52 Stories

Walk On

Walk-On

She was still where she’d fallen, all that time ago. Such a time that she had no memory of ever being anywhere else. The pain blinded her. It stabbed and ripped. Invisible, yet the only thing in existence. It left no marks, nothing to display its might to the world, yet the torture it was busy making filled her so completely that others could surely see its ghost. Couldn’t they?

The figure wasn’t there. Then it was. She didn’t care either way. Somewhere she recognised a stranger. But it didn’t matter. The figure moved around her like a warm breeze looking for a draft to fill. Then, on the air that it carried, it left these words…

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As the last of her tears fell and the silence of the tempting end filled her mind, the figure reached with soft arms. Something forged within the smelting pot of her body, of a strength never felt. A new something. Something unexplainable. Something raw with reality. Something that took hold of her bones and her muscles and her tendons and pulsing bloody flesh, and made motion of them. And so she walked on…

 

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Garrison Hodge

Garrison-Hodge

Garrison Hodge sat in the doctor’s waiting room wearing his best suit – a used teabag colour with various historic holes and stains – and a nicotine coloured shirt, mostly tucked in, with an unnoticed tomato sauce spot accompanying the second button down. This was okay though, because he was wearing a matching tie, which would have covered the tomato blob up, had it been straight, and had the last three buttons of his shirt not been left undone so that the bulging neck of Garrison Hodge could expand fully. The amalgamating neck-a-chin, thick with unbothered stubble of differing lengths, met his huge wobbly mouth within which sat remnants of last weeks’ meals. This was overseen by a substantial nose and bulging eyes with lids eager to get that bit closer to the sagging under-face, consistent in its gravitational pull. His rhythmic heavy breathing and unusual odour had detracted a small child’s attention away from the sticky wooden train he was once so enamoured with. The child’s curious concentration abruptly snapped into a wailing cry, and his mother lifted him to her comfortable jumper.

