The Grieving of the Butterflies by Anthony Hulse

Spencer Pardew whistled as he paced along the picturesque and tranquil harbour road. The morning sun heralded another fine July day, adding to the contentment of the thirty-five year old teacher. He and his wife, Jill, recently purchased a cottage in Whitby, after agreeing to sell their home in Loftus. The two teachers found employment in a local primary school; the circumstances prompting their decision.

 

Whist Jill was in the process of decorating the riverside cottage, Spencer opted to visit the local market, situated at the foot of the abbey steps. He breathed in deeply, the bracing sea air filling his lungs. The squawking seagulls foraged for food and tidbits, left by the early morning fishermen.

 

Spencer mingled with the locals and holidaymakers, who had risen early to search for a bargain. After purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables, Spencer headed towards a bric-a-brac stall. His unblinking eyes focused on two oil paintings. The first was of a young, unsmiling, medieval boy. He wore a brown, floral gown, black hose, and pointed shoes; his hair cut in a pudding basin style. The girl, who bore a striking resemblance to the boy, wore a green, laced-up gown. A black French hood covered her loose hair. She too showed no sign of merriment.

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Distractions of a Beautiful Stranger Anthony Hulse

The beautiful, sweeping music from the grand piano thrilled Henry Miller. How he loved the music of ‘Chopin’. The tunes of the great pianist were the main reason for his frequent stays at the Mayfair Hotel. Not that he needed accommodation, with his mansion only a couple of miles away.

 

Henry Miller was a self-made multi-millionaire, but all the money in the world could not buy this man happiness. Despite his popularity and many friends, Henry craved love; not passion and sex, but real old-fashioned love. He had married twice, both times ending in divorce. Henry liked the good things in life; classical music, theatre and a splendid brandy. His ex-wives coveted the fast life; casinos, parties, and any social event on the calendar, where they could flaunt themselves for the greedy tabloids.

 

All Henry wanted was privacy; that and someone to love him…really love him. He clapped his hands wildly, his cigar clenched between his teeth. The pianist, a short, red-faced man bowed before scampering away, his work for the evening complete.

 

“Well, Henry, what do you make of the new pianist?” asked a military looking gentleman with a handlebar moustache.

 

“Splendid, James. I never thought anyone could replace old Hanley, but I must admit, I was impressed.”

 

“Good. I thought you’d like him. Come on through to the bar, old chap and I’ll buy you a drink.”

 

Everyone in the grand piano room was similarly attired in tuxedos. Another thing they all had in common was they were all extremely wealthy. The ornate architecture of the Mayfair never failed to impress Henry. The magnificent crystal chandeliers, the marble pillars, and the sweeping spiral staircase reminded him of the umpteen ballrooms he had frequented over the years.

 

Henry was not a handsome man; in fact, some would say he was downright ugly. He was fifty-three years of age, and realised time had passed him by in his quest to find the elusive, faithful bride. His protruding teeth conflicted with his distinguished silver hair and tall stature. His ex-wives had nagged him repeatedly to have them attended to. He could easily afford it, but Henry believed that if God intended him to look like this, then so be it.

 

The two men settled in the comfy armchairs and swilled their brandies around their large glasses, exchanging old stories from another century.

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Jack o’Lantern by Anthony Hulse

Halloween was here and I should have been overjoyed, but I was not. My parents looked at me proudly as I shivered in the passageway. I was dressed in my vampire costume and held my prized pumpkin.

Bobby Shaw, my next-door neighbour, trundled along the icy path, his Frankenstein costume as immaculate as ever, his pumpkin twice the size of mine. “Hello, Mr and Mrs Francis. Hello, Peter,” he said, his icy breath visible.

My mother fidgeted with my scarf, mumbling how cold it was, and embarrassing me by saying, “I don’t want my little angel to catch his death of cold, now do I?” She seemed to forget I was now ten years old and not a child anymore. She kissed me on the cheek and I reluctantly followed in the footsteps of Bobby, joining up with the other trick or treaters, who waited beneath the lamppost, stamping their cold feet.

