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A nondescript Volvo estate rolls down the gravelled drive, the engine switched off. This is the perfect way to intrigue a whole close, cobbled-together with geriatric and naturally suspicious neighbours. The driver is short enough to appear invisible. His long-finger-nailed hands grip the steering wheel from the underside. If it weren't for a thicket of white hair, back-combed and quaffed to give him an extra inch of height, the car would appear empty. The front passenger, a deathly-pale woman with glossy raven hair, cut into a sleek bob, bends down to retrieve a lit cigarette, which she drops when her Gothic, teenage son throws a pocket dictionary at her from the back seat, because he is angry. He is eternally furious.
“You could have burnt me, fool.” She says to the rear seat.
Slouched down and wearing large headphones, hidden under a grey hood, amid long scruffy, dirty-blonde hair, Richard is safe in his world of music.
He listens to Bach while enjoying his father squirm; he enjoys causing mayhem from his kingdom of the back seat. If he weren't so hungry he would lob his rosy apple at one of his peculiar parents. Instead, he bites into it with an audible crunch and chomps loudly winding out his annoyance.
“Looks nice, doesn't it, Richard?” His father asks, loudly, aiming round walnut eyes at the rear view mirror.
“Looks, like Hell and its’ rick, you prick!” He says, exaggerating a sigh and turning up his music as the car glides to a halt.
A red setter called Medusa, has her head in the boys lap and is sprawled across the taupe, faux leather seat, across the boy like a mahogany drape. The boy idly runs fingers along silky ears and eyeballs his father who has to peer up to the mirror to see his sons’ cocky smile. The dog jumps up trampling the boys’ legs and groin, slobbering up the windows.
“For fuck sake Dusa.” He says and red seeps around his neck and his hazel eyes narrow. The dog begins to bark and claws the door to get out.
“Wait, stay, lie.” The boy says in a very demonic kind-of-way, in decibels that stretch into the ground where roots take notice and the dog lays in a perfect line on the back seat, silent and expressionless.”
Both of his parents turn to glare at him. The woman has a depth-less stare and the man has humour that radiates from sparkling eyes.
“You could try to enjoy this experience Richard; it’ll be good for you, a new start for us all.”
“Fuck off, Mother.” He says.
“Don’t speak to her that way.” His father says.
She blows at red glossy nails which she has just touched up, she pats them to ensure they’re dry and slides white gloves over slender hands,
“Your choice.” She says, with measured cockiness.
“It’s not though is it, Mother, my choice.” She looks around the close at neat lawns, square hedges, rows of marigolds and twitching curtains and laughs, wrinkling deep blue eyes.
“This will do nicely.” She says and the man replies: “Mm, we’ll see, Roberta.”
“We will, Luther darling, we will.” She says and strokes his forehead with a gloved hand. Richard rolls his eyes around the car roof and settles them on his new house and smiles inwardly.
A picture of decaying grandeur sits lopsided, tangled in marbled ivy and dying roses. Brittle weeds skulk over wrought iron gates and pumpkin vine has wrapped around the surrounding fences. Soggy leaves line a path in smudged reds and golds, leading to the Gothic mansions’ porch. Roberta lights another cigarette and sits on the bonnet of the car blowing smoke into a bruised sky. Luther jumps out and stands by her patting her knee and smoothing her black stocking.
“Welcome home, darling.”
“Let’s get the fuck inside, you two are gross.” Richard hauls a canvas bag over his shoulder and whistles for the dog to follow. He strides along the path, enjoying the smell of smoke coming from a neighbour’s garden. He’s inside before the neighbours see him.
Behind folds of lace, viols and blinds are a sea of hungry eyes, eating up every frame of their new neighbours movements. There are already a number of guesses as to what the unusual looking couple might do for work.
“I reckon he’s an undertaker, look at his suit, it’s like the ones they wear and who uses a walking cane these days?” Mrs. Robertson says, blowing smoke away from her nets.
“Nah, he looks like a banker to me, too short to be an undertaker.” Mr. Robertson replies, watching the well-tailored man limp behind his tall, shapely, wife.
“What a stupid thing to say, Herbie, undertakers ain't tall, are they?”
“I think they are you know, I've never seen a short one before.”
Mrs. Robertson looks to the wall it’s nice and blank, she tries to picture the undertaker that organised her mum’s funeral last year and remembers Mr. Hazel, a pompous and tall man.
“You, know, you might be right Herbie.”
“And as for her, she must work for a fashion magazine or summat, city folk for sure. Only fashion types can get away with red lips and nails like that and how can she walk in them heels, just look at them, Herbie.”
