We meet at 7:30pm on
the first Thursday of
each month at
The Biffa Room,
St. Mark’s Church,
(off Avon Drive),
Bedford, MK41 7UY
Visitors (18 and older) and prospective members are VERY welcome, whether experienced writers, beginners, or just curious. Simply turn up on the night or contact us by clicking on the 'Get in Touch' icon for an interesting, enjoyable, and possibly instructive evening.
Round Robin 4
Harbingers of doom
Chapter 1 by Muriel Waldt
‘As the worst blizzards for fifty years sweep the country, police are urging people to stay at home, unless their journey is absolutely essential.’
Kate switched the radio off and dropped onto the sofa, breaking out in an icy sweat as the news reader’s words brought back harrowing memories. Thankful she was on her own, she felt the carefully constructed facade of composure she had built up over the past three years disintegrating, like so many crumbling bricks, as vivid flashes from that terrible night, passed before her eyes. Her fragile hold on the present slipped away as she recalled, with alarming clarity, events she had done her utmost to forget.
Winter had come early that year, as she set out for a concert near Leeds where she planned to meet up with fellow members of the string quartet with whom she played violin. Kate had ignored severe weather warnings and set off, in delightful anticipation of a packed concert hall. After the barrenness of the motorway the last fifteen miles across country were her favourite, starkly beautiful even in this inclement weather.
It seemed to Kate afterwards that the weather deteriorated within minutes for, in no time at all, shards of icy sleet pierced the air and battered the car with menacing fury. In the hedgerows that marched beside the road, the inverted, elongated triangles of fat crows clung tenaciously to skeletal branches swaying amidst the louring skies: harbingers of doom, they dispersed in a flurry of harsh screeching, at one with the menacing clouds. Panic gripped Kate as the wheels began to slide beneath her on a bed of rapidly freezing mushy autumn leaves and, around her fragile car, an evil wind charged angrily, tossing high brittle leaves, bony twigs. With increasing strength it howled through the naked tree tops, effortlessly snapping solid branches and tossing them high in the air with reckless abandon.
Seeing a cottage not far ahead Kate knew she would have to ask for shelter until the storm abated. Staying in the car with all the debris flying around was simply not an option. Relieved to see lights on, she grabbed her bag, ran to the door and banged loudly; when no one replied she ran around the back, now soaked to the skin and bitterly cold. Still getting no answer she tried the door handle, and as it opened, blessed warmth reached out and pulled her in. The sight that met her eyes was one that would stay embedded there forever, together with two thoughts that crossed her mind at the time. Firstly: she was aware that she would sell her granny for a farmhouse kitchen like this one with its free standing pine units and aged terracotta tiles, and secondly: the body that was slumped over the pine table with a large knife protruding from its back, still had blood seeping from it; which could only mean that it was freshly dead and the murderer close by.
Kate fainted clean away onto the much coveted terracotta tiles.
Chapter Two by Veronica Sims
Kate awoke to find herself lying on a chintz-covered sofa being energetically fanned with the Radio Times by a woman who looked a whole lot like Theresa May. Her terror returned. What on Earth was happening to her? Murder! Now Madness.
‘The door was wide open, so we came in. You appeared to have fainted. Do you know where Ian has got to? The woman’s voice was clipped and without much expression.
Kate struggled to sit up: ‘Have you seen the body?’ she asked.
The woman frowned. ‘Body, body…what are you talking about? Who are you anyway?
‘I just came and knocked on the door; because of the weather; to ask for shelter. The body was in the kitchen.’
‘Are you completely insane? There is no body in the kitchen. Do you know whose cottage you have invaded?’
‘I haven’t invaded: the door was open.’ Kate was beginning to feel irritated by this May lookalike. When I came into the kitchen there was a man’s body splayed across the kitchen table with a knife in his back.’
‘My dear young women I have been in the kitchen and there certainly isn’t a body in the kitchen,’ the woman sneered, her lips twisting with contempt. ‘In fact, the only person we found in the whole of the house, is you…a complete stranger.’
Kate struggled to sit up. She was sure she hadn’t imagined the body. How long was I out of it? she asked herself. ‘Who had moved her to the sofa?’ She pushed by the woman and opened the door to the kitchen.
Nothing…no sign of the body. She moved nearer the table. The surface was wet, clean. The woman followed her into the kitchen.
‘As you can see, no bodies.’ Kate was about to comment on the wetness of the table top but then thought better of it. She became aware of a sharp discomfort in her right arm, looking at it she saw a pinprick. Now she knew why she had been out of things long enough for the body to be removed and the table cleaned. Next question: what part had this woman played in the murder? It seemed unlikely that she would have survived if this female; sour as she might be, were in on the crime. Kate decided that it was time to leave, return to her car, forget the whole experience.
