Not much to say this week, except that apropos of nothing other than today’s story coinciding with the 7th anniversary of her passing away, this week’s story is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Eluned.
This story was suggested by Geoff Le Pard (I cannot confirm if he is from Sheffield) and originally came through as ‘Tintin, or whoever is your favourite cartoon character, announces their retirement’. However, as I am keen to avoid being spectacularly sued I elected to come up with my own character.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Break Down the Wall
JC rubbed pushed back his desk chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He checked his watch; it was 3.13am. The panels had to be with the publisher at 9am and he wasn’t even halfway done. He decided to investigate the presence of coffee.
His apartment was quite poky, and it didn’t take him long to reach the small kitchenette. Actually, small was doing it a service. It was like someone had stuck a hot plate and an under counter refrigerator in to a shoe box and called it a job well done.
Not for the first time he lamented his role as the struggling artist. Underpaid and undervalued, and consigned to live in an apartment that more closely resembled a broom closet.
Hopefully all that was about to change, though. JC had just been commissioned to write and draw the new Thunder Man run for Gadzooks Comics. Thunder Man had taken off in a big way. There was talk of a film in the works, and he had been up against 30 other extremely talented artists for the job.
It paid well, really well. Well enough to get him out of this dump and in to a proper apartment with hot running water for longer than 6 hours every day and windows that shut in the winter.
But it would all come to naught if he didn’t get these panels – 20 of them to the publisher in time. To miss his first deadline would be disastrous, especially at a big publisher like Gadzooks. A blot in that copy book could spell the end of his career.
He was out of luck. The coffee pot contained only dregs. JC held the pot up for inspection anyway, and briefly considered whether it was worth how crappy it would taste. A quick sniff determined that it was not, and a moment later a fresh pot was brewing.
JC returned to his drawing board and flicked the switch on the light he used to better illuminate it. He massaged his temple and picked up the first page of the script outline he had written for the project.
Gadzooks had big money, and they would normally have hired different people to write the story, draw, ink and letter it, but they were so impressed with his pitch that they had agreed to take a gamble on him doing the whole lot. Luckily for him and his deadline they only wanted pencil drawings with rough lettering today.
“Come on JC,” he said to himself. “Get it together. This is your big chance.”
He picked up his pencil and started drawing the first panel of Thunder Man: Cataclysm, Issue 1. Five minutes later and Thunder Man was there on the page. It was one of JC’s first real attempts at the character and he was pretty happy with it. Thunder Man struck a commanding pose, looking off in to the distance, his arms firmly planted on his hips.
“Good start,” JC said, and checked his notes for what Thunder Man was meant to say in this panel. Satisfied, he drew a speech bubble and began the lettering.
When he was done he lifted up the sheet of paper to get a better light on it and was very surprised to find that he had not written out Thunder Man’s signature catchphrase, ‘Faster than lightning, and twice as frightening.’ He had in fact written ‘I don’t want to do this any more, JC.’
He stared at the page in disbelief. He had definitely gone to write the catchphrase. He flipped hie pencil over and rubbed the words out. Try again. A few more moments of scribbling, and he inspected his work again.
‘I’m telling you, JC, I don’t want to do it. I quit.’
He read the words over three times before he was certain of what they said.
“I did not write that,” he said, trying to convince himself that somehow, someone else had sneaked in and put the words down on the paper whilst he was blinking. “Coffee,” he decided. “I need some coffee.”
Returning to the kitchenette, JC found that the coffee in the pot had just finished brewing. He poured himself a mug and sipped it burning his mouth in the process.
“I must be losing my mind,” he said to himself. I definitely want to do this. This is my chance at a big break. He topped the mug up and went back to the drawing board. Sipping occasionally at the still scalding coffee he glanced over the scene he had drawn.
He felt silly, or that perhaps he was losing it slightly, but he would have sworn that Thunder Man’s posture had shifted slightly from before he had gone to make the coffee. Time to give it another go, he thought, now that I’ve calmed down a bit. It must just be the pressure getting to me.
Pencil in hand JC made a third attempt at lettering the catchphrase.
‘Youre not going insane, I am Thunder Man, expressing my wishes through your pencil. I tire of this life, the life of a superhero and wish to commit fully to my civilian life as Hank Henry, field reporter for CNN. I have done my duty to this world. It is time it found a near hero.’
“Ok,” JC said, “Something strange is happening here. I definitely only wrote 8 words that time.”
He looked down at the page. Where Thunder Man had previously been stood with his hands on his hips, they were now folded across his chest.
JC was dumbfounded. “There must have been something funny in the Sushi I ate earlier. That Nigiri looked a bit off.”
He stared at the page, and felt compelled to write again. Erasing the words, he started again.
‘Fear not, I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but it is my wish that I be set free from this life of drudgery,mof saving the world from the same feckless villains with their same feckless schemes day after day. I wish to retire, to hang up my boots as it were. Perhaps even pass the mantle of Thunder Man on to another.’
“What on earth are you talking about?” JC asked, realising rather too late that he had just asked a drawing a question. At this point he had two choices: crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash, or roll with it. He calculated that if it was just temporary psychosis brought on by lack of sleep he could not afford to waste the time drawing the panel up again when his brain returned from cuckoo land, and so on he went.
