Out With the Old, in With the New – A creepy short story

Out With the Old, in With the New

by Wendy Dranfield

 

Luke has never used an online dating site before but, as it’s all the rage, he decides to give it a go. Once he’s settled on a site that sounds suitable for his needs, he fills in his profile details, obviously including a few little white lies like every other user. It’s expected on a site like this so he doesn’t feel bad about it.

He selects a profile photo that makes him look like he’s half decent, and clicks ‘save’. There. He’s all ready to find The One. Or at least; The next One. He’s surprised when he feels the familiar flutter of hope in his stomach.

His mother is making dinner in the kitchen and she’s not being quiet about it. ‘Are you hungry?’ She shouts as though he’s in another country.

‘Yes, mother.’

‘Good. I’ve done way too much pasta as usual.’

As she goes back to cooking their dinner, Luke moves to the armchair by the TV so she can’t see what he’s doing if she peeks over his shoulder. She always wants to know what he’s up to. It’s embarrassing enough having to live with your mother when you’re twenty-nine, he doesn’t need her knowing he’s looking for women online. Within seconds Pumpkin, his new ginger rescue cat, jumps on his lap and settles down. As Pumpkin purrs, Luke absently strokes him with his spare hand.

Once his profile is set-up, it matches him with some potential women in his area. He starts swiping through the list, focusing primarily on their profile pictures:

A red head who enjoys reading and hiking. He swipes left. He doesn’t like hiking.

A blonde who looks like a young Britney Spears. Her interests include bungee jumping and travelling. He swipes left. She’s way too outgoing for him. He’s looking for someone like him; a quiet, reserved introvert.

A brunette wearing glasses piques his interest. Sarah. She enjoys Marvel movies, online gaming and scrabble. He looks closely at her photo. She looks petite. Her teeth are crooked and she’s looking at the camera as if she wants to run away. He can tell she’s shy. He wonders if she’s ever even had a boyfriend before. This is just the kind of girl he was looking for. He enjoys movies, although not Marvel movies, and he plays World of Warcraft regularly.

He swipes right.

His mother calls him into the kitchen to eat dinner and, not for the first time, he’s reminded that she’s never going to win any cookery awards. By the time he’s finished eating, he has a message from Sarah.

‘What attracted you to me?’ she asks.

He tries to think about what to say while ignoring his mother’s soaps playing loudly on the TV. The woman’s driving him mad.

‘You need to take the rubbish out tonight as the bin men are coming tomorrow. Something smells bad in that bin. When it’s empty you need to clean it out with disinfectant.’

‘Yes, mother.’

He replies to Sarah with what he thinks she’d like to hear. He tells her that he thinks she’s cute, he loves the Marvel universe and he’s a big gamer so they have a lot in common. She tells him he looks like Harry Styles in his profile picture. That makes him smile to himself.

She’s chatty. She asks him some questions about his gaming and before he knows it, Luke has spent an hour chatting to her. He feels good. He likes her. She could be The One.

‘Take that bin out, for God’s sake, Luke! How many times do I have to ask?’

He looks up, dazed. He’d forgotten about his mother.

‘Well?’ she says.

‘Yes, mother.’ He stands slowly and pockets his phone.

Outside, in the dark, he pushes the wheelie bin to the end of the driveway and then pulls his phone back out. He might get some peace out here. He leans on the bin as he reads the latest message from Sarah.

‘Want to meet for a coffee? I don’t drink alcohol.’

He thinks about it. He has nothing to lose so he agrees. He patiently watches the blue dots that indicate she’s typing a response.

‘Saturday at noon in Starbucks?’

He agrees again.

‘I look forward to meeting you,’ she types.

He smiles. That was so easy. He wonders why he’s never thought of doing it this way before.

He pockets his phone and opens the lid of the wheelie bin. A nasty odour strikes him immediately. Jane. He met her in the library. She lived alone apart from one cute ginger cat.

As he heads back inside he wonders if Sarah has any pets, because there’s no way his mother will let him have another one.

 

© Wendy Dranfield

Author Q&A

Here is an author Q&A I did a couple of years ago for the lovely Abby from Anne Bonny Book Reviews after my YA crime novel (The Girl Who Died) was released:

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

I have been an avid reader ever since I was small, always preferring books over dolls for presents, and that love of reading resulted in an inevitable love of writing.  I started writing stories from about ten years old and I still have some I wrote as a teenager (they’re not good but they make me smile!).  I eventually completed some Creative Writing modules as part of my degree and found they really helped me focus on writing every day.

The Girl Who Died was the first novel I wrote.  It centres around fifteen-year-old Hannah, who thinks she’s killed her best friend, Katie, and then has to deal with the aftermath.  From dealing with the police investigation to starting a friendship with Katie’s devastated older brother, Josh, Hannah is put in some awful situations that she isn’t mature enough to deal with.  It’s not an easy read when we learn what Katie was going through before she died, but I believe it’s important to be honest when writing Young Adult fiction.  When I was a teenager I would have liked to have read something like this, to show I wasn’t alone in what I was going through.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?

This novel started as a nightmare I had when I was fifteen years old.  I must have been arguing with my best friend that day because I dreamt I killed her, cut her up into tiny chunks and then buried her in various places in our local field!  I woke up drenched in sweat and feeling the worst guilt I’d ever experienced.  Not because I thought I’d killed my best friend (we had a love-hate relationship!) but because I thought I’d get caught!  It took me a while to realise it was a dream.  But that dream stuck with me for years and I finally turned it into a short story in my early thirties.  That story got published in the ‘Fish Anthology’ and I had such a good response to it that everyone wanted to know what happened next to Hannah, the main character.  I decided to find out by continuing the story and that turned into the YA novel ‘The Girl Who Died’.  Although I wrote it in my late thirties, I’ve received great feedback about how realistic the fifteen-year-old characters are, which is great.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

Stephen King’s earlier books such as Pet Sematary and IT had a huge influence on me growing up and I still read everything he writes.  I’m also a huge fan of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series, which was unexpected for me because I hadn’t read any fantasy before that.  I am currently working my way through everything ever written by Joyce Carol Oates as something about her writing draws me in.  I also love Daphne Du Maurier and Shirley Jackson.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

I grew up on Stephen King.  I would search the local car boot sales for any of his books I could find and ended up collecting them.  I prefer his earlier work such as Pet Sematary and IT because I’m a horror fan at heart, but I still read everything he writes.  I’ve learnt a lot from him.  At college I had to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and that became a favourite, which meant I went on to read his other work.  It’s so important to read widely and not just stick to one genre.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

When I got a story traditionally published for the first time I was so proud of myself.  I had entered a short story competition but I wasn’t bothered about winning the cash prizes, I just wanted to make sure I was at least one of the runners up as they would be published in the anthology.  Once I found out I was a runner up I couldn’t have been happier than if I’d have won the money.  Receiving five complementary copies of the anthology and seeing my work in a ‘real’ book for the first time was a huge moment for me.  It made me realise for the first time that I can start saying out loud than I’m a writer.  I didn’t feel like I was pretending anymore.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

I never had anyone to encourage me while I was growing up and I never told school/college/work friends that I was writing in my spare time, as I felt embarrassed about it.  It was only when I met my husband at 25 that I revealed my writing hobby, and it took me a couple of years before I could show him any of my work.  I had such low self-esteem due to my upbringing that I didn’t feel confident enough to submit to competitions or publishers until I was in my thirties.  My husband has supported my writing ever since we met and now he’s a beta reader for my Dean Matheson crime series!