This one is for Joanna.

“I should very much like to go on an adventure. Just a small one. Just once.”

It was summer and although eight o’clock, it was still quite light enough to read the newspaper in the front parlour as Simon Judges did at the moment his wife, Joanna, spoke out.

He looked up over his paper at his wife, half expecting from the tone of her voice and the context of her words to find her gazing wistfully past his shoulder, out of the window and at some imagined African vista perhaps. But instead, Joanna (‘Dear Jo’ as he liked to call her in their own company) was frowning at one of the girls stockings and jabbing it with a darning needle.

He considered his wife a very capable woman, more level headed and capable than many men that he knew but being a seamstress was not one of her strong suites.

“Beg pardon dear?” he asked.

She prodded the stocking once more in vain before setting the whole endeavour down on the arm of the chair.

“I would like to go on an adventure,” she said, ever so slightly sulkily.

Simon smiled warmly.

“Is that you speaking Dear Jo or is it Mr Haggard?”

“Don’t tease Simon, you read the very same dreadfuls I do!”

He returned to his paper, still smiling behind it.

“I’m very sure Mrs Jackson would not approve you reading them.”

Mrs Jackson being the very prim and extraordinarily proper widow who lived in the terraced house next to the Judges.

“Ohh, Mrs Jackson can go hang!” retorted Joanna as Simon chuckled and considered filling his pipe for one more smoke that evening.

“I take it that the girls settled in well?” he said, referring to their daughters, Daisy and Martha, who were indeed, sound asleep in their cots upstairs.

His wife did not respond.

“Joanna?”

Simon once again looked over his paper at his wife.

She was starring intently at the front page.

She pointed.

“Have you read that?” she asked.

Simon turned to the front page and read the head line she indicated.

“Oh that? Some stuff and nonsense in Woking. I expect we’ll hear no more of it than this. Probably a hoax of some sort.”

Simon was not the sort of man to tell his wife to ‘stop worrying her pretty little head about things’ but he did realise that she was increasingly having a pre-occupation with wild flights of fancy. The life of a housewife to an office clerk who worked in the city was not enough for her. She read voraciously of expeditions and adventures, both real and imagined. A bank holiday spent at the sea front in Brighton was perhaps the most adventure the Judges family would have in a year and this was not up to muster.

She had mentioned travelling abroad and Simon had pointed out that that sort of travel was not something either of them would be able to afford, nor did either of them speak a lick of French or any other foreign language for that matter and then, of course, there were the children to consider.

It wasn’t that Joanna was totally unhappy with her lot, she loved her husband and home and adored her children, she just wanted something more than baking bread, beating rugs and darning socks.

Simon had read the news paper story she had pointed out on the train home and dismissed it after a few paragraphs, not bothering to read on. He didn’t want her to be alarmed, although, he reasoned, it would take a great deal to alarm Mrs Judges. She was renowned for a cool head in a crisis. She had single headedly averted a fire when the hearth spat an ember onto the rug in the back room and also insisted on taking a trap, on her own, to fetch the doctor when Daisy had run a dangerous fever, Simon having broken an ankle two days previously while playing cricket.

“Stuff and nonsense,” he re-iterated and returned to reading the notices in the paper.

 

That night, Joanna stole out of bed and went to the pantry and the bureau in the back room.

She packed a few items and placed them, folded in a cloth, like a bindle easy for carrying slung around her, in the coal shed before creeping back into the house.

She crept into her daughter’s bed room and looked at their sleeping forms and listened to the small noises of their slumber.

“I hope your daddy is right..,” she whispered to herself and went back to her room, slipping into bed beside her snoring husband.

She gripped the edge of the sheet and tried not to dwell on the headline she read earlier that evening, but her mind would not allow her to forget the words, nor could she really understand why they filled her with such foreboding…

 

A MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MARS – REMARKABLE STORY FROM WOKING

 

 

The next day began like many others.

Simon left for the train station just after seven o’clock and Joanna set about her daily tasks around the house.

The girls were playing in the garden, periodically running into the house to report fairy sightings, that one sister was antagonising the other and to check on the progress of Joanna’s baking. Martha, in particular, was very much looking forwards to eating a blueberry muffin, preferably as soon as it was removed from the stove.

Joanna baked and thought.

In actual fact, she fretted. She had not been able to put the newspaper from her mind and had hugged her husband just a little harder when he left that morning and told him to be careful.

He smiled and assured her he would be fine.

Still…

The girls ran in from the garden once more.

“What is it this time poppet?” Joanna asked Daisy as she tugged on her apron.

“There’s thunder mummy, I don’t want to get wet and Martha is frightened.”

Joanna furrowed her brow.

