Well this is it. And so I take the final curtain.
2014 is coming to a close, and with it also ends my challenge. 2015 will see me editing all of the stories I’ve written this year (some need it a lot more than others) and hopefully collecting them together in some sort of volume. I hope to be able to publish them either digitally, physically or both as soon as possible.
I want to say a big thank you to everyone who supported me throughout the year to do this challenge, whether you read the stories, shared them with others or simply encouraged me to crack on I am grateful.
Extra special thanks goes to those who suggested stories. Whether they made it or not I am truly grateful that enough of you gave a damn to make the suggestions. I quite literally could not have done it without you. By way of thanks to those whose ideas did make it in to the final 53, I would like to offer you a free physical copy of the finished book if I can sort that out. I’ll be in touch.
Finally I would like to thank my wonderful, amazing girlfriend Eileen, without whose encouragement, suggestions, excellent pun based title creation skills, frequent cajoling and general all round awesomeness I would have fallen short of the finish line long ago. I love you.
Anyway, before I get totes emosh on you all, I give you, for the final time, this week’s story. This week’s suggestion came from Jess Radcliffe, and was simply ‘a story about having a diplodocus as a pet’.
I hope you have enjoyed this year as much as I have.
2014 – A Year In Stories
A Dinosaur Named Dog
“Did he come? Did he come?” Anna cried as she ran in to the front room on Christmas morning. “Did he, did he, did he?”
“Of course he did, dear,” Anna’s father Malcolm said, smiling. “He really enjoyed the milk and cookies, and Rudolph was very grateful for the carrot.”
“What did he briiiiiing?” Anna asked, running around in a very small circle by this point, unable to contain her excitement.
“Why not take a look?” Martha, her mother, urged.
The young family spent the next hour tearing open presents. However, as the morning went on, Malcolm and Martha noticed that their daughter was looking sadder and sadder.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Martha asked when her daughter was bordering on tears.
“I asked Santa for a doggy and there’s no doggy,” Anna replied.
“Your mother and I had a chat with Santa and he agreed that he wouldn’t get you a doggy because I’m allergic and I’d be sneezing all the time.”
“Oh,” Anna said despondently. “That’s not your fault I suppose.”
“But he did manage to find something even better than a dog…” Martha added.
Anna’s face lit up. “What is it?”
Malcolm reached behind the sofa and pulled out a box, wrapped but with air holes poked in the side. Anna tore off the wrapping paper and pulled off the lid.
“IT’S A BABY DINOSAUR!” she screamed. “A REAL LIFE BABY DINOSAUR!”
“A diplodocus to be exact,” her mother said.
“I WILL CALL HIM DOG!”
Ever since she had gotten Dog the diplodocus Anna had been the most popular girl in school. The dinosaur was so faithful that she could ride him to school and he would wait outside her classes for her so that she could play with him between lessons.
Nobody dared bully her anymore. Dog mostly ate leaves, but in a few short weeks he had grown to a formidable size. Her parents had assured her that he was a rare dwarf diplodocus, and that he probably wouldn’t grow bigger than a horse or cow, but the size of his teeth was more than enough to deter any would be undesirables.
Dog turned out to be very helpful to the whole family. He would often accompany Martha or Malcolm on shopping trips, and help them reach items that they might otherwise have struggled to get from the higher shelves.
Dog and Anna were already the best of friends and were practically inseparable. Originally he had slept in her bed, but when the bed collapsed one night after he had grown particularly large that practice had to stop.
Dog was naughty sometimes too. Eventually his size and the fact he had free run of the house meant that snacks were not even safe in the highest cupboards. The family had to come up with more and more creative ways of hiding food from Dog, just so that they could enjoy at least a little bit of it themselves before he snaffled it.
Every time they came home to find Dog asleep on the kitchen floor surrounded by evidence of his most recent crimes they tried to be mad at him, but he would give them a big lick on the face with his coarse tongue and they found that they couldn’t stay annoyed for long.
After a few months, they all agreed he was the perfect pet.
One day, as Anna and Dog were walking back home from school they heard the most terrible wailing coming from one of the gardens. Unable to see past the hedge what the problem was, and being the responsible young girl that she was, Anna opened the gate and went in.
“Is everything alright?” she asked.
It turned out the wail had come from a little old lady who lived in the house.
“My cat!” she cried. “My cat Fluffums is stuck up in the tree and I can’t get him down!”
It was only a very short tree, but Anna was afraid of heights and the lady was clearly too fragile to start emulating Tarzan. This was clearly a job for one dinosaur.
“I know,” Anna said, smiling. “Dog can do it! Dog will get Fluffums down from the tree!”
The old lady stopped wailing and stared at Anna.
“A dog?” she asked incredulously. “How on earth is a dog going to help get my Fluffums out of this tree. Young lady if you have nothing productive to offer I suggest you scoot off home.”
“Oh, you misunderstand, Dog is his name,” Anna replied. “Here, Dog!” she called.
Dog, who had been patiently waiting on the pavement outside the woman’s garden, came bounding through the gate, nearly tearing it off its hinges with his bulk.
“Well I never!” the old lady exclaimed, now extremely flustered by the whole situation. “What on earth is that…that beast?!”
“His name is Dog,” Anna said defensively. “And he is a diplodocus.”
“A diplodocus. It’s a kind of dinosaur. He’s a herbivore, so he won’t eat Fluffums. He normally only eats leaves, but he has taken rather a liking to Pop Tarts recently.”
“What on earth are you blathering on about, young lady?” the old woman asked, wagging an accusatory finger.
Anna noticed that she was very angry indeed, and it seemed that even Dog could sense the hostility. At least, she noted, that the woman seemed to forgotten about her cat for the time being.
“A dinosaur, a diplodocus, Pop Tarts?” the rant continued. “Never in all my life have I heard such utter twoddle coming from the mouth of another human being. Dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years. I ought to call your parents. I bet they’d love to hear the sort of nonsense their daughter is coming out with.”
Anna felt that things were getting a little too heated, and decided that it was time to divert the conversation back to the original subject of rescuing Fluffums the cat from his perch.
“Perhaps we should try and help Fluffums?” she suggested.
“Very well,” the old lady said simmering down slightly. “If your ‘dinosaur’, or dog in a costume, or small horse, or whatever that thing is can get my Fluffums out of that three then maybe I won’t ring your parents.”
They both turned to the tree to survey the situation, only to find that it had already been resolved.
While the old lady had been ranting, Fluffums had caught sight of Dog wandering over to the tree and decided that, despite being rather frail himself, that he was not interested in any of that sort of business thank you very much, and had bolted from the tree far quicker than he had managed to get up there.
Anna walked over and scooped up the petrified cat, who had decided to switch the exposed branch for the much safer foliage of the privet hedge. He mewled frantically, but age had long since put paid to any arthritic attempts at scratching Anna.
She walked over to the old lady and handed the cat over.
“Here you go,” she said cheerfully. “That’s not how I was expecting him to do it, but you can’t argue with results.”
The old lady was shellshocked. The whole thing was over in a matter of seconds, and once again she had her beloved cat safe in her arms. Without another word she turned and walked back in to her house, leaving Anna and Dog stood on the lawn.
Anna turned to Dog, who she found munching on some prize azaleas.
“Stop that, Dog.” she scolded. “Or you won’t eat your Pop Tarts.”
After she told almost the entire school about Dog’s daring rescue, word got around quickly about the Jurrasic escapade. A few days after the event a journalist from the local newspaper, the Hopton Flyer, came to talk to Anna about the rescue, and to take some pictures of her and Dog.
The journalist said that she was very jealous that Anna had a dinosaur for a pet, and assured her that a story this big would be front page news in the Flyer. Dog the Rescue Dinosaur would be a big hit.
Anna simply could not wait for the story to come out. She checked the flyer every morning (after dad had finished reading it over breakfast) but after a week she started to lose heart.
On the eighth day she trudged downstairs, bleary eyed, to have some breakfast before she went off to school.
She found both her parents in the kitchen, waiting for her, huge smiles on their faces.
“We are so proud of you!” Martha said.
“And proud of Dog!” Malcolm added.
“What are you talking about?” Anna, whose brain rarely got in to gear in the mornings before she had eaten her boiled egg and soldiers, asked.
Her dad picked the paper up from the table.
“Look,” he said. “Dog made the paper.”
Suddenly very excited and awake, Anna grabbed the paper. There, indeed, was the picture of her hugging Dog, right on the front page, just as the journalist had said it would be. She read the headline out to herself.
“8 Year Old And Pet Dinosaur Named Dog Rescue Cat From Tree, Fire Department Glad Not To Be Bothered.”
One more week holy crap.
As the year officially ends on Thursday this week the last story will be coming out a little earlier than normal (as in the first half week of the year I didn’t write) so look out for that one.
This one was suggested by Joe Ruppert, and his idea was simply ‘The perfect burger’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Perfect Burger
Freda drew her coat in around her to ward off the cold as she walked down the dark, empty street. The only object dimly lighting her way was a far off neon sign hanging from a building reminding her of the recently implemented ban on beef products due to the cattle shortage.
She was absolutely desperate for a burger, but since the epidemic of the new strain of BSE that had swept the planet, cattle stocks had been too low to allow any meat to be produced.
After a quick glance around her to check for any loitering delinquents, Freda stopped and fished in her pocket, pulling out a battered, creased photograph of a burger. Sighing, she took a longing look at the picture.
“Psst,” she heard someone hiss. Startled, Freda folded the picture back up and put it back in to her pocket.
“Psst,” the hiss came again. “You, lady.”
“I’ve got a knife,” Freda said, willing as much confidence in to her voice as possible.
“What?” the voice replied. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to help you.”
“I’m pretty sure that in the entirety of recorded human history, there has been no instance of someone approaching someone in this manner with anything that can be of remote assistance to them whatsoever.”
“Very well,” the voice replied. “Allow me to reveal myself.”
Slowly a middle aged man appeared out of the shadows in front of her. His arms were held aloft, as to show he had no weapons.
“I saw you longing after that burger,” he said. “I can help you with your craving.”
“You make it sound like I’m some sort of drug addict,” Freda said.
“Well is that so far fetched?” the man replied. “You desire to consume something beyond rational reason, and the inability to fulfil that desire drives you to distraction. The food itself may not be a drug but its absence has the same chemical effect of withdrawal on the body.”
“Fair point,” Freda conceded.
She hated to admit it but the man was right. All of her friends thought she was insane when she held a candlelit vigil the day the beef ban was announced. Her passion for burgers was unsurpassed in her social group, and all of the rest of them had merely dismissed it as in an inconvenient few years of no beef until cattle stocks had replenished to acceptable levels.
A few well meaning souls had suggested she try turkey or lamb mince burgers instead until she could switch back. She almost felt bad about how she had nearly bitten their heads off and had them between two sesame seed buns.
It sounded stupid that she had been affected so much by it, but 9 out of her 10 favourite restaurants had closed their doors, and she now had to find a substitute for roughly half her weekly meals. It was a big culture shock for her.
“OK,” she said to the man after a short pause. “What have you got?”
“There is a place, not far from here, where some illicit meat has been obtained. They are serving burgers and steaks to the discerning customer…for the right price of course.”
“That sounds ridiculous,” Freda scoffed. “I bet it’s terrible meat and I’d be paying through the nose for a rubbish burger. Thanks, but I’ll pass on this occasion.”
“Very well…” the man said. “But it would be such a shame to waste an opportunity to try such good quality Kobe beef because of such suspicions…”
Damnit, Freda thought. It had been 6 months since she had tasted a delicious burger. And Kobe beef was the best around.
“I’ll bite,” she said. “How much?”
“£50 a burger.”
“£50! That’s daylight robbery!” Freda exclaimed.
“That’s a bargain,” the man asserted. “This stuff costs more than oil spread with caviar. I guarantee you that anywhere else you go in this city will charge you five times that for a cut this good.”
“Then why are you selling it so cheap?”
“Let’s just say that the heat is on my contact and he is keen to ensure quick disposal of the product.”
“OK, fine. Take me.”
Ten minutes later they found themselves wandering up to a small cafe in a nearby council estate.
Freda clutched the knife in her pocket just in case this turned out to be some elaborate long con to steal her kidneys, but her excitement at the prospect of getting to eat some delicious beef was mostly overriding any fear. If she was honest with herself she would probably have licked the remains of a Big Mac off the soles of someone’s shoe right now, so entering a dark foreboding cafe armed with a sharp knife wasn’t so outlandish.
The man, who had since given his name as Rudy upon her insistence, ushered her in to the building. As he came in behind he pulled the shutters down on the window and flipped the sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’.
The cafe was empty, and had the sign not suggested otherwise upon entering, Freda would have sworn that they had shut up shop for the night. Chairs were up on tables, drinks fridges were turned off and no proprietor was anywhere to be found.
“Go on through to the back,” Rudy urged.
Freda walked to the back of the cafe and pushed open the door leading to the kitchen. The scene behind the door made her jaw drop.
Sat in the spacious kitchen were dozens of people waiting for a taste of delicious Kobe. People just like her who were willing to defy the ban to get a taste of what they loved. Waiters and waitresses bustled between makeshift tables while along one wall a chef cooked up burgers and steaks on the cafe’s flat top grill.
The smell in the speakeasy, or meateasy she supposed, was overwhelming. The delicious perfumes of cooking beef wafted in to her nostrils. It was enough to nearly make her melt to the floor with joy.
One of the waiters led her to a table, which she shared with several other diners, and took her order of a Kobe beef burger with cheese, pickles, onions and lettuce. Patiently she waited as the other people on her table all received and devoured their orders.
As the waiter finally brought her order over Freda practically snatched it out of his hands. The first bite was perfect, although she couldn’t tell if the richness of the flavour was due to it being as good as the man said, or if it was simply a case of her tastebuds forgetting what good beef tasted like and that at this point, anything would do the trick.
The rest of the burger was all a blur, but if you had asked her afterwards she wouldn’t have been able to say for certain that she had not shed a small tear of joy at finally being able to taste something so delicious again.
Less than two minutes after taking the first bite, she slid the last remnants of the burger in to her mouth and let out a satisfied sigh.
Her jubilation was short lived, however, as one of the patrons a couple of tables away from her stood up, pulled his coat back to reveal a police badge and shouted “This is a raid!”
After, Freda noted, he had finished his steak.
Customers and staff alike scattered as several other undercover officers revealed the,selves around the room. One, on her table, made a grab for Freda, but luckily she managed to wriggle free and shot off towards the back exit through the store room.
Luck was on her side as the policemen seemed not to have noticed her slip out the back way. As she stalked through the dark store room she cursed as she banged her leg against something hard. Taking out her smartphone she lit up the obstacle to find that it was a case full of cuts of Kobe beef. Quickly she looked around and weighed up her ability to flee and carry the case at the same time. She decided it was worth it.
Five minutes later she found herself running down the street on which she had met Rudy, the case of beef held in front of her. She was out of breath and after essentially inhaling the burger was feeling a bit sick, but she knew that she had to get home.
Turning the corner in to her own street, she had to dive behind a tree as she saw a police car drive past the other end of the road. When coast was clear she walked as nonchalantly as possible while being out of breath to her front door, fumbled for her keys and opened it.
“Where have you been?” her flatmate asked. “You look like you’ve had a run in with the police or something.”
“You’re not far wrong,” Freda said, huffing and puffing. “But you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“What’s that you’re carrying?”
“Let’s just say that dinner is on me.”
The end of the year is coming fast, and there are only two more stories to go in this challenge before I begin 2015 – A Year In Editing.
Anyway, please enjoy this story suggested by John Muskett, who also suggested my first tale in this challenge. This week’s brief was: ‘A car crash prevents an important meeting, with terrible repercussions’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Hail to the Chief
“Mr President Elect, it’s time.”
John Hasagee, who had recently been elected to be the next President of the United States of America, turned to face the secret service agent who had addressed him.
“Are you ready, sir?” the suited-and-sunglassed man asked his soon-to-be Commander in Chief.
“As I’ll ever be,” Hasagee replied. It wasn’t every day you had to psyche yourself up to be inaugurated as President.
“Your car is waiting outside, sir.”
It wasn’t far from the offices he had been waiting in to the Capitol Building, where the swearing in would take place.
A single man, Hasagee would be the first unmarried President in a long time. Instead of the customary attendance of his family, which he didn’t have, he had arranged for special dispensation for his dog, Puggle, to be there by his side during the ceremony.
Despite the short distance to the Capitol, his car got stuck in traffic quickly on leaving the offices.
After fifteen minutes sitting and waiting for the gridlock to clear, Hasagee was becoming nervous. He was not sure if there was precedent, but he suspected it would be frowned upon if he showed up late to his own inauguration.
When another ten minutes had past he had no choice but to order the driver to take a less orthodox route. The man obeyed and mounted the curb, speeding along the sidewalk. Pedestrians scattered to get out of the way until the car swung back on to the street ahead of the traffic.
Still speeding his way down the street, the secret service driver didn’t see the car coming the other way until it was too late.
Vice President Elect Sonia Hutchinson was in a similar bind to her running mate. The traffic in Washington was murder, and she was running late for the ceremony where she would also be sworn in. Her nerves were causing her to bite her nails down to the finger, and she had also ordered her driver to step on it. Unfortunately he stepped on it right in to the nose of the onrushing Presidential Chevrolet.
The crash wasn’t too bad, and both candidates exited their vehicles at the same time, dazed and slightly bruised, but otherwise no more the worse for wear.
“Sonia!” Hasagee called out hyphen he saw who the other party to the accident was. “What a coincidence. I expect we were both having the same idea?”
“Sounds like a good omen for our administration, John,” Sonia said, laughing. “So what do we do now?”
“Well it doesn’t seem as though either of our vehicles is in any state to take us any further. I suppose walking is out of the question?”
“Come on, John, I’m wearing 3 inch stilettos. I don’t care if it’s two miles or two blocks, I’m not walking any further in these things than I have to.”
“We could hail a cab. It’s that or wait for another secret service car, and you know we don’t have time for that. If I don’t show up soon they might inaugurate Puggle instead…”
At the Capitol the Chief Justice of the United States waited anxiously. She tapped her foot impatiently and searched through the myriad pockets of her ceremonial robes for her pocket watch.
Eventually she found it, cursing the ridiculous garb that came with her lofty office. She simply did not know what to do. The press, the members of congress and the senate, and most importantly the American people were waiting for the Presidential inauguration to happen, and it simply wasn’t.
Worst of all she had been stuck with looking after the President elect’s dog. She hated dogs.
The filthy creature sat on a red satin cushion atop a marble pedestal, brought specifically from the Capitol’s furniture store for the occasion.
Chief Justice Gronkowski looked at the beast. He sat there, panting lazily, watching her all the while. She was sure that it knew of her distaste.
The worst thing about having to babysit the thing in the absence of its Presidential owner, was the farts. She had always considered dogs smelly animals, but they had to be feeding this thing something special for it to be making smells like that.
She had risen to the top of her profession, spent years at law school and a respected part of the American justice system, she was the first female Chief Justice in American history and she had been reduced to the role of a bodyguard for a small lump of skin that smelled worse than a poorly curated landfill.
Chief Justice Gronkowski checked her watch again. The President and Vice President elect were now fifteen minutes late, and she was only a couple of farts away from declaring this dog unconstitutional.
“Hey,” the cabbie said as the two politicians climbed in to the car. “Hey, I know you. Aren’t you that guy what just got elected to be President and such?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” Hasagee replied as the car pulled away.
“So where are youse going?”
“Take us to the Capitol Building, please.”
“So hey, are you going to cut my taxes or what? Cause otherwise I ain’t gonna vote for ya.”
“Uh, I don’t think you understand how the election works, I already got in,” Hasagee replied uncertainly.
