Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

This is a fictional short story, in 1360 words. It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Sue suggested it might be something I could write about.

George was excited. He had bought a new suit for the interview, and checked out his travel plans. One train to the necessary station, around forty minutes. Say fifteen minutes to walk to the industrial estate, and that was fifty-five minutes. He would allow ninety-five minutes from home, just to make sure. Caroline was very excited. The prospect of a new job for her husband was a joy. After George had been made redundant late last year, things were manageable, but tough. She was so supportive, and he really appreciated her bringing in the money from her job at the local Council. She had been the driving force. Finding jobs online, helping him update his CV, and constantly boosting him up. Always so positive.

They just about managed the mortgage and bills, but holiday plans had been put on hold, and so had the decision to start a family. Caroline wanted nothing more than to have a baby, and George was totally on board with that too. But the unexpected news had put a hold on so many things in their life. He had been upset when they told his mother-in-law. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and George had felt personally responsible for the delay. Working in such a niche market was always going to be an issue. But Caroline had found the perfect job, even though it would mean a commute he wasn’t used to. She had helped with the updated CV, and even checked over his online application, suggesting various bullet points he should include.

The end result was success. His first interview since he lost his last job. They were both so happy, Caroline bought in a takeaway curry, to celebrate.

It seemed that the best idea was to book the train ticket online. They accepted lots of payment options, and they could send it to your email, or phone. George was impressed. He might even print out the ticket, just in case. Wouldn’t hurt to take a paper copy along. Just as well though, considering the local station no longer had any staff. The company had decided that there were not enough passengers to justify any station staff, let alone a ticket office. Besides, the tickets were either checked on the train, or at the destination. The prospect of random checks put off all but the most determined fare-dodgers. George was always going to buy a ticket. He would never even think to avoid paying the fare.

Caroline helped him to chose the suit. Smart, modern, but not excessively flash. Just the right look, for that sort of company. She put it on her credit card. A month before they had to pay, and he would have his first salary by then. They were sure of that. The night before, they went through his references, as well as all of his qualification certificates, and packed them in a very sensible business case. It would look like a shoulder bag, but nothing too casual. He slipped in his notebook computer, fully charged, just in case he needed to check anything on the way.

The weather forecast was for a sunny and bright day. Not cold, not too warm. So no coat would be required, and his transition lenses in the spectacles would cope. No need to consider separate sunglasses. One less thing to worry about. That night, he cuddled Caroline close to him in bed. George had to confess that he was quite excited about taking a train. For the last twelve years, he had driven to work. But losing the company car had made that impossible. They could only run one car on what they had to spend, and Caroline needed that for her job, as well as getting the shopping, and going to see her mum. He wouldn’t mind at all. He would be a commuter. A happy commuter too.

He didn’t get much sleep. Long before the alarm was due to go off, he was already in the shower, his clothes laid out in the spare room, so as not to disturb his wife too early. George shaved carefully, then did his hair just so. The crisp new shirt felt stiff as he dressed, but in a good way. By the time Caroline had stirred, he was dressed and ready, with two coffees already drunk. He was far too nervous to eat, so would save his appetite for the celebration meal later. Caroline was still in her dressing gown, when she kissed him goodbye. As he walked along the path smiling back at her, she called out. “Love you, honey. Text me with the good news”.

The station was a lot quieter than he had expected. There were only five other people on the platform, and George sat down on a metal bench. He leaned forward, more perching than sitting, unwilling to crease that immaculate new suit more than necessary. After five minutes, he took out his phone, and sent Caroline a text message. ‘Here in plenty of time. Far too early for my train. Better early than late! Love you, my darling xx’.

The next train came in, and he let it go without getting on it. No point being ridiculously early. He would just end up wandering around a soulless industrial estate, with nothing to do. He checked the time on his phone, and decided to wait for the next one. That would still leave him with more than enough time. If anything, he would still be too early. It seemed to be a long time coming. The platform opposite was filling up with people. He had no idea where they were going, but after a while, he started to get worried about his own train. Twenty-five minutes later, and he was getting genuinely concerned. Trains came and went on the other side, but there was nothing arriving where George sat, and as he got nearer to the time of his interview, he started to panic. There was nobody around to ask, and now there wasn’t even anyone across the tracks, waiting on the opposite platform. He decided to ring the company, and explain.

The girl was rather formal, but ready to accept his excuse that there was a problem with the trains. “I haven’t heard about any rail difficulties this morning, Mr Collier, but if you can get here by eleven-thirty, someone will see you. Later than that, and you will be too late, I’m afraid”. George thanked her profusely, and assured her he must surely be there by then. But that was less than an hour later, and allowing for the journey, even if he got a taxi at the other end, it was cutting it fine. Tired of pacing, he sat down on the bench again. Ten minutes went by, and he started to feel hot and uncomfortable in his new suit. He was relieved when two men walked onto the platform, one carrying a large paper cup of coffee. He stood up, and approached the man holding the cup. “Excuse me, do you have any idea when the next train to Swindon is due? I have been waiting ages since the last one”. He tried to subdue the panic in his voice.

The man looked surprised. “Swindon?” You are on the westbound platform, the Down Line. You need to go over there and get an eastbound train, on the Up Line”. George looked confused. Had he really been standing on the wrong side all this time? The coffee man seemed to know his stuff, so George pressed him. “I don’t suppose you know when the next Swindon train is due in over that side, do you? The man checked his watch. “Not for another twenty minutes. That will get you there just before twelve”. George nodded his thanks. He was starting to feel sick. Sitting back down on the bench, he took out his phone again, selecting Text Message from the menu.

