Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood

A Story by Sophie McN

I.

Malcom Brodie existed but he never really lived. Malcom was never without a book. He was a spectator of the lives of a thousand fictional characters. He read and looked down, tracing along the words on old yellow pages with his eyes, so much that his lower eyelids drooped like full hammocks. Malcom floated through life never making friends, never getting married and never perusing the career he wanted. His 80th birthday had just passed and nobody had come to visit him. No children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren because he never cared all that much about anyone enough to start a family. Malcom thought that perhaps he should feel jealous of the other residents with families and visitors but he never felt even a twinge of envy, he never felt anything. The lovely nurses in Cooriedoon Nursing Home on the Isle of Arran had made Malcom a chocolate cake and sang Happy Birthday and Malcom forced a smile. He had been forcing smiles and feigning feelings for 80 years. The only thing Malcom had ever dared to yearn for was to become a writer. Throughout his life, he would scribble on napkins and scraps of paper but he would always crumple them up before anyone could read his words. But today was the day things would change.

The previous night, Malcom overheard the nurses talking about old Mr. Robertson’s finances. On Mr. Robertson’s request, they had withdrawn his savings and were instructed to send the money to his granddaughter in America as a contribution to her university tuition. The 5000 pounds was in a brown envelope and had been left on the coffee table in the communal sitting room while Nurse Eileen cleared out the safe to make room for it. Malcom had been mentally planning for weeks and was waiting for an opportunity like this. As the other residents slept in their chairs, Malcom stumbled over to the coffee table, counted out 500 pounds, slinked the notes into his cardigan pocket and rushed back to his chair.

Today, Malcom was leaving Arran. While the rest of the nurses cleaned the bedrooms and Eileen went into the kitchen to make a coffee, like she did every morning when she was supposed to be watching the residents, Malcom saw his chance and headed for the door. The door was always unlocked first thing in the morning because that was when new residents and visitors would come to the home. It was surprisingly easy for Malcom to leave undetected and everyone was too busy to even hear the front door open and close. It was the first time Malcom had been outside in months and the sudden chilly fresh air and beaming sunlight made his skin feel thick and almost like new. Sea salt weaved through and coated the air like a thin gauze and gave Malcom a sudden craving for fish and chips, but he would ignore his hunger as there was a more important task at hand. It was only a short walk to the ferry terminal but Malcom paced as quickly as his frail old legs could manage. He bought a one-way ticket and boarded the boat he’d always admired from a far. It would be a day of firsts, starting with, the first time Malcom ever left the Isle of Arran.

II.

After one ferry and two long bus journeys, Malcom finally reached his destination: The Cairngorm Writing Retreat, Aviemore. Malcom had read an article about the retreat a year before and had thought about it every day since, but the retreat far surpassed even his most exaggerated imaginings. The retreat was a huge log-cabin made from mousy brown wood, hugged by folds of what were once emerald and lime green shrubs but were now touched by autumn and turning to warm shades of auburn. The birds in the gigantic trees were twittering their seasonal goodbyes and a small stream trickled beside the cabin with the blue sky reflecting and the gleaming sun bouncing on its surface and cascading flakes of colour through the clear water. Behind his thick spectacles, Malcom’s eyes began to swell and creases lined his white cheeks as he beamed. He felt at home.

Malcolm toddled up the wooden steps and into reception with nothing but the clothes on his back and the money in his pocket.

“Hello, welcome to The Cairngorm Writing Retreat. Do you have a booking, sir?” The lady at reception asked.

“Yes,” Malcom began in his dusty sore-sounding voice. “I called you a couple of hours ago. I have a last minute booking under the name Malcom Brodie.”

The receptionist looked up the booking and checked Malcom in.

After having his evening meal alone in the dining room amongst the other guests, it was time for Malcom’s first assignment. He was guided by an employee to a long corridor lined with bright orange lit candles. The retreat worker brought him to one of the doors and handed Malcom a large notebook and a brand new pencil.

“This is your first project, Mr. Brodie. In this room, there is a prompt hanging on the wall. You should read it and think about it for a while. It should inspire you to create a piece of writing. Enjoy!”

The young man opened the door and gestured for Malcom to go inside.