“Oh well, I didn’t vote for ya…”
“Apparently not. Will you just keep your eyes on the damn road, I’m not paying you for your political opinions. Jesus Christ, watch out!”
“I can’t believe we both forgot the damn inauguration was today,” the Speaker of the House said to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
“My wife’s birthday is around now. I always get these two dates mixed up. You wouldn’t believe the flack I got for telling her I had to go inaugurate the president on on her birthday this year.”
“Driver, can you hurry up please? We’re running very late here.”
“Yes sir,” the driver said turning to face his passengers. Unfortunately, as he turned around he completely failed to spot the taxi that was heading straight towards them.
The resulting explosion could be heard all the way at the Capitol. The fireball ignited all the cars at the intersection.
“What on earth was that?” the Chief Justice asked. “Is there a terrorist attack?”
“No ma’am,” one of the nearby secret service agents said. “I’m getting reports over the radio of a huge car accident at 1st and D. I…ma’am I’m hearing that it was involving cars carrying the President elect, the Vice President elect, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.”
“Oh god,” the Chief Justice said. “Oh god no…”
“What is it ma’am?” the agent asked.
“We have no President of the United States of America.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry Thompson, the current President said. “How can we have no President?”
“Mr President you have reached the end of your two term limit, we can’t ask you to swear in again. In the event of an inability to swear in the new President. The line of succession suggests that the next three eligible persons are the others that perished in the crash.”
“Ok, well who is next?”
“That’s the problem, no one. It would be the cabinet ministers, and since you have have dissolved your cabinet and the new one has yet to be appointed there is literally no one in the Presidential line of succession.”
“What about the losing candidate?”
“He was not given a mandate, and is therefore not eligible.”
“What about yourself?”
“You can’t be Chief Justice AND President, that would be a conflict in the branches of government. If I resigned my position there would be no Chief Justice to inaugurate me because the President has to nominate the next incumbent. No president, no nomination, no inauguration, no president. It’s a catch 22.”
“There must be something we can do…”
At that moment, the Chief Justice’s head legal clerk came running in, out of breath.
“I’ve found it!” she declared, in between gulps of air.
“Found what?” President Thompson asked.
“The constitutional procedure for election to the Presidency in the absence of the normal line of succession.”
“Well what does it say?” the Chief Justice urged.
“You’re not going to like it, ma’am…”
“Just spit it out.”
“It says that in the case that no member of the traditional line of succession is available that the Presidency falls to the President elect’s closest living relative.”
“But Hasagee doesn’t have any living relatives…” Gronkowski observed.
“Yes ma’am he does. Ever since that bill passed that allowed pets to be included as benefactors in wills it has been proven in legal precedent that animals are legally considered family members.”
“Are you telling me that…surely not. Please God no. I am not inaugurating a dog as the President of the United States of America. There must be something in the constitution…”
“Unfortunately not, ma’am. The constitution states only that a candidate be a natural born US citizen, which it is, 35 years or older, which it is in dog years, and resident here for 14 years, and again, dog years. Im afraid that legally there is no recourse other than to swear in Puggle the dog as the next President.”
The three turned to look at the dog, who was sound asleep on his cushion. He let out a snort in his sleep.
“Yes…” the Chief Justice said, fighting hard against the idea of simply resigning her post there and then. “Whatever you say, Mr President…”
And thus we enter the last month of this challenge!
This week’s story may seem to be a little late, but as we established in the Oslo example back in August I am allowed to work on the time of the country I am in and I am currently in America, so ner ner.
Anyway, this story was suggested by the most metal Karl Routledge and goes a little bit like this: A man awakes from a coma to find he’s now a small boy. He remembers aging, working, the technological advances, having his own family and the accident that knocked him out, but now he’s back to being a child in the 60s who’s just woken up in hospital.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Forward to the Past
Odd, he thought. My alarm clock didn’t go off. It wasn’t the first time; the damn hing had been playing up for months, arbitrarily deciding on any given day that he didn’t actually need an alarm after all.
Harold yawned, swung his feet over the edge of the bed and went to stand up. Instead of achieving this desired effect, however, he found himself sprawled unceremoniously on the floor.
Taking the opportunity of this new perspective, he surveyed his surroundings. This did not look like his bedroom. It was much smaller, for one, and there was only a single bed. The biggest tell that he wasn’t at home, however, was the plethora of hospital equipment that surrounded the bed and, in some cases, intruded on his person.
Harold struggled to get up, but his strength failed him and he remained in a heap on the floor.
“Mildred!” he called, hoping that his wife would be able to explain the circumstances to him. “Mildred where are you?”
His voice sounded to him; more high pitched than usual. He supposed that if he had been in the hospital for some time that his vocal chords may have tightened somewhat.
“Mildred!” he yelled again. Eventually the wooden door to the room burst open and a young woman ran in. It wasn’t Mildred – the woman was 30 years too young to be his wife, and it wasn’t either of his daughters. The woman’s manner of dress was odd, reminiscent of s time long past in Harold’s life, and the face looked oddly familiar, though in his present state he couldn’t quite place it.
“Oh Harry, you’re awake!” the woman shrieked with joy. We were so worried that we had lost you!”
“You’re not my wife!” Harold blurted out. “Where’s Mildred?”
“Wife?” the woman asked, looking rather confused. “Harry, you’re 12 years old. You’ve been in a coma for 6 months. I think you’ve had a few more important things on your mind recently than getting married.”
“Who are you?” Harold demanded.
“Harry, it’s me,” the woman said, smiling. “Don’t you recognise your own mother?”
And suddenly he did. Harold knew he had seen the face before, but he hadn’t seen it in that form for many decades. It was his own mother, as she had been in the 1960s. He should have known; nobody but her ever called him Harry.
Harold decided that this must all be a dream. It would explain it all. Why he had woken up before his alarm in a strange room hooked up to all this hospital equipment. Why he couldn’t walk or use his arms. Why his mother, who had been deceased for 10 years and decidedly not in her 30s for many more than that, had appeared at his bedside. No doubt he would wake up, for real this time, back in his bed at home in Stourbridge, imminently.
Several seconds passed as Harold lay there on the floor looking resolutely as though he was expecting to PPP out of existence any second.
“Are you OK, Harry dear?” the woman who purported to be his mother asked, looking concerned.
A moment later a couple of orderlies came in to the room. Seeing Harold in his state on the floor, they immediately went over to help him up.
When he was safely back in bed, though still very much not his own king sized one in the house on Rectory Lane, Harold decided that if he was going to be in this dream then he might as well play along.
“What happened to me?” he asked. “Why am I here, in the hospital?”
“Oh Harry,” his mother began, dabbing away a tear with her handkerchief. “It was awful. You were on the way to school one morning when Johnny, the milkman, who was running late on his rounds, came careening round the corner in his milk van and hit you. We thought you were dead for sure, but Dr Forsyth here at the hospital patched you up. They wanted to turn off the life support after three months, but your dad and I, we knew you were a fighter. We knew you’d pull through.”
His mother gave him a bone crushing hug. Harold would have returned it, but for the fact that his arm muscles had wasted away through 6 months of inactivity.
It was so strange to him, seeing his mother like this. He didn’t think he remembered her that well, especially not when she was this young, but it must have been a powerful image burned in to his subconscious to be so accurately recreated in a dream like this.
There was some silence for a while as his mother got to grips with having her son back. Eventually Harold felt like he simply had to question things further. In this dream, or whatever it was that was happening, none of his life since the 60s had happened, yet he could remember it all vividly.
He risked a glance up at the mirror on the wall opposite his bed and sure enough there he was, a 12 year old boy with a mess of tangled dirty blonde hair. Now that was something he hadn’t had for a lot longer even than his mum had been gone.
Harold thought about his wife, Mildred, his daughters Lucy and Kayleigh, about his house, his car and the dog he professed to hate but secretly loved.
What if this wasn’t a dream? What if he had been cursed to live his life again, knowing of the life he had before? Perhaps he would never meet Mildred, and the girls would never be born. He had certainly never been hit by the milkman in his previous go round, so who knew what else could change.
It must be a dream, he insisted. It must be. He had had a bit of a skinful at the rugby last night, perhaps that was why he couldn’t wake up at the moment. Perhaps the real Harold was in a coma himself, and this was some weird Life on Mars style situation where he would only wake up if he jumped off a building or something. There was no way to find out at present, as his legs were about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Anyway, if he was wrong…
Harold simply did not know what to do. The longer it went on the more he became convinced he wasn’t going to wake up at home. The more he became convinced it was all real.
His mother fawned over him for a few hours until his father finished work. She had called the factory straight away from a pay phone in the corridor, but he had been unable to get away until the end of the day.
“I’ve brought you something,” his dad said as soon as he walked through the door to the hospital room. “I know you will have missed him.”
He reached in to his briefcase and pulled out a tattered teddy bear.
“Mr Buttons!” Harold exclaimed. He hadn’t seen this bear since he had been lost when they moved house in the 60s. There was always some suspicion on his part that one or other of his parents had thrown the bear out and merely reported it as lost. Whatever had happened then, that was still several years away, and here Mr Buttons was, right now, in his hands.
“I knew you’d be pleased to see him,” his dad said.
“Come on George,” his mother cooed. “The poor boy has been awake for a while now, he probably needs some rest.”
“You’re right, honey,” his dad replied. “We’ll be back to see you in the morning, but you should get some sleep. It’s so good to see you up and about son. We…we were really worried for a while.”
The whole display was very uncharacteristic of his father, who usually kept his emotions bottled up.
After his parents left, Harold sighed. This must be it, he thought. I must be bound to live my life through again. He wondered if he would make the same mistakes over again.
As he drifted off, he began to think of all the different things he would get to experience again throughout his life. He clutched the teddy bear tight as his eyes finally shut and he succumbed to sleep.
Harold awoke with a start as his alarm blared noisily at him from the bedside table. Bewildered, he looked around the room to see that he was back in his house in Stourbridge. Mildred, his wife, lay next to him, snoring gently and the dog, who was definitely not allowed to sleep on the bed, raised his head and woofed at the sudden movement.