‘Has the storm blown over?’ she asked.
‘I’d better get on then. I have an important business meeting today. They will be alarmed if I don’t turn up.’ It felt ridiculous being so matter-of-fact when only moments ago she had been telling the woman that there was a body in the kitchen, but now she knew she had to escape from the house.
‘Well I don’t think I can let you go as easily as that,’ declared the woman, ‘After all, we found you in Ian’s cottage. Unconscious. Then you declared that there was a body in the kitchen. We have no idea who you are and there is no sign of Ian.’ Kate started to push past her. She just wanted to get out of the cottage and back to her normal, unremarkable, everyday existence.
by Andrew Stock
Kate was determined to make good her escape as she pushed angrily past the woman who showed no more than a mild look of surprise on her face.
“You will not keep me here.” Kate yelled more from fear than anger “I am not sure what you are up to but I will not be party to it.” Without stopping for a reply Kate pulled open the door and flung herself outside pulling her collar high on her neck against the chill. The expected chill never arrived, instead a blast of warm summer sun stopped her in her tracks. The grass bloomed with summer flowers, trees hung heavy with fruit and birds chirped and called as they flew overhead darting to the hills in the distance.
“What… Where… But?” It was all she could say, for now where there had once been the cold winds of the storms battering the 21st century surroundings of Leeds, was what her mind could only describe as summer in Bronte country. Kate slumped to her knees feeling the thick green grass dry against her fingers. “But this is impossible. It must be the drug.” Yes that was it she thought, the drug she had been given by the woman had totally screwed with her mind. She pulled at her sleeve to study the puncture mark of the needle but it had gone, as had the sleeve of her coat. Kate groaned feeling her brain pushing hard against her skull. Gone was the sensible black trouser suit and white shirt, the standard uniform of the orchestra. No more was the padded fleece ski jacket, an expensive bargain at 100 pounds. Missing were the very comfy but quite inappropriate Ugg boots. Kate was now dressed in attire more suitable for a Victorian cow girl. Kate tried to speak, tried to make sense of all that was happening, but her mouth could form no words, her mind made no logical response. With a small whimper she rocked forward and lay motionless on the grass feeling the sun on her back, hearing the babble of the brook that ran nearby. Fighting to control her breathing she slowly pulled herself to a sitting position and looked back towards the house. Whoever was in that house would have the answers; they would be the answer to this. Once again Kate felt her world lurch sideways in a tumble of confusion. The house was no more but, in its place, stood a small workman’s cottage with thatched roof, a low door and two small shuttered windows, and the figure of a man tall, shirtless smoking a long clay pipe.
“Kate my love ‘tis no good ye laying in the sun all aglow. There be the carcass on the table to butcher and our baby son will soon be awake. Best you get your tasks done before ye think of resting, eh girl?” He took a long suck on the pipe, “Now I’m away to the master’s to finish that wall of his. Up and on with it now for I shall have a raging hunger on my return.” The figure grabbed for his shirt that had been lying over the small stone wall that surrounded the cottage and strode away without a backward glance. As tears began to run freely from her tightly clenched eyes Kate realised that she could take no more, she really could take no more. Just at that moment the crows in the nearby trees began their barking call and the baby from inside the house started its wailing response.
By John Broadhouse
“The answer has got to be in that cottage”, thought Kate. “It’s as though I’m in a time warp. A moment ago I was in the 21st century, now I’m somewhere in the past. This can’t be happening.”
She looked at her right arm again trying to reassure herself that the administered drug was the cause of a hallucination, but again she noticed there was no pin prick. Bursting into tears as her emotions overcame her rationality, she felt her mind losing control.
Edging her way towards the cottage, Kate stopped momentarily as something caught her eye. Just for a brief second the large bush to the right of the cottage shimmered into an image of her car and that brief moment convinced her: she must be in a time warp.
Entering the cottage she glanced around the interior looking for clues to get her back to the 21st century. The door led into a lounge/kictchen area with another door on the far side, but the wailing child, the deer carcass and the damp musty odour made her want to vomit. She went outside and took a deep breath.
Entering once more with a hanky held over her nose, Kate walked to a low table near to the cot with the wailing child who was watching her every move. She picked up a small framed portrait and was shocked to see the resemblance to herself and the inscription “to my darling Kate.”
Kate’s eyes focused on the baby who had now stopped wailing and had a broad smile, “is this my baby?” she mumbled to herself. “The man who called to me, is he my husband, where is this place, who is the master he’s working for? Maybe this chest of draws will reveal clues.”
