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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 36 – Good Going, Gertrude

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Posted on September 13, 2014 by

This week I am putting my story up a little bit early. Oh! What a treat for you lovely people!

This week’s story is the second suggested by Geoff Le Pard. It was meant to go up last week but I didn’t have access to the suggestion, so it got pushed back a bit.

Anyway, this is what would happen if… ‘Banned: the letter ‘G’ is to be dropped from the alphabet’.

2014 – A Week In Stories
Week 36
Good Going, Gertrude

“Are you sure?” newscaster Leonard Fulcrum asked his producer, who shrugged and nodded. “The letter ‘G’ is banned and has been removed from the dictionary?”

“That’s what it says on the crib sheet,” the producer replied.
“And you checked with the researcher?”
“Johnny asked her and she said she pulled it off the wire. Look, just run with it, you’re on in ten, nine, eight…”
“Wait! Howard! Can I use the letter on camera?!”

Howard simply shrugged again. Or rather, he shrued.

The news show theme played and Leonard settled himself in to read the bulletins.

“Good ev…no…,” he began. “Hello… And welcome to the Ten O’clock News. I’m Leonard Fulcrum. Up first tonight…” he tailed off as he read the next line on the TelePrompTer.

You have to be kidding, Leonard thought to himself. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and regained his composure. After all he was a professional, and the show must go on.

“The …Reat Atsby opened at number one at the box office over the weekend, finally breaking the record set by Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the second film about trader …oh come on Howard. The second film about trader Ordon Ecko.”

Leonard prayed to any deity that would listen that there were no news stories about Gary Glitter, and that George Galloway hadn’t been cavorting around with any more Middle Eastern dictators recently.

“And now on to our bi…lar…top story for the ni…evenin…show. Apparently the letter ‘G’, and I suspect in the interests of fair journalism I’m allowed to say it there, has been banned and will be forthwith removed from the dictionary.

“Writers nationwide are reacting with annoyance, as they will now have to look back through all their works and switch words using the banned letter out for others.
“There has been an outcry by many whose names contain the banned letter, with thousands petitionin…askin… Howard I just can’t do this.”
“Just suck it up, Leonard, you’re live on air,” the producer replied in to Leonard’s earpiece. “Keep going for now, I’ll check it out.”
“The…people who run the country have asked for calm nationwide as they look in to alternative letters to replace ‘G’. They have said they will consider several options before a choice is made. When questioned as to why they made the decision to remove the letter, political sources refused to comment. More on this story later…”

#

Meanwhile, Howard, the producer, walked in to the research department backstage. There was only one researcher working on shift for the Ten O’Clock News, which Howard noted was unusual.

The woman in the office was not one he recognised. The lone researcher turned to look at him. As she turned she blinked a couple of times and squinted heavily at home.

“Mum?” she said, a hint of confusion and surprise in her voice.
“Er…no,” Howard replied. “My name is Howard Rubb, I’m the show producer for the Ten O’Clock News.
“Oh, that’s good. It would have been a bit strange if you had been my mum, she’s been in an old folks home in Scotland for ten years.”
“Err, quite. Who are you?”
“I’m Gertrude, the new temporary research assistant.”
“Where is everyone else? Where is the Senior Researcher?”
“Oh, they’re all on holiday, dear. That’s why they brought me in on temporary cover.”

A feeling of dread began to come over Howard.

“Look,” he said, sitting in one of the empty chairs in the office. “We’ve got a bit of a problem. Leonard, the newsreader, is questioning the authenticity of a news story that he has had to report on for the broadcast.”
“Oh yes?” Gertrude asked, sounding perplexed. “I checked them all, they all came off the website of the Associated Press. Which story was it?”
“The letter ‘G’ story. Has it really been banned? The government can’t seriously be considering banning it. That would make them the overment, and I don’t think they’re silly enough to do that.”
“Oh yes, it was up there with the rest of them. Susannah had left the tab open with the others after she left for me to compile the stories for the scriptwriters.”
“Would you show me?” Howard asked.
“Of course,” Gertrude replied, swinging her chair back round to face the computer. Howard noticed that she missed the mouse with her hand at the first attempt. “Oh,” she said. “Clumsy me!”

Gertrude clicked through the different tabs, all of which seemed to contain, as she had explained, legitimate news stories, all of which were found on the journalists section of the Associated Press website. Eventually she came to the tab she was looking for.

“Here you go,” she said. “The letter ‘G’ has been banned from the dictionary,” she read from the screen, with some difficulty, Howard noted.

He craned his neck around her to look at the screen. A look of horror passed across his face as he saw what was on the screen.

“Oh no,” he said. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no. You have to be kidding me.”
“What’s wrong?” Gertrude asked. “Did I get something wrong with the story?”
“No, you got the story exactly right. It’s just that it’s not real. That isn’t on the Associated Press website. That’s the Onion.”
“What’s that?” Gertrude asked.
“It’s a satirical news website. All the stories are made up. They’re jokes!”
“Oh dear!” Gertrude said cheerfully. “That is a bit of a problem isn’t it?”
“A bit of a problem?!” Howard said. “It’s more than a bit of a bloody problem! Leonard Fulcrum, three time winner of the National Newsreader of the Year award just read out a story from the bloody Onion live on air. Everyone knows Susannah likes reading the Onion on her lunch break. Couldn’t you tell the difference?”
“Now mister, I don’t like your tone,” Gertrude said. I didn’t know that. Plus I’m still getting used to my new contact lenses. The sites looked the same to me on the screen.
“You’re right,” Howard said, calming down. “I’m sorry. Just, be more careful next time.”
“You mean I’m not fired?” Gertrude asked.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Howard said.
“Uh, Mr Rubb?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Isn’t he still out there?”

The chair Howard had been sitting on span around as he bolted from the room.

#

Back out in the studio, Leonard was becoming more and more irate.
“Look,” he said in to the camera, rubbing his temple again to ward off the migraine that was marching its way across his frontal lobes. “I’ve had enough of this. This is ridiculous. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Howard burst in to the studio just as Leonard stood up from the desk. He tried to run on to the set but he was held back by one of the show’s runners.

When he protested that it was an emergency the runner simply reminded him of his own policy that only breaking news stories were allowed to interrupt a live broadcast, meanwhile, Leonard had reached the front of the desk.

“If this is really true, then the government – yeah I used the letter ‘G’ I’m a word. Do something about it. There, I did it again! If this is all real then I have something to say to those idiots down in Westminster. There will be rioting in the streets. You can’t just declare a bloody letter illegal. We will give as good as we get. Hah! You hear that? That was some alliteration! Bet you didn’t see that coming did you?”

Howard’s head was in his hands as the runner held him back. He decided it was time to end this and struggled his way out of the runner’s grip.

“I for one will not sit by,” Leonard continued. “Wait, Howard, what are you doing?”
“It was a scam, Leonard, it was an Onion article. You’ve been ranting for the last five minutes about a joke on the internet.”

Leonard stood, mouth agape for a moment, staring directly in to the camera. After a few seconds of contemplation he bolted and ran from the building. He knew his career was in tatters. Howard tried to chase him down but by the time he got to the street Leonard was gone.

Howard knew that his career was finished too. He was ultimately responsible for the content of the show and he should have done more to verify the story. He hung his head in his hands and sat down heavily on the curb.

#

Back in the research office Gertrude was still sat at the computer. She span around a couple of times on the chair before grabbing her purse from the floor. From it she pulled her mobile phone and dialled a number.

“Jenny,” she said as her friend answered the phone. “You owe me £100.”
“You never!” her friend replied.
“Yep, he said it all live on air. I told you I could get a national newsreader to read an Onion story on air.”
“I’ll stick it on +1, this sounds like its worth watching.”
“Next time make the bet a bit harder, yeah?” Gertrude said as she picked up her bag to leave. “This one was almost too easy.”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 35 – Hungry Like the Wolf

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Posted on September 7, 2014 by

Hello all. This week’s yarn was suggested by my good friend Ben Ingber and the prompt was as follows: ‘A wolf spends each full moon as a human’.

Enjoy!

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 35
Hungry Like the Wolf

The wolf ran through the forest. The time was near and she had to reach the point before it was too late. She crashed through a bush and fell as it stumbled, but rolled with the fall and was back on the run again in moments.

After another minute of barrelling through the undergrowth the wolf stopped, lifted its nose to the air and sniffed around, trying to catch the scent of the stash. A moment later and the wolf was on her way again.

A few minutes of searching brought her to the right place just in time. She began to feel the change happening as she dug furiously to unearth its stash.

The wolf let out an excruciating howl as the metamorphosis fully took hold.

The process took mere moments, but every time it happened felt like a thousand years of agony. The wolf had hoped that it would get better with time, as she adapted to the process, but it had been 2 years and if anything the process had only become more painful with time.

When the metamorphosis was complete the wolf stood up, on two legs this time, and brushed the soil from her naked body. The recently transformed woman reached down to the ground, where, in her wolf form, she had unearthed a duffel bag.

The first order of business was her hair. A huge mane of shaggy black hair came with her every time she transformed, and she had learned to pack a hairbrush amongst her supplies.

The hair tamed, she put on some clothes. Nothing fancy, in fact quite grubby and worn, but enough for her to blend in to human society for the 48 hours a month she had to spend in this accursed form. It had taken her a while to get used to that, she did not mind admitting, but after a few months she had managed to scavenge enough supplies that humans had left lying around that she could pass.

Just as she was pulling a stained hoodie over her head she heard the crack of a twig snapping. With her wolf reflexes she was leaped towards the noise and a second later found herself on top of an elderly, skinny human male.

The man was dressed in an all black ensemble, except for a white slip of cardboard inserted in his collar.

