A Magazine Photoshoot

When I received the copies of the latest Longshot Island magazine containing my published story, Daniel suggested I might like to take some photos of the magazines in unusual places. As the sun came out today, I decided to do just that. This is the first of two parts.

All photos can be enlarged for detail by clicking on them.

Ollie found a relaxing riverside bench on which to enjoy reading his copy of Longshot Island. It was a warm day though, and he went into the river for a drink. When he came out, he had forgotten where he had left that precious periodical, so rushed off so fast in search of it, he blurred the photo!

Over on Hoe Rough, we saw this sign warning of Private Property behind the fence. However, this copy of Longshot Island was so determined to show how good its contents are, it tried to jump the wire.

Further on, I was delighted to find a rare example of a Longshot Island magazine tree. The previous issue had already fallen to the ground, as it was over-ripe. However, the new editions are just right for picking now.

Nearby, I was excited to see a rabbit reading my own story in the very latest edition of Longshot Island. I approached him to see what he thought, but he was scared of Ollie, so ran off down his rabbit-hole.

Part two follows soon!

Elyas

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 500 words.

Elyas stroked the head of his young son, Tarek. The boy’s head was warm from the sunshine, his face flushed from running around and playing. “Rest now, have something to drink”, he told the child. “You can play some more later.”

The man watched as his wife brought their son a cool drink. She smiled as she saw her husband’s eyes move to her swollen belly. Only two months more, and there would be another in their family. “How are you today, my lovely Amira?” She blushed a little. Elyas was a good husband, more affectionate than most. She was lucky.

Meeting his older brother, they enjoyed a refreshing mint tea on the shaded terrace of the cafe. Elyas watched the striped shadows move in the breeze that afternoon. They discussed the latest project. With contracts signed, they would soon be employing a larger team to work on the new houses west of the city. Things were good. Business was going well, and he would be a father again soon. As he said farewell to Ahmed, he embraced him fondly. Family was everything. Family endured.

The interior of the car was hot, so he opened the window all the way down. Stopping at the market on his way home, he bought some fruit. Raising the ripe fruit to his face, he could smell the perfume of nature, the freshness. He nodded to the vendor; yes, he would take them all. Back at home, all was quiet. He guessed that Amira and Tarek would be asleep in the cool bedroom, avoiding the heat of the late afternoon. He sat outside smoking a cigarette, picturing his slumbering wife and innocent child in his mind. He had never been happier.

Something woke him. At first he was confused, wondering where the plastic chair and table had gone. A rough hand was shaking his shoulder, and there was a taste of something in his mouth. It was hard to breathe, and he shook himself, overwhelmed by panic and fear. “Elyas, get up. They are coming again. Get up and get ready!” He recognised the man shouting close to his face. It was Sami. Then he realised what was in his mouth. Concrete dust. He turned to spit, and noticed something in the corner. It was Rifat, crumpled and bloody, not moving. “Get to the window. Now! Quickly, there’s no time.” Sami sounded hysterical.

Elyas fumbled in the dust for his rifle, and dragged himself across to the window. He looked down the street and could see tracer fire coming in close to their position. As he inserted a fresh magazine into the AK-47, he just had time to realise it had all been a dream. A dream of another Aleppo, a different place. Amira was gone. Tarek was gone. And Ahmed was gone too. He raised the rifle and placed his finger around the trigger.

But he couldn’t see to shoot, for the tears that filled his eyes.

Guest post: Why I wrote a novel on Climate Change

I am very pleased to be able to bring you a guest post from the accomplished writer, Felicity Harley. She is a generous and helpful community blogger and Twitter user who does much to promote the work of other writers. So I am also happy to promote her new novel here on this blog.
I will add links at the end, but here is her post for you to enjoy.

burningyears-510

WHY I WROTE A NOVEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. My favorite writers are Herbert, Asimov, Bradbury and Orwell. I tend to like science fiction writers who explore what happens to human beings within the context of societies like ours which divorce us from our essential humanity. That’s why I like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and the End of Eternity.

