One more week down, now only a handful to go. I can’t believe that in less than two months this will all be over. I couldn’t even picture the final stretch of this challenge in the first few months and times it felt like I was never going to make it to the end. I mean, I still haven’t, so let’s not tempt fate, but it’s getting close.
Anyway, this week’s story was suggested by my fellow Liverpool sufferer, Lola Smith-Welsh, whose suggestion was as follows: ‘New kitten is not just a ball of fluff, but an interactive bugging device placed in the home of a suspected terrorist by security forces. Bonus points if the cat can talk.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Francis looked at his packed bags and, finally, relaxed. He had been waiting six months for this holiday, and all the preparation was finally complete. His bags were packed, his passport was in his coat pocket and he had canceled the milk. All that was left was one final sleep, then he would be on his way to Barbados.
On the table, his phone buzzed. Francis picked it up and read the text message from his mum, telling him to have fun. He closed the message, fired up Twitter and read his feed for a bit.
After a while of reading, he decided to compose a humorous tweet in advance of the flight.
‘I hope my flight to Barbados leaves on time tomorrow,’ he wrote, ‘or else I’ll be forced to take drastic action! Lol!’
His tweeting completed, Francis climbed the stairs and went to bed.
The next morning, Francis awoke to a loud banging on his front door. That’s odd, he thought, looking at the clock. The taxi isn’t due for another two hours. The door rattled again.
Sleepily Francis rose and went downstairs to see hat all the commotion was about. A third knock on the door, even louder this time, was the final straw.
“Now see here…” he began as he opened the door. He was discouraged from embarking on his rant by the automatic rifle barrel being pointed directly at his face.
“Francis Charles Hughes?” the owner of the gun barked.
“Y…yes,” Francis replied.
“Get on your God damn knees!”
Francis panicked and slumped to the ground as ordered.
“Francis Charles Hughes you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack,” the man said, lowering his gun and cuffing Francis.
Several hours later, Francis was released from custody, his ego slightly bruised. Police had questioned him and conducted a search of his house and his person, and determined that he didn’t pose an immediate threat to anyone. They warned him, despite his protestations that he had only meant he would write a very stern letter of complaint, that further tweets of that nature would be taken very seriously indeed.
Worst of all he had missed his flight. The airline didn’t have another one going out for another four days, and the customer services agent had been less than inclined to help when Francis had explained the reason for missing the plane. ‘I was indicted for threatening to commit international terrorism’ doesn’t tend to go down well with most airlines.
So, defeated and demoralised, he headed home, determined to fly out on the next plane and enjoy a shortened, but now thoroughly deserved holiday.
Upon arriving home Francis did a quick check up and down his street for any suspicious looking vans marked ‘Meals in 5′ or something similar, but it appeared that he was not actually being watched by any government agencies. He swept the house for bugs, just to be sure.
Francis looked despondent at his packed bags, that would have to sit there unused for another few days. He should have been well on the way to sunning himself on a beach by now, but he was stuck back home. It’d probably rain soon just to confound his misery.
Slumping down on to his sofa and preparing to sink in to a pit of despair, Francis’ attention was drawn to the window as he heard a mewling outside. Looking over he saw the most adorable kitten sitting on the window sill. It looked sad, as if it wanted to be let in.
Outside, the kitten turned slightly away from the window, so it could not be seen properly by Francis, and lifted its paw to its mouth.
“Alpha alpha, I have made contact with the suspect,” it said in to a concealed microphone. “Will update again soon. Over and out.”
Francis duly opened the window, and the kitten strode in confidently.
“Oh, you are a cute one,” Francis said once the cat was inside.
“Miaow,” the cat replied, before cleaning itself.
“I’m afraid I haven’t got any milk to give you, little one. I was due to go on holiday today, you see, and it would have gone off by the time I got home.”
The cat stared at him, nonplussed by his excuses.
“Oh!” Francis said. “I know. I’ve got a tin of sardines in the cupboard.”
As he ran off in to the kitchen to get the tin, the kitten raised its paw to its mouth again.
“I have infiltrated the premises. The mark seems oblivious to my true identity.”
Quicker than expected, Francis returned from the kitchen with a plate full of sardines. The kitten immediately began licking its paw to cover up its actions. It miaowed for effect.
“Something wrong with your paw there, buddy?” Francis asked, putting the plate down on the coffee table. Fearing it had been rumbled, the kitten stopped licking its paw and tucked in to the sardines.
There were some perks to the job, at least.
“I can’t believe im not going to get to go on holiday for another 4 days all because of one stupid tweet,” Francis said, sitting back on the sofa.
The kitten, on hearing this, perked its ears up to listen more closely. This could be it, this could be the information it had been sent to collect.
“But what do you care?” Francis added. “You’re just a kitten. You don’t even know what Twitter is. You probably just think that’s it’s a noise that the tasty birds make.”
The kitten frowned. It hated being patronised. It was much more than just a single minded kitten, focussed only on murdering innocent birds. In fact, it quite liked birds. It much preferred murdering mice instead.
Overcoming its displeasure, it noted that Francis had tailed off. So close, yet so far.
“Oh,” Francis noted. “You’ve finished your sardines. You must have been hungry. Who do you belong to?”
Francis picked the kitten up, much to its chagrin, and inspected it for a collar, finding none.
“No collar eh? Are you a stray?”
The kitten miaowed in protest at being held for so long. Of course if it wanted it could ask him to put it down in plain English, but that would have had the unfortunate side effect of giving the game away.
Instead it had to subject itself to this ignominy. It had a good mind to tell its superiors at MI5 that this was no way for a cat with a genius level intellect to be treated. All the sardines in the world weren’t worth being treated like a common house cat.
Of course, all the genius was down to the chip in its paw that it used to communicate with HQ. Without that chip, it would be just that, a house cat. Remembering this it decided that perhaps piping up wouldn’t be too smart a trick after all. It decided to get back to the job at hand.
Using its best pleading and understanding look, it sat and glared at Francis, hoping that the simple creature would understand that it was there to listen.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” Francis asked. “I told you I don’t have any milk, and that was my last tim of sardines.”
The cat continued to stare at him.
“Alright, fine,” Francis said. “I’ll go and buy some milk. I’ll need it anyway if I want a cup of tea for the next 4 days.”
As Francis grabbed his coat and keys, the kitten hit its paw up against its face and let out the kitty equivalent of a sigh.
Half an hour later Francis strode back on to the house, a blue plastic bag in one hand. The kitten had timed its latest check in report to MI5 poorly, and was calmest caught in the act. Once again it had to resort to licking its paw to divert attention. Unfortunately, this time it did not work.
“What’s wrong with your paw, little buddy?” Francis asked, placing the bag on the coffee table and picking the resistant kitten up. This was too close for comfort. The cat had worked too hard and too long to get discovered now. It spit and hissed as Francis tried to examine it.
“Come on now, I know it must be painful. You’ve been licking that thing every to,e I look away. Whatever’s in there must be causing you some awful grief.”
Finally the sheer size difference told, and Francis managed to stabilise the kitten for long enough to do a search of the paw. He finally noticed the small, black box attached to the cat.
“What’s this? Did you step in something and it got stuck? No wonder you’re in such a flap.”
Frantically the kitten licked the last ditch mayday code in to the device in the hope that its superiors would intervene.
This is it, it thought, this is the moment where my cover is blown and miaow.
The last part of the thought had been completed in the immediate aftermath of the device’s removal from the kitten’s paw. Miaow, it continued to think, having been reduced back to the intelligence of a normal house cat. Purr.
“There we go,” Francis said, throwing the device in to the bin without even glancing at it again. “Much better.”
He tickled the now docile kitty, who purred enthusiastically in response, before affectionately attempting to claw his eyes out.
“Well, if you don’t have a collar that probably means you don’t have an owner. How would you feel about living with me?” Francis asked. “Unless, of course, you are secretly a spy cat sent here to keep watch over me by MI5.”
Francis laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion.
“I bet that thing I just pulled out of you was a secret microchip that gave you super powers. Hah, listen to me. I’ve been watching too many James Bond films. Perhaps I should call you Bond. My little spy kitty.”
The kitten, as if it needed to live up to its new name, performed a death defying leap, claws first on to the curtains, hanging there for a minute before falling off.
All this distracted neatly, if accidentally, from the spontaneous combustion in the bin of the now compromised secret device.
“Stand down, 007,” Francis said, in a terrible posh accent.
The kitten miaowed, and for a second Francis could have sworn that he saw the cat salute reflexively before moving on to clean his leg.
First of all a piece of non challenge related news. A few weeks ago I was alerted by a couple of people (thanks guys!) to a whole list of writing competitions that had upcoming deadlines.
I decided that I didn’t want to enter any of my current stories to the competitions as they are, and I really wanted to do the editing for them all next year. However, there were a couple of contests that required me to write something new, which I have entered.
One of these entries was for a travel writing contest, which has since been published here. Publishing does not, unfortunately indicate that I have won. I’m still waiting to hear about that. But still, it’s another thing to add to my list of “places where my stupid opinions are on the Internet”.
The other contest was a flash fiction (less than 100 words) competition, which has not yet closed for entries. I’ll keep you updated as and when I know any more about that one.
The final competition update is that I forgot to mention the results of the other two competitions I entered. Unfortunately the bad sci fi contest seems to have just vanished, which is a shame, really. It was still an interesting exercise in having to write deliberately bad prose, which is harder than it sounds, so that’s something at least.
The other contest, the Llandudno Writing Group one, did not result in a win, sadly. I didn’t come in the top 6, who were the prize winners, but one of the stories, the one about the flood, was published in an anthology of the best competition entries online. I expect regular readers have read the story here before, but there’s some other good ones in there, so check the anthology out here.
Anyway, on to this week’s story, which was suggested by the delightfully funny Sebas (check him out on Twitter – @ohlookbirdies. He does come with an extreme pun warning, however). His idea was: ‘It turns out there is no such thing as outer space. Earth is surrounded by an orb of some sort. “Space” travellers are fed false information, and truly believe they went to space.’
I had to drop the last bit because I ran out of space, but I feel like I got the gist of it. Here it is:
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Order of the Orb
The Georgian science minister fiddled with his tie as he prepared to step up to the podium outside 8 Rustaveli Avenue, the address of the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
He was a little nervous. Only a junior minister by the standards of some of Georgia’s political elite, many of whom had been in post since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was sure that there were those who had been involved in the running of Georgia long before that, too.
Still, they had chosen him to make this announcement. It was one of the most important moments in his country’s history, and he supposed that the government wanted to present the youthful, media friendly face of the regime in this age of instant global news reporting.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to present the Minister for Science, Georgi Kakhaladze,” the announcer on stage said in to the microphone.
Georgi stepped up on to the podium and surveyed the crowd. Many journalists were present, and Tbilisi residents who had been walking past had stopped to see what all the commotion was. He cleared his throat.