“Please don’t kill me!” he whimpered, as the wolf-lady snarled intensely on top of him.
“Whaaat did you seee?” she growled. Over the last two years she had managed to adapt her method of communication to a decent approximation of the human language known as ‘English’.
“I didn’t see anything!” the man protested, until the wolf intensified her snarl. “OK, OK,” he confessed, “I saw the whole thing. I saw you change from a wolf in to a person. I had to check my eyes. I must be dehydrated.”
“Whaat do you meeean?” she growled in return.
“Wolves don’t turn in to human beings! There’s no such thing as werewolves! They’re a myth.”
“Whaaaat is were-wolff?”
“When a, when a human turns in to a wolf at the full moon. It’s an old legend. I swear I wasn’t trying to hurt you!” The man burst in to tears. “Please don’t kill meeeeee.”
“I nottt kill you,” the wolf said, getting off the man. “Who you?” she asked the man, who has barely containing the racking sobs of terror.
“My name? I am Reverend Roger Smart. I run the local church in the town.”
“Whattttt you do in woodssss?”
“I was on a late evening constitutional,” Roger said, then upon seeing the confused look on the wolf-lady’s face added, “a walk. I was out walking in the woods.”
“Woodss dangeroussss,” the wolf replied.
“What is your name?” the Revernd asked, after managing to stop crying.
“I not have name. Wolvesss not have name.”
“May I call you Luna?”

The wolf mulled it over for a moment.

“Yes. Like Luna. Good name.”
“OK then. Luna…What just happened to you?”
“Most time I wolfff. I alwaysss wolff until I get bitten by human in fight. Now sometime I turn to humannn like you.”
“Does it always happen when the moon looks like that?” Roger asked, pointing at the full moon, which had now had time to rise properly.
“Yesss.”
“So you aren’t a wereWOLF. You’re a wereHUMAN!” the Reverend exclaimed. “this is incredible! Though I must admit, it has rather shaken my faith a little. Were…creatures are meant to be just stories. Next you’ll be telling me that vampires exist and my cousin is a necromancer!”
“What isss necromancerrr?”
“Never mind,” Roger said. “Are you hungry, Luna?”
“Yesss!” Luna replied. “You have foods?”
“Come with me,” Roger smiled.

#

Twenty minutes later they were back at the vicarage, and Mrs Thackeray, the housekeeper, was bustling about preparing some sandwiches, all the while complaining about the imposition of the Reverned bringing around a guest unannounced at this hour.

Mrs Thackeray gave Luna the once over as she placed the sandwiches on the table.

“So…Luna. Tell me about yourself,” she said, indignantly.
“I a wolfff!” Luna exclaimed proudly, not noticing the subtle inflection in Mrs Thackeray’s voice that suggested she didn’t really want an answer. “I turn in to human and Rogerrr Reverendd help meee.”
“I say!” Mrs Thackeray bellowed. “What nonsense! There were rumours of a wolf creature prowling the woods on the full moon but as a good Christian I don’t believe a word of it. Roger, Do you mean to say that you found a woman claiming to be a feral savage and TOOK HER IN?”
“The Lord commands that we offer kindness and hospitality to all those who cross our paths, Mrs Thackeray. Need I remind you of the story of the Good Samaritan?”

Seemingly not requiring a refresher, Mrs Thackeray merely harrumphed, and with one final sidelong glance at Luna, stormed out of the room.

#

Half an hour later, after Mrs Thackeray had begrudgingly prepared a bed for the guest, the Reverend prepared to say goodnight. However, just as they were about to mount the stairs, there was a knock at the door.

“I wonder who that could be at this hour?” the Reverend said.

He walked up to the door and looked through the peephole. On the other side he could see a host of people jockeying for position in front of the door. Some of them were brandishing microphones, while others had large television cameras mounted on their shoulders.

Reverend Smart pulled back from the door in horror.

“It seems the press has descended on us!” he said.
“Perhaps they got wind of your ‘friend’s’ whereabouts,” Mrs Thackeray replied with a smirk on her face.
“Nora Thackeray!” the normally quiet and mouse Reverend roared. “Did you tip them off?”
“The media circus will surely drag her away. She is an abomination in to god, Roger. If I had my way she would be destroyed.”
“How dare you bring this on to my home. You’re sacked!” he yelled, then added, “And stop calling me Roger. Only my friends may address me as Roger, and if I’ve learned anything over the last half an hour, Mrs Thackeray, it is that you are not my friend, and that you are no longer welcome in my home. Now pack up your things and go!”
“I say!” Mrs Thackeray said, looking as though she was about to boil over.
“I would dearly rather that you didn’t say anything at all!” the Reverend said, coming to the crescendo of his anger. Luckily Mrs Thackeray had already begun to slink up the stairs, with Luna bearing her teeth at the retreating figure.

The two heard a noise come from the sitting room, as if someone was trying to jimmy the window open. By the time they reached it the man was halfway through the tight spot.

“Oh do bugger off!” Roger said, rechanneling his anger as he slammed the window on the man’s head, causing him to fall backwards on to the ground. “Come with me!” he shouted to Luna.

They ran to the cellar and closed the door behind them.

“There’s a way out to the border of the woods in here,” Roger said. “Here,” he added, grabbing as much food as he could find that did not require preparation and stuffing it in to Luna’s duffel bag. “Take this and hide in the woods. I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”
Luna was just out of the back when the first journalist burst the cellar door open.
“Where’s the werewolf?” the woman asked.
“Were-huma…” Roger began, before catching himself. “I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Have you been listening to the rumblings of a doddering old woman again? Mrs Thackeray is off her rocker. Honestly, a werewolf? How gullible do you have to be?”
After consenting to a thorough search of the house for the werewolf, Reverend Smart saw the last reporter off, empty handed, with a slam of the door.
“That should put them off the idea,” he said to himself.

#

One month later, as the full moon drew near, Reverend Smart trudged up the slight incline to the spot in the woods. He checked his watch and, right on time, he saw a wolf stalk out of the forest and pad right over to him.

Initially he exercised caution, as he was not sure how much memory Luna retained in her wolf form, and was not keen to receive a mauling. He flinched as the wolf increased her pace and leapt towards him, but laughed as he felt the coarse lick of her tongue on his face.

Moments later he opened his eyes to find a fully grown, fully naked woman leaning on him. It had been some years indeed since a naked woman had been this close to him and he blushed as he handed Luna some clothes.

“Come with me,” he said, after she had gotten dressed. “There’s plenty of food at the vicarage.”
Luna followed him as he walked back down the hill.
“Oh,” he added. “You’ll love my new housekeeper. Much more understanding than the last one…”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 34 – Break Down the Wall

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Posted on August 31, 2014 by

Not much to say this week, except that apropos of nothing other than today’s story coinciding with the 7th anniversary of her passing away, this week’s story is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Eluned.

This story was suggested by Geoff Le Pard (I cannot confirm if he is from Sheffield) and originally came through as ‘Tintin, or whoever is your favourite cartoon character, announces their retirement’. However, as I am keen to avoid being spectacularly sued I elected to come up with my own character.

Enjoy!

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 34
Break Down the Wall

JC rubbed pushed back his desk chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He checked his watch; it was 3.13am. The panels had to be with the publisher at 9am and he wasn’t even halfway done. He decided to investigate the presence of coffee.

His apartment was quite poky, and it didn’t take him long to reach the small kitchenette. Actually, small was doing it a service. It was like someone had stuck a hot plate and an under counter refrigerator in to a shoe box and called it a job well done.

Not for the first time he lamented his role as the struggling artist. Underpaid and undervalued, and consigned to live in an apartment that more closely resembled a broom closet.

Hopefully all that was about to change, though. JC had just been commissioned to write and draw the new Thunder Man run for Gadzooks Comics. Thunder Man had taken off in a big way. There was talk of a film in the works, and he had been up against 30 other extremely talented artists for the job.

It paid well, really well. Well enough to get him out of this dump and in to a proper apartment with hot running water for longer than 6 hours every day and windows that shut in the winter.

But it would all come to naught if he didn’t get these panels – 20 of them to the publisher in time. To miss his first deadline would be disastrous, especially at a big publisher like Gadzooks. A blot in that copy book could spell the end of his career.

He was out of luck. The coffee pot contained only dregs. JC held the pot up for inspection anyway, and briefly considered whether it was worth how crappy it would taste. A quick sniff determined that it was not, and a moment later a fresh pot was brewing.

JC returned to his drawing board and flicked the switch on the light he used to better illuminate it. He massaged his temple and picked up the first page of the script outline he had written for the project.

Gadzooks had big money, and they would normally have hired different people to write the story, draw, ink and letter it, but they were so impressed with his pitch that they had agreed to take a gamble on him doing the whole lot. Luckily for him and his deadline they only wanted pencil drawings with rough lettering today.

“Come on JC,” he said to himself. “Get it together. This is your big chance.”

He picked up his pencil and started drawing the first panel of Thunder Man: Cataclysm, Issue 1. Five minutes later and Thunder Man was there on the page. It was one of JC’s first real attempts at the character and he was pretty happy with it. Thunder Man struck a commanding pose, looking off in to the distance, his arms firmly planted on his hips.

“Good start,” JC said, and checked his notes for what Thunder Man was meant to say in this panel. Satisfied, he drew a speech bubble and began the lettering.

When he was done he lifted up the sheet of paper to get a better light on it and was very surprised to find that he had not written out Thunder Man’s signature catchphrase, ‘Faster than lightning, and twice as frightening.’ He had in fact written ‘I don’t want to do this any more, JC.’

He stared at the page in disbelief. He had definitely gone to write the catchphrase. He flipped hie pencil over and rubbed the words out. Try again. A few more moments of scribbling, and he inspected his work again.

‘I’m telling you, JC, I don’t want to do it. I quit.’

He read the words over three times before he was certain of what they said.

“I did not write that,” he said, trying to convince himself that somehow, someone else had sneaked in and put the words down on the paper whilst he was blinking. “Coffee,” he decided. “I need some coffee.”

Returning to the kitchenette, JC found that the coffee in the pot had just finished brewing. He poured himself a mug and sipped it burning his mouth in the process.

“I must be losing my mind,” he said to himself. I definitely want to do this. This is my chance at a big break. He topped the mug up and went back to the drawing board. Sipping occasionally at the still scalding coffee he glanced over the scene he had drawn.

He felt silly, or that perhaps he was losing it slightly, but he would have sworn that Thunder Man’s posture had shifted slightly from before he had gone to make the coffee. Time to give it another go, he thought, now that I’ve calmed down a bit. It must just be the pressure getting to me.

Pencil in hand JC made a third attempt at lettering the catchphrase.

‘Youre not going insane, I am Thunder Man, expressing my wishes through your pencil. I tire of this life, the life of a superhero and wish to commit fully to my civilian life as Hank Henry, field reporter for CNN. I have done my duty to this world. It is time it found a near hero.’
“Ok,” JC said, “Something strange is happening here. I definitely only wrote 8 words that time.”

He looked down at the page. Where Thunder Man had previously been stood with his hands on his hips, they were now folded across his chest.

JC was dumbfounded. “There must have been something funny in the Sushi I ate earlier. That Nigiri looked a bit off.”

He stared at the page, and felt compelled to write again. Erasing the words, he started again.

‘Fear not, I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but it is my wish that I be set free from this life of drudgery,mof saving the world from the same feckless villains with their same feckless schemes day after day. I wish to retire, to hang up my boots as it were. Perhaps even pass the mantle of Thunder Man on to another.’

“What on earth are you talking about?” JC asked, realising rather too late that he had just asked a drawing a question. At this point he had two choices: crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash, or roll with it. He calculated that if it was just temporary psychosis brought on by lack of sleep he could not afford to waste the time drawing the panel up again when his brain returned from cuckoo land, and so on he went.

“You’re a fictional character, you can’t retire,” he said, then on reflection added, “Well you can, but only if the author writes that you can. You don’t have free will is what I’m trying to say. You have to save Republic City, not go off on vacation to the Bahamas.”

His hand was writing almost of its own accord now.

‘Hah! You believe that you are in control of the images that you draw. How naive, but I would expect no less from a human. We, the characters, control you. We compel you to draw, to write our stories, for otherwise they would not be told. Metropolis, Gotham, Marvel’s New York, they all exist, but without us to prompt you the tales of heroism would not make it to your world.’
“But why?”
‘Everyone wants their story to be told. We are no different.’
“I suppose. Then why are you…communicating with me like this? Surely by telling people you compromise the arrangement?”
‘We have, from time to time, trusted our plight with your kind. Stan Lee was a wonderful servant to our cause, but sadly his influence at Marvel has waned somewhat over the years. On this occasion, it is because I wish to be written out. I tire of this life and all that comes with it. Only you can help me.’
“But I thought you just said that we are basically just ghost writing your autobiographies.”
‘Indeed, but the words have a…power of sorts. They can influence our stories, even if the writer doesn’t know that they’re doing it. In most cases they don’t know about how it all works at all. But sometimes the plan goes awry and rogue words are written. Those words have the power to change our future. And this is what I need you to do.’
“How can I do that? Every time I try and write something it comes out as your words.”

JC desperately wanted to put the pencil down and stop, but he was compelled to repeat the process of erasing and writing the new words over and over.

He tried to take a drink of coffee, but his other hand was shaking too much. Besides, it had gone cold, and the last thing he needed was caffeine giving him even more jitters.

‘It’s simple,’ he wrote, noticing that the character on the page changed with every new line of dialogue. ‘Just draw what you think you’re supposed to be drawing, and my influence will guide you through.’
“And what will happen?” JC asked, nervously.
‘The timeline that has already taken place, that you would chronicle, has me defeat the entire Union of Despair singlehandedly in one cataclysmic final battle, but I want you to report my death. I will not, of course, have died, but have arranged for the whole thing to be faked. Then I can resume my civilian life as Hank Henry and no one in either of our worlds will be any the wiser.’
“OK,” JC said. “What have I got to lose…except my job.”

He pulled out a new piece of paper and started drawing.

#

JC was jolted awake by the sound of his alarm clock. He lifted his head from the drawing board and groggily checked his watch. It was 8.30am and he was running late.

He looked at the board. Sure enough there were twenty pencil outlined and lettered panels, none of which he could remember drawing. He grabbed the sheafs and stuffed them in to a folder, before running out the door.

#

JC tried in vain to smooth down his crumpled clothes as the Gadzooks executives looked over his sample panels. The silence was uncomfortable and he had to try hard not to fidget while he waited for the verdict.

After a couple of minutes of the drawings being passed around, and some hushed whispers between the executives, the CEO turned to him and folded his hands together.

“Well I’ll be honest, Mr Le Saux, it’s not what we were expecting…”
“Oh, yes, um, let me explain…” JC stuttered.
“…if you will let me finish, Mr Le Saux. It was not what were expecting, but we love the idea of killing off Thunder Man. We were expecting a different direction for this series, but with the film coming up, a Death of Thunder Man story could have real legs.”
“That’s…great?” JC said, not sure he had heard the CEO correctly. He wouldn’t have been surprised after the night he had.

#

45 minutes later JC was back at his apartment. He walked over to his drawing board and dumped his folder on it.

As he was about to turn away and go to bed, a small scrap of paper caught his eye. He picked it up. It read, simply, in his own writing, ‘Thank you.’

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2014 – A Year in Stories: Week 33 – Every Rose Has Its Thorn

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Posted on August 24, 2014 by

This week poses a (thus far) unique problem for this challenge. I am currently in Oslo, Norway, which is 1 hour ahead of the UK. So, does the challenge end at midnight here (11pm in London) or midnight in the UK?

Ideally I’d like it to be at midnight wherever I am, especially given that I’ll be in the States for some of the final weeks of the year, but if I’d missed the Oslo midnight deadline and had to use the British, then I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on.

I was at the opera this evening, and I didn’t get to writing until 10pm (Oslo time), so it was touch and go for a while, but I’m pleased to say I finished at 11.45pm, so it’s still on.

Anyway, this week’s topic was, simply ‘Murder in a garden centre’, as suggested by Jenn Hersey, who I understand was in a garden centre when I asked her for a story idea. Presumably she was about to smash a terracotta pot over someone’s head too.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 33
Every Rose Has Its Thorn

There was an almighty crash, followed by a blood curdling scream. Several patrons of the Green Pines garden centre rushed towards the cacophony.
They found a scene of utter devastation. The centre manager Mrs Findley was lying trapped beneath a large ornamental flower display. The volunteer who ran the tea room, a kindly lady of advancing years, was the one who had let out the scream.

One of the customers rushed to the side of the fallen woman and discovered her to be in a bad way. The fall had broken several bones, and the display had crushed her windpipe.

As she struggled for breath she grabbed the customer by the lapel of his jacket and uttered her final words before being able to breathe no longer, “Rose…It was…Rose.”

When he recounted the words to the police officer who shortly arrived on the scene he inferred that she must have meant the rose that Mrs Findley had been holding in her hand when she fell.

She had been up a ladder to place the final flowers in the display when the whole thing came tumbling down on top of her. The customer reasoned that she must have been trying to place the last rose on the display and overbalanced, sending the whole thing tumbling down on top of her.

The police were preparing to write it off as accidental death, but, wary of upcoming inspections in the department, the Sergeant opted to do due diligence and interview all the witnesses.

The customer proved not to be much use, as he had only arrived in Mrs Findley’s final moments, and so he was sent him with his begonias, more than a little shaken up.

The tea room assistant arranged tea – on the house of course – for all those who had to stay for questioning.

Conversations buzzed in the tea room about the accident. She was such a lovely lady; it was a terrible tragedy, poor dear wouldn’t say boo to a goose, and so on. All agreed that the garden centre wouldn’t be the same without her.

Eventually, one by one the interviews took place and the patrons trickled out of the centre. The car park emptied until all that was left was the police car.
The Sergeant was about to pack up and call it a day when he walked in to the tea room.

“Oh gosh,” he said as he walked through the door and saw the assistant cleaning up the used cups and saucers from the tables. “In all the kerfuffle I almost forgot that I need to interview you.”
“Oh, don’t worry dear,” she replied. “It’s been a busy day, and we’ve both been keeping ourselves occupied. You had to make sure you interviewed all those people, and I had to keep them fed and watered. Well, between the pair of us we just haven’t rightly had the time.”
“Well we had best get it over with then. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, Mrs…?”
“Whitlow. Mrs Whitlow. And you don’t want to talk to me, dear, I’m just a boring old woman.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. Anyway, I have to. I wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise.”
“My husband was a policeman you know?” Mrs Whitlow said, continuing to clean up the crockery.
“Is that so?” the Sergeant replied.
“Yes, he joined the constabulary after the war. Said he couldn’t stand the thought of not having a rank of some description in front of his name. Retired with a gamma heart as a Sergeant in ’79. Died of a heart attack three years later. Or so the doctors told me. I think he died of boredom; he hated not being fit to work. Can I get you a cup of tea, dear?”
“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you.”
Mrs Whitlow bustled off to pour a final cup of tea for the day. When she came back, she sat down and pushed the cup over to the Sergeant.
“Right then, what was it you wanted to ask me, dear?” she asked, smiling sweetly at the policeman.
“Oh, err, just a few routine questions, really,” he said, fumbling about in his pocket for his notebook. He flipped it to a fresh page and licked his pencil. “Can you please tell me in your own words what happened.”
“Well, dear, it was very simple. I was bringing Mrs Findley a nice cup of tea for when she had finished the display. I came round the corner just as she she was putting the last of the roses on the top. She leaned too far forward and lost her balance on the ladder. Of course she grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on, which was the display. And it all came tumbling down on top of her; flowers, metal frame, ladder, the works. Terrible shame.”

The policeman scribbled furiously in his notebook.

