Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the seventeenth piece of flash fiction in this new weekly series. This week’s piece is a 997-worder entitled ‘The Advert’ by Susi Holliday.
She spotted the ads pinned on the notice board as she hoisted the heavy backpack first over one shoulder, then the other. People were offering their services as gardeners, handymen and babysitters and someone was looking desperately for a lost cat. She smiled wryly at the pseudo-quaintness of village life. Everything seemed the same, but how could it be, after what had happened all those years ago?
The shopkeeper tutted, reminding her where she was. ‘Four fifty please, dear.’
She whipped back round to face the counter, causing her backpack filled with shopping to swing into the notice board, resulting in an unexpected cardboard snowfall. “Oh god, sorry,” Alisha said, dropping her bag and scrabbling around on the floor trying to pick up the fallen adverts.
“Don’t fret, dear.” The woman came round from behind the counter and bent down beside her, making her jump.
Alisha flipped upright, knocking into a metal stand full of postcards, which teetered precariously before righting itself. She wiped sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. ‘GOD! I’m so sorry… It’s me. I shouldn’t leave the house on days like this!’
The shopkeeper stared back at her, a peculiar look on her face. ‘Days like what, dear?’
‘Well, Friday the 13th, of course,’ Alisha said, her cheeks burning. The woman’s fixed smile was starting to unnerve her now. ‘I’m so accident prone…’
The shopkeeper nodded and held out a folded newspaper towards her. ‘Get yourself back to The Cottage and have a nice cup of tea,’ she said, ‘You’ll be fine once you settle back in.’ Alisha took the newspaper and bundled herself through the door, managing a quick goodbye before a small bell tinkled and the door closed behind her.
As Alisha pulled her keys out of her bag and fumbled with the old lock, she realised that she hadn’t told the shopkeeper where she lived. She’d arrived late the night before; but the estate agent had told her it was a tight-knit community, so it was no real surprise that they’d be expecting the new tenant. So they hadn’t forgotten her, even though she looked very different now. She threw the paper onto the kitchen table, dropped her backpack onto the floor and flicked the gas with a match to boil the old tin kettle that sat on the stove.
Waiting for the kettle, she sat down to have a look at what she assumed was the local free paper that the shopkeeper had given her, and as she unfolded it, a postcard sized piece of white card slid out onto the table. On one side was a badly-doodled star, and on the other was an advert for some sort of table sale:
*For all that you no longer need*
18 Jouet Drive, 3pm, Friday 13th
Alisha stared at the kettle that still hadn’t boiled, then up at the kitchen clock. It was five to three and Jouet Drive was only round the corner. People to meet, cups of tea to drink and maybe some home-baking if it was anything like the village parties she remembered from her childhood. She picked up the kettle from the stove, emptied the lukewarm water down the sink and walked out the door.
Although she could hear the sounds of laughter and voices from the back garden, Alisha felt it was only polite to knock on the front door. As she rattled the old-fashioned knocker, the voices fell silent. She stepped back, cocking an ear towards the side gate just as the door opened with a creak.
A smart-looking middle-aged man sporting a yellow bow tie said, ‘Ah, Miss Privet! We’ve been expecting you…’ he opened the door fully and gestured her in with a sweeping arc of his hand.
‘Er, um… hi,’ Alisha said, thrown off balance. ‘How−’
‘Everyone, this is Alisha Privet from The Cottage… some of you might remember her?’ He raised one eyebrow.
Alisha felt the heat in her face as all the faces in the room stared at her, murmuring, nodding and smiling. The same fixed smile as the old shopkeeper who was sitting on a high-backed chair to her right. She shot a panicked look towards the old woman, hoping for an ally, but she just stared back like she’d never seen her before. Alisha felt as if a small family of spiders had begun to creep up her spine. She should not have come back. She gripped the old kettle in one hand and with the other she snatched a drink from the bow tied man and downed it in one.
‘I… um… I brought this kettle,’ Alisha stammered. She felt beads of sweat on her top lip. ‘Is there a table or something?’
A large man at the back of the room said quietly, ‘Out in the garden, dear,’ and there was a small ripple of laughter.
The room began to swim out of focus as she walked slowly through the crowd, the smiling sea of faces moving to each side to let her pass. She felt someone taking her by the elbow as she stepped down onto the patio, mildly registered her fingers letting go of the kettle. She felt the weight of the bodies behind her, but her body floated above it all. She barely noticed the star-like symbol branded onto the decking as she crossed over it; she was hypnotised by the dancing golden flames of the bonfire that burned bright in a pit in the centre of the lawn. Around it, four hooded figures stood holding torches.
A cacophony of voices began to chant softly behind her. She felt herself falling, strong arms catching her; carrying her; laying her on the ground. Tendrils of fire licked at her face. Flashbacks in Alisha’s mind floated and bobbed like bubbles as the man with the bow tie looked down at her and whispered: ‘Welcome back to The Village, Alisha. We’ve been waiting for such a very long time.’
Oh my… that had me hooked right in. I loved it! I asked Susi what prompted this piece and she said…
Well, the Friday 13th part was easy – people always think things go wrong on Friday 13th, so why disappoint them? The rest of the story was inspired by two things that seemed to merge into one, firstly – the thought of being a stranger in a new village, that fear of making friends with your neighbours, unwittingly accepting invitations from people you don’t know anything about, the horror of Tupperware parties; and secondly, the thought of things happening in a small village and them never being forgotten; knowing that if you go back even years later, people will remember and they won’t let you forget. The story ended up a bit more sinister than I intended, but that’s where my storytelling usually goes!
Me too. I love sinister. Thank you Susi.
Susi ‘SJI’ Holliday is the author of numerous short stories and at least two half-finished novels. Her writing leans in the direction of crime, horror and anything a bit dark (some of it is even funny). Several of her stories have had competition success and some have been published online. You can find more details on her website www.sjiholliday.com and blog www.sjiholliday.blog.com and you can also read her regular story postings at www.theblackflag.co.uk in the ‘Twisted Tales’ Stories section. In 2012, Susi hopes to complete her next (as yet, unstarted) crime novel, while continuing with the day job until the lottery numbers come up.
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