60 Feet Under

Some time ago, I sent Shaily a first line suggestion for a fictional short story. She had a great idea for using it, and produced an outstanding story.

Short Stories | Fish-eye Perspective

Author’s note: This is short story based on the first line suggested by Beetleypete.

It was so hot there, much hotter than I could ever have imagined it would be. I had always expected it to be cool below the surface since the desert sun couldn’t get to you. But apparently, I was wrong.

It was stifling hot and suffocating, even though, I didn’t need to breath anymore. The casket I was lying in was rather stuffy. May be a walk in the tomb would help.

It was just as dark outside. There was no way of knowing whether it was day or night. Who would want to live for eternity stuck in a hole where you could see neither the sun, nor the moon and stars. Not that I needed light to see. My eyes adjusted to the dark just fine but it didn’t take away the…

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A Little Help!

Shaily is trying her hand at First Line Fiction short stories. Please send her your first line!

Short Stories | Fish-eye Perspective

Hi friends,

I am going through a writer’s block regarding stories. Please send me the first line for a story, so I can build on it–any thing mundane or crazy would do.

I am picking this idea from Pete, who is by far, my favourite short story writer.

Thanks for the help in advance.

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First Line Fiction (20)

The first line for this fictional short story was sent to me by American blogger, Christina.
You can find her blog at https://webbblogscom.wordpress.com/

As he lay in the hospital bed he thought to himself, ‘should I tell this woman I have no idea who she is, or let the doctors explain I have amnesia?’

They had told him his name was Edward John Fuller. It said so on his driving licence. The police had given his date of birth too, making him fifty-two years old. Hit by a bus as he walked across the road, the large wing mirror striking the side of his head, according to the paramedics. Unconscious for three days, and then woke up remembering nothing.

It felt very strange to have no memories. He could not recall his childhood, what he did for a living, being married, and having a daughter who was twenty-six years old. When they showed him his face in the mirror it was the face of a stranger. Thinning hair, grey at the temples, deep lines either side of his nose running down to the corners of his mouth. Not a handsome face, not the face Edward would have liked to have seen.

He looked under the bedclothes when they had left him alone, lifting the hospital gown to examine the unfamilar body. Heavy thighs, slack skin around his navel. He felt as if he was inhabiting an alien form, and didn’t like what he saw.

There was a memory. A woman crying, being comforted by a younger woman with long hair in a plait. But that memory was only from ysterday, when he had woken up on what felt like the first day of his life. The women left, both in tears. A smiling nurse told him it was his wife and daughter. “Sarah and Melanie, do you remember them, Edward?

Silly question he had thought, but didn’t say that.

Now she was back. The older one, Sarah. She was holding his hand, and showing him photos in an album. A wedding, someone standing next to her in a smart suit. A younger man holding a baby. The same man lifting a toddler from a swing. She was saying it was him. “Look, Ed. Here you are holding Mel, you must remember her”.

Staring at the stranger, her face a picture of concern and stress, he felt no emotion. But he was confused. How did he know he was in a hospital? How did he even know what a hospital was? What a nurse was? He understood what they said when they spoke to him. He drank the drinks they offered him, and ate the food provided. All of that was familiar, though he could not recall a single moment of his life before he had woken up in that bed.

Deciding not to tell her, and to say nothing at all, he closed his eyes. If he did that for long enough, this Sarah woman might go away, leave him in peace to think. Thinking was good. It gave him options.

The first option was to say he knew her. Go home to a house he had never seen, and live with a woman he didn’t know. Sleep in a bed with a stranger, and pretend to be a father to a daughter he had no knowledge of. There must be some kind of job he had to go back to as well, maybe a good career. Both the women were well-dressed, and he had been told there was a lot of money in his wallet, as well as numerous credit cards. He was wondering why he remembered things like jobs, then realised he wouldn’t have a clue how to do whatever it was he had done before.

