Using TikTok to Build a Readership. #1

TikTok is a social media app that mostly involves lip syncing teenagers and dance routines. It is not a place for literature… Seems like the perfect place to chisel out a niche.

If you are unfamiliar with the format, here are the basics:

There are three ways to post content; a 15 second video, a 60 second video, or a photo montage.

You can easily add special effects and filters. You are limited to 100 characters in your description, which must include your hashtags.

You film your short video, post it, and with any luck you start to amass likes and followers.

I am new to TikTok but I thought it might be interesting to share any insights and tips that I glean along the way.

Here is the first TikTok I made with my manifesto –

https://m.tiktok.com/v/6781552820412763398.html?u_code=d75g03f9lil9kf&preview_pb=0&language=en&timestamp=1579162652

I’m writing a dark fairy tale horror based on the Brothers Grimm story, Gnome. I will be documenting my progress and process regularly.

I will also be posting writing tips (sometimes serious, and sometimes not so serious, as in the TikTok below).

https://vm.tiktok.com/XwphSb/

It is important as authors that we experiment with different ways of reaching and interacting with readers. This TikTok thing might crash and burn, but it might not. Either way I’ll be doing weekly updates with stats right here on my blog. So please follow me if you are curious about how this goes. Maybe you’ll decide to take to TikTok too, in which case you must let me know; we’ll do a duet.

I’ll get into TikTok duets in another post but, should I gain momentum, a duet is a way of giving new TikTokers an introduction to like minded followers. We’ll grow together.

The link below will take you straight to my TikTok profile. Feel free to cringe at my early attempts at content. Eesh. It’s a learning process, right? And don’t forget to press that follow button!

https://m.tiktok.com/v/6781552820412763398.html?u_code=d75g03f9lil9kf&preview_pb=0&language=en&timestamp=1579162652

So, I’ve been on TikTok for three days so far. At the bottom of each TikTok update on this site I’ll publish my stats so you can see my growth and decide if it would be a worthwhile venture for yourself.

I’ll share my failed posts, my successful ones, everything; the good and the bad. Things are going to get experimental and weird. Until next time.

Andy

Madeline Hill (and The Reader) – An Experimental Short Story

 

Madeline Hill

Did I ever tell you about Madeline Hill? She was cursed by adults and enamoured by fire.

She was eight years-old the first time she saw her father clean-shaven. He always had a beard, as long as she could remember. He looked studious with it and when he laughed he lit up a room. She always thought he looked part naked after he shaved it off. Not fully dressed. When he laughed then it looked wrong. His face seemed smaller. His grin was full of gums that bristles once hid. He lost age and wisdom. She started to hate him for no reason at all.

She was pretty, little eight year-old Maddie. She skipped along with her curly hair kept in pigtails. She had a summer dress on. It was blue with yellow flowers. She skipped beside the river at the bottom of the garden. It was a scene as pure and delicate as a painting by Hanslow Hill (the aforementioned bald-faced father. He was an artist you see. A renowned one. He painted portraits that involved afternoon tea and flowing white dresses and bonnets tied up in bows. Those paintings made Madeline’s skin crawl).

Skipping along that river, humming a tune with a made-up melody, why don’t we peek into her basket and see what has made her so happy on this summer morning?

‘Stop skipping, Maddie, we want to see inside.’ Ah, good, she has stopped. Look at those wide blue eyes and that perfect smile. ‘What do you have there?’ Look with me, Reader. What is that? She must have been picking blackberries, I see splashes of something dark and red on the handle. But what’s that inside, something with fur?

Oh, don’t recoil. She wants you to see. ‘What is it Maddie?’

‘It’s the head of my cat. I took it with my daddy’s razor.’

‘That’s a mighty queer thing to do Maddie, why don’t you run along inside and get some rest. I think we need to go and talk to your mother about this.’

Come with me. We’ll follow Maddie back into the house. Oh come on, don’t throw up in the river, the fish will get sick. It’s only a dead cat. You know what kids are like.

Now would you look at that, she’s gotten away from us. It’s a beautiful house isn’t it? Would you call it a manor, or a mansion? I’m not quite sure. Ah, but what’s this? Is that Maddie at the window up there?

‘Maddie, what are you doing?’

I don’t think she can hear me, will you try and get her attention? No, why not? Well don’t just point what good does that do? Fine, I’ll look. Oh dear.

‘Maddie, what is that in your hands?’

‘It’s my mother’s head. I took it off too. It was fun, you should come and try.’

‘I don’t think so, Maddie, you shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing.’

‘I’ll throw it down to you.’

And she does. It hits the ground with a dull thud and rolls forward a few feet. Look at it, staring at you. One eye half closed.

‘Maddie, I really think you should put a halt to all this. Maddie? Oh, where has she gone now?’ We better go inside.’

 

We find her standing beside her father’s bed. A five o’clock shadow on his face.

‘I’m pouring petrol on him, do you mind?’ said sweet Maddie.

‘Actually I do, rather.’

‘Would you light a match?’

‘No I would not!’

‘I’ll do it,’ you say.

I turn to you. ‘Reader, you can’t! You’re just a spectator, what gives you the right?’

But there was no stopping you. You lit a match. Her father went up and Maddie went up too.

Look at her. Clutching her face. Screaming through the flames. The white of her eyes bubbling in the heat. She inhales and fire fills her lungs.

‘Now why would you go and do that, Reader?’

You look at me and shrug. ‘It’s just imaginary, Andy, none of it matters. All of fiction is just a well organised dream. And who wants to hear about your dreams?’

Egg. (A short Story)

Digging around in my archives I have unearthed all my old, strange stories. This one is called Egg. There’s no point leaving it unread in a file on my computer. Instead I will leave it unread on my website. This story was written about nine years ago. Potatoes.

EGG

Somewhere in the deep unconscious soul of every man there is a place for dreams to live out their unusual lives. In one of these worlds is a canyon. In this canyon the absent sun shone in every corner, casting shadows on shadows. The deep red sky sat above the large dark orange walls of the canyon. The Egg stood alone on the shimmering purple grass. His imaginary eyes stared fearlessly into the dark endless valley before him. The snapping of a twig made his shadow shudder. The great walls began to rumble and quake. The rocks began to edge towards the safety of the towering orange cliffs.

The Egg remained still as the rumbling grew. With a sonic boom, the air exploded. The purple grass struggled against the force of the wind. The Egg slowly began to lift and hover above the ground. The rocks and soil edged out of the grass and lifted into the air. The walls weaned and the sky got closer as the pressure in the canyon grew stronger. There was another boom and the air exploded in all directions. And then, as if nothing had happened, the canyon fell silent. The grass settled, the rocks fell to the ground, and the walls took a sigh of relief. The Egg was gone.

The Egg sat up and assessed his surroundings. He had heard of this place before but only in fairytales. The air here was cool and clear. The sky was blue and the grass was green. He was sitting on a long thin gravel path with green fields spreading out endlessly on either side of him. At the end of the long gravel path was a small house. The house was paint-less and wooden. It appeared to be held up by determination alone. Behind The Egg, at the end of the long path, was a single gate which seemed to serve no purpose as there was no fence on either side of it.

On the porch of the house was sitting a very confused 15 year-old boy who goes by the name of Adam. The Egg and the boy shared looks and both seemed to arrive at the same conclusion: it was probably best to investigate.  The Egg went from sitting upright to standing. This, in the human world, means it just tilted forward slightly. At the same time, Adam stood up. This was confusing for both The Egg and the Boy as neither had any idea what the other was. They both stopped for a moment until they decided it was probably safe to continue. They edged slowly forwards until they were only a few yards away from one another. A few birds and small mammals had begun to gather in various places to watch.

Although The Egg didn’t have eyes it still seemed to look at you and, somehow, was able to move. These are some of the things Adam had established so far. The Egg was half the size of Adam, which, when it comes to eggs, is very big. Adam began to speculate as to what could be in The Egg. An elephant? A lion? A new type of fire breathing bird perhaps? The Egg began to speculate about Adam. His first thought was, ‘Does he look hungry?’ followed by, ‘Am I edible?’ and finally, ‘Is he edible?’. Both Adam and The Egg decided just to wing it. They would both be kind unless Adam or The Egg tried to kill the other. Adam spoke first.

“Hi.”

The Egg tilted in a way that suggested it was saying hi back. Adam smiled and invited The Egg into his home.

It’s not often that dreams and reality collide in this way but it does occasionally happen. The Egg isn’t an elephant, or a fire breathing bird, nor is it a giant wasp, alien, or winged monkey. It is just an egg. A confused but intelligent egg from Adam’s dream. Adam doesn’t remember The Egg, and The Egg doesn’t yet know that it is not real. But can you really blame The Egg? All the evidence would suggest otherwise after all.

Adam and The Egg shared endless days together in Adam’s small wooden home and they soon became good friends. Adam shared stories of his childhood and reminisced about playground victories and teenage friendships. The Egg listened intently and loved hearing tales from Adam’s strange world. The Egg tried to tell of his world but found no way to express his stories clearly. Adam told The Egg about the sun and how the Earth orbited it. The Egg wanted to tell him about his sun, or more specifically, how his world didn’t really have one and that his world was made up of connections of thought and nothing more. The Egg wanted Adam to know that he isn’t always an egg, and that in his world his image was an abstract idea based on loose association and weird meaning. But most of all The Egg wanted to warn Adam that there was a chance that neither of them was in their own world.

***

Adam hadn’t left the house since The Egg arrived. He had no reason to, everything he needed was in his home, and his home seemed to fit him perfectly. All the food was his favourite food, the washing machine picked up his clothes and loaded itself, the oven prepared his meals unaided, and all of the films in Adams DVD collection featured him as the main character. The Egg suspected that something was amiss.

