What a Catch

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She looked at his once-handsome face. The chiselled jawline and strong nose were still there. If she focused hard enough, his eyes were the same green-blue as the day they met. The only problem now was that the rest of him was also green-blue.

She reached out a tentative hand and stroked his cheek. No longer did it feel soft, but rough and scaly. Where there had once been warmth, there was nothing but slimy cold. This wasn’t her Jeff. This, apparently, was Jub.

“I’m still me,” he whispered, raising a webbed hand to cover hers. “I still feel the same.” He started sobbing, great shuddering breaths gasping through his large lips. She didn’t know how to react. Then she realised he wasn’t actually crying; her hand was covering his gill.

“I’m sorry,” she said, backing away. “You’re just…uh…not my type…anymore.” And with that, she ran, Jub reaching a solitary fin after her.

She’d been suspicious from the first date. They’d enjoyed the fairground rides, and she’d laughed at his unusual sense of humour. Things were going swimmingly, until out of nowhere he fell to his knees and broke down at the coconut shy. He refused to speak of the incident, but now she remembered the little golden fish, suffocating in plastic bags.

He’d always downright refused to visit the Seaquarium too, appeared almost angry whenever she suggested it. It occurred to her now that maybe some of his family were captive there. If he even had a family.

Oh God, she thought, clutching her stomach. I hope I’m not pregnant.

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Modern Fairytale

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This piece was born from an exercise in an Urban Fantasy Lit Circle to place a fairytale character into a modern setting. This was the first image that came to mind:

 

“Yeah, Karen? We’re gonna need your assistance in Footwear.”

Karen sighed and clicked the microphone button. “Sure, what’s up?”

“See for yourself,” her boss crackled back.

Straightening her blue work shirt and smoothing down her hair, Karen entered the service lift and pressed the Level 2 button. She was always given the shitty jobs, but hey, it’s what you had to do to get a promotion around here. They certainly didn’t pay her enough now. Karen wondered what kind of job this would be; another kid throwing up everywhere, or another group of women fighting over the same cute pair of sandals?

She exited the lift into a new chaos.

As far as Karen could see, each shelf was empty. Every single shoe had vanished. Even the discarded pairs that usually littered the floor were gone. The bare white metal reflected Karen’s face as she tried to comprehend the vast emptiness. She was vaguely aware of a woman complaining to her right, and mumbled a brief, “we’re very sorry madam, we’re sorting it.”

A loud sobbing made her turn sharply left and follow the wretched sound.

She found the shoes.

Every single style, from slippered boot to stiletto, had been accumulated into a large footwear mountain. Amongst this, a woman sat crying into the folds of her pink and white dress. A crowd of women surrounded her, mumbling and giving her funny looks. Any time they reached for a pair, the woman in pink hissed at them.

They turned as Karen approached, expecting her to know how to handle the situation. She smiled nervously and knelt beside the distressed lady.

“What’s the matter, love?” She asked. The lady was surprisingly beautiful behind her puffy red eyes and soggy blonde hair.

“They all fit!” she moaned, hugging some court heels to her chest. Karen raised an eyebrow.

“Surely that’s a good thing?”

“No, you don’t understand! They all fit! All the shoes here fit more than one of us! There’s not a single pair here that just fit me! How will he recognise me now?”

Before Karen could reply, she broke down again, collapsing on the cheap pile of footwear and muttering about pumpkins between sobs.

 

Mayday

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Mike caressed the worn woodwork in a way that he had never caressed his wife. Each dent and patch of sticky varnish rekindled memories beneath his fingertips; the chip where the ladder had fallen whilst decorating for Paddy’s Day; the dark red stain where Beth had dropped an entire bottle of rioja over a customer; the shreds of silver tinsel still stapled to the underside. He looked around the empty pub with tired eyes.

He had purchased The Captain’s Wife when he was just thirty years old; a derelict pub on the brink of demolition. Mike remembered as a child sliding on his knees across the hardwood floors, begging his parents for another coke as they contributed to the heavy smog around them. The pub had been a regular scene of his childhood. But time had eroded the decor and the owner until he could no longer maintain it. Mike, on a whim, decided to buy it, and with love and hard work restored the bar to its former glory.