“Really?” she said, looking from the window. The sky was mostly blue with a few large, white clouds. There was no sign of rain anywhere. The garden path was dry and the window bore no rain drops at all.

“Listen!” said Daisy as Martha let out a sob and clung to her mothers side.

There was a distant, deep concussive boom. A sound that would escape notice amid the chatter of children and a song sung to ones self as you worked.

Another boom followed after a period of several seconds and this too was followed this time instantly by a third.

Joanna wiped the flour from her hands and untangled herself from her children and went out into the garden.

There it was again, louder outside and seemingly not so far away. A short rumble, one you could almost feel.

Then there was a sudden plethora of the sounds followed by single loud boom and then silence.

Later she would find out this was the sound of artillery fire from Croydon, ceasing when the central magazine was found and destroyed.

The sounds had ceased but there continued to be a concussive thud sensation and Joanna became distantly aware of the noise of the window panes rattling in their casements and then a scream, a woman was screaming.

She turned quickly and bent down to the children.

“Girls, wait by the coal shed for mummy. Don’t move until mummy says so and hug each other very tightly. Mummy will be right back, I promise.”

She left the girls, both ashen, Martha starting to cry and darted through the house, down the hall to the front door, which she flung open.

Mrs Jackson ran past, careening into their garden gate and into the road, zigzagging and screeching like a banshee.

Her hair was aflame.

The whole top of her head roared with fire.

Joanna stared in horror for perhaps half a second before she began heading down the path and clutching at her apron.

Her intent was to catch up to the poor woman and forcer her over, knock her to the floor if needed and extinguish the conflagration atop her crown by smothering it with her apron.

All this time, so intent on the horror in front of her was she, that she did not notice that the thudding grew closer, audible now.

She took no more than two steps down the path toward the flaming woman (who now had stopped screaming) when the sun was blotted out and the foot crashed down into the road.

How to describe it? A tall, metal giant, a walking thing the likes of which a housewife from the suburbs could never imagine. It stood on three, long legs. So tall it easily stepped over the terrace opposite as if a child stepping over a fallen branch. The metal horror was perhaps 80, 90 feet tall? It’s high weird body blotted out the sun and turned with a whining, churning noise, as if propelled by machinery. This did not prevent it from the appearance of regarding its surroundings, much like a living thing would move its head in the same way.

The vast foot smashed into the road ahead of her and the now eerily silent Mrs Jackson ran in a strange wide circle around the giant resting limb, almost doubling back on her self before leaning over horribly and collapsing heavily to the ground. As she did so, the rest of her silently and violently burst into flames.

Something huge and heavy swung past Joanna, smashing into and through the low garden wall of the house next to hers on the left.

A long, metallic tentacle, connected to the things body was aimlessly and heavily swinging through the road, operated as if by a blind man, crashing into post boxes and gardens.

Her eyes followed the tentacle back up to the body of the metal terror just as it brought all three of its legs to a halt.

Later she would speak of an odd sensation, as if the thing were taking breath and then there was the horrific horn-like blast that the beasts used to call to each other.

“ULLLAA!”

Joanna clapped her hands over her ears and instinctively ducked. So great was the noise that Mrs Jackson’s chimney pot and some of the chimney breast, fell from the roof and crashed onto the path next to the Judges home.

This partial collapse seemed to grab the attention of the thing and it’s great cowled ‘head’ began to grate and whine around to look at the house. It shifted it’s monstrous feet and brought two of its tentacles up in front of what Joanna took to be the ‘face’ of the thing. The appendages grasped a box, much like an oversized camera. As she began to back toward her house she took it to be taking a daguerreotype of some sort when she felt, but not saw or heard a massive lance of heat streak down towards the building next to hers.

It was then she ran back through her hallway to her children.

Despite screaming in terror, Daisy and Martha had not moved from the coal shed.

As the roof of Mrs Jackson’s house began to buckle and burn, Joanna paused to reach for the bundle she had secreted in the coal shed, placing it over her shoulder and around her and then scooped Martha into her arms and grabbed Daisy’s wrist.

Behind them the houses windows exploded as they ran for the back gate, the massive head of the machine intent, it seemed, only on burning the buildings and not (she thanked God) the fleeing occupants.

They crashed through the gate and down the path, away from the growing conflagration as the entire terrace became engulfed at first in invisible heat and then fire proper.

Thoughts of her husband crossed her mind. She hoped to high heaven that Simon was safe. Had this thing come from the direction of the city? And when he came home, what on earth would he think when he saw the house burned to the ground? She began to panic, how would she find her husband again? But a sob from Martha brought her mind back to the here and the now.

Her children were her only concern.