“Thank you, son,” Malcom said with a sincere smile as he entered the room.

The wooden room was small with no windows and there was a chair in the middle of the floor. More candles on little tables littered the square space and their light glowed on Malcom’s pale face. Malcom sat down to rest his uneasy legs and looked at the wall in front of him where a plaque hung on a nail.

Imagine what it would be like to be dead, the plaque read.

Malcom’s face fell. His features curled in confusion and he mumbled under his breath as if he had something to say but he didn’t speak. Imagine being dead, he thought. I practically am. I always have been. He tried for an hour to write but every time he put the pencil to the fresh paper and began to etch a letter, he would stop. He hit his head repeatedly with his feeble hands in frustration. He had nothing to write. No stories to tell.

That night, as Malcom got ready for bed and put his false teeth in a glass, a strange mist gradually oozed up from the floorboards and into his bedroom. Malcom instinctively backed away and climbed onto his bed. He wondered if the room below had caught fire but this smoke didn’t smell like smoke. It was cold and carried a putrid stench like the scent of a decaying corpse. Instantly, all heat left the room. The candles were extinguished with a hush and the warm colours on the walls became watery and drained away. Suddenly the room was deep blue and the ceiling began to crack, crumble and turn to soil as it fell to the floor. Within minutes, the room was drowning in earth and debris, burying Malcom alive. The growing fog opposite Malcom began to change from a pale grey to murky black and morphed into the shape of a towering dark figure.

The beast had only a gaping mouth and shrill teeth, no other features, and its white face was bubbling, melting and dripping onto the ground. A black shroud covered its head and slender body and the flesh was stripped from its hand, exposing the bone, as it gripped onto a colossal sickle. Worms, insects and parasites scurried along the figure’s skull, into its sleeves, in and out of its mouth, in between its teeth and across its bony hands. A deep throaty grumble came from the brute as it moved closer to Malcom in a ghostly hover. More of the fiend’s skeleton was exposed as more rotting flesh broke away from the bone and tumbled to the ground in chunks, smouldering with heat and seeping into the mounds of earth like it was quick sand. The being seemed to grow larger, its head now touched the ceiling and it lowered its arms to envelop Malcom in its cloak. The bones of the beast’s fingers pierced and scraped along Malcom’s face with the sound of chalk on a blackboard and thick blood pulsed out from Malcom’s cheek. Malcom sobbed, hugged his knees to his chest like a frightened child during a nightmare and closed his eyes tightly. His delicate body shook under the strain of his hard sobs and he covered his face with his hands to protect his eyes from the hideous sight of this creature.

“I’m sorry!” he cried in a desperate plea to live. “I’m sorry that I wasted my-” Suddenly Malcom felt that something had changed. He opened his eyes to see that Death had gone. The bedroom was back to normal, completing clean and intact. There was no wound on his face and no blood.

That night, for the first time in his adult life, Malcom cried himself to sleep in his perfect cosy little bedroom in the warm humble log-cabin.

III.

The next day, Malcom convinced himself to get out of bed. He told himself that the previous night had been a hallucination, a nightmare, an imagining. He vowed that today would be a better day; a more productive and creative day where he would finally fulfil his life’s purpose and write something amazing. Something that future generations would study, acclaim and adore. After having breakfast, where Malcom wavered as he always did and couldn’t decide between pancakes or cereal or orange juice or coffee, it was time for his next assignment. The next writing prompt came in the form of a piece of music that Malcom would listen to and take inspiration from.

After being guided to another faceless brown room, Malcom stood alone and lifted the needle of the record player onto the rotating inky black disc. The vintage sound of Nelson Eddy singing When I Grow Too Old to Dream filled the room. Malcom vaguely recalled hearing the song in a dance hall as a young man. He reminisced and wished he had asked someone to dance that night.

As the first verse ended, the room door abruptly swung open and an elderly lady with cat eye spectacles and wispy white curls pattered in.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” the lady said. “This is the wrong room, I-” But the little lady covered in layers of wool and pearls couldn’t finish her sentence. Her gaze met Malcom’s and everything around them seemed to still.

“Don’t go,” Malcom began. “Would you, em, would you dance with me? Please?”