The Captain ran in his blood like his current dose of morphine. It was the reason he got up in the morning and he could never shake it from his mind. But it was also a disease, eating away at his brain and crippling his brittle bones. The Captain was an addiction, and without his permission, Mike was being thrown into rehab.

He heard banging outside and looked away from the empty optics. Outside, a man in a suit was hammering a sign into the flowerbed, its crude letters sending a stabbing pain through his chest. It was like an invitation for the world to come and peer at his loss. A few weeks ago his wife would have been ecstatic at the sight. Well, he thought, you got what you wanted after all.

“You got everything, dad? This is the last from the cellar.” Paula plonked a cardboard box on the bar and began sifting through the pile of mail next to it. He smirked at the irony of her question, but didn’t have the heart to make a joke. “Yes, thanks love.”

Paula tutted. “More of the same,” she said, holding up several envelopes with “URGENT” stamped across the top. “I wish they’d just leave you alone, they know the situation.”

“It’s fine, love.”

“It’s not fine, everything’s-”

“It’s fine.”

Paula sighed. She squeezed his shoulder and said, “I’ll be in the car when you’re ready.” He smiled gratefully as she picked up the box and backed out of the front door. Silence engulfed Mike, and he loathed it. This was a place of noise and raucous laughter; the clinking of bottles and the smashing of glasses, the roaring chants of football fans, the tinny din of the outdated games machine. He’d give anything to have those back. But the iceberg had already been hit. The ship was sinking with its captain, neither steering through the storm without the other.

With a resigned sigh, he flipped the lights off, gave a last fond gaze and locked the door.

The Shrunken Ship Dream

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tescoooooooo

Dictionary Definition:

Holiday

NOUN
  • An extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in travelling.

Claire’s Dream Definition:

Holiday

NOUN
  • A period of time spent traumatised from nearly drowning with a boatful of passengers and all your belongings.

The holiday itself had been alright up until the near death experience. I’d been to this part of Greece before, but my companion had not. The hotel was lovely as always; the staff now knew me on a first-name basis, which probably suggests we should have gone somewhere new…

When it was time to go, we said our goodbyes and boarded the boat that would take us to the mainland to catch our flight. We were less than halfway across the ocean when I felt that something was wrong. There were two mini waterfalls to traverse in order to reach our destination, and I saw them in the distance with a fresh sense of foreboding. Well, I say waterfalls, they were more like water speed bumps. We were stood on deck at the front, and I watched as we went down the first one, but then the boat lurched forward and tackled the second vertically. It didn’t recover; we plunged into the cool water and didn’t come back up.

I looked at my friend and yelled “jump!” just in time and we abandoned ship. Treading water, I watched the boat sink further into the depths. I was hoping it would miraculously right itself and we’d just jumped overboard for nothing. It didn’t. I thought about how far we’d come and decided the mainland was still too far to swim. “Let’s head back,” I said, and we swam all the way back to the hotel.

The staff were confused to see us again. Soaked through and crying, I explained what happened and they gave us food and drink. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. All of my possessions, gone. Like a typical millennial, I was most upset about losing my phone. I thought about all the holiday pictures, my point of contact with the rest of the world, my home. How would my mum contact me? She would want to know I was okay when she heard the news about the boat capsizing…

We wandered around the hotel for the rest of the day, a bit lost. People were still sunbathing and enjoying themselves as if nothing had happened.

A random memory popped into my head; an old man once warned me to be wary on this holiday. “Whatever you do, keep your phone with you,” he’d said. “At all times.” For some reason I had listened to this man – I mean, I usually had my phone with me anyway, but this time I’d kept it about my person rather than in my bag. To my amazement, I checked my back pocket, and there it was; completely fine, not the slightest bit of water damage…

I checked it and went straight to the news, typing in words like “Greece, boat, dead.” Nothing. Was this a cover up? Had it just not been reported yet? There had been at least thirty people on the boat, so surely this was important? I turned my phone off to conserve battery and we went to reception to speak about a room.

