Short story: Nearing the End

I’ve been wary about posting this story because it’s on a pretty dark subject, and I don’t want to make anyone sad. On the other hand, I think it’s good to talk about (and think about) subjects like suicide, it’s a way of facing the darkness and being ready for it. Anyway, it’s a story, I hope you like it…

Kai carefully packed her handbag: bottle of water, lipstick, mirror, notebook and pen, and three months’ worth of anti-depressants; everything she would need. She didn’t take her phone, she didn’t want to be interrupted, she needed silence to help her keep resolve. She headed out to the park where she could find a few moments of peace to soothe the cacophony in her head. She edged her way around the grass, ducking her eyes from joggers as she walked to her favourite bench, the one dedicated to ‘Bert, who liked to sit here and dream’. When she’d had another long, depressing day at work, she’d come to sit here, and imagine this stranger called Bert. She tried to guess what dreams he’d had, were they hopes for the future that never came true? Or did he let his imagination drift from one world to another while the leaves rustled above him? Kai so desperately needed a vacation of the mind, she wished she could spend a long weekend in the meandering thoughts of Bert.

The bench creaked when she sat down. Fat old cow, she muttered to herself, disgusted with how her body had sagged and bloated away from who she wanted to be. She opened her bag and rested her hand inside, she would do this in stages, each stage slow, so she didn’t have to think. It wouldn’t be a dramatic death, just as it hadn’t been a dramatic life. Just as I deserve, she thought, I’ll slump over into sleep, lazy cow. She took out the bottle of water and put it on her lap, then pulled out the first blister pack of pills.

She didn’t notice the old man walking up, but she heard the creak as he sat next to her. His bony hands resting on his corduroy coated knees.

“Nice day for it,” he said, looking up at her shyly with red-rimmed eyes. “I like it when there’s a bit of a breeze.”

Not now, she thought; wishing the man away and then hating herself for it. She gave him a polite, empty smile, hoping this would put him off. It didn’t.

“A bit of rain can be nice too, but I don’t like it when you’ve got grey skies all the time, a good thunderstorm to clear the air, that’s the way it should be.”

As he carried on working through his opinions on each type of weather, Kai didn’t understand how someone could have so much to say about something so trivial. But as his fingers plucked at imaginary lint on his trousers, she thought she understood: he didn’t care about the weather, he just needed to talk to someone, to connect for a while. Slipping the blister pack back into her bag, she tried to force out some chatter.

“There’s supposed to be a good thunderstorm at the weekend, there’s a yellow warning of wind.” Her voice sounded hollow and strained to her own ears, but the old man clapped his hands with delight, his face rumpled up with joy,

“Yellow warning eh? We’d all better get our mountaineering gear out. I’ve got to go out on Saturday, and I’m not a big fella, I’d better get some heavy shoes!” He laughed uproariously, and Kai didn’t see why this was funny, but his delight was infectious and she found herself smiling. The man patted her knee, but she could barely feel it, as if his hand was no more than the wind.

“Now you, you’re a good one,” he said. “Sitting here patiently while some old boy rattles his chops about nothing. You need to take care of yourself, girl. There aren’t so many good-hearted people in the world.”

She looked away, suddenly wanting to cry.

“Thank you,” she whispered. They didn’t speak again, Kai didn’t feel the need to speak.

When she finally walked away, wishing him a lovely evening, Bert smiled to himself, “You’ll get through, you just need to give the blues time to pass, I’ll be keeping an eye out,” he whispered, then leaned back on his bench to sit and dream.

Flash Fiction: Coming of the End Days

I am prepared for the doom that marches upon us. The catastrophe is coming and you’d have to be an idiot to not see it, not to prepare. Although people are idiots and they just carry on with their day to day drudgery like it will all be fine. It isn’t fine! The end days are coming, and I’ll be ready. And they’ll all come to my door wanting my help. I can’t wait.

My training started young, because the knowledge came young. Partly because I observed society slowly collapsing around me, and partly I could sense it in my bones. I’ve always had an old soul.

So I started learning. I learned how to get food without supermarkets. I got my grandad to teach me what weeds were edible: did you know you can make salad from chickweed and hairy bittercress? And you can make soup from nettles? The thing with weeds is that they survive. When the end days come all your fancy vegetables that need special grow lights, they won’t last five minutes in the new climate. Do people know that? No, I’ve asked. Do they care? No. So I’ve been cultivating weeds in my room. Pots and pots of them. I want to cross pollinate them to make new, super, unstoppable weeds, no luck yet.