On one particularly sunny afternoon, and it was always sunny and it was always the afternoon in this unusual place, The Egg decided to see what was on the other side of the gate. The Egg opened the front door and led himself down the two steps and on to the path. The Egg began to move down the path but the gate didn’t get closer. He tried moving faster but the gate remained at its distance. After The Egg had been travelling for a few minutes he turned around. He hadn’t moved at all. It was then that The Egg realised something was wrong. This world of Adams’ wasn’t like his normal dreams. Normally The Egg could move freely and control his surroundings but not here. Here was something rare in The Egg’s world. Here was something different. The Egg went back inside.

Adam was sitting on the couch watching a film in which Adam was heroically saving an attractive young lady from an entire battle fleet of giant aliens. The microwave hopped off the counter in the kitchen and brought Adam a freshly popped bowl of cheese flavoured popcorn. The Egg watched suspiciously and then hopped up onto the couch and joined Adam. Adam smiled at The Egg and proffered him the bowl of popcorn. The Egg looked at the bowl and then back up at Adam suspiciously. Adam turned his attention back to the television. The Egg thought for a moment and then hopped back off the couch and went back out to the porch. The Egg looked up at the sun. The sun hung perfectly in front of the house. Rabbits and mice played together in the fields and the birds chirped and chattered happily. The Egg looked over at the gate, which, now he thought about it, seemed oddly menacing. The gate felt real, like it was watching with curios interest. The Egg turned around and went back into the house. He went over to the couch and looked up at Adam.

“What?” said Adam, with a mouth full of popcorn.

The Egg moved toward the front door and looked back at Adam urging him to follow.

“What is it? Do you want me to follow you?” said Adam.

The Egg nodded.

“But I’m watching television.”

The Egg seemed to sigh.

“Ok,” said Adam, pausing the DVD.

Adam got up and followed The Egg out of the house.

“What do you want to show me?” asked Adam.

The Egg nodded toward the gate and Adam looked at it confusedly.

“What about it?” he said.

The Egg nodded at it again trying to tell Adam to go over to it.

Adam looked at the gate again.

“You want me to leave?”

The Egg huffed silently and hopped on to the gravel path, he looked back at Adam urging him to follow and then set off toward the gate. Adam followed.

“Where are we going?” said Adam.

The Egg turned to look at Adam momentarily but didn’t stop moving. Adam plodded along, slightly unsure what they were doing but happy to find out. After a few long seconds of walking it dawned on Adam that they hadn’t moved. He turned around. He was right. The house was still only a few feet behind them. The Egg realised that Adam had stopped and turned to face him. The Egg looked up at Adam. Adam let his mouth fall open and gawped at the gate for a while. He turned and gawped at the house. He then realised he was gawping and closed his mouth.

“Egg, what’s going on?” said Adam.

The Egg went into the house and stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. Adam got the message and picked up The Egg. When they were at the top Adam put The Egg down and The Egg walked up to the bedroom door.

“In there?” asked Adam.

The Egg nodded.

“Ok.”

Adam opened the bedroom door and entered. The room was dark and cobwebbed. A thin layer of dust covered everything except for the bed which, for some reason, was missing.

“Oh,” said Adam, slightly surprised, “Where’s my bed?”

In the world The Egg comes from you get from one place to another via connections in thought. So, if you find yourself standing on a pavement in a busy street and a car stops in front of you you are suddenly presented with several options. If, for example, you looked at the window of the car and noticed you could see your own reflection you might suddenly find yourself in a bathroom looking in the mirror. Or, if you get in the car, you might find yourself in a memory, and become a younger version of yourself on your way to a family holiday. Or, you might see the car, ignore it, and continue down the road to any multitude of possibilities.

The world around us is one built from our own perceptions. There are two versions of this world (If you don’t include other dimensions of it). One is the perceived world of the conscious. It has a linear timeline and you have to physically move about it in a slightly more sensible manner than the one in which dreams inhabit. It is made of physical experiences and sensory perceptions. For example, if you are at home and want to go to the shops you have to physically get up and walk there. Whereas in the dream world, firstly you wouldn’t need to go to the shops, and secondly trying to find the right mental connections to get there might become quite confusing: this is the perceived world of the subconscious, the world of dreams. It is as real as the one we see when we are awake, and it is entirely possible to get stuck there.

The reason Adam can’t see a bed in his bedroom is because he is currently lying on top of it. The door of the bedroom suddenly slammed shut and The Egg took on a more sinister air. The Egg realised that he and Adam were the same, they had to be, this is Adam’s dream after all. This thought made The Egg feel considerably uncomfortable. If Adam wakes up then The Egg ceases to be. But The Egg now knows that this is his world, and thoughts were beginning to connect in his mind. One body; two lives. This was a very clear thought considering the thing thinking it was essentially a figment of Adam’s imagination. The Egg could feel that his life was short, and possibly only existed in this particular dream, but somehow, he thought, there was a way for him to be real. Adam stared at The Egg and edged back against the wall.

“Where am I!?” he said, suddenly afraid. He had suspected for a while that something was odd about his home but questions like these soon get shelved when life is so sweet.

The Egg stopped and looked up at Adam. I’m in your body thought The Egg, and in your body we are both essentially fictional. The Egg began to darken. Adam backed harder against the wall.

“Stop!” shouted Adam.

But The Egg wanted to experience reality. The Egg began to bulge and a crack appeared at its tip. The thin crack crept its way down the front of The Egg and forked across its sides. Adam was silent. His heart was on pause. His breathing had halted. The cracks stopped spreading and everything was still. Adam stared at it and swallowed. He swallowed again as if to eat his own fear. Remembering the importance of oxygen he took a gasp of breath. He closed his eyes. Adam calmed his breathing and composed himself as best he could. He opened his eyes. The Egg was still there, cracked and still. Adam inched up to it. The Egg didn’t move. Adam reached his arm out and stretched his hand slowly closer to The Egg’s broken shell. The Egg remained unmoved. Adam’s fingers were now a hair-breadth away. He composed himself and let his fingers brush against the broken Egg and as he did the shell fell and collapsed like a house of cards. Adam jumped back and stumbled. He slammed against the wall and gasped for breath. The pieces of shell covered the entire floor and there, in place of the Egg, was Adam’s bed. It seemed out of place and eerie.

Adam ran for the door and bolted down the staircase to the safety of his lounge. The DVD was still on pause and his bowl of popcorn was sitting comfortably on the couch. Adam paced around his lounge trying to figure out what was happening. He knew he must be dreaming, but how? He remembers living here for years. Now he thinks about it he has always been the same age but has never questioned it before. He sat down and racked his memory. How did he get here? When did he get here? Why is he living alone? He remembers his first day here. He was standing on the gravel path and he had his keys in his hand. The house looked newer then and cleaner. He remembers walking up to the front door and opening it for the first time. He remembers the walls being bare and the TV being an old small one from his childhood. The next few months flash before him and he remembers wanting a big flat-screen TV. The next thing he remembers is watching films on a flat-screen TV, films he had already seen and then new films with him as the main character. He remembers not wanting to cook or clean and suddenly these things tended to themselves. Adam snapped out of it and looked around his lounge. Everything seemed strange now. The TV looked out of sorts. It began to flicker and the image of him on the screen vanished. He went in to the kitchen in time to see the washing machine die. Its mechanical arms lay outstretched and lifeless in front of it.

Panic began to grip him as he tried to remember how he got here in the first place. Dark images began to pounce around his mind; the sound of rain pelting a car windscreen, his dad’s favourite song crackling out of the old car stereo, the stars through the rain on a dark evening. He remembers hearing the screeching of tires and the smell of burning rubber. And then headlights. And then nothing. The next thing he remembers is the gate at the end of a long gravel path to his new home.

Adam ran outside and looked out at the gate. Everything beyond the gate was now dark and the gate itself looked old and decayed. Adam slowly walked backwards into his house. His world was falling apart.

Upstairs in Adam’s bedroom the bed sat quietly waiting for Adam to inevitably return, the consciousness of The Egg hidden within its form. The Egg was now in control. Decaying the walls of the house and destroying the things that Adam had created for himself. Soon Adam would be alone in a charred and baron home, the only comfort being the bed from his childhood.

Adam sat on his sofa. What happened to the egg? Adam had no idea what had happened upstairs. Had The Egg realised it was in a dream and suddenly stopped existing? Had he somehow killed it? Is The Egg now the bed? Adam didn’t know, he and The Egg were friends and that’s all he knew for sure. Maybe The Egg knew it was a dream and somehow gave itself up so he would have a bed to go to. Maybe to wake up from a dream one must go to sleep?

The Egg waited silently in its disguise. One of them would wake up and The Egg knew that if it were to be him it would mean killing Adam’s conscious so the subconscious could take its place. But that’s not real murder, thought The Egg. His body will still be alive and if I have consciousness and individual thought then Adam and I are technically one and the same – only I am the sleeping Adam and he is the conscious Adam. It is my turn to experience experiences! This thought convinced The Egg and its mind was set. Now it waited.

The darkness from outside began to effect the house and the wallpaper peeled from the walls. The lights dimmed and turned off and the furniture began to age and decay. Adam stood up and looked around hoping for a solution to present itself. Nothing did. Adam looked up the stairs. His bed beckoned.