Mrs. Robertson looks her up and down, admiring the woman’s pin-striped style and elaborate silk bows but masks her admiration with a disapproving frown. Mr. Robertson just smiles at the woman’s round bottom sashaying along the path, brightening up the macabre house and indeed the entire close.
“You alright Herb?” Mrs. Robertson says, rubber necking at the window, as the couple disappears inside. He doesn't reply but secretly looks at his wife’s ample, dimpled, derrière which has spread in a way her Yorkshire puddings never do. He sighs as she waggles it in front of him gawking at the adjacent house.
Mrs. Robertson has watched the place like a hawk since tragedy had struck, two years previously. She has openly wondered who would be willing to take on the house of a murderer. A place where the scene of such a horrific accident had stained the close and all of its twenty-two occupants.
It was a haunting day that saw two-year-old Marcus crushed by his father’s circus lorry in his own drive. That came three years after, accountant: Harold Ciuck had confessed to having two elderly women concreted into his basement walls, when asked why he had killed the two church-going women, he had replied:
“They annoyed me.”
As if he’d just shouted at them and not slashed their throats and tied their eyeballs around their necks like silk scarves. Harold was a well-respected man who did most of the neighbourhood’s accounts and had been in most houses over the years on a social level. It had shocked the entire city that this unassuming man was actually a murderer.
The house is undeniably strange and the word ‘annoyed’ has been used sparingly on the close, because it only served to remind the community of a horrid man whose intolerance of Joan and Jean, the organ playing sisters had turned him insane, or ignited a lunacy within.
It also sent shivers and fear up spines and into thoughts. Could womanly nagging constitute murder? Do all men have a primal intolerance of being hen-pecked? Of course, it makes you think. Doesn't it?
The house had been viewed, mostly by people wishing to get a peak at the place where gruesome murders had put Weeping Cross on the map for ever more. But there was no real interest. They had removed the FOR SALE sign six months before and the general consensus was that it were to be demolished, after being sold to a property developer, keen on building four modern houses. So the eclectic couple were a complete surprise.
Mr. Robertson rushes to the sanctuary at the bottom of his garden, where he can pretend to fill his compost bin with leftovers and add twigs to his autumn inferno in a rusting bin. But most importantly, he can stare into the garden of his new, freaky-looking neighbours, through a hole in the hedge, only he and his gardening buddy Harold had known about.
The light is fading and has turned the sky purple. The unusual couple surprise him by spilling out of the kitchen door and into the garden.
She has changed into a colourful gown and he into a smoking jacket. Soft classical music pours from the dimly lit kitchen and he twirls his wife around barefoot and bohemian looking. Wide red-painted lips curl into a beautiful smile. He twirls her like a spinning top.
She laughs into the air and then he spins her in to his arms. They kiss tenderly and pick up glasses of red wine, from a silver tray, resting on a tree stump, they clink glasses. They whisper to one another and then do something very peculiar indeed.
She begins to dance, a contemporary dance, extending and curling long legs and arms, until they are fluid, water-like and blurred quick with movement. The man appears aroused and mesmerised and licks his lips. She folds herself into unfathomable positions and stands on ballerina toes then bends suggestively. He seems entranced. They make love, roughly, against a tree then climb it and sit high up in thick branches. The woman takes a wooden cross on a leather string from her gown pocket and sets it alight. The man closes his eyes.
A shadow flickers at a top floor window and Mr. Robertson shuffles back and retreats up the garden path, his cheeks pinched pink, guilty he had stayed so long but also full of intrigue and suddenly with purpose.
The silhouette of his wife, in his own kitchen window is bulky and ungraceful in comparison to the sexy stranger. He sits on his bench and ponders over what he just saw while Mrs. Robertson washes dishes and sings along to Elton John’s "Shine a Light." He wishes he could turn her off, just for a second.
Richard pulls a photo out of his pocket. Seth had promised to come and say goodbye, but hadn't turned up to their meeting spot by the bridge. His parents had seemed eager to leave and he knew the move was because he was gay.
His parents had gone out of their way to make the relationship fail. It had horrified the couple that gayness had plagued their son and they had even enlisted the help of an exorcist to remove evil from their beloved child. His parents, he surmised, were nuts.
The move, three-hundred miles across country, was so sudden, there wasn't even t enough time to say goodbye to school friends. Now, he was stuck in a new place only a year away from A level’s and miles away from anything familiar. Richard spies a man peeking through a hole in next doors garden hedge and switches out the light to get a better look at the balding pensioner.
