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Sarah Dixon

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The Other Thief

I’ve just had an email with the results of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition – Round 1. My story got an honourable mention – that means I was close but didn’t actually make it into the top 5 to proceed to the next round. I’m looking forward to seeing the judge’s feedback so I can improve going forward.

As so many people are trying to find ways to fill their time at the moment, I thought I’d share it here. Grab a cuppa, take five and escape for a little while. Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Other Thief

It’s like a gut punch. I mean, it’s never good to get called into the bosses office, that’s going to get your guts churning like a dodgy Vindaloo no matter who you are. But when you’re me? An unexpected call into the Security Manager’s office could spell doom.
He has flourescent lights overhead, they’re giving me a headache and making the room look weirdly far away. It’s buzzing. The transformer needs sorting, but that’s not my job. It’s just distracting, and I need to concentrate on what he’s saying.
‘…items going missing from dressing rooms overnight.’
I open my mouth with a denial and Nick shakes his head. ‘Look, Pete. I don’t care who’s doing it, I just need it to stop. I took a chance on you, stuck my neck out, and now I look like a right muppet. So I don’t need to hear anything, I just need it to stop.’
I can see my nostrils flaring as I stare down my nose at my hands. There’s so much I want to say. I’m taking my meds. I’m seeing my therapist. I’m healthy, just now. I haven’t felt the urge to take anything for a while, and longer since I acted on it.
But that little voice? The new me? It’s struggling to get heard above the roar of shame. ‘You’ll never change!’, ‘Rotten to the bloody core, just like your father.’, ‘If I see you in my court again, it’ll have to be a custodial sentence.’
I want to vomit, but that will probably be seen as a sign of guilt. So I swallow it down and just nod.
‘Alright,’ Nicks says and waves me towards the door.
I make it all the way to the gents before I puke, the sour stench snapping me out of my mood better than a bucket of water to the face.
‘Fuck.’
It’s not fair. It’s not bloody fair! I’m going to lose everything because some other tea leaf is taking stuff out of dressing rooms. If Dave knew anything about my condition, he’d know that wasn’t my scene. What’s the fun of stealing in an empty building? It’s the thrill of the chase that gets me going. Fires off the reward centers of the brain. I’m an addict, but I’m in recovery. I have healthier mechanisms now. Meds. Talking therapy.
I flush, move to the sink and take a sip of the stale water. It’s a Victorian building, the pipes are probably lead and sending everyone crazy. I’m grounding, though. Coming back to myself.
If things are going missing at night, then someone’s either hiding out or breaking in. Either way they must be dodging the cameras, because even if Nick is too tight to pay for a night guard, he must leave the CCTV on. Not that it would be hard to dodge, there’s dead spots all over the place.
All I have to do is hide myself, get into the security room and find out who the other Klepto in the building is. I’ll show Dave, he’ll apologises profusely, I’ll ask him to put in a word with the boss and maybe I’ll get a reward or a raise or something. Simple.