They had reached the end of the path that ran along all of the gardens.

She considered the train station but that would mean crossing the end of the street and the path of the metal giant (she could still hear the grinding gear like noise of it’s head turning behind her and the nape of her neck anticipated the sickening burst of heat from that camera thing at any second, her skin crawled when she gave it thought) more over the thought occurred to her that if the machine was destroying houses, it would surely be drawn to the likes of a railway, wouldn’t it?

She quickly turned towards the river, her head crowded with images of the train station, thronging with hapless, panicking refugees.

Sitting ducks as the American would no doubt say.

To the river then.

A quick route out of the suburbs and perhaps some protection from that things heat weapon.

Clutching the children to her, she skirted a tree (they were near the tow path now) and looked back.

The tripod had finished burning the buildings and stood, sentinel like at the opposite end of the road. It called out again and to her horror was answered, albeit distantly, by what she could only assume was an identical machine somewhere upstream of the river.

She needed to flee as quickly as she could.

Joanna bent down to her children and wiped away Martha’s tears, Daisy looked on over Joanna’s shoulder at the metal giant.

“Girls?” Joanna said, “Daisy, look at me…”

Her eldest did as she was told.

“We are going to go on the river soon, we’ll have a ride on a boat, wouldn’t you like that?”

“What about daddy?” Martha asked, all red eyes.

Joanna swallowed hard.

“We’ll see him soon, I’m quite sure of that.”

Daisy was staring, doe-eyed at the tripod again, fear seemed to of left her and had been replaced with strange fascination instead, Joanna hated it.

“But where was the muffin?” Martha asked.

Joanna smiled and almost laughed but stopped her self, she felt sure if she laughed, she would also cry.

“I think it’s gone my darling, I’m sorry. Mummy will buy you another one, I promise.”

She kissed her daughters head and then looked into Daisy’s eyes.

“Daisy? Are you ready to go?” she asked.

Daisy broke her gaze upon the machine and looked at her mother and nodded her head.

Joanna looked down at the bundle she carried and unfolded it.

Some bread, cheese, cold meat wrapped in grease-proofed paper, a wallet containing a little money and lastly the gun.

Simon’s old service revolver, kept out of sight in a locked drawer of the bureau in the back room. Clean, smelling of oil and with all six chambers loaded.

She chided herself for not remembering water but then, uneasily, she thought that in the days ahead, the gun may prove more useful.

She starred back at the hateful, glittering monster that had destroyed her life and given her the adventure she had never wanted, not like this.

She gripped her children’s hands, tightly in hers and set off for the river.

 

I’ve always had a life long fascination for War of the Worlds so quite enjoyed writing this one.

Simon, if you’re out there fella, sorry, I don’t fancy your chances of getting out of London much…

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Ruth’s diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth’s first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

*

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here…

This one for Cat with apologies to Neil Gaiman.

I took a liberty with her original sentence so it sounded less like I was talking about myself. 

“Jamie, you are a very clever girl, I like your stories.”
Jamie hadn’t even realised there was someone else in the room with her until she heard the creepy girls voice. She had been writing in her binder, lost in her thoughts.
She looked up with a start and then around the rest of the room, hoping she wasn’t alone with creepy girl, but she was.
She managed a weak grin, “I can’t be that clever, I’m in detention after all…”
Creepy girl grinned a huge, empty grin and made her already huge, dead eyes bigger.
“Oh but you are a clever girl Jamie, we love girls with imaginations!”
Creepy girl was technically pretty but…weird… She dressed like as if she had her clothes picked out for her by some 50 year old guy or something. All knee socks and patent shoes and a too-short pleated skirt.
Short, dark gamine hair, usually full of stupid little hair clips, surrounded a slightly too large face, almost black lips (what kind of weird lipstick was that?) and way too big eyes.
Creepy girl looked like some freak had over photo-shopped Winnona Ryder into a cheer leader fantasy.
“My imagination?…” Jamie asked.
How did creepy girl know what she was writing? Had she been looking through her bag? Or worse her locker.
“Your stories.” That sick grin got even bigger.
Jamie closed the binder and held it to her chest.
“my stories aren’t that good…” she said, looking past creepy girl to the class room door, why wasn’t a teacher around?
“Oh no! Your stories are wonderful!” said creepy girl and then, she writhed sickeningly, almost sexually in her seat and stretched out her hands towards Jamie, towards the binder, as if warming them on a fire.
Jamie wrinkled up her nose and moved back in her chair, the binder becoming a shield between her and creepy girl.
“Um listen, I don’t know what you’ve heard or what kind of vibe I might be putting out but I’m seriously not into other girls, “ she said.
Creepy girl wrinkled her tiny nose.
“Girls?” she said as if the word was alien in her mouth, then she looked down at her self, “Oh this…”
Jamie realised that the room was getting dark now.
“Um…” she said again and then the words died on her tongue. Her thoughts were growing cloudy. Wasn’t she going now? Didn’t she have to leave?
Creepy girl’s face seemed to be growing, or maybe she was coming towards her.
Creepy girl was talking now, “We need a smart girl, we lay our eggs in her imagination you see…”
Her words we huge, pale, luminous, like her eyes, filling the room.
Jamie wanted to move but she couldn’t, all she could think of were stories, characters and situations.
But they were running away, becoming their own, as if her own thoughts were being crowded out inside her head.
‘My thoughts are not my own.’
Did she think it or say it?
She didn’t know anymore, she couldn’t even feel scared.
All she could see was creepy girls eyes.
And grin.
“And when we hatch…then we eat…
You…all…
Up…

This one for Tim…

“Why are we going this way?”
He had been waiting for her to say that since he turned off the turnpike five minutes ago, laying a bet with himself that she would say that exact same sentence.
He muttered something about being a millionaire and she turned to glare at him.
“What!?”
“Nothing. This way is quicker.”
“Is it? It’s not as fast as the turnpike.”
“Maybe, but it’s more fuel efficient and you’re always on at me to save money.”
“I am not ‘always on at you’.”
“Okay.”
He said it in that resigned, ‘I’m not really listening to you anymore’ way that she hated.
The low burble of the radio, tuned to some 70’s rock station that he liked filled the car again.
“You managed to save yourself some money at the fundraiser, didn’t you?”
He took his eyes from the road to look at her.
“What?”
She just starred ahead and gritted her teeth.
“You were put in charge of the liquor at the fundraiser.”
“And?”
“There was an excess of liquor at the fundraiser.”
“Stop speaking like an accountant and just spit it out will you!”
She turned on him, “There were two cases of Bud left over from that fundraiser and a few days later a case turned up in our garage and Marjorie told me that a case appeared in Brad’s garage too!”
He shrugged.
“The fundraiser was a success, the kids got their jungle gym right?”
“That’s not the point! I gave you that money from the committee and you deliberately over stocked on beer so you could take some home for you and your buddies!”
“We needed beer, I got beer, the kids got play equipment, where is the problem here?”
She closed her eyes for a few seconds and took some deep breaths.
“That wasn’t your beer, it was the committees, you can’t spend charity money on yourself!”
“Oh right, I see, so it’s okay for you to buy Martinis for you and Frank Williams though?”
“What?!”
Another shrug.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice you were tucking away the cocktails tonight with Frank, just like you did at the last meeting and the one before that. I noticed cos I’ve been drinking root beer, because I’m driving again. Just like I did last time and the time before that…”
She threw her hands in the air.
“I wanted a drink tonight, you like SEVERAL drinks, I can’t put up with you getting loaded in front of our friends, yet again and if you want to accuse me of having an affair with Frank Williams, just Goddam come out and say it!”
“Fine, I’m…”
He was interrupted by the radio suddenly reaching an ear-splitting volume before turning to a horrible bray of static, which, in turn became an unintelligible burst of binary before it and the car shut down.
He was about to say something when the light enveloped the car.
There was no sound at all, nothing from the engine or outside, no crickets, not even the sound of them breathing.
They exchanged glances and without thinking of the consequences, as if gently compelled, opened their card doors and walked to the front of the vehicle.
Ahead of them, in the light, something was moving.
A shape, tall, slender, gently flailing.
They stood near to each other, not touching, looking on in wonder.
It was very tall, eight or nine feet. Such a pale green colour, slightly mottled flesh. It’s body was like a slender cone, blunt at the top and pinched at the bottom. A slit ran almost the entire length of the cone, pulsing open and closed gently and slightly, revealing a glassy surface with a dark diamond shape. It was an eye, like a giant cat’s eye.
At the base of the cone, four very long tendrils or tentacles pulsed and moved, allowing it to almost glide from the light and travel towards them.
It smelled like citrus, gently wafting towards them.
He stared at it open mouthed, his head tilted slightly towards one side and then he smiled.
“It looks kinda like a lava lamp.”
She broke her gaze and looked at him.
“What?”
“It’s body…it kinda looks like a lava lamp…the shape of it…”
The creature raised it’s appendages slightly higher and pulsed, as if maybe taking breath to speak but before it could say anything she spoke first.
“It’s an alien, we’re probably the first people to meet it and you compare it too some 60’s furniture?”
The creature blinked and looked at the woman.
“It’s not going to know what a lava lamp is…hell, it doesn’t know what the 60’s are.”
The creature shifted it’s strange gaze towards the man.
“This is history, right here, right now and all you can think of is a lava lamp!?”
As the thing in the road looked back at the woman, movement began behind it, further back in the light.
“Yes, all I can think of is a lava lamp and what do you care. How do you know we’re the first humans it’s seen? Maybe they’ve been watching us for years, maybe the president knows about them already, maybe they’ve been for fucking tea and sandwiches at the White House!”
“Oh well that’s just great! Swear why not, start a scene, here, right now of all places!”
The creature quickly shifted its attention between the arguing couple, unaware that a second creature, exactly like the first, was now making it’s way towards all of them.
The second creature raised one of it’s tentacles into the air, holding aloft something almost like a piece of coral, studded with small, flashing lights and tiny satellite dishes.
There was a brief hum and the man, woman and car all vanished in a flash of electric purple light, replaced by a small, twist of vapour in the road.
The first creature slowly turned to face the second.
“What did you do that for?”
The second creature approximated a shrug with all four tentacles.
“They were obviously of no use to us.”
The first creature narrowed it’s eye-slit.
“That is so typical of your sex, always unable to ask for directions!”
By now the second creature was already heading back into the craft.
“It wasn’t I that got us lost in the first place, you insisted of dropping out of sub-space 60 parsecs too early.”
Both beings were now inside the craft which began to rise on a pulsing, yellow light.
“I was trying to conserve the fuel element, you have been made aware of this many times by the spacing guild, which…”
“Yes, yes, you have told me, you spawning-unit is the head of the Spacing Guild and she is always correct. You and your spawning-unit…”
The light of the crafts engines began to fade, the road and the scorch mark that was all that remained of the man, woman and car grew dark.
“You always have to drag my mother into these things don’t you? What is wrong with my mother!?”
The second creature sighed.
“Don’t get me started!…”