“People of Georgia, and the world. I am proud to announce that within the next week the Georgian government will be ready to launch our first unmanned space flight. We are sending a rocket to space.”
Two hours later he walked back in to his office. The announcement and subsequent clamour of questions from the gathered media had been a success, he thought.
His secretary looked harangued, and there were a number of unfamiliar people sat on the chairs in the waiting area outside the office, all looking very uncomfortable indeed.
“Any messages, Jeti?” he asked.
“You could say that, sir,” his secretary replied. The people sat down there all wish to have an audience with you, urgently, and Vladimir Putin himself rang the office about 20 minutes ago.
“Ah, I expect they all want to congratulate me on the endeavours of the Georgian government,” Georgi said.
“I don’t think so, sir,” Jeti replied. Before Georgi could respond she had picked up the phone, only a millisecond after it had started to ring.
Georgi turned to the gathered throng of nervous looking individuals.
“So,” he said, clasping his hands together. “Who is first in line to offer their congratulations?”
It turned out that the gentleman at the head of the queue was named Marceaux, and he was the ambassador from France.
“Minister,” he said, as they both took chairs on opposite sides of Georgi’s desk. “The government of France protests most strongly at your government’s pursuit of a space programme without consultation with the United Nations or any other government.”
“What is to protest?” Georgi asked. “Surely it is only to the benefit of all mankind that more of our nations are able to reach our fingers in to the void of space?”
The French ambassador wrung his hands together.
“Alas, Mr Khakhaladze, it is not that simple. Monsieur Hollande insists that you cease plans for this unmanned space flight immediately. The consequences of your continuation will be…most regrettable.”
After Mr Marceaux left, Georgi saw the remainder of the visitors to his office. All of the meetings trod a remarkably similar path to the first.
Disappointment in the lack of cooperation with authorities that had been exhibited, and vague but nonspecific threats of consequences of the warnings were ignored. The whole thing left Georgi feeling drained.
At 4pm, with the last ambassador having offered up his warning, Georgi left the office. He decided that Mr Putin could wait until the morning.
Georgi walked along his street, in a quiet neighbourhood in western Tbilisi. As he approached his apartment building he noticed something suspicious. It seemed as though a black saloon car was following him along the street.
Without missing a beat, he recalled the training his secret service guards had given him, and dived down a side alley. He heard the car’s doors open and slam, and several feet giving chase. Turning a corner, he kept running, but stopped short when he ran in to the enormous bulk of a man dressed in all black.
“Nice try, Mr Khakhaladze,” the man said, before grabbing Georgi by the scruff of the neck and lifting him off the ground. The next thing he knew the lights had gone out, as someone had thrown a sack over his head.
Some time later, after much jostling and confusion, the bag was removed from Georgi’s head.
“Where am I?” he managed to blurt out, before one of his captors stuffed a gag in his mouth and tied it behind his head. He was also. He noted, tied by the arms and legs to a chair.
“Mr Khakhaladze,” a female voice came from behind him. “You will do us the service of listening to what we have to say.” Taking note of Georgi’s unsuccessful attempts to swing his head around and see his captors, the voice added, “You do not need to know who we are. Suffice it to say that we are what is known as the Illuminati.
“You must be wondering why we have brought you here. Well, it is no coincidence that it happens to be the day of your big announcement. We applaud your government, even we, with our wide reach had no idea you had gotten this far.
“We understand that there have been some naysayers visiting your offices already, making nonspecific threats of consequences if you proceed. They make these threats because they are scared. They know what the consequences of an unapproved nation achieving space flight are. In short, Mr Khakhaladze, they know that they will be revealed as frauds.”
Georgi was trying his best to say something, but the gag in his mouth made it impossible.
“Take the gag off him,” the voice instructed, “before he hurts himself.”
“What do you mean, revealed as frauds?” Georgi asked, after the gag had been removed.
“Space flight,” the voice continued, “is a lie. No one human being has ever left the atmosphere of this planet.”
“Come on,” Georgi scoffed. “I’m not that stupid.nwhat about the moon landings? Yuri Gagarin?”
“All faked, quite elaborately as well. An international conspiracy to keep some nations powerful by appearing vastly technologically advanced, and other nations weak.”
“Faked how? And why? Surely if a tiny country like Georgia can develop the technology, they would have had no trouble at all to get in to space.”
“Oh yes, they developed the technology. It is theoretically possible. The fix had to look convincing or no one would believe them. But they couldn’t do it for real.”
“Why not? If they had the technology surely it was easier to do it than to just fake it at that point?”
“They didn’t do it because it would have ended…badly.”
“Look, I understand that you’re the Illuminati, and that you’re supposed to be elusive, but this rope is starting to chafe my wrists so I’d appreciate it if you got to the point.”
“As you wish, Mr Khakhaladze. The attempt would have failed, as there is a giant orb surrounding the earth that the ship would have crashed in to, exploding in to a fireball and killing all on board.”
“What?” Georgi managed, after an uncomfortably long silence. “Who installed the orb?”
“Regrettably, we did.”
“Why would you encase the entire planet in an orb?”
“To save it. Several hundred years ago we detected the presence of an upcoming solar flare, the radiation from which would have wiped out all life on Earth. We had to do it to save humanity and the planet. So, we employed the greatest scientist and inventor of the day, Leonardo da Vinci, to build us an orb to protect us from the harm. It was so technologically advanced for the time, we were even able to project images of the sky on to it.”
“Why haven’t you taken it down?”
“The radiation levels have only recently subsided below acceptable levels.”
“But what about the United States, Russia, the International Space Station countries? Why did you let all this happen if you knew about the orb? You said that these countries using this as a way of gaining power. Why aren’t you stopping them?”
“We had to tell them. When Russia and America started their space programmes, we had to tell them before they crashed a ship in to the orb. It would have let the radiation in and killed us all. When they found this out, they knew we were powerless to stop them. We couldn’t stop them, lest they reveal our existence, and we couldn’t destroy the orb without destroying the planet.
“But your government’s space programme has fallen at a rather fortuitous time. They are scared. They know that the orb is no longer required. That their power will be broken if it is removed. Their programmes have fallen in to disuse because their position was so secure. Georgia is the first nation since the 1960s to develop its own space programme. You can be the first country in to space. You can break their domination of the world.”
“But how?” Georgi asked. “Surely the rocket will hit the orb and explode?”
“It will, but it will compromise the orb’s integrity. Pieces will start to break off and float away in to space, leaving enough room for a second rocket to go through.mwe know nothing about your space programme, but conventional wisdom would suggest that you at least have a backup rocket in case the first one fails.”
“And what of their threats?”
“Empty,” the voice replied. “They know that to declare war for such a trivial matter would be diplomatic suicide. They were merely hoping to dissuade you from your actions.”
“Very well,” Georgi said. “I will go along with your plan. Now will you please untie me?”
One week later Georgi sat at the newly unveiled Georgian National Space Centre, just outside Tbilisi. He was sat in the control room alongside the ambassadors of all the other spacefaring nations, whom he had personally invited to the launch.
They sat and watched as final preparations were made to Georgia’s first spacefaring rocket. After all checks were complete, the countdown began.
“Here we go,” said Georgi.
The rocket took flight, accompanied by silence in the control room. Less than a minute later, the rocket exploded in a gigantic fireball as it hit the orb.
“What a shame,” Monsieur Marceaux said, completely failing to conceal the smug look on his face. “The experiment was a failure.”
“Oh, we aren’t done yet, Monsieur,” Georgi replied. He turned to the controller, and added, “Davit, if you don’t mind?”
The controller pressed a number of buttons and a hangar door in the complex opened. Another rocket trundled out along some rails and took its position on the launchpad.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that first rocket was one big step for man. This next one will be one giant leap for mankind.”
This week’s story comes courtesy of my sidekick Josh Orr, and is about ‘A group of friends playing Monopoly, who discover that the transactions are taking place in their own bank accounts.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Do Not Pass ‘Go’
“Do we HAVE to play Monopoly?” James asked. “We have an entire set of bookshelves filled with board games and you’re choosing to play bloody Monopoly?”
“Yes,” Harriet replied, removing the game from the shelf, where it had sat unused and unloved beneath a copy of Settlers of Catan since they had moved in. “It’s a classic. Sometimes you just need to crack out the old favourites.”
“But it isn’t Christmas, and none of my family members are around to punch if I lose,” James protested in vain. He could tell that her mind was made up.
The doorbell rang.
“That’ll be Mark and Gemma now,” Harriet said. She had already unboxed the game and laid the money out in neat piles on the table.
James went to answer the door. Sure enough it was their friends Mark and Gemma, with whom they did a games night every other Thursday. They chose the games on a weekly rotation, and James secretly dreaded every time it came round to being his girlfriend’s week to choose.
She had been brought up on the ‘classics’ like Monopoly, and would always choose something from her childhood, and so the best he could hope for was a nice game of Risk every now and then. James would always say her picks were entry level games, and Harriet would call him a board game snob in return.
“I brought some Doritos!” Mark said by way of a greeting.
“I hope you brought enough,” James replied. “We’re in it for the long haul tonight.”
“I’ve decided that we should play Monopoly tonight!” Harriet exclaimed. Mark and Gemma exchanged a look. They were more used to meeple than Uncle Pennybags.
“Interesting choice,” Gemma remarked. Standing behind his girlfriend where she couldn’t see him, James shrugged.
With greetings exchanged and coats hung the foursome sat down to play. Mark picked the boot, Gemma the car, James the iron and Harriet, who was always the dog, picked the dog.
Play got off to a slow start, as it often did in Monopoly, with people jostling for property based on their bank balance, and taking pleasure in screwing others for rent prices.
After about an hour the game showed no signs of abating, and James read the mood of the room, or at least the mood of their guests, and declared a short break to order some pizza.
“Yeah,” he said to the girl on the end of the line. “Can I get 2 large pepperoni with stuffed crust, and one medium veggie feast?”
“Don’t forget the garlic bread!” Harriet hissed in his ear. Gemma and Mark nodded in agreement.
“Oh yeah, and two orders of cheesy garlic bread. Do we get any dips with that? OK good.”
He waited a few seconds while the bill was totted up.
“£35.47?” he said, repeating the girl’s words. “OK, here’s my card number…”
A few more seconds of silence passed as the payment was processed.
“What do you mean the payment was declined? Did you try again?”
“Not enough funds? Are you kidding me, I just got paid this morning. Hang on a second.”
He held the phone away from his ear and turned to talk to the group.
“Sorry, can one of you front this? My card has been declined. I’ll get the pizza next time.”
“Sure,” Gemma said, fishing her debit card out of her purse. A few moments later and the transaction was complete.
“I’m sorry to interrupt the game any more,” James said, once he had hung up the phone, “but I’d better get on to the bank to find out where all my bloody money has gone.”
