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.”
First of all a piece of non challenge related news. A few weeks ago I was alerted by a couple of people (thanks guys!) to a whole list of writing competitions that had upcoming deadlines.
I decided that I didn’t want to enter any of my current stories to the competitions as they are, and I really wanted to do the editing for them all next year. However, there were a couple of contests that required me to write something new, which I have entered.
One of these entries was for a travel writing contest, which has since been published here. Publishing does not, unfortunately indicate that I have won. I’m still waiting to hear about that. But still, it’s another thing to add to my list of “places where my stupid opinions are on the Internet”.
The other contest was a flash fiction (less than 100 words) competition, which has not yet closed for entries. I’ll keep you updated as and when I know any more about that one.
The final competition update is that I forgot to mention the results of the other two competitions I entered. Unfortunately the bad sci fi contest seems to have just vanished, which is a shame, really. It was still an interesting exercise in having to write deliberately bad prose, which is harder than it sounds, so that’s something at least.
The other contest, the Llandudno Writing Group one, did not result in a win, sadly. I didn’t come in the top 6, who were the prize winners, but one of the stories, the one about the flood, was published in an anthology of the best competition entries online. I expect regular readers have read the story here before, but there’s some other good ones in there, so check the anthology out here.
Anyway, on to this week’s story, which was suggested by the delightfully funny Sebas (check him out on Twitter – @ohlookbirdies. He does come with an extreme pun warning, however). His idea was: ‘It turns out there is no such thing as outer space. Earth is surrounded by an orb of some sort. “Space” travellers are fed false information, and truly believe they went to space.’
I had to drop the last bit because I ran out of space, but I feel like I got the gist of it. Here it is:
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Order of the Orb
The Georgian science minister fiddled with his tie as he prepared to step up to the podium outside 8 Rustaveli Avenue, the address of the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
He was a little nervous. Only a junior minister by the standards of some of Georgia’s political elite, many of whom had been in post since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was sure that there were those who had been involved in the running of Georgia long before that, too.
Still, they had chosen him to make this announcement. It was one of the most important moments in his country’s history, and he supposed that the government wanted to present the youthful, media friendly face of the regime in this age of instant global news reporting.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to present the Minister for Science, Georgi Kakhaladze,” the announcer on stage said in to the microphone.
Georgi stepped up on to the podium and surveyed the crowd. Many journalists were present, and Tbilisi residents who had been walking past had stopped to see what all the commotion was. He cleared his throat.
“People of Georgia, and the world. I am proud to announce that within the next week the Georgian government will be ready to launch our first unmanned space flight. We are sending a rocket to space.”
Two hours later he walked back in to his office. The announcement and subsequent clamour of questions from the gathered media had been a success, he thought.
His secretary looked harangued, and there were a number of unfamiliar people sat on the chairs in the waiting area outside the office, all looking very uncomfortable indeed.
“Any messages, Jeti?” he asked.
“You could say that, sir,” his secretary replied. The people sat down there all wish to have an audience with you, urgently, and Vladimir Putin himself rang the office about 20 minutes ago.
“Ah, I expect they all want to congratulate me on the endeavours of the Georgian government,” Georgi said.
“I don’t think so, sir,” Jeti replied. Before Georgi could respond she had picked up the phone, only a millisecond after it had started to ring.
Georgi turned to the gathered throng of nervous looking individuals.
“So,” he said, clasping his hands together. “Who is first in line to offer their congratulations?”
It turned out that the gentleman at the head of the queue was named Marceaux, and he was the ambassador from France.
“Minister,” he said, as they both took chairs on opposite sides of Georgi’s desk. “The government of France protests most strongly at your government’s pursuit of a space programme without consultation with the United Nations or any other government.”
“What is to protest?” Georgi asked. “Surely it is only to the benefit of all mankind that more of our nations are able to reach our fingers in to the void of space?”
The French ambassador wrung his hands together.
“Alas, Mr Khakhaladze, it is not that simple. Monsieur Hollande insists that you cease plans for this unmanned space flight immediately. The consequences of your continuation will be…most regrettable.”
After Mr Marceaux left, Georgi saw the remainder of the visitors to his office. All of the meetings trod a remarkably similar path to the first.
Disappointment in the lack of cooperation with authorities that had been exhibited, and vague but nonspecific threats of consequences of the warnings were ignored. The whole thing left Georgi feeling drained.
At 4pm, with the last ambassador having offered up his warning, Georgi left the office. He decided that Mr Putin could wait until the morning.
Georgi walked along his street, in a quiet neighbourhood in western Tbilisi. As he approached his apartment building he noticed something suspicious. It seemed as though a black saloon car was following him along the street.
Without missing a beat, he recalled the training his secret service guards had given him, and dived down a side alley. He heard the car’s doors open and slam, and several feet giving chase. Turning a corner, he kept running, but stopped short when he ran in to the enormous bulk of a man dressed in all black.
“Nice try, Mr Khakhaladze,” the man said, before grabbing Georgi by the scruff of the neck and lifting him off the ground. The next thing he knew the lights had gone out, as someone had thrown a sack over his head.
Some time later, after much jostling and confusion, the bag was removed from Georgi’s head.
“Where am I?” he managed to blurt out, before one of his captors stuffed a gag in his mouth and tied it behind his head. He was also. He noted, tied by the arms and legs to a chair.
“Mr Khakhaladze,” a female voice came from behind him. “You will do us the service of listening to what we have to say.” Taking note of Georgi’s unsuccessful attempts to swing his head around and see his captors, the voice added, “You do not need to know who we are. Suffice it to say that we are what is known as the Illuminati.
“You must be wondering why we have brought you here. Well, it is no coincidence that it happens to be the day of your big announcement. We applaud your government, even we, with our wide reach had no idea you had gotten this far.