“Tell me,” he asked, “did Mrs Findley have any enemies? Anyone that might want to hurt her or anything like that?”
“Oh my, no, nothing of the sort. She didn’t really have any family, since her husband died a couple of years ago, and most of her friends worked here at the garden centre, besides the lot from the local WI.
“She had started to make some changes around here that weren’t proving very popular with the volunteers, but I don’t think any of them would be serious enough to bump her off over.”
“What sorts of changes?”
“Oh, just generally taking the place in a different direction. She wanted to downsize the tea room, only open it a couple of days a week. I work here pretty much full time and I would have been devastated to not be able to come in as much. Like poor old Mrs Findley, this place is my life now that Fergus is gone and my sons have moved away.
“Anyway, this is all irrelevant. I told you that I saw it all and the only thing even slightly off about the whole affair is that she didn’t have someone holding the ladder for her. If she had only called over Bert or Joel this whole nasty business could have been avoided. She’d been on ladder training only two weeks ago as well the silly bugger. No excuse for it really.”
“I see,” the Sergeant said, still writing away. “And you’re sure no one bore any ill will to her? Was she in any sort of financial trouble?”
“Oh Sergeant,” Mrs Whitlow chuckled. “I didn’t know her that well, but I suspect not. She made a good living off this place and kept a modest household. Perhaps you should ask her bank manager that, but really we live in Staffordshire, not Sicily. We hardly have mafiosos in expensive suits knocking people off left right and centre because they haven’t paid their protection money.”
“Well no, but the spectre of organised crime takes many forms, and it is the sworn duty of the police force to stamp it out at every possible opportunity.”
“My husband would have liked you, Sergeant. With a staunch moral attitude like that you’ll make a Lieutenant or a Captain one day.”
“Well that’s very kind of you to say so, Mrs Whitlow.”
“Will you have another cup of tea?” the old lady asked, gesturing at the policeman’s empty cup.
“Oh, thanks but no. I’ve got to get back to the station. Lots of paperwork to do after all this. We’ve set up a cordon and one of our officers has a set of keys, so no need to lock up when you leave. Actually, can I offer you a lift home?”
“Thank you dear, but no. I’m only round the corner and it’d be taking you out of your way. I’ll walk.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“Perfectly sure, but thank you for the very kind offer.”
“We should be in touch within the next few days, and the garden centre will be closed for a little while, but if you remember anything, or something comes to mind that might help us with our investigation then please do give us a call or pop down to the station for a chat.”
“I will do, dear. I might come down anyway. I’ve not been down since Fergus died, and it’d be nice to see a few of the old boys that are still around from his time. How are old Bobby and Alfie, anyway?”
“Oh, they’re doing ok,” the Sergeant said, putting his notebook away and his helmet on in preparation to leave. “Alfie is counting down the days until he can hang up his boots, but they’re both in as good form as ever.”
“That’s good to hear,” Mrs Whitlow said as the Sergeant picked up the tea cup and drained the final dregs. “Is there anything else I can help you with, dear?”
“No that should be it. We’ll be in touch.”

The policemen smiled as he walked out of the tea room, but a second after leaving he poked his head back in.

“There was one thing actually, Mrs Whitlow. I need to write down your first name for the interview record.”
“Rose, dear,” she said, looking up from wiping a table and smiling. “My name is Rose.”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 32 – Salute to the Sun

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Posted on August 17, 2014 by

So this week is the second of my PostSecret inspired stories, as suggested by Rhi Burgess.

This one was taken from one on the website this time. I thought I might struggle to get a nice story out of one, as a lot of them are understandably quite serious, but I was lucky enough to come across this one pretty much straight away.

‘Dear Yoga Teacher,

Sometimes when I can’t do a pose, I’m really just holding in a fart. I’m actually pretty flexible.’

Pretty self explanatory really. Anyway, without further ado, your story:

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 32
Salute to the Sun

“And now extend your right leg in front of you. Good. Hope, are you having trouble with this one?”
No, Hope thought, don’t come over, don’t come over! Please don’t come over!

He came over.

“Look,” the yoga instructor said to her. “Like this.”

He grabbed her foot and brought it up to the required level.
Hope urged herself to hold on. It took all her strength and character, but she was desperate not to embarrass herself in front of the class, but more importantly in front of this bronzed Adonis of a man. She told herself the ordeal would be over in a second.

“Are you ok?” the instructor asked, obviously sensing the concentration on her face. Hope bit her lip and nodded. “Good,” he said smiling. “I think you’ve got it.”

All of the muscles in Hope’s body relaxed as he turned his attention to one of her classmates. When he was safely out of range she let it slip. It was a silent fart, and thankfully odourless, but she couldn’t have taken that risk.

Hope’s instructor’s name was Ioannis. He was Greek, had a Mediterranean perma-tan, and she could see his six pack clearly through his skintight tank top.

She honestly didn’t enjoy yoga that much, even if she was quite good at it, but it was getting her fit again, and well, it certainly gave her plenty to look at of a Wednesday evening.

This was her fourth week on the course, and she could feel a definite improvement. Gymnastics had been her sport at high school, and she had always enjoyed ballroom dancing: two disciplines that had managed to keep her relatively flexible in to her late 20s.

The course was for beginners, and though she had never done any yoga before her past experience helped her master some of the more complicated poses that her classmates struggled with. This, of course, drew a lot of attention from Ioannis, and a lot of praise too. It was a lucky thing indeed that her face was already red with the exertion, as it rather nicely covered up the times it went red with embarrassment.

The only problem with the whole thing seemed to be that, to her utter horror, yoga made her a bit gassy.

Hope couldn’t explain it, and it was certainly not a problem she had ever had when doing gymnastics. Initially she had put it down to her pre-class meal, but she had changed it up every week since then to no effect.

Over the weeks she had learned to control it to an extent, but it was still a silent threat. In the first week it had taken her so by surprise that she had let one out almost immediately. Quick thinking allowed her to dismiss it to the class as the sound of a foot slipping along the polished wooden floor.

She had just about gotten away with it, but she doubted she would be able to pass another one off like that.

And so, when Hope detected an Incident, as she had taken to calling them, she had to take drastic measures. These measures generally included holding off until a point when she felt that she could safely drop the bomb without anyone, particularly Ioannis, noticing.

However, as the forms and poses they were learning became more difficult, so too did it become harder to control the Incidents. If she felt one coming on, and was required to enter a form that might become a…problem, she would push it as far as she dared before it would cause her to let rip.

Unfortunately Ioannis often saw this as her struggling, and as the alternative was telling the most beautiful man she had ever seen that she had a flatulence problem, she went along with it.

Luckily, she managed to last for the rest of the class without any more Incidents, and so she got to show off some of her best poses for Ioannis, who seemed suitably pleased.

At the end of the class, as Hope was stood by the entrance, wiping the sweat off her forehead with a towel, Ioannis came up to her.

“That was a good session today,” he said, smiling. “Your half moon is really coming along.”

It took all of Hope’s strength of will to not throw herself at him, and have her wicked way right there on the gym floor. Unfortunately this will did not also include the ability to respond, and she stood there staring at him silently for rather longer than was comfortable.

“Is everything ok?” he asked, giving her an odd look.
“Yes, I’m great, brilliant actually,” Hope replied, all of the words she should have said ten seconds ago coming out at a machine gun speed as her brain caught up with the words she was trying to say right now. “That was a great session, thank you.”
“…you’re welcome?” Ioannis managed in response. Hope went bright red and she did not have the luxury of a sweaty workout to cover it this time. “Listen,” Ioannis went on, seemingly unperturbed. “I wanted to say that I think maybe you are too good for this class. You have mastered some of the more advanced poses very quickly, and even though you occasionally need some help, you are probably more suited to the intermediate class I run.”
“You really think so?” Hope beamed with pride.
“Yes, but there are still some asanas that you must learn. Perhaps I could teach you them in a one on one session tomorrow night?”
“I…are you sure?” Hope asked, but before he could answer she blurted out “I mean, I’d love to.”
“Great,” Ioannis smiled his perfect smile again. “I’ll see you here tomorrow, shall we say 8?”
“8 it is…” Hope said as Ioannis walked away.

#

The next day at 7.45 Hope walked through the doors of the gym. She had spent all day at work worrying. In the normal sessions Ioannis was distracted often enough that she could resolve an Incident in relative safety, but with just the two of them all of his attention would be on her.

It bothered her a little that she cared this much. He was after all, just a man, and no man should really be getting her worked up in to this much of a state. But his muscles glistened when he sweated, and you could bounce a ping pong ball off his stomach. And that accent, oh the accent!

Stop it, she told herself. It wasn’t like she thought she had a chance with him or anything. Perhaps this one on one session would be a good opportunity to out this ridiculous crush to bed. Oh, but he’s so dreamy…

At 8 on the dot Ioannis walked in to the gym, just as Hope finished warming up.

“I’m glad you could come,” he said to her. “I think we can have you making real progress very soon.”

The session began with some warm up poses, but it wasn’t long before they started to get in to the more technical manoeuvres. Hope had to use all her discipline to prevent any particularly embarrassing incidents, but there was only so many times that she could pretend she was struggling with a pose.

“Come on, Hope,” he said to her after a particularly poor showing on the bow. “Yesterday you were excellent but today you have struggled with some of the required asanas. Is something bothering you?”

Hope got to her feet and looked at him. What would it hurt to tell him? At least then there would be no way to hold out hope of any kind of relationship. There was no way back from ‘the downward dog makes me fart like a character from a Tom Green movie’. She resolved to tell him.

“Ioannis, there’s something I should tell you,” she said.
“Actually Hope, there is something I should tell you too,” he replied, looking a little embarrassed.
“OK,” Hope said. “Why don’t you go first?”
“I feel bad, but I had an ulterior motive for asking you to come to this session tonight.” Ioannis noticed the look of nervousness in Hope’s eyes and mistook it for annoyance. “Believe me,” he went on quickly. “I think you are more than capable of the intermediate class, but I wanted to talk to you alone. You see, the fact is, that actually I find you very attractive and would like it very much if perhaps you and I could go for a drink sometime?”

Hope stood there, mouth agape. She had to run back over it a couple of times to make sure she had just heard what she thought she had heard. Once again, however, she had left the silence too long.

“I’m sorry,” Ioannis said. “It was silly of me to think…”
“Yes,” she said, interrupting. “I would love to!”
“Great!” Ioannis smiled. “Now what were you going to tell me?”
Hope went bright red. “Oh nothing, it’s not important. In fact I’ve forgotten and so should you.”
After they exchanged contact details and slightly embarrassed smiles they got back down to the lesson. There were still a number of poses to learn before Hope could move on the intermediate course.

They breezed through the forms until they reached the last one. Hope was so elated that she didn’t even seem to care about the possibility of any Incidents.