From his bedroom door Adam stared at the bed. The corner of the duvet was turned up, willing Adam to gently slip in and go for a long awaited sleep. Adam turned and looked back down the hall. The darkness and decay was creeping up the stairs and closing in on the bedroom. Soon there will be nowhere left to go, thought Adam, as he approached the bed. Stay here, or go to sleep. He pulled the duvet back and looked at the pillow. It looked so comfortable. Adam’s eyes got heavy. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept. Weeks? Months? Years ago?

The darkness closed in and The Egg prepared itself for real life. He wondered what it would be like. The Egg’s excitement grew. It was inevitable now. Adam had nowhere else to go.

Adam sat on the bed and made up his mind. He tucked his legs under the duvet and lied down. The comfort grabbed him with warmth and he felt the heaviness of sleep that he hadn’t felt in a lifetime. His eyes closed.

Just before Adam fell asleep the mattress collapsed and fell through the base of the bed like prey falling into a pit and Adam was startled awake. The mattress disappeared and Adam fell into an endless tunnel of darkness. Air rushed past him and his clothes bellowed as he fell faster and faster. A deep resonating voice echoed around Adam’s falling body

“I’M SORRY ADAM. I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL BECOME OF YOU. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO A MIND THAT DIES WITHIN ITSELF,” said the deep voice of The Egg

“What?!” shouted Adam, “What do you mean?”

Before the egg could answer Adam hit a solid floor, with a pelting thump.

***

Two eyelids blinked open and focused on a rectangular light in a white ceiling. It worked, thought The Egg, I’m real! The Egg tried to move his new arms but couldn’t. He tried to move his legs but they remained still. He tried to talk but there was no sound. He tried to shout but only breathed. The Egg had no choice but to lay there, finally conscious, finally experiencing real life, finally experiencing nothing.

Adam was finally at peace but The Egg was trapped in a broken body. Time began to drift by. Weeks became months. Nurses occasionally checked in on him. Sometimes people he didn’t recognise would come and sit with him. But most of all he just stared at the rectangular light in the white ceiling unable to turn away or go to sleep. He learned, over the years, from people sitting with him and talking to him, that he may never awake from his com, that the accident was too severe. He learned that his parents died in the car accident and that he did not.

Eventually he learned that the decision had been made to turn off the machine that had been sitting next to him for all these years, beeping every three seconds and keeping him alive. The Egg had been living in a comatose body for so long now that this news was something of an excitement. The Egg hadn’t had a visitor for a few weeks and had run out of things to think about. The Egg had just been lying there looking at the ceiling without a single thought passing through his mind. A few days after the decision had been made the machine was turned off. The Egg had no last words or final thoughts, he just looked up at the ceiling and its rectangular light, and let the world go dark. The Egg was gone.

 

The End

 

 

Glass Balloons (short story – SF)

‘Bring it in Stephen,’ the foreman shouted.

It was my first day on Dock One as a fully licensed valet. It’s still called the International Space Station but now it spans half the globe. Like a web of tubes. When the sun comes around this side of the Earth it casts a grid of shadows on the world.

I was in my first customer’s car. My dim reflection looked back at me like a ghost in the convex windscreen. It’s been bugging me for a while but I’ve just realised what my uniform reminds me of. I remember watching a film when I was young with a lift guy in it. In the old days they used to have people who worked in elevators that controlled the buttons. That’s what I look like. I wore a dark burgundy blazer type thing, with gold buttons down the front, and a flat cylindrical hat, black trousers with a severe line ironed down the front, and black shiny shoes. I have a slim shaven face, short hair, eyebrows, nose, mouth; all the usual stuff; ears, etc.

I pulled the microphone down from the rim of my hat.

‘I can’t find the gear stick.’

‘For Christ’s sake.’ I could see my foreman in the control tower pick up a pair of binoculars and look down at me. He picked up the microphone.

‘Stephen?’

‘Yes.’

‘Look in front of you. Do you see a steering wheel?’

I rolled my eyes, ‘Yes.’

‘Now, look down and to your left, you see that stick with the ball on the end, it’s called a gear stick, now-’

‘No gearstick,’ I repeated.

The foreman picked his binoculars back up and looked at my vehicle again.

Harrison pulled up from below me in a sporty little number with twin engines that cascaded from the roof and ended in two circular giant fans at the back. He performed a reverse U-turn and hooked up at Dock Two about thirty yards in front of me. He switched off the engine, stood up and bowed at me.

I politely showed him my middle finger.

‘Ok, it’s a Chord Galaxy Automatic. There’s a concealed gearstick used for docking, there should be a button by the hazard light button, do you see it?’

I looked across the dashboard and found it.

‘Got it,’ I said, pressing the button.

A square panel sank back into the dashboard and opened sideways. A small gearstick popped out with a button on top with a picture of a hook on it.

‘Yep, definitely got it,’ I said.

‘Bring it in.’

I pressed the button and listened for the hook to mechanically fold out from the side and click into place. A light on the dashboard flashed on to indicate that it had. I put the gear into park and lifted my foot off the clutch. The vehicle moved sideways and hooked on to the dock.

‘Ta Da!’ I said, with jazz hands.

Harrison clapped sarcastically.

I turned off the engine and got out of the vehicle. I closed the door behind me and the automated parking belt wound down another notch making the vehicle disappear below the space station. The belt stopped winding and another dock was left in its place, in position for the next car-hook.

‘Nice work Stephen,’ said the foreman putting his binoculars down.

‘It’s cold,’ I said.

The foreman, and everyone else, could hear me through the communication unit. It’s activated by pulling the mic down though I can hear the foreman at all times through the ear piece.

‘Not for long, we’ve got sun in twenty minutes. Do you think you can do another one in that time?’

I looked up at the tower and shrugged at him.

‘Can you please answer with your voice, Stephen?’

‘Sure, I don’t mind.’

‘Ok, I’m sending him to your platform, make sure it’s clear.’

I saluted up to him.

‘Words, Stephen.’

‘Yes, sir!’ I shouted into the mic.

I saw him pull his headphones off and curse away from the mic, ‘Why do we hire these idiots?’ he muttered.

I wandered over to the platform and looked at it. I surveyed it proudly. ‘The cleanest platform on this side of the station,’ I said.

‘That’s because it’s only been used once you twat,’ said a voice behind me.

‘Hey, Harrison.’

‘Hey, man, good day?’

‘Yeah, it’s easy.’

About three hundred yards out of the Docking Station the first airlock to the parking area opened and a small craft came in and switched from its vacuum engines to its flight engines. The first door closed and the inner door opened letting the hum of its engines din around the dome. I could see the driver squinting over his steering wheel for the right platform and I waved up at him. He gave me the thumbs up and headed over.

The inner airlock closed. It’s normally silent but this time there was a faint bang shortly after it closed. I looked up at the foreman but he seemed unconcerned. I turned my attentions back to the new vehicle.

The hum of the engine turned into a chattering clatter as the vehicle got closer and manoeuvred itself into position. It stopped about a foot above the platform and the driver opened his window.

‘Do you want me to turn the engine off, or are you taking it straight over?’

‘Leave it running.’

The driver turned in his seat to the back.

‘Alright kids, everyone out.’

The back door opened and three excited kids got out. The driver got out and grabbed a suitcase out of the boot.

‘Ok, all done,’ he said, with the awkward smile that comes with handing your pride and joy to a strange teenager. ‘Don’t scratch her.’

‘Not a mark,’ I said.

‘I think the sun is almost around,’ he said nodding toward the Earth.

I looked. A crescent of sunlight was expanding imperceptibly across the Earth. ‘I know, about fifteen minutes I think.’

The man nodded and smiled and ran off to catch up with his kids.

‘Sure you don’t want me to do this?’ said Harrison.

‘No, I’ve got it.’

‘Ok, catch you in a bit.’

Harrison slapped my shoulder and took off towards the staff entrance.

 

The craft was nothing special. It was a family car that looked like it had been on a lot of holidays. The back seat was littered with empty crisp packets and colouring pencils and puzzle books. An interstellar map was unfolded in the passenger foot-well and a bunch of CDs were strewn, out of boxes, on the passenger seat. Retro. I like it.

I put on the seatbelt and adjusted the rear-view mirror.

‘Ok,’ I said, into the mic.

‘Ok, Dock One is ready, proceed.’

I pulled up and glided forward and positioned myself to the left of the Dock.

‘In position.’

‘Ok, check Dock for obstruction.’

I leaned over to look out of the passenger window. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t tell what. There was no obstruction, but, something. I lowered the car a few feet to get a better look.

‘Is there a problem?’

I twigged what it was.

‘The space bellow is vacant,” I said.

‘That’s impossible.’

‘I’m not lying, it’s vacant.’

‘Move out of the way,’ said the foreman.

The automated belt that housed the dock moved back a space and I shifted the car out of the way. The previous dock came into view. It was empty.

I saw the foreman pull off his headphones again and pick up the mic.

‘Harrison, get out there!’ he shouted, and then he ran out of the room and disappeared from view.

I changed gear and flew the craft away from the station to get a wider view.

‘Oh, fucking hell. Harry, are you there?’

His voice came through on my earpiece. ‘What’s happening?’

I put my hand to my brow and shook my head. ‘I’m going to get fired Harry.’

‘Just tell me what’s happened.’

Several hundred yards below me, the first car I had ever successfully parked, lay in a crumpled smoking heap at the bottom of the dome.

‘I guess the hook gave out or something.’

‘What are you saying? Did it drop?’

‘Yeh.’

‘Cracks?’

‘Not that I can see from here.’

‘Get back up here and get me!’

I flew the car up to Harry’s platform and he opened the passenger door and got in, absently brushing the CDs on to the floor.

The foreman came running out of the staff entrance and got to us just as Harry closed the passenger door.