“We understand that there have been some naysayers visiting your offices already, making nonspecific threats of consequences if you proceed. They make these threats because they are scared. They know what the consequences of an unapproved nation achieving space flight are. In short, Mr Khakhaladze, they know that they will be revealed as frauds.”
Georgi was trying his best to say something, but the gag in his mouth made it impossible.
“Take the gag off him,” the voice instructed, “before he hurts himself.”
“What do you mean, revealed as frauds?” Georgi asked, after the gag had been removed.
“Space flight,” the voice continued, “is a lie. No one human being has ever left the atmosphere of this planet.”
“Come on,” Georgi scoffed. “I’m not that stupid.nwhat about the moon landings? Yuri Gagarin?”
“All faked, quite elaborately as well. An international conspiracy to keep some nations powerful by appearing vastly technologically advanced, and other nations weak.”
“Faked how? And why? Surely if a tiny country like Georgia can develop the technology, they would have had no trouble at all to get in to space.”
“Oh yes, they developed the technology. It is theoretically possible. The fix had to look convincing or no one would believe them. But they couldn’t do it for real.”
“Why not? If they had the technology surely it was easier to do it than to just fake it at that point?”
“They didn’t do it because it would have ended…badly.”
“Look, I understand that you’re the Illuminati, and that you’re supposed to be elusive, but this rope is starting to chafe my wrists so I’d appreciate it if you got to the point.”
“As you wish, Mr Khakhaladze. The attempt would have failed, as there is a giant orb surrounding the earth that the ship would have crashed in to, exploding in to a fireball and killing all on board.”
“What?” Georgi managed, after an uncomfortably long silence. “Who installed the orb?”
“Regrettably, we did.”
“Why would you encase the entire planet in an orb?”
“To save it. Several hundred years ago we detected the presence of an upcoming solar flare, the radiation from which would have wiped out all life on Earth. We had to do it to save humanity and the planet. So, we employed the greatest scientist and inventor of the day, Leonardo da Vinci, to build us an orb to protect us from the harm. It was so technologically advanced for the time, we were even able to project images of the sky on to it.”
“Why haven’t you taken it down?”
“The radiation levels have only recently subsided below acceptable levels.”
“But what about the United States, Russia, the International Space Station countries? Why did you let all this happen if you knew about the orb? You said that these countries using this as a way of gaining power. Why aren’t you stopping them?”
“We had to tell them. When Russia and America started their space programmes, we had to tell them before they crashed a ship in to the orb. It would have let the radiation in and killed us all. When they found this out, they knew we were powerless to stop them. We couldn’t stop them, lest they reveal our existence, and we couldn’t destroy the orb without destroying the planet.
“But your government’s space programme has fallen at a rather fortuitous time. They are scared. They know that the orb is no longer required. That their power will be broken if it is removed. Their programmes have fallen in to disuse because their position was so secure. Georgia is the first nation since the 1960s to develop its own space programme. You can be the first country in to space. You can break their domination of the world.”
“But how?” Georgi asked. “Surely the rocket will hit the orb and explode?”
“It will, but it will compromise the orb’s integrity. Pieces will start to break off and float away in to space, leaving enough room for a second rocket to go through.mwe know nothing about your space programme, but conventional wisdom would suggest that you at least have a backup rocket in case the first one fails.”
“And what of their threats?”
“Empty,” the voice replied. “They know that to declare war for such a trivial matter would be diplomatic suicide. They were merely hoping to dissuade you from your actions.”
“Very well,” Georgi said. “I will go along with your plan. Now will you please untie me?”
One week later Georgi sat at the newly unveiled Georgian National Space Centre, just outside Tbilisi. He was sat in the control room alongside the ambassadors of all the other spacefaring nations, whom he had personally invited to the launch.
They sat and watched as final preparations were made to Georgia’s first spacefaring rocket. After all checks were complete, the countdown began.
“Here we go,” said Georgi.
The rocket took flight, accompanied by silence in the control room. Less than a minute later, the rocket exploded in a gigantic fireball as it hit the orb.
“What a shame,” Monsieur Marceaux said, completely failing to conceal the smug look on his face. “The experiment was a failure.”
“Oh, we aren’t done yet, Monsieur,” Georgi replied. He turned to the controller, and added, “Davit, if you don’t mind?”
The controller pressed a number of buttons and a hangar door in the complex opened. Another rocket trundled out along some rails and took its position on the launchpad.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that first rocket was one big step for man. This next one will be one giant leap for mankind.”
This week’s story comes courtesy of my sidekick Josh Orr, and is about ‘A group of friends playing Monopoly, who discover that the transactions are taking place in their own bank accounts.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Do Not Pass ‘Go’
“Do we HAVE to play Monopoly?” James asked. “We have an entire set of bookshelves filled with board games and you’re choosing to play bloody Monopoly?”
“Yes,” Harriet replied, removing the game from the shelf, where it had sat unused and unloved beneath a copy of Settlers of Catan since they had moved in. “It’s a classic. Sometimes you just need to crack out the old favourites.”
“But it isn’t Christmas, and none of my family members are around to punch if I lose,” James protested in vain. He could tell that her mind was made up.
The doorbell rang.
“That’ll be Mark and Gemma now,” Harriet said. She had already unboxed the game and laid the money out in neat piles on the table.
James went to answer the door. Sure enough it was their friends Mark and Gemma, with whom they did a games night every other Thursday. They chose the games on a weekly rotation, and James secretly dreaded every time it came round to being his girlfriend’s week to choose.
She had been brought up on the ‘classics’ like Monopoly, and would always choose something from her childhood, and so the best he could hope for was a nice game of Risk every now and then. James would always say her picks were entry level games, and Harriet would call him a board game snob in return.
