‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – a Halloween(ish) tale of a ghostly (maybe) gran

drawing of people on a sofaDrop Dead Gorgeous – a Halloween(ish) tale of ghosts (maybe) and quantum phasing (your guess is as good as mine). Bit sweary so don’t let the kids loose.

I first met Dillon when my dead Gran tripped me up in front of him. There was me, meandering along the sea front watching small dogs on extending leads crochet themselves into yapping compounds each time they encountered others of their ilk; and there was he, arrowing through them, the sleek lycra-ed warp to their woof. I was ok but he landed up in hospital with several broken bones and his bike was a write-off. Gran beamed like it was her birthday and she’d knocked back her celebratory bottle of whisky all in one go.

I wasn’t planning on visiting him; after all he’d reason to be mad and maybe even to monetise that. Can you sue pedestrians? But Gran had other ideas; I got the train to uni, it broke down and the replacement bus dropped me outside the hospital. I walked, there was an incident and a diversion that went right past A&E. I tried taking a taxi; the driver had a heart attack. So to avoid any further disasters befalling the largely innocent public, I gave in. Five minutes tops should do it, I reckoned.

‘Ok, I’ll go,’ I said. ‘But I don’t need an audience, right?

Fat chance. ‘Lovely, innee?’ Gran said, breathing pickle fumes over my shoulder.

‘Shut up,’ I said, trying not to move my mouth as if this somehow compensated for the conspicuous absence of a third party. It didn’t. Dillon looked around the room and started to reach for the call bell. I could see his point.

‘No, not you,’ I said, and fiddled around with a fantasy earpiece under my hair. ‘Bloody signal’s gone,’ I said, palming the non-existent device and shoving it in my pocket. I gave him one of those modern technology, what can you do? looks and shrugged at him.

Gran continued her onslaught. ‘Physicist,’ she said, picking at teeth that would be at least a hundred years old if she’d managed to haul her liver past eighty-six. ‘Should suit you, with all your book-learnin’ an’ that.’ She gave me a shove, ‘Go on, sit on his bed.’ I was propelled forwards and alarm spread across Dillon’s face as the woman who had put him there in the first place threatened to flatten him all over again. I grabbed at a drip pole. It was on wheels so we took each other down, along with a vase of flowers, a jug of water, and a box of tissues. The almighty racket drew the attention of a frosty-looking nurse in pink scrubs who rushed first to Dillon to inspect him for injury, and then turned her rather less solicitous gaze on me, sprawled on the floor at her feet.

‘And you are?’ she said, like we were at a posh party and I wasn’t on the guest list. I opened my mouth preparing to kill two birds with one F-bomb but …

‘My girlfriend,’ said Dillon, into the gap.


‘Yes,’ Gran said through my teeth, tittering in my ear and making kissy-kissy noises.

The nurse glared at me, then at Dillon, ‘Well, in that case …’ and she stomped away to find a cleaner she could terrorise.

‘Jeez!’ Dillon said, rolling his eyes. ‘I owe you; bloody woman’s been ogling me since I got here. Never seems to be off-duty. Have you seen that Stephen King film?’ He smiled one of those crooked smiles you read about.

‘Look look look!’ Gran whickered at me, ‘Drop dead gorgeous!’

I cocked an appraising eye, ‘Well, actually …’

‘You saw it, the movie?’

‘No, I meant – anyway, how are you?’

He told me.

We laughed.

I stayed two hours.

I promised to pick him up and take him home when he was discharged, and cook dinner as he couldn’t use his hands that well. Turned out he could. Whole other story.

I moved in.

Gran stayed away for quite a while, probably to focus on another deviant descendant, then suddenly, back she came.

‘Cheating gigolo,’ she announced from behind the sofa. I nearly lost my takeaway. ‘Quantum research shove-it-up-your-jacksie conference, my Aunt Fanny,’ she said. Gran liked an expletive or two, albeit somewhat retro ones.

‘What do you mean?’

‘So-called research assistant – more bosom than brains,’ she said, ‘And the bosom’s not much to write home about, if you ask me.’

Gran was right; Rihanna, her name was, and I met her at the faculty Christmas do a couple of months later. There she was, goggling at Dillon, passing him wine and nibbles, chirping about quantum entangled whatnots and superstring that apparently has toes, and Dillon mesmerised by her heaving chest. Gran dug me in the ribs then grabbed both my ears. This, apparently, was a way of establishing a conduit between her plane of existence and ours. She shrieked at Dillon, ‘You cunning, conniving, slippery little wormhole, you!’ Then she rose into the air and loomed over Rihanna, ‘And you should know all about quantum, with your itty bitty IQ and your Schroedinger’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t brazz-ee-ere!’ Gran had evidently upgraded her vocabulary since our last encounter; she embarked on a cackle.