‘If that car is on the bottom-’

‘We’re sorting it,’ said Harry.

‘Sun is ten minutes away!’ the foreman shouted.

I came off the platform and dived fast toward the bottom.

‘Oh shit,’ said Harrison, taking in the full scene of the accident.

‘Yep, shit indeed. Get out of the way.’

Harry took hold of the wheel and I climbed over me, while I squeezed under him, and we switched seats.

 

We slowed when we were twenty or so yards away. The scene seemed to magnify as we got closer. The glass around the wreck was latticed with fine cracks that spread silently and slowly outwards.

‘This is really fucking bad,’ said Harry, pulling his mic down, ‘Permanently seal the outer entrance. The inner balloon is cracked.’

‘How bad is it?’ said the foreman, with a weird sort of calm in his voice.

‘I think you’ll need to evacuate this section. The inner balloon is splitting.’

‘Are you fucking kidding me Harry?’

‘We’re going to grab the wreck and pull it up. If the inner seal bursts and the car falls through we could break the outer shell. It wouldn’t take much with the sudden vacuum.’

‘Evacuating now. Sun is in seven minutes. You need to move it now.’

Harrison had already dropped the hook.

‘What should I do?’ I said.

‘Just fucking pray.’

Harrison was a master. The way he positioned the car was like being inside a humming bird. He pulled the break when the hook was a few inches from the other vehicles docking hook.

Harry stopped for a moment. He closed his eyes and took a breath inwards. He let it out slowly. The cracks seemed to spread around the wreck at the same pace.

‘Hurry up Harry,’ said the foreman.

Harry opened his eyes and held the controls still. He pushed the stick forwards gently and the hook moved toward the other. They touched.

There was a faint sound, like two china cups touching, and then the entire inner balloon shattered at once. It was like a bubble popping. It happened everywhere. A thousand yards above us and a few metres below us. The whole thing became a net of cracks and then disintegrated. I looked up through the sunroof. It took a lifetime for that shattered glass to fall. I saw it begin to shower the roof of the Docking Station just as the wrecked car hit the outer balloon.

There was an enormous sound like a nuclear bomb exploding and then being immediately muted. The car we were in lurched and then floated. The falling glass stopped and then fled in all directions at a serenely measured speed.

The earpiece in the headset turned to a frantic and deafening static. I pulled it out chucked it into the passenger footwell. Harry did the same. Then he looked at me.

‘Sorry Harry,’ I said.

He frowned. ‘Sorry?’

‘It wasn’t my fault.’

Harrison looked out of the window at the wreckage of the fallen car floating away from us. I looked at it too.

‘I think it might be, mate.’

‘What do we do now?’

The sun began to breach the horizon and the car, floating further away, lit up momentarily and then became a silhouette. Harry reached down and pushed a button with a symbol of a sun printed on with a line through it. Visors covered the windscreen and side windows. Harry reached up and pulled the shutter closed on the sun roof.

‘What do you think we should do Stephen?’

‘I feel like I might lose my job over this.’

Harry looked at me. ‘Yeah, I think you might lose your job over this.’

‘I blame inadequate safety measures.’

‘I blame you, you twat.’

‘Can we reasonably get to the pub on Entrance 9 before anyone catches up to us? I think I’m going to need a drink before facing whatever the fuck we’re about to face.’

Harry shrugged.

‘You alright Harry?’ I said.

He looked at me. ‘I’m fine mate.’ He twitched a bit. ‘Let’s go to Entrance 9.’

 

The State of Great Britain

I’m recovering from a terrible hangover.

When looking back over the events of 2016 I came across the news of Toblerone shrinking by ten percent. I went out to buy one to find out if the rumours were true, thinking it was surely a sick hoax.

I got back home and sat at my dining room table. I opened the packet slowly. Every second triangle was gone. This news by itself wasn’t particularly shocking but what it represented was. It was a glimpse into our future and the first casualty of our choices. It sent me into an alcoholic vortex that would leave me with a hangover the likes of which humanity had yet to experience.

tob-horror

When the boozing finally ended I found myself standing in my kitchen with a hangover made of hammers and remorse. I was wearing only jeans, a blue dressing gown, and a Jeremy Corbyn mask which I wore pulled back atop my head. Its vacant socialist eyes stared emptily at the ceiling. I woke up wearing it but have no recollection of why, or where it came it from.

I cracked an egg into a glass of warm whiskey and drank it in one gulp. I shuddered.

The floor swung sideways from under me but I managed to catch it with my right foot and steadied myself on the kitchen side. I shook my head and flicked the switch on the kettle.

It was quite possible that the kettle had already boiled for the third time by now without being poured. Short term memory was a distant one for now.

I tipped the coffee jar into a cup and spilt granules on the floor and onto my feet. I took a step back and leaned on the counter. My eyes were like a million butterflies trying to fly in the same direction. I picked up the kettle and filled the cup and shovelled in two sugars with a spoon.

Milk.

Where was the milk?

This puzzle was a stretch too far. I poured some coffee into the sink and topped it up with cold tap water and downed the coffee.

My head hung for a moment. With great effort I lifted a cigarette from the packet in my pocket. I lit it and inhaled. I smoked the whole thing without touching it. When the cigarette was done I let it fall out of my mouth into the sink.

The floor swung away again but this time I wasn’t able to steady myself and I slipped through a gap in reality. Time bellowed through my dressing gown as it evaporated into oblivion. Memories of life as I knew it took on a strange hue and rang around me like a bell full of shit. Donald Trump was there, in the darkness of nothingness, laughing and trying to grab my pussy. A pussy I don’t possess, but a pussy nonetheless.

When I came to I was in the same kitchen but there was a calendar on the wall that wasn’t mine. There was a picture of a flag on it. At first I thought it was the Union Flag but something looked wrong. There was a blue square in the corner full of stars. The year on the calendar was 2019. Somehow I had drunk myself into the future.

What had happened to me? I couldn’t know. This was probably just another terrible hallucination but things felt too real. I could feel the cold of the floor.

I tried to climb to my feet, reaching out for the fridge handle for purchase. The door swung open and I fell back. Out of the fridge fell a Peperami. It landed next to me, perfectly sealed. It offered sustenance that promised to lift me back to some kind of sensible state of being. I reached for it and tore it open but all that I found inside was that hideous thin sausage condom and the faint smell of meat. The sausage was missing entirely. I wondered if it faced the same weight-saving cut that Toblerone had, but taken to its absurd end.

Maybe all snacks had gone this way. All products now must be just empty packaging. Maybe manufacturers have given up entirely on their product and only sell packaging to a public that only have nostalgia left. I had to find out more about this future world I had travelled to.

I found a newspaper on the floor next to a bin overflowing with garbage. I leafed through it briefly and learned a lot. Much had changed. I rummaged through the bin and found two more from previous weeks. I absorbed every article with great interest and growing horror.

I found my way to the front door and wandered out into a vaguely familiar street. I figured the supermarket would be in the same direction as it used to be and headed for it.

Every front garden on the way had been turned into a vegetable patch and neighbours were sharing food over their fences. So it’s not all bad news. Poverty can bring people together.

There were thin people everywhere just standing around doing nothing. Some of them stared at me. Most were busy holding their trousers up and trying their best to stay upright in the calm breeze.

Now all the foreigners are gone all of the interesting takeaways have shut down and obesity is no longer a problem. Obesity is a privilege obtainable only by the 0.01%, according to the papers.

Without competition from foreign labour British men were able to charge what they liked for their services and so people can no longer afford to get taxis or make repairs to their homes. As a result nothing works and industry has come to a standstill. Most people are out of work and their toilets won’t flush and their homes are cold. Most people sit in their cars for heat. Petrol is cheap and bountiful now thanks to the relentless attack on nature instigated by Emperor Trump. The cars don’t move because no one has anywhere to go and many species have died along the new pipe routes.

I made it to the supermarket. Things were not good. Most of the food carried the “Trump Seal of Approval” which was privately viewed as an avoidance warning. You’d find a fresh chicken with a sticker of Trumps face on it with “TRUMP” in gold letters and the word “approved by Governor May” at the bottom. The meat had a faintly grey and damp texture.

Governor May. That’s right. You heard it here first. England is the 51st State. It’s too much to take in isn’t it?

The biggest shock came in the wine aisle. All foreign wines had been removed and all that was left was a small selection of Californian wine. I grabbed a passing shop assistant by the collar and shook her wildly. “How could you let this happen?!” I shouted, but she got the better of me and pushed me into a pile of loose pork scratchings, the only British snack food still readily available in England.

She started crying and slapped me in the face. “What’s the meaning of this!?” I shouted, trying to hit her back and missing by a yard. God damn these malnourished thin women!

“And that was the Shipping Forecast,” she said.

I looked at her like she was mad. I noticed a tattoo on her forehead that read Property of Wallmart and felt immediately sorry for her. If she wanted to hit me I was willing to be there for her. She could let her anger out on me. I’m ok with that. “Later on Radio Four a cow has a difficult pregnancy in The Archers,” she said, and struck me hard with a direct blow to my left eye.

“Lady, I feel your pain, but at least be coherent.”

“But first we are joined by Graham Guest. So Graham, you started a petition to prevent President Trump from making a State Visit to the UK-” she said.

Now, I have to be honest, as I lay there in the pork scratchings of a desolate supermarket in the future being slapped by an emaciated shop assistant, I couldn’t quite put the words she was saying into any kind of sensible context. It didn’t add up.

She hit me again and I fell sideways. Which was odd, considering I was lying on the floor. The supermarket, and the woman, shimmered and then stammered like a tape caught in an old cinema projector. The edges of reality crept forward. The girl burst into tears and then the whole scene was gone.

