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Flat Screen

John Holland

Tim felt odd ringing the doorbell of the thirties semi where he’d lived from birth to young adulthood. His father insisted he keep a key, but, in all the upset, he’d forgotten it. As he waited, he glanced at the regimented front garden. Even on an empty autumn day it looked perfect.

His father opened the door.

​“I was hoping you’d be in, Dad,” said Tim.

​“Hope no longer. You struck it lucky,” quipped his father.

​They walked into the lounge. The room seemed to Tim to be colder than outside. The two men stood looking at each other, silent at first, under the mock art deco ceiling lamp.

​“Brenda left. Took the kids,” said Tim, rubbing his cheek.

​“I’m sorry to hear that,” said his father, blinking.

​Tim held back the feelings that moved cloud-like across his face, glancing round the room for familiar landmarks. He had learnt from his father not to drink deeply from the well of emotion. To sip only when it was necessary, or inevitable. That was the way you survived, held yourself together, kept going. He did not want something to spill out now.

​The two men sat down in the black high-backed armchairs. The room wasn’t large and the chairs occupied much of the space. Between them was a shiny brown coffee table, on it a glass bowl of fruit, each piece - apple, orange, banana - perfect in shape and colour, like museum pieces. There was a simple tiled fireplace with three colourful but lifeless porcelain figures, bought by Tim’s late mother.

​Filling what seemed to be half the length of one wall was a flat screen television. The armchairs were angled towards it. Sleek and black, it appeared huge and anomalous in the room. Even when turned off it still demanded attention.

​“New TV, Dad?” asked Tim.

​“It’s the UE49MU6220 4K HD Flat Screen Smart TV with HD. Comes with four pairs of 3D Glasses.”

​“Any good?”

​His father reached for the control, brought up the TV menu, and passed Tim a pair of black glasses. The experience of watching television with his father was a familiar one. As a child, Tim had been allowed to stay up late to watch the Olympics, the World Cup, the Ashes from Australia, enjoying the time when he should have been sleeping ready for school. Father and son shared secret moments of high excitement, of victory, of disappointment.

​The two men placed the dark glasses on their faces.

​On the screen, a greying stubbled detective, his face twisted in anguish, was breaking into an unused warehouse. The building was dark, each corner haunted by sinister shadows so that his every step was perilous. He moved from floor to floor, fearful like a rat expecting a shot from a farmer’s gun. Eventually he prised open a door to enter a grimly cavernous space. In the centre of the space was a person shackled to a chair. The detective rushed towards the gagged, roped and wired figure. It was a woman. Even bound and dishevelled she looked beautiful, the ropes and wires were wound tightly around her, emphasising her figure. He ripped the gag from her mouth.

​“Marianne, my darling,” he cried.

​At this point the two men realised the film was Swedish.

​“Daddy, you must get out of here,” the woman said in sub-titles. “The device is timed to go off in eighteen seconds. If you stop the counter, a secure hospital in Malmo will explode blowing all fifty inmates to hell.”

​The detective wiped the sweat from his forehead as he pulled at the wires and cables.

“Great, Dad,” said Tim. “Shame you didn’t get one that did English.” The two men smiled. Their eyes would have met had it not been for the glasses.

​“I’d better be off,” said Tim.

​“You’ve only just arrived.”

​“I know,” said Tim.

​They removed the glasses and walked from the room towards the doorway, the television still playing out the disturbing scene.

​“Is there anything I can do, son?”

​“Not really, Dad,” he said. “It’s good to see you though.”

​“And you,” said his father.

​As he crossed the threshold, Tim looked only at the grim tarmac sky. He walked slowly down the driveway, before hearing his father call, “Take care, son.”

​“Thanks, Dad,” Tim shouted back.

​But his father had already closed the door, and, walking towards the lounge, all he heard was the ear-shattering sound of a great explosion.

John Holland is a short fiction author from Gloucestershire in the UK who has won first prize in short fiction competitions on five occasions. His work is often darkly comic and is widely published in print anthologies and online including in The Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction, Storgy and NFFD.

John also runs the twice-yearly event Stroud Short Stories.

Website Twitter @JohnHol88897218

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