The Sleeper (a piece of flash fiction)

I entered this into a competition, but it got nowhere. However, as it’s the first piece of flash fiction I’ve submitted, I’m not too bothered. So I’ve decided to publish on my blog as a change to the usual cycling stuff.

I would have been glad to throw my suitcase into any number of ditches. After two miles walking in the July sun, it was a relief to see the elm-shaded driveway. Further along, the Manor, all Flemish gables and knapped flints, hidden behind leathery rhododendrons.

A woman, dressed in tweeds despite the heat, strode across the driveway, as much a part of the landscape as the Friesians grazing the marshes beyond.

“Harrison?  Lilburne?”

“Lilburne,” I replied.

“Of course,” she said, cutting off further response. “Control said you would probably arrive first.  Emma.” A hand extended. “Nigel is running errands. The other guests are in the dunes. I suppose you would like to see your room.”

We walked into the cool, dark house, and up the staircase. My room was small, no doubt home to domestic servants, before the war. And, though I had no masters in this house, did I not also serve?

Emma pointed towards a dresser. “There is fresh lemonade for you.  Settle in, we meet in the library at five, for drinks before dinner.” A muffled explosion rumbled from the dunes. Emma turned back in the doorway. “Oh, and don’t wander down to the dunes.”  She left.

I opened my case, examined my pistol, then loaded it. My room overlooked the coast, so I studied the dunes and marshes through my binoculars. The latter looked passable; still, I checked my tide table once more. The forecast was for high cloud and the moon would be a waning crescent, but the lack of cover worried me.

At four forty I changed into a fresh navy cotton shirt and a light jacket, cut in a bomber style. I tucked my pistol into a concealed holster. Next I took a small brown glass medicine bottle from my suitcase and stuffed it into my pocket. I went downstairs, memorising the layout of the house, identifying routes of egress.

I entered the kitchen; it was empty. A soup pan simmered on the stove. I stepped across to it, lifted the lid and sniffed: pea and mint. I emptied the medicine bottle into it. Sodium fluoroacetate, tasteless and deadly.

I went on to the library.  Four others, including Emma, were gathered there. She greeted me and made introductions. Shortly before dinner I feigned a stomach ache, an initial symptom of the poison, and excused myself. Emma looked at me with a measure of concern. I muttered something to allay any worry.

Later I heard somebody retching. Outside the day’s light had faded. I checked my pistol and prepared to leave. Quietly I closed the bedroom door behind me. Turning the corner to the stairs I almost walked into Emma. My heart skipped until I noticed she had one hand clutching the rails, the other her stomach. I descended unchallenged, and left by the front door.

Hidden in the dunes, I watched for the U-boat signal. It came, and I flashed my reply. I stood. After six years, I was going home.

About richardjostler

Data Scientist working at Rothamsted Research
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