I stood in the flowerbed, grabbed the windowsill, and with great effort heaved myself up onto the sill. There was no room to manoeuvre; I had to go in head first. I reached down, flicked the toilet lid closed and awkwardly dropped into the bathroom. Picking myself off the floor, I raced to the back door and let Angela in. We checked all the rooms. Apart from a great heap of dishes on the kitchen bench – too many for a single person, or else Philippa was a slob – there was nothing unusual. And then I came to the last door, leading into the garage.

It was the stench that hit me first. I opened the door to find Sally gagged, blindfolded, and tied onto a commode with her arms secured behind her back, her ankles tied together and her pants and jeans hanging around one ankle. Her head was slumped forward and her red hair hung limply around her face.


She moaned.

I ran over to her and removed the tape from her face. She took in a breath and wheezed. Angela walked in dumbstruck and without saying a word started untying the ropes around Sal’s wrists and ankles.

“That bastard—”

“Shhhhhh!” I said.

A car door slammed and something clunked at the end of the garage. The garage door slowly opened and in marched Philippa clutching a McDonald’s bag.

Rob! How did you …?”

“You sick bitch. What do you think you were doing?”

“She needs locking up,” said Angela.

Philippa glared at her, then shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh well, now that you’re here you can take Sal with you; I don’t need her anymore. You are looking at the new Office Manager, as it should have been from the beginning.”

What a looney! I walked up to Philippa and said quietly, “Philippa, you need help.”

She hesitated, pressed the button on her remote and the door began to close.

“Rob, that job was always mine. She’s just not management material.”

“Be a dear and step back would you Rob,” said Angela.

As I did so, she picked up the commode and whacked Philippa across the head.

We stared at Philippa’s motionless body as it lay there with the commode on top and the contents of the bowl running over her.

“Good shot,” I said.

Sally took my hand, “Thank you Rob. I knew you’d work it out. How can I ever thank you?”

This felt rather nice. “Well, I could think of a—”

Angela kicked me, hard.

“It’s what good friends do,” I said, glaring at my attacker.

I smiled and found the garage remote. The door opened to a sunlit street.

“I think now’s the right time to ring the police,” said Angela as she walked around the unconscious Philippa. She put her phone to her ear and marched ahead of Sally, still holding my hand, and me. Business as usual.


image source (1)

Adam & Eve Redux


Adam & Eve Redux

Atop a hill overlooking the burning city of Los Angeles, Adam turned to Eve. “It makes you think doesn’t it?”

“Think about what?” Eve asked.

“What was the point of this all? Letting mankind have this short time and then just … poof!”

“You shouldn’t question Him.”

“Eve, we’ve been living throughout history on the sidelines. I’ve seen humanity; a mess of chaos and sin. This never felt like a plan at all.”

Eve zipped up her hoodie. The sky glowed a deep orange as flames licked at houses in the valley.

“Aren’t you glad it’s all over? We’ve done our time Adam, we can go up now.”

“I know. It’s what we waited for. I just wish I had done something of worth instead of pretending not to exist. What a waste of immortality.”

“We were Shepherd’s,” Eve said.

“What great shepherding, it’s all been downhill since the apple,” Adam teased.

Eve furrowed her brow. “Don’t get me started on the Garden. Let’s go.”

Adam waved his hands in defence, “I know, I know. I shouldn’t have shifted the blame onto you. How many times do I need to apologise?”

Eve crossed the street with Adam in tow and climbed into the driver’s seat of the silver Honda Civic. Adam got in beside her and they sped down the hill.

Adam was quiet for some time. Eve glanced in his direction and noticed a Kindle in his hands.

“What are you reading?” she asked.

“Revelations—The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.”

Eve scoffed. “The sea looks perfectly blue to me. You know that book isn’t entirely truthful. As big as a fan I am of Him, those metaphors are long-winded and indecipherable”

Adam carried on, not listening. “It doesn’t make any sense. The people have gone now. What happens to this place?” he asked.

“I guess it just goes on existing.” Eve took a sharp corner, making Adam lose his e-reader. “The animals take over. What I want to know is; where are the angels? I mean we’re in the so-called City of Angels, and I don’t see a winged-being anywhere.”

“You’re still jealous about the time I met the angel Michael.”

“Am not,” Eve shot back in a high pitch.

Adam poked her in the shoulder. “That’s all I needed to hear,” Adam said as he lay back smugly in his seat.


They reached the bottom of the hill and drove past abandoned shops and movie studios. Adam scratched his chin. “Eve, what if we gave up on the whole Heaven idea, and instead lived in a world without people. Wouldn’t that be glorious?”

