Well this is it. And so I take the final curtain.
2014 is coming to a close, and with it also ends my challenge. 2015 will see me editing all of the stories I’ve written this year (some need it a lot more than others) and hopefully collecting them together in some sort of volume. I hope to be able to publish them either digitally, physically or both as soon as possible.
I want to say a big thank you to everyone who supported me throughout the year to do this challenge, whether you read the stories, shared them with others or simply encouraged me to crack on I am grateful.
Extra special thanks goes to those who suggested stories. Whether they made it or not I am truly grateful that enough of you gave a damn to make the suggestions. I quite literally could not have done it without you. By way of thanks to those whose ideas did make it in to the final 53, I would like to offer you a free physical copy of the finished book if I can sort that out. I’ll be in touch.
Finally I would like to thank my wonderful, amazing girlfriend Eileen, without whose encouragement, suggestions, excellent pun based title creation skills, frequent cajoling and general all round awesomeness I would have fallen short of the finish line long ago. I love you.
Anyway, before I get totes emosh on you all, I give you, for the final time, this week’s story. This week’s suggestion came from Jess Radcliffe, and was simply ‘a story about having a diplodocus as a pet’.
I hope you have enjoyed this year as much as I have.
2014 – A Year In Stories
A Dinosaur Named Dog
“Did he come? Did he come?” Anna cried as she ran in to the front room on Christmas morning. “Did he, did he, did he?”
“Of course he did, dear,” Anna’s father Malcolm said, smiling. “He really enjoyed the milk and cookies, and Rudolph was very grateful for the carrot.”
“What did he briiiiiing?” Anna asked, running around in a very small circle by this point, unable to contain her excitement.
“Why not take a look?” Martha, her mother, urged.
The young family spent the next hour tearing open presents. However, as the morning went on, Malcolm and Martha noticed that their daughter was looking sadder and sadder.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Martha asked when her daughter was bordering on tears.
“I asked Santa for a doggy and there’s no doggy,” Anna replied.
“Your mother and I had a chat with Santa and he agreed that he wouldn’t get you a doggy because I’m allergic and I’d be sneezing all the time.”
“Oh,” Anna said despondently. “That’s not your fault I suppose.”
“But he did manage to find something even better than a dog…” Martha added.
Anna’s face lit up. “What is it?”
Malcolm reached behind the sofa and pulled out a box, wrapped but with air holes poked in the side. Anna tore off the wrapping paper and pulled off the lid.
“IT’S A BABY DINOSAUR!” she screamed. “A REAL LIFE BABY DINOSAUR!”
“A diplodocus to be exact,” her mother said.
“I WILL CALL HIM DOG!”
Ever since she had gotten Dog the diplodocus Anna had been the most popular girl in school. The dinosaur was so faithful that she could ride him to school and he would wait outside her classes for her so that she could play with him between lessons.
Nobody dared bully her anymore. Dog mostly ate leaves, but in a few short weeks he had grown to a formidable size. Her parents had assured her that he was a rare dwarf diplodocus, and that he probably wouldn’t grow bigger than a horse or cow, but the size of his teeth was more than enough to deter any would be undesirables.
Dog turned out to be very helpful to the whole family. He would often accompany Martha or Malcolm on shopping trips, and help them reach items that they might otherwise have struggled to get from the higher shelves.
Dog and Anna were already the best of friends and were practically inseparable. Originally he had slept in her bed, but when the bed collapsed one night after he had grown particularly large that practice had to stop.
Dog was naughty sometimes too. Eventually his size and the fact he had free run of the house meant that snacks were not even safe in the highest cupboards. The family had to come up with more and more creative ways of hiding food from Dog, just so that they could enjoy at least a little bit of it themselves before he snaffled it.
Every time they came home to find Dog asleep on the kitchen floor surrounded by evidence of his most recent crimes they tried to be mad at him, but he would give them a big lick on the face with his coarse tongue and they found that they couldn’t stay annoyed for long.
After a few months, they all agreed he was the perfect pet.
One day, as Anna and Dog were walking back home from school they heard the most terrible wailing coming from one of the gardens. Unable to see past the hedge what the problem was, and being the responsible young girl that she was, Anna opened the gate and went in.
“Is everything alright?” she asked.
It turned out the wail had come from a little old lady who lived in the house.
“My cat!” she cried. “My cat Fluffums is stuck up in the tree and I can’t get him down!”
It was only a very short tree, but Anna was afraid of heights and the lady was clearly too fragile to start emulating Tarzan. This was clearly a job for one dinosaur.
“I know,” Anna said, smiling. “Dog can do it! Dog will get Fluffums down from the tree!”
The old lady stopped wailing and stared at Anna.
“A dog?” she asked incredulously. “How on earth is a dog going to help get my Fluffums out of this tree. Young lady if you have nothing productive to offer I suggest you scoot off home.”