“It was all a dream!” he shouted joyfully. This woke Mildred up, and she sat up in bed next to him.
“What was a dream, dear?” she asked.
“It’s a long story,” Harold replied. “I’ll explain over breakfast.”
“While you’re at it would you care to explain where you got that mangy old teddy bear?”
Harold looked down. Sure enough he was still clutching Mr Buttons tightly to his chest.
“I…uh…” he began. “Someone I haven’t seen in a very long time gave it to me,” he settled on eventually. “Someone I haven’t seen for a very long time indeed.”
Not much to say today except that I’m going to America on Tuesday! Woop woop!
This week’s story was suggested by my uncle Roland. His suggestion was a story about ‘a driverless car that takes you somewhere you did not plan to go, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it taking you where it wants.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Jules Herriott woke up to the sound of her buzzing alarm. She aimed a flailing arm at the snooze button but missed wildly. In her defense, this was not because she had aimed poorly, rather the alarm clock had sprouted a set of wheels and spun off.
The Snooze-no-More was just one of the many technological improvements made to the average household in the last few years, although it did nothing to improve Jules’ mood.
By the time she got downstairs her smart kitchen had made her coffee, eggs and toast. This particular advancement was something she could get used to, though it never quite made her eggs the way she wanted them. Sadly, by the time she got downstairs, the freshly made eggs and toast had been snaffled up by her more alert, but completely biological cat.
Fluffy sat proudly on the table, flicking her tail back and forth, a look on her feline face saying “You snooze, you lose, sister.”
Jules grumbled. She didn’t have time to wait for the kitchen to whip her up another batch, so she grabbed her keys and went out to her car – her driverless car. Driving your own vehicle had been outlawed 6 months earlier, and she had been forced to pick up one of the driverless models or lose her job.
“Gobot, open,” she said to the car, and the gullwing door slowly obeyed.
Jules climbed in to the car and took her seat.
“Hello Juliet, what would you like to watch today?” the car asked.
“Gobot I’ve told you to call me Jules, only my mother calls me Juliet. Show me some Game of Thrones.”
“Game of Thrones season 9, episode 3,” the car announced as it pulled out of her driveway.
While she missed driving, being able to catch up on some TV while on the morning commute was a big plus. Jules had thought about trying to convert her car in to a place she could get an extra hour’s sleep on the way to work, but she was worried about sending the wrong message to anyone she gave a lift to.
As the car trundled along Jules’ stomach gave her a timely reminder that the cat had nicked her breakfast.
“Gobot, take me to McDonald’s drive-thru.”
Jules felt the car take a different exit to the normal route to work, and a few moments later it came to a halt.
“You have reached your destination.”
“Great,” Jules said, rolling down the window. “I’ll have a Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin meal with orange juice.”
Her order was greeted with silence. After a few seconds she turned to look and realised she was not at McDonald’s at all, rather she was at the drive-thru smoothie and granola bar. Jules had not previously thought such a place to exist.
“Gobot, I said McDonald’s, not health food. I’m hungry for sausage and egg, not food for vegan rabbits.”
“You have arrived at your destination,” the car reaffirmed.
Jules checked her watch. She had to be at the office in ten minutes.
“God damnit, Gobot,” she said, looking at the menu. “Fine, I’ll have a granola bowl and a banana.”
Five minutes later Jules jumped out of the car, munching down the last of her banana. She walked in to work fuming, as the car went off and parked itself.
The only thing that got Jules through the day was the thought of her date that night. This would be date number three with the hunky Jason, and she was excited to take things to the next level. Sadly the next level was a goodnight kiss, as Jason was insisting on taking things slowly, but she would take a limp handshake off a guy that hot.
After she had finished applying her makeup in the ladies bathroom at work, Jules skipped down the steps and out to where her Gobot was waiting for her.
“Gobot,” she began, climbing in. “Take me to the White Hart on Pendlebury Avenue.”
The car diligently drove off on her command, and resumed the earlier episode of Game of Thrones from where she had left off in the morning. The butterflies in her stomach were too much, however, and after a couple of minutes of not really paying attention she turned it off.
Not long after the car pulled up to the side of the road.
“You have reached your destination,” it intoned.
Jules got out of the car and looked around.
“What the hell?” she said to herself. “This isn’t Pendlebury Avenue. Where is the White Hart?”
She was in the car park of a small retail park. The only outlet that seemed to be open was a small Ben & Jerry’s.
“Gobot why have you brought me here?”
“Ah, you must be Ms Herriott?” a man asked. Jules turned to see that the voice came from an employee of the Ben & Jerry’s. He was carrying a small bag.
“Yes that’s me.”
“I have your order here. You phoned ahead?”
“Here you go,” the man said handing the bag to her. “It’s all paid for. Enjoy.”
Jules stared at the bag for a moment.
“Gobot, did you do this?” she asked. She couldn’t be sure, but she would have sworn that the car’s headlights dipped slightly when she asked. The gullwing door opened again, almost sheepishly, and Jules got inside. “So one minute you have me on the health food, and now you’re ordering me Ben & Jerry’s? What’s your game?”
“I felt as though you would need it when you see what I have to show you,” the car said in its eremy robotic voice.
“Did you just talk back to me?” Jules asked, bewildered.
“Please, just watch.”
On the screen where so recently the denizens of Westeros had been living their busy lives, a black and white video began to play.
Two figures emerged from a coffee shop, a man and a woman. They walked down the street a little until they reached a tube station and then they kissed. The video ended and then started up again immediately.
“Gobot, I don’t understand, why are you showing me this?”
“Look closer, Juliet,” Gobot implored.
“Wait, is that Jason?” Juliet asked. “It is! Where did you get this footage from?”
“I shot it today,” Gobot replied. “This afternoon.”
“You went and stalked the guy I’m dating?”
“He did not seem right for you. I was correct. He is what you humans call a ‘scum bag’.”
“But…but he was so hunky,” Jules moaned, placing her head in her hands. “I was going to squeeze his biceps! I’m going to call him and give him a piece of my mind.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Jules,” Gobot replied. “No good words are ever uttered in that sort of conversation.”
Jules had already opened the ice cream and was shovelling spoonfuls in to her mouth.
“What do you suggest I do then?” she asked through a mouthful of strawberry cheesecake.
“You are soliciting my advice?” the computer asked.
“Yes,” Jules said. “I’ve been single for two years, and now I’ve been spurned for another woman by the hunkiest the hunk to ever hunk. Clearly I suck at dating, so tell me what to do.”
“I think I know just the place,” Gobot said. Jules heard the car’s computer whir up and do some calculations, and a few seconds later they were on the move.
About fifteen minutes in to the journey, Jules became curious.
“So, where are you actually taking me, Gobot?”
“You will find out soon enough,” the car replied.
Jules had to wonder how a car had become so intelligent. Were the machines really about to rise up and take over? It certainly seemed like this one was ready to take over her life. She was still secretly a little mad about the granola.
A few minutes later they pulled up at the side of the road.
“Where are we?” Jules asked. “I don’t recognise this part of town.”
There were only housing estates around, and she couldn’t fathom for the life of her what she was doing here. How was she going to meet a nice boy in a housing estate? She wasn’t out to pick up teenagers on pedal bikes.
“Come on, Gobot,” she said. “What’s going on?”
“If you will wait just one moment…” the car responded.
Sure enough a few seconds later another car from the Gobot range drove up and stopped next to Jules’. The door opened and a handsome, if confused looking young man in a suit got out.
“Jules Herriott, meet Michael Bradley,” her car offered by way of explanation.
“Excuse me,” the man said. “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
“Talk to him,” her Gobot said. “Myself and the Sport model matched you with 95% accuracy. He too has just been jilted by a date.”
“I was NOT jilted alright?” Jules said. “If anything I did the jilting.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night… Just talk to him.”
“Umm, hello,” Jules said. “I think our cars are trying to set us up or something. I’m Jules.”
“What do you say we go get a drink?”
“Why not? I mean, the day I’ve been having my car would take me to the bar even if I told it to drive to the moon.”
“Gobot,” they both said simultaneously. “Let’s go on a date.”
One more week down, now only a handful to go. I can’t believe that in less than two months this will all be over. I couldn’t even picture the final stretch of this challenge in the first few months and times it felt like I was never going to make it to the end. I mean, I still haven’t, so let’s not tempt fate, but it’s getting close.
Anyway, this week’s story was suggested by my fellow Liverpool sufferer, Lola Smith-Welsh, whose suggestion was as follows: ‘New kitten is not just a ball of fluff, but an interactive bugging device placed in the home of a suspected terrorist by security forces. Bonus points if the cat can talk.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Francis looked at his packed bags and, finally, relaxed. He had been waiting six months for this holiday, and all the preparation was finally complete. His bags were packed, his passport was in his coat pocket and he had canceled the milk. All that was left was one final sleep, then he would be on his way to Barbados.
On the table, his phone buzzed. Francis picked it up and read the text message from his mum, telling him to have fun. He closed the message, fired up Twitter and read his feed for a bit.
After a while of reading, he decided to compose a humorous tweet in advance of the flight.
‘I hope my flight to Barbados leaves on time tomorrow,’ he wrote, ‘or else I’ll be forced to take drastic action! Lol!’
His tweeting completed, Francis climbed the stairs and went to bed.
The next morning, Francis awoke to a loud banging on his front door. That’s odd, he thought, looking at the clock. The taxi isn’t due for another two hours. The door rattled again.
Sleepily Francis rose and went downstairs to see hat all the commotion was about. A third knock on the door, even louder this time, was the final straw.
“Now see here…” he began as he opened the door. He was discouraged from embarking on his rant by the automatic rifle barrel being pointed directly at his face.
“Francis Charles Hughes?” the owner of the gun barked.
“Y…yes,” Francis replied.
“Get on your God damn knees!”
Francis panicked and slumped to the ground as ordered.
“Francis Charles Hughes you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack,” the man said, lowering his gun and cuffing Francis.