Then somebody with a beard that looked as though it might house a decent sized lunch, and a T shirt bearing the periodic table in swear words said, ‘Quantum phasing,’ in hushed tones like he was in a church. He gawped, simultaneously awestruck and terrified and Gran turned on him, treated him to a blast of old onions and fried liver right into his face. She clacked her teeth, ‘Phantom,’ she hissed, and hovered yellow fingers over his throat.

‘Cobblers,’ said Dillon. ‘No such thing as ghosts. Quantum phased reality shifts though, there’s mileage in that.’ His face went into intellectually distracted mode. It was short-lived. Gran loomed back in Dillon’s direction, ‘Quantum reality shift, my arse,’ she said. ‘Tell you what, though, let’s put it to the test.’ And she dropped the ceiling on him.

Some days it’s just Dillon sitting behind me on the train; sometimes it’s Gran; other times it’s the pair of them. They’re still arguing the toss about ghosts versus quantum universes and they can’t agree on suitable boyfriends for me, which threatens the long term survival of potential suitors. So Gran borrowed me a part-time dog for company. ‘Big bugger,’ she said, handing me his collars, ‘And he’s got what you might call ongoing duties elsewhere, but he’ll keep the riff-raff away; happy clappies, dodgy roofers, Tories.’

He is and he does because he’s got one helluva howl on him, but he’s a poppet and when all three of us are indoors together, we each have a head to pat.

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2017

‘Jussdeserts’ – Flash Flood flash fiction

People with intellectual disabilities want to be like everyone else which means they want jobs. But first, there aren’t enough jobs; second, there aren’t enough jobs for people who need support; third, what jobs there are often don’t pay; and fourth, the people who take them with hope and gratitude are frequently bullied straight out of them. Those things are fact; Jussdeserts is fiction, but only juss. Flash Flood, June 24th.

Edited 24/06/17 to include direct link

Green Buses: a story and an appeal

The four year old girl crouched in the footwell has never heard of christmas and wouldn’t care if she had. She stares at her hands and wipes them on the pink anorak that used to fit but now hangs more loosely from her shoulders.


The twelve year old boy next to her is angry and feels himself uprooted and displaced. He has heard of christmas but he blames the westeners who celebrate it for where he finds himself. His eyes tell simultaneously of a child’s dark despair and the blazing hatred of the adult he will become. He is already conjuring revenge in his head.

Their grandmother strokes his hair and nuzzles the girl closer to her feet but cannot be their mother. She too knows about christmas but finds it impossible to disentangle her feelings about it from their current plight. The flags of the people who mark it are often the ones which bring destruction, or which hesitate and do nothing to stop it. But some of those same flags fly proud at their destination which promises relief. Those people will be celebrating soon and what will that mean for her and the little ones?

Her son crashes into the seat next to her, scarf around his face, weapons bulking his khaki jacket. ‘We’re leaving,’ he says to his children, ‘Stay down.’ The gunfire stops, then starts again. The green bus starts then stops. There are two more starts and stops before the convoy eventually inches away along its assigned corridor of broken, bombed out buildings, abandoned family cars, and three blackened buses once as green as their own.

While his mother sobs silently into the chill air, the young father hunches over his children, a futile shield against snipers. He breathes them in and prays not to see their blood, but at least if they die today, the world will be watching. Soon it will be christmas day and then the countries of the puppet masters will be looking elsewhere. Their TVs will be full of joy and fun, their fridges stuffed with food, and their minds wiped of far-off troubles. No news is good news and they will not look for news.

Later, when they come back to pick up where they left off, believing somehow that the world will not have moved on while they were otherwise engaged, the father of children, widowed husband of a young wife, and son of a weeping mother, wonders what there will be of this fragile caravan for them to see. He hopes not ghosts. His son glances up at him and the father sees a ferocity burning in his eyes that he recognises. He bends to soften it, to say that there are good people everywhere in the world, but he cannot bring himself to promise it.


