Contest #141 shortlist ⭐️

No Returns Policy

Submitted into Contest #141 in response to: Start your story with someone receiving a one-star review.... view prompt

42 comments

Fiction Speculative Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Buyer's Bazaar Message Screen:

RE: Listing B34781 - Silver box with sun and moon detail


BoxMaster360

'I'm not taking it back. I said no returns. Check my shop policy. Check the listing.'


Clive_London

'The description left key information out. You mis-sold the box to me.'


BoxMaster360

'The listing was accurate. Every detail was correct.'


Clive_London

'The listing failed to mention what I would see in the mirror. I think that's quite an important detail to overlook.'


BoxMaster360

'I don't know what you mean. There's nothing wrong with the mirror.'


Clive_London

'You can't have failed to observe that the mirror doesn't just show reflections?'


BoxMaster360

'Reflections are exactly what it shows. And, as I said, I have a no returns policy. Feel free to leave a review if you really want to make it public that you think there are ghosts in the mirror. But be prepared for people to laugh.'


*

Purchased in good faith for a high price. This silver jewellery box looks beautiful on the outside with its embossed celestial designs. It has a luxurious red velvet lining, compartments for smaller items and an earring holder, as well as larger sections which will hold bangles, watches, etc. In theory this should have been a perfect wedding gift for my wife to be. However, undisclosed by the seller, is a darker detail. The oval vanity mirror inside the lid, with the inviting silver thread surround, is not what I expected. The box is evil. One star. I’d give it zero if I could.

*


Clive held his breath as he hit “publish” and stared sideways across the mahogany desk. The sinking sun was glinting off the corner of the box and his hand drifted back towards it for the fourth time. Clive yawned and shook his head. Maybe he was dreaming, or at least his vivid imagination was making things seem worse than they were.


Maybe he should delete that review.


Inquisitive fingers turned the box to face him and lifted the ornate lid again. The red velvet was just as soft as he remembered from twenty minutes ago and the silver thread around the mirror just as bright. Clive’s eyes avoided the obvious target, instead catching the shiny circumference of the glass, then the polished edges of the box. He examined the compartments inside and pictured Becky’s exquisite diamond necklace lying in the middle one. The matching earrings safely sparkling in the adjoining organiser.

This box was supposed to perfectly illustrate Clive's understanding of Becky's grief. Widowed at just 36. Now she could lay her first husband's wedding gift to rest inside Clive's. A way to bring her love of both men together.


With some effort, he refocused on the mirror. A sullen grimace settled on his face as the momentary image of himself in his office melted away again.


Was this a recurring dream?


~


The red-haired barmaid from the Sky High giggled as she waved down a black cab on Elder Street. The neon cocktail glass, still flashing its tacky invitation in the front window of the pub, was duplicated in the puddle on the ground. Only there it shimmered, as the rain splashed on to its liquid surface.

Clive had shouted to her as the cab drew up. He remembered every word and replayed the conversation in his head in sync with the silent movie.


“What’s your name?”


“I don't have one.” she’d winked at him.


“Are we really doing this?”


“Of course we are – live a little!”


The inside of the taxi was already damp from a previous passenger, but she didn’t seem to mind. She reclined across the back seat and took Clive’s hand, pulling him in after her, onto her.


“Ferris Street Premier Inn.” She instructed as the cab pulled away.


“We’re really doing this!”


“Yes, yes we are.” She made a clumsy grab at Clive’s tie and yanked his face down into the warm curves of her ample breasts. He sank into the welcoming cushion of her body.


Her low-cut top first caught his attention as he’d sauntered into the Sky High three hours earlier, looking for a pick-me-up. He knew she’d noticed him too. She'd made sure of it.


"Hard day at the office, Love?"


"Worse. Woman trouble."


"Oh, I can help with that." She poured a double Jack Daniel's and set it on the damp beer towel in front of Clive. "I get off shift at midnight."


Both parties were horizontal on the back seat, each missing an item of clothing or two, when the cab pulled up outside the budget hotel.


It was only fifteen minutes' drive but her lips had met his flesh a hundred times. Pale pink smudges on his cheeks and neck gave the game away.


