Thirteen for 13 an Introduction to Larry Underwood’s Short Fiction


I made the acquaintance of Mr Underwood on Facebook via mutual friends (like you do) and I noticed the other day that he’d gotten one of his stories, an excellent piece of Western horror flash-fiction, promoted by as a limited freebie.

I love free anything and I immediately shot over to the Amazon sellers and found that it was not free on the UK site. I sent Larry a quick line to say so. This generous and talented gentleman sent me a personal  copy and on top of that, he sent me copies of two more of his short stories.

All three are part of an ongoing project of his called, Thirteen for 13.

All three of these tales were different and entertaining.

Terror on the Plains deals with an Indian legend.


Hiccup is a time travel tale with a sense of humour.

The Clothes Make the Man is just brilliant.

There is another story that is part of this project entitled Dreams. I have not read it yet as I wanted to quickly jot down my thoughts on his work thus far.


The wonderful thing about all Larry’s work is its “visual” texture. I literally felt like I was “reading” episodes from some classic anthology program like The Twilight Zone or Ray Bradbury‘s Theatre. Any one of these stories would make a great adaptation to the small screen and I’ll be very surprised if that doesn’t happen.

The fact that all of the books are horror related should come as no surprise, if you read his Author’s Bio on Amazon. In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll pop it (in its entirety) below:


Larry Underwood is best known as an award-winning TV horror host in the Middle TN area where he introduced late-night creature features for 13 years as Dr. Gangrene. He has written articles for various magazines including Scary Monsters and Outre. He lives in Hendersonville, TN with his sons and four dogs. He can be found online at 

All four of these tales are available on Amazon and worth the time spent reading them. 

Check them out!

Author Larry Underwood.
Author Larry Underwood.


Taken by Adam Light: O. Henry Eat Your Heart Out


Adam Lights short story Taken throws a different light on the usual tales of abduction. Here is a  protagonist whose secret trauma is not revealed until the very last of the story and it helps to give an O Henry ending that quite surprised me.

I have only just discovered the delights of Adam and Evans Light and their twisted world of horror and the unique way they write about it. I’m rapidly becoming a fan and I’ll be continually dipping into their new books as they write them, like a literary humming-bird darting into their different stories for a taste of sweet sinister terror.

Both the authors can be found in the realms of Goodreads and what a pleasant discovery they are. If you aren’t familiar with their work, check out the Goodreads site and keep your eyes peeled for some of the special deals that these two talented writers are a part of. Kindle  deals abound and you can sample the terror filled treats that are becoming a staple of the two brothers.

I’ve only read two of the brother’s work and as I mentioned above, I am rapidly becoming a fan of their original ideas and very different story lines. I know that the title of this post is somewhat deceiving in that it looks like I am going to be addressing the story Taken its own. But being a short story, I would give way too much of the plot away.

I will say it deals with a long distance driver who loves his stay-at-home partner too much. So much in fact that he’ll do anything for her. It’s a great read and entertaining.

Check both Adam and Evans stuff out, if their stories were edible, I’d say, “They’re finger-licking good.”

Author Adam Light.
Author Adam Light.

A definite 4 star tale just for the unpredictable twist at the end.




Tom‘s grandpa called him from outside his grandparent’s house. “Tom, come on out here. I want to show you something.”

Tom reluctantly tore his eyes off of the roller derby he’d been watching and stood up. It must be something interesting, Grandpa wouldn’t have called him otherwise. “Okay.” Tom shouted back. He switched the television off and glanced guiltily at his Grandma. She was sleeping setting up on the couch, but she had not even blinked when he’d shouted.

Grabbing his straw cowboy hat, Tom ran out the closer front door and crossed the porch with its covering of yellow grains of fly poison and dead flies. He knew that later Grandpa would sweep all the bodies and poison up and throw it in the ditch; he’d then spread new poison and remind Tom needlessly about not touching it.

Even though Tom was 12, he knew that Grandpa wasn’t treating him like a baby, he was just being careful. Something that Grandpa was very good at. Years before when Tom was about 5 or 6 Grandpa had worked at a lumber mill two towns away. He worked the big band saw that made planks out of trees.

“I was just standing there feeding the tree through the saw. It was stupid what happened. That damned old place was noisy as hell,” Grandpa paused and looked around cautiously for Grandma, she did not like it when he swore, she went to church every Sunday and would get really cross when he used foul language as she put it. “I heard a horn honk outside the factory on the main road. I glanced out the window and when I looked back, four of my fingers were laying in the sawdust on the floor. I don’t remember anything after that because I passed out.”

He stopped and pulled a machine-made cigarette out of his shirt pocket; put one end in his mouth and struck a match on the seat of his jeans. “They said it was damned lucky that I fell backwards when I passed out. If I’d fallen forward, I would have lost a lot more than my fingers.”

He always chuckled when he got to that bit while his eyes kept looking for Grandma. He never tired of telling that story, Tom knew because he’d asked him a least a hundred times how he’d lost his fingers. Grandpa always used to say that he learned all about being careful after his accident.

When Tom rounded the corner of his grandparents stone house, he saw his Grandpa standing in between the garden plot and the two rows of grapes in front of the barn. He held his .410/.22 over and under shotgun in his left hand. His right hand with a thumb, one half of a middle finger and all of his little finger rubbed his mouth; he alternated this gesture with licking his lips.

