It's a darkish, modern Urban Fantasy about a character called The Relentless Heliotrope. Where and when I came up with her, I'm not sure but I'm fairly certain the name came first and the character second. Because I'm not too bright, I only later realised that the tale's male lead has the same first name as the protagonist in my first novel Danny Yates Must Die. Carrying's a noticeably darker tale than that though, although not without some humour. But ultimately it's about the nature of responsibilities, and the consequences of not fulfilling them.
Carrying can be found on my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.
By Stephen Walker
Ninety eight steps behind her, ninety eight to go. The Relentless Heliotrope climbed the stairwell of a tower block on the outskirts of town; a drab 1960s' thing that smelled of kick-backs, abandonment and people who'd always left just before you’d arrived.
It was night - the best of her two worlds. And for that she’d dressed appropriately; all in black, except for the Davey Crockett hat she straightened while rounding the next turn.
She’d reached the final flight of steps that led to her destination; the thirteenth floor of a tower that had only twelve. Like people, all buildings had hidden storeys - if you only knew where to look. Mostly they were between the first and second floors, or the third and fourth, but it didn't matter where they were, Heliotrope knew how to find them all.
Reaching the stair top brought her to the fire-door. She yanked it open and stepped through.
Letting the door hiss-to behind her, she took in her new surroundings; a square, concrete landing with a door at each corner, a lift to the left, and '12a' painted in large, white figures on the wall to her right.
She watched the four blank doors before her - each too brightly painted for a floor that was meant to be a secret, and she made her choice.
The door far right.
There, she checked the door's number against the address she'd been given and, because the addresses matched, she pressed the doorbell. She kept her finger on it for long enough to guarantee she was being a nuisance, then released it and took a step back. She looked herself up and down and straightened her dress with a tug.
But there was a problem.
No matter how long she waited, she got no answer.
She pressed the bell again, released it and took a step back.
She started to whistle.
She checked her watch and she waited.
And still no one came.
So, patience gone, the Relentless Heliotrope gripped the handle and entered the flat that wasn't there.
She was in a hallway you'd expect to find in any flat in any block in any town; a narrow thing leading to what she took to be a living room. Of the five doors that lined the corridor, only the living room's stood closed.
It wasn't closed. Not fully. It was ajar, just enough to be tempting but not to reveal what lay beyond. It hinted at danger and destiny - and that told her it was the one she wanted.
Gently, she back-heeled the front door shut behind her then silently headed for the room.
On her way, she glanced through each door she passed; a closet to her right, a bedroom to her left and a bathroom to her right.
But now she was here; the living room. Its door stood before her, blank in its whiteness.
She gently pushed it. It creaked open.
...And she'd found a mystery.
The Relentless Heliotrope did a long, slow turn as she crossed the room, taking it in in all its gloom. Dust tickled her nostrils and the place smelled like ancient parchment. Wherever she looked hung cobwebs, enough to suggest the place had been undisturbed for decades.
In the corner a TV blurted out light and inanities. She ignored it and, headed instead for the mantelpiece, where a clock stood shrouded in cobwebs. She took it from the mantelpiece, wiped the webs from its face and studied it. It was broken. She gave it a shake and, when that didn't work, a slap.
It burst into life, its second hand starting with a jolt and then progressing normally.
Now that time had been restored, she wiped the clock free of all remaining dust and returned it to the mantelpiece.
At the windows, she pulled back the curtains to let the moonlight in.
She switched off the TV. Its picture faded to a small, white dot before vanishing.
But these were all minor mysteries. Now for the biggest of the lot.
She turned her gaze toward him; the man sat at the table, covered in cobwebs and looking like he'd been stuffed.
Hands on knees, Heliotrope leaned over him, watching him from a distance of six inches.
How old was he?
That was a guess.
It had to be, bearing in mind she was watching him through God-alone-knew-how-many years' worth of cobwebs.
And was he alive?
If he was he hid it well.
But there was something about him that didn't chime. The suit he wore was pure 1930s but, if he'd died back then, why no signs of decomposition?
And what was he doing in a 1960s' tower block, in the 21st Century?
She checked his pulse.
He didn't have one.
She set about pulling cobwebs away from his face.
She looked into eyes that gazed straight ahead, like those of a dead bird.
She waved a hand before them.
He was dead all right.
So she did the obvious.
She slapped his face.
And that got a response.
You can download the rest of Carrying at:
Amazon.com. Amazon UK. Amazon Germany. Amazon France. Amazon Italy. Amazon Spain.
And you can download the rest of Carrying and Adventures By Moonlight from:
Carrying cover image credits:
Self-Portrait by Moonlight by Alessandro Zangrilli (self-made for wiki) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons