First Line Fiction (17)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by the Indian blogger Swati, from https://sunshineswati.wordpress.com/

Another chaotic day at work. Sae contemplated leaving ever since she was appointed a new manager.

All that time studying, and perfecting her English to a very high standard. Now the best that Sae could do was to get work in a call-centre. At least her salary was good, and she wasn’t having to work on the telephones. Working in the personnel department and participating in interviewing new applicants was far preferable to calling customers and having them constantly hang up or be rude to you.

It had been great at first, until her line manager Mrs Desai had retired. Then the new boss had arrived, and given them all a pep talk on his first day. He wasn’t that old either, but spoke to the staff as if he knew it all. Rumour had it that he had been educated in England, and had come home to work for the company on promotion. That seemed about right to Sae, judging by his clothes, and his over-confident attitude. And Mark Banerjee had an English first name too, which went along with his light skin to suggest a mixed marriage.

Sae thought it was a shame that he came over as so full of himself and bossy. She had to admit he was quite good-looking, and not much older than her too. But he didn’t seem to notice her, even when she made sure to give intelligent reponsnes to some of his questions. That first day had ended badly, with Mark calling them all in at the end, and making a strong statement.

“Now I have noticed that a lot of the people you have employed are not reaching their call targets. You should have been on top of this, and getting them in for performance reviews. I saw some people on the main floor looking at their phones, and even talking to each other, when they should have been taking or making calls. This has to stop, and it is up to you in this room to make that happen. I tell you now, if things don’t improve, you will all find yourselves redeployed as customer assistants, taking phone calls. Now go home and think about that”.

That evening at home, Sae went to her room early, and did just what Mark had said. As she went to sleep that night, she was smiling. She had a plan.

It took some time to make things happen of course. Sae couldn’t rush into anything, as that would be too obvious. With over one hundred staff being called in for the suggested performance reviews, the days had never been busier. She had to skip lunch to get in her quota of interviews too, as Mark was embarking on a plan to expand the call centre onto the vacant floor above. But by the end of that month, she was no longer thinking about leaving.

Not just yet, anyway.

For someone to pay attention to you, it doesn’t take too much effort. Perhaps just a little more make up than last week, and changing the way you wear your hair. That would do to start with. Three days later, Mark approached her in the corridor. “Well done with all your hard work recently. Some of those new entrants are excellent, and the employees who were slacking have started to be more careful and hard-working”. She just smiled, and said four words.

“Thank you for noticing”.

A shopping trip with her younger sister that weekend provided the opportunity to buy three new outfits. Smart, western-style clothes, similar to some she had seen online. Mixing and matching those over the next working week, the next time Mark approached her, he was smiling. “You have really smartened up, Sae. I’m pleased to see it. You look like the young women who work at head office in the City of London”. This time, Sae had more to say.

“Oh really? That’s kind of you. I would love to move to London and work at head office. I have cousins living in Neasden, and they would give me somewhere to stay. Do you know Neasden?” Mark smiled, and relaxed, leaning against the wall. “Yes, I know it well. I lived with my uncle in Wembley, and that’s close by.” Sae nodded, and went back to her office to appear to be conscientious. She couldn’t help but notice that Mark was still leaning against the wall, watching as she sat down behind the glass partition.

Over the next six months, things worked out very well. The call centre was expanded, and Sae applied for the job as personnel manager for the new staff up there. She had to be interviewed by Mark, and had her hair trimmed and styled for the occasion, as well as buying a pinstripe jacket and skirt. She had got the job, and a small increase in salary. But more importantly, she had been noticed, properly noticed.

One late afternoon, when she had completed her last performance review, Mark tapped politely on her office door, and walked in.

“I remember our conversation about London, Sae. They have approached me to go back, and to implement some of my ideas in a new call centre. It will be located near Neasden, and that made me think of you and your relatives there. Is that something that still interests you? There will be a big pay rise of course, not to mention a lot of contact with head office in The City. I have vaguely suggested I know someone here I would like to take with me, to be my personnel manager. But if you have changed your mind, that’s okay”.

No point trying to hide her delight, so Sae smiled from ear to ear. “I would really love the opportunity, Mister Banerjee. Thank you so much”.

As he turned to leave, he hesitated a moment.

Oh, I think you should call me Mark, don’t you? After all, I’m sure we will be seeing a lot of each other in London”.

First Line Fiction (16)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to my by American blogger, Beth.
https://ididnthavemyglasseson.com/

Waking up in a cornfield still dressed in her habit, with nothing but a candle, a half-eaten almond joy bar, and a small mewing kitten gave her pause…

Nessa could feel a stiffness in her joints, indicating to her that she had been in that field for a long time, probably overnight. Her mouth was bone dry, and the fingers of her left hand felt cramped from gripping the large votive candle. What was left of the candy bar was covered in bits of earth and attracting tiny insects, and the kitten’s face had been so close to hers, she had jumped up in alarm as her eyes had opened.

Slowly coming round, she started to get flashbacks of the day before, like jump cuts in a movie.