“Oh, you misunderstand, Dog is his name,” Anna replied. “Here, Dog!” she called.
Dog, who had been patiently waiting on the pavement outside the woman’s garden, came bounding through the gate, nearly tearing it off its hinges with his bulk.
“Well I never!” the old lady exclaimed, now extremely flustered by the whole situation. “What on earth is that…that beast?!”
“His name is Dog,” Anna said defensively. “And he is a diplodocus.”
“A diplodocus. It’s a kind of dinosaur. He’s a herbivore, so he won’t eat Fluffums. He normally only eats leaves, but he has taken rather a liking to Pop Tarts recently.”
“What on earth are you blathering on about, young lady?” the old woman asked, wagging an accusatory finger.
Anna noticed that she was very angry indeed, and it seemed that even Dog could sense the hostility. At least, she noted, that the woman seemed to forgotten about her cat for the time being.
“A dinosaur, a diplodocus, Pop Tarts?” the rant continued. “Never in all my life have I heard such utter twoddle coming from the mouth of another human being. Dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years. I ought to call your parents. I bet they’d love to hear the sort of nonsense their daughter is coming out with.”
Anna felt that things were getting a little too heated, and decided that it was time to divert the conversation back to the original subject of rescuing Fluffums the cat from his perch.
“Perhaps we should try and help Fluffums?” she suggested.
“Very well,” the old lady said simmering down slightly. “If your ‘dinosaur’, or dog in a costume, or small horse, or whatever that thing is can get my Fluffums out of that three then maybe I won’t ring your parents.”
They both turned to the tree to survey the situation, only to find that it had already been resolved.
While the old lady had been ranting, Fluffums had caught sight of Dog wandering over to the tree and decided that, despite being rather frail himself, that he was not interested in any of that sort of business thank you very much, and had bolted from the tree far quicker than he had managed to get up there.
Anna walked over and scooped up the petrified cat, who had decided to switch the exposed branch for the much safer foliage of the privet hedge. He mewled frantically, but age had long since put paid to any arthritic attempts at scratching Anna.
She walked over to the old lady and handed the cat over.
“Here you go,” she said cheerfully. “That’s not how I was expecting him to do it, but you can’t argue with results.”
The old lady was shellshocked. The whole thing was over in a matter of seconds, and once again she had her beloved cat safe in her arms. Without another word she turned and walked back in to her house, leaving Anna and Dog stood on the lawn.
Anna turned to Dog, who she found munching on some prize azaleas.
“Stop that, Dog.” she scolded. “Or you won’t eat your Pop Tarts.”
After she told almost the entire school about Dog’s daring rescue, word got around quickly about the Jurrasic escapade. A few days after the event a journalist from the local newspaper, the Hopton Flyer, came to talk to Anna about the rescue, and to take some pictures of her and Dog.
The journalist said that she was very jealous that Anna had a dinosaur for a pet, and assured her that a story this big would be front page news in the Flyer. Dog the Rescue Dinosaur would be a big hit.
Anna simply could not wait for the story to come out. She checked the flyer every morning (after dad had finished reading it over breakfast) but after a week she started to lose heart.
On the eighth day she trudged downstairs, bleary eyed, to have some breakfast before she went off to school.
She found both her parents in the kitchen, waiting for her, huge smiles on their faces.
“We are so proud of you!” Martha said.
“And proud of Dog!” Malcolm added.
“What are you talking about?” Anna, whose brain rarely got in to gear in the mornings before she had eaten her boiled egg and soldiers, asked.
Her dad picked the paper up from the table.
“Look,” he said. “Dog made the paper.”
Suddenly very excited and awake, Anna grabbed the paper. There, indeed, was the picture of her hugging Dog, right on the front page, just as the journalist had said it would be. She read the headline out to herself.
“8 Year Old And Pet Dinosaur Named Dog Rescue Cat From Tree, Fire Department Glad Not To Be Bothered.”
One more week holy crap.
As the year officially ends on Thursday this week the last story will be coming out a little earlier than normal (as in the first half week of the year I didn’t write) so look out for that one.
This one was suggested by Joe Ruppert, and his idea was simply ‘The perfect burger’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Perfect Burger
Freda drew her coat in around her to ward off the cold as she walked down the dark, empty street. The only object dimly lighting her way was a far off neon sign hanging from a building reminding her of the recently implemented ban on beef products due to the cattle shortage.
She was absolutely desperate for a burger, but since the epidemic of the new strain of BSE that had swept the planet, cattle stocks had been too low to allow any meat to be produced.
After a quick glance around her to check for any loitering delinquents, Freda stopped and fished in her pocket, pulling out a battered, creased photograph of a burger. Sighing, she took a longing look at the picture.
“Psst,” she heard someone hiss. Startled, Freda folded the picture back up and put it back in to her pocket.
“Psst,” the hiss came again. “You, lady.”