My thanks to an activist friend, who has spent much time volunteering among refugees at the Calais Jungle camp, for her comments on an earlier draft. She said no one she had met blamed Christians and so I have softened that reference. They do blame the West though, and I have taken licence to push that to the front in service of the message, which is that refugees and evacuees will still be in huge peril while most of us will be looking elsewhere until after the new year. If bombing and injury were not enough, starvation damages young brains, and emotional insecurity damages young minds. How can we hope for positive change when the next generations are so physiologically and mentally vulnerable? If you have a moment and a spare pound or so, please consider a donation to Save the Children for Syria or DEC’s Yemen crisis appeal. Thank you.


“Slick as oil over water, Katia headed for the house of the man whose dreams she needed to reprogramme. She shifted through his bedroom wall like damp through old bricks to wait by his cot for the right moment. Then, as his eyes began to flick back and forth and his long limbs twitched, she bent close to his ear, reintroducing the precious seed stolen by the Reversionists to demolish the future.”

In ZeroFlash in response to prompt including, um, zeros!

This Personal Space

It’s where I put my ‘black cat’ stories: last to be picked, hard to see unless you look hard, not everybody’s cup of tea. There’s a tiny trilogy up there today on the matter of being lost. At least one is a vengeance piece for time not very well wasted!

This Personal Space

‘North Star’


Written for Every Day Fiction’s one-time invitational.

Photo credit: adapted from Polaris the north star by pakpolaris-d34x4z1 via Google images.

‘The Spooking of Einstein’

“If you walk on the cracks, the bears will get you.”
“No, they won’t.”
But they did. Not bears exactly, more trans-dimensional, multi-versal, quantum-coherents with no sense of humour.

‘The Spooking of Einstein’ is in Urban Fantasist’s Grievous Angel  today. 290 words, free to read.

‘Control’ now on SoundCloud via MashStories

Control was a competition piece and reached the finals of its group. MashStories have voiced it and posted the audio on Soundcloud. I don’t know if the choice of voice artist was coincidental but she is appropriately British and does a jolly good job!

‘Here the Magic Must Be’ – dedicated to Shoreham

This story was a finalist in Flash Fiction Chronicles’ 2014 String-o-Ten and, like many stories, it has a history. This meant very little at the time, beyond personal awe at the way the cosmic forces of gravity and the motion of the moon and planets become crystallised at the turning of a tide on a river. Finding a bunch of roses lodged in a shrub on the river bank where they would not be  swept out to sea or blown away sparked the theme – a woman investiRoses tree 1ng hope in those forces following a deep tragic loss. If magic exists anywhere in the universe, she wants to believe it will be here.

The river is the Adur in Sussex and the shrub just a few hundred yards from the A27 which, this last week, has been the focus of world attention after a jet ploughed into traffic lights there*. Eleven people died, many more were direct witnesses waiting at the lights just behind those who were hit, or travelling on the eastbound carriageway. Others saw the ball of flame from the airport where they were spectators, and thousands sat in shock at home as social media and TV put out video, photos, and stunned analysis throughout that day and the several that followed.

The road is partially opened today (August 30th) and on Tuesday I will be on it taking kittens for their vaccinations. I will be feeling simultaneously selfish and grateful that I was not there on that day and nor was anyone I know**.

This is the story:

Here the Magic Must Be

The river was almost at its zenith, that tipping point between the heaving press of the sea from the coast and the thundering weight of dark, fresh water draining from the hills. It glittered and sparkled along its banks as if strung with fairy lights.

The woman twiddled her handkerchief until it knotted and then pushed it into her pocket. Twice a day, every day, all of heaven and earth balanced here on this point, she thought. For reassurance, she felt for the handle of the knife that sat quiet next to the handkerchief and watched a pair of terns shrieking and wheeling overhead. They landed on the river, drifting up-stream at opposing angles until the tidal cusp caught them, held them, suspended them in the moment.

The woman saw it. With sudden urgency, she pulled out the knife and reached to one side where a small regiment of roses lay swaddled in cellophane. She lifted the pale tag to her mouth and breathed her warm breath into the name written there, pressed it between her palms to remind him of her flesh, and pierced her finger on a thorn to give him her blood.

Then she stood, cut the flowers free of their wrapping, and approached the water’s edge. If magic existed anywhere it had to be here at the turning of tides, in the repeated drowning and birthing of land. She crouched down, touched the petals to the water and wished.


*Approach video clips with caution

**Eight victims have been named so far; one is the son of a friend’s close friend. Like me, many will be waiting and hoping not to recognise the last three names when they come but some will not be so fortunate.