‘Why are you upside down?’
I couldn’t see where the squeaky little voice was coming from but it was definitely addressing me, because there was no one else around. Turning slowly in a full circle I surveyed the floor and the walls of the cave carefully.
On a high bit of rock in a gloomy corner, I spotted a little upside down face with bright eyes watching me. It had big ears and delicate leathery wings folded around itself like a monk’s cloak.
‘Did you speak to me?’ I asked, feeling a little foolish.
‘Obviously,’ was the reply. ‘There’s no one else here so unless you are very dim you will realise that I did.’ It smiled then, showing sharp little teeth.
‘Well, it is very dim in here,’ I replied huffily. ‘In fact I would say it’s quite dark. Another thing, you are the one who’s upside down. I assure you, I am standing upright on my own two feet.’
‘It’s a matter of perspective,’ came the retort. ‘If you are on my patch you are the one out of kilter. Stands to reason. But we do have some similarities!’ A sound like a snigger emerged.
Before I could engage in further conversation a fellow-explorer called from the entrance.
‘Come along Ears, we’ve got another site to visit before the bus comes.’
Old school friends can be so cruel even when we’re grown up. I suppose I’m lucky they dropped the ‘Bat’. Or worse, they could call me Batty. I wouldn’t mind Batman but I’m not sure my new friend would approve.
(c) Elaine Peters
“Stop off at our house and pick up the fishing net,” D’Cunha yelled, his voice implying he was in a hurry. His son paddled towards the house and picked up the fishing net. “Dad wants to get to our boat quickly, mom,” he babbled. “Have something before joining your father for deep-sea fishing,” the woman urged. “Oh, no thanks, I’m in a hurry.”
Nature slowly unfolded her treasure at the first ray of sunrise. It was sunny morning but suddenly it started to rain. “Where is my raincoat dad?” “You're sitting on it!” Oh shit! The boy lowered his brows. “Hey, pull in the net,” D’Cunha shouted. “Sure,” the boy replied.” “Ain’t fish inside?” D’Cunha raised his eyebrows. “No dad, it’s full of plastic waste!” His breathing quickened and his palms got sweaty. “Ugh, Take out the trash, please.” grumbled D’Cunha. They found large amount of plastic deeper in the sea. It was disturbing.
After some time, the boy drank water from a plastic bottle that he carried and threw it in the sea. “Don’t do it again. The sea is our home,” D’Cunha said to his son before he could get a word in edgewise.
“But dad, the waste can be found largely along the shores!” the boy exclaimed. “No son, one can find it in the deeper parts of the ocean as well,” D’Cunha replied though he was not very educated. But even so, the harmful effects of plastic waste were not unknown to him.
“I want to try to raise awareness on plastic and its detrimental effects on the environment,” he decided, “I must approach the local authority for help too.” The boat sailed through the blue waters as the morning sun made ripples of gold everywhere.
(c) Dipayan Chakrabarti
My uncle Neil made his annual visit to India each year in February. Sometimes he’d travel with my aunt and cousins and sometimes he’d travel alone. And on each of those visits he’d come laden with imported stuff that we could own only in our dreams. As heavy as his luggage was when he came on holiday, it was as light when he returned to England.
On one of his visits, in the early 80’s, as was his custom, he packed his bags and travelled with his whole family; his wife Lenny and his three rambunctious children whose accents where so clipped that we found it difficult to converse with them. Among all the luggage they carried, Uncle Neil had been quite secretive about one suitcase which he never let out of his sight. It was a gift for his tomboy sister – a rather large and…dangerous gift, not just to handle but also to carry across international borders.
So, once they touched Indian soil and the customs official asked, “anything to declare?” Uncle Neil nonchalantly shook his head and said, “no.”
Still, they decided to open some suitcases, so rather than stand, Aunt Lenny placed Uncle Neil’s special suitcase flat on the floor and sat upon it. Then a thought struck her and she turned in panic to her husband.
“Neil,” she seethed. “Don’t tell me you packed the gun for Georgie!”
He grinned at her; with a sinking heart, she knew that he had done just that.
“Where is it?” she mouthed.
“You’re sitting on it!”
Her face reddened.
Meanwhile, the customs official zipped up the suitcases he had opened and turned to Uncle Neil.