Opening the top draw revealed a well-thumbed notebook that recorded notes on a daily basis, work schedules, family matters, all detailed and the dates. ”My God,” gasped Kate.
Back in the 21st century, the Mary look-alike woman is pushed to one side as a tall man exits the front door of the cottage, “Where is she?”, he shouts back in anger. “Whoever she is, she holds a secret, a link to the past. We need to find her and find her now”.
“She just disappeared into thin air, just where you’re standing, I couldn’t do anything about it, you’ve got to believe me Doctor Roberts”.
Mary and Dr Roberts walked to the kitchen where Kate had entered. Mary noticed a set of keys under the kitchen table: “this looks like that woman’s car keys, they must have fallen out of her jacket when you struggled with her.”
“Had to inject a sedative, she was hysterical, kept pointing to that chair saying there was a body with a knife in its back,” replied Dr Roberts. “I couldn’t see one. Anyway, the sensors on my equipment went berserk when she entered this cottage. I knew we were onto something big; all my years as a Psychic Investigator I’ve never come across a presence as strong as this”.
“This cottage is supposed to be haunted by a female called Kate Trenshaw who was hung for murdering Sir Ian Blackstone on the 12th of November in 1845,” replied Mary. “Many said at the time she was innocent and was tried by a kangaroo court: I suppose we will never know.”
Kate looked at the date again in disbelief: the 12th of August 1845.
Chapter 5 By Sue Barton
Perhaps, Kate decided, by giving herself up to her memories she could come to terms with what happened the day of the storm. She allowed herself to continue to examine, in minute detail, what had gone on that day.
She could feel again her mouth as dry as the gritty bottom of a bird cage and a head throbbing with pain as she began to regain consciousness for the second time since the storm had forced her to seek refuge in the cottage.
Although she knew she was coming around, she was unable to move a muscle. This last dose of whatever she’d been injected with was far stronger than the first. Even her eyelids refused to lift. The only sense available to her was her hearing and she could just make out a male and a female voice. She strained to catch what was being said in what came across as hoarse angry whispers between two desperate people.
‘What possessed you? You complete idiot! How d’you suppose we are going to fix this?’
‘I was trying to tell him what we wanted to do with this place, it was his sneering half-choked laugh that incensed me, I just grabbed the knife he’d been using to cut the bread and let him have it. I was just trying to shut him up.’
‘You know what He’s like Steve (was like) he’s always sneered at you. Why couldn’t you just rise above it? And anyway, you had no right to blurt out our plans. He was never going to agree to our proposal readily and certainly not if it came from you. You know he has Ian in the palm of his hand. Look how he lets him spend his money, our money you could say. Our inheritance. In any case it was far too soon to approach him. What happened to the softly-softly route?’
Kate recognised the woman’s voice. She was she one who had tried to convince her that there had been no body lying stabbed on the kitchen table. She must be the needle wielding witch. The man’s voice she had not heard before. She tried to focus on listening rather than sliding away into unconsciousness again which would have been all too easy. Some deep instinct told her that her survival might very well depend on what she could find out. She tried to open her eyes a crack but the recalcitrant lids were as heavy as before.
‘I’m sorry Liz, I really am.’
‘And sorry is going to fix this?’ You are a liability, always jumping the gun. What about that young woman in there? Are you going to kill her too?’
‘I don’t know if I could kill in cold blood. I didn’t know I could kill at all. Of all the miserable shitty luck this is about the worst. Hardly anybody comes here and today of all days she turns up. But I’m sure you’ll think of something Liz’
Kate grasped the fact that the man, although an uncontrolled savage, had weaknesses and held on to that knowledge as her only possible lifeline. If they didn’t drug her again, if they let her come around properly and stopped sending her into a distorted world of weird dreams, with winter turned to summer and other crazy stuff she might find a way to get away. She saw herself driving off in her little car. She must do nothing on purpose to agitate this vile pair. She wouldn’t shout or try to push her way to freedom as she had before.
‘What have you done with him,’ the woman demanded?
‘Henry, Ian’s lover, the one with the carving knife through his heart. Who the hell do you think I mean?
‘He’s in that woman’s car. I dragged him in the oilcloth he always kept on the precious kitchen table. I took the car keys from her bag while she was out for the count the first time, when you were upstairs trying to get a phone signal. Don’t know where I got the strength from to lift him but I got the bugger into the backseat somehow. I can drive to the quarry and push it and contents over the edge.’
If he was looking for praise, he got none.