As asked for by Ange…

The house stands alone, atop a windy Cape Cod cliff.

Windows and doors boarded against the elements, weeds growing around the walls.

Children whisper in hushed voices in the school yard about the house, about the crazy old lady who lived there.

They say if you break in at midnight and make your torch-lit way to the palor, there is still an old type-writer atop a rickety table.

A sheet of water stained paper still in the roller.

If you wait and watch the keys begin to move and the type-writer begins to clack and whirr, all on it’s own, typing the same sentence over and over again…

“Arnold raced out the door…”

And then you’ll hear her laugh and the moans and groans of the bodies in the basement and then you’ll run.

“She always blamed her nephew,” the high schoolers say, behind the gym, smoking cigarettes, “but he always got away with it. Hundreds she killed, hundreds and she always wrote about it afterwards…”

As requested by Nate…

“We’ve run out of tea bags.”
There probably wasn’t a worse phrase you could utter at the Bio-Weapons lab of OmniSlay plc.
“Oh no, the viper has escaped!” or “I seem to of mislaid that uranium,” were things that could be dealt with, things that had procedures in place, there were handbooks and manuals for that kind of thing, but running out of tea Goddamit?
“Fredricks, what exactly do you mean when you say, ‘we’ve run out of tea’?” asked DeWinter, looking up from his important bit of soldering at the skinny drink of water that stood in the door way.
DeWinter despised Fredricks at the best of time, just look at him there now, all under bite and stupid hair, clutching a steaming kettle and practically wetting himself, he didn’t even open his action figures, leaving them at home in a cupboard, ‘mint on card’, what kind of man does that!?
Fredricks mouth worked silently as he stared off to one side and shrugged, his lips groping for words.
“Well…I looked in the cupboard above the sink and there were no PG Tips left in the box…”
“Have you checked in reactor room? Tony always keeps a stash in the reactor room. He thinks we don’t know about them…” this was Michaels, looking up from welding a 40,000 watt taser to the tip of a (currently) unconscious Siberian Tiger.
DeWinter cut Fredricks off before her could reply, “No good, all irradiated, I thought as much so I made a brew for Mrs Selsby…”
“The Cleaner?” Offered Fredricks.
“Yes,” sighed DeWinter, clearly irked by the interruption, “The cleaner, she died of Strontium 90 poisoning although she claimed I never put enough sugar in.”
“Bugger,” said Michaels.
“I know, she wasn’t half bad with a duster.”
“No, I meant we’re still out of tea.”
DeWinter steepled his fingers and looked off into the middle distance.
“Activate Ultimate Monkey Strike Force,” he hissed.
Fredricks stupid mouth hung open and his eyes widened while Michaels slammed down his welding torch.
“For God’s sake man, you can’t be serious!”
“Oh but I am Lesley…deadly serious.”
Fredricks mouth groped for words once more, “B-b-but sir, Ultimate Monkey Strike Force are only to be used in an emergency!”
“Fredricks, we’re out of fucking tea, what part of this isn’t emergent enough for you!?! Begin the launch sequence!”
Michaels go to his feet.
“DeWinter, don’t you remember what happened last time? They’re still rebuilding parts of Guildford now…”
DeWinter turned on Michaels, eyes gleaming, “Oh really Lesley? And who is it here who has the compulsion to surgically attach flame throwers to primates all the damn time? I bet you’ve got one on that tiger already haven’t you?”
Michaels looked down at his feet.
“Just a small one…only a two litre tank…”
“Fredricks! Launch the simians and ensure that ‘Big Dave’ is fully loaded this time, no half-measures!”
Close to tears and already a trembling wreck, Fredricks tried to salute with the hand holding the kettle and almost burned himself before scurrying away down the hall.
“Are you sure about this DeWinter?” asked Michaels.
“Do you want to go to Tescos Lesley?”
There was no reply.
“No…I thought not.”
DeWinter returned to his soldering and then looked back up.
“Oh dear God…what have I done?”
The sirens began and the red lights started to flash all over the compound, a calm female voice began to count down from 10…
“What? What is it!?” asked Michaels.
“I forgot to ask them to get me a Double Decker while they were out…”

