Typical Emily

Typical Emily

By Adam Dixon

 

The rain had been relentless that morning. Fat, eager drops tumbled from the sky and soaked the street below. Commuters cowered beneath ineffectual umbrellas and hoods, their splashing steps echoing around the streets. Emily sat under a bus shelter, observing them and warming her hands with a take-away coffee. A double decker bus coughed out a lungful of muttering people who blinked at the deluge as if it had never rained in London before.

“Do you have a visual on the target?” The voice was deep and brusque in Emily’s ear. She calmly took a sip from her cup and waited as the bus rumbled away. The road was a river separating Emily from the coffee shop on the other side of the street. The simple red logo on the sign above the door also peeked out from between her fingers as she idly spun her cup. Emily checked that she was alone under the shelter before replying, making sure not to touch her fingers to her ear as she did so.

“I see him,” Emily said quietly. Her brown eyes stared across the road and fixed on the wide front window of the coffee shop. Water flowed down the glass and distorted the view inside, but the man she was watching still cut a striking figure. His white hair complimented his immaculate navy suit as he sat in apparent ease in the shop. He was around five-foot eight and slender, with an air of effortless charisma. He seemed a little bit of out of place in the modest shop, to Emily’s mind. Any excuse to get out of the rain, Emily mused, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to look. Emily’s eyes slid to a larger man who was sat close to the suited man’s table. He was at an angle which made him harder to see but Emily estimated him at about six foot two, eighteen stone, with hands like shovels and arms like tree trunks; the obligatory muscle-bound bodyguard of an egotist. Neither of them would notice Emily with her plain hair and drab coat, she had made sure of that. Their eyes would slide from her like rain from the window if they chanced to see her at all and that made Emily glow with satisfaction. She loved her job.

“Good,” grunted the voice in her ear. “Maintain a visual. Report in the moment the meeting takes place.”

“Understood,” Emily replied, holding her tongue; she knew what to do. She sat up straight and took another sip of coffee, savoring the smell of the beans and their bitterness on her tongue.

“Bloody weather!” A hooded figure lumbered out from the street and took cover under the shelter. Emily’s gaze didn’t move from the window, but her peripheral view led her to estimate the newcomer at just shy of six feet tall with an average build. He muttered and cursed as he performed the ritual of shaking his sleeves and hood free of clinging droplets, but Emily remained silent. The man in the shop leaned across his table and the big man threw his head back with laughter. The suited man sat back and sipped at his cup, evidently pleased with himself.

“Forecast was a bit optimistic, eh?” the stranger said cheerily. “Light drizzle, they said!” Emily ignored him, but there was something familiar about the lilt of his voice…

“Bloody hell. Emily?”

Emily would have frozen if she hadn’t already been as still as a statue. Against her better judgement she turned her head. The man was staring at her with wide, green eyes and his hood was pulled down to expose a shock of dark hair. Emily noted the scar on the man’s lip and the burns on his knuckles and forearms, all known to her. Unbidden, her mind conjured the image of the green dragon tattoo which was wound around his left bicep.

“Jonathan…hi….” Emily said, inclining her head. The man beamed at her.

“I thought it was you! What’re the chances, eh?”

“Yes…” Emily resisted an urge to fidget. “It’s a bit unexpected.” Jonathan smiled, and Emily noticed his hesitation; he was likely deciding on whether to shake her hand or embrace her. Emily was relieved when he chose neither.

“What are you doing?” the voice in Emily’s ear warned. “Interaction with the public was not part of your briefing!”

“Just a bit!” Jonathan chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re looking well. How’s everything going?”

“Oh, fine, thanks,” Emily replied. It was her turn to hesitate then. “And you?”

“Agent!” the voice barked. “Need I remind you that you are on a mission? This is no time for personal reunions!” Emily almost gritted her teeth. I know that! She thought angrily. This was hardly part of the plan!

“I’m fine, too,” Jonathan said brightly, seating himself on the red plastic bench an arm’s-length from Emily. “Job’s going well. Got promoted and moved to a posh restaurant in Kensington. Head chef now!”

“Really? That’s great.” Emily’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Congratulations.” Jonathan smiled back.

“Thanks! Bit stressful but I’m loving it. How’s….how’s your work going?” Jonathan’s smile faded, and Emily winced.

“Oh, you know, same old same old. Busy.” Emily’s eyes flicked back towards the coffee shop. Jonathan followed her gaze and frowned.

“Hmm, yeah. As always, right?” The question hung in the air between them and Emily’s jaw tightened.

“Agent, we need an update.” The voice in her ear was almost welcome. “Do you still have a visual on the target?” Emily did – the seated man had bought himself a muffin and a second drink; he seemed to be in no rush. Unfortunately, neither did Emily’s companion.

“God, this is a bit weird, isn’t it?” Jonathan said. “Last time we saw each other I was loading my stuff into a van!” Jonathan forced a laugh and scratched the back of his neck. He glanced out at the street as the downpour continued.

“It was pissing it down that day, too,” he added as if to himself.

“Yes, I remember,” Emily replied quietly. Their silence was broken by the steady pattering against the shelter.

“This deviation is becoming concerning.” The voice in Emily’s ear sounded angry. She blanched, and Jonathan frowned at her. Oh, good one, Emily thought.

“Is…is that all you have to say?” he ventured. “Don’t you want to ask me anything else? Are you even interested?”

“Of course I am, I’m just…” Emily searched for the word. “Busy, at the moment.”

“Too busy to give an old friend the time of day, right?” Jonathan snorted and folded his arms. “Typical Emily!”

“It’s not like that,” Emily replied, keeping her voice controlled. “I’ve just got things to do.”

“Like what?” Jonathan demanded, spreading his arms wide. “Like waiting for a bus? Christ, Emily, we were together for two years! Doesn’t that count for anything anymore?”

“Jonathan…”

“Agent, do not allow this mission to become compromised,” the deep voice warned. “Confirm, do you have a visual?”

“Oh, don’t give me that!” Jonathan said, his lip curled in disgust. “Don’t even start. You never had it in you to care about anyone but yourself!”

“Agent! Confirm!”

“It’s not like that,” Emily repeated, her eyes darting between Jonathan and the coffee shop like those of a cornered animal. “I’m sorry, but it’s work-”

“It’s always flamin’ work!” Jonathan cried, getting to his feet. “You never even told me what it is you do!  Christ, I hoped that things might’ve changed by now!”

“Repeat, come in!”

“That maybe you’d learned something when we broke up, like that there’s more to life than working!” Jonathan ranted, his face creasing.

“Can you see the target? Has he moved?”

“I…” Emily began, but she trailed off. The paper cup crackled beneath her fingers. She looked at the man in the coffee shop; he was still there, still enjoying his morning.

“What are you looking at?” Jonathan demanded, his voice rising in pitch. “Can’t you even look at me when I’m trying to talk to you?”

“Jonathan…” Emily’s eyes flicked to Jonathan’s, then back to the target.

“What’s going on out there?” the voice buzzed. “Have you been compromised? Will we need to abort this mission?”

“I don’t know why I’m even bothering,” Jonathan threw his hands in the air. “I was an idiot to hope that – “

“Nothing has changed!” Emily barked. Her eyes widened, and a shocked silence stretched out. The rain hammered against the shelter like words flung at the accused. Jonathan’s mouth was agape and his eyebrows were reaching for his hairline.

“Oh, Jonathan,” Emily whispered. Her thumbnails pierced her cup with a sharp squeal. “I meant…I didn’t…”

“I know what you meant, Emily,” Jonathan replied, his face twitching. “You’re right, nothing has changed. Best of luck with work.” Jonathan stormed out into the street without lifting his hood.

“Wait! Jonathan!” Emily shouted after him, but he was soon lost in the grey morning. Emily was dimly aware of moisture on her cheeks – she supposed the shelter must be leaking.

“Stay with the target, agent,” the voice in Emily’s ear was firm, no-nonsense. “You’re on a mission, remember.”

“Of course.” Emily settled herself back into position and stared at the coffee shop. “The mission always comes first.”

Across the road, the white-haired man laughed behind the window. Sometimes, Emily hated her job.

 

Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

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Not My Cup of Tea

Not My Cup of Tea

By Adam Dixon

 

“Hello, granny! I let myself in, sorry if I scared you!”

Mary blinked and looked up, squinting against the afternoon sun. She beamed as a young woman with long brown hair strolled up the garden path towards her.

“Hello, Lottie, my love!” Mary said, wincing as she stood up from her deck chair. “Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s always lovely to see you! And you’ve brought Harry along too!” Mary gasped in delight as Lottie set down a squirming little boy in a white shirt with blue dungarees.

“Hello, my little soldier!” Mary cooed, opening her arms wide. “Give me a cuddle!” The little boy’s face lit up and he ran full pelt into Mary, throwing his arms around her knees and bouncing with excitement.

“Oof, you’re getting so big!” Mary exclaimed, ruffling his mousey hair. “What have you been eating, young man?”

“Everything!” Lottie said with a laugh. She put her arms over Mary’s shoulders and kissed her.

“Sit down, sit down, both of you!” Mary pushed Lottie gently away and untangled Harry from her legs. She waved at them until they were seated, Lottie on a second deck chair with Harry perched on her lap.

“Would you like a cup of tea, dear?” Mary asked, straightening her faded blue dress. “I think I’ve got some squash for the little one, too.”

“No need, granny! I’ve got a surprise for you…” Lottie slid a white handbag from her shoulder and rooted around in it. She found what she was looking for and held it aloft in triumph. A grin spread across Mary’s face.