But he had no idea what to say to Caroline in that text.

Photo Prompt Story: The Shady Corner

This is a short story, in 1340 words. It was prompted by this photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.
https://suejudd.com/

Emiliano stopped to take off his straw hat, and wiped his head with a large handkerchief. The bags he was carrying were not so heavy, but it was a hot afternoon, and he wasn’t getting any younger. It was another twenty minutes before he got home, and Conchita was sitting outside on a chair, shaking her head as she watched him walk up the hill. He dropped the bags by the entrance, and she turned to him with a resigned look on her face. “Look at the state of you, hot and bothered. I bet you walked the long way again, didn’t you? Stupid man, with your silly superstitions”.

Pointing to the corner, she indicated the small shop with the coloured umbrellas outside, just a few yards away. “You should go that way, past Pablo’s shop. But no, you always have to go the long way. People laugh at you, you know. It’s embarrassing for me. They mutter as I walk past, or speak in the queue behind me at the market. I bet they are saying that I am the wife of stupid Emiliano, the grown man scared of a small shady street”. He ignored her nagging. He was used to it, after fifty years of marriage. Picking up the bags, he trudged up the stairs to their apartment on the second floor. He would have himself a cold beer, standing on the balcony. Get some breeze, if there was any.

Sipping the beer on his tiny balcony, Emiliano turned away from the corner closest to his home, and stared down the hill in the direction he had just walked. Let them laugh, he didn’t care. He knew better.

More than fifty years earlier, the town looked much the same as it did now. Pablo’s father had run the small shop back then, before an electronic cash register replaced the old wooden box Mr Rodriguez kept under the counter, and all the fruit and vegetables stacked outside were now kept in cardboard boxes. It was the summer before he and Manolo were due to report for military service. A hot summer, one that seemed to drive Manolo crazier than usual.

His best friend appeared to be trying to do everything, before the two years they would be away in the army. He had tried to persuade Emiliano to accompany him to the town of Santa Anna, so they could pay a prostitute, and lose their virginity. But he had no money for such things, and he was too scared that his mother might find out. Instead, Manolo went to see Dona Martina, waiting for her as she returned from her outhouse. She wasn’t called ‘the friendly widow’ for nothing, and she eagerly accommodated the wishes of the excitable young man.

He came to tell Emiliano about his newly-confirmed manhood, boasting as they wandered down the street. “I’m sure I was the best lover that old lady has ever known”. He slapped his friend’s back, before beginning the story all over again. Right from the part where he hissed to her from his hiding place behind her house, and she smiled her welcome.

As they approached the shady corner just beyond Mr Rodriguez’s shop, Manolo suddenly turned, grabbing some fruit from the stand outside. Now old man Rodriguez was a tolerant soul, and knew everyone in their small town. But he didn’t tolerate theft. If Manolo had asked for the fruit, he would have probably have given it to him. But when he saw the loudmouth just take it and carry on walking, he ran out from his shop, shouting angrily. Emiliano stopped still, eager to tell the shopkeeper he had done nothing. But his headstrong friend ran off into the shade laughing, and flinging the fruit away as he ran. Mr Rodriguez gave chase, but he was a fat man, and not used to running. They both disappeared into the darkness around the corner, leaving Emiliano wondering what he should do.

He waited in the hot sun for what seemed like ages, before venturing around the shady corner, into the familiar street. It wasn’t a long street, giving way to the road out of town in just a few hundred yards. It felt unusually cold that day, and even allowing for the shade, the small street should still have been stifling. And it was deserted too. No shoppers, nobody just strolling, every house and apartment shuttered for the coming siesta. Neither of them could be seen. Hard to imagine that the corpulent shopkeeper would have carried on running until the main road in those temperatures, and Manolo would have easily left him behind, long before that.

They were never seen again. The police were alerted, and concluded that Manolo must have done some mischief to the older man, then run away after hiding the body. Despite the frantic appeals of both families, only a rudimentary search was conducted, and the case left unsolved. Mrs Rodriguez had to tell Pablo to finish High School early, so he could run the shop. And when he went into the military, her cousin came down from Garancha to help her. Emiliano searched high and low for his friend. He covered the whole district, right up until the time he had to report for his army service.

After that two years was up, he returned to the town, and was introduced to Conchita by his uncle. It seemed the thing to do, to marry the girl, and he got a decent job at the brick works outside the town, working in the office. So he rented the apartment where they still lived to this day, and they had the church wedding that was expected.

No children came. She blamed him, but back then, nobody went for tests. Instead, Conchita sought the advice of busybodies, old women who sold her foul remedies. None of them worked, so she continued to blame him, and he ignored her, as he had become used to doing. He worked at his job, and she kept the house. But he never once set foot in that shady corner again, or the street beyond. After he retired, they hardly spoke any more, and Conchita seemed to delight in mocking him at every opportunity. So many wasted years, and never a mention of his close friend, or old man Rodriguez.

