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Courting, 71 Short Stories is what it says. Most of these tales are set in Thailand or feature Thai characters. But not all. The rest are set in England. All tales are dark, with a twisted end in the story. This anthology takes readers on a journey from Great Britain through Thailand's dark and haunting landscape. From the bustling streets of Bangkok to the tranquil temples in the countryside, each tale immerses the reader in a different facet of Thai culture, tradition, and folklore. With vivid descriptions and masterful storytelling, the author weaves a tapestry of suspense, horror, and intrigue that will leave readers captivated and wanting more.
Story 1 - Splash, Splash...
'THANK YOU, DARLING. How wonderful, a break together. I never thought we'd do it,' Mags said.
'Anything for the prettiest wife in the world,' Robin smiled.
'Don't get carried away with your praise, especially when you don't mean it,' she chuckled.
'We've had a nightmare for a few years. A break will be good for us all. How do you feel?' he asked.
'So far, so good. It was tough getting out of the house that first day. But now, six months on, I not only escaped my self-built prison, but I also made steady progress. I left the village. Now, here I am, with my family, on holiday.'
'I'm proud of you, and so are the children. Where are they?' asked Robin.
'They are too young to understand, but thanks for saying it. They ran to the beach without unpacking their stuff,' said a joyful mother.
'Are they okay on their own?'
'Look out of the window; there they are, running across the sand. Not a care in the world.'
'Should we leave them to it? We could catch up with another thing that's been missing from our lives.' He grinned as he wrapped his arms around his wife. The cheeky young woman he had met all those years ago at university was back. She tugged him into the bedroom.
'Just a sec,' she mouthed as he unclipped her bra.
'Okay, where were we,' she said, returning from sneaking a look outside.
'You don't have to check them every minute, you know,' said Robin, lifting the quilt and patting the bed.
The children had worn themselves out leaping the waves, and now it was time to search for the enemy, crabs.
'Lizzie, look, a monster,' said Jay.
'Not as big as mine,' said Lizzie as she freed a gluey blob from a discarded Coke bottle.
'That is not a crab. You are cheating. What is it? Is it alive?'
'I don't know. Ouch! It bit me,' said Lizzie, shaking blobs of blood from her thumb.
'Over there, there's another one,' said Jay, pointing at a sandy puddle. He moved towards it, then yelped.
'Look out behind you,' said Lizzie too slowly. 'There's another one of those things.'
'Jeez, that hurt. Come on, we'd better go home,' said big brother Jay.
The children sprinted up the beach. Clambered over rocks and burst through the back gate and into the kitchen.
'Mum, Dad, something has hurt us,' screamed Lizzie at the bottom of the stairs, 'The arch-rivals got us.'
Robin's concentration split in two, and Mags' bliss shattered.
'Oh God, what's happened? Get dressed quickly,' as Robin nudged his wife, and they fell out of bed.
Grabbing a robe, Mags bounded down the stairs, her husband two steps behind.
'What happened?' she asked.
'It bit my thumb,' Lizzie held it out.
Jay balanced on one leg and raised the other, 'It got me on the ankle, look.'
Robin looked at the wounds.
'Nasty, how did you do that?'
'Same as Lizzie's thumb. Something in the sand bit us,' said Jay. Lizzie nodded furiously in agreement.
'What do you think, Mum?' asked Robin.
'It looks like a leech bite?' Mags said.
'Err, that sounds horrible,' said Lizzie.
'I thought you only get leeches in freshwater?' asked Jay.
'Normally, yes, but there are some in warmer oceans.'
'And the Channel is warmer? You are joking?' mentioned Robin.
'That's what I don't understand. Maybe it was something else,' said Mags.
'How come you know so much about it, Mum,' asked Jay.
'As you know, I've spent much time indoors, most of it reading,' answered Mags.
'I wish I were clever like you,' said Lizzie.
'We are glad you go to school; you will be clever, too. " Run upstairs, unpack your things and change for dinner," Robin ordered.
The children plodded back downstairs, 'I can't smell cooking. What are we eating? Don't say it is salad?' asked Jay.
'No. We are going out, is that okay with you both?' said Robin.