For Susan.
Apologies to Tanya Donelly and Harlan Ellison.

Morning means going for water.
And any food that she can find.
Her mother and father are already awake and busy when she leaves the house, rifle over her shoulder, hound in it’s harness on her back.
It’s already hot, her hat pulled down over her eyes, boots kicking at the dust on the path.
She’s not five minutes down the path and the dog is already feeling heavy on her back and the belt weighs her down on her hips.
She sighs and the dog asks if she’s okay and she gives a sort of non-committal yes and listens to the buzzing of the bugs in the dry, wasted grass and thinks about filling the canteen bumping against her hip.
Soon she finds the river and tries to lower the dog to the ground as gently as she can, neath the shade of a nearby tree.
The dog grunts and sighs but she pays little mind to his noise, still she tries to lay him down comfortably on his right hand side, so as not to lay him on his wound.
The dressing has been changed but it already seems damp with a little blood. It’s taking an age to heal.
“Thank you,” says the dog.
“S’okay,” says Marie.
She goes to the rivers edge and fills the canteen, cool, clear water washing over her finger tips. She’d like to slip into the river but not today, too much to do.
She plucks a strand of grass from the bank and places it between her lips.
As the water bubbles and glubs into the bottle she turns to the dog, “Fish?” she asks.
The dog furrows its strange brow and its pink eyes look somewhere else. It sniffs the air and gulps, tongue lolling as it pants, then finally it says, “No. Not today.”
“Hmph,” she retorts, “Don’t have a rod anyways.”
She pours a little water for the hound, it drinks and then she re-fills the canteen once more and then hefts the dog back onto her back.
It lets out a little whine of pain.
“Sorry,” she says.
They follow the path onwards, in the direction of the water, towards the town.
She takes the gun from her shoulder now and carries it in her hands, thumb on the safety, taking more care with her footsteps.
The dog tries not to pant so much, but it’s noon-time hot despite not being much more than 8am.
The world is yellow and brown, perpetual summer. At midday they will have to find shade and wait for the sun to move on.
She sees the bell tower over the trees ahead and the edge of the over-grown and abandoned road to her left, the river still to her right.
The dog stiffens on her back.
“What?” she asks.
Silence, she knows the dog is thinking, it’s brow furrowed once more, thinking ahead of them, down the path to the town. Sending it’s thoughts out like blood hounds, sniffing through the paths and streets.
“Could be deer,” it finally replies, “It’s big. Too big to be Mountain Lion…”
Marie thumbs the safety off now and walks slow and low.
I wish this damn dog could walk, she thinks, loud enough for the dog to hear.
It pretends not to notice.
No sounds but the subtle crunch of dead leaves under her heavy boots and the rattle of a cricket in the long grass.
She was heading once more to the old store to begin with, see if there might still be some cans of stuff in the basement but fresh meat was always better.
She could shoot it and hang it and then go get her father or brother to help her back with the kill. No way she could drag both the dog and a deer back to the house.
She mulls over the idea of constructing a litter but quickly discounts it.
She’s in the town now.
Rusted car carcasses, broken windows and fading graffiti.
The grass is everywhere, growing up around the ruined wheels of the cars, through cracks in the side walks and road.
“Tower?” she asks.
“Tower,” the dog confirms.
She makes her way to the building, the old town hall. Climbing trash and weed strewn steps, forcing her way into the building.
The door to the stairs is locked with a shiny, conspicuous pad lock.
She hates it.
A sign of deviousness, of use. A shout to any fool with half a head that someone uses this door.
Looking over her shoulder (“There’s no-one there,” says the dog but she does it anyway) she takes out the key and unlocks the pad lock.
She locks the door again behind her and wedges the metal pole under the lock, then drives the bolts home behind her too.
If she’s trapped in there, she’ll need the door to hold out as long as it can.