“Did you have to bring the little twerp?” moaned Vernon Greer, the oldest and tallest in the party, who wore the mask of a ghoul. “He ought to be with kids his own age.”

Bobby Shaw slapped me around the head before he answered. “I didn’t have any choice, did I? My folks made me take him; besides, he has no friends his own age.”

“Well, he’s not coming with us,” insisted Vernon.

I acknowledged by now my role for the night. I was to walk well behind the group, and to receive only the candies that the others did not like. I followed the annual routine, waiting out of sight while the others collected their rewards. Woe betides anyone who never coughed up. Their windows would be pelted with eggs, or dog poo would be pushed through their letterbox.

I jumped up and down on the spot, attempting to ward of the cold as the swirling snow numbed my face. My eyes followed the large party across the road. They were led by a short, stocky man with huge sideburns, a top hat and cloak. In his gloved hand he carried a huge lantern, even larger than Bobby Shaw’s. Towards the rear of the group was a small boy with red hair, his face as white as snow. His eyes and lips were black like coal. The boy, who looked about my age, wore a skeleton costume.

I decided to introduce myself and jogged across the road. “Hello, I’m Peter.”

The boy ignored me and walked on, following behind the rest of the group. One by one, they looked over their shoulders, their faces seemingly hid behind masks. There was a mixture of ghouls, vampires, skeletons, witches, and ghastly-looking dwarfs. I scrambled after them, curious as to whom these people were.

I kept pace with the small boy, who continued to ignore me. “What school do you go to?” I asked.

Again, he chose to disregard me. The only sound that could be heard was the crisp footsteps, as they plodded through the laying snow. The man with the lantern led us into the grounds of a large house. He approached the door and pounded on it loudly.

A grey-haired man in a red, silk dressing gown answered, and regarded the group like something on the bottom of his shoe. His large Alsatian dog manoeuvred its head around the door and growled.

“Yes?”

“Trick or treat?” The voice from the man with the lantern was deep and rasping.
“Beggars! Bleeding beggars, that’s all you are. Now, go away or I’ll set my dog onto you.”

The door was slammed shut in our faces. The man in the top hat turned and placed his hand upon the shoulder of a woman, who wore a witch’s costume and held a broom. The witch stepped forward, her wrinkled hand reaching out for the door handle. She stepped inside the house and a deep groan spread throughout the party, as they turned and walked away.

I was mesmerised and walked backwards, wondering what I had just witnessed. A loud scream, followed by a high-pitched yelping, caused me to jump. The strange group appeared unperturbed and continued on their way into the dark, bitter night.

Several houses later, a similar development occurred, with the householder most uncharitable. This time, one of the deformed dwarfs entered the house, and the screams followed. This happened on five occasions during the evening, and the group was whittled down gradually.

They walked on silently, heading away from my neighbourhood. I stopped and contemplated what to do. True, I was curious, but my parents I knew would be livid at me for leaving Bobby Shaw and the others.

The small, redheaded boy looked back at me as he followed behind the others, his eyes sad and forlorn. I ran after him when they crossed the main road and headed towards the woods.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

He opened his mouth as if to speak, but a scowl from the man with the lantern made him change his mind. The woods were enshrouded by a cold, swirling mist, and a hooting owl serenaded us as we advanced. Again, the party looked back at me one by one, their pale faces seeming to have lost substance. Rotten flesh clung to their bones, their gnarled teeth clearly visible.

I halted and watched when the strange people gradually vanished into the mist, apparently unconcerned about my presence. The small boy reappeared and walked slowly towards me, his face devoid of flesh. He reached out with his bony hand and I turned to run.

“Wait! Please, don’t be afraid.”

I cowered behind a tree and watched as he advanced slowly.

“Come, and I’ll show you where we live.”

I shook my head, my body trembling with fear, as well as the cold.

“Please, we’ll not hurt you… It’s been so long since I’ve seen someone my own age,” he stated.

“W-w-who are you?” I stuttered.