Emiliano finished his beer, and stood up. Putting on the bright blue baseball cap that his wife hated, and a light jacket, he went downstairs and walked past her without a word. Gathering speed, he turned into the shady corner, and walked into the street without hesitating. It was cool, just as he remembered. And there was nobody around, the houses shuttered and silent. He set a good pace, and was soon approaching the junction with the main road. His heart skipped a beat as he saw Manolo waving to him from the end of the shady thoroughfare. He was smiling, young and fit, carrying a small suitcase in his left hand. He shouted, “Come on, Emiliano, we will miss the bus for the army”.

Looking down, Emiliano recognised his own clothing from decades earlier, and the small suitcase that his mother had packed for him. He walked to meet his friend, and they grasped hands. Manolo turned, hearing a throaty engine sound. “Here comes the coach. We will soon be soldiers, my friend. Let’s promise to try to stick together, yes?” He nodded, and they climbed onto the waiting single-deck bus. He would do his service once again, this time with his best friend. And when he came home, he would tell his uncle that he didn’t want to marry Conchita.

They sent young Rosa to get Conchita from her chair. The girl grabbed her hand, leading her around the shady corner. Halfway down the street, some people were standing around the lifeless body of Emiliano. He was lying on his back, still wearing that silly blue cap.

And he was smiling.

Ho Ho Ho

This is a work of fiction. A short story, in 990 words.

Derek reached for the remote, and switched off the TV. It was starting earlier every year; the advertising for toys, Christmas food, special offers, and must-have gifts. Even the few stations that didn’t carry advertising still had countless previews of Christmas special programmes that were sure to entertain families over the long festive season. He decided to feed Henry instead, and slid the seed hopper out of the budgerigar’s cage. Henry signaled his excitement by banging the mirror with his beak, and cheeped loudly as the food appeared.

Up early as usual, Derek took his daily walk along the local High Street. The huge tree hadn’t been put up yet, but there was a sign advertising the switch on of the lights, in two week’s time. Despite that, the shops were already festooned with decorations, and all of them had the usual Christmas tat placed prominently on display. Some of the staff were even wearing Santa hats, and tired Christmas pop songs played on loops around the stores. He walked around the aisles, selecting what he would eat that night, and picking up things before putting them back down. Anything to make his time outside the house last longer. At the checkout, he was asked what he was doing for Christmas. Always polite, he smiled at the young woman. “Oh, just the usual”.

But it would not be the usual of course, he knew that. Ever since Mum had died, it never seemed the same. No point putting up the decorations, or the small white artificial tree. Nobody to buy a present for, or to watch those not so special TV specials with. And as for cooking a turkey, it hardly seemed worth it for one person. Even when Mum was around, the meat from it had been too much. Cold turkey and chips on Boxing Day, turkey sandwiches for lunch until the 29th, then turkey soup made from the carcass, always on New Year’s Eve. Until she died in 1990, Aunt Alice would join them for the Christmas meal. Derek had to go and pick her up in his car, and she insisted on going home straight after the mince pies had been served. By the time he got back, Mum would be asleep in her recliner chair, and he would roll up his sleeves, and face the mountain of washing up in the kitchen.

Not that he minded that of course. He had never known his Dad, and never met a girl who liked him enough to accept his offer of a date. Life with Mum was easy, and even easier to stay with, as he grew into old age himself. When he got a computer, Mum thought it was a waste of money. Maybe she was right, as he didn’t need it for work, and soon became bored with surfing the net. But then he heard about online dating, using clubs where people like him met. He set up a profile, and used a photo taken on his ancient mobile phone. The phone that had never once received a text message, or been used to make a call. It still had the same twenty-pounds of credit that he had put on it when he bought it. Derek had paid his membership fee, and been pleasantly surprised by how many women of similar age and interests had been on the site. He admired the photos of many of them, and sent contact requests to the six that he liked the best. But nothing happened. None of them ever replied, or even gave a thumbs up to his profile picture. When his annual contract expired, he didn’t bother to renew it. A few weeks later, he cancelled the broadband contract, boxed up the computer, and put it in the loft. As Mum watched him walking up the ladder, she grinned. “Best place for it. Stupid thing”.

Christmas Eve was hectic on the High Street, as usual. People barged into him as they tried to navigate the crowded pavements clutching bulging bags containing food or last-minute gifts. Derek’s bag was empty, by comparison. It contained a DVD of a western film, something to watch tomorrow, instead of all the rubbish that would be on TV. And a shepherd’s pie that could be microwaved, which would do him for dinner. He had also bought a strip of millet to push through the bars of Henry’s cage. The only nod to the festive season that surrounded him at every turn. A new cuttlefish bone had also been picked up in the Pet Shop. But the one already in the cage wasn’t that old, so he had put that back on the shelf.

On the morning of the 25th, Derek rose early, and got ready to go out. He always loved that quiet walk along the High Street, on the only day that all the shops were closed. Wandering along deserted pavements, enjoying the strange freedom of no crowds, he could see that not all the shops were shut up that day. Mr Ali’s newsagent’s was open as usual, and the Turkish Barber had his sign out. Looking through the window, he spotted Mustapha lounging in one of his own barber chairs, reading a foreign newspaper. Maybe he knew he was getting customers later. Or perhaps he had never worked out that nobody ever got their hair cut on Christmas Day. At the end of the shopping street, he turned for home, and nodded to the man opening up the door of the Chinese Takeaway. Could be he also knew something Derek didn’t, that some customers would still want a Chinese meal, even on that day.

Hanging up his coat, he put the pie in the fridge, and opened the packet of millet. Walking to the cage with a smile, he mumbled, “Here you go, Henry. Happy Christmas”.