I’ve trained myself to use weaponry; I have a sword, nunchuks, even poi made of fire. With these I will be able to fight. I am also trained in martial arts: my own creation. I tried karate and judo, but I found the teachers to be fools and realised I could better design my own fighting methods. I haven’t named the art, names are for people who chatter and I don’t need chatter.

I have learned survival skills too: how to tie knots, how to make a fire, how to catch a rabbit. People think that survival is Bear Grylls, they think they can watch a few sensationalised TV programs and then be able to survive in the wild, ridiculous! When the end days come I will need to pass on my skills if the human race is to survive.

Now the time draws near, I’ve started sealing up my room. I’m using foam sealant I got from Wickes, and cling film I got from a drawer in the kitchen, I’ve been sealing up all the holes, so if it’s chemical warfare I can stay in here and I’ll be fine.

“But if you’ve sealed your room, how will you breathe?” asks my mum because she doesn’t get it at all. I don’t think she’ll last long, I will shed a few tears, but it’s for the best. I must be free of dead weight.

When the end days come, they’re going to need me. They’ll be sorry that they misjudged me, that they laughed at me. I’ll be king. I must be strong.

Trial by Fire

Every morning Cat would wake in a panic and rush to the bathroom where her make up was gathered around her sink like a jury. She’d work through the routine, as layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, liquid foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up or buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and each day her true face was lost once again.

Some days she’d try to imagine how it would be to be loved for all her flaws, to show herself to the world, could she really be so disgusting to look at? Sometimes she’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she would walk down the street with her face naked, just to see what would happen. Would people shout? Laugh? Would strangers video this hideous creature to stick up on Youtube? Sometimes she’d dare herself to just step outside her flat and take the lift to the ground floor, say hello to Mrs Robey who liked to stand in the hall smoking a fag, maybe pop her head out the door to where Salman would be playing with his kids on the grass. The dares and the deals would quickly evaporate as she imagined the horrified reactions, and she knew that she’d never do it.

And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention that she was out standing on the grass in a daze before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. She was about to run back inside, plans of which  tubes and palletes she could grab spinning around her head, but there were too many people spilling out of the front door. As the street filled up with scared occupants in dressing gowns and duvets, she tried to keep under trees in the shadows. She saw Mrs Robey, already lighting up a fag to calm her nerves, even in the panic she had thought to bring them with her, and Cat cursed herself for not showing the same quick thinking. She saw Salman huddling his children to him, trying to keep them warm. As people from neighbouring blocks joined them, it became increasingly difficult to keep out of sight, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly edging her out into the light. Until finally, she found herself in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and being wrapped up in blankets.

“Look at you, you’re half-frozen!” exclaimed Mrs Robey, rubbing Cat’s arms to warm them. Cat tried to hold the cup up in front of her face, tried to shrink herself small enough so that no one would notice; but it was strange, because no one was recoiling from her ugliness, nobody even flinched. They acted as if they didn’t care, as if she looked normal; and she started to relax. Mrs Robey added a snifter of whisky to her tea to warm her up, and Cat began to forget her face and all its flaws. Instead she slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how scared they’d all been; or about what they’d been dreaming when the sirens started, and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. She didn’t need to think about her face at all. And it was quite nice.

D. Bayer’s Blog: Toons and Little Worm

If you are looking for an intense story to take you out of your life for a little while, try this. It’s by D. Bayer, and about a child starting out in a hopeless situation and how she survives, and a father doing his best despite the odds. I’m not usually affected by sad tales, but this is gripping and heartfelt and it deserves to be read.

 

Here’s the first paragraph:

The way the story was passed down to me, when I was born I weighed four pounds seven ounces and was addicted to heroin. My mother gave birth in a crackhouse on Bedford, but it wasn’t clear if she went into labor while shooting up or if she just crawled into the first place she could find once her water broke. A junkie ran out and got a cop, and the fiends and chickenheads all cleared out while the ambulance crew tried to muscle in past them.

I’m not sure how to do the reblog thing, so here’s a link:

Toons and Little Worm

Writing Challenge

I always read the ideas on Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie but never get round to doing them in time, so today I’ve pulled my finger out so I can play the game (I think those metaphors together may be dubious, but I’ll keep on).

This is for prompt 2

In 25 words or less, write a story (beginning, middle, and end) about what’s happening in this photograph.

make-that-garden-grow_thumb

So my brief story:

The tree reminded her of her mother, a dramatic and looming presence, and she always worked harder beneath its stern gaze.

