The Stay-At-Home Festival had 7 writers in residence, who tweeted a writing prompt every day of the festival using #StayAtHomeLitFest.
Novelist in Residence – Hayleigh Barclay
Hayleigh Barclay’s debut fantasy novel, Girl of the Ashes, is scheduled to be published in October. With illustrator Philip Hoare she has create a series of short stories and drawings where a disabled person is the lead.
A Cup of Murder
Mrs Horace takes three sugars in her tea, can knit a scarf in two hours, and murdered her husband with an axe. She’s also dead.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon when the old woman materialised in my kitchen. She sat at the antique wooden table and untied the ribbon on her bonnet.
“Fruit and cheese scones? You really are spoiling us,” she said, exposing the rope wound around her neck. She readjusted her head, securing it back in place and sniffed the homemade strawberry jam. “Where are the others?”
I stood at the cauldron on top of my stove and threw a sprig of cypress into the boiling water as the liquid bubbled to the surface.
“Well hello there, cutie,” came a woman’s voice from behind me.
I turned around to find a blonde bobbed bombshell with her bloodstained arm outstretched to shake my hand. As I moved to reciprocate, our hands passed through one another as if gently reminding us our worlds were not one and the same.
“I’m Lucie Jones. But you can call me Twinkle,” the woman winked with a slight shimmy of her 1920’s flapper dress.
“Come and sit down, wee dearie. There’s plenty to go around,” replied Mrs Horace offering a crooked smile.
“And what about me?” whispered a voice in my ear.
An icy tingle surged across my throat as a silhouette of a dagger passed over it.
“That’s not going to work, sweetie,” Twinkle laughed, crossing one leg over the other to expose her thigh. “The dead can’t harm the living.”
“Point well made!” said the woman, her withered hand removing the blade. She shuffled across the floor with her black cape trailing behind her.
The woman sat down without so much as a glance at my other two guests. An awkward silence filled the room as I placed a plate of cucumber sandwiches (minus the crusts of course) onto the table. The pristine table cloth with its daisy pattern looked absolutely decadent under the array of French fancies, slices of quiche Lorraine, and Victoria sponge.
“Come and join us, sugar,” Twinkle said, patting the rainbow striped cushion on the chair beside her.
“One moment,” I replied. “The tea is almost ready.”
As I took my place between the flapper girl and the black widow, I began pouring the loveliest of camomile concoctions into the bone china cups.
“I suppose you are all wondering why I summoned you here,” I said, sitting the teapot down.
Mrs Horace, failing to lift a scone, replied, “Are we not just having a good old time? The weather is lovely.”
“Indeed, it is,” I agreed. “Very warm for this time of year.”
“You know, I saw the first signs of daffodils in the graveyard this morning,” Twinkle announced.
“Oh, how darling,” I chuckled, adding a splash of milk to my tea.
The black widow grunted. “What is it you want?”
“I want to kill my husband,” I said, offering the sugar bowl to each of them. “One lump or two?”
Mrs Horace banged her fist on the table. “Oh, I love a good murder!”
Outside, a wood pigeon chirped a merry little song and a bin lorry rattled along the street. The incessant noise of dodgy brakes, empty beer bottles being dumped into the cart, and foul-mouthed men swearing, filled the kitchen.
“I just love getting rid of bodies,” Twinkle added, removing a cigarette from her stocking. “Do you have a light?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t,” I replied. “Can I interest you in a Bakewell tart instead?”
“No matter; these things kill you anyway,” the blonde bombshell smiled as her cigarette evaporated into thin air.
The black widow leaned forward as though welcoming us into a conspiracy circle. One by one we joined her and, for no particular reason, lowered our voices. “Why do you want him dead?” she murmured.
“Does it matter?” Mrs Horace replied.
The black widow paused and thought for a moment before sitting back in her chair. “No, I don’t suppose it does.”
Smearing a ridiculous amount of butter onto a scone, I shook my head and chuckled. “No, no, it’s a reasonable question. I’m looking for a new hobby and murder seemed like the obvious choice. Book clubs have never really been my thing.”
Mrs Horace screwed up her face and patted my arm. “Too full of intellectuals.”
“It was more the canapés,” I said. “They just weren’t up to my standard, you know?”