Kate was appalled. They meant to destroy her beautiful turquoise fiat, her means of escape.
‘We’ve got to buy some time Steve. We have to decide what to do with that one in there. And anyway, we can’t let Ian find her here. He must have got caught out somewhere in the storm. He’ll be back soon. We’ve got to act fast.
The drug was wearing off now. Kate managed to move her fingers and toes and she opened her eyes. Quickly she closed them again as she heard footsteps on the wooden floor coming closer and closer.
‘Better go through her bag and, see what we can find out, send some messages from her phone to explain her absence for now.’ the woman called Liz said.
Long strands of hair brush across Kate’s face as someone bent to take her green leather handbag from the floor next to the sofa. Managing not to twitch her eyelids or to give way to the shiver of fear that threatened to betray her, Kate held her breath until they went back to the kitchen.
Chapter 6 by Rosemary Ostley
Kate sat up slowly, gingerly holding on to her head which felt like someone had stuffed it with cotton wool. As her brain started to fire up she realised she would have to find a way out of the cottage pretty quickly, but she balked at the idea of driving off in her little Fiat with a dead body as passenger. She rolled off the sofa and half crawled to the window. Peering sideways through it at the car she suddenly thought of a way to stop anyone else driving it. When she’d arrived in the storm, she hadn’t so much parked the car as just stopped and got out. Now she saw it was on quite a steep gradient, with the nose pointing down and the front driver’s side wheel almost touching the hedge. She had learnt how to handle the way the car rolled forward a little when you started it on a slope, but anyone who hadn’t driven it before would likely struggle with the manoeuvre. Looking franticly around the room her eyes lighted on some large scissors lying on the desk. She tiptoed shakily over to them, steadied herself then scooped them up and cautiously made her way over to the French doors as noiselessly as she could. She tried to open them but they were locked. Casting around wildly for the key, she spotted it hanging on a hook by the curtains. Even in her state of fear she found herself thinking the security in the cottage was abysmal.
Ever so slowly she eased the door open enough to allow her to pass through the gap, then made her way round the side of the cottage, keeping low so she was beneath the kitchen window. When she got to the car she crouched down and squeezed round by the hedge where she wedged the point of a scissor blade between the tyre treads at the base of the wheel. When the warring couple stopped arguing and realised she’d gone they would no doubt assume she’d made a run for it and try to go after her, so she just ploughed deep into the bushes and watched and waited.
It didn’t take long. She heard a yelp as the woman Liz discovered her gone, then the door was wrenched fully open and Kate almost laughed out loud as she watched both of them fighting to get out of it at the same time. ‘Crafty little bitch,’ exclaimed Liz, ‘she was conscious all the time! Come on, you moron, we’ll have to go after her. We’ll take her car then when we get her, we can dump both bodies at the same time. Where are her keys?’ Steve ran back into the cottage and grabbed them from the worktop where he’d left them. ‘Give them here,’ shouted Liz.’ She grabbed the keys and they both ran to the Fiat. Liz started it up as Steve struggled into the passenger seat, then just as Kate had hoped, the car bucked forward as Liz tried to reverse it. There was a loud hiss as the scissor blade pierced the tyre and the car hunkered down onto the wheel rim. After a second or two of stunned silence Steve clambered out and stared at the wheel. The forward motion had pushed the scissors into the hedge, making them invisible. He gazed helplessly at Liz who yelled: ‘Don’t just stand there, we need to get away before Ian comes back. Where are the keys to our car? You had them last.’ Steve was panicking now, Liz could see it in his face. She dashed over and urgently ran her hands through his pockets, then half dragged him to the car and pushed him into it. She revved the engine, lurched forward and pressed hard on the accelerator pedal. They hadn’t got far along the road when a puzzled-looking Ian passed them on his way to the cottage.
Kate watched as the couple’s departing car sprayed gravel in all directions. She stood up slowly and pushed her way out onto the drive and bent down to inspect the damage to her wheel. Moments later Ian turned into the driveway and climbed out by Fiat just as a dishevelled Kate stood up. ‘Who the hell are you?’ he demanded.
Chapter 7 by Joy Wilkinson
Of course he recognised Kate but it was best to keep her in the dark for the moment.
Kate looked at Ian. He seemed familiar. The clothes were all wrong and his hair was different, but yes, it was the man she had seen when she thought she was in 1845. The man who was presumably her husband and the father of their baby. Well, back then anyway.
What was he doing here? What was really going on?
“I’m Kate”. Well, it seemed safe to give this information away. “I got lost in the storm. I found the door open in the cottage and stayed the night. It looks like the storm is over now, so I’ll be on my way.”
