Stories & Characters

Cold Blood, Warm Wit. A Classic Short

A work of fiction on how to commit murder with quicksand.

Illustration: Dan Williams

Nella and Carol were once great friends. At school they’d egged each other on just when they needed to and stayed loyal through college despite studying at opposite ends of Britain. Partners came and went, leaving behind three children apiece. Now into their fifties and free of responsibilities, the time was ripe to do a Thelma and Louise, but they’d lost touch.

Carol dabbled with Friends Reunited in her pre-Facebook days but got scared off by a stalker from her O-level geography class. She said she only used the site to keep tabs on her grown-up children, but secretly hoped it might help a new man come her way.

Things changed the day Nella found her profile. After a few awkward exchanges on-line, they agreed to meet up. Over coffee they reminisced and hatched a plan to walk the South West Coast Path. Sure, Nella’s hip would slow her up, but since the operation at least she knew it wouldn’t bring her pain.
A week into their marathon hike, they stopped for flapjacks and a flask of coffee on a pebble ridge just shy of Westward Ho! Maybe they were running dry on conversation, maybe she was fighting off something, maybe it had something to do with the exclamation mark on the sign ahead, but Carol was quiet today. She’d said next to nothing for the last two hours. Then Nella put her foot in it.
“Has the devil got your tongue?” she said. “Yes.” Carol said. Nella said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean it literally.” “But I do.” Carol said.

Nella said, “Don’t tell me you’re a witch?” and laughed uncomfortably while ramming the last chunk of flapjack into her mouth. Carol was still staring out to sea. Then she turned to Nella and said, “Worse than that, I’m a murderer.”

Nella coughed and sneezed, choking on the oats. Carol hit her lower back and dislodged the apricot stuck in her throat. Nella wiped away her tears and said, “You’re...a...what?”
“I killed him. I didn’t mean to. I mean I let him die when I could’ve saved him. I just stood there and watched him suffocate to death.” said Carol.

Nella looked around. There was nobody in either direction. Cold sweat ran down her brow. She didn’t really know Carol as an adult. She thought it might be a good idea to run, but her dodgy hip told her to stay put and hear the full story.
“Who’s him? Who was he?” asked Nella.“

Bill. We were together for 11 years.” “Forgive me Carol, but you said ‘suffocate’. How...” Nella wanted to know how she did it, why she did it, whether she got caught, did she go to prison, but couldn’t find the words. They just sat there for a long minute until Carol broke the silence.
She said, “Quicksand. It looked so solid. He just walked out, lost his footing and panicked, then started to struggle. That’s when it gets you. It pulls you in and you sink. It’s like drowning.”
Nella put her arm round Carol and said, “But isn’t that supposed to be a nice way to go?” Carol turned and with a poker face, she said, “Not for a tortoise.”

Illustration: Dan Williams

A tortoise? An old, ugly, wrinkled lettuce-chewing reptile. Nella wasn’t big on pets, especially scaly ones, but felt now was not the time to say it as Carol held her head in her hands and sobbed quietly. Nella rubbed Carol’s back and tried to imagine this geriatric tortoise off its lead, flapping frantically in a vortex of sand, spluttering for its last gasp of air. As hard as it was to visualise, she stuck with it until she felt Carol’s back start to shudder, with a snigger, then a full-blown guffaw shot straight out through her nose.

“You cow!” yelled Nella.
“God, you had me going. What a dope. Can a tortoise even swim?”

Carol wiped away the tears of laughter and said, “Who cares? We can. C’mon, let’s have a dip.”

THE END

Illustration / Dan Williams

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