I think Herbert was quite prescient when he wrote Dune, because he imagined a planet and human beings living there who had to exist without water. In fact he was one of the first authors’ to popularize the importance of preserving our planet’s ecology. In my mind as well, all these authors in one way or another, examine the relationships between religion, politics and power, and also between bureaucracy and government.

Because of my own fascination with these themes, and because I’m also a student of social science by training, I set out to write a quartet of novels which would place a group of humans in a futuristic society that had failed to stop runaway climate change. I was fascinated by Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, and both she and her book served as inspirations to
me.

The first book in my four book series entitled Until This Last, The Burning Years has recently been published by Double Dragon Press and explores a lot of hard science around what is causing climate change.

The arc of the plot is set against U.S. government of plutocrats that has fled underground, who have saved themselves and a few others, the brightest and the best. Of course there are insurgents, and one of them is a female scientist who is heavily involved in geo-engineering the weather. The book takes place about sixty years in the future, just about the time when we may experience the most dramatic effects from climate change.

I deliberately did not want to write a dystopian book, but one that was full of hope based on our finer instincts as a species, our desire to return to smaller communities, and our current and future knowledge of technology.

Now I just have to figure out how to get people to take climate change seriously. I plan to use the book as a tool to get them involved.

Please check out to buy The Burning Years on my site below and hopefully review it on Amazon for me, and to see how you can get involved with 350.org so as to keep our planet safe and livable in the future.

https://theburningyears.squarespace.com

From inside the flap

In the year, 2060, Sophie, a top female scientist, dismantles the government weather modification program and steals the male and female trans-humans who hold the promise of extended life.

While the remaining inhabitants of Earth are forced to design new underground habitats in order to survive a harsh, overheated world, Captain Rachel Chen, takes the worldship Persephone to Proxima Centauri, hoping that this new star system will provide a refuge for the survivors of the human race.

Reviews and Awards

“I LOVED this book. Even more than my just “loving it,” though, I feel very strongly that it critically bridges and transcends audiences and the timing is beyond perfect. I believe what you’ve written is incredibly important.

Your science, both current and future, is sound and far-reaching. You tap into so many levels of what’s going on, and what can possibly go on (travel beyond our planet). I really like the “voice” throughout the book, regardless of which scenario you’ve dropped the reader into. All are equally engaging and the character development is even and (almost) clinically objective. I think this will really (also) appeal to a sci-fi audience, which is awesome and very “in line” with today’s readers.

Additionally, I have to admit that I was haunted by your descriptions of the plutocracy and their reckless disregard for the vast majority of living things on Earth. What OTHER possible explanation can there even BE than yours (that they consider everyone but themselves to be “takers”)? Your descriptions of the political elite align perfectly with real-time scenes playing out across America right now.

The mix and “balance” of gloom and despair vs. incredible scientific achievements removed what might have become an almost claustrophobic effect. Example: The US population goes from 318 million to 10 million VS Rachel’s living, breathing personal space on Persephone which made me think of the vividness and aching beauty of the forests in the movie, “Avatar.” Very hard to achieve this effect,

[Side bar: VERY nice weaving of string theory, parallel universes, quantum entanglement, Maslow, and the heliosphere’s foam zone in the book! Also, excellent timing with “Stranger Things” making the US Department of Energy out to potentially be devastating in the future– and you’ve got DARPA. Perfect!]

After I finished the book, I again visited your website for The Burning Years. As I scrolled down to the pictures at the bottom, seeing them for the first time, it was SO NEAT. I advise anyone who reads the book to do the same thing.

https://schatziesearthproject.com

“Here’s a fiction that’s not afraid to tackle some of the biggest topics of our time.”

Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature and numerous environmental books, and founder of 350.org

“…the journey through a different way of inhabiting our solar system based on the latest technologies, developments, and beliefs about who we are and our relationship to living, life, and space…It’s wonderful―”

Rachel Armstrong, TED Senior Fellow, Professor and Pioneer of “Living Architecture”

You can check out Felitity’s blog here, and read more about her work.
https://theshammuramat.wordpress.com/
The book is available here from Amazon.

What’s in a name?

