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by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 02 November 2016
Word Count: 1240
Summary: This is a short story set in the future. An old lady who has always lived a charmed life faces reality at last.

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The howling was fainter now.  She could still hear it but it was just a whisper on the wind compared to the nerve-shredding shrieks that had so terrified her over the past  few weeks.   She closed her eyes and concentrated:  the silence was almost complete, thick, black and dead broken only by an occasional muffled scream and the brittle crack of breaking glass.    The fading sounds should have been reassuring.   They meant her area had been bled dry.  For the moment, she was safe but her misery was such that she hardly cared.
 She huddled deeper into the bed, drawing the stained sheets around her neck. Icy draughts blew through the shattered windowpanes but she didn’t dare do anything about them; windows stuffed with rags were a giveaway.   So, she lay curled as tightly as a dormouse the cold driving deep into her fragile bones honeycombed by age.
A ravenous hunger gnawed at her.   It was days since she’d eaten and even her ancient stomach needed food.   At last she could bear it no longer and struggled out of bed, wrapping herself in a blanket.  She stood shivering in the darkness.   Outside, the moon had cut a perfect circle in the sky and its steely radiance streamed down on the empty courtyard, its vandalised gate swinging open and transparent shards glinting diamond bright amongst the grass.
Clinging onto the banisters, her mummified figure stumbled downstairs.  The kitchen had long since been ransacked but when she’d realised what was happening, she’d taken her few remaining tins and stowed them right at the back of a small cupboard.   It was possible they were still there, although not likely.   Crouching, her arms, a map of veins covered by a tissue of skin, reached deep inside but her fluttering hands found nothing until….for a moment, she forgot to breathe:  hardly daring to hope as her fingers traced its smooth, plastic outline.  Not food, but to her mind, something much better.  She drew it out and heard it rattle.   Relief coursed through her.   She’d forgotten her secret stache; she’d thought there were none left. 
‘Thank you Lord’, she thought.     
 Her craving for food forgotten, she wandered into the south room where she used to take her meals.   The brocade of her Victorian sofa had been shredded but it was otherwise unharmed and she perched on its edge, staring at the shattered television screen.   She remembered the last time she’d used the room:  she’d been eating macaroni and cheese, taking small bites alternating them with sips of Chablis.    The television was on and she was waiting for her favourite announcer to appear.  She never missed the News when he was reading it:  his deep brown voice would flow into the room and settle around her like a warm shawl.   But recently his handsome face had been grim.   Pandora’s Box had been flung wide open:  the oil had finally run out, the streets were swarming with the unemployed desperate for food.  Apparently, even in England people were starving.  It was just too awful and in the end she blanked out the words and just listened to the sound of his voice.    But, that night he’d barely opened his mouth before there was a loud crash off screen.   Shooting a quick glance over his shoulder, he turned back to the camera and she noticed, with concern, that the lines on his face had deepened making him look suddenly old.
  ‘I apologise for the disruption to our services…..’
Then, the screen went blank and had stayed that way ever since, despite her prayers.
The next day, Peter had appeared.   Skin taut over his chalky face, he all but went down on his knees to her.
‘Please mother.  Living here, you’re right in the firing line.  I have to go because of the children.  Come with us, everybody else is leaving.’
Of course, she’d refused.   No one would drive her away.   Anyway, she was one of the shining ones that nothing could touch.   The depression, two world wars, she had sailed through all, unscathed.  Her life was charmed and always would be.
She changed her mind when they finally appeared.  All colours and creeds they broke down the gates and rushed into the courtyard like a tsunami of dirty water. She’d clawed her way to the top of the house and stood panting in the thick, sour air as she searched for a hiding place.  There was a low bed, long unused and grey with dust and she’d crawled underneath, covering her ears as the howling mob ransacked her possessions, destroying everything they couldn’t take away.   For a whole day she lay quaking, not daring to stir even when they moved next door.
Afterwards she’d walked around her ruined home and mourned.  All her lovely things were either smashed or looted, there was nothing left.
She went back to bed, clutching the small plastic tub.   Fumbling open the cap, she took a pill and washed it down with a mouthful of gin.   Staring into nothing, her mind ranged its backwaters until distant memories surfaced.  
She saw her parents as clearly as if they were in the same room. She remembered the parties they’d held, when she had crouched at the top of the stairs looking down at the swirl of bright colours circling under glittering chandeliers.   The distant sound of music floated towards her and she closed her eyes tasting the sweetness of the syllabub her mother had sent up to her.
  A long drifting moment later she remembered the year they’d rented a ranch house for the whole of the summer.   Day after day, she and James watched their honey coloured children, bare legs straddling their ponies, riding in figures of eight below a blue Montana sky.  The sun beat down on her head and the hollow sound of hooves filled her ears.
She took another pill and some more gin. 
There were white-gold Christmas’s: too many to remember, except for the very last just before James had died.   They’d flown from London to Mull in their private jet and by Christmas Eve the snow was a shimmering blanket.   It should have been perfect; but it wasn’t.   Anna had been a teenager then.  Moody and difficult, she had gloomed around  picking fault with everything.
‘Look at all this food!   Most of it will be wasted.   There are people starving in the world.    Don’t you realise that?’    
 She wondered where her daughter was now.  She hadn’t heard from her in years.  She hoped she was safe, even though they were poles apart.   Dear Anna, it was her tragedy that she had a conscience.
Another pill; more gin.
She lay on a cloud of goose feathers as the years whirled around her, each one stripping away a veil to reveal a gem.   Golden summers in the Antibes, garden parties bright with summer flowers, champagne suppers with people she loved.
She took another pill.   Warmth was streaming through her body and now her mind was drifting.   A half tipsy laugh escaped as she remembered her announcer.    What a perfect gentleman - he’d called it a disruption!
She fumbled another pill into her mouth and gin dripped down her chin.
 As the lines on her face relaxed, she no longer hated the mob; rather, she pitied them.  She was at the end of her life and she had memories to console her.   At the end of theirs, what would they have?    