It had started three weeks earlier, with a ‘phone call from Morrie, her agent.

“Vanessa baby! Have I got a great job for you!” He always seemed to shout on the phone. “The people at Almond Joy are looking for an attractive older actress to star in a TV commercial for their candy bars. I have put you forward for it, and there is a first call this afternoon. My secretary has sent the details to your cellphone, so get your gladrags on and knock ’em dead!”

At her age, any work was welcome. Gone were the days when Vanessa DeRoy could get regular work as the attractive best friend, the secretary desired by the boss, or even the good-looking mature wife opening the door to receive a UPS parcel from a grinning delivery man. It was all a long way from her younger days, and the more risque parts she was associated with back then. Once mainstream movies and respectable actresses began to show everything, her video-market movies had stopped being made.

Sure, there was still a fan base, even though most of them were in care homes by now. But the best that Morrie could do for her most of the time was face in a crowd stuff, a happy lottery winner waving an oversized ticket, or someone considering the purchase of a trailer in a retirement complex, nodding in approval. They said sixty was the new forty, but they had forgotten to include her.

The agency guys working for Almond Joy had loved her though. They wanted a Mother Superior character who was more excited about the candy bars than her religion, and she had fit the bill nicely. Nessa had been hopeful. Getting back on TV would make a nice change from late-night shifts packing boned chickens, and if Morrie got her a deal including repeat fees, it might well be the start of something.

Molly was the costume lady who fixed her up. “You look great in a habit, honey. Should have been a nun”. The costume was surprisingly heavy, and the headdress felt tight. The thick black pantyhose were hot on a summer’s day, and the heavy black shoes rubbed her ankles. But she was a pro, and when she left the trailer, she felt she looked the part completely.

Such as it was, the theme of the commercial was so much nonsense. Long ago, Nessa had stopped thinking about the crazy ideas those advertising guys came up with, so she just went with the flow. The nerdy director looked like he should have been in his bedroom playing vdeo games, but she paid him the same respect as if he had been Orson Welles.

“Okay, you get the idea. Mother Superior has never had an Almond Joy bar before. She takes one bite, looks up at the sky with delight on her face, and goes running into the cornfield, flinging away the candle she was holding”.

She nodded and smiled as if she had just been give the starring role in Gone With The Wind. “Got it, thanks for the opportunity”.

Fifteen takes later, she was sweating like a horse that had just won the Kentucky Derby, and feeling sick from the numerous bites of the chocolate covered candy. Then the guy called for a lunch break, and they went to the wagon parked at the edge of the field. How many takes did he want? How many times can you run into a cornfield looking up a the sky, and flinging away a candle?

Around the back of the portable facilities, Molly offered a flask. “Try some of this, honey. Take the edge off. If Miles has his way, he will keep you running into that field until after dark”. It made Nessa’s eyes screw up, tasting like some home-made hooch she had once tried in Kentucky, back in the seventies. But Molly was right. It took the edge off.

The afternoon had been something of a blur. At one stage, she had taken off the heavy shoes, and Miles had made her go and change the pantyhose as the heels of the shoes had torn them. But he had gone with the idea of her being shoeless, making out like it had been his idea all along. “Yes, no shoes. Another reference to her new freedom”. In the tent where she went to change the pantyhose, Molly had produced another flask.

Some time later, she recalled that Miles had seemed very pleased. “Fantastic! That’s a wrap! You really captured that wild spirit of a lifetime of religious frustration, and the joy of throwing off those shackles. Thank you, Miss DeRoy”.

That was when she had started running, and not stopped running. It had never dawned on her just how big a cornfield could be. Not until she collaped exhausted, anyway.

But she had absolutely no idea where the kitten had come from.

First Line Fiction (15)

The first line for this fictional short story was sent to me by Canadian blogger, Bossy Babe.
https://bosssybabe.wordpress.com/

She looked in the vast wilderness and only one thought sprang to mind.

What the hell had happened? Lizzie sat down heavily, and reached for the water bottle in her rucksack. The hiking boots were almost worn out. In the next town she would have to find some new ones. If there was a next town that she would ever reach on foot.

At first, she had used bicycles. Plenty of those around of course. But the roads were bad, and punctures too frequent. So she decided to walk.

After waking up one morning months earlier to an eeire silence, she still hadn’t got used to it. Nothing electrical worked. Her TV was dead, no Internet or radio, and her car wouldn’t start. Her cellphone was dead too. She walked the half mile to the Jackson’s house for help, but there was nobody home. And when she tried to use their car, it wouldn’t start either. At least water still came out of the taps, and it was fresh back then.

She took Billy Jackson’s mountain bike from under the porch, and cycled the eight miles into town. Some trucks stood abandoned on the road, but there were no cars, and nobody in the trucks. Whatever had happened must have been when most people were asleep. The town of over twenty thousand inhabitants was deserted. Nobody in the civic offices, and the police station didn’t have a cop in sight. After trying two phone booths, she concluded that no phone lines were working anywhere.

Lizzie considered herself to be a well-balanced person, but the impact of this was definitely having an effect on her mind.

There were the obvious conclusions. Some kind of natural disaster or chemical spill perhaps? It had required everyone in the county to be evacuated, but for some reason, they had missed her. The Jacksons would have told them about her, surely? And why no signs? Nobody directing people to a safe refuge, or assembly area? Plus, if everyone had had to leave in a hurry, where were the pets? No cats on the street, no barking dogs. As she had thought about that, she looked up.

No birds in the sky either.

The county seat was over forty miles away. Billy’s cycle got her around halfway before the back tyre went flat. What had happened to the roads? They all seemed to have rows of cracks in them, like driving along railroad tracks. Walking the rest of the way meant she didn’t arrive until well after dark, completely exhausted. The city was very scary in that darkness, so she went into a camping store on a strip mall. Lizzie was thinking fast, depite being frightened out of her wits.

At first, she wondered why most of the stores were open. Then it occured to her that the electronic locks had failed, as had the intruder alarms. Even those locked by keys at the front often had a back door with a keypad entry that no longer secured the door. One of the only benefits of no electricity. In the camping place she found a lantern operated by a propane canister, and the means to light it. She spent that first night in a large display tent in the front window, sleeping on a very comfortable camp bed.

Next morning, she found her way into a grocery store, taking food that was sealed, canned goods, and bottled water. Then in a bookstore she found a map. Packing up a large backpack taken from the camping store, she headed off on a bike taken from a rack, the chain cut off with bolt cutters borrowed from a tool seller’s nearby. Her last stop had been to a gun dealer, acquiring a revolver and a box of ammunition. Lizzie had never fired a pistol before, but she had seen enough films to know how they worked.

The backpack felt heavy as she rode along, weaving between abandoned trucks and wondering why there was no sound at all. No planes in the sky, no animals in the farm fields, and the silence only interrupted by the whirring of the bike’s gears and tyre noise on the road. It took less than three hours for the front tyre to puncture. She threw the bike into the long grass and started walking.

Almost forty years old, Lizzie was reasonably fit, if a little overweight. But after four more hours and the next town on the map not yet in sight, she headed into some trees off the road, and collapsed exhausted.

How long ago had that been? Was it four months yet? Had to be. She had started talking to herself after a week, probably just to hear a human voice, even her own. Trying not to think about what had happened was useless. She thought about nothing else. Could she really be the only person left? And if so, why her? During one restless night in a motel room lit by some candles, she finally had a positive thought.

If there was nobody in the towns and cities, they had to have gone somewhere. She hadn’t come across a single body, or one solitary sign of life. All those hundreds of thousands of people couldn’t possibly have just vanished, but her travels on the road confirmed to her that they had. So, it must be something to do with the towns and cities. The people must have been moved away somewhere safe. That had to be the answer.

The wilderness.

Turning off the road and following the map, she walked into that vast forest that led to places where few people had ever lived. The rivers were still flowing, and the air was getting colder. There would be snow soon. At least she didn’t have to worry about bears. If there were no birds or other animals, the bears would be unlikely to still be around.

Now it was in front of her. That seemingly limitless wilderness shown on the map. Fighting back tears, she put the water bottle down on the ground.

Nobody. Not a soul.

First Line Fiction (14)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by Chris Tabone, who lives in America. It is relevant to my fiction serial, ‘A Good Runner’, making it a tricky prospect to pull off as a stand-alone story. I have decided not to recap though.

“With Ken’s affairs now fully in order, considering it was time to see what could be done to take Witney Cars to the next level.”

Trevor was a man with big plans, and they involved expanding everything to do with the taxi business he now owned. Stella was going to be a great help. After all, she had more or less run the place for Ken, though looking after her daughter Amy was always going to be her first priority. That meant taking on someone to work in the office when Stella couldn’t be there, and Trevor got the advertisement in the paper that Friday.

He also spotted an opening for other kinds of transport locally. School buses didn’t get out to the smaller villages, so if he could get some contracts from the council and buy a couple of minibuses, that could prove lucrative. In the school holidays and at weekends, the minibuses could be used for larger groups like wedding parties, and door-to-door trips into Oxford city centre for shoppers or theatre-goers.

And with many people facing long trips into the city for hospital appointments, he was sure he could tie some of those together, offering regular runs for customers with medical issues and disabilities.

A young woman named Janice was employed to work in the taxi office. Between him and Stella, they would show her how things worked. She had been doing administration work for an estate agent, but when they changed location she didn’t want to have to travel to work. As well as that, she was young and attractive, and that couldn’t hurt to have her as the public face of the office during the day.

Offering the hire of the Jaguar for weddings worked out well too. Even though it wasn’t white, he soon received many bookings for the following summer.

By the new year, and after a visit to the bank manager to get a business loan, Trevor had three new minibuses, a two-year contract with the local education authority, and dozens of confirmed bookings for larger parties to the airport, and hospital appointments. He also used a local company to repaint the office, and bought a smart new sign to go above the door. He felt he was really making something of himself, but Stella was worried.

“Don’t you think you are over-extending, Trev? I mean, the loans on the minibuses have to be paid, and the monthly insurance bills are very high too. By the time the education people pay their bill after twenty-eight days, we will have already had to find the money for what we are paying out. Then there is Janice’s weekly wage, and paying the minibus drivers in cash. It’s going to be tight, love”.

Trust her to be negative, Trevor thought to himself. He wanted Witney Cars to be the largest taxi company in Oxfordshire one day, maybe even make some inroads into the city of Oxford itself. “Actually, I was thinking of opening up another office, in Burford. I could offer minbus tours of the Cotswold Villages for tourists. They love to visit those English villages, and it’s an all year-round trade”. Stella looked concerned.

“That would mean more minibuses to buy, more drivers to pay, and someone to take the bookings in the office. It’s up to you, Trev, but think carefully love.”

By the start of the summer, Trevor had his small shop front next to a tea shop in Burford, two more minbuses, and drivers to run the tours. He did a deal with some local hotels and guest houses, and they agreed to promote his village tours in return for a small commission. A local lady who used to be a librarian worked taking the bookings from nine until three, and they started to flood in. After a great year of trading, Stella had a suggestion.

“Seems you were right about the Cotswolds tours, love. But it would be a good time to think about selling the business as a going concern, don’t you think? Take the profit, pay off the minibus loans, and concentrate on the local trade in Witney”. He was beginning to get fed up with her, that was the truth. “Why would I sell now? If anything, I should be thinking about putting on another couple of minibuses and expanding”. The rest of that evening at home had a bad atmosphere.

The first thing to go wrong for Trevor happened the following March. Just about to leave home to take a bride and her father to a local church, the gearbox went in the Jaguar. Frantic phone calls were made, but nothing suitable could be hired to replace the Jag. Stella managed to contact the bridal party with their apologies, and had to offer a full refund. But the father of the bride was a respected local businessman, and she knew the reputation of the firm would suffer as a result of letting him down.

When they got the estimate for repairs to the Jag, they knew there wasn’t enough money available to get it fixed. Janice had to contact all the summer wedding bookings, and cancel them. Then one of the Burford drivers quit, deciding to go back to driving bigger coaches. Trevor had to step in and take some of the booked tours, but his knowledge of the area was not so good, and that led to complaints from some of the tourists.

Then the former librarian who ran the tour office had to go into hospital for an operation on a hiatus hernia, Trevor had no alternative but to close down Cotswold Tours in Burford.

Bad luck continued when the education authority gave notice of cancellation of the contract for schools. They were going to buy their own bigger bus and start picking up the kids from the villages themselves. Then Janice’s boyfriend proposed. He was in the Army, and that would mean living in Yorkshire once they were married. So she gave two week’s notice.

Following a long evening going over the company accounts, Stella gave him the bad news. “The minibuses have to go, Trev. We are still paying the loans on them, and getting no business worth talking about. Nobody around here is ever going to book us for a wedding again, and you can forget reapplying for any school contracts now they are using their own transport. If we sell everything off, pay off the loans, we will just about have enough for you to buy a decent car and go back to just being a taxi driver. I can run the office while Amy is at school, but you will have to do the evenings and weekends”.

His face glum, Trevor nodded. Stella had been right all along.

Back to square one.

First Line Fiction (13)

The first line for this fictional short story was sent to me by the lovely Kim. She resides in Alabama, and blogs about her lifelong love of books.
https://cadburypom.wordpress.com/

She had never been so terrified in her entire life.

The crashing sound from the living room made Emma jump out of her skin. She leaned even harder against the bedroom door, wondering what Nick was up to, and if he was okay. When she had run screaming from the bathroom, Nick had been great. “Leave it to me, honey. I will deal with it. You stay in here”.

But then the nightmare had really started. The first sounds coming from the bathroom were unmistakable. The shower curtain pinging off, ring by ring. Then a slapping sound, as Nick fought hard. She hoped that would be the end of it, but then the commotion moved into the hallway.

That was the moment Emma had locked the bedroom door, and closed the open window.

With her ear flat to the door, and her heart racing, she had tried hard to work out what she could hear, and place the sounds in context. Nick had a fight on his hands, no mistaking that. But he was strong and brave, so she prayed he would prevail.

Was he rolling along the wooden floor in the hallway? Given the scuffing noise, and Nick’s grunting, it sure sounded like it. When the noises grew fainter, she guessed he was in the living room, and she sat down heavily on the floor, her trembling legs no longer able to support her small frame.

Then that crash came, and she jumped involuntarily. That had to be the reproduction oil lamp on the side table. Nothing else in there could make such a sound. Unless Nick had knocked over the television. After that, it all went quiet.

Emma felt her breath coming in short gasps. The quiet was much worse than the noise.

Maybe she could call out, and ask him if he was okay? But the door would muffle her voice, and she wasn’t about to open it, not even the tiniest crack. Then a roar, sounding like Nick. It had to be him. Oh please let it be him. The thump that followed sounded like the big armchair next to the fireplace. It had tipped over once before when she was vacuuming, and the noise was just like that.

