Jackie sits, exuding concentration, a sharp knife in her hand. On the old oak table before her, dappled by weak sunlight, lies a pumpkin. The window rattles. She thinks there’s a storm coming. She looks around the bar. It’s Halloween games tonight and pumpkins are everywhere. Triangular eyes wait in anticipation, eager to spring into eerie, orange life.
She smiles. Last one! Then, time for a nap before opening.
A loud knock comes at the front door. Sod off! She starts to carve. The door’s down a short corridor, beyond the propped-open bar door. Opposite stands the ancient church of St. Margaret’s. Terry, her husband, and Riley, her eldest, have gone to the cash and carry. She hopes Terry will have time to oil the pub sign. It’s squeaking vociferously.
The knock comes again, louder, and more insistent.
“It’s OK mum, I’ll get it.” Her youngest, Jamie, just turned twelve, thunders down the stairs, having momentarily disconnected from his Xbox.
She hears a man’s voice. Then Jamie appears. He flicks a mop of black hair out of his eyes. “He says he’s selling pumpkins. Do you want any more?”
She laughs. “What do you think?” gesturing around the room.
“I’ll go and tell him.”
He turns and almost crashes into the man, now standing in the doorway. He is stocky, middle-aged, wearing a shabby black coat. Long hair falls in greasy, black strands over a gaunt face.
Jackie smiles. “We don’t need any more thank you.” She grips the knife under the table.
The man reaches into his coat and pulls out a handle. She notices his nails are filthy. Suddenly there’s a click and a long, razor-sharp blade flicks out.
“Look missus, I don’t want no trouble. I just want money. Let’s see what’s in the till for starters.”
Her confidence vanishes. She feels a stab of fear in her stomach and muscles tighten in her groin.
Her hand grips the knife harder. “Jamey, open the till for the man.”
Just then, there’s a frantic scratching at the door, and her black Labrador, Coco, runs in. The dog stops just in front of the man, barking and growling.
Jackie says quietly, “Get out now or I’ll set the dog on you.”
With practised precision, the man throws the knife. Coco grows a handle between the eyes and collapses, whimpering. Blood seeps across her face.
“You bastard! I’ve had her since she was a puppy. Get out!” Jackie stands up, brandishing her knife, her heart thumping so loud she thinks he must hear.
The man grins and brings out another knife. He grabs Jamey, who stands nearby, statue-like with shock, and holds the knife against his throat.
“Don’t you dare touch my son. I’ll fucking end you!”
“Give me the money then!”
She sees a thin line of red along the blade pressed to Jamey’s pink throat.
Stay calm! “Let him go first.”
“The money first, Missus.”
Putting the knife down, Jackie goes to the till, taking out a wad of notes. Suddenly he’s at her shoulder and the money is snatched from her hand. Then he’s away and down the corridor. The front door slams and there’s a crash outside.
“Come, Jamie!” They run upstairs, into a bedroom and lock the door. Something’s missing outside the window. Opening it, the wind howls in. She sees a broken bracket and looks down. The man is spreadeagled below, a pool of viscous crimson blood staining the paving and grass. On top of him lies the pub sign – ‘The Bitter End.’ How ironic! Happy Halloween, You Murdering Bastard!
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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