Clive rummaged in his jeans with a clammy hand, and presented the fare, and a generous tip, to the driver. His amorous companion ran her hands over his hot, naked back and curious fingers sneaked down below his belt line.


~


Clive looked away from the mirror, his face red and palms sweating. He’d never told anyone about his indiscretion, and he'd never told the barmaid about Becky.


Becky. Oh the irony. The perfect gift to seal their union could be their undoing. What if the entire passionate night was recorded somehow within the box? Becky would never stop watching at the hotel doors. She’d draw out every last lewd second of regrettable action, all six hours of it. And then she’d leave him; and rightly so. He hung his head.


...


“You can’t honestly tell me that the mirror shows your past? That’s ridiculous.” Sallie drummed her fingers against her thigh.


“Honestly Sis, it’s freaking me out. It shows me something I really regret, something Becky would hate me for. I can’t even bring myself to tell you what it is.”


“Oh, how bad can it be? You’ve always been a boring bastard. Did you lose fifty quid on the Grand National?” Sallie paused. “Besides, Becky leaving wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened to you.”


“Why don’t you come over to my office and look for yourself? I don’t want you to see it, but if that’s what it takes to convince you…”


“Your office! You’re too scared to even take it home? What has that woman done to you?”


“Damn right I’m too scared to take it home. I’ll be here for another half an hour, call me from the lobby.”


Sallie giggled as she called her brother’s mobile from the foyer of Grant Legal. "I'd like to speak to the hot shot lawyer please. The one who's all freaked out over a silly box."


"Very funny."


“I’m here. Now you can admit what drugs you’ve been taking.”


Clive met Sallie at the lift and walked her down the parquet corridor to his corner office. He sat her on his executive leather couch and passed her the silver box.


“Oh Clive! It’s breath-taking! Becky will love it. Love it, not deserve it." Sallie felt the weighty quality of the box and turned it to admire the craftsmanship. "Solid silver?"


“Yes, solid silver, price tag to match, and now I can’t return the bloody thing. No returns policy my arse!"


“You can’t return it! It’s exquisite. I’ll have it before you return it.”


“I can’t return it because the guy won’t let me. He knows it’s evil.”


“Don’t be daft. Let me see.”


Sallie sat the jewellery box on her lap and ran her fingers over the textured lid. She opened the clasp at the front and raised the top to reveal the velvet lining.


“It’s lovely! What can you possibly be worried about?”


“Look in the mirror.” Clive bit the bent knuckle of his forefinger and took a long, slow, breath.


Sallie angled the oval mirror towards her face. For a few seconds she didn’t react, then she cocked her head to the side and her eyes moistened.


“Oh God. It’s Dad’s funeral." Sallie wiped a tear from her cheek. "Well, more accurately, it’s me at work on the day of Dad’s funeral.”


Clive stood behind her and watched the scene play out.


~


Sallie was in her bright high-rise office on Canary Wharf. Clive recognised the modern art prints on the walls. She kept looking at the red-circled date on her desk calendar, but then putting her head down to continue working. Her mobile vibrated on her desk and flashed up:


MOM

Answer – Decline


She let the mobile ring out. Then her desk phone rang. Sallie snatched up the receiver and mouthed some angry words into it. She slammed down the phone, ran her fingers through her bottle-blonde hair and stared at the desk calendar again before going back to bang the keys of her laptop.


~


“Was that Mom?” asked Clive. "On the phone?"


“Yes. I was such a bitch that day. I can’t believe what I said to her.” Sallie bit her lip and held her tongue.


“It’s ok now, I'm sure it's forgiven and forgotten.” Clive leaned forward and put his arms around Sallie’s shoulders, hugging her from behind.


"She never told you what I said, did she?"


Clive shook his head.


Sallie drew a breath, folded her arms and closed her eyes. “It’s the biggest pitch of my career. Dad’s dead. I can’t help him now, and neither can you.”


Clive sucked air through his clenched teeth.


Neither of them spoke for a couple of agonising minutes. The tension raised Clive's shoulders and sank Sallie's gut.


“So, it shows us things we regret?” asked Clive, with a sigh.


“I regret many things. But it chose this. I think it shows us the worst things we ever did. That was certainly mine.”


“What can I do with it? It’s evil!”


Sallie pondered the question. After a few moments she shrugged and said “Give it to Becky.”