Nothing ever quite turns out how you expect it, does it?

Here is the last part of my Thunder Rock story;

Words won’t come into Val’s mouth, his brain won’t plant them there and even if it did, they wouldn’t grow.

He furrows his brow and looks at her, at the test tube.

“What?” he finally croaks.

She looks at the test tube, hesitantly and says again, “I made this. I’ll drink it and it will make me fly. I’m going to fly away.”

Val is dumbfounded.

“What is it?”

She looks at the purple fluid and shrugs.

“This and that…”

Val manages a thin, bitter laugh, “It’s a magic potion!?” and instantly regrets the comment when he sees the look of hurt on her face.

“Leave me alone Val, I just wanted to say goodbye.”

Now, despite the fact he hates himself for it, he begins to feel angry.

“Why…why are you telling me fairytales?! What is that shit? Are you trying to poison yourself or something!?”

The tears are coming now, her eyes red, she sniffs and wipes her nose on her sleeve.

He hates himself more than he hates his father for killing his mother now but he can’t stop himself.

“It won’t work while you’re here,” she says, sobbing, “Go away!”

The anger in him breaks now, he can’t stand to see her like this and although he knows she must be crazy he can’t keep torturing her.

He says the only thing he can think of saying.

“I love you.”

She smiles though the tears at him.

“I know.”

He half expected it but it crushes him all the same. Of course he realises that not everyone can feel the same way about each other but he’d wanted it so much for so long, since he first met her…

He looks at her for one last time, wishing that she wasn’t crying but realising that he has nothing more to say and nothing more to give.

Then he leaves.

 

Eleanor Lockhart was never found.

Valentine Cooper was taken into custody by the police and questioned but never charged.

Two months later, Eliza ‘Rapunzel’ Lockhart attacked Cooper in the street, slashing his face with a switchblade, leaving him permanently scarred.

He pressed no charges.

The police search of the factory was fruitless.

A single, long, smudged swan feather lay at the foot of the wall, below where Ellie had stood on the roof.

It was overlooked by the police.

Afterword:

I’m not so sure how this ended up, if it said what I wanted it to say or not.  It was difficult to write but in the end this story had been living inside me for almost 20 years and it has been good to finally get it out of my head.

It is, very obviously, intended as a small part of a much larger whole and I really rather went to town on introducing things, possibly to the detriment of the story.

I never could figure out a decent reason for Val to leave the roof after the love of his life basically told him she was going to kill herself but then, as you will have realised, she may not be dead anyway.

Originally some of the ingredients of the Angel Juice would of been revealed also, they would of been Grape Soda, cocaine, bleach, gunpowder and dust.  I don’t think the story suffers for not knowing.

So there it is, flaws and all.  At least it’s in the wild now.

I have a sinking feeling about this story now, but I have to push on and try to finsih it.

Fourth part below, for what it’s worth…

 

“Are you going to hop a train?” he asks her. The train line is the towns main artery, more so than the roads. It’s little station more for commerce than passengers, the cattle yards over beyond the building they stand atop.

Not that the trains stop for long now, most of the stock has gone and the jobs with it.

The town is withering on the vine.

No-one comes to Thunder Rock now.

Not by chance anyway.

They all turn up with a purpose, looking for something, even if they don’t know it.

Out in the desert, many miles to their west a couple hold each other in a camper van. He is cool, calm, she is tired, hungry and scarred.

Both of them waiting for darkness so they can get on the move again, get to Thunder Rock and wait.

The young man looks twenty but he has been to the town before, a long, long time before Val, Ellie or even Alex Swanmore were born.

This time when he gets to the town, he’s going to wait for as long as it takes.

He wants answers and he’s prepared to wait centuries for them if he has to.

To the east Joseph Lincoln lays awake in his small shack, made all the smaller by the cheap mattresses nailed to all the walls.

He lays gnawing on his thumb, wide-eyed waiting for night and the voices to whisper in his ear.

Every night he resolves to ignore them, to screw his eyes shut and clamp the thin, filthy pillow over his ears and wait it out until morning.

But they’ll insist and cajole and eventually he’ll have to rise and sit at the table and start to draw and after a while the voices will subside and he will be left with four or five sheets of fantastic designs.

