Psychic Sue

 

The poster was curled at the edges. Psychic Sue had felt drawn to the village of Boxstead when arranging her tour of the country. Any press was good press and despite the papers calling her a fraud and a money-grubbing old hag – she still managed to attract sell-out crowds. She half-suspected that it was because these villages were so devoid of any excitement and activity that anything could pull people out. She could juggle pineapples and still fill the village halls.

Her 66-reg blue BMW arrived in the afternoon, where her assistant started pulling out the show’s decor. A red velvet curtain, a stand to hang it from, a crystal ball, some stuffed birds of prey, lighting equipment for dramatic effect, and some spirit-invoking crystals. While he prepared the set, she set about the village.

The pub was built between the village green and the church. Heavy lumbersome oak trees hung over the fringes of the green. The pub had dark tudor beams and a thatched roof. There were some strong forboding energy in the building – generations of unresolved differences lingered like the fog rolling across the parish.

The building gave her the heebie jeebies as she entered.

“Pick your poison…” said the baldheaded landlord. He was wearing a red jumper and brown trousers.

She shook her head and said – “just a lime and soda, please”

“Nothing stronger?”

“No – I find the alcohol addles me brain and I can’t work.”

“Oh, you must be Psychic Sue.”

“Oh… that’s me. Psychic Sue, watch out or I’ll put a curse on you. Now chop chop with my drink”

The landlord snarled and hurriedly prepared the lady’s beverage.

“Fanks love” she said, smiled half heartedly and took a seat in the corner by the fire.

She read a biography of the late great Michael “The Oracle” Schmiechel – one of her heroes as she grew up in a two-up-two-down on the banks of the Mersey. She’d spent so many bleak years as a child and had been determined to break out. Now she was a very succesful showwoman and wanted everyone to know about it. The hours passed and the silver disk of sun disappeared over the horizon.

Her assistant joined her for a dinner of beef and parsnips in the pub – before escorting her back to the village hall.

The gaggle of old Southern ladies had assembled in the cheap plastic seats and were gossiping about the upcoming fete and Edith’s funeral. A few had managed to drag their husbands along. The few men in the audience looked very skeptical, but Sue had astonished those types before.

A gentle ethereal music was passing over the room. Then Sue kicked her assistant to turn up the music, so that the crowd would quieten down.

“Right – calm down, calm down.”

“Welcome to my night of clairvoyance. I’m gonna take some of youz lot tonight and give you a reading from the other side. So… any volunteers?”

A lady in the front row edged her hand up from her pearls self-consciously.

“You’ll do, love. Come on up and tell us yer name?”

“I’m Carol.”

“Right Carol, sit there nice and tight and let the spirit be bright.”

Psychic Sue was closing her eyes and tapping her temples. A blast of energy shot from her spine and she was suddenly floating through the realm of the afterlife. She focused on the energetic outline of the woman in front of her.”

She shivered and it came to her with a lump in her throat. She pulled a face.

“He’s pink. Very pink. Like when you’ve two weeks in Mallorca”

“And he’s got yellow spots.”

“And oh god,” she wobbled in her seat. “He’s got big googley eyes.”

She brought herself back to the room terrified.

“Can you help me Carol?”

Carol was looking down at the floor a little ashamed. He was gone now, she was lonely, she really didn’t want to say to much in front of the women here. But this Liverpudlian lady seemed to be coaxing the truth out of her, whether Carol liked it or not. She blushed.

“Well, it’s my Husband.”

“It didn’t look like a person, Carol. It was like an alien.”

Carol clutched her pearls, still looking at the floor. “He had a…” she inhaled “fetish”. She shook after saying such a dirty word.

“A fetish for what Carol? Trust me I’ve seen a lot in my time…” said Sue

She couldn’t believe she was saying this, in front of all these people, she didn’t want to, but this woman was very persuasive.

“I can tell it’s bothering you love. Get it out.”

Carol looked to the heavens and the words stuttered out. “He liked” she exhaled. “He liked dressing up as Mr Blobby”

The hall went into uproar, they always knew there was something strange about John when he’d been in the village. They were in hoots of laughter. Carol felt terribly ashamed to start with but couldn’t conceal a giggle.

Carol stared upwards “The things we do for love”

“Oh I see. Let me see if he has a message for you.” Sue jolted back in her seat.

“He wants you to know he loves ya. And that you will always be his Mrs Blobby.”

Carol laughed and cried and burst into a fit of hysterics before returning to her seat.

“Ok there you go sweet pea. Who’s next?”

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The Great Library

The library extended upwards into a gloom. The tall bookcases were rammed with volumes, the older ones heavy and leatherbound. The newer ones, colourful and paperback. Brass lamps shone onto the mahogany paneling. Chesterton sofas were scattered around.

There was no indication of night or day, for the building had no windows. Jeremy was alone here. How he got here he didn’t know. But the hollow, eerie echo-eyness of the place had a how would you say… a gravitas.

He stood up and looked around to absorb the place. A large station clock with the sun’s rays shining from it was on the ground floor. There was something not quite right about it though. He stared at it and then he realised, it was running in reverse. The second hand was moving backwards. The minute hand too.

He would normally find being in such a location a little intimidating or unsettling. But he had to accept that this was where he found himself for now, until he wasn’t

here. There was a hum of some air conditioning in the distance. He paced around the labarythine bookshelves.

