It’s Monday and I’ve spent the weekend finishing the first set of edits for Healing Glass. It was surprisingly hard work and the manuscript ended up gutted, reassembled and looking like a dog’s breakfast. After that came work, and when I was finally ready for a break and a glass of wine, a plot bunny hopped past. Just because it could.
So my supposedly cheerful Monday blog turned instead into a flashfic.
The note said to go to the phone box on the corner of Great Bulwark Street and Kissholme Row. Stannard hadn’t known that there was a phone box on that corner, never mind that he travelled Great Bulwark Street twice each day.
But there it was, an old-style red box with – strangely enough – all its panes intact and a working phone inside.
Stannard’s fingers almost touched the door when he changed his mind. He turned his back on the phone box and returned to the pub he’d spotted earlier on Kissholme Row. The note hadn’t specified a time for making this call. Only that he had to call today, and there were still a few hours left before midnight.
The pub was welcoming, warm, and only dimly lit. He settled himself at the bar and ordered a pint and a shot of whiskey. Nothing fancy. He’d reserve that for—
He downed the whisky, the burn stopping him from completing that thought. He didn’t want to go there. Just as he didn’t want to walk up the street to the phone box and make that call.
He wondered what would happen if he never called. Would they forget about him?
“Here you go, mate.” The bartender set a plate of steak pie and chips in front of him and Stannard frowned.
“I didn’t order this.”
“I know. I feed everyone who stops by on the way to make their call.” He nodded to the empty glasses on the bar. “Want a refill?”
Stannard shrugged, neither denying nor acknowledging the words. “Might as well.” He wanted to ask about the others who’d come here before him. Had they been as scared as he was? Had they been defiant? Angry? Relieved? Had they even made the call?
“Ignoring the note won’t do you any good,” the barkeeper said as he returned with Stannard’s drinks. “Had one chap in here three times. Notes just kept coming, and he was a right headcase at the end.”
“Has anyone ever come back? After making the call, I mean?”
The man shook his head. “No. Not a one.”
Well, there went that idea. Seemed he was stuck with the rumours until he screwed his courage to the sticking point and found out for himself.
Another shot of whisky materialised beside him. “Drink up, mate.”
Stannard did. He ate the pie, too, and enjoyed the chips. He kept himself in shape, so pies, chips, and beer only rarely made it onto his menu. Whisky he had more often. He drank it when he couldn’t sleep, though he had been trying to cut back.
Maybe after he’d made his call, he would.
Drink less. Take that holiday he’d been putting off forever. Maybe drive down to Cornwall, sit by a creek and fish. It sounded fabulous. Quiet. Peaceful. Heavenly. Serene.
He entertained himself for a while trying to find words that described a scene a million miles from his everyday life.
Then the barman rang the bell for last orders.
Time had flown as he sat at the bar, and now Stannard had only twenty minutes left to make his call.
Stannard pushed himself off the barstool, surprised by how unsteady he felt once he was upright. He groped for his wallet, but the barkeep shook his head. “It’s on the house, mate. You go and make your call. And…. Good luck to you.”
Stannard was halfway to the corner when he wondered whether he’d even thanked the man.
He took a right onto Great Bulwark Street and the phone box loomed ahead of him, lit from within and without. The streetlight seemed extra bright, or maybe the bar had been so cosily dim that his eyes hadn’t adjusted yet.
Just like his hands hadn’t adjusted to the cold. Slick with sweat, they shook when he reached for the phone box’s door.
A moment later, he found himself pacing up and down in front of the box, swearing under his breath.
He was behaving as if he’d never used a telephone before.
It was ridiculous.
“Get on with it, man,” he encouraged himself. It worked well enough to get him inside the phone box and the receiver into his hand.
He had the number memorised, so he didn’t have to dig the note out of his pocket. He did it anyway. Just in case.
In case of what he didn’t know.
Then he was dialling.
He listened to the beeps each button made as he pressed it. Listened to the moment of silence while the call went where the numbers sent it. Then came the longer tones indicating the phone was ringing at the other end.
Sweat beaded on his brow and ran in icy rivulets down his spine. He clutched the receiver in sweat-slick palms and breathed as if he’d been running. Waiting. It was the waiting. Always the—
A click. A moment of silence. Then—
“Thank you for making this call. Your execution has been scheduled for 7:12 am on Tuesday, 15th May. Details of location and procedure will be sent to you before that date. Have a pleasant evening.”