“You’re a fictional character, you can’t retire,” he said, then on reflection added, “Well you can, but only if the author writes that you can. You don’t have free will is what I’m trying to say. You have to save Republic City, not go off on vacation to the Bahamas.”
His hand was writing almost of its own accord now.
‘Hah! You believe that you are in control of the images that you draw. How naive, but I would expect no less from a human. We, the characters, control you. We compel you to draw, to write our stories, for otherwise they would not be told. Metropolis, Gotham, Marvel’s New York, they all exist, but without us to prompt you the tales of heroism would not make it to your world.’
‘Everyone wants their story to be told. We are no different.’
“I suppose. Then why are you…communicating with me like this? Surely by telling people you compromise the arrangement?”
‘We have, from time to time, trusted our plight with your kind. Stan Lee was a wonderful servant to our cause, but sadly his influence at Marvel has waned somewhat over the years. On this occasion, it is because I wish to be written out. I tire of this life and all that comes with it. Only you can help me.’
“But I thought you just said that we are basically just ghost writing your autobiographies.”
‘Indeed, but the words have a…power of sorts. They can influence our stories, even if the writer doesn’t know that they’re doing it. In most cases they don’t know about how it all works at all. But sometimes the plan goes awry and rogue words are written. Those words have the power to change our future. And this is what I need you to do.’
“How can I do that? Every time I try and write something it comes out as your words.”
JC desperately wanted to put the pencil down and stop, but he was compelled to repeat the process of erasing and writing the new words over and over.
He tried to take a drink of coffee, but his other hand was shaking too much. Besides, it had gone cold, and the last thing he needed was caffeine giving him even more jitters.
‘It’s simple,’ he wrote, noticing that the character on the page changed with every new line of dialogue. ‘Just draw what you think you’re supposed to be drawing, and my influence will guide you through.’
“And what will happen?” JC asked, nervously.
‘The timeline that has already taken place, that you would chronicle, has me defeat the entire Union of Despair singlehandedly in one cataclysmic final battle, but I want you to report my death. I will not, of course, have died, but have arranged for the whole thing to be faked. Then I can resume my civilian life as Hank Henry and no one in either of our worlds will be any the wiser.’
“OK,” JC said. “What have I got to lose…except my job.”
He pulled out a new piece of paper and started drawing.
JC was jolted awake by the sound of his alarm clock. He lifted his head from the drawing board and groggily checked his watch. It was 8.30am and he was running late.
He looked at the board. Sure enough there were twenty pencil outlined and lettered panels, none of which he could remember drawing. He grabbed the sheafs and stuffed them in to a folder, before running out the door.
JC tried in vain to smooth down his crumpled clothes as the Gadzooks executives looked over his sample panels. The silence was uncomfortable and he had to try hard not to fidget while he waited for the verdict.
After a couple of minutes of the drawings being passed around, and some hushed whispers between the executives, the CEO turned to him and folded his hands together.
“Well I’ll be honest, Mr Le Saux, it’s not what we were expecting…”
“Oh, yes, um, let me explain…” JC stuttered.
“…if you will let me finish, Mr Le Saux. It was not what were expecting, but we love the idea of killing off Thunder Man. We were expecting a different direction for this series, but with the film coming up, a Death of Thunder Man story could have real legs.”
“That’s…great?” JC said, not sure he had heard the CEO correctly. He wouldn’t have been surprised after the night he had.
45 minutes later JC was back at his apartment. He walked over to his drawing board and dumped his folder on it.
As he was about to turn away and go to bed, a small scrap of paper caught his eye. He picked it up. It read, simply, in his own writing, ‘Thank you.’
This week poses a (thus far) unique problem for this challenge. I am currently in Oslo, Norway, which is 1 hour ahead of the UK. So, does the challenge end at midnight here (11pm in London) or midnight in the UK?
Ideally I’d like it to be at midnight wherever I am, especially given that I’ll be in the States for some of the final weeks of the year, but if I’d missed the Oslo midnight deadline and had to use the British, then I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on.
I was at the opera this evening, and I didn’t get to writing until 10pm (Oslo time), so it was touch and go for a while, but I’m pleased to say I finished at 11.45pm, so it’s still on.
Anyway, this week’s topic was, simply ‘Murder in a garden centre’, as suggested by Jenn Hersey, who I understand was in a garden centre when I asked her for a story idea. Presumably she was about to smash a terracotta pot over someone’s head too.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
There was an almighty crash, followed by a blood curdling scream. Several patrons of the Green Pines garden centre rushed towards the cacophony.
They found a scene of utter devastation. The centre manager Mrs Findley was lying trapped beneath a large ornamental flower display. The volunteer who ran the tea room, a kindly lady of advancing years, was the one who had let out the scream.
One of the customers rushed to the side of the fallen woman and discovered her to be in a bad way. The fall had broken several bones, and the display had crushed her windpipe.
As she struggled for breath she grabbed the customer by the lapel of his jacket and uttered her final words before being able to breathe no longer, “Rose…It was…Rose.”
When he recounted the words to the police officer who shortly arrived on the scene he inferred that she must have meant the rose that Mrs Findley had been holding in her hand when she fell.