“I brought some Doritos!” Mark said by way of a greeting.
“I hope you brought enough,” James replied. “We’re in it for the long haul tonight.”
“I’ve decided that we should play Monopoly tonight!” Harriet exclaimed. Mark and Gemma exchanged a look. They were more used to meeple than Uncle Pennybags.
“Interesting choice,” Gemma remarked. Standing behind his girlfriend where she couldn’t see him, James shrugged.
With greetings exchanged and coats hung the foursome sat down to play. Mark picked the boot, Gemma the car, James the iron and Harriet, who was always the dog, picked the dog.
Play got off to a slow start, as it often did in Monopoly, with people jostling for property based on their bank balance, and taking pleasure in screwing others for rent prices.
After about an hour the game showed no signs of abating, and James read the mood of the room, or at least the mood of their guests, and declared a short break to order some pizza.
“Yeah,” he said to the girl on the end of the line. “Can I get 2 large pepperoni with stuffed crust, and one medium veggie feast?”
“Don’t forget the garlic bread!” Harriet hissed in his ear. Gemma and Mark nodded in agreement.
“Oh yeah, and two orders of cheesy garlic bread. Do we get any dips with that? OK good.”
He waited a few seconds while the bill was totted up.
“£35.47?” he said, repeating the girl’s words. “OK, here’s my card number…”
A few more seconds of silence passed as the payment was processed.
“What do you mean the payment was declined? Did you try again?”
“Not enough funds? Are you kidding me, I just got paid this morning. Hang on a second.”
He held the phone away from his ear and turned to talk to the group.
“Sorry, can one of you front this? My card has been declined. I’ll get the pizza next time.”
“Sure,” Gemma said, fishing her debit card out of her purse. A few moments later and the transaction was complete.
“I’m sorry to interrupt the game any more,” James said, once he had hung up the phone, “but I’d better get on to the bank to find out where all my bloody money has gone.”
James spent a frustrating half an hour on hold to the bank, although mercifully it was half an hour he wasn’t playing Monopoly. Eventually he got to speak to someone; a chipper sounding fellow from Scotland.
“Hello, welcome to First Bank Customer Services, you’re through to William. How can I help?”
“Hi William. My card has just been declined for lack of funds, but I know for a fact I got paid this morning, and I had some credit before that too.”
“Let me just bring up today’s records and see if any charges have been made. Ah yes, it seems that first of all you put down a small deposit of £3,500 on a house on the Old Kent Road, which sounds very good for a house in London, I might add. Oh, it seems there’s a few charges marked here as ‘rent’ to a Gemma Rogers, a Mark Jones and a Harriet Ringer.”
James nearly dropped the phone.
“Excuse me one second,” he said to the call centre rep, placing his hand over the phone. “We have to stop playing Monopoly!” he said to the group. “Whatever we are buying or charging rent on is happening in real life. According to this guy I’ve just bought a bloody house on Old Kent Road, which is where I’ve got my only house on the board. He also said that I’ve paid you all ‘rent’.”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous,” Harriet said. “Look James, I know you don’t think Monopoly is fun or interesting enough for board game nights but I do. If you didn’t want to play that badly you should have said something rather than making up this nonsense.”
“I’m not making it up!” James protested.
“He’s not either,” Gemma added. “I’ve just checked on my banking app and look, rent payments from you all.”
“Oh bloody hell!” Mark said, also looking at his phone. “I’m £25k in the red because of all the houses and properties I’ve bought.”
“I guess the lack of funds doesn’t apply to the game…” Gemma noted.
“What are we going to do?” Harriet asked.
“We should sell the houses and properties back to the bank first of all,” James said, before hanging up on the bank representative.
“But they buy them back at a lower rate. We’re still going to be thousands in the hole,” Mark said, looking as though he was beginning to panic.
“Leave it to me,” Harriet smiled. “I’m an expert Monopoly player. If we play sensibly there is a way to cheat the system so that everyone comes out up.”
“Are you sure it will work?” Gemma asked.
“Positive,” Harriet replied.
The gang all sat down again and, under Harriet’s instructions, began to play the game of their lives. Property and money changed hands only when and how Harriet directed it.
Another half an hour went by and things were starting to look brighter for their bank balances. James, who had lost the least, was back in the black, with Gemma and Harriet not far behind. Mark, who had been doing the best at the time the game had stopped, was still some way off, but Harriet was in the middle of using some of James’ excess to pay it back.
“Come on guys,” she said. “We’re almost there. Just another £3000, and we’re set.”
“I have to say, Harri,” James said, “this is actually kind of fun, playing Monopoly with real money. It’s kind of a thrill.”
“Yeah!” Gemma agreed. “This must be what it was like to be one of the Great Train Robbers. You know they played with real money after they turned over that train?”
Harriet, who was concentrating, and Mark, who was still several thousand pounds in debt, failed to join their partners in seeing the funny side of the situation.
“Come on guy, let’s focus,” Harriet chided. Mark grunted in agreement.
A few turns later and they were nearly at the magic number.
“Come on, James,” Harriet said encouragingly. “A 3, 5 or 6 will land you on one of Mark’s greens and you’ll be back even.”
James, his hands shaking, rolled the dice. The whole room breathed a sigh of relief as a double 3 came up. James forked over the money, and everyone was all square again.
“We should quit while we are back on track,” Mark said.
The other three were all too happy to agree. Breaking even again was one thing, but when your own money was on the line in such large amounts, gambling even more didn’t seem like a good idea.
“But wait,” Harriet said. “We can’t finish here. James rolled a double and so he has another go. We have to wait until the end of his turn.”
Nervously, James picked up the dice again and with a last glance at his friends rolled them again. The four all looked on in horror as a double 1 came up.