I was back in my kitchen. The kettle clicked off as it finished boiling. The radio was on. It was Radio Four talking to a man about a petition.

I stood there for a while. Not knowing what to do. After a few more coffees I got my shit together and got dressed for work. It was some kind of mad dream. It could never happen. The people wouldn’t let it. They have the ability to fight back. To not let the mad ones thrive. Surely kindness and intelligence will get the better of greed and ignorance.

I pulled on my boots and did up my jacket. I left the house and was murdered by a deranged seagull.

seagull

The Romance of Unluv

Unluv Lobster

The drama of life doesn’t start at birth. Nor does it start with your first love. No, the drama of life starts in your parent’s bedroom. That one glorious squirt that resulted (on this occasion) in the 42 year-old man before me.

Unluv – that was his name – a miserable, hateful, fuckup with all the compassion and charisma of a dead horse at a dressage recital.

It was Valentine’s Day, 2016. Me; a single female human with breasts and hair; lips, ears, all the trimmings; you know the sort of thing, a woman with little care for her own appearance. I had given up. 35 and dating weird wash-ups like this guy.

He looked at me over his steaming lobster. Not a stare. No smile. Just a blank face with two eyes in the middle of it.

‘Enjoying your lobster?’ I said. He looked down at it and then back up at me. ‘Okie dokie then,’ I said.

The waiter came over and offered for me to taste the wine. I nodded and smiled. The waiter poured a splash into my glass and Unluv shot his arm across the table and took the glass from in front of me and the bottle from the waiter. He poured a proper glass. I glared at him, although really, I kind of liked his fed-up with life attitude.

‘Fuck off,’ he said to the waiter.

We drank. We ate.

His whole name was Jason Tolstoy Unluv. He wasn’t Russian (so he told me) he said his parents were lunatics who dedicated their lives to fucking with him in as many ways as possible.

His name fit though. I wondered if it’s a coincidence that he’s completely loveless, and unlovable, or if his name has dictated his outlook on life in some way. Nominative determinism in action.

I began to find his total absence of being, his total lack of any kind of reality, his inhumane quietness, weirdly endearing.

He picked up his lobster with one hand and turned it. He looked into its face. The lobster was dead, but this action seemed to give the lobster more life than Unluv had. He put it back down again and with the same hand picked up his knife and stabbed it. He let go of the knife and it stayed there, sticking out of its back like a flag. He watched it mournfully.

‘More wine?’ I said.

He didn’t answer.

You know, getting fellas is not something I’ve ever been particularly successful at. I could go to a night club right now and wave my tits in some lads face and he would run a mile. I could even try a more subtle approach, but it would make little difference. Men are repelled by me. Maybe, if I want to get laid, I should start slinging snatch. You know what I mean? Like a gunslinger who shoots from the groin. The funny thing is no one in their right mind would fuck me just because I came on to them in a bar but if you tell a guy you’re charging they will not only give you that impersonal bang you’ve been gagging for, but pay you for it afterwards. That’s why most street hookers resemble alcoholic vending-machines in drag while that pretty girl at the bar is single. The human condition, at least in men, is in no condition at all.

I think a shag with Unluv, although not particularly appealing, is probably on the cards. It’s like he knows that to get in to a girls panties you must first dine them. So that’s what this is. That explains why he isn’t doing anything. It’s mechanical. He waits for me to feed myself, we go for a walk, he stands awkwardly outside my house waiting for the code word that means fucking; ‘coffee?,’ and up we go for some unpleasant wooden rutting.

He pulled the knife out of the lobster and dropped it on the plate. It made that awful clanging sound that makes my teeth want to escape into my scull.

I watched him pick the lobster back up and break it in half. I drank my second glass of wine – my lobster was already gone, cake is coming – and looked at him more closely. He had large shoulders and the possibility of a firm chest under his jumper. His jumper was green. An unflattering colour for most. Most things would be unflattering on Unluv. A brief image flashed into my mind of grasping those big shoulders while he pounds into me. I cross my legs under the table. He looks up at me and I dry up.

His eyes are strong. His hair is thick and matted.

He used his desert spoon to dig out the insides of the lobster on to his plate and then ate it with his big hands.

I leaned the wine bottle towards me and looked into it. I knew it was empty but we all know what these gestures mean. Hunched over his plate clumsily eating his white meat he watched me check the bottle with a movement of his brow.

He licked the butter from his fingers and stopped a waiter who was walking by.

He spoke sternly and to the point. If he had ordered the waiter to kill for him he probably would have done it.

When the waiter returned he had two portions of chocolate cake and another bottle of wine. Chocolate and white wine together is essentially disgusting but we managed it.

When the cake was crumbs and the wine was gone Unluv stood. He dropped a few notes on the table and pulled his jacket off the back of the chair. I got the message.

Outside, the sky was black and clear. There were only three stars and the moon was absent. It was cold. Unluv walked half a pace ahead of me. I held my jacket tightly around me as I hurried along after him.

He turned into an off-licence. The bell rang his entrance. He bought 20 cigarettes and a bottle of vodka. Not Russian my arse.

He lit a cigarette and left it in his mouth. I had never seen anyone smoke a whole cigarette without taking it out of his mouth before. When he was done he either swallowed it or spat it out, I didn’t see it happen so I can’t be sure, but his hands remained in his pocket the whole walk back. I watched him as we walked, me lagging slightly behind. He had a broad back and a walk that told the world to back the fuck off.

We stopped outside my house and he looked at me under his heavy brow.

‘Coffee?’ I said.

He walked up the steps to my front door and tried the handle. I walked up and squeezed in front of him and unlocked the door.

In the kitchen I got two glasses out and he filled them with vodka. He lit another cigarette and picked up the glasses. He watched me. I would say expectantly but it wasn’t. He just watched me. Even so, I took his base body language to mean, ‘We’re drinking these in your bedroom.’

Valentine’s day; for the single woman you feel like a Jew at Christmas. It’s shit and depressing. If you were Jewish and people wished you a happy Christmas regardless of your fake sideburns I bet you’d wish you could stab them with you seven candled Menorah, and shout, ‘Happy Hanukkah you fucking moron!’

There should be a Valentine’s Day for single people. It should be called Sunday (this year at least).

We fucked. He squirted. Nine months later I gave birth to a lump of wood with a granite face. Happy Sunday you fucking morons!

Rubble in Waiting (a short story)

Rubble In Waiting

In 1970 an Earthquake killed my colleagues. I have since become something of an expert in all things seismic. The story of my last day of sourcing exports in a foreign country has stuck to the wall of my heart for 40 years now. It is time for me to unburden that story.

Before I start I want to introduce you to the term ‘Rubble in Waiting’. It is a term used by many seismologists and one that was attributed to the office building I once worked in. A building is labelled with those ominous words when, as you’ve probably guessed, it is at high risk of being floored by a seismic event.

At the time we were there 1 million people lived in Istanbul. Now, 50 years later, 10 million people inhabit that crowded city. This massive surge of people led to lots of tall buildings being built very quickly and with little in the way of inspection or care. Nowadays most of those new building have been labelled with those pregnant words; Rubble in Waiting. I write this, I guess, as a cautionary tale. In the 70s those words were already being used to mark some of the taller office blocks. The building we were in was one such building. There were many fewer people back then. For the people who live there now that whole city must feel like a ticking time bomb.

Myself, and a small group of fellow Brits, were based in an office block called (translated roughly into English) Sand Fortress. Our reason for being there bears no relevance to the story but, for your own curiosity and my own nostalgia, we were there to establish an import business. As a result our office was full of samples; rows of rolled up rugs, olives, tobacco, cotton, leather jackets, anything we could get our hands on. It needn’t be said that our business would become a non-starter. There were four of us in that little office. I was the only survivor.

As all the most vivid memories are inevitably seen, I will describe the event in the third person. I’ll meet you in the rubble afterwards.

*

It was 1970. Sebastinella was one of two women in the Great Sand Fortress, as its inhabitants had charmingly named it, her colleagues called her Seb for short. She was wearing a white blouse that clung to her body with perspiration. Her dark hair was in a ponytail, wet at the tips from where she had poured water over her head not ten minutes before. Her skin was darkly tan and her eyes had taken on the resolute determination of someone who knows the quicker the job is done the quicker a cold British cottage awaits her. Some cold rain would be bliss.

She sat at an old wooden desk in a cluttered open-plan office. The furniture was old and falling apart. All the samples in the room gave the illusion of being in a Turkish street market. In actual fact she was way up on the ninth floor, the top floor (which was high for its time).

Charlie came in through the only door, his heavy boots clomping on the floor, carrying a rolled up dusty rug on his shoulder. Seb looked up from her paperwork.

‘Seb! Look what I got for you!’

‘Ooh, yay. Another rug.’

Charlie dropped it on the floor causing a sand-coloured cloud to bellow up from it. He stood there with his hands on his hips, looking skyward like a useless superhero, while the cloud of dust slowly engulfed him. He had thick blonde hair that always looked good.

She stifled a laugh and got up from her desk.

‘Seriously, Charlie, we have enough rugs.’

‘This one’s the best,’ he said, still striking his absurd pose.

She picked it up and leant it against the wall with the other rugs. Charlie relaxed and looked around at the various boxes of samples. It smelled like his mother’s attic had smelled when she had some new fibreglass insulation put in at the heat of summer; a combination of new building work, dust, and old books. Except here was the additional smell of fresh olives and old sweat.