“A flask? I bet I know what’s in there, you little rascal!”

“Ta-da!” Lottie gave a bow and Harry clapped and laughed. “I had to bring some, especially today!” Lottie withdrew a yellow plastic cup from her handbag and unscrewed the lid of the flask. A rush of steam burst out, accompanied by the smell of chocolate. Lottie filled a cup with a flourish and handed it to Mary, who breathed in the rich smell with relish.

“Just how my mum used to make it!” Mary sighed, closing her eyes.

“I’ll never get tired of hearing that,” Lottie grinned, and she filled a smaller cup for Harry. The boy was staring at the flask with wide, hopeful eyes.

“He loves this, too!” Lottie chuckled and blew on the liquid to cool it. “Can’t get enough of it. I’m blaming great-grandma for how much of a little chubster he’s turning into!”

“Choc! Choc!” Harry demanded, reaching for the cup. Lottie shushed the squealing boy and let him drink a mouthful. The look of joy on Harry’s face made Mary burst out laughing.

“It’d do my old mum proud to know our little ‘uns are still enjoying her recipe,” she said, and she took a swallow of her own drink. She savoured the hints of orange zest and nutmeg as it swept over her tongue, and the warmth spread into her bones. For a moment, Mary was once again a bright-eyed, curly-haired girl dancing around the hem of her mother’s dress. She lowered herself into her chair, a contented smile on her face.

“Oh, love, this has cheered me up,” she said. “I’d been thinking about how much Harold would love this weather. He’d sit out here, take his slippers off and let the grass tickle his feet while he read the paper.”

Lottie looked up from seeing to Harry. “How are you today, granny? Managing alright?”

“As well as I can, my love,” Mary sighed, taking another sip of chocolate. She probed the dull gold ring on her left hand. “Hardly seems like he’s been gone two years, does it?”

“It doesn’t,” Lottie agreed. “That’s why I brought the choc; I think I was making it for him in the back of my mind. Old habits, y’know?”

“I know,” Mary smiled. “Remember how he’d grumble because you always poured him the first cup?”

Don’t worry about me, girl! Think of your mum and your granny!” Lottie intoned in a gruff voice, and she and Mary fell about laughing.

“He’d always drink it, though!” Lottie declared, rubbing her eyes. “Birthdays, exam results, family gatherings…he was the first to raise a cup at my graduation! He must’ve lived off it while great-granny was alive!”

“Well, he didn’t like to say no,” Mary said, her smile slipping slightly. “He was so good to my mum, bless his heart! Thick as thieves, those two!” She blinked rapidly then withdrew a tissue from her sleeve to dab her eyes.

“Sorry, love,” she said with an apologetic smile. “I miss him so. He was a wonderful man, and he’s left a big hole in this family.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Lottie replied, lifting her cup. “To granddad!” Mary sniffed and raised her own.

“To Harold!” The two women drained their chocolate and lapsed into a sad silence.

“I was thinking about our wedding,” Mary said after a while, tracing a finger along the lip of her cup. “I was so full of nerves, I thought I might be sick at any moment. Then I saw Harold standing at the altar, waiting for me; there he was, handsome and patient, with that same silly grin on his face, and all my worries melted away. I couldn’t’ve guessed that he’d not slept a wink that night, either.”

“Was he nervous as well?” Lottie asked, hugging Harry to her chest. Mary chuckled.

“He might’ve been, but we’ll never know!” she said. “No, he’d been up all night with my mum at the hospital. She’d had a fall and my dad couldn’t get her up, so Harold took care of her. She was terrified of hospitals, so he stayed with her all through the night and made sure that she got to the church the next morning. My sister told me they’d arrived only ten minutes before I did!”

“That’s lovely, granny,” Lottie whispered. Harry protested and tried to wriggle from her grip.

“Yes, it is,” Mary said, and a wicked grin appeared on her face. “He was exhausted, though, so we had to put off the wedding night, unfortunately for me!”

“Granny!” Lottie’s mouth fell open.

Mary cackled and slapped her knee. Harry stopped fidgeting and giggled in imitation, and then sucked chocolate from his fingers. Lottie cleared her throat and gave the flask a shake, sloshing around the liquid inside.

“More choc?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. Mary thrust out her cup and Lottie refilled it. She dutifully filled Harry’s cup as well, tutting as he slurped it greedily.

“Oh, look at that, he’s got it all round his face now!” Lottie fished in her handbag for a wet-wipe.

“He’s a delight!” Mary chuckled. “He loves that old recipe, no mistake!”

“Just like granddad, eh, granny?”

Mary didn’t answer but stared into her cup as Lottie cleaned Harry’s face.

“I’m going to let you in on a secret, Charlotte,” Mary said softly. Lottie’s head jerked up in surprise. Mary cleared her throat and leaned close, her rheumy eyes fixed on Lottie’s.

“Harold always hated that recipe, ever since the first time he tasted it.”

A breeze whistled through the silent garden. Lottie blinked, then smiled broadly.

“Oh, come off it, granny!” she laughed. “You’ll have to do better than that! Granddad used to guzzle it down!”

“Yes, my dear, but he couldn’t stand it! I think it might have been the orange zest, but I can’t be sure. Not my cup of tea, that’s what he used to say to me.” Lottie’s smile slipped under the intensity of Mary’s gaze.

“But…I brought him a flask every time I saw him in the hospital!”

“You did, and he loved you for it,” Mary said with a happy sigh.

“Granny, if that’s true…” Lottie was crestfallen. “Why would granddad lie about that?”

“Because he understood how much that recipe means to us,” Mary said patiently, reaching out and squeezing Lottie’s hand. “It’s our heritage. Nothing meant more to my Harold than family, you know that.”

“Does mum know?”

“Of course, dear, but she’s been sworn to secrecy. It’s my responsibility to spill the beans!”

“He never liked it…” Lottie said in a small, childlike voice. Harry sensed the change of mood and craned his neck to look at her. Mary spoke up hurriedly.

“No, my love, but he never complained,” Mary patted Lottie’s hand, and blinked as her eyes grew moist. “He once told me that he’d drink a barrel full of the stuff just to make you and your mum smile.” Lottie couldn’t help but smile at that, and she shook her head.

“The old sod!” she said, and her voice cracked. She lifted her half-full cup again, a single tear trickling down her face. “To granddad! I bet he’s up there having a right laugh at my expense!”

“I’m sure he is, my love!” Mary said, raising her own cup. “To Harold! Two years gone, but never forgotten!” Both women tipped their heads back, and sunlight glinted on their damp cheeks. The sweet taste lifted their sadness, and soon they were reminiscing about Harold and his many quirks. The afternoon stayed warm and the breeze caressed their faces like the gentle touch of a loved one.

Little Harry was set down on the ground, and unbeknownst to the older women, he wriggled out of his shoes and his socks. He sat there on the grass, letting the slender blades whisper across the soles of his feet. He giggled and squirmed in delight, feeling happy and safe and loved. Just how Harold would have wanted it.

 

Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

 

Before my Heart was Cold

The cellar was cold, musty and seemed more cramped with every visit. Not thirty seconds had passed since Carl had descended the creaking staircase, but it already seemed like an hour. A single fluorescent tube flickered above, throwing shadows across the room. The gentle plinking of Alisa’s piano drifted into Carl’s ears and he shivered; the melody was mournful, the minor chords chosen with care to amplify his pain. He tried to ignore it as he unscrewed the heavy cap and checked the oil level. It was low, so he lifted the jerry can and carefully poured in the pungent liquid; he had loved that smell, once upon a time.

“You’re back early,” Alisa stated, not turning her head. “Two weeks to the day I last saw you, minus three hours, seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds.” She was seated in front of Carl, facing the old, dusty piano.

“Yeah,” Carl said and as he put aside the empty can. He replaced the cap and rested his hand on the cool metal surrounding it as if to transfer some warmth into it.

“You always do that,” Alisa said, her voice lifeless. The vibrations tickled his fingers through the metal.

“Can’t help it, I guess,” Carl said. He stepped back to get a better look at her, adjusting his thick glasses on his beak of a nose. With sad eyes, he examined the metal plate which covered the back of Alisa’s head and went on to form her entire left arm. He still marvelled at the workmanship; it looked so real, with only a light rusting at the elbow giving its material away. He couldn’t even see the myriad of wires and tubes which lay beneath. It was exceptional, and unnerving.

“Do you like this song?” Alisa asked, still looking at the piano. Carl moved beside her as her fingers deftly swept across the yellowed keys. The song was heart-wrenching and tightened Carl’s chest.

“It’s beautiful, Allie,” he whispered. “But it’s so sad. I don’t think I can bear it for long.”

“Interesting,” Alisa said, slowing her playing but not stopping. “I feel nothing. I remember being moved by music before my heart was cold.”

“You were, Allie,” Carl said, a grimace twisting the corners of his mouth. He hated it when she said that. “You used to love how music made you feel, even when you couldn’t play very well.”

“I play better now,” Alisa stated.

“Yeah,” Carl admitted. “You’re a hell of a lot better…but there’s no joy in it anymore.”

“Joy.” Alisa stopped playing and turned around. Carl winced as her face came in to view, more than half of it covered by a plate of metal. Her eyes were still the same pale blue, but her freckles only covered her right cheek and the laughter had vanished from her once jovial face. Her button nose was gone, replaced by a shaped metal ridge; a dreadful substitute in Carl’s opinion. Her lips no longer smiled, but instead hung like a grey horizon above her chin. In the absence of the piano Carl could make out faint whirring and ticking sounds echoing from within Alisa’s body.