Tom found out years after his Grandpa had died that he had a drinking problem and that the rubbing and licking was a dead give-a-way that he wanted a drink. He went around the back of the house, skirting the ivy that grew on the corner of the house because it had a tendency to sway in the breeze and sometimes it would tap you as you walked near it. He glanced quickly at the stuff that was full of big black spiders and the odd tarantula; just looking at it made goose bumps dart up and down his back.

Grandpa was wearing his old grey work trousers and a snappy blue striped long sleeve shirt that he’d rolled the sleeves up to his elbows to ease off the explosive heat of the day. He also wore his grey hat, its brim was round and the crown had been fixed into a flat Arizona style that was pinched in the front from him taking it off and putting it on. He never used the brim to remove the hat, because as he put it, “It would make the brim droop so I couldn’t see very well.”

Grandpa smiled that perfect false teeth smile that Tom had grown up seeing, the one that made years drop off his face and had the curious effect of making him seem both kind and contrary. Thinking about it, that pretty much explained grandpa’s personality in a nutshell, kind enough and good-humoured, but, he did bite if you got him riled.

Tom had no idea how old his grandfather really was. His age changed from year to year. His birth records and the family Bible had been destroyed in a fire and he claimed to have no real idea when his birthday was. Mom said she thought he knew perfectly well how old he was but that it was his idea of a joke to keep changing it each year. Tom had to admit, he found it pretty funny. Grandma never said one way or the other how she felt about it.

“Come on up with me to the barn Tom,” Grandpa said. “There’s something I need you to check on for me.” He turned and started walking up to the gate that led to the barn. The chickens, which were fenced in by the barn along with their henhouse, started clucking and chasing each other around at the sound of the gate being opened.

Tom liked looking at the ground when the weather was this hot and dry; each time your foot touched the ground a puff of pale dust would drift lazily up, just like in a western where the horse’s hooves would make little dust geysers when they trotted across the ground. Tom wished he had spurs on his boots so they make that ca-ching noise while he walked through across the dusty ground. That would have been so cool.

“Stupid damn things think they’re going to get fed,” Grandpa said. He chuckled and closed the gate behind Tom. As they approached the barn the air seemed to get very still and a lot hotter. Grandpa took off his hat and pulled a bandanna out of his pocket to wipe his forehead. “The top of that barn is blasting out heat like a furnace, ain’t it?” Tom nodded and the old man finished wiping his brow and put his hat back on while the damp bandanna wound up back in his pants pocket.

“I need you to go up into the loft of the barn for me. You don’t need to stay up there it’s too damned hot to spend too long up there.”

“What do you want me to do, Grandpa?”

“I need you to tell me if you see a possum’s nest up there. Something has been stealing eggs and I’m pretty damn sure it’s not a weasel. A weasel would kill the chickens or at least worry the hell out of them. They’d be all bloodied up and spooked.”

They both arrived at the ladder leading to the barn’s loft at the same time. Grandpa was right, Tom thought. It was like a furnace in the barn and not just in the loft either. The heat made shimmery waves in the air as you looked up at the barn roof. Tom hoped grandpa had meant what he said about not being up there too long.

“Climb on up there boy and look for that nest. Tell me if you see anything.” Grandpa sat on a stump and pulled out one of his cigarettes and lit it. “Like I said, don’t take too long. It’s too hot.”

Tom went slowly up the ladder. He didn’t like heights and had a fear of falling. He gritted his teeth and went up; he wasn’t going to chicken out in front of his grandpa. He’d just concentrate on the barn wall in front of him and not look down.

As he went up he could hear the cicadas buzzing, the noise sounded angry and loud. The first time Tom had heard the sound he was scared. He’d never heard anything like it before. His dad had just laughed and said, “Don’t be scared of that. It’s just a jar-fly.” Dad had looked on the ground and found a dead one to show him. “It’s their wings that make that noise, I reckon. They’re pretty big so that must be why they’re so loud.”

Tom got to the top of the ladder and took a cautious step or two into the barn’s stifling loft. The buzzing seemed to be louder in here and sweat ran down his face and body. The hay in the loft made his skin sticky and itchy in seconds and you could see hay motes swirling in the air, despite the lack of breeze in the barn.

Suddenly Tom caught the whiff of something rotten. It smelt like the sulphur water at his friend Hank’s house only worse. Putting his hand over his nose and mouth he headed towards the smell. Looking down at the floor he saw a lot of eggs scattered around one corner of the loft. He picked one up with the idea that he would show it to grandpa, he then noticed that the smell seemed to be coming from the eggs.

He dropped the one he had been holding and it exploded on the floor by his feet. Instantly the smell got ten times worse and he started to gag. He whirled around and headed toward the ladder to get down. His eyes were watering so badly he couldn’t see properly and he almost walked right off the edge of the loft. He waved his arms for balance and then backed blindly down the ladder.

He was in such a hurry to get away from the smell that he actually fell off the ladder just before the bottom and he landed in a huge puff of dust.

Grandpa stood up with his mouth gapped open for a minute and then started laughing. “What the hell was that all about? Are you okay?” He stepped forward and stretched out his almost fingerless hand for Tom to pull himself up.

Getting to his feet, Tom used his hat to dust himself off. “There’s lot of rotten eggs up there Grandpa; all in one corner of the loft.”

“Did you catch any sign of that damned possum?”

“No, sir just lots of rotten eggs.”

“That’s where he’s taken em alright. I’ll have to come back tonight after dark and grease his skids.”

“What does that mean, Grandpa?”

The old man shook the gun gently, “I’m gonna turn him into a possum angel, boy.”

Grandpa walked off toward the house chuckling to himself and Tom followed after him. When they got near the ivy corner of the house, he suddenly veered off to the right and went behind his work shop.