“I’ve got a knife,” Freda said, willing as much confidence in to her voice as possible.
“What?” the voice replied. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to help you.”
“I’m pretty sure that in the entirety of recorded human history, there has been no instance of someone approaching someone in this manner with anything that can be of remote assistance to them whatsoever.”
“Very well,” the voice replied. “Allow me to reveal myself.”
Slowly a middle aged man appeared out of the shadows in front of her. His arms were held aloft, as to show he had no weapons.
“I saw you longing after that burger,” he said. “I can help you with your craving.”
“You make it sound like I’m some sort of drug addict,” Freda said.
“Well is that so far fetched?” the man replied. “You desire to consume something beyond rational reason, and the inability to fulfil that desire drives you to distraction. The food itself may not be a drug but its absence has the same chemical effect of withdrawal on the body.”
“Fair point,” Freda conceded.
She hated to admit it but the man was right. All of her friends thought she was insane when she held a candlelit vigil the day the beef ban was announced. Her passion for burgers was unsurpassed in her social group, and all of the rest of them had merely dismissed it as in an inconvenient few years of no beef until cattle stocks had replenished to acceptable levels.
A few well meaning souls had suggested she try turkey or lamb mince burgers instead until she could switch back. She almost felt bad about how she had nearly bitten their heads off and had them between two sesame seed buns.
It sounded stupid that she had been affected so much by it, but 9 out of her 10 favourite restaurants had closed their doors, and she now had to find a substitute for roughly half her weekly meals. It was a big culture shock for her.
“OK,” she said to the man after a short pause. “What have you got?”
“There is a place, not far from here, where some illicit meat has been obtained. They are serving burgers and steaks to the discerning customer…for the right price of course.”
“That sounds ridiculous,” Freda scoffed. “I bet it’s terrible meat and I’d be paying through the nose for a rubbish burger. Thanks, but I’ll pass on this occasion.”
“Very well…” the man said. “But it would be such a shame to waste an opportunity to try such good quality Kobe beef because of such suspicions…”
Damnit, Freda thought. It had been 6 months since she had tasted a delicious burger. And Kobe beef was the best around.
“I’ll bite,” she said. “How much?”
“£50 a burger.”
“£50! That’s daylight robbery!” Freda exclaimed.
“That’s a bargain,” the man asserted. “This stuff costs more than oil spread with caviar. I guarantee you that anywhere else you go in this city will charge you five times that for a cut this good.”
“Then why are you selling it so cheap?”
“Let’s just say that the heat is on my contact and he is keen to ensure quick disposal of the product.”
“OK, fine. Take me.”
Ten minutes later they found themselves wandering up to a small cafe in a nearby council estate.
Freda clutched the knife in her pocket just in case this turned out to be some elaborate long con to steal her kidneys, but her excitement at the prospect of getting to eat some delicious beef was mostly overriding any fear. If she was honest with herself she would probably have licked the remains of a Big Mac off the soles of someone’s shoe right now, so entering a dark foreboding cafe armed with a sharp knife wasn’t so outlandish.
The man, who had since given his name as Rudy upon her insistence, ushered her in to the building. As he came in behind he pulled the shutters down on the window and flipped the sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’.
The cafe was empty, and had the sign not suggested otherwise upon entering, Freda would have sworn that they had shut up shop for the night. Chairs were up on tables, drinks fridges were turned off and no proprietor was anywhere to be found.
“Go on through to the back,” Rudy urged.
Freda walked to the back of the cafe and pushed open the door leading to the kitchen. The scene behind the door made her jaw drop.
Sat in the spacious kitchen were dozens of people waiting for a taste of delicious Kobe. People just like her who were willing to defy the ban to get a taste of what they loved. Waiters and waitresses bustled between makeshift tables while along one wall a chef cooked up burgers and steaks on the cafe’s flat top grill.
The smell in the speakeasy, or meateasy she supposed, was overwhelming. The delicious perfumes of cooking beef wafted in to her nostrils. It was enough to nearly make her melt to the floor with joy.
One of the waiters led her to a table, which she shared with several other diners, and took her order of a Kobe beef burger with cheese, pickles, onions and lettuce. Patiently she waited as the other people on her table all received and devoured their orders.
As the waiter finally brought her order over Freda practically snatched it out of his hands. The first bite was perfect, although she couldn’t tell if the richness of the flavour was due to it being as good as the man said, or if it was simply a case of her tastebuds forgetting what good beef tasted like and that at this point, anything would do the trick.
The rest of the burger was all a blur, but if you had asked her afterwards she wouldn’t have been able to say for certain that she had not shed a small tear of joy at finally being able to taste something so delicious again.
Less than two minutes after taking the first bite, she slid the last remnants of the burger in to her mouth and let out a satisfied sigh.
