Perseverance Terrace

 ‘Wildwood’, the last house standing in Perseverance Terrace, is a solitary gravestone in a desert of broken bricks, rubble, dumped rubbish and smouldering bonfires and has become refuge to generations of ghosts who were born, lived and died there. 

Inside Wildwood, the kitchen is crammed full of ghosts; had they needed to breathe, many would have suffocated. Erasmus, their elected leader, explains, The only reason our home has survived this long is because of superstition. It only needs one man not to fear the retribution of ghosts and we’re gone, our safe haven lost. 

Lester Field, a mortal, enters the kitchen. 
Invader! The ghosts cry out. Alien! 
I’m no alien. I’m just a man looking for help, Lester says. Goodness, there are hundreds of you in here.
Who are you? Erasmus asks. How can you see us?
I’m Lester Field and blessed, or cursed, with the gift of seeing your world as well as mine. 
Why are you here?
I need a ghost. 
Why? Erasmus asks.
To take revenge. I discovered that Thacker, leader of the Council, received huge backhanders for selling off public land. I tried to get it on the news. I got fired. But I have an idea. Thacker’s son, Henry, died in mysterious circumstances, I want to find Henry’s ghost and the truth about his death. Can any of you help me find him? Lester asks.
The ghosts shimmer and groan.
Erasmus explains, They’re afraid that if they leave here there’ll be no coming back and they’ll be lost forever in time and space.
Are they right? Lester asks.
I don’t know. Do you think you can get Thacker to stop demolishing Wildwood?
I do.
Then I’ll come with you, Erasmus says.

Thacker, at home, sits in his snug sipping whisky when the door bangs open and his wife bursts in. It’s our boy, she cries. Henry’s back. 
You’re off your head, Lucy. He’s dead. 
His ghost isn’t, Lester says from the doorway. He’s told me the truth about his abuse and how he died.
What? Lucy demands. What abuse?
Henry enters.
What did your father do to you, darling? 
It’s a trick; there’s no such thing as ghosts, Thacker protests.
I’m here, aren’t I? Henry asks. You stop knocking down Wildwood, or I’ll tell Mum how I died.
You little shit! Thacker says.
And pay me the salary you owe me, Lester adds. Or I’ll tell the police.

It’s early morning as Lester, Erasmus and Henry cross the wasteland.
A giant wrecking ball swings from a crane and thunders into Wildwood. Thacker, standing by his Mercedes, smiles as he watches the demolition.
He lied, Henry says.
The ghosts erupt from Wildwood flying like wasps flung hither and thither in a maelstrom of roaring anger engulfing Thacker. His cries of agony pierce the eerie silence of the wasteland. The wailing ghosts vanish into the sky. Thacker lies dead on Wildwood’s threshold. 
Erasmus grips Lester’s hand. Something of a Pyrrhic Victory, I think.


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

A Pawn Shop

Once upon a time in Russia there was a very nondescript KGB spy called Putin. He had expensive tastes and supplemented his meagre spy income by driving a cab at night. His passengers were often drunk and either vomited, pissed or shat in his cab; soon, he hated everyone and thought, This can’t go on. If I’m to be rich and feared as a supremely powerful dictator, I need help – but who from? The solution came to him in a flash: Satan. He falls asleep at the car’s wheel to the smell of vomit. He dreams.

He sees himself lighting a candle in St Basil’s Cathedral, and hears his prayer of supplication to Lucifer. Out of the intense darkness an old priest, smoking a cigarette and wearing a cassock covered in ash, approaches Putin, who stammers, Are you really …

Yes, I’m Lucifer, he says as he unlocks a heavy door. They descend into an ancient crypt filled with the bright light of flaming braziers. Lucifer leans forward into the flames, and lights the cigarette in his mouth; his skin smoulders. 
Putin sees glass demi-johns stored on shelves. What are these? 
They are labelled.
Putin reads: Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Genghis Khan. Something like a tiny hurricane twister is swirling inside the jars. Are they trying to escape? 
Lucifer laughs. They pawned their souls for power and lost all moral sense.
Do they get them back? Putin asks.
Lucifer almost chokes with laughter. They failed to achieve my ambition of destroying God’s world; so they remain here everlastingly trapped in their unrequited rage. I’ve been watching you for some time Vladimir, and I think you might be the man to realise my dreams.
What do you want me to do?
Create hell on earth. 