“Are you crazy? A wedding gift that reminds her of the worst thing she ever did? She’ll hate me.” His voice was high with the stress of imagining it.


“Or, if she’s as perfect as you think, it won’t have much to show. And if she isn’t, as I’ve suspected all along, you might learn something useful.”


“You really don’t trust her at all, do you?”


“Not a jot. She's very different when you're not around. Give it to her. Preferably before you say, ‘I do’. I've read that pre-nup. You've painted yourself into a No Returns Policy wedding!"

...


Clive kept his breathing shallow as he stayed, concealed, behind the antique room divider in Becky's dressing room. She was stunning in her ivory lace gown. From this angle, as she sat at the dressing table, he had a perfect view of the detailed back through a tiny gap between the panels. This was a stupid idea. Of course Becky had nothing to hide.


Just as Clive was about to step out from behind the screen and make excuses about not being able to wait to see her, there was a knock at the door.


"Becky Marshall?"


"Yes, that's me."


"Special delivery."


The uniformed man handed Becky a large gift-wrapped package. She shut the door in his face and took the present to the dressing table without a 'Thank you'. She ripped off the ribbon and paper, without reading the gift card Clive had spent two hours composing.


The jewellery box was soon open. Becky spared no time to examine the craftsmanship, she just lifted the lid with a bit of a huff. Clive rolled his eyes and clenched his teeth from his hiding place behind her. He'd been sure she would love the design work and wonder over the talent of the maker.


She sat the box in front of her, but was distracted by her French tips and spent a few seconds checking every nail. Clive used the time to position himself so he could see over her shoulder and into the box. He avoided staring straight into the mirror in case it showed his own misdemeanour.


Becky stopped examining her nail varnish and fixed her gaze on the glass, running a deliberate fingertip over one plucked eyebrow. As Clive watched, a scene appeared.


~


Becky, in her favourite red cocktail dress and matching heels, was standing over a highly polished dining table in a large, opulent room. There were two flutes of champagne in front of her and she dripped a clear liquid from a tiny bottle into one of them. A man entered the room in a dinner jacket and she handed him the glass she'd tampered with.

A moment after he drank from it the man sank to his knees and disappeared from view behind the table.


~


"Happy Anniversary, Darling." said Becky, out loud to the dressing room as she watched the action in the mirror. She clapped her hands together as she said it. She was actually enjoying the show. Clive moved his attention back to the mirror and the looking-glass-Becky.


~


She crossed the dining room and swung an oil painting of three horses away from the wall. Behind it was a safe. She keyed in a combination, opened the door and took out a set of diamond jewellery. THE set of diamond jewellery. The one Clive had imagined lying on the red velvet lining of his gift to her.

She took a few moments to put on the necklace and earrings before taking her mobile from the table and dialling. As she spoke on the phone, the angle of view changed in the mirror, showing the man, lying on the floor, clutching his chest. The toe of Becky's scarlet stiletto connected with his stomach as his eyes closed.


~


Buyer's Bazaar Message Screen:

RE: Listing B34781 - Silver box with sun and moon detail


Clive_London

‘I want to apologise and rewrite my review.'


BoxMaster360

'I'm not taking it back. I said no returns. Check my shop policy. Check the listing.'


Clive_London

‘I’m not trying to return the box. Not anymore. In fact I'm not sure why you would sell it at all.’


BoxMaster 360

‘Are you joking?’


Clive_London

Never been more serious in my life.’


BoxMaster360

‘What’s happened to change your mind?’


Clive_London

‘Please reopen the feedback options for it – I owe you one.’



*****

Purchased in good faith for a more than reasonable price. This silver jewellery box looks beautiful on the outside with its embossed celestial designs. It has a luxurious red velvet lining, compartments for smaller items and an earring holder, as well as larger sections which will hold bangles, watches, etc. In theory this should have been a perfect wedding gift for my wife to be. However, undisclosed by the seller, is a powerful detail. The oval vanity mirror inside the lid, with the inviting silver thread surround, is not what I expected. The box saved me from a doomed marriage. It quite possibly saved my life. Five stars. I’d give it six if I could.