But the bright blue bird was at the bottom of its cage, legs in the air.

Mister Wilfred: A Story For Children

This is a fictional short story, in 1475 words. It is my first attempt at a story for children. I have never had any children, so I hope it works. 🙂

Daniel and Tommy were best friends. They sat next to each other in school, and played together every day in the holidays. If one climbed a tree, the other would follow, and when Daniel learned to ride a bike, he helped Tommy when he got his. Every day when they rode home from school, they would always stop at the old house, the one with the driveway that was overgrown, and the funny windows sticking out from the roof.

“I think a vampire lives in that house. It looks dark, and the curtains are always closed”. Said Daniel. Tommy shook his head. “I think it’s not a vampire, but some other sort of monster. Maybe a demon”. Daniel thought about it for a while. “Well I say a vampire”. They rode off together, one shouting “Demon”, the other “Vampire”.

On Saturday, the boys filled their water flasks, and packed cereal bars into their pockets. It was going to be a long day, out riding in the woods, and around the lake. They tried to jump their bikes over logs, and fell about laughing when they crashed. Around the lake, they raced each other, building up great speeds along the paved path. Out of breath, Tommy panted. “That was so fast, I reckon we were doing at least one hundred miles an hour”. Daniel nodded, his face red. “Easily”.

It was still too early to go home, so they just cycled around the familiar streets, left, left, and left again. When they stopped to drink from their flasks, Daniel turned to his friend, a wicked glint in his eye. “Let’s go to the old house, and see if we can see the vampire”. Tommy grinned. “It’s a demon, but I don’t think that now is a good time. Maybe next weekend”. Daniel stood over the crossbar, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you’re scared. Not a scaredy-cat double scaredy-cat?” Tommy set his jaw. “I’m not scared, it’s just that there’s not time before we have to go home”.

Daniel sat back on the bike, and began to pedal in circles around his friend. “Scaredy-cat, scaredy cat, I double-treble dare you”. Tommy swallowed hard. A double-treble dare was not something he could overlook. If he refused something as serious as that, it might never be forgotten. He glared at Daniel. “OK then, let’s go”. When they got to the driveway, Tommy rode straight in. He was very scared, but he knew if he stopped on the street outside, his courage would fail him. But when he was close to the dusty front door of the house, he turned to see that Daniel was still at the entrance to the driveway. Pleased with himself, Tommy shouted, “Now who’s the scaredy-cat?” His friend rode slowly to join him. “I was just adjusting the bike chain”. They both knew it was a lie, but let it go.

The house had all of its curtains closed. Two old planters stood either side of the door, both full of weeds. The gravel drive was overgrown too, and thick dirty white paint was peeling off the stonework, hanging down like old bark on a tree. Tommy turned. “What now? What shall we do now?” Daniel smiled. “Well knock of course. Get off your bike, and knock”. Tommy gulped. He didn’t want to do that, but was afraid of getting another double-treble dare. So he jumped off and ran to the door, lifting the heavy black iron knocker, and letting it down hard. The sound echoed through the inside of the house, and sounded like a thunderclap.

Nothing happened, and the boys smiled nervously at each other. No vampire answered, and no demon appeared. Daniel feigned bravery. “Shall we look round the back do you think, Tommy?” Just as Tommy was about to reply, the door opened with a creak of the rusty hinges. Without waiting to see who was there, the boys kicked up their pedals and started to ride away fast. But Tommy crashed into Daniel, and they both fell onto the gravel. Tommy looked up to see an old man standing over them. His shiny head was fringed with untidy white hair, and his chin and neck were combined into one, wobbling like a turkey. Daniel stepped over his bike, intending to run away and leave it there, but the old man smiled, and shook his head. “Have you boys hurt yourselves?” His voice was harsh, like the gravel Tommy was still lying on, but his tone was kind.

“Are you a demon?” Tommy asked. Daniel put his hands on his hips, and shouted. “I think you must be a vampire”. The old man lifted his head back, his neck wobbling even faster as he chuckled. “I am neither of those, boys. I am just Wilfred”. Tommy stood up, realising there was nothing to be afraid of. Closer now to Wilfred, he could see that the man’s eyes were milky and wet, his back bent, and his nose and ears very large. “You have got big ears like a demon” Tommy stated boldly. Wilfred looked down at the grazes on the legs of the boys, which were studded with gravel. “Come on in, and I will let you clean up your legs. I might even have some orange squash for you. No demons or vampires, that’s a promise”.

Daniel walked forward, refusing to show any fear. So Tommy followed him inside. The wide hallway led into a huge room. It had a bed, a table and chairs, and two armchairs, all crowded together in one corner. Pictures hung from the walls, covering every inch, and more were stored in photo frames, placed on every ledge, and any flat surface. Tommy looked over at Daniel and wrinkled his nose. There was a funny smell inside, like nothing he had ever smelled before. Wilfred pointed at the armchairs. “Sit yourselves down boys, I will just be a minute”. They sat down, and looked around. On a small table next to Tommy was a row of medals attached to coloured ribbons, and a faded old photo in a wooden frame. It was of a young man in uniform, probably an army uniform. A larger frame sat on the side table next to Daniel. It contained a wedding photo, also black and white. A smiling young girl, and the same man from the uniform photo.