Eve burst into laughter, and wiped a tear from her eye before composing herself. “You’re serious? Give up on Heaven?”

“Like you said, we can’t trust the Bible word for word. Heaven might just be empty blackness for all we know.

“You met an angel.”

“I thought I met an angel. But it could have been another trick. You know how He loves those.”

A familiar Nokia tune filled the car. Eve shot fearful eyes at the open glove box where her cell-phone illuminated. “Could you get that?”

Adam looked just as confused. “Probably something automated. Bonus minutes or maybe a low funds alert.” He picked up the phone and read the message aloud:


“Okay, not automated,” Adam said.

“I thought we were the last ones. Aren’t we supposed to be the last ones?” Eve almost shouted.

“There was a hold-up, maybe this one slipped by them.”

“It’s God, how can he miss something?”

“Repeat that sentence again,” Adam said.

Eve went silent, and felt an overwhelming urge to poke her tongue out. She restrained herself.

“I guess we had better check it out then?” Adam asked.

“On my way,” Eve replied, taking another sharp corner.

They pulled into the car park under a tall building. Light emitted from the top floor windows. Adam and Eve stepped through the broken remnants of what used to be a glass electronic door.

“Top floor then?” Adam motioned to the staircase.

“Hell no, I’m taking the lift. Electricity is still working for now, or had you forgotten?”

“Race you there,” Adam said, as he sprinted up the first flight of stairs.
Eve pressed the button and waited for the lift.


Adam reached the top of the stairs panting, to find Eve with her back against the wall and her arms crossed.

“Took you long enough.”

“Cars have a lot to answer for,” said Adam clutching his side. “So where’s our guy?”

Eve pointed to a set of doors. “He’s barricaded himself in there. Says it’s for his protection.”

Adam cupped his hands. “We got your message, Larry! We’re here to help.”

A muffled voice called out from behind the double doors. “Who are you?”

“I’m Adam, and she’s Eve.”

They could hear Larry’s muffled laughter.

“Sorry, just a funny combination is all,” he said. “Is there anyone else out there? In the city I mean.”

“About that,” said Eve. “There’s something we need to discuss.”

“We can discuss it right here,” said Larry.

“I’m afraid we need to see you face to face Larry. We aren’t armed.”

The doors swung open to reveal a skinny, grey-haired man in camo pants and a camo jacket with a shotgun pointed at Adam’s chest.

“Good, ‘cos I am,” said Larry.

“Like that’s going to stop us pal,” said Adam, puffing out his chest.

Eve shot him a glare and put her hands up in surrender. Adam followed suit.

“Tell me what’s going on out there,” said Larry, jerking the shotgun’s sight from Adam and over to Eve.

“Nothing. The rapture already happened,” said Eve.

“The rapture? I thought it was them aliens?”

“No, no, it’s the end of times,” said Adam. “Humankind has left this Earth.”

“Everyone except us?”

“Well that’s the thing Larry. You were supposed to go with one of the two groups. Up or down. It seems not even Hell wants you.”

Larry’s forehead glistened in the light from the telecommunications room. “It’s lies. A crack load of bull.”

“What was your plan here exactly?” asked Eve. “You put out a message for remaining survivors like yourself, and then what, shoot them?”

“I don’t want to shoot anyone. This is self-defence. You don’t know what kind of loons could be out there.”

“About the thing I said earlier,” said Adam. “It’s more like they missed you, rather than ignored you intentionally. I mean we’re still waiting, but that’s par for the course for being the first and the last of mankind.”

“Let us help you,” said Eve. “Can the machines in there send a message worldwide?”

Larry scratched his head with his free hand. “I suppose so.”

“Well then let’s get to it,” said Eve, taking down her hands and walking past Larry.

“Who are we messaging?” asked Larry.

Eve turned, her wild eyes illuminated in the light, “We’re messaging God.”


Larry slumped on the ground against one of the machines. His shotgun lay next to him while Adam and Eve worked on the SMS machine.

“If God is all-knowing why do we need to send him a message?” asked Larry.

“He must be preoccupied with the influx of new angels,” said Eve.

Eve smacked Adam’s hand away from touching a button. “Not that one.”

Eve typed the message for God.

“Let me make one alteration on the end there,” said Adam. “There, much better,” he said, admiring his handiwork.

The message read:


Eve sighed and pressed Send.


The next day Adam picked himself off the floor by the machines. He wiped the drool from his chin and looked at Eve, and the deep circles around her eyes.

“Nothing,” she said, sighing. “Maybe he has forgotten about us.”

Across the room Larry reached into a shopping cart organising canned foods and large tanks of water. Eve just glared at him. “You won’t need Heinz baked beans in Heaven.”