“Have a pleasant holiday,” he said and moved to the next traveller.
Uncle Neil never exited the airport faster than he did that day.
(c) Cindy Pereira
Mr Ninian’s garden was beautiful. In high summer, Mr Ninian grew delphiniums, hollyhocks and convolvulus, not to mention lonicera, flax and hypericum. Peter was his next-door-neighbour. He washed his hair once a fortnight and shaved when there was a ‘z’ in the month. He lived on a mixture of dry corn flakes and TCP. He cast envious glances over the fence at Mr Ninian’s garden. His own was full of nettles, ragwort, dock, abandoned mattresses and decaying copies of the ‘Worthing Advertiser.’ Some of Peter’s mixed flora might have been attractive in the wild, but not in Mahonia Avenue.
One day Peter decided to annoy Mr Ninian. He walked into Mr Ninian’s exquisite vegetable garden, bursting with greenery, and sat down on his prize marrow. Mr Ninian rushed from his house and yelled:
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing, Peter?’
‘I’ve grown attached to your marrow.’
‘You’re sitting on it.’
‘Why shouldn’t I? It’s only a bloody vegetable. You can’t eat the blasted thing, anyway. You’ve filled it so full of chemicals, it would rot your insides if you took a single bite.’
Afterwards, Mr Ninian complained bitterly about Peter to the Environmental Services Department of the Council. A jobsworth named Pritchard visited Peter and served on him an ‘improvement notice,’ a sort of referee’s yellow card which gave Peter forty days to transform his garden or he was out of his council house onto his substantial bat-like ear. On 20 July, when the Mr Ninian’s delphiniums were azure jewels, the hollyhocks pink flamingos and the convoluli had finer trumpets than Louis Armstrong, Peter hired a flame-thrower and razed the whole lot to the ground. ‘There,’ he subsequently said to Pritchard, ‘serve a bloody notice on him.’
(c) R.T. Hardwick
He didn’t want tears. He made that clear. There would be no ‘bloody vol-au vents’ either. Spicy food and a chocolate fountain were compulsory Wearing clothes, no matter what colour, was optional. Nudity was to be encouraged. The vicar claimed to be progressive, after all.
Whatever happens, Morris insisted, play that song, the song we agreed to, all those years ago, lying back, gazing up at the stars, deciding our exit music. Ginny remembered her song and then with a smile, she remembered, Morris’ choice. The pall bearers, or ball pearers as Morris joked, were to walk his coffin out with everyone on their feet, singing along to Three Little Birds.
The congregation gathered, a mix of eclectic and traditional mourners. Morris didn’t want mourners, though. What was it, he called them? Tunnel cheerers, that’s right, Ginny thought.
She was secretly disappointed that nobody was naked.
Make it joyful, he’d whispered, towards the end, his voice leaving him.
Have laughter at my wake and make jokes in my eulogy. If anyone falls into my grave with me, ten points for slapstick irreverence. Celebrate me, and send me off with giddy abandon.
Ginny got up and down from her pew in the church, checking the correct pages were marked, making sure her reading glasses were left ready at the lectern for the eulogy.
She sat down for the last time, ready for the service to begin and took a deep breathe.
“Where’s my hat?” Ginny said, much louder than she’d wanted to.
A voice, laughing inside her heart replied, “You’re sitting on it!”
(c) Liz Breen
“I’ve heard he’s an imbecile of unprecedented proportions.”
“He’s not that bad. I’m training him, showing him your ways, our ways. Please, it’s a big change. It’s … not easy for everyone.”
Harken scowled, “It’s been two weeks, Jenna. Son or no, either he measures up to being in our circle or not. I will not have an idiot as part of our community. It could be seen as a sign of weakness. And weakness, as you know, means death.”
Dread rose up, enveloping her like thick smoke, “I will speak to him.”
She left the imperious Count and went in search of Patrick. Her quick footsteps echoed along the darkened, stone hallway. This crypt was immense, so many rooms, passages, nooks and crannies. Completely stereotypical and a touch dramatic but what did she expect? They needed obscurity and acceptance. Her and her son. She would not abandon him to the light.
Finally, Jenna reached her assigned quarters, finding Patrick and groaned at the sight of him.
“Why are you upside down?”
“What vampires do, innit.”
