The Christmas Advert

“Please, no more,” the man begged exhaustedly. “I’ve had enough.”

As tears slid down his face, the man’s entire body trembled. His eyelids were sellotaped to his forehead, his hands bound at the wrist. Strapped to a metal chair in front of a projector screen in a cold, dark room, he was at the mercy of his captors.

The John Lewis advertising team.

From their two-way mirror, the chief advertising executive turned to his colleague. “We’re nearly there. One more cute animal and a simpering, whispery remake of an 80s classic, and I think we’ve cracked it.”

His colleague eyed him nervously. “Are you sure he can handle it? You know, after what happened last time.”

The two shared a look.

“I mean, we already have a chinchilla in a wheelchair and a hauntingly sad soundtrack,” the colleague suggested hesitantly. “Maybe it’s schmaltzy enough now.”

“Maybe,” the executive pondered, stroking his chin. “Or maybe we’re one Ellie Goulding soundbite away from a viral smash hit.” He stepped away from the mirror. “What are his statistics showing?”

Ruffling through his notes, the colleague jotted down some figures and tapped them into a calculator. “Tears up 300% on the recently-bereaved pigeon advert, down 0.5% on the bewildered red squirrel. He’s 7.8 times more likely to buy a Russell Hobbs Heritage Standard microwave, but far less likely to go for the Swarovski cheese fondue gift set.”

“God damn it,” the executive said, slamming his fists on the table. “We’re so close.” He rolled up his shirt sleeves and paced the room. “That’s it,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“That’s what?” The colleague asked nervously.

“We just put them all together. The wheelchair chinchilla snuffs it, the pigeon is bereaved, and the red squirrel is bewildered by the whole situation.”

“But that doesn’t make any se…”

“It’s magic, pure fucking magic,” the executive said. “We’ll be shipping out those fondue sets faster than an Aldi till assistant, you mark my words.”

“I’m not sure he can handle it,” the colleague pleaded. “He’s becoming weak.”

The executive pushed his face towards his colleague until their noses met. “Fon. Due,” he said.

The colleague nodded resignedly. Typing some commands into his computer, he sat back, before pressing enter.

*

No-one knows quite what happened that day. Some say they heard the cries from miles away. Some say they have glimpsed the man, roaming the moors, sobbing incoherently. The advertising executives were never seen again. They just disappeared. Vanished, like melted snowflakes.

THE END

* This story was NOT sponsored by John Lewis. Although I would happily accept a cheese fondue gift set.

The Facebook Birthday Wish

Claire didn’t mind Stephen. He was alright. She wasn’t sure why she had him on Facebook as they never talked and she couldn’t picture his face without stalking his profile, but he was harmless enough.

But when it came to writing on his wall for his birthday, she just couldn’t do it. It’s not like she wanted him to have a shitty birthday. It’s not that she thought he was unworthy of birthday cheer. For some inexplicable reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to say those two little words.

So when Facebook sent her a notification reminding her to wish him a happy birthday, she thought it was a bit pushy, but clicked off it and got on with her day.

Then during a meeting with Barbara from accounts, she got a text from an unknown number.

It’s Stephen’s birthday.

Sliding the lock on her screen, she leaned back in her chair. ‘Probably just a coincidence,’ she told herself.

After returning home from work, she threw her keys on the kitchen table and headed towards the fridge. Grabbing a jar of pickles, she nudged the fridge door shut, before gasping and dropping the jar to the floor.

Arranged in plastic letters on the fridge were the words ‘WISH STEPHEN A HAPPY BDAY’.

“What the fuck?” Claire said.

Checking her door and window, she closed her curtains and sat on the couch to watch Coronation Street. Her eyes heavy, she felt herself drifting off.

A few hours later, she jolted awake to a curious rustling sound.

Peering over her couch, she watched as a note was pushed under her door.

Her hands trembling, Claire got up off the couch and opened the note.

Do U wAnT to WiSH sTePhEn a HaPpY bIRthDaY?

SEVEN YEARS LATER

Claire had moved to Costa Rica, grown a handlebar moustache and bought some Gucci sunglasses, but The Facebook Birthday Wish had tracked her down.

She was tired of looking over her shoulders. She was tired of running. Of living in motels, paying in cash, and taking on a new identity in every godforsaken town.

As she nursed a double whiskey at the bar in some scummy downtown joint, the bartender called over to her.

“Hey, chica,” he shouted. “Some hombre has left a message for you. Feliz cumpleaños for some Stephen dude. That mean anything to you?”