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1640 words.

He never really understood why his parents had named him Manfred. They were not German, and had no connections with that country. They had not even been there, and knew little about it. When he was old enough to know it was very unusual name, at least in a West London suburb, he asked his father why. He told him, “Ask your mother.” So Manfred did. “I always liked the sound of it.” She smiled as she answered, and gave no further explanation.

He hated his name, and considered that parents should give more serious consideration to naming their children. After all, he was stuck with it for ever now, unless he changed it when he was older. But that was such a nuisance. He would probably have to change all his exam certificates later on, and probably his driving licence, and so many other documents he didn’t even know about at that young age. And even though he didn’t care too much for girls at primary school, it seemed unlikely to him that anyone would ever want to marry someone called Manfred. Unless they lived in Germany, of course.

Worse still, the other boys shortened it. They called him Manny. Some of the girls called him Freddy, which seemed even more horrible to him, though they insisted that it was affectionate. It became a constant source of irritation as he got older. At secondary school, nobody seemed to be able to pronounce it. They always said it as Man-Fred, as if there were two names, instead of one. When he tried to correct them, he realised that he had made a terrible mistake. Instead of saying it properly, they exaggerated their mispronunciation, lengthening the gap until it became Man—Fred. Then they would all burst out laughing at his obvious frustration.

Like anything at school, it didn’t last too long, and those boys soon found a fresh victim to tease. They went back to plain Manny, which he accepted with relief. Even the teachers drove him mad though. Despite his surname being Thompson, they would always ask him, “Are your family German then?” They acted like they were showing genuine interest of course, but he had to explain the same thing over and over, until he was sick of saying it. Whenever a new member of staff arrived, he dreaded the eventual explanation. He thought the teachers must be really stupid. Couldn’t they tell? After all, his name was Thompson.

Once he moved to secondary school, it got much worse. The same thing all over again, but with a lot more boys and extra teachers to deal with. Then one day, an older boy threw something in that he had never encountered before. Riley was a fifth year, so nearly five years older than Manfred. He came up to him in the playground one day, pushing his palm into the younger boy’s chest, to stop him walking. “What’s this Manny about then kid?” His tone was less than friendly, and he was backed up by his small clique of hangers-on too. “You a Jew then?” Riley continued. Manfred didn’t think he knew any Jews, and although he knew it was a religion, he didn’t know anything about it really. “No, I’m C of E actually.” Manfred considered this a polite reply in the circumstances. Although his family didn’t attend church, they had mentioned that they were Church of England now and again, particularly when it came to filling in forms. Riley grinned at his pals. “Don’t lie to me, you’re a bloody Jew Boy, a Yid. Go on admit it.”

Manfred was a good six inches shorter than the older boy. He was also carrying some weight, and didn’t see too well without his glasses. He took no chances, and decided to turn and run back into the safety of the school. Behind him, he heard the group of older boys chanting “Jew-boy, Jew-boy”, but he made it safely up to his class. Manfred decided to ignore the name-calling, and immersed himself in his studies. He liked languages, and excelled in both French and German. He had to do German in an after school club though, as they only allowed one language on the syllabus. The others expected him to do well in German of course, but he ignored their jibes. To try to get fitter, he joined a local tennis club in Isleworth. He had to start as a beginner, but soon developed a real talent for the game. A new racket for his birthday replaced the old one that Dad had given him, and before too long he had trimmed down nicely.

By the time it came to exams, he was hardly recognisable as the old Manfred. Filled-out, muscular, and fully grown, he no longer attracted the attention of other boys wanting to tease him. The results were some of the best the school had ever seen. As well as the languages, he got top grades in History and English, and had the choice of two universities. He chose the one that was far away from home, in the north-east. He would live in for the first year, and study modern languages. Then his old granny died. He hadn’t seen her for years, as she had been living in a care home in Somerset. Mum told him that he had been left almost £10,000 in her will. “That’s enough to get a nice little car.” Manfred told her he didn’t need a car. Instead, he had laser eye surgery during the summer break. The glasses that had sat on his face for most of his life would no longer be needed. He felt a great sense of freedom. The rest he put away in a small savings account. That would pay for a trip to Germany the following Spring.