*****


April 12, 2022 20:17

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42 comments

Yenuli Y.
13:54 Apr 27, 2022

🤯😳 amazing just amazing

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17:18 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you for reading and for your comment ☺️

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Yenuli Y.
12:40 Apr 28, 2022

You're welcome honestly you don't have to thank me it was just that good !

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:33 Apr 26, 2022

Scary and enticing at the same time.

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15:59 Apr 26, 2022

Thank you Philip 😊

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Philip Ebuluofor
05:41 Apr 30, 2022

Pleasure.

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Bradon L
02:35 Apr 26, 2022

Wow! I feel bad because I think this deserves way more than a wow, but this was just so good I don’t have the words. Do you have any spare creativity I can borrow?

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16:00 Apr 26, 2022

That's very kind Brandon, thank you.

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Russell Norman
12:04 Apr 25, 2022

Loved this story. Great tension through out. Would you be interested in reading it for our Blue Marble Storytellers podcast?

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19:25 Apr 25, 2022

Hi Russell, thank you so much for the offer, I am very flattered. To help me understand how scary that might be, please could you let me know how many subscribers you have?

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Russell Norman
22:22 Apr 25, 2022

Not scary at all. Does it really matter whether a billion people are listening, just me, or some number in between. It's still the same great story, same great writer reading it :) Contact me at russell@bmpublish.com and we can chat.

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Kevin Broccoli
22:05 Apr 24, 2022

I loved your characterization and you have such a unique way of developing a plot. Well done!

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22:07 Apr 24, 2022

Thank you Kevin, that's very kind

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Jon Casper
15:20 Apr 22, 2022

Congratulations on being shortlisted! Well-deserved.

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21:54 Apr 22, 2022

Thanks Jon! I'm a bit surprised to be honest, I didn't think it was my best work, but still very pleased!

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Shea West
14:50 Apr 22, 2022

Katharine! A shortlist for you, well deserved!

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21:56 Apr 22, 2022

Thank you very much 💗

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Shea West
21:24 Apr 21, 2022

Katharine! I loved this story so much. I love that you allowed us to read about more than just the MMC's shortcomings/regrets. That we had the chance see his sister's worst thing and then his almost wife's worst thing. I love a good twist in stories and you certainly delivered on that. I agree with Alex's suggestion of the too many names. I think the extra characters are fine, but for the sake of this story we could let them remain nameless. Well done!

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21:38 Apr 21, 2022

Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it. I did cut a couple of names based on Alex's feedback, hopefully it helped? I'm not sure if there are still too many in there but too late to edit now 😔 Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to comment.

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Shea West
21:40 Apr 21, 2022

I think it's great how it is! And I forgot to mention that I see you made the changes now. Sorry about that! Sometimes my comments get ahead of me before I finish them.

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Michał Przywara
00:12 Apr 21, 2022

Great story! The premise is neat and once the mirror was revealed I was looking forward to what it would show for other characters. What I really like about this is the main character's shift in attitude, from considering the mirror to be haunted and evil to considering it to be good and even a life-saver. There's something to that, about us fearing things we don't understand, and bestowing all sorts of qualities on them like "evil" even if they are just a tool.

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05:57 Apr 21, 2022

Thank you very much for reading and for the kind comments. I'm really glad you liked it.

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Michał Przywara
23:06 Apr 22, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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05:20 Apr 23, 2022

Thank you ☺️

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Nicole Bolding
21:37 Apr 20, 2022

Your story kept me on edge throughout the whole story

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22:01 Apr 22, 2022

Thank you Nicole, I'm glad you liked it.

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Sylvie Smith
04:30 Apr 18, 2022

Interesting take on the prompt. Nicely written and well organized. Very Well Done!

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08:09 Apr 18, 2022

Thank you Sylvie, I'm glad you liked it.