Theatres are strange places. They stand empty for so much of the time, it’s like when people are there they have to make up for it. The overblown luvvies, the ‘characters’ that make up the back stage crew and the audiences, all dressed up and eager to be entertained, or to find fault, depending on their personalities.
It’s all over quickly, time doesn’t drag because you’re always waiting for the next cue and the next silent journey through the rat runs to leave a prop or move a flat.
Tonight, I feel like I’m being watched all the time. I try and tell myself it’s paranoia. I’m just sensitive because Nick made me feel like a thief, not a recovered one. But who else knows things are going missing? Who else knows about me? I just don’t know and it’s sending the hairs on the back of my neck into overdrive.
It’s a relief when the curtain goes down for the final time and everyone starts to file out. I keep myself busy so I know that most people have gone, and then I go to sign out. Old Terry, the stage door keeper, is looking predictably tired and distracted by now. He should retire, really, but I don’t think stage door keepers do that. They seem to last forever. I take my time scribbling my name, then wait until something distracts him and move as though I’m leaving – and then step into a CCTV dead zone.
I’d be willing to bet that Pete left the security office hours ago, but not enough to go straight there. I head down the narrow stairs that leads to the cellar, less chance of bumping into anyone who’s slow to leave down there where it’s just long-term storage and large equipment.
As I near the bottom step I realise I might not be the only one who’s decided it’s a good place to wait. Is the other thief down here in the darkness, too? I stop on the bottom step and let my eyes adjust to the darkness, listening for any sound.
The layout down here is pretty simple, it’s a rectangle that runs underneath the backstage area, and the stage itself. It’s where the trap door lets out. There locked cupboards around the sides full of props that might get used again one day. Cinderella’s carriage, Banquo’s Ghost, the perfect rock to sit on while you wait for Godot. Once I’m as sure as I can be that I’m alone down here, I start walking the perimeter.
I thought it would be quiet here at night, but it’s not. There’s clicks, ticks, and rumbles coming from all over the place. It’s the pipes. The heating. Everything cooling down as the heating gets turned off. It’s an old building. Definitely not the grey lady.
The first padlock I come to is locked, I give it an experimental tug to be sure and then keep walking. I’m more scared than I thought I would be. I don’t mean tense or anxious, I mean proper, creeping fear. That feeling that there’s something just out the corner of your eye, that there’s danger hiding in the shadows.
I ignore it. I’m just doing something a bit risky, but whoever the other thief is they’re a thief, not a serial killer. I continue walking around the passage ways that turn and turn until I’m back at the foot of the staircase. Nothing seems out of place down here, apart from me.
When I get back up, I realise there’s a small flaw in my plan. All the lights are out, so I can’t see a thing. The cameras are still on, but it’s just got ten times harder to move from one to the other without stepping into view. I want to catch a thief tonight, not convince my boss I am one. Then I remember they all have a small, red light just above the lens. I breathe, take my time, and pick my way up the stairs and through the corridors.
I’m accompanied by that pricking sensation between your shoulder blades that makes you feel followed. At one point I think I can hear another set of footsteps but when I come to a halt, so do they. I take one step. Nothing. It’s just an echo, amplified by anxiety. The other thief might not even be here tonight. It’s still a relief to get to the security office, turn the handle and step inside.
Most of the stress disappears immediately. I’m definitely alone in a small room and there’s some ambient light from the CCTV monitors which are the main reason I’m here. It feels good to slide into Nick’s chair and sit on the opposite side of the desk I was on earlier.
There are three monitors on a side desk, and each one displays the view from four different cameras. Two are outside the front, two at the back. Then there’s four that work the lobby and bar, one for each staircase up to the circle and a final one that shows the auditorium from the stage. The final screen is what I’m most interested in. There’s a camera on each of the staircases that lead to the stalls and eventually to the costume department in the attic. Then there’s the one of the corridor outside this room, and finally one inside the stage door that takes in the green room and dressing rooms.
It figures that the cameras are low resolution. They’re in infra-red mode so everything is washed in a dark green tinge. I push the chair back until I’m in a position where all the screens are in my field of vision and settle in. It’s then that I notice that the cameras can be moved from up here, there’s a control panel on the desk.
I can’t help but smile. This is how I’m going to catch the other thief. They know their way around the cameras the way they’re positioned now, but if I move them? They won’t know exactly where the dead zones are. I’ll catch the in the act.
I lean forward, trying to decide which cameras to move where. I start with the one backstage, where I’m most likely to see our culprit. At the moment it centres on the exit through to the stage, so I move it to angle more towards the dressing room doors. Perfect.
So where next? I cant my head as at a single tapping noise from out in the corridor, I’m telling myself it’s just the radiators, and when nothing else happens within 10 seconds or so I get back to the screens. I experiment with the camera on this level. It’s just showing the corridor and the office doors off of it. That’s when it hits me that it’s strange that things are going missing from the dressing rooms but not up here. The cash office is next door, and they don’t keep a lot of money on site but there’s bound to be some. More than you’d get from selling off some piece of jewelry stolen from the sort of D-lister we get in shows here.
I know better than most that stealing isn’t about the money. Maybe whoever it is gets their kids from being in the private spaces of the not very rich and not very famous. Who am I to judge?
But if that’s the case, maybe they hang about in the auditorium, or on the stage. There’s no way I can see what’s going on on-stage, but I can move the auditorium camera a little. I put my hand on the camera and start moving it, seeing the greenish grey of the infra-red display try and keep up. It blurs and refocuses, and that’s why it takes me a while to realise I’m seeing movement.
I find myself leaning in to try and make sense of it. It’s low to the ground, and it’s like the darkness is getting displaced. The movement roils, like smoke, sometimes there and sometimes not. I shift the camera again, and as I do a more distinct shape coalesces.
Fabric. It’s fabric. A cloak or something? Did they raid costume? Of course it would be the perfect place to hide out up there, and to grab a disguise that’s been worn by someone ‘famous’. As I shift the camera gain there’s a swift response, something lurches towards the camera and I get a glimpse of a white face leering at me before it turns and disappears.
A mask. Just a mask. But my hands are shaking, and that instinct I’ve been trying to ignore all night is shouting really loudly now. This isn’t right. None of this is right. Where the hell did that thing go?
Not out the front to the lobby, and there’s nothing on either staircase. Has it come backstage then? No. Not yet.
Tap.
It’s that noise outside the door again. Get a grip, Peter. There’s an actual human person in here, you don’t need to be giving your attention to radiators.
Yes, there they are. Just coming off the stage. It’s a movement low to the ground, perfect for staying out of sight of the old camera position but slap bang in the middle of the new one.
Tap.
I’m leaning in again, trying to spot who it could be. They’re agile, whoever it is. Definitely not Old Terry. The cameras make their movement look oddly disjointed, like their limbs are too long.
Tap.
I have a sudden thought that this has all been for nothing. All I’ve done is stay in the theatre to get unidentifiable CCTV footage that looks like a prank. Best case scenario we can leak it on YouTube and say it’s the grey lady and maybe attract some paranormal nuts into the audience. Whoever it is, they’re leaving now.
Tap tap.
They’re gone from my field of vision. Slipping into a dead zone. I switch my attention to the outdoor cameras, waiting to see them emerge from the stage door.
Tap tap tap.
It’s with a sickening lurch that I realise they haven’t left the building at all. They’re coming up the stairs, towards the office. They’re right in view now, not trying to hide at all, and one thing I know for sure now. They’re not human.