He climbed the stairs in a wall and came out at the other levels, built in the same symetrical structure.

The dark brown wood and the golden brass put him at ease. This was built by gentlemen for gentlemen. He took a book out at random. He examined the spine and the front.

It had some markings, lines and squares and triangles and circles and combinations of these shapes. He opened it up and it was the same inside. It was no recognisable human language he’d seen before.

He took another book, examined it in the same way. And again it had the same markings, written in the same language he didn’t know. He repeated the process a couple more times before giving up.

What was there to do here? He slumped down on the floor and crossed his legs.

Then a book jumped off the shelf and into the sky rising into the heavens. This was very very strange. Oh well, he had to get on with it.

Then he looked across and another book flew up from a shelf below him. Gradually books were rising up into the gloomy roof.

A young man in a cream suit then came through from the stairs.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. The librarian see you now.”

The man pulled on an orange book on a shelf nearby and the shelf rotated. Jeremy followed the assistant and he found himself in a dining room in a conservatory-type building in a park. Old Victorian gaslights were shining around the edges and there was one elderly man sitting in the centre table. The rest of the restaurant was predictably empty.

“Cheesecake. I’ve never been a great lover of it. Would you care for mine and some coffee?”
“Coffee Jeeves, pronto!” he snapped his fingers.

The assistant started preparing coffee and tentative Jeremy sat silently taking in the place. It was night outside. Just silhouettes of trees stood against the sky of dull glowing orange.

The elder moved the plate of cheesecake across.

“So, what did you make of my library?”

“Your libary, oh yes, I liked it.” He hesitated. “But… it’s a little bit empty, isn’t it.” said the young man

“You’ll find that’s the case. It will always be fairly empty, only a few of you humans have access to it. But that will grow over time.”

“Really?”

The coffee cups were clinking on the linen now.

“Yes. You see all the information, all the knowledge, all the ideas of the universe are stored up here ready for you to read and explore and share.”

“Really?”

“You seem quite mistrustful and astonished. I’d have thought you would expect this by now.”

“Hmmm… this cheesecake is divine. What’s in it.”

“Raspberry and champagne. Fantastic little recipe from an accident in Marseille in 1922 that was scribbled down in a notebook that found it’s way back here. We’ve been

doing it ever since in the restaurant. Gets a little too familiar though”

“Ok – tell me about the library” said the young man melting in his seat.

“You see we have all these books, information – everything is stored up here. Lots of kids come and visit but when they start school, they gradually lose interest and then become bogglewarts. The few who keep their imagination in tact visit here quite regularly.

Because the bogglewarts are so bogged down in responsibilities and jobs and trying to impress people they don’t like — they need a little… how shall we say, a helping hand to remember the worthwhile things.

And so we enlist you, the imagineer to solve this problem. We’ll take things from here, ping it through the portal up there and then it’ll land in your head as a writer, musician, composer, artist – whatever you call yourself.

The young man sipped his coffee.

“Hmm… and what happens then?”

“Well you either use it or you don’t. It’s quite maddening when all these books keep going up there then they return unused. These ideas need to reach Earth while there still is an Earth to enjoy them.”

The young man finished the cheesecake and coffee, gestured to the waiter and went back to the library to find something that he wanted to take back with him.

Halfway House

hheref

Halfway House was located half way between the capital and the port. Along this ancient thoroughfare had passed thousands of pilgrims seeking miracles, merchants seeking shillings and wenches seeking wooing. In previous years it had served as a tavern and inn for weary wind-beaten travelers. But after the place was taken over by the Methodist Richard Forrester, alcohol – “the spirit of satan” – was prohibited. The house was converted into a tea room which closed strictly at sundown to keep out rowdy troublemakers.

The former lodgings upstairs had been converted into a spacious accommodation for the sideburned man’s family.

For it was a big family he had. Judith had died while birthing their sixth child and he was left to raise his offspring. The call of the cockrell at dawn would take him from his pleasant dream into the cold flinching reality. He would light a candle and walk across the creaking floorboards to the kitchen. He would toss some logs into the smouldering fireplace, wander to the well to fetch a bucket to fill the copper kettle, then return to hang it above the flames. The baker and his cart would ratatat-tat on the door shortly afterwards. Forrester got the first pickings before the village.

The doughy loafs would sit on the aged oak table. While he prepared his tea leaves – there would normally be another knock on the door. The butcher would lift a cloth showing yesterday’s animals in pieces. This was followed by the grocery man’s horse and cart – offering flour, fresh vegetables from the continent and an array of jams and confectionery. The milkman would trundle up last and usually late for some reason, but a big smile made everyone forget about their frustration with him.

Richard would stoke up the fire substantially as he enjoyed a quiet cup of tea, for a few minutes of solitude with the birds singing, cockerel tooting and flames crackling. After this he’d dash in and out from the well with buckets and buckets of water to pour into the tin bath. He’d push the tub as close to the fire as it would go. Then he would cook some fresh bacon above the flames, slice up a new loaf and spread a thin crust of butter.

He found this was the easiest way to pull the children out of bed. No matter how cold and dark and grim the morning was, the juicy, greasy salty smell would drift into the bedrooms and perk them up. They would race down the hall and find chipped plates with the most fantastic treasure. A bacon sandwich.