Derek and Donna entered the room together to see the new product but were quickly disappointed to see it was just another rug. Derek had dark hair and had grown a big moustache and affected curls at the tips just for their stay in Istanbul. He had the same deep tan as Seb and side-by-side they could have been brother and sister if not for his blue eyes. Donna was fair skinned with strawberry hair. They all tried their best to keep Donna in the shade to keep her from turning bright pink. Her skin was incapable of tanning.

Derek stepped forward and twirled the ends of his moustache, ‘Everyone, I have a gift for the whole family.’

‘Aww, he called us a family. How cute,’ said Charlie.

Seb slapped him on the arm playfully. Derek went back into the hall and poked his head in the room, ‘are you ready?’

Charlie and Seb shared a weary look. Derek’s head disappeared to be replaced by his bottom.

‘Wow, I love this gift,’ said Charlie.

‘My bottom isn’t the gift. Hold on.’

Derek started to drag something into the room.

‘Need a hand?’ said Donna.

‘I’ve got it.’

Derek got his momentum and dragged a large cream-coloured fan into the room.

‘Ta-Da!’ he exclaimed with a flourish of his arms.

‘A fan!’ shouted Seb.

She ran over and embraced Derek, kissing him profusely on the cheeks.

‘I love you, I love you, I love you!’

‘Enough of that,’ said Charlie.

She let go of him and went around to the back of the machine. ‘Where’s the plug? Oh, it’s ok, I’ve got it.’

She unwound the plug from the back of the enormous machine and plugged it in to the wall socket.

‘Isn’t it a bit big?’ said Charlie.

Derek knelt down and switched it to the lowest setting just in case.

The blades started turning and sped up quickly. A cool breeze began to move around the room as the fan oscillated back and forth. Seb knelt in front of it and let it blow air from one side of her face to the other, and then waited as it moved away as it oscillated to the left and blew air on Derek’s bare legs, making his khaki shorts momentarily bellow, and back again to blow her hair the other way.

‘Why did you get such a big one?’

‘If I had planned to get one I might have searched for a smaller one. A builder stopped me in the street and convinced me to swap it for a rug.’

‘Excellent deal,’ said Seb, the cool air still blowing over her, causing her blouse to flap. ‘We don’t need any more rugs.’

‘That’s not all we got,’ said Donna, going out into the hall. She came back into the room holding a glass bottle with clear liquid inside, ‘Raki!’

‘Splendid!’ said Charlie, ‘I’ll get the glasses.’

*

The fan had been put in the corner of the room and turned slowly. The whir of its blades was surprisingly quiet considering the industrious look of the thing. They all sat in a circle on handmade cushions and were using a Backgammon board (which seemed to be a popular game in Turkey at the time) as a rudimentary table. A few candles were lit and a fresh incense stick burned silently on Seb’s desk letting out a smell of burned lavender.

‘Ok,’ started Derek, ‘Raki is supposed to be drank “sec” which means straight, with some cool water on the side. We don’t have any cool water, but I’m sure we can manage. If you do add water to it it apparently turns white as milk.’

‘How do you know all this crap?’ said Charlie.

Derek tapped a small book that he kept in his shirt pocket. Ah yes, remembered Charlie rolling his eyes, your Little Turkey Guide Book.

Derek filled four shot glasses and put the bottle down. Derek, Donna, Charlie, and Seb, picked up their glasses and raised them in salute. All four said, ‘Şerefe!’ and followed up with the British, ‘Cheers!’

They downed their Raki and Derek poured another round.

*

The incense stick burned out. It glowed red at the bottom and then darkened releasing a final plume of smoke that seemed to move faster than the smoke that preceded it. Seb was at the stage of drunkenness that made her lean back when she laughed and place friendly hands on people around her. On this day that person was Charlie and he, like most before, mistook it for flirting. He put his own hand softly on hers. She pulled hers away with a quick glance of “what are you doing?” and then carried on with her accidental flirting.

The bottle of Raki was almost empty and Derek, with excessive concentration, managed to pour another round only spilling a drop when the final shot overflowed.

‘Şerefe!’ said Derek, downing his before the others had a chance to pick theirs up.

The other’s “Şerefe’d” back, picking up their shots and downing them. For Donna shots didn’t get easier to drink the drunker she got, she still pulled a face after each one, ‘delicious,’ she said, running the back of her hand across her lips to wipe away the sticky residue.

Seb leaned forward to speak drunken conspiratorial nonsense to Donna and Charlie, who sat to her left. Charlie let his eyes fall on her figure. Derek noticed and gave an encouraging nod.

‘More wine!’ said Charlie.

‘Raki,’ said Derek, leaning forward to take Charlie’s glass. He filled his and Charlie’s and said, ‘Cheers.’

‘Cheers,’ said Charlie back, raising his glass forward so they could tap them together in the time honoured way all drunk men do.

‘Hey what about us?’ said Seb.

Donna raised her eyebrows, to help emphasize Seb’s words.

‘Your turn to pour,’ said Derek, passing the bottle to Donna.

Donna poured shots for her and Seb. Charlie looked Seb up and down again and took a breath. Confidence became him. He shifted closer to her so their bodies were touching. Donna turned her head with a quizzical move of the brow. Charlie put a hand on Seb’s leg and leaned in to kiss her.

‘Whoa there Charlie boy!’ she said, putting a hand on his cheek and pushing him away, ‘You have had way too much young man.’

Charlie had to stop himself tumbling backwards off his cushion and shuffled back a few inches, ‘Young man? We’re the same age.’

‘What are you doing trying to kiss me?’

Donna and Derek shared a glance. It was a glance that asked if it was ok to burst into laughter. They kept their cool but laughter hid beneath a single breath.

‘Oh, come on, you know we’ve got a thing? Let’s be adults here, huh? Me and you? Why not?’

‘Because Charlie, I don’t mix business with sex.’

‘Then I quit,’ he said.

‘Are you that desperate for sex?’ said Seb. Charlie stared at her, swaying slightly from the alcohol. ‘You need to go home and sleep it off,’ she said.

Charlie looked over at Derek for some backup. Derek shrugged in agreement with Seb, ‘You should go sleep it off Charlie.’

Charlie’s face fell glum. It’s a face only truly drunk people can pull off well.

‘Go on, mate, I’ll join you in a bit,’ said Derek.

Charlie nodded and made a show of getting up and left the office with a final wave of his hand as he disappeared into the hall.

There was a sound like a door slamming and the room shook. Two of the shot glasses toppled over, spilling Raki over the Backgammon board.

‘Charlie!’ shouted Seb, quickly picking up the glasses, annoyed that he had slammed the door.

There was another rumble, but no slam to accompany it this time, just a low purr. The glasses fell over again and the bottle jiggled across the board.

‘I don’t think that was Charlie,’ said Derek.

Suddenly the whole room seemed to jump two feet in the air and land again with a jolt that landed Seb on her tail bone and slid Donna off of her pillow. The fan crashed sideways and the cage protecting the blades dented inwards, causing the blades to drum against it and then clunk to a stop. The motor burned out and grey smoke poured from it. Derek held himself low to the ground.

‘Seb, you ok?’

‘I think I hurt my back.’

‘Donna?’

‘I’m ok.’

A hard vibration tore through the room and the window smashed inwards. A thick scream soared from Donna’s throat and bricks and dust collapsed from the ceiling above her. The desk slid left and then slammed violently right into the wall. Derek tried to stand and suddenly became aware of the deafening sound of the building. It seemed as if some giant hand had grabbed the building from the top and was twisting it. The walls strained and the steel in the building screeched with aching ferocity. He held his arms over his head and ran over to Donna.

Seb had collapsed backwards, struck on the head by a wooden crate of olives. Nine of the fourteen rugs had fallen on her and only a foot could be seen protruding.

Outside, Charlie steadied himself on the rumbling floor and looked up over his shoulder behind him. At once all the windows exploded and sand-coloured clouds of debris and glass bellowed out from them. The top floor collapsed into itself amidst a shower of falling rubble. A long cement girder fell from the sky and struck Charlie on the back of the neck, driving him into the ground.

*

At this point I must return to telling this story in the first person. The true horror of Charlie’s injuries are beyond what I am emotionally able to describe, he died instantly. My other two colleagues were crushed when the ceiling collapsed. By luck, if you can call it that, only the top floor collapsed leaving the rest of the building standing. There were fourteen other people in the floors below us who would certainly have perished had the whole Sand Fortress gone down. If it had happened during the day when the market outside was still the moving river of man and barter that it was when the sun was out, many more would have been killed or injured.

When I came to the first thing I saw was Charlie’s new rug. That rug, and eight others, had protected me from the crush from above.

The feeling I have held deep in my heart over the years wasn’t grief (although grief was my companion for many years after) it was something they used to call Survivors Syndrome, but is now more commonly known as Survivors Guilt. My hope in writing this story is to try and come to terms with some of that guilt. The thing that sticks with me most is the thought that if Charlie had stayed sitting next to me we would both have been saved by the rugs.

Before I sign off there’s something the Fireman told me about Donna and Derek that I want to share with you. It confirmed a feeling I had had for a while that they were secretly in love. It’s a tragic ending to their love but has a kind of unspoken beauty to it. When Donna and Derek’s bodies were cleared from the rubble they were discovered to be holding hands.

Donna, Derek, and Charlie, I miss you all dearly.

 

– Sebastinella Deavon

March 2013, Bournemouth.