Putin wakes to find Lucifer sitting next to him in the taxi. A drunk staggers towards the car and pisses on the windscreen. Lucifer points at the drunk who explodes. The windscreen wipers clunk as they push fragments of bloody flesh aside.
Putin retches.
Wimp, Satan chuckles. Shall we visit your mother?
You know where she lives?
Of course.
Why?
I have a test for you.
She’ll be asleep at this time of night.
All the better.

Back in the crypt. Lucifer shows Putin a demi-john.
Is that my soul? 
Yes, you passed the test; your mother never knew what was happening. 
I didn’t know I was capable of doing such a thing, Putin says, crossing himself.
Compassion? Stop that nonsense. Crossing yourself is pointless. God doesn’t give a shit about you. Listen. You will provoke the West over and over again as you try to bring the USSR back to life. America will destroy Moscow with a nuclear weapon. You will retaliate. 
You really want to destroy the earth? 
It’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. So we’ll make hell here. It’s too late for second thoughts, Vladimir. Remember, I have your conscience in a jar.


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

Below Stairs

Jed and his wife, Margie, are taking breakfast in the kitchen. There’ll be thunder today, she says, I can always feel it coming.
Just like a dog. Jed is unaware of Margie’s look of contempt as he continues, If this arthritis pain in my fingers gets worse I won’t be able to use my shotgun.
The rabbits will be pleased. 
That’s all you can say? I’m suffering.
Might it all be in your head? Margie suggests.
That’s rich coming from you, hiding in the understairs cupboard afeared of thunder and lightning.
The doctor says it’s an abnormal hysterical reaction.
More like guilt.
The GP says I need therapy. 
Therapy? Bunkum, Jed says. I’m off to the auction at Louth market.
You mean you’re going to the Boar’s Head to get pissed again?
What’s it to you?
Nothing anymore.

Alone, and hearing thunder in the distance, Margie goes to a kitchen cupboard, removes writing paper and a ballpoint pen. She writes.

Jed
When we married we were full of hope and excitement. Then we had our son, John, and we were happy. Too soon, it all changed one night with that freak summer storm of thunder, lightning and torrential rain. The noise was terrifying. Our baby, our John, was splashing in the bath. All the windows and the kitchen door were open. Rain was just pouring in on that expensive carpet you’d bought for our bedroom. I should have taken him with me but I thought he’d be ok for just a few minutes. As I ran back to the bathroom, I knew everything was wrong. He’d drowned. I tried to kiss him back to life. The lightning kept flashing like God was pointing at me. You called me a murderer. The verdict was accidental death. You’ve never forgiven me. He was your boy. You’ve forgotten he was my boy too. I agree, I’m guilty.
What’s the point of going on? There isn’t one – not without John and being trapped in your hate as a skivvy. 
Margie.

As she leaves her letter leaning on the teapot on the kitchen table, the juggernaut of thunder crashes towards Margie; her skin prickles with fear.

Inside the large understairs cupboard she sits on a small wooden chair that Jed made for when his son was older. Jed’s loaded shotgun rests across Margie’s thighs. The thunder is ever nearer. Bright lightning flashes beneath the cupboard door. Her bitten lower lip bleeds. Massive claps of thunder shake the house. She imagines nursing John’s wet body. She picks up the shotgun, puts both barrels in her mouth but as she strains to reach the triggers, the door flies open. Jed leans into the cupboard waving her letter. This a suicide note? He shouts. Maggie swings toward him and fires both barrels at point blank range removing the top of his head. Covered in blood, brain and bone, she thinks, I just need one shell for me. Then I’ll be free.

No one hears the shot.


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

The Bed

I’m eighty-two and I want a bed of my own. My last bed, our marital bed, was bought by the husband for our golden wedding anniversary.

I loved the husband but it was only after he died that I realised that the house was a kind of man cave; hardly surprising when we had three sons – four men in the house for years and years, and just one woman – me: invisible until needed.

Men smell different to us; it’s not necessarily offensive, except, of course, when they fart. When the four of them were at it they had a conspiracy of silence never admitting their stink; they just laughed at my objections. My father had the ‘Man Smell’ and his was a mixture of tweed suits, pipe smoke and bad breath. The husband, near the end, smelt like an old comfortable armchair covered in well worn moquette, plus the slight smell of shoe polish from his habitual brogues and we always laughed at his futile habit of chewing mints to disguise his whisky breath.

