The Vanishing Station

William took the same train every day. Before his face had fully woken up, so that his jaw hung slack; before his stomach had steadied enough to eat, he would catch the train. He would gaze bleary eyed, as each day Bromley South, Bickley and St Mary Cray stations whizzed past on his way to Blackfriars. There, he would shuffle out with every other groggy commuter, bad moods huffing about them, mingling with the pollution.

Then one day the train didn’t stop at Bickley. William barely noticed, he had only a vague sensation that he got to Blackfriars too quickly. The next day his eyes were staring thoughtlessly out of the window as Bickley was flung past again, too fast, as if it wasn’t there.

It was three days before he remembered to look properly out of the window. What he saw was a dead town. The train didn’t even slow down, so it was struggle to see, but he saw: windows charred, cars flipped over on their backs like dead beetles. He tried to catch the eye of his fellow passengers, but they were each lost to technology, the real world was of no interest.

Over the days William put the flashed blurred images together in his mind to create a whole of what Bickley had become. There were no people, no movement, no birds. Once a pigeon was flying alongside the train. As they reached Bickley station, it dropped to the ground like a stone.

He tried googling the station, but was asked, ‘Do you mean Buckley’ as if Bickley didn’t exist at all. Without the Internet to help him, he wasn’t sure where to go. He didn’t know anyone in Bickley. He tried asking guards at Blackfriars, but they looked at him blankly,

“What? Hinckley?”

William wondered if he should go there, get off at Bromley South and walk. Then he remembered the bird. So he stopped wondering. When Bickley station drew close, he would fold his attention to his phone and keep it there.

As months passed, Bickley was slowly erased. The Bickley signs came down. The platforms disappeared. Then the houses. Soon where was once was Bickley, now was a fence and Japanese Knotweed growing. Reclaiming.

Flash Fiction: Echopraxia

I am sitting at the front of the bus, going anywhere. I didn’t check the number on the front of the bus, I know I’ll end up somewhere. I sit on the top deck, front seat, enjoying the trundle and jolt, listening to phone chatter and the honk of the bus. I could almost hear the bus driver’s stress rattling his heart.

Sometimes people come and sat next to me, huffing and fussing so wrapped up in their own worlds and their need to get somewhere. For a while I live through them, listen to their phone dramas, the chink-chink of music through their earphones. I remain unobtrusive, the only movement is me biting my nails. That’s a habit I’ve had since I can remember, I go through a few weeks without, then I have a blissful afternoon going nowhere and gnaw away to fill my attention.

Then a woman sits down in the seat across the aisle. She starts chewing at her fingernails too. Lots of people do, and it takes a while to notice the oddness: each nail she bites is the exact same as the one I’m biting at that moment. Right forefinger, left little finger. I stop. She stops. I start, she starts. So I play a little. I scratch my left ear, she scratches her left ear. I shuffle in the seat and cross my legs. She shuffles in her seat and crosses her legs. It’s a beautiful thing and I want to catch her eye, but I’m scared to spoil it, so I stare straight ahead. Knowing that through these little moments we are connected, sisters.

When she gets off, I feel slightly heartbroken. No one ever notices me, but she did. She paid attention. In a small way, it was beautiful. I carry on to nowhere.

Flash Fiction: The Face of Nincompoop

I’ve probably watched you. Remember when you were in your bedroom and you tripped up trying to pull on your socks? I saw that. When you got in the shower too soon and stood huddled in the corner to avoid the cold water? You looked ridiculous, I laughed. When you tried to take the pie out the oven without gloves and dropped it? Remember that? I do.

I probably know all your saddest secrets. The faces you pull in the mirror, trying to figure out how to be sexy. Where you keep your diary or your stash of money. The TV crap you consume in secret and tell no one about. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t unique. The reason I know you is because I’ve watched enough people to know that you’re all the same. I’ve seen the hidden face of the human race and it truly is the face of a nincompoop. This isn’t cynicism, I’m not having a bad day; I know. I’ve watched.