There was another small fence behind the shop that didn’t have a gate, it was too low. Up against the back wall of the building were a bunch of strawberry plants; the smaller fence was meant to keep rabbits away.

Grandpa stood just outside the fence staring hard at the plants. He stepped carefully over the small fence and moved slowly towards the plants. Tom started to say something, but the old man held his hand up and he shut his mouth. It was almost like grandpa had eyes in the back of his head.

He put the gun up to his shoulder and clicked the safety off. Leaning forward he put the barrel of the shotgun down into the strawberry plants. Tom leaned forward and saw that at the end of the gun barrel was a possum. It was playing dead.

Grandpa shot it and a fountain of blood shot up in the air. He leaned down and grabbed it by the tail and slung it over the fence by the garage’s back door. He broke the gun open ejecting the spent .410 shell and quickly put another one in. With a quick flicking motion the he closed the gun back up and it was ready to fire again.

He stepped over the fence and poked the possum with the gun barrel. The animal whipped its head around and bit the barrel. The second the possum’s mouth closed down on the barrel, grandpa pulled the trigger again.

There was an explosion of blood, teeth and brain matter that flew over everything and everyone. To Tom the whole thing seemed to be in slow motion and the shotgun sounded ten times louder than when grandpa had initially shot the possum.

The old man stood with his chest heaving as he panted and reloaded the shotgun again. This time when he nudged the now headless animal it did not move. He leaned down and grabbed the tail again, this time slinging it into the field behind his workshop. He took out his bandanna and wiped the bloody mess off of Tom’s face and then his own.

“No more free eggs for that little bastard.”


Both Tom and grandpa jumped like they’d been shot. It was grandma and she was furious. “What have I told you about shooting so close to the house?” She was wiping her hands on her ubiquitous apron and moving quickly towards the two of them.

Grandpa just gestured to the spray of gore that was spread across the once white door of his workshop. “Varmint.” He broke the gun open and handed it to Tom. “Boy put that in the house while I go get the hose to wash this mess off.”

Grandma didn’t say another word and went back into the house shaking her head. Grandpa disappeared into the workshop and was moving things around looking for the hose. Tom stood staring at the mess and then he turned to look and see if he could see the animal’s dead body from where he was standing.

Nope, it was completely out of sight.

Grandpa came back with the hose and hooked it up to the faucet at the back of the house. He began spraying down the door with the water. The water ran red along the side of the shop and Tom could see the animal’s teeth moving along with the stream.

Years later when he’d killed his first man and the man’s teeth had exploded out of his mouth like shrapnel, Tom thought of his grandpa and the possum teeth that had floated down the rushing water like white and red rafts floating out to sea.

Shoving the gun back in his coat pocket he murmured, “There you go you little bastard, no more free eggs for you.”

Michael E. Smith copyright 28/01/2013


The Haunted Pub Tour

The haunted pub tour was a disappointment. I really should have known better, but, I was bored. The tour itself was just like every tour you’ve ever been on. You take a disparate group of people most, if not all, of whom are strangers to you. You are all herded into a bus like cattle. Once in the bus you get treated to random mumbling announcements over a public address system that specializes in static.

When you arrive at the tour’s destination, you are again herded out of the bus and rushed into the place you have come to see. But you get no time to really see anything. Time is of the essence and there must be enough time to buy souvenirs from this tourist hotspot. The tour guide is aware that he or she must get this group out before the next group arrives. After you have bought your baubles and trinkets, you are once again herded up and shoved onto the bus. You then speed off to the next place of interest where you repeat the rushed ritual.

I can safely say that no matter where I have travelled in the world, tours are all the same. I do not enjoy them. I would not have even gone if it had not been for Gloria and the chance to possibly see an English ghost. I mean I might never get a chance to be in the UK again. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Years ago when I was much younger, and some say much more gullible, I went to the United Kingdom as a representative of our growing company. My boss had started his business as a competitor to the old five and dime stores. The company grew phenomenally fast. So fast, in fact, that he had his eyes on creating “overseas” outlets. My job was to research the possibilities of competing with the many USAF bases and their Base Exchanges while setting up branches in the villages closest to the bases.

“I need you to see if it’s feasible to set up some outlets near the Air Force bases, Fred. See if we can expand our horizons, so to speak.” My boss looked intently at his Filofax. “I’ve set you up in a hotel in Suffolk. That is where most of the bases are located. Use that as your base of operations.” He chuckled at his little joke and I chuckled right along with him. I didn’t get to be the leading sales representative on just my good looks and sales record. We then settled down to the nitty-gritty of what I would actually be doing when I got there. While he was explaining his war plans, I had the feeling that my whole trip was just a tax write off. It was not unknown for big companies to engage in this practice and I really did not care. I had never been to England before and I was really looking forward to the trip.

I was living in the New Mexico desert at the time. I loved it. The heat and the cold were dry and the desert itself was hauntingly beautiful. My flight began at the Alamogordo Airport in the morning. The sun was already hot and the temperature was in the mid nineties. I settled into the relative comfort of the airy Cessna that would take me to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, once there I rode the subway system to my departure terminal. Flying first class meant I got to board first. This allowed me to get settled in and to discover who else I would be sharing first class with.

Apart from the attendant, I was the only occupant of the section. Despite the fact that this initially kind of “creeped” me out, I eventually got used to the solitude and watched the in-flight movie with a steady supply of drinks and fancy peanuts. After the in-flight meal I went to sleep with a full stomach and slightly tipsy head. I woke up, teeth chattering and body shivering, while we were taxiing down the runway at London/Heathrow International Airport. The air conditioning which had been so comfortable in Dallas/Fort Worth was suddenly like sitting in a meat freezer. When the plane finally stopped I checked my watch and saw it was early evening in New Mexico but the middle of the night in England.