Later, someone offered to go check out the boat, to see if there was anything salvageable. Despite our recent trauma, we decided to go with them and show where the boat had capsized. We were on a much smaller boat this time – more a speedboat than a ferry – and when we got to the waterfalls we managed them fine.

“That’s how you’re supposed to do it,” I said knowingly to my friend.

“It was just about here.” Divers jumped off the boat and searched around. They were gone for quite a while and when they came up, one guy brought a Tesco carrier bag with him.

Inside the bag was a model of the ship, exact in every detail to the larger version, even down to singular items on board. The man handed me the miniature ship and said, “that’s everything. Anything you want me to save?” I looked at the ship, with dolls house versions of my clothes, my money and my passport – the keys to getting me home, and the words that tumbled out of my mouth were, “my laptop and PS4 please.”

The Window Cult Dream

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I used to have slightly peculiar dreams, and for a long time these were documented via this blog (go check them out; from judgemental sheep to multiple homicide, there’s uh… something for everyone?)

And then I had to adult, and for some reason that destroyed my unconscious imagination. I went for months without dreaming – or at least without dreaming anything remotely memorable or exciting.

But it pleases me to say that the fucked-uppery of my brain has returned in full force! …Yay?

***

Nobody had noticed my breaking into the church. There had been reports of suspicious activity, news of some new cult in town, and the disused church on the hill was the source of it all.

It is no exaggeration when I tell you that hundreds of cloaked figures of varying height and size were scattered around the halls. Each knelt in complete silence, hoods over their heads and legs splayed on purple prayer mats. I tiptoed amongst them, and even though I was not perfectly stealthy, not one of them looked up.

I made my way to the second floor where there was more of the same. I crept along, weaving amongst the people. Still nothing. One woman, a nice lady by the name of Doris who had been intrigued by the town gossip, had come with me. I found her now, sat down amongst the others and smiling. As I approached she said her name out loud. Her voice echoed throughout the entire church, her ghost replying a hundred times across the vast ceiling. I shushed her, horrified that the cultists would awaken at any moment. Doris giggled and did it again.

A man built like an armoire stood up in the corner by the stained glass window. He walked menacingly towards us. He lunged. I dodged out of his way, dragging Doris with me. It all happened so fast but next thing we knew his gigantic frame was over the edge and falling to its death. Blood spattered across the railing, but the only other blood sprayed a considerable distance to the window. I hadn’t noticed it before, but down the intricate designs of the window, a singular line of deep red blood flowed from top to bottom. There was no starting point, nothing the blood was draining from; it simply existed. It had nearly reached the very base of the window, but the recently deceased man’s blood joined with it – just a single drop – and the stream began to reverse. I looked down to the ground floor of the church and saw no body. The prayers of the cultists remained undisturbed.

These people were sacrificing themselves for magic. I had to find out what it meant.

Unfortunately, they knew we had been there, and wherever I went they had connections. Whilst visiting the shopping centre, random members of the public were called by name over the intercom. In each shop I entered, that named person would walk to the nearest window and, whilst looking me dead in the eyes, ensure that their blood ended up on the pane. The shoppers around us wouldn’t so much as flinch, continuing with their day to day lives. Was I the only one to see it? To watch as the one important drop of blood, the life’s essence, was wasted?

The worst thing was that the cult began to favour children for the sacrifice.

I was taking a night off from my cult investigations. Myself and a few friends went to the pub and had barely sat down when a young boy walked in. I watched in horror as he climbed through a window onto the ledge, and then the ledge began to move so quickly and shook him so fiercely that I expected his brain to explode. I would have intervened, but at that moment Tom Baker walked in, smiling. He was a well-known member of this cult now. I had begun to believe that celebrity endorsement had played a part in its popularity.

Tom was followed closely by a man with an extravagant crimson cloak. I knew this to be the leader. He towered above the rest, and had a presence that made you want to hide in a corner. He lifted his hood and grinned at us, this old man. I grinned back. Now we were in trouble.