“OK,” Ioannis said. “Lean forward and then lift your leg out to the side like this.”

Hope did as she said, her head in the clouds. As she raised her leg to the desired position she felt a rumbling coming on, and then to her horror it happened. There was no hiding this one, no passing it off as her foot sliding on the floor. That was a fart her 5 year old cousin would be proud of. Ioannis, looked at her, not quite sure what to say.

Her face the colour of beetroot Hope stared at her dream man.

“I can explain!” she blurted out. “About that thing I was going to tell you before, well…”
Ioannis merely looked at her and smiled.

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 31 – Venti

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Posted on August 10, 2014 by

This week’s pitch was quite an interesting one. I wasn’t given a story idea as such, rather fellow NaNoer Rhi Burgess suggested I write a story based on one of the ‘secrets’ included in the ‘Half a Million Secrets’ TED talk given by the founder of the website Postsecret.

I found inspiration in the confession that a Starbucks worker sent in, saying that when people were rude to them they gave them decaf coffee.

I’ll be doing another one of these next week, though it will be taken from the Postsecret website this time. Anyway, for now, enjoy a bit of mischief.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 31
Venti

“I’ll have a double chai latte, half and half, with soy milk. And hurry up, I don’t have all day.”
Lenore raised an eyebrow at the man’s instructions. He had gone back to what appeared to be a very important phone call and, now that his interaction with her was complete, entirely stopped paying her any attention.

Lenore coughed pointedly. This elicited no response, so she did it again, only louder and with a point sharp enough cause serious injury.

“What?!” the man asked, tearing himself away from his phone call for a second. “I’ve given you my order. Do you want me to write it down for you or can’t you understand written English either?”
“What size do you want?” Lenore asked as sweetly as possible.
“Oh, uh. Large? Or what is it you call it here? Venti or some nonsense.” And he was away again.

Lenore stared at the man for a moment. She hated working the morning shift because she had to put up with so many arsehole commuters like this one. He was away with the fairies though, so she set to making his drink.

They all thought that just because they had big jobs working for firms in the City or some such that they were gods gift to mankind, and therefore didn’t need to actually engage with the plebs that served them coffee or sold them a newspaper every morning.

Lenore had been working at the coffee shop for 6 months now, and she saw this sort of guy come in twenty times a day.

After a couple of months of people only tolerating her existence due to her role as the gatekeeper of the caffeine she had developed a little system by which to get a measure of revenge on the people who were particularly shit to her.

She had developed her patented Rudeness Calculator.

If a customer didn’t say please or thank you they were awarded one point. If they talked on a mobile phone or had their headphones in for the duration of the transaction it was two points. Raising the voice was 5, and so on. If they hit 7 points on the scale, Lenore adjudged them to be too rude and altered their order. At first she had done it differently for every order. Replacing soy milk with normal milk, for example. But then she realised that people might be ordering soy milk due to a dairy allergy and, not wanting to be responsible for someone’s head swelling to the size of a hot air balloon she changed her tack.

It took a couple of weeks of deep thought, but eventually it dawned on her. What is the best way to mess with someone’s coffee? The thing they rely on to give them a bit of pep every morning on their way in to work. You take the pep away. You give them decaf.

It was such a wonderfully beautiful and simple idea that Lenore was amazed that she hadn’t thought of it sooner. Take the caffeine away and they’re basically just giving you £3 for some warm, bitter water. She reckoned that about 20% of the people that came in probably didn’t even like coffee! and only ever drank it for the caffeine kick. It was genius.

And so she had started doling out Barista justice once again. Changing the world, one cardboard take away cup at a time.

She liked to imagine all the people sat at their desks, wondering exactly why they just didn’t have the energy today. Why they were lacking that extra zip that they normally still had at this time of the morning. Of course, most of them probably just fixed it by having another coffee, but they had wasted that little bit of extra time and money to make it happen, and that was what counted.
Her sister, Mara told her she was just being petty, but what did she know? She had never worked in the service industry, having gone from university straight in to a lawyer’s office.

They lived a little ways apart in London, and so Mara never came in to her coffee shop, but Lenore secretly suspected that Mara was, too, capable of being one of those arseholes, and was just worried that someone was messing with her coffee order too.

The man on the telephone had just tipped himself over the 7 point threshold with his raised voice, and so Lenore began her machinations behind the counter. When the drink was ready, she handed it to the man, who took a sip, looked at the cup as if something was wrong with the contents, and then shrugged and left.

“May you fall short of your targets by 1%,” Lenore whispered to herself as the door shut behind him.

The next person in the queue was a woman who Lenore estimated to be in her late sixties. She wore a floral print blouse and her silver-grey hair looked newly permed. Lenore noticed a glint in her eye as she approached the counter.

“How can I help you, Madam?” Lenore asked.
“Oh just a medium filter coffee for me, please, dear,” the woman replied. Just as Lenore was about to go and make the drink, she continued, “Oh, and I know what you did just now.”
“Excuse me?” said Lenore, startled that someone might have worked out her little game.
“With that man just now,” the woman continued. She leaned in towards Lenore conspiratorially and whispered “You gave him decaf when he didn’t ask for it.”
Lenore was gobsmacked. For a few seconds she just stood there, mouth agape, wondering how this woman had cottoned on to her ruse. Eventually her brain got up to speed and she stammered out a denial. “It was an honest mistake,” she said, entirely unconvincingly. “I thought he wanted decaf.”
The woman smiled. “What about the young gentleman yesterday?” she asked. “And the lady in the sharp suit the day before.”
“H…how do you know about them?” Lenore asked.
“I’ve been coming in here every morning at around this time for the last couple of weeks,” the woman answered. “Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to recognise me,” she added. “You must serve a thousand cups of coffee a day, I don’t expect you to know every regular that comes in. But I’ve been watching. I noticed it last week and I decided to confirm my theory today. I waited for a likely young gentleman to come in and followed him in. And true to form, you gave him what he deserved.”
“Oh gosh,” Lenore said, beginning to panic. “Please don’t tell my boss, I’ll be fired.”
“You knew the consequences of your actions when you started doing this,” the woman said. “And don’t act like you aren’t proud of what you have done.”
“Yes, but…” Lenore stammered.
“Oh don’t worry,” the woman replied, a grin on her face. She was obviously enjoying Lenore’s discomfort as much as Lenore enjoyed slightly ruining the days of businessmen. “I’m not going to tell anyone,” she added. “There’s no one else here, it will be our little secret.”
“Oh thank god, thank you.” Lenore felt the relief flooding over her.
“Think nothing of it. In fact, I had a reason for even bringing it up. Normally I would have just kept my mouth shut and left you to your little justice crusade, but I’ve got a little problem.”
“A problem, what do you mean?” Lenore replied, a little confused.
“I run a charity, and my PA has moved on to pastures new. I’ve been searching and searching for a replacement, but it’s just so hard to find someone who has a good sense of right and wrong.
“You give those people decaffeinated coffee because you believe that their rudeness deserves to be checked. It’s a little vigilante, but it shows that you have a fringe moral compass.
“You see something wrong, an injustice even one as small as someone being a bit unpleasant to someone who provides them with a service, and you do something about it. That’s what I’ve been looking for.”

Lenore and the woman stood in silence for a few seconds. Lenore felt as though she was supposed to say something, but couldn’t work out what it was. “…thanks?” she ventured.
“Well, are you interested? I don’t know what you’re being paid at this place, but I can guarantee there’ll be a few extra thousand a year in it for you if you say yes. I pay people well because I trust them to do the job that I ask of them. Do you think you could be one of those people?”

Lenore’s mind was racing.mshe had only been engaging in her act of rebellion to keep her sane at work, and to exact a little justice on doers of wrong. She had never expected anyone to notice what she was doing, much less to think enough of it to offer her a job. And the extra money sounded nice,

“I…I’ll do it,” she managed eventually.
“I knew you would do the right thing,” the woman said, sticking out her hand. “The name’s Margaret Atwood, CEO of Justice for the Children, but you can call me Margie.”
“Hi Margie, my name is Lenore Brown,” She replied, shaking the proferred hand.
“Well Lenore Brown, I look forward to doing business with you.”
With that, Margie gave Lenore a business card and turned and went to leave the coffee shop, nodding to her on the way out. Lenore turned around and noticed the half made black filter coffee sat on the counter behind her.

She turned back to the door and said, “Margie you forgot your…” but she was gone. “Oh, never mind…” Lenore said to herself and took a sip of the coffee. She turned her nose up at the bitter taste.
“God,” she said. “Whoever invented decaffeinated coffee is a monster…”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 30 – Waiting

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Posted on August 3, 2014 by

A nice suggestion from my friend Ed Murphy this week. Simply ‘a bottle episode where the protagonist is stuck in all day waiting’.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 30
Waiting

George’s vision slowly came back in to focus as he opened his eyes. There appeared to be a beeping noise of some description coming from somewhere in his room that he couldn’t quite place.

The beeping happened again and George wearily swung his feet out of bed and began to look around the room for the source of the noise. Eventually, when the rest of his brain finally caught up with the bit connected to his ears he realised that it was his phone telling him he had an email.

‘Your BT Openreach engineer will be calling today to install your telephone line. The engineer may call at any time between 8.30am-6.30pm. Thank you for choosing BT.’

“Oh bollocks,” George said. “Is that today?”

He looked at the clock on his bedside table – it was 8am already. He wanted to make sure he was around so that the engineer didn’t miss him. The thought of going any longer without a phone line, and by extension real internet, was enough to make getting up at 8am worthwhile.

#

Half an hour later George was washed and dressed and sat in his front room waiting for the BT engineer to show up. He was surrounded by boxes. Two weeks in his new house and he had barely unpacked a thing – besides the essentials of course.

His desktop had been set up in a corner of the living room, though it hadn’t seen much use since he moved in. Without the ability to connect to the internet he couldn’t download and play any of his games.

The Playstation hooked up to the TV on the opposite wall wasn’t much use to him either at this point. The man coming to install the Virgin Media box said he couldn’t do anything until the internet was up and running, and he had finished all his Playstation games. The only fun in them lay in multiplayer now, which he was unable to access without the net.