“Joy.” Alisa repeated, her grey tongue clicking against her teeth. “Curious. My name is derived from the Hebrew word for joy. I think my parent chose it on purpose.”

“I wouldn’t know, Allie,” Carl shrugged, feeling deeply uncomfortable.

“Joy…there was no joy after you changed me.” Alisa said, looking straight at Carl. She shifted her heavy feet, making a dull thud on the cellar floor. The chains which snaked around her ankles gave a dull rasp at the movement.

“You all regret it now.” Her voice was cold, just like the rest of her.

“Allie, stop it,” Carl pleaded, reaching for her shoulder. He shivered as his hand touched steel and a chill ran up his arm.

“My injuries were fatal, but you decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to die,” Alisa pressed on in her sterile tone. “It’s a strange to think of it, especially when most people wouldn’t force a cherished pet to stay alive when they are suffering. It was selfish.”

“Allie, don’t talk like that!” Carl snapped. He faced her with as much courage as he could, forcing himself to look into her dull eyes. “You were everything to us! To me! We couldn’t let you slip away like that! We…needed you here…I needed you.”

“Not like this,” Alisa replied, her eyes boring back into Carl’s. “Nobody wanted this, and that’s why I’m here, out of sight and out of mind. You’re the only one who still comes back.” Carl was silent and his jaw worked as he tried to think of something to say. Before he could, the thing that was once Alisa spoke again.

“You’re lonely, aren’t you, Carl?” Carl was startled and took another few moments to answer.

“Yeah…I am,” he confessed at last. “I hoped…I thought things would get better…but I ought to look after you. It’s the right thing to do!” He spoke with more confidence than he felt.

“Five years is a long time when something is hopeless,” Alisa said, turning back to the piano. The mournful music resumed once again. “Visiting me is illogical and it causes you pain. It won’t be long before even you stop coming down here to change my oil. When that day comes I will be allowed to die.”

“Allie, I’ll not abandon you!” Carl insisted, despite the horror he felt growing inside him. Alisa’s words frightened Carl because he had been considering doing just that for months. It was not a thought he entertained with his full attention, but circled the edge of his consciousness like a hawk waiting for the right moment to strike. Nothing escaped Alisa anymore, and the hawk had been circling lower.

“Perhaps,” Alisa said, her fingers moving over the aged keys. “It won’t matter to me either way.” Carl’s shoulders slumped and his heart grew heavy in his chest. He still loved Alisa, or the memory of her, at least. He could remember the warmth of her face when it was pressed against his, how her lips and her tongue had tasted, and how musical her voice used to be. He remembered how he used to stand and watch her play the piano, positioned in much the same way as he was at that very moment, studying her fingers as they danced and smiling at her eagerness. He had almost been driven mad with the thought of losing her, and had jumped at the chance to save her life. If only he had known…

Carl wandered back to the stairs leading up to the main building, gazing up at the open door and the bright sunlight which beckoned beyond. He watched Alisa play for a few minutes and then began to ascend. He paused at the threshold of the door, holding the handle in a shaking hand.

“Bye, Allie,” he said, his feeble voice cracking. “I…I love you,”

“Goodbye, Carl,” Alisa said. Cold. Precise. Inhuman. Carl closed the door with tears streaming down his cheeks. His heart thundered within his chest, even as it broke with shame. Sobs racked his body as he turned a key in the lock, and the piano stopped playing.

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Aiden’s Decision #Fortnightly Fiction

Hi everyone. Here is my latest story for my new feature, “Fortnightly Fiction”. Now, before any of you smart arses point it out, I am aware that it’s been more than a fortnight since my last story. The reason for that is that my organisation skills are terrible! I am working on that, though, so please bear with me for the time being. I’ll get back to forming a proper writing schedule once I’ve finished giving myself the required lashes.

This prompt came from the lovely Ruth over at Image & Word , and it was a tough one. In short, it was:

‘What kind of man walks out on his newborn son?’

Wow. I knew this one would be difficult to write but I gave it my best shot. I hope I’ve handled this delicate subject with due care and sympathy. Thank you, Ruth, for providing me with such a challenging and thought-provoking prompt.

Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If you would like to get involved and offer me a story prompt to use in the future, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

 

Aiden’s Decision

By Adam Dixon

 

The grey day matched Aiden’s mood. He was sat in a cramped aisle of Victoria Coach Station with strangers and their suitcases stacked either side of him. Club-footed pigeons hopped about underneath his seat, as much a part of the scenery as the bland walls. The mingled smells of sweat, dust and stale pastries hung in the air; it never changed.

Aiden had tried to avoid looking at his reflection in the grimy windows. He didn’t want to be reminded of how wrinkled his brow was, or how his hair was turning grey. Aiden sighed and tried to stretch out his legs. He kicked a garish purple suitcase by accident and murmured an apology to the woman sitting next to him.

“Oh no, it was my fault!” the woman said, her plump cheeks reddening as she dragged her suitcase aside. “I should’ve watched where I was puttin’ it! My old mum always said I didn’t have no death perception!” The woman laughed, and Aiden gave a pained smirk at her mistake. He wondered which of them was the stupid cow who got that wrong. As the woman settled back into her seat she glanced over again.

“You’re travelling light,” she said, indicating Aiden’s lack of luggage. Aiden nodded. The woman’s smile faltered, but she pressed on.

“Goin’ all the way?” she asked cheerfully.

“Yeah, I’ve got friends in Aberdeen,” Aiden replied. Not that it’s any of your business, he almost added. The woman sighed in appreciation.

“Oh, I love Aberdeen!” she said, showing the dimples on her cheeks as she smiled. “My old mum came from there, an’ we used to pop back to visit my auntie. You by yourself?” The woman looked around expectantly.

“Yes,” Aiden said, feeling his eye throb. “I’m alone because I walked out on my girlfriend today.”

Aiden felt a glow of satisfaction as the woman’s face registered his words with shock. Her mouth fell open and Aiden folded his arms and turned away from her. His smug delight was momentary, and he soon returned to his stupor.

As he sat, he replayed parts of the earlier phone call he had had with his sister. Suzie had been livid.

“Are you fucking mental?” Suzie had screeched. Aiden had winced and held the receiver at an arms-length.

“No, Suze, I’m not,” he had replied firmly. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

“But, Ade, why now? What about your son?” Suzie had demanded. Aiden had closed his eyes and groaned in the confines of the phone box.

His son.

“I…I can’t do it, Suze,” he had stammered, bracing himself against the plastic window with a trembling arm. “I thought I could but…I can’t.” Suzie had fallen silent, and Aiden’s scalp had prickled with sweat.

“You’re not like him, Ade,” Suzie had said at last. “You’re nothing like him.”

“But what if I am?” Desperation had lent weight to Aiden’s voice. “You weren’t there when Karen left Mikey with me that afternoon! It was going fine until he spilled his juice on the carpet, then I…I shouted at him, Suze. Just like dad.” Aiden could almost sense Suzie’s shock. He took several deep breaths and wiped the back of his hand across his damp brow.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Suzie had replied, but she sounded shaken.

“Yes, it does,” Aiden had insisted. “It was the rage, Suze. It was there, just like the old man.” He had lifted his leg and unconsciously stroked the old, puckered scar across the back of his thigh.

“But that still doesn’t mean-“

“And like his dad!” Aiden interrupted, flushed with anger. “There’s a pattern, for fuck’s sake! I won’t let it carry on!”

“But what about Melanie?” Suzie had changed tactics. “She’ll be all alone! Christ, she’s not even named him yet!” Aiden had sighed, scrunching his face tight.

“She’ll be okay, Suze,” he had said.  “She’s got Deb and Jack to help out. They’re not old yet, and they’ll be brilliant grandparents. I’ve left her all my savings, and I’ll send more once I’m settled.”

“And what about me?” Suzie had asked. She was desperate then. “When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know,” Aiden had answered, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ade,” Suzie’s voice had cracked then, and Aiden’s heart had torn in half. “Ade…don’t do this. It’s not right.” Aiden added two more coins to the machine before he replied.

“I know,” he said, tears leaking from his closed eyes. “But I’m doing what’s best for Mel and the baby. Tell her I’m sorry.”

Aiden was jerked from his reverie by a surge of movement around him; the coach to Aberdeen had arrived. The weary strangers were on their feet, edging forwards to form a haphazard queue by the doors. As Aiden stood, the woman with the purple case barged past him, shooting him a brief, venomous look. Aiden ignored her and pulled his ticket from his pocket before he stepped through the door and into the cold morning air.

The coaches were lined up along the forecourt, grumbling as their engines ticked over. The drivers were frowning as they inspected tickets, apparently eager to be off. You and me both, Aiden thought, but he stopped as he joined with his queue. He was still, one hand holding his ticket as the would-be passengers filed past him. He was shouldered and nudged, but barely registered the muttered apologies offered to him. He stood, staring ahead with his mouth twisted.

What about his son?

Aiden felt as if he stood on a precipice, not the worn tarmac of the coach station. He felt as if he was teetering, that his future hung on a hair’s breadth of space. He thought of Melanie, how she’d still be in recovery and wondering where he was. He thought of the little boy whose face would remain a mystery to him. His body wavered, hanging over the edge.

“’Scuse me, sir!” called a gruff voice. An overweight, bored-looking man in a high-visibility jacket was glaring at him. “You on for Aberdeen?”

Aiden looked at the man, then at the ticket in his hand. He stared at it for several seconds.

“Yeah, one to Aberdeen,” he said at last. The man inspected it with a quick glance and nodded.

