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Sir Hugh Charles Clifford’s Badge of Honour
This is a little something I wrote for a NYC Midnigt flash fiction challenge, round 2. There was a 1000 word limit and I had to use given prompts: A gost story, paint store, high heels. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
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Sir Hugh Charles Clifford’s Badge of Honour
Burn it, bury it, leave it in the past or sell it! Isobel Clifford would do anything to get rid of the last family heirloom and get on with her life.
Isobel Clifford clacked into the ‘Spray & Display’ paint shop on her Gucci high heels, carrying a Prada handbag and wearing a red Valentino minidress. Among other things, the shop had services for metal polishing, paint restoration and cleaning up trinkets and jewelry, their website announced.
Isobel didn’t need a paint job, her Lamborghini always looked new. She’d come there for a family heirloom from the 1880’s that belonged to her great, great,… great grandfather, Sir Hugh Charles Clifford.
She should have gotten the courier to handle this, but surely, she could do a simple drop off. Besides, she couldn’t trust an errand-boy with something as valuable as her great, great,… great grandfather’s badge of honour, something only very few were ever granted – or so Isobel liked to believe.
Sir Hugh Clifford had been a British colonial administrator, a high position, no doubt about it. Their family prestige still revolved around his accomplishments. Now that Nana had passed away, Isobel was ready to rid herself of the Knight Grand Cross Order her predecessor had been ordained with. Sell it, make some money and never hear the name Hugh Clifford again. Growing up in that household had been a total nightmare.
“You’ll never live up to the Clifford name if you slump in your chair like a commoner.”
“Mind your words, young lady, a Clifford doesn’t speak like that!”
“Cliffords always eat their vegetables!”
The door to the shop closed with an unexpected boom, startling her. Taking in the interior of the storefront, she stepped closer to a checkout counter. High-end items were locked up in glass vitrines while motor parts scattered about the shelves in an open exhibition. Distasteful mismatched collection, if you’d ask Isobel, but nobody was there to inquire for her opinion; the counter was unmanned.
Isobel lifted her chin up higher, gritted her teeth and studied the display for several minutes before impatience won over curiosity. She strolled over to the empty counter, deciding to ring a bell nestled between a bowl of mints and a pencil holder. The shrill ding echoed in the deserted shop.
Yes, Miss Clifford had entered S&D’s almost at closing time, but that wasn’t an excuse to ignore a paying client. She tapped her high-heeled foot on the tiled floor. Her eyes roamed over the displays once more before stopping on a door marked ‘Employees only’. She traversed her way over to it and knocked twice before pushing it open. A wide concrete floor and bare walled workshop gawked back at her from the doorway, a grave contrast to the cluttered storefront.
“Hello!” she called out, her voice echoing in the scarcely filled workshop. Several doors lined the left wall while two garage doors at the back made it easy for cars to drive in and get their plating recoloured.
A loud clanging sound originated from somewhere deeper inside. Isobel took a step into the workshop to get a better look. A nudge from behind pushed her all the way to the room, the door banging shut of its own accord behind her.
She jumped, let out a startled yelp and turned to look at the now closed entryway.
“Hello?” she called again, her voice shaking slightly.
Nobody answered and the door didn’t budge when she attempted to reopen it. The metallic clunking rose in volume and brought goosebumps across Isobel’s skin. She took a deep breath hoping to calm her rising anxiety.
“Stop making things up, young lady! Cliffords don’t indulge in conjectures.”
There were no such things as ghosts, Nana made sure Isobel understood that much, but as the room grew freezing cold and her breath came out in a misty cloud, she thought her childhood fantasies were more than mere imagination.
“A Clifford is brave and strong,” she muttered under her breath. Her voice caught as an apparition emerged in the middle of the workshop: a bald man in a white military dress suit. Even though he wasn’t smiling, laugh lines surrounded his frowning mouth. Two wizened eyes studied Isobel as her mouth formed words that didn’t escape her lips.
Around his neck, that man wore an exact replica of the Knight’s Order she had hidden in her handbag. He himself was an exact replica of the painting hanging in the great hall of Nottingham Palace. She knew, she’d stared at it in fury every time she’d choked down her vegetables.
“I’m going crazy,” she whispered. “This can’t be Hugh Clifford’s ghost.”
She pinched herself, but the apparition didn’t vanish.
“Why sell my badge?” the man, the ghost,… Hugh Clifford asked calmly, his voice holding a rough edge.
“I-I… ugh… Why should I keep it?”
“Few things really matter in life: faith, health and family, always staying kind and gracious and never giving up,” Hugh explained. “This badge signifies chivalry, pure heartedness, honour and justice. It’s more than a piece of metal on a silk lint. It’s the essence of being a true Clifford, honest and selfless.”
Despite still being slightly afraid, Isobel snorted “Are Cliffords selfless?”
Hugh studied her and the way she held herself up regally. “We used to belong to the Order of Chivalry.”
Hugh Clifford was nothing she’d expected him to be like. She stared at him in astonishment as he stepped closer, took the badge from around his neck and placed it around hers. It rested on her chest.
“Isobel Rachel Clifford, I ordain you to the—”
He was cut off by the clerk shuffling out from the bathroom across the workshop. The man stopped, still pulling up his zipper. “Can I help you?”
Isobel looked back to where the ghost had been, but the space was now empty. The badge weighed heavy around her neck and Hugh’s words replayed in her head. His badge stood for a better way to live, for chivalry. It was hers now.
“No, thanks. I’m good,” she said. When she tried the door back to the store, it opened without a problem.