Wilfred came back into the room, walking slowly and carefully. He was holding a tin bowl, and had a towel draped over his arm. He placed the bowl on the floor between the boys, and had some trouble straightening up. Reaching into the pocket of his crumpled jacket, he produced a dusty-looking bottle, handing it to Tommy. “That’s disinfectant. Wash your legs, then rub some on those grazes. It will sting a bit, mind”. As the boys did his bidding, he sat himself on a hard chair, resting his arm on the table. “So what did you boys want, anyway?” They looked at each other, then Tommy spoke. “We were looking to see if a vampire or demon lived here. It looks like a house where one of those would live”. Daniel pointed at the wedding photo. “Is this you, Mister Wilfred?”

“Yes that’s me, a very long time ago. I went off to the war soon after, and my wife died having our baby. The baby died too. Since then, I have been alone here”. He stared down at his unlaced shoes, lost in his memories for a moment. Then his head came up, and he was smiling. “So, no demons, and not a vampire in sight. Just a tired old man, in a house that’s too much to cope with. How about that squash now?” The boys nodded, and he shuffled off to get their drinks. As they gulped down the cold orange and water, Wilfred told them something about his life. He had won medals, but returned sad and unhappy. He had worked as long as he could, but now spent his days alone. The woman who came into clean and get his shopping was unreliable, and most days he never saw or spoke to anybody.

Tommy and Daniel exchanged a glance, and Tommy nodded.

As they set off on their bikes on the first day of the Easter holidays, Daniel’s Mum called from the front step. “Where are you two off to today?” Tommy turned and smiled. “We are going to see a demon”. The lady smiled, and shook her head. As they rode away, she heard her son shout. “Not a demon, a vampire!

And the boys laughed.

Let me know if you think this works a a story for children. Any criticism will be welcome, as this was just an experiment. Thanks, Pete. 🙂

The Big Dip

This is a work of fiction, a short story in 1550 words.

At the back of the park, just before you got to the trees at the edge, there was a big grass-covered depression in the ground. It was a long way from most things people went to the park to enjoy, like the swings and the slides, the boating lake, or the rose garden. Deep in the middle, with steep sides, it had been formed by a stray bomb, dropped by the Germans during the war. Nobody had ever bothered to fill it in, and the years since had shaped it; first filling some of it with mud, and allowing grass and weeds to line it later. If you sat inside it, you were out of sight of anyone looking across from the main path.

That made it very attractive to some people. Young lovers, smooching unseen, solitary readers with their sandwiches and flasks of tea, and many of the older children who lived nearby. The local kids called it the Big Dip, so that was what Terry called it too. In the summer holidays, they would play in and around it, rolling down the sides, then clambering back up to roll again and again, until they were too hot to roll anymore. And they invented a game based around the dip, a game that was very popular, one hot summer, a long time ago. Some of them would stand around the edge at the top, and others would roll down to the bottom. They would then have to try to get out of the dip, without being grabbed and pushed back in by those chosen to ‘catch’.

When it wasn’t raining, the game could last most of the day, with teams changing places constantly. Shoes would be scuffed, clothing ripped or pulled out of shape, and hot, sweaty children heading home worn out, after exerting themselves in the heat.

Secondary school had been a shock for Terry. Most of his old friends had gone to schools elsewhere, and he found himself in an unfamiliar place, with many other kids he hardly knew. Having to wear glasses made him stand out from most of the other eleven year-olds. The bigger boys called him four-eyes, and the unwanted nickname soon stuck. The girls teased him too, as his small frame made him look younger than everyone else. He stuck to his studies, and tried to ignore the jibes, but school days were unhappy for him, something that worried his parents a lot. Things got worse for him when Big Tony arrived at the school. His family had recently moved to the area, and he started in the class late that year. There were so many other boys called Tony, he soon became known as Big Tony. And he was big. Tall and heavy, looking years older than the others. He soon took advantage of his size, and became the leader of those boys who liked to think they were the bad boys; giving trouble to the teachers, stealing pocket-money from the weaker kids, and generally causing havoc around the school.

Once Big Tony noticed Terry, life got a lot harder. He would take his glasses, only giving them back in return for a chocolate bar, or what little money Terry had to buy a drink. Then he would get the others to circle around him in the playground, chanting “FOUR EYES” constantly. If the teachers noticed, they didn’t intervene. Things like that were all-too common at the time. Mum and Dad asked him how he was getting on, and said they were pleased with his school reports, and how well he was doing. But he never told them about the name-calling, or Big Tony. Deep down inside, Terry knew he would have to deal with that himself, or life would be unbearable. He had at least six more years at that school, and if it carried on, he knew he wouldn’t make it.

It wasn’t a conscious decision. Not as if he had said to himself, ‘Today’s the day’. It was just another day at school, that happened to be a Friday. During the lunchtime break, Big Tony sought Terry out. He was hiding close to the bin store, sitting eating a sandwich Mum had made. The shadow gave Tony away as he approached. “Hey, four-eyes, what you got in that sandwich?” He sounded unusually friendly. Terry looked up. “Corned Beef”. The paw-like hand reached down. “Give it here. I like corned beef”. The rest of the gang had arrived, standing behind Tony, smiling. Terry didn’t know why he said what he did. It just came out. “No”. The big hand grabbed the half of sandwich anyway, and Tony stuffed it into his mouth, swirled it around, and spat it back out onto the tarmac. “Here, you can have it back. It tasted like crap anyway”. The gang roared with laughter, and Tony turned to walk away, grinning like an ape.