I became invisible the day I died. the afterlife isn’t quite the predetermined thing it’s made out to be. There are options. I didn’t pay too much attention to the form, once I spotted the Be Invisible option I was sold. For the first few hundred years all I did was watch. The human condition is a sorry one. Technology grows ever more complicated, but common sense? That never changes. And it started to get irritating. About the same time as my ability to interfere manifested, the never-changing stupidity of my ex-species began to really irk me.

The lottery, Valentine’s Day, friendship cliques, one-up-man-ship, fashion. When you no longer get to play these games you realise how laughable they are, how much time and space is taken up with the futile.

So I began to play a game of my own.

It was just toying really, I happened on an inept young fool and my patience snapped. He couldn’t get anything right. He broke his new kettle because he couldn’t work out how to press the button to open the lid. He bumped into the TV, snapping a wheel off and then couldn’t work out how to fix it, so he watched TV on the wonk. He never figured out how the storage heaters work; they aren’t that complicated, but no matter how many times he read the instructions he got it wrong. He embodied all that was pathetic about the human race, so I began to play.

His books were all in alphabetical order, so I shifted them about a bit. When he was at work, I put his toothbrush on his pillow and bunched up his towels into the shape of sleeping figure in his bed. I smeared his window with butter and I wrote “Idiot!” in the condensation in his shower. It took him a surprisingly long time to notice my interference, but when he did he assumed quite naturally that he was going mad. His frantic calls to his mum were some of the funniest conversations that I’ve ever listened into. Made all the more delicious by knowing I caused that.

So I carried on. I turned all his books upside down. I squirted washing up liquid around the rim of his toilet, so it frothed every time he flushed. Every day when he left the house, I put a small line of crisps inside his door, so that they crunches when he got home and stepped inside. I painted his toenails while he slept.

It was a good few months before his hinges started to become properly loose. Nearly a year before they fell off altogether. It happened while he was running away from the small collection of insects I had put in his bed. It sounds like a trivial thing, but by then I had push his mind to breaking point and it only took a tiny nudge to finish the job. He ran out of the front door, into the traffic and got run over by a bus.

And I thought to myself Well now, this is fun, why didn’t I think of this before?

Flash Fiction: Humblebrag

I tend to drop things. Yeh yeh, I know, everybody says that, everybody likes to think they can drop things, but for me it’s true!

Some people work hard for years trying to drop things, but for me it’s a gift, I don’t need to work at it. Sometimes I drop things without even trying. I’ll be carrying my shopping down the road, or on the phone, or even juggling, and then suddenly I’ve dropped something!

Today I’ve dropped: my coffee, three pens and a potted fern.

I feel for people when they say they just can’t drop things. I can’t imagine what that’s like. Just going through life holding onto everything, how dull!

Maybe it’s a spiritual thing, I’ve always felt connected to mystical beings and I believe that angels may have given me this gift. Or it could be my determination, I always say if you truly believe in yourself then you can do anything, but maybe that’s just me. 🙂

Flash Fiction: Snug

He curled up snug, while the wind howled elsewhere. Smelling a little of feet and vinegar, chortling while he hunkered down to his duvet, marvelling at the all the joys a life could hold.

He found it safer not to own anything worth stealing, to keep his surroundings stable. He made sure to avoid reaching out with delicate tendrils of affection that could so easily break. His heart had been broken once, an unreturned smile that he had proffered to a stranger and snatched back too late. Never to forget. He kept his heart wrapped in wodge of fat, a parcel made of a thousand, thousand fish finger dinners and chips.

He kept his attention still, a tiny kingdom without much thought where he could rule supreme. The television kept him busy. He had all he could ever need.

Flash Fiction: Dilemma

“It’s a gesture, I’m wary of gestures, it’s how somebody treats you when no one is looking that shows their true feelings,” she said airily, with a flick of her hand.

He lowered the flowers sadly and since her attention had already wandered, he walked away. As his feet scuffed the gravel and his shoulders slouched, his mind was ticking over the conundrum: how can I do something that isn’t a gesture?

