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Location: Heanor, Derbyshire, United Kingdom

I am 56, married for 32 years, have two children and NO mortgage. Check out short stories on

Sunday, 25 May 2008


Check out new book listing on

Search under surname (neale) for my Selected Short Stories. Here's a taster that's not in the volume.......

Grapes and Wrath

Cecily Winston-Smythe stood at the open double doors of the French windows which looked out across the perfectly manicured lawn and down to the stream which formed the southern border of the ample property. She and George had lived at The Pastures all of their married life but it had been far from an easy existence. Daddy had bought the place as a wedding gift and a trust fund set up in her name provided all the income the two of them needed without George having to lift a finger……….and he didn’t. That had been over thirty years ago and despite being offered a position within the stockbrokerage firm which her father Martin had formed; George showed no inclination to take responsibility for earning a crust. Not that they needed the money, but it would have been nice for him to have some interest outside the home and those blasted vines of his.

They had been on a trip to France when he had the notion of bringing back some vines to set up his own vineyard. The Chardonnay grape was his favourite and the plants were duly purchased and replanted in suitably treated soil on the southern slopes of the grounds. From that point on, all his waking hours were spent in tending and feeding them. Cecily wouldn’t have minded too much, but it was like trying to compete with a mistress, except that with this one you couldn’t slap her around the face and tell her just what you thought. No, all she could do was watch in increasing frustration as he cosseted and cajoled the things into growth and output.

“George! Dinner’s ready.” She called across the lawn, knowing from experience that it was a forlorn hope.

He turned, shaded his eyes as if to ascertain who had called his name and raised one hand in acknowledgement and shook his head. It was the same every day. Up before her, out in the grounds all day and up to bed when she was already asleep. She had even begun to doubt her own attractiveness, but standing before the full length mirror after her bath last night she could not understand his lack of interest. For a woman in her mid fifties, the reflection looking back could have been that of a woman fifteen years her junior, and more than one set of admiring glances had come her way at the summer fêtes which were the custom in the county. The skin was firm and but for the tell-tale lines around her neck she was a perfect specimen………in her own opinion at least.

With one more glance down the garden, she snorted in indignation, turned on her heel and went to the dining room. After an unsatisfying meal Cecily picked up her bag and light summer jacket and headed off for the Paddock, a country pub frequented by the circles of ladies of similar interest to her. Jenny was always good for a moan and had strong opinions on men like George.

“You sure he hasn’t got a bit of fluff stashed away somewhere darling?” She drew lazily on the cigarette in the ivory holder and blew out a steady stream in the direction of the open window.

“Not a chance! He’s too lazy even for that. Heaven forbid that he would have to make effort of any kind. Anyway, the exercise would probably kill him.” They both laughed at the thought.

“Shame he couldn’t have an accident of some kind. Got him insured for enough?”

“Don’t need the dosh dear, but an accident sounds promising. I’d never get away with arranging anything like that, but the thought was nice.”

The conversation proceeded in a similar vein throughout the two hours and a steady intake of white wine, and when they parted for the day Cecily was left with another evening alone to look forward to. It was a further hour and a half before she made any attempt to discover the whereabouts of her errant husband, and stepping out on to the patio overlooking the grounds, was surprised to find that George was nowhere to be seen. It was getting late and time for locking the doors and despite her annoyance, she was not prepared to leave him out there all night. She went down the path towards the vines – he was probably crouched somewhere amongst them, the poor little darlings!

Search as she may, there was no George to be seen and it was not until she made her way around the bottom border of the property that she found him. The greenhouses were located some distance from the vineyard and much of the equipment was kept in an old grain store which stood on a set of broad wooden stilts. George was lying at the bottom of a large ladder from which he had clearly fallen whilst she was out. His eyes were open but lack of movement obviously meant that he had suffered some kind of paralysing fracture to his back or neck, or even both. Instincts took over and she began running back to the house to summon medical help. Stopping halfway through the journey she turned around. What was it that Jenny had said? Shame that he couldn’t have an accident? This was manna from heaven and she retraced her steps.

George lay where Cecily had found him, the look on his face clearly anticipating salvation from his misery. He couldn’t speak, and rolled his eyes as if to plead for help. She turned to the open area beneath the grain store and dragged out a small ladder. He looked at her in puzzlement, and then horror as the excruciating pain of movement hit his brain. Clearly not all sense of feeling had been cut off and she smiled sweetly at him as he came to rest across the rungs. It was now getting quite dark, and with no-one else on the property, what she was about to do would go completely unnoticed. Dragging the ladder all the way across to where the vines were growing, she returned to the store for a garden spade. George’s eyes almost shot out of his head when she moved him into the first space between the rows and started to dig.