My first class flight attendant was handing out the forms that we needed to fill in before the customs officials would allow us to enter their cold, wet country. With sleep and left over alcohol still ruling my head, I needed to ask for another form twice before I finally filled it out correctly. After clearing customs and collecting my baggage I went to the main terminal to sort out a taxi.

The “taxi” turned out to be an American style van. I shared it with a young female airman who was on her way to the airbase RAF Mildenhall. We piled our luggage in a communal heap and settled down for the long drive to Suffolk. Normally when I am confronted by a young pretty female, I become very chatty. I am by nature a natural conversationalist. It is sort of a requirement for my job as a Sales Representative. But I was so cold that all I wanted to do was tug my light coat tighter to my body. Shivering and shaking, I somehow managed to drift off to sleep again. I was hoping that I would be warmer and a bit more sober when we reached our destination.

I woke up when the van pulled up outside of my hotel in the village next to the Air Force base. Mildenhall village boasted three hotels and I had reservations at The Anchor. I was lying with my head in the young airman’s lap.

“Sorry.” I said sitting up. I was blushing furiously while trying sort my wrinkled clothes out. She smiled at me. “No problem. It was more comfortable than when you were sleeping with your head on my shoulder.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Judy Jones. My friends call me J.J.” While shaking her hand, I said, “Fred Wilson. I am very pleased to meet the owner of the lap I have been sleeping on for God knows how long.” She laughed and I figured that I’d made a friend.

I gathered up my suitcases and paid the cabbie. I turned to say goodbye to my new friend. “Well,” I said, “We’ll have to get together sometime and have a coffee or something.” J.J. smiled and said “That would be great. As soon as I’ve finished in-processing, I’ll come look you up.” She gestured toward the hotel sign. “Will you be staying here long?”

“I’ll be here for as long as the job lasts.”

“Great! I’ll see you later then.”

As the van headed towards the base I gathered my bags and went up stone steps to the hotel entrance. Trying the door handle I discovered it was locked. “Oh great,” I said, “I’m locked out.” As I turned away from the door to look for a phone box I noticed a small sign on the door. ‘After twelve o’clock, please press the buzzer.’ So I did.

The door opened so fast, that I got the impression that the young girl who answered the buzzer had sat poised over the handle just waiting to use it. The girl, it turned out, was the owner’s daughter and she was a bit older than she looked. She was in her mid twenties, blond hair, crisp blue eyes and a dynamite figure. I was beginning to think I was going to like this business trip.

I got checked in and the girl showed me up to my room. Handing me my two keys, one for the room and the other for the hotel’s front door, she said, “My name is Gloria. If you need anything just dial 0 on the phone. We offer a full English breakfast from half seven to eleven o’clock. The restaurant is closed now, but if you’re hungry, I can rustle you up a sandwich or something.” Gloria looked expectantly at me, waiting to see if she was going to have to make me something to eat. I smiled and said I was fine. Gloria then said, “The bar is closed, all Pubs close at eleven o’clock or twenty-three hundred hours as you yanks say, but as we are a hotel and not a Pub, I can also get you a drink or two. Otherwise, the bar has the same hours as a Public House, seven to eleven, last orders at half ten.” She waited for me to respond.

I thought for a moment. “You know, I could really use a pot of coffee. Is that possible?”

She smiled and said, “You have a kettle in your room with tea and instant coffee.” She wrinkled her nose. “If you need more packets of coffee just dial 0 and ask. All right?” She turned to leave and I started to give her a two pound tip. “Oh no sir, we don’t tip in this country. Thank you.” She closed the door behind her and I was left on my own.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was now wide awake. I filled the kettle and turned it on. I checked out the coffee supply. Four sachets, two of real coffee and two decaffeinated. I was definitely going to need more. While waiting for the kettle to boil I switched on the television. I was immediately horrified. My God! These people only had four channels! And two of those had gone off the air already! Oh well, I thought, I can see I’ll be spending a lot of time in the bar. I sat sipping my instant coffee. Putting the cup down I went to the phone and dialled 0. A familiar voice answered. “Desk.”

“Hi,” I said, “Um, could you sent up some more coffee please? I don’t think two sachets are going to be enough.”

“Oh, it’s you,” Gloria replied, “Certainly sir I’ll have those sent right up. Will there be anything else?” “No, I think that pretty much covers it,” I said.

“Well, if you think of anything else…”

“I’ll just dial 0,” I said.

I could hear her giggle on the other end of the phone. “Yes sir, that’s right. My you are a quick one, aren’t you?” I decided the problem of only four television channels was not going to be an issue. I had a feeling that Gloria might just be able to keep me entertained.

I had been in England for two weeks and it was starting to look more like a tax write-off as each day passed. I had so many doors closed in my face that I started checking my nose for breakage. I rang my boss. He pretty much confirmed my suspicions.

“Well, Fred don’t you worry about the lack of enthusiasm at your end. This is really just a ‘fact-finding’ trip. You take your time and leave no stone unturned.” My boss paused for a moment. “And don’t forget to put everything that you spend on the expense account. Right now I’ve got a barn load of meetings to chair, so I’m going to love you and leave you. Call me in about a week or so. You’ve got an open return ticket, so that’s not a problem. Just let me know when you’ll be coming back and we’ll sort out a limo to pick you up at the airport. Try to get back in time for the Ruidoso horse sale. I want to see about getting another quarter horse.”