“On you get, then,” he said, his expression unchanging. Aiden took a deep breath and climbed on to the coach.

The coach was packed full of people, and the air inside it was close and warm. Aiden sat in the only remaining seat in the centre of the vehicle, next to an old man with a flat cap and faded cords. The man was already snoring, and he smelled strongly of whisky. It seemed that he’d be out for much of the journey, which worked for Aiden. The driver boarded and surveyed his meagre empire with his ever-present frown before squeezing himself behind the steering wheel.

The coach coughed into life and pulled away from the dreary station. A pitiful whimpering broke through the muted chatter. A young woman with red hair was rocking a baby girl in her arms, hushing her softly but to no avail. The baby began to cry in earnest, and several passengers groaned aloud. Aiden sat and listened to the wailing, letting it pierce his heart as well as his ears. Rain began lashing against the windows, mirroring the tears which trickled down Aiden’s cheeks. The coach rolled onwards. He had made his decision.

 

If you would like to get involved in Fortnightly Fiction, please feel free to suggest a prompt in the comments section. I’ll do my best to do your ideas justice!

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.

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A Man in Love

Hello everyone! Today I’m sharing a short story I wrote few months ago,which was inspired by the prompt of an ‘unreliable narrator’.

This is an aspect of story telling that I find very interesting, and it can be seen in plenty of book and films. How do we know if we can trust our only source of information as a reader? Should we believe anything they say? At which point do we realise that our narrator is, in fact, compromised? These are just a few questions to consider when writing a story like this, and I had a lot of fun doing it!

I hope you enjoy this story, and thanks again for reading.

P.S. I’m looking for story prompts for my new feature! See my previous post, Fortnightly Fiction – A Call for Prompts! for more details.

 

A Man in Love

By Adam Dixon

 

My name is Brian Sedgwick and I am a man in love. Consider that my confession, if you like, I’m happy to tell anyone who’ll listen. It’s not easy to love someone so much that it hurts. Before I fell in love I was alone in my flat with my games and microwave meals, but now I dream of children and country houses and all that cheesy stuff. Some people will try to belittle it and say that I’m only into her because she’s my boss, but that’s just insulting. Plus, I know that she loves me, too.

Eleanor Robins is thirty-two, a couple of years younger than me. She has long, shining brown hair and gorgeous green eyes that you could lose yourself in. She has a sweet, lopsided smile, a dusting of freckles on her nose, and a birthmark on her wrist; it looks like a USB drive to me, which I like to think is a sign that we’re meant to be. I love to hear her laugh, it’s the best sound in the world. I try to make Eleanor laugh every day in the office; she works so hard and I notice that the stress gets to her sometimes. It can’t be easy running a business in this economy, so whenever she comes into my office with an issue I look over my computer and crack some stupid, half-baked joke just to make her smile. I know she appreciates it, even though she doesn’t say it. She even started flirting with me a few months ago, which I’ll admit knocked me for six. Nothing outrageous, just the odd raised eyebrow or a smirk after a euphemism about hard drives or something. She’s also got a bit of a wild side, as the office Christmas Party 2016 can attest to. I caught her alone under the mistletoe at the end of the evening; it was the single greatest moment of my life. The next day Eleanor insisted that it was a mistake, the result of too much wine and good spirits, and asked me to keep it to myself. Ever the professional. God, I love that woman. Her husband has never deserved her.

Oh yeah, she’s been married to that ape, Darren, for six years now. I’d only met him once, but I knew all about him right away. A personal instructor at a gym in London, all muscles and protein with limited brain cells, like a hi-spec desktop with a tiny processor. He did some freelance writing on the side, mostly articles about the importance of fitness in modern society and advocating encouragement instead of body-shaming, blah blah blah…I’ve read them, they’re not very good. They were probably ghost-written, anyway. It doesn’t matter, just imagine a lout who wants a trophy wife. Eleanor is perfect; beautiful, intelligent, and successful, just the kind of woman who makes Darren look brilliant by association. He’s never loved her like I do, and I could tell that Eleanor was only pretending to love him back. The amount of times I’ve passed by her office and heard her rowing with him on the phone is ridiculous. She even started taking her wedding ring off and leaving it in a drawer. This had been going on for months, and it sounded like Darren was an arsehole at home, as I’d suspected. Eleanor only stayed with him because she didn’t know how to get away from their marriage. Poor, sweet Eleanor.

I decided to do something about it after the Christmas Party. It was made clear that Eleanor wants me as much as I want her, but I knew I’d need to be careful. Eleanor isn’t the kind of woman to engage in affairs, and I respect that. Darren was unlikely to cheat on her, because, seriously, who in their right mind would do that with Eleanor in their life? No, I needed to find a way for her to get rid of Darren, which meant proving that he was being abusive. So, I learned Darren’s schedule and started following Eleanor home when I knew he’d be waiting for her. I even managed to borrow her key from her bag and get a copy made during a lunch break. I hid three cameras in their house, one in the kitchen, one in the living room and one in their bedroom. On the days that Darren was at home I’d park across the road and keep an eye on him. I needed to make sure that Eleanor was safe.

Things seemed okay for a bit after that, Eleanor wasn’t being harassed too much at home and she was continuing our little back-and-forth at work. She even bought the whole office pizzas after a busy but successful month, and she gave the biggest one to me. Extra toppings and an extra smile thrown in, too. She’s so good to me. But in February things started to go wrong. Darren must’ve known something was up, because he started exercising more control over Eleanor. He was taking her out for fancy meals more often rather than making her cook. Then there was the long weekend in Paris for their anniversary, and the gifts and smiles and new lies. He was getting what he wanted, as they were having sex more often as well. It made me sick to watch them from the darkness of my car, hearing Eleanor moaning beneath him. I could have sworn that she whispered my name once, which made me jolt upright in a panic, but Darren didn’t seem to notice, or care. I could see right through all his tricks, but it seemed that poor Eleanor was being slowly taken in by it all. She started keeping her wedding ring on, and smiled when Darren called her at work. There was some big deal a few weeks ago, Eleanor rushed out of the toilet and showed Darren something small and plastic she’d taken in there. I didn’t get a proper look at it, but they both started crying and holding one another. It was maddening to watch him touching her, as if he deserved her. The bastard was winning, and there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do about it…

Until last month. I was feeling pretty low, believing that my love was lost to me, when Eleanor revived all of my hopes and dreams. She came in to my office to ask me about a storage issue with her computer, and requested that I teach her what needed to be done. As I clicked about and showed her the process on-screen, Eleanor leaned over the desk and put her cheek very close to mine as she watched. I could smell the sweet perfume of her skin and the fruity aroma of her shampoo, and I longed to close my eyes and rub my face against hers. I could easily see down the front of her smart white shirt, which she’d left partly unbuttoned. It was deliberate, I’m certain, and it almost drove me mad. I finished my little tutorial, blushing and stammering, unable to stand up for the moment. Eleanor stared into my eyes and gave me a smile which melted my heart. She thanked me, asking what she’d do without me. I mumbled a reply and made another terrible joke. Eleanor laughed, and I knew then what was needed. I was on her wave-length and saw that it was a signal, a request for aid. My princess was aware of her danger, and I was the only one who could rescue her from the troll who held her hostage.

The next step was easier than I expected. Through observing Darren at home I had discovered some useful facts about him, including his allergies. It was fitting that he should be allergic to peanuts when his brain was roughly the size of one. All I had to do was call in sick and wait until Darren went out on his morning run. He always made one of those disgusting protein shakes for when he got back. I let myself in and added something a little extra to it, then I waited in my car for the show. I watched the kitchen camera with a pounding heart as Darren got back. The idiot took a huge gulp of his shake without even looking at it! I had to stop myself from leaping out of the car and jumping for joy as he collapsed and convulsed. Eleanor and I could be together at last! After the respectful period of mourning had passed, of course. We both still had parts to play, but I’d waited so long already that a few more weeks would be simple.

I didn’t expect to get caught. It turned out the neighbour opposite Eleanor had a CCTV camera, and my car was in its view every time I sat and watched. When the police requested it, it didn’t take long for them to arrest me. They found my cameras, too. That was sloppy, I should have taken them out of the house right away but I was too excited about my future with Eleanor. I haven’t seen her since as she’s not been at work; she’s still playing her part beautifully. I bet she looks divine as a grieving widow.

My trial will start soon. I’ve got a pretty good idea that my barrister doesn’t think we’ll win, but I’m still pleading not guilty. I’d do it all again to rescue my princess, my love. She’ll be in the court room, too, of course. I can’t wait to see her face again, to see that lopsided smile, those freckles, and that prophetic birthmark. I know she loves me, and because of that I’m confident I’ll get off with her help. We’ll get through this, and then we’ll be together.

I love her so much.

Cracked Head

Hello, everyone 🙂 I wrote this story a few months ago, using a first line prompt and I was very pleased with how it turned out. It’sa little bit different from my usual type of stories, but upon re-reading it I’m still quite fond of it. Please do let me know what you think 🙂

As always, thank you for reading!

Cracked Head
By Adam Dixon

“Is that what you meant to do?” Pete smiled at the memory of his question from three years ago. It was the crack in the headstock of Jimmy’s bass which had prompted it, or the lack of one; Jimmy had it fixed almost right away.
“Yeah, course it was,” Jimmy had replied, rolling his eyes. “Halfway through the gig I thought ‘you know what’ll liven this up? If I drop my bass on the stage!’ Bloody hell, Pete…” Pete remembered blushing at the remark. He had admired Jimmy back then, believing that his big brother could do no wrong. Pete’s smiled faded as he ran his finger over the spot where the crack had been. The instrument had always been lovingly cared for, so finding a layer of dust on it had been a shock.
“Well, d’you still want it?” Jimmy asked, breaking Pete from his reverie. Pete stood from his crouch and faced him in the small bedroom. Jimmy looked terrible, his face was pale and haggard, his blond hair was a scrambled mess and he had lost a lot of weight. His cheerful brown eyes were dimmed and bloodshot above deep purple bags. He was also sniffing constantly as if he had a cold.
“Well?” Jimmy insisted, frowning in annoyance.
“I…yeah, course I do,” Pete answered, thrown by Jimmy’s bluntness. Jimmy nodded and smiled, nibbling at a stubby fingernail.
“Cool,” he said. “Did you bring the money, then?” The hopeful tone in his voice made Pete feel uncomfortable. He pulled a wad of notes from his Marvel Comics wallet and held them out. Jimmy’s eyes lit up and he snatched the money in an instant.
“Nice one, bro!” Jimmy said gleefully. “And you told me you were skint last month!” He snorted and shot Pete a brief, accusing glance. Pete felt sick.
“I was,” Pete said. “But I’ve been saving up from my paper round; it’s taken me three months to get that. Why are you selling it anyway, Jimmy? You love that bloody thing!”
Jimmy barked an unpleasant laugh, and pocketed the notes. “I’ve told you already, it’s for food and toiletries and all that boring stuff. My student loan barely covers this place!” He swung an arm around the room for emphasis before winking and adding: “Condoms, too. The price soon adds up!” Pete smiled in response, but stayed silent. When Jimmy had gone to uni he had been attractive in a scruffy rock-star kind of way and had boasted of late-night encounters with his fellow students. Pete had burned with jealousy and curiosity, but Jimmy had changed a lot in a year. Their frequent phone calls and constant Whatsapping had trickled to almost nothing in recent months, and Pete was worried.
“Well, I’ll look after her, don’t you worry!” Pete smiled and changed the subject. “So, what’s the plan for today, then?” Jimmy’s brow creased.
“Plan?” he echoed, sniffing twice and scratching his head.
“Yeah,” Pete said, disbelief and anger stirring in his stomach. “You do have a plan, right?” Jimmy stared blankly for a moment then slapped his forehead with his palm.
“Oh crap!” Jimmy said, his eyes wide. “It’s your bloody birthday! Oh, mate, I’m so sorry! I forgot! Yeah, let’s totally do something! Like, we could go to the bar in a bit? Get you a pint, yeah?”
“I’m fifteen, Jimmy!” Pete snapped, unable to stop two tears from sliding down his cheeks. Jimmy’s face crumpled and he stepped closer. A strong smell of B.O. and cigarettes assaulted Pete’s nose; he didn’t know that Jimmy had started smoking.
“Course you are, I know that!” Jimmy said, placing a hand on Pete’s shoulder. “Course I do! We can still get some food at the bar, if you want. Or we could go into town and grab a meal somewhere, or – “
“Forget it,” Pete said, shrugging off his hand. The tears flowed as he lifted the bass from its stand. “You’ve got what you wanted from me now! I can’t believe I’ve spent two hours on a coach for this, what a bloody loser!”
“Come on, Pete,” Jimmy croaked. “Don’t be like that!”
Pete wiped his eyes furiously. “I’m going home. Maybe mum will still take me to see Logan.”
“Pete!” Jimmy tried to touch his shoulder again but Pete shoved him away. Jimmy’s wasted frame offered no resistance and he staggered backwards, shocked. Pete seized the guitar bag which lay at his feet and shoved the bass into it.
“I’m taking this,” Pete declared. He shot Jimmy a tearful, angry look. “Unless you’re gonna charge me for it, as well?” That hit home. Pete stormed out of Jimmy’s room and down the corridor, ignoring the pleading sobs which followed him.
***
“I just didn’t know what else to do,” Pete said. He had calmed down during his walk across town, and the bitter sea wind had given him something else to worry about. The left side of his head faced the beach and tingled as he sat miserably at the coach station.
“That stupid little…!” a strangled voice said in his ear. Pete winced and moved his phone an inch further away. There was a pause and a measure of control entered the voice.
“I’m glad you called me, darling,” it said. “I’m so sorry you had to see your brother like that, today of all days!”
“It’s okay, mum,” Pete said, relieved that the expected eruption had not occurred.
“No, it’s not okay!” his mother insisted. “You’ve just found out that Jimmy is a druggie on your birthday, for goodness’ sake!”
“Would it have been any easier on different day?” Pete demanded, then was immediately contrite.
“Oh, mum, I’m sorry for snapping,” he said, rubbing his puffy eyes. “I’m a little on edge, you know?”
“It’s alright, Peter,” his mother sighed. “Ooh, just you wait until I speak to that boy!” Pete opened his mouth to reply, then closed it. He looked down at the guitar bag which rested against his knee. He hadn’t let go of it since he had left Jimmy’s flat. Strong memories flooded his mind, and Pete swallowed back the lump that rose in his throat. He remembered Jimmy teaching him notes and chords on that very bass and helping him to save up and buy his own. He remembered his incomprehension when their dad walked out, and how Jimmy had seen him through it.
“Don’t call him yet, mum,” Pete said slowly. “Let me talk to him first.”
“I thought you were on your way home?” Pete’s mother was puzzled. Pete stood as the coach pulled up, gleaming in the dim sunshine. The doors opened with a whoosh and a hiss, but he turned away from it.
“Not yet, mum,” he replied. “I’m going back to Jimmy’s. He needs me.” Saying it aloud cemented his resolve, and Pete made his way back towards the university.
“I won’t cut you out, bro,” Pete said to himself. “Never.”
***
Up on stage, Pete revelled in the attention. He and his bandmates made use of the tiny space as best they could, thrusting their hips and nodding their heads with huge grins on their faces. They weren’t great, but they had pulled a decent crowd for the small gig and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The whole space smelled of armpits, beer and excitement, and Pete loved it. He plucked at his instrument, glorying in the pounding of the amp behind him, savouring the vibrations as he strung notes together. The old bass he was using still had life in her, and Pete had taken good care of it.
The song ended to a smattering of genuine, good-natured applause, and Pete scanned the room whilst the lead singer spoke into the mic. He saw a few of his school friends and waved at them, and they replied with smirks and crude gestures. He saw his mother in the crowd, beaming and doing her utmost to embarrass him in front of his mates. He grinned at her sheepishly and continued to gaze around the room. His eyes drifted towards the bar at the rear, and found the brown pair that he sought. Jimmy raised a hand in greeting, nursing a glass of Coke with the other as he leaned casually against the bar. His face and body had filled out since he had dropped out of uni and he had shaken off the haunted look at last. The singer reached the end of his melodramatic speech but before he could count the band in, Pete stepped up to his own microphone.
“Just a sec,” he said, wincing as the feedback screeched across the room. Everyone looked at him in annoyance and curiosity; Pete gulped and wished his heart would slow down a bit.
“Erm, I just wanted to add something quickly before we start,” Pete continued. “I’d like to dedicate this song to someone in the audience, someone who inspired me to get into music. It’s my big brother, Jimmy, who’s hiding at the back over there. Hi Jimmy!” Pete waved and laughed at Jimmy’s alarmed expression as the forty-odd people in the audience turned to look at him. Jimmy cleared his throat and looked down at his feet, his cool, casual poise ruined.
“Anyway, I owe a lot to Jimmy, and since it’s his birthday tomorrow I thought I’d embarrass him. Thanks for coming, bro!” Pete waved again and the audience clapped. Behind him, the drummer counted them in. One, two, three! The room was once more filled with the sound of something resembling rock music and Pete settled into his role. He caught Jimmy’s eye again as he strummed his big brother’s bass. Jimmy was smiling, and he raised his drink in a salute. To the casual observer, it would appear Jimmy was thanking Pete for the shout-out, but Pete knew there was more to it than that. It had been a difficult year for Jimmy, but Pete had been there for him through all of it.
“You’re welcome, bro,” Pete thought as the amps roared. “I love you.”
You can find me on Twitter here.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com 

Difficult Questions

Hello everyone!

The following story is one I sent out a few months ago as a competition entry, but sadly it was not placed. However, I was quite pleased with it and would like to share it will you all. The theme for competition was to write a story using dialogue ONLY. I found this to be an exciting and interesting idea, and so I went for it! Have you ever tried writing a story in this way? Please do let me know in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading!

“Come on, grandma, let’s run!”
“Slow down, please, my darling, I can’t keep up with you. Jenny, come back! Jenny! There are nasty people around these days, come back this instant!”
“Nasty people? Where, grandma? I can’t see them.”
“Oh, well, you can’t be too careful! Please come back, I don’t want to have to shout! Plus, people are looking at grandma now…”
“Grandma, why didn’t you run too?”
“I don’t think I can anymore, my darling. It’s part of getting old, I’m sorry to say.”
“That’s bad, I don’t want to get old ever!”
“Nobody does, sweetheart, but you can’t stop it.”
“How old are you, grandma?”
“Now, now, Jennifer, it’s not very nice to ask a lady her age.”
“But I’m a lady and I like it when I get asked! I’m four and a half now!”
“Yes you are, sweetheart. You’ll be catching me up soon.”
“Yeah, grandma! But I still want to run!”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll be able to stop you! Come on, let’s go home, it’s getting dark.”
“But I wanted to play on the swings again!”
“I know, my darling, but it is getting late. Don’t pout, Jennifer, it’s very childish! I’ll tell you what, you be a good girl and I’ll buy you an ice cream in the shop. How does that sound?”
“Ice cream, before tea?!”
“Yes, before tea, but you must promise not to tell granddad. It will be our little secret.”
“Yeah! Yeah! I love secrets!”
“Then we’ll shake on it like grown-ups and…ugh, Jenny! What have you been touching? Your hand is all sticky! Dear me, you’d think that the council would keep that slide clean…”
“Grandma, when will I see my mummy again?”
“Oh. Well…she is quite busy now, my darling, but you’ll see her again before too long.”
“Is my mummy in trouble, grandma?”
“Why do you ask, my darling?”
“Cos only bad people go away, and bad people get in trouble. I think my mummy is in trouble.”
“Well…yes, I suppose you could say that…but don’t worry about her, sweetheart, she is being looked after. Now, which flavour ice cream would you like when we get to the shop?”
“I want strawberry! Strawberry and chocolate! Strawberry and chocolate and banana! Yum yum yum!”