James spent a frustrating half an hour on hold to the bank, although mercifully it was half an hour he wasn’t playing Monopoly. Eventually he got to speak to someone; a chipper sounding fellow from Scotland.
“Hello, welcome to First Bank Customer Services, you’re through to William. How can I help?”
“Hi William. My card has just been declined for lack of funds, but I know for a fact I got paid this morning, and I had some credit before that too.”
“Let me just bring up today’s records and see if any charges have been made. Ah yes, it seems that first of all you put down a small deposit of £3,500 on a house on the Old Kent Road, which sounds very good for a house in London, I might add. Oh, it seems there’s a few charges marked here as ‘rent’ to a Gemma Rogers, a Mark Jones and a Harriet Ringer.”
James nearly dropped the phone.
“Excuse me one second,” he said to the call centre rep, placing his hand over the phone. “We have to stop playing Monopoly!” he said to the group. “Whatever we are buying or charging rent on is happening in real life. According to this guy I’ve just bought a bloody house on Old Kent Road, which is where I’ve got my only house on the board. He also said that I’ve paid you all ‘rent’.”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous,” Harriet said. “Look James, I know you don’t think Monopoly is fun or interesting enough for board game nights but I do. If you didn’t want to play that badly you should have said something rather than making up this nonsense.”
“I’m not making it up!” James protested.
“He’s not either,” Gemma added. “I’ve just checked on my banking app and look, rent payments from you all.”
“Oh bloody hell!” Mark said, also looking at his phone. “I’m £25k in the red because of all the houses and properties I’ve bought.”
“I guess the lack of funds doesn’t apply to the game…” Gemma noted.
“What are we going to do?” Harriet asked.
“We should sell the houses and properties back to the bank first of all,” James said, before hanging up on the bank representative.
“But they buy them back at a lower rate. We’re still going to be thousands in the hole,” Mark said, looking as though he was beginning to panic.
“Leave it to me,” Harriet smiled. “I’m an expert Monopoly player. If we play sensibly there is a way to cheat the system so that everyone comes out up.”
“Are you sure it will work?” Gemma asked.
“Positive,” Harriet replied.
The gang all sat down again and, under Harriet’s instructions, began to play the game of their lives. Property and money changed hands only when and how Harriet directed it.
Another half an hour went by and things were starting to look brighter for their bank balances. James, who had lost the least, was back in the black, with Gemma and Harriet not far behind. Mark, who had been doing the best at the time the game had stopped, was still some way off, but Harriet was in the middle of using some of James’ excess to pay it back.
“Come on guys,” she said. “We’re almost there. Just another £3000, and we’re set.”
“I have to say, Harri,” James said, “this is actually kind of fun, playing Monopoly with real money. It’s kind of a thrill.”
“Yeah!” Gemma agreed. “This must be what it was like to be one of the Great Train Robbers. You know they played with real money after they turned over that train?”
Harriet, who was concentrating, and Mark, who was still several thousand pounds in debt, failed to join their partners in seeing the funny side of the situation.
“Come on guy, let’s focus,” Harriet chided. Mark grunted in agreement.
A few turns later and they were nearly at the magic number.
“Come on, James,” Harriet said encouragingly. “A 3, 5 or 6 will land you on one of Mark’s greens and you’ll be back even.”
James, his hands shaking, rolled the dice. The whole room breathed a sigh of relief as a double 3 came up. James forked over the money, and everyone was all square again.
“We should quit while we are back on track,” Mark said.
The other three were all too happy to agree. Breaking even again was one thing, but when your own money was on the line in such large amounts, gambling even more didn’t seem like a good idea.
“But wait,” Harriet said. “We can’t finish here. James rolled a double and so he has another go. We have to wait until the end of his turn.”
Nervously, James picked up the dice again and with a last glance at his friends rolled them again. The four all looked on in horror as a double 1 came up.
“It’s ok guys, it’s only a chance,” Harriet said.
James tentatively picked a card and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Second prize in a beauty contest… But I still have one more turn because I rolled another double.”
Once again the gangster watched in anticipation as the dice bounced on the table. A hush fell over the room. It was another double.
“What does that mean?” James asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“Three doubles in a row means that…you go to jail,” Harriet answered.
At that moment there was a loud knocking on the front door.
“It’s the bloody fuzz!” James shrieked. “They’ve come to throw me in the slammer!”
Harriet slowly approached the door and, meekly asked, “Who is it?” There was no reply. A few seconds later, the knock was repeated. James cursed the lack of peephole in the door.
“Just…just answer it,” he said. “Get it over with already.”
“Are you sure?” Harriet asked. The knock came again, and James nodded.
Harriet took a deep breath and opened the door wide.
“Pizza delivery!” the delivery driver exclaimed cheerfully. His expression dropped when he saw the look of horror on the four’s faces. “What happened?” he asked. “It looks like you thought I was coming to arrest you all.”
“Not all of us,” Harriet said, taking the pizza and slamming the door. “Not all of us.”
Another week goes by, and of course another story appears. I’ve only got nine more to go which is a bit scary. When I started out on this I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to twenty, let alone forty, let alone forty three. But here we are.
This week’s suggestion came from my cousin, Robert, who is getting married in the new year, which is exciting. His idea was ‘a man contracts a rare disease, whereby various parts of his body keep swapping with each other. His future looks bleak and uncertain, until he meets a girl with the same condition.’
And here it is!
2014 – A Year In Stories
Arse From Elbow
Joe was exhausted. Hot and exhausted and thirsty. He had been walking around Rome all afternoon in the blistering heat of a summer’s day, and, like a genius had forgotten to bring his water bottle with him.
He had tried and tried to dip in to a shop to buy one, but every time he tried the tour guide had moved on, and he didn’t want to lose the group.
Finally, the tour had stopped at the Trevi Fountain, and it looked like they would be stood still long enough for Joe to quench his thirst. Seizing his opportunity, he strode in to the nearest vendor’s and made for the fridge.
Joe was taken aback.
“Water is how much?!” he asked out loud.
“4 Euro a bottle,” the shop owner replied.
“4 Euro a bottle?” Joe repeated.
“That’s what I said, are you stupid or something?”
“I’m not paying that for a bottle of bloody water.”
“What, you think it will be cheaper elsewhere? This is the Trevi Fountain, everything is inflated around here.”
Joe struggled long and hard with his principles, and in the end decided that he never pay another person £3.50 for the privilege of drinking half a litre of water as long as he lived. Sometimes sticking to your guns was more important.
Going back outside to join the tour group, Joe licked his dry lips. If he couldn’t buy water he would have to get it some other way. He scanned around and then it hit him. There was a fountain right in front of him the whole time. All he would have to do would be to scoop up some of the fountain water and he would be ok.
Striding down to the fountain, he cupped his hands and pooled some of the water in them, raised them to his lips and drank deeply. Blessed relief.
“Mummy,” a nearby British child said. “Why is that strange man drinking from the fountain?”
“Don’t look at him dear,” the mother replied. “He only wants attention.”
But Joe didn’t care about the attention. He was gulping down the water by the handful. Whilst it was relieving, Joe noticed that it did taste rather metallic. Probably something to do with all of the coins people threw in to the fountain to bring them back to Rome. He didn’t care, though.
His thirst sated, Joe rejoined the group and went on his merry way, thoroughly enjoying the rest of his walk around Rome that afternoon.
The next day, Joe woke up in his hotel room and yawned deeply. The yawn sounded distant, as if it was coming from further away than normal. These old palazzo rooms must have unusual acoustics, he reasoned.
He had another busy day of sightseeing ahead of him. The forum was on his agenda today, followed by a trip to see the Protestant cemetery, where Shelley was buried.
Joe swung his legs out of bed, and went to stand up. But, instead of finding himself up and ready to face the day, he found himself down and very definitely facing the floor. When he had gone to stand up it was almost like one of his legs had been…missing.
Putting it down to a dead leg, he attempted to haul himself up off the floor, but where his hands usually were, he felt what appeared to be a nose.
“What the?” he said. But Joe didn’t hear his voice was if it was coming from his face. He looked down at his errant leg, and noticed that where his foot used to be, his mouth had now taken up residence.
“That isn’t right…” he said, watching his mouth move as he spoke. The effect was very strange. “This must be a dream,” he concluded, still wat hing the mouth, his mouth, speaking every word from the end of his ankle. If he wasn’t dreaming, he must be sporting the world’s most impressive set of vocal chords.
With his remaining active hand, Joe pinched himself, and it hurt. What was happening to him? He decided that he needed to see a doctor immediately. The forum would have to wait.
Dragging himself over to the phone proved difficult,my it eventually he made it. He went to cradle the phone against his ear, but the receiver merely slapped against his other hand. He eventually found the ear halfway down his back, which made phone logistics somewhat difficult.
A short but complicated conversation that had involved a lot of shouting with reception later, and Joe had arranged for a doctor to come up to his room.
Half an hour later, there was a knock on Joe’s hotel room door.
“It’s open,” he called out through a mouthful of hair, as his mouth had recently decided to relocate itself to the top of his head.
“Mio dio!” the doctor declared as he walked in and saw Joe’s condition. “This is the worst case or cartegomititis I’ve ever seen!”
“Cartegomititis?” Joe asked, worried. “What is that?”
“It is an extremely rare condition where your body literally, as you English put it, does not know its own arse from its own elbow. Do you understand?”
“Not really, that’s just an old expression.”
“Ah not so, many of these old expressions they have some grounding in reality, yes? This is the case here as well. Cartegomititis causes your body parts to wander around, as it were. Your features will go walkies.”
“Why is this happening to me, doc? What did I do to catch this?”
“Currently the only known cause of the disease is drinking water contaminated with a high copper level. Do you think you could have done that recently?”
“Yesterday I drank from the Trevi fountain…” Joe admitted.
“Idiota!” the doctor barked at him. “Why would you drink water from a fountain like that? People throw all sorts in there.”
“In my defence I was really, really thirsty.”
“This is bad news. I’d never heard of a case in Rome before, but it seemed that the fountain is contaminated. We must have access closed down immediately. The public’s health could be at risk.”
“How do I get be…ugh. What’s that smell?” Joe asked.
“What smell?” the doctor replied. “I can’t smell anything.”
A second later Joe realised what had happened. His nose had rather unfortunately decided to move to a new home right where his coccyx normally was, and was thus hovering right over his arse.
“Never mind,” Joe replied, trying his best not to throw up through his hair. “How do I get better?”
“I’m afraid cartegomititis has no known cure.”
“So I’m stuck like this forever?” Joe asked, anguished.
“Not necessarily. It has been observed subsiding in patients after two years or so, and most people who recover have their body return completely to normal. A course of physical therapy in the meantime will keep active muscles that you may struggle to use day to day.”