“My name is Jacob.”

“Your face… Is that a mask?”

“Come with me and I’ll explain everything.”

I cautiously followed Jacob deeper into the woods, until he stopped at an enormous tree.

“So, where do you live?” I quizzed.

“This is my home.” Jacob turned and walked towards the tree, before he vanished. “Come on, don’t be afraid.”

I walked carefully towards the tree with my hands held out in front of me, marvelling when I saw them pass through the growth. Another stride and I was inside a huge structure of whiteness, with many doors leading from the mist-filled room. Through the vapour, I made out the shape of Jacob waiting for me.

“Welcome to my home,” he smiled.

“But, I don’t understand. What is this place?”

“Peter, after midnight, you’ll not see me for another year… I long for the day I’ll not return here, but my time has not come yet.”

I was confused. “I don’t understand, Jacob… Who are you?”

The bizarre boy kept his distance, purposely I believe; not wishing to portray his hideous features to me.

“Peter, we live in different worlds. I am one of the undead, as is everyone who inhabits this world. When the time is right, Jack will offer me my liberty.”

“Jack?”

“Why, you’ve surely heard of Jack-o’-Lantern, have you not?”

I looked down at my pathetic pumpkin and nodded.

Jacob continued. “Many many years ago, Jack was a drunkard and a trickster. One day, he tricked Satan into climbing a tree. He carved the image of a cross in the tree and trapped the Devil. Jack made a deal with Satan that he would never tempt him again, on condition he would let him down the tree.”

“He agreed?” I asked.

“Yes… Years later, Jack died and because of his sins was denied entrance to the gates of Heaven. Because he annoyed the Devil, he was also denied access to Hell. Instead, Satan gave Jack a single ember to help light his way through the darkness. Jack placed the ember inside of a pumpkin to keep it glowing, hence the legend of the Jack-o’-Lantern.”

“You said Jack would offer you your liberty? I don’t understand.”

“Every Halloween, we trick or treat; our reward being that any mortal denying us will be replaced by one of us. The remainder wait for another year, hoping they too will one day be free.”

“But, why you?” I asked.

“As I’ve already told you, Peter, I’m one of the undead. The people who live here were evil in your world…including me.”

“You?”

“I too was denied the entrance to Heaven, because I killed my parents. I accidentally upset a candle and my parents perished, over one hundred and twenty years ago. Hell was never an alternative for me… You see, I live in hope that one year, Jack will choose me.”

“But, you said you killed your parents accidentally?”

“It matters not… Listen, you must leave.”

I was more curious than ever. “But, why did you invite me here, Jacob?”

“Because, I want you to be my friend. We can meet every Halloween.”

“I’d like that.”

I held out my hand and strained my eyes, trying to see his hideous features that were concealed by the mist. I felt nothing but pity for the small boy who had been trapped in his own hell for so long. Jacob refused my handshake, no doubt ashamed of his skeletal hands.

 

“Please, go before it’s too late,” he insisted. “Goodbye, Peter, my friend.”

“Goodbye, Jacob.”

Jacob pointed towards the exit and I followed the line of his finger. I trusted him and stepped through the wall and into the woods. The mist was now even denser and I had trouble getting my bearings. I advanced slowly, unsure if I was going the correct way. A rustling sound behind me caused me to increase my pace. I glanced over my shoulder to see someone approaching. “Jacob, is that you?”

A shrilling laugh came from the mouth of the white-haired witch. On closer inspection, I could see she carried a large knife. Hunched behind her was a dwarf, his decaying face contorted in anger.

I turned and ran for my life, blindly crashing into tree limbs and thorny shrubs. I dropped my lantern, my legs tired and my breath coming in short spasms. The twisted maze of roots took me by surprise and I plummeted to the ground. I turned on my back and saw the hideous witch and the dwarf stood over me.

“A tasty morsel for my cauldron,” laughed the witch.

“Yum, yum,” followed the dwarf.