“Only when they’re in bat form!” Jenna flapped her arms at him, “Get down from there before someone sees you or I’ll never live it down.”
Patrick obediently unwrapped himself from the metal bar and dropped, landing with surprising grace. He looked amused.
“Odd expression to use, innit, wot with you being dead’n’all.”
“Don’t be a smartarse, Patrick. You can’t be clever and dumb all at once. It’s preposterous.”
He stepped forwards and gathered her into his arms, resting his cheek against her soft, chestnut hair.
“You have to be more careful. They’re very … selective.”
Patrick sighed, “Can’t we go somewhere else?”
“Anywhere! This place is well creepy and … I don’t fit in.”
Jenna sighed and nodded, “Alright. Let’s go.”
(c) Rachel Smith
The woman screamed loudly as the huge man neared her. He was grinning and his badly squinted eyes were painful to look at. The woman however, was in no mood to even think about the eyes. Her car had broken before a mental asylum gate, and she had been looking under the hood for some sign of engine culpability, when a bellow from him had shaken her out of her senses. He had, in some manner broken free from the enclosure and was now coming up to her. She was all alone; it was getting dark and they were in a remote part of town.
Upon seeing him, she took off some distance, then stopped and turned, to see what he was now up to. Over the gate of the asylum, three other inmates stood, clutching the iron bars and making faces. One was laughing, the other was calling out to her, and the third was talking to himself.
She shuddered. They were all mad! And here she was all alone, with an engine break-down. If those three men also climbed the gate and came for her, where would she run?
Meanwhile, the huge man looked under the hood of the car. She could see him from the distance she was; he appeared to check something. Then he straightened up, came around and turned the ignition. The car roared to life! He left it running, pulled down the hood and called out:
“It’s working Ma’am. I’ve fixed it!”
She watched stunned as he walked back to the asylum, climbed the gate and joined his friends. As she hurried back to the car, dived in and drove away, the huge man gurgled:
“She thinks I’m stupid.”
“You’re not!” one of his friends retorted as they walked away. “You’re only barking mad!”
(c) Cindy Pereira
Sarah’s face was twisted around her button nose. Her left cheek, now red with the heat of the moment, drawn up, stretching her tightly closed mouth up towards her more sinister nostril. Her eyes were wide, reddening and welling up with barely contained tears.
Her head dropped, her left hand rising to support it caught her cheek and pushed it even further up her face, creasing her left eye closed, tight.
A tear made its way down her nose, only to be drawn into her nostril as she snorted, her attempt to prevent breaking down completely in front of her friends.
Embarrassed by the ugly sound of her struggle, she pulled her other hand up and dropped her head, hiding behind the baggy woolly sleeves of her navy blue jumper.
She felt the warm pressure of the hand upon her shoulder, a comforting touch from her friend. She didn’t look up, her tears were flowing freely now, her red cheeks were hot and wet, her eyes sore and her throat aching with the effort of keeping her sobbing silent. Her body started to shake and her shoulders heaved as her breathing became more erratic.
“What’s wrong, Sarah?” The voice was soft, whispered close to her hidden, sodden, face.
She tried to whisper her reply but her snorted, desperate breathing and restricted throat betrayed her. Whispered vowels became half voiced diphthongs, broken into hiccup like sounds that echoed around the room. “She thinks I’m stupid.”
She felt another hand at the base of her neck, a gentle rubbing over her hunched shoulders and a soft, sweet voice in her left ear.
“Actually, I think you’re as bright as a star, Sarah. Nobody knows everything, we all come here to learn. Even me.”
(c) Madelaine Taylor
“Do we have to go to dinner with that dreadful woman.” Lois sighed, as she finished applying blood red lipstick to her thin, pensive mouth.
“I do wish you wouldn’t say that about my mother.” Jeremy knew he was fighting a losing battle, but persevered nonetheless. He had always been attracted to headstrong women, but it often led to confrontations with his mother, a woman who was the template for the term “battle axe.”
“I can just tell she doesn’t think I’m good enough for you.”
A familiar tension filled the room.
“She thinks I’m stupid.”
Jeremy didn’t want to lie, but at the same time calling his highly strung and increasingly irritated girlfriend stupid to her face probably wasn’t the best plan either.