 

Lord Rochdale and the Station Hop Robbery (a short story)

It is my understanding that a train is a sort of stubborn bus. I’ve never seen one myself. I stood on a station once and waited to see one, to see what all the fuss was about, but was sadly distracted by a pair of mating pigeons. I heard it go by and turned quickly to catch a glimpse but by the time I realised I had turned the wrong way, the blasted thing had disappeared.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this, and who the bloody hell I am anyway? And rightly so. You should know these things. They’re important to a story. My name is Charlie. I’m a dashing sort of chap, about so high, with a passion for ornithology. So, now the formalities are out of the way, let’s get to the nub –

A friend of mine, Lord Rochdale (a dastardly sort of bloke, you wouldn’t like him), called me on the phone and asked me if I would like to help him burgle one (a train I mean, not a phone). I told him they are probably hard to steal seeing as they tend to be fixed to the tracks but I’m free next Thursday afternoon so why not. Not much else to do on a Thursday.

Jump forwards a few days and there we are; Thursday. Time to do some burglary. I arrived at the small train station just outside of Kent as agreed. I was wearing my trilby hat and trench coat, as is sensible in this weather, and there at the far end of the platform was my cohort and accomplice, Rochdale. He was staring at me.

“What are they thinking!” he shouted.

“Who?” I replied.

“The Gods!”

“I imagine they are trying to help us in any way they can.” I said, having arrived next to him. The oncoming sound of a train was already present.

“I am uncomfortable and miserable. Had I known it was going to pour down I might have cancelled.”

“It’s not too late.”

“Bugger it. We’re stealing that damn painting if it’s the last thing we do.”

“I thought we were stealing a train.”

He looked at me like a wizard looks at a clown. “Steal the train? How do you propose we do that?”

I shrugged. “Jimmy it?”

“It’s not a Fiat Panda, Charlie, it’s a bloody locomotive. You can’t just “jimmy it”.”

“Right. No, of course. What painting?”

“On that train is a young man named Percy Witherbrick. Have you heard of him?” I shook my head, “He’s a cousin on my mother’s side. He has in his possession a painting by Gainsborough, I’m assuming you’ve heard of Gainsborough?”

“Paints faces?”

“Yes. Sort of. Portraits. Percy’s father passed recently and they found one in his attic along with a whole bunch of other paintings, mostly worthless. Witherbrick is on his way to get it authenticated. At this moment in time that painting doesn’t exist. If he gets to his destination they will register it. Real or not. This is our only chance to get our hands on something worth millions that nobody yet knows about.”

“Who is the painting of?”

“Percy’s grandmother.”

There was a hiss and the train stopped in front of us. “Alright, you go in front of me. I’m going to duck behind you so he doesn’t recognise my face.”

“Right ho. This way then is it?”

“Just keep walking. He’ll be in first class. Next carriage along.”

The interior of the train was dull, lifeless, rusty, clattering. The seats were faded blue and full of street urchins and criminals (one suspects. I tried not to look at them.)

We bustled down the aisle and made it to the entrance of the first class carriage. Rochdale peered over my shoulder. His moustache tickled my ear.

“There he is. Four rows down facing us. Do you see him?”

“The man with the goatee beard and cardboard tube?”

“The very same.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We’ll casually walk down the aisle, me hiding behind you, and when we get close enough I’ll reach round and punch him in the face. Got it?”

“It’s a very sophisticated plan.”

“It’s not at all sophisticated. Let’s get on with it.”

We snuck carefully down the carriage and stopped in front of Percy. He looked up and smiled at me. I smiled back. Rochdale walloped him squarely the face. It was quite something. His head went back, his eyes closed, and he started snoring. I gently took the tube out of his limp hands and we backed back out of the carriage. People witnessed the event but didn’t make much of it. They were upper middle class people, it’s not easy to shock upper middle class people.

We ran back through the urchin carriage to the doors just as we pulled up at the next station. We jumped out and ran for the street. There was a car waiting for us on the road, prearranged by the criminal genius that is Rochdale.

We bundled in. Rochdale slapped me on the back. “Good show old boy!” he shouted. “Perry, step on it!” (Perry is the name of the driver.)

He did step on it and we hurtled down the road and away from the scene of our crime.

“Champagne Charleston?”

“It would be rude not to,” I said.

Rochdale cracked open the champers and filled two glasses. We chin-chinned and downed the contents.

“Shall we have a look?” said Rochdale.

“I think we must,” I said.

Rochdale put his glass down (which immediately fell over and wetted our shoes due to the nature of Perry’s fervent driving) and carefully removed the white cap. Inside was a rolled up canvas. Rochdale withdrew the painting. He unrolled it. We stared.

“What the fu-“ (I’m sorry for his language, I won’t include it in the story. That sort of thing just won’t do.)

“Well it’s certainly not a Gainsborough,” I said.

His shoulders sagged and his fists clenched the canvas, tearing it slightly. “You think?”

“I think it’s quite obvious.”

“Perry! Stop the car.”

The car stopped.

Rochdale got out and closed the door. And then he reacted. I’ve been looking through my dictionary to find the right would to describe his reaction. Tempestuous doesn’t quite cut it. Impassioned maybe? He let the painting fall to the ground and screamed at it. I can’t repeat all of his words here but there was something about Percy watching too much Art Attack. It all ended with him tearing off his clothes and throwing his shoes at a passing cat. He then chased the poor feline, half naked and screaming, down the street, leaving me alone in the car.

I looked out of the window at the torn and soaked painting on the floor. It was a Jackson Pollock. Pity really.

Bird (Short Story of the Weird Variety)

When I started writing me and a friend, Danny, used to text each other three words and then we would have to write a short story about those things. For instance, one text said, “Goat, money, burgers.” Another one said, “My son, a sausage, 99 encyclopaedias.” We would have one day to write each story and would generally spend about an hour writing them. The above suggestions became a story about a giant magic goat that loved burgers and had the ability to travel in time, and the other was about a baby detective investigating a sausage related murder, the solving of which hung on a single misspelling in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

They were funny, short, ridiculous stories that were never meant to be read by anyone except for us. They are kept in a secret file called, “Do Not Share”. They were writing exercises, and that was all.

However, seeing as I am beyond shame, I have decided to share one of these stories with you. Sadly, I can’t remember what the three words were (we wrote these stories several years ago). I came across it by accident recently and it made me laugh. The story is called…

Bird

‘Hey, man, you sure these are safe?’ Smirf held the bag up to eye level, ‘They look kinda wild. Know what I mean? Buzz? Buzz!? You know what I mean?’

Smirf looked over at Buzz.  They were sitting opposite each other outside a café. Buzz’s eyes had gone red and his skin looked greyer than normal. A stalk was hanging out of his mouth. He blinked slowly and opened his mouth, ‘Muh.’

Smirf turned his attention back to the bag of mushrooms, ‘Where did you say you got these?’

Buzz opened his mouth again, ‘Summ uh.’

One of Buzz’s eyes closed and the other widened and a weird little grin crept over his face.  Smirf stared at him for a while.

‘If you got these from Spaceman Dave I’m going to kill you.’

Buzz sagged in his chair and his head fell forward and landed on the table. He laughed lazily at himself. Smirf opened the bag and took out a mushroom. He squashed it up in his hand and stirred it into his coffee.

‘When will I learn?’ he said, and looked over at Buzz again who twitched and chuckled to himself. Smirf sighed and drank his coffee.

Inanimate objects began to pop and change colour around him. A waitress turned into a fish and swam into the sky humming a beautiful tune. He looked at Buzz. Bubbles were rising from his body. The table blew away like a handkerchief and the ground turned purple. He looked at his arms and they stretched out in front of him like oil on water. Everything drifted away and went dark. Smirf sank backwards and fell gently into a dark abyss. He looked down at his body. His legs slowly faded away followed by his arms and then his torso. Finally his head faded and all that was left was his consciousness falling silently through the soft darkness.

He landed hard on a large cylindrical slab of stone.

‘Owe! What the fuck!’ he said.

Buzz was standing over him, ‘Hey man,’ said Buzz, ‘What’s going on?’

Smirf rubbed his head and stood up. He looked around him. It was just them; Smirf and Buzz standing on a circular concrete slab in the middle of an endless void of darkness.

‘How the hell should I know!’ said Smirf.

‘Weird huh?’

‘Yes, Buzz, it’s weird. Of course it’s weird! It’s always weird when I’m with you!’

‘Yeh.’

Smirf looked around, ‘It’s just darkness. Everywhere. Darkness.’

‘Not everywhere,’ said Buzz.

‘Where isn’t it dark?’

Buzz pointed upwards and Smirf looked. High above them was a bird the size of a planet. Its eyes were as big as continents and as deep as oceans. Its wings stretched across space and vanished into the distance. The tip of its mountain-sized beak hung just a few hundred yards above them. The giant bird tilted its head and looked at the two men.

‘Right,’ said Smirf, ‘I didn’t notice that.’

‘Big isn’t it,’ observed Buzz.

Smirf looked at Buzz who was craning his neck up at the bird with his hands on his hips.

‘Yes, it’s quite big.’

Smirf and Buzz stared at the bird for a while and the giant bird stared back.

‘What do you think we should do?’ said Buzz.

‘Not sure, our options are fairly slim aren’t they.’

‘We could jump off,’ suggested Buzz.

‘No.’

‘I think we’re bird food,’ said Buzz.

The giant bird lowered its head so the top of its beak was level with Smirf and Buzz. It then continued to observe them.

‘Hmm,’ said Smirf.

‘I dare you to jump on to its beak,’ said Buzz.

‘No,’ said Smirf, ignoring him, ‘Hello Bird!’ he shouted.

The bird looked surprised and seemed to think for a moment. It opened its mouth a bit, as if it was about to say something, thought against it, and then closed it again. Buzz and Smirf looked at each other.

‘I think he can understand us,’ said Smirf.