'What about Mum? Can she come?' asked Lizzie.
'Mummy is better now. Come on, let's find a restaurant,' said Robin.
The children pulled their parents toward fast-food outlets. However, Robin and Lizzie had more original ideas for their meal.
'Here we are. 'Olde English Pub and Restaurant' that's the place we spotted in the guidebook. It is highly recommended.'
'Yes, looks lovely, a meal in the pub's garden. What do you fancy?' asked Robin.
'Wow, we've never been in a pub before,' said Lizzie.
'Do they have burgers?… Ouch, what was that?' Jay furiously scratched his ankle under the table. 'Mum, I'm bleeding again!'
'Do you need a plaster?' the girl said as she handed out menus.
Mags grabbed paper tissues from the table, mopping the blood.
'Robin, look at this,' Mags pointed at the wound, 'Something is wriggling under the blood.'
The barmaid gagged as she backed away, and menus floated to the grass.
'We had better get to a hospital,' said Robin, trying to stop his son from looking.
Jay, supported by his parents, limped to the A&E counter, his trainer now full of blood.
'Come through please,' a nurse showed the way.
'Okay, young man,' smiled the doctor, 'please lay on the table. Let me remove your shoe and sock. What did he do?' he asked, turning to Robin.
'He and his sister got nipped by something in the sea earlier. We cleaned it and popped on a BandAid, then it started itching, and blood oozed out. His sister is outside with his Mum. Do you want to look at her thumb too?'
'Let me look at this first, then I'll check on her.'
The nurse pulled off the plaster and gasped. Then, open-eyed, she stared at the doctor.
He started gently pulling at a blood-soaked worm—a worm with a mouth opening and closing. Sucking in the air, the doctor tugged harder; the worm wrapped itself around the pincers.
'Hold this', ordered the doctor. The nurse stepped closer and held the metal. The doctor scrabbled for another tool.
'You had better wait outside,' he said to Robin.
The worried father, in two minds, finally went out to talk to Mags.
Mags and Lizzie weren't in view; Robin guessed they must be in the ladies, and he waited.
'Aargh, get it off me.'
Robin dashed to his daughter's voice.
Mags' hands clamped hard onto a wash-hand basin, her feet rooted to the spot. She knotted her eyes shut. She couldn't bear to look at her daughter's hand. Lizzie's arm outstretched, juddering her wrist, flicking blood up the mirror.
'Mum, get it off me!'
'Nurse, nurse, come quick,' shouted Robin from the doorway.
'You take my daughter. I'll look after my wife,' ordered Robin.
'Mags, it's okay, relax, breathe deep and long. Come on, release your grip, let go of the basin, let's sit down,' he said.
'It's starting again. I can't move,' she quaked, 'I must go home,' she wailed.
'You're okay; we can't leave the children.'
He praised her hands away from the ceramic and gently led the shaking woman to the waiting room.
'Will you be all right? I must check on Jay and Lizzie.'
He didn't wait for an answer; he dashed out to find the doctor.
'It's all my fault,' she mumbled to his fast-disappearing shoulders.
'Here we are, Maxie. Are you ready for your run?'
The elderly chemist unclipped a battered and scored leather lead. The overweight black Labrador waddled onto the beach. He attempted running, remembering those days as a pup. Now, barely quicker than his walking pace, he made his way to the sea's edge. Aged paws were splashing ahead of his loving owner.
'Good boy, you enjoy your dip,' she called after him.
The chemist kept to the dry fluffy sand, her eyes never leaving her beloved dog. Then, suddenly, Maxie's front legs buckled. His nose dipped into the seawater and wrinkled sand as his front legs collapsed completely.
'Oh, no, Maxie, what is wrong?' called his owner, she ran crying to her pet.
Crouching down in the sand, she lifted her pet's head from the water, noticing small lumps under the fur. The slight bumps were moving towards his chest.
'What the?… Aargh.'
She felt mosquito bites from inside her rubber ankle boots. Trying to free her foot from the footwear, she toppled sideways to the wet. Within seconds, circles of blood appeared on her legs. No longer mosquito bites, the pain jabbed and pricked like a nest of bee stings.
Young lovers cuddled up along the seafront while enjoying a pub stroll.