“Look, we’ll go, eat, make our excuses then leave. I’ll drive so you can drink.”
“And she’s making her Lemon Meringue Pie.”
“As long as she doesn’t make a comment if I go for seconds...”
She was smiling now, despite herself. Her dimples gave it away. It was in moments like this Jeremy remembered why he fell for Lois in the first place. Like a good meringue she was hard and elegant on the surface, but once cracked she had a centre that was soft, sweet and utterly irresistible.
“Shall we go then?”
(c) Caitlin Magnall-Kearns
Mike was already in a bad mood before he discovered the offending article in the bathroom bin. He’d briefly considered ignoring it and letting his wife Kate deal with the fallout, but that was the coward’s way. Instead he’d carefully picked it up and stomped into the lounge where his wife and daughter were sat watching TV. He’d had no idea how to broach the subject and had settled on righteous indignation; he always found the view from his high horse rather pleasing.
“Something you want to tell us, Claire?” Both Kate and Claire stared at him in bemusement. “Nothing?” They both continued to look at him nonplussed. “I thought we could trust you, Claire. I knew that little toe-rag was trouble, you wait till I get my hands on him.”
“Dad, what are you on about, I’m trying to watch TV?”
Her blasé dismissal was the final straw. “This is what!” and with a triumphant flourish he produced the used pregnancy test stick from behind his back. “I know this is yours.”
Claire’s eyes widened. “Dad, I…”
“No, don’t try and deny it or tell me it belongs to one of your friends.” Claire clamped her mouth shut and slowly turned to face her mum. “And don’t look to your mum for help either, this is your problem. So what have you got to say for yourself?”
“Actually…” said Kate speaking for the first time.
“Quiet, Kate, let her speak for herself.”
“It’s not hers.”
Mike was so consumed by rage that it took a while for those words to sink in. “What?”
“The test. It’s mine. I’m… we’re going to have a baby.”
A smug smile enveloped Claire’s face as she turned to face her dad. “So, Dad, what have you got to say for yourself?”
(c) Jeff Jones
Pamela Heatherington was sitting crossed legged on her bed. Her eyes were transfixed on a white business card she had placed in front of her.
After a few moments of reflection, she picked up the card, and examined it closely. The front of the card was printed, ‘Melissa Holme, Senior Community Health Visitor,’ followed by a contact telephone number and email address. She paused and then flipped the card. Written on the back in neat handwriting were the words – Pam, we’ve seemed to have lost contact, if you need my help, please get in touch, Mel.
Pamela put the card down and whispered to herself sarcastically, “Melissa Holme”.
“She thinks I’m stupid.”
Then, without any warning, a faint rumble started to come alive inside her stomach. Gathering in strength, the rumbling started to rise up into a giant wave that burst violently through her insides, and sea of tears erupted out of her eyes.
Like a felled tree, she fell face down onto the bed, the cotton sheet soaked up her cries. The whole tragic episode of her, Rob and Baby Bobby flashed through her head, only to broken by the sound of her mother’s shrill voice calling her down for breakfast.
Pamela picked herself up and dashed to the bathroom. She wiped her eyes with soothing warm water and dabbed them dry.
“I’m coming, Mum, I’m just in the bathroom,” Pamela hoped her voice sounded light and cheerful.
The kitchen was filled with the delightful aroma of frying bacon and roasting coffee. Pamela pulled up a chair and took a sip of coffee. Her mother, Mabel, who had been busying herself at the sink, turned and looked across at her daughter. Frowning, she said, “You’ve been crying.”
Pamela nodded and gently twisted Melissa Holme’s business card that was laying in her pyjama trouser pocket.
(c) Graham Crisp
“I know this is yours.” she said, staring at him with that glacial look he knew so well. “I think its about time you told me the truth- you at least owe me that!”
He glanced around, searching for an escape route, or at least some inspiration. If he told her the truth, the police would instantly be called, she would have no compunction of having him thrown into jail – he knew that. His heart was hammering away inside his chest, the sweat coating his brow, the fear was palpable.
She could read him so well, she could see how uncomfortable he was feeling, that he knew he had been well and truly caught this time and was worried about what actions she would take. It wasn’t the first time, but she had never had the physical evidence previously. This time would have to be the last, she was not going to allow him to continue along this destructive path.