Medway Messenger, Friday, January 24th, 2020.
Police were called to Rochester Theatre today, following the discovery of a body in the security office this morning. The victim has been named locally as Peter Mannion, a stage hand at the theatre who had recently come under suspicion of stealing from his fellow staff members. Police report there are no suspicious circumstances.

 

50 Words

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I could write a 50-word story for a competition, to win some goodies for our local library. So I did. Now, I find micro-fiction tricky, but once the idea for this story came into my brain it just flowed. And I loved it.

I loved it so much, that I wanted to get it illustrated. I’ve been working on ways to get my short stories out into the world (in a more interesting form than eBooks) and this story galvanised me to do that, too.

So I found an illustrator with a style I liked and she put together a sketch. We talked back and forth, until the final design was ready. Then I got that printed onto postcards – if you like it too click on the image to be taken to the store to buy one.

Watermarked

I’m also working on story boxes. These will be one (or more) of my short stories or micro-fictions, in hard copy, together with a collection of things to enhance the reading experience. The first box, which will be ready for Halloween, is a spooky store, a spiced apple tea, pine-scented soy wax melts and some little mementos that work with the story.

More on these very soon!

Happy Valentine’s Day

I always try and post a love story for Valentine’s Day, which is always tricky because I don’t tend to write romance. But last night, I happened upon this story on my Kindle. I wrote it for NYC Midnight, but felt it didn’t quite fit the prompt so wrote something else. I don’t think anyone but me has ever read it. It’ll be rough around the edges, but then, aren’t we all? Happy Valentine’s Day!

Felicity

Why are we turning?

Lurching from his seat, Neal swung himself around the pole, his thumb finding the button to ring the bell. Thundering down the central aisle of the bus, he yelled, ‘You’ve gone the wrong way!’

The driver didn’t take his eyes from the road, he just jerked a thumb towards a dog-eared piece of paper pinned to the Perspex screen surrounding him. Neal read as far as, ‘Route Change on the Number 5’ and groaned.

‘I need to get to the Royal Holdney,’ he checked his watch, ‘in ten minutes.’ Giving his best pleading look to the driver’s profile, he added, ‘I’ve got a date.’

The brakes on the bus squealed as it came to a halt, and the doors hissed open to admit the cool night air. The driver pointed across the street to a high stone wall.

‘It’s about two miles that way.’

‘Thanks,’ Neal muttered, shuffling, slump-shouldered off the bus. ‘Thanks a lot.’

The bus drove away, leaving Neal to stare at the solidly yellow-gold barrier that separated him from his goal: Felicity.

