Monday, 13 February 2017

Mist

My mummy was standing by the sink doing the washing  up.  I always wondered what the point of washing things were, when they were just going to get dirty again.  Clutching Rufus by his paw, I walked over to her and pulled the bottom of her dress to get her attention.

“Mummy, I can't find Mist anywhere.”

Without looking down she said, “Milicent June Walker, you've got a million toys.  Go and play with one of those.”

I looked down sadly and squeezed Rufus' paw.  He barked loudly and I giggled when I saw mummy jump.

“Milly, mummy's busy now.  Go talk to daddy.”

With Rufus bouncing along behind me, I ran over to daddy who was reading a big, big, big newspaper in the garden.

“Hey, Milly.  What you up to today?” Daddy said, as he brushed a hand through my hair.

“Me and Rufus are looking for Mist.  We lost her.”

Daddy rubbed his prickly chin.  “You have a million toys.  Which one's Mist?”

“Mist! She's my alby line.  Rufus' best friend.”

“Alby line? Oh albino lion.  I haven't seen Mist.  Why don't you and Rufus go and find her?”

Squeezing Rufus' soft paw, I ran to our spaceships.
****
I had parked our spaceship at the edge of the jungle that me, Rufus and Mist had finished exploring.  This was where we had lost Mist.  We were in the Valley of Thorns, when she had disappeared.  After I had briefed Rufus on this, I strapped him into his spaceship and climbed into mine.  Our spaceship was called the Build a Bear workshop.  I put my headset on and started speaking to Rufus.

“Captain Rufus, this is Major Milly and we need to find Captain Mist.  Set coordinates for 0,6, North West, over by that tree.”

Rufus barked a yes.

“Engage your engines and we're taking off! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I cheered, as our spaceships whizzed past burning suns and multicoloured planets.  We flew faster than comets and shooting stars.  I had to steer sharply to avoid a big big big floating spaceman, but then the spaceman reached into my spaceship.

“Milly! Why did you take my colander? You know I need that for the pasta tonight!”

“But, mummy, it's my headset.”

“You're 5.  You're too old for this.” Mum walked away sighing and I returned to my mission.  My mum was wrong.  I'm 5 and ¾, not 5.

“We're landing now!” I yelled out, taken back by the power of the twin fire engines.  As soon as we had touched down, I leapt out of my ship like a little frog, grabbed Rufus and ran into the jungle.
****
To reach Mist and the Valley of Thorns, me and Rufus had to reach the middle of the jungle.

“Don't be scared, Rufus.  I've got my Dark Sword to protect us.” Holding Rufus' paw in one hand and my weapon in the other, I pressed forward.  It was very quiet in the jungle, there was just the funny sound of the crickets chirping.  Rufus barked behind me.

“What is it boy?” I couldn't see anything, just hanging vines and a wobbly old rope bridge.  Rufus barked again and I gasped what I saw.  In front of us, stood a big, big, big spider with huge teeth and a funny liquid dripping from its mouth.  The spider launched forward with one leg, which I blocked with a quick swipe from my sword.  The spider screeched, as its leg was eaten by the dark magic.  With seven working legs, it limped around me and without warning, knocked me onto my back.  The spider scuttled up to me and as it stabbed down with its stinging bit, I stabbed up with my sword.  The spider screamed and reared up.  I took more swipes at its legs, causing it to crawl back into the undergrowth.  I picked up Rufus who had been hiding behind a tree.

“Come on, boy.  Let's find Mist.”

We carried on walking through the jungle fighting off spiders, hiding from black eagles and dodging traps set by the natives.  We finally reached a rickety old rope bridge set over a very angry river.  I felt Rufus clutch my hand tightly.

“Do we have to go over that?” He whined softly and then there was a very scared roar.

“That's Mist roaring, Rufus.  She's scared and she needs us.  Be brave for her.  That's a good boy.”

Slowly, I stepped onto the bridge and flinched, as it shook violently.  Rufus whimpered and I picked him up and held him in my arms.  I continued across the bridge, ignoring the river below me that was shouting like my mummy when she was mad.  I kept breathing and continued walking.  My left hand was gripping the rope tightly, while Rufus buried his head in my chest.  Steadily, we made it to the other side.

“You're a very brave dog, Rufus.” I said, just as I heard another terrified roar.  I knew that Mist was close.  Letting Rufus walk along side me, we slowly approached the Valley of Thorns and that was when we saw Mist.  Her white fur easily stood out from the green thorns and there were spots of red in her fur.  What were they, I wondered? When she saw me, she started excitedly mewing.

“Mist, I'm so sorry we left you behind, but we're going home now.” Using my Dark Sword, I cut away the thorns that Mist had gotten tangled in.  When she was free, Rufus started licking the red spots on her fur.  I wasn't sure why.

“Come on.  Let's go home.”
****
The three of us walked out of the Valley of Thorns and back over the wobbly old rope bridge.  Rufus was still too scared to walk over it, so he rode on Mist's back.  She was weak, but strong enough to walk.  As we reached the spot where I fought the big, big, big spider, we heard a loud rumbling behind us.

“Is that an animal?” I asked.  I took out my Dark Sword and both Rufus and Mist started roaring.  As I saw the whole jungle running, I knew this wasn't an animal.  I told my two friends to hide somewhere safe and turned back to the rumbling.

“What's she doing?” Rufus asked, worriedly.

Mist smiled toothily.  “Being Milly.”

I knew what the rumbling was.  I always heard it when I was in the jungle.  The giant boulder came crashing towards me, squashing trees as if they were ants.  As I held up my Dark Sword, I saw the boulder chase everything out of the jungle and then it came for me.  But, it never got that far.  As soon as the boulder touched the sword, it ka-boomed into a million, zillion pieces.  I walked back to Rufus and Mist.

“Let's go home.”

As soon as I landed the spaceship, I saw my mummy march up to me.  She did not look happy.  I could only imagine Rufus and Mist hiding behind me.

“Millicent Walker! Where have you been? Why do you have my wooden spoon?”

“It's my Dark Sword.” Without wanting to, I gave it back.

I heard my mummy's voice turn nicer.  “You're all muddy and there are leaves and twigs in your hair.  Where have you been?”

“Over the plank at the river, where the woods are.”

“Milly, you know I've told you it's not safe for you down there at the bottom of the garden.  Why don't you listen to me?”

I shrugged and smiled innocently.  “I had to find what I lost."

*Author's Notes*

So this is a story I wrote for the Newcastle University Creative Writing Society competition based on the theme of 'Lost and Found.'  Writing something like this was very new to me, as I've never written a story from the perspective of a child, which is something I really enjoyed.  This is also the third thing that I have had published: https://issuu.com/scrittura_mag/docs/scrittura_magazine_issue_3_spring_2/1

Monday, 6 February 2017

For a Drive

He couldn't stop looking at her.  Her blonde curls tossed across the pillow.  Her eyelids flickering.  Her chest rising and falling.  Her hand lying over the side of the bed.  The tube up her nose to stop her from going hungry.  She had been lying like this for two days in room 1136 and Michael could see that she was still beautiful.  Even with needles stuck in her veins and traces of dried blood underneath her fingernails.  He took her hand.

"Fight it, Lyds.  Fight it with everything you got."
****
Whilst Lydia had been in her initial surgery, Michael had waited outside of the operating theatre.  He hadn't been able to keep still.  He had fidgeted on his chair, tapped his fingers, jumped at every loud noise, mindlessly fondled a little black box.  He had been briefly questioned by two police officers who had asked him to explain his relationship to Lydia and to give the full details of the incident.  They had promised they would do everything they could to help.
****
The door closing had broken Michael’s dreams of blood splattering and glaring lights. For a third night in a row, he had slept with his head on Lydia's chest.  Listening to her heartbeat.  At least her heart hadn't been affected.  A middle-aged woman with bags under her eyes, a silver watch and a look of permanent scorn on her face approached him.

"Are you Mr. Reilly?"

Michael, taken aback by her accusing tone, stood up defensively.  "Who are you?"

The woman picked up the clipboard at the end of Lydia's bed and took a cursory glance of it.  She had already been briefed about the serious details of her patient's case.
"I’m Tabitha and I’m to assist Doctor Lightfoot and Nurse Wilson in Miss Fletcher's treatment.  I’m the day nurse and Nurse Wilson will help in the nights.  And yourself?"

"Yeah, I’m Mr. Reilly.  I'm Lydia's fi...boyfriend! Doctor Lightfoot said it was fine if I stay with Lydia."

"Very well.  But, I need to change her IV drips and I would appreciate it, if you didn't get in my way." Tabitha had the sort of voice, where everything she said had a hint of cynical sarcasm.

"I'm Lydia's fi...boyfriend! I will help her in any damn way I can!" In Michael's hand, he felt a slight shiver and realised that he had scared his girlfriend, with his sudden outburst.  Forgetting about the scorn-faced nurse for a second, he knelt by Lydia's side and was about to breathe out an apology, before realising how hollow it would sound, in light of the reason why Lydia was really here.

Tabitha realised that she had been overly harsh with Michael.  "I'm sorry, Mr Reilly.  You're perfectly entitled to stay with Miss Fletcher, but I am afraid I will have to ask you to leave, whilst I change Miss Fletcher's IV drip.  You can come straight back in, when I'm finished."

Michael stood up and looked into the full-length mirror besides Lydia’s bed.  He saw his brown eyes that were discoloured with too many tinges of red.  His dirty blond curly hair was decorated with what looked like freshly-fallen snow and his facial hair had grown rough and bushy.

Tabitha walked to the sink and picked up a disinfectant wipe.  "You should go to one of our waiting rooms and get some sleep."

Michael could see that Lydia was now awake and he wondered how much she had just witnessed. He sighed and left room 1136.
****
Doctor Lightfoot saw Michael standing outside of room 1136.  "Mr Reilly, can I talk to you?"

"Oh, Doctor Lightfoot, I didn't hear you coming."

"Can we speak in my office?"

Michael followed the balding senior doctor with a million wrinkles on his forehead, along the corridors lit with flickering halogen lights.  Doctor Lightfoot's office was nothing spectacular.  Two plastic chairs sat in front of a cold, steel desk, with pens and pencils that were all perfectly in line.  There was a grey filing cabinet looming ominously in one corner of the room and on one wall was a gargantuan poster showing a pretty landscape with an "inspirational" quotation that had absolutely nothing to do with the picture.  The doctor walked over to the filing cabinet and pulled out a ring-binder, from the F-J section.  He sat down at his desk and opened the file, whilst Michael sat down opposite him.

“As you're fully aware Miss Fletcher's whiplash was extremely severe and it is highly possible that she will remain paralysed below the neck for the rest of her life," Michael didn't react.  He already knew this from Doctor Lightfoot's initial prognosis,

"however, this is not what I wanted to speak to you about.  Our latest X-ray scans have shown  that Miss Fletcher has Traumatic Aortic Disruption. This means that an area of her heart, the area which pumps blood into the arteries has been partially torn away.  Our TEE and CAT scans have confirmed this for us.  We have to perform surgery on Miss Fletcher within the next few days.  We've already told her about this.  Mr Reilly? Mr Reilly?"

Michael was staring at the fuzzy carpet beneath him.  When he did look up, his vision glazed past the doctor's head and through the window, into the overcast London evening that lay beyond.  “What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to go home and get some sleep.  Miss Fletcher has listed her sister, Jennifer Fletcher, as her second emergency contact, after you of course.  She will be brought in to discuss the technicalities of the surgery.”

Michael ran a hand through his hair causing it to snow onto the carpet.  "Can I leave now?"

"Of course."

Without another word, Michael left Doctor Lightfoot's office and walked back down the corridor to room 1136.
****
Tabitha was waiting outside of Lydia's room.

"Ah, Mr Reilly, Miss Fletcher's IV drip has been changed and I was hoping that I could teach you how to communicate with her."

"Communicate?" He repeated.

"As you know, during the accident, Miss Fletcher suffered smoke inhalation, which damaged her lungs.  However, we have an alphabet chart that we can use to help her talk to us." Tabitha led Michael into the room and directed him to a chair.  Tabitha was now standing to Michael's side, holding a pen, a pad of paper and an alphabet chart.

“This alphabet chart is very simple to use,” Tabitha said, holding up a transparent 6x6 board, “as you can see on this chart, there are six rows and six columns.  The first column consists entirely of vowels, whereas all of the rows contain consonants and numbers.  I shall start by reading the first column aloud and if Miss Fletcher wishes to use a consonant on a particular row, she needs to blink, when I read out the corresponding vowel.  I’ll begin reading the vowels now.  A, E, I-“

“She blinked!” Michael exclaimed.

“Row I.  Now I’ll read out the letters on row I.  I-”

“She blinked again.”

“First letter I.  I’ll just jot this down, so I won’t forget.  Time to start again.  A, E, I, O-row O.  P, Q, R, S, T.  Second letter T.  And back to the beginning.”

Slowly, Michael began to understand what Lydia was trying to say and he stopped Tabitha, as she was halfway through the message. “Can we have some privacy please? I understand how to do this now.”

“I’ll be right outside if you need me.” The nurse handed the board, the pen and the paper to Michael, before leaving the room.

"We don’t need to continue, Lyds.  I know what you're going to say, but don't bother.  It was my fault."

Lydia rolled her eyes.  It was just typical of Michael to blame himself for everything, but she decided to change the subject.  She nodded her head ever so slightly towards the board to signal she had something else to say.  Michael picked up the board and began reading out the first column.  As Lydia blinked accordingly, her boyfriend started writing down her message.  Once she had finished, he read her words aloud.

"Tabitha said you've barely left my side,” Michael looked between the message and Lydia, “I can't just leave you like this!" He protested, but quickly took up the alphabet chart as his girlfriend began blinking again.  Again, Michael read out her words, as she finished blinking.

  "How much sleep have you gotten,” he asked the question aloud and then answered it, as if he were having a conversation with himself, “I’ve gotten enough.” He turned back to the board, as Lydia started blinking again.  Michael smiled as he read the words on the paper aloud:

"Get some sleep.  Jenny will be here.  I don’t want to see you before my surgery.  If I do, I’m going to knock you out.”

  He knew it wasn't a threat, but a promise.  Lydia had started blinking again, but this time it was out of pain.  She could feel her face contorting, her eyelids flickering, a fire lighting itself in her nose.  A Mexican standoff in her brain with all guns blazing.  Lydia inwardly groaned, as her cheeks became moist.  She swore she'd never cry at this again, like she did every single time.  Lydia screwed her eyes shut, as if that would block out the pain.  It felt like a million wasps had flown up her nose and had impaled their stingers on the most sensitive areas of her brain.  She forced herself to open her eyes and saw that Michael was standing over her with Tabitha.  The pain had been so intense that she hadn't heard the nurse re-enter the room.  As Lydia looked upwards, she could see Michael and Tabitha were talking about her.

"Miss Fletcher has started eating," the nurse explained, "that tube up her nose goes down her throat and into her stomach."

"She was in a lot of pain." Michael commented.  Lydia blinked and could feel two tear drops running down her cheeks that were quickly dried by her boyfriend.

"She would have been.  People gauge the pain in different ways.  Miss Fletcher compares it to an army of insects invading her brain, whilst others have said it feels like their whole head is on fire."

"Surely those drugs must help?" Michael pointed towards the IV drip.

"They do, but they don't get rid of the pain.  I feel so sorry for the poor souls, but that's the only way we can feed them."

"I should go now.  Lyds told me that I should get some sleep and if I don't listen to her, she'll tan my arse." Michael leant over and kissed his girlfriend's cheek.
****
The night was an empty black without a single star.   Michael pushed open his front door and flicked the light switch.  He had barely been at his apartment for the last few days and everything was much the same as how he left it.  The same cereal bowls sitting in the sink, waiting to be washed up.  The same photos of him and Lyds around their apartment.  The same fridge that was virtually empty.  The entire flat felt empty.  Void of everything but possessions and memories and emotions.  Michael walked into the kitchen and emptied his pockets onto the counter: his keys, his phone, a little black box.  Then he walked into the bedroom.  He smiled at how all of Lydia's make-up had been left lying around, because she hadn't had time to put them away.  All over the floor were skirts and dresses, as Lydia had frantically tried to find something to wear for that night.  Michael laid down on his side of the bed and grabbed onto Lydia's pyjama shirt that had sneaked under his pillow.  He pulled it to his face and took comfort in its familiar smell.  Clutching onto Lydia's shirt, Michael fell into a troubled sleep of blood, oil and a glittering topaz imprisoned in a little black box.
****
"Wake up, lazy bones."

Michael rubbed his eyes and stared up at the face looking down at him.

"Lydia!" He cried out.

"Nope, I'm Jenny, remember?" The woman straightened up and let Michael clamber off of the bed.

"Sorry Jenny, I don't know why I called you that."

She chuckled affectionately.  "Don't worry about it.  Have you done anything these past few days? You look like you haven't left your bed.”

“I haven't really.  Lydia told me that I should just stay at home for a few days and get some rest.”

“She told me she’d knock you out if you didn't.” Jenny laughed.

“You've been speaking to her?" Michael's eyes lit up with excitement.

"Well, I've been using that alphabet chart thing, but she does appreciate what you've done for her.  Do you want some breakfast? I've found some bacon and bread in your virtually empty fridge.”

Michael followed Jenny to the kitchen and he noticed that the little black box was still on the counter.  As Jenny opened a pack of bacon and put it on to cook, Michael wondered how he could have confused her with Lydia.  The two might have been sisters, but they didn't look anything alike.  Where Lydia had blonde curls, Jenny's hair was straight and brunette, where Lydia's eyes were sky blue, Jenny's were chocolate brown.

"Why are you here?"

"To check how you are.  If it was my girlfriend in hospital, then I think I would be pretty messed up.”

Michael decided to change the conversation by signalling to the cooker.  "Looks like the bacon's done." He and Jenny worked together to turn the bacon rashers into bacon sandwiches.

"How have you been?" Michael asked, as he was squirting a generous helping of ketchup onto his bacon.

"You mean other than worrying about my baby sister? Yeah, I've been fine.  Stop hogging the ketchup!"

Michael passed the bottle over and then the pair were surrounded by silence.  Jenny looked downwards at the little black box on the counter.

"You were going to propose, weren't you?"

Michael's silence spoke for him.

"It's a beautiful ring," Jenny broke off suddenly, "are you still going to do it?"

"I can't.  I just can't." Michael pushed away his half-eaten sandwich.

"Why not?"

"For one thing, Lydia may never leave that hospital bed.  Doctor Lightfoot told me that even if the surgery is successful, Lydia may be paralysed below the neck indefinitely and it's all my FAULT!" Michael slammed his fist onto the counter, making the plate tremble in terror.

"Don't be silly.  Of course it wasn't your fault."

"Yes, it was," Michael snapped, "I was the one driving the car, I was the one who wasn't looking, when that dickhead cut me off!"

"Have they caught him? She asked, after pausing a little at Michael's sudden hostility.

"No.  The police told me that the car was stolen, but they haven't found who stole it."

This left another silence, as Jenny embraced Michael.

"She would say yes, you know."

"What?"

Jenny broke free of the hug and looked her sister's boyfriend in the face.  "If you asked her, she would say yes. You can still ask her."

Michael looked downwards.  "I can't."

Jenny breathed out heavily.  "Why not?"

"I just can't."

“Go and ask her.”

“I told you.  I can’t!

Jenny groaned and slapped Michael across the face.  “Would you stop being such a bloody coward?! If Lydia was here, she'd've whacked you for being so soppy.  Now, go back to the hospital and ask her! She's going into surgery this evening and you had better ask her when she comes out of it!”
****
Mr Lightfoot, who was dressed in a surgical gown, approached his anaesthetised patient.  He took a scalpel and drew a ruler-straight 3 inch line down Lydia's chest.

"Make a note.  Open heart surgery on Miss Lydia Fletcher has begun at 20:00 hours.  Primary incision has just been made."
****
Mr Lightfoot had been carefully working around the tubing of the Cardiac Bypass machine that had been plugged into Lydia’s heart to keep the blood flowing around the body.  If it were not for the machine, it would have been almost impossible to have completed the surgery.  Yet this didn't stop, Lydia's blood pressure from slowly rising and still continuing to rise now, threatening to fully tear away her ruptured aorta.  Her conscious mind was not aware of this, but her body certainly was.  Due to her blood pressure rising, her heart was pumping blood furiously.  Mr Lightfoot knew that she was losing too much blood and if she survived the surgery, she would need a transfusion.

"Calm her down!" Mr Lightfoot ordered.

He was becoming nervous now and it was starting to show.  One of the nurses had to keep dabbing at his forehead with a wet sponge.  He continued with the surgery.   Once he had found the aortal wall laceration beyond the blood, he asked the nurse for an interpositional graft.

"Wait! She's haemorraging."

Thinking quickly, he instead asked for a needle and thread and looked for the root of the haemorrhage.

“We need to stop the haemorrhage.  We can’t let her blood clot!”

Mr Lightfoot kept a firm eye on the bypass machine.  He couldn't let any blood clots that did form travel to Lydia's brain.

"Blood pressure?"

"160/110.  170/115.  180/120..."

Next to Lydia stood a heart monitor that was beeping rapidly.

“We're losing her!"

"Her blood pressure is too high!"

"190/125!  200/130!"

“A clot has formed.  It's moving!”

"The bleeding won't stop!"

And then the beeping lessened. There was one beep.  Another beep. And then silence.