Agitated, and rocking from one foot to the other, he felt the emotion building. Determined not to cry, he bit down on his lip and stared at the floor, saying nothing. This just enraged her even more.
“OK then. No more chances!” With that she darted forward and grabbed him by his collar. “You’re coming with me to explain to Farmer Johnson how and why you’ve been stealing these apples from him!” Grabbing the heavy backpack filled with the ripe juicy spoils he had gathered that morning and hidden in the coal shed to share with his mates later on, she manhandled him to the door. “I am not having you end up like your Da, thieving for a living and ending up spending most of your time In Jail, this stops now!”
(c) Hilary Taylor
“Why do you look so wistful today?” The carer asked the old lady as she came in to wash and dress her.
She looked into the middle distance as she replied, “They say an Englishman’s house is his castle. When I met my husband by no stretch of the imagination could anyone call his house a castle. Mismatched sticks of furniture passed for a lounge suite and the carpet was an awful shaggy green thing. The bedroom was equally Spartan a bed and a small side table. The colours of the furnishings reflected the same lack of taste, beige and green. The other bedrooms were empty, save one lonely single bed.”
“I should have run then, but no, I quite liked the guy and thought we could make a go of it. I was not starry-eyed but practical. Slowly, I changed things. When we transferred to another mine after his promotion, we also moved to a big house. I had my ammunition and said as we would have to entertain the company bosses when they come out we needed decent furniture.”
“Soon, my lounge boasted matching chairs, and a sofa made of solid Imbuia wood with comfy cushions. In the dining room, I had smart chairs nestled around a highly polished solid wood table. The spare room was cosy and welcoming to the occasional mining engineer who needed to stay over. But my pièce de résistance was the main bedroom. A wonderful concoction of modular pieces comprising chests of drawers, a dressing table top and best of all were the bedside tables which were mini bookshelves and across the top of the bed there was also a shelf for books.”
“Why did you leave it?”
She looked sad. “Ah, that’s another story and I’m tired now.”
(c) Felicity Edwards
I had seen the girl hanging around near the station for several weeks as I headed to the hospital for my shift. The area is where sad cases hang out together kidding themselves they have a bit of a community, maybe a few people who give a damn. Safety in numbers for runaways who get off the train in the big city, full of bravado but scared stiff. She had been with a tall dark youth, but lately I hadn’t noticed him around. She seemed to be alone.
She was young and thin but I began to notice her belly was growing. She was definitely pregnant. It was not my place to interfere, but as a midwife I couldn’t ignore her condition. I stopped to speak to her one morning and gave her a card with details of the maternity unit, but she looked at me blankly and stuffed it into her pocket.
Some weeks later as I crossed the road I saw a wraith-like figure putting a bundle on the ground and disappearing round the corner. It was a newborn baby, I would guess just hours old, wrapped in the coat I’d seen the girl wearing. I picked it up and dialled the emergency services whilst turning into the alley. I saw her immediately, leaning against the wall. It was as if she’d been waiting for me.
‘Come with me, you need help,’ I said, taking her arm. ‘I know this is yours.’
(c) Elaine Peters
“Hey Andy, What does your wife think about your common sense?” a Calcutta cab driver asked another, smiling. “She thinks I’m stupid.” Andy seemed upset. “Take a peek at the street!” murmured Andy’s friend. Andy looked at the street.
A little boy was walking barefoot on the road, approaching different cab drivers and moving on. Curious, Andy approached the kid. “Where are you from, big boy?” he asked. The boy asked in return “Why shall I tell you?” Andy changed his question. “Where are you going?” “To my grandma’s house to find the keys to that room,” he answered. Seeing that the boy was wearing gold jewellery and might be in danger if left alone, Andy decided to help him. “Let’s go to your grandma’s,” he babbled. He took the boy along with him to the Esplanade Police Station.
The policemen drove around in nearby areas, trying to find the house the boy was referring to. Acting on a hunch, they finally found the house in Central Avenue. “It is locked, sir,” a constable informed, “the holder’s phone is not reachable.” The officer-in-charge of the operation arched his brows.
“In which school are you studying?” he queried. “Strand Road School,” the kid replied. Turning to the information the boy had given about his school, the police contacted the school officials to track down his parents.