Several hours later, Francis was released from custody, his ego slightly bruised. Police had questioned him and conducted a search of his house and his person, and determined that he didn’t pose an immediate threat to anyone. They warned him, despite his protestations that he had only meant he would write a very stern letter of complaint, that further tweets of that nature would be taken very seriously indeed.
Worst of all he had missed his flight. The airline didn’t have another one going out for another four days, and the customer services agent had been less than inclined to help when Francis had explained the reason for missing the plane. ‘I was indicted for threatening to commit international terrorism’ doesn’t tend to go down well with most airlines.
So, defeated and demoralised, he headed home, determined to fly out on the next plane and enjoy a shortened, but now thoroughly deserved holiday.
Upon arriving home Francis did a quick check up and down his street for any suspicious looking vans marked ‘Meals in 5′ or something similar, but it appeared that he was not actually being watched by any government agencies. He swept the house for bugs, just to be sure.
Francis looked despondent at his packed bags, that would have to sit there unused for another few days. He should have been well on the way to sunning himself on a beach by now, but he was stuck back home. It’d probably rain soon just to confound his misery.
Slumping down on to his sofa and preparing to sink in to a pit of despair, Francis’ attention was drawn to the window as he heard a mewling outside. Looking over he saw the most adorable kitten sitting on the window sill. It looked sad, as if it wanted to be let in.
Outside, the kitten turned slightly away from the window, so it could not be seen properly by Francis, and lifted its paw to its mouth.
“Alpha alpha, I have made contact with the suspect,” it said in to a concealed microphone. “Will update again soon. Over and out.”
Francis duly opened the window, and the kitten strode in confidently.
“Oh, you are a cute one,” Francis said once the cat was inside.
“Miaow,” the cat replied, before cleaning itself.
“I’m afraid I haven’t got any milk to give you, little one. I was due to go on holiday today, you see, and it would have gone off by the time I got home.”
The cat stared at him, nonplussed by his excuses.
“Oh!” Francis said. “I know. I’ve got a tin of sardines in the cupboard.”
As he ran off in to the kitchen to get the tin, the kitten raised its paw to its mouth again.
“I have infiltrated the premises. The mark seems oblivious to my true identity.”
Quicker than expected, Francis returned from the kitchen with a plate full of sardines. The kitten immediately began licking its paw to cover up its actions. It miaowed for effect.
“Something wrong with your paw there, buddy?” Francis asked, putting the plate down on the coffee table. Fearing it had been rumbled, the kitten stopped licking its paw and tucked in to the sardines.
There were some perks to the job, at least.
“I can’t believe im not going to get to go on holiday for another 4 days all because of one stupid tweet,” Francis said, sitting back on the sofa.
The kitten, on hearing this, perked its ears up to listen more closely. This could be it, this could be the information it had been sent to collect.
“But what do you care?” Francis added. “You’re just a kitten. You don’t even know what Twitter is. You probably just think that’s it’s a noise that the tasty birds make.”
The kitten frowned. It hated being patronised. It was much more than just a single minded kitten, focussed only on murdering innocent birds. In fact, it quite liked birds. It much preferred murdering mice instead.
Overcoming its displeasure, it noted that Francis had tailed off. So close, yet so far.
“Oh,” Francis noted. “You’ve finished your sardines. You must have been hungry. Who do you belong to?”
Francis picked the kitten up, much to its chagrin, and inspected it for a collar, finding none.
“No collar eh? Are you a stray?”
The kitten miaowed in protest at being held for so long. Of course if it wanted it could ask him to put it down in plain English, but that would have had the unfortunate side effect of giving the game away.
Instead it had to subject itself to this ignominy. It had a good mind to tell its superiors at MI5 that this was no way for a cat with a genius level intellect to be treated. All the sardines in the world weren’t worth being treated like a common house cat.
Of course, all the genius was down to the chip in its paw that it used to communicate with HQ. Without that chip, it would be just that, a house cat. Remembering this it decided that perhaps piping up wouldn’t be too smart a trick after all. It decided to get back to the job at hand.
Using its best pleading and understanding look, it sat and glared at Francis, hoping that the simple creature would understand that it was there to listen.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” Francis asked. “I told you I don’t have any milk, and that was my last tim of sardines.”
The cat continued to stare at him.
“Alright, fine,” Francis said. “I’ll go and buy some milk. I’ll need it anyway if I want a cup of tea for the next 4 days.”
As Francis grabbed his coat and keys, the kitten hit its paw up against its face and let out the kitty equivalent of a sigh.
Half an hour later Francis strode back on to the house, a blue plastic bag in one hand. The kitten had timed its latest check in report to MI5 poorly, and was calmest caught in the act. Once again it had to resort to licking its paw to divert attention. Unfortunately, this time it did not work.
“What’s wrong with your paw, little buddy?” Francis asked, placing the bag on the coffee table and picking the resistant kitten up. This was too close for comfort. The cat had worked too hard and too long to get discovered now. It spit and hissed as Francis tried to examine it.
“Come on now, I know it must be painful. You’ve been licking that thing every to,e I look away. Whatever’s in there must be causing you some awful grief.”
Finally the sheer size difference told, and Francis managed to stabilise the kitten for long enough to do a search of the paw. He finally noticed the small, black box attached to the cat.
“What’s this? Did you step in something and it got stuck? No wonder you’re in such a flap.”
Frantically the kitten licked the last ditch mayday code in to the device in the hope that its superiors would intervene.
This is it, it thought, this is the moment where my cover is blown and miaow.
The last part of the thought had been completed in the immediate aftermath of the device’s removal from the kitten’s paw. Miaow, it continued to think, having been reduced back to the intelligence of a normal house cat. Purr.
“There we go,” Francis said, throwing the device in to the bin without even glancing at it again. “Much better.”
He tickled the now docile kitty, who purred enthusiastically in response, before affectionately attempting to claw his eyes out.
“Well, if you don’t have a collar that probably means you don’t have an owner. How would you feel about living with me?” Francis asked. “Unless, of course, you are secretly a spy cat sent here to keep watch over me by MI5.”
Francis laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion.
“I bet that thing I just pulled out of you was a secret microchip that gave you super powers. Hah, listen to me. I’ve been watching too many James Bond films. Perhaps I should call you Bond. My little spy kitty.”
The kitten, as if it needed to live up to its new name, performed a death defying leap, claws first on to the curtains, hanging there for a minute before falling off.
All this distracted neatly, if accidentally, from the spontaneous combustion in the bin of the now compromised secret device.
“Stand down, 007,” Francis said, in a terrible posh accent.
The kitten miaowed, and for a second Francis could have sworn that he saw the cat salute reflexively before moving on to clean his leg.
Another week goes by, and of course another story appears. I’ve only got nine more to go which is a bit scary. When I started out on this I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to twenty, let alone forty, let alone forty three. But here we are.
This week’s suggestion came from my cousin, Robert, who is getting married in the new year, which is exciting. His idea was ‘a man contracts a rare disease, whereby various parts of his body keep swapping with each other. His future looks bleak and uncertain, until he meets a girl with the same condition.’
And here it is!
2014 – A Year In Stories
Arse From Elbow
Joe was exhausted. Hot and exhausted and thirsty. He had been walking around Rome all afternoon in the blistering heat of a summer’s day, and, like a genius had forgotten to bring his water bottle with him.
He had tried and tried to dip in to a shop to buy one, but every time he tried the tour guide had moved on, and he didn’t want to lose the group.
Finally, the tour had stopped at the Trevi Fountain, and it looked like they would be stood still long enough for Joe to quench his thirst. Seizing his opportunity, he strode in to the nearest vendor’s and made for the fridge.
Joe was taken aback.
“Water is how much?!” he asked out loud.
“4 Euro a bottle,” the shop owner replied.
“4 Euro a bottle?” Joe repeated.
“That’s what I said, are you stupid or something?”
“I’m not paying that for a bottle of bloody water.”
“What, you think it will be cheaper elsewhere? This is the Trevi Fountain, everything is inflated around here.”
Joe struggled long and hard with his principles, and in the end decided that he never pay another person £3.50 for the privilege of drinking half a litre of water as long as he lived. Sometimes sticking to your guns was more important.
Going back outside to join the tour group, Joe licked his dry lips. If he couldn’t buy water he would have to get it some other way. He scanned around and then it hit him. There was a fountain right in front of him the whole time. All he would have to do would be to scoop up some of the fountain water and he would be ok.
Striding down to the fountain, he cupped his hands and pooled some of the water in them, raised them to his lips and drank deeply. Blessed relief.
“Mummy,” a nearby British child said. “Why is that strange man drinking from the fountain?”
“Don’t look at him dear,” the mother replied. “He only wants attention.”
But Joe didn’t care about the attention. He was gulping down the water by the handful. Whilst it was relieving, Joe noticed that it did taste rather metallic. Probably something to do with all of the coins people threw in to the fountain to bring them back to Rome. He didn’t care, though.
His thirst sated, Joe rejoined the group and went on his merry way, thoroughly enjoying the rest of his walk around Rome that afternoon.
The next day, Joe woke up in his hotel room and yawned deeply. The yawn sounded distant, as if it was coming from further away than normal. These old palazzo rooms must have unusual acoustics, he reasoned.
He had another busy day of sightseeing ahead of him. The forum was on his agenda today, followed by a trip to see the Protestant cemetery, where Shelley was buried.
Joe swung his legs out of bed, and went to stand up. But, instead of finding himself up and ready to face the day, he found himself down and very definitely facing the floor. When he had gone to stand up it was almost like one of his legs had been…missing.
Putting it down to a dead leg, he attempted to haul himself up off the floor, but where his hands usually were, he felt what appeared to be a nose.
“What the?” he said. But Joe didn’t hear his voice was if it was coming from his face. He looked down at his errant leg, and noticed that where his foot used to be, his mouth had now taken up residence.
“That isn’t right…” he said, watching his mouth move as he spoke. The effect was very strange. “This must be a dream,” he concluded, still wat hing the mouth, his mouth, speaking every word from the end of his ankle. If he wasn’t dreaming, he must be sporting the world’s most impressive set of vocal chords.