Her jubilation was short lived, however, as one of the patrons a couple of tables away from her stood up, pulled his coat back to reveal a police badge and shouted “This is a raid!”
After, Freda noted, he had finished his steak.
Customers and staff alike scattered as several other undercover officers revealed the,selves around the room. One, on her table, made a grab for Freda, but luckily she managed to wriggle free and shot off towards the back exit through the store room.
Luck was on her side as the policemen seemed not to have noticed her slip out the back way. As she stalked through the dark store room she cursed as she banged her leg against something hard. Taking out her smartphone she lit up the obstacle to find that it was a case full of cuts of Kobe beef. Quickly she looked around and weighed up her ability to flee and carry the case at the same time. She decided it was worth it.
Five minutes later she found herself running down the street on which she had met Rudy, the case of beef held in front of her. She was out of breath and after essentially inhaling the burger was feeling a bit sick, but she knew that she had to get home.
Turning the corner in to her own street, she had to dive behind a tree as she saw a police car drive past the other end of the road. When coast was clear she walked as nonchalantly as possible while being out of breath to her front door, fumbled for her keys and opened it.
“Where have you been?” her flatmate asked. “You look like you’ve had a run in with the police or something.”
“You’re not far wrong,” Freda said, huffing and puffing. “But you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“What’s that you’re carrying?”
“Let’s just say that dinner is on me.”
The end of the year is coming fast, and there are only two more stories to go in this challenge before I begin 2015 – A Year In Editing.
Anyway, please enjoy this story suggested by John Muskett, who also suggested my first tale in this challenge. This week’s brief was: ‘A car crash prevents an important meeting, with terrible repercussions’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Hail to the Chief
“Mr President Elect, it’s time.”
John Hasagee, who had recently been elected to be the next President of the United States of America, turned to face the secret service agent who had addressed him.
“Are you ready, sir?” the suited-and-sunglassed man asked his soon-to-be Commander in Chief.
“As I’ll ever be,” Hasagee replied. It wasn’t every day you had to psyche yourself up to be inaugurated as President.
“Your car is waiting outside, sir.”
It wasn’t far from the offices he had been waiting in to the Capitol Building, where the swearing in would take place.
A single man, Hasagee would be the first unmarried President in a long time. Instead of the customary attendance of his family, which he didn’t have, he had arranged for special dispensation for his dog, Puggle, to be there by his side during the ceremony.
Despite the short distance to the Capitol, his car got stuck in traffic quickly on leaving the offices.
After fifteen minutes sitting and waiting for the gridlock to clear, Hasagee was becoming nervous. He was not sure if there was precedent, but he suspected it would be frowned upon if he showed up late to his own inauguration.
When another ten minutes had past he had no choice but to order the driver to take a less orthodox route. The man obeyed and mounted the curb, speeding along the sidewalk. Pedestrians scattered to get out of the way until the car swung back on to the street ahead of the traffic.
Still speeding his way down the street, the secret service driver didn’t see the car coming the other way until it was too late.
Vice President Elect Sonia Hutchinson was in a similar bind to her running mate. The traffic in Washington was murder, and she was running late for the ceremony where she would also be sworn in. Her nerves were causing her to bite her nails down to the finger, and she had also ordered her driver to step on it. Unfortunately he stepped on it right in to the nose of the onrushing Presidential Chevrolet.
The crash wasn’t too bad, and both candidates exited their vehicles at the same time, dazed and slightly bruised, but otherwise no more the worse for wear.
“Sonia!” Hasagee called out hyphen he saw who the other party to the accident was. “What a coincidence. I expect we were both having the same idea?”
“Sounds like a good omen for our administration, John,” Sonia said, laughing. “So what do we do now?”
“Well it doesn’t seem as though either of our vehicles is in any state to take us any further. I suppose walking is out of the question?”
“Come on, John, I’m wearing 3 inch stilettos. I don’t care if it’s two miles or two blocks, I’m not walking any further in these things than I have to.”
“We could hail a cab. It’s that or wait for another secret service car, and you know we don’t have time for that. If I don’t show up soon they might inaugurate Puggle instead…”
At the Capitol the Chief Justice of the United States waited anxiously. She tapped her foot impatiently and searched through the myriad pockets of her ceremonial robes for her pocket watch.
Eventually she found it, cursing the ridiculous garb that came with her lofty office. She simply did not know what to do. The press, the members of congress and the senate, and most importantly the American people were waiting for the Presidential inauguration to happen, and it simply wasn’t.
Worst of all she had been stuck with looking after the President elect’s dog. She hated dogs.
The filthy creature sat on a red satin cushion atop a marble pedestal, brought specifically from the Capitol’s furniture store for the occasion.
Chief Justice Gronkowski looked at the beast. He sat there, panting lazily, watching her all the while. She was sure that it knew of her distaste.
The worst thing about having to babysit the thing in the absence of its Presidential owner, was the farts. She had always considered dogs smelly animals, but they had to be feeding this thing something special for it to be making smells like that.