Elizabeth was the eldest. A buxom young woman of 16, she was an excellent workhorse around the business. After eating, she’d jump through the bath, scrubbing herself with the bristley brush and soap. From there she’d dress herself modestly taking extra care to conceal her ankles with the trousers that were too small. She’d then look for any problems downstairs. She’d sweep and scrub the floorboards. She’d crumble the stale bread and put it outside for the hens. She’d collect their eggs and then start preparing food for the day with what her father had picked that morning from the passing tradesmen. It would be a great loss when she left, her father thought. When any customer was casting an eye upon her figure, her father would raise an eyebrow at the gentleman unless he approved of him.

Edward was 13 and extremely bright. He had stayed at the village school until he was 11 and then was offered a place at the local grammar school. He walked four miles down the straight road each morning, and returned four miles back each night. He could read and write, which his father couldn’t. He would probably go to university and probably onto London with a good job doing something his father didn’t understand. He would keep his old man in his old age, his father hoped.

Jack was good at making things. He made things out of wood before he could talk. He was 12 and was an apprentice to the village’s blacksmith. With all the horses trotting through, covering endless miles along the countryside, their shoes were ground to mere plates. He was learning a craft and on his apprentice wage he could sneak a half pint of ale in the public house at lunch, enough time to sober up without his Dad finding out.

Then there were the twins Jill and Christopher. They were both 7 and still at school. They didn’t seem to like it very much but when they came home in the afternoon they would play in the garden a lot with each other. They were not hard work.

Finally there was Emmanuel who was 4. He was a very nice little boy. He’d make a lot of noise when he wasn’t happy with something. He needed a lot of attention and Elizabeth tended to look after him while her father was serving the punters.

When the children were all plunked through the bathtub – the schoolbound and work-bound ones were sent on their way. At which point the tea room would open. All the passing humanity would notice the creaky roadside sign of a house between the city and sea. Those on foot would come through the front. Those with wagons would park in the stables at the side. In summer they would be sweaty. In winter they would be sodden and cold. The tea, Elizabeth’s cake, the roaring fire and steamed up windows was the respite the travelers desperately needed.

Here one earthy spring morning a man on horseback galloped to the front and dismounted. He was young, had curly black hair and skin freckled brown by the summers. He came to the counter and gave an envelope with a green wax seal.

“Hand this on to the man who asks for it” he said and left abruptly.

This was unusual, but Richard took the letter upstairs for safekeeping. The script on the brown parchment was lacey and definitely a woman’s handwriting. A mistress calling upon her gentleman friend perhaps? Who else could afford to send a messenger from the port? It was also French, yes definitely French. English ladies were definitely less flowery with their handwriting.

Two days passed and Forrester began to wonder if the letter would be collected at all. But when a well-dressed man with a large curly wig arrived in a carriage, he suspected this would be the recipient. He had the look of a man of law. The way he held himself with power and presence, the way he commanded his order and the way he looked at the other motley travelers, all confirmed Forrester’s suspicions. He requested the best lunch the establishment could offer for him and his horse-driver, and the letter.

After fetching the prized object, some leek and potato soup and crusty bread – Richard observed from behind the counter. He washed plates and toweled glasses dry when the mouth of the man formed a large O. The letter obviously revealed something of great shock. The wooden wheels of the lawyers’s mind were rolling at a ferocious pace. His mind was galloping through the pastures of possibilities. The man tilted his head one way, considering one hypothesis then shook it again obviously dismissing it. He chewed his lip to consider something else, but threw that away as well. He eyes tilted down to the bottom left, taking into account something he saw before. Then his mental carriage had stopped with a sudden jolt.

“We must see her… come on James, I’ll pay for this lot and I’ll meet you outside.”

The two of them had barely stayed for five minutes, and had only taken a spoonful of soup. He threw a few coins on the table and stormed out in such haste that he left the letter behind.

What could be so urgent that they would avoid eating, Forrester pondered as he cleared the table. The nag was neighing outside and clopping of its footsteps was dissipating as they headed up the hill. He put the letter in his pocket. When Edward came home that night he asked the boy to read it for him.

“Dearest Guillaume,

It is late and I am unwell. It is not a malady of the head or the body, but a malady of the heart. I am sick with worry of my husband. He hasn’t looked at me with any love or passion for many months. He arrives home drunk and aggressive in the darkest hours. At first I thought it was another woman, all roses decay and I’m ready to accept it graciously. But I have discovered he has found another love, a love much more dangerous than I had feared.

She spins around and around with the allure of a great hypnotist. She satiates his greed and his passion beyond anything I could ever offer him. The thought of her crazes him with her unpredictability and power. Of course, I am talking about La Roulette.

Many men have succumbed to her charm and a few francs won and lost are nothing to worry about. But when the stakes become higher and higher tempting ultimate destruction – one lives in fear. One cannot sleep. I took a meeting with the bank manager discretment of course, and after many strong words I discover the house and lands are mortgaged to the hilt. How can one sleep when the bed that one occupies could be pulled away in the morning?

I’ve tried to make him see sense but he avoids me, shouts and blames me. Every morning he pummels the casino’s doors, to let him enter her with his fortune… our fortune. Then every night she spits him out in a state of drunken ruin.

I am a damsel in distress. He simply will not listen to me and he is quite insane. Please rescue me dearest Guillaume. Every night I dream of our nights on the Riviera, under the palm trees, mere kittens in love. Then I awake with the horror of our servant bringing breakfast. Fine Bernaud has been very loyal and I dread the day that I must release him from our house because of the misdeeds of my useless husband.