“You’re welcome, now I must warn the city council immediately before we have an epidemic on our hands, or on whatever replaces our hands after we contract the disease.”
With that the doctor left the hotel room, and Joe was alone once more.
Joe elected to curtail the rest of the holiday and went back to England on the next flight out. A week later after having been signed off sick from work he turned up at the hospital for his first physical therapy session.
He lollopped his way over to the chair, because that was the only way he could really describe his movement these days thanks to the constantly changing position of his legs and feet, and sat down.
Joe was disappointed to find himself as the only person at the cartegomititis clinic. He had rather hoped that he might have found solace in others.
Taking a seat rather awkwardly, Joe picked up a magazine and tried in vain to read, but it seemed as though his arms and eyes were being uncooperative at this point, and so he gave up.
“Excuse me,” came a woman’s voice from behind him. In a motion that was surprisingly graceful under the conditions, Joe swivelled around in his chair. “Is this the cartegomititis clinic?”
The voice was owned by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Most importantly. She was also suffering from his own affliction. He had a compatriot.
“Yes, you’re in the right place,” he stammered out of his elbow.
“Good, this hospital is so confusing. It’s like a labyrinth!”
“I guess that makes me the monster at the centr of the labyrinth, then,” Joe replied, immediately cursing his crap attempt at humour. But, to his surprise, the girl was laughing.
“My name is Grace,” she said.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Grace. I’m Joe.”
“Looks like it’s just the two of us,” she observed.
“Looks that way. Is this your first session?”
“Yeah, I only found out I had this thing last week.”
“Do you mind me asking how you got it?”
“Not at all,” Grace replied. “I was really thirsty,” she went on, “and I decided to take a drink from a nearby wishing fountain…”
“Say no more,” Joe said, interrupting her. “Say no more.”
The observant among you will note that I’ve written a couple of stories about ghosts (I don’t consider either of them ‘ghost stories’) over the last few weeks. The timing of these in the run up to Halloween has been purely coincidental.
This week however, I had a list of about 12 suggestions to use in the run in to the end of the year, and I picked this week’s theme specifically because the plan I had for it was actually much more in line with a ‘horror’ story than either of the ghost pieces.
Anyway, the suggestion I chose this week came from Dean Horsefield, who suggested that I write a story about ‘A kid who opens the curtains one morning to find their room is now part of a giant dollhouse. The rest of the family are oblivious.’
Enjoy. OR DON’T. *spooky laugh* *crack of thunder*
2014 – A Year In Stories
Toys R Us
“It’s 7.30am!” the alarm clock blared, “And boy, we’ve got some absolute classics coming up for you before 8. Let’s kick you off with some Wham!”
Becca’s hand finally found the snooze button, just in time to prevent her hearing George Michael’s requests to wake him up before she went-went.
The alarm clock had been a present, if you could call it that, from her parents for her tenth birthday earlier in the year. Her mum had said that as she was growing up she would need to learn to get herself out of bed, and not rely on her parents.
Her father had added, with the sort of self congratulatory laughter that often comes from a father about to commit a dad joke related crime, that it was going to be her worst enemy for the next 50 years, and knowing your enemy was half the battle.
Becca hadn’t understood that one, but then she rarely got any of her dad’s ‘jokes’. Anyway, she already had a worst enemy: Karen Timpson. If she had another then neither of them could be the worst.
She rolled over and went back to sleep.
9 minutes later the alarm came back to life in the middle of ’5, 6, 7, 8′ by Steps. Becca lay in bed until the song finished, and the enthusastic DJ started rambling on about something or other. She wondered how anyone could be that cheerful at 7.41 in the morning. He must be an alien, she decided.
Reluctantly she got out of bed and out her dressing gown on over her pyjamas. It was late autumn, and the air was beginning to get chilly. Her father refused to put the heating on until he saw the first Coca Cola Christmas advert, and right now their TV was on the fritz.
Out of the corner of her eye, Becca could have sworn she saw something moving outside her window.
This was very strange indeed, as her bedroom was on the first floor. She dismissed it as tiredness. After all, she had only slept for 10 hours last night.
But then she saw it again. Curious, she wandered over and pulled back the curtains. She shrieked so loud that her parents, who were downstairs having breakfast, rushed upstairs immediately.
“Becca?!” her dad shouted, bursting in to the room. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
“An eye!” Becca said. “A giant eye outside the window!”
Her dad walked over to the window and opened the curtains, which Becca had jerked shut again immediately upon seeing the eye. The eye was gone.
“Come now, dear,” her mum soothed. “You must be seeing things. Come downstairs and have some toast.”
“I’m NOT seeing things!” Becca replied, shrugging her mum off. “It was THERE!”
Her mum and dad shared a look.
“Of course it was, sweet pea,” her dad said. “We believe you. But you’ll feel better after something to eat.”
Toast did sound appealing, so, reluctantly, Becca allowed her parents to lead her downstairs.
Becca sat at the table, and tucked in to her third round of toast. The scare that she had got from the eye earlier on had made her very hungry.
“Would you like some eggs with that, dear?” her mother asked.
“Ooh, yes please mum,” Becca replied, pushing the memory of what she saw from her head.
But, to her horror, instead of walking over to the oven to make the eggs like a normal mum would have, something very strange happened.
The kitchen was filled with light as the wall swung away, and a giant hand reached in. The hand picked up her mum, who seemed totally oblivious to the whole experience, and placed her down in front of the cooker, where she began to busy herself with the preparation of the eggs.
Becca stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed in disbelief. The slice of toast she was holding tumbled from her grip and landed, butter side down, on her plate.
“Did you see that?!” she asked incredulously, as the hand withdrew and the wall swung back in to place.
Her dad, who was sipping at a mug of tea and reading the Sunbury Morning Post, glanced up and said, “Hmm?”
“The wall…a hand…picked up mum!” Becca gibbered. “How did you miss it?”
The look her parents shared this time betrayed much more concern.
“Are you feeling alright, sweet pea?” her dad asked.
Her mum, moving normally now, walked over from the oven and pressed a hand against her forehead. “No temperature,” she said.
“Perhaps you should stay home from school today, get some rest,” her dad said. “Just in case.”
“I’m fine!” Becca replied. She thought about going to school, but when she really dug down for the memories, beyond what was on the surface, she couldn’t remember anything about her school. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever having left the house before.
She thought that she could picture trips to the cinema, the park or visiting a friend’s house, but somehow all the memories seemed false, and she definitely couldn’t remember any of the journeys.
In a panic Becca bolted from the room. Did her parents feel the same way? Why had she realised this all of a sudden? She sat, her head in her hands on the bottom step, wondering if her brain was playing tricks on her. Could she even trust her own memories anymore?
Come to think of it, she had always wondered how the family got their stuff. They never went shopping, but every week new items would appear in the house. Cutlery, crockery, furniture and clothes all appeared out of nowhere, as if by magic.
She recalled the time that a new summer dress had appeared in her wardrobe. Upon closer inspection the dress had a tag, which had read ‘Smith Co. Summer Dress SC01127′. On the reverse of the tag there had been an unusually large price sticker, indicating that the dress had cost £0.99, which had always seemed awfully cheap for such a nice dress.
A thought struck her. She ran upstairs and opened her toy cupboard. Flinging aside toy trains, a hobby horse and some clothes she had shoved in there to pass a room-tidiness inspection, she finally found what she was looking for. Her old dolls house.
She’d had the thing as long as she could remember. Her dad had always boasted that he had made it for her, but she had found the remains of a scraped off sticky label on the bottom that suggested otherwise. Being a veritable grown up now at age 10, she couldn’t be seen playing with dolls anymore, and the thing had lain undisturbed beneath a pile of stuff in her toy cupboard for the last couple of years. She gave it the once over, and then, rather gingerly put her theory to the test. With one hand on each half of the house, she slowly swung it open.
Sure enough it came apart, operating on a set of hinges. Becca gently placed the house on the floor in front of her and sat there, not sure what to do or how to react.
Her silent introspection was broken by her mother shouting up the stairs for her.
“Becca!” she called. “Abigail is here to see you.”
Odd, thought Becca as she got to her feet. She hadn’t heard the door bell, or any knocking. As she went out on to the upstairs landing, she could have sworn she saw the walls of the house close up again, just as they had in the kitchen.
When she got downstairs, Abigail was sat at the kitchen table.
“Abigail,” Becca said urgently. “How did you get here?”
“Well my mum brought… Or did I walk? I don’t think I rode my bike.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit odd?” she asked the room. She’s only been here 2 minutes and she already can’t remember how she got here.”
“Oh don’t be silly, dear,” her mum replied. “Abbie’s always been a bit forgetful, haven’t you, love?”
“That’s right,” Abbie smiled. “Shall we go upstairs and play?” she added.
“Play, but we’ve got to go to school. Dad, why haven’t you left for work? It’s almost 8.30.”
“Oh, no work or school today, sweet pea,” her dad replied, his head still buried in the paper.
“But two minutes ago you said I could stay home from school…” Becca trailed off, as her mum was busying herself about the washing up, and her dad was engrossed in the sports section. Neither of them was listening to her.
“Look,” she said to Abigail. “I appreciate you coming to visit, but now isn’t a very good time. Some strange things are happening around here and I think I’m the only one who has noticed.”
“Oh, strange like what?” Abigail asked.
Becca looked at both her parents, then leaned in to her friend and whispered conspiratorially, “I think we are living in a dolls house.”
“Oh!” Abigail replied. “That is strange. Well, I’ll see you later I suppose.”
And with that, the walls swung aside again, and the hand reached in and plucked Abigail out of the kitchen. Becca’s mum went to put some dishes away in a cupboard that had been on the wall, but they fell and smashed on the floor instead.
“How strange,” she muttered, and began to sweep up the mess with a broom as if it was completely normal for your cupboards to temporarily vanish.
Maybe this is all a dream? Becca thought. Yes, that must be it. I’m still snoozing after I turned the alarm off this morning and this has all been a weird dream. Perhaps, she mused, in order to wake up, I need to go back to bed in the dream.
Before the walls closed up again, the hand returned and picked Becca up. It removed her from the room and went up a level, before moving back the covers on her bed and placing her underneath.
With its final act before withdrawing and closing the house up, the giant hand tucked her in.
Ah yes, Becca thought. That’s much better. I’ll be awake in no time, and I can tell mum and dad about this funny dream over a couple of rounds of toast.
The walls closed back up, and the house was complete again.
“Mitzy, honey, we have to go.”
“But mum!” the little girl protested.
“You can play with your dolls later, sweety, but right now we are going to see your Grandad,” her mother replied, firmly.
Mitzy stood up from the floor and went to leave the room. Just as she was about to walk out of the door she remembered that she still had the Abigail doll in her hand. Running back over, she placed it in a box next to the house.
“Mitzy!” her mum called. “I’ll not ask you again.”