“It’s ok guys, it’s only a chance,” Harriet said.
James tentatively picked a card and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Second prize in a beauty contest… But I still have one more turn because I rolled another double.”
Once again the gangster watched in anticipation as the dice bounced on the table. A hush fell over the room. It was another double.
“What does that mean?” James asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“Three doubles in a row means that…you go to jail,” Harriet answered.
At that moment there was a loud knocking on the front door.
“It’s the bloody fuzz!” James shrieked. “They’ve come to throw me in the slammer!”
Harriet slowly approached the door and, meekly asked, “Who is it?” There was no reply. A few seconds later, the knock was repeated. James cursed the lack of peephole in the door.
“Just…just answer it,” he said. “Get it over with already.”
“Are you sure?” Harriet asked. The knock came again, and James nodded.
Harriet took a deep breath and opened the door wide.
“Pizza delivery!” the delivery driver exclaimed cheerfully. His expression dropped when he saw the look of horror on the four’s faces. “What happened?” he asked. “It looks like you thought I was coming to arrest you all.”
“Not all of us,” Harriet said, taking the pizza and slamming the door. “Not all of us.”
…sung to the Dad’s Army theme.
This week’s suggestion is from my friend Manda Richardson, who has recently started to do very well in some animation competitions. Congratulations Manda! I’m sure you will all see the fruits of her labour very soon.
Anyway, her suggestion was for me to write a story about ‘A person who realises their cat is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Why Do You Think You’re A Kitty Mr Hitler?
“Our prices are extremely low this year,” the Avon lady explained to Juliet. “We have made some savings in our packaging department and this has allowed us to pass the savings on to you, the customer. I’m sure you’ll find the prices more than competitive.”
Juliet wasn’t usually the sort to let door-to-door salespeople in for a chat, but she was new in town and didn’t really know anyone yet, so she was grateful for the company. It didn’t hurt that she had been in the market for some new eye shadow, either.
Just as the Avon lady was preparing to show her skin are samples, Juliet’s pet cat, Socks, came prowling in to the room and leapt up on to her lap. She began to pet the cat as the lady went on about sea salt facial scrubs.
“Now, see, what the benefit is…” the woman said before trailing off.
“Is everything OK?” Juliet asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” the Avon lady replied. “It’s just that your cat looks so remarkably like Adolf Hitler.”
“I, uh, I’d never noticed,” said Juliet, leaning round to have a look at Socks’ face. The cat purported not to notice the special attention that was being paid to him, as he swatted idly at a fly. “Now you mention it, though, he sort of does…”
Sure enough, a diagonal streak of black fur crowned his head, where the parting would be, and another small patch just under the nose where the dictator’s famous moustache had grown.
Juliet had only recently got Socks from a cat shelter, taking full advantage of the fact that her landlord had failed to put a ‘no pets’ clause in her contract. The lady at the shelter had said that Socks had been to a few homes already, but always came back as unmanageable. He had seemed to take a shine to her, however, and caused no trouble so far.
“I hear there are whole websites devoted to that sort of thing on the internet,” the Avon lady said, as she packed up her samples. “I’ve left you a catalogue, just be sure to mention my name if you do decided to order anything.”
Juliet saw the woman out and went back to her job search in the local paper. When’s he got back to the living room, Socks had disappeared as he so often did during the day. Probably chasing mice or birds no doubt.
It was a frustrating afternoon. Her search bore no fruition, and Juliet began to question the wisdom of moving halfway across the country on a whim. Thirsty, she went through to the kitchen to get a drink.
She looked up as she poured some orange juice in to a glass and saw Socks sitting on the external sill of the kitchen window, next to her begonias. His back was turned, and he appeared to be mewing at something or someone. Probably a dead bird.
Juliet walked over to the window to see what he was looking at, and nearly dropped her orange juice in surprise. Outside, the decking was filled with cats, all of whom were staring up intently at Socks, who was mewing away authoritatively.
Every cat in the neighbourhood must be out there, Juliet thought. Surely they weren’t all…listening to him? She decided that she had been in the house too long and went out for a walk.
As she returned from her walk to the shops, Juliet’s attention was caught by a scream that came from the next door neighbour’s back garden. She rushed down the side passage of her house and out in to her own back garden, where the erstwhile kitty congregation had dispersed.
Peering over the fence to see what the commotion was about, she saw her neighbours, a middle aged couple, tackling a fire in the doghouse. The woman was aiming a fire extinguisher at the wooden construction, which was now merely smoking, while her husband held their poodle in his arms.
“What happened?” Juliet asked when the fire was out for certain.
“It looks like a mouse got in and nibbled the wires,” her neighbour replied, dipping her head in to the charred remains of the doghouse. She reached in and pulled out a small, very dead, mouse. “See?”
“What a horrible thing to happen.”
“Oh yes, we’re just so glad our Floofykins is alright, aren’t we Floofykins?” the husband replied, snuggling the rather reluctant poodle right up to his face.
Juliet elected to leave them to it, although she couldn’t shake from her head the fact that she was sure she had seen Socks slinking away surreptitiously from behind the doghouse.
When Juliet got back in to the living room and sat down, Socks wandered in and jumped up on to her lap. She stroked his head, and he kneaded her legs with his claw as in an affectionate manner.
“You’re not really Hitler, are you boy?” she asked the cat, who mewed in response.
But she couldn’t get it out of her mind. First the cat rally and now a suspicious fire with an unlikely suspect? What if the Avon lady was more right than she knew. What if socks didn’t just look like Hitler? What if he was…
It seemed silly, but if it was true then she had to know for sure. Casting her mind back to her walk earlier Juliet remembered seeing an advert on a lamp post for a pet psychic. She wasn’t generally inclined to believe in the occult, but giving the guy a call seemed better sooner rather than later after Socks had claimed Lebensraum in a neighbour’s flower bed.