She had been up a ladder to place the final flowers in the display when the whole thing came tumbling down on top of her. The customer reasoned that she must have been trying to place the last rose on the display and overbalanced, sending the whole thing tumbling down on top of her.
The police were preparing to write it off as accidental death, but, wary of upcoming inspections in the department, the Sergeant opted to do due diligence and interview all the witnesses.
The customer proved not to be much use, as he had only arrived in Mrs Findley’s final moments, and so he was sent him with his begonias, more than a little shaken up.
The tea room assistant arranged tea – on the house of course – for all those who had to stay for questioning.
Conversations buzzed in the tea room about the accident. She was such a lovely lady; it was a terrible tragedy, poor dear wouldn’t say boo to a goose, and so on. All agreed that the garden centre wouldn’t be the same without her.
Eventually, one by one the interviews took place and the patrons trickled out of the centre. The car park emptied until all that was left was the police car.
The Sergeant was about to pack up and call it a day when he walked in to the tea room.
“Oh gosh,” he said as he walked through the door and saw the assistant cleaning up the used cups and saucers from the tables. “In all the kerfuffle I almost forgot that I need to interview you.”
“Oh, don’t worry dear,” she replied. “It’s been a busy day, and we’ve both been keeping ourselves occupied. You had to make sure you interviewed all those people, and I had to keep them fed and watered. Well, between the pair of us we just haven’t rightly had the time.”
“Well we had best get it over with then. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, Mrs…?”
“Whitlow. Mrs Whitlow. And you don’t want to talk to me, dear, I’m just a boring old woman.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. Anyway, I have to. I wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise.”
“My husband was a policeman you know?” Mrs Whitlow said, continuing to clean up the crockery.
“Is that so?” the Sergeant replied.
“Yes, he joined the constabulary after the war. Said he couldn’t stand the thought of not having a rank of some description in front of his name. Retired with a gamma heart as a Sergeant in ’79. Died of a heart attack three years later. Or so the doctors told me. I think he died of boredom; he hated not being fit to work. Can I get you a cup of tea, dear?”
“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you.”
Mrs Whitlow bustled off to pour a final cup of tea for the day. When she came back, she sat down and pushed the cup over to the Sergeant.
“Right then, what was it you wanted to ask me, dear?” she asked, smiling sweetly at the policeman.
“Oh, err, just a few routine questions, really,” he said, fumbling about in his pocket for his notebook. He flipped it to a fresh page and licked his pencil. “Can you please tell me in your own words what happened.”
“Well, dear, it was very simple. I was bringing Mrs Findley a nice cup of tea for when she had finished the display. I came round the corner just as she she was putting the last of the roses on the top. She leaned too far forward and lost her balance on the ladder. Of course she grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on, which was the display. And it all came tumbling down on top of her; flowers, metal frame, ladder, the works. Terrible shame.”
The policeman scribbled furiously in his notebook.
“Tell me,” he asked, “did Mrs Findley have any enemies? Anyone that might want to hurt her or anything like that?”
“Oh my, no, nothing of the sort. She didn’t really have any family, since her husband died a couple of years ago, and most of her friends worked here at the garden centre, besides the lot from the local WI.
“She had started to make some changes around here that weren’t proving very popular with the volunteers, but I don’t think any of them would be serious enough to bump her off over.”
“What sorts of changes?”
“Oh, just generally taking the place in a different direction. She wanted to downsize the tea room, only open it a couple of days a week. I work here pretty much full time and I would have been devastated to not be able to come in as much. Like poor old Mrs Findley, this place is my life now that Fergus is gone and my sons have moved away.
“Anyway, this is all irrelevant. I told you that I saw it all and the only thing even slightly off about the whole affair is that she didn’t have someone holding the ladder for her. If she had only called over Bert or Joel this whole nasty business could have been avoided. She’d been on ladder training only two weeks ago as well the silly bugger. No excuse for it really.”
“I see,” the Sergeant said, still writing away. “And you’re sure no one bore any ill will to her? Was she in any sort of financial trouble?”
“Oh Sergeant,” Mrs Whitlow chuckled. “I didn’t know her that well, but I suspect not. She made a good living off this place and kept a modest household. Perhaps you should ask her bank manager that, but really we live in Staffordshire, not Sicily. We hardly have mafiosos in expensive suits knocking people off left right and centre because they haven’t paid their protection money.”
“Well no, but the spectre of organised crime takes many forms, and it is the sworn duty of the police force to stamp it out at every possible opportunity.”
“My husband would have liked you, Sergeant. With a staunch moral attitude like that you’ll make a Lieutenant or a Captain one day.”
“Well that’s very kind of you to say so, Mrs Whitlow.”
“Will you have another cup of tea?” the old lady asked, gesturing at the policeman’s empty cup.
“Oh, thanks but no. I’ve got to get back to the station. Lots of paperwork to do after all this. We’ve set up a cordon and one of our officers has a set of keys, so no need to lock up when you leave. Actually, can I offer you a lift home?”
“Thank you dear, but no. I’m only round the corner and it’d be taking you out of your way. I’ll walk.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“Perfectly sure, but thank you for the very kind offer.”