Terry was up on his feet in a flash, running hard after the big boy. Extending both arms, he crashed into Tony, who fell forward heavily, hitting the surface hard. The rest of the gang stepped back, unsure what had just happened. Terry was breathing hard, looking down at the heavy frame of Tony, wondering what would happen next. But he just rolled over, smiling. “So you want to fight, do you? Well, not here, not with teachers around. I will meet you in the Big Dip after school. Make sure you turn up, or I will come after you and find you”. The afternoon classes were a blur. All he could think about was having to go to the Big Dip, and knowing inside his heart that he would have to do it. Not going was not an option, not if he ever wanted to go back to school on Monday.

By the time he got to the other side of the park after school, a crowd had already gathered on the edge of the Big Dip. All of Tony’s gang, and some stupid giggly girls who had nothing better to do. Terry put down his school bag, and took off his glasses, ignoring the shouts and jeers of the others. He looked down into the space below, where Tony was standing. He had taken off his jacket, and was exchanging nonsense comments with some of the kids up around the edge. Catching sight of Terry, the bigger boy called up to him. “Right, take off your coat. It’s a fair fight, no kicking. OK?” As he slipped off his blazer, Terry nodded. He walked sideways down the slope, to avoid falling. That few feet felt like the longest walk he had ever taken. Standing opposite Tony, he got a foreboding sense of their size difference, but copied the stance that the other boy took, raising his fists like a boxer.

He never even saw the first punch, but it knocked him on his back, and brought unexpected tears to his eyes. Scrabbling back up quickly, the laughter of the others loud in his ears, he rushed forward and landed a punch in Tony’s belly. It seemed to have no effect, and a second punch hit the side of Terry’s head, easily knocking him to the ground once more. The cheering from the kids made him angry, so he jumped up and went in again, fists flailing with no direction, most punches finding only thin air. The next blow that landed hit him squarely on the nose, making him dizzy, and causing his eyes to fill with more tears. He was on his back again, but this time he was unable to get back up. as his head was refusing to lift off the grass, and his vision would not focus at all. And something was running down his face, into his mouth. He could taste it. Blood.

Tony loomed over him, and he expected a battering, with the big boy eager to finish him off. Instead, he felt his hands grasped inside larger ones, and was pulled to his feet. Tony looked him in the eye, and slowly extended a hand. “That was a fair fight, four-eyes, and you lost. That’s enough now. Let’s shake on it, OK?” Terry put his hand inside the one offered, and it was shaken vigorously and theatrically. The other kids were quiet now, and as Tony helped him up out of the Big Dip, one handed him his blazer. Another picked up his glasses and school bag, and passed them over.
Back home, he told Mum he had fallen over in the playground. Dad got home from work later, and smiled when he heard Mum tell him what had happened. He winked at his son, and placed a finger on his lips.

After that Friday at the Big Dip. Nobody ever bothered him at school again.

The sound of rumbling shook Terry from his thoughts. Three boys were going past the bench on skateboards, heading for the new skate-boarding park over his shoulder. He hadn’t known that they had made that in the park, when he had come back to relive that childhood memory. As the clattering and crashing up and down the slopes began in earnest, he got up from the bench and started to walk back to the car park.

Nobody would ever call it the Big Dip again.

The Second Coming

This is a work of fiction, a short story in 1475 words.

Jason had always known he was the Son of God. His mother had told him so, as soon as he was old enough to understand. She had explained it well, covering so many questions he had started to ask. Like, “Mummy, why don’t I have a Daddy?” It was obvious of course. He didn’t need a Daddy, because God was his father, and had bestowed him upon his mother by ‘Immaculate Means’. He wasn’t sure what those means were, but it settled his mind. He wrote it down on a piece of paper, with Mum telling him how to spell it. Then he folded the paper, and put it into his copy of The Bible, which had been a present for his seventh birthday. When he had opened the wrapping paper, he tried to hide his disappointment that it wasn’t a Lego set. Then Mum had stroked the book, just like you stroke a friendly cat. She looked at him with a warm smile.
“This is your family history, Jason darling. Treasure it, and learn it”.

One of the boys at school had asked him about his Dad, and when he told him it was God, the boy had laughed. Jason pushed him over, and he hit his head on a railing. Mum had to come to the school to take him home, and she was very quiet. As they were walking back from the bus stop, she leaned over and spoke quietly. “Never tell anyone about your father again. They will mock you, call you mad. Just as they did all that time ago, with your brother Jesus”. He had nodded, crossing his heart as he did so. That afternoon in their small house, she had given him two jam tarts, and a glass of milk. As he ate, she stroked his hair, and talked softly. “Your time will come. When you are older, the truth will be revealed, and you will be hailed as The Saviour, The Second Coming of Christ”. That sounded good to him, even though he didn’t know what a saviour was.

It was never going to be easy to make friends when you are the son of God. And especially hard at school when you always had to be kind to your fellow man, respect your elders, and turn the other cheek. So Jason was bullied, even by the younger boys. Being out after school, or off for the holidays was no relief. Any time he ventured outside alone, the bullies appeared. When he told Mum, she just smiled. “You must rise above them, show no retaliation. You know that your time will come, and those people will be in awe of you, bow down to you, and thank you for saving them”.