Claire downed the rest of her whiskey in one burning shot, and pushed some crumpled-up cash onto the bar. She now realised that she would never escape.

Back in her motel room, she booted up her laptop and logged into Facebook.

Taking a deep breath, she clicked on Stephen’s profile and began to type.

*

Under the glare of the streetlamp outside, The Facebook Birthday Wish smiled. Its work here was done.

THE END

The Con Artist

“You are brought here today accused of a wicked, heinous crime. A crime that has shocked and appalled in equal measure. A crime that has sent a shiver down the spine of every right-minded person in this community.

“You stand accused of defrauding countless men across the UK. You stand accused of deceiving men with your lies, your illusions, and your deliberate concealment of your true nature.

“In your wicked pursuit, you have left hearts shattered, Oyster cards used for no good reason, and haircuts purchased in vain. You have cheapened saucy Snapchats, invalidated tentative sexts, and nullified restaurant reservations.

“In your heartless mission, you have wasted WhatsApp messages and hours spent carefully evading the Friend Zone by concocting the perfect formula of exuding sexual dominance without seeming like a complete a-hole.

“You have quashed men’s hope of finding The One. You have made them feel used and vulnerable – mere shells of what they once were. You have left them devoid of trust, no longer knowing whom they can believe.

“Lauren Alisha Williamson, you are hereby charged with the crime of looking absolutely fuck-all like your Tinder pictures. How do you plead?”

THE END

cropped-blog-drawing-smallest.jpg

As the door blew open, a blast of cold air engulfed the coffee shop. Customers looked up from their chai lattes in surprise, teaspoons tinkling, biscuits crumbling.

But their surprise soon turned to terror. For the wind had brought an unwelcome guest into their safe little village.

The only person on Facebook who wasn’t engaged or pregnant had left her lair.

Fathers covered their children’s eyes, pensioners crossed themselves and mothers stifled their sobs.

Since time began, the villagers had appeased this evil entity with sacrificial offerings of snacks and a Netflix subscription. Every year, they held a Yankee Candle vigil outside her cave to ward off her malicious spirit. Every Halloween, teenagers dressed up as her and told her chilling tale around a bonfire.

“Many moons ago,” they whispered, “she was a perfectly normal girl in her mid-twenties with an okay job and no insanely gross attributes. But try as she might, no-one wanted to put a ring on it. In fact, no-one wanted to put anything on it. She might as well have sewn up her vagina. Things got so bad, she even tried Tinder.”

But now here she was. She hadn’t sizzled under the sunlight. She didn’t have hairy palms. Her eyes didn’t glow red. All of the scriptures and Channel 5 documentaries had been wrong.

“Can I have a hot chocolate, please?” she asked the cowering barista.

It speaks,” the town busybody spat through a mouthful of brownie.

Families huddled closer together as she grabbed her hot chocolate and a muffin and left the coffee shop. Either to eat children, or join Bumble. One or the other.

 

THE END

U OK, hun?

Detective Inspector Jose Mundalez knew there was something weird about this one. Just knew it.

He crushed his cigarette beneath his foot and moved one step closer to the body. Matty ‘MJ’ Jacobson had boiled to death in an enormous vat of baked beans, his corpse discovered in a desolate warehouse at just after 6am on a swelteringly hot Chicago morning.

Mundalez had worked some sick cases in his time. He’d been just a rookie when he’d solved his first serial homicide case: a psycho by the name of The Washing Up Liquid Killer (also known as Steve). Tortured by his memories, he’d drank too much, screwed too much, couponed too much. Ordered by his captain to take leave, he’d left Chicago P.D. to rediscover the convoluted sob story that had made him want to become a cop in the first place.

But now he was back, and something about this case had excited him. What was the victim doing out here? And why was he covered in beans?

Matty’s family, friends and co-workers had all confirmed that he didn’t even like baked beans. The CSI squad had recovered no beans from his house. So what was he doing dead in this warehouse, beans all up in his grill?

“Lopez,” Mundalez barked at the young detective examining the vat. “Have we confirmed the time of death?”

Lopez smirked. “In Heinz-sight that would have been a good idea.”

“Get back to work,” Mundalez snapped.

He stepped carefully onto the silver ladder attached to the side of the vat. Peering over the edge, he surveyed its contents.

Beans. Lots and lots of beans.

The smell was rancid. Like tomatoes and entrails and when you pull a load of hair out of the plughole and it looks like a small mammal. At the edge, a puffy face floated helplessly.

Teetering on the top rung of the ladder, Mundalez leaned towards Matty’s face.

“U OK, hun?” he whispered.

THE END