I could hear the sound of pages being turned quickly. He must have been checking his appointment book. “That way I’ve got an excuse to head over there. You know what the missus is like. Well, like I said, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you when you get back.” I relaxed. If this was just a tax write off, I was going to kick back and enjoy myself for the next two weeks.

I wandered down to the hotel bar for a pint of bitter. Bitter was considered proper beer. It was dark coloured and did taste a little bitter. What we Americans referred to as beer the English called lager. Both of these beverages were a lot stronger than our beer. But I decided that as my trip was now more or less a vacation, I was going to enjoy it, starting now.

The bar at the Anchor opened into the reception area of the hotel by way of two huge openings in the wall either side of a giant fireplace. The actual reception desk was positioned right behind the fireplace in order to take advantage of the heat it generated in the winter, Even though it was technically spring, the heat was still needed as it was still cold. The front of the reception room featured a huge red door, the one that was locked after midnight. The back of the room led you to the kitchen and the restaurant; you did not have to eat in the restaurant though.

You could get food at the bar that was just as good as the restaurant food; they served a mean rump steak with onion rings. On the opposite side of the room from the back of the fireplace was the stairway that took you to the rooms. As I came down the stairs I looked for Gloria. Not seeing her in the reception area I headed for the bar.

I spotted Gloria working behind the bar. She was taking glasses out of the dishwasher and giving them a final wipe before she stowed them under the counter. Gloria I found out was the, “Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer” at the Anchor Hotel. That meant she could pretty much do everyone’s job in the hotel. I said she was a good “all rounder.” That almost got me in trouble because Gloria thought that was another way of saying she was fat. Gloria was definitely slender with curves, as they say, in all the right places. Gloria was also a Spiritualist.

A spiritualist, in case you didn’t know, is a person who believes that you can contact the dead and vice versa. They attend a Spiritualist Church. The church has a “Pastor” of sorts and they welcome guest speakers from the Spiritualist world. Various mediums and other folks who claim to have contact with the recent and not so recent departed all come to speak at the Church. I attended one session with Gloria. I was not impressed. The chap that spoke that week specialized in “spirit drawings,” in other words drawings of dead folks who had relatives in the congregation. I will admit the guy could really draw and sketch well. His quick pen and pencil sketches looked great. They also did not look like any of the congregation’s relatives. Nobody recognised any names or faces that the spirit passed on to the medium. It was, in baseball terms, a wash out.

I plunked myself onto a stool in front of Gloria. She immediately put a pint of beer in front of me as well as a pamphlet. I took a sip from my glass and asked, “What’s this?” Gloria was excited. “It’s the haunted pub tour! They have one once a fortnight.” This I found out meant every two weeks. “If you like, I’ll book us a couple of seats on the bus. We’re the last hotel they pick up from so I’ll have to book early or there won’t be any seats left.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “It’s not going to be like the church thing is it?” Gloria giggled. “No silly! You get on a bus and you go to all the haunted pubs around the local area. I’ve been loads of times. You have a pub with a screaming skull and one with a headless horseman and loads more. Oh come on. It’s good fun and you can try all the local beers at the different pubs. Beside’s if we do see a ghost, it’ll be more exciting if there are two of us.” I didn’t quite get the last part of her argument, but I agreed to go. I told her to pay for the tickets on my room tab so I could claim it on my expenses. Gloria trotted off to the wooden phone booth by the bar and booked our tickets.

Gloria came back and made herself a port and lemon to drink. She settled onto the stool next to mine and gave me a hug. “You’ll like this, Fred. Most yanks seem to.” I took another drink of my beer and idly wondered how many “Yanks” Gloria had taken on this tour. “How much was it?” I didn’t really care as I would be claiming the cost back from the company. “Fifty quid,” she replied.

I choked on my beer. “What? Fifty pounds!” I was shocked. The pound is worth more than the dollar so that meant I, well the company, was forking out over a hundred dollars for this ghost trip. “Doesn’t seem that expensive to me.” Gloria’s eyes darkened, “I can always cancel it, if you think it’s too dear.” I looked at her blankly. “Expensive love, if it’s too expensive, I can cancel it.” I choked down my beer and said, “That won’t be necessary. I mean, after all, the company is paying for it.” Gloria cheered up immediately and gave me a quick hug and a kiss. All we had to do was figure out how to entertain ourselves before the bus arrived.

We thought something up without too much trouble.

After we freshened up we went down to the lounge to wait for the bus. Looking out the window I noticed that the weather had changed. Fog was moving in at an alarming rate. “Will they cancel the tour because of the weather?” I asked. “Because of the fog?” Gloria laughed. “No they won’t, it just adds to the atmosphere.”

While we were talking, the bus arrived. I held the door open for Gloria and followed her up the bus steps. When I got to the driver I stopped and told him our names so he could check us off his list. “Thank you, sir.” He said as he put the list back under his seat. “There are a few seats at the back of the bus in the smoking section. I glanced towards the back of the bus and saw two things. The bus was packed and Gloria had already taken a seat. “Thank you.” I said and made my way back to her. Once I sat down I shrugged my jacket off and placed it on the empty seat next to me. I took my scarf off and laid it on top of my jacket. After I finished disrobing I put my arm around Gloria and sat back.

“Didn’t the driver make you think of anyone?” Gloria asked. I glanced at the front of the bus. The driver was too far away for me to make out his face in the rear view mirror.