“Coming mum!” she replied, grabbing her coat and shutting the door behind her.
I had a bit of a choice about which story I went with this week, which was nice. Wishing to continue with the vague Halloween theme from this month, and for maximum spoopiness, I have gone for another ghost story. This time it was suggested by Steph Minshull-Jones! ‘A host decides to have some fun with people who don’t believe in ghosts.’
2014 – A Week In Stories
The Ghostess With the Mostest
Sandy walked down the street to the station, as she did at this time of the morning every day of the week. She went through the barriers at the station entrance, made her way down the escalator and got on the waiting train.
This was her daily routine because it brought her some semblance of normality. She had no job, nor a need to have one. Riding the rails every morning reminded her of what her life used to be like. It reminded her of better times.
Times were no longer normal for Sandy. When she walked down the road people would no longer make an effort to get out of her way, and instead walked right through her. Passing through the ticket barrier meant literally passing through it, and descending the escalator could quickly lead to descending in to the escalator with a simple lapse of concentration.
Sandy’s life was not normal, because she did not in fact have one, being that she was a ghost. She estimated that she had been dead nearly a couple of years. Time was a rather redundant concept when you had all of it to look forward to, but she still came down to the train every day all the same.
It was a way to pass a fraction of the time she had to spend in the afterlife.
Other than riding in trains of a morning, Sandy had a fairly empty existence. As a ghost she couldn’t interact with corporeal objects without extreme concentration. It was a mystery what kept her from sinking through the floor more often. She often found herself visiting friends or family, or floating in to a nearby house to watch the television, but that was no fun when no one could interact with you, or even knew you were there.
Generally she avoided the company of other ghosts. Sandy was frustrated by their similar inability to interact with everyday objects, and found that most only ever wanted to talk about their cause of death rather than celebrating their lives in retrospect.
This was a subject that she had no interest in exploring in any depth with the billions of potential ghosts she would potentially meet between now and the end of time. Much like when meeting other travellers in hostels around the world, ghosts tended to have a stock set of questions that they asked any new spectral acquaintance, and so she had developed a standard set of answers to go with them for when polite conversation was unavoidable.
What’s your name? Sandy Dunstable; Where are you from? Epping Forest; How long have you been dead? A couple of years; How did you die? Severe anaphylactic shock; etc., though if pushed she would concede that you would probably never get asked the last two in a hostel by the beach in Bali.
To top it all off she had no idea what her purpose in death was. One of her fellow ghosts had once told her that not everyone becomes a spirit, and that only those with unfinished business don’t pass on directly in to the great beyond. Beyond that, she had been given no clues or reassurances other than that when she worked it out she would pass on to eternal rest.
In other words, Sandy’s afterlife had hit a rut, insofar as that was possible. She contemplated this one morning as she rode the train in to the city centre. Perhaps, she mused, she should go to a hostel in Bali, and see if those were the sorts of questions that got asked.
After much deliberation she decided that she probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate hard enough for long enough to keep her on the plane all the way to Indonesia. Sandy may have no body to lose anymore, but she had always been squeamish about heights, and it appeared that this affliction had followed her beyond the grave. Anyway, she reasoned, the questions asked in those type of hostels were much more likely to be geared towards getting in to the pants of e other travellers than they would be existential quandaries about the nature of mortality.
The train rumbled on its merry way, oblivious to its ghostly cargo. Several other spirits boarded the train every morning, and they were probably the closest thing Sandy had to friends, though she had not spoken a word to any of them. Slowly they filtered off as the train came to a halt at various stops, until Sandy noticed that only one slightly misty figured remained at the other end of the carriage.
Sandy observed the figure, whom she had never seen before. She figured that whoever he was, he must be new to the whole thing, because she saw him approach a young couple on the train, looking as if he meant to interact with them. Watching with interest mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism for the fellow’s chances, Sandy found herself beyond surprised when the interloper managed to not only touch the couple. But spooked them enough that they got off at the next stop, muttering something about the train being haunted.
Awestruck, Sandy briefly lost concentration and nearly fell through the train to the tracks below. The ghostly man also got off at the stop, and Sandy had to muster all of her wits to stop gawking at what she had just witnessed and follow him. If he could interact with humans, maybe he could interact with objects. Maybe he could even teach her.
Sandy sprinted through the station, trying to catch up with the man, who was obscured by the crowds. Eventually she caught sight of him leaving the station and wandering off down the street and caught up with him. She felt as though she should be panting from the exertion, but on balance decided that might be a bit weird.
“How did you do that?” she asked to the back of the man’s head, or at least the bit of it that was opaque enough to see.
“Do what?” he asked, turning around. Sandy noticed that he had been young when he died, like her.
“You touched those people. You made them jump. Can you teach me how to do that?”
The man looked puzzled. “Teach you?” he asked. “Can’t all ghosts do that?”
“No!” Sandy replied. “In fact, you’re the first I’ve seen in about two years who can. God knows we all try for a while, but none of us ever manage it.”
“Oh…” the man looked contemplative. “It took me a little while to pick it up. At first I couldn’t, but then I switched to lateral thinking and decided to think of myself as the object I was trying to touch, and think that I really wanted to be touched…” He blushed. “Sorry, that came out a bit ruder than I intended.”
“Of course!” Sandy shouted, not sure she actually understood what he had just said, but wanting to make it look as though she had. “Can you show me?”
The man cast about for a suitable subject, and settled on a drinks can that someone had left on the wall nearby.
“Right,” he said, concentrating on the can. “If I try and move it because I want it to move it doesn’t go anywhere. But if I envision the can, think why it would want to move, I can do whatever I like with it.”
Sure enough, as he said that he moved his hand through the can, which dutifully toppled off the wall and landed on the pavement with a clatter.
“You give it a try,” he urged.
It took a while, as he had suggested it might, but eventually Sandy managed to detach her mind for long enough to get inside the can and move it along the pavement. It was exhausting, but she had never felt more satisfied with an accomplishment in her entire life or death.
“How does it work on people?” Sandy asked, after recovering from her exertion.
“Oh, it doesn’t really,” the man, whose name Sally had discovered to be Roy said. When he noticed the look of disappointment on her face he quickly added, “Well, it might. I haven’t tried it.”
“But I saw you spook that couple!” Sandy protested.
“I touched the guy’s jacket, not him, and then I made the girl’s purse zip and unzip by itself. I guess it might work on people, but it feel a bit weird about the idea of imagining how complete strangers would like to be touched. I’m a ghost, not a pervert.”
Sandy couldn’t help but laugh at this. She spent the next few days training with Roy, building up her abilities until she could pick the can up and move it several feet before it became too difficult to continue.
One evening as they sat watching the sunset it occurred to Sandy that she had not caught the train in several days. This whole new experience was simply too much fun, and she was so glad to have met another ghost who seemed rather underwhelmed by the rules and formalities of the spirit society. She didn’t even know how he had died.
For the first time since she had passed on, Sandy felt like she had a purpose.
“Why were you scaring that couple anyway?” she asked him one day.
“Boredom,” Roy replied. “I’ve given up trying to work out what my dumb quest is. I figure it will be obvious when it needs to be, and until then I might as well have some fun. Right,” he added, jumping off the wall they had been stood on and floating gently to the ground below. “I think it’s time for your first scare, and I know just the location.”
Even though he was largely see through Sandy could still see the glint in his eye, and could tell that he was up to no good.
Ten minutes later they arrived at their destination: a pub in Shoreditch called the Nine Friars.
“What are we doing here?” Sandy asked. Roy responded by pointing at the sign outside the door, which read ‘Skeptics’ Society Meeting Today’.
“They’re focussing on the paranormal today,” he added by way of elucidation.
The pair skulked in a corner and watched the meeting unfold for a while. This, Roy reasoned, would give Sandy a chance to pick her victim.
Eventually they settled on the group’s leader, a rather severe man in his early 30s with a pony tail and a goatee. He was certainly old enough to know better on both counts.
Throughout the meeting he had been waxing lyrical about how ghosts were clearly not real, and that anyone who claimed otherwise was an idiot, and probably had the audacity to believe in God to boot. Richard Dawkins, he asserted, probably did not believe in ghosts.
Sandy scanned the man for an opportunity, and eventually decided on grabbing the hair and holding his ponytail in place.
Well, she thought as she heard the man scream in terror as his head jerked backwards, this was hardly her purpose in the afterlife. She wasn’t still here on this earth to go round pulling Atheists hair all day. But, until she found out why she was still here, she had to agree with Roy. It was a fun way to pass the time.
…sung to the Dad’s Army theme.
This week’s suggestion is from my friend Manda Richardson, who has recently started to do very well in some animation competitions. Congratulations Manda! I’m sure you will all see the fruits of her labour very soon.
Anyway, her suggestion was for me to write a story about ‘A person who realises their cat is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Why Do You Think You’re A Kitty Mr Hitler?
“Our prices are extremely low this year,” the Avon lady explained to Juliet. “We have made some savings in our packaging department and this has allowed us to pass the savings on to you, the customer. I’m sure you’ll find the prices more than competitive.”
Juliet wasn’t usually the sort to let door-to-door salespeople in for a chat, but she was new in town and didn’t really know anyone yet, so she was grateful for the company. It didn’t hurt that she had been in the market for some new eye shadow, either.
Just as the Avon lady was preparing to show her skin are samples, Juliet’s pet cat, Socks, came prowling in to the room and leapt up on to her lap. She began to pet the cat as the lady went on about sea salt facial scrubs.
“Now, see, what the benefit is…” the woman said before trailing off.
“Is everything OK?” Juliet asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” the Avon lady replied. “It’s just that your cat looks so remarkably like Adolf Hitler.”
“I, uh, I’d never noticed,” said Juliet, leaning round to have a look at Socks’ face. The cat purported not to notice the special attention that was being paid to him, as he swatted idly at a fly. “Now you mention it, though, he sort of does…”
Sure enough, a diagonal streak of black fur crowned his head, where the parting would be, and another small patch just under the nose where the dictator’s famous moustache had grown.
Juliet had only recently got Socks from a cat shelter, taking full advantage of the fact that her landlord had failed to put a ‘no pets’ clause in her contract. The lady at the shelter had said that Socks had been to a few homes already, but always came back as unmanageable. He had seemed to take a shine to her, however, and caused no trouble so far.
“I hear there are whole websites devoted to that sort of thing on the internet,” the Avon lady said, as she packed up her samples. “I’ve left you a catalogue, just be sure to mention my name if you do decided to order anything.”
Juliet saw the woman out and went back to her job search in the local paper. When’s he got back to the living room, Socks had disappeared as he so often did during the day. Probably chasing mice or birds no doubt.
It was a frustrating afternoon. Her search bore no fruition, and Juliet began to question the wisdom of moving halfway across the country on a whim. Thirsty, she went through to the kitchen to get a drink.