Link to Saturday flash splash 07.01.17

 

Short Story: Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches

“You know me and my love of Madagascan hissing cockroaches.” Fabian was right, I did, he had told me about it in depth. He didn’t tell me about his seventy-eight sibilant pets when I answered the ad for a room to rent, he must have hidden the glass cage when I had a viewing. It was only as I was carrying boxes in from the taxi that I heard the noise: a frantic hissing, I assumed he had stuck the kettle on for a welcome coffee, but then he said,

“Don’t worry about that. That’s just my Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, seventy-eight of them! I counted this morning. Of course, the numbers change as they breed. Or eat each other.” I’ve been alive a while, I’ve perfected the nervous smile, and I used it then. I’ve used it many times since I moved in with Fabian.

I liked Fabian from the moment I met him; he moved liked an uncoordinated child, jerky, lumbering movements topped with too much curly hair and a shy smile. I thought he was delightful. Then he started to grate a little. Like a vicar’s sermon dragging all topics back to Jesus, Fabian would return all conversation to cockroaches, hissing ones. A few days after I moved in, my aunt died. He explained to me that he knew just how that felt because his favourite roach had hissed its last,

“I knew it was him, because I put a little blob of red paint on his back. It’s obviously just a really bad day for death.” He said.

“Hmm,” I replied.

I’d never met anyone quite like Fabian before. Filth and muddle seemed to spill out from him. Crumbs scattered from his jumper and mud from his boots. I discovered the erratic lurch was because one of his feet was a size 6 the other a size nine, but his problems went way beyond his feet. His mind  was always adrift elsewhere, thinking through facts and figures that he would share with the world just when the time was wrong. Usually when I was trying to concentrate, or when the phone rang.

Once he clomped into our lounge and thumped himself down on the sofa with the elegance of a walrus, not noticing that I was already sitting in that same spot. I yelped; it took a few moments for him to work out he had to move, then he shuffled awkwardly into a chair, huffing, already telling me that Madagascan hissing cockroaches liked to bury their dead, with a little ritual,

“They only eat each other when they need to assert dominance,” he said, “I read that in my new book,” he said, while I rubbed my bruised legs pointedly.

But those roaches, I knew they’d be trouble. It was only a few weeks later, I was sitting on my bed, reading, and I heard the distinctive hissing sound. I dropped my phone in panic and ran from the room calling Fabian’s name, pointing wildly to my door.

“Oh you’ve got one have you? Just giving them an airing. It’s important for Madagascan hissing cockroaches to get out and about sometimes.”

Still, I liked my new home, I was settling nicely into my new town. Learning where the best shops were, visiting the local park. And it wasn’t long before I got a job interview to work at the small accountancy firm in town. The interview was going well, I had impressed my potential employer, Gerry, with my knowledge of the company (Googled the night before), and with my friendly professional manner. It was all going well, when I heard, very quietly, that hissing sound. It came from just below my ear, I could feel the faint tickle under my collar. I tried to suppress the look of panic as Gerry looked up from his notes. I smiled politely as if all was normal.

“Now you say you can start anytime, is that right? No notice to work out?”

The tickling had become a scratching as small black legs climbed the few stubbly hairs on my neck, it wasn’t easy to keep my voice level.

“Yes, I could start tomorrow if you wanted,” I was trying to say it with a light chuckle, but it came out a little more like a supressed shriek. Gerry gave a nervous laugh of his own and looked down at his notes, saying,

“Now we’ve got both your references, haven’t-” he looked up as he was speaking and stopped, eyes wide beneath furrowed brow and I knew what was wrong. I could feel it, the sharp scrambling as the Madagascan hissing cockroach clambered out of the neck of my shirt, hissing frantically.

Flash Fiction: The Supernice

Joelly was supernice. Everybody said so, Joelly made certain of it. With her blonde curls, big eyes and squeaky voice, who could ever call her anything but nice? She sat in the college canteen, twirling her hair around her finger and sharing her understanding of the world as seen through the eyes of nice.

“You know what? There should be a place for nice people. A village. Keep all the nasties out,” she declared to her classmates. Her shyness always vanished when she didn’t need it. “And we’ll keep that Andrew out, he doesn’t deserve to be with nice people.”

“Andrew’s ok, isn’t he?” Tim spoke up as all the faces swivelled his way with accusing eyes: was he questioning Joelly? and Joelly spat back,

“He’s a horrid little boy. You know he asked me out? Me! As if I’d want to look at his spotty face for a moment longer than I have to.”

“That doesn’t make him horrid. Misguided maybe,” tried Tim, a little desperately . “I mean, people ask each other out, right? That’s what people do.”