The man walks back up to his house but stops at a bench and sits, staring at his wife. Richard notices something alight dropping from the oak tree in his garden and watches it scorch the grass as it fizzles out. His Mother and Father thud out of the tree like a couple of rotten apples. His father walks over to the burning item and squashes it into the ground with the toe of his shoe.
My parents had always been different in an unexplainable way. They had normal jobs and normal friends but they did stuff that wasn't normal. Silly things, like hanging upside down from trees and meditating for hours and hours, in complete silence.
They had unusual, lavish dinner parties with unusual guests that began at midnight and I was never allowed to attend. In fact, I was sent to friends whenever they’d had them. I wasn't allowed to have friends over to stay, ever.
Richard searches the house for a phone because they had confiscated his mobile. He is miffed that his boyfriend had not bothered to turn up and crazed with frustration and desperate to get in touch. He traces a finger over the photo, missing those misty-grey eyes and chestnut curls and strong cheekbones.
He places his finger on the wooden cross, feeling that first kiss as if it were happening now. The necklace was a gift, a first gift for a first kiss. Seth had removed it and tied it around Richards’s neck, it was still warm. He puts fingers to his neck but it’s gone. He frantically looks around, then runs out to the car. It’s nowhere and his heart sinks.
He runs into the dining area where his parents are chopping vegetables and sipping red wine and looking very happy.
“Where’s my fucking necklace?”
“What are you talking about, Richard?”
“I know you've taken it, give it back, please.” He has tears brimming and is choked.
“Now, Richard, I think you need to calm yourself and go to your room until dinner, we’ll call you.” Richards’s eyes turn black and he stares at his Mother.
“Luther, take him now, you said he would forget!” His Father grips his sons' shoulders and marches him across the wide–planked floor and to his room. Richard is powerless, he only has his voice for protection, his strength no match for his Father.
“You fuckers!” He says, slamming fists onto his bedroom door.
“Fancy a cuddle?” Mr. Robertson says to his wife who has smothered her face in cold cream. And wrapped greying hair around curlers the same size as chipolatas and has covered them in a net. Mr. Richardson turns off the light and spoons into his fleshy wife.
“Did you hear that Herbie, quick, let’s have a look, it came from the house?” Mr. Robertson quickly loses his erection.
Once again, Mr. and Mrs. Robertson are crouched behind nets with the lights off.
“Shush, let’s listen, it sounded like screams.”
There is a silhouette at the top floor window, the short man is wagging a finger and shouting but to nothing, as far as they can see. His pacing and stopping to shout but the words are undecipherable. Mr. Robertson looks at his wife and shrugs.
“Are they having a barny, do you reckon?” They whisper.
“He sounds very angry, maybe they are not as happy as they seem.”
“How would you know if they’re happy, Herbie?” Her eyes scan him in the darkness.
“They looked happy, you know, close like.” He is glad it’s dark because he is sweating at the suspicion in her voice.
“You are a puzzle sometimes, Herbie.”
“Maybe the boy’s giving them a row; you know what teenage boys are like.” She says.
“The one with the red dog, wearing that hood, like them thugs wear.”
“Margaret, there was no boy, just a dog.”
“Don’t be daft Herbie, he was there tall, skinny, jeans down his backside, you saw him.”
“No Margaret, there was no boy.”
“Well. We’ll settle this in the morning. We’ll go and introduce ourselves.”
“It’s not happening again, is it?" Mr. Robertson swallows hard and Mrs. Robertson makes a face that pulls her mouth into a sideways apostrophe.
Roberta looks up from the hole, muck around her face and deep under her fingernails.
Luther takes the shovel and pulls her out. He takes the cross, wrapped around her fingers and slips it in his pocket for a ceremony later on. They pat down loose mud and spread weeds over the grave and rush back to the car. It’s the last stop before they head off to a new place, a new start.
A gay son was simply unacceptable in their devil-worshipping circles. It had to be done. Once they had taken his body, his soul would no longer desire the physical. That way they get to keep their son forever. Once they burn the cross, the only connection to Seth, he would be forgotten. Seth’s grave is three feet away.
Mrs. Robertson was drinking tea in her back garden wiggling her toes in the grass and admiring how her passion flowers were pointing to the sun.
She had felt a hand on her shoulder and Jean had come in behind her followed shortly afterwards by Joan. They had drunk tea and the two women had told her how they were brutally murdered and concreted into Harold’s basement walls. It had taken two years for the authorities to believe her. Now she would have to start all over again.