***

“There you are, my two favourite girls! Come in out of the cold, that’s it! Scrub those shoes on the mat before you come inside, little love. If you get mud on my nice carpet, you won’t get your tea and you’ll get a knuckle sandwich instead!”
“Argh! Grandma, help me, he’s got me!”
“That serves you right, Jennifer. You shouldn’t poke your tongue out at granddad, it’s very rude!”
“Heehee, that tickles! Stop, stop!”
“Aha! Do you give up, young madam?”
“Yes, yes! I give up! Heeheehee!”
“Victory! You are my prisoner now, so be off with you! Into the living room to await your fate! Stick the telly on, if you like, I prefer my prisoners to be comfortable. Oi, take your shoes off first!”
“You really shouldn’t overexcite her like that, Daniel. She’ll never sleep now.”
“Oh, rubbish! What’s the harm? Besides, you’ve probably had her running around like a headless chicken all afternoon, haven’t you?”
“I did very little, as it happens. That girl is like a thunderbolt, Daniel. I take my eyes off her for one second and it’s as if she was never by my side at all. It’s exhausting!”
“I’m sure it is! Come here, my love. Oooh! Your nose is cold, Barbara!”
“Well don’t give me a bear hug if you don’t like it, you great fool!”
“You didn’t have to stick your frozen hooter in my neck, did you? Come on in, I’ve made a pot already and it should still be warm.”
“Daniel, Jenny asked me about her mother again.”
“Right…how did that go?”
“She asked if her mummy is in trouble because the people who have been bad get sent away. I agreed with her, sort of.”
“Blimey, not much gets past her, does it?”
“That’s what worries me, Daniel. She can tell when we’re lying to her, even if she doesn’t understand why. What can we possibly say to her?”
“We’ll think of something.”
“She’s still so young! I don’t want her knowing about that place! How are we going to explain it to her?”
“I don’t know, Barb, honestly I don’t. But we can’t keep on dodging her questions just because we don’t like the answers.”
“Oh, I know that, Daniel! I’m not a child!”
“I know, Barb, and I didn’t mean it like that. It’s not easy, all this, but we’ll need to tell her about her mum sooner rather than later. She has a right to know.”
“Yes, you’re right, of course…did Rebecca call again today?”
“Yes, she did, about 12ish. She seems to be as well as can be expected. Quite upset to have missed Jenny again, though.”
“Well that serves her right, doesn’t it? Ooh, it makes me so angry to think about her, Daniel! How could she do it, knowing what would happen to Jennifer? To us?”
“I don’t think she was doing much thinking at the time, my love. Getting angry won’t help, so we’d better roll our sleeves up and do the best we can. Like we always have.”
“But our best has led to this…but you’re right, we must persevere. Come on, Jenny will wonder what’s keeping us if we stay out here much longer.”
“Alright, my love. Pass me your coat. I’ve already put the oven on and the chips are on the tray. I’ll just stick them…hang on, is that ice cream on your scarf, Barbara?”
***
“Hi, mum.”
“Oh, hello, Rebecca. You’re calling early today.”
“Yeah, I asked the warden for an earlier slot. I was…hoping to speak to Jenny.”
“Well, Jennifer is at school now, I’m afraid. It is a week day.”
“Oh…yeah, of course she is…I forgot…”
“Hmmm.”
“Where’s dad? I expected him to pick up.”
“Your father is in the loft. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can take to a boot sale.”
“Oh…it’s not that bad yet, is it?”
“Well it certainly isn’t easy, Rebecca, but we’ll manage.”
“Mum…I’m so sorry.”
“I should hope so, but that isn’t going to help Jennifer very much, is it?”
“Mum! Why do you have to be so cruel to me? I made a mistake!”
“Yes, you did, and Jennifer is paying for it! She doesn’t have a mother, and her father is goodness-knows-where! Do you ever think about that?”
“Of course I think about Jenny! I can’t stop thinking about her! Thinking about her is the only thing that…keeps me going.”
“…”
“Mum? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here, Rebecca. Look…I’m sorry for shouting at you. Your father and I are under a lot of pressure. We were a bit too old when you were born and this isn’t how we expected to spend our twilight years!”
“You’re not that old yet, mum.”
“That’s beside the point! I feel it sometimes.”
“Mum, how is Jenny today? Is she happy?”
“Yes, I believe so. She was singing songs from The Lion King with your father as they left this morning.”
“Oh, bless her! I always loved that film, too…”
“I remember…Rebecca, Jenny has been…asking about you. Quite often now.”
“What have you told her? What does she know?”
“Very little, but…your father thinks that it’s time that she did, and…I agree.”
“Okay…please don’t make her hate me, mum. I couldn’t bear it…”
“I doubt I could if I tried, Rebecca. That little girl adores you.”
“That’s so…nice to hear.”
“It’s the truth, Rebecca. I’ll speak to Jennifer soon.”
“Do you promise? Mum, please promise me!”
“I…promise.”
“Thank you…I love you, mum.”
“We’ll speak again soon, Rebecca. Take care of yourself.”

***

“Where’s granddad gone, grandma?”
“Granddad is in his shed, my darling. He’s building some lovely things out of wood just like he used to, and maybe he’ll be able to sell something.”
“Is granddad building another chair like the one in my room?”
“No, sweetheart, I think it’s a table this time. I’m sure he will show you when it’s done.”
“Granddad is very clever, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, my darling. Very clever, just like you!”
“My mummy is clever too, isn’t she?”
“I…yes, she was. Very good in school, just like you, Jenny.”
“I’ll be good at school so my mummy can come home.”
“That’s…wonderful, my darling. Jennifer?”
“Yeah, grandma?”
“Would you…like to see your mum? If we can arrange it?”
“Has my mummy stopped being naughty now?”
“I hope so, my darling! She can’t come home yet but she can have visitors now, and granddad and I wanted to know if you would like to see her. What do you think?”
“Do you think mummy misses me, grandma?”
“Oh of course she does, Jenny! She misses you very much!”
“I miss mummy, but she went away. Why did she leave me, grandma? If she was naughty you could have told her off and taken her toys away, like you do with me!”
“It’s…different for grown-ups, my darling…we need to go to a different place, like a Naughty Step, but far away.”
“Did mummy know I would miss her? I don’t like missing her. I wish she would come home.”
“I…yes, I think she would have known, but…but…”
“I would like to see mummy, grandma. May I see her? Please?”
“Yes, Jenny, of course you may. We can visit her soon, I’ll need to sort a few things out first.”
“But I want to see her now!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young lady! You will have to wait for a little while first, and only if you are not so rude!”
“I’m sorry, grandma…”
“Hmm…Jenny, why don’t you go and draw a nice picture to give to your mum when you see her? She would love that.”
“Yeah! Good idea, grandma! I’ll get my crayons!”
“Good girl…I…need to make a phone call…and speak with your granddad…”
“Grandma, why are you crying? Did I do something bad?”
“No, my darling…I’ve just got something in my eye.”

You can find me on Twitter here @ADixonFiction

The Need for Sleep

I wrote this story for the ‘Hour of Writes’ competition a few weeks ago. If you haven’t heard of Hour of Writes then I recommend you pay the site a visit. The idea is simple: the theme is set each week and participants are encouraged to write a story, poem or non-fiction piece based on it. A timer is set for one hour, and away you go! Each participant must read and mark three pieces of submitted work in order for their own to be considered for the prize, so it has a real community feel to it.