God, but she was beautiful. His mind wandered back to that afternoon, the college refectory, and her, illuminated in the autumn sunlight.

‘Daddy’s having a thing at the golf course tonight. The Royal Holdney, do you know it?’

‘Yes,’ Neal said, with a confidence that hid the fact he’d only seen the name over the wrought iron gates as he’d passed on the bus.

‘Will you come? It’ll be dreadfully boring if you don’t. Langley Suite, at 8.’

Felicity Windham-Jones, ice-cream heiress and unobtainable goddess. This was his one chance. He wasn’t going to let a wall come between him and happiness.

Glancing left, then right, he barrelled his way across the road, the pavement and the verge banking the wall. Leaping with all he had, Neal grabbed for the top…and came up six inches short. Again, he tried, again he failed; 9 inches this time.

Pressing his head against the lichen-covered brick, Neal breathed in the dampness. Think. Find a way.

Stepping back, he looked both ways, then headed left towards a large oak tree. One thick branch projected over the wall. Grasping at knot holes, Neal worked his way up the trunk and sat in the v between two branches staring. In the distance, the bright lights of the clubhouse burned through the night. Felicity.

Neal crawled towards the wall, his breath misting the air before him. As the branch narrowed, so he clung tighter. Seeking another handhold, his palm slipped on slick wood. Momentum took him, leaving him hanging from one hand a foot shy of the wall. Grunting his exertion, Neal shuffled forward, hand over hand until his feet touched solid stone.

Muttering curses, he lowered himself to sitting, then jump-slid to the ground in a pile of wet leaves. Brushing himself down, Neal sucked in a breath and kept his eyes on the lights ahead. You can do this.

At a jog, he began to move on a direct line towards the clubhouse, towards his goal. Scrub soon gave way to long grass that wrapped itself around his feet sending him tripping forwards. Don’t fall. Grass stains.

A stand of saplings loomed out of a patch of mist and Neal slalomed between them, then froze at the motorised whirr of a golf cart. Security! Ducking down, Neal pressed himself against the slender trunk.

At precisely the wrong moment, his phone rang. The cart pulled to a stop.

Patting his pockets, Neal found the phone on the third attempt. With another trill imminent, Neal made a choice. Summoning up his strength, he lobbed the device down the fairway. It beeped, then hit the ground with an audible thud. Closing his eyes in supplication, Neal gave thanks as the cart began to whir away, in the direction of the still bleating phone.

Glancing at the departing cart, Neal made a break for the next line of trees. The long grass soon gave way to a close-clipped green; Neal saw the flag in the hole just in time and swerved right. Grinning in triumph, he ran over a rise, high on adrenalin.

His foot came down, and found air where the ground should be. Tumbling base over apex, he landed, winded, in a sand-filled bunker. Hearing a fearsome yowl, he turned to see an angry cat, back arched and tail fluffed. Cat. Sandpit. Sh

Jumping to his feet, Neal pulled off his jacket. Nose wrinkling at the stink of the brown smears, he tossed it to the ground and ran on.

Bursting through another thicket, the clubhouse loomed magnificently before him. Running his hands into his hair, Neal slowed to a casual swagger as he neared the glass doors. On the other side was a stiff-backed waiter in a bow tie, blocking the way. ‘Your jacket, Sir? Club policy.’

‘Of course! I’ll get it,’ Neal said as he backed out, mind racing. Jogging left, he circled the building until he found a fire door, propped open by a girl in a maid’s outfit smoking outside.

‘Forgot my jacket!’ he said as he rushed past, heart thumping. Moving rapidly through the corridors, Neal halted as he saw the snooty waiter pushing through the door ahead. Ducking into the nearest room, Neal found himself confronted with a coat rack. He grabbed a jacket, threw it on, checked his hair in a mirror, and ambled back out just in time to nod condescendingly to the staffer.

A sign saying ‘Langley Suite’ directed Neal to his location. Polite chatter washed over him as he entered, the air scented with strawberry and chocolate. Then there, across the room: Felicity. Their eyes met. She picked a cherry from the top of her sundae, popping it seductively between her lips.

Neal’s smile widened; the cat that got the cream.

Behind him, a voice said, ‘I say, that chaps wearing my jacket!’