Take me Guilliame, mon amour, from this house of misery before I am made a vagabond.

Bisous,
Claudette xxx”

“We do get some interesting people coming through here” said Richard to his son.

“I want to know how this ends.”

Derailed Home

alaska-train

Rick piped on the harmonica on the steam train that marched down the line. The rhythmic low notes matched the tempo of the train’s chugging. His face would crease as he slid to the higher notes, that wailed from deep inside his lungs.

He wore a disemboweled raccoon as a hat. His beard caught the condensation of his breath. Snow, tundra and pine trees surrounded the track on his route, delivering coal and canned food to the remote mining towns of Alaska, before the vicious winter totally cut them off. He shoveled a couple of coal heaps onto the flames and toasted his mottled hands in front of the heat. Deep lines were chiseled into the face of this hardy driver, his eyes gleamed in the glowing engine fire.

He’d run to these tracks at the age of 16, fleeing an alcoholic father and a bruised mother. His co-workers had taken him under their wing and he never looked back. It was intense methodical work. Hauling loads, watching the oncoming track, checking supplies on board were topped up and fixing the endless breakdowns on this rusty iron horse.

He lived between rest stops of the railroad’s outposts. These were normally cabins with a single bed, thick blankets and a cheap wardrobe that nobody ever used. He’d eat at the greasy restaurants in the town and visit dive bars in the evening – though never touching a drop of booze. He might have fathered many children he never met. The local chicks loved the out-of-towner. But there were so many small towns, so many routes, so many stops that the women who punctuated those lonely nights all blurred into one.

He’d sometimes see kids in towns that looked like his own, but it wasn’t his place to ask questions. They would grow up and fend for themselves just like he did. Besides he was as bound to this railroad as the rails on the sleepers. He was the lifeline to these towns. Sticking around after 30 years on the move would drive him insane. There were not many old-timers left anyway. Some had died early deaths from whiskey and women and the rest had moved south.

The young-uns didn’t know the first thing about these railroads. They’d never wrestled with moose or had a train derailed by hungry bears. His harmonica kept wailing until he saw a cloud of snow tumble ahead.

“Sweet Mother of Jesus!” he shouted and yanked on the brake lever with all his might. Sparks went flying across the rack as the ear-piercing scrape of metal on metal cut through the air. He’d not crashed into the snow mound, but this was another beast to deal with. A 12 foot wall of white powder was blocking the path of the halted train.

Rick got out the cabin and got down into the ditch to take a look at how long this avalanche went on for. Lucky for him it was narrow. It was time for the big guns. He got out the cabin to service wagon and pulled out the rocket canon. This would blast enough out of the block to him through. He unloaded it and rolled it deep into the ditch, put on his ear muffs and goggles and loaded the mother fucker.

“Booooooooom!” the machine went as it propelled Rick backwards. When the rocket exploded crunchily in the snow mound, it was like a million snowballs had been launched into the air.

Rick was sheltering for cover but a large block of ice had landed on his left shoulder. Such filthy language had never been heard before as Rick hopped around, but thankfully there was only a deer to hear it. Despite his agony, the train’s path was clear. Wincing and staggering into the cabin, Rick released the brakes and shovelled what he could with his right arm into the engine’s fire. It started chuffing along and he passed out.


The next thing he knew was a big clang reverberating through his body. And the pain. He touched his left shoulder, but his left arm was unconscious and unresponsive. It was also covered in dry blood. Someone opened the train’s cabin.

“He needs help!”

More blurry faces crowded over him but they all faded to black again.


“That was a nasty accident you had there. There should be at least to of you on the train at once”

He was in a doctor’s clinic, in a makeshift bed on the floor. He looked to his left to discover his left arm was missing.

“Arggh!” he screamed, but at least their was no pain. What had the doctor said again?

“Oh, we’re understaffed!” he barked.

There was a woman the other side of the bed. She was stroking his hair. She looked vaguely familiar. He creased his face thicker, trying to dig in the recesses of his brain.

“Remember me Rick? Iron Castle in ’49” she drawled “You remember… we danced, you took me your lodge, pressed me onto the floor and put Billy inside me”. She looked dreamy, happy and ethereal. Then her face turned blood red and furious.

“It’s been nothing but misery since! My Dad kicked me out, said I was nothing but a cheap whore so we had to run as fast as we could to the city. I got a job at the railroad HQ as a mail clerk. Come and find me Rick. I love you”

She disappeared. Rick reached out to where she had been with his functioning arm.

“You OK, Rick?” said the nurse
“You saw her, right?”
“Who?”
“The woman there”
“The only person who’s been here has been me and Doctor Dubrowski”
“But she was here”
“Maybe these painkillers are a little strong. You’ve been through a major shock, get some sleep.”

It all sorta made sense. He closed his eyes and started snoring.

He awoke once more and everything seemed to be in focus again. His arm was still missing but everything else was alright and seemed real again. A man in a uniform was offering him some papers to sign about sickness pay and liability something. He signed them and didn’t listen. All he could think about was the women he remembered who was tugging on the heart he didn’t know he had. He hated being here in this damp, stinky building wearing bandages and not able to move.

When the man left, he stood up. He ached and stretched. He looked around the room and found some clothes in a closet. He staggered out the clinic and went around town. He found a pawnbrokers where he offered his gold chain. The bastard didn’t offer much but it was enough for a ticket to Fairbanks.

He waited a couple of hours for the train in the station’s bar. The coffee was weak and terrible, the sandwich was stale but he put it down him. He needed food and strength. He went to the platform and played his mouth organ to make his withered body happy again.

The journey was uneventful and the passenger car was as barren as the landscape outside. They pulled in to the station with its long and numerous platforms – the only landmark here was a tall four-story office block overshadowing the station, made of purposeful concrete and steel.

“Where’s the mail room” he asked the receptionist. The lady in the tight uniform and red lipstick pointed the way half-mindedly. Rick went down the corridor with butterflies in his stomach. No woman had made him feel like this before. He didn’t even know if she would be there, or even if she would like him. Maybe it was just some stupid hallucination. He poked his head in the door. There she was with her typewriter. She was fatter and frumpier than his memory. But he went to kneel down in front of her .

“Helen?”

She looked up, deeply buried in a thought about reimbursement for delayed cargo. Then there he was. Her body melted, her pulse raced and thumped out of her chest.

“Rick?!” she said confused, happy and bemused. “What happened to your arm?”
“Long story”

“What’s this?” shouted a short man who’d strode in, the woman’s boss.

“Nothing.” Helen said hurriedly.

“I’ll meet you outside in 10” she whispered, staring at him while Rick moved away.

He went outside and played his harmonica with more gusto and colour than he’d used in years.

When she joined him with a wobbly walk, they talked awkwardly, mist clouding from their mouths. He followed her along the icy sidewalks to an apartment block. She took him to the top floor. She jangled her keys in the lock.

A young man was watching the black-and-white television. He looked about 16 and had the unmistakable nose of his father.

“Billy meet your Dad” she said.

He turned his head, not quite comprehending… confused and muddled. As the words clicked in his head he walked over to the man and gave him a wordless hug.

Rick started feeling all sorts of things he didn’t know he could feel. His mouth was gagged for words and a single tear rolled down his tired face.

The Magician’s Elevator

I read this in Canterbury Waterstones on the 26th January 2017. Video to follow.

rincewind

The elevator dinged and the magician emerged. A pointy red hat with silvery moons and stars sat atop his head. A wizened wrinkly face held his goofy toothless smile.

“Good night boys and girls. You have left your bodies behind for this evening and you are welcome to my magical realm.”

The children stared at him with their mouths agape and fidgeting around in excitement.

“You meet me every night. Some of you meet me in the day. But that’s enough explanation for now. Who wants to go on an adventure?”

“Meeee!!!” screamed a girl at the front.
“Alright then let’s get in the lift”

The elevator shut behind the pair. Uplifting smooth jazz music was piped in. “This is one of my favourite tracks on this CD” said the magician”

“Ok – where shall we go young madam?”

“The dinosaurs!”

“The Dinosaurs it shall be then”

The magician adjusted the fourth-dimensional dial to 100 million years ago and the fifth dimensional dial to somewhere not too far from the building.

The elevator whistled down the double-helix shaped shaft and through the loop-the-loop and landed in the prehistoric age.

The doors pinged open again and Madeline was confronted with the sight of a 20 foot tall Diplodocus munching leaves.

“Don’t be afraid they don’t eat humans”. The girl calmed down and looked up at the scaly poo-coloured creature.

“It looks like my mummy”

“Yes that’s what having children and too many chocolate bars does to you” sighed the magician
“I’ll pick you up later, but beware of the T-Rex”

“Which one’s that?” said the bemused girl.

“The one that looks like your Dad on a bad day. Toodle pip!”

The magician popped back in the elevator and pressed the Home button. It whooshed back through the loops and the double-helix. The magician did some groovy disco dancing and then put his serious face on for the children.

“Who’s next?” he said slyly.

A chunky boy pushed past the others. He was sour-faced and in a posh school uniform.

“OK, Henry where would you like to go today?”

“When I’m rich. I want to meet me when I’m rich”

“Alrighty” said the elderly magician. He twisted the fourth dimension dial 30 years forward and fifth dimensional dial to the spaceship colony of New Zork.

The elevator pinged through the stratosphere, grew rockets, wings and propellers and jumped through the hyper space portal. The ride was a little rickety, but then the elevator landed on the rocket dock of future Henry’s dome.

The elevator doors opened to future Henry’s bedroom. There were wide panoramic views of the galaxy. A large circular white bed stood in the centre.

“Wow!!!” exclaimed Henry

“New Zork is fantastic isn’t it. A little too hectic for someone of my age but you’d be right in your element.”
“Oh, your lady friends will come in a moment”

“What?!?!?! Girls!!!?!?!” said Henry

“Oh yes! You’ll like them by this point”

“Urrghghgh! Girls smell!”

“Well little Henry. You should be careful what you wish for in this life because you might just get it. See you later!”

With that the elevator got back in the elevator and pushed home. He hummed to the glorious bossa nova, track 12 if he was right. This was divine!

He arrived back to the children so engrossed in his singing he didn’t hear the door open. The children saw the old man gyrating and humming to the silly song and all started laughing.

“Pretend you didn’t see that” said the magician, straightening up. But the children kept giggling.

“Now I’m going to choose someone who isn’t a bossypants.” He looked towards the back.
A shy boy was sucking his thumb.

“Dexter, today is your lucky day” The little man stood up and toddled over innocently with pure trust in his eyes.

As soon as the lift doors shut the poor boy started crying.

“Oh come here.” he lifted the boy up.

“It’s OK. You’re OK now. The boy wailed and wailed and wailed until no more tears came out and no more sound could be made.”

“You’re safe now. You’re here with me. It was probably a little too early for you to go to Earth with those savages.”
“Where shall we take you?”

“Home” said the boy without hesitation. Using one of the few words he knew.

The magician held down the button with a picture of a house and the doors opened at a woodland scene. The deer were prancing about, the dappled sunlight was shining through the trees and a few woodland faeries were playing around.

The boy toddled towards them with a big grin on his face.

“See you soon” said the magician.

His work continued throughout the night. He took everyone to a dreamworld before taking them back again to their sleepy 3D bodies.

“Remember you can come here any time you want.” he’d whisper. The people would wake up in child and adult bodies, sighing warmly and happily in their beds.

Nowhere To Go

3trains

Somehow he always found his way onto the margins, the fringes, the edges. The verges where the odds were stacked like a tower of beans.

He’d been fired from his last three attempts at jobs. When the office boss had rubbed him the wrong way, he poured coffee down his back. In the pub where he’d been forced to work til 2am, he peed in the landlady’s tea the next morning and stole his wages from the till, never returning again. The job in the estate agency had lasted two days until a client had been so obnoxious and pinickity about the shade of Magnolia on the walls of a Chelsea flat, he kidnapped the client. Instead of returning her to the office, he drove an hour to a paint merchant in the middle of nowhere, and left her there. That was that.

But the problem with following all your urges was it rarely earned you any money. His notebook of friends with sofas to sleep on was gradually withering down. Without a regular income there was little chance of getting a flatshare, let alone his own place. Even the overemployed were on borrowed money and borrowed time. No matter how hard they slaved away at their jobs – there was never enough.

The cocktails on credit cards, rides in Ubers, weekend city breaks to get away from it all, takeaways and gym memberships to burn off the takeaways all added up. He’d checked out of this way of life long ago. Work didn’t work for him.

It was a soggy sodden day as we walked down the foggy smoggy main road. The traffic was gridlocked. He got a tasteless 99p filter coffee from a cafe and stared out the window.

Technically, now, he had nowhere to go. No place to call home.

All he had was a large rucksack with a few clothes, two dog eared books, a notebook and a tablet. But he had himself. And that had kept him safe so far.

He drank up – then headed to the supermarket. He picked up the meal deal he wanted, went to the self checkout, and only scanned the hula hoops. He paid and collected everything as calmly and casually as he did most lunchtimes.

He gobbled up the Prawn Mayo sandwich in the park while watching the pigeons. He loved the pigeons. They didn’t care too much about rules and property and much for that matter. They flew where they wanted, landed where they wanted. They ate what they could scavenge. They mated with whoever was willing. They weren’t trying to live up a social media feed that they’d always fall short of. They were instinctual, playful, free creatures.

He watched them dance out their mating rituals. He threw his crusts at the birds which attracted a fluttering flock. He left them and headed towards the tube station. Transport hubs were always rife with possibilities, new doors, places to go, opportunities, newspaper. He stood in the ticket hall, watching the scurrying cockroach commuters with their suits, frocks and umbrellas.

The he saw the side door. 4592AA the men in orange jackets pressed. He pretended to browse the newspaper for a while, then went to the pound shop next door. He bought a flourescent green jacket and bottoms, then changed in the station toilets, adding his black hat and his gruff frowning face.

4592AA. The lock clicked open. He closed it behind him. To the right were steps that led to the tracks. To the left a metal gate stood ajar. He pulled on it and climbed the narrow staircase.

The room was unlit. He pulled his torch from his rucksack. This cosy room was full of old signs, the old station clock, dusty cones and wet floor signs. The place hadn’t been used in a while. On the right stood another door. He battled the cobwebs and pushed on it.

This room had windows at least, the top one was broken. A desk had been built around the edges. It had a prime view of the tracks. In the corner a set of four rusty levers stood erect.

He wasn’t supposed to be here. But the cogs in his mind were clicking into place. The points on the track were lining up and a non-stop Metropolitan line train had rocketed from the tunnel underneath the room. His face lit up. “Bingo!” he shouted. He’d hit the motherlode.

He spent the afternoon in the former signalling box. The signals had now been electrified, this narrow space was redundant. He could get a heavy duty lock for the gate downstairs and make this his fortress flat. He’d need to sneak in and out of course. But during rush hours that would be easy. He’d now wait until 5:30 when the tubes began belching out commuters and he could slip out.

After a gentle snooze his phone’s alarm went off. Let’s get cracking. He sneaked downstairs and went to the cab rank. He asked the guy to hang on while he brought down some antiques for clearance. Out came the grand faulty clock. Out came the platform signage much older than its holder. Out came the signals. Now to flog it.

The meter was ticking up as they edged their way into Camden. The young man had texted Vinnie the shop’s owner and promised to deliver at the tradesman’s entrance. Vinnie was smoking a fag by the arch doors when the cab pulled up.

Vinnie offered £300 for the lot. The young man laughed and explained how few of these old Underground clocks were around. Maybe 100 in total. He could get at least a grand for it on Ebay and even more if it was sold to some local yuppie mug. He’d throw the rest in for free. Vin upped his offer to £500 and tapped his nose – nobody needed to know if he wasn’t too greedy. The young man shook his hand, unloaded the goodies, took the envelope of cash and paid the driver double the fare.

Oh to have a pocket full of cash, your own place and be free to roam the city. It was cold, but the rain had subsided. He went to the canal and strolled along with a spring in his step and some Thai noodles as a treat. He headed to Argos where he got an inflatable mattress, sheets, feather duster, lock and extra thick duvet. Then he headed on the bus to his new pad.

It was quieter now, but he snuck in unnoticed. The station staff were occupied on their phones. He locked up, cleared up and set up his new bed. The moon was full and giant through the window. The white gravel and black railway sleepers looked like piano keys from this angle. The trains thundered and trundled underneath but there was something reassuring about being safely above the bustling activity.

How long he could keep this gig going he didn’t know He needed to be discreet and not caught. He’d have to use the window as a urinal into a neighbours alleyway. And if he needed a number two it’d have to be a in a carrier bag, wipining his bum with the Metro. That’s all it was good for. But besides that he was OK. Food could come from the local supermarket bins if things got tight. He could fix the drafty window tomorrow with half a wet floor sign, glued on with No More Nails.

He laughed to himself and slept remarkably well despite the rattling beneath. The next morning he looked in the estate agent’s window and laughed to himself. A flat adjacent to the signal box was going for half a million pounds. He smiled to himself. Ok it had a few more creature comforts, a kitchen and bathroom, but it wasn’t any bigger.

Over the next few weeks the young man bought himself a second-hand bicycle and went around all the museums and art galleries he could cram in. He absorbed as much as he could from the cultural artifacts he saw. He got a sketchbook and drew. First objects and items of interest. Then people. Then as he made slow but steady progress he started making comic books and cartoon strips.

One day he found some half-full tins of paint – all different shades of London Magnolia. He painted them onto his mancave’s wall – like the urban caveman he’d become. He painted his story. From the wretched bosses, to the wretched clients to finally making his own home.

It was perhaps inevitable that one day his game would be up. His heart sank when the code had been rejected. He tried and retried but it had obviously been changed. Damn! Then he got a tap on a shoulder.

“Going somewhere?” asked the ogre in the fluorescent jacket with the walkie talkie.

He was arrested for trespassing and taken down the police station. The young man explained his story to the officer and Transport For London lawyer. But it was like talking to a brick wall. Every sinew in his body was blazing red lava. But they were heartless, icy and impenetrable morons.

He was the problem to be dealt with. His existence was not compatible with the systems they upheld. He was let out with promise that he’d turn up to court the next Monday.

He signed, dejected and hungry. He called the friend he was on best terms with. He scrubbed himself up in the shower before putting on clean clothes.

It was time to call Dave. Dave was 24 and worked for Buzzfeed. Their office had beanbags and a pingpong table. But if anyone was seen playing on them they were fired on the spot. Dave had 9 more clickbait articles to write today. He wasn’t exactly proud of his last article “17 Kittens That Look Like Toy Story Characters”. But it counted towards his target.

He scrolled through Tumblr, scraping the bottom of the internet’s bowels for ideas when his phone vibrated.

“I’m at reception let me up”

After being ushered in the young man told his story in Dave’s cubicle. Dave’s face was in awe – it was certainly more exciting than this job and evenings with Netflix. A story was a story – and this was an exclusive!

“You Won’t Believe What Happened When This Man Left His Job To Squat In a Tube Station” screamed the headline.

Dave could believe it. But hell this was the formula that had worked for a decade. Dave took the phone pictures his friend had sent him, added some blurb and published it within half an hour.

The algorithms on the site were noting above-average click through rates on the article, pushing it to the top of the headlines. Within hours it was going viral. Mashable, Metro, The Evening Standard and even the BBC London had copy-pasted the story.

The following day Natasha Baxter was browsing her Twitter feed when she found the story. As PR manager for the Underground – this was disintegrating into a PR nightmare. It was bad enough with the strikes and the night tube’s delays. Here the comments sections were filling up with angry opinions about how the Tube was pushing a resourceful homeless man onto the streets and into jail potentially, so that they could store some signs.

She stroked her blonde highlights, chewed her pen and adjusted her polyester suit. Hmmm. She had phone calls to make.

“What a museum!?” said the young man.

“Yeah we’ll drop the charges against you, give you some of the entrance fees. You know Tracey Emin made millions from her spunky sheets. This is far more interesting. We can keep on a few staff to man it and that should sort out the strike problems. Where are you now?… Right the cab will bring you here so we can sign the contract”

His breath was taken away. By the evening his fortunes had turned around once again.

Two weeks later, the signal box had a ticket booth added while plaques were placed on the walls. The news had spread across many outlets home and abroad. Soon there was a line of technicolour tourists with trigger-happy cameras and bulging wallets queuing around the block.

And as for our hero – his work was done. With his earnings from his mancave museum he bought a campervan in which he’d headed to greener pastures for his next adventure.

The Holiday From Hell

island-edge-hotel

“Come and dine on the edge of the world” the brochure had offered. Steve and Maggie Malone stepped off the plane for their seventh holiday of the year. They had spent the journey in silence. Uncomfortable silence. 27 years in the civil service had aged Steve prematurely. His back was hunched and rigid,his eyes gloomy and yellow (not helped by his hip flask) and his belly the size of a space hopper.

The steps wobbled as he dismounted the plane. The gaunt figure of his wife follow loyally behind as she always did.