The school officials detected everything the policemen wanted to know about the boy. The principal asked the police inspector ‘What’s the reason behind this, officer?” “It’s still not clear, but he is lucky to have been found by Andy,” answered the police officer. “Yeah, the cab driver has shown immense compassion and presence of mind,” the principal agreed.
Tears coursed down his cheeks when the lost boy was reunited with his parents.
(c) Dipayan Chakrabarti
As the van drew up by the back door, she switched on the kettle.
“Hello dear, how was your day?”
He smiled at her usual greeting. “Fine, love. Where’s Lucy?”
“Oh upstairs, probably sulking, like all teenagers.”
I’ll pop up and see how she is while my tea is brewing.”
He softly knocked on her door. “Lucy, it’s me. Dad, can I come in?”
She opened the door, her manner subdued and with a tear-stained face. “What’s wrong, lass? Has someone been nasty to you at school?”
This brought on another paroxysm of tears. He gathered her into his arms. “What’s wrong, my girl?”
She sniffled, then burst out. “I hate domestic science. Why do we all have to do it at school?
He shook his head. “I don’t know, maybe some misogynistic notion that girls need to learn how to cook and clean.”
She sniffed and gave a muffled laugh. “I’m never going to sew again.”
He looked puzzled, with a frown said, “Why, what’s wrong with sewing?”
With a sigh, she went over to a pile of material in the corner. She picked it up and waved it around. “This is, we have to cut out and make a pair of pyjamas. I did the trousers fine, but I didn’t see I should have put the pattern along a fold of the material. Now I’ve only got one side and there isn’t enough material left for another.”
Confused, he said, “That’s why you are crying? We can buy more on Saturday.”
Her eyes were glistening with more tears. She shook her head. “Mum says she won’t help me anymore.”
“Nonsense, I’ll talk her round.”
Lucy was nearly hysterical. “She thinks I’m stupid.” As she flung herself down on the bed sobbing.
(c) Felicity Edwards
Rebecca wasn’t sure whether to take a sip of water. The tickle in her throat might pass, and she didn’t feel comfortable in the room. She felt self conscious and worried that she’d say something that might come out wrong. Phil looked at their counsellor, Trisha, waiting for her to speak.
“I thought it good to just sit a few moments and let things settle” Trisha opened with.
Nobody said anything until Rebecca raised her hand.
“You’re not in school, Rebecca. What did you want to say?”
“Well, it’s just that we often ignore the important conversations. The difficult stuff is what we don’t share” Rebecca managed to say.
Phil picked up his glass and took a large gulp of water.
“I have tried to speak to you. You clam up and change the subject. I can’t ask you anything without you leaving a room. That’s why we’re here” Phil locked eyes with Trisha avoiding looking at Rebecca.
Trisha saw sadness smothering her clients, she wanted to help them both breathe.
“What is the one question you need to ask one another in a safe space” Trisha asked.
Rebecca said she’d answer first and played with her hair a moment before speaking.
“My question is, why does it matter?…I mean, I’m certain and my word should be enough”
Trisha nodded at Phil to encourage his contribution.
“I want to know the truth about what has happened. I’d rather know. Should I be concerned?”
Rebecca turned to face Phil, moving her chair slightly. Her eyes were watering, tears were coming.
“You have nothing to worry about. I made a mistake but that’s in the past and we have a chance of a future together”
Rebecca took Phil’s hand and placed it on her small bump.
“I know this is yours.”
(c) Liz Breen
“She thinks I’m stupid.” I sign. Like for most people, it is my failure for not being able to communicate with them, never theirs for not being able to understand me. Few people start from the place of congruence, so the burden is always mine as the unconventional minority to bridge the gap in communication. Winston is one of the few people I know who talks to me from a point of similarity from which there is a more equitable outcome. He is my interpreter and I have to employ him. If this woman had to employ an interpreter to speak to me, would she bother?
He is signing to me, but not interpreting any more. He tells me that she is shouting now so that I might hear her better and that she is making eye contact with Winston, so that he can tell me what she wants me to hear. He has already explained that I require a seat with a clear view of the interpreter and she is saying that it is not possible, the auditorium holds a lot of people and due to the importance of the speaker, the venue is sold out. She is saying that if my interpreter does not have a ticket then he won’t have entry.