For a relatively slight figure, she had always kept herself fit and the fairly loose and well drained soil presented very little in the way of a problem as she worked her way lower and lower. At around three feet she stopped, climbed out of the hole and very deliberately rolled him in. The job was completed in just less than two hours and by the time the ground had been compressed and any surplus earth redistributed amongst the rest of the vineyard, there wasn’t a trace of any unusual activity at that end of the garden area. Now all she had to do was cook up some story to cover his disappearance. His car would have to go in order to make the explanation seem plausible, and taking it down to the local reservoir she released the handbrake and watched as it disappeared beneath the deep, murky waters. Dusting away the tyre tracks with a loose piece of brushwood, she returned on foot to the house to complete the deception.

Having put away all the tools used in the act, she showered and changed, poured herself a stiff whisky and sat down to write herself a ‘goodbye’ letter. God, but it was good! She’d been forging his signature for years, and concocting something like this was child’s play. Reading it back at the end, she could not have been more emotional than if he had actually been the author. It explained that he’d left her for a woman up north whom he had met in France. They had kept in secret touch since their return, and he no longer felt the need to remain with someone whom he had never loved. Sealing the note and reopening it five minutes later, she rang Jenny and explained through a flood of tears what George had done. Naturally her friend was round in an instant, if only to bask in the latest gossip which she would be able to circulate around the rest of the girls. Having persuaded Cecily that, despite the tears, she was far better off with out the unmitigated cad she took her fill of the free alcohol and went home at an appropriate time.

Cecily decided not to report George missing, using the letter if anyone asked as to his whereabouts. He had no male friends in the area, so no-one really missed him. She took on a gardener to look after the grounds, a nice young man, tanned and muscular with a twinkle in his eye. They got along famously at first and then, after a suitably discreet time, they got along in a much more intimate way. The talk in the village was how well she was looking now that grumpy old George was gone, and the more knowing amongst the sisterhood cast a few sly comments about the company which she was now keeping.

It was on a hot and sultry summer evening in late August, a year after the disappearance of George that Cecily was standing by the stream just beyond the vines, admiring the view and feeding a pair of swans which had taken up residence. A rustling sound from behind made her jump as it cut through the perfect stillness of the scene. Anticipating the arms of her gardener she turned, smiling sweetly.

“Oh, what the…………………?”

Those were the last words that she uttered as the ligature looped around her neck and tightened. Grasping at her throat for some relief from the constricting pressure on her windpipe, she was soon on her knees as her head began to throb with pain. With one last pull, the garrotte snapped her neck and she fell lifeless to the ground. The rustling sound moved away as the killer retreated and left the immediate area.

Jenny became concerned when her repeated phone calls went unanswered, and although Cecily’s new lover was the talk of the district it was unusual for her to abandon friends in such a way. She got in her car and drove the fairly short distance over to The Pastures to seek her out. The front door was locked, but with a new gardener that was understandable if they spent all their time around the back of the property. She smiled as she made her way around the immaculately trimmed lawns and stood at the top of the garden looking down to the stream. At first she thought that her friend had merely taken a picnic down to the vines and fallen asleep in the sunshine, but as she got closer a more sinister scene revealed itself. The scream sent a shower of rooks out of the oak trees on the other side of the waterway, and she ran to the patio doors at the back of the house. Finding them wide open she rushed inside and called for help.

The police and forensics teams could make no sense of what they found. Clearly Cecily had been strangled but no weapon was to be seen. More gruesomely, her entire body bore the look of a mummy. Her skin was completely without moisture and the pathologist could find no trace of any blood either inside or outside the corpse. Her face was frozen in one final, terrifying scream. With the gardener nowhere around, he became the prime suspect but despite exhaustive enquiries he was never found. Eventually the case was consigned to the mountain of those labelled as ‘open’, and gathered dust in the local police files.

New owners moved into The Pastures the following spring, and were delighted to discover the now fast maturing vines at the bottom of the property. Their delight turned to rapture when the first grapes appeared. Tight, boxing glove groups hanging heavily downwards in large bunches. They were the reddest grapes anyone in the locality had ever seen and the taste was absolutely sublime.

The vines basked peacefully in the hot sun of that record-breaking year. Feeding from the nutrients of old George had given them a sentience beyond their natural chemical make up, and an awareness of the surroundings which had enabled the taking of Cecily Winston-Smythe. They would, of course require further sustenance of a similar nature eventually, but by the size of the new family that would not present a problem when the time arose……………


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