“No,” I said. “Should he?”

Gloria giggled again. “He’s the spitting image of Peter Lorre!” “I mean he could be him,”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because Peter Lorre has been dead for a long time.”

“He looks like it suits him.”

I laughed and started looking over the other passengers on the bus. About halfway up, I spotted a familiar face peering back at us. It was J.J. my friend from the van ride. I started to lift my hand to wave hello and she turned back around in her seat. I saw she was seated next to a blonde beefy guy with a short haircut. I figured they were both from the base. It didn’t really matter, but it did explain why J.J. had never looked me up. I have to admit I wasn’t too torn up about it. Ships that pass in the night and all that crap.

The bus rumbled to life and we started off to the first pub on the itinerary. Gloria put her lips close to my ear and said, “The first pub is The Red Boar. We should get there about seven o’clock. There’s a headless lady that haunts the place. The next pub is The Red Lion we should get there about eight o’clock, screaming skull at that one.” “Wait a minute.” I said. “Did you just say we had one hour to get to the next pub?” “That’s right.” Gloria nodded. I realised that we would be hitting each pub on a dead run. I sighed and Gloria kept reading out the itinerary of the tour. I kind of blanked out everything she said after that. I wasn’t that interested to be truthful.

The bus started to slow down. I glanced out the window and what I saw didn’t fill me with confidence. The pub sign was a picture of a red boar and the spotlights that were supposed to be highlighting the sign were askew and blinking erratically. This was disturbing enough but the pub itself was worse.

The pub was set in a large plot of land. It had a huge parking lot, or car park as they say in England, that was practically empty. The parking lot was full of potholes rather than cars, and some of them looked almost big enough to lose the bus in. To the back of the pub was a lot of brush. Even in the fog you could make out the shapes of big bushes and spindly trees.

It also seemed like there were no other buildings anywhere near the pub. It was two stories high with a thatched roof and faded pink plaster walls it gave the impression that it was squatting in the back of the lot. There were two windows on either side of the front door making the entrance look like a face that seemed to glower at us through the fog. A sickly yellow glow came from each window making the light look quite ominous. While I was studying the pub, the bus ground to a halt.

At the front of the bus, a man stood up and faced the passengers. He was short and extremely round. He held an umbrella in his right hand which he raised as he started speaking. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Red Boar, home of the infamous headless lady. Now, ladies and gentlemen if you will follow me or rather, my umbrella I will lead into the pub. Mind how you go, some of pot holes are quite deep.” This was all said in a high pitched almost squeaky voice.

“Oh great,” I muttered, “I didn’t know that Mickey Mouse was the tour guide.” Gloria started giggling. “Looks like besides getting an ear job that he’s put on a bit of weight.” Gloria snorted and shot her elbow into my side. I glanced at my watch it was seven o’clock on the nose. “What time did you say we would be at the next pub?” Gloria consulted her itinerary. “Eight. Why?”

“How far would you say it is from here?”

“Oh, round about fifteen minutes. Why?”

“I was just curious.”

Great; that meant we had to listen to ‘Mickey’ give us the ghost spiel, order drinks, find a seat and then rush back out to the bus to continue on to the next pub. Of course once there, it would be a repeat of what happened at this pub. I was annoyed, but kept it to myself. As Gloria and I weaved around the craters in the car park, I noticed how quiet the pub seemed. Usually when you approach pubs you can hear the laughter and banter between the regulars. If the establishment has a jukebox, you can hear the music if nothing else. I decided that the fog was having a dampening effect on the sound. We reached the door and still no noise. I made my way to the bar to order drinks. It was if the place had been packed in cotton wool. You couldn’t even hear the bickering and teasing of the old men playing dominoes in the corner.

While ordering our drinks, a feeling of unease settled over me. It increased when I turned around, drinks in hand to find Gloria. The place was packed. As a rule you cannot have that many people in one place and not have some noise. Besides, where did they all come from? Surely they didn’t live within walking distance of the place. With all these thoughts swirling around in my head, I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going. I spied Gloria at a table with J.J. and her friend. I started to shout, then immediately decided that wouldn’t be appropriate in this unusually quite establishment. I took one step forward and smacked my forehead on a ceiling beam in front of the bar. The ceiling was just over six feet tall! That meant the beams were roughly eyebrow height on me. Despite almost knocking myself out, I didn’t spill a drop. Keeping a wary eye on the other dark heavy beams that criss-crossed the ceiling, I made my way to the table.

“Here you go,” I said sliding the port and lemon to Gloria. I looked at JJ and her friend. “Did you two not want any drinks?” JJ sniffed. “I didn’t think we’d have time. The bar was crowded and I thought getting a table was the higher priority.” I sat down. “Anyway, Tom and I don’t think there’s really enough time to get through a drink.” “You’re probably right. ” I said. I stuck out my hand, “Hi Tom, I’m Rick.” Tom took my hand, gave it a firm squeeze and said, “Pleased.” That pretty much ended any small talk with JJ and friend.

I looked around at the interior of the pub. The tables were all battle scarred and old looking. Ours was near a window and had a small candle on it. The walls were the same sickly yellow shade as the light that had drifted out the windows. There were a few backless stools in front of the bar area, that no one seemed to want to sit on, preferring to stand. The pub itself was separated by a fireplace with a door on the left side of it that presumably led to another room.

The guide, with his ‘brolly’ held high, looked around at the group. I thought, well at least we won’t have any trouble hearing him. I have to admit the quiet of the place was really starting to get to me. Gloria touched my arm and I almost dropped my drink. “Looks like he’s about to start.” Mickey took one last look at his captive audience and began speaking.