 

 

Better Than An Espresso

I haven’t really done much in the way of workshops and school visits in the last year. I’ve been focusing on my freelance business and finishing up my MA in Creative Fiction. But last Thursday was submission day for the MA (results in December), and after a wonderful weekend letting off steam with great friends, I got back on it this week.

This morning started in the most perfect way – going into a local primary school to do an assembly for around 300 children. I talked to them about what it’s like to be a writer, going through all the questions I’ve been asked before like; How long does it take to write a book? Where do you get your ideas from? Are you rich?

I also read them a few things. The poem I had published when I was 9 as part of a local arts centre project, the letter to Piggle who was becoming discouraged with all the requirements of modern education, and of course, I shared a chapter of Frozen Prince with them too.

And I made a public promise that I would be working on Alfie Slider 3. It’s mentally titled, ‘Alfie Slider and the Flux Capacitor’ but that is a reference to Back to the Future and will have to change. That’s all the spoilers you’re getting for now!

All in all, starting the day like that was a better shot in the arm than a freshly ground espresso. I left smiling, feeling energised and enthusiastic about the day ahead. If I could write fiction and visit schools all day? I’d be a very happy lady indeed.

Alfie Slider and the Frozen Prince – available NOW

Unleashed 2018The official launch date for Frozen Prince is the 12th of August 2018 – the day I’ll have physical copies to sign and sell at York Unleashed. The Kindle edition of the book will be available then, too.

But the paperback version can be ordered NOW from Amazon!

I’m sorry that I can’t offer signed copies before Unleashed – but if you want to bring your copy of either book along on the day, I’ll scribble in it for you then.

Alfie_Slider_and_the_Cover_for_Kindle

Alfie Slider and the Frozen Prince

 Publication Date – August 12th 2018

Kindle Edition now available to pre-order

Alfie_Slider_and_the_Cover_for_Kindle

Challenging Times

2018 continues the trend of 2017 in being challenging on my time. I’m balancing my most important job (being a Mummy to two amazing kids) with full-time work and studying for my MA. Writing fiction, outside my studies, had fallen by the wayside.

So in January, I set the intention to enter more writing competitions and to foster my creative fiction again. I signed up for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, which is a competition I enjoy a lot as it stretches me. You’re assigned a genre, setting, and character and have to craft a story up to a word limit, in a number of days. In round 1, I was allocated to heat 5. The genre was mystery, the setting was opening night, and I had to include a character who was a sommelier.

It’s not a genre that I have read much of, but the sommelier came very strongly into my mind and the story coalesced around him. The ending surprised me, and I have been told it surprised readers, too. I would share it with you here, but I think with a little work I would like to enter it elsewhere and some competitions consider sharing on your blog to be prior publication.

The judges like it! I got some very encouraging feedback and placed first in my heat. The field of thousands has been narrowed down to 625 for round 2, and I’ve been given the genre of historical fiction, I need to include a negotiation and the character of a whaler. I can feel the setting taking shape beautifully in my mind, and I think I know what story I want to tell. I’m looking forward to writing it over the next three days.

I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to do what I love all day, to write. Whether it’s blog posts, grant applications or bids & tenders I get real joy from finding the way to communicate ideas. But I will admit, there is something about writing stories; knowing that I am giving people a little mental holiday to a world of my own creation, that is very special. I hope to be able to spend more time doing that, very soon.

 

New Book!

Apologies if that title made you think Frozen Prince was out. Not quite yet. I’d been hoping to release it at the end of January but then Aussie ‘flu struck and that went out the window. I’ll let you know as soon as I have a firm date.

IMG_2557[1]No, the new book I’m talking about this time is ‘The Wishing Star’ a novel written by 19 different authors, all writing a chapter (occasionally two) to complete the story.
It’s a YA mystery/romance with a female protagonist and lots of tension. If you’d like to get hold of a copy you can order directly from the National Association of Writers’ Groups, here.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I always try and find something vaguely romantic that I’ve written to share with you all for St Valentine’s Day. As I don’t write romance, that’s usually a bit tricky. But this year, I have the perfect thing! For the NYC Midnight #flashfictionchallenge2017 I was assigned the genre of Romantic Comedy. Being neither romantic or funny, it made my heart sink but I ended up scoring a few points for it. It wasn’t enough to make it to the next round, but that is one tough competition. Anyway, here is…

Crouching Dragon, Hidden Lizard

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