With his remaining active hand, Joe pinched himself, and it hurt. What was happening to him? He decided that he needed to see a doctor immediately. The forum would have to wait.
Dragging himself over to the phone proved difficult,my it eventually he made it. He went to cradle the phone against his ear, but the receiver merely slapped against his other hand. He eventually found the ear halfway down his back, which made phone logistics somewhat difficult.
A short but complicated conversation that had involved a lot of shouting with reception later, and Joe had arranged for a doctor to come up to his room.
Half an hour later, there was a knock on Joe’s hotel room door.
“It’s open,” he called out through a mouthful of hair, as his mouth had recently decided to relocate itself to the top of his head.
“Mio dio!” the doctor declared as he walked in and saw Joe’s condition. “This is the worst case or cartegomititis I’ve ever seen!”
“Cartegomititis?” Joe asked, worried. “What is that?”
“It is an extremely rare condition where your body literally, as you English put it, does not know its own arse from its own elbow. Do you understand?”
“Not really, that’s just an old expression.”
“Ah not so, many of these old expressions they have some grounding in reality, yes? This is the case here as well. Cartegomititis causes your body parts to wander around, as it were. Your features will go walkies.”
“Why is this happening to me, doc? What did I do to catch this?”
“Currently the only known cause of the disease is drinking water contaminated with a high copper level. Do you think you could have done that recently?”
“Yesterday I drank from the Trevi fountain…” Joe admitted.
“Idiota!” the doctor barked at him. “Why would you drink water from a fountain like that? People throw all sorts in there.”
“In my defence I was really, really thirsty.”
“This is bad news. I’d never heard of a case in Rome before, but it seemed that the fountain is contaminated. We must have access closed down immediately. The public’s health could be at risk.”
“How do I get be…ugh. What’s that smell?” Joe asked.
“What smell?” the doctor replied. “I can’t smell anything.”
A second later Joe realised what had happened. His nose had rather unfortunately decided to move to a new home right where his coccyx normally was, and was thus hovering right over his arse.
“Never mind,” Joe replied, trying his best not to throw up through his hair. “How do I get better?”
“I’m afraid cartegomititis has no known cure.”
“So I’m stuck like this forever?” Joe asked, anguished.
“Not necessarily. It has been observed subsiding in patients after two years or so, and most people who recover have their body return completely to normal. A course of physical therapy in the meantime will keep active muscles that you may struggle to use day to day.”
“You’re welcome, now I must warn the city council immediately before we have an epidemic on our hands, or on whatever replaces our hands after we contract the disease.”
With that the doctor left the hotel room, and Joe was alone once more.
Joe elected to curtail the rest of the holiday and went back to England on the next flight out. A week later after having been signed off sick from work he turned up at the hospital for his first physical therapy session.
He lollopped his way over to the chair, because that was the only way he could really describe his movement these days thanks to the constantly changing position of his legs and feet, and sat down.
Joe was disappointed to find himself as the only person at the cartegomititis clinic. He had rather hoped that he might have found solace in others.
Taking a seat rather awkwardly, Joe picked up a magazine and tried in vain to read, but it seemed as though his arms and eyes were being uncooperative at this point, and so he gave up.
“Excuse me,” came a woman’s voice from behind him. In a motion that was surprisingly graceful under the conditions, Joe swivelled around in his chair. “Is this the cartegomititis clinic?”
The voice was owned by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Most importantly. She was also suffering from his own affliction. He had a compatriot.
“Yes, you’re in the right place,” he stammered out of his elbow.
“Good, this hospital is so confusing. It’s like a labyrinth!”
“I guess that makes me the monster at the centr of the labyrinth, then,” Joe replied, immediately cursing his crap attempt at humour. But, to his surprise, the girl was laughing.
“My name is Grace,” she said.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Grace. I’m Joe.”
“Looks like it’s just the two of us,” she observed.
“Looks that way. Is this your first session?”
“Yeah, I only found out I had this thing last week.”
“Do you mind me asking how you got it?”
“Not at all,” Grace replied. “I was really thirsty,” she went on, “and I decided to take a drink from a nearby wishing fountain…”
“Say no more,” Joe said, interrupting her. “Say no more.”
The observant among you will note that I’ve written a couple of stories about ghosts (I don’t consider either of them ‘ghost stories’) over the last few weeks. The timing of these in the run up to Halloween has been purely coincidental.
This week however, I had a list of about 12 suggestions to use in the run in to the end of the year, and I picked this week’s theme specifically because the plan I had for it was actually much more in line with a ‘horror’ story than either of the ghost pieces.
Anyway, the suggestion I chose this week came from Dean Horsefield, who suggested that I write a story about ‘A kid who opens the curtains one morning to find their room is now part of a giant dollhouse. The rest of the family are oblivious.’
Enjoy. OR DON’T. *spooky laugh* *crack of thunder*
2014 – A Year In Stories
Toys R Us
“It’s 7.30am!” the alarm clock blared, “And boy, we’ve got some absolute classics coming up for you before 8. Let’s kick you off with some Wham!”
Becca’s hand finally found the snooze button, just in time to prevent her hearing George Michael’s requests to wake him up before she went-went.
The alarm clock had been a present, if you could call it that, from her parents for her tenth birthday earlier in the year. Her mum had said that as she was growing up she would need to learn to get herself out of bed, and not rely on her parents.
Her father had added, with the sort of self congratulatory laughter that often comes from a father about to commit a dad joke related crime, that it was going to be her worst enemy for the next 50 years, and knowing your enemy was half the battle.
Becca hadn’t understood that one, but then she rarely got any of her dad’s ‘jokes’. Anyway, she already had a worst enemy: Karen Timpson. If she had another then neither of them could be the worst.
She rolled over and went back to sleep.
9 minutes later the alarm came back to life in the middle of ’5, 6, 7, 8′ by Steps. Becca lay in bed until the song finished, and the enthusastic DJ started rambling on about something or other. She wondered how anyone could be that cheerful at 7.41 in the morning. He must be an alien, she decided.
Reluctantly she got out of bed and out her dressing gown on over her pyjamas. It was late autumn, and the air was beginning to get chilly. Her father refused to put the heating on until he saw the first Coca Cola Christmas advert, and right now their TV was on the fritz.
Out of the corner of her eye, Becca could have sworn she saw something moving outside her window.
This was very strange indeed, as her bedroom was on the first floor. She dismissed it as tiredness. After all, she had only slept for 10 hours last night.
But then she saw it again. Curious, she wandered over and pulled back the curtains. She shrieked so loud that her parents, who were downstairs having breakfast, rushed upstairs immediately.
“Becca?!” her dad shouted, bursting in to the room. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
“An eye!” Becca said. “A giant eye outside the window!”
Her dad walked over to the window and opened the curtains, which Becca had jerked shut again immediately upon seeing the eye. The eye was gone.
“Come now, dear,” her mum soothed. “You must be seeing things. Come downstairs and have some toast.”
“I’m NOT seeing things!” Becca replied, shrugging her mum off. “It was THERE!”
Her mum and dad shared a look.
“Of course it was, sweet pea,” her dad said. “We believe you. But you’ll feel better after something to eat.”
Toast did sound appealing, so, reluctantly, Becca allowed her parents to lead her downstairs.
Becca sat at the table, and tucked in to her third round of toast. The scare that she had got from the eye earlier on had made her very hungry.
“Would you like some eggs with that, dear?” her mother asked.
“Ooh, yes please mum,” Becca replied, pushing the memory of what she saw from her head.
But, to her horror, instead of walking over to the oven to make the eggs like a normal mum would have, something very strange happened.
The kitchen was filled with light as the wall swung away, and a giant hand reached in. The hand picked up her mum, who seemed totally oblivious to the whole experience, and placed her down in front of the cooker, where she began to busy herself with the preparation of the eggs.
Becca stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed in disbelief. The slice of toast she was holding tumbled from her grip and landed, butter side down, on her plate.
“Did you see that?!” she asked incredulously, as the hand withdrew and the wall swung back in to place.
Her dad, who was sipping at a mug of tea and reading the Sunbury Morning Post, glanced up and said, “Hmm?”
“The wall…a hand…picked up mum!” Becca gibbered. “How did you miss it?”
The look her parents shared this time betrayed much more concern.
“Are you feeling alright, sweet pea?” her dad asked.
Her mum, moving normally now, walked over from the oven and pressed a hand against her forehead. “No temperature,” she said.
“Perhaps you should stay home from school today, get some rest,” her dad said. “Just in case.”
“I’m fine!” Becca replied. She thought about going to school, but when she really dug down for the memories, beyond what was on the surface, she couldn’t remember anything about her school. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever having left the house before.
She thought that she could picture trips to the cinema, the park or visiting a friend’s house, but somehow all the memories seemed false, and she definitely couldn’t remember any of the journeys.
In a panic Becca bolted from the room. Did her parents feel the same way? Why had she realised this all of a sudden? She sat, her head in her hands on the bottom step, wondering if her brain was playing tricks on her. Could she even trust her own memories anymore?
Come to think of it, she had always wondered how the family got their stuff. They never went shopping, but every week new items would appear in the house. Cutlery, crockery, furniture and clothes all appeared out of nowhere, as if by magic.
She recalled the time that a new summer dress had appeared in her wardrobe. Upon closer inspection the dress had a tag, which had read ‘Smith Co. Summer Dress SC01127′. On the reverse of the tag there had been an unusually large price sticker, indicating that the dress had cost £0.99, which had always seemed awfully cheap for such a nice dress.
A thought struck her. She ran upstairs and opened her toy cupboard. Flinging aside toy trains, a hobby horse and some clothes she had shoved in there to pass a room-tidiness inspection, she finally found what she was looking for. Her old dolls house.