Doctor Blissmeed called Garrison into her room via the digital patient management system. He wasn’t a frequent visitor, but he was certainly a memorable one, and Doctor Blissmeed had prepared her room in advance by switching the Glade Plug-in from II to III.
“And what can I do for you today, Mr Hodge?” Doctor Blissmeed said in her usual well-practiced caring voice, while Garrison adjusted his mass in the armless, wipe-clean patient chair.
“Oh, I don’t know, Doctor,” said Garrison mournfully, “I’m just feeling sort of out of sorts, sorta thing. You know?”
“Hmmmm?” the doctor said, while clicking through the short medical record in front of her. “Feeling a bit down are we?”
“I suppose so, aye,” agreed Hodge.
Doctor Blissmeed contemplated Garrison’s form, which could be described as wobbly in general from his bulbous lips to his comfortably round bottom end, the swollen appendages about his torso grappling for purchase on the inadequate chair.
“Are you getting much exercise, Mr Hodge?”
“Well, I move about, if that’s what you mean. Always in and out of the garden, answering the call of nature, that type-a-thing.” The globular face contorted into puzzlement. “Why waste time moving about more?”
“It’s very good for mental health issues is all. Even a ten minute walk every day would be a start.” Doctor Blissmeed held an imploring look in her eye as she very competently stared with compassion.
“Takes ten minutes to walk to the off license and back, so obviously that’s not working for my particular ‘mental issues’, is it?” said Garrison.
“And have you been managing to bathe regularly,” continued the doctor, passing her eye over the grime covered skin. “Those fingernails could do with a scrub, couldn’t they?” With that, Doctor Blissmeed filled the room with flowery laughter, sweeter than a honey bee’s foot.
Garrison’s lips quivered to a large uncommitted smile, taking in his grey haired sausage fingers which were the centre of attention. “I s’pose, aye. But I has to look after me Fudge, don’t I? No getting away from dirty fingernails there.”
“Fudge?”
“Me worm. Fudge is his name. Lives in me pocket. Here, you wanna see?” The great mass of Garrison Hodge attempted to shift, but before it could muster enough motivation Doctor Blissmeed let out another slightly weeping flowery laugh. “No, no, that’s fine,” she managed, “honestly.” Not quite sure what to do next, apart from making a phone call to an appropriate authority, she ventured, “And have you had a worm in your jacket pocket for long, Mr Hodge?”
“Oh no,” he laughed, “of course not.” They both laughed, one with honest humour and one with relief. “No, no. I don’t wear me suit all the time. Had to make his home up special this morning for the trip out. Put some soil from me trackie bottoms in there, and he’s got a few beech leaves to keep ‘im goin’.” Garrison pulled at a yellowing leaf protruding from his right hand pocket. “Seems okay though. Settled in now, han’t you lad?”
If the doctor’s bottom lip could have screamed at its owner then it would have, it being the pained outlet for controlled worry. Finally it received respite in the form of a question of which neither the lip nor the rest of Doctor Blissmeed really wanted to know the answer. “So you usually keep ‘Fudge’ in your tracksuit bottoms then?”
“Usually, yes. He’s been there all me life, right from when I was a small boy.”
“Uh-huh.” The bottom lip once again took the brunt.
“Me mam was of the Dr Spock school of child rearing. From a very young baby I was put outside on account of making too much noise. I discovered my love of mess at the age of 18 months. My mother continued to send me outside to keep the inside clean, and during one of these moments I discovered soil, beautiful soil, and its uncanny ability to clump together when mixed with pond water.” Garrison’s face held the delight of the moment as firmly as its overwhelmed muscles could. “It clogged up so nice I got obsessed with squishing it into this and that, including the exhaust pipe of my dad’s car.” The muscles gave up. “They still don’t know it was me. That’s what caused the accident that made mam not care about mess anymore.” Garrison paused a moment as if about to relive a bad childhood memory, but pulled himself out in an experienced way and continued. “It was around then I found Fudge here, didn’t I lad?” He pulled his jacket pocket open an inch and smiled into the darkness.
Doctor Blissmeed decided to stick with the immediate issues, clasping her hands tightly as if they were her only hope of keeping on track with this unusual man and his worm.
“Bit unhygienic, don’t you think? All that dirt. Hmm?”
“Keeps him warm. Keeps us both warm really.” With his generous lips pulled tight in a grin, an affectionate chuckle spread through the ripples of Garrison Hodge. He gulped in a deep breath. Then another. But the ripples kept rippling. Like multiple tsunamis they enveloped and spat out the considerable excess flesh at its disposal. Hodge’s face flattened. His rolled pork-belly neck pulled at his eyelids, which had a ripple all of their own.
“Mr Hodge!” The doctor scrambled round the desk, failing to decide which part of the rippling mass would be safe to touch. She went for the left eyelid, but the tip of her dewdrop finger barely touched an eyelash before Garrison Hodge stood straight as a lamp post and opened his vast mouth.
“HOOOOORRRAAAARRRSSSSPPPFFFTTTtttsthpth..ph…tth…ftpsss,” said the gaping hole, without moving a lip.
“Cleanliness is what’s killing you all! Stupid fools.”
The voice was soft and swaying, the words took their time to form as it spoke.
“Everything is too clean, too neat. Tidy houses, tidy gardens, tidy minds.”
The voice rose into a frustrated growl that vibrated through Doctor Blissmeed and her consultation room like a thunder storm on a washboard.
“Ignorant species! Everyone needs mess. It’s the only way the really important things stand out.”
Garrison, still stupefied, didn’t move an inch while the voice of his possession oozed from him like warm caramel.
“Life IS mess. Life IS dirt. To live is to allow others to live, other creatures, other beings, that of which you humans do not wish to be aware. The creatures of the cycle of life, death, and resurrection.”
Doctor Blissmeed, stunted in speech and movement, beheld the starched body of Mr Hodge and the resonating voice that came from it with a terror that prevented any thought seeing progress to action. The voice had ceased, and a wet, splattering sound had taken over, as if it was gargling soil. It stopped suddenly, then whispered…
“You will see the way.”
A unfavourable bile based slopping sound came from Garrison Hodge’s gut. His eyes seemed to widen slightly, but it was hard to tell underneath the swollen, fleshy lids. Then, reaching from deep within, he belched, throwing a cloud of dense and slightly moist dust into the air. The dust indiscriminately covered the room, including the wipe-clean chair, the Glade Plug-In, and Doctor Blissmeed’s trembling body.

That night, Garrison tucked into his favourite tinned delight. He delved through the wriggly spaghetti mess to find the sacred meatball, which he ate whole, saving some on his chin for later. He opened the pocket of his tracksuit bottoms and carefully held a decaying leaf just within the small gap. “Here you go lad, sommit for you too.” The worm snatched the leaf from the sausage fingers, pulling it into the mulchy abyss, and Garrison grinned generously.

Christine Blissmeed was glad to get home. She couldn’t have wished away the hours of surgery and note-writing much more than that particular afternoon, and she certainly wasn’t going to stay there until 8pm as usual. She dumped her handbag on the shiny laminate floor, not on the first hook of the coat rack, and made her way out to the garden. Neglecting the steppingstone pathway that went neatly through the large back garden, she struggled with her polished black heels piercing the greener-than-green-has-ever-been grass. Without her Briers Lady gardening gloves (pink), she crouched unsteadily within the perfectly spaced bedding plants and collected a handful of soil and some decaying leaves and stuffed it gently but firmly into her tailored jacket pocket.
“There you go William, nice warm home, nice yummy food. Good lad.”

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Billy

 

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Outside the corner shop, lookin’ for my pot. Couldn’t find it. I was so out of it though I couldn’t find my own feet! Louise was there, and Zoe. Zoe felt ill, what with being six months’ pregnant. Not sayin’ she’s easy. Maybe a bit keen, and she still ain’t got no rock on her finger. But why not? Girls can have fun too. While Louise went to get some booze Zoe went to the hat shop doorway opposite to be sick. I was still trying to find my pot, and enough money somewhere in my pockets so I could buy some cigarettes. That’s when Billy turned up. He asked if I was going to Captain Zeez later. I really wanted to, but didn’t fancy it on my own. Zoe wasn’t coming, that’s for sure, and even if Louise came she’d always wander off. I think she was embarrassed to be seen with me. She can be frosty sometimes, and I know I can be kinda gloopy sometimes, too. So I said yeah. To Billy, that is. Louise came out of the shop. She gave me some money for cigarettes and ran to look after Zoe in the hat shop doorway. I think she was annoyed with me. Again.

I went in to buy cigarettes. I was so woozy, I can tell you. That pot was good! I swear I nearly collapsed on the floor. Somehow I came round a bit when I got to the tall counter. I nearly had to stand on tiptoes to reach it. It helped that they were changing over cashiers and I had to wait a bit for them to sort out the cash in the till. I smiled at them too. Always wins people over. I knew the woman behind the till with the downturned eyes. I don’t know how.

When I came out Louise and Zoe were gone. Billy was still there, leanin’ on the phone box with his red neckerchief below his double chin and full toothy grin filling his happy round face. His bit-too-tight t-shirt was printed with dark comic book scenes and his protruding belly made the stretched material shine under the streetlight. He kept his hands in his jeans’ pockets, ruckling up his brown leather jacket. His dark hair danced in the warm breeze. I said I needed to go home first. He said we should go to his first so he could drop his Triumph off and have something to eat, his dad will have made something.

I was sat there with Billy and his dad watchin’ some show on telly. I wanted to watch the show but not tonight. Tonight I wanted to go dancing. I told Billy, and then I said to his dad that we’d have to go because we were going out and we’d be late. His dad didn’t seem to mind. He’d made extra beans on toast for me, which was a shame because Billy hadn’t touched any of his. As I left I heard his mother say something and his father replied.
“She’s just a nice girl needs some comfort, let her alone.”
“You shouldn’t let her in,” I heard his mum say as his dad shut the door.

We walked up the street, all the cats were out in the sharp suits and duck-butt hair, piling out of the dance halls, off up to Captain Zeez. I was so cranked up! But I had to go home and get changed first. Billy said I looked fine, but I wanted to. So we found a bus. It was one of those bar buses that served drinks, with seats around the edge facing the middle. Billy sat on the opposite side to me, next to two mums. I shouted to him to come sit next to me, but he didn’t seem to hear me. I heard one mum say his name within a whisper, “Billy Ray Beans,” Cool name, huh? I sure thought so. Their whispers mingled with the clang of sherbet cocktails and the fizz of soda water, “That young lad. Poor soul. His mum works in Laycocks, that little corner shop down Miley Street.” Fizz! Fizz! “They say she looks awful sad all the time.” She said somethin’ else in a sad tone, but I wasn’t paying attention. Billy had disappeared. Couldn’t see him anywhere. I looked all round the bus. When I got back he was sat there, right where he was before. We got off the bus and I made it clear to him this was nothin’ like a date. I was only going to the dance with him because he’d said I was a bit of an oddball and he liked my kookieness, and I felt the same about him. Pure coincidence. And I liked banana and peach smoothies with lime. So did he. That was the only reason. Nothin’ else. He agreed it was too. I couldn’t see his face when he said it, but I think he sounded a bit disappointed.

I got changed and we went to Captain Zeez. It’s always a blast at Captain Zeez. I danced on top of the plastic boat. I could feel my petticoats swinging around me, and with my yellow fitted shirt I must have looked amazing up there. People tried to bash my ears, but I didn’t want to stop. Why should I? I told them to get bent. The music was still playin’. Billy was still there, watchin’ me on top of that plastic boat. No gingles for me! The song finished and I slid down the boat on my petticoats. My shoes had gone though, so I went to find them, and Billy. I couldn’t find either. I was still lookin’ when they found me, all concerned eyes and soothing voices.

I will always remember that night at Captain Zeez. It was only a few months after the accident, so the nurses told me anyways. Billy had said it was okay, so I knew it would be. When I flew through the air it was like slow motion. Riding on the breath of the world. The nothing of our lives. The nothing that Billy filled. I don’t remember the funeral, but everyone said it happened. I stopped going round to see Billy’s dad once the doctors took me over. I wonder now what he must have thought, sitting there with his beans on toast. I miss Billy. But he’ll always be with me, on the bus, or outside the corner shop, or watching me on that plastic boat.

I never did find my shoes.

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The Sighting

the-sighting

 

Me and my brother were at our holiday bungalow on the edge of the world. Well, Whitehaven. He was nine. I was seven. Long after bed time we snuck out in our pyjamas, wind wrapping round our legs, whipping at our knees as if they were bare naked. It was pitch black dark, and cloudy. No stars. But the moon was in a clearing and lent a shadowy light to our edge and the rocks and sea below which roared beneath us like some monster climbing out of the darkness and up the cliffs to get us. We stood near the edge, daring each other to get closer, giggling at the fear.

My brother saw him first. He was just a black shape in the sea. His shadowy arms were flailing in the vast watery pit. We couldn’t hear him. Probably too far away. But we could tell he wasn’t safe. We could sense his fear. We knew what fear felt like. But we just stared. We didn’t know what to do, even if we should, or could. We weren’t supposed to be out here. The dark figure thrashed in the moonlight, trying to grab at something that just wasn’t there. Then suddenly it was gone. We went back to our beds quietly. We didn’t mention it again, like it would become a dream if we didn’t.

We never did find out.

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Bloody Flies

bloody-flies

She licked her feet, one by one, watching the spider on the opposite wall. If it went anywhere near her babies she’d be able to take it on, she thought. It was bigger than her. Maybe twice her size. But she knew where to hit them hardest. Right between the eyes, which were a fairly big target considering there were eight of them. She’d stick her tongue out just as she was about to hit, try and get one of the middle ones, give it a good poke. That would at least buy her some time. If it recovered before her babies were ready then she’d just have to rally the other mums into forming a barricade. There were quite a few other mums around while she was giving birth so it would be in their interests too. She had got the best patches though. She felt satisfied at that.
The human had changed colour from pink to blue, then purple with a greenish black marbled effect. He was much bigger than she remembered too. And he occasionally made loud squeaking noises which he hadn’t made before. She’d learned that whenever she heard these noises the human had supplied more food. It was like an audible smell. The food conveniently oozed out right next to where her babies lay. She’d tasted its foamy goodness herself. No point in letting good food go to waste. Her babies got it all now they had pupated, and she had watched with such pride as they’d moved from the foam to solids, raking their way through the food, shredding and gorging, growing so quickly. She had provided a good nursery, and her babies would be strong and healthy because of it. Thanks, in part, to the human, of course. Every darkness, when he’d moved about more than he was now, the human used to leave her food out before he went through the wall. She’d spend some time on the rims of the plastic containers, regurgitating and supping at the contents before sleep time. He went through the wall regularly, usually when he removed the light from the flashing box that he’d been transfixed by as the inaccessible outside changed from light to the darkness. He always came back though, not long after the inaccessible outside darkness faded into the light again.
He didn’t do that anymore.
He’d begun in the lightness as usual, moving all his pink wobbly bulk around the room, opening the lightness blockers, fishing down the back of his seat for the knobbly lump that made the flashing box start on its cycle of flashing. As he was on his way to the hole in the wall – probably to make the mist liquid that he drank so much of – she’d bumped into him, quite by accident. He’d picked up his killing stick and started swatting at her. She played with him for a while, darting this way, that way, around, about, over and up, and the human moved about so jauntily that one of his only four feet caught the tall purple mist making glass tube he was always consuming from, and then there were two thumps. The vibration of the second thump almost knocked her from the ceiling light. He hadn’t moved since. After a while the smell became overwhelmingly good and she knew this was her opportunity. She used her remaining sperm, collected from a nice fly she’d met on the geranium a while ago, and found lots of lovely moist spots for her babies. The last ones she laid in a particularly seepy hole next to one of the jellied nests in the human’s head. It had lots of sticky red slime around it, and she’d spent ages getting it off her feet. There was more sticky red slime on the corner of the flashing box too. She’d accidentally landed in it on her way to look at the inaccessible outside for a bit. The substance had made her feel good.
Happy, even.
Relaxed, definitely.
As she clung to the inaccessible outside, mesmerised more than usual by the white fluffy creatures floating serenely along against the large blue up there, she found herself wandering inside her mind’s eye. She knew humans were sometimes irritated with her kind, but her kind are important recyclers of organic matter, and she knew the humans were trying to be good at recycling the inedible matter that they made, so that’s something we have in common. If only they would think about that when trying to beat the crap out of her with killing sticks, or trying to boil her from the inside with the metal tubes that sprayed the white death. She’d heard about her kind being imprisoned by humans, made to breed so their young can be taken from them. She’d heard that sometimes they were hung on hooks straight through their little bodies, and the horror stories about being fed alive to the creatures that live in the wet, only for them to die to be eaten themselves. Humans, only humans, could do this. Babies bred to die to cause death. Babies bred for killing. Her babies wouldn’t have to go through that. Ever. She was adamant. Her human had provided life for her babies. She’d watched him fill himself with his food; the golden sticks, the colourful circles, the various mists, some of which made her feel very relaxed, a bit like the red sticky stuff. She’d watched him shed his flimsy outer skins with relief and squeak the rounded end of his pinkness into his seat, usually when the fire ball was just disappearing from the up there. She’d watched him wait until the darkness came, staring at his flashing box, and then hide away until lightness arrived again. Apart from the odd near death swatting with the killer stick, he was a fairly amenable human. And now, even though he hadn’t moved for a while, he was giving life to her babies. Some humans are okay, see?
A loud bang interrupted her train of thought, and four humans entered from the inaccessible outside. There were two in white outer skins that covered them from their heads to their feet. They went straight to her human, where her babies were. Another human with an outer skin of mostly black with a fuzzy sound coming from a box on his chest stood by the door, in front of a flustered red human who was trying to see over the black human’s shoulder.
“Is it him?” said the flustered human. “Oh god, it is, isn’t it?” The flustered human became even redder and started leaking from her eyes. “He’s not a bad sort. Bit of a loner, but always paid his rent on time. Oh dear God! How am I going to rent this place out now?!”
She didn’t listen to what the black human said in reply to the now shaking human with the leaky eyes. She was too busy watching the two white humans who were hunched over her babies, prodding around with long white sticks.
“Been dead four or five days at a guess,” said one of them to the black human, and a sob came from the shaking human behind him. The white human picked up the remains of the tall purple glass tube. “Looks like he may have been intoxicated. Fallen and bumped his head on the TV here.”
The white human was prodding at the red sticky stuff with his white skinned finger. Then, without enough care, they rolled her incubator over. Her babies! She flew over to the wall with the hole in it. The crusty wound on the human’s skull was more in the open now. She could see some of her children squirming about in there. She watched intently as the four humans examined her nest sites. She was sure one of them had put some of her babies in a plastic container, but she couldn’t see past his big white head to be sure. She flew to the celling light as they gathered white sticks and containers. As all four of the humans left she flew to her nursery. She crawled into the red sticky hole and told her writhing babies not to be afraid, trying to keep the fear from her buzz. She told them they were nearly ready to leave the nest and to hang on. Just hang on.
The loud bang triggered her instinct to fly off and the two white humans returned with a big black bag which they spread out on the floor.
“Watch your back now, Kevin,” said one of the white humans, and they picked up the whole mass of her human and put him on top of the black plastic bag. She panicked. Her wings chattered in disbelief. They were! They were putting her human inside the bag, sealing it up. Taking her nursery. Her babies! They picked the bag up, one white human at each end, and made towards the barrier to the inaccessible outside. Her frenzied buzz carried across the room, but only the spider flinched. She flew as fast as her wings would carry her, towards the barrier to the inaccessible outside, which was closing slowly. The two white humans were on the stairs, the barrier was closing, closing, closing. The gap looking nearly too small for her to fit through. She flew, hard. The gap squeezed. She was nearly there. Just a few more hard flaps…
The barrier shut.
She flew down the stairwell and found the two white humans strapping her imprisoned babies in their black bag to a moving table. It glided along, into the outside, helped by one white human. The other white human was already in the outside. She had no barrier to contend with this time, and into the outside she went for the first time in a while. No time to appreciate the cool air, the endless space, the slight breeze which she would normally have enjoyed floating within. Entirely focused on the direction of her babies, she shot towards the two white humans. She darted around them as they put everything into a larger version of the killing machines only found in the outside. It was white too, mostly. Then one of the white humans got in and started closing the doors. She darted towards the closing gap, but she’d been spotted. The white human whacked her with his limb, but this only gave her the propulsion she needed to get nearer to her babies. She buzzed her arrival to them, hoping they could hear that she hadn’t lost them. She was still here.
She hid on the roof of the white killing machine as it rattled for what seemed like ages. When it stopped, the white human opened the doors, and pulled the black bag through them. In a frenzy she flew into the outside, being swatted again by one of the white humans. Left. Right. Swirling her way around her babies, she followed over them, shrieking at her attackers to let her children go. They moved quickly. They were going towards a hole in the wall of a huge inaccessible inside place. All the humans around her were wearing an outer skin of white or blue, and they smelled like a no food area. The barriers to the inaccessible inside were opening by themselves, sighing as they did so. They were like the inaccessible outside she used to cling to, except they moved out of the way. The light of the fire ball in the up there reflected off one of them. It almost blinded her, but she carried on. She dived at the white humans. They fought back, swatting with massive limbs, knocking her off course. But she held her momentum. Determined. Focused. Ignoring the blinding fire ball glare fuzzing her path. She wouldn’t let them go. She wouldn’t let her babies down. She would give her…