“The Red Boar is quite a new pub.” He chuckled, “It was built in the eighteen hundreds by a race horse trainer. He wanted somewhere for the jockeys to bend their elbows that was a bit more their size. Here after many a race, there were celebrations for the winners and commiserations for the losers. As many of you may have noticed the ceilings are quite low, which is why you have the “Mind your head” sign at the pub entrance!” Gloria reached over and gently rubbed my forehead. “Well, I didn’t see it.” I said taking a token sip of my beer.

Mickey cleared his throat and continued.”It is a sad tale. A young moneyed lady was engaged to be wed to the horse trainers son. All went according to plan until the horse drawing her carriage was spooked by something. The horse bolted and the young lady was thrown from the carriage. It was one of those horrific moments where everything comes together, like a tragic serendipity. There was a double headed axe with one end shoved in a stump. The other end, which was just as sharp, stuck straight up in the air. The young lady flew through the air and her neck landed on the upturned axe head. Pretty much decapitated her on the spot, so they say”

Mickey paused for a moment and looked at his audience. “About a fortnight later, her distraught fiancé hung himself from the first floor banister. He hadn’t tied the noose properly so he was strangled to death,” He paused for effect, “Very slowly. Right, questions anyone?”

J.J. had her hand up. Judging from the greenish hue of her face, I thought she was going to ask where the restroom was.

“Why, doesn’t he haunt the pub?” She asked. “I mean, wouldn’t they both roam around the place? Why is it just her?

Mickey shrugged eloquently, “Ah miss, if I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d be a rich man. That as you Yanks say is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Unfortunately no one knows. Right then! Drink up folks!” Mickey clapped his hands. “We don’t have all night! What do you think this is, a tour or something?”

I glanced at my pint and realised I was going to have to gulp it hurriedly. I made a mental note to get a half-pint at the next pub or to order a “short.” That’s a mixed drink or a cocktail if you’re a “Yank.”

We finished our drinks and quickly shrugged our coats on. I grabbed Gloria’s hand and pretty much drug her to the door. I narrowly missed getting a second knot on my forehead from the damn low beam and I grabbed the pub door and pulled Gloria through it.

The fog had thickened the short time we had been in the pub. It was now so thick that the bus looked like a darker patch of fog. It was swirling and making odd shapes even though there was no wind to move the misty smoky stuff around. I glanced behind us and the door we’d just come through was a dim orange rectangle. The other folks on the tour just looked like undefined shapes.

We got to the bus slightly ahead of Mickey. The driver let us in and we headed for our seats. Amazingly someone had beaten us to the bus. He was sitting on my scarf which I’d decided I didn’t need. “Gloria. That guys sitting on my scarf.” She chortled. “I’m sure he’s not going to hurt it love.”

“That’s not the point,” I whispered, “He should sit in his own damn seat.” Gloria patted my knee, “Just ask for him to give it to you.” I seethed for a moment longer. “Okay.”

I turned to the guy, my eyes looking at the edge of my scarf peeking from under his ass. I looked and his face and he turned his head to return my gaze. I flinched and instinctively jerked back from the guy.

His face was suffused with blood. His florid features made it look as if he was burning up with fever. The whites of his eyes were full of blood red capillaries, like he hadn’t sleep in days. I heard Gloria murmur behind me about ‘piss holes in the snow.’ He smiled at me and I cleared my throat.

“Hi, uh, you’re sitting on my scarf.”

“Sorry, old bean.” He reached under himself and pulled the scarf effortlessly up and handed it to me. “Seems alright; no harm done eh?”

“No, it’s fine thanks.” I wrapped it around my neck and the guy seemed transfixed by the movement. I also noticed that his head seemed to be tilted, like one side of it was heavier than the other.

“I didn’t notice you on the bus earlier.” I said. “Late arrival or are you just catching a lift?”

He moved his eyes up from my scarf with what seemed to be a massive effort. “Oh yes, I’m just catching a lift Squire. You won’t say anything will you? I wouldn’t want to lose my ride.” His eyes looked watery and sad. “I really do have to get out of here. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sure,” I said, “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Oh I doubt that old bean, I really do.”

He turned his face to the window and seemed to be studying the dark patch in the fog that was the pub. The bus driver started the engine and we moved off to the next stop in the tour. As we pulled up, I was struck at how different this pub was from the last one. The fog did not seem as thick here and the lights blazed out from the windows and the pub’s sign, The Hound and the Hare.

The parking lot was full and we dodged cars instead of pot holes. Mickey, our guide, was pumping his umbrella up and down and calling to us. “Right peeps, The Hare and the Hound. Headless horseman inhabits this fair place. Please be quick and get your drinks from the bar.” His voice faded as he entered ahead of us.

We managed to visit about six pubs and they all began to blur together before the last bus ride home. I sat snuggling with Gloria when I noticed that the florid faced man was not on the bus any longer. I had not seen where he wound up. I’d never asked and did not really care apart from the fact that he’d sat on my scarf.

The bus pulled up in front of my hotel around midnight. I could see the receptionist getting ready to lock the front door. As we passed the driver and Mickey I paused. “Do you often get stowaways on the tour?”

Mickey raised one eyebrow. “Pardon?” ”

The guy who got on the bus after the first pub, the red faced guy, you know the one who took up the only seat left on the bus?” Mickey was slowly shaking his head. “No Squire. No one got on the bus at the Red Boar.”