She’d had the thing as long as she could remember. Her dad had always boasted that he had made it for her, but she had found the remains of a scraped off sticky label on the bottom that suggested otherwise. Being a veritable grown up now at age 10, she couldn’t be seen playing with dolls anymore, and the thing had lain undisturbed beneath a pile of stuff in her toy cupboard for the last couple of years. She gave it the once over, and then, rather gingerly put her theory to the test. With one hand on each half of the house, she slowly swung it open.
Sure enough it came apart, operating on a set of hinges. Becca gently placed the house on the floor in front of her and sat there, not sure what to do or how to react.
Her silent introspection was broken by her mother shouting up the stairs for her.
“Becca!” she called. “Abigail is here to see you.”
Odd, thought Becca as she got to her feet. She hadn’t heard the door bell, or any knocking. As she went out on to the upstairs landing, she could have sworn she saw the walls of the house close up again, just as they had in the kitchen.
When she got downstairs, Abigail was sat at the kitchen table.
“Abigail,” Becca said urgently. “How did you get here?”
“Well my mum brought… Or did I walk? I don’t think I rode my bike.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit odd?” she asked the room. She’s only been here 2 minutes and she already can’t remember how she got here.”
“Oh don’t be silly, dear,” her mum replied. “Abbie’s always been a bit forgetful, haven’t you, love?”
“That’s right,” Abbie smiled. “Shall we go upstairs and play?” she added.
“Play, but we’ve got to go to school. Dad, why haven’t you left for work? It’s almost 8.30.”
“Oh, no work or school today, sweet pea,” her dad replied, his head still buried in the paper.
“But two minutes ago you said I could stay home from school…” Becca trailed off, as her mum was busying herself about the washing up, and her dad was engrossed in the sports section. Neither of them was listening to her.
“Look,” she said to Abigail. “I appreciate you coming to visit, but now isn’t a very good time. Some strange things are happening around here and I think I’m the only one who has noticed.”
“Oh, strange like what?” Abigail asked.
Becca looked at both her parents, then leaned in to her friend and whispered conspiratorially, “I think we are living in a dolls house.”
“Oh!” Abigail replied. “That is strange. Well, I’ll see you later I suppose.”
And with that, the walls swung aside again, and the hand reached in and plucked Abigail out of the kitchen. Becca’s mum went to put some dishes away in a cupboard that had been on the wall, but they fell and smashed on the floor instead.
“How strange,” she muttered, and began to sweep up the mess with a broom as if it was completely normal for your cupboards to temporarily vanish.
Maybe this is all a dream? Becca thought. Yes, that must be it. I’m still snoozing after I turned the alarm off this morning and this has all been a weird dream. Perhaps, she mused, in order to wake up, I need to go back to bed in the dream.
Before the walls closed up again, the hand returned and picked Becca up. It removed her from the room and went up a level, before moving back the covers on her bed and placing her underneath.
With its final act before withdrawing and closing the house up, the giant hand tucked her in.
Ah yes, Becca thought. That’s much better. I’ll be awake in no time, and I can tell mum and dad about this funny dream over a couple of rounds of toast.
The walls closed back up, and the house was complete again.
“Mitzy, honey, we have to go.”
“But mum!” the little girl protested.
“You can play with your dolls later, sweety, but right now we are going to see your Grandad,” her mother replied, firmly.
Mitzy stood up from the floor and went to leave the room. Just as she was about to walk out of the door she remembered that she still had the Abigail doll in her hand. Running back over, she placed it in a box next to the house.
“Mitzy!” her mum called. “I’ll not ask you again.”
“Coming mum!” she replied, grabbing her coat and shutting the door behind her.
I had a bit of a choice about which story I went with this week, which was nice. Wishing to continue with the vague Halloween theme from this month, and for maximum spoopiness, I have gone for another ghost story. This time it was suggested by Steph Minshull-Jones! ‘A host decides to have some fun with people who don’t believe in ghosts.’
2014 – A Week In Stories
The Ghostess With the Mostest
Sandy walked down the street to the station, as she did at this time of the morning every day of the week. She went through the barriers at the station entrance, made her way down the escalator and got on the waiting train.
This was her daily routine because it brought her some semblance of normality. She had no job, nor a need to have one. Riding the rails every morning reminded her of what her life used to be like. It reminded her of better times.
Times were no longer normal for Sandy. When she walked down the road people would no longer make an effort to get out of her way, and instead walked right through her. Passing through the ticket barrier meant literally passing through it, and descending the escalator could quickly lead to descending in to the escalator with a simple lapse of concentration.
Sandy’s life was not normal, because she did not in fact have one, being that she was a ghost. She estimated that she had been dead nearly a couple of years. Time was a rather redundant concept when you had all of it to look forward to, but she still came down to the train every day all the same.
It was a way to pass a fraction of the time she had to spend in the afterlife.
Other than riding in trains of a morning, Sandy had a fairly empty existence. As a ghost she couldn’t interact with corporeal objects without extreme concentration. It was a mystery what kept her from sinking through the floor more often. She often found herself visiting friends or family, or floating in to a nearby house to watch the television, but that was no fun when no one could interact with you, or even knew you were there.
Generally she avoided the company of other ghosts. Sandy was frustrated by their similar inability to interact with everyday objects, and found that most only ever wanted to talk about their cause of death rather than celebrating their lives in retrospect.
This was a subject that she had no interest in exploring in any depth with the billions of potential ghosts she would potentially meet between now and the end of time. Much like when meeting other travellers in hostels around the world, ghosts tended to have a stock set of questions that they asked any new spectral acquaintance, and so she had developed a standard set of answers to go with them for when polite conversation was unavoidable.
What’s your name? Sandy Dunstable; Where are you from? Epping Forest; How long have you been dead? A couple of years; How did you die? Severe anaphylactic shock; etc., though if pushed she would concede that you would probably never get asked the last two in a hostel by the beach in Bali.
To top it all off she had no idea what her purpose in death was. One of her fellow ghosts had once told her that not everyone becomes a spirit, and that only those with unfinished business don’t pass on directly in to the great beyond. Beyond that, she had been given no clues or reassurances other than that when she worked it out she would pass on to eternal rest.
In other words, Sandy’s afterlife had hit a rut, insofar as that was possible. She contemplated this one morning as she rode the train in to the city centre. Perhaps, she mused, she should go to a hostel in Bali, and see if those were the sorts of questions that got asked.
After much deliberation she decided that she probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate hard enough for long enough to keep her on the plane all the way to Indonesia. Sandy may have no body to lose anymore, but she had always been squeamish about heights, and it appeared that this affliction had followed her beyond the grave. Anyway, she reasoned, the questions asked in those type of hostels were much more likely to be geared towards getting in to the pants of e other travellers than they would be existential quandaries about the nature of mortality.
The train rumbled on its merry way, oblivious to its ghostly cargo. Several other spirits boarded the train every morning, and they were probably the closest thing Sandy had to friends, though she had not spoken a word to any of them. Slowly they filtered off as the train came to a halt at various stops, until Sandy noticed that only one slightly misty figured remained at the other end of the carriage.
Sandy observed the figure, whom she had never seen before. She figured that whoever he was, he must be new to the whole thing, because she saw him approach a young couple on the train, looking as if he meant to interact with them. Watching with interest mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism for the fellow’s chances, Sandy found herself beyond surprised when the interloper managed to not only touch the couple. But spooked them enough that they got off at the next stop, muttering something about the train being haunted.
Awestruck, Sandy briefly lost concentration and nearly fell through the train to the tracks below. The ghostly man also got off at the stop, and Sandy had to muster all of her wits to stop gawking at what she had just witnessed and follow him. If he could interact with humans, maybe he could interact with objects. Maybe he could even teach her.
Sandy sprinted through the station, trying to catch up with the man, who was obscured by the crowds. Eventually she caught sight of him leaving the station and wandering off down the street and caught up with him. She felt as though she should be panting from the exertion, but on balance decided that might be a bit weird.
“How did you do that?” she asked to the back of the man’s head, or at least the bit of it that was opaque enough to see.
“Do what?” he asked, turning around. Sandy noticed that he had been young when he died, like her.
“You touched those people. You made them jump. Can you teach me how to do that?”
The man looked puzzled. “Teach you?” he asked. “Can’t all ghosts do that?”
“No!” Sandy replied. “In fact, you’re the first I’ve seen in about two years who can. God knows we all try for a while, but none of us ever manage it.”
“Oh…” the man looked contemplative. “It took me a little while to pick it up. At first I couldn’t, but then I switched to lateral thinking and decided to think of myself as the object I was trying to touch, and think that I really wanted to be touched…” He blushed. “Sorry, that came out a bit ruder than I intended.”
“Of course!” Sandy shouted, not sure she actually understood what he had just said, but wanting to make it look as though she had. “Can you show me?”
The man cast about for a suitable subject, and settled on a drinks can that someone had left on the wall nearby.
“Right,” he said, concentrating on the can. “If I try and move it because I want it to move it doesn’t go anywhere. But if I envision the can, think why it would want to move, I can do whatever I like with it.”
Sure enough, as he said that he moved his hand through the can, which dutifully toppled off the wall and landed on the pavement with a clatter.
“You give it a try,” he urged.
It took a while, as he had suggested it might, but eventually Sandy managed to detach her mind for long enough to get inside the can and move it along the pavement. It was exhausting, but she had never felt more satisfied with an accomplishment in her entire life or death.
“How does it work on people?” Sandy asked, after recovering from her exertion.
“Oh, it doesn’t really,” the man, whose name Sally had discovered to be Roy said. When he noticed the look of disappointment on her face he quickly added, “Well, it might. I haven’t tried it.”
“But I saw you spook that couple!” Sandy protested.
“I touched the guy’s jacket, not him, and then I made the girl’s purse zip and unzip by itself. I guess it might work on people, but it feel a bit weird about the idea of imagining how complete strangers would like to be touched. I’m a ghost, not a pervert.”
Sandy couldn’t help but laugh at this. She spent the next few days training with Roy, building up her abilities until she could pick the can up and move it several feet before it became too difficult to continue.