Manfred arrived at university armed with a new-found confidence, an athletic build, and some of the best exam results in the whole country. He settled in quickly, and tried out for the tennis club there as soon as he could. The coach had to admit that he was the best under-21 player he had seen for many years. Of course, there were the same old questions. But this time he was ready with different answers. Hours of studying German had made him more than proficient in the language. On top of that, he had studied the geography and customs of the country, pored over maps, and researched specific areas. When the questions came, he was ready for them.

She looked across the table in the cafeteria. Her hair was braided, and her longs legs wrapped in thick blue tights under the too-short skirt. “Manfred. That’s German isn’t it? Are your family from Germany?”
He smiled at the girl. “Originally, yes. My grandfather escaped from the old East Germany before the wall came down. He used an escape tunnel, and managed to get all the way to England, before settling in West London, close to where my parents live now. It was in the papers at the time, but of course I don’t remember it. He was from East Berlin, and had to escape the secret police because he was a dissident novelist and protester. Naturally, he changed his surname later, to avoid being hunted down.” Too easy. Her eyes were wide open, and she had stopped slurping her drink through the bendy straw.

“Wow. That’s a coincidence because I went to Berlin last summer. What part was he from?” There was no hint of interrogation in her question, just interest. Manfred’s reply was slick, devoid of hesitation. “Pankow, in the north-east of the city. He lived in Krugerstrasse, near where the Holiday Inn is situated now.” Manfred knew his location to be completely accurate, even though he had never been to that country, let alone the city. “I loved it there, it’s a cool place.” Her accent was refined, probably from one of the nicer parts of the Home Counties. “I’m Ellie, by the way. We should meet for a drink sometime.” He nodded. “Sounds good. Put your number in here.” He proffered his mobile phone, and she entered her name and number like a speed typist.

As he walked away to go to his next class, he could hear her using her phone. “Hey, it’s me. I’ve just been chatting to that Manfred guy. You know, the fit one, the tennis guy. Yeh, that’s him. He’s German you know. Like his grandpa was a spy or something. Escaped from some spy thing in Berlin. Yeh, I’m going to meet him for a drink soon. He’s really cool.”

On the stairwell leading to the lecture hall, he felt someone touch his arm. He turned to see a stocky, large-breasted girl gazing up at him. Her long hair was as black as ink, and her eyes were the darkest brown he had ever seen. “You’re Manny, right? He nodded, and gave his best friendly grin. “Hi, I’m Rachel. I heard your name, and well I sort-of presumed you would be Jewish, like me.” He nodded, then felt he should elaborate. “Well my family were German Jews way back. I was told that they escaped from Berlin to avoid being sent to the camps. But we don’t go to synagogue or anything.” The girl gazed into his face, slowly shaking her head. “Oh no! What a coincidence. My own family were from Germany too. And they escaped before 1939. We should meet for coffee or something, see what else we have in common.”
“Put your number in here, Rachel.” He handed over his phone, giving her his best interested look.

As he ran up the remaining stairs, he smiled to himself.

Seemed like Manfred was turning out to be a pretty good name after all.

Enough is enough

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1170 words.

“Where’s my coffee then, Kev?” Phil pointed to Kevin’s coffee cup, as the bespectacled man sat down at the next desk. Kevin grinned back at him. “Sorry, did you want one?” He got up from his seat and walked back out to the machine in the lobby. Inserting the token, he pressed ‘White Coffee No Sugar’, and waited for the cup to fall into place.

One of these days, he would sort Phil out, thought Kevin. He would tell him just what he thought of him, and really put him in his place. Being tall, athletic, and popular with everyone had given Phil too much confidence. He acted above his station, thought everything he said was funny, and took advantage of people. Kevin could plainly see that, and wondered why the others couldn’t.