“That’s it! The Red Boar! This guy sat on my scarf in the only seat left on the bus next to us.” I looked at Gloria for support. “We both talked to him.” Gloria smiled, “No love, you talked to him.”

I looked back at the driver who had not moved from his seat. “Surely you noticed him?” Like Mickey, he shook his head. “No Guv, we had an empty seat next to you all night long. No one else joined the tour, I’d have noticed, wouldn’t I? I count everyone as they come on and leave. No sir, no one joined the tour.” He paused for effect, “No one.”

Confused, I turned away and hurried to get through the hotel’s main door before the receptionist locked me out. Nothing else of any importance happened for the rest of my stay. I went out with Gloria many more times and on my last day there I took her out to eat at the Red Boar pub.

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of eating at the place. The last time we’d been there it had been pretty gloomy and downright dingy. But it was the only pub in the area that we had not eaten in and Gloria said they did a great carvery. As the taxi drove up to the pub, I could not believe my eyes.

The pub looked friendly, inviting and well lit. The hunched and almost evil appearance was gone. As we went into the pub and passed by the bar I remembered the low beam and ducked. The act of dodging the beam caused me to notice an antique painting hung over the fireplace in the middle of the room. I stood looking at the man in the painting with my jaw dropping open.

It was the man on the bus! I turned to Gloria and said, “Gloria, the painting! Look!” She glanced over at it and looked at me questioningly. “Yes?” I grabbed her by the shoulders and walked her up to the painting. “It’s him, the guy on the bus; the one who sat on my scarf!”

Her eyes grew wider. “Oh, yeah! Oh my God love, we’ve seen a ghost! Not only that but we talked to one!” I drew back from Gloria haughtily. “I talked to him you mean.” She looked at me with a hurt expression on her face. “Well that’s what you told the driver, isn’t it?”

I turned away from her and went to a table. I pulled out her chair but instead of her coming over to sit in it, she twirled around and flounced out the front door.

I went ahead and had a meal and returned to the hotel. Gloria was nowhere to be seen; not that night nor the next morning when I caught the American style van back to Heathrow Airport. So the haunted pub tour was a big bust. I didn’t see one ghost at any of the “haunted” establishments, but I did get to talk to one on the tour bus.

As the plane taxied on the runway, I wondered if I should have asked for my money back.

Michael E. Smith copyright 12/01/13

Another New Chapter…

So, when I was first offered “Ill health retirement” I was shocked. I’d been told, when I asked about when my back was injured and did not seem to be improving, that it was nigh on impossible to get. “As long as you can hold a bloody pencil mate, they’ll use you.”


That, however, did not turn out to be the case. I was offered a “lower tier” pension. That means I’ll get it until I shuffle off this mortal coil. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Trust me when I say it is not. The amount I’ll get each year won’t even keep me in “beer and skittles.” But honestly, the amount that I do not know about the whole pension system and what I’ll get along with any benefits added in, would not fill a matchbox.

I am hoping to learn. Mind you, I was hoping to learn before I had to make up my mind to take the retirement. It just wasn’t to be.

So in about the shortest time span ever, I’ve changed direction with my life once again. I think that this has got to be a new “personal best” for me. Three years ago, I leave my wife of over 25 years and set the wheels in motion for the divorce. Then last year I got injured at work and lost almost six months off of work and just started back when I had the heart attack.

Two surgeries later, I’m out of the hospital after four days with the doctors astonished at how quickly I’d recovered. Then just over four months goes by and I’m invalided out of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Three years with a matching number of events, two of which were life changing.

Karma is sort of kicking my ass. I just don’t know if it’s because of something I’ve done in this life or the last. I’ll have to see if I can get in touch with Shirley MacLaine; she’s an expert in that sort of thing.

But despite the Keystone Kops pace of my life’s recent changes, I am at peace. Not all the time. I came close to having a spectacular blow-out the other day caused by too many questions and unknowns that were starting to panic the crap out of me. One thing that has helped me to keep a more or less even keel through all of this is my blogging.

I stopped by work for the last time today and said goodbye to the few friends who were on. One of them asked if I’d still be doing my blogging. Oh yes, I replied it was keeping me sane and even though it wasn’t paying any bills, I was pleased with the amount I was writing and the fact that I was pretty much doing it daily. I even went so far as offering the opinion that it might just lead to employment someday.

We all had a chuckle at that and I made my excuses and left. The one constant thing in my life right now is my writing. I started doing short stories again, although really they are more like flash fiction and hopefully I’ll accrue enough of those plus a few longer stories to fill a collection. Who knows?

It is amazing how satisfying it is to be creative again. I know, a couple of short stories do not a creative world make, but, most of my writing is in a sense creative. Even when spouting my opinion about things I’ve seen or read or watched, I do have to have a touch of creativity there. But like my slow recovery to fuller health, I am getting better at it (the writing) the more I do it. *At least I think I am and if you think otherwise, please keep it to yourself.*

The two short stories (flash fiction) almost wrote themselves. They actually had to wait on my uncoordinated fingers to type the words out for each one. The first one started as a sentence that just randomly popped into my head three weeks earlier. Two years ago, it would have been shoved to the back of my head for instant flushing. I had lost the overwhelming urge to take an idea, or a sentence, and run with it. See where it headed or died.

When I turned my back on the acting world I turned my back on creativity. I did not think I could do that anymore. But now that I’ve found that I have not lost the “knack” and I can rescue that little niggle in the back of my head. My new catchphrase in this new chapter of my life will be creativity.

In fact if I was writing the story, which in a sense I am, I’d title this chapter I Knew I Could.

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