She mouthed a silent prayer. ‘Oh please let it be over soon, I just can’t stand it.’

More silence followed, then there were soft footsteps along the hallway, and a gentle knock on the door. “You can open up, honey. It’s all over”. Unconvinced, she called back to her husband. “Are you sure? Do you promise me, Nicky?”

After counting to ten, she turned the key, and eased the door open just enough to look out. Nick was smiling, standing in the hallway with the light on behind him. He held up his copy of the evening paper, a fat black blob just visible on the folded pages.

“It cost us the old oil lamp, but that’s one spider that will never be in our bathroom again”.

First Line Fiction (12)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by one of my longest and very best blogging friends, Cindy Bruchman. A published author and blogger, Cindy lives in Arizona, USA, where she works as a teacher. https://cindybruchman.com/

“On a bitterly cold January morning, after saving for two years, he had enough money to buy a plane ticket to Arizona to visit his friend Cindy.”

Travelling in an English winter was never going to be easy, and the day didn’t start out well. Pete had to get to Heathrow Airport, just west of London, and that was one hundred and thirty miles from his home in Beetley.

And there was something else. That old Jimmy Webb song sung by Glen Campbell was playing on repeat in his head.

“By the time I get to Phoenix…”

As well as a flight of over fourteen hours to anticipate, there was that travelling time to the airport, and having to arrive two hours before departure. Given the problems with trains from East Anglia, and the cost of a taxi being prohibitive, Pete had opted for the long-stay parking option, with a shuttle bus from the compound. That meant a rush-hour drive in pretty awful conditions.

Packing one bag for a two-week stay wasn’t easy when you knew you had to be warm coming and going, but it could be 72 degrees while you were there. Then there were the cameras, two of them carried in hand luggage, plus chargers. He might never get another chance to photograph the wonders of the desert and surrounding mountains, let alone his delightful host.

On that grey, forbidding morning, as he scraped the ice from the windscreen and tried not to hear Glen Cambell in his head, the prospect of seeing the sunset over a giant cactus kept him positive and cheerful. Roadside diners, large portions, and all those things about the American south-west he had only ever seen on cinema screens. What a prospect.

At least his old car started first time, and Pete was so glad about that, he almost kissed the steering wheel.

After that, things went downhill. Light snow became heavier snow. People were driving slowly and carefully around the country roads in Norfolk. All well and good normally, but not when you knew there was a flight waiting for you later on, and you had only got as far as Swaffham.

It took almost another hour to weave along the winding lanes until he got past the air base at Lakenheath, and could get on to the A11 fast road at the big roundabout junction.

Still, why worry? He had allowed well over two hours more than it should take.

Good news followed. The A11 was moving well, probably as so many drivers had not bothered to venture out on such an awful day. Pete pushed the car a little, windsceen wipers on double speed to cope with the snow. Stump Cross junction was coming up. That meant joining the wider M11, and then it was south to the M25 junction where he would turn west in the direction of Heathrow.

But red lights were flashing on the gantry in the distance, and that wasn’t good.

Wrapped up against the weather, a policeman in a bright yellow jacket stood next to his police car. Its blue lights were flashing, and he was waving his arm to indicate drivers had to turn off. Pete stopped close to him, and let down the window enough to speak. “What’s happening, officer?” The cop’s weary expression indicated he had been asked the question too many times. “Mortorway’s closed. Bad accident further south. You need to turn here and head for Saffron Walden. Hurry up please”.

That wasn’t good. Saffron Walden was further east, and Pete wanted to go west. But with no access to the motorway, he had to comply, and follow the huge queue of traffic snaking along the small roads of Essex. Switching the radio on, he waited the six minutes to the hour to hear the news. The M11 was going to be closed until the Stansted Airport junction. That didn’t seem so bad, as it wasn’t far. Pity you couldn’t fly from there to Arizona, he was thinking.

In between verses of the Jimmy Webb song.

Trouble was, every car in that part of eastern England was in the same predicament as him, and nothing was moving at all.

Just over ninety minutes later, Pete switched off the engine. An hour after that, he turned it on again, and moved about twenty feet. This time he left it on, as it was getting colder in the car.

Four and a half hours after leaving home that morning, Pete rejoined the motorway to see three lanes of solid traffic moving at a crawl in heavy, settled snow. Still over sixty miles to go to the car parking compound, and he had yet to deal with the notoriously bad M25 orbital motorway. The flight was due to take off in just over two hours, and his top speed was currently ten miles per hour with no sign of the road clearing ahead.

With the M25 junction fast-becoming an impossible dream, he took the next available exit in the direction of Chipping Ongar, and parked on the first stretch of quiet road. In the glovebox was his mobile phone, and he reached for it with a heavy heart.

The least he could do was to ring Cindy, and save her waiting at the airport for someone who was not going to arrive.