In his teens, Jason grew tall and strong. That seemed to make everyone avoid him, presumably in case he changed his mind about that other cheek stuff. One day, he asked Mum why they never went to church. She laughed out loud. “Bless you, darling. Why would we go to church, to worship your own father and brother? Let the rest go and do that, as one day they will be in those churches worshipping you”. Unlike other families, they had no need of a television, not even a radio. Mum explained that they were the devices of man, and that man was essentially evil. Instead, they read The Bible, discussed Jason’s future exploits as the new Son of God, and went to bed early. Very early. And whenever he tried to talk to Mum about his school books, she shook her head. “Don’t concern yourself with those. Do what you must do to fit in, but don’t bother with those vain works of wicked men. One day soon, they will all be as dust, and everything in them will be proved wrong. You are the one who will reveal this, so you have no need to bow down to the feeble writings of others”. She would fetch The Bible, and hold it out in front of her. “This is the only teaching you need”.

His sexual awakening had been very difficult. He had started to notice Sharon Walker at school, and it made him feel very strange when he thought about her. There had been biology lessons of course, but he had deliberately shut out as much of those as he could. So he told Mum about Sharon, and the funny feelings. She smiled, and patted his head. “Put them from your mind, son. You have no need of young sluts and whores to make your life fulfilled, and no need of physical contact to procreate. You are above that, something much more than human. Leave that to the ignorant, the lustful, the beasts that are men”. He had thanked her for that, and then went upstairs to look up ‘Procreate’ in his dictionary.

Mum got him a job at the factory where she worked. He had sat the exams at the end of school, but it was a pointless exercise, as he had deliberately learned very little. She told him that the factory work was honest work, and his job in life was to wait to be called to his destiny, not to worry about promotions, more money, or the actions of his peers. “Shut out the routine. Embrace the boredom. Put the batteries into the boxes, and those boxes into the cartons. This is all temporary, for one day soon it will all be meaningless. You will rise up, and take all the righteous with you, to the house of your father”. He was tempted to ask that if that was the case, why did they do overtime on Saturdays? But he decided against it.

So they stayed at the factory, and he wanted so badly to ask her how much longer it would be until everyone worshipped him. But he didn’t want to upset her. They lived frugally, ate healthily, and by the time he was almost thirty, he knew The Bible so well, he could recognise any passage, no matter how small, or obscure. Mum wasn’t so well. First of all, she went part-time at the factory, and rested for two days a week. Then she told him she was too sick to carry on working, and he would have to work overtime on Sundays too, to make up for the loss of her wages. Jason looked after her as well as he could, but he had to be out of the house for over eighty hours a week, and usually felt very tired himself. One morning, he couldn’t wake her up to say goodbye before he left. He could see she was dead, but he didn’t bother to get any help. She would be in his father’s house, waiting for him. He wasn’t concerned or upset, but he asked if he could leave early that day, as he had to go to the undertaker to tell them his Mum had died. His boss looked at him strangely. “Take a few days off, Jason. Get things sorted”.

Now Mum was gone, he could at least get a dog. She would never allow any pets in the house, considering them to be ‘unclean’. He went to the animal shelter, and adopted a tiny scruffy dog. It was called Jack, but he changed its name to Nipper. When they let him collect him two days later, he took along a bright red lead, and took him for a long walk in the park. He explained things to the dog as they walked. “The thing is, Nipper, it won’t mean much to you, but I am the Son of God. That means that any day now, I might be called upon to save the world. But I will make sure to leave you food and water, and the back door will be ajar. If I have to go to my destiny, someone will look after you, I’m sure”. The dog looked at him, wondering what this new person would be like. He sniffed the hand placed on his muzzle. Good enough.

On Jason’s forty-fifth birthday, he took the day off. Nipper was very old now, and not getting around at all well. He was asleep most of the time too. It didn’t seem right to leave him alone in the house today, not when he looked like he wasn’t long for this world. He stroked his little companion, feeling the deep sighs in the dog’s chest. To calm Nipper, he told him the story of his life all over again, and how wonderful things would be when he finally saved everyone. The dog’s head was in his lap, the cloudy eyes looking up at his master. When Jason had finished the long story, he smiled at those small eyes.

“I tell you one thing, Nipper. That Second Coming is a long time coming”.

The Interview

This is a work of fiction,a short story in 1485 words.

Kirsty didn’t want the job. To be honest, she didn’t want any job. But since leaving college, Mum had been on her case. Too much time on Facebook, too untidy, too lazy, too work-shy. Too anything.

Dad didn’t seem to care. She was still his little girl, even if she was eighteen years old, and a size eighteen in clothes. But Mum was on a mission, and when she got her teeth into something, there was no stopping her. Luckily, most of the jobs she found online were either beyond her capabilities, or required qualifications she had never got. A grade one certificate in Beautician Studies was never going to get you far in life, unless you wanted to spend that life painting peoples’ fingernails, waxing their body hair, or applying their wedding make up. And when you were really hefty, and you hadn’t even bothered much with your own appearance, the job opportunities didn’t exactly flood in.

But that was alright with Kirsty, all part of her master plan. The plan to do nothing at all. Absolutely nothing.

But the daily arguments and shouting matches were getting her down, so to keep Mum quiet, she agreed to apply for one of the jobs being thrust in her face on Mum’s laptop. She wouldn’t get it anyway, so why not? When they emailed back with an interview date, nobody was more shocked than her. Her CV was intentionally poor, and having no previous work experience, not even a Saturday job, was about the only thing she could write in the box provided. References? That was easy. “None”. But she got an interview, and now she would have to go to it. Mum would make her. Oh well, not a hope of getting it, so that was some comfort.