Except, of course, she couldn’t because of the episode with the scissors. Putting on her best acting skills, Kate walked confidently over to her car and opened the driver’s door. She tilted her head toward the front wheel. “Oh no, the tyre’s flat!”
Ian saw his chance. He would play the knight in shining armour rescuing the damsel in distress until he could contact The Producer. “Why don’t you come inside and I’ll make you a cup of tea while we phone the AA?” he suggested.
Kate followed him back inside the cottage. It would look a bit weird to insist on staying outside in the cold. She would stay near the door though in case she had to make a quick exit.
“Milk? Sugar?” He seemed so normal now. Had she really been in 1845? Perhaps that had all been part of the drugs. She took a surreptitious look at her arm. The small pin prick was still there. Why could she see it now but not then? Gratefully accepting the mug of tea, she took a small sip. Tea always made things better. In fact, she felt so much better. So much better that she decided to close her eyes. The mug clattered and shattered amongst a pool of warm liquid as Kate slid to the floor.
Ian checked she was still breathing and had not injured herself too much during the fall. She would have a few bruises but otherwise seemed to be fine. He left her and headed out of the kitchen to the bottom of the staircase. Underneath the stairs was another door, hidden in the shadows. He pressed his thumb into a hollow by the door and it opened softly, revealing a thickly carpeted staircase.
A faint blue light was visible at the bottom as the stairs opened up into a large room. The walls were inky black and lined with monitors. A skinny pale woman with luminescent purple hair sat at a vast desk flicking her head between the monitors as her spidery arms skimmed rapidly over a set of controls.
She spun her chair around to face him.
“Well, it’s about time, Ian. What the hell is going on?”
What was he going to tell The Producer?
Chapter 8 by John Garden
“I’m really sorry,” said Ian. “I don’t think she knows who I am, or - or, anything! Do you think she even remembers her mission?”
“No,” said the purple-haired Producer. “I think she’s gone so deep, she almost completely believes her own cover story. The violin, the journey to Leeds, it’s all lodged in her memory as if it’s real. We hoped that we could leave her quietly in 1845, but the hypodermic was too obvious. She got the Brontë reference, and that was enough of a cognitive disconnect to pull her out of the stream again.”
“But I don’t want to leave her in 1845! I want her here, in 2019!”
“Ian, we’ve explained this to you many, many times. Kate is out of time, and as long as she is locked out of her original timefield, she is going to keep slipping in and out of the timestream cycle that she’s stuck in, ok? The dislocation, the constant body swapping, it’s putting immense strain on her mental well-being. You’ve seen how aggressive she gets with each timeslip. It simply won’t do, Ian.”
“But -” Ian began to protest, but the Producer cut him off.
“Look, Ian, we know now that she’s in a 174 year cycle, so we have a better chance of collecting all of the ephemerals – the outlying Kates – and, er, neutralising them, then -”
“What!?” Ian went to the foot of the stairs. “Is that what they’re doing up there, now?”
“It’s for the best, Ian, trust me,” she called after him. “That thing up there is not the real Kate. It’s a simulacrum, a byproduct of a faulty timestream.”
“No, no, no! That’s my Kate!” screamed Ian. He ran up the stairs, calling out for his wife.
The Producer tapped her temple once. “Sorry about that, Control. I’m going to have to go. Got another ephemeral spouse causing problems.” She flicked a switch on the desk panel. The blue glow in the room dimmed, and her desk began to power down.
“I know, poor love. Well, what can you do? The cleaners will take care of everything, I’m sure.” The entire desk and its multiple monitor screens folded into themselves like origami, retracting neatly into the underside of the Producer’s hoverchair.
“Full report asap, from my cortex to yours, darling. Okey doke. Will do, yes, yes, you too. Bye!”
She tapped her temple one more time, hit a button on the arm of her hoverchair, and disappeared in a flash of blue light. Apart from a faint scent of burnt cinnamon, nothing remained that could be called remarkable. It was just what you would expect to see in the basement of a charming detached cottage in a remote corner of West Riding in 2019.
When Ian reached the ground floor, he was greatly relieved to find Kate still lying unconscious on the terracotta tiles, next to a puddle of lukewarm tea. Grabbing her under the arms, Ian began to drag his unconscious wife towards the stairs leading down to the basement. As he did so, the front door opened, and two strangers entered. Ian froze.
In the doorway, framed by the snowy landscape outside, stood a man and a woman, both pink-cheeked and slightly out of breath.
They all stared at one another for a second, then Ian said: “Who are you?”
Steve, thinking quickly, realised that for some reason Ian recognised neither himself nor Liz.