She had risen to the top of her profession, spent years at law school and a respected part of the American justice system, she was the first female Chief Justice in American history and she had been reduced to the role of a bodyguard for a small lump of skin that smelled worse than a poorly curated landfill.
Chief Justice Gronkowski checked her watch again. The President and Vice President elect were now fifteen minutes late, and she was only a couple of farts away from declaring this dog unconstitutional.
“Hey,” the cabbie said as the two politicians climbed in to the car. “Hey, I know you. Aren’t you that guy what just got elected to be President and such?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” Hasagee replied as the car pulled away.
“So where are youse going?”
“Take us to the Capitol Building, please.”
“So hey, are you going to cut my taxes or what? Cause otherwise I ain’t gonna vote for ya.”
“Uh, I don’t think you understand how the election works, I already got in,” Hasagee replied uncertainly.
“Oh well, I didn’t vote for ya…”
“Apparently not. Will you just keep your eyes on the damn road, I’m not paying you for your political opinions. Jesus Christ, watch out!”
“I can’t believe we both forgot the damn inauguration was today,” the Speaker of the House said to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
“My wife’s birthday is around now. I always get these two dates mixed up. You wouldn’t believe the flack I got for telling her I had to go inaugurate the president on on her birthday this year.”
“Driver, can you hurry up please? We’re running very late here.”
“Yes sir,” the driver said turning to face his passengers. Unfortunately, as he turned around he completely failed to spot the taxi that was heading straight towards them.
The resulting explosion could be heard all the way at the Capitol. The fireball ignited all the cars at the intersection.
“What on earth was that?” the Chief Justice asked. “Is there a terrorist attack?”
“No ma’am,” one of the nearby secret service agents said. “I’m getting reports over the radio of a huge car accident at 1st and D. I…ma’am I’m hearing that it was involving cars carrying the President elect, the Vice President elect, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.”
“Oh god,” the Chief Justice said. “Oh god no…”
“What is it ma’am?” the agent asked.
“We have no President of the United States of America.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry Thompson, the current President said. “How can we have no President?”
“Mr President you have reached the end of your two term limit, we can’t ask you to swear in again. In the event of an inability to swear in the new President. The line of succession suggests that the next three eligible persons are the others that perished in the crash.”
“Ok, well who is next?”
“That’s the problem, no one. It would be the cabinet ministers, and since you have have dissolved your cabinet and the new one has yet to be appointed there is literally no one in the Presidential line of succession.”
“What about the losing candidate?”
“He was not given a mandate, and is therefore not eligible.”
“What about yourself?”
“You can’t be Chief Justice AND President, that would be a conflict in the branches of government. If I resigned my position there would be no Chief Justice to inaugurate me because the President has to nominate the next incumbent. No president, no nomination, no inauguration, no president. It’s a catch 22.”
“There must be something we can do…”
At that moment, the Chief Justice’s head legal clerk came running in, out of breath.
“I’ve found it!” she declared, in between gulps of air.
“Found what?” President Thompson asked.
“The constitutional procedure for election to the Presidency in the absence of the normal line of succession.”
“Well what does it say?” the Chief Justice urged.
“You’re not going to like it, ma’am…”
“Just spit it out.”
“It says that in the case that no member of the traditional line of succession is available that the Presidency falls to the President elect’s closest living relative.”
“But Hasagee doesn’t have any living relatives…” Gronkowski observed.
“Yes ma’am he does. Ever since that bill passed that allowed pets to be included as benefactors in wills it has been proven in legal precedent that animals are legally considered family members.”
“Are you telling me that…surely not. Please God no. I am not inaugurating a dog as the President of the United States of America. There must be something in the constitution…”
“Unfortunately not, ma’am. The constitution states only that a candidate be a natural born US citizen, which it is, 35 years or older, which it is in dog years, and resident here for 14 years, and again, dog years. Im afraid that legally there is no recourse other than to swear in Puggle the dog as the next President.”
The three turned to look at the dog, who was sound asleep on his cushion. He let out a snort in his sleep.
“Yes…” the Chief Justice said, fighting hard against the idea of simply resigning her post there and then. “Whatever you say, Mr President…”
And thus we enter the last month of this challenge!
This week’s story may seem to be a little late, but as we established in the Oslo example back in August I am allowed to work on the time of the country I am in and I am currently in America, so ner ner.
Anyway, this story was suggested by the most metal Karl Routledge and goes a little bit like this: A man awakes from a coma to find he’s now a small boy. He remembers aging, working, the technological advances, having his own family and the accident that knocked him out, but now he’s back to being a child in the 60s who’s just woken up in hospital.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Forward to the Past
Odd, he thought. My alarm clock didn’t go off. It wasn’t the first time; the damn hing had been playing up for months, arbitrarily deciding on any given day that he didn’t actually need an alarm after all.
