12 Minutes by Newton Webb
A Dark Horror Short Story: A text message arrives, triggering a terrifying countdown.
Tommy stared at his phone in horror. “No...” he murmured.
“Give me that,” Laurie snatched the phone from his hands. He looked up at her, eyes wide and glistening with tears. “Don’t you dare–don’t you dare look like that. I wish you hadn’t seen it, but now that you have, you need to keep it together, do you hear me? Just act happy for the next twelve minutes.”
Laurie jabbed her finger towards him. “No! It’s New Year’s Eve. I won’t have you ruin it for the kids. Do you hear me?”
Tommy nodded, wiping his eyes.
“It’s just—” she checked her phone. “—eleven minutes. Then it’s all over.” Holding out her hand, she helped him up and escorted him to the living room where their two daughters, Marylin and Audrey, were watching Die Hard. Picking up her glass of rosé, she filled it to the brim and took a deep gulp.
“Is Daddy okay?” Marylin asked.
“He’s fine,” Laurie snapped, then plastered a giant grin on her face. “He just needs a cheeky drink, that’s all. Who wants to grab Daddy a little lager from the fridge?”
“Me, me, me!” Both girls yelled simultaneously, jumping up and dashing towards the kitchen, missing Bruce Willis’s iconic monologue.
“Keep it together,” Laurie said, looking into her husband’s eyes. “Can’t you act normal for eight minutes?”
Tommy looked at her. “How can you?”
Laurie lit two cigarettes and passed one to Tommy. “Because we have to.”
The girls arrived, each with a lager, and presented them to Tommy.
Laurie laughed and tousled her daughter's hair. “Looks like someone is having a party…” She took a deep drag of her cigarette and leaned back on the sofa. “Drink up, babes,” she said, regarding Tommy sternly.
Tommy forced a smile. “Thanks, girls.” He sat with a bottle in each hand and stared bleakly at the wall.
“For God’s sake,” Laurie muttered, drinking half her glass.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?” Marylin asked again.
“He’s fine. Look, tell you what, why don’t we do our family tradition? A selfie with Hans Gruber!” Laurie put down her cigarette after a long drag and slapped Tommy on the thigh. “Get up, you big lug.”
The four of them assembled in front of the TV while Laurie fast-forwarded to the end of the movie and Hans Gruber’s dramatic fall from the Nakatomi Plaza. “Come on, come on.”
She checked her phone.
“Here we are!” she exclaimed. “Everyone gather in.” She adjusted Audrey’s hair, which had fallen across her face, and her unicorn jumper, which had ridden up, exposing her belly. “That’s better now—Tommy, look at the camera! Now then, everyone say cheese!”
“SAUSAGES!” the girls bellowed, erupting in peals of laughter.
“Oh, you naughty little monsters,” Laurie said, drawing them all in for a giant hug. “One more time. This time remember to smile, Tommy.”
They clustered around the TV again, and Laurie held out the phone. Jostling for position, she tried a few photos and then handed it to Tommy. “Go on then, put your big, gangly arms to use.”
“I can’t do it, Laurie.” He slowly struggled to his feet. “I’m sorry, not even for the girls.”
“Don’t be sad, Daddy,” Marylin said. The two girls wrapped their arms around his legs. “We love you,” Audrey added.
“I… love you so much, too.” Tommy said, breaking down into tears.
“Right. Enough of that. Daddy needs some air.” Laurie took Tommy’s arm. “Give us a moment, girls.” She led Tommy out onto the patio, where he turned and held her close.
“I never thought it would come to this.” He sniffed.
“Well, it has, all because of that prick.” She kissed him on the lips. “I didn’t mean to bully you, but the girls don’t need to know.”
Tommy looked at his wife fondly. “I know. I wish I was as strong as you.”
Laurie passed him another cigarette. “Says the six-foot-six builder.” She jabbed him in his ample belly.
“I wanted to see them grow old, raise families,” Tommy muttered.
“Well, we can’t.” Laurie rested her head on his shoulder. “We’ve…” She checked her phone. “Two and a bit minutes left with them.” She patted his arm. “Let’s make the most of it, shall we? Girls! Come on out and watch the fireworks!”
The girls came running out. Tommy and Laurie were seated in their favourite white plastic chairs. “Fireworks? But it’s not dark yet.”
“These are special fireworks,” Laurie confided. “Hey, hey, Mummy’s wine.”
Marylin ran in and returned with the nearly empty bottle.
“Thank you, Marylin.” Laurie filled her glass with the last of it. “Come and give us all a hug, you beautiful little angels.”
“Which way is London, Tommy?” Laurie asked, downing her glass in one go.
Mutely, Tommy pointed over the trellis.
“Look over there, girls.” Laurie checked her phone. Another text from the UK government’s COBRA committee. “One minute to go.”
“Don’t say that.” Laurie snapped, then gave him a pained smile and a hand squeeze to apologise.
Laurie pulled Marylin up to her lap, and Tommy did the same with Audrey. They stood watching… Nothing happened. She checked her phone; two minutes had passed. “Ha, it must have been a mistake, even Putin couldn’t be that—”
The first mushroom cloud appeared on the horizon.
If you enjoyed this free short story, then please consider Tales of the Macabre, Vol. 1. My first collected works on Amazon containing sixteen short stories and novellas by Newton Webb.