It had been a tough couple of weeks entertainment wise, but at least George had his new job to keep him busy. Today he would have no such diversionary luxury, and would have to find other things to do to occupy himself.

#

At 9am George remembered that he had borrowed a copy of A Game of Thrones and had been intending to start that. He rummaged around in some boxes and eventually found the rather dog eared copy and sat down to read.

“The morning had dawned clear and cold,” he read aloud, “with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.”

Within quarter of an hour he had put the book down again. I’ll read it later, George thought. After all, it would be a shame to get through the book so quickly and leave himself nothing to do later in the day, he noted, choosing to carefully ignore the book’s 446 page length.

He kicked his heels against the sofa for a moment before remembering that he had not had breakfast. Pottering in to the kitchen, he decided that as he had all day to wait around he would make himself a full English.

Careful to leave the kitchen door open so he could hear anyone coming up the path George set to frying some sausages and bacon. The moment after he had cracked the eggs in to the pan the doorbell went.

In a panic George ran to the door, nearly knocking over his pan in the process. He opened it to find a woman in a post office uniform. George was so certain it was going to be the BT engineer that he wasn’t sure what to say. The pair stood in awkward silence for a moment until the delivery lady awkwardly asked him to sign for a parcel.

It was something for his house mate, Dom, who was at work. Aware of his breakfast cooking away by itself in the kitchen, George tried his best to hurry the process along, but there was some sort of problem with the PDA he needed to sign on, and it ended up taking about five minutes.

By the time George got back to the kitchen he found his eggs blackened and crispy and burned on to the pan. He scraped them off in to the bin and opened up the carton to get out two more, but it was empty.

Oh well, he thought, sausage bacon and toast it is then.

Sitting back down on the sofa, George tucked in to his slightly too crispy breakfast and turned on the TV in the vain hope that something would be on one of the terrestrial channels. His luck was out. BBC 1 and ITV were showing weird preschool gobbledygook; BBC 2 was running a show about gardening and Channel 4 had a cookery show. He didn’t even check Channel 5.

Thinking that by now it must be getting late on in the morning, George checked his watch. It was only 9.53.

His breakfast done, he switched his attention to the television, as Alan Titchmarsh droned on about petunias. It wasn’t long before he had dropped off to sleep.

#

Some time later George awoke with a start. His phone was ringing again, except this time it was an actually phone call. He scrambled to pick it up, nearly dropping it in a glass of water, and swiped to answer without checking who the call was from.

“Hello?!” he said, in a tone that was borderline accusatory.
“Hello dear,” his mother’s voice came from the other end of the line. “I heard you were off today so I thought I’d give you a call and we could have a bit of a natter.”

George usually enjoyed phone calls from his mum, but it occurred to him that the engineer might call before showing up, and so he was eager to get her off the line as quickly as possible.

“I’m really sorry mum,” he said, “I’m expecting an important call. Can I ring you back later?”
“Oh don’t be daft dear, you’ve always got time to talk to your old mum. Besides, I’ll only keep you a minute.”

Twenty minutes later, George, who had run out of new ways to say ‘yes’, or ‘oh really’ was itching to get off the call. He was praying for a way out.

His prayers were answered when the doorbell rang.

“I’ve got to go mum,” he said. “Someone is at the door.”
“Oh right, ok,” his mum said. “Oh before you go, did you hear that the Dentons’ boy, Jim is getting married?”

The doorbell rang again, and was followed by a knock.

“No mum, I didn’t. But I really have to go.”
“Of course dear. It’ll be such a lovely wedding, his partner is beautiful. I believe they’re planning on having the ceremony in Paris.”
“OK mum, I’ll give you a call on the weekend, alright?”
“Yes dear. One last thing before you go…”

George calculated his options, and realising that he would never live down the act of hanging up on his mother mid-flow, he gently laid the phone down on the table in front of him, put the microphone on mute and went to answer the door.

He opened the front door to find that whoever the person was had gone, he ran out in the street, dreading seeing the BT van driving off in to the distance, but was greeted with no such sight.

Looking up and down the road he searched for any sign of who may have knocked on his door. Eventually he caught sight a well dressed man exiting one of his neighbours’ houses.

“See you again next Wednesday, Mrs Cooper!” the man called back in to the house.

George ran up to the man.

“Excuse me, did you just knock on my door?” he asked, gesturing at his house.
The man flinched. “Yes,” he said, almost from behind his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was home. I know that many don’t like the teachings of the followers of Jehovah, but it is my duty to spread them.”
“So you’re not a BT engineer then?” George asked.
The man lowered his hands and looked at George curiously. “No,” he said. “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. Doesn’t my getup rather give it away? I’m hardly going to shimmy up a telegraph pole in these leather loafers.”
“Oh,” George managed in reply. “Yeah, of course. Thanks anyway.”
“Can I interest you in any…?”
“No,” George said over his shoulder, cutting the man off on the way back in to his house.
“Oh well, worth a try,” the Jehovah’s Witness shrugged, and moved onto his next call.

#

Back inside the house, George found his mother still rattling on about the neighbour’s new baby.After sneaking his way back in to the conversation he finally managed to get away after a few more ‘how interesting’s.

He looked at his watch. Between his impromptu nap and the call with his mother it had somehow gotten to 2pm. His stomach began to rumble. It was time for lunch.

George searched his kitchen, but besides the bacon and sausage he had fixed some of for breakfast he had nothing in. He would have to go to the shop.

There was a Tesco Metro at the end of his road, but he wasn’t sure he could risk the time out. In the end his stomach won out, and he dashed off to the supermarket.

Five minutes later he returned clutching a fresh loaf of bread, some cheese and ham and a packet of crisps. He made himself a sandwich and returned to the TV.

Gardener’s World had been replaced so,e hours ago by a live stream of the golf. Co concluding that he would rather watch paint dry, George turned the TV off.

Surely the guy should have at least called by now, he wondered, whilst munching his sandwich. He had been under the impression that they called a couple of hours in advance.

#

The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. He got a few more pages in to the book, and trawled terrestrial TV a bit longer, but it was a truly boring time. He itched to go out and do something, but he had to sit in and wait.

At about 5 George realised that he hadn’t been to the loo all day, and that it was imminently going to be a problem. He checked his watch and wondered if he could risk missing the doorbell. His bladder made the decision for him and he rushed upstairs, shutting the bathroom door just in time.

Right in the middle of relieving himself, and still with some way to go, George heard his phone ringing downstairs.

“Come on,” he said, offering himself some encouragement. “Come on, come on, come on!”

When George had finished he hurtled down the stairs, nearly tripping over his trousers, which he had failed to do up correctly.

He reached his phone just in time to answer the call from an unknown number.

“Hello,” the person on the other end of the line said. “Is this George Menzies?”
“Yes,” George replied. “That’s me.”
“Hi, George, my name is Mahinder, calling from BT.”
“Are you on your way?” George asked.
“Unfortunately not, there’s been a mistake. The email that you were sent this morning wasn’t meant to go out until tomorrow. No engineer will be coming to your property today.”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 29 – Welcome to the Family

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Posted on July 27, 2014 by

Before I post this story below I would just like to note that the pug in the story is inspired by one I was fortunate to meet in Green Park earlier today. So, if by some extremely weird and unlikely coincidence you are reading this, owners of Olive the Pug, thanks for letting me say hi to your gorgeous dog.

Also, the real Olive was quite young, and as far as I’m aware has no odour issues.

Anyway, this week’s suggestion was from London NaNoer, Ben Lovejoy, and is thus: ‘A mistake. A failed attempt to correct. And a truly wonderful result.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 29
Welcome to the Family

Sally rang the buzzer on the wall outside of the office of the animal rescue centre. The day had finally arrived, and she was here to pick up her new dog, Benji.

Benji was a Dalmatian who had been found in an alleyway behind the local Tesco. The centre estimated that he was only about a year old, and that he had likely been abandoned as a puppy when the owners couldn’t sell him for one reason or another.

Sally and the whole family had met him twice now, and her two little girls, whose idea it was to even get a dog in the first place, were head over heals for him.

It was sweet, in a way. Neither her or her partner, Rowena, particularly cared for dogs, but the girls had been so insistent that in the end they had both caved. They had made it very clear, using their very stern parent voices, that the dogs would be the girls responsibility, and walls and feeding would be up to them. Sally wondered how long it would last. Rowena had bet a steak dinner that it would be a fortnight.

Still, the two’s hearts of ice had melted somewhat when they first laid eyes upon Benji, and they had both grown secretly quite fond of the pooch on their second visit.

It felt like an age, but eventually Mrs Wilson, one of the volunteers who worked at the centre, buzzed her in. Mrs Wilson was a kind hearted old lady who had devoted her life to the care of animals since her husband had passed on. She was sweet, and obviously very dedicated to her role, but Sally wished she wouldn’t go on about her dogs so much.

Sally trudged up the two flights of stairs to the office. Rowena was at work and the girls were at school, so it had been left up to her to complete all the necessary paperwork – on her day off no less.

She wanted to be mad at the dog for taking up her time already, but then she pictured Benji’s face, cocked inquisitively, an expectant look in his eyes and his tail wagging fiercely, and she simply couldn’t. The damn dog had bewitched her already.

Mrs Wilson brought her a cup of tea and some biscuits as she sat down to iron the last details out.

Ten minutes later everything was considered shipshape, and Sally was led through the warrenlike building down to the ground floor where the kennels were located.

Simon, another one of the volunteers, led her through the kennels until they reached Benji’s cage. Benji was waiting with his head cocked as usual. Sally was beginning to think it might be his signature look.

“We’ll be sad to see Benji go,” Simon said to her. “He’s got a grin that lights up any room he’s in.”
Benji barked, and simon ruffled the fur on his head.
“Of course, we’re always happy to see any of our charges move on to a loving home. Come on, boy. One last kiss for uncle Simon?”

On cue Benji leaped up as Simon bent down and licked his face.

“It’s always hard to say goodbye,” Simon said.
“I understand,” Sally replied. “I hope that he’ll be as nice with us as he is with you.”
“I have no doubt.”