Malcom extended his veiny skinny hand and smiled with a thoughtful, coy expression. Their hands met. They held each other and they swayed to the music.

And when I grow too old to dream, that kiss will live in my heart.

“What’s your name?” Malcom asked.

“My name’s Rainie,” she said and pulled back from nestling in his chest to meet his eyes. “I dreamt of you…I met you in a dream and now, you’re here.”

In that moment, two people once so cynical and cold-hearted, fell in love, at first sight like only fools do. They danced and twirled and talked for what seemed like hours. Malcom grew melancholy as he wished that the universe had aligned their stars and let their paths cross before now. He wished their love story could have been a chronicle, a whole saga, instead of merely a page.

“I wish I had grown old with you,” Malcom said and pecked Rainie’s cheek.

It seemed as though the orchestra was in the room with them and they closed their eyes as they danced and imagined themselves as teenagers in a dance hall with a live band; Rainie wearing red lipstick and a long sequin dress with her natural auburn curly hair and Malcom in a pinstripe suit, gleaming dress shoes and slicked-back hair. They imagined lights casting over them amongst dozens of other young starry-eyed lovers. A tear bumped down the ridges of the wrinkles on Malcom’s cheek and he hoped that they could dance forever. It was a dream too sweet to be real.

As Malcom opened his eyes and looked up, Death stood opposite him. The cloaked figure gestured with its fleshless index finger for Malcom to come. Malcom gripped Rainie closer to his body and hoped Death would disappear but nothing could be done this time. The room filled with dense black fog. Rainie knew what was happening, she had encountered Death before. She looked at Malcom in the way he didn’t know he’d always wanted to be looked at. Blinding smoke encased the couple and swirled around them with violent speed. Grit stung their eyes as the chill in the room seeped through their skin. Rainie gripped Malcom’s arms so she wouldn’t lose him in the darkness.

The cloud began to thin and, relieved, Rainie looked up through the murk to find Malcom’s face but instead of seeing his silver hair and childlike features drained and masked by age, now she could only see a skull looking back at her. Rainie’s gaze flickered to find Malcom’s blue eyes but only his empty eye sockets were left. Malcom’s skin and flesh had dissipated into Death’s mist and he was now merely a skeleton standing fully clothed. Rainie looked down, her hands were gripping the bare bones of Malcom’s. She willed herself to waken from this nightmare, prayed for this to not be happening. Malcom’s frame stood rigid for a moment before his bones crumbled to fine ash in her arms. The black hole in Death’s core engulfed the ashes before vanishing and taking ever trace of its sinister presence with it. Rainie stared down at her hands, now bare.

The record jumped and repeated a small section of lyrics over and over.

© 2014 Sophie McN


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Featured Review

Well at least in his last moments he found love amd was attempting to accomplish his dream.. I feel bad for Rainie I'd have gone into shock if I were her. This is great I love the way you write you transport me to another world like the ghost in the room or sometimes even the main character. I love it, great job :)

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

thank you! :D



Reviews

Well at least in his last moments he found love amd was attempting to accomplish his dream.. I feel bad for Rainie I'd have gone into shock if I were her. This is great I love the way you write you transport me to another world like the ghost in the room or sometimes even the main character. I love it, great job :)

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

thank you! :D
Great descriptions here and wonderful dialogue; it held my interest throughout. But smehow I felt it lacked cohesion. You started with one story, drifted into another, and then into another, with no full closure on any.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

thank you! I understand that the story jumped quite a bit but I don't think the plot overall would m.. read more
That story was amazing. I feel so bad for Malcom though!

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

thank you! I feel sorry for him too :(
Taurean X Hunter

7 Years Ago

Your Welcome! I really enjoyed it.
Sophie McN

7 Years Ago

I'm glad you liked it :D

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239 Views
3 Reviews
Added on August 27, 2014
Last Updated on August 27, 2014
Tags: ghost, horror, phantom, grim reaper, death, age, youth, regret, scotland, star crossed, love, loss, magic, gothic horror

Author

Sophie McN
Sophie McN

Ayrshire, Scotland, United Kingdom



About
I'm an undergraduate English Literature and Creative Writing/Journalism student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I'll post some of my uni work here and some other short stories/poems too. .. more..

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