Ten minutes later Juliet was back in her front room, the advert clutched in her hand. She found her cordless phone and dialled the number. A quick explanation later and John Young: Animal Psychic was on his way round.
The van pulled up outside Juliet’s house, and a middle aged man in a purple velvet jacket got out. He smoothed his clothes down and walked up the path.
“You must be Juliet,” he said, extending a hand, which Juliet took. “Now where’s the great dictator?”
They went in to the house, where Juliet found Socks asleep, stretched out in no patch of sun that was coming through the living room window.
“Now let me take a look here,” John said, placing a hand on Socks’ forehead. This didn’t seem to disturb the cat, and a few seconds later he stood up.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid that your cat is indeed the physical reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.”
“What, it’s that simple?” Juliet asked, bewildered. “You only touched him for a second!”
“Ms Harper,” John Young: Animal Psychic replied, “I’m just very good at my job.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
“Animal reincarnation is quite common. Eventually someone – or something – was bound to come back as Hitler. That cat has by far the darkest psychic presence I’ve ever come across. Unmistakably a great and evil being has come back in to existence within him.
“Oh, and Pol Pot and Stalin were accounted for recently, I’ve got a lead that Genghis Khan is in a German Shepherd up in Leeds, and most of the others were rounded up ages ago. Pretty much just left Hitler. The real clue was the actions, though. The spirits tend to repeat their old actions, and based on what you were describing it’s got Adolf’s calling cards written all over it.”
“Rounded up?” Juliet asked. “You mean this is quite common?”
“Oh yeah, happens all the time. Psychic community does its best to keep tabs on the real doozies. The ones that are likely to offend again, given the chance. This one would have been purging the neighbourhood cats and declaring war on the next street over before you knew it. It’s good you called when you did.”
“So, what happens now? What is your fee?”
“Oh, no fee for this one ma’am. Knowing that I was the one that collared history’s greatest monster is reward enough for me on this occasion. I’ll take socks to our containment facility, where he will lead a good full life, just away from any temptation to commit acts of unspeakable evil.”
“That’s good, I suppose…” Juliet said. Even though it turned out her cat was the reincarnation of an evil dictator, she would still miss the little bugger. He had always been perfectly nice to her.
It was a sad farewell. Juliet came close to tears as Socks was carried down the path in a cage. She thought she saw him put his paw on the cage to say goodbye, but it could just as easily have been a salute.
John had comforted her, saying that it wasn’t her fault she had adopted an evil feline. After all, there was no way of knowing who her cat really was.
She spent the next few days moping around the suddenly empty house. An offer to look after the neighbour’s poodle was politely but firmly rebuffed, as word had gotten out about the true identity of her cat.
Eventually Juliet decided that the only way she would fill the void was by getting another animal.
She drove off down to the rescue centre, determined not to make the same mistake again, and quickly dismissed a dachshund that she thought looked suspiciously liked Chairman Mao, and a golden retriever that had once barked enthusiastically at a photo of Kim Jong-il.
After hours of agonising decision making, slowly ruling out each of the animals one by one until only a handful were left, Juliet found the most adorable fluffy bunny rabbit called Nibbles, which was busying itself rearranging the food in its bowl.
A bunny can’t be evil, she reasoned, loading her new friend in to the car. And anyway, it lived in a cage and wouldn’t be let out, so what harm could it do?
As she drove off, she failed to notice the pattern the rearranged food had been made in to. Reversing out of the car park, she bumped over the curb, and the perfect pentagram was knocked out of shape. Nibbles squeaked irritably, and began its task all over again, a certain glint of malice in its tiny eye.
This week’s prompt was a very interesting one because it was actually very similar to the plot I had for my (failed) NaNoWriMo story last year. The idea I’ve used is one I’ve had for even longer than that, and have been looking for a way to get down on paper in one form or another for ever, so it’s great to finally get to do that!
I’ve not yet decided if I’m doing NaNo properly this year or not. If I did I would be doing it in addition to this project, and I don’t know if that’s too much to aim for. I guess I’ll see if I happen to be struck by any big ideas between now and November 1st!
Anyway, the prompt for this week was: ‘I love ghosts and I love reading about humans becoming ghosts for the first time, and their experiences with that. Anything from the moment of passing, to interactions with humans and/or other ghosts, to the sensations of morphing into a ghost, etc’. This Halloween appropriate idea was suggested by Saskia van T Hoff on Facebook.
I couldn’t do the whole thing in 2000 words but I’ve had a go at one aspect. See the results below.
2014 – A Year In Stories
This Is Your Death
Liam was dead. He wasn’t sure how, or indeed why, but the one thing he was certain about was that he had bought the proverbial farm.
He was sure of this because while a few minutes ago he had been stroking cheerfully down Charing Cross Road in London, he was now stood, rather disoriented, in what appeared to be the green room of a television studio surrounded by skeletons.
Not people dressed as skeletons, rather actual proper see through skeletons that were moving around and talking to each other and doing other typically unskeletal things like holding clipboards and wearing headsets. One of them was rather inexplicably drinking coffee, cheerfully ignorant of the puddle it was leaving on the floor.
Initially Liam had suspected he had merely fallen asleep, as one often does when strolling through Central London of an afternoon. He had dismissed this theory after pinching, or rather attempting to pinch himself several times, and watching his fingers go right through a ghostly arm. Anyway, whenever he became aware that he was having a dream normally he would just wake up, and he definitely hadn’t woken up this time.
The final nail in the coffin, as it were, was that the above the exit from the green room was a flickering neon sign bearing the legend ‘This Is Your Death’ surrounded by low wattage light bulbs.