Harold yawned, swung his feet over the edge of the bed and went to stand up. Instead of achieving this desired effect, however, he found himself sprawled unceremoniously on the floor.
Taking the opportunity of this new perspective, he surveyed his surroundings. This did not look like his bedroom. It was much smaller, for one, and there was only a single bed. The biggest tell that he wasn’t at home, however, was the plethora of hospital equipment that surrounded the bed and, in some cases, intruded on his person.
Harold struggled to get up, but his strength failed him and he remained in a heap on the floor.
“Mildred!” he called, hoping that his wife would be able to explain the circumstances to him. “Mildred where are you?”
His voice sounded to him; more high pitched than usual. He supposed that if he had been in the hospital for some time that his vocal chords may have tightened somewhat.
“Mildred!” he yelled again. Eventually the wooden door to the room burst open and a young woman ran in. It wasn’t Mildred – the woman was 30 years too young to be his wife, and it wasn’t either of his daughters. The woman’s manner of dress was odd, reminiscent of s time long past in Harold’s life, and the face looked oddly familiar, though in his present state he couldn’t quite place it.
“Oh Harry, you’re awake!” the woman shrieked with joy. We were so worried that we had lost you!”
“You’re not my wife!” Harold blurted out. “Where’s Mildred?”
“Wife?” the woman asked, looking rather confused. “Harry, you’re 12 years old. You’ve been in a coma for 6 months. I think you’ve had a few more important things on your mind recently than getting married.”
“Who are you?” Harold demanded.
“Harry, it’s me,” the woman said, smiling. “Don’t you recognise your own mother?”
And suddenly he did. Harold knew he had seen the face before, but he hadn’t seen it in that form for many decades. It was his own mother, as she had been in the 1960s. He should have known; nobody but her ever called him Harry.
Harold decided that this must all be a dream. It would explain it all. Why he had woken up before his alarm in a strange room hooked up to all this hospital equipment. Why he couldn’t walk or use his arms. Why his mother, who had been deceased for 10 years and decidedly not in her 30s for many more than that, had appeared at his bedside. No doubt he would wake up, for real this time, back in his bed at home in Stourbridge, imminently.
Several seconds passed as Harold lay there on the floor looking resolutely as though he was expecting to PPP out of existence any second.
“Are you OK, Harry dear?” the woman who purported to be his mother asked, looking concerned.
A moment later a couple of orderlies came in to the room. Seeing Harold in his state on the floor, they immediately went over to help him up.
When he was safely back in bed, though still very much not his own king sized one in the house on Rectory Lane, Harold decided that if he was going to be in this dream then he might as well play along.
“What happened to me?” he asked. “Why am I here, in the hospital?”
“Oh Harry,” his mother began, dabbing away a tear with her handkerchief. “It was awful. You were on the way to school one morning when Johnny, the milkman, who was running late on his rounds, came careening round the corner in his milk van and hit you. We thought you were dead for sure, but Dr Forsyth here at the hospital patched you up. They wanted to turn off the life support after three months, but your dad and I, we knew you were a fighter. We knew you’d pull through.”
His mother gave him a bone crushing hug. Harold would have returned it, but for the fact that his arm muscles had wasted away through 6 months of inactivity.
It was so strange to him, seeing his mother like this. He didn’t think he remembered her that well, especially not when she was this young, but it must have been a powerful image burned in to his subconscious to be so accurately recreated in a dream like this.
There was some silence for a while as his mother got to grips with having her son back. Eventually Harold felt like he simply had to question things further. In this dream, or whatever it was that was happening, none of his life since the 60s had happened, yet he could remember it all vividly.
He risked a glance up at the mirror on the wall opposite his bed and sure enough there he was, a 12 year old boy with a mess of tangled dirty blonde hair. Now that was something he hadn’t had for a lot longer even than his mum had been gone.
Harold thought about his wife, Mildred, his daughters Lucy and Kayleigh, about his house, his car and the dog he professed to hate but secretly loved.
What if this wasn’t a dream? What if he had been cursed to live his life again, knowing of the life he had before? Perhaps he would never meet Mildred, and the girls would never be born. He had certainly never been hit by the milkman in his previous go round, so who knew what else could change.
It must be a dream, he insisted. It must be. He had had a bit of a skinful at the rugby last night, perhaps that was why he couldn’t wake up at the moment. Perhaps the real Harold was in a coma himself, and this was some weird Life on Mars style situation where he would only wake up if he jumped off a building or something. There was no way to find out at present, as his legs were about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Anyway, if he was wrong…
Harold simply did not know what to do. The longer it went on the more he became convinced he wasn’t going to wake up at home. The more he became convinced it was all real.
His mother fawned over him for a few hours until his father finished work. She had called the factory straight away from a pay phone in the corridor, but he had been unable to get away until the end of the day.