‘Hello bird!!’ shouted Buzz.

This time the bird pulled its head back and looked dumbstruck. Slowly the bird got its nerves back and lowered its head to peer at the two men again.

‘Hello?’ said the bird, hesitantly.

‘Hello!’ shouted Smirf and Buzz simultaneously.

The bird panicked and ducked its head bellow the concrete pillar in an extraordinary attempt to hide itself.

‘I think it’s scared of us,’ said Smirf.

The bird slowly edged its head back up and looked at the two men. It felt quite out of sorts. He’d never seen, well, anything before. Just him, the darkness, and the cement pillar.

‘Hello,’ whispered the bird, and then moved its head away in case anything strange happened.

‘Hello,’ said Smirf, politely.

‘You speak bird,’ said the bird.

‘No,’ said Smirf, ‘you speak English.’

‘Right,’ said the bird, and then thought for a bit, ‘I’ve gone mad haven’t I?’

‘Not really sure,’ said Smirf, ‘Possibly.’

‘Are you going to eat me?’ asked the bird.

‘No,’ said Smirf, ‘You’re the size of a planet.’

‘Am I? What’s a planet?’ asked the bird.

‘It’s a big round thing,’ said Buzz.

‘Oh,’ said the bird, ‘But I’m bird shaped.’ The bird’s deep but kind voice surrounded them with its volume.

‘Indeed you are,’ said Smirf, ‘Listen, we’re a bit confused. You’re a massive talking bird and we’re not used to that kind of thing.’

‘And you are a small terrifying pink thing with no wings. And you can speak! Don’t you find that strange?’ asked the bird.

‘It’s never really occurred to me,’ said Smirf.

‘Birds don’t talk where we come from. Just people,’ said Buzz.

‘I see,’ said the bird, ‘And where do you come from?’

‘A planet called Earth,’ said Smirf.

‘Oh. And how did you get here?’ asked the bird.

‘I’m afraid I don’t know. We ate some mushrooms and now we’re here. This doesn’t normally happen but I’m afraid, the fact that this is happening while we are under the influence of mushrooms, may mean that you don’t actually exist,’ said Smirf.

The bird contemplated the ramifications of this idea and then said, ‘Mushrooms you say?’

‘Yes,’ said Buzz.

‘Sounds unlikely.’ said the bird, ‘so you’re trying to tell me that you live on a large round thing, you ate some mushrooms, and now you are here and you can talk?’

‘Yes,’ said Smirf.

‘Tell me,’ said the bird, ‘Are their many types of bird where you come from?’

‘Yes, hundreds,’ said Smirf.

‘Just as I thought. And how many long talking pink things are there?’

‘Just us,’ said Smirf, suddenly unsure of himself.

The bird seemed to have been expecting this answer. ‘I think I have some bad news,’ said the bird.

‘What’s that?’ said Smirf.

‘I think I have gone mad.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ said Smirf.

‘I suspect you are, it does after all mean that you aren’t real,’ said the bird.

‘I think I need to sit down,’ said Buzz, sitting down.

‘Ok,’ said the bird.

Smirf thought for a moment, ‘No, I think we’re real. It’s definitely you who is not.’

‘No,’ said the bird, ‘I remember being here before you got here. I’ve been around forever.’

‘But I also remember being around before I got here,’ said Smirf.

‘How long?’ asked the bird.

‘How long what?’ asked Smirf.

‘How long have you been around?’

‘20 years,’ said Smirf.

‘Pah! That’s nothing,’ said the bird, ‘I am infinite in time. I have always been around.’

‘Well, we’re definitely real,’ said Smirf.

‘What if we aren’t?’ said Buzz, who was now lying down.

‘If I have gone mad,’ began the bird, ‘It is very possible that I invented a whole reality for you. My subconscious has had billions of years to construct a million different realities. I don’t know whether it has. It makes sense that it must have being doing something with its time. All I’ve been doing is looking out at everything.’

Smirf thought about this while Buzz put his fingers in his ears and started humming. ‘How about last week when I found a piece of paper on the floor thinking it was money only to find out when I got home that it was just a used piece of toilet paper. Did your subconscious invent that?’ asked Smirf.

‘That depends,’ said the bird, ‘If you are a figment of my imagination then yes. If you are not, then no.’

Buzz started to hum louder.

‘How can we find out? And if it turns out we are a figment of your imagination what does that mean for us?’ asked Smirf.

‘Give me a minute,’ said the bird, and then the bird looked away. Its eyes dimmed and the bird became vacantly still.

Buzz took his fingers out of his ears and stopped humming, ‘Have you killed him?’ he asked.

‘No, I think he’s gone off to talk to his subconscious,’ said Smirf.

The enormity of the bird hung above them. Its size incomprehensible; each feather the size of a yacht, and talons so big they could easily hook around The Moon. It was a hell of a hallucination if it was one.

‘Right!’ said the bird, suddenly alive again, ‘I have some good news and I have some bad news.’ Buzz and Smirf stood next to each other looking up at the monstrous bird like two children in front of a judge. ‘The good news is that you are real.’

Smirf and Buzz cheered. And then stopped, ‘So what’s the bad news?’ asked Buzz.

‘You are a figment of my imagination,’ said the bird.

‘That doesn’t make sense,’ said Smirf.

‘No, not at first,’ said the bird.

They waited for a moment.

‘It still doesn’t make sense. Will you elaborate?’ asked Smirf.

The bird lowered its head apologetically, ‘Ok, but promise you won’t be mad at me,’ said the bird, ‘I didn’t know what my subconscious was up to.’

‘Ok. I promise I won’t be mad,’ said Smirf.

The bird looked at Buzz.

‘Oh, I promise too,’ said Buzz.

The enormous bird took a breath and then tried to explain, ‘My subconscious has been getting bored recently. Well, I say recently, it’s been the last couple of billion years. Playing little pranks on me here and there, silly stuff, you know; making me bite my tongue when I’m sleeping, that kind of thing; creating a star and making it supernova in front of me. That made me jump! You know, silly stuff like that.’

Smirf and Buzz looked at each other, ‘created a star,’ mouthed Buzz.

The bird continued, ‘He’s been quiet for a few millennia now. I knew he was plotting something.’

‘So what’s he been plotting?’ asked Buzz, with a tinge of worry in his voice.

‘He decided to make me think I’d gone mad,’ said the bird.

‘What did he do?’ asked Smirf.

If the bird had cheeks he would have blushed, ‘He created an entire universe, with planets and stars and allsorts. And, err, talking pink things with fingers.’

Buzz looked at his hands.

‘The problem was, you existed in a different reality so he brought you two here partly to prove to himself that he had done it, and partly to freak me out. We just had a chat about it and he said he was going to keep you here and never tell me what you were so I really would think I’m mad, but then he said he was so proud of what he had created he decided he’d rather boast about it instead. I’ve never invented anything,’ said the bird glumly.

‘You and your subconscious are one and the same,’ Smirf pointed out, quite profoundly.

‘Not in a head this big,’ chuckled the bird.

Buzz nodded like he knew what the bird meant.

‘So now what do we do?’ asked Smirf.

The bird thought for a moment, ‘I suppose you can go home if you like?’

‘We can! I thought we were stuck here!’ shouted Buzz excitedly.

‘No, you can go, but please do come back, I get terribly bored,’ said the bird, with its deep voice falling around them.

‘Ok. How?’ asked Buzz.

‘Oh, good question, hold on.’

The bird went vacant for a moment and then came back, ‘Take this,’ it said plucking a small feather from its chest using its beak. It dropped the slightly larger than average feather at their feet and Smirf and Buzz picked it up, ‘just use it to stir your tea and have a sip. You’ll be back here in a jiffy,’ said the bird.

‘Cool,’ said Buzz, examining the feather. It was the size of a lance and they struggled to hold it. He wondered how easy it would be to stir tea with it.

‘Cheerio then,’ said the bird, ‘Sorry you’re not real.’

‘That’s ok,’ said Smirf.

‘No worries,’ said Buzz.

The giant bird ruffled its feathers and the two men vanished. The platform and the bird were alone again.

‘I miss them already,’ said the bird.

Smirf and Buzz suddenly woke up. It was getting dark but they were still sitting at the café table. A waitress was clearing up around them.

‘Oh good, you’re awake,’ she said, ‘I’ve been trying to wake you for ages. We’re closing now.’

Smirf looked around slightly confused, ‘Ok,’ he said, ‘Buzz, wake up.’

Buzz stirred, ‘Hmm?’

‘Come on, let’s go,’ said Smirf, struggling to stand up, ‘How long have we been asleep?’

‘About six hours,’ said the waitress, ‘Like I said, I couldn’t wake you.’

Buzz managed to get to his feet and started walking off.

‘Hold on!’ shouted Smirf, and caught up with him.

‘Weird trip dude,’ said Buzz.

‘Me too, man.’

‘Damn bird,’ said Buzz.

‘Yeah. What? A bird?’ said Smirf, stopping in the street.

Buzz stopped as well, ‘Yeah, there was a massive fucking bird.’ Smirf stared at him. ‘Are you ok?’ asked Buzz.

‘Did the bird say that we weren’t real?’ asked Smirf.

Buzz looked blank for a while, ‘Yeah.’

‘Was he the size of a planet?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Did you sit down and stick your fingers in your ears and hum so you didn’t have to hear what he was saying?’

Buzz’s mouth lulled, ‘Uh huh.’

‘Oh,’ said Smirf.

They stared at each other for a bit and then started searching frantically for the feather. They couldn’t find it. They looked back at the table they were sat at, and there, under the table, was a slightly larger than average, feather.

The End