The Magic of the First Word by Louise Mangos

The cloying perfume from a candle eclipses the harsh smell of the paraffin heater. There’s barely enough light, and I blink a few times to allow my sight to adjust. It’s oppressively muggy in this basement room. His intention was to drive away the humidity of our subterranean lair, but although it’s warming up, it remains dank. With my heart beating, I suck in wads of thick air.

I watch him slide the bolt across the door and draw in a breath to speak, but he presses a finger to my lips. Together we glance up as a child runs along the hallway above our heads, causing a tiny puff of dust to float gently down on us. I lean back against the bare brick wall.

No one can disturb us now. It’s just the two of us, away from the mayhem upstairs. We’ve waited days for this moment. We can finally escape the endless pleas to walk in the hills, eat from overfilled plates, and listen to various nieces and nephews squeal as they chase each other round the feasting table.

He lifts his arm, and turns his wrist. The dim light glints off the face of his watch, and we know in an hour it will be over. We must not waste precious time. He strikes a match to another candle on the low table.

My mouth creases into a sly smile. The flame flickers in his eyes. I sink onto the sheepskin-covered futon, and hold out my hand, fingers beckoning.

He hands me a soft velvet pouch, secured with a silky golden rope. I shake the bag gently before opening it. Keeping my eyes on his I reach inside, and show him what lies in the curl of my palm.

The letter A.

I get to start.


Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and been read out on BBC radio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter @LouiseMangos, or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her Kiwi husband and two sons.