“I know you”

The teapot had a Buddha painted on it and he poured the tea with great reverence. A ritual that had clearly repeated throughout the years unchanging. He carefully arranged the cups in their saucers, lovingly swirled the tea leaves around the pot, and didn’t speak until the tea was poured and he had added the milk and sugar. When he did speak, the words rolled across his tongue, heavy and husky, and she knew that these words were also a ritual, often repeated with every girl he enticed back to his flat.

“I know you, I know what you are,” he paused to let her soak up the significance. “I know everything about you, from your fears to your needs. I know with what I like to call my uncommon sense.”

She hadn’t the heart to tell him she didn’t take sugar in her tea, instead she sipped it dutifully, while he went on to explain her thoughts.

Short story: The Lottery King

Another lottery, another king, and I’m sick of it all. On the screens I can see their faces, shiny with excitement, drooling with the possibility, whispering,
“It could be me!” And it could.
Anyone of those thick, unimaginative yokels could be making up laws by the end of the
week. Or promoting their cat to be foreign secretary. Like last time.
Nobody remembers how it used to be, the dignity, the order, the logic of it all. Instead a
random serf takes my rightful place, and I’m supposed to celebrate them, bolster their
ineptitude. Behind me there’s a cheer as the balls spin and the machine spits out another number. Soon, somewhere around the country some schmuck will shout with glee,
“It’s me! It’s me! I’m the ruler now.”
And we all hail our new leader, however much of a fool he may be.
Nobody else remembers aristocratic rule. I was taught about it in secret, I couldn’t show my
peers those gilt-edged picture books that explained my importance. I tried to instill their
adoration with subtle manipulation, but they had been brainwashed with delusions of equality and understood nothing. Instead I would hide with my books and dream of the life I should have had; how the eyes of the proles would shine, how they would doff their caps in an instinctual movement. Instinctual, because this is the truth they try to deny: hierarchy is not some arbitrary human notion, it is an evolutionary need, seen in every species. Gorillas,
elephants, wolves; animals have been practising genetic modification for millennia. Alphas
breeding with alphas to create strength. No king was ever an accident, they were destined.
And we took this fine, natural system and wrecked it, forced ourselves to walk this crooked
path. Turned power into a lottery that anyone can win.
I watch the screens and nod thoughtfully, as if I care. I have to pretend, I am a member of the supreme council, an overseer. They’ll tell you that nepotism is no longer a thing, but I am proof that is wrong. A member of my family has always sat on the supreme council, because they have to give us something, a cheap token of respect.
The final ball has fallen into place; the cheers have reached a new pitch. One of the
number-crunchers is checking and rechecking until he comes up with a name,
 “Frankie Arlett,” he says blankly. He doesn’t need to pretend enthusiasm, it’s not expected of him.
“Frankie Arlett!” says John, a fellow council member. “Isn’t that just a name you can trust?
Frankie Arlett, he’ll be the best ruler we’ve had.” Nobody points out that since all the other
lottery elected rulers have been so hopeless, Frankie can’t be any worse.
“He sounds wise, don’t you think he sounds wise?” says Penny, clasping her hands together.
“Wise, but not too lazy,” adds Brett, with a tinge of doubt. Sometimes I think Brett has a little more spark than the others, the ability to see a hint of truth through the demented fog of optimism.
“I can just sense his presence, can’t you?” that’s John again, dribbling his emotions all over the place.
Frankie Arlett’s name has already been sent to every piece of Internet-linked merchandise in the land. Coffee mugs now say ‘King Frankie!’, Balloons flash the words ‘All Hail King
Frankie!’ On screens in every street, on every motorway around the country, the words ‘King Frankie, long may he rule over us!’
We have half an hour of platitudes before a number-cruncher pipes up,
“I think Frankie is a woman. She’s a queen,” before he hurries away. Panicked reprogramming of merchandise ensues. My colleagues realise that perhaps relying on feelings alone is unwise, and start checking Frankie’s details.
Of course there are restrictions for who can be chosen. No one under the age of eighteen. No one who’s in punitive stasis. No one senile. Still there are always new issues appearing, we had a leader some years back who had a thing for little girls. While he was busy changing
laws to lower the age of consent and releasing all his paedophile friends from stasis, we were frantically trying to fill out the right forms to get him de-throned.
I flick through Frankie’s details, 26 years’ old; part French, part Armenian. A sales assistant, the masses will like that, they feel cheated when anyone close to aristocracy gets in. Of course they don’t see the irony that the only people they don’t want in power are those with the ability to rule running through their blood.
Queen Frankie has appeared on the screen, she’s hooked herself up to her webcam and is
giggling hysterically. I give her two weeks before the giggling becomes a breakdown. I’ve
seen her kind before; they accuse my ancestors of interbreeding, but look at what cross
breeding gets you. Her genes are all over the place. There’ll be another lottery in a few
weeks.
A few days later…
As I walk towards the throne room where the new queen awaits, the effort of restraint pounds my head. I keep my feet light and my face polite. Reduced to this: a pleasing minion, careful not to offend. This is not right. This is a travesty of civilization. We have become our own satire.
It may be my job to nurture and coddle the new rulers, but it is my moral duty to unseat these weak pseudokings. To trick and confuse until they tumble from the throne. I don’t know how many times I must do this before they finally see the pointlessness of their system. A hundred? A thousand? My patience will outweigh theirs, it’s in my genes.
And there sits Frankie. The giggle has gone. Her face seems as guarded as my own. As
Penny, John and Brett bow and scrape adoringly, I stand back a little. As an advisor to the
throne, I will be seeing plenty of Frankie. Until her reign crumbles to dust, I will facilitate,
but also I will push and trip, I will sneak.
I keep a bland smile on my face to show willing, no doubt she’ll be too involved with herself
to notice my lack of subservience.
John is fussing about her culinary tastes, what kind of pillows she likes to use, does she have any dietary requirements? It’s ridiculous, what could a serf know of the range of quality bed-wear available? Somebody introduces me, I can barely summon a nod. But maybe that’s as well, to wobble Frankie’s confidence a little. She listens to my name and then looks thoughtful,
“Ah yes,” she says, “the royal bloodline. I’ve been reading up about you.” And there’s a
glance, betraying something shrewd, as if she spots the glint beneath my polite façade.
“I see all the previous lottery winners have failed under your guidance,” she says. Her eyes
narrow, she smiles sweetly, then leans close to me and whispers,
“But not me, sunshine.”

