Short Fiction ~ Oliver J. Batchelor
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 14
The man blocking my way was small and scrawny but I could see straight away that he meant business. One hundred and thirty pounds of meanness and desperation. The glint of a knife in his hand revealed that the odds against me had suddenly shortened.
I had been stupid to take a short-cut down the badly lit back lane so late at night and now I was going to regret it. I keep myself fit but I’m no sprinter, besides, he had planned it well, waiting until I was more than half-way along the alley before he stepped out to confront me. Any attempt at escape was useless.
He advanced on me slowly, speaking out of the side of his mouth in a hoarse voice.
“Give me your money, phone and jewellery,” he rasped. “No fuss and it’s gonna end up being your lucky night. Any tricks and I’ll have to take a little bit extra from you in payment.” He laughed crazily. “You know what that means, pretty lady.”
I had a good idea what he had in mind but I wasn’t planning on finding out. At the same time, scared as I was, something inside of me baulked at handing over my money and the other things he wanted. It’s the inconvenience of losing your phone and bank cards that punks like him don’t seem to understand.
I was thinking on my feet but no plan came to mind so I reached into my pockets for my phone and wallet.
“Easy does it,” he barked, moving closer and flashing the blade threateningly. I backed up against the wall in response to his advance but he took that as a sign of resistance and thrust the knife towards me in a stabbing motion, too close for comfort. I raised my hands in submission.
“All right, all right,” I said, “You can have the damn money. I don’t have that much on me anyway.”
He came close to me again and I could smell his rancid breath and the stale sweat ingrained into his worn clothing. The pity I might have had for him if he’d been sleeping in a shop doorway or begging on the street was several worlds away.
I handed him my wallet. Greedily the man stripped it of its money and cards before throwing it on the ground. Grabbing my phone, he pocketed it, then grasped my hands checking for rings. I’d already removed the only one I was wearing in the hope that he wouldn’t search me - a small victory maybe, but I couldn’t resist trying. He made to reach for my neck but I beat him to it, pulling off my necklace and handing it over. The less he touched me, the better I’d feel.
“That’s the lot, I swear,” I said, trying to control the tremor in my voice.
He leered at me, licking his lips, which glistened in the shadowy half-light. “Hmm, too bad I’m in a hurry,” he said menacingly, leaving unfinished what he might otherwise have done. After a few moments in his private fantasy, he came to his senses and realised that he needed to get away.
“Just you stay there and keep your mouth shut until I’m out of sight, alright?” he ordered, with one last wave of the knife in my direction.
He started to walk away.
As he did so I began to whistle softly.
He turned and snarled at me. “You, just shut it, do you hear me? Shut it!”
I continued to whistle, emboldened by the fact that he didn’t come back. Besides, the tune I was whistling was a melodic thirteenth century German folk song, not a piercing whistle to attract attention.
As I whistled, a strange thing happened. First one, then several rats emerged from the shadows ahead of where my assailant was walking. They ran at him causing him to stop and lash out with his boots. More and more rats came from all sides of the lane, the ones at the front launching themselves at his legs and flailing arms. He turned back to me with a look of confusion on his face. I continued whistling.
He made to run, but in his attempt to get away from the rats, he stumbled on something and fell awkwardly, emitting a groan, followed by a deep sigh as he hit the ground. He lay still, the rats swarming all over his prostrate form.
I retrieved my wallet from where he had dropped it and walked slowly up the lane towards his body. As I did so, the rats backed off and I could see all too clearly what had happened. In his haste to escape from the rats’ attentions, he had tripped over a piece of garbage and fallen on his knife, stabbing himself through the heart. Too bad. Not what I’d planned, but you know what they say about people who live by the sword.
I reached into his pockets and took back my money, phone and broken necklace, noticing as I did so that one of my business cards had dropped to the ground. I picked it up and wiped the mud from the two-tone design to reveal my details. Piper Hamelin, Musician.
“He’s all yours, guys,” I said as I walked away, beginning to whistle once more. Turning, I took one last look at his body. It had become a seething mass of rats, on top of which a large old grey one looked at me, his muzzle and whiskers damp with fresh blood. I could swear that he gave me a wink before diving back into the fray for the best supper he’d had in months.
Oliver J Batchelor
A retired charity social worker, I live in Gateshead in North East England. I have loved writing most of my life but largely confined this to factual work. I wrote for a football fanzine for several years, had a book on drugs and addiction published in 2000 and co-authored several research reports. I started writing my first pieces of fiction during covid lockdown in 2020, completing a novel, a number of short stories and some flash fiction and I am currently working on a second novel. I have recently started an MA in Creative Writing.