Alternatively, he could choose option two. Refuse to acknowledge this woman, decline to go home with her as the nurse had suggested. Walk out into the world with just a name, and no past. Start life from day one, in an unfamiliar world. Learn whatever he needed to know all over again, hopefully make different choices in life.

When he opened his eyes, she had gone.

And he had chosen option two.

First Line Fiction (19)

This is the first line of a fictional short story. It was sent to me by the English author, blogger, and actor, Jon Risdon.
You can discover more about Jon at https://wilfredbooks.wordpress.com/

“As the full moon set in the West, and the sun rose in the East……..”
Albert was nervous. The corporal next to him banged out his spent pipe on the board lining the trench, and shook his head. “Now the sun will be in our faces, lad. If they come over this morning just fire your rifle straight in front of you and hope you hit something”.

There had been no chance of sleep the night before. The shelling had made Albert shiver as if he was cold, and the screams of those hit along the trench made him put his hands over his ears. When the wire party came back just before first light, their blackened faces lined with trails of sweat, Sergeant Wellbeloved had ordered the stand to. “They might come, they might not, but we will be ready if they do”.

Not for the first time, Albert was regretting lying about his age to get into the regiment. It had seemed so much fun at first. Lining up outside the Town Hall, the band playing, women and old men cheering them as they filed in to enlist. The older lads from the same street had already gone back in fourteen, many never to return. But he hadn’t thought about them as he puffed out his chest, and pulled his cap down over his youthful, unshaven face.

Training camp had been out near the racecourse. Sharing tents, using trenches as latrines, eating food cooked for you in metal mess-tins. Lots of marching around holding long sticks, no rifles until you were ready. Bayonet practice against straw dummies, drill-instructors screaming like banshees. It felt like fun, like the best game ever.

Next came the rifles. Heavy to hold for a teenage boy, and they had a kick against your shoulder when you fired them on the range. More shouting from the instructors. “My old mum could shoot better than you, boy. Concentrate! You won’t get a second chance from those Jerries. Try again. Five more rounds, rapid-fire!” He got used to it eventually, working the bolt so fast it made his wrist ache. But the regular good food and open air exercise built him up.

He was ready.

They marched through the town to the train. The Mayor stood there in his robe and chain of office, waving his feathered hat at them from the Town Hall balcony. The knapsack rubbed his shoulders through the rough new material of his uniform, but Albert didn’t care. He had never felt so strong and proud before. Mum came to wave to him, but he couldn’t see her face in the large crowd of cheering people, with small kids running alongside, laughing and mimcking their marching.

The regimental band played Tipperary as they boarded the train.

Crossing The Channel was a bad memory. Hours of sea-sickness until they saw the coast, then hours more waiting their turn to dock. Three days in camp at Etaples. Albert had never seen so many men, or so much supplies. He was sure once all that got to the front, those Jerries would take one look and go running back to Berlin.

Then they came round calling out names. Replacements to be moved to the front to make up the gaps of those killed and wounded. He was in the second battalion, and they soon got to him. “Albert Greasley!” He stepped forward and followed the others to a lorry in a long line. On the bouncing boards they had to sit on, everyone laughed about how soon they would have the Jerries beat. They smoked, played around, showed photos of wives and sweethearts if they had them.

Someone woke him up, his face sore from banging against the metal hoop holding the canvas. It was dark, and the lights of flares showed nearby. He had to follow a corporal along a trench, trying hard to keep up on the slippery duckboards covered in mud. The stink was terrible too. Sweat, unwashed soldiers, tobacco smoke, and trench latrines that you had to be careful not to step in. Then he was standing next to the corporal and the shelling started.

Sergeant Wellbeloved was yelling, snapping Albert out of his reverie. “Here they come! Shoot straight boys!”

Captain Alastair Cardew was writing the last of many letters he had spent all night on. He swallowed a large glass of port, and squinted at the page, his dugout lit only by two tallow candles.