He will pin them to the wall and in the morning, despite the door remaining firmly shut and no one entering the shack, they will be gone.

Joseph hates the voices, not because they scare him, or because of the obscene ideas they place in their mind but because without them he cannot draw or plan at all.

They make him feel alive.

 

Back on top of the roof Ellie looks at Val with a cold, clear clarity as if this is a moment she has been practising for.

She pulls her self upright and tells Val, “I’m not taking the train. I’m flying out.”

“Flying?” Val looks around him and back at her, “Flying? How are you flying out, there’s no airstrip here!”

There is a horrible look in her eyes now and Val isn’t certain but he thinks he’s seen it before somewhere and it scares him.

“No plane. I’m flying away. Me.”

As he struggles to understand what it is she means, she reaches into her jacket and produces a test tube.

An honest-to-God test tube, complete with an orange rubber stopper in the top.

She holds it up, looking at it, a strange half smile flickers across her lips as she looks up at the clear, purple liquid within.

Val looks back at her to see that there are tears in her eyes, but she is not crying.

The sleeve has slipped down her wrist, there is an ugly purple bruise on her arm, the same colour as the sky.

Her voice cracks slightly.

“I made this. It will make me fly.”

This is the third part of my ‘scene from a street’ story.

It’s title has always been ‘Angel Juice’ since it was first envisioned about 14 years ago, but I refrained from using it as it sounded a bit silly.  But it’s the only title I can think of for it, so I guess it’s here to stay and it has some relevance as the story unfolds.

Here’s the third part then.  In my opinion, it’s the weakest installment yet, I have a feeling it’s all a bit scatter-shot and is building up to the point of the story which will make or break it.

Anyway, see what you think…

On top of the roof Ellie finally turns to face Val and looks into his eyes.

He can feel the words forming on his lips when she says in a voice that seems to Val to be too quiet to hear above the wind, “I’m leaving.”

She says it with a weak, unconvinced smile that makes him wince.

“What?” he responds.

“I’m going Val. Tonight. There’s nothing for me here now…”

She realises what she has said far too late to spare the boy the pain so horribly evident on his face at that moment.

“Val, no, that’s not what I meant…”

“No, no, s’okay…I…um…” he shrugs and laughs once bitterly, “The place is a shit hole anyway.”

That sickening, lurching feeling of the whole world twisting, the roof top being pulled out from under his feet like a fucking rug comes right back to Val and he remembers the last time he felt it, when he was seven and his dad pulled his mom, screaming, out into the dusty sunlight of the yard where she took one horrified look at the sun and the street and the bewildered neighbours and then dropped to her knees clutching her arm as her feeble heart gave up its, pale, grey ghost.

All Doctor Cooper’s frustration given vent in a horrible destructive move.

Kill or cure.

Kill it was.

Val watching, dazed and frightened while his father stared at her, then him, saying, “I didn’t mean to…I didn’t mean to…” until the Sheriff came.

Days later Val asked his father why didn’t he fix her, meaning to perform CPR, the child’s meaning was lost on Doctor Cooper who muttered that’s what he was trying to do, trying to free his wife from a house that had become a prison.

But it was only a prison to him, not to her.

Val stares at Ellie, wondering why she is going, where she is going, did her dad hurt her?

As he looks he notices something in her eyes, something new, not seen before, a slight absent look as though part of her is listening to something else, distant, above the wind.

As he thinks this, she actually glances into the air, almost hesitantly.

“Where are you going?” he croaks.

Her turn to shrug.

“Away, as far as I can get.”

“I have to. I have to go. I can’t take…,” a gesture back into town, towards a single storey clap board house, badly in need of painting and with a broken fence, a broken sister and a broken father.

“Stay.”

They both knew it was coming and she is already shaking her head as he tells her she can move in with his father and him.

“There’s room, dad won’t mind, he hardly leaves the house…”

The comment blind-sides him, had he really never realised before?

“No Val, I can’t”

He crosses to her, meaning to take her hands but can’t bring himself to touch her without her permission, she winces slightly at his approach and he hates himself for making her feel like that.

“Let me come with you then!”

Again she shakes her head.

“No, it’ll only work for me.”

Another odd look, one of worry, as if she has said too much.

“What?” he asks, “What are you talking about?”

She looks down at her sneakers, all worn and faded, once white, now smudged and grey. Even on the toes of her Converse she once drew little feathers, now they’re almost gone, reduced to an inky smudge.

“I asked you here because you’re the one thing, the only thing I care about here. You helped me so much. You mean so much to me…”

He hates those words, the way they fan that little glimmer of hope inside him, even though he already realises everything is pretty much lost.