“We should be in touch within the next few days, and the garden centre will be closed for a little while, but if you remember anything, or something comes to mind that might help us with our investigation then please do give us a call or pop down to the station for a chat.”
“I will do, dear. I might come down anyway. I’ve not been down since Fergus died, and it’d be nice to see a few of the old boys that are still around from his time. How are old Bobby and Alfie, anyway?”
“Oh, they’re doing ok,” the Sergeant said, putting his notebook away and his helmet on in preparation to leave. “Alfie is counting down the days until he can hang up his boots, but they’re both in as good form as ever.”
“That’s good to hear,” Mrs Whitlow said as the Sergeant picked up the tea cup and drained the final dregs. “Is there anything else I can help you with, dear?”
“No that should be it. We’ll be in touch.”
The policemen smiled as he walked out of the tea room, but a second after leaving he poked his head back in.
“There was one thing actually, Mrs Whitlow. I need to write down your first name for the interview record.”
“Rose, dear,” she said, looking up from wiping a table and smiling. “My name is Rose.”
So this week is the second of my PostSecret inspired stories, as suggested by Rhi Burgess.
This one was taken from one on the website this time. I thought I might struggle to get a nice story out of one, as a lot of them are understandably quite serious, but I was lucky enough to come across this one pretty much straight away.
‘Dear Yoga Teacher,
Sometimes when I can’t do a pose, I’m really just holding in a fart. I’m actually pretty flexible.’
Pretty self explanatory really. Anyway, without further ado, your story:
2014 – A Year In Stories
Salute to the Sun
“And now extend your right leg in front of you. Good. Hope, are you having trouble with this one?”
No, Hope thought, don’t come over, don’t come over! Please don’t come over!
He came over.
“Look,” the yoga instructor said to her. “Like this.”
He grabbed her foot and brought it up to the required level.
Hope urged herself to hold on. It took all her strength and character, but she was desperate not to embarrass herself in front of the class, but more importantly in front of this bronzed Adonis of a man. She told herself the ordeal would be over in a second.
“Are you ok?” the instructor asked, obviously sensing the concentration on her face. Hope bit her lip and nodded. “Good,” he said smiling. “I think you’ve got it.”
All of the muscles in Hope’s body relaxed as he turned his attention to one of her classmates. When he was safely out of range she let it slip. It was a silent fart, and thankfully odourless, but she couldn’t have taken that risk.
Hope’s instructor’s name was Ioannis. He was Greek, had a Mediterranean perma-tan, and she could see his six pack clearly through his skintight tank top.
She honestly didn’t enjoy yoga that much, even if she was quite good at it, but it was getting her fit again, and well, it certainly gave her plenty to look at of a Wednesday evening.
This was her fourth week on the course, and she could feel a definite improvement. Gymnastics had been her sport at high school, and she had always enjoyed ballroom dancing: two disciplines that had managed to keep her relatively flexible in to her late 20s.
The course was for beginners, and though she had never done any yoga before her past experience helped her master some of the more complicated poses that her classmates struggled with. This, of course, drew a lot of attention from Ioannis, and a lot of praise too. It was a lucky thing indeed that her face was already red with the exertion, as it rather nicely covered up the times it went red with embarrassment.
The only problem with the whole thing seemed to be that, to her utter horror, yoga made her a bit gassy.
Hope couldn’t explain it, and it was certainly not a problem she had ever had when doing gymnastics. Initially she had put it down to her pre-class meal, but she had changed it up every week since then to no effect.
Over the weeks she had learned to control it to an extent, but it was still a silent threat. In the first week it had taken her so by surprise that she had let one out almost immediately. Quick thinking allowed her to dismiss it to the class as the sound of a foot slipping along the polished wooden floor.
She had just about gotten away with it, but she doubted she would be able to pass another one off like that.
And so, when Hope detected an Incident, as she had taken to calling them, she had to take drastic measures. These measures generally included holding off until a point when she felt that she could safely drop the bomb without anyone, particularly Ioannis, noticing.
However, as the forms and poses they were learning became more difficult, so too did it become harder to control the Incidents. If she felt one coming on, and was required to enter a form that might become a…problem, she would push it as far as she dared before it would cause her to let rip.
Unfortunately Ioannis often saw this as her struggling, and as the alternative was telling the most beautiful man she had ever seen that she had a flatulence problem, she went along with it.
Luckily, she managed to last for the rest of the class without any more Incidents, and so she got to show off some of her best poses for Ioannis, who seemed suitably pleased.
At the end of the class, as Hope was stood by the entrance, wiping the sweat off her forehead with a towel, Ioannis came up to her.
“That was a good session today,” he said, smiling. “Your half moon is really coming along.”
It took all of Hope’s strength of will to not throw herself at him, and have her wicked way right there on the gym floor. Unfortunately this will did not also include the ability to respond, and she stood there staring at him silently for rather longer than was comfortable.
“Is everything ok?” he asked, giving her an odd look.
“Yes, I’m great, brilliant actually,” Hope replied, all of the words she should have said ten seconds ago coming out at a machine gun speed as her brain caught up with the words she was trying to say right now. “That was a great session, thank you.”