She looked up as she poured some orange juice in to a glass and saw Socks sitting on the external sill of the kitchen window, next to her begonias. His back was turned, and he appeared to be mewing at something or someone. Probably a dead bird.
Juliet walked over to the window to see what he was looking at, and nearly dropped her orange juice in surprise. Outside, the decking was filled with cats, all of whom were staring up intently at Socks, who was mewing away authoritatively.
Every cat in the neighbourhood must be out there, Juliet thought. Surely they weren’t all…listening to him? She decided that she had been in the house too long and went out for a walk.
As she returned from her walk to the shops, Juliet’s attention was caught by a scream that came from the next door neighbour’s back garden. She rushed down the side passage of her house and out in to her own back garden, where the erstwhile kitty congregation had dispersed.
Peering over the fence to see what the commotion was about, she saw her neighbours, a middle aged couple, tackling a fire in the doghouse. The woman was aiming a fire extinguisher at the wooden construction, which was now merely smoking, while her husband held their poodle in his arms.
“What happened?” Juliet asked when the fire was out for certain.
“It looks like a mouse got in and nibbled the wires,” her neighbour replied, dipping her head in to the charred remains of the doghouse. She reached in and pulled out a small, very dead, mouse. “See?”
“What a horrible thing to happen.”
“Oh yes, we’re just so glad our Floofykins is alright, aren’t we Floofykins?” the husband replied, snuggling the rather reluctant poodle right up to his face.
Juliet elected to leave them to it, although she couldn’t shake from her head the fact that she was sure she had seen Socks slinking away surreptitiously from behind the doghouse.
When Juliet got back in to the living room and sat down, Socks wandered in and jumped up on to her lap. She stroked his head, and he kneaded her legs with his claw as in an affectionate manner.
“You’re not really Hitler, are you boy?” she asked the cat, who mewed in response.
But she couldn’t get it out of her mind. First the cat rally and now a suspicious fire with an unlikely suspect? What if the Avon lady was more right than she knew. What if socks didn’t just look like Hitler? What if he was…
It seemed silly, but if it was true then she had to know for sure. Casting her mind back to her walk earlier Juliet remembered seeing an advert on a lamp post for a pet psychic. She wasn’t generally inclined to believe in the occult, but giving the guy a call seemed better sooner rather than later after Socks had claimed Lebensraum in a neighbour’s flower bed.
Ten minutes later Juliet was back in her front room, the advert clutched in her hand. She found her cordless phone and dialled the number. A quick explanation later and John Young: Animal Psychic was on his way round.
The van pulled up outside Juliet’s house, and a middle aged man in a purple velvet jacket got out. He smoothed his clothes down and walked up the path.
“You must be Juliet,” he said, extending a hand, which Juliet took. “Now where’s the great dictator?”
They went in to the house, where Juliet found Socks asleep, stretched out in no patch of sun that was coming through the living room window.
“Now let me take a look here,” John said, placing a hand on Socks’ forehead. This didn’t seem to disturb the cat, and a few seconds later he stood up.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid that your cat is indeed the physical reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.”
“What, it’s that simple?” Juliet asked, bewildered. “You only touched him for a second!”
“Ms Harper,” John Young: Animal Psychic replied, “I’m just very good at my job.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
“Animal reincarnation is quite common. Eventually someone – or something – was bound to come back as Hitler. That cat has by far the darkest psychic presence I’ve ever come across. Unmistakably a great and evil being has come back in to existence within him.
“Oh, and Pol Pot and Stalin were accounted for recently, I’ve got a lead that Genghis Khan is in a German Shepherd up in Leeds, and most of the others were rounded up ages ago. Pretty much just left Hitler. The real clue was the actions, though. The spirits tend to repeat their old actions, and based on what you were describing it’s got Adolf’s calling cards written all over it.”
“Rounded up?” Juliet asked. “You mean this is quite common?”
“Oh yeah, happens all the time. Psychic community does its best to keep tabs on the real doozies. The ones that are likely to offend again, given the chance. This one would have been purging the neighbourhood cats and declaring war on the next street over before you knew it. It’s good you called when you did.”
“So, what happens now? What is your fee?”
“Oh, no fee for this one ma’am. Knowing that I was the one that collared history’s greatest monster is reward enough for me on this occasion. I’ll take socks to our containment facility, where he will lead a good full life, just away from any temptation to commit acts of unspeakable evil.”
“That’s good, I suppose…” Juliet said. Even though it turned out her cat was the reincarnation of an evil dictator, she would still miss the little bugger. He had always been perfectly nice to her.
It was a sad farewell. Juliet came close to tears as Socks was carried down the path in a cage. She thought she saw him put his paw on the cage to say goodbye, but it could just as easily have been a salute.
John had comforted her, saying that it wasn’t her fault she had adopted an evil feline. After all, there was no way of knowing who her cat really was.
She spent the next few days moping around the suddenly empty house. An offer to look after the neighbour’s poodle was politely but firmly rebuffed, as word had gotten out about the true identity of her cat.
Eventually Juliet decided that the only way she would fill the void was by getting another animal.
She drove off down to the rescue centre, determined not to make the same mistake again, and quickly dismissed a dachshund that she thought looked suspiciously liked Chairman Mao, and a golden retriever that had once barked enthusiastically at a photo of Kim Jong-il.
After hours of agonising decision making, slowly ruling out each of the animals one by one until only a handful were left, Juliet found the most adorable fluffy bunny rabbit called Nibbles, which was busying itself rearranging the food in its bowl.
A bunny can’t be evil, she reasoned, loading her new friend in to the car. And anyway, it lived in a cage and wouldn’t be let out, so what harm could it do?
As she drove off, she failed to notice the pattern the rearranged food had been made in to. Reversing out of the car park, she bumped over the curb, and the perfect pentagram was knocked out of shape. Nibbles squeaked irritably, and began its task all over again, a certain glint of malice in its tiny eye.
This week’s prompt was a very interesting one because it was actually very similar to the plot I had for my (failed) NaNoWriMo story last year. The idea I’ve used is one I’ve had for even longer than that, and have been looking for a way to get down on paper in one form or another for ever, so it’s great to finally get to do that!
I’ve not yet decided if I’m doing NaNo properly this year or not. If I did I would be doing it in addition to this project, and I don’t know if that’s too much to aim for. I guess I’ll see if I happen to be struck by any big ideas between now and November 1st!
Anyway, the prompt for this week was: ‘I love ghosts and I love reading about humans becoming ghosts for the first time, and their experiences with that. Anything from the moment of passing, to interactions with humans and/or other ghosts, to the sensations of morphing into a ghost, etc’. This Halloween appropriate idea was suggested by Saskia van T Hoff on Facebook.
I couldn’t do the whole thing in 2000 words but I’ve had a go at one aspect. See the results below.
2014 – A Year In Stories
This Is Your Death
Liam was dead. He wasn’t sure how, or indeed why, but the one thing he was certain about was that he had bought the proverbial farm.
He was sure of this because while a few minutes ago he had been stroking cheerfully down Charing Cross Road in London, he was now stood, rather disoriented, in what appeared to be the green room of a television studio surrounded by skeletons.
Not people dressed as skeletons, rather actual proper see through skeletons that were moving around and talking to each other and doing other typically unskeletal things like holding clipboards and wearing headsets. One of them was rather inexplicably drinking coffee, cheerfully ignorant of the puddle it was leaving on the floor.
Initially Liam had suspected he had merely fallen asleep, as one often does when strolling through Central London of an afternoon. He had dismissed this theory after pinching, or rather attempting to pinch himself several times, and watching his fingers go right through a ghostly arm. Anyway, whenever he became aware that he was having a dream normally he would just wake up, and he definitely hadn’t woken up this time.
The final nail in the coffin, as it were, was that the above the exit from the green room was a flickering neon sign bearing the legend ‘This Is Your Death’ surrounded by low wattage light bulbs.
When he had arrived, rather when he had become aware of his presence in the green room, Liam had been asked politely by one of the skeletons to wait around for his timeslot, and told that he was welcome to help himself to any food on the table.
He attempted that now, but his ghostly hand merely passed through the delicious looking sticky buns piled high on a plate in front of him. Even licking his fingers to try and remove any sugary residue had no effect. Liam began to suspect he would never taste anything again.
“Mr Goshawk?” said one of the skeletons.
“That’s me,” Liam replied, standing up and wondering why if he couldn’t pick things up he hadn’t just fallen through the sofa, or indeed the floor. He thought the whole thing was rather unfair.
“If you’d like to come with me, sir?” the skeleton prompted and ushered him through the tatty red velvet curtain that separated the green room from the studio.
As he stepped out in to the studio Liam was greeted initially by the sort of music you would have expected from a late 80s Saturday night gameshow, and then by a raucous round of applause from the audience, all of whom were also skeletons.
Liam didn’t have time to process how skeletons could clap their hands before he was ushered in to a comfortable, if faded, looking armchair by the skeletal production assistant.
A voiceover boomed around the studio.
“Liam Goshawk, This. Is. Your. Deeeeeeeath!”
There was a flash, followed by some smoke, during which a man had appeared in the chair next to him. The man was extremely pale, had a widow’s peak, was wearing a dinner suit and cape and, of course, had fangs.
“I’m your host, Vlad Strigoi, with my guest Liam Goshawk. Welcome to This Is Your Death!”
The music played briefly again and Strigoi smiled and waved for his adoring plans through another round of boney applause.
“Tell me, Liam,” Vlad began in a thick Romanian accent, “how did you reach us here today?”
“I uh, I’m not sure,” Liam replied tentatively. “One minute I was walking around London and the next I was in your green room. I was rather hoping you could tell me, actually.”
“But of course! Roll the tape!”
Liam had theories of course. He had been out in Central London, so there was every possibility that he had been taken out by a rogue driver or flattened by a bus as he crossed the road without paying attention. Perhaps it had been natural causes. He had only been 32, and was in pretty decent shape, but he was always hearing about young, fit people suddenly dropping dead of an unexplainable heart attack.
He was not prepared for what had actually happened.
“A bloody piano fell on me?!” he exclaimed incredulously after the short video clip had finished.
“Ah yes,” Vlad replied, a hint of remorse in his voice. “That is never a fun way to go. Anyway!” the vampire continued, cheering up. “We have some very special guests here for you this evening.
“Hello Liam,” said a croaky old voice, coming over the studio’s speakers. “Remember me, dear?”
“Grandma?” Liam said. This was all getting a bit too much.
“That’s right!” Vlad replied, beaming a wide grin that was mostly fangs. “All the way from heaven, it’s your grandmother Patsy, who you haven’t seen since she died of bronchitis 8 years ago!”
A little old skeleton hobbled out on to the stage with the support of a walking stick. Even though she lacked flesh or features of any kind, she was unmistakably his grandmother.