Final Episode : Lost Islands of Xogulano

Story recap (all episodes here): Dr Florence has been carrying out investigations on the Lost Islands of Xogulano for some weeks now. The islands are home to many creatures and plants never seen before, and Dr Florence has learned that the locals believe these organisms to be hybrids created by the Lost Men who live in the sea. On several occasions she has woken to find her feet wet, even though her tent is otherwise dry. Her interaction with the locals is fraught, they see her as being disrespectful to the islands, she sees them as foolish in their superstitious beliefs. However, despite her cynicism she has started having strange, feverish dreams, and a local fisherman has warned this is due the Lost Men.  He claims that they are stealing Dr Florence’s very nature and trapping it in the plants so that she will never be able to leave the islands. He says that when the islands next tumble into the sea she will be taken with them, to be used by the Lost Men in their experiments to create new hybrids. Confused? You will be(at least if you have read any other of the episodes). And now to the final…

I woke up gasping again, but unable to rise, tethered. With panicked exploration, I discovered that my hair had been plaited around a stick that was stuck firmly in the ground. Again, my lower half was wet, this time the water had reached my waist, but the ground beneath me was still dry. However, it seemed the fever had finally broken, and after freeing myself, I set off in grim determination. I had decided to finally prove my visitor’s tales of Lost Men, and plants that steal souls, steal my likeness, to be foolishness.