The décor, in the man cave, is as drab as a downpour in November. I tried to put a bit of colour into our lives; I gave the boys lovely bright colours in their bedrooms. As they got older they complained that their mates would think they were fairies. You’d think having anything pink within fifty feet was an indication of incipient homosexuality. Bloody rubbish, and I said so, but the husband wasn’t having jolly chintz when he could have brown. Even a footstooll upholstered in William Morris’ ‘Strawberry Thief’ gave him a fit of the Heebie Jeebies. 

It’s about ownership. Not just the owning of me as me, but the me that’s expressed through the house. It’s never been ‘my’ house; it’s always been ‘their’ house, or ‘our’ house, but never mine.

I never wanted him forever dead; though God forgive me, there were times when I did. But he is, and now I’ve ordered a double bed of my own; a single divan would make feel that I was in a home. The curtains are ugly but they’ll keep me warm. The red and dark green Axminster carpet will see me out as will the rest of it, especially the endless brown furniture so polished you can see your face in it. I can’t be bothered anymore; I’m too old; it can all stay as it is.

The husband was bigger than me and over the years he’d made a big body-shaped hollow in the old mattress. I’d forgotten that just after he died, I used to sleep in his hollow; it was the nearest I could get to the husband and it fitted me nicely. It was a comfort; he was there but not there. 

I’ve now had my new bed for a couple of weeks. But I can’t sleep; there’s no husband hollow to curl up in. I’m cold and lonely. I should have kept that mattress. 


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

Mourning

George is a gamekeeper. His daily routine begins after an early breakfast with his inspection of the estate’s woodland. As ever, his old, increasingly frail, Border collie, Sam, accompanies him.

In a clearing near the main road, Sam barks as he hears a mewling sound from within nearby dense undergrowth. George holds up a finger and Sam is silent. They push their way past hawthorn and ash saplings. Good God, George gasps. A fallow deer, a doe, stands over the carcass of a stag. The doe, terrified, runs off. George studies the badly butchered body of the stag. Poachers, he says, buggers are at it again; no jobs, no money, no food on the table and hungry kids; It’s not right but nor is this. Flies swarm as maggots feast. Look at the poor beast; nothing deserves being cut up like that – no respect. Sam, stay. Keep strangers away.

It’s midday by the time George has dug a grave big enough for the stag’s body. He’s bloodied and tired by the time he’s buried the stag deep enough to prevent predators. As he rests on his spade Sam quietly growls. Turning, George sees the doe standing watching him. Hello, George says, I won’t harm you. The doe turns and disappears into the wood. She’s mourning, George says, adding, Don’t be daft, man, deer aren’t human.

The following night George is awakened by a haunting persistent high-pitched cry. He dresses and with Sam at his side sets off for the stag’s grave. Reaching it, they find the doe wailing like a banshee. George and Sam stand silently until the doe sees them. She doesn’t run for cover but continues to keen. She’s mourning, George says, I was right; I’ve never seen or heard the like of it.

On the following night George and Sam join the doe at the grave. On the way back to the cottage Sam stumbles and is unable to walk any further. George carries his dog slung across his shoulders. Back in the keeper’s cottage he lays Sam in front of the wood-burning stove and feeds Sam bread dipped in whisky – a remedy in which he has no faith; nevertheless Sam sleeps.

In the early morning light George sits on the floor by Sam stroking him, telling the dog that he’ll be okay, knowing full well that his dog is near death. He sits with him until the end.

It’s early evening when George gently lowers Sam into the grave. He looks up to see the doe standing just outside the garden fence. George smiles and says thanks. By the time George has completed the burial, he wants to say a prayer but the only words that come to him are, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not; and death shall have no dominion.” That night George visits the stag’s grave and stands with the doe. When George leaves for the cottage the doe comes with him. From then on deer and man are inseparable.


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

Returned to sender

I first encountered Nathaniel just after I’d moved in next door to his large stone house in Moffatt. He was shouting in his back garden.