“Contact Mr. Reilly.”
****
For Jenny and Michael, the traffic was moving painfully slowly.  They had left in good time to reach Lydia after her surgery, but they had been caught in a traffic jam, ironically caused by an accident on a major road.  Michael was sitting in the passenger seat and he visibly jumped, when his phone went off.  He took out of his pocket and held it to his ear.  A guttural roar rose in his throat, which unleashed itself in the small confines of the car.  The dashboard bore the impact of a furious set of punches.  Jenny witnessed all of this in silence.  She knew that only one thing could have caused this outburst.  She wanted to apologise to Michael, but was trying to stop herself from screaming as well.
****
Michael and Jenny were staring through the glass at Lydia's body who had been placed in the morgue after the failed surgery.  For sanitary reasons, they couldn't enter it.  They had originally gone to the operating theatre, but Tabitha had directed them to here.  The scorn-faced nurse had returned to room 1136 to pick up the alphabet chart upon Michael’s request. Jenny was sobbing into Michael's shoulder, who was barely aware of this action.  He couldn't believe how pale Lydia's skin was.  He kept thinking her eyelids were flickering, that her chest was rising and falling, but everything about her was so still.  His right hand was holding onto Jenny's shoulder, whereas his left was fondling the little black box in his pocket.  Would she have said yes? At this moment Tabitha rejoined the pair and handed the alphabet chart to Michael who tucked it underneath his left arm.  Sighing he let his right arm drop and turned away from Jenny.  Without looking back, he started to walk towards the hospital's exit.

“Michael! Where are you going?” Jenny called out.

“For a drive.”


*author's Notes*

I wrote this for my creative writing module during my first year of university.  I received a high 2:1 for this and I think it's one of my best stories.  It's an idea which I've been wanting to write about for ages, which I have finally done.   My dad gave me the idea when he told me about people he's known who have become paralysed as a result of strokes and the resulting helpless that they feel.  

Monday, 30 January 2017

Fast Car

Bright lights blurred past the car speeding along the country road.  Bill Marshall had one arm wrapped around Lizzie's shoulders, the wind sprinting through his hair and he felt alive.  The moonlight guided them along the road, contrasting with the electric streetlights.  The roaring engine of his Lamborghini brought a comforting hum in the darkness, as it carried them through the night.  Bill had grown up in this area and knew where to avoid the police.  They wouldn't be spoiling his fun.
****
Bill woke up from the same dream that he had been having for the last ten years.  The last time he felt like he had belonged.  He turned on his side and watched Lizzie sleep, her golden hair slowly turning grey.  Bill had also lost most of his hair, except for a few tufts around his ears.  When did they both get so old? A beeping broke the darkness and Lizzie thumped the alarm clock silent.

"I guess you're working late today, as well?" Bill sighed out.

"You know I have to." Lizzie sat up and as Bill stared into her face, he could still see a spark in her electric blue eyes that had made so attractive all those years ago.

"You've been working late since we were twenty-five.  When are you going to take some time off?"

"When we can pay our rent without starving." Lizzie threw the duvet back and swung her legs over the side.

"Do you remember that night in the lambo? That was a great time."

"Yeah...yeah it was." Lizzie agreed, before standing up and walking to the shower.

"I dreamt about it last night.  I miss those times."

"Bill, I need the car for work today.  Make sure you leave enough time to get the bus for Jimmy's go-kart lessons.  It's his qualifying race for the club league today.  You can't be late for that." Lizzie looked briefly back at her husband, before closing the bathroom door.

****

Bill watched Jimmy zoom out ahead of him kicking up the smell of wet dust.  Bill struggled to keep up with his son who was tearing towards the bus stop.  He was a go-kart in himself.

"Keep up dad!" Jimmy called back.

Bill hobbled towards his son was running around the bus shelter, much to the amusement of the elderly woman and man in a suit who were also waiting for the bus.

"Is that your son?" The elderly woman asked.

"Yeah...that's him." Bill spluttered out.  A moist stain was growing on his back and under his arms; he regretted taking out his heavy raincoat.

"I wished I had as much energy as him when I was his age." The elderly woman laughed out.

"Don't we all?" Bill agreed, watching Jimmy drive around the bus-shelter, weaving in and out of the other commuters, stepping on the brakes, flooring the gas.  The bus pulled in just as Jimmy was gearing up for his final lap.  He sped onto the bus and ran back forth in the corridor.  Bill scanned his oyster card and sat down next to his son who was still running back and forth.

"Calm down, Jimmy.  We'll be there soon."

"But dad...I want to be there now."

Bill smiled in response and leaned his head against the window.  The remnants of the morning's rainshower trickled down the glass.  He felt the engine's vibrations grow, as the bus inched into the lunchtime traffic.  Bill sighed, as he saw all of the cars and vans caught up in the spider's web of the traffic.

"Dad, can't you make the bus go any faster?"

"I wish I could, son, but looks like we're stuck here for the moment."

Jimmy sighed and carried on twitching in his seat.  Bill turned his attention back to the window and stared out at the adjacent lane where cars were speeding past the traffic jam.
****
Bill and Jimmy rushed to the reception of the race track where Bill blamed the bus's slowness for their impunctuality. Said that his wife was using the car.  Bill wished Lizzie was here.  Not only was the go-karting club a chance for children to socialise, but also their parents.  Lizzie would anyway.  Bill never felt comfortable.  He just wanted the last minute checks to the karts to take place.  And then they were off.  Within seconds, the calm silence had been obliterated by the growls of engines, the spray of the surface water, the sizzling of rubber.  Images of bright lights and empty roads crept into Bill's vision.  He shook his head and the images were overpowered by the screams and cheers of the parents next to him.  Bill smiled at the intensity of this noise.  He chuckled at the ridiculousness of the parents taking the races so seriously, when they were just casual races designed to instil some friendly competition into children.  Bill shook his head and stood up and left.  He could fit in some driving before Jimmy's race was finished.
****
Bill caught the bus to the BMW showroom.  He stepped onto the polished marble floor and looked at the German manufactured cars showing off their shiny new coats.  In one corner lay a few toy cars and colouring pencils for bored children, whilst sitting behind desks were sales assistants pitching their latest deals and offers to interested customers.  Bill saw an ageing man with a receding hairline and friendly blue eyes and approached him.

"Ah, Mr. Marshall.  Will you be buying this week or just sampling?"

"Here we go again, Arthur.  Do you really have to call me that?"

"I'm just being professional.  You might be my brother-in-law, but I still have to address you formally."

"If you insist.  Well, like I tell you every week, Arthur, Lizzie wants me to make an informal decision.  She wants me to try as many cars as I can, before we decide."

"Does she want that or do you?"

"Arthur..."

"Mr Marshall, I could be serving customers that are looking to buy a car today."

"Well, if I could drive one that might help us make up our minds."

"You know I can't allow that."

"Let's see the cars anyway.  Who knows? Today might be your lucky day." Bill watched Arthur sigh and lead him into the showroom.  Bill knew that he would never turn away a customer.  Arthur stood next to a sleek, black BMW that dominates the room and saw low, but mighty.  Bill's focus accelerated past Arthur explaining the technical details and instead he started smelling petrol.  The engine's growls were filling his head.  The wind was sprinting through his hair, the quietness of the road enveloped him.  The streetlamps began to blur and Bill turned to the blonde sitting next to him.  With her arms raised high and ecstasy on her face.  The wind snatched away her laughter.

"Mr Marshall?"

Bill shook his head, as Arthur's voice overpowered the engine's roars.

"Yeah, sorry, what did you say?"

"I asked, whether you would you want to accompany me in the BMW? We'll go for a drive around the block."

Bill's eyes widened.  "I need to get Jimmy.  I completely forgot.  I need to go."

Arthur threw his hands into the air.  "You left your son at the races again? How long is this going to continue? I’m not covering for you again.

Bill turned back to his brother-in-law.  "I screwed up okay! Just cover for me one more time.   Please.  I need to get the bus."
****
Jimmy didn't say a single word on the bus ride home.  When Bill unlocked the door, he manouevered around Lizzie and motored up the stairs.
“Oh, hi Lizzie, what are you doing back so early?”
“I got one of the girls to cover the rest of my shift and I’ll do one of hers next week.  But, that’s not important, what's wrong with Jimmy?"
Bill shook his head.  "He won't talk to me."

Lizzie sighed.  "I'll go see what's wrong."

"I'll make lunch, although I'm not sure whether he'll be any more talkative with you." Bill pushed hot air out of his mouth and headed down into the kitchen, whilst his wife headed up to Jimmy's room.

Once there, he gripped onto a chair, as he fought to keep the tears at bay.  Sweat began to moistening his brow.
****
Each creak of the stairs made Bill's heart beat faster.  He slapped himself around the face and stood out of the chair.

"Come on, man.  Pull yourself together."

He got down on his hands and knees and opened a cupboard to take out some frying pans that were wedged together at the back.  He reached out and scrambled for the handle and pulled.  Bill bit his lip, as the frying pan didn't move.  He tugged again, but the pan refused to shift.  He grabbed the handle with his other hand and gave it a ferocious yank.  Bill fell onto his backside as the pan came free, along with countless other cooking utensils that skittered across the floor.

"You know, it'd've been much easier if you had taken everything out first and then gotten the frying pan?"

Bill sighed and stood up.  He put the pan on the cooker and turned towards Lizzie.  "Yeah that'd've made sense." He mumbled.

"Jimmy told me what happened.  Where were you?"

"I'm going to fry some eggs and bacon for lunch." Bill walked towards the fridge.

"Bill, where were you?"

"Actually, I should clean this mess up first." Bill dropped to his haunches and started picking up the cooking pots and baking trays.

"William, where were you?"

"You only call me William when you're angry."

"Angry? I'm furious.  Your son won his qualifier today, he's going to have his first league race next week, but he came home in tears.  Now tell me, where the hell were you?"

Bill shrugged his shoulders. "I...I just had some errands, some stuff to do."

"Stuff? What stuff is more important than your son?"

Bill watched his wife's eyes turn an icy blue, as they stood in silence.  Outside it had started raining again and a cold wind forced its way inside.

"William? Where did you go?"

"I messed up, okay.  When I sat down to watch the races, I realised that I didn't have my phone or wallet on me.  I figured they must have slipped out, whilst we were on the bus, so I went down to the station to see whether they'd been handed in."

"Jimmy said you haven't been there at least five other times.  Did your phone and wallet slip out of your pocket all those times too?"

"Lizzie, he's in a go-kart.  Do you know how fast they go? The audience are just a blur for him."

"So first you lie to me and then you say Jimmy was lying.  What the hell’s wrong with you?"

Bill scuttled back to the cupboard and replaced some of the cooking pots.

"William, were you at the BMW showroom?"

"We already have a car.  Why would we need another one?"

Lizzie shook her head and picked up a wooden spoon that was lying on the floor.  "You know what? Jimmy and I are going to go out for lunch.  We'll give you some time to get your facts straight.  Actually, why don't you take the car somewhere? Go meet up with Arthur and just go fishing or something for the weekend."
****
A line swung through the air and landed on the water leaving an orange float bobbing on top.  Small ripples spread across the surface of the water.  Bill set the rod down on a stand and flopped into his deck chair.  He watched as a swan slowed itself midflight in preparation for landing on the lake below.  Its wings beat back and forth, as it skipped across the water, before settling to a.  At the far side of the lake, browning trees shivered in the wind.  Bill took out a bottle of beer from the cooler and flicked it open.  He stretched out and stared at the lake.  He was looking forward to spending the weekend here.

"Think we'll catch much today?" He asked over his shoulder.