First Line Fiction (11)

The first line for this fictional short story was supplied by film blogger Otsky, from https://overtheshoulder129848657.wordpress.com/

He looked into the camera, knowing this may be watched by millions, and cleared his throat: “Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini – I label these… tyrants as some of the worst humans to ever dwell on our Earth; so today is a very sad day to see myself included, by some, on this list.

There were times when Tom Carswell wondered how it had got to this. Many times, in fact. He had started out like most people, reasonably unconcerned about politics. He voted for the same party as his dad used to, and complained a bit when they lost. Then he just got on with life. What else could you do?

Something changed when they decided to build a motorway junction close to the small town where he lived. The local people were outraged at the loss of an ancient forest, and some started up an online campaign to oppose the construction. Tom got involved, in a small way at first. That escalated into blocking traffic heading for the site, and some minor scuffles with the police trying to remove the protestors. He was asked to give an interview on local news, and that was later shown on the national news too.

After that, it was as if the floodgates opened.

Two women came up from London, and asked him to stand in the Council elections for their party. It was the party he always voted for, and one he had been a member of since he was eighteen. The women made it clear that they wanted to radicalise the policies of that party, take it back to the Socialist roots, and remove the middle of the road old guard that was running it. Tom felt inspired, and agreed.

After all, he was a respected History teacher at the local senior school, and he had no skeletons in any closets that he could think of. Jack was starting at university, and Mandy thought he would make a good candidate.

Family support was crucial, of course. But the local education authority was less than impressed. They didn’t like the idea of one of their teachers being seen to be a radical, advocating ideas that hadn’t been around since the seventies.

But Tom did it anyway.

He won the seat with a huge majority, boosted by voters who appreciated his work against the motorway junction. Then he became something of a firebrand at Council meetings, rocking the foundations of the stuffy and long-established group who had been running the town since he was a boy.

That got him noticed in London again. This time, he was asked to go down to the capital, where they discussed him standing in the general election the following year. His town constituency had been represented by the other side for most of his life, and they convinced Tom he was the right man to change that. He accepted, and campaigned hard. His opponent had little to offer, save for his almost twenty years doing little to represent the town in parliament, and that man’s approval of the motorway scheme was the last straw for voters.

Carswell won a memorable victory, unseating the incumbent and achieving a majority in excess of ten thousand. And his party won nationally, with a sixteen seat majority.

Huge life changes followed. Resigning his teaching post, renting a flat in London, coming back to the town on Fridays to hold meetings, and learning the ways of government in the House of Commons. Tom didn’t like what he saw going on there, and soon became part of a left-wing splinter group determined to get rid of the moderate centrists that had infected the party of the people.

The media latched on to this younger, outspoken man who wasn’t afraid to go against the dull policies of his own party. He was on the front pages of newspapers, and asked on to TV political debates and even chat shows. Very soon, everyone in Britain knew who Tom Carswell was. By the time the next general election was still two years away, he was approached to stand against the party leader after a vote to force a leadership election.

At the time, he was still being painted by the media as a kind of British version of JFK. Nice wife, a son who had done well at university, and that small-town appeal that avoided any big city financial connections.

Then he won the leadership election.

Once in control, Tom started to formulate policies that alienated forty percent of the country. Heavy taxation on the rich, and less influence from royalty and aristocracy. A massive programme of cheap social housing to combat the problems of homelessness, and a big boost in benefits to the unemployed and disabled. On top of that he removed Britain from NATO, scrapped the nuclear weapons programme, and asked America to remove all its weapons and aircraft from any bases in Britain.

It was a busy couple of years, but he had done enough for his party to win again, and increase its majority ten fold.

Tom looked older, and felt the weight of responsibility. But he wasn’t about to give up. Scotland was granted another referendum, and chose independence. Discussions with Ireland resulted in a promise to return the six counties in the north within ten years. That would just leave England and Wales, and Great Britain would become a thing of the past.

Now the media turned against him, and so did many of the people. He was nicknamed ‘Castro Carswell’ by the tabloids. Northern Ireland degenerated into daily rioting, and some areas in northern England started to talk about becoming part of Scotland. It all began to fall apart.

Tom’s marriage fell apart too, and his son went to live and work in Australia. It seemed his own family thought he had gone too far. But he carried on.

New police powers cracked down on rioters and demonstrators. Many in his own party started to call for his removal, and he had to survive a leadership election by the skin of his teeth. The tabloids railed against him and his most loyal supporters, calling them The Gang of Ten. So Tom brought in new laws to muzzle the press. As the public outrage continued to build, and the police fought running battles on the streets outside, he decided to make a broadcast on national television.

After declaring that he was sad to see himself compared to historical dictators, he continued.

“Yes, I am sad indeed. But it will not soften my resolve. I will do what must be done, whatever the consequences”.

Before Tom could continue, the camerman turned to the sound man, a quizzical look on his face.

“Was that gunfire I heard outside?”