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Zelda C. Thorne
09:14 Apr 14, 2022

Hello there, I enjoyed this. I was intrigued to know what the mirror did and then what his to-be wife had done. That kept me reading on the edge of my seat! I agree with Alex's comment about the amount of named characters. I got a little confused with who was who about 2 thirds of the way through, stopped and went back to verify. Like the bookend reviews, the conversation with the seller feels real. Perfect mirror line at the end too "I'd give it a six if I could". Also looking forward to next draft 🙂

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20:27 Apr 14, 2022

Thank you so much Rachel! I have redrafted and, while I can't find a way to remove whole characters, I agree that there were too many names, so I have removed a couple of names. Hopefully this helps? If you feel like rereading I would be very grateful and interested to know whether this has made any improvement. I have also tried to add a little more detail around character's gestures to try to build more mood / atmosphere, but I'm not sure I have quite nailed this. Any feedback very welcome. Many thanks, Katharine

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:03 Apr 15, 2022

Just re-read. Fantastic. Flows effortlessly from scene to scene. I felt like I could picture things better this time, did you add a bit more description? Whatever you did, it now feels polished (which is why we edit lol) Well done! Great story.

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21:38 Apr 15, 2022

Thank you Rachel, I really appreciate you taking the time to reread.

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Zelda C. Thorne
15:17 Apr 22, 2022

Congratulations! 👏

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Alex Sultan
01:29 Apr 14, 2022

Hi friend, I think this is a really cool concept. I especially like the transition from 'I'd give it zero if I could' to 'I'd give it six if I could'. I think the review section and messages between buyer/seller are really well done. I enjoyed that part a lot. The concept itself is unique, and it works well with your style, reminding me of 'My Dreams - Your Nightmares' and 'Eye Spy'. For constructive feedback, I feel like there are one too many characters and names to remember in such a short time frame. Is there any way it can be condens...

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20:32 Apr 14, 2022

Thank you Alex! Much appreciated. I have reworked it a bit and removed a couple of names, though not whole characters. Hopefully this makes it a little cleaner? I've also tried to work on the settings a bit and the character reactions / gestures etc to try to develop a bit more mood - I'm not sure it works. If you have chance to reread, any comments would be very very welcome. If you are up for line edits they would be great at this stage - feel free to suggest any areas where I could build more atmosphere. I will be editing tonight ...

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Alex Sultan
21:48 Apr 14, 2022

For sure - I'm a bit pressed on time so I'll get right to it(I didn't find too much!): The (red haired) bar - hyphenated to red-haired was duplicated in the puddle on the pavement. -I feel like the alliteration(puddle/pavement) takes away a bit. Maybe 'the puddle on the sidewalk' or 'the road puddle'? There is probably a lot of ways to phrase it Only there it [pshimmered] It was only fifteen minutes away[,] but she must have kissed him a hundred times. “Yes, yes[,] we are.” -Note I could be wrong on this one(comma after introductory phr...

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21:55 Apr 14, 2022

This is great Alex, thank you so much. I'll try to make changes tomorrow.

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Alex Sultan
19:00 Apr 22, 2022

Congratulations, friend. Long overdue shortlist with many more to come 🎉

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21:55 Apr 22, 2022

Thank you Alex!

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Jon Casper
10:12 Apr 13, 2022

Hi Katharine! Your skills with creating intrigue are top-notch. I couldn't wait to discover the nature of this magic mirror. The framework of the story is clever, with the online chat conversations and reviews, inter-mingled with the main narrative. I think you've done well to capture the mood as Clive and Sallie watch their deepest regrets play out. I find myself wanting to get inside Clive's head more with his guilt over his affair, and his relationship with the mysterious Becky, whom his sister doesn't trust at all for some reason. And...

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20:38 Apr 14, 2022

Hi Jon, Thank you so much for this. I have tried to animate the characters a little more to build atmosphere, but I'm not sure if it really works. I've tried to address the transitions in tense with punctuation - does this help at all? I've tried to clarify that the movies in the mirror are silent and the dialogue of those movies is being recalled by the characters as they watch. Is this a little clearer now? A couple of other people said they wanted to know what Becky had done, and you were hinting at it - so I've given her a suita...

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Jon Casper
09:38 Apr 15, 2022

The revision is great! The mirror transitions flow very well now. Lots more emotional insight. You've also amped up the pacing which works well. While I did think that Becky's misdeeds worked as only an implication, I have to admit that she's so deliciously evil in the revision that it enhances the effect. I had missed this one before, but this might qualify as head-hopping into Sallie: [Sallie couldn’t help but giggle as she called her brother’s mobile from the foyer of Grant Legal. The hot shot lawyer all freaked out over a silly box.] Wo...

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