Back at the desk, he handed Phil the coffee, and didn’t even get a ‘Thank you’. As resumed his seat, Kevin felt a sharp pain in his behind, and jumped up immediately. His chair was covered in drawing pins, and one had gone straight into him as he sat down. Phil snorted with laughter, ejecting a mouthful of hot coffee as he guffawed. Kevin looked around as he plucked the pin from his rear end. Angela was giggling, and even the boss, Frank, was chuckling too. They had all been in on it. Kevin grinned at the faces in the room. “Got me.” He said cheerfully. It wouldn’t do to show anger.
Not today, anyway.

There was a time when Kevin had been friendly with Angela. She would sit with him at lunch, and he sometimes gave her a lift home when they worked late. He had once hoped that things might develop into a proper relationship. But then Phil had joined the firm. His work rate had been phenomenal from the start. Things just came easily to the man, including Angela, who was soon seemingly besotted with him. Not that Phil would ever be interested in her of course. Besides being years younger than the woman, Phil had his sights set on much prettier girls. Kevin thought that Angela would see this for herself in time, and realise who her true friends were. But instead she had highlights put in her hair, wore shorter skirts, and smirked at Phil whenever he passed by.

Last Christmas, Phil had only just started there, but felt that it was alright to suggest to everyone that they have fancy dress at the office party. It was welcomed enthusiastically by the staff, all except Kevin, who hated such things. But he decided that he had to play along, as he didn’t want to be the odd one out. So he hired a Spider-Man costume from the shop in town, and drove to the venue wearing it. He even wore his hated contact lenses that night, as he couldn’t very well turn up as Spider-Man wearing glasses. Entering the room hired for the party, he immediately realised it had been a trick. The other twenty-odd people there were all smartly dressed, and nobody was wearing a costume, except him. They must have all been in on the joke, even Angela.
The whole room burst into riotous hilarity, led by Phil, who was red in the face from laughing so much. Kevin grinned at them all. “You got me.” That was all he said. No point spoiling the evening by being angry.
Not that night, anyway.

Brushing the rest of the pins onto the floor, Kevin sat down and got on with his work. Phil was already on the office phone, telling people in other departments how he had fooled Kevin into sitting down on some drawing pins, his voice as loud as ever as he boasted about the prank. Frank and Angela were still grinning, but Kevin acted as if it was nothing, and started to check some sales figures on his screen.

Back at home after work, Kevin burned with rage. He would show Phil that he wasn’t prepared to be the constant butt of his teasing. Standing before the long mirror in the bedroom, he practiced what he would say when he confronted him. Drawing up to his full height, he held up his right hand, palm forward. “Now just hold on a moment, Phil. I don’t know who you think you are, or who you are dealing with, but I am here to tell you that this has all got to stop. Enough of these jokes and pranks. As of now, that’s an end to it. Or there will be trouble, I assure you.” His tone was measured, controlled, with just the hint of a threat. Kevin was sure that this would be the right way to go about it. People like Phil had to be stood up to, told when they had gone too far. He went over it again later, as he went to sleep. In his mind, he could see himself doing it, and imagined the surprise on Phil’s face, and the respect he would gain in the eyes of Amanda and Frank.

Kevin slept well that night, his decision made.

By the time he arrived at work that Friday morning, everyone else was in, and busy at their desks. They all appeared to be intensely focused on their jobs, and nobody glanced at Kevin as he sat down. Seconds later, he was on his back on the floor, staring at the ceiling. The chair had collapsed completely as he sat down, and had literally fallen to bits around him. His back hurt where a large section of metal was wedged underneath him, and he realised that he had shouted in panic as he fell. The others were standing over him, almost screaming with laughter, and pointing at his sprawled out form on the carpet.
Phil was dangling an adjustable spanner from his thumb and forefinger. The penny dropped for Kevin, and he knew that Phil had undone all the fixings on the seat, leaving it looking apparently normal at first glance.

They must have planned it in advance, making sure that everyone was in early, and close enough to see it happen. He noticed Amanda, her chest rocking with laughter, head shaking from side to side. Phil was ecstatic. When he managed to calm down, he exclaimed, “I can’t believe that nobody recorded that on their ‘phone. Priceless!” Frank bent down to help Kevin up, sliding another chair over for him to sit in. “Sorry mate, but that was really funny”, he said, totally unaware how unfunny it really was.
A short while later, Kevin sat trembling in a toilet cubicle. He was so furious, he couldn’t keep still. That was the last straw, he thought. Today is the day when he gets it. But it was Friday, and the weekend was ahead.
So not on a Friday, anyway.