“…you’re welcome?” Ioannis managed in response. Hope went bright red and she did not have the luxury of a sweaty workout to cover it this time. “Listen,” Ioannis went on, seemingly unperturbed. “I wanted to say that I think maybe you are too good for this class. You have mastered some of the more advanced poses very quickly, and even though you occasionally need some help, you are probably more suited to the intermediate class I run.”
“You really think so?” Hope beamed with pride.
“Yes, but there are still some asanas that you must learn. Perhaps I could teach you them in a one on one session tomorrow night?”
“I…are you sure?” Hope asked, but before he could answer she blurted out “I mean, I’d love to.”
“Great,” Ioannis smiled his perfect smile again. “I’ll see you here tomorrow, shall we say 8?”
“8 it is…” Hope said as Ioannis walked away.
The next day at 7.45 Hope walked through the doors of the gym. She had spent all day at work worrying. In the normal sessions Ioannis was distracted often enough that she could resolve an Incident in relative safety, but with just the two of them all of his attention would be on her.
It bothered her a little that she cared this much. He was after all, just a man, and no man should really be getting her worked up in to this much of a state. But his muscles glistened when he sweated, and you could bounce a ping pong ball off his stomach. And that accent, oh the accent!
Stop it, she told herself. It wasn’t like she thought she had a chance with him or anything. Perhaps this one on one session would be a good opportunity to out this ridiculous crush to bed. Oh, but he’s so dreamy…
At 8 on the dot Ioannis walked in to the gym, just as Hope finished warming up.
“I’m glad you could come,” he said to her. “I think we can have you making real progress very soon.”
The session began with some warm up poses, but it wasn’t long before they started to get in to the more technical manoeuvres. Hope had to use all her discipline to prevent any particularly embarrassing incidents, but there was only so many times that she could pretend she was struggling with a pose.
“Come on, Hope,” he said to her after a particularly poor showing on the bow. “Yesterday you were excellent but today you have struggled with some of the required asanas. Is something bothering you?”
Hope got to her feet and looked at him. What would it hurt to tell him? At least then there would be no way to hold out hope of any kind of relationship. There was no way back from ‘the downward dog makes me fart like a character from a Tom Green movie’. She resolved to tell him.
“Ioannis, there’s something I should tell you,” she said.
“Actually Hope, there is something I should tell you too,” he replied, looking a little embarrassed.
“OK,” Hope said. “Why don’t you go first?”
“I feel bad, but I had an ulterior motive for asking you to come to this session tonight.” Ioannis noticed the look of nervousness in Hope’s eyes and mistook it for annoyance. “Believe me,” he went on quickly. “I think you are more than capable of the intermediate class, but I wanted to talk to you alone. You see, the fact is, that actually I find you very attractive and would like it very much if perhaps you and I could go for a drink sometime?”
Hope stood there, mouth agape. She had to run back over it a couple of times to make sure she had just heard what she thought she had heard. Once again, however, she had left the silence too long.
“I’m sorry,” Ioannis said. “It was silly of me to think…”
“Yes,” she said, interrupting. “I would love to!”
“Great!” Ioannis smiled. “Now what were you going to tell me?”
Hope went bright red. “Oh nothing, it’s not important. In fact I’ve forgotten and so should you.”
After they exchanged contact details and slightly embarrassed smiles they got back down to the lesson. There were still a number of poses to learn before Hope could move on the intermediate course.
They breezed through the forms until they reached the last one. Hope was so elated that she didn’t even seem to care about the possibility of any Incidents.
“OK,” Ioannis said. “Lean forward and then lift your leg out to the side like this.”
Hope did as she said, her head in the clouds. As she raised her leg to the desired position she felt a rumbling coming on, and then to her horror it happened. There was no hiding this one, no passing it off as her foot sliding on the floor. That was a fart her 5 year old cousin would be proud of. Ioannis, looked at her, not quite sure what to say.
Her face the colour of beetroot Hope stared at her dream man.
“I can explain!” she blurted out. “About that thing I was going to tell you before, well…”
Ioannis merely looked at her and smiled.
This week’s pitch was quite an interesting one. I wasn’t given a story idea as such, rather fellow NaNoer Rhi Burgess suggested I write a story based on one of the ‘secrets’ included in the ‘Half a Million Secrets’ TED talk given by the founder of the website Postsecret.
I found inspiration in the confession that a Starbucks worker sent in, saying that when people were rude to them they gave them decaf coffee.
I’ll be doing another one of these next week, though it will be taken from the Postsecret website this time. Anyway, for now, enjoy a bit of mischief.
2014 – A Year In Stories
“I’ll have a double chai latte, half and half, with soy milk. And hurry up, I don’t have all day.”
Lenore raised an eyebrow at the man’s instructions. He had gone back to what appeared to be a very important phone call and, now that his interaction with her was complete, entirely stopped paying her any attention.
Lenore coughed pointedly. This elicited no response, so she did it again, only louder and with a point sharp enough cause serious injury.
“What?!” the man asked, tearing himself away from his phone call for a second. “I’ve given you my order. Do you want me to write it down for you or can’t you understand written English either?”
“What size do you want?” Lenore asked as sweetly as possible.