Arthur sighed and set his own rod in the stand.  "Bill.  Now that we're away from Lizzie and Jimmy and just by ourselves.  We need to talk."

"Okay."

"Well, for starters, what did you think would happen? Did you really think you would get away with it?"

Bill stood the bottle on the ground and turned to his friend.  "Do you know what Lizzie asked me? She asked me whether I had been at the BMW showroom.  Where would that idea even come from?"

"She asked me and I told her." Arthur turned away from Bill and started pacing around the campsite.

"I understand...you did what you thought was right.  I can't blame you for that." Bill knew this to be true.  There was no use getting angry over it.

"Lizzie told me she knew nothing about getting another car, so why were you there, Bill?"

Bill saw his float jerk and went to grab the fishing rod.

"Leave the rod and answer the question."

"But I'm going to lose it..."

"Let it go."

"But..."

"Now!"

Bill backed away from the vibrating rod and stared at the dying splashes and ripples.  "For Chrissakes Arthur, we came here to fish."

"No.  You came here to fish! I came here to get some answers for my sister.  Now, stop avoiding the issue!"

"Do you want to know why I did it? Why I continued doing it? I'm scared, Arthur.  I'm tired...I want to get out...I want to escape.  I want life like it was."

"Bill..."

"Arthur, I lost everything...the business, the car, our way of moving on and through.  I remember when Lizzie and I were first dating...all those long nights in the Lambo, I've never felt happier, more alive and now, everything's different.  Now...Lizzie's got her car and her job and I'm stuck taking the bus." Bill ripped a leaf of a tree and pulled it apart in his hands.

"Is this what this is about? You being a house-husband? You think my sister's emasculating you?"

"No! Of course not...it's just, just we had freedom and now, now we're stuck." Bill shook his head and walked towards the car park.

"Where are you going?"

"I need to clear my head.  I'll be back in a few hours."
****
Bill slammed the door and beat the driving wheel.  He exhaled, as he relaxed into the seat.  He wrenched the key in the ignition and yanked the car into gear.  Bill looked over his shoulder and reversed onto the road before slowly putting his foot down.
****
Bill had forgotten how much he loved driving.  Of course, Lizzie's Vauxhall Corsa was nothing like his old Lamborghini, but at least it was something.  At least he could feel the engine's strength, as it slowly climbed to its full capacity.  Granted, it wasn't a convertible, but at least there was a sunroof.  Bill looked at the wing-mirror and merged into the adjacent lane.  He glanced up at the sky and sighed at the overcast light.  It was such a contrast from the clear nights all those years ago.  Back when they had the roads all to themselves, where they weren't surrounded by flashes of red. Back when they could slice through the silent night and didn't have to hear angry honks and four-letter words.  Back when Lizzie was blonde and Bill still had all of his hair.  He sighed, as he approached a roundabout and eased on the brake.  He shifted the car down a gear and put on his right-turn signal.
****
"I didn't expect to see you back here."

"You were right.  I was just looking for a way out.  I was being a stupid kid.  I'm...I'm sorry."

Arthur smiled.  "I'm happy to hear you say that.  Lizzie will be happy."

"Do you think she's still mad at me?"

"Of course she is, don't you know my sister? but you can make it up to her.  Take Jimmy to his first round race on Friday and be there to see him win.  Bill, you will be there, won't you?"

"Wild Lamborghinis couldn't drag me away," the two men stood in silence, before Bill nodded towards the fishing rods, "they been biting?"

"They haven't stopped."

Bill's float jerked back and forth and he rushed towards the rod and started wrestling with his catch.  Arthur stood there watching him.
****
At the end of the weekend, Bill and Arthur drove back to Bill's house, where Lizzie and Jimmy were waiting for them.  As Bill opened the door, his wife shot him a glance.  The two men joined their family on the sofa.  As usual, Jimmy was twitching, whilst Lizzie just looked on.  Bill tried to guess what she was thinking, but couldn't.

Arthur cleared his throat.  "I guess I'll start.  Bill and I had a good chat over the weekend and we think we've come to a decision.

"I'm listening." Lizzie was still refusing to make eye contact with Bill.

"I realise that what I did was wrong.  I lied to you and I wasn't there for Jimmy, but that's not going to happen again.  I'll take Jimmy to his first race and I'll be there to see you win, little man."

A small smile crept onto Lizzie's face.  "Thanks, Bill."

"Are we okay?"

"I...yeah...yeah we are.  I'll take the bus to work on Friday, so you can drive Jimmy to the racetrack."

Bill noticed that Lizzie had barely looked at him, whilst she was speaking. "Are you sure we're okay?"

"Yeah...yeah," Lizzie's lip started quivering, her voice began breaking, "if you...you c-can do this, then we might be."

Bill nodded.  There was nothing left to say.
****
Bill trudged through the rest of the week and on Friday he was watching Jimmy fidget in the seat next to him.  Bill smiled at this and pressed down on the gas.  They had left in plenty of time and were making good progress to the race course.  Bill sighed in contentment and looked up at the sky.  The overcast sky shone a diffused light downwards onto the tarmac below making everything bright but dull.  Bill returned his attention to the road and took a brief glance at his internal mirror.

"How are you feeling, Jimmy?"

"Good."

"You nervous about the race?"

"A little.  What you said to mum...you will be there, won't you? You won't leave?"

Bill looked downwards at his son. "Of course I will.  I told your mum and I'm telling you, I'm going to watch you win that race."
****
And they were off.  Bill watched his son accelerate up the first straight and turn around the corner.  Around him all of the parents were still screaming and cheering, deafening out the engines of the go-karts. Bill shook his head at these people.  He wanted his son to win, but he didn't have to scream to the heavens about it.  He looked back out at the race track and watched his son disappear into a tunnel.  Further down one competitor sharply cut off another one causing a furious torrent of abuse from one of the dads in the crowd.  Jimmy emerged from the tunnel weaving in and out of the other drivers and coming up on first place, whilst the parents were yelling for their children to go faster and faster.  Bill rubbed his face.  He shook his head again and started feeling in his pocket for his keys.  He stood up and started moving towards the exit.
****
Bill slammed the door shut and collapsed into the seat.  There was no way he could stay there.  He had to get out.  All of those parents were like spectators in a colosseum shouting for the losing gladiator to be executed.  He couldn't be part of that.  Bill stuck his keys into the ignition and the car jolted into life.  He manoeuvred out of the car park and onto the main road.  He glanced at his side mirror and pressed down on the accelerator.  Bill looked in his internal mirror and thought about Jimmy.  He needed someone better.  Bill bit his lip and brought himself up to the speed limit.  He needed to drive.  He returned his gaze to the road and locked his eyes on the horizon.

*Author's Notes*

It took me way too long to write this.  So, I started writing this for a contest which required you to write a story based on a song.  The song I chose to write about was Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car,' which I've recently fallen in love with.  I originally started writing this when I was bored in a creative writing lecture, but unfortunately didn't finish it until long after the contest had closed.  When writing this, I moved away from the theme of generational poverty that's present within 'Fast Car' and more towards the car being a symbol of freedom and escape.  Bill is very much a character who likes to live in the fast lane and keep busy and isn't suited to a suburban, stay-at-home life.  

As far as the ending goes, I always wanted to have it with Bill running away.  It is evident that he is a bad father who's driven by his own insecurities and I just felt it would be too unrealistic for a character like that to change in such a radical way.  In terms of acknowledgements, where would I be without my own little editor Jazmin who gave this a great beta-read and plenty of things to think about and also my friend Louis who gave me lots of helpful knowledge about fishing, even if I didn't really use your information.  I still appreciate your help Louster!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Gulliver's Travels Pastiche- A Voyage to Masiplacti with Critical Commentary

Important, read the author's notes first

Chapter 1

The author sets out on another voyage and is shipwrecked on the island of Masiplacti.  The author giveth an account of Masiplacti and the Masiplactians.

I remained with my family, until on the 28th of April 1710, Captain Septimus Girwood invited me to serve as surgeon on the <em>Intrepid</em>.  We set sail on the 30th of April and I will not trouble the reader of the uninteresting details of the voyage, sufficed to say that I was cast from the <em>Intrepid</em> in a storm.  I recollected waking up later on a six metre long bed, I observed a woman who was of a similar build to myself, yet her face was different with her eyes being the colour of gold and having an intense shine to them.  She informed me that I was on the island of Masiplacti, in their capital city of Fropit and that she was of two and twenty years and named Cepne.

Chapter 2

Cepne guides the author around the financial heart of Masiplacti.

Cepne tooketh me around Fropit and explained that she was a nurse assigned to look after me by the ruling class of Masiplacti, the Nuigea, and Cepne explained that Masiplacti had been founded on the rules of making profit.  Cepne then guided me to Brick Lane, which was where the Masiplactian Exchange lieth, here I witnessed many Masiplactians writing notes at great speed, checking them against chalk tablets that had numbers and either a plus or a negative sign attached to them, as well as chalkboards of twenty metres in length and ten feet in height, before running to give them to riders who departed in great haste.  The scene was of such noise and chaos so beyond any measurable scale that I found it difficult to comprehend and relate to the reader.  Cepne explained to me that the Nuigea used the Masiplactian Exchange to trade in high value items, with weapons having the highest value; Cepne further explained that the Nuigea were the directors of the Lubble Company who owned the trading rights within the Masiplactian Sea, which thus attracted investors from neighbouring lands to buy as many shares as possible in the Lubble Company, that led to the decoupling of stock prices.

Chapter 3

An account of the Director of Masiplacti

Upon Cepne guiding me around the great Masiplactian exchange, she tooketh me to the Houses of Negotiation, where the Nuigea engaged in the grandest and most fanciful of trades, Cepne introduced me to Director Rownc who had eyes shinier than any Masiplactian that I had seen, and he said I would act as an advisor and consultant to the Masiplactians, within their forthcoming negotiations with Costeraria.  I do not wish to trouble the reader with the particulars of Rownc's proposal, but sufficed to say the Masiplactians were intending to sell weapons to the Costerarians who wished to destroy their enemies: the Britalli.

Chapter 4

The author observes the negotiations between the Masiplactians and the Costerarians.

The full negotiations between the Masiplactians and the Costerarians tooketh close to two hours and I will not bore the reader with the intricacies of the negotiation, so I shall summarise.  Firstly, I was alone within the Currency Hall, which was at least sixty feet tall, as Cepne, due to being a woman, was not granted access.  The Costerarians requested a positive arsenal from the Nuigea; of which I approximated the cumulative cost and I was abhorred when the Nuigea set a price much higher than I had estimated, the Costerarians attempted to negotiate the price down, but the Nuigea refused to agree; I observed that Director Rownc and the Nuigea had all but intimidated the Costerarians into accepting the offer.  This troubled me greatly, as I was uncertain whether I should protest the extortionate price or assist the Nuigea, however, throughout the whole negotiation my opinion was not asked upon once.