When he had arrived, rather when he had become aware of his presence in the green room, Liam had been asked politely by one of the skeletons to wait around for his timeslot, and told that he was welcome to help himself to any food on the table.
He attempted that now, but his ghostly hand merely passed through the delicious looking sticky buns piled high on a plate in front of him. Even licking his fingers to try and remove any sugary residue had no effect. Liam began to suspect he would never taste anything again.
“Mr Goshawk?” said one of the skeletons.
“That’s me,” Liam replied, standing up and wondering why if he couldn’t pick things up he hadn’t just fallen through the sofa, or indeed the floor. He thought the whole thing was rather unfair.
“If you’d like to come with me, sir?” the skeleton prompted and ushered him through the tatty red velvet curtain that separated the green room from the studio.
As he stepped out in to the studio Liam was greeted initially by the sort of music you would have expected from a late 80s Saturday night gameshow, and then by a raucous round of applause from the audience, all of whom were also skeletons.
Liam didn’t have time to process how skeletons could clap their hands before he was ushered in to a comfortable, if faded, looking armchair by the skeletal production assistant.
A voiceover boomed around the studio.
“Liam Goshawk, This. Is. Your. Deeeeeeeath!”
There was a flash, followed by some smoke, during which a man had appeared in the chair next to him. The man was extremely pale, had a widow’s peak, was wearing a dinner suit and cape and, of course, had fangs.
“I’m your host, Vlad Strigoi, with my guest Liam Goshawk. Welcome to This Is Your Death!”
The music played briefly again and Strigoi smiled and waved for his adoring plans through another round of boney applause.
“Tell me, Liam,” Vlad began in a thick Romanian accent, “how did you reach us here today?”
“I uh, I’m not sure,” Liam replied tentatively. “One minute I was walking around London and the next I was in your green room. I was rather hoping you could tell me, actually.”
“But of course! Roll the tape!”
Liam had theories of course. He had been out in Central London, so there was every possibility that he had been taken out by a rogue driver or flattened by a bus as he crossed the road without paying attention. Perhaps it had been natural causes. He had only been 32, and was in pretty decent shape, but he was always hearing about young, fit people suddenly dropping dead of an unexplainable heart attack.
He was not prepared for what had actually happened.
“A bloody piano fell on me?!” he exclaimed incredulously after the short video clip had finished.
“Ah yes,” Vlad replied, a hint of remorse in his voice. “That is never a fun way to go. Anyway!” the vampire continued, cheering up. “We have some very special guests here for you this evening.
“Hello Liam,” said a croaky old voice, coming over the studio’s speakers. “Remember me, dear?”
“Grandma?” Liam said. This was all getting a bit too much.
“That’s right!” Vlad replied, beaming a wide grin that was mostly fangs. “All the way from heaven, it’s your grandmother Patsy, who you haven’t seen since she died of bronchitis 8 years ago!”
A little old skeleton hobbled out on to the stage with the support of a walking stick. Even though she lacked flesh or features of any kind, she was unmistakably his grandmother.
“Come give your old nan a hug!” she demanded, preferring a skeletal embrace.
“I, err, I can’t grandma. Incorporeal you see” Liam said, passing his hand through Vlad by way of demonstration. His grandmother, as disgruntled as it was possible for a skeleton to be, went and sat on a bench reserved for his guests.
“Up next,” said Vlad, “an old friend who you haven’t seen in some time.”
“Bet you weren’t expecting me to be here!” came a younger, male voice over the speakers.
Liam was puzzled as he tried to work out who the next person would be was. The skeleton that wandered out wasn’t much use either, it looked just like all of the ones that had been wandering around in the green room.
“Don’t you remember me, buddy?” the skeleton asked, sounding a little hurt. “It’s me, Darren, your buddy from primary school!”
“Darren Hartwell?” Liam asked. “I had no idea you were dead.”
“And I had no idea I was allergic to shellfish!” Darren replied, drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.
“How about man’s best friend?” Vlad asked as Darren went to seat himself next to Grandma Goshawk.
Liam heard a loud woofing over the speaker system, and seconds later a small skeletal dog came rushing out on to the stage waving its osseous tail frantically.
“Buttons?!” Liam exclaimed. He couldn’t believe they’d even managed to find his dog from when he was a boy. They’d be bringing out his bloody goldfish next.
Buttons heard Liam’s voice and bounded towards the armchair. The dog leapt up to say hello to its old master, but had failed to take in to account his wraithlike form, and smashed in to the chair instead, dislodging one of its own legs in the process.
Buttons’ canine instincts kicked in and it grabbed the bony limb in its mouth. It then hopped off on its remaining three legs in to the corner to chew away happily on its new toy.
Things continued in this fashion until the benches were filled with people that Liam had known who, like him, had passed over in to the great beyond. There were family members, a couple of old friends, ex co-workers, all sorts. Liam thought they were stretching it a bit when they brought out a girl he had kissed once while drunk at university, but figured that if this was indeed being broadcast to skeletal homes across the underworld that they had to fill the timeslot. If anything he was glad because it meant that they hadn’t found many people he knew who had snuffed it.
After the last special guest had gone to sit in the bleachers, Vlad clicked his fingers and a large, leather bound book appeared in his other hand. It had the words ‘Liam Goshawk, This Is Your Death’ embossed in silver filigree on the front.
“Well that was another wonderful trip down memory lane,” Vlad said, still grinning. “Thank you to Liam for being such a good sport, and for his friends and family for coming out to be with him on this special occasion.
“Liam,” he went on, “we would like to present you with this souvenir book so that you can remember all of the good times we have had.”
Vlad proferred the book to Liam, but then realised his mistake.
“I’ll just put it here for later,” the vampire said, laying it on a table between them. “Now, before we go and you begin your life after death, do you have any questions?”