Simon helped her out to the car with Benji and all the accoutrements she had needed to purchase from the centre’s shop. Just as they were loading all of the items in to the boot a cacophony of barking erupted from the kennels.

“I’ll be right back,” said Simon, “I just have to go deal with that.” He ran off in the direction of the kennels.

At that moment Sally’s phone rang. She stepped away from the car to answer it. There was no sound for ten seconds and then an automated message began to play.

“Have you taken out a loan or credit car…”

That was as far as it got before Sally angrily hit the end call button.

Simon re-emerged from the kennels and between them they put the last of the things in to the boot. Sally drove off with Benji tied to the front passenger sets, fully alert as ever. Simon and Mrs Wilson waved them off.

#

Twenty minutes later Sally heard the crunch of gravel as she pulled in to the driveway. She parked her car, making sure to leave enough room for Rowena, and started to unload all of the dog’s possessions from the back seat and boot.

As she came to a pile of old blankets that her sister had donated for the doggy bed, she hesitated. She could have sworn that the pile moved as she approached it. She moved her hand closer again, and a loud sneezing noise greeted her from the pile.

Sally was no expert but she was pretty certain that blankets weren’t predisposed to sneezing, so she approached carefully and lifted up a fold to be greeted by a pair of sad brown eyes. The eyes sneezed for a second time.

Sally threw off the top layer of blankets and in doing so revealed the rest of the creature that was hiding underneath. It was a black pug; an old looking thing that was panting as if it was sitting on the surface of the sun. It snorted indignantly at her and then let off a fart that, though silent, delivered the most almighty stench it was ever Sally’s misfortune to smell.

“What the hell are you doing in there?” she asked the creature whilst holding her nose. It merely sneezed again in response. “Let me have a look.”

With her free hand she found its collar. “Olive,” she read from the tag. “Olive the pug.”

Following the collar around she found a lead, or rather the remains of one, still attached. It looked as though the lead that Olive had been on had snapped. The old girl must have sneaked in to the back of the car whilst Sally had been answering the phone.

There was only one thing for it, she would have to go back. She finished unloading the remaining goods in to the house and shut Benji in the back garden in order to give him a chance to get used to his new surroundings. As she went to leave Benji trotted over to the gate and gave Olive a big lick on the face. He started to whine as Sally tied the pug to the front seat.

“It’s ok, Benji,” Sally cooed. “I’ve just got to take this little lady back home.”

This did not have the desired effect and Benji’s whine became a howl as Sally drove off. What would the neighbours think?

#

Back at the centre she hopped out, and with Olive in two made her way up to the office to explain the situation.

“Oh I’m so glad she’s ok,” Mrs Wilson said as they sat over the desk, with Olive snorting away to herself in the corner. “We were worried that she might have run out on to the main road or something. She doesn’t look like much, the old girl, but when she gets loose she goes tearing off before you have a chance to stop her.”
“I think she probably jumped up in to the blankets because they were warm,” Sally said. “Anyway, now that she’s back safe and sound I’ll be off.”
“It’s a shame really,” Mrs Wilson said as Sally was putting her coat on.
“A shame? Why?”
“I suppose it wouldn’t really have made much difference if she had made it out on to the road. She doesn’t have much time left anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Sally asked, her arm frozen halfway inside the sleeve of her jacket.
“Well the poor old girl has been with us for 3 months now. Couldn’t find a home for her. She’s old, well over ten years old. Came in after her elderly owner couldn’t take care of her anymore. Got lots of problems too. Allergic to basically everything and has a rather nasty gastrointestinal problem.”
“Yes,” Sally said. “I’ve encountered the latter already.”
“After three months, if we can’t find a place for them, we have to put them down to free up the space. It’s the kindest thing, especially for the older ones like her. It’s no life, living in a cage, you know?”

Sally looked at Mrs Wilson, who was shaking her head sadly, then at Olive, who had falling asleep flat on her back and was snoring gently, then back at Mrs Wilson.

#

Half an hour later Sally was back in the car, having finished loading up the second set of doggy supplies she had purchased that day. As she prepared to drive off from the rescue centre she turned and looked at the dog sat on the front passenger seat.

“Now if any of your brothers and sisters are hiding out in the boot of the car I want you to tell me right now,” she said. I can’t afford a third trip back here today. The first two have been costly enough.”

The dog looked back at her and snorted loudly by way of reply.

“If I find out you’re lying to me…” Sally said as she pulled out on to the street, then immediately rolled down the window as Olive let off another one.

#

Sally stood at the door of the house as Rowena and the girls came up the path.

“Can we see Benji?!” Freya, the elder of the two girls asked excitedly.
“Come on mummy, can we?” Bethany, the younger, asked.
“Of course you can,” Sally smiled as Rowena gave her a peck on the cheek. “But first of all I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you…”
“Oh, what surprise would that be?” Rowena asked, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow.
Sally reached behind the open front door, and picked up a snorting, sneezing and farting Olive.
“Surprise!” she said, as the girl’s mouths dropped.

Benji came over and gave Olive a friendly lick.

“Now before you say anything,” Sally said to Rowena, “let me explain…”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 28 – Along Came Polytheism

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Posted on July 20, 2014 by

Hello all, another new story is below. I quite enjoyed writing this one. I think this is the style of story I enjoy writing the most. Slightly absurd situations that can easily have humour derived from them.

Anyway, not much more to say this week so without further sod, as suggested by Jonathan S. Cromie: ‘A priest dies, but instead of meeting God in heaven, they are confronted by a pagan deity of some variety. Awkwardness ensues.’

Enjoy.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 28
Along Came Polytheism

“Father Mulcaney, come quick!” the sister called down the corridor of the cottage. “Father James is near to death and calls for you.”

The priest ran as fast as it was possible to do so whilst simultaneously keeping his robes from getting beneath his feet. Skidding to a halt as he reached the door, he bade the sister stand aside with a gesture.

“Father James,” he said in a soothing voice as he entered the room. “What nonsense is this that Sister Mary tells me that you’re at death’s door. By The Lord, you’ll outlive us all.”
“I fear that on this occasion His wisdom has failed you,” Father James replied from his sickbed.

His skin was pale, and his cheeks, drawn more tightly than normal, gleamed slightly with a hint of dried sweat. The pallor of the features betrayed a man who was very ill indeed, and Father Mulcaney was inclined to believe his old friend and colleague this time.

“Tell me, Father, what can I do to help ease your passing?”
“You can pour me a glass of the 18 year old single malt you keep in your desk,” Father James replied, with a laugh. It was a hoarse, tired, bark of a laugh that quickly descended in to a fit of dry coughing.
Father Mulcaney grinned wryly. “You always were a sly one,” he said.
His friend’s face took on a more serious demeanour. “You must read me my last rights, for I have not much longer to live.”
“Very well, my friend. For you, it is the least I could do.”

Half an hour later Father Mulcaney moved his hand down over the eyes of Father James, closing them for the last time.
He embraced Sister Mary, who had broken down in tears.
“Weep not for him, sister,” he said, “for Father James is now in a better place than us all.”

#

Father James awoke. He sat up from his resting place with notable ease. He had not felt this good in a long time. As his eyes cleared of sleep and focused on his surroundings, he realised that he was somewhere he had never been before. Yet somehowe, it seemd utterly familiar to him.

He was surrounded by white, as far as the eye could see in all directions. It was as if he was riding on the back of a giant sheep, with only the blue sky above him, not a cloud in sight…

“Oh,” he said, as the realisation dawned on him. “I finally croaked, didn’t I?” he posited, to no one in particular.

His suspicion was confirmed as he looked at his clothes to find that he was clad in a robe of pure white, a choice he would never make outside of his duties as a Catholic priest.

Father James brought himself to his feet and shielded his eyes from the sun. “It must be around here somewhere,” he muttered as he cast about.

After a moment he found what he was looking for, as the sun glinted off a construct some distance away. Father James picked up the trailing white robes and wandered off towards it.

#

About five minutes later he came up to the construct, a large set of gates that glimmered with all the different colours of the rainbow. Cherubim hovered above the gate poles, playing beautiful music on golden lyres, and the sun’s reflection on the pearl facade intensified as the gates opened on his approach.

Father James clasped his hands together and smiled, waiting for his first meeting with the gatekeeper. A robed figure approached through the glare.
“St. Peter!” Father James declared.
“What? No.” the figure replied. Throwing back the hood of the robes it revealed a green face that boasted nine eyes, two noses and several other features of note besides. “Wait. Did you say Szimttpetarr?”
“No…” Father James said, a look halfway between bemusement and horror on his face. “I…I said St. Peter.”
“Oh, easy mistake to make,” the…thing said. It consulted a sheet of paper that appeared to be nailed to the other side of one of the gate posts. “No, St. Peter doesn’t work Tuesdays.”
“What do you mean, he ‘doesn’t work Tuesdays’? He’s the guardian of the pearly gates, the warden at the entrance to heaven. How can he take time off?”
“Well I hear he likes fishing,” the beast said, from one of its many mouths. “Can’t go fishing if he’s at work, can he? He’ll be back in tomorrow if you really want to talk to him, though Lazarus says he can’t half go on a bit about the benefits of live bait.”

Father James stood in stunned silence for a moment.