The three women nodded in agreement.
“But why your husband?” Twinkle asked with a slight malicious glint in her eye. “Was he on a toot with some little starlet?”
Mrs Horace looked confused and so distracted herself by watching the bubbles in the cauldron overflow onto the cabinets. The black widow, not paying attention, attempted to slice her knife through a dollop of jam sitting in a pot. Once. Twice. Three times she tried before giving up.
“On a toot?” I said, taking a sip of tea.
“Out drinking from dusk till dawn with a harlot in tow,” Twinkle replied with a roll of her eyes.
I took a bite of scone and considered the past twenty years of my marriage. The mortgage was paid off last September, our two children were both at university (one was studying criminal law), and the lawn mower still worked perfectly well. As far as I was aware there had never been any starlets or harlots.
“No, nothing like that,” I stated. “I just thought it best to start small, someone I know who I’m not emotionally attached to and take it from there.”
“That’s what got me started,” added Mrs Horace, gazing off into the distance. “One night I took a good look at my Alf and decided I wasn’t polishing his boots no more. So, he had to die.”
“Me too,” Twinkle interrupted, laughing. “My Larry was doing the dirty with my own mother. Well, that was that. Dead and chopped into pieces. Those crumpets look lovely by the way.”
Handing Twinkle the plate (not that she could hold it) an overwhelming sense of pride took over me. “Yes, my husband made them.”
“Bless!” replied Mrs Horace.
“He’s a good man,” I added.
The three women smiled and, correct me if I’m wrong, I believe the black widow may have blushed.
“I still need to kill him though,” I continued, pouring myself another cup of tea.
A tear appeared in Twinkle’s eye. “You stick to your guns, sweetie,” she said, attempting to take hold of a crumpet. “We’re right here for you.”
“What is it you want us to do?” came the black widow’s voice from under her hood. “Our killing days are over.”
“Perhaps some tips on how to go about such things?” I suggested.
For the next hour or so, the four of us dissected the numerous and varied ways of the perfect murder. It turned out that Mrs Horace didn’t stop at killing her husband; she then went after the local butcher and baker. If it hadn’t of been for her daughter discovering her mother’s collection of corpse trophies then rumour had it that the local candlestick maker was next on the list. Poor Mrs Horace was hanged the following Tuesday. Top tip: don’t keep bodies in the house!
Twinkle proved to be just as unlucky. A gun for hire, that’s what she called herself. Whenever a lonely housewife suspected her husband of straying, they called on the blonde bombshell to investigate. Nine times out of ten the rotten scoundrels were found in some rather uncompromising positions with their trousers round their ankles. Twinkle’s job was simple; kill the bastards. The police never guessed that a pretty young thing could be capable of murder. That was until she got carried away with disposing of her own sweetheart’s body and got caught mid burial. Top tip: never become emotional!
The black widow refused to divulge any details about her own misfortunes. She did however, mention how much she loved my pinafore with its rosebud and sunflower pattern. Apparently, I was looking pale which was a cause for her to become overly concerned. Top tip: murderers can show kindness too!
“I don’t want anything messy,” I said, taking another bite of crumpet. “We’ve just had the carpet shampooed.”
“It needs to look like an accident,” Twinkle replied, deep in thought. “Does your husband have any hobbies?”
“Other than baking? He does like to-“ I winced, as a sharp pain gripped my stomach. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me.”
“I told you, you looked pale!” the black widow shouted, jumping up from her seat.
“Honestly, I am absolutely fine. It’s just an excruciating stabbing pain. Perfectly normal,” I replied.
“Any other ailments?” asked Mrs Horace with her brow set in a deep furrow.
Grasping my chest, I feigned a faint chuckle. “No, I just feel unbelievably cold. Like death warmed up. Nothing to be alarmed about.”
“Oh dear,” Twinkle said, moving to stand behind me. “Ladies, we’re about to have some company in the graveyard.”
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Have you had anything else to eat?” asked the black widow.
“Just the scones and crumpets,” I said, slumping forward as the world around me turned hazy until finally everything was dark.
I awoke, standing next to Twinkle, without any heartbeat or need for breath. Mrs Horace put her arm around me and sighed, “Is your husband’s other hobby murder by any chance?”