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Comments by other Members

scriever at 14:20 on 02 November 2016  Report this post
You've said a lot in just a few words; I love the slow reveal of the horror of her situation, and the gradual replacement of current horror with past golden memories (are they real, or imagined?). The story has a gentle pace but a grim inevitability; it's really skillfully done. I always try and find something to suggest as a possible improvement, but I can't see any, it's pretty perfect as it is.


AlanRain at 16:41 on 02 November 2016  Report this post
This is an easy read, and I say this as a compliment in that all elements of the old lady's situation are well-drawn, and the conclusion leaves no room for doubt. As an account of our society's breakdown seen through one individual who once led a privileged lifestyle it is highly effective. And I like how the truculent Anna saw things coming.


She stood shivering in the darkness.

In places, I feel some sentences are unnecessary, and ought to be replaced by more imaginative writing that evokes the bleakness to all our senses.

Outside, the moon had cut a perfect circle in the sky and its steely radiance streamed down on the empty courtyard, its vandalised gate swinging open and transparent shards glinting diamond bright amongst the grass.

This is nicely descriptive, but like most of your sentences I feel there are one or two adjectives too many.

and settle around her like a warm shawl. 

One simile has the power of a multitude of adjectives. This one is effective, but I want more of them.

All her lovely things

Why not be specific? I want to know what she valued.

a blue Montana sky.

I didn't see this coming. I thought we were in the UK. Although, when I read on, I decided the worldwide locations were simply there to allude to her way of life.
The white-gold Christmas's is a good example of dull adjectives.
I would have liked more of Anna. Her views seem to be prophetic. How did the old lady respond to her?

I have been quite picky, but the basic foundation and development of this story are strong. It is a satisfying read. With a bit of extra creativity I think it would be transformed.

Hope something helps.

Chestersmummy at 16:58 on 02 November 2016  Report this post
Hi Alan

Thanks for your comments.   I actually wrote this for a competition some years ago and a word count was involved which was why I didn't enlarge on Anna and which is probably why I didn't describe all her 'lovely' things. 

You are not the first to say I use too many adjectives but I love descriptive writing and can't seem to help myself!   Pity you didn't like 'white-gold' - this description was one of my favourites - I love the use of colour to describe things.

However, I will take on board all you say and try and rein myself in in future.

Best wishes



michwo at 17:58 on 02 November 2016  Report this post
Ross is right.  You've said a lot in just a few words.  I should ideally take a leaf out of your book as too much costume drama is probably bad for me in the long run like Hallowe'en.  I'm going to be pedantic now - what I do best? - and say I think 'stache' should be spelt 'stash' and 'Christmas's' if it's a plural as 'Christmases'.

Chestersmummy at 18:37 on 03 November 2016  Report this post
Hi Michwo

Sorry, just seen your comment on 'Disruption'.   I really thought 'stache' was spelt 'stache' but you made me think and I have just looked it up in the dictionary and it seems that you are right!  Thanks for pointing it out.  I also expect you are right about Christmases as well - so I won't bother to check it out.   Sometimes my grammar and spelling are not as good as they should be so if you spot any more errors please let me know.

Best wishes



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