She placed her spindly, bony fingers around my throat and brought the knife upwards. The dwarf held my arms down, his vile breath reeking of rotten fish.

“No!” came the scream from behind.

“Jacob!” I yelled.

“Go away, puny boy,” ordered the witch.

“Leave him be! He’s my friend.”

“Leave him be, he’s my friend,” mocked the dwarf.

The witch raised the knife menacingly. “He’s a mortal and it’s not yet midnight.”

“Put down that knife!”

The witch’s expression changed from ecstasy to disappointment when she turned to face the protester.

The bright glow coming from the lantern was evidence of his identity. “Your time has not yet come, Matilda, and you know the rules. Leave the boy be!”

The witch reluctantly released me and scampered off, the groaning dwarf following closely behind her.
Jack approached and held his lantern in front of my face, the gruesome face of the turnip even more terrifying than the owner’s disfigured features.

“Go, and do not ever speak of this night to anyone. The consequences for you will be dire; do you hear me, boy?”

I clambered to my feet, nodded rapidly, and looked past Jack, towards Jacob, who pointed towards the exit of the woods.

“I understand, sir.”

“Now, go. Run, you young scamp!”

I ran faster than I had ever run in my life, only stopping when I reached my home. I kept my word and never ever spoke of that Halloween to anyone. As the years progress and my hair turns grey, I still venture out at Halloween, accompanying young Jacob on his trick and treats, hoping that one day he will fulfil his wish and be chosen. I was not entirely truthful when I said I kept my word; after all, I’ve told you, haven’t I? Can you keep a secret?

The Clockmaker by Anthony Hulse

It was Christmas Eve, and as usual Maurice Whitaker ignored the carol singers. The uncharitable, middle-aged man tuned in to the local evening news. Whitaker was a clockmaker; a dying occupation, or so he had boasted. He was a loner and had been all of his life. Some commented that stingy Maurice had never married or indeed been involved in a relationship, because that would mean him sharing. Sharing wealth, happiness or love did not appeal to the recluse. Others claimed his refusal to smile contributed to his solitary lifestyle.

The balding man with the hook nose and hollow cheeks had worn the same suit and shoes for over two years. To conserve energy he often sat in the dark. He lived in a small village just outside Whitby and drove to his workplace every morning. His cloistered nature ordained that he worked alone and was unwilling to pay employees. Yes, Whitaker was a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean man without friends or scruples.

His small cottage was sparsely decorated, and many of his beloved clocks adorned his habitat; the incessant sound of their ticking synchronised. No portraits or photographs hung from the plain walls, for friends or family he discounted. There was no evidence that it was the festive season. Christmas was just a waste of money he would often tell himself.

He would arrive home from work late afternoon and would dine on his beloved homemade broth, which was made from the most inexpensive ingredients. As his eyes focused on his treasured television, the shadows of the dancing flames from his open fire seemed to give life to his austere living room. He perspired heavily, but his condition had nothing to do with the heat from his fire. His grey eyes were unblinking as the newsreader reported on the main story.

“A young eight-year old girl was killed this morning outside the village of Ruswarp. It is believed she was a victim of a hit and run driver. Sally Fitzgerald lived within the travelling community, and according to her parents, she was on her way to feed the ducks at the nearby River Esk, as she did every morning. Anyone with any information, please contact the police on this number… Now we turn to sport. The…”

Whitaker switched off his television and buried his head in his bony hands. The carol singers, obviously strangers to the area had given up and moved on.

“She was only a gypsy girl,” mouthed the callous man. He switched on his television once more and tuned in to the cartoons, which offered him a rare opportunity to laugh. He resumed feasting on his hot vegetable broth, the dead girl forgotten. marisa-lerin-ornaments-19-template-embellishment-shape-commercial-use copy

It was Sunday afternoon, two days before Christmas and Whitaker was sat in his threadbare armchair, reading a copy of Robinson Crusoe, which he had purchased at the local church hall jumble sale. He heard a mysterious, inhuman sound outside and put down his book.

“Piffle,” he groaned, and advanced towards his window.