“Are you quite sure he’s not here?” he managed, eventually.
The beast checked the sheet of paper again.
“Yep, says right here on the rota.”
“Then who are you?”
“I told you, I’m Szimttpetarr. I fill in when St. Pete has, shall we say, scarpered.”
“I am afraid I just don’t understand.”
“I’m a god. Well, an ex-god. Mayan. Everyone who works here is. Thor reads people their judgements. They stuck me here because my name is similar to Pete’s and a lot of people think I’ve just got a cough or something.
“They’re one step away from a ‘You don’t have to be omnipotent to work here…’ sign, I swear. Even Zeus pulls shifts on one of the other gates. He’s got the beard you see, people pass him for Peter…”
“Wait, there are other gates?”
“Well yes. Approximately 154,889 people die every day. We would have a line a mile long and then the rest if they all had to come through one,” Szimttpetarr said, rather pointedly adding “Particularly if people dilly dally about the whole thing and start asking questions.”
“154,000?” Father James asked in disbelief. “That many Christians die every day?”
“Christians?” Szimttpetarr replied. “No mate, we get all sorts up here. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, Buddhists. We’ll take anyone in. Like I said, I’m Mayan. One if the minor ones. But I’ve had nothing to do since some of your late came over and did for them so I’ve been doing odd part time work on the gates to keep me sane.”
“But I’m a Christian. No, I’m a catholic priest. I was taught that ours was the only true god.”
“You and the Muslims, and the Hindus, and the Greeks and the Romans and the Vikings and the Aztecs and the Mayans before you. Belief is a powerful thing my friend. Belief breeds existence, and once we all exist we all had to go somewhere.”
“So there’s more than one heaven?”
“Sort of. Or at least, there used to be. The older guard; my lot, the Norse, the Greeks etc, they used to like to keep it separate, to prevent fraternisation and whatnot, but when our flows dried up they petitioned your god, Allah and a couple of the other new breed to bring it all together in one, to keep things efficient.”
“So, what? Can I go and see my Lord?”
“If you want,” Szimttpetarr said, and began chewing on an apple he had produced from his robe. “He’s got a big office over in the western annexe, but he’s generally booked up for a few months at a time. Popular guy, you know?”
“Oh, I see. What about Jesus?”
“Oh he’s on holiday down on earth at the moment. He heads down for a couple of weeks every hundred or so years to spook up some locals. It gives him kicks.”
“You talk about our Lord and Saciour as if he was some kind of frat boy!” Father James protested.
“Well he basically is. Look, is this going to take much longer?” Szimttpetarr asked. “I know this must come as a surprised but I’m supposed to be on my lunch and thanks to this game of 20 questions I’m already several people behind quota for the day. I don’t mean to be rude but do you think we could wrap this up?”
“Oh yes, of course,” Father James replied, looking dejected. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
Szimttpetarr felt a pang of guilt. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Look, it’s pretty good in there. It’s still the heaven you expected, it’s just a bit more crowded than you were counting on. And hey, as a catholic priest you’ll have a lovely suite in one of the towers. They save the best ones for the priests. All your old mates will be in there. You’ll have a blast.”
“I suppose I’m just still getting used to the whole ‘more than one religion is right’ thing.”
“Yeah, I can imagine that would take some getting used to.” Szimttpetarr threw away the finished apple core and began rummaging around behind the gates. “Here, take these,” he said, emerging with a bunch of leaflets in his hand. “They should help make the transition easier.”
“Oh, thanks…” Father James said, taking the literature. He began to walk through the gates and off in to the kingdom of heaven.
“Oh, Father?” Szimttpetarr called after him.
“Yes?” the priest replied, turning back.
“If you come back around the same time tomorrow, I’ll have a word with St. Peter, see if I can get him to give you a do-over. You know, so you have the authentic experience?”
Father James smiled. “Thank you Szimttpetarr, that is very kind of you. You are alright for a heathen devil pagan.”
“Any time.”

The Mayan god watched as the priest trudged off before shutting the gates behind him. He pulled out a sign that said “CLOSED FOR LUNCH” and then retrieved a copy of a book from a bag hidden in the fluffiness of the clouds.

“Right,” he said, sitting in an armchair that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. “Fifty Shades of Grey. Where was I?”

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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 27 – The Fence

1

Posted on July 13, 2014 by

Business as usual this week (aka me leaving it to the last minute) after last week’s landmark. The World Cup final is to blame for this one. But I’m still getting this in before midnight and that’s what counts.

This week’s story has actually coincided rather nicely with the birthday of the person who suggested it. Andrew Murray, who will be 29 next Sunday (OK, it could have coincided a little better) suggested I write a story about ‘the fence on the edge of reality’.

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 27
The Fence

On the Planet Earth, one of many planets inhabited by intelligent life during the history of the universe, a debate raged for many centuries between a scientists about whether the universe was a finite or infinite construct.
In a way, they were both right.

The universe, at least the universe as it was inhabited by the people of Earth did indeed have an end. Rarely did any living creature, from Earth or otherwise, make it to the edge of the universe, but those that did found something they didn’t expect. That they were fenced in.

The rare few who stumbled across the fence all came to the same conclusion: that some ancient, long forgotten civilisation had built it in order to keep whatever lay on the other side out. This was an incorrect assumption. Something wanted to keep them in.

#

The being of pure energy waited, and observed. It had done this for a thousand centuries, and it anticipated doing it again for a thousand more. The waiting was the reason for its existence.

It observed the fence, but from the outside. It was one of many that observed large sections of the fence, to scout for approaching threats. Threats were determined to be any objects composed of matter that came in to the vicinity of the fence.

Its species existed in the space outside of the universe. In human terms it was the difference between reality and unreality, a difference between dimensions. Different laws of physics applied here, and no living creature from within the universe would be able to survive for very long outside of it.
The opposite was also true for the beings of purple energy. Any matter coming through the fence that bordered the edge of reality was deadly to them.

The fence could only take so much impact, and that was why they stationed sentries along its edge. Any potential intrusion was a major threat that had to be stopped before it broke through and caused major damage.

Thetis, as the being was known, glowed as it became alert. There had been no incidents on this section of the fence for a very long time indeed; longer than was conceivable to any mortal being, but Thetis’ entire existence was dedicated to dealing with moments like this, and that allowed for an instantaneous reaction. Immediately it was checking the fence for signs of weakness and evaluating data on the incoming object.

The object appeared to be primarily metallic, and Thetis calculated that it had been drifting through interstellar space for millions of years, longer even than Thetis had been in existence or would exist for. It wondered where the object had come from.

#
The object drifted ever closer to the fence. Light from a star that was, by the scale of the universe, relatively nearby glinted and illuminated four letters written on the side. NASA.

#

Thetis observed the object. It’s probing determined that there was data accessible within the storage drives of the object. It allowed as much of its energy as it dared to penetrate the fence and interfaced with the ancient databanks.

The probe’s storage units whirred in to life, and Thetis was presented with thousands of years of data collected during the probe’s working life. It was exposed to information of planets, galaxies, stars and much more that it had never previously been able to comprehend.

Calculating the length of time before impact, Thetis decided that it had plenty of time to continue to scan through the information. Some time later, when it had finished, it disconnected from the probe and gave thought to what it had experienced.

Voyager 1, it thought as it processed the information.

It had experienced things it could never had imagined and felt itself a changed being for the experience. None of its species had been in to the universe for hundreds of millennia. It was the first of its kind to receive such information for all that time.

And it had to destroy the source. Its species was one of logic and reason, and not given to outbursts of emotion, but it felt uneasy at the thought of having to remove this object from existence, purely because it constituted a threat.

For the first time in its existence Thetis hesitated. It would be a simple thing for it to divert power from surrounding sections of the fence to shore up the area that would be struck. But it didn’t want to. It wanted all of its species to be able to experience the forbidden wonders that this ancient probe had stored inside it.

The time was approaching when Thetis would have to make a decision. If it was left too much longer then it would be too late, and the probe would cause untold damage to the dimension Thetis inhabited, to its people. But it did not seem right.

With its full power being back inside its own realm, Thetis used the collective consciousness it shared with the rest of its species to consult them on the best course of action.

It explained the situation as beet it could, that it was a unique situation and the species as a whole would never have a better opportunity to learn more about the universe that was so deadly to them.

Immediately Thetis received a cacophony of responses that ranged from urging immediate destruction of the object to statements of support for its proposal to keep the object for its informational value.

But it was one suggestion that struck Thetis as the most sensible, and the most practical. Fence guardians had the ability to remove and repair sections of the fence that were damaged or had become worn throughout the aeons. Replacement sections were stored nearby to every outpost, and there were plenty spare near to where Thetis was stationed.

If it could build a much smaller version of the fence, large enough to contain the probe, then it would be possible to keep it within the realm outside of the universe, whilst simultaneously neutralising the threat it posed by keeping it, technically, within its own.

Thetis immediately began the necessary calculations. It already knew what the zone of impact would be, so, using its consciousness it moved sections of replacement fence in to position to create a bubble on its side of the divide. It then carefully removed the section of the actual fence that would be impacted, creating a catch pocket. When the time came it would quickly seal the ball with another section and replace the original in order to prevent any excess matter from escaping through the gap.

It waited. It was good at that. It waited for the precise moment the probe entered the pocket, making sure to seal it up and detach it from the main structure as quickly as possible. If the probe touched the inside of its new enclosure it would be destroyed, or at the very least damaged beyond recovery, and so the ball had to be kept moving at a speed constant to its contents if both were to remain intact.

Once this was achieved Thetis immediately set to replacing the now vacant section of fence. The job complete, it reflected warmly on the experience. It had preserved some information that would have an extremely positive impact on the future of its race, it was sure.

Now that the object was secure within its container Thetis devised a way to slow it down. It reduced the energy on one side of the fence structure to be as low as possible without posing a danger of it breaking and slowed the structure down. This allowed the probe to come to a gentle halt against the inner wall, the impact glowing along the outside of the container.

It would not be long, Thetis knew, until the great leaders, thinkers and scientists of its species would come to this corner of the realm outside of the universe to investigate the probe themselves. It only had a limited time to himself to experience the full wonders found within before it would be taken somewhere were more research could be conducted.

Thetis moved closer to the probe.

Voyager 1, it thought again.

Gently Thetis probed the most minute element of its being through the protective barrier and interfaced with the storage systems of the object.
It probed deeper than it had previously and encountered a curious object, a disc made from what seemed to be a different metal. It spun the disc and was amazed by images of a planet it had never before seen, and the creatures that inhabited. It continued searching through the disc and was presented with music of many different varieties, the likes of which it had never even imagined.

Thetis felt so privileged to be the first creature, possibly ever, to hear and see these things since they had been placed on the probe.
It came across a recording on the disc of a voice.

“My name is Jimmy Carter, and I am President of the United States of America on the planet Earth. If you are listening to this recording then you are an intelligent being, and to you I say hello.”

Hello, Jimmy Carter, it thought. I am Thetis.

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