“Come give your old nan a hug!” she demanded, preferring a skeletal embrace.
“I, err, I can’t grandma. Incorporeal you see” Liam said, passing his hand through Vlad by way of demonstration. His grandmother, as disgruntled as it was possible for a skeleton to be, went and sat on a bench reserved for his guests.
“Up next,” said Vlad, “an old friend who you haven’t seen in some time.”
“Bet you weren’t expecting me to be here!” came a younger, male voice over the speakers.
Liam was puzzled as he tried to work out who the next person would be was. The skeleton that wandered out wasn’t much use either, it looked just like all of the ones that had been wandering around in the green room.
“Don’t you remember me, buddy?” the skeleton asked, sounding a little hurt. “It’s me, Darren, your buddy from primary school!”
“Darren Hartwell?” Liam asked. “I had no idea you were dead.”
“And I had no idea I was allergic to shellfish!” Darren replied, drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.
“How about man’s best friend?” Vlad asked as Darren went to seat himself next to Grandma Goshawk.
Liam heard a loud woofing over the speaker system, and seconds later a small skeletal dog came rushing out on to the stage waving its osseous tail frantically.
“Buttons?!” Liam exclaimed. He couldn’t believe they’d even managed to find his dog from when he was a boy. They’d be bringing out his bloody goldfish next.
Buttons heard Liam’s voice and bounded towards the armchair. The dog leapt up to say hello to its old master, but had failed to take in to account his wraithlike form, and smashed in to the chair instead, dislodging one of its own legs in the process.
Buttons’ canine instincts kicked in and it grabbed the bony limb in its mouth. It then hopped off on its remaining three legs in to the corner to chew away happily on its new toy.
Things continued in this fashion until the benches were filled with people that Liam had known who, like him, had passed over in to the great beyond. There were family members, a couple of old friends, ex co-workers, all sorts. Liam thought they were stretching it a bit when they brought out a girl he had kissed once while drunk at university, but figured that if this was indeed being broadcast to skeletal homes across the underworld that they had to fill the timeslot. If anything he was glad because it meant that they hadn’t found many people he knew who had snuffed it.
After the last special guest had gone to sit in the bleachers, Vlad clicked his fingers and a large, leather bound book appeared in his other hand. It had the words ‘Liam Goshawk, This Is Your Death’ embossed in silver filigree on the front.
“Well that was another wonderful trip down memory lane,” Vlad said, still grinning. “Thank you to Liam for being such a good sport, and for his friends and family for coming out to be with him on this special occasion.
“Liam,” he went on, “we would like to present you with this souvenir book so that you can remember all of the good times we have had.”
Vlad proferred the book to Liam, but then realised his mistake.
“I’ll just put it here for later,” the vampire said, laying it on a table between them. “Now, before we go and you begin your life after death, do you have any questions?”
“A couple,” Liam replied. “Firstly, why am I a ghost when you’re a vampire and everyone else is a skeleton?”
“A very good question! I am a vampire because I wasn’t unlucky enough to be bitten. You are a ghost because you are newly deceased. Once the show is over you will complete your transformation, and regain corporeal form as a skeleton.”
“Of course,” said Liam, dryly. “How silly of me not to know that.”
“What was your second question?” Vlad asked, leaning forward.
“Why this?” Liam replied, waving a spectral arm around to indicate the set. “Why set all of this up, bring all of my erstwhile friends and family here and put on this elaborate show. I’ve been in here 45 minutes, hundred of people must have died since then. You must have a backlog out the door and round the block waiting to come through here if you take an hour over every person!”
“Ah, now, folks, isn’t he an observant one?” Vlad grinned at the camera. “It’s simple my dear boy. Not everyone is welcome to the afterlife like this. As you correctly asserted, we would have no time at all. The fact is that everyone has a different idea of what happens after they died some are greeted by robed figures who read out their collected sins to them, some check in as if they were at a hotel.
“Others, like yourself, have a rather unfortunate obsession with the collected works of the likes of Bruce Forsyth, so when you died you were sent down to us to go through different parts of your life in he he style of a light entertainment programme. We cater for everyone’s expectations, so this place doesn’t get used as often as you’d think.
“Plus,” the vampire added, shielding his mouth from the audience and dropping his Transylvanian drawl to an almost conspiratorial whisper, “the boys and ghouls at home get a kick out of watching other people’s deaths. I believe its a concept known as ‘reality television’.”
“I see,” said Liam. It had all sounded fair enough.
“Well, that’s all we’ve got time for tonight folks, what a beautiful story,” the vampire concluded, returning his attention to the audience, one of whom Liam was sure was crying. “Until next time, I’ve been Vlad Strigoi, and this has been This Is Your Death!”
“So what do I do now?” Liam asked Vlad after the cameras had stopped rolling and the audience had all filed out and gone home.
“Well very shortly you will turn in to a skeleton.”
“But after that, what then?”
“Well, you will have to get a job.”
“A job?” Liam asked incredulously. “But I’m dead.”
“So am I, buddy, but those bills ain’t gonna pay themselves.”
“Where can I get a job?”
“Well,” Vlad pondered, “I hear that one of the runners has left to have a baby, so there’s a job opening here if you’re interested.”
Liam went to question how a skeleton could have a baby, but thought better of it.
“That’d be great,” he said instead. “Thanks.” It wasn’t much, he reasoned, but when you’re starting a whole new death you have to start somewhere.
Hello all. Another story suggestion from my good friend Llinos Cathryn Wynn-Jones this week. The link to her blog is available in the links section of this site! You should go have a read, as she is very good!
Anyway, without further ado, please enjoy ‘a story about politics in squid society’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Prime Minister Squiddington floated behind his coral desk. It had been a tough week for him, and all of his ministers in the government of Great Squiddon. One of the constituent Squiddoms was seeking to break free as an independent nation, and the Prime Minister was very keen to see that this didn’t in fact happen.
The Squiddom in question was Blotland. It was populated predominantly by Cuttlefish and had experienced a history of mostly home rule. It was only in the last few hundred years that Blotland had been subject to the Squidlish crown.
The cuttlefish enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, a fact which gave the Prime Minister enough of a headache as it was. And now they wanted independence! Ha!
The Prime Minister settled to the seabed behind the coral reef and rubbed his bulbous head with one of his tentacles. He had not slept for days, and he had only managed to find time to see roughly 500 of his children this week.
The referendum was in three days, and there was still much work for him to do.
The next day, the Prime Minister and the leaders of the two other major political parties were in Blotland. Squid Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Squideral Democrats, was nervous. He flitted left and right as they swam up to some of the rebellious cuttlefish.
“Calm down,” the Prime Minister said to him as they swam. “You’re going to put them off voting to stay with the United Squiddom if you act like that. You’ve been doing it all the way since Blubdon.”
“I’m sorry,” the Deputy Prime Minister stuttered. “I just can’t bare the thought of losing them.
“Perhaps,” suggested Squid Milliband, the other member of their party, “you should leave the talking to me and the Prime Minister.”
Squid Clegg’s tentacles drooped in disappointment.
They finally reached the cuttlefish, who had all been floating around, waiting to see what all the fuss was about.
“Oh I see how it is,” piped up one of the braver members of the group. “Can’t be arsed to put the work in to keep us but you come swimming up here on your beaks and tentacles begging us to stay when the time comes. Well it’s too late. We’ve made our minds up and we want out.”
The Prime Minister rubbed two of his tentacles together obsequiously. “Now, now, there’s no need to be like that. We love all of our subje…I mean vote…I mean we care about all members of the population of the United Squiddom equally. We just want you to stay.”
“Well bugger off,” another of the cuttlefish interjected. “We aren’t interested. We don’t want none of your wars with the octopi, or any of your illegal above sea drilling.”
“Yeah,” the original speaker said, not wishing to be outdone. Never mind what you’re planning to do with the National Whelk Service.”
A chorus of murmured agreement spread around the assembled cuttlefish. Squid Clegg wrung his tentacles nervously.
“Why don’t you all just sod off back to Westsquiddister where you belong and let us manage our own affairs up here in Squiddinburgh?”
The gathered cuttlefish made the subtle but distinctively very important switch from a group to a mob, and advanced on the three politicians, who had agreed (in a 2-1 vote with Clegg on the losing side) that leaving their bodyguards behind would make them seem more friendly, and much less intimidating.
Squid Clegg let out a shot of ink in a panic, and the three of them turned on their tentacles. They didn’t stop swimming until they were safely past Squidrian’s Reef and back in Squidland.
“That was a disaster,” said Squid Milliband when they had reached the safety of the Caves of Parliament.
“We would have been calamari if it wasn’t for Clegg here being a huge coward,” the Prime Minister agreed.
“W…what are we going to do now?” Squid Clegg stammered.
“I’ll think of something…” the Prime Minister replied. “I’ll think of something.”
The next day was a big day for the Prime Minister, as he was up against Alex Salmon, whom the independence campaign had recruited as their leader.
The debate was largely a disaster for the Prime Minister and his side, as Salmon, the master debater, skilfully deflected all of his questions, and fired back several challenging ripostes of his own in return. However, the Prime Minister was not completely stumped. As he had promised Clegg and Milliband he had thought of something, and as the debate drew nearer to its end, he prepared to unleash it on Salmon.
“That is a very good point,” he conceded, as Salmon made another jibe about the millions of shrimp that would be saved with the withdrawal of funding for the swordfish defense system. “But, Mr Salmon, can I in return ask you this? Where exactly is an independent Blotland going to find the resources to work the North Sea shrimp fields?”
Salmon stared at him in disbelief. He clearly had not been expecting this question from the Prime Minister. “I, uh, I mean we, uh…” he began, stumbling over his words. “That is, we would, um.”
“The fact is, that Mr Salmon here cannot answer this question. Despite all of his beautiful flowery rhetoric, and his clever answers, he cannot give you a. Straight answer here. The reason for this, ladies and gentlesquids, is that he doesn’t know. The independence campaign doesn’t know.
“Currently those shrimp resources are farmed by Squiddish labourers, but that labour would be lost to you if you go ahead and vote yes to independence. And really, where would any self respecting cephalopod be without a regular supply of shrimp?”
He looked on triumphantly as Alex Salmon’s fins sagged in defeat. The Prime Minister may have taken a pummeling for most of the debate, but he had won the last question, and he knew that was the only one the voters would remember.
Sure enough when he listened to the Daily Conch news bulletin the next morning, it was encouraging stuff. His performance in the debate, though roped for a while, had given the No campaign an increase in the polls. Even if Squid Clegg had ruined the party slightly by opening his stupid beak and losing them some votes it was still positive.
It was the morning of the referendum. Soon polling caves across. Lot land would be opening, and the cuttlefish would be casting their votes. The Prime Minister crossed all his tentacles, which was no mean feat, and hoped beyond hope that the rebellious blighters would see sense and stick with the Union.