Chapter 5

An account of the author leaving Masiplacti

After the transactions had ceased, Director Rownc informed me that I was free to leave Masiplacti, as my services were no longer required.  When I questioned Cepne about Director Rownc’s sudden dismissal, which both relieved and surprised me, she explained that the Nuigea are so proud of their skills at negotiation, that they like to exhibit these tactics to outsiders and once they have done, the outsiders no longer serve a purpose to them.  As Cepne guided me down to the Ports of Fropit, we walked through what Cepne explained were the Penny Markets that the Nuigea had created for the Lower Masiplactians to attend and facilitate, for they were denied access to the Masiplactian Exchange; at the Ports of Fropit, Cepne gave me the money to buy travel, which slightly withered my opinion of the Masiplactians.  Of my journey home, there is nothing to report to the reader, except that I returned to my family who were much the same as I left them.

Critical Commentary

Within ‘A Voyage to Masiplacti,’ I aimed to satirise the growing consumerism of the 18th century, by drawing upon the values, ideals and dangers of modern capitalism.  I parodied the South Sea Bubble and the South Sea Company through creating the Masiplactian Lubble Company that dominated trade through the control of the Masiplactian Sea.  The notion of this was to embody both modern and eighteenth century capitalist concepts within the island of Masiplacti.

Upon reading ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ I noticed characteristics of Swift’s writing, which I emulated in the pastiche.  Firstly, Swift uses a long sentence structure:

he added that his suspicions were much increased by some very absurd speeches I had delivered at first to the sailors and afterwards to himself in the relation to my closet or chest, as well as by my odd looks and behaviour while I was at supper.

Swift also factually tells the reader everything that Gulliver sees, rather than using elaborate description to show the reader: "in our passage from thence to the East-Indies, we were driven by a violent storm." (GT, p. 12) Instead, of describing the horrors of the storm, Swift simply states that it was violent.  Furthermore, Swift writes Gulliver’s observations as quantitative, statistical data: "this body consisted of three thousand foot, and a thousand horse." (GT, p. 29) I emulated these characteristics by having lengthy, run-on sentences that quantitatively reported facts.  I also omitted the development of the secondary characters to correspond with Swift’s characteristic of having superficial, two-dimensional characters.

I drew upon John M. Bullit’s work, who wrote "the satirist must allow himself neither to relax into an uncritical and laughing amusement nor to lose his temper." I intended to balance both the comedic and the critical attitudes of the satire.  Instead of solely using anagrams instead of proper nouns, I chose certain words that directly alluded to Capitalism, such as how ‘Brick Lane’ is paralleled with Wall Street.  I felt that by exclusively using anagrams, I would exhaust the effectiveness of the device and undermine the critical nature of the satire, by over-emphasising the humour within it.  Similarly, I did not want my narrative to be an angry, nonsensical rant.  I felt that if Gulliver expressed his disgust at the Nuigea’s intimidation tactics, the satire’s effect would suffer, as it would devolve into an unintelligent attack on capitalism.  I also made use of 'diminution,' which Bullit defines as "the use of any ""ugly or homely images"" which are intended to diminish the dignity of an object." I wanted to undermine the pride that the Nuigea attach to their negotiation-cum-intimidation tactics by having them ostentatiously display these tactics to Gulliver.  Bullit further describes Gulliver's Travels, as the "greatest example […] [of] the works of Juvenal ""tragical satire."" Its aim is deeply didactic in its almost overwhelming attempt to shock and disgust men out of one vice which Swift believed was still corrigible: pride." I aimed to resemble the scornful abrasiveness of Juvenalian Satire by having the Nuigea so preoccupied with receiving the highest possible profit for their weapons, that they are uninterested in how the weapons will be used.

The pastiche is aimed towards the higher classes who profited the most from travels abroad, Colin Mooers argues that the growth of agrarian capitalism served to shape the colonial and industrial trade of commerce at the time, of which sourced the income of much of the peerage who were engaged in colonial and industrial enterprises.  I paralleled this with the Nuigea being the only social class who have access to the most profitable of transactions: arms dealing.  Furthermore, it is only the men who have access to these negotiations.  Cepne is denied access to the Currency Hall, because she is a woman.

‘A Voyage to Masiplacti’ explicitly confronts the dangers of capitalism and how the promise of a high profit has lead the Nuigea to become morally blind to how their actions would lead to the destruction of the Britalli.  I intended for the Nuigea to foreshadow of what the human race of the 18th century could become, if they let their greed corrupt them.  This is comparable to how having an excess of wealth in modern society can lead to spiritual deadness.  Lastly, I wanted Gulliver’s misanthropy to amplify, as he realises that through humanity’s pursuit of ever greater riches and wealth, they are consigning themselves to becoming a species dominated by their own decadence, just like the Nuigea.

*Author's Notes*

This is my latest assignment for my university course.  For the assignment, we were required to write a pastiche followed by a critical analysis of a text that we're studying.  

The text I chose was Gulliver's Travels.  This text was written in the early 18th century and I have thus tried to replicate this writing style and the writing style of Jonathan Swift.  From reading this book, I have noticed that Swift writes in very long sentences, he tells the reader information rather than showing it and he doesn't flesh out any of the secondary characters.  These are characteristics that I have tried to emulate.  Furthermore, the pastiche and the critical analysis of it both had to add up to 1650 words, so I was also under a tight word limit for this, as a result of this I had to quite ruthlessly cut out a lot of things I would have rather kept in.  Brownie points if you can understand all of the things I'm satirising. 

 This is my bibliography:

Bullitt, M. John, Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire: A study of Satiric Technique, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953)
Mooers, Colin, The Making of Bourgeois Europe: Absolutionism, Revolution, and the Rise of Capitalism in England, France and Germany, (London:Verso, 1991)
Swift, Jonathan, Gulliver’s Travels (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1992

Monday, 2 January 2017

Lines, Creases and Wrinkles

 It isn't junk!" Albert snapped.

"I never said it was, Mr Wetherby." The nurse held his hands up in innocence.

"But you were thinking that, in that face of yours! And how many times have I told you to call me granddad?" Albert slowly sunk to the floor, teardrops balanced precariously on the edge of his sunken eyesockets, ready to tumble down over his creased and cracked face.

The nurse sat down next to Albert.  "I'm sorry, Mr Wetherby.  It's just for professionalism's sake and I didn't mean any offence."

Albert took out his spotted handkerchief and smiled gratefully, as his nurse took it and dabbed away his tears.  Albert sighed, as he looked upwards into his nurse's face.  The skin that was as smooth as marble unlike his own lined with creases and wrinkles, the brown eyes that glistened with life, unlike his own hollow, watery blue ones.  The rich brown hair fashioned into one of those new-fangled hairstyles, which contrasted with Albert's own scraggly grey locks.

"It isn't your fault, Ben.  I'm sorry.  You're a good lad and I'm not just saying that because you're my grandson in law."

Ben smiled at the compliment, showing a full set of dazzling white teeth.  "Thank you, Mr Wetherby.  If you'd like, I can come back in a few days and help you pack everything up then?"

Albert nodded.  "Thanks Ben."

"I'm afraid we can't put it off much longer.  We'll have to move you on Saturday."

Albert swallowed and his skinny Adam's apple bounced up and down.

"I understand, Ben.  You can go now.  I'll see you on Thursday."

"Goodbye, Mr Wetherby."

Albert watched Ben pack up his kit and run past the chair-lift and down the stairs.  He smiled longingly at his nurse's agility and energy.  He was like that once.  Albert would have hit a wall in frustration, if he was a younger man, but now, he couldn't afford to damage his fragile body.  Instead, he sighed over his few remaining original teeth.  Using his cane, he limped into his bedroom to get changed, out of his pyjamas.  He knew that he should call Ben, who was always at his beck and call, to help him, but Albert hated having to rely on other people.  For the first 64 years of his life, he had been entirely self-reliant, but for the last 20 years, his body had slowly started disintegrating.  Albert shrugged off his dressing gown and reached into his wardrobe for a neatly folded shirt and grey formal trousers, all washed, dried and pressed by Ben.  Albert took off his t-shirt and striped trousers, revealing white hair and pale skin.  Inch by inch, he slipped on his salmon pink shirt and sitting on the bed, he pulled on his slate grey trousers and picked a black tie to fit his formal look.  He wanted to look smart for Annie.  He set down at his desk and looked into the old-fashioned make-up mirror that Valerie used.  He pulled it closer to him and tried to bring some order to his chaotic hair.  Albert picked up his comb and Brill cream that were lying next to his and Val's sepia wedding picture.  Albert sighed again.  She was so beautiful.  The old man stood up and stumbled over to the chairlift.  Using a far too skinny finger, he pressed a button and it slowly began to descend.

Albert could still hear the bellowing of the bells.  They were deafening over the chatter of the excited guests, the rumbling of the bellies of the little boys in their tailor-made suits.  The Western doors swung open and Valerie stepped through, her arm interlocked with her father's, dressed in a blinding white dress with a netted veil.  Her father walked her down the aisle and Albert was glad to see that he wasn't the only one that was crying.  Valerie took her place opposite her fiancĂ© and they stared at each other, as the Vicar's words were lost in a blissful happiness

"Do you, Albert Wetherby, promise to take his woman, Valerie Belle, as your lawfully wedded wife in sickness and in health, til death, do you part?"

"I do."

"And do you, Valerie Belle promise to take this man, Albert Wetherby, as your lawfully wedded husband, in sickness and in health, til death do you part?"

Albert jolted awake at the third bellowing of the doorbell.  He had fallen asleep in the chairlift again.  He stood up and edged towards the door.  He opened it and Annie was standing on the other side of it.

“Hey granddad!” She said, as she hugged him.

“How's my beautiful granddaughter?”

Annie blushed.  “You say that every week, but I keep telling you I'm not.”

“Nonsense! You could even give Val a run for her money.”

“You know I could never be as beautiful as her.”

Albert smiled and knelt down.  “And who's this pretty little girl?”

The little girl blushed and giggled.  “Me.” She replied.

Albert chucked.  “Gilly certainly isn't as modest as her mother, is she?”

Annie smiled her agreement and helped her granddad to his feet.

“Come in and sit down.  I've got a present for you, Gilly.”

Annie and Gilly sat down on the old-fashioned sofa, whilst Albert rummaged around in a box on his hands and knees.

“Where is it...it should be in here...I know it is.” He muttered.

“Are you alright, granddad?” Annie asked.

“I'm fine thanks.” Albert said and continued rummaging.

“Do you want any help?”

“Don't worry about it.” Albert declined politely.

“It's no bother.  I'll come help you.”

“Annie, I told you, I'm okay! I'm not a bloody child.” Albert snapped.

“I never said you were.” Annie mumbled in response.

“Ah, I've got it!” Slowly and unsteadily, Albert stood up and tottered over to Gilly.  As the little girl unwrapped her present, Albert looked up at his granddaughter.  She really did look like Val.  The same rich brunette hair, the same eyes that shone with happiness, the same naturally pretty face that never required an ounce of makeup.

“Oooh, a beanie baby,” Gilly exclaimed, “it's the Rooster!” Her heart-shaped face beamed with excitement.

“I know you're collecting the Zodiac line.  I hope this helps.”

“Thanks, great-granddad.” Gilly hugged Albert tightly.

“Easy, Gilly.  I'm getting old.”

“That's one reason I wanted to talk to you.  Ben told me what had happened.”