Joelly pulled back a little as if he had struck her, then she tipped her head to one side, opened her eyes wide and adopted an expression like a kitten abandoned in the rain. Tears started to well up. Nobody ever disagreed with her, and the shock felt almost violent. Quickly the others started to cluck and soothe her as she choked out the words through her tears,

“And you’re a horrid little boy too!” she gasped, and ran from the room, leaving Tim to the judgement of his peers. He glanced around in panic, suddenly knowing what kind of Hell Joelly’s village of niceness would be.

“You made her cry!” they hissed, and Tim knew he didn’t stand a chance.

The Continuing Wisdom of Bert

smiley-dog

Bert could barely suppress a smile as he groaned his way into his armchair. A good groan was like a fine wine, something to be savoured; plus it served as a segue into a new conversation. While his wife tried to watch Doctor Who, he explained the thought that had occurred to him on the toilet,

“I’ll tell you what’s odd; dogs never used to smile when I was young, but you see them now and they’ve all got big grins! All over the Internet.  Tom posted a picture of one on Facebook, a big doggy grin it had. That’s genetic engineering that is. That’s modification. Centuries of inbreeding. Isn’t it? Isn’t it, Becky?”

“Uh huh.”

“But what I’ve been thinking is, when are they going to work on cats? I mean dogs were always happy creatures and we had the wagging tail and licking, so there’s no real mystery about how they’re feeling, but what about cats? No one ever knows how a cat is feeling. They could do with smiles. When they going to modify cats to smile? Becky? Becky?”

Becky didn’t answer, and Bert sat back, contented. They could carry this on later, over dinner.

 

Picture pinched from here

The Polite Girl

These walls shall run red with your blood and echo with your screams. Not as revenge, but as a smoothing of fate, a coercion with destiny. Your horror will finally satiate me, your end will be my beginning.

Clare shyly raised her hand and Mrs Devonshire turned instantly towards her,

“Yes, Clare?”

“Is the answer Slovenia, miss?” asked Clare.

“Yes, excellent work,” Mrs Devonshire smiled with a tip of her head, wanting Clare to feel warmth radiating out from her. Clare looked down at her hands.

Of course it is excellent, cretin. I can toss you meaningless facts while your future is sealed.

Mrs Devonshire turned back to the board and started speaking, but was interrupted by the bell. Twenty-seven identically dressed children filed towards the door, Clare moving with them, trying to lose herself in the flow. Mrs Devonshire stepped forwards, blocking her; she spoke discreetly,

“Now, Clare, you know you have your meeting with the therapist now?” Clare responded with a duck of her head and an embarrassed shrug. It was lies, she wasn’t embarrassed, but it was what they wanted.

“I know you don’t like it, but it’s important for someone who’s been through…well, what you’ve been through.” Mrs Devonshire’s voice was dripping with pity and Clare smiled a wan, long suffering smile, before quickly escaping out of the door.

You know nothing of what I have been through, how dare you presume! With mediocrity stunting your growth, you cannot conceive of my experiences. You believe because you have stolen my life, that you can define it? Idiot!

Clare’s therapist was called Tom, he spoke slowly, with a tone that rose and fell with the regularity of a ticking clock.

“Now, I think that last time we met we were making some real progress talking about the abuse you suffered…”

Clare had quickly zoned out. She had no difficulty keeping an interested look on her face, while her thoughts swooped and danced. Her face was mild, but her thoughts boomed.

You would call the creation of a God, abuse? You would rather grovel in your mentally healthy cage, so clean and empty of glory? That was not abuse, it was a release from the bone cage.

Clare wasn’t allowed contact with her parents, they were considered a toxic presence, but it didn’t matter, they had taught her what she needed to know. They had given her strength and knowledge that dwarfed anything these scurrying ants had ever known. So she attended the therapy sessions, she sat through school, she kept her expression neat. She kept the raging vengeful God inside, all her power and fury waiting, just like she had been taught.

“You’re probably experiencing many emotions that are difficult to process: guilt, anger, feelings of abandonment…”

Clare did not feel abandoned. Her parents had set her free. They had made the ultimate sacrifice, having trained her, empowered her, they had thrown themselves into the jaws of the system, so that she might escape.

But like all good parents, they would never leave her on her own without giving her instructions on how to survive, how to evolve, and how to smash her way through the world leaving bloody, wailing destruction in her wake. It just wasn’t her time quite yet. She folded one hand in the other and looked dreamily out of the window, while the therapist droned on. This fool would be the first to die, she would make sure of it.

 

The Castle

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The castle was all he had known. Confined by a wicked uncle to stay in the tower, everyday he looked down on the enchanted forest and saw only thorns. Then one day he heard a loud rustling and swearing, looking out he saw a sword flashing and slashing its way through the thicket. Although he didn’t know it yet, his princess had come and soon he would be free.