Dear Mrs Greasley,
You will know by now the sad news that your son Albert was killed in action yesterday morning. It might comfort you to know that he was with his comrades at the end, and did not suffer. He was a popular lad in the batallion, and died bravely fighting for his King and country. I was his company commander, and felt it only right and proper to write to you in person.
With deepest respect, A. Cardew. (Capt.)

First Line Fiction (18)

This is the last one of the first lines sent to me by blogging friends. The first line of this fictional short story was suggest by Chuq, who blogs at https://lobotero.com/ and resides in the American state of Mississippi.

”Durell awoke knowing that today was both an end and a beginning”.

By any reckoning, Edward Durell Jr had enjoyed an easy war. Like many others, he had been inclined to volunteer almost immediately after Pearl Harbour. However, after going to see his superiors at the FBI field office in Los Angeles they had told him that wasn’t going to happen. “You will be needed at home, Eddy. Don’t forget about the fifth column, the presence of spies, as well as the routine work that won’t go away even though there’s a war on. You can forget the military, and do good work right here”.

At least Pam was happy. That meant the wedding could go ahead as planned next summer, and they could move into the nice apartment she kept talking about.

And his boss had been proved right, of course. Federal Agents were busier than ever, as paranoia swept the country. In a land made up of immigrants from almost every named country on Earth, there were enough people of Japanese, Italian, and German background to keep a check on. Then there was the German-American Bund, a large organisation of Nazi sympathisers that had been around long before the outbreak of war.

At first, Durell found himself transferred to the group dealing with the many Japanese-Americans who had settled around Long Beach. Most were going to be interned in special camps, and the FBI was involved in going through their records to find names to put to the top of the list for internment. Regular procedures were quickly abandoned, and no-warrant wire taps and covert searches became the norm.

Pam got the wedding she wanted in forty-two, and even though the apartment she had set her heart on had gone, she found something better. A two-bed house with a small shared yard at the back. “Perfect for when little Jimmy comes along, honey”. She was sure it would be a boy when it came, and wanted to name him after her idol, Jimmy Stewart. She was less pleased about Eddy never being home. Federal work didn’t have regular hours, or a fixed office. During those next two years, Eddy was away more than he was at home.

But he was home long enough for little James Stewart Durell to appear in the spring of forty-four.

Late that same year, he was called in, and told he was going to be reassigned. “Top secret, Durell. New Mexico, all you need to know for now. We are running a close security team over there, very hush-hush”. Pam didn’t take the news well. Nine hundred miles away, and no home leave. The length of the posting was indeterminate too.

He hugged her and the baby the morning he left, but he was unable to stop her crying.

Thousands of soldiers were dying every day in Normandy, and all across the Pacific theatre. He told Pam she should be grateful that he was a very long way from combat. They parted on bad terms, and that niggled him.

The place was hot, no better than a desert. The director insisted that they always wore a suit and tie, and that made it even worse. Then there was the accomodation. Shared trailers that felt like ovens most of the time, with the small fans offering little relief from the heat. Eddy used to look forward to night shifts outside, when the desert temperatures cooled down, and the skies were clear and wonderful.

Fortunately, it was a big setup, so he was able to call Pam once a week. She continued to complain. Little Jimmy was missing his dad, and so was she. When would he come home? It was hard not to get angry with her. That same week in July hundreds of US troops had been killed or wounded in the Pacific, and he was safe in America. He just about stopped himself from shouting at her. But he told her it would all be over soon.

He couldn’t tell her how he knew that, just that he knew it. The tests in New Mexico had worked well, but he was sworn to secrecy, and he was an FBI man through and through.

Then the news came to them in Los Alamos. On August 6th and 9th, the atomic bombs tested in New Mexico had been dropped on Japan.

It was really all over. Eddy could go home at last.

But that morning of his departure, he woke up knowing that the end of one thing was the beginning of another.

And he was scared for little Jimmy Stewart Durell.

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.

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.

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.

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”.