Taxes and Taxis

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Dusters at the ready, kids; I’ve finally uncovered the blog from underneath the enormous stack of paperwork on my desk! Much has happened in the many months I’ve been away/too lazy to upload anything – predominantly adult chores like work and bills and crying. I won’t bore you with that. In fact, I’ll get straight to the awesome bit:

I’m back at Uni!

This time I’m tackling the MA Creative Writing, and it has finally prompted me to write again! Not only does that mean I get motivated towards doing something with my life, but it also means you wonderful people get a lovely story to read (or another lousy post to scroll past, depending on how you look at it). And expect many more to come!

 

Just Here is Fine

Rosie watched the wooden prayer beads swinging dangerously from the rearview mirror and thought, Christ, even the car needs God right now. She had been in this taxi for less than five minutes and was already regretting her decision. Evidently she’d been kidnapped by some psychopath who’d just forged his license and stuck an Eagle Cars sticker on the side of his Peugeot.  Although what was the point in kidnapping her just to crash the damn car?

She put her phone on silent and sent a quick text to Megan. The driver didn’t notice. Her bare arms stuck to the old brown leather and her hand slipped from the grab handle. Fog slowly crept up the back windows and Rosie held back the urge to write “HELP!” with her fingertip.

Oh my God, why were they going this way?

Her eyes darted around the taxi interior, trying to peel her mind away from what would happen when they stopped. If they stopped.

 The minibus had six seats; two foldable for wheelchair access. There was a step on either side by  the sliding doors. The plastic screen separating the passenger from (their demise?) the driver had a visible handprint on it. There were smears across the floor; mud – blood maybe? It was too dark to tell. The driver started humming tunelessly. Rosie closed her eyes and muttered under her breath.

The musky stench of the leather mixed with the stale smell of other people – (How many others has he killed?) – and her own anxious body odour. This, combined with another sudden jolt had her heaving. Was this really going to be her final memory? Her mind flashed through all the people she’d ever loved. How many would even know she was gone? Did she have time to text more? She dared a quick peep through the window and almost cried when she saw her street name.

“Just here is fine,” she whispered. The taxi came to an abrupt halt and Rosie shot forwards in her seat. Fumbling to remove her seatbelt with wet fingers, she froze as the driver, this hulking silhouette of a man, lifted his arm –

– and pressed the button on the meter.

“Six fifty darlin’.” His voice was low and gruff, disinterested.

She reached a shaking hand into her purse and held out a ten pound note. The driver flipped on the lights and turned to take the money. She saw him for the first time: face set in a scowl beneath a jail cell haircut. His clothes were scruffy, layered beneath an even scruffier beard. But his clear grey-blue eyes yielded their terrible secret; he was painfully, exceptionally ordinary.

“Keep the change,” she mumbled, half disappointed, and fled.

 

…I’m exhausted already!

The Regal Rat Dream

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Taking God Save our Gracious Queen to a whole new level.

That was the premise of the game. Not many people would have jumped at that. The games company should have fired their marketing team (and hired me instead!) But the chance to be an undercover detective with the prospect of high employability rates and the royal family’s eternal gratitude? You’re on to a winner!

This game required skilled detective work and strong willpower. In teams of three we were expected to uncover and terminate any plots against the queen’s life. I was picked last for my team, being the only female of the party. I was left with Johnny Depp and a man named Lewis.

We began in a basement, where an apparent clue had been left as to the identity of the latest plotter. I however, never saw any of the clues. The guys dealt with that. In fact, I never really did anything other than tag along. Any time I suggested an approach they looked irritable I’d spoken at all, so for the most part I just watched them.

When they found this clue, they discussed where to go next – without me, of course, and began the steep ascent out of the basement. It was a high gradient slope that led to the outside world instead of the ground floor of a house. At the top was a Metro-esque sign on curly black iron, enveloped slightly by the bushes and trees on either side.

Johnny managed one foot on the slope before a sound like thunder rolled above us. A singