Street Life (Part 3)

This is part three of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.

Koz rolled out of bed, and lit a cigarette. The girl next to him was still sleeping, but he would wake her up soon, and throw her out. He could hear the others moving around; using the toilet, and talking downstairs in the kitchen. The smell of something cooking wafted up, and made him realise he was hungry. It was dark outside. Checking his watch, he saw it read 21:28, and he hadn’t eaten much since breakfast. He looked around at his room. A mattress on the floor, some clothes on hangers around the door handle, and three pairs of trainers lined up against the wall. Not much, for twenty-nine years, but he was sure his time would come. Eat first, then head off into the city as usual.

Candy doubled back on herself, and crossed Waterloo Bridge from the western side. Heading down into the pedestrian subways, she could see Clinton on his BMX bike, silhouetted against the opening in the distance. When she got closer, he grinned, wide lips opening as it he was about to laugh. “Wassup, fine lady?” His accent was contrived of course. She knew full well he was a local boy, but he liked to sound Jamaican, made him feel tough. She opened her hand, showing the phone. “An i-phone 8, Clinton, must be worth ten rocks”. He sucked his teeth, and grinned again. “Y’know how many of those phones I have, girl? I will give you five”. Candy moved her hand, as if to put the phone in her shoulder bag. “OK fine lady, six. But that’s it. Y’get me?” She handed him the phone, and put her hand up to his mouth. He started to spit out the wraps one at a time, until she had six in her palm.
Back at the squat, she gave two to Tash, who had only just woken up. They fired them up, and drifted away, both sitting on the floor.

Jack was settling down earlier these days. He waited until the last few commuters had walked past on their way to the station, then dragged both his black bin bags from behind the industrial waste skip. The dustmen never took away anything that wasn’t in the wheeled skip, so it had been a stroke of genius to stash his gear right behind it. The rubber mat had been a great find earlier that year. Rolled up behind the camping gear shop in Covent Garden, he had just strolled past and scooped it up. Much better than relying on old cardboard for a base to sleep on. His sleeping bag had seen better days, but was still serviceable. A quick check that everything was still there, and he walked off with the bags in the direction of The Strand. Once the small Travel Agent office had closed, he knew he would be alright to bed down in their doorway until the morning.

Koz ate three of the big Polish sausages, much to the annoyance of his house mates. But they didn’t say anything. Best not to cross Koz. Five of them shared the small two-bed house in Willesden, and Koz was the only one who had his own room. He had been in London for almost three years now. Lots of people from his home town in Poland had come there to work. But unlike the others, Koz had come there not to work. There was money to be made in England from doing nothing, Pavel had told him a long time ago. Pavel was Russian, and knew his stuff. It had been easier than he expected. Hassle the street kids for the money they had begged for. Steal the drugs off the junkies after they had bought them, even get a few girls working the streets for him. He told them he would protect them, a big lad like him, tough as they come. Finding some others to help him was even easier. Plenty of unemployed ex-army guys around from Eastern Europe, happy to think of themselves being in a gang, headed up by Koz. But nobody could ever say his surname right, ever. So he settled for the first three letters, KOZ, and used that as his name.
He looked around at the others, squashed into the small living room that doubled as a bedroom for two of them. “Come on guys, finish up now. Time to get going.”

Candy felt pretty good when she woke up. Tash was still out of it, so she checked there was nobody in the bathroom, and had a shallow bath, as there wasn’t much hot water left. She went over her make-up, and after rummaging through the bag of clothes she called ‘almost clean’, picked out a plain black skirt and white blouse. Adding some thick stockings that held up just over her knees, she admired the result in the broken half of the big mirror propped up against the wall in Tash’s room. She looked like a schoolgirl alright, but a raunchy schoolgirl. The desired effect. It was too cold to go without any coat all night, so she took the red anorak off the nail in the door. They shared that coat, so Tash wouldn’t care. Walking back over the bridge, she found a good spot to hang around on, just where Burleigh Street joined The Strand. She stuck one leg forward, so it could be seen outside the coat, then put on her best sexy pout, and waited.

Toby had worked late again. He didn’t mind, as it was good to be seen not to rush home. If you wanted to earn the big money, you had to stick it out, and be seen to be a grafter. He had pulled down over one seven five K last year, and was hoping to break the two hundred barrier for the first time, by next April. Leaving the entrance to his office, he knew there was no point trying to get a cab opposite the station. There was bound to be a big queue at the rank inside too, so he stepped out east along The Strand, reckoning he would do better on the one way system at Aldwych. Close to Burleigh Street, he spotted a girl leaning against the corner, by Barclay’s Bank. As he got closer, she stretched out a black-stockinged leg, and shot him a surly look; face down, but eyes looking right at him. He carried on walking for a few steps, then stopped. Smiling to himself, he turned around.
Toby liked them young and slutty.

To be continued…

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Street Life (Part 2)

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1050 words.

Candy liked Jack, though not like that, but it was so obvious he had the hots for her. She knew what doorway he would be in, and also knew she could get some money off him easily. Let him think he had a chance, give him a good look up her skirt, and sit very close to him. Easy. She said she was going for coffee, but that was never going to happen. As she turned the corner, she looked at the coins in her hand. Almost six pounds, that was a start. She would wander up to Aldwych, and see if Darius had any customers in the hairdressers. If he wasn’t busy, he would usually buy her a coca-cola, and sometimes let her wash her hair too. Dragging up the shoulder of her waistcoat, she wrinkled her nose. It was really stinky, but she couldn’t afford to get it cleaned, so would have to spray some perfume on it. Diverting into the big branch of Boots, she hovered around the counter until nobody was looking, then snatched up two testers, as well as a couple of eye liners. Bending down as if to lace up her Converse, she slipped them into the shoulder bag, turned around, and walked back out onto the street.

Playing the little lost girl had worked out fine at first. Sitting on a bench crying, someone would come over. Usually a concerned older couple, the woman feeling maternal, the man awkward. She would say that she had lost her train fare home after coming to London with friends. Scared to tell her mum, but twenty pounds would get her home. Lots of them fell for it at first, but others got wise. Offered to take her to a police station, or go with her to the train station, and buy the ticket. She couldn’t keep up the phony accent either. One minute she was putting on as if she was from Liverpool, the next it sounded Scottish. And they all thought she was a kid, even Jack. The joke was on them. She could be home in east London in twenty minutes on a bus, and she was almost eighteen, though she knew she looked much younger. Saying she was only sixteen made it seem as if she was pretending. Candy was a good name to choose too. It suited her, and made her sound silly and girly.

Mum treated her like an unpaid baby sitter. Knocking out kids with different blokes every couple of years, falling for all their sweet talk, and then they were off. Candy had stopped going to school, told her doctor she was depressed, and told her mum what she could do with her shitty flat, and four kids. She shacked up with Sammi and her boyfriend for a while, then headed off into the West End to earn some money. Looking sorry for herself had worked at the start. Jack had certainly fallen for it, though she had to be careful who she tried it on with. Then she met a girl who was clipping. Tash told her what to do. Hang about looking sexy, and wait for some bloke to ask her how much. Give him a price, and tell him “Money first”, then he could take her into Brewer Street car park and do what he wanted. Soon as you had your hand on the money, run away as fast as you could. If he chased you, shout “Help! Rape!”, and keep running. Chances are someone would stop him, or he would be too embarrassed. Not likely to tell the police either, as he wouldn’t want to admit to asking an under age girl for sex, even though she wasn’t actually under age. That worked out well for a while too. She could often get over a hundred a day, sometimes a lot more.

Tash was a good mate. She could doss down on her sofa most nights, in the squat where she lived near Waterloo. She taught Candy how to pinch stuff too, and helped with her new look. “Sassy and sexy, girl”, Tash called it. Except for the Converse of course, but she needed them for running. Trouble was Tash did like her crack, and it wasn’t long before Candy was on it too. Now she needed that hundred a day just to stay straight, and that took time, and work. Candy was on the go from morning ’til night. Cadging, fleecing, conning, pinching, anything to get money, or something she could sell or trade. If she had a slow day, Tash would help her with a couple of rocks, but she expected the same in return. So far, Candy had been lucky. Chased out of shops a few times, and spotted by people when she tried to nick their phone or wallet as they sat at a cafe, or waited to cross a busy street. But no arrests, not yet. A few talking-tos from some local policemen, but she copped an attitude, and they had to let her go.

Darius had a customer, but he gave her a wave through the window. Candy crossed the road, and branched left in the direction of the University. Under the big sign that read LSE, she saw a chubby guy texting into a phone. looked like he might be Indian, or something like that. Screwing up her face, she jogged up to him, arriving breathless and looking as worried as she could manage. She put on her posh voice, sounding like she came from Surrey, or some place like it. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to ask you, but do you think I could use your phone please? I got separated from my college group, and I’m scared I will miss the bus back, if I don’t contact them”. She finished with her sweetest smile, noting his eyes wandering up from her tiny skirt, to the fishnet top with no bra underneath. He grinned back, all white teeth and pink tongue. “Sure”. As he extended his hand, she grabbed the phone, and ran off at speed, with the dumb bloke just standing there, as if he expected her to turn around and bring the phone back.

To be continued…

Street Life (Part 1)

This is part one of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.

He watched her walking in his direction. Made him smile every time. Peroxide hair sticking up all over, leather waistcoat over a fishnet vest, and a skirt so short passing traffic almost always had a near miss, as the drivers ogled her legs. She sat down in the doorway next to him, noisily chewing the gum in her mouth. Jack nodded, but she didn’t look at him, or say anything. He let her be, allowed her to take her time. Candy was that sort of girl.
“Good day so far?” He knew what she meant, as she nodded at the collection box between his feet.
“Not bad. Nineteen quid already. One guy gave me a tenner.”
She sniffed. “Must’ve been able to afford it”.

A young postman walked past, blatantly looking at the view up Candy’s skirt, and not trying to hide the fact. She yelled at the top of her voice. “Like what you see up there, postie?” He hurried away, pushing the large red cart in front of him. She stood up, and looking down on him asked, “Wanna coffee, Jack?”. He nodded, and she held out a hand for the money. Candy never had money. Ever. He gave her some coins, and she took off toward The Strand, in the direction of McDonald’s.

Three hours later, and she hadn’t come back with the coffee. Jack smiled inside. It was so typical of Candy. But he couldn’t refuse her, even though he knew what she was like. He fancied her so much, he couldn’t hide it. She knew it too, and used that to get around him. Others on the street might not be so kind to her, so she had picked her mark well. Not that he had ever tried anything on with her. For one thing, he didn’t believe she was sixteen. She told anyone who asked that she was, and rattled off her pretend date of birth so convincingly too. Jack reckoned she was a couple of years younger, perhaps fourteen at most. It was also unlikely that her name was Candy, he knew that as well. Somewhere, some people would be looking for her, posting pictures of a missing girl on lamp-posts, hoping to hear the good news that she had been found alive. Not my business, Jack had told himself. Keep away from the Cops, no good comes from dealing with them.

Jack had seen her around since April. Hiding from the rain in his usual doorway, when he turned up early one morning. She had asked to share his blanket, and he could feel her shivering for a long time after she sat down. She didn’t say much, and he didn’t ask anything. She seemed to trust him, perhaps because he was older. Old enough to be her dad, he had guessed back then. The next time he saw her, she had the spiky blonde hair, black eye make up, and funky clothes. Probably made her think she looked older. But it didn’t work. She looked like a kid made up to look older, like in a fancy dress contest or something. She had asked him for some money, and he handed it over with a smile. In return he got a kiss on the head; soft lips, and a body smelling of unwashed clothes. It hadn’t taken her very long to get some street knowledge, and a lot of confidence. He tried to place her accent, but it kept changing. Not local, for sure. Not a Londoner.

Then again, neither was Jack. Almost four years in the city, and he hardly ever left the centre. Despite all the other beggars, winos, tramps, and chancers, there was still money to be made in the capital. Most days, he never got less than forty quid, and on a good day, as much as ninety. It all seemed a long time ago now. Coming down to London for a job that didn’t last, a flat share he couldn’t afford. Bridges burned back home, no life to go back to in the West. A few nights on benches one summer had turned into a way of life, and he had managed to disappear off the radar of society. He started to learn who to avoid, who not to upset, and how to keep clear of the authorities. Cool spots for the summer, and warm places inside during the winter. He would walk up to Ironmonger Row, and use the public swimming baths to take a shower. For a couple of quid he could use most of the facilities, and it was a nice place to spend some time on a wet day. He claimed the unemployed entrance fee, and nobody ever asked to see proof. They only had to look at him.

Washing clothes was harder than he had expected. After a few tries at washing them in toilet sinks, and trying to dry them, he gave up bothering. When what he was wearing got too dirty or uncomfortable, he jumped the bus up to Camden, and bought replacements from the charity shops there. Food was the easiest. Discarded grub outside the KFC or any burger bar. Some cafe owners who took pity on you, and gave you the out of date stuff when they were locking up. Jack wasn’t proud, and he got enough to eat. Unlike most of the others around, in fact every other person he had met on the street, he hadn’t turned to drink or drugs to get by. He sat in his doorway with the sign, and was usually reading a book, easy enough to pinch one from Waterstone’s when they were busy. He never asked anyone for money, just sat still, and hoped they would drop some in. And they did, every day since, and not one day had he ever got nothing at all.

It was getting darker. He would give it two more hours, then go and grab his latest good spot, before someone else discovered it. He had to avoid Koz tonight. That bastard was always trying to rile him, asking for money to buy booze, or crack. Jack had started to stash any notes he got in the ventilation vanes behind the bank. Then if Koz and his mates decided to rough him up, all they would find was some small change. He stretched out his legs, and waggled his feet to keep the circulation going. Looking up and down the street, he was hoping to see Candy. He worried she was alright.

To be continued…

A Fictional Reblog: Alec

I have now published over 100 stories on this blog, and I recently looked back to some of my early efforts, that most of you will not have seen. I decided to reblog some of them, to see if they have any appeal, and present them to a larger audience in the process. A few of you who have been following this blog from the start will know them, so to you, I apologise for the repetition.

Alec
A fictional story of 2821 words. From 2013

It was the first day of the Summer holidays, no more school for six weeks. To Alec, they had seemed a long time coming, since moving down here, the previous August, had pretty much robbed him of the last ones. He had plans, he knew just how he would spend his time, and he had passed a long, boring Spring in preparation.

The new school was so-so. The second year of his secondary education had been a lot better than the first, anyway. He had grown tall since his twelfth birthday, springing up above his peers, and filling out too. He was already taller than everyone in his year, and Mum said, if he kept growing, he could end up playing basketball. Since moving south from Scotland, he had preferred the better weather, and the chance to get out more. It had brought some problems as well though. The boys at school had tried to tease him, first about his accent, then about his name. They always pretended not to understand what he said, and would keep asking him to repeat himself. It took a while, but he eventually realised that they were winding him up, then he just stopped bothering. The teachers weren’t much better, always asking him to “say that again please Alec.” Most of them were not from around here anyway, so you think that they would know better. Then they kept getting his name wrong. The other boys all called him Alex, and didn’t even seem to understand that there was a name Alec. The teachers too, they constantly got it wrong, also referring to him as Alex, when they bothered to talk to him at all. New boys entering school after the first year were just trouble to them, seemingly, and they acted as if he didn’t exist, most of the time. He had started off by explaining that Alex was short for Alexander, that his name was Alec, and that was totally different. He told them that it meant Defender of the People, and was an old Scottish name, that he was proud to bear. He soon gave up, as it just seemed to make them call him Alex even more. Nobody ever told him the truth, that it was just a corrupted abbreviation of Alexander. Because nobody really knew, or cared.

Still, being big meant that he was never bullied, and ensured that any name-calling and resentment was mostly done behind his back, or out of earshot. Besides, his Dad was a soldier, and he was serving in Afghanistan, so if anyone went too far, they would have him to deal with. If he ever came home. Alec didn’t bother with team games much either. The sports teacher asked him to play in most teams, excited that his size would give those teams an edge. Alec declined, happy to be a loner, not a part of any team, group, or gang. He had his own agenda, and it involved being alone. He coasted through the subjects, always in the middle of the class when it came to performance; never too smart, and definitely not stupid. His reports were always the same. Failure to engage, does not contribute much, lacks interaction with others, blah blah blah. They couldn’t fault him though, as he always got at least a C, and often a B. He managed to get by without being noticed too much. Eventually, they all forgot about him, and that suited Alec down to the ground.

When Dad’s regiment was amalgamated, and they had to move to the south, his parents had sat him down, and explained the reasons for the move. Alec didn’t really care, one place was much like another to him, and he had nothing to regret leaving behind in Scotland. Dad was away much of the time, and even when he was at home, he was down the pub, or visiting his Army mates somewhere. Mum said he was better off in Afghanistan, and seemed to treat that place more like home. Alec found it on his globe lamp once, but it didn’t mean much to him. It was near India, he remembered that at least. Soon after the move last summer, Dad was away again, for more training somewhere, and then back abroad. Mum got a job in a bar in the town. They had argued about that, as it meant leaving Alec from the time he got in from school, until well past eleven. Mum had won though. She needed to be out, she said, and wanted some life to be around, and people to talk to. For his part, Alec couldn’t care less; he had nothing to say to her anyway. He didn’t like the programmes she watched, and even if she was at home, as she was most weekends, he spent most of the time in his room. She was always on the phone, talking to her friends and family back in Scotland, or to people around here, that he didn’t know.

Alec liked cars. There was hardly anything to do with cars that he didn’t know about. He had all his Dad’s old car magazines, and spent hours on his ageing laptop, looking at car company sites, and browsing photos, or reading technical information. For someone of his age, who had never so much as turned an ignition key, he was an expert in the subject. His room was a tribute to the car. Posters adorned every available inch of wall space, and model cars were displayed wherever one could be stood. He also knew about light vans, and had recently started to do some research into trucks, thinking he might like to be a truck driver one day. His earlier ambition, of being a car salesman, would involve too much contact with people, and he was never that comfortable with strangers. What could be better than to spend your life on the main roads of Europe, watching all the cars go by, from the comfortable high cab of a giant truck, he thought.

One of the things that he liked best about their new house, was that it was very close to the motorway. Many would consider that a disadvantage, living within range of the main route from north to south, with the constant drone of the traffic, day and night. Not Alec. For him, it was an unexpected bonus of the move. Less than a five minute walk from his front door, was a bridge across all the lanes, taking traffic off the motorway, towards the sleepy market town that they now called home. A bit further on, was the pedestrian bridge, that allowed safe crossing for cyclists, dog walkers, and schoolchildren, who were the main users of this out of the way structure. Both these vantage points offered him an uninterrupted view of the thing he liked best, motor vehicles. He had got the notebooks ready, and a selection of coloured marker pens too. Lists had been made; his ten favourite cars, and five favourite trucks. Alec would spend his days watching the motorway, noting the appearance of those favourites, and adding their colours too. He would soon have a record of how many of each, and in what colour, passed under his view, and what time they were seen as well.  Later, back home in his room, he could transfer this information to his laptop, and add the results to his already extensive research.

Into the large sports bag, he placed the notebooks and pens, together with two bottles of water, a packet of biscuits, and a banana. He had chosen his largest bag, so that there was room for a cushion to fit in, as he would need something to sit on. Mum was still sleeping when he left. She had got home late from work last night, and he had heard her in the bathroom, well after midnight. Outside in the close, he saw two boys he knew vaguely from school, Jared and Mark. They were setting up a long plank in the road, propping it on some concrete blocks, to create a ramp. Their intention was to ride their BMX bikes up the ramp, and jump them off the raised end. In the dead-end close, there would be little danger from traffic, and most of the residents would soon be out at work anyway. They waved to him as he closed the door, possibly inviting him to watch. He didn’t know for sure, as he couldn’t hear what they said. It would have had no interest for him anyway, as it seemed a pointless activity.

The first day at the bridge was relatively unproductive. His favourite cars did not appear, though his best trucks were in abundance. When he had needed to pee, he sloped off into the nearby woodland. The biscuits were just enough to keep him going, and he didn’t bother with the banana, but he considered the addition of a sandwich for tomorrow. The half term holidays generated more traffic than normal, but most of it was made up of caravans, people carriers, and other boring family rides. There were even loads of motor homes, the ultimate slugs. Dad called caravans snails; hard shells containing soft life within. He got angry when they held him up on the road, and he would never consider such a holiday remotely relaxing. Motor caravans were even worse. Home on the road, no escape. What was the point of those?

That night, Alec was disappointed. Nine hours on the bridge, and not a single M5, Impreza, or S4; none of the best cars available in the UK. He had watched, as streams of Picassos, Meganes, and Ford S-max swept by, tantalisingly close to his position. There had been lots of Renault trucks, their suspension pumping at speed, and the comfortable cabs looking so inviting. But none of the ‘real’ cars, the serious motors. What was going on? Was the half term foiling his plans? He would need more time, extra days to continue his studies. Back tomorrow then.

The next morning, and Mum was once again asleep. Alec had thought that he had heard a man’s voice during the night. It had sounded aggressive, and insistent. Perhaps it was just a dream though. There was no milk for cereal, so he had the banana he didn’t eat yesterday. He got two Ribena cartons from the cupboard, and some chocolate biscuits from the ‘fridge, before making a sandwich to take along, filled with strawberry jam. Once outside, there was no sign of Jared or Mark. They had left their ramp from the previous day, possibly hoping to be able to use it again. Alec walked over to the construction. Looking around furtively, he could see nobody about, the place was still sleepy at that time of day. He picked up the smallest concrete block, and secreted it into his large bag. It was a tight fit, and heavier than he expected. Still, they wouldn’t be able to play their stupid ramp game today, he had seen to that.

The morning was slightly more productive. Two Imprezas, both cobalt blue, a popular colour, and a real treat, and a Honda NSX 200 in black, a really rare find in England. He had eaten the sandwich by nine-thirty, and had some of the biscuits at eleven o’ clock, with the second carton of Ribena. By now, he was getting bored, and nothing much was happening. The road seemed to be chock full of boring MPV’s, and countless caravans, heading to the coastal resorts. The cushion was not doing enough to make sitting comfortable, and his notebooks were all but blank. He emptied his bag, and perused the contents.

Darren Osbourne had been driving for most of the day. His wife Sandra was a terminal nag, and his kids Ellen and Jodie were equally annoying, moaning and crying in turn. The Scenic was past its best, and probably needed a service, but Darren hadn’t been able to afford it, on top of the cost of the holiday. One week in Cornwall, at a prepared campsite. Hardly the luxury he had once imagined, when he and Sandra had married, at 21. Ten years later, two squalling daughters, and a wife older than her years, and Darren had, quite frankly, had enough. In truth, he would sooner be at work still, in the Council Offices of their Northern town. At least there, he would have peace and quiet. After an expensive breakfast stop at the motorway services, he estimated that they had around two hours to go, before they got to their destination. The road was very busy, and Darren kept to the middle lane, so as not to get trapped by any large trucks. The girls argued constantly, the sound issuing from the from the back seat drove Darren to distraction, but he didn’t let on. Anything for a quiet life. Sandra was oblivious, reading her stupid celebrity magazine, the lives of vacuous people presented as entertainment.

Alec rummaged in his bag for the last of the biscuits. He had taken the small block of concrete out, and placed it next to the wire fencing of the bridge. The notebooks and pens were neatly stacked next to the cushion, and the empty drinks cartons were there too, as he would take them home. He hated litter, and people who littered. The last few biscuits were little more than crumbs at the bottom, but he scooped them out and ate them all the same. His gaze returned to the endless streams of traffic. Families mostly still, streaming towards the coast, hoping to change their dull lives, with one week away, at somewhere ultimately disappointing. Alec felt the rough edges, and the weight of the block in his hands. It was really heavy, at least for some people, but he was strong, and could lift it with ease. He rested it on the rail of the bridge fencing, allowing the stone to take a natural balance under his hand. He reduced control, first down to three fingers, then two, until he supported the whole thing with one determined digit. He noticed a Renault Scenic some way off in the middle lane. It was a horrible coffee colour, a brown with some silly exotic name, ‘Aztec Bronze’ or something similar. Alec couldn’t understand why anyone would ever buy such a boring car, and then choose one of the worst colours to cover it. He looked down at his quivering finger.

The impact was enormous. The windscreen was gone in a second; air rushing in, tiny glass fragments flying everywhere. Darren’s first reaction was to brake hard, the hardest he had ever braked in his life. The panel van behind slammed into the Scenic as it braked, spinning the smaller vehicle. Inside his car, Darren couldn’t think, for the screams coming from his children. They were unnaturally piercing, like something not human. As his car whirled around, he looked across at Sandra. She seemed to be wearing some sort of hat, or mask. There was something else, where her face had been, but it was impossible to take in, in these few moments, and still spinning at great speed. When his car stopped moving, Darren found himself looking back up the motorway he had been driving on, except he was facing in the wrong direction. The Estonian lorry driver had no chance, it all happened so fast. His huge truck, towing an additional trailer, was never going to stop in time. It went straight into the front of the Scenic, still braking, but still travelling at almost forty miles an hour. Enno sat shaking in his cab, listening to car after car impacting the one in front, and feeling the bumps as vehicles drove into his skewed trailer. Some people were already out of their cars, either sitting on the verges, or standing dazed in the wreckage. Enno didn’t want to get out yet. He didn’t want to look at the front of his truck, as he was dreading what he would see there.

In all the confusion, nobody had glanced up at the pedestrian bridge. They were too busy, avoiding more cars, getting out of wrecked vehicles, or trying to help their families. Even if someone had looked up, they would not have thought it unusual, to see a smart-looking young man walking across, clutching a sports bag.

A successful experiment

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1740 words.

For Callum, it had all been worth it. He had spent every penny of the inheritance, re-mortgaged the house, and used up all the donations from the various trusts and foundations that had supported him in the early days. The military had been very interested of course, but they would have wanted to control things, and monitor his progress, so he had made sure to escape their attentions. Janet had left after the first three years, no longer content to sit alone as he spent his life in the laboratory built in the cellar of the house, or watch him spend all the money they had.

The friends and family had all shunned him too. Constant begging or demands for loans to pursue his wild theories, heated arguments about the practicality of his idea, and the fact that he seemed to them to be almost demented as a result of his obsession. They had no vision, no idea of the possibilities or potential wonders. His genius for chemistry was well-known, but all they could come up with was that he should get a ‘proper job’. He should work for a drug company, find a cure for disease, and put his genius to good use. To hell with them, and their dull brains. He would prove them all wrong.

Even though he suspected it would be irreversible, Callum didn’t hesitate to inject the solution into the vein raised on his left arm. Almost twenty years of research at the expense of everything he knew and loved, it had all come down to this moment. He dropped the syringe on the floor, and sat down heavily in the battered armchair. There was a good chance it would make him sleepy, and it might also take most of the night to work. But in less time than he had anticipated, it was definitely working. Pulling up his trouser leg, it seemed his shoes were attached to nothing. Minutes later, and he could no longer see his hands, though he could still feel them on the arms of the chair. An hour later, he stood to remove his clothes, a tingling of unbridled excitement coursing through his whole body. Approaching the long mirror in the corner, he hardly dared to raise his eyes and look. When he did, he yelled, a mixture of joy and surprise. There was nothing there, no reflection. He was invisible.

Callum typed up his notes on the laptop. He wrote the date in capitals, underlined it, and added exclamation marks. At the end of the short paragraph, he added two words. ‘FINALLY’. ‘SUCCESS’. He suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired. Despite wanting to continue to explore the possibilities of his condition, he could not fight the need for sleep, and collapsed onto the sofa next to the fireplace.

It was late when he finally woke up. He felt cold, and not being able to see any of his own body felt strange too. But for him, it was more validation of his theory, and didn’t concern him at all. Going outside was the next step. Being around people who could no longer see him would confirm his life’s work. He would have to get used to being cold. Walking barefoot, and being unable to carry anything. He wouldn’t be able to wear his contact lenses of course, as they would appear to be floating six feet in the air, so extra care would be needed, with below average eyesight. Locking the door behind him, he realised he couldn’t take the keys. What would he do with them, without a pocket to keep them in? He slid them under the doormat, flattening the bunch so it didn’t look too obvious.

The car was no longer of any use. He could just imagine the surprise of other drivers, watching a car being driven by nobody. He could use the bus, but it would depend on being able to slip in with others when the doors opened, and then he would have to avoid them coming into contact with him, leaving them wondering who they had bumped into. Best to walk. As he strolled down the lane, things hurt the soles of his feet. Tiny stones and twigs, never noticed under shoes, now felt like sharp tacks digging in. A young woman pushing a toddler in a buggy approached him as he got to the main road. He flattened against the wall of a house, and she passed him by without so much as a glance. Incredible. He couldn’t get the smile off his face. In the old films, invisible men always wore some sort of disguise. A hat, sunglasses, and a big scarf perhaps, all designed to be removed later, when they wanted to go about their invisible business. But he wasn’t chancing discovery like that, no disguise would work in the long run, he had concluded.

Walking in a crowded place where you cannot be seen is not as easy as it seems. People do not attempt to avoid you, so you have to constantly be on your guard. Crossing roads has a whole new danger, when oncoming traffic has no idea you are there. Though pressing the button at a crossing, and seeing the confused drivers stop at the light as nobody crosses, did have its own amusement value. Callum made mental notes, to be transcribed later. This would all make for fascinating reading, he was sure of that. Once in the heart of the city, he was thirsty. No chance of buying a drink, as he couldn’t carry money of course. He could steal one, and drink it in the shop, but that would raise the possibility of a startled shop owner wondering how a bottle of water was floating off a shelf, and pouring itself into thin air.

Callum looked around, and saw he was standing next to one of those smart expensive gyms that were so popular now. Waiting until the receptionist was distracted, he pushed open the door, and walked in. The tiled floor was cool on his feet, but the air-conditioning inside made him feel even colder. He saw a sign pointing to the changing rooms, and followed it. Before he got there, a door marked ‘Toilets’ appeared on his left, and he went in, narrowly avoiding a smart young man on his way out. He ran the cold tap for a while, before holding his mouth under it, drinking his fill. When another two men came in and walked over to the urinals, he held his breath, and stood stock still. But they chatted away as they peed, completely unaware of him, as far as he could tell.

Next stop was the female changing room. ‘Why not’, he thought, unable to suppress a wide grin. He followed a woman though the door, then pressed his back against the cold tiles as soon as he was inside. Next to rows of lockers, women of all ages, and all shapes and sizes, were in various states of undress around him. Some were naked, others wearing towels, fresh from the shower. He watched spellbound, as they dressed and undressed a few feet from him, oblivious to his presence. When he heard his own heavy breathing, he realised that the chatting of the women was just about hiding the sound.
He would have to be more careful.

Outside, he confessed to himself that the scene had aroused him. But it could be no more than a diversion. After all, he could never do anything about it, as no woman was ever likely to willingly accept an invisible lover. Walking up the steps to City Hall, Callum was constantly swerving and stopping, having to avoid the people coming and going. He had soon found out that he had to constantly be aware who was behind him too, and avoid them walking straight into his back. One thing he hadn’t thought of. An important note for his records. Wandering around in the offices upstairs. he was able to read important documents, left around on desks, or still on computer screens. Following a smart young woman into a conference room, he stood in the corner as a group engaged in a heated exchange about expenditure on roads and pathways. But it was getting dark, and he was hungry.

The walk home was tiring, but he was still buzzing with excitement. He would write up the notes once he had eaten, going into detail about the gym, the changing rooms, and the offices. The possibilities were endless, as long as he remembered not to make any noise, or come into contact with people. He decided to treat himself to a pizza, and rang the delivery company to order his favourite. His feet must have been filthy, he was sure of that, even though he couldn’t see them. As he ran the water for the shower, he suddenly remembered something. Rushing downstairs to the phone, he called the pizza company. They told him his delivery was on the way, but he spoke over the voice of the young woman at the other end. “It’s not about that. I forgot to say that the money will be on the doormat at the front, and can he please leave the pizza there too. I am not able to answer the door at the moment”. The girl replied, “OK, I will let him know”.

Once he had showered and eaten the pizza, Callum started to write up his research. Re-reading the page, he thought about what he had achieved, using the most incredible thing ever invented by anyone. He had managed to get into some buildings, watch lots of women undress, and listen to conversations in toilets, and committee meetings. He would never be able to record or photograph anything, so it would all depend on his memory. Wrapped in a towel and dressing gown, he still felt cold, and he had been relieved that his door keys had been where he had left them. He scoured his brain for what he might do tomorrow. Where would he go? What could his invisibility achieve? He was convinced that it would come down to more than being passed unnoticed in the street, or watching an attractive young woman strip and get into a shower.

But it was a start. And the experiment was a success, undoubtedly.

Miranda

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 800 words.

Quentin opened the box excitedly. Dan had explained how to do it all, so very soon, it was up and running. Everyone had a Miranda these days, or something like it, and Quentin had started to feel embarrassed about leaving it so long before catching the trend. It took some fiddling around to get it just right though. Dan had made it sound a lot easier than it was, that’s for sure. Once his appointments and favourite music were stored, he added the controls for the TV, and light switches. He would soon be a part of the digital world, just like all the others.

“Miranda, what’s the weather forecast?” He tried it out with something easy.
“Today’s weather is dry and cloudy, with a maximum of 18 degrees”.
Quentin smiled. He liked Miranda’s voice. Some of the others he had heard sounded like the voices that announced train departures, or the floors in a lift, but Miranda sounded all-too real, and had a smooth, sultry tone.
“Miranda, play the Red Hot Chili Peppers selection”.
“Playing Red Hot Chili Peppers Selection”.
As the music came through the speakers, he grinned again. So much easier than having to find a CD, put it in the tray, then use the remote.
“Miranda, add white wine and sparkling water to my shopping list”.
“White wine and sparkling water added to your shopping list” came the reply.

He rang Dan’s mobile, excited to hear his boyfriend’s voice. “It arrived this morning, and I have already got it going. I added things to the shopping list, and played some music, and asked about the weather too. The voice is so much better than your one, I tell you. it sounds just like a real person.”
It sounded like Dan was grinning as he replied.” OK, glad you are happy with it. I had better go now, bit busy here. See you tomorrow. Love you”. He hung up before Quentin had time to reply.

“Miranda turn on the bedroom light”
“Turning on the bedroom light”.
He smiled as he saw the light come on. Even though it was still daytime, it was good to know it worked.
“Miranda, turn off the bedroom light”.
“Turning off the bedroom light”.
Off it went.
“Miranda, set the oven to 200 degrees and turn it on”.
“Oven set to 200 degrees, and turned on”.
Quentin enjoyed a light lunch, then got ready to go into the studio. He would work for a few hours that afternoon, then perhaps join Carol and the others for a drink later.

Sitting in the bar laughing and joking, Quentin regaled them with the excellence of his new device. “I have it connected to everything. Oven, microwave, music, lights, even the fridge-freezer, I tell you, it’s just fab.” His colleagues grinned, wondering why he kept going on about something they had all owned for a long time now. But he was a popular guy, so nobody liked to burst his bubble.

It was dark by the time he got home, and as he entered the minimalist, trendy apartment, Quentin raised his voice.
“Miranda, turn on the living-room lights”.
“Turning on living-room lights”.
This was the life. Didn’t even have to throw a switch. Quentin checked his messages and emails, before deciding to turn in early. He was looking forward to spending the night with Dan tomorrow. He would show him just how good his Miranda was.

The music made him jump out of his skin. He recognised the song immediately, it was ‘Under The Bridge’.
Leaping out of bed, Quentin realised that the bedroom light was on. Rushing into the living room, he yelled above the deafening music.
“Miranda, turn off the music” Nothing.

Every light in the room was on, and he could hear the oven fan whirring. Walking across to the open plan kitchen, he slipped in a pool of water, which made him sit with a thump on the floor. The oven dial showed 500 degrees, and he could feel the heat from the glass door. A sudden ping made him jump, and the microwave started a second cycle, set to the maximum 30 minutes. The water was all over, coming from the electronically-dispensed tap on the door of the fridge-freezer. He got onto all fours, calling out again.
“Miranda, turn off the oven. Stop the music, and turn off the microwave and water dispenser too”.
Nothing. Maybe it was too much at one time. He moderated his tone.
“Miranda, turn off the music”.
“Miranda, turn off the oven”.
“Miranda, turn off the microwave”.
“Miranda, turn off the water dispenser”.
Could it handle four individual instructions, Quentin was wondering. And then the music stopped.
At last. Now for the rest.

“Miranda, turn off the oven”.
It took a long time to reply, as if thinking about it.

“Say please”.

Scared

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 980 words.

Emily couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been scared. Her earliest memory was of being scared to go to sleep at night, terrified of what might happen. Unable to sleep without a light on, and constantly listening to those creaks and clicks coming from a house resting for the night. Dad would come in when she screamed, and patiently explain it was just water moving through pipes, or heating radiators cooling down. But she never believed him.

Going outside was even scarier than staying in though. People walked past with dogs that might bite her, and crossing the street was a waking nightmare, trying to get through the gaps in the traffic. Emily could imagine herself under one of those cars or buses, run down without hesitation. Even playing in the garden was scary. Things buzzed around, things that could bite you, or sting you. Plants could hurt you too, if you weren’t careful. Best to not touch any of them, better still to stay inside.

Once school started, she became hysterical. Unable to stop thinking of what might happen, Being hit by other children, falling off ropes or slides in the play ground, or having to use the same disgusting toilets as so many others. It was loud and noisy too, and at break time, everyone would rush around, bumping into you. Best not to be there, Emily decided. So she screamed and screamed until they sent for her parents. They couldn’t calm her down, and she was taken home. The next day, she refused to get ready to go, and screamed and screamed until mum started crying, and dad left for work with a worried look on his face.

They took her to see a doctor, and that doctor arranged for her to see a different one. That one sent her into a hospital for tests, and to talk to a woman in a room full of toys. When they told Emily she had to stay in the hospital, she screamed and screamed until mum gave in, and took her home. That night, she refused to go to bed until mum gave in again, and said she could sleep with her. Dad slept on the sofa, but he kept looking at her strangely. After that, mum tried to teach her at home. She bought books and paper, telling Emily about the alphabet, numbers, and animals. As long as she was inside, and sleeping with mum, Emily was calm. She knew dad wasn’t happy, but so what.

Mum cut her hair, and sent off for clothes that arrived in the post. Most of the time, Emily stayed in her pyjamas, and when mum said she needed a bath, she insisted it was done in shallow water. You could slip in a bath, she knew that. Might even drown. Dad stopped reading to her at night, or talking to both of them much at all. He ate his dinner when he got home from work, and stared at the TV until they went to bed, before making up his own bed on the sofa. He looked tired and grumpy, but Emily would cling to mum, and he left her alone. One day, he was gone. Mum cried a lot, but just said he wouldn’t be back. Emily felt sad for mum, but pleased that he would no longer be staring at her.

People came to the house, to talk to mum. Emily refused to go to another room, but she didn’t really understand what they wanted. They gave off funny sweet smells, and talked loudly. Stuff about school, doctors, and money. Mum said they had enough money, because grandpa had died and left them a lot. All the voices got louder, so Emily screamed and screamed, until mum told them to leave.

When mum started to feel ill, a different doctor came to the house. Mum said that she would have to go away for a while, and some nice people would look after her instead. Emily screamed and screamed, but this time, it didn’t work. Two women took her out to a car, and then drove her to a place with lots of rooms, a place where many other children lived. Emily told them she wasn’t staying there, and wanted to go home. But when she screamed and screamed, they took no notice, and she was shut in a room. A nasty woman told her that she was old enough to know better, and that she should have learned how to behave by now. They gave her grown-up clothes to wear, and big hard shoes too. When she wouldn’t put them on, they dressed her in them instead, ignoring the struggles and screams.

Emily looked out through the closed window. Never opened, in case something or someone came through it. She had been there a long time now, but no idea just how long. They let her eat in the room, and had long ago stopped insisting that she sit with the others in recreation. She had made sure to just scream and scream whenever they did that. She thought about mum and dad sometimes, but couldn’t remember what they looked like. None of the women there bothered her anymore. As long as she ate something, used the shower, and took her medicine, they left her alone. She ran her ragged fingernails through her hair, which was now long enough for her to sit on. She wasn’t about to let anyone near her with scissors, as they couldn’t be trusted.

The sun was setting, and it would soon be dark. Emily walked across to the switch near the door, and flicked it on, flooding the room with light from the twin tubes on the ceiling. She would sit up as long as possible, until tiredness won.

Just a quick check under the bed, then time to rest.