‘Tabitha’ Short Story Preview

Below you can read Tabitha’s debut short story (I’m currently working on the sequel as a novel):

In a rainy seaside town, where the rows of houses stand tall and thin, lives a writer whose stories make no money at all. She sits before a brand new computer by the whistling window of her top-floor study, overlooking the cold grey sea. She sips her tea. Scalds her tongue. She’s given up smoking but holds her pen like a cigarette. She checks herself then places the surrogate cigarette back on the desk. A nicotine-starved synapse causes her eyelid to shudder. Her cat leaps up and struts across the keyboard then sits on the far side of the desk. She stares at her cat’s writing:

.;iudxs z\

Tabitha taps the Caps Lock off again and slouches with a huff. It’s 11:04. It’d be high time for a cupcake or a muffin with the ladies, if she still had a job. She puts that massive, crushing thought from her mind with a small shake of the head and focuses her attention back on the text on the screen in its entirety:

Once

.;iudxs z\

She’d opened this new text document when the sun was rising over the sea. She’d felt inspired and began to write. Hours on, she’s just watched her cat casually beat her character count. She sits back and lifts the large mug of steaming tea carefully to her mouth again, forgetting her sore tongue. She burns her lip. A falling trickle of tea patters down, turns the crotch of her light-grey tracksuit trousers into a black piss patch.

Then comes another power cut. Mains electricity has never met with the full approval of this house. The computer’s gentle fan dies. The screen fades to black with a helpless tut. Her morning’s work, unsaved, is gone forever. That could have been the Once that started a bestseller. Once again cruel fate had conspired to thwart her chances of fame and fortune.

Tabitha sees her grim, hedge-haired reflection in the black computer screen. Rain is blowing in from the sea. She stands up and pushes the chair away with her bum. With shuffling slippered feet she carefully carts the huge mug of tea downstairs, while the cat tries to get under her feet every step of the way. He is hungry. The lights in the house flicker and come back on.

The salty scent of bacon fills the kitchen. Both well-fed and sleepy, the cat and his human snooze on the couch to the gentle patter of the pouring rain.

Meanwhile a thin film on the computer screen melts, rolls off the desk in a glassy ball and puddles in a corner of the room. It sinks invisibly into the carpet and with the quietest electronic chirrup a tiny grey shoot sprouts from the floor. The sound is just enough for the cat to stir, ears raised. As he jumps down from Tabitha’s stomach she wakes with a gentle start.

All afternoon the metallic shoot takes in the sunlight that has emerged from the grey clouds, and produces pulsing little lights on tiny fibrous branches. Its presence being neither intriguing nor frustrating to the cat, it has been left unharmed. Its rapid alien growth in the corner of the room goes unnoticed by Tabitha. She sips fresh tea and watches the sunlight sprawl over the ocean, slouching all afternoon before the bright glow of her blank-paged computer screen.

A spider meanwhile spends all afternoon in the bathroom scaling the inside of the aged, grandiose bathtub by frantically picking out, with trial and much error, the rougher patches of the worn enamel surface. By sundown its legs tap against the rim of the bath.

A seagull sits on the weathered, endless metal railing on the seafront. Behind it, across the road, a light in the top window of a town house glows warmly in the gathering dusk. Inside, a crazy-haired lady sits at her computer with her head in her hands. She hears some idiots on the street below, shouting and fighting and screaming, probably drunk. She loses her train of thought. Thankfully they run on down the street, giving Tabitha back her beloved silence.

In the bathroom the cat stares momentarily at a fresh hairball before pawing the spider as it scuttles across the rim of the bathtub. The spider drops and quickly curls up to receive a batting around the lino floor. It gets briefly mangled in the dribbling depth of the cat’s mouth, and coughed out to die in a corner.

Up the second staircase in the study Tabitha suddenly sits up and taps away at her computer:

Once upon a time a

Hesitating, she slumps back in her chair with a huff of defeat. The cat wanders in unnoticed, puffs up in fright at the thing in the corner, and makes a swift exit. Where a small grey shoot sprang up from the carpet this morning there is now a large metallic plant, sitting spidery in the shadowed corner of the room. It extends a sinewy, synthetic arm silently across the room towards the back of Tabitha’s head. Slouching in her chair, Tabitha types something and then deletes it again. The skewer-tipped limb stretches and sways behind her, serpentine, aims for the top of her neck. It tenses up, coils back, springs out silently. Tabitha suddenly kicks the chair back and walks out in search of her vibrator, yawning like a foghorn. Unsuccessful, the murderous plant attempts to wrench its barbed spike quietly from the back of the chair. The cat comes back in and watches it cautiously from the door. Once free of the chair, the plant folds its long arm back up inside, sags with newborn exhaustion and opens up several metallic leaves to absorb the growing moonlight. Its tiny lights flicker out while it recharges. The cat stalks around it, approaches, gives it a careful sniff here and there, and bats it with a paw. The plant remains motionless. It is too hard to pluck or chew and smells of not very much, and is therefore of very little interest just now. The cat resolves to play with the plant’s extendable arm in the future, when the opportunity presents itself.

Tabitha sleeps peacefully that night in her double bed, sprawled out with the newfound freedom of one who is no longer kicked or groped by a snoring boyfriend. Down the street, the cat strides along a garden wall and thinks about sex. In Tabitha’s bathroom, a silverfish taps the spider’s hunched corpse with its antennae. In the study the alien plant folds up its leaves, uproots itself from the floorboards and scuttles its sleek metallic form down the stairs to the large landing. Tabitha’s closed bedroom door thwarts it. It scrambles gently, soundlessly against the door for hours. The tall gap beneath the solid door can accommodate its limbs, but they flap around redundantly and soon withdraw. Tabitha begins to snore, blissfully unaware. The plant slinks downstairs to explore the distant drone of the fridge.

Sunrise over the sea front. The seagulls are calling already. The cat sits on the living room window ledge and watches them keenly, making short sharp meows. His head darts back and forth to follow their flight, his pinprick pupils staring in the bright dawn. Tabitha, fresh from the shower and towel-clad, pads barefoot into the kitchen and makes a bowl of cereal. She smoothes her wet hair over her shoulder and dusts her cereal with extra sugar, flicks the kettle on and leans against the worktop. The alien plant crawls silently from the cupboard behind her and across the wall, and squats its arachnoid mass in the corner of the ceiling over her head. It extends its spiked limb, like a jagged knitting needle on a draftsman’s lamp, while its several small lights focus their attention on the top of her wet neck. Silently, so silently, it moves its clawed feet around for optimum positioning on the ceiling. It moves one leg, then another, then another. Soft as petals it lowers two arms to join the spike, ready to grip her temples before it punctures the base of her skull. Tabitha waits for the kettle and stares at the floor in a bleary-eyed haze, oblivious.

To be continued…

Find out what becomes of Tabitha in Tales of the Strange and Grim, my collection of short stories. It’s available now as a Kindle ebook for 77p or $1.16, and is free to borrow from the lending library for members of Amazon Prime.

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