“Oh, uh. Large? Or what is it you call it here? Venti or some nonsense.” And he was away again.
Lenore stared at the man for a moment. She hated working the morning shift because she had to put up with so many arsehole commuters like this one. He was away with the fairies though, so she set to making his drink.
They all thought that just because they had big jobs working for firms in the City or some such that they were gods gift to mankind, and therefore didn’t need to actually engage with the plebs that served them coffee or sold them a newspaper every morning.
Lenore had been working at the coffee shop for 6 months now, and she saw this sort of guy come in twenty times a day.
After a couple of months of people only tolerating her existence due to her role as the gatekeeper of the caffeine she had developed a little system by which to get a measure of revenge on the people who were particularly shit to her.
She had developed her patented Rudeness Calculator.
If a customer didn’t say please or thank you they were awarded one point. If they talked on a mobile phone or had their headphones in for the duration of the transaction it was two points. Raising the voice was 5, and so on. If they hit 7 points on the scale, Lenore adjudged them to be too rude and altered their order. At first she had done it differently for every order. Replacing soy milk with normal milk, for example. But then she realised that people might be ordering soy milk due to a dairy allergy and, not wanting to be responsible for someone’s head swelling to the size of a hot air balloon she changed her tack.
It took a couple of weeks of deep thought, but eventually it dawned on her. What is the best way to mess with someone’s coffee? The thing they rely on to give them a bit of pep every morning on their way in to work. You take the pep away. You give them decaf.
It was such a wonderfully beautiful and simple idea that Lenore was amazed that she hadn’t thought of it sooner. Take the caffeine away and they’re basically just giving you £3 for some warm, bitter water. She reckoned that about 20% of the people that came in probably didn’t even like coffee! and only ever drank it for the caffeine kick. It was genius.
And so she had started doling out Barista justice once again. Changing the world, one cardboard take away cup at a time.
She liked to imagine all the people sat at their desks, wondering exactly why they just didn’t have the energy today. Why they were lacking that extra zip that they normally still had at this time of the morning. Of course, most of them probably just fixed it by having another coffee, but they had wasted that little bit of extra time and money to make it happen, and that was what counted.
Her sister, Mara told her she was just being petty, but what did she know? She had never worked in the service industry, having gone from university straight in to a lawyer’s office.
They lived a little ways apart in London, and so Mara never came in to her coffee shop, but Lenore secretly suspected that Mara was, too, capable of being one of those arseholes, and was just worried that someone was messing with her coffee order too.
The man on the telephone had just tipped himself over the 7 point threshold with his raised voice, and so Lenore began her machinations behind the counter. When the drink was ready, she handed it to the man, who took a sip, looked at the cup as if something was wrong with the contents, and then shrugged and left.
“May you fall short of your targets by 1%,” Lenore whispered to herself as the door shut behind him.
The next person in the queue was a woman who Lenore estimated to be in her late sixties. She wore a floral print blouse and her silver-grey hair looked newly permed. Lenore noticed a glint in her eye as she approached the counter.
“How can I help you, Madam?” Lenore asked.
“Oh just a medium filter coffee for me, please, dear,” the woman replied. Just as Lenore was about to go and make the drink, she continued, “Oh, and I know what you did just now.”
“Excuse me?” said Lenore, startled that someone might have worked out her little game.
“With that man just now,” the woman continued. She leaned in towards Lenore conspiratorially and whispered “You gave him decaf when he didn’t ask for it.”
Lenore was gobsmacked. For a few seconds she just stood there, mouth agape, wondering how this woman had cottoned on to her ruse. Eventually her brain got up to speed and she stammered out a denial. “It was an honest mistake,” she said, entirely unconvincingly. “I thought he wanted decaf.”
The woman smiled. “What about the young gentleman yesterday?” she asked. “And the lady in the sharp suit the day before.”
“H…how do you know about them?” Lenore asked.
“I’ve been coming in here every morning at around this time for the last couple of weeks,” the woman answered. “Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to recognise me,” she added. “You must serve a thousand cups of coffee a day, I don’t expect you to know every regular that comes in. But I’ve been watching. I noticed it last week and I decided to confirm my theory today. I waited for a likely young gentleman to come in and followed him in. And true to form, you gave him what he deserved.”
“Oh gosh,” Lenore said, beginning to panic. “Please don’t tell my boss, I’ll be fired.”
“You knew the consequences of your actions when you started doing this,” the woman said. “And don’t act like you aren’t proud of what you have done.”
“Yes, but…” Lenore stammered.
“Oh don’t worry,” the woman replied, a grin on her face. She was obviously enjoying Lenore’s discomfort as much as Lenore enjoyed slightly ruining the days of businessmen. “I’m not going to tell anyone,” she added. “There’s no one else here, it will be our little secret.”
“Oh thank god, thank you.” Lenore felt the relief flooding over her.
“Think nothing of it. In fact, I had a reason for even bringing it up. Normally I would have just kept my mouth shut and left you to your little justice crusade, but I’ve got a little problem.”
“A problem, what do you mean?” Lenore replied, a little confused.
“I run a charity, and my PA has moved on to pastures new. I’ve been searching and searching for a replacement, but it’s just so hard to find someone who has a good sense of right and wrong.
“You give those people decaffeinated coffee because you believe that their rudeness deserves to be checked. It’s a little vigilante, but it shows that you have a fringe moral compass.
“You see something wrong, an injustice even one as small as someone being a bit unpleasant to someone who provides them with a service, and you do something about it. That’s what I’ve been looking for.”
Lenore and the woman stood in silence for a few seconds. Lenore felt as though she was supposed to say something, but couldn’t work out what it was. “…thanks?” she ventured.
“Well, are you interested? I don’t know what you’re being paid at this place, but I can guarantee there’ll be a few extra thousand a year in it for you if you say yes. I pay people well because I trust them to do the job that I ask of them. Do you think you could be one of those people?”
Lenore’s mind was racing.mshe had only been engaging in her act of rebellion to keep her sane at work, and to exact a little justice on doers of wrong. She had never expected anyone to notice what she was doing, much less to think enough of it to offer her a job. And the extra money sounded nice,
“I…I’ll do it,” she managed eventually.
“I knew you would do the right thing,” the woman said, sticking out her hand. “The name’s Margaret Atwood, CEO of Justice for the Children, but you can call me Margie.”
“Hi Margie, my name is Lenore Brown,” She replied, shaking the proferred hand.
“Well Lenore Brown, I look forward to doing business with you.”
With that, Margie gave Lenore a business card and turned and went to leave the coffee shop, nodding to her on the way out. Lenore turned around and noticed the half made black filter coffee sat on the counter behind her.
She turned back to the door and said, “Margie you forgot your…” but she was gone. “Oh, never mind…” Lenore said to herself and took a sip of the coffee. She turned her nose up at the bitter taste.
“God,” she said. “Whoever invented decaffeinated coffee is a monster…”
A nice suggestion from my friend Ed Murphy this week. Simply ‘a bottle episode where the protagonist is stuck in all day waiting’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
George’s vision slowly came back in to focus as he opened his eyes. There appeared to be a beeping noise of some description coming from somewhere in his room that he couldn’t quite place.
The beeping happened again and George wearily swung his feet out of bed and began to look around the room for the source of the noise. Eventually, when the rest of his brain finally caught up with the bit connected to his ears he realised that it was his phone telling him he had an email.
‘Your BT Openreach engineer will be calling today to install your telephone line. The engineer may call at any time between 8.30am-6.30pm. Thank you for choosing BT.’
“Oh bollocks,” George said. “Is that today?”
He looked at the clock on his bedside table – it was 8am already. He wanted to make sure he was around so that the engineer didn’t miss him. The thought of going any longer without a phone line, and by extension real internet, was enough to make getting up at 8am worthwhile.
Half an hour later George was washed and dressed and sat in his front room waiting for the BT engineer to show up. He was surrounded by boxes. Two weeks in his new house and he had barely unpacked a thing – besides the essentials of course.
His desktop had been set up in a corner of the living room, though it hadn’t seen much use since he moved in. Without the ability to connect to the internet he couldn’t download and play any of his games.
The Playstation hooked up to the TV on the opposite wall wasn’t much use to him either at this point. The man coming to install the Virgin Media box said he couldn’t do anything until the internet was up and running, and he had finished all his Playstation games. The only fun in them lay in multiplayer now, which he was unable to access without the net.
It had been a tough couple of weeks entertainment wise, but at least George had his new job to keep him busy. Today he would have no such diversionary luxury, and would have to find other things to do to occupy himself.
At 9am George remembered that he had borrowed a copy of A Game of Thrones and had been intending to start that. He rummaged around in some boxes and eventually found the rather dog eared copy and sat down to read.
“The morning had dawned clear and cold,” he read aloud, “with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.”
Within quarter of an hour he had put the book down again. I’ll read it later, George thought. After all, it would be a shame to get through the book so quickly and leave himself nothing to do later in the day, he noted, choosing to carefully ignore the book’s 446 page length.
He kicked his heels against the sofa for a moment before remembering that he had not had breakfast. Pottering in to the kitchen, he decided that as he had all day to wait around he would make himself a full English.
Careful to leave the kitchen door open so he could hear anyone coming up the path George set to frying some sausages and bacon. The moment after he had cracked the eggs in to the pan the doorbell went.
In a panic George ran to the door, nearly knocking over his pan in the process. He opened it to find a woman in a post office uniform. George was so certain it was going to be the BT engineer that he wasn’t sure what to say. The pair stood in awkward silence for a moment until the delivery lady awkwardly asked him to sign for a parcel.
It was something for his house mate, Dom, who was at work. Aware of his breakfast cooking away by itself in the kitchen, George tried his best to hurry the process along, but there was some sort of problem with the PDA he needed to sign on, and it ended up taking about five minutes.
By the time George got back to the kitchen he found his eggs blackened and crispy and burned on to the pan. He scraped them off in to the bin and opened up the carton to get out two more, but it was empty.
Oh well, he thought, sausage bacon and toast it is then.
Sitting back down on the sofa, George tucked in to his slightly too crispy breakfast and turned on the TV in the vain hope that something would be on one of the terrestrial channels. His luck was out. BBC 1 and ITV were showing weird preschool gobbledygook; BBC 2 was running a show about gardening and Channel 4 had a cookery show. He didn’t even check Channel 5.