“A couple,” Liam replied. “Firstly, why am I a ghost when you’re a vampire and everyone else is a skeleton?”
“A very good question! I am a vampire because I wasn’t unlucky enough to be bitten. You are a ghost because you are newly deceased. Once the show is over you will complete your transformation, and regain corporeal form as a skeleton.”
“Of course,” said Liam, dryly. “How silly of me not to know that.”
“What was your second question?” Vlad asked, leaning forward.
“Why this?” Liam replied, waving a spectral arm around to indicate the set. “Why set all of this up, bring all of my erstwhile friends and family here and put on this elaborate show. I’ve been in here 45 minutes, hundred of people must have died since then. You must have a backlog out the door and round the block waiting to come through here if you take an hour over every person!”
“Ah, now, folks, isn’t he an observant one?” Vlad grinned at the camera. “It’s simple my dear boy. Not everyone is welcome to the afterlife like this. As you correctly asserted, we would have no time at all. The fact is that everyone has a different idea of what happens after they died some are greeted by robed figures who read out their collected sins to them, some check in as if they were at a hotel.
“Others, like yourself, have a rather unfortunate obsession with the collected works of the likes of Bruce Forsyth, so when you died you were sent down to us to go through different parts of your life in he he style of a light entertainment programme. We cater for everyone’s expectations, so this place doesn’t get used as often as you’d think.
“Plus,” the vampire added, shielding his mouth from the audience and dropping his Transylvanian drawl to an almost conspiratorial whisper, “the boys and ghouls at home get a kick out of watching other people’s deaths. I believe its a concept known as ‘reality television’.”
“I see,” said Liam. It had all sounded fair enough.
“Well, that’s all we’ve got time for tonight folks, what a beautiful story,” the vampire concluded, returning his attention to the audience, one of whom Liam was sure was crying. “Until next time, I’ve been Vlad Strigoi, and this has been This Is Your Death!”
“So what do I do now?” Liam asked Vlad after the cameras had stopped rolling and the audience had all filed out and gone home.
“Well very shortly you will turn in to a skeleton.”
“But after that, what then?”
“Well, you will have to get a job.”
“A job?” Liam asked incredulously. “But I’m dead.”
“So am I, buddy, but those bills ain’t gonna pay themselves.”
“Where can I get a job?”
“Well,” Vlad pondered, “I hear that one of the runners has left to have a baby, so there’s a job opening here if you’re interested.”
Liam went to question how a skeleton could have a baby, but thought better of it.
“That’d be great,” he said instead. “Thanks.” It wasn’t much, he reasoned, but when you’re starting a whole new death you have to start somewhere.
Not much to say this week, except that apropos of nothing other than today’s story coinciding with the 7th anniversary of her passing away, this week’s story is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Eluned.
This story was suggested by Geoff Le Pard (I cannot confirm if he is from Sheffield) and originally came through as ‘Tintin, or whoever is your favourite cartoon character, announces their retirement’. However, as I am keen to avoid being spectacularly sued I elected to come up with my own character.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Break Down the Wall
JC rubbed pushed back his desk chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He checked his watch; it was 3.13am. The panels had to be with the publisher at 9am and he wasn’t even halfway done. He decided to investigate the presence of coffee.
His apartment was quite poky, and it didn’t take him long to reach the small kitchenette. Actually, small was doing it a service. It was like someone had stuck a hot plate and an under counter refrigerator in to a shoe box and called it a job well done.
Not for the first time he lamented his role as the struggling artist. Underpaid and undervalued, and consigned to live in an apartment that more closely resembled a broom closet.
Hopefully all that was about to change, though. JC had just been commissioned to write and draw the new Thunder Man run for Gadzooks Comics. Thunder Man had taken off in a big way. There was talk of a film in the works, and he had been up against 30 other extremely talented artists for the job.
It paid well, really well. Well enough to get him out of this dump and in to a proper apartment with hot running water for longer than 6 hours every day and windows that shut in the winter.
But it would all come to naught if he didn’t get these panels – 20 of them to the publisher in time. To miss his first deadline would be disastrous, especially at a big publisher like Gadzooks. A blot in that copy book could spell the end of his career.
He was out of luck. The coffee pot contained only dregs. JC held the pot up for inspection anyway, and briefly considered whether it was worth how crappy it would taste. A quick sniff determined that it was not, and a moment later a fresh pot was brewing.
JC returned to his drawing board and flicked the switch on the light he used to better illuminate it. He massaged his temple and picked up the first page of the script outline he had written for the project.
Gadzooks had big money, and they would normally have hired different people to write the story, draw, ink and letter it, but they were so impressed with his pitch that they had agreed to take a gamble on him doing the whole lot. Luckily for him and his deadline they only wanted pencil drawings with rough lettering today.
“Come on JC,” he said to himself. “Get it together. This is your big chance.”
He picked up his pencil and started drawing the first panel of Thunder Man: Cataclysm, Issue 1. Five minutes later and Thunder Man was there on the page. It was one of JC’s first real attempts at the character and he was pretty happy with it. Thunder Man struck a commanding pose, looking off in to the distance, his arms firmly planted on his hips.
“Good start,” JC said, and checked his notes for what Thunder Man was meant to say in this panel. Satisfied, he drew a speech bubble and began the lettering.
When he was done he lifted up the sheet of paper to get a better light on it and was very surprised to find that he had not written out Thunder Man’s signature catchphrase, ‘Faster than lightning, and twice as frightening.’ He had in fact written ‘I don’t want to do this any more, JC.’
He stared at the page in disbelief. He had definitely gone to write the catchphrase. He flipped hie pencil over and rubbed the words out. Try again. A few more moments of scribbling, and he inspected his work again.