Maybe Monday, Kevin thought. Monday would be good.
It would happen on Monday, for sure.

Sally goes on a diet

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1260 words.

Sally would always remember the day she started her diet. She had been looking around the shops one Saturday, and picked up a dress she thought she might like to try on. Two women were standing next to her, looking at the same rail. They were about the same age as her, and one of them picked the identical dress. Her companion shook her head, before speaking out in a voice too loud for a public place. “Don’t pick the same dress as that fat cow, whatever you do.” The one with the dress hung it back on the chrome hook at the end, and they walked off, in search of something different.

Sally wondered at first. Was it really her the girl was talking about? She had never thought of herself as being very big. She did wear quite loose clothing, admittedly, and her legs were a shade too large to get away with shorts, but she was average, surely? At least she thought so. She put the dress back, and went home to her flat. The Internet offered countless diet ideas, and many guaranteed ways to lose weight. Slim girls smiled at her from the screen, proof positive of the efficacy of the chosen plan.

She tried liquid diets first. The weight fell off, but she was always hungry. And the prepared drinks from local shops were expensive too. It was cheaper to actually eat real food. So she went on a strict vegetable diet, with no starchy potatoes or anything like them. No bread, no rice, and definitely nothing sweet. Sally was a determined young woman, and had only one slip up. She found a forgotten chocolate Kinder Egg in a drawer, and ate it without thinking. To make up for that, she fasted for a whole day.

Very soon, people started to notice. Her Mum said she was looking thin in the face, and the girls at work agreed that she was looking very different. Sally bought some new clothes, two sizes smaller than she was used to. Then new bras were needed, as her breasts seemed to be shrinking. She also started to drink a great deal of water, and went to bed earlier and earlier too. Despite the early nights, she was constantly tired, and felt shattered all day at work. When Janice had her leaving party, she made some excuse. No point being tempted by the Tex-Mex offerings, and all the alcohol that would be flowing. She went home and ate a plate of kale instead, making sure to be in bed by nine.

Months later, something worrying happened. Sally stopped losing weight. She didn’t put any back on, at least she was thankful for that, but she was certain that she had stayed the same for a long time. Her new plan was to stop eating completely. She would just have lots of fluids, and take some energy-boosting tablets. That seemed to work immediately. Pretty soon, she even had to drop a shoe size, as her boots were too loose. The new clothes looked baggy too, so she bought some more. Another two sizes dropped. Sally was really beginning to see it herself now, admiring her trim figure in shop windows as she passed, or marvelling at the sight of her ribs, as she lay naked in the bath. Progress.

The following month, she missed her period. It couldn’t be a pregnancy, she could guarantee that. She hadn’t slept with a man since Graham, after the Christmas party two years back. Maybe it was just a blip. She decided not to worry about it. The people at work had stopped mentioning her weight loss now, and seemed to be leaving it to her to bring up the subject. Mum nagged at her all the time, and even sent things through the post, to try to tempt her daughter into eating. Sally had come too far now, and easily resisted the temptation. At the dental check up, her dentist told her that her gums were in a poor state, and two of her teeth were loose. She told him she hadn’t noticed, and promised to follow his suggested regime. When she left, she conveniently forgot to make the agreed follow-up appointment.

Late one night, the stomach pains started. Sally couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten anything solid, so it couldn’t possibly be some dodgy food. She got up and took some painkillers, but they only dulled the sensation of cramp in her side. After work the next day, she decided to cheer herself up by going to the shop and buying a new dress. The one she liked wasn’t available in a small enough size though. The assistant suggested she try the junior department, and Sally was pleased to find something meant for a girl half her age. The last two periods hadn’t come, and she settled into the knowledge that they would now be one less thing to worry about. The funny taste in her mouth was kept at bay by using lots of mouthwash, and the constant tiredness just about manageable if she went to bed as soon as she got home. The pains persisted, but she got used to them. Small price to pay, after all.