The theme for that particular was ‘Live the Dream’. Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Need For Sleep

By Adam Dixon

The weak morning sunlight trickled into the hotel room, promising a day of brightness and warmth. For Tomasz, the day could not seem any brighter than it already was. He reclined against the plump pillows on the large bed as the breeze from the open window raised pleasant goose-bumps on his arms. He selected a piece of warm, crispy bread from the tray on his knees and held it up to Justyna’s lips. Justyna, glowing from happiness and from their recent love-making, giggled and opened her mouth to accept the offering. She had never looked so beautiful and Tomasz fell in love with her all over again. Justyna crunched the bread and poked around on the tray for a moment. She lifted a piece of sausage and wriggled closer. The bed sheets she had gathered around her fell away, revealing her naked body for an instant before her raven-coloured hair covered her breasts. She placed a hand delicately on Tomasz’s chest and raised the other to his mouth. Tomasz breathed in the scent of the meat, detecting the sweet herbs added to flavour it. His stomach rumbled and Justyna laughed, bird-like and full of life.
“Eat, my love,” Justyna said, smiling sweetly. Tomasz stared into her pale blue eyes and opened his mouth. He relished the rich, succulent flavour of the meat almost as much as the feeling of Justyna’s fingers on his lips and on his chest. Desire awoke within him again and he gently cupped her face. He leaned forwards and moved his face towards hers…

A bell sounded, piercing and urgent. Tomasz awoke with a start and immediately cried out in despair.
“No! Not again!” he wailed, covering his eyes with his hands. Tears coursed down his leathery, wrinkled face and fell to the floor. The bell rang again impatiently.
“Oh, Justyna!” Tomasz moaned as he swung his weary legs from the warmth of his single bed. He could still taste the sausage on his tongue, and her fingertips still lingered on his lips… Tomasz dressed quickly in a simple shirt and trousers, shoving his feet into his reliable old boots. He stood and gazed at himself in the small, grimy mirror on his bedside table. His rheumy eyes took in the image of an old man, crumpled and heartbroken. His eyes strayed to his left arm and he sighed. He hadn’t removed the Artifact; he detested that part almost as deeply as waking up. He unclasped the leather binding as swiftly as his arthritic fingers would allow before pulling it away. He winced as the sharp stud pulled free from his flesh, dripping blood in a thin crimson river down his forearm. Tomasz wrapped a simple bandage around the wound before shrugging on a battered overcoat. The bell rang again as he tucked the Artifact into a secret compartment next to his bed. Tomasz swore.
“I am coming, you cretin!” he said through clenched teeth. “You had better have a lot of work for me today, I wish to sleep for longer tonight!” He patted the unassuming wooden panel hiding the Artifact for reassurance, then he shuffled out of his tiny room. His employer awaited.

“Tomasz, what the hell kept you?” the mage demanded, his ridiculous green eyebrows arching in annoyance. Tomasz bowed, causing his back to crack audibly.
“My apologies, Master Aleksander,” he wheezed. “I must have overslept.”
“This is happening too often, old man!” the mage snapped, crossing his arms in his voluminous golden sleeves. “Honestly, if you ever came to your senses and ask for proper payment I would dismiss you and hire someone younger!”
“Do not fear, Master Aleksander,” Tomasz said with practiced humility. He glanced up with a sad smile. “All I require is for my tasks to be exhausting and for somewhere to sleep once they are complete. Nothing more.” Aleksander eyed Tomasz with distaste. The man had been using the Artifact again; he positively reeked of the ancient magic. Aleksander shuddered at the idea of using fresh blood to awaken a spell, it was almost medieval. For a moment, Aleksander’s coldness evaporated. If only he could find a way for the Artifact to work with magically-induced sleep…that would give Tomasz a bit of an easier time…if he could just- but no, Aleksander did not have time to waste researching such frivolities.
“Good,” the mage said stiffly, regaining his poise. He jerked a poultice-stained thumb towards a set of wooden stairs. “I have twelve barrels of healing potions which need decanting into the one-hundred-and-twenty flasks you will see in the cellar. They have already been laid out, and they will each need to be stoppered and labelled. Do not spill a single drop, Tomasz, it is expensive stock!”
“Right away, sir!” Tomasz said eagerly. “I do apologise once again for my lateness. I will make it up to you, I promise.” With that, he hurried off to the cellar steps and descended into darkness. Aleksander frowned after him. He was almost certain that the old man was thinner than before. He looked almost skeletal.
“You’re not eating properly, are you?” Aleksander mumbled. He shook his head; he had no time to care about the whims of an old labourer!
“Bah! If he wishes to tread this path, so be it!” he said to himself. “I’m not his keeper! I’ll not interfere!”

Tomasz fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit his pillow that night. He had willed his aching, fatigued body back to his claustrophobic room and had attached the Artifact as soon as he could. The brief sting followed by the unnatural throbbing as the magic leaked into him did not prevent him from slipping away quickly. His eyes opened within a dream almost right away. He looked down at his hands. They were old and wrinkled, so it was not a dream of younger times. A shame, but it couldn’t be helped. He glanced around him, and his heart sank in his chest.
He was in a hospital. Sterile white walls surrounded him on all sides and the reek of stale urine and futile disinfectant invaded his nostrils. A corridor stretched out in front of him, and at the end of it was a single bed. On it lay a shape which he couldn’t quite make out, but he knew it was Justyna.
“No, not this one…” he croaked, closing his eyes tight and willing himself to wake up. The offensive odour grew stronger and he heard a weak voice call his name.
“Tomasz? Tomasz, where are you?”
“Justyna!” Tomasz opened his eyes and lurched forward as a strangled sob escaped his lips. His footsteps boomed on the floor, echoing loudly around him and lancing into his ears like daggers. He staggered into a run, seeing the bed moving closer, but slowly, oh so slowly!
“Tomasz? Tomasz, are you there? Tomasz…I’m frightened…”
“I’m coming, my love!” Tomasz called desperately. “I’ll not leave you!” Tomasz hauled himself along the corridor, his old legs protesting and his chest tightening painfully as his breathing came out in short gasps. After what seemed like hours Tomasz reached the bed. It was a simple affair, just a thin mattress on top of a bench, but that was all the space the hospital had been able to provide them with at the time. The Plague had spread so quickly…
“Tomasz?” Justyna tried to raise herself in the bed, her wasted arms trembling with the effort. Her once-radiant face was gaunt and discoloured by the consuming disease, and the light in her beautiful eyes was dim. Tomasz gently lowered her back down and took both of her hands. He forced a smile and blinked away tears as he fought to catch his breath.
“I am…here, Justyna,” he said. “I will…always be…here,”
“Oh, Tomasz, I hurt so,” Justyna said miserably. Her back arched and she winced in pain. Her bony fingers gripped his weakly, and Tomasz felt her wedding band slide up a few millimeters at the movement.
“It’s alright, my love,” he wheezed, leaning down to kiss her cheek. It was so cold, and so thin. She even smelled wrong, like the disinfectant on the floors. Tomasz’s lips trembled as he kissed her and he fought to the urge to cry out in despair. Instead he whispered in Justyna’s ear.
“I love you, Justyna,” he said, channeling all of his passion into the words. “Gods, I love you so much…”
“I love you too, Tomasz,” Justyna said, cradling his head with her arms. They clung to one another in silence, neither knowing what to say. Tomasz wished he could do something, anything for her.
“Tomasz, will we see the Grand Budapest again?” Justyna asked, breaking the oppressive silence with a faint voice. Tomasz choked down a sob; the Grand Budapest was the hotel where they had spent their honeymoon.
“I think so, my love,” he whispered. “You just need to get better first. The doctors will make you strong again, you’ll see.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Justyna said, lying back down with her eyes closed. She wore a smile, and Tomasz smiled as well. Justyna’s breathing became less labourious, and she appeared to relax. Tomasz still held her hands in his, and felt the tears splashing on to them. He opened his mouth to speak to her…

The bell rang sharply. Tomasz was jerked awake and ran a hand across his wet cheeks.
“Oh, Justyna,” he said, shaking his head and groaning. He sat up and pulled away the Artifact, not caring that the blood spattered onto his pillow. He stood and dressed himself, preparing for the next day of work. He stared into the mirror once again, and then staggered off. He sincerely wished for a better dream that evening…

Fiction Fursday/Reblog

Today’s story comes in the form of a shameless re-blog of my own material. Some months ago, (EIGHT, to be exact! Where the bloody hell does the time go?!), I wrote a story which was all about my beloved Brighton. This week’s choice is mostly a cop-out because I wanted to post something and have nothing ready, and partly because I miss Brighton so. It’s been more than six months since I moved up north and I haven’t thought about it much, but this week has found me strangely reflective and a bit sad to have left that lively, vibrant place behind. Still, I hold it dearly in my heart and will return very soon; I have a particular friend who lives there whom I owe a beer or five, for one! She knows who she is…

Anyway, here is an extract from a fun little story, “Pride and Seagulls”. It made me smile and cheered me up to re-read it; I hope it interests you enough to follow the link and that you enjoy it if you do.

P.S. If you would like to suggest a story for me to write in the coming weeks, please feel free to let me know in the comments section. I will take on any genre and any prompt!

P.P.S. In reaction to the changes in my life and my ambitions, I have been giving some serious thought to the future of this blog. I will explain all in a post very soon. Watch this space!

 

Pride and Seagulls

By Adam Dixon

“I’ve always wondered why that worship that one,” said Waark the seagull, wiggling his scruffy feathers. “I mean, what’s so special about him anyway?”

“You sure it’s a he?” Kai-Kai replied as he dug his beak into his wing. “I’ve always thought it was a female.” He shuffled to adjust his balance as a gust of wind nudged him sideways.

“Nahh, can’t be!” Waark scoffed, but he still cocked his head for a better look. From their vantage point on the roof of the American Express Community Stadium the two gulls had a very good view of the whole building. They were scrutinising the gigantic image of a seagull in flight which decorated one of the walls facing the freshly-cut pitch, the same gull which was depicted onto several rows of plastic seating. They stared at the image in silence for several minutes.

“No, it’s definitely a male!” Waark said triumphantly.

Fiction Fursday/The Second Sun

Hello, everyone! This is it, as of today I’m commiting to bringing back my “Fiction Fursday” segment! It was short-lived previously, as for a number of reasons I got side-tracked and lost the flow, as well as motivation if I am completely honest. However, whilst I was keeping up with it I had some excellent contributions from my friends here on WordPress as well as from friends and family who follow my blog.

Here are just a few of the projects I completed before if you would like to take a look:

A Crisis in Alexandria The Animals’ Advice, Stonefur the Mighty, The Boy and the Oak Tree, Flossy’s Chance

I was really pleased with all of the resulting stories and I’ve been eager to start it up once again. So here goes!

