At last! Dear Reader, the Underdog Anthology is available for you to read…
32 stories by nine authors across a wide range of genres – most of which are certainly not suitable for children. Sex, violence, blood, gore, booze, drugs, cowboys and smoking – this book has it all. The first anthology of Underdogs contains something for everyone and a few things that are probably for nobody. It’s a lucky dip… If you’re feeling lucky.
*You what? …/concentrates on assistant’s clicks… No, really? What is it, fucking Christmas or something? …/sigh… No matter…*
Dear Reader, apparently if you avail yourself of the ‘Look Inside’ feature from Amazon, you will be able to read my three Anthology stories in full. However, if you want to find out what happens at the end of John Duffy’s story ‘The Wheel’, you will have to buy the book…
*Oh give over… /rolls eyes…*
‘Til the Fat Lady Swings
“They’re at it again!”
John’s eyes briefly flicked up from his newspaper, taking in the bulk of his wife peering through the net curtains, before returning to yesterday’s racing results. You’re at it again, he thought but decided it was safer to respond with “Who are?”
“Next door.” Sheila pursed her lips. “They’re having another one of their gatherings,” she hissed.
Sheila craned up on the balls of her feet and twitched the curtain back further to get a better view. Oh how she wished they lived in something taller than a bungalow. The fence and bushes obscured most of the neighbour’s garden but she could just make out the tops of two heads moving toward the rear. Toward the shed. She could hear the low drone of their conversation but not their words. The shed door first creaked, then thumped.
She turned back toward her husband and snorted impatiently. “Are you listening to me? Next door have got people in their shed again. They’ll be burning things, you mark my words. Goodness knows what they’re up to.”
John put down the paper and reluctantly turned his attention to Sheila. It hurt to look at her; he had no idea where the beautiful, happy girl he’d married had gone to, but he suspected the spectacularly fat harridan stood in front of him had abducted and eaten her.
“I am, and I think you’re overreacting. In all likelihood it’s nothing. It’s just people living their lives.”
“Nothing?!” Sheila squealed incredulously. She brandished her notebook at him, the one she’d been detailing all their comings and goings in. “Strangers traipsing through the garden at all hours of the night, bonfires – that’s nothing? The noise and smoke? That’s nothing?” She resumed her watchful position at the window. Whatever the reasons for next door’s social gatherings, it was bound to be no good.
John caressed the plump armrest of the sofa with the palm of his hand. There was no point arguing with Sheila when she had a bonnet full of bees. He stood up and puffed out his cheeks. “I think I’ll go to The Crown.”
“Go on then, go. Leave me here alone with that lot,” Sheila spat out contemptuously to the retreating figure of John. She heard the front door rattle shut. “Coward!”
John stopped to light a cigarette before strolling into the balmy evening light. The sun was just setting and he was in no rush to get to the pub. Custom at The Crown had dwindled a lot in recent years, especially in the winter months, but there might be some in tonight. He lived in hope. In any case it was better than sitting at home with Sheila and her paranoid fantasies. Just about.
His hopes were dashed as he stubbed out the last of his smoke and entered the cool interior of the pub. In one corner a group of teenage boys stood huddled round the fruit machine, whooping and smashing buttons. In another, Tom and Barry sat silently nursing their pints, but apart from them The Crown was empty except for Alice. The landlady stood behind the bar, dressed to her usual nines, polishing glasses. She saw John and smiled broadly.
“Evening John. Usual?”
John sat on a bar stool and watched Alice pour him a pint. She always looked good, despite her advancing years. Fitter than Sheila, who was half her age. “Quiet in here,” he said. “It’s a lovely night, I thought it would be busier.”
Alice frowned and cocked her head. “No darling, just the boys’ brigade and dad’s army in tonight.” She set a full glass in front of John and took the fiver from his hand. “I’m not going to be able to retire to the Algarve on them.”
John pulled deeply on the frothy liquid; Alice always pulled a good pint.
Her long, manicured fingers wrapped round his wrist as she gave him his change. “Say, I’m dying for a whiz and a fag, John. You wouldn’t keep an eye on the bar for me whilst I pop upstairs? Len’s off night fishing, so I’m on my tod.”
Alice disappeared and John surveyed his local. Time was when The Crown had full time bar staff, and Len and Alice would sit out with the customers all evening. A time when the fruit machine’s pings and whirls were mere background noise and the kids with soft drinks sat outside. Now they made do between the two of them, with occasional staff at the weekend. For Len and Alice, Portugal couldn’t come too soon.
John sighed and sipped his pint. He was wrong; this was worse than being at home with Sheila. She may be a bit crazy but this felt like sitting in a rotting corpse. At that thought, the fruit machine burst into a frenzy, pumping out a stream of dirty coins to the teenagers’ delight.
Jackpot! John sneered to himself.
When Alice returned he bid farewell to her bright, stiff smile, and tried to ignore the hurt in her eyes that he was leaving so soon.
“Sorry Al, I only came in for one. I’ve got to get home to Sheila.”
John shrugged and laughed with embarrassment. “She thinks next door are domestic terrorists or something. I dunno.”
“Didn’t she think they were devil worshipers?” Alice tried to entice him to stay with her playful reply but John was resolved to leave.
“No, that was last week. Next week they’ll be cannibals.”
Happy to leave on Alice’s bark of amusement, John waved from the doorway before lighting a cigarette for the return journey. Darkness was now falling but the night remained warm. With any luck Sheila would be in bed by the time he got home. If he walked slowly enough.
Sheila wasn’t asleep when John got back. As he turned the corner of his road, he spotted her rapping smartly on the neighbour’s front door. He stopped and quickly retreated; he didn’t think she’d seen him.
“Fuck!” John whispered furiously to himself. The last thing he needed was Sheila making a scene. For a moment he wished he’d stayed in the pub. He decided to sneak a peek and caught sight of his wife’s ample rear entering next door’s house. The door closed and John breathed out heavily, unaware he’d been holding his breath.
What to do? John lit another cigarette and considered his options. He could go back to the pub and come back later. Sure, Alice would be pleased to see him, but he’d already used Sheila as an excuse to leave. No, best get home unnoticed and feign ignorance when she returned from her rant. Finishing his smoke, John walked briskly home, hands in pockets and head bowed, as if it somehow made him invisible.
Safely inside, he rushed to Sheila’s favourite position, the lounge window overlooking the garden. Parting the net curtain, he peered out.
There was nothing to see – just the garden, fence and bushes. And the roof of next door’s shed. He took a step back when he heard its door creak and thud.
Tired of the drama, John slumped down on the sofa and felt something dig into his backside. He pulled Sheila’s spiral-bound notebook out from under his bum and opened it. He’d not looked at it before; she always kept it close.
The room was dark but he could make out his wife’s neat block capital writing against the white pages. He flicked through them with growing dismay. Times, dates and descriptions gave way to suspicions, theories, lamentations and solutions. Sudden fear gripped John’s stomach as he read the last entry:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!
“Oh, you’re home early.” Sheila’s greeting was flat but her eyes looked white with surprise against the gore streaking her face. John shrieked and turned in his seat, pointing at the bloody weapon in her hand.
“It’s next door’s axe for cutting up firewood,” Sheila stated dully.
John cringed away as his wife waddled past, on toward the window. Sticky fingers smeared the net curtain as she twitched it aside.
“It’s okay now, John.” Sheila reassured him as her eyes scanned the garden. “We don’t have to worry about the neighbours and their smoke any more.”
There, Dear Reader, my efforts are quite tame compared to the rest of the stories in the first Anthology volume from the Underdogs. No, it’s really not a book for children at all…
Have a Song ❤