TASWG assignment: Write two short stories beginning with the following words. Give one a positive ending and the other a negative one.
‘It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe.’
(This, positive ending.)
It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensation as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe.
“Take my hand and close your eyes,” the old woman had said. I’d done so, reluctantly, and was astounded to see the house transform around me. No longer was I in a cream-carpeted living room with a huge flat-screen television and a grey leather corner sofa, but in a drawing room with a wall full of leather-clad books at one end. An antique walnut case grand piano stood by large Regency windows.
Through them, I saw that our sweeping gravel drive had gone and in its place was parkland. In the distance, I could see a small red-brick bridge.
Sitting at the piano was a pretty little girl with blonde hair and a white dress, practising scales. She would play them perfectly going up but stumble on the way down. After a while, she looked up at me and smiled. “Hello, are you from the future?”
“I don’t know. Probably,” I said.
“It’s just that you’re dressed funny.”
I looked down at my trainers and smiled. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“It’s Agnes.” She turned and continued her scale practice.
Agnes was the name of the old lady who had called to look at our house. We’d only just put it on the market so we were overjoyed to hear that someone was interested in viewing it so soon. However, when she called, we were taken aback by her extreme age and the fact that she didn’t seem interested in buying the house at all.
After looking briefly around downstairs, in a faltering voice she said, “I’m sorry for wasting your time, I don’t want to buy this place but I lived here as a young girl. The house has a terrible secret and I have to share it before I die.”
My wife, Ingrid, and I had exchanged glances, fearing she was unstable.
“If I could have a word with the gentleman on his own.”
Ingrid toyed with her pale blonde hair and looked at me, questioningly. “OK, he doesn’t mind, you can use the study.”
I approached the young Agnes at the piano. “I think you’ve brought me here to see something.” She looked down, saying nothing.
Where’s your mother?”
I saw the little girl’s shoulders shaking. “M-mothers g-gone,” she sobbed. “Daddy’s h-hidden her.”
“What on Earth do you mean?” I felt awful to see the little mite so distraught.
She wiped her eyes. “C-come with me please sir.”
She took my hand and led me into a corridor where I perceived the door to our basement. She took a lantern from a shelf and lit the wick. By its light, we descended dark, dank steps. In the cellar were racks of ancient-looking bottles, covered in dust and cobwebs. At the back of the room, where the lantern light threw strange shadows, was a newly constructed wall, built with distinctive London Yellow Stock bricks. I recognised it as the back of our basement room, now used for table tennis and darts.
“Mummy’s behind there.” She started to cry again. “He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”
“There, there,” I said. “You can’t be sure. Perhaps she’s gone on holiday.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Then I heard the most awful sound, halfway between a scream and a caterwaul. It was a terrible, desperate, soul-wrenching thing, and a sound I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
In that instant, my mind was back in the present day. Ingrid was on the telephone, looking pale and shaken. “Ambulance, please. Someone’s died. No, a lady who called to view our house.”
“What happened?” I said when she’d finished.
“She came out of the study, babbling on about someone being behind a wall in the cellar, then she just … collapsed. I carried her to the bedroom, she was so light, hardly weighed anything, poor soul. Obviously mad.”
I passed into the bedroom. Lying on the bed was the pale, fragile form of Agnes. I got a sheet from the airing cupboard to put over her. Ingrid came into the room. I said, “We could ask for advice. We couldn’t sell this house in all conscience with a body buried here. We’d have to have it exhumed and given a proper burial.”
Ingrid said nothing, looking perplexed.
As I looked into Agnes’ aged face for the last time, it seemed smoother, less furrowed and I thought I saw, although perhaps it was just my imagination, a look of gratitude and relief.