When more than a year had gone by, Sally stopped going to visit her Mum. Instead of congratulating her on the diet, she just moaned and nagged. “Look at your hair, it’s lank and thin. Your teeth look too large in your mouth. Your eyes sockets are dark. You look like a drug addict.” Blah…Blah…Sally just left, and didn’t go back. She changed her phone number, and didn’t tell Mum the new one.

One day at work, she suddenly felt very strange. Her legs wouldn’t support her, and she passed out as she walked back to her desk. An ambulance was called, and the manager insisted that she go for a check up. Old Margaret went with her to the hospital, holding her hand as she lay on the trolley. The doctor said that she had to stay in for tests. Sally refused at first, but a different doctor told her that they could force her to stay in, using a psychiatric detention order. He told her that she was self-harming, and that just made her laugh. When did trying to look good become self-harm? She didn’t actually say that though, she just smiled and nodded.

There was another girl in the side ward that they took her to. She sat in a chair next to her bed, appearing to just perch on the undented cushion, like some sort of weightless doll. The hospital gown hardly covered her legs, which looked just like bones dangling beneath the material. Sally looked at the girl for a long time. She could make out the bones in her jaw, and around the eye sockets. Her neck was so small, she could actually see the outline of her trachea as she breathed in and out. The girl reached out an arm that looked no thicker than a chopstick, pressing the call button with a pencil-like finger.

The nurse came in, an exasperated look on her face.
“What is it now, Miriam?”
The girl swallowed a few times, as if building up enough saliva to allow her to speak. When the voice finally came out, it was deep and scary, like a horror film voice. The finger pointed at Sally.
“Get this fat cow out of my room. It makes me feel sick to look at her.”

The last train

Because of my recent blogging slump, I have reworked this draft story from a couple of months ago.

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1400 words.

Scott Hamilton was not the sort of man to tolerate fools. He had a lot to do, and little time left to do it. As he drove to his next appointment, he smiled to himself, thinking about that last sale. It had been like taking candy from a baby, almost too easy to feel satisfied about. The old couple had thought that they could get a big discount on the solar panels, but of course they didn’t have a clue how much they cost in the first place. Scott had left them in no doubt, they had to sign there and then, or their big chance would be gone. They worried about using all their savings, but he assured them that they would get an income from the excess electricity that the panels provided. He just didn’t mention that it would only be a pittance. They signed on the line, and handed over the deposit. His job was done; commission earned, on to the next one.

Stuck in traffic on the ring road, he looked across at the car next to his. Screaming children bawling in the back, a baby strapped into a child seat with its mouth open, letting out a yell. The man driving looked as if he wanted to switch off the engine and walk away. His wife’s mouth flapped up and down, nag nag nag. What a mug. He tried to jump the traffic lights at the next junction, but some people walked across, so he had to brake hard. He glared at them, in their turbans and flowing dresses.
“Bloody foreigners, this place is going down the toilet.” He muttered to himself.

At the roundabout, he glanced right, and decided to go for it. He didn’t notice the huge yellow truck on his left, just a flash of bright colour before the impact.

He must have dozed off. A piercing scream jolted him awake, and he looked across from his seat to see a young woman holding a small baby. The baby was bellowing as hard as its little lungs would allow, and the sound went straight through Scott’s head, like a shard of glass. On the other side of the room, some sort of Indian family were grouped together on a row of chairs. The dad had a turban on his head, and the mother had a luminous green dress showing beneath her coat, undoubtedly a sari. A small boy played on the floor, moving a toy truck around, and making engine noises as he did so. An older girl, perhaps his sister, sat reading a book, the lenses in her spectacles enlarging her eyes to an unnatural size. Next to them was an old couple. He could smell them from across the room. Urine, decay, that awful stench of the very old. The man was trembling. Parkinson’s Disease, thought Scott. His wife just stared at her shoes, her face expressionless. In the corner, the young woman rocked the baby, which was screaming even louder now.