Albert's lip started to quiver and his eyes had become wet.  He had become so overly-emotional in his old age.  He hated that.

“And I do wish you had let me invite him round today.”

“Annie,  you know I love Ben, if he were my own and I'm not just saying that because he's your husband, but he'd be fawning all over me and you know how I hate that.”

Annie smiled sadly.  “Gilly, why don't you play with your Rooster? I'll get your great-granddad a cup of tea.”

“I can get my own tea!” Albert protested.

“Go on then, granddad.”

Albert struggled to his feet and limped over to the kitchen.  He picked up the kettle and he tipped it towards a cup that he thought looked clean enough.

“Granddad, is that water boiled?” Annie asked.

“Silly me.” Albert put the kettle back on its stand and flicked a switch.

“Granddad, are you sure there's actually any water in there?” Annie signalled to the water level indicator that barely registered anything.

“I'm getting forgetful in my old age.” Albert picked up the cup and kettle and slowly moved towards the sink.  And then the cup hit the ground.  The impact obliterated it.  Albert sighed and began to kneel down to collect the fragments.  Halfway down, he collapsed and fell onto the floor.  Annie knelt down and put her arm around the old man.

“Thanks Annie,” Albert said, trying to keep the tears out of his wrinkles, “I'm just getting feeble.”

“I know you don't want to hear it, but it's in your best interests to go to the Willow Tree.”

“There you go again with your nursing home business.”

“It's not a nursing home.  It's a retirement community.  You can socialise with people your own age.”

“Yeah, we can play bridge and shout BINGO,” Albert snapped, “sorry Annie, I didn't mean that.”

“You did, but it doesn't matter.  Look granddad, I'm not going to patronise you by saying that I know how you feel, because I don't, nor do I have any right telling you what to do, but-”

“I know, I know, you think the Willow Tree is the best option for me.”

“I do.”

“Maybe you're right.  Help your granddad to his feet.”

“How about that cup of tea now?”
****

The teabags had decayed and discoloured, as the darkness had sneaked up on the day.

“Wow granddad, it's almost 6.  Gilly and I had best get going.”

“Oh stay for dinner please.” Albert begged.

“I guess we could get something delivered,” Annie suggested, “I can call Ben and I'm sure he can find something at home.”

“No, I was thinking of making Corn Fritters.  I know it isn't much, but Gilly likes it.”

Annie agreed and called Ben quickly, whilst Albert made the food.   After the two had finished their respective tasks, they all sat down at the dinner table.

“Ben told me he's coming round here on Saturday.”

“Yeah, he's going to help me pack everything up.”

“Do you want me and Gilly to help you?”

“Yeah Val, that would be great.”

“I don't understand how this infernal thing works!” Albert yelled in frustration.

“Why are you playing with a shitting rubik's cube? Your bloody daughter is giving birth.” Valerie snapped.

“I always forget how angelic your language is.” Albert countered.

“Don't try to sweet-talk me, mister,” Valerie warned, “not when Danielle is giving birth.”

Faintly, the pair heard screams and grunts coming from the delivery room.

“How long do you think she'll be?” Albert asked,  only slightly trying to disguise his anxiousness.  He had arrived at the hospital in a 3 piece suit, that had been quickly reduced to an open-necked shirt and formal trousers, as the minutes had ticked by.

“You can't predict these things, Alb.  You know how long I took giving birth to Danni.”

“Yeah I do.” Albert muttered.  He sat back in his seat and stretched out his legs.

“Is that why you brought the rubik's cube?” Valerie exclaimed.

“I've already done two sides of it.”

Valerie sighed and hit Albert around the head.

“Val, we've been married for twenty-five years and you haven't stopped hitting me for a single year of them.”

“You haven't stopped acting like an idiot for one of them.” Valerie retorted, before bursting out laughing.

“What's so funny?” 

“Danni is about to become a mother and here we are squabbling like we're children.”

Albert's and Valerie's laughter echoed around the halls and it was only when a nurse came that the pair quietened down.  

“Danielle's ready to see you now.” Albert and Valerie followed the nurse into the delivery room.  There they saw their daughter holding a minutes old baby in her arms.

“Come in.” She beckoned weakly.

“Aww, Danni,” Valerie beamed, “can I-”

Danielle transferred the baby into her mother's arms.

“It's a healthy and happy baby girl.” The doctor said.

“What are you going to call her?”

“Is great-granddad asleep?” Gilly asked.

“I don't know.  Granddad? Granddad?” Annie prodded Albert who awoke with a great snort.

“I wasn't sleeping.” Albert exclaimed.

“Of course you weren't,” Annie agreed, “before you weren't sleeping, you called me Val.  I'm Annie, remember?”

Albert rubbed his eye.  “Sorry Val, I didn't mean to call you that.”

Annie sighed.  “Right, we should get going now.  It's almost Gilly's bedtime.”

“I'm 8 years old.  I don't need a bedtime.”

“Gilly!” Annie snapped.

“It's okay, Annie.  It's almost my bedtime too.  I'll take you to the door.”

As one the family stood up and Annie and Gilly walked ahead, whilst Albert struggled to keep up.

“We'll see you on Thursday with Ben and we'll help you pack everything up.”

“I'll see you then.” Albert hugged Annie and watched the two walk away from his house.  He closed the door and shook his head despairingly, as he felt his eyes begin to water.  Albert blew his nose into his spotted handkerchief and let the tears roll down his face.  Droplet by droplet took their turns to hide in the old man's creases and wrinkles.  He sat down in his chairlift and let it carry him up to bed.
****
Albert woke up before his alarm clock went off.  He always did.  He didn't know why he still set it.  Valerie had always slept like an elephant and could never wake up without an alarm clock.  Maybe that was why he did it.  Albert got out of bed and went through his morning routine.  Half an hour later, he was leaving his house to do his weekly food shop.  He knew he could have asked Ben to do this, but he had his reasons.
****
Twenty minutes later, Albert hobbled into his local supermarket.  He took out his shopping list and looked at the first item: cream style sweetcorn.  That was at the other end of the store.  Albert sighed and started shuffling over there.  Before he knew it, he was in front of the cosmetics stand.  Valerie had passed away seven years ago, but Albert could still remember what lipstick, eyeliner and blusher she wore, not that she ever needed it.  Maybe that was why Albert didn't want Ben to do the shopping for him.  No matter how hard he tried, he could never stay away from the make-up section.  He always called himself an old, sentimental fool who couldn't let things go, but that never stopped him from returning here.

“Can I help you, sir?” A shop assistant asked.

Albert looked at her and cursed silently, as he felt himself beginning to well up.  “You're alright, love.” He croaked out, before limping away to buy cream style sweetcorn.

After Albert had finished his shopping, he sat down on a bench.

Albert's phone started ringing furiously and he rummaged through his pockets to find it.

“How do you answer this damned thing?” He asked, before figuring out how.

“Hey granddad.  I've got a problem.”

“What is it, Annie?” Albert could detect the concern in her voice.

“Gilly's starting nursery tomorrow and she's supposed to bring a soft toy with her, but we can't find anything suitable and Gilly's really upset and I just feel terrible.”

“We can't have that now, can we? Tell you what, I'll go out now and buy something and bring it you tomorrow.  Tell you what, I'll go one further and take Gilly to the nursery myself.”

“You're a lifesaver, granddad, thank you.”

“Don't mention it sweetheart.  I'll see you tomorrow.”

Early on the next morning, Albert stopped at his granddaughter's house and picked up Gilly.  He could tell that she was excited, as she was leading him to nursery, rather than the other way round.

“Slow down, Gilly.  I'm just an old man.”

“No, you're not.  My great-granddad could never be old.”

A short while later, they reached the nursery and Albert took out the toy he had bought.

“This is Manes. He's a lion cub and he's part of a group of toys called Beanie Babies.  He's only young, so I want you to look after him.”

“Aww, he's so fluffy.” Gilly gave her great-granddad a quick hug before running into the nursery.

“Knock 'em dead little lady.” Albert called out, before blinking away a tear.

“Hey mister, are you dead?”

Albert jolted awake.  “What did you say? He said, to a pair of curious eyes looking up at him.

“I said, hey mister, are you dead?”

“No, I'm not dead.  Not yet at least.”

“Chardonnay! Leave that old man alone.” A coarse voice scratched out and Chardonnay ran back to her mum.

“I'm not old,” Albert retorted, “and who names their child after a type of wine?”
****
Thursday was a grey and drizzly day.  Albert had been up for a couple of hours and was now sitting on the sofa to kill some time.  The third bellow of the doorbell woke him up.  Albert turned off the TV and hobbled to the door and found Ben, Annie and Gilly standing behind it, with the little girl clutching onto the Rooster Beanie Baby.  He gave his grand and great-granddaughter quick hugs and was about to do the same to Ben, when he saw the young nurse stick his hand out.

“Good to see you again, Mr Wetherby.” Ben said.

“I'm not going to tell you about calling me granddad again, Ben.” Albert warned, before hugging his grandson in law.

“You might have to, Mr. Wetherby.” Ben replied, after breaking free of the hug.

“Come to the attic and we'll get started.” Albert rushed as fast he could to the chairlift and pushed the 'up' button.  The rest of the family overtook him and waited at the top of the stairs.

Albert tried his best to stand with apparent confidence and tried to keep himself steady, as he walked to the attic door.  He pulled the draw string and climbed up the stairs that fell to the floor.  His family followed him.

“So, where should we start?” Annie asked.

“I guess we create three piles? One, with everything Mr. Wetherby definitely wants to take with him, one where he isn't so sure and one with everything he doesn't want.”

“Good plan, Ben.  You're a smart lad.  Let's get to work.”

Over the next few hours, the family of four sorted through the random assortment of items that Albert kept in the attic.  As the day hobbled into evening, three very definite piles began to emerge, which were slowly transformed into two.

“I guess we're done.” Annie said.

“Guess so.” Albert agreed.

“I'm afraid we have to go now, Mr. Wetherby, but we'll take everything you want to the Willow Tree tomorrow and we'll come round on Saturday and take you there.”
****
Saturday morning arrived and, as usual, Albert was awake before his alarm clock went off and, as usual, he fell asleep in front of the TV whilst waiting for his family to arrive and as usual, he was woken by the bellowing of the doorbell.  He opened the door and saw his family standing behind it.

“Hey granddad,” Annie greeted him, “all of your things are already in the Willow Tree. Are you ready?”

“Ready as I'll ever be!” Albert said and allowed his family to lead him to his grandson in law's car.  Ben got into the front seat and drove off.
****
Ben stopped the car and rushed to the side of the car to help Albert out.  For once, the old man decided not to complain about this.  He also didn't complain when Ben and Annie helped him to the front door, with Gilly clutching onto one of his gnarled hands, the other holding her Rooster Beanie baby.  Annie walked up to the reception desk.

“I'm the granddaughter of Albert Wetherby.  He'll be checking in today.” Annie told the receptionist.

“Oh yes, right this way, Mr. Wetherby.  I'll take you to your room.”

Albert followed the receptionist down a corridor to a door, which had his name printed on it in a bronze, italicised, swirly writing.  The receptionist opened the door and Albert took his first step inside.

“I'll leave you to get settled.” The receptionist returned to his desk.

“What do you think, Mr. Wetherby?” Ben asked, after a few moment's pause.

Without a word, Albert struggled over to the bed and reached into the carrier bag, he had been carrying with him, since he had left the house.  He took out three items and placed them in turn on the bedside table: Manes, a Rubik's cube and Valerie's wedding veil.

“Do you like it granddad?”

Albert sat down on the bed.  A single tear rolled down his face and settled in one of his wrinkles.

*Author's Notes*

Uhhh inspiration for this story? Well, I got the main idea after listening to John Denver's cover of Paul McCartney's song 'Junk.' I started thinking of all of the things we leave behind and how we attach value to particular items.  And, I also wanted to explore the device of flashbacks more.

Monday, 19 December 2016

H

There was a scattering of broken glass across the bedroom floor.  Aiden shivered, as a cruel Autumn wind howled through what was left of the window.  He had been sleeping rough, until he had found this house and had decided to temporarily squat in it.  Nobody knew he was here; Aidan had ran away from home without telling anyone.  He had heard about this house from others in the street; since it had been abandoned, it had served a fair few of illegal tenants.  Aiden could see everything they had left behind: bin liners with massive gashes in them, a fork with two prongs and a complete sense of isolation.  A raucous cough descended from the sky, which was Aiden's cue to leave the chilly bedroom and find somewhere warmer.  He picked up his pocketwatch that  he had carefully wrapped in an odd newspaper page.  Wrapping his thin jacket around him, he left the bedroom and walked down the hallway to the bathroom.  He had squatted in this house for a few days and had a decent idea of its layout.  It might have been his imagination, but Aiden felt the fierce wind grate against the back of his neck.
****
The house was outside of police territory and was a haven for vagrants and deviants.  It was just by luck that Aiden had found it empty; he knew it would not stay like that for long.  People typically stayed in places such as these for about a week.  On the streets, it was safer to stay on the move. Aiden had started shivering, like there was an army of ants writhing through his bloodstream and crawling over his body.  Droplets of salty water began to ooze out of his pores.  He was staggering to the bathroom now; the sooner he reached it the better.  How long had it been since he had had a fix? Aiden could feel the wind pushing him down the hallway.  As he reached the doorway, he could have sworn that the wind shoved him into the bathroom.  He disregarded the notion, as he walked towards the dirty medicine cabinet.  The handle was hanging precariously from the cabinet, which meant that Aiden had to gently pull on the edge of the cabinet door, to open it.  The teenager reached into it and pulled out a shoe box.  He removed the lid and the tension floated out of his body.  He reached into the box and pulled out a needle, before rolling up his sleeve and untying the shoelace, which marked where his previous scars were, that would grant the needle easier access.

"Time to shoot.  Bang bang!" Aiden joked, as the needle took its plunge.
****
Any notion of the storm outside had melted away, as Aiden felt himself drift into his own private void.  A world without sound, without touch, without colour.  A world full of warmth and comfort.  Aiden called out, not to attract anyone's attention, but because he liked the sound of gravel in his voice.  The teenager felt himself touch down onto the surface of his void, or was it the ceiling.  He stretched his legs out and began to take his first steps.  It was as if Aiden was weighed down by lead.  Every step was heavy and wooden; there was a stomp, a stop, and then a shout.  A stomp, a stop, and then a shout.  A stomp, a stop, and then a shout.  Aiden was getting heavier; something above him, or was it below was pushing down.  He desperately tried to think back, but he couldn't remember how much heroin he had injected.  He knew that he must have o'ded.  Aiden could feel his body drooping downwards, or was it upwards? White tendrils were wrapping themselves around the junkie's legs and began to pull and tug.
****
Aiden had slept through the worst of the storm and now a grey, overcast light was shining through the grimy bathroom window.  He sat up and rubbed his neck.  Bizarrely a mirror was leaning on the skirting boards of the bathroom.  Aiden stared into his reflection: into the pale, drained face, the brown eyes with too many tinges of red, the brown freckles mingled with dirt and God knows what else.  Aiden yawned, without covering his mouth; what use were manners in these situations? He reached into the shoe box and took everything he had in the world: a little bit of money, a few spare needles, a smoking pipe, a lighter, some foil.  The heroin was already safely tucked up in the pocket of his ragged jeans.  Lastly, Aiden unwrapped his silver pocket watch and ran his fingers over the cracked screen.
****
According to the clock face it was midday, but it still looked like early morning to Aiden. The teenager ran his hand through his closely-cropped hair. His left arm was tightly clamped around the shoe box.  The heroin had left him a little sleepy, but he carried on staggering along the pavement.  Last night's storm left a damp mist lingering in the air, which gave Aiden trouble with walking.    His mouth was as dry as sand, but the only water he had was to dissolve his heroin.  Aiden knew where he was headed.  Basset’s car park was near to where the squatting house was.  The junkie was vaguely aware that the Needlepoint centre was close by to him, but he was so sleepy.    He briefly leant against the hallway of a boarded up shop and closed his eyes and slid to the ground.
****
"Aiden, wake up! Come on! Come on! You've been asleep long enough." A 20 year old man slapped Aiden's cheek twice before twitching three times and jumping up and spinning around.  Aiden opened his eyes and his dilated pupils adjusted to the evening light.

"How late is it?"

"It's late, man.  You've been out for hours." The twenty year old vigorously shook his head back and fourth before sitting down.  At the same time, Aiden sat up in shock and rooted for his shoe box.  He ripped off the lid and was visibly relieved, when he found that the contents hadn't been disturbed.  The 20 year old was now pushing his overgrown bush of brown curly hair to the side.  He had a big, stocky figure and was wearing a very thin red hoodie and black jeans.  He twitched twice, before speaking again.

"You think I mugged ya, didn't ya? Come on, Aiden.  I ain't like that."

"Yeah...sorry, Jumper." Aiden replied, sheepishly.  Just like Aiden, Jumper was also a junkie.  He was known for his hyperactive behaviour, which was only amplified by the heroin.  Jumper batted at his right ear, before snapping his head back to his friend.

"Dude, you look like shit."

Aiden smirked and spat out whatever saliva he had left.  "Do you think I care how I look?"

"S'pose not.  What ya doing all the way out here anyway?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Aiden countered.

"I heard you was staying in the squatting house and I came to find ya.  You weren't there, so I went looking for ya and here you are."

"Why were you looking for me?"

"To see whether you got any H for me."

"No I don't.  The only H I have is for me alone.  You could have just mugged me.  Why didn't you?" Aiden asked, in disbelief.

"I told you dude.  I aint like that." Jumper stood up and paced around.

"If you want H, then you should go and see Strike."

"No can do.  I owe him money."

Aiden stood up in shock.  "You owe Strike money? How much?"

"£200."

"You owe him £200? How are you still alive?"

"No idea, but if Strike catches me, I'm dead.  So do you have any H for me?"

"I told you, Jumper, the only H I have is for me alone."

"Come on, Aiden  You must have some money for me!"

"It's my money!" Aiden snapped.

"Let me look in your shoe box.  You must have something.  Come on, man.  Come on." Jumper stamped his foot three times.

"You're not getting shit, mate." Aiden was now standing up and clutching the shoe box.  He had slowly edged his way to the entrance of the shop hallway.

"Give me that fucking box!" Jumper snapped and made a desperate grasp for it.

"Shit dude.  It's Strike!" Aiden pointed behind his friend and as Jumper turned around, Aiden punched him with all of his strength.  Without looking back, the eighteen year old began to run.
****
He could hear Jumper lumbering behind him; the punch had only briefly stunned him.The Needlepoint centre had been designed as a help point for any heroin addicts and this was where Aiden was running now.  He knew he would be safe from Jumper there.  As a precaution, he took his knife from out of the shoe box.  Aiden relaxed, as he reached the centre.  It had been a couple of hours, since he had last had a fix, but it had been much longer for Jumper and his withdrawal symptoms combined with his general unfitness, meant that he was now lying breathless at the entrance of the Needlepoint car park.  He was shivering and a cold sweat was coming over him.  A white van with big red letters reading Needlepoint drove past Jumper, to help other junkies in the city.

"Who's he?" One of the Needlepoint employees asked Aiden.

"He's my best mate." Aiden replied.

"Then, why are you running from him?"

Aiden looked at the female worker from head to toe; she was slight of build, with freckled skin, strawberry blonde hair and a nose carved out of stone.  Aiden guessed she was in her thirties.

"What do you care?"

"Well, this area is rife with heroin addicts; I guess you're just another couple of junkies.  I guess you stole some H from him or he's trying to steal some from you."

"Guess all you want, I aint telling you shit."

The woman didn't seem perturbed.  "Can you at least tell me your name?"

"It's Aiden, and you?"

"I'm Anna."

"Well, I'd best be taking off now."

Anna signalled to Jumper whose twitches were becoming more serious.  "What about your mate?"

"He'll be fine, once he's had a fix."

"I can't let you give him heroin." Anna protested.

"So you're just gonna make him go cold turkey?"

"We'll bring him in and look after him."

Aiden stood between Anna and the door.  "You bloody well won't.  If we want your help, we'll ask for it." Without another word, the eighteen year old left the centre.

"I just hope you don't leave it too late." Anna muttered.
****
As Aiden left the centre, he took out his pocket watch.  It was 6:30 pm.  Aiden walked towards his friend and as he approached him, he helped Jumper to his feet.

"Come on, mate.  Let's get out of here."

"What's going on?" Jumper asked, before twitching 3 times and rubbing his eye.

"You went ape shit, cos you aint had a fix in a while."

"Where we going now?"

"We can go down to Basset's." Next to Aiden, he suddenly heard a sobbing.

"Are you crying, Jumper?"

"Come on, dude.  Let's just get to the car park."
****
Basset's was indeed a car park, but it no longer hosted any cars.  It had once been attached to Basset's Arcade, which had long gone bust.  Since then, the Council had long forgotten about the car park and it was now a haven for vagrants and junkies.  Aiden and Jumper were sitting in a far corner, holding a lighter under a piece of foil, which had H sitting on top of it.  As the two boys inhaled the fumes through tubes, they were slowly becoming more relaxed and their speech was becoming more slurred.

"The fuck were you playing at before? Punching me and shit?" Jumper mumbled out.

"You were majorly jacked up.  You'd've hurt me in that state.  I had to run."

Jumper leaned forward to take another inhale and fell back coughing.  "There's something up with this H.  It's dodgy."

"We got it from Strike.  What'd you expect?"

"Oh God, Strike.  What the hell do I about him?"

"Oh shut it....about....your..........debt.  I just want.......to do," Aiden suddenly fell asleep, falling on top of his shoe box.  In the distance, a police car was racing through the city, followed by a white van with big red letters on the side.
****
Aiden woke up a few hours later.

"I'm glad you've been able to sleep." Jumper muttered.  The effect of the H had worn off now and Jumper was no longer slurring his words.

"You haven't slept?" Aiden asked.

"How can I sleep, when Strike is after me?" As Jumper said this, Aiden instinctively reached for his shoe box and rummaged through its contents.