'What is happening over there?' the girl pointed.
'It looks like the old lady and her dog that passed us. Come on, they need help,' the boyfriend answered as they sprinted down the beach.
Within moments, they became covered in small biting creatures.
'Help,' he pressed the panic button on his phone before disappearing under a cloud of dark grey.
In the bay, a dinghy floated on the tide as it moored.
'How did you enjoy your first sailing lesson?' asked a proud father.
'Oh, wow, great, that was fun. When can we go again?' asked his daughter.
'Sounds like the weather will be fine again tomorrow. How about in the morning?'
'Brill Dad, thanks. What's that?' she pointed to a black cloud moving towards their boat under the gentle waves.
'It looks like an overweight blubber-filled walrus.' He smiled before leaning over the edge to look closer, his daughter beside him.
Behind them, slug-like creatures were sliding up and over the opposite bows.
Further out in the bay, a Finnmaster 8 bobbed. Its owners were on the seabed. Hoping they could find the shoulder bag their friend had flung overboard earlier. They passed hand signals. The index finger rolled to meet the thumb. 'Okay', followed by pointing up, meant enough searching for today.
'Nightmare,' said Bobby as he spat out salt water.
'Poor Sal devastated at losing her favourite bag and all her stuff in it,' nodded Petra.
'What the hell was she thinking? She hurled it at him.'
'You heard her row with her "new" friend.'
'Not friends now,' laughed Bobby.
'No, especially when she swung her bag at him, then tried to push him overboard,' giggled Petra.
'So, she has lost her mobile, iPad and purse. Was it worth it?'
'It was good of you to drop them off and come back and start the search. In contrast, they can sort out their problem. And it leaves us alone,' she grinned.
'The least we could do. Hopefully, she has the barbecue on for when we get back. Maybe she'll cook him well done,' he laughed.
Bobby aided Petra to the back of the small cruiser. She threw her flippers on, heaved herself up, and then colreturnlapsed back into the sea.
A cloud of murky red water surrounded her foot.
Petra froze rigidly; fear overtook pain, and shock overtook agony. Her foot was no longer there.
She screamed as she fought to scramble aboard. She looked back at her boyfriend, sinking helplessly.
'Oh, my God, Bobby,' she mouthed as she watched him slowly disintegrate into popped bubbles.
Bobby's handsome features exploded into spumes of red jelly. Creatures were writhing inside his wetsuit, wrapping themselves along the anchor rope and crawling up and on towards her.
Petra slid towards the radio.
Mags sat motionless in the waiting room, staring ahead. Then, finally, she fixed her eyes on an unused hook on the wall.
'I wonder if it held a sign saying, “Beware of mad women”, or something similar? Oh, Robin, this is all my fault.'
'Darling, please don't torture yourself. You are doing so well. This is certainly not because of you,' said Robin.
'It's all my fault; if it weren't for me, we wouldn't be here,' mumbled Mags.
'Don't think like that. Are you okay for a minute there? I should check on the children again.'
Her head bowed as she hugged herself; Robin stood slowly, touched her shoulder and walked out.
'How are they, doctor?'
'We've removed all the… Uh, creatures. But had trouble stopping the bleeding. We've stitched them up, and they appear fine now, but we must keep them in tonight. I want to find out what those things are,' said the doctor.
'Sir, we have an SOS call.'
'Put it on speaker,' said the lifeboat skipper.
'It's mumbled now, strange. It was clear just now?'
The speaker crackled as if spitting threats.
'Trace that link,' shouted the skipper.
'We've lost it. I don't understand it?'
'What do you mean? Nothing?'
'Yes, Sir, silence.'
'Get a chopper up there.’
'We've got a fishing boat in our sights, and we're going low for a closer look. It appears fine,' said the helicopter captain.
'It looks like it's losing fuel. Look at the colour of the water,' said number two.
'There's nobody on deck. What is that? Look, the nets are moving.'
'That is not netting. What the hell?'
'And all around the boat, sir, that is not oil.'
'I can't go any closer. The oil, or whatever it is, is moving up and onto the deck. Where are the crew?'
'Christ, I hope that's fish blood?’