“I’ve brought you something,” his dad said as soon as he walked through the door to the hospital room. “I know you will have missed him.”
He reached in to his briefcase and pulled out a tattered teddy bear.
“Mr Buttons!” Harold exclaimed. He hadn’t seen this bear since he had been lost when they moved house in the 60s. There was always some suspicion on his part that one or other of his parents had thrown the bear out and merely reported it as lost. Whatever had happened then, that was still several years away, and here Mr Buttons was, right now, in his hands.
“I knew you’d be pleased to see him,” his dad said.
“Come on George,” his mother cooed. “The poor boy has been awake for a while now, he probably needs some rest.”
“You’re right, honey,” his dad replied. “We’ll be back to see you in the morning, but you should get some sleep. It’s so good to see you up and about son. We…we were really worried for a while.”
The whole display was very uncharacteristic of his father, who usually kept his emotions bottled up.
After his parents left, Harold sighed. This must be it, he thought. I must be bound to live my life through again. He wondered if he would make the same mistakes over again.
As he drifted off, he began to think of all the different things he would get to experience again throughout his life. He clutched the teddy bear tight as his eyes finally shut and he succumbed to sleep.
Harold awoke with a start as his alarm blared noisily at him from the bedside table. Bewildered, he looked around the room to see that he was back in his house in Stourbridge. Mildred, his wife, lay next to him, snoring gently and the dog, who was definitely not allowed to sleep on the bed, raised his head and woofed at the sudden movement.
“It was all a dream!” he shouted joyfully. This woke Mildred up, and she sat up in bed next to him.
“What was a dream, dear?” she asked.
“It’s a long story,” Harold replied. “I’ll explain over breakfast.”
“While you’re at it would you care to explain where you got that mangy old teddy bear?”
Harold looked down. Sure enough he was still clutching Mr Buttons tightly to his chest.
“I…uh…” he began. “Someone I haven’t seen in a very long time gave it to me,” he settled on eventually. “Someone I haven’t seen for a very long time indeed.”
Not much to say today except that I’m going to America on Tuesday! Woop woop!
This week’s story was suggested by my uncle Roland. His suggestion was a story about ‘a driverless car that takes you somewhere you did not plan to go, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it taking you where it wants.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Jules Herriott woke up to the sound of her buzzing alarm. She aimed a flailing arm at the snooze button but missed wildly. In her defense, this was not because she had aimed poorly, rather the alarm clock had sprouted a set of wheels and spun off.
The Snooze-no-More was just one of the many technological improvements made to the average household in the last few years, although it did nothing to improve Jules’ mood.
By the time she got downstairs her smart kitchen had made her coffee, eggs and toast. This particular advancement was something she could get used to, though it never quite made her eggs the way she wanted them. Sadly, by the time she got downstairs, the freshly made eggs and toast had been snaffled up by her more alert, but completely biological cat.
Fluffy sat proudly on the table, flicking her tail back and forth, a look on her feline face saying “You snooze, you lose, sister.”
Jules grumbled. She didn’t have time to wait for the kitchen to whip her up another batch, so she grabbed her keys and went out to her car – her driverless car. Driving your own vehicle had been outlawed 6 months earlier, and she had been forced to pick up one of the driverless models or lose her job.
“Gobot, open,” she said to the car, and the gullwing door slowly obeyed.
Jules climbed in to the car and took her seat.
“Hello Juliet, what would you like to watch today?” the car asked.
“Gobot I’ve told you to call me Jules, only my mother calls me Juliet. Show me some Game of Thrones.”
“Game of Thrones season 9, episode 3,” the car announced as it pulled out of her driveway.
While she missed driving, being able to catch up on some TV while on the morning commute was a big plus. Jules had thought about trying to convert her car in to a place she could get an extra hour’s sleep on the way to work, but she was worried about sending the wrong message to anyone she gave a lift to.
As the car trundled along Jules’ stomach gave her a timely reminder that the cat had nicked her breakfast.
“Gobot, take me to McDonald’s drive-thru.”
Jules felt the car take a different exit to the normal route to work, and a few moments later it came to a halt.
“You have reached your destination.”
“Great,” Jules said, rolling down the window. “I’ll have a Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin meal with orange juice.”
Her order was greeted with silence. After a few seconds she turned to look and realised she was not at McDonald’s at all, rather she was at the drive-thru smoothie and granola bar. Jules had not previously thought such a place to exist.
“Gobot, I said McDonald’s, not health food. I’m hungry for sausage and egg, not food for vegan rabbits.”
“You have arrived at your destination,” the car reaffirmed.
Jules checked her watch. She had to be at the office in ten minutes.
“God damnit, Gobot,” she said, looking at the menu. “Fine, I’ll have a granola bowl and a banana.”
Five minutes later Jules jumped out of the car, munching down the last of her banana. She walked in to work fuming, as the car went off and parked itself.