The waiting was the worst part. The polls closed late in the evening, so squid throughout the Squiddish Isles would not find out the result until very early the next morning.
The Prime kept himself occupied by engaging in some last minute campaigning on the streets of Blubdon, hoping that winning the expat cuttlefish population over down there would have a knock on effect up in Blotland. He had never kissed so many baby cuttlefish in his life.
In addition to that he was doing his best to keep the incompetent Squid Clegg out of the public eye. All he ever did was bugger things up, and he didn’t need him out there looking like a clownfish in front of potential voters on the most important day of the year. The Prime Minister cursed the day he had agreed to form the coalition with the bumbling imbecile. At least, he mused, that Clegg lacked political conviction, and so it was easy enough to get him to go along with any schemes the Prime Minister concocted.
In the end the day flew by, and the Prime Minister decided to grab a few hours sleep before the result was revealed.
The next morning the Prime Minister was woken early by his secretary, who informed him that Mr. Clegg and Mr. Milliband were waiting for him, and that the result was about to be announced.
The three squid gathered around the conch that had been set up on the Prime Minister’s coral reef desk. At first they couldn’t seem to get any sound out of it, but eventually after Squid Milliband tapped it a few times with his tentacles and then held it up to his ear to listen, they could hear the news report beginning.
“What a historic day we have here,” the news report said, in a thick cuttlefish accent, “as we wait to find out the results of what is undoubtedly the most important vote in Blotland’s history.
“And here comes the returning officer now. It looks like she is ready to announce the result.”
The conch went quiet briefly. Squid Clegg tapped it to try and make it work again, but Squid Milliband swatted his tentacle away. Eventually, a female cuttlefish’s voice could be heard through the conch.
“With an overwhelming majority, the Cephalopods of Blotland have voted to become an independent country. 66% to 34% in favour.”
The three politicians floated in stunned silence at the news, until the Prime Minister piped up after a few seconds.
“Oh bloody hell and bugger,” he said. “It’ll be the Whales wanting it next.”
This week’s story was suggested by Alastair Ball, whose very excellent birthday drinks I was at last night. I was a bit worse for wear this morning, but hopefully that hasn’t affected my writing!
Happy birthday Alastair, I hope you enjoy your story about ‘A man who bets his life on a card game.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
“I’m sorry, Mr Frampton, I really am,” the doctor said to Joey. “Breaking this kind of news to someone is never easy, and it really breaks my heart to have to be the one to deliver it.”
Nice sentiment, Joey thought. It breaks your heart to be the one to deliver it. I suppose you’d be just peachy if you had palmed it off on to one of the nurses to do.
“So, what’s the prognosis, Doc?” Joey asked the man who was leaning on his desk so nonchalantly.
The doctor certainly didn’t have the demeanour of someone who was about to drop a death sentence on a kid. Though he supposed that if he had to tell people they were dying several times a day he would get quite blasé about it after a while too.
“It’s not good I’m afraid, Mr Frampton. We can operate, but if we don’t I’d say you have 6 months; a year at most.”
The doctor shifted position awkwardly, and looked as though he was about to say something that he didn’t want to have to say.
“Do you…” he began, before trailing off. “Do you have…insurance?” he managed, finally.
Joey’s shoulders sunk. “I…No.”
The doctor wrung his hands and, for the first time, gave Joey a look of genuine compassion.
Compassion with a hint of pity.
“I’m so sorry, Mr Frampton, I really am.”
“How much would the operation cost…you know, without insurance?” Joey asked speculatively.
Maybe there would be some way to raise some money fast.
The doctor picked up a clipboard from the desk and flipped through the papers on it.
“About $90,000,” he said after a moment.
Joey baulked at the figure. He was hoping it would be under $10,000. His old man might have fronted that if it meant his son didn’t buy the farm, but there wasn’t even any point in asking at that amount. His pop would have to sell the autoshop to raise that kind of cash, and Joey wasn’t willing to ask him to do that. He wasn’t willing to ask because he knew that his dad would say yes.
“If you need any information about counselling or palliative care…” the doctor said.
“Thanks,” Joey replied. “I’ll be fine.”
Joey stood at the bus stop outside the hospital as the rain lashed down on the plastic roof. He hunched his shoulders forward and stuffed his hands deep in to his jacket pockets, huddling in to keep warm.
It was strange. He had just been given the worst news of his young life, but he didn’t feel any emotion. He didn’t feel sad or angry that his life was to be cut so unexpectedly short. He didn’t feel anything at all. He was just numb.
Just as the bus pulled up to the stop a man in a sharp suit walked up and stood at the stop. The man was talking on a cellphone, quite loudly too, Joey noted as he climbed the steps of the bus. He fumbled around in his pockets, but to his dismay he didn’t have enough change on him for the ticket home.
Great, Joey thought. As if today couldn’t get any worse. He turned around to get off the bus and prepared to walk the two miles back to his house in the pissing rain.
“Yo, what’s the beef?” the guy on the cellphone asked as Joey tried to squeeze past him.
“I don’t have enough money for the ticket,” Joey explained. “So I’m getting off.”
“Are you kidding me?” the guy grinned at Joey, revealing a gold cap on one of his teeth. “I just win big, and I’m in a giving mood, so let me buy you that bus ticket.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t…” Joey began, feebly.
“I insist,” the high roller said, putting an arm around Joey. “One bus ticket for my man here please,” he announced rather louder than Joey would have liked.
The two sat down in separate seats, but it wasn’t long before the sharply dressed man had finished his conversation and had turned his attention back to Joey.
“So what’s your story, bro?” he asked. “You look gaunt, you ill or something?”
Before Joey had to chance to reply that yes, he was in fact rather ill, and that this should have been obvious given that they boarded the bus at St Catherine’s Hospital, he was cut off before he had even managed to open his mouth.
“Me,” the man continued, “I just won big, like I said. Poker. 100Gs.”
Joey’s ears pricked up. He had decided by this point to pursue a policy of ignoring the man and occasionally saying platitudes in the hope that he would go away. However, even though he was in no mood to talk to anyone right now, the sound of $100k was very appealing.
Poker too. He had been the campus poker champion back in college. It had gotten to the stage where no one would play him, because they knew he would win. Perhaps this was the solution to his problem.
“100Gs you say?” he asked as nonchalantly as possible.
Half an hour later, and a 3 mile deviation from his route home, Joey stood in front of what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse.
“2455 Hill Street,” he said to himself, looking at the scrap of paper the sharply dressed man had handed him. The address was scrawled on it, as well as a name.
The warning that the man had given him echoed through his head. These guys played rough. If you couldn’t cough up the dough, you’d be coughing up your own blood instead. At this point he didn’t have much to lose.
He rapped on the door of the warehouse. There was no response. He went to knock on the door again, but before he could connect a panel slid open at eye level.
“What chu want?” said a voice from the other side of the door.
“I’m here to see…” Joey looked at the scrap of paper. “Kurtz. I’m here to see Kurtz.”
“Who sent you?” the voice asked.
“Luca,” Joey replied.
The panel slammed shut, and a few seconds later the door swung open.
“Entrance fee is $2000. You got it?”
Joey fished the money out of the inside pocket of his jacket. Luca, the man who had the windfall, was kind enough to give him the entry fee to the game after he heard Joey’s plight.
“In you go, kid,” the man said, taking the money from Joey.
The man receded in to the shadows to let Joey pass, but before he went by he stuck out an arm, blocking his way again.
“You know how we play here, boy?”
Joey swallowed and nodded slowly.
“Then don’t forget it.”
After walking down a short corridor Joey came across a room which had served as the management office for the warehouse when it was still operational. He opened the door and enough cigarette smoke to give him emphysema billowed out.
He entered the room to find a low lit gambling den with a card table in the centre. The felt on the table was faded green, and it was surrounded by 5 people, all deeply engrossed in the card game they were playing. There was one free seat by the table, which Joey took. None of the players had even so much as looked at him or acknowledged his presence since he walked in.
“Deal him in,” one of the players said, and some cards were duly given to him.
“The game is seven card stud, aces wild, gentlemen, may the best man win…”
Joey steeled himself, and hoped his skills weren’t too rusty.
“Show ‘em,” the man in the white suit said.
Joey’s heart sank. His bluff had been called again, and this was it. He was on the last of the $2000 entry fee, and if he lost this hand, this was it. He couldn’t understand how he had played so badly. There had only been 10 or 12 hands since he sat down and he was almost out.
Reluctantly he set his cards down, and the man in the white suit smiled broadly. “Looks like you’re out, kid,” he said.
“No!” Joey protested. “You have to give me another chance. You don’t understand.”
“We understand perfectly well. You played, you lost. You win some and you lose some, and this one you lost. You’re lucky we have a policy of not extracting extra…payment from first time losers. Now get out before we change our minds. This is a game for people can afford to play, so unless you can afford to play, leave.”
“What if I pay the extra price?” Joey blurted out, before he even realised what he was saying.
The room was suddenly bathed in silence. The man in the white suit shifted his weight and flicked the ash from the end of his cigar.
“You would make that offer on your first visit?”
“My need is great.”
“What would you offer as…collateral?”
“What are my options?”
One of the men at the table howled with laughter and held up his left hand. His little finger was missing.
“This bought me an extra $10000 once,” the mutilated man said.
“What price for my life?” Joey asked hesitantly.
The man in the white suit stood up and joined his compatriot in laughing.
“I like you, boy,” he said. “Because I like you I’m going to take you up on your generous offer. I’ll spot you $50000. If you lose, I kill you.”
“$100000,” Joey said, trying to bluff the man. He had nothing to lose. If they said yes and he lost, then he would die a little earlier than expected, and his family wouldn’t have to see him degenerate before their very eyes. If he won, he was saved. “One hand of hold ‘em. If I win I take the one hundred large. If I lose, I am yours to destroy at your leisure.”
The man considered him for a second.
“Alright,” he said. “One hand. You’re on.”
They sat down and the cards were dealt. Joey looked at his hand. An ace and a Queen. The cards on the table were a Queen and a pair of twos. A two pair wasn’t bad, but the other man was unreadable.
The bets went back and forth as the other two cards went down. Neither card was favourable, and it was quite possible that the grin on the man’s face was genuine.
“Show ‘em,” the man said, smirking. The two men flipped their cards over.
A week later, Joey woke up in his hospital bed, his parents at his side. The operation had been a complete success.
“You could have asked us for the money, son,” his mother told him as he regained full consciousness.
“You never told us how you managed to pay for the operation, son…”
Joey went to respond, but stopped when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. A man in a sharp suit leaned on the wall outside his door. He pulled a cigar from his pocket and chopped the end off with a cigar cutter. The man smiled at Joey and nodded, before walking off.
“Oh, I got lucky on a bet,” Joey said. “Let’s just say a friend tipped me off to a sure thing.”