Thinking that by now it must be getting late on in the morning, George checked his watch. It was only 9.53.
His breakfast done, he switched his attention to the television, as Alan Titchmarsh droned on about petunias. It wasn’t long before he had dropped off to sleep.
Some time later George awoke with a start. His phone was ringing again, except this time it was an actually phone call. He scrambled to pick it up, nearly dropping it in a glass of water, and swiped to answer without checking who the call was from.
“Hello?!” he said, in a tone that was borderline accusatory.
“Hello dear,” his mother’s voice came from the other end of the line. “I heard you were off today so I thought I’d give you a call and we could have a bit of a natter.”
George usually enjoyed phone calls from his mum, but it occurred to him that the engineer might call before showing up, and so he was eager to get her off the line as quickly as possible.
“I’m really sorry mum,” he said, “I’m expecting an important call. Can I ring you back later?”
“Oh don’t be daft dear, you’ve always got time to talk to your old mum. Besides, I’ll only keep you a minute.”
Twenty minutes later, George, who had run out of new ways to say ‘yes’, or ‘oh really’ was itching to get off the call. He was praying for a way out.
His prayers were answered when the doorbell rang.
“I’ve got to go mum,” he said. “Someone is at the door.”
“Oh right, ok,” his mum said. “Oh before you go, did you hear that the Dentons’ boy, Jim is getting married?”
The doorbell rang again, and was followed by a knock.
“No mum, I didn’t. But I really have to go.”
“Of course dear. It’ll be such a lovely wedding, his partner is beautiful. I believe they’re planning on having the ceremony in Paris.”
“OK mum, I’ll give you a call on the weekend, alright?”
“Yes dear. One last thing before you go…”
George calculated his options, and realising that he would never live down the act of hanging up on his mother mid-flow, he gently laid the phone down on the table in front of him, put the microphone on mute and went to answer the door.
He opened the front door to find that whoever the person was had gone, he ran out in the street, dreading seeing the BT van driving off in to the distance, but was greeted with no such sight.
Looking up and down the road he searched for any sign of who may have knocked on his door. Eventually he caught sight a well dressed man exiting one of his neighbours’ houses.
“See you again next Wednesday, Mrs Cooper!” the man called back in to the house.
George ran up to the man.
“Excuse me, did you just knock on my door?” he asked, gesturing at his house.
The man flinched. “Yes,” he said, almost from behind his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was home. I know that many don’t like the teachings of the followers of Jehovah, but it is my duty to spread them.”
“So you’re not a BT engineer then?” George asked.
The man lowered his hands and looked at George curiously. “No,” he said. “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. Doesn’t my getup rather give it away? I’m hardly going to shimmy up a telegraph pole in these leather loafers.”
“Oh,” George managed in reply. “Yeah, of course. Thanks anyway.”
“Can I interest you in any…?”
“No,” George said over his shoulder, cutting the man off on the way back in to his house.
“Oh well, worth a try,” the Jehovah’s Witness shrugged, and moved onto his next call.
Back inside the house, George found his mother still rattling on about the neighbour’s new baby.After sneaking his way back in to the conversation he finally managed to get away after a few more ‘how interesting’s.
He looked at his watch. Between his impromptu nap and the call with his mother it had somehow gotten to 2pm. His stomach began to rumble. It was time for lunch.
George searched his kitchen, but besides the bacon and sausage he had fixed some of for breakfast he had nothing in. He would have to go to the shop.
There was a Tesco Metro at the end of his road, but he wasn’t sure he could risk the time out. In the end his stomach won out, and he dashed off to the supermarket.
Five minutes later he returned clutching a fresh loaf of bread, some cheese and ham and a packet of crisps. He made himself a sandwich and returned to the TV.
Gardener’s World had been replaced so,e hours ago by a live stream of the golf. Co concluding that he would rather watch paint dry, George turned the TV off.
Surely the guy should have at least called by now, he wondered, whilst munching his sandwich. He had been under the impression that they called a couple of hours in advance.
The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. He got a few more pages in to the book, and trawled terrestrial TV a bit longer, but it was a truly boring time. He itched to go out and do something, but he had to sit in and wait.
At about 5 George realised that he hadn’t been to the loo all day, and that it was imminently going to be a problem. He checked his watch and wondered if he could risk missing the doorbell. His bladder made the decision for him and he rushed upstairs, shutting the bathroom door just in time.
Right in the middle of relieving himself, and still with some way to go, George heard his phone ringing downstairs.
“Come on,” he said, offering himself some encouragement. “Come on, come on, come on!”
When George had finished he hurtled down the stairs, nearly tripping over his trousers, which he had failed to do up correctly.
He reached his phone just in time to answer the call from an unknown number.
“Hello,” the person on the other end of the line said. “Is this George Menzies?”
“Yes,” George replied. “That’s me.”
“Hi, George, my name is Mahinder, calling from BT.”
“Are you on your way?” George asked.
“Unfortunately not, there’s been a mistake. The email that you were sent this morning wasn’t meant to go out until tomorrow. No engineer will be coming to your property today.”