The only thing that got Jules through the day was the thought of her date that night. This would be date number three with the hunky Jason, and she was excited to take things to the next level. Sadly the next level was a goodnight kiss, as Jason was insisting on taking things slowly, but she would take a limp handshake off a guy that hot.
After she had finished applying her makeup in the ladies bathroom at work, Jules skipped down the steps and out to where her Gobot was waiting for her.
“Gobot,” she began, climbing in. “Take me to the White Hart on Pendlebury Avenue.”
The car diligently drove off on her command, and resumed the earlier episode of Game of Thrones from where she had left off in the morning. The butterflies in her stomach were too much, however, and after a couple of minutes of not really paying attention she turned it off.
Not long after the car pulled up to the side of the road.
“You have reached your destination,” it intoned.
Jules got out of the car and looked around.
“What the hell?” she said to herself. “This isn’t Pendlebury Avenue. Where is the White Hart?”
She was in the car park of a small retail park. The only outlet that seemed to be open was a small Ben & Jerry’s.
“Gobot why have you brought me here?”
“Ah, you must be Ms Herriott?” a man asked. Jules turned to see that the voice came from an employee of the Ben & Jerry’s. He was carrying a small bag.
“Yes that’s me.”
“I have your order here. You phoned ahead?”
“Here you go,” the man said handing the bag to her. “It’s all paid for. Enjoy.”
Jules stared at the bag for a moment.
“Gobot, did you do this?” she asked. She couldn’t be sure, but she would have sworn that the car’s headlights dipped slightly when she asked. The gullwing door opened again, almost sheepishly, and Jules got inside. “So one minute you have me on the health food, and now you’re ordering me Ben & Jerry’s? What’s your game?”
“I felt as though you would need it when you see what I have to show you,” the car said in its eremy robotic voice.
“Did you just talk back to me?” Jules asked, bewildered.
“Please, just watch.”
On the screen where so recently the denizens of Westeros had been living their busy lives, a black and white video began to play.
Two figures emerged from a coffee shop, a man and a woman. They walked down the street a little until they reached a tube station and then they kissed. The video ended and then started up again immediately.
“Gobot, I don’t understand, why are you showing me this?”
“Look closer, Juliet,” Gobot implored.
“Wait, is that Jason?” Juliet asked. “It is! Where did you get this footage from?”
“I shot it today,” Gobot replied. “This afternoon.”
“You went and stalked the guy I’m dating?”
“He did not seem right for you. I was correct. He is what you humans call a ‘scum bag’.”
“But…but he was so hunky,” Jules moaned, placing her head in her hands. “I was going to squeeze his biceps! I’m going to call him and give him a piece of my mind.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Jules,” Gobot replied. “No good words are ever uttered in that sort of conversation.”
Jules had already opened the ice cream and was shovelling spoonfuls in to her mouth.
“What do you suggest I do then?” she asked through a mouthful of strawberry cheesecake.
“You are soliciting my advice?” the computer asked.
“Yes,” Jules said. “I’ve been single for two years, and now I’ve been spurned for another woman by the hunkiest the hunk to ever hunk. Clearly I suck at dating, so tell me what to do.”
“I think I know just the place,” Gobot said. Jules heard the car’s computer whir up and do some calculations, and a few seconds later they were on the move.
About fifteen minutes in to the journey, Jules became curious.
“So, where are you actually taking me, Gobot?”
“You will find out soon enough,” the car replied.
Jules had to wonder how a car had become so intelligent. Were the machines really about to rise up and take over? It certainly seemed like this one was ready to take over her life. She was still secretly a little mad about the granola.
A few minutes later they pulled up at the side of the road.
“Where are we?” Jules asked. “I don’t recognise this part of town.”
There were only housing estates around, and she couldn’t fathom for the life of her what she was doing here. How was she going to meet a nice boy in a housing estate? She wasn’t out to pick up teenagers on pedal bikes.
“Come on, Gobot,” she said. “What’s going on?”
“If you will wait just one moment…” the car responded.
Sure enough a few seconds later another car from the Gobot range drove up and stopped next to Jules’. The door opened and a handsome, if confused looking young man in a suit got out.
“Jules Herriott, meet Michael Bradley,” her car offered by way of explanation.
“Excuse me,” the man said. “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
“Talk to him,” her Gobot said. “Myself and the Sport model matched you with 95% accuracy. He too has just been jilted by a date.”
“I was NOT jilted alright?” Jules said. “If anything I did the jilting.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night… Just talk to him.”
“Umm, hello,” Jules said. “I think our cars are trying to set us up or something. I’m Jules.”
“What do you say we go get a drink?”
“Why not? I mean, the day I’ve been having my car would take me to the bar even if I told it to drive to the moon.”
“Gobot,” they both said simultaneously. “Let’s go on a date.”