First Line Fiction (10)

The first line for this fictional short story was supplied by author, songwriter, and blogger, David Miller. He lives near the desert in Las Vegas, USA.
https://millerswindmill.wordpress.com/about/

I never expected to come upon a sexy hitchhiker walking barefoot on a lonely desert road, but there she was, shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand, and desperately thumbing a ride with the other.

Nobody would ever describe me as a high-roller, but I was a regular at the poker tables in Caesar’s Palace. I won enough to make the dealers give me the eye, and knew when luck was against me. Since employing a manager in ninety-eight to run my store in Provo, I spent more weekends playing poker than I care to remember.

Too many for Shirley, that was for sure. One time I got back late on a Monday and she was gone, just a note on the hall stand to tell me not to bother to try to contact her.

Although I always went down on i-15 to save time, I liked to drive home the long way. Take the back roads, think about my plays over the previous few days. It added well over two hours to the journey, but it wasn’t as if I had anything to rush back to in Provo. So I left early, skipping breakfast, and after a couple of hours, I saw her. Okay, I’m not so young anymore, but I can appreciate a pretty girl when I see one.

And helping a barefoot girl in obvious distress seemed like the right thing to do.

When I stopped the car a few yards ahead of her, she didn’t hesitate. Running straight up and opening the door, she collapsed into the passenger seat and stretched out her legs. Her feet looked scratched up and bruised, and she wasn’t carrying a purse. Not wearing sunglasses had made her screw up her eyes, but I guessed she was no more than twenty years old.

“Wow! Feel that airconditioning. Thanks mister, I appreciate you stopping”. Her accent was familiar, and the way she said “Wow” made me do a double take.

“You heading into Utah by any chance? I’m heading for Salt Lake City”. I told her I was going to Provo, and that was less than fifty miles from Salt Lake. “Provo you say? That will do just as well. Maybe I can find work there. Reckon you know someone could give me a job?” Maybe I was boasting a little, but I talked about my store, and how I knew plenty of other businessmen in the city.

Fifty miles further on, I pulled into a roadside gas station. She hadn’t said much else, and I had just been keeping my eyes on the road. Before getting out to go inside, I asked her why she had no bag or shoes, and what she had been doing on a remote desert road.

Part of me already knew the answer.

“Been working in Reno. Met a guy who said he had won big, and he seemed real nice. Said he was from Salt Lake City, and wanted to take me home with him. Seemed like a good idea at the time, until I stopped at the side of the road to pee and he drove off with my luggage, purse, and shoes all still in the car. Lucky I kept my cash in the pocket of my jeans, but I need to use the phone here to cancel my credit cards. Reckon he’s already used them though”.

After buying two cokes, I sat in the car watching her use the phone. Could it really be happening? She was real enough, but everything I had ever known made me realise it wasn’t possible. The story was the same.

Abandoned by some guy, having to hitch a lift in the desert, and ending up in Provo. When she came in and asked for a job she was wearing the same rubber sandals that she was going to buy in the gas station as soon as she came off the phone. I had listened to her story and given her a job as a cashier, with an advance on her pay so she could rent a room and buy some clothes.

They called me a soft touch back then.

Despite running the airconditioning in the car, I was feeling overheated. How could she not recognise me? Was I really so different? It dawned on me that it was because she hadn’t met me yet. Not spent almost fifteen years living in my house, and complaining about the gambling.

When she came back out of the gas station, she was wearing the rubber sandals I knew she would have on. Opening the car door, she smiled. “All I could get. At least they had my size. And I managed to get through and cancel the cards”.

Handing her the coke, I concentrated on her face. It had to be her, but it couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. “We haven’t been introduced. My name is Dean”. I hoped she wouldn’t say it, but she did.

“I’m Shirley. Nice to know you, Dean”.

First Line Fiction (9)

The first line for this fictional short story was supplied by writer and blogger, Chris.
https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/

If I hear them say “It’s for your own good” one more time…

Hard to remember exactly when it started. I had always been popular at school, and mixed in with that gang of girls that everyone wanted to be a part of. The brighter ones, the prettier ones, the ones who just knew how it all worked. They had welcomed me in, so despite my initial surprise, I readily accepted.

For a while, it was great. One wonderful year when I felt on top of the world.

That summer holiday when I was fifteen was the best ever. There were so many things arranged. We would all meet at the shopping centre, trying on clothes that we couldn’t afford. Making a burger and milkshake last for three hours, until they asked us to leave if we weren’t buying anything else. Chatting to the cool older boys who walked around scoping us out, pretending we were eighteen, even though they never believed us.

On hot days, we would hang around under the trees in the park, laughing at the fat people and the arguing families. Then one day, Bella suggested going to the swimming pool. Looking back, that’s when it started. I remember now.

I was still wearing a one-piece then. Bella and the rest had bikinis, as they didn’t really intend to do any swimming. All they wanted to do was stand in the water and look good. No point getting their hair wet or ruining their make-up. I went off and swum a couple of lengths, and when I got back to the girls, Bella was pulling a face. “Not very cool, Sammi. We don’t come here to swim you know”. Daisy was nodding, and she suddenly pointed at me. “Or to show off those horrible fatty lumps on your thighs. Yuk!”