One evening as they sat watching the sunset it occurred to Sandy that she had not caught the train in several days. This whole new experience was simply too much fun, and she was so glad to have met another ghost who seemed rather underwhelmed by the rules and formalities of the spirit society. She didn’t even know how he had died.
For the first time since she had passed on, Sandy felt like she had a purpose.
“Why were you scaring that couple anyway?” she asked him one day.
“Boredom,” Roy replied. “I’ve given up trying to work out what my dumb quest is. I figure it will be obvious when it needs to be, and until then I might as well have some fun. Right,” he added, jumping off the wall they had been stood on and floating gently to the ground below. “I think it’s time for your first scare, and I know just the location.”
Even though he was largely see through Sandy could still see the glint in his eye, and could tell that he was up to no good.
Ten minutes later they arrived at their destination: a pub in Shoreditch called the Nine Friars.
“What are we doing here?” Sandy asked. Roy responded by pointing at the sign outside the door, which read ‘Skeptics’ Society Meeting Today’.
“They’re focussing on the paranormal today,” he added by way of elucidation.
The pair skulked in a corner and watched the meeting unfold for a while. This, Roy reasoned, would give Sandy a chance to pick her victim.
Eventually they settled on the group’s leader, a rather severe man in his early 30s with a pony tail and a goatee. He was certainly old enough to know better on both counts.
Throughout the meeting he had been waxing lyrical about how ghosts were clearly not real, and that anyone who claimed otherwise was an idiot, and probably had the audacity to believe in God to boot. Richard Dawkins, he asserted, probably did not believe in ghosts.
Sandy scanned the man for an opportunity, and eventually decided on grabbing the hair and holding his ponytail in place.
Well, she thought as she heard the man scream in terror as his head jerked backwards, this was hardly her purpose in the afterlife. She wasn’t still here on this earth to go round pulling Atheists hair all day. But, until she found out why she was still here, she had to agree with Roy. It was a fun way to pass the time.
…sung to the Dad’s Army theme.
This week’s suggestion is from my friend Manda Richardson, who has recently started to do very well in some animation competitions. Congratulations Manda! I’m sure you will all see the fruits of her labour very soon.
Anyway, her suggestion was for me to write a story about ‘A person who realises their cat is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Why Do You Think You’re A Kitty Mr Hitler?
“Our prices are extremely low this year,” the Avon lady explained to Juliet. “We have made some savings in our packaging department and this has allowed us to pass the savings on to you, the customer. I’m sure you’ll find the prices more than competitive.”
Juliet wasn’t usually the sort to let door-to-door salespeople in for a chat, but she was new in town and didn’t really know anyone yet, so she was grateful for the company. It didn’t hurt that she had been in the market for some new eye shadow, either.
Just as the Avon lady was preparing to show her skin are samples, Juliet’s pet cat, Socks, came prowling in to the room and leapt up on to her lap. She began to pet the cat as the lady went on about sea salt facial scrubs.
“Now, see, what the benefit is…” the woman said before trailing off.
“Is everything OK?” Juliet asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” the Avon lady replied. “It’s just that your cat looks so remarkably like Adolf Hitler.”
“I, uh, I’d never noticed,” said Juliet, leaning round to have a look at Socks’ face. The cat purported not to notice the special attention that was being paid to him, as he swatted idly at a fly. “Now you mention it, though, he sort of does…”
Sure enough, a diagonal streak of black fur crowned his head, where the parting would be, and another small patch just under the nose where the dictator’s famous moustache had grown.
Juliet had only recently got Socks from a cat shelter, taking full advantage of the fact that her landlord had failed to put a ‘no pets’ clause in her contract. The lady at the shelter had said that Socks had been to a few homes already, but always came back as unmanageable. He had seemed to take a shine to her, however, and caused no trouble so far.
“I hear there are whole websites devoted to that sort of thing on the internet,” the Avon lady said, as she packed up her samples. “I’ve left you a catalogue, just be sure to mention my name if you do decided to order anything.”
Juliet saw the woman out and went back to her job search in the local paper. When’s he got back to the living room, Socks had disappeared as he so often did during the day. Probably chasing mice or birds no doubt.
It was a frustrating afternoon. Her search bore no fruition, and Juliet began to question the wisdom of moving halfway across the country on a whim. Thirsty, she went through to the kitchen to get a drink.
She looked up as she poured some orange juice in to a glass and saw Socks sitting on the external sill of the kitchen window, next to her begonias. His back was turned, and he appeared to be mewing at something or someone. Probably a dead bird.
Juliet walked over to the window to see what he was looking at, and nearly dropped her orange juice in surprise. Outside, the decking was filled with cats, all of whom were staring up intently at Socks, who was mewing away authoritatively.
Every cat in the neighbourhood must be out there, Juliet thought. Surely they weren’t all…listening to him? She decided that she had been in the house too long and went out for a walk.
As she returned from her walk to the shops, Juliet’s attention was caught by a scream that came from the next door neighbour’s back garden. She rushed down the side passage of her house and out in to her own back garden, where the erstwhile kitty congregation had dispersed.
Peering over the fence to see what the commotion was about, she saw her neighbours, a middle aged couple, tackling a fire in the doghouse. The woman was aiming a fire extinguisher at the wooden construction, which was now merely smoking, while her husband held their poodle in his arms.
“What happened?” Juliet asked when the fire was out for certain.
“It looks like a mouse got in and nibbled the wires,” her neighbour replied, dipping her head in to the charred remains of the doghouse. She reached in and pulled out a small, very dead, mouse. “See?”
“What a horrible thing to happen.”
“Oh yes, we’re just so glad our Floofykins is alright, aren’t we Floofykins?” the husband replied, snuggling the rather reluctant poodle right up to his face.
Juliet elected to leave them to it, although she couldn’t shake from her head the fact that she was sure she had seen Socks slinking away surreptitiously from behind the doghouse.
When Juliet got back in to the living room and sat down, Socks wandered in and jumped up on to her lap. She stroked his head, and he kneaded her legs with his claw as in an affectionate manner.
“You’re not really Hitler, are you boy?” she asked the cat, who mewed in response.
But she couldn’t get it out of her mind. First the cat rally and now a suspicious fire with an unlikely suspect? What if the Avon lady was more right than she knew. What if socks didn’t just look like Hitler? What if he was…
It seemed silly, but if it was true then she had to know for sure. Casting her mind back to her walk earlier Juliet remembered seeing an advert on a lamp post for a pet psychic. She wasn’t generally inclined to believe in the occult, but giving the guy a call seemed better sooner rather than later after Socks had claimed Lebensraum in a neighbour’s flower bed.
Ten minutes later Juliet was back in her front room, the advert clutched in her hand. She found her cordless phone and dialled the number. A quick explanation later and John Young: Animal Psychic was on his way round.
The van pulled up outside Juliet’s house, and a middle aged man in a purple velvet jacket got out. He smoothed his clothes down and walked up the path.
“You must be Juliet,” he said, extending a hand, which Juliet took. “Now where’s the great dictator?”
They went in to the house, where Juliet found Socks asleep, stretched out in no patch of sun that was coming through the living room window.
“Now let me take a look here,” John said, placing a hand on Socks’ forehead. This didn’t seem to disturb the cat, and a few seconds later he stood up.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid that your cat is indeed the physical reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.”
“What, it’s that simple?” Juliet asked, bewildered. “You only touched him for a second!”
“Ms Harper,” John Young: Animal Psychic replied, “I’m just very good at my job.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
“Animal reincarnation is quite common. Eventually someone – or something – was bound to come back as Hitler. That cat has by far the darkest psychic presence I’ve ever come across. Unmistakably a great and evil being has come back in to existence within him.
“Oh, and Pol Pot and Stalin were accounted for recently, I’ve got a lead that Genghis Khan is in a German Shepherd up in Leeds, and most of the others were rounded up ages ago. Pretty much just left Hitler. The real clue was the actions, though. The spirits tend to repeat their old actions, and based on what you were describing it’s got Adolf’s calling cards written all over it.”
“Rounded up?” Juliet asked. “You mean this is quite common?”
“Oh yeah, happens all the time. Psychic community does its best to keep tabs on the real doozies. The ones that are likely to offend again, given the chance. This one would have been purging the neighbourhood cats and declaring war on the next street over before you knew it. It’s good you called when you did.”
“So, what happens now? What is your fee?”
“Oh, no fee for this one ma’am. Knowing that I was the one that collared history’s greatest monster is reward enough for me on this occasion. I’ll take socks to our containment facility, where he will lead a good full life, just away from any temptation to commit acts of unspeakable evil.”
“That’s good, I suppose…” Juliet said. Even though it turned out her cat was the reincarnation of an evil dictator, she would still miss the little bugger. He had always been perfectly nice to her.
It was a sad farewell. Juliet came close to tears as Socks was carried down the path in a cage. She thought she saw him put his paw on the cage to say goodbye, but it could just as easily have been a salute.
John had comforted her, saying that it wasn’t her fault she had adopted an evil feline. After all, there was no way of knowing who her cat really was.
She spent the next few days moping around the suddenly empty house. An offer to look after the neighbour’s poodle was politely but firmly rebuffed, as word had gotten out about the true identity of her cat.
Eventually Juliet decided that the only way she would fill the void was by getting another animal.
She drove off down to the rescue centre, determined not to make the same mistake again, and quickly dismissed a dachshund that she thought looked suspiciously liked Chairman Mao, and a golden retriever that had once barked enthusiastically at a photo of Kim Jong-il.
After hours of agonising decision making, slowly ruling out each of the animals one by one until only a handful were left, Juliet found the most adorable fluffy bunny rabbit called Nibbles, which was busying itself rearranging the food in its bowl.
A bunny can’t be evil, she reasoned, loading her new friend in to the car. And anyway, it lived in a cage and wouldn’t be let out, so what harm could it do?
As she drove off, she failed to notice the pattern the rearranged food had been made in to. Reversing out of the car park, she bumped over the curb, and the perfect pentagram was knocked out of shape. Nibbles squeaked irritably, and began its task all over again, a certain glint of malice in its tiny eye.