I took my boat around to the back of my island, returning to the incredible joined row of sensitive plants (see previous episode). I had cut several leaves off one of the plants previously and was surprised to see that it was already growing a new fleshy outgrowth. Several long strands of phloem were hanging loose, almost like hair. And curiously, the outgrowth had the appearance of a nose, even with two holes for nostrils. I decided that once again the locals were trying to scare me into believing their bizarre superstitions. I am made of sterner stuff! I chuckled at their duplicity.

However, still recovering from the sickness of the last few days, I felt suddenly exhausted and rowed back to my tent for an afternoon nap. My sleep was deep and lasted until it was dark without breaking.

I woke groggy, but with only a few precious moments of calm before fear gripped me. My first realisation was that water was lapping around me. Tickling my face, my hands, splashing against my sides. My second moment of alarm was when I tried to get up to leave the tent, and was pulled back by my flotation device firmly tying my ankle to the tent. As the water rose, I searched in my pockets for my trusty knife and cut myself free. I quickly grabbed my back pack, deciding I would leave the tent behind. Already the water had risen over my ankles as I scrambled out into the night.

I found my torch floating in the water, lifeless and of no use and in the dark it was difficult to navigate the rocks and cliffs.  I tried desperately to picture the route across the rocks to my boat, I knew it was tied at the base of a slight incline, but this would of course now be under water. Oddly, I found it easiest to remember the way by walking the bizarre straight lines and right angles that my visitor would use when he came to see me, and this was the path I took. Perhaps it was this that saved me, or has superstition distorted my thinking?

Having reached the edge of the cliff, I fumbled along the rocks, looking for any patch of deeper darkness in the water, that might show where my boat was. And that is when I heard the noise, a roaring, whining sound.

I watched dumbfounded as deformed animals rose up out of the sea. The razor-sharp tooth-filled mouths of sharks, with the wrinkled foreheads of pigs. Ivy leaves, twining out from the arm sockets of monkeys, lizards-scales and warts. Such abominations that defied my eyes.

As the mutations reached the surface of the water, they just kept rising into the air and I saw that the hybrids weren’t floating alone, but stood atop the shoulders of giants. Pale giants, with round heads worn smooth as pebbles. The Lost men! Giants with tiny shrunken eyes and sad expressions, a wistful curiosity as they continued to rise out of the sea, walking towards me. Me, who would be the next subject in one of their hideous experiments.

Perhaps it was fear that enabled me to hear the gentle knocking of wood against rock, beneath the roaring. My boat! With skill born of desperation, I leapt into the sea, landing by the boat and grabbing frantically at the wood. The giants turned as one towards me, their faces filled with patience and longing, their hands slowly lifting out of the sea as if to grab me. I awkwardly pulled myself aboard, grabbed the paddle, and began to row with a ferocity I did not know I could possess. I only dared to look back when I was some distance from the island.

The pale figures and hybrids had gone, the roaring had stopped. I paused, too exhausted to move for a moment, and watched as the last few islands dropped one by one into the sea. I had a sense of intense sorrow, as if I was deserting my very soul, leaving it to the Lost Men of the islands of Xogulano.

Dr Florence

Flash Fiction: Tragedy of a Trailblazer

The man looked impossibly sad and lost, a ring pierced his frowning brow, he clutched his skinny latte, leaning forward on the student canteen sofa. Sabil could see life had cheated this man; he had set out on his journey through the years with optimism, and fate had rewarded him with mockery. He had the appearance of someone who had clawed his way through life, battling the powers of darkness while fate chuckled from the shadows.

“What happened? What happened to you?” asked Sabil, wanting to reach out and comfort him.

“You see that?” the new acquaintance said, rolling up his sleeve and showing the Japanese characters that snaked down his right forearm.”

“Nice,” said Sabil dutifully.

“When I got that done, no one had Japanese characters. Just me. I was a pioneer, a trail blazer. But now? Now everyone has them, so they call me a sheep, an uninspired copycat. But I was first. They copied me.”

The weight of his bitterness weighed heavy in his words as he said again,

They copied me.”

Sabil made a sympathetic noise in his throat and thought for a moment.

“And of course that would be considered cultural appropriation now,” said Sabil. The man’s horrified gaze said it all.