Reg was glad the day was nearly over. This was the last pair of doors. The last pair of 46 doors and 24 emergency exits, to be exact. He always left the mortuary doors till last. They were nearest his locker, and therefore nearer home time. Although a lucrative gig, the window cleaning of an entire hospital was knackering. It builds up an appetite at least, thought Reg, and he smiled to himself. He’d got a large steak and kidney pudding from the butcher on the precinct at the weekend and tonight he was going to share it with the lovely Linda. Linda Morgan, from number 12. So pleased had she been when Reg offered to fix the front door to her flat, and for free, that she positively glowed when he asked her round for a bit of dinner. She’d even made him another cup of tea. A sure sign, felt Reg. He sloshed his squeegee in his bucket of bubbly water and thought of Linda tucking into his pudding, the oozing gravy pooling around the Smash mound. Hmm. As the squeegee squeaked its way down in neat lines on the door window Reg thought of the bottle of pink Lambrini chilling in the fridge, and how impressed Linda would be with his new wine glasses, four for a pound, specially bought for her visit. The squeegee bumped away from its line of squeeg, so Reg started from the top again. Yes, the wine should do the trick, he thought. Especially the pink. Again, the interruption of his glide. He took his cloth from his pocket and inspected the point that seemed to be causing the problem. He folded the cloth in half and pushed his finger deep into the middle, and, with precision, he rubbed, hard.
“Bloody flies,” said Reg.

 

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Remember Tomorrow

Remember-tomorrow
He knew he hadn’t replied. He’d meant to do it yesterday. He’d put it in the mental list he’d made while eating his toast that morning, laden with thick cut marmalade – the one she hadn’t liked – just before a blob of it landed on his tie. Then the car hadn’t started, which added engine grease to the same tie, and made him late for work. His boss hadn’t been understanding, and it was only after he’d managed to look at the clock for the first time through the slowly diminishing paperwork piles on his desk that he realised it was in fact quarter past five and he was late picking up his son from after school football – something he hadn’t had to worry about before she’d gone. Fortunately his son had company when he’d got there, and hopefully the friend’s mum wouldn’t tell his now not-sister-in-law. He’d burnt the tea, broke a plate trying to avoid the glass he’d just broken while he was loading the dishwasher, and then, as if by way of encore, stubbed his toe on the kitchen table leg in his efforts to avoid the shards all over the floor. This meant that he impaled most of them in the soul of his socked foot anyway as he struggled to balance himself and not yelp in pain within ear shot of his son, whose X-Box was the only thing consuming enough to forget this life they were living right now. He’d avoided spilling wine all over his catch up paperwork in the evening, but realised later that he had made a chocolate cake smudge on most of the corners. Moist wipes can only do so much.
When he’d fallen into bed that night, just before he dropped off, he remembered he still hadn’t replied to her message. After their first meeting in the supermarket, when he’d knocked the box of cakes out of her hands leaving them jumbled and smeared across the cellophane window, he didn’t quite believe she was interested enough to ask for his number. She’d chuckled as he’d picked them up and replaced them with fresh unjumbled ones, and she had thanked him again when they met in the lengthy checkout queue a few minutes later. A ‘happy accident’ she’d called it, while the shopping waited in neat reusable bags in their respective trollies as they’d swapped numbers. Her smile told him she meant it, too, somehow.
I’ll remember tomorrow, he thought, before the snoring made him forget again.
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Eggsploited