Surely they were teasing me? I grinned like a fool, looking at each of them in turn. But something had changed. Bella pulled herslf up the side and stood on the edge of the pool. “We’re going round to Daisy’s now, see you another time, Sammi”.

Then they were gone, like they didn’t even know me.

Looking at my legs in the changing room mirror, I suddenly noticed those lumps Daisy had mentioned. She was right, they were repulsive. At home later that day, I was amazed to find they had all unfriended me on Facebook, and I got no replies to half a dozen texts I sent out. Mum called up from downstairs. “Samantha, dinner’s ready”. I went out onto the landing and told her I wasn’t hungry, then lay down on my bed and started to move my legs around in a cycling style. I would work off those lumps, and everything would be okay.

When my mum and dad had gone to bed, I crept downstairs and ate half of the lemon meringue pie I had missed out on after dinner. Then when I was still hungry, I ate four packets of cheese and onion crisps I found in a cupboard. Back in my room, I found an old easter egg I had saved, and ate all that too. Minutes later, a wave of guilt swept over me, and I went into the bathroom and stuck two fingers down my throat until I brought it all up.

It was horrible, throwing up like that. I resolved that the best way would be to eat nothing at all. At least until my thighs were free of lumps.

Telling mum I wasn’t hungry didn’t work for long. When I hadn’t eaten anything for three days, she stopped believing I had made myself some toast or a sandwich when she was at work. “There must be something wrong. I’m going to make an appointment for you at the doctor”. Despite my protests, I had little alternative but to go. The doctor sent me for some x-rays and blood tests, but everything was normal. I laughed when we were told that. They obviously hadn’t been looking at my thighs.

They weren’t normal.

When it came time to go back to school, I told mum I was ill. Dad came up to my room to see me. He felt my forehead, asked me some silly questions, then said I was okay to go to school. He still treated me like a baby.

So I put on my uniform and walked out as normal. I stood around at the back of the shops until they had gone to work, then went home. I knew the school would ring mum, but I didn’t care. No way was I going back to face those girls, and their taunts about my thighs.

The next year was a hard one, but I wasn’t worried. I had gone down to a size four in clothes, and felt great. Mum said I had to listen to the dietician, and the psychologist. “You have to eat something, or they will force you to go into hospital, love. And you know it’s bad for your health. Your breath smells horrible, and I don’t think you’ve had your period for some time now. If you don’t get back to school soon, I doubt the doctor will keep covering for you, and you have already missed out on taking your exams this year”.

She came upstairs later, with a bowl of cornflakes. I didn’t mind those, as I could easily flush them down the toilet later.

“Just eat some of these, love. You know it’s for your own good”.

First Line Fiction (8)

The first line of this fictional short story was supplied by Carolyn, a cat-loving blogger who lives in America.
https://catsincambridge.net/

A loud humming that had started as a gentle vibration, invaded the peace and quiet of my Saturday morning, not so much a sound as a sensation.

I looked across at Carl, who was reading his newspaper. “Can you hear that?” He carried on reading. “Hear what?” I didn’t bother to explain, if he couldn’t hear anything there was no point in describing it. Besides, it felt more like it was inside me, than coming from somewhere in the house or outside. But I felt the need to check anyway, so put down my coffee cup and walked down to the basement.

The boiler wasn’t making any noise. Both the washing machine and drier were turned off too. But the humming inside my head was getting louder, and the vibration felt more like something physical, increasing in intensity. I was worried that it could be something medical. You hear about such things. Wake up feeling fine in the morning, and by lunchtime you are fighting for your life on a ventilator. I was going to go back up and drag Carl away from his reading, tell him what was going on.

By the time my right foot reached the third step, I could no longer move. All I could hear was the humming, which had shut off my thought processes. Then the vibration increased even more, until my whole body was shaking in a terrifying convulsion.

And then I was gone.

With no sensation of exiting the house, I found myself in a small metal room, no bigger than eight by eight. The humming had gone, and the vibration had stopped. Both had been replaced by complete silence. I surprised myself by remaining completely calm. I had disappeared from the house I had lived in with Carl for almost twenty years, and ended up in something little more than a metal cell with no windows. And I wasn’t in the least bit scared.

There was light in the room, but no visible light source. No bulb, no light fitting. Then one of the walls slid down into the floor, revealing a corridor outside. I heard a voice, telling me “Come”. Not speech, it was in my head. For some reason, I knew where to go.

They were seated around what I knew was a control panel, and I smiled as I saw them. Four arms, not two like me, and hairless, earless heads that I found attractive to behold. Their presence confirmed what I had started to realise, and that was settled by the view through the huge screen at the front.

That voice in my head again. A language that was completely unfamiliar, yet I understood it instinctively. “You will soon be able to change back. The technicians on board will arrange that. Then you will have so much to tell us”.

Swirling yellow mists danced over the surface of a neon-green planet in the distance. It looked so close, but I knew it was still a human lifetime away.

After forty years on Earth, I was finally going home.