She looks to the next person in the queue apologising for the delay with her eyes. She tells Winston that Professor Norris the eminent neurosurgeon who is making todays lecture will not appreciate the disruption of people taking their seat whilst he is speaking. She looks at all the lanyards and names she still has to process and the queue building up behind me, then at her watch. “What is your name please?” again to Winston who signs the question. Professor Norris I tell her.
(c) Steve Goodlad
“Why did you leave it?”
She considered his question in silence as they gazed into the night sky. Why sounded so direct, yet its answers never were. They wove about her in a tangle of self-doubt, regret, and tender hope. Most of her reasons for anything were invisible even to her, but they wrapped about her wrists, her ankles, tugging her along in their jerky marionette’s dance. Those reasons that gathered fastest on her tongue tasted stale, dry, empty of any true insight.
Why would she leave? Perhaps that could be answered well enough. How could she leave? That never would be.
She looked again to the star, tiny in the sky, glimmering with the light of home. She thought again of the once-green planet, faded to grey, and felt the familiar guilt of survival, of escape.
“I left,” she said at last, “because there was nothing left to stay for.”
(c) Miriam H Harrison
‘Why did you leave it?’
'It was the worst hotel I’d ever been in.’
‘It looked fine on the internet,’ she said.
‘Close up, it turned out to be a low-grade sewer. My room was a walk-in cupboard. The smoke alarm was missing, and the ends of the electric wires were taped over with gaffer tape.’
‘Just like your study, in fact.’
I ignored the jibe.
‘The shower encroached right onto the toilet. It’s a clever concept, being able to have a shower whilst sitting on the khazi, an economy of effort admirable in these busy times, but I found it extremely off-putting.’
‘I’m not surprised – showers and you have been strangers for years.’
‘The management mustn’t have trusted the clientele too much, because they screwed the fourteen-inch television to the desk. I saw some of the clientele later whilst out for a short stroll. Every one of them looked as shifty as Beelzebub.’
‘You should have felt quite at home, then.’
‘The sink in the bathroom didn’t run to a plug, so, in order to get washed, I had to stuff a wad of toilet-paper into the plug-hole. There was no refrigerator, so I had to keep my juice bottle on the outside window-shelf, where it was attacked by jackdaws.’
‘Nothing wrong with jackdaws – intelligent creatures, unlike some people I could mention.’
‘The bedclothes smelt of an alpaca’s breath, and the pillows were filled with rocks. At three in the morning, one of the clientele, out in the courtyard, started arguing with another, in a language that might have been Armenian, for all I knew.’
‘You are your own worst enemy, choosing the hotel on price. Tight as a tick, you are. Always have been. I’ve no idea what possessed me to marry you.’
(c) RT Hardwick
The boss approached. Sweeping gracefully over the rippling ocean from the western continent which she must have finally finished inspecting. Apparently, they had gone all out over there. They’d inserted a preposterously long river, definitely the longest so far on this planet. A desert, a rainforest, enormous grassy plains and a wealth of underground ores and minerals. So predictable. They always had to be the ones to create the most prosperous continent. Every time.
“Now, Oz. You’ve been working on the great southern landmass. How have you been getting on?”
The boss scrutinised my work with vague noises of interest. Poking the south-eastern mountain ranges, judging their respectability. She pinched a small part of my widespread low plateau desert and seemed satisfied if not a little unimpressed. I waited, staunching the urge to interrupt.
“What is this?” the boss was indicating the red sandstone monolith in the middle of my continent.
I hesitated, “Don’t you like it?”
“Why did you leave it?”
“I meant to put it there.”
“Oz, don’t get me wrong. It’s original but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. The creatures intended for this planet may be confused by an enormous rock in the middle of such a large plateau. They have a predisposition for creating deities … and we need to discourage that.”
“But it serves a geological purpose! I’ve rigged it to produce streams of drinkable water once the surrounding landmass reaches a high enough temperature. The creatures will love it!”
“I don’t doubt that but we must be careful to make the planet as explainable as possible. You know that.”
“It’s my most innovative work,” I couldn’t keep the petulant, rebellious tone from my voice, “and I’m not moving it.”
(c) Rachel Smith
Weekly Write Stories
Stories will be posted for the Current Week