"I haven't fucking mugged ya!"

"You almost mugged me back at Needlepoint." Aiden countered.

"I was jacked up then.  People do crazy shit when they're jacked."

Aiden was no longer listening.  He took his pocket watch out of the shoe box and checked the time: it was 8:00 PM now.

"Why do you still have that watch? We could sell it.  I can pay off Strike.  We can buy more H."

"Have you lost it, mate? This watch was my grandfather's.  I am not-" Aiden suddenly dropped off to sleep, leaving the pocket watch to fall out of his hand and onto the concrete ground.  Jumper's first instinct was to steal it and run, but he decided against it.  Instead, he walked out of Basset's to get some air.  All natural light had escaped from the area and had been replaced with the evening darkness.  Jumper shook his head a few times, before turning to his right.  In a service road leading into Basset's, a white van with big red letters was parked.  The letters read 'Needlepoint.' Jumper thought this to be odd, because Needlepoint vans didn't usually come out this far, but then he saw a man in his forties in a leather jacket leave the van.

"Oh fuck!" The junkie shouted, as he turned around and started running.

"Get back here Jumper!" An Australian voice shouted out.

The effects of the H hadn't completely worn off and Jumper could feel his body slowing down.  It wasn't long, before he had collapsed onto the cold ground and fell asleep.  The Australian man and two of his cronies caught up with the sleeping junkie, picked him up and carried him back to the Needlepoint van.  Once Jumper had been thrown in the back, the Australian man's two cronies got into the front seats.

"That's the problem with junkies.  They always sleep on the job." Strike joked, before slamming the doors shut.
****
Jumper woke up to find his hands tied behind him and  two bald man pushing down on his shoulders.  "Where am I?" To him, it looked like he was in some type of disused factory, but he wasn't sure.

"We're in my headquarters."

Jumper bent his head to the van with big red letters parked outside.  "Why do you have a Needlepoint van?"

Strike walked up to Jumper and crouched down.  At this level, the junkie could see his very rough stubble and fading brown hair with a few tinges of grey.  "You talk too much, but since you asked, we stole the van.  It's much easier to drive round the city, without raising suspicion."

"What do you want from me?"

Strike growled and kicked Jumper in the knee  "What did I say about talking too much? You owe me £200, now where is it?"

"I aint got it.  Your guys must know that. They must have searched me when I was asleep."

Strike turned to Victor, one of his henchmen.  "It's true, boss.  We searched him from head to toe.  He hasn't got anything on him."

"Did you search <i>everywhere</i>?"

"Trust me, boss.  We searched <i>everywhere.</i>

Strike signalled to his henchmen.  "Let him go."

Before Jumper could speak, the Australian had picked him up and was pushing him against the wall.

"Where's my MONEY?!"

"I aint got it."

"I gave you forty bags of H to sell and you smoked it all."

"I swear I didn't.  I never smoked nothing." Jumper protested.

"ARE YOU FUCKING LYING TO ME," Strike roared, before ramming his fist into the junkie's stomach, "now where is my money?"

"I'll...get....it....to you." Jumper had been winded by Strike's punch and could barely speak.

"I gave you 3 days to get my money.  Why shouldn't I just kill you now?" Strike was no longer shouting, but softly whispering.

"I swear, Strike.  I'll get...you the....money."

Strike signalled to Victor, before rubbing his stubbled chin.  "Get him to his feet and hold him."

"Strike, come on, man-" Before Jumper could finish, the Australian man had punched him across the face.

"Stop talking," Strike shouted, before punching Jumper again, "I want my fucking money!
You got that?"

Jumper nodded meekly.

"I want £200, plus £200 interest.  You understand?!"

"I got it."

"Just so you don't forget." Strike punched Jumper twice more around the face, before ordering Victor to let him go.  The junkie staggered forwards, before falling forwards.  The Australian shook his head, despairingly.

"What a fucking lightweight.  Victor, take him back to Basset's car park.  If he hasn't paid us in a few days, he's dead," Strike knelt down and whispered into Jumper's ear, "you hear that, you filth? You're fucking dead, if you don't pay me."
****
Aiden woke up to see his pocket watch lying on the floor.  It must have fallen out of his grasp and he wondered why Jumper hadn't stolen it.  Aiden stood up and walked out of the car park, where he saw his friend lying on the ground with dried blood on his face.  The eighteen year old walked up to him and tentatively prodded him with a foot.

"The fuck happened to you?"

"Strike happened.  He wants £400 in the next few days, or I'm a dead man."

"£400? I thought it was £200?"

"Well, £200 interest...."

"Why do you owe him that much anyway?"

"I smoked £200 of his H..." Jumper explained, sheepishly.

"Are you crazy? How can you be so fucking stupid?" Aiden exploded.

"When he gave me the H to sell, I had just finished smoking the last of my stash.  I was coming down with withdrawal symptoms and becoming all kinds of fucked up.  I couldn't resist."

"You stupid bastard....the fuck do we now? I have £15 on me....that's nowhere near enough and I doubt this watch will sell for much."

"Nah man.  We can't sell that.  It's your grandfather's."

"Do you think we can go to Needlepoint for help?" Aiden asked.

"Do you think we can trust them?"

"I don't know.  They should be on our side.  It is their jobs to make sure people like us stay alive.  I reckon they should be able to help us."

"No way, man.  If we tell them, they'll have to tell the police.  We could get done for possession.  That's 7 years in jail."

"7 years in jail would be better than whatever Strike will do to us."

"Hold on, mate.  I have to ask.  Why are you helping me? This aint your fight."

"When I'd fallen asleep earlier on, you had the perfect chance to steal my pocket watch, but you didn't.  You've had so many chances to mug me, but you haven't.  So, how much time do you think we have?"

"4 days, at the max." Jumper guessed.

"This is what we do, for the next three days, we do everything we can to get that £400.  In case, Strike is watching us, we don't make contact again until we meet at 7 PM in 3 days time at Bell Park.  Agreed?"

"Agreed."
****
For the next three days, the two junkies did everything they could to scrounge together £400.  They tried speaking to other distributors and dealers in the area, but everyone knew that Strike had put a hit on Jumper and they wanted to stay well clear of him.  Both Jumper and Aiden had long cut ties with their former lives and could no longer turn to their families or their old friends.  For a brief while, the two boys tried mugging any unfortunate people they came across, but they were in a dangerous area and people rarely carried round large amounts of cash.
****
When Bell Park had first opened, it had been a very popular attraction.  Families had flocked to it, in their masses, but the initial euphoria had soon worn off and everybody had forgotten about the park, which meant it had become rampant to the deviant in society.  Aiden had chosen to meet there, because it was only a few streets away from the Needlepoint centre.  Once he saw Jumper enter the park, he walked up to him.

"I didn't get nowhere near £400.  I swear, Aiden, it was so hard not to spend this money
on H.  I've been fighting withdrawal symptoms for ages."

"How much money did you get?"

"£20."

"I got £15.  So that plus the money I have and your money, is only £50.  Would that be
enough?"

"You know, Strike.  He's gonna want all of it," Jumper scrunched up his hair in frustration, before batting his left ear, "we're gonna have to go to Needlepoint.  We aint got no choice."

"This is what we're gonna do.  You wait at Basset's and I go to Needlepoint, alone.  They
might help us. They can send a van round to you, to pick you up."

"Why can't I come with you?" Jumper protested.

"If Strike is watching us, then we can't risk him following us.  Now go wait at Basset's and don't leave for any reason.  I'll be along soon.
****
Once Jumper had left Bell Park, Aiden started running to the Needlepoint centre.  As he ran, he took out his pocket watch and could see that it was 7:30 pm.  He just hoped he would be fast enough.  As the junkie burst through the doors of the centre, he ran up to the counter where a woman with strawberry blonde hair and freckled skin was sitting behind.

"Anna, I need your help." Aiden panted out.

"Oh, so now you want my help?" Anna retorted.

"Yeah.  Look, do you know Strike?"

Anna waved away the security guards that were coming to remove Aiden from the building.  "Yeah, I've heard of everyone's favourite drug lord.  What about him?"

"My mate owes him £400 and Strike is gonna kill him for it."

"Where's your mate, then? Why are you here and not him?"

"We couldn't risk Strike following us here."

"Alright, I'll pull some strings, call in a few favours."

Aiden's eyes lit up with delight.  "You're gonna help us?"

"Yes, but only because I don't wanna see two more junkies dead, when I knew I could've saved them.  You do realise I'm gonna have to tell the police about this?"

Aiden reluctantly nodded.  It was just the price that he and Jumper had to pay.  "What are we gonna do?"

"I might be able to take you and your mate into protective custody.  Where's your mate staying?"

"Basset's car park."

"One of my boys should know it.  Right, I want you to wait in the squatting house, yes I know about it, and I'll send a van to pick you and your mate up."

"Why can't I wait here?" Aiden protested.

"If Strike has followed you, then I can't risk putting everyone else here in danger.  Go to the house.  A van will be along soon."

The eighteen year old nodded and turned around.

"And, Aiden, be careful.  I heard that Strike stole a Needlepoint van.  Before you get in one of our vans, make sure it's one of us, driving it.
****
It took forty minutes for Aiden to reach the squatting house.  Now he was inside, he was waiting by the front window, clutching onto his knife.  It was half 8 now and a van hadn't arrived yet.

What the fuck was taking them so long?
****
At 8:40, two white vans with big red letters left the Needlepoint car park and took different routes to reach the rendezvous points.

At the same time, an Australian man drove a Needlepoint van away from a disused factory, in order to collect his debt.
****
Jumper's twitches were now rising out of control.  He was being overpowered by his withdrawal symptoms and had to keep pacing around the area.  He kept rubbing his eyes and shaking his head.  It had been well over an hour, since he had last spoken to Aiden.

What the fuck was taking him so long?

At that exact point, a white van with big red letters drove into the service road, which led to Basset's car park.  Jumper could see the van, but he couldn't see who was inside it.

"Who is it?" He called out.

A voice called back answering his question.  Jumper sighed and left the car park.  He walked up to the van and climbed into the front seat.  There was nowhere else he could go.

It doesn't matter what  happens now, it's over for me.   Jumper told himself, as the van drove away, followed by a blue light and the sound of sirens.

****
At the same time, as Jumper was being picked up, a van with big red letters drove into the courtyard of the squatting house.  Aiden could see the van, but he couldn't see who was inside of it.

"Who is it?" He called out.

A voice called back, answering his question.  Aiden sighed and put away his knife.  He picked up his shoe box and left the house, before walking up to the van and climbing into the front seat.  There was nowhere else he could go.

Whatever happens now it's game over.  Aiden told himself, as the van drove away, followed by a blue light and the sound of sirens.

*Author's Notes*

With thanks to my cousin Harry and my friend Zayd for helping me edit this.  This is probably my darkest story since Barbed Wire.  I originally started this in my writer's group, where we were exploring the theme of symbolism and I wrote this based on the emotion of loneliness.  I use aterisks to signify paragraph breaks.  The ending is a cliff-hangar.  You can decide what happens to Jumper and Aiden.