They stepped onto the concrete of the landing strip, tufts of grass breaking through the edges. A courtesy bus was waiting, Steve grumbled: “You’d have thought they could have parked outside the building as it’s such a small airport.”

He huffed and puffed and rolled his eyes as a Mum with two howling babies boarded the bus next to him. The bus waited for everyone to board before leaving, adding to Steve’s agitation. This was followed by an even longer wait for passport control, the luggage carousel and the car hire desk. When they finally made it to the Seat Ibiza (that the car hire firm had blatantly ripped them off on), Steve belted the car down the winding, craggy coastal road.

The sun wasn’t shining on them as the brochure had promised. Margaret was terrified every time Steve approached a bend, clinging onto the handle for dear life. But part of her didn’t care any more. Hell couldn’t be worse than putting up with Steve. Somehow the pair arrived at the hotel unharmed.

“Is that it?” sneered Margaret at the small building.
“The rest is underground you silly old cow” grumbled Steve. Margaret was used to the abuse by now. She loathed him with the passion and fury of 1000 clashing frying pans. She’d schemed to kill him a few times but didn’t know what she’d do without him. What else did she know?

They waddled their way to reception where the local island girl put on her best fake smile and gave them their key. When she sent them on their way she returned to her Whatsapp, messaging her bad boy boyfriend with the motorbike. She’d ride on the back when her shift finished. If he was lucky she’d let him into her apartment, she’d tease. But she knew full well that after hugging that testosterone along the vibrating road, she would be more than ready.

The Malones were arguing with the door lock by now, putting the card in the 3 incorrect ways before they got in. When the door slammed they huffed a huge sigh of relief. They were exasperated. With each other. The staff. Every one they’d encountered that day. Everyone except themselves of course. Nothing was going their way.

The room had been carved into the black granite cliff. A glass panel separated the room from the ocean. It was hollow and dank in the overcast afternoon light. The waves tormented and crashed on the rocks below.

“Does this place have any bloody heating?” shrieked Margaret after wrestling with her suitcase. She glowered around the room and found the Air Conditioning’s remote control. She pressed the power button with a vengeance but nothing happened.

“Urgh!” she yelled.

She stomped her way up the black spiral staircase, back to the reception desk.

“Excuse me!” she yelled, dining the bell atop the desk multiple times.
“Yes Madam” said the girl, still staring at her phone.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you”

The young woman exhaled loudly, put her phone down, tilted her head to the side and stared at her bellowing guest.

“Our air conditioning isn’t working!”
“Have you tried turning it on and off?”
“Of course I bloody well have. What do you take me for? A complete and utter fool?!”
“No Madam. Ok… an engineer will come this afternoon to fix it. Ok?”

“I should jolly well hope so” she said, before waddling her way back to the her husband.

The couple then made their way to the dining room. The salmon was undercooked and sent back twice. The champagne was warm and cheap cat piss in Mrs Malone’s opinion. But they drank it anyway. How much worse could their holiday get after all?

It could indeed get worse, the pair were soon to discover. 1200 miles away on the North Atlantic Ridge, the tension on the plate boundaries was reaching a crescendo. It was time for the ultimate release. The deep walls of rock grinded and grinded against each other. Bashing this way and that. Above the surface there was nothing more than a few ripples. A few fishermen noticed some larger waves on their trawlers, but it was all in a day’s work. However the waves were building and building, the pressure behind them mounting and mounting. The pressure in front pulled up the great watery carpet of the ocean, up and up and up.

Within an hour the wave had reached the buoys of the warning systems. Alarm bells were ringing in a non-descript office. Calls were being made in hurried tones. The Mid-Atlantic islands would be notified. Planes were chartered. Sirens would wail. The evacuations would be rushed but painless.

But in the hotel room on the edge of the world, where Mrs Malone was trying to ignore her snoring husband by attempting to read a crime novel – nobody was any the wiser. The first sign that something was amiss was when Mrs Malone stopped hearing the crashing waves. She hauled herself from her bed to the window. It was quiet here for once. She was cold. That bloody engineer hadn’t come as promised and she was preparing her next angry diatribe for the useless receptionist.

She put on an extra cardigan and went upstairs but it was empty. She pressed the bell repeatedly but nobody answered her call. Her fury was growing with every passing moment.

Then she saw it in the distance.

The towering gigantic wall of water coming towards them. It was still a fair distance away. It was sucking the sea into it. She looked out the panoramic window of the lobby. She could see more the sea bed now, with it’s nobbled rocks. She panicked.

Her time was up. Their time was up. She looked through the restaurant, desperately looking for someone, anyone. She shouted but it seemed like everyone had disappeared. She considered taking the car and the keys but – they were in Steve’s pocket. Damn! The useless oaf wouldn’t move or wake up. Her will to live was draining away anyway.

She had 5, maybe 10 minutes before she’d be taken to her watery grave. Her face was an ashen picture of despair and terror and wretched putrid disappointment. Her mind went blank. She just had to wait. It was a painful uncomfortable wait. The slurping, gurgling sound of the sea was getting closer and closer. She couldn’t bare to face her killer.

Then it happened. The glass smashed. Their last memories were feeling as through they were in a giant washing machine. With that the couple’s reign of misery was over.

The rest of the islanders had escaped on planes and helicopters. The girl at reception was taken to the top of the island’s volcano where her saviour with the dark eyes and the motorbike was now romping away with her.

And the furious ocean had now settled down – it’s job had been done.