'Did you hear that?' asked Mags as she watched the hospital's overhead tv.
'Yes, the BBC told everyone not to go into the sea. What the hell?' Robin shook his head.
He held his arm to support his wife, leading her to the children's private rooms.
'Come on, Mags, do it for the children,' he said.
'I should have stayed locked in the house. We all should have.'
While they wished Jay and Lizzie goodnight, a submarine slid into deeper water from nearby Portsmouth.
'We are approaching the site now, sir, port-side. You can see where the rocks tumbled deeper by the tanker that went down last week.'
'The tanker finally got towed away, leaving a hell of a mess?'
'Yes, Sir, you can see the sludge that remains. They cleared most of it with high-powered jets of detergent. But, wait a moment, what is that?'
'All engines stop; I want a closer look.'
'Are those props from a sub? And that looks like a chunk of the rudder.'
It puzzled the officers momentarily, and then they spotted a smashed lump of steel.
'Bits of a submarine hull?'
'Is that the tower over there?'
'Yes, Sir. A wartime wreck, maybe?'
They radioed orders back and forth.
'Lieutenant, get us back. I've got a bad feeling about this,' ordered the Captain.
Senior officers had charts spread across an immense desk.
'Christ, look, the Admiral is already here,' said the Lieutenant.
'Gentlemen, come in. What did you find?'
'Sir,' said the Captain, 'It appears to be a wartime sub. The rockfall must have disturbed its resting place,' he smiled.
'This is no laughing matter!' growled the Admiral.
'No, Sir, sorry, Sir,' said the Captain.
'Were there any identification marks on the hull?' asked the Admiral looking at the Lieutenant.
'No, Sir, there wasn't much we could see. I guessed it was a wartime sub, judging by the rudder, Sir.'
'No markings at all? How about the crew's skeletons?' asked the senior man.
'Not that we could see,' the Captain scratched his chin, 'any bones would have drifted away, surely?'
'What all of them?'
'Some rags were floating in the wreck. Could they be uniforms?'
'Get a diver there. We need to discover more.'
The Admiral started searching wartime charts.
'We've lost the diver… Aargh!' screamed the dive master as he became cloaked in black.
The Admiral was reading hand-written notes stashed in a file within a file. Brittle and dusty. “Top Secret” stamped on it.
'Why was this never encrypted on computer files?' he asked.
'Christ, what is all this?' he breathed to himself.
'HMS Azur Lane? I've never heard of her. What the hell? Captained by Helex Robbo? Helex who? I've never heard of him. 'Sailed for a top-secret mission to destroy the Kaiserliche Marine,' dated 1919.' The Admiral checked and reread more files, scratching and rubbing his jaw. He was none the wiser.
'What is this?' he opened a dusty envelope. 'HMS Holland recommissioned, that cannot be?' He questioned the document. 'It sank in 1913!'
Searching the dusty paperwork, 'Renamed as Azur Lane, they sent it to German ports in the Baltic.'
He read on, sweat running down his rigid jawline, 'Armed with torpedoes packed with deadly germs!'
Search as he may, he failed to find a report on the details of the mission.
The Admiral collapsed back in his chair. He poured himself a glass of rum and downed it in one. Then, he decided what he must do. He screwed the paperwork into balls, grabbed a wastepaper bin, filled it, and torched it on his desk. Embers turned to ash.
The 9 mm pistol was still smoking as his secretary rushed to the door.
Story 2 - Art For Art's Sake
'DAD, WHAT ARE you doing?' Jilly asked.
'That's it, I've had enough,' said her father.
'You have. What about the rest of us?'
'I took over this shop from my mum, and we had a thriving business. Now, it's gone; the world has gone mad. I can't get enough sales to pay for the expenses. Enough.'
Jilly snatched the papers her dad had flung to the counter.
'The rent has gone up, so what?' she said.
'Everything has gone up except sales.'
'Dad, let me run the business. You can retire.'
'You want me to tell you? Okay, look around. Can you see a customer? Even someone browsing? No, it has been like this for days. There is now no need for your mum to come in and help me. We've had lockdowns, and we were hardly a necessity shop. People don't spend on their hobbies. So, sorry, but we are going out
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