Adam stood up. “Maybe Larry has the right idea. Maybe this is punishment—”

Eve rolled her eyes. “Oh great, here we go again and that godforsaken Eden.”

Adam continued. “Punishment for not getting involved, for leaving humanity to destroy itself.”

“Then what did I do?” piped up Larry.

“I don’t know, Larry,” said Adam. “But whatever it is, God is pissed.”

Larry’s face fell and he returned to straightening his rows of cans.

Rolling thunder boomed outside the telecommunications building. Eve stood up and rushed to the window. “It must be a sign. It must be! Show me again God, please!”

A fork of lightning cascaded down and struck the dead centre of a nearby field. Eve jumped up and down excitedly. “This is it. This is our ticket to Heaven!”

The thunder rolled again and Adam and Larry half moved their heads in Eve’s direction.

“Don’t get your hopes up, girly,” said Adam.

Eve rushed to Adam and tugged at his hand. “Get up dummy. We have to get there now!”


In the centre of the park at the base of a charcoaled patch of earth, Eve looked to the sky in search of further signs. Adam sat cross-legged on the grass decapitating daisies.

Larry finally arrived with his cart and wheeled it across the grass towards them.

Eve heard the squeak of the wheels and turned to Larry. “Did you really have to bring that?”

Larry simply nodded and fished for something in his cart. He found what he was looking for and sat down.

“So where is this gateway to Heaven?” asked Adam. “Looks to me like a burnt circle of meaningless coincidence.”

“What happened to your faith, Adam?” asked Eve, looking at Adam’s pile of daisy heads.

“I don’t know, Eve. When you have been ignored for this long, trust is a little hard.”

Larry let out a loud sigh and pulled a syringe out of his forearm.

“Larry! What are you doing?” cried Eve.

“De-stressing. What does it look like? I need a little something to take the edge off this apocalypse.”

“That had better be insulin Larry or so help me,” said Eve making her way towards him.

Larry smiled. “Heroin, insulin, what difference does it make now?”

“He’s going to be here any minute and you’re shooting up?”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Larry.

“It’s his choice Eve,” said Adam.

“Oh yeah? What happened to making changes and bettering the world? That lasted all of one day,” said Eve.

Light flashed, striking the same patch of earth. Eve jumped back and Adam rolled to the side. Thunder clapped.

Eve cupped her hands and shouted into the sky. “God, it’s me! We are ready! Take us! Please!”

Lightning crashed once again.

“Still doubt Him?” Eve said to a surprised Adam.

The next bolt of lightning shot directly down into Larry’s cart. Cans spat out in all directions. One grazed Eve’s shoulder. She dived to the ground next to Adam and covered her head. Larry sat dazed, his neatly packed supplies now a mess of metal and plastic. He rolled a stray can of baked beans towards himself.

“It’s warm,” said Larry, and he pulled the tab and removed the lid before guzzling down the can’s contents.

“I somehow get the feeling He’s not entirely pleased to see us,” said Adam.

“It’s not us. It’s him,” Eve pointed to Larry as he wiped orange lips on his sleeve. “Get away from Larry,” cried Eve.

Eve ran across the field clutching her shoulder, with a bewildered Adam in tow. Another lightning bolt snaked down from the sky.

Larry slumped over and the empty can slipped out of his fingers. Steam rose from his clothing. Adam stumbled towards him and fell to his knees in front of the steaming Larry, “Why would He do this?” The smell of burnt flesh filled his nostrils.

“It was his fate all along. Larry was never meant for Heaven,” Eve called out.

“What makes you think He won’t do the same to us?”

“Look,” said Eve. She pointed to a glowing doorway hovering above the black circle in the centre of the field. It opened into blinding white light.

“Quick, before it seals,” said Eve, heading towards it.

“I’ll be right behind you,” said Adam, his eyes fixed on Larry’s corpse.

Eve turned and flashed Adam a sympathetic smile. “Don’t be long.”

She stepped through the door and the light consumed her.

Adam did not get up. The white door sealed, leaving Adam, the last man on Earth.

Written for A Writer’s Plot — Post Apocalyptic challenge.


Creative Commons License
This work by Michael J. Gray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Chicken: An Audio Short Story


I wrote a short story and you may recognise it. It started off as a Flash Fiction project and Graeme encouraged me to develop it some more.

But instead of posting it like my other stories on here, we decided to get together and record it. This was a first for the both of us!

A very special thank you to Graeme Knowles who produced the audio for this project and made this all possible.

The story is about 20 minutes long. You can listen to it online or download it from Sound Cloud. I am working on getting it into iTunes as a podcast. This could be the start of something big.

Please let me know what you think!



Oh, and I almost forgot…