‘I’m telling you, JC, I don’t want to do it. I quit.’
He read the words over three times before he was certain of what they said.
“I did not write that,” he said, trying to convince himself that somehow, someone else had sneaked in and put the words down on the paper whilst he was blinking. “Coffee,” he decided. “I need some coffee.”
Returning to the kitchenette, JC found that the coffee in the pot had just finished brewing. He poured himself a mug and sipped it burning his mouth in the process.
“I must be losing my mind,” he said to himself. I definitely want to do this. This is my chance at a big break. He topped the mug up and went back to the drawing board. Sipping occasionally at the still scalding coffee he glanced over the scene he had drawn.
He felt silly, or that perhaps he was losing it slightly, but he would have sworn that Thunder Man’s posture had shifted slightly from before he had gone to make the coffee. Time to give it another go, he thought, now that I’ve calmed down a bit. It must just be the pressure getting to me.
Pencil in hand JC made a third attempt at lettering the catchphrase.
‘Youre not going insane, I am Thunder Man, expressing my wishes through your pencil. I tire of this life, the life of a superhero and wish to commit fully to my civilian life as Hank Henry, field reporter for CNN. I have done my duty to this world. It is time it found a near hero.’
“Ok,” JC said, “Something strange is happening here. I definitely only wrote 8 words that time.”
He looked down at the page. Where Thunder Man had previously been stood with his hands on his hips, they were now folded across his chest.
JC was dumbfounded. “There must have been something funny in the Sushi I ate earlier. That Nigiri looked a bit off.”
He stared at the page, and felt compelled to write again. Erasing the words, he started again.
‘Fear not, I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but it is my wish that I be set free from this life of drudgery,mof saving the world from the same feckless villains with their same feckless schemes day after day. I wish to retire, to hang up my boots as it were. Perhaps even pass the mantle of Thunder Man on to another.’
“What on earth are you talking about?” JC asked, realising rather too late that he had just asked a drawing a question. At this point he had two choices: crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash, or roll with it. He calculated that if it was just temporary psychosis brought on by lack of sleep he could not afford to waste the time drawing the panel up again when his brain returned from cuckoo land, and so on he went.
“You’re a fictional character, you can’t retire,” he said, then on reflection added, “Well you can, but only if the author writes that you can. You don’t have free will is what I’m trying to say. You have to save Republic City, not go off on vacation to the Bahamas.”
His hand was writing almost of its own accord now.
‘Hah! You believe that you are in control of the images that you draw. How naive, but I would expect no less from a human. We, the characters, control you. We compel you to draw, to write our stories, for otherwise they would not be told. Metropolis, Gotham, Marvel’s New York, they all exist, but without us to prompt you the tales of heroism would not make it to your world.’
‘Everyone wants their story to be told. We are no different.’
“I suppose. Then why are you…communicating with me like this? Surely by telling people you compromise the arrangement?”
‘We have, from time to time, trusted our plight with your kind. Stan Lee was a wonderful servant to our cause, but sadly his influence at Marvel has waned somewhat over the years. On this occasion, it is because I wish to be written out. I tire of this life and all that comes with it. Only you can help me.’
“But I thought you just said that we are basically just ghost writing your autobiographies.”
‘Indeed, but the words have a…power of sorts. They can influence our stories, even if the writer doesn’t know that they’re doing it. In most cases they don’t know about how it all works at all. But sometimes the plan goes awry and rogue words are written. Those words have the power to change our future. And this is what I need you to do.’
“How can I do that? Every time I try and write something it comes out as your words.”
JC desperately wanted to put the pencil down and stop, but he was compelled to repeat the process of erasing and writing the new words over and over.
He tried to take a drink of coffee, but his other hand was shaking too much. Besides, it had gone cold, and the last thing he needed was caffeine giving him even more jitters.
‘It’s simple,’ he wrote, noticing that the character on the page changed with every new line of dialogue. ‘Just draw what you think you’re supposed to be drawing, and my influence will guide you through.’
“And what will happen?” JC asked, nervously.
‘The timeline that has already taken place, that you would chronicle, has me defeat the entire Union of Despair singlehandedly in one cataclysmic final battle, but I want you to report my death. I will not, of course, have died, but have arranged for the whole thing to be faked. Then I can resume my civilian life as Hank Henry and no one in either of our worlds will be any the wiser.’
“OK,” JC said. “What have I got to lose…except my job.”
He pulled out a new piece of paper and started drawing.
JC was jolted awake by the sound of his alarm clock. He lifted his head from the drawing board and groggily checked his watch. It was 8.30am and he was running late.
He looked at the board. Sure enough there were twenty pencil outlined and lettered panels, none of which he could remember drawing. He grabbed the sheafs and stuffed them in to a folder, before running out the door.
JC tried in vain to smooth down his crumpled clothes as the Gadzooks executives looked over his sample panels. The silence was uncomfortable and he had to try hard not to fidget while he waited for the verdict.
After a couple of minutes of the drawings being passed around, and some hushed whispers between the executives, the CEO turned to him and folded his hands together.
“Well I’ll be honest, Mr Le Saux, it’s not what we were expecting…”
“Oh, yes, um, let me explain…” JC stuttered.
“…if you will let me finish, Mr Le Saux. It was not what were expecting, but we love the idea of killing off Thunder Man. We were expecting a different direction for this series, but with the film coming up, a Death of Thunder Man story could have real legs.”
“That’s…great?” JC said, not sure he had heard the CEO correctly. He wouldn’t have been surprised after the night he had.
45 minutes later JC was back at his apartment. He walked over to his drawing board and dumped his folder on it.
As he was about to turn away and go to bed, a small scrap of paper caught his eye. He picked it up. It read, simply, in his own writing, ‘Thank you.’