Eggsploited

He played along. Just for the adults. He’d rather be working on his wireless remote pigeon tracker or pressing his PE kit. He even had homework to do, but the parents had insisted he leave it. Incredible abuse, he’d thought. But, he considered, they did earn the money to pay for his projects, provide accommodation and taxi services, food, laundry resources, and the occasional trip to the Science Museum, that he may as well bolster the relationship with some form of reciprocal happiness. So, he’d posed for the stupid photo with the stupid fake too-yellow chicks. He’d greeted the overly excited neighbourhood children as they were dispatched by their parents at his house. And he’d only rolled his eyes slightly as his mother handed out the boiled-beyond-death eggs along with trays of poster paint and cheap brushes. He’d been as polite as possible about the disastrous results. His mother voiced her approval with squeals of delight and bulging eyes that apparently made all four of the invited children extremely proud of their eggy art works. The most difficult part was dealing with Marcia, the next-door-but-one neighbour’s five year old girl. All pink and ribbony, and very much into unicorns. Their respective parents were good friends, and, as they lived so near, they felt it was good for Marcia and Tom to be friends, even with the age difference.

He’d see her at school and she’d always make a point of saying hello, especially in front of his friends, just to cause extra embarrassment. Even the nerdiest of kids have standards of cool and not cool, and a kid from first year talking to a kid from fourth year was bad enough, never mind a kid that was a girl, never mind a kid that was a girl with pink ribbons and unicorn dresses. She seemed popular amongst her peers. Any time he spotted a crowd of girls on the playing field he knew Marcia would be in the middle, the focus, the centre of attention. All the girls peering at something in amazement, pushing and shoving to get closer to the pink ribbon in the middle, the one on top of Marcia’s head. When a dinner lady approached they’d all feign nonchalance, and Marcia would put on her brightest smile as she concealed whatever was so fascinating behind her back. Tom noted the dinner lady never asked to see what was being concealed, but the flattered smile on her face told Tom that Marcia had just paid her a very charming compliment, thus deflecting attention with wonder and awe at what an amazingly lovely little girl she was. She was doing the same thing right now with his mother.
“I love these buns you’ve made, Mrs Boyle. The icing is so pretty.”
“Oh, thank you, Marcia,” said Tom’s mother, with that expression of delight that only a pink ribboned five year old girl paying an adult a compliment can do. Marcia was smiling so sweetly that the sugar filled buns felt they may have competition in the room. One of them was handed to Marcia by Tom’s mother, who excitedly proclaimed it was finally time for the egg hunt in the garden.

The children scattered having been given the build up to “Go!” and Tom sluggishly trailed himself into the long but narrow back garden. “Keep your eye out for the Easter Bunny!” shouted his Nikon camera clad mother. He carried the basket his mum had procured from the local pound shop and searched under trees. In bushes. Behind freshly stacked sticks. All the obvious places from which he could get something into his basket that looked like he’d spent time, made an effort, etc. It was soon all boring enough that he noticed the trail of smoke curling up from behind the buddleia bush which, he thought, was worthy of further investigation. He picked his way carefully through the border of primroses, over the crisping daffodils and around newly budding buddleia branches, then stopped, dead.