Outside, it was snowing, and through the flurry he could see an old woman. She held what looked like a large cage. She stood motionless at the end of his path and seemingly stared at his cottage.

Whitaker reluctantly opened his door and shouted. “Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. Please go away.”

The old woman approached slowly. The bitter wind and fall of snow obviously did not concern her. She wore a black veil and matching gown, her bejewelled, icy cold fingers attached to a cage. The parrot cawed, before it spoke. “Hello. Hello.”

Whitaker frowned, although he seemed impressed by the colourful bird. Through the veil, he could make out the features of the woman. Her face was wrinkled and her teeth were rotten, but it was her eyes that bothered him. The orbs were black, like nuggets of coal, emotionless and dead.

She held out her trembling hand and spoke. “Can you spare a few coppers for an old lady?” The words were delivered in an Irish accent.

“No, I don’t encourage charity. Now please go away.” Continue reading

Going Home by Anthony Hulse

As we touched down at Heathrow Airport, my feeling was one of relief. Given that my occupation called for me to swim amongst sharks and other fearsome creatures of the deep, a routine flight from Australia should have held no fears for me. I managed to release my grip on the armrest, before unfastening my seatbelt. My throat was as dry as the Sahara with nervousness, and I was in dire need of some liquid refreshment.

The retrieving of my luggage went better than expected, as mine always appeared to be the last to be unloaded. I glanced at the clock on the wall and adjusted my wristwatch, before realising that the clock was wrong. It showed nine-fifteen, which was three hours out. My confused mind was calculating the time zone difference, and I concluded that it must be after six-fifteen. Again, my attention was focused on the wall clock, and I noticed that the second hand was moving backwards, which caused me to smile. Continue reading

The Banquet by Anthony Hulse

pic-homeFollowing the long, winding driveway, I came across a magnificent spectacle that was most pleasing to the eye. Langley castle in Northumberland was my destination. Built in the fourteenth century the leaflet had said. I did not know quite what to expect after receiving an invitation from a mysterious host. The invite had been too tempting and had aroused my curiosity.

“Congratulations,” the letter had begun. I looked over the letter with a suspicious eye. Usually anything starting with congratulations meant dipping into your pocket, but this letter was different.

You are invited to a grand evening at Langley Castle, where King Henry VIII has summoned you to his supreme banquet. I’m afraid the invitation is for you only, but your attendance will not go unrewarded. You may find this invitation rather forward, but all will be revealed on the evening. Costumes will be provided for the banquet; all that we require from you is your presence. I look forward to meeting your acquaintance. The evening will bring you your just rewards.”


The letter was not signed and I had no inkling who had sent it, but it was enough to tempt me to the north east of England. The just rewards part had me hooked. The possibility of a long lost aunt or uncle wishing to leave me their fortune entered my greedy thoughts. How I could do with the money.

Nobody would employ me after the events of the last year. At the age of thirty-four, my life lay in tatters, disgraced and branded for something I was not guilty of. The additional letter I had received this morning had lifted my spirits. These two letters could possibly change my life and offer me financial security. Perhaps it would be a happy Christmas after all.

I switched off the window wipers and peered through my windscreen at the smattering of snow, viewing the splendid structure with its white walls and numerous towers. I attempted to count the arched windows, but gave up at thirty.

My battered old Escort looked so out of place in the presence of such grandeur as I eyed the other plush vehicles. I exited my car and ran towards the main entrance. A doorman greeted me and accepted my invitation card before showing me to the welcoming panelled bar.

The light-hearted conversations were evident and nobody seemed to notice me. I ordered my expensive beer and shuffled over to the open fireplace, where a roaring fire was most welcoming, considering the freezing conditions outside.

My eyes scanned the lavishly decorated room, with umpteen portraits of the castle and past monarchs occupying the wooden panelled walls. The Christmas music was playing gently as my eyes searched for a familiar face, but I was disappointed.

“Mr Fallon,” came a voice from behind me.

“Yes, I’m Fallon.” Continue reading