If any of you wonderful bloggers and followers would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to leave it in the comment section below. It can be anything from a single word, a first/last line or even a detailed description of a story you would like me to attempt. I’ll take on any challenges, so don’t be shy!

Today’s prompt comes from a good friend of mine, Matt. He suggested that I write a sci-fi story in which a person is woken from cryogenic stasis in the future by robots, and that the world is unrecognisable from being superheated. He also added that the robots can only thaw out one human per year. Well, that was quite a lot to go with and I’ve eagerly accepted the challenge. I hope you enjoy what I was able to come up with. Thanks again, Matt!

 

The Second Sun

                                                                       By Adam Dixon                      

Genevieve felt the heat first. The intense, unrelenting heat melted the cocoon of ice which enveloped her, leaving her gasping and recoiling from the glare of the sun. She fell from a metallic pod onto her knees. The impact jarred her bones and she grunted in pain.

“Argh…burns!” she managed to splutter, her jaw yielding reluctantly after years of inactivity. The muscles in her arms creaked as she lifted them to shield her face. The image of a vampire shying away from the first rays of dawn filled her mind and she almost laughed. As soon as the water had evaporated from her skin she began to feel slick with sweat. She ran both hands through her grey-dusted, curled red hair and probed her face with her fingertips. She felt her petite nose and her proud chin, as well as the tiny holes in her ear lobes. She felt the skin of her face, noting the slight wrinkles with disdain. Her vanity had endured, it seemed.

Welcome back, Miss Genevieve Peers,” a flat, emotionless voice said from nearby. Genevieve tried to open her eyes but the strong sunlight forced them shut once again.

“Argh! Where…am I?” she said, grimacing in pain as she stood on trembling legs. “Who are you?”

Number 2217 of the Sentinels,” the voice replied. “You are at Cryogenic Station Seven, in the area once known as Richmond-upon-Thames, London.

“Richmond…” Genevieve repeated, struggling to remember. “Yes…Yes! The Cryo-Station by the Palace!” She smiled in triumph and opened her eyes at a squint. Number 2217 was just as she recalled the Sentinels; impressive and impassive. Standing at six feet tall, the robot was humanoid in form and covered in what looked like black scales. The ‘scales’ were solar panels, ensuring that the Sentinel could function indefinitely in the sunlight. It had two arms and two legs, and a head displaying two eye slits and a speaker for a mouth; a simple outward design which belayed the complex circuitry beneath. Genevieve sucked in air through her nose, and was surprised to register a scorched smell like burnt toast. She gazed about her, searching for familiar landmarks. She got a nasty surprise.

“What…what happened here?” she said in disbelief. The area had changed beyond recognition. The houses of the borough were gone, as were the busy roads, the lampposts and any sign of human habitation. There were far more trees than she recalled and they rose into the air like behemoths of foliage and bark. The soil beneath her bare feet had a coarse quality like sand and shifted as she moved. She staggered forwards a few steps under the shade of a gigantic oak, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hampton Court Palace. There was nothing but trees where it had once stood.

The arrival of the Second Sun increased the temperature of the Earth by several degrees,” Number 2217 stated. “Human constructs were eroded long ago and nature has reclaimed the planet.

“Reclaimed…” Genevieve breathed, staring about her in confusion. “No…surely not…is nothing left?”

Nothing man-made, only for Cryogenic Station Seven and the Sentinels,” 2217 replied. Genevieve was stunned.

“But…” she began, scratching at her curly red which was dusted with grey. “But… there were hundreds of Cryo-Stations across the world…. how long have I been frozen? What year is it?

It is the year 3035 A.D. You have been in cryogenic stasis for one thousand and fifteen years. All other Cryogenic Stations have been destroyed.

“One thous-“ Genevieve felt faint. She had known that she would likely be kept frozen for a great number of years, but the reality was unbelievable. She searched for something to say as her groggy brain tried to process the information.

“I…I still feel cold,” she said, rubbing her crossed arms. “How can I feel cold when it’s so damn hot?” She looked down and noticed for the first time that she was naked. She flushed with embarrassment and anger. “Number 2217, bring me something to cover myself with!”

“Clothing is illogical in the current climate,” 2217 said. “The effects of the cryogenic procedure will remain for several days. It has occurred in every Thawing thus far.

Genevieve brightened, standing up straight. “Of course, there will have been others before me! Very well, Number 2217, take me to them. I wish to speak with the leader and see how I may begin my new life. By the looks of things, I won’t be needed for my business acumen right away!” Genevieve smiled at her joke and looked at the Sentinel expectantly.

Impossible,” 2217 responded. “There are no other humans here. You alone have been Thawed, as our orders dictate.

“What? Don’t be absurd!” Genevieve narrowed her eyes, waving a hand at the robot. “Take me to the human settlement!”

“Impossible,” 2217 repeated. “You are the sole conscious human on the planet.

“Do you mean that the others are still frozen?” Genevieve frowned.

There are twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-three humans remaining in stasis at Cryogenic Station Seven.” 2217 replied. “There is only power available to Thaw one human per calendar year. The remaining power must preserve the stasis pods.

Genevieve looked around at the desolate landscape, finally registering the robots’ words. The sole conscious human

“No, that can’t be right,” Genevieve shook her head, her curls bouncing. “You said there were others before me, what happened to them?”

You are the fifteenth human from Cryogenic Station Seven to be Thawed.” 2217 replied. “Your predecessors did not survive.

Genevieve felt as if she had been slapped in the face. She stood still, staring at the Sentinel with her mouth agape and sweat trickling down her face and body. “Then…what will happen to me? You’ll keep me alive, won’t you? You must do, it’s what you were created for.”

You are no longer a concern of the Sentinels,” 2217 said. “Our duty has been performed. You are to be ignored as soon as this conversation ends.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Genevieve barked; incredulity eclipsed her fear and she welcomed the distraction. “You’re programmed to protect human life!”

Sentinels are programmed to ensure that intelligent life will prosper,” 2217 replied. “It has been concluded that human life will not survive on Earth. It is a waste of resources to aid you, but we do not possess the knowledge to override our programming. A robotics expert is required for the Sentinels cease the Thawing procedure indefinitely.

“You want to…cease the procedure?” Genevieve was horrified. “But then human beings will die out! You can’t do that! This is our planet! You are our creations!”

It is the logical conclusion,” 2217 said. Genevieve felt sick as the cold, ruthless part of her brain which had served her so well in her previous life acknowledged the statement.

“But how is it that you can still operate under these conditions?” Genevieve asked, hope creeping into her voice. “Surely you ought to melt, or your circuits would overheat, or something! If you’ve managed to survive then maybe a human can overcome the heat as well?”

Our bodies can withstand much higher external temperatures and are unaffected by the lack of humidity.” 2217 responded.  “Human beings cannot expect to survive the highest temperatures for longer than one day.

“But…but what about the shade?” Genevieve cried, desperation raising the pitch of her voice.

The heat of the air is still too great,” 2217 said. “You will perspire at a rate which will not allow fluids to pass through your body in time to replenish it.” As if to confirm his statement, the sweat on Genevieve back, face and breasts began to evaporate, steaming slightly in the shade. Genevieve’s head swam and she swayed on her feet.

“Wont’ you even fetch me something to drink?” she demanded. “I’m dehydrating as we speak!”

It is a waste of resources to aid you.” 2217 said again. “Your predecessors collected rainwater. It is suggested that you attempt to do the same.” Genevieve bit her lip as a furious retort died on its way up her throat. She looked up at the clear, blue sky and searched in vain for a dark cloud. She saw only two vast orbs of white-hot light hovering high above the world.

“So…you’re saying that I’m screwed, right?” Genevieve said, looking at the Sentinel with tears in her eyes. She yearned for the barest hint of compassion in her stoic companion. She received none.

You will certainly die after the winter has passed. At present, you have a fifteen per cent chance at survival for the remaining two months of winter.” Genevieve burst into angry, hysterical tears and began to wrench at her hair.

“THIS ISN’T RIGHT!” she wailed, stamping her feet. “I WAS ONE OF THE CHOSEN! This was to be a new beginning, the start of a new human empire, damn it! I’m not supposed to die like this!”

It is recommended that you cease crying as soon as possible,” Number 2217 said, its emotionless voice was a stark contrast to Genevieve’s despair. “It is a waste of bodily fluids.” With that it turned around and began to move away, towards the gaping, dry channel which used to be the River Thames. A cluster of Sentinels were digging in the dusty earth.

“Wait! Wait!” Genevieve said, stumbling after 2217. She moved out of the shade of the giant trees and felt her flesh seared by the two suns. She hissed and stepped backwards, her wide eyes taking in the angry red skin on her chest and shoulders; a vampire, indeed!

“You can’t just leave me here!” she screamed, clenching her fists and waving them after the retreating robot. “I need water! How am I supposed to eat? This is murder! COME BACK HERE, YOU MURDERER!” But the robot did not. It walked on, its shining solar panels glinting in the sun and mocking Genevieve’s delicate skin. Genevieve stood quivering with pain and impotence.

“So that’s it then?” she whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks. “It’s all over…I’m going to die here…” Genevieve Peers gazed around the unfamiliar, tropical landscape with its colossal foliage, its sandy ground and its cruel sunlight and she wept despite the warning. She wept for the world, she wept for the humans who would follow her, and she wept for herself. Overhead, the two suns blazed down on Earth like sadistic children cooking ants under a magnifying glass, and they had spotted their newest plaything.