The building was nothing to write home about. A huge warehouse-looking thing on the edge of the main industrial estate. Mum had cited the location as one of the plus points, as it was only a fifteen minute walk from home. Kirsty had taken the bus though, just two stops. In the reception, she was amazed to see such a crowd. It looked as if they were all applicants, as they were wearing numbers in plastic holders, clipped to their clothes. She went up to the desk, and gave her name. A bored looking girl ticked her off a list, and gave her number twenty-eight, telling her to wait with the others. This looked promising. If that many people were applying, she was sure to get a rejection.

Two more joined the group, and it seemed like thirty was the total. A woman came out and walked along the line of seated youngsters. She suddenly spoke, loudly, making them all sit up. “There will be a series of tests, followed by an interview. You have to pass each test to get to the interview. Anyone failing a test will be going home. Is that clear? If so, follow me”. She hadn’t waited for anyone to say it wasn’t clear. They were taken to a big room, with only artificial lighting. There must have been a hundred chairs and desks in there, each with a monitor and keyboard. They sat at the first thirty desks, and the woman told them to turn on the monitors and get ready. The she said they had to type what she said, as fast as they could. Reading from a sheet on a clipboard, she spoke at a normal speed, listing names and addresses, bank details, and personal details like ages and phone numbers. The names were obviously made up, as they were all things like ‘Mrs Brown’, or ‘Mr White’.

When she was finished, she looked at a laptop on her own desk at the front, scrolling thorough quickly. She had obviously done this many times before. Then she looked up. “Numbers I call out, please take off your holders, and put them on the desk. You can now leave. Thank you for attending, but you will not be required”. She called out a series of numbers, people leaving as she did so, some eagerly, others reluctantly, looking dejected. Kirsty smiled as she got up to the twenties. Her number would be called soon, and she could tell Mum she had tried. But twenty-eight was skipped, though thirty was called. When the failures had left, the woman came round handing out headsets to the sixteen people left in the room.

“Plug these in to the point under your monitor. You will be receiving a recorded phone call, and I want you to answer the questions clearly”. Kirsty heard the voice almost immediately, and spoke into the microphone when prompted. Her replies seemed to generate the next question, and this carried on for around ten minutes. She made sure to sound bored and disinterested throughout, keeping her tone flat, and adopting an attitude to some of the questions. When the voice stopped, the woman got a phone call on her mobile, and wrote something down on her pad. She walked to the front of the room again. “I will be coming round to collect some of the headsets. If I ask you for your headset, please take off your holder and leave it on the desk. You will not be required, and can leave”. Eight more, but not her. They were down to the last eight, and she was one of them. What the hell was going on?

The next test was numbers and sums. The woman projected some numbers onto a large screen at the front, and turned to speak to them. “On your monitor screens, you will now see a test sheet has appeared. Please fill in your answers to the problems shown on the screen. When you have finished all ten questions, press ‘Enter'”. The so-called problems were stupidly easy. Even Kirsty couldn’t fail to know what was ten percent of one hundred, or one thousand times six. She pressed ‘Enter’ well before anyone else, and sat back. Looking across at her fellow applicants, she was amazed to see a few of them genuinely struggling. Incredible. When everyone had finished, and had all sat up, the woman got another phone call. She came around the desks, asking four more people for their headsets, and telling them they could go. Four left, and she was still there. She was doing something wrong, that’s for sure. She waited for the next instruction, thinking ‘Time to up your game, Kirsty girl’.

The woman told them to put their headsets on the desks, and to follow her through a door at the back. The were shown to some chairs, and told they would be called in for the interview. A door opened, and a woman emerged into the corridor. She checked a sheet of paper. “Kirsty Ferguson, please”. Following her into the room, she was indicated to sit on a hard chair opposite a desk. The woman sat behind the desk, next to a man wearing a suit. He didn’t look up at her, just put on some glasses, and studied a form of some sort on the desk in front. The woman kicked off the questions in an unfriendly voice, foregoing any niceties.
“So, why do you want to work here?”
“I don’t really, but I have to get a job of some sort”.
“Do you like people?”
“Not that much. Some, but not many.”
“Do you get on with people?”
“Sometimes. But not all the time”.
The man was ticking boxes on his form. Kirsty felt good. Her bad answers were sure to kill any chances of getting the job.
“Do you like me?”
“I don’t know you, so I can’t say”.
“But what do you think of me so far. Do you think I’m nice?”
“Well I don’t know, do I?. So no.”
“Is that because I’m Black? have you got something against black people?”
“I don’t know any”.
“Are you always like this?”
“Like what?”
“Argumentative. Some might say rude”.
“More or less. I suppose so. Yes”.

The woman turned to the man and they exchanged a look. He nodded, and Kirsty felt happy. They were sure to ask for her number holder, and send her home.

Then the man stood up, and reached over the desk, extending his hand to be shaken.
“Congratulations, Miss Ferguson. I am pleased to tell you that you have got the job. You can start training next Monday, and all the details will be sent to you via email. I am sure you will fit right in here”.
Kirsty shook his hand, her mouth open in disbelief. He left the room, and the woman stood up, indicating it was all over. She smiled. “That leaves me with just one last thing to say, Miss Ferguson”. She also held out her hand, expecting a handshake.

“Welcome to Norland Telemarketing”.