Oi, you up there. Call yourself a fucking god? Here I am, ninety-two years old with my mind as sharp as a tack with fucking limbs that refuse to do what my brain tells them. I go to walk forward but my feet don’t move quickly enough and I end up falling flat on my face. I’m supposed to believe in you but what do I get out of it? Bugger all. So, fuck off!

Well said, I shouted.
Who’s that? 
I’m Dunbar, your new neighbour.
Fancy a dram with me later? he asked.
From that moment we became friends and began an early evening Saturday ritual of putting the world to rights over a bottle of Tamnavulin.

On Thursday 8th of September 2022 Queen Elizabeth II died.

On Saturday September 10th 2022 her death is the only topic of discussion

For Christ’s sake, man, Nathaniel says, The Windsors are Germans, and ersatz Scots, still living in Victoria’s fantasy of a mythic Scotland of kilts, tins of shortbread, stags at fucking bay, whisky, pipers, haggis and soldiers in fancy dress.
Maybe, but she did a good job.
So have our nurses and all the others who got us through Covid. No one will glorify their deaths.
Of course we will, I replied.
You know we won’t.  Listen, the monarchy’s facade is a charade. Strip off their fancy dress and fancy ways and they’re just ordinary people – just rich racists. They describe us as their subjects, whereas we’re citizens whose rights as human beings are inalienable and not a privilege bestowed by Royalty. 

He was about to go on one of his rants so I made an excuse and went home. 

On Saturday September 17th I arrived for our normal Saturday dram. Eventually I found him lying dead under a freezing shower. I couldn’t have felt greater guilt; he was ninety-six and I should have taken more care of him. The doctor said it was natural causes and he could have been dead for days. I couldn’t help but compare the Queen’s Lying in State and Nathaniel’s end.

In a state of shock I went through all the formalities as he had no immediate family. Searching through his address book I found a London postal address of a ‘distant cousin’. 

Following his minimalist cremation I posted his ashes to the London address along with my name and address on the cardboard box.

Weeks pass, then months. The postman returns the box of ashes. There are multiple addresses crossed out and finally, ‘Return to sender’. 

The Queen’s death faded from the news agenda and the world rolled on. I buried Nathaniel in his overgrown garden. He deserved a better death, if there is such a thing. I marked his grave with a wooden cross and a small plaque.  

‘Oi, you up there.‘


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

The Wood

The only exhibit in the gallery is a single one-metre square monochrome photograph of an ancient broad-leaved wood. Hollis is not alone. Morning, he says to an elderly woman standing in the far corner of the gallery. He wants to laugh at the way she’s dressed. Just like a bloody useless old hippy, he thinks. All flares, beads and flowers. She ignores him. Bloody rude, he thinks, Just as well she can’t hear what I’m thinking. 

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Diamonds

December 1986

It’s a cold clear afternoon in Keldy Forest where Ben is lighting a wood-burning stove in an A-frame chalet he’s hired for a long weekend away with his newly pregnant wife, Frankie. Ben wants the chalet to be toasty when he returns from Malton railway station with her. Wife and husband are elated about the coming birth of their first child. Suddenly he’s overcome with emotion; choking back his tears, he makes a vow: Frankie, whatever comes to pass I will always love you. He laughs at himself for being so maudlin. 

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One Night

It’s All Hallows’ Eve. The moon is new and the stars are bright on a cold clear night. Trick and Treaters are long asleep in bed. For a bet, Lucien, slightly drunk, is spending the night alone at the end of the pier. He’s not superstitious, but the stories of the haunted pier on this night of nights have left him on edge. He drinks from a whisky flask.

The tide is out and a vast expanse of glistening mud stretches beyond the end of the Victorian pier to the mouth of the estuary. For the first time, Lucien sees that the mud flats are not flat but full of ridges, hummocks and rills running with streaming water into gullies deep in the mud. He’s astounded that the moonlight is so bright and the mud is beautiful.

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The Wheelchair

David, in his early seventies, is finally preparing his mother’s home for sale. It’s a great sadness to him that he never managed to persuade her to move to a smaller property rather than her large Victorian house. She’d been alone in it for fifty years since his father’s death until her own recent death in her nineties. Her loss still feels raw. No matter how hard David tried, she refused to move; there was always a good reason or an excuse that allowed a further postponement. David finds it ironic that he’s now in the same situation; his children are pressing him and their mother to downsize. He wonders if they know that the familiar makes life more comfortable. 

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