Scott stood up and headed for the door. Outside, he was on a station platform. He remembered now. The accident, his car damaged beyond repair. He had to find his way to the local station, to get a train home. That must be it. He shook some sense into his head, and stared along the tracks. There was nobody to be seen on the platform, and no staff around either. Typical railway. Deserted and abandoned. Not a soul to ask about train times, and no information on the blank notice board. He felt cold outside, really cold. So he turned and went back into the featureless waiting room.

Standing with his back to the door, he addressed the room. “Any idea what time the next train is coming, anyone?” There was no reply. The old man continued to shake, his wife continued to stare. The boy rolled the toy around the floor, and the girl read her book. The Indian man and his wife grinned inanely at him, and the baby carried on screaming. Scott walked over to the young woman. “Any chance you could shut that baby up, lady? Its screaming is giving me a headache.” She looked through him, as if she hadn’t heard, and couldn’t see him. Scott clicked his fingers, snapping them together in front of her face. “Hello!” When there was no response, he walked back to the family, and spoke to the boy. “Hey kid, when is the next train due. The one you are waiting for?” The child continued to run the toy in circles around the floor. His only reply was “Vroom, Vroom.” Scott rubbed his head, exasperation turning to temper. “No speaka de English, I suppose?” The boy didn’t even look up.

His last hope rested with the oldies. It wasn’t in his nature to be polite. “Old lady. Yes, you. What time is the train? The one you are obviously waiting for.” She stared at her shoes, not even bothering to look up. There was some white stuff at the corners of her mouth, and it made Scott feel disgusted to look at it. He turned to her husband, but the old guy was shaking so hard now, Scott didn’t even bother to go through the motions of asking him. Instead, he went back out onto the platform, deciding he would try to get a taxi. He checked his watch, 3:25. That can’t be right. It was cold and dark, so must be much later than that. Scott was sure that the watch must have been damaged in the car accident.

He headed off along the platform, determined to find someone to complain to about the lack of trains, on his way to the exit. However, after wandering around the station for some time, he could find no exit, and nobody to vent his rage on. In fact, he was surprised to find himself back at the door of the waiting room once again, though he was sure that he had been walking in the opposite direction. It was so cold, he went back inside and sat down. The others were still in their places, and the baby continued to yell its tiny head off. He sat back in the chair, sure that the noise would drive him insane.

When his eyes opened again, Scott was aware that he might have been asleep, and he had no idea for how long. His watch still read 3:25, the baby was still screaming, and the small boy playing with the truck. The goggle-eyed girl was engrossed in her book, and the old man was trembling faster than before. He stood up, screaming across the room. “For God’s sake, can someone tell me what time the next train is coming?” The old lady stared at her shoes, and the Indian couple smiled benignly. Scott dropped back into the chair. He suddenly had an idea. His mobile! Of course, why hadn’t he thought of that? He scrabbled in his jacket pocket for the phone, laughing out loud as he retrieved it. But the screen was smashed, and covered in something sticky. No way was that ever going to work again.

He rushed out of the room once again, leaving the door open behind him. He would find some way out.
The tracks. He would walk along the tracks to the next station. It couldn’t be that far.
After walking for ten minutes between the tracks, Scott found himself back in front of the still-open door of the waiting room. His mind was all over the place. How could that be? it was like some sort of optical illusion. He felt a bit sick, and just couldn’t get his head around it. He needed to sit down.

Looking around the room from his chair, Scott saw that the old woman was still staring at her shoes, the crusty substance in the corners of her mouth moving slightly as she breathed. The old man was still trembling, and the baby yelling as loud as ever. He heard the annoying kid shouting “Vroom, Vroom” as he wheeled that yellow toy truck around the floor. His stupid-looking parents gazed across at him, equally stupid smiles on their faces. He leaned forward, shouting at nobody in particular. “I don’t believe this. Smelly old codgers, a screaming baby, an annoying kid and his dopey foreign family. I tell you, this is my idea of Hell!”

As the words left his mouth, realisation washed over him, and he screamed.

His scream was even louder than the baby’s.