The rabbit was what his brother would call manky. His white fur had lost its whiteness. Instead it was a clumpy yellow, with flecks of dirty fluff and patches of peeling skin. Tom didn’t know what to make of it, so he just stared. The rabbit peered back at him through the smoky curls.
“I’ve been watching you.”
Tom considered replying, but the fact he would be replying to five foot rabbit was something his brain couldn’t get over in order to form those word things it was usually quite good at.
“It’s kids like you that will be the death of us,” said the nicotine stained voice. He took another drag. His mangy ear flopped over his left eye as he did so. Shaking slightly with the effort.
Tom’s brain decided that superiority was the way forward in such a bizarre situation.
“Why would I listen to a stinky rabbit?” he said, with a dismissive nose twist.
“A stinky rabbit!” exclaimed the stinky rabbit, throwing down his half-finished cig and hopping stompily towards the boy. His arms with their chewed paws gestured wildly as he spat and spoke. “YOU made me like this. Kids like you. You have one job and you can’t even do that properly!”
“One job?”
“Yes!” the rabbit spat. “Being a kid.”
“But, I am a kid,” said Tom. “I can’t be anything else.”
The rabbit laughed into the air, then shook its head. It’s whiskered smile turned into a sneer as it edged closer towards the boy.
“Yes. A particularly stupid one, it appears.”
Tom was, in fact, stupefied. Tom had never considered he could become stupefied, but, in this moment, he would remember, he most definitely was.
“If you don’t believe,” said the rabbit, “then this is what I become. An old memory. Something pointless and lost. Forgotten. Homeless. That’s what kids like you want isn’t it? Hmm?” The rabbit’s eyes widened as it pushed its face into Tom’s. “Isn’t it?!” Tom tried to edge backwards but stumbled over a broken gnome. He felt the panic race through his body.
“Even disrespecting the King of the Garden,” the rabbit spat while towering over him.
“But, I…I didn’t know…”
“Hey, rabbit! Where’s your fat fluffy arse?”
This confidently demanding voice wrapped in the sweetness of a five year old’s voice box came from the other side of the buddleia bush, followed by a rustling of branches, followed by Marcia. The rabbit backed away instantly, seemingly cowering at the presence of the small human. It jittered and held its paws against its chest, almost like it was trying to be cute.
“There you are,” said Marcia, who then saw Tom and his very confused expression.
“Oh, you’re here too,” said the girl, slightly perturbed, for a second at least. “Never mind. So, rabbit, got my stuff?”
“Yes, yes, Miss…ma’am.” The rabbit fumbled within its fur, as if looking for some concealed skin pocket. “Here…” A small bottle of something pink and a little bit sparkly was handed over.
“Good,” said Marcia, sharply.
“It’s the finest breath you’ll get, Miss. Taken from one of the finest unicorns I know. Lives in the mountain forests of the Unseen where it roams amongst the ancestors, eating only the juciest of sprouting clovers of the four leaved variety.” The rabbit attempted a crooked smile, all teeth and stains. “Good quality clover, ma’am. Some say if you look really hard you’ll find a five leaved one in there somewhere. If the unicorn ain’t ate it, y’understand.” The rabbit let out a wheezing laugh, full of nerves and eager to pleaseness. But Marcia wasn’t listening. The girl was inspecting the small bottle carefully, like she knew what she was doing, it seemed. She was taking her time about it, which appeared to agitate the rabbit. He bit his lip a few times, pulling at the whiskers so they splayed out and sprang back like fibre optics. He rubbed the back of his neck, then his chin, glancing at the girl in between the awkward movements, then finally he blurted, “So have you got my stuff?”
“Oh,” said Marcia, distracted from her thorough inspection, “Yes. But don’t forget, rabbit,” she said, moving up close to the rabbit who, even though he rose above her a good couple of foot, still shrank back at her forwardness, “I make you, and I can break you, so don’t go running off too soon, I’ll require your services again.”
“Ye…yes, Miss…ma’am…,” said the rabbit, now visibly shaking.
The girl dropped an assortment of chocolate eggs, various sizes, at the rabbit’s feet, keeping eye contact with the animal at all times. “Don’t eat them all at once,” she said. Then, covering her face with her bestest overly-lovely grin, Marcia pocketed her unicorn breath and made her way out through the buddleia bush. The rabbit, as if a sudden bout of rabies had hit him, delved into the pile of chocolate, hurriedly unwrapping those that needed to be unwrapped whilst cramming those that didn’t into his mouth, smearing his yellowing paws and facial fur in brown goo. Tom took the opportunity to get the hell out of there, careful not to tread on the broken gnome, the King of the Garden, as he left.

As they all departed from the successful, happy-filled day, Tom’s mum gave each child a goody bag filled with their egg based works of art, some small chocolate eggs and too-yellow toy chicks. Tom was expected to stand at the door while this ceremony occurred, which he did, diligently. And with less superiority than usual, noted his mother. Marcia was last to leave. She thanked Tom’s mother with her trademark grin and big, honest blue eyes, and took her goody bag.
“Bye, Tom,” she said, as she walked past him. “Oh, and…” Her proximity was way too close for comfort, Tom knew, but his body wouldn’t move as she whispered in his ear, “It’s good to believe, Tom. But no one will believe you, of course.” And with that, and an extra sparkle from the pink bow on the back of her head, she was gone.
“Mum,” said Tom.
“Yes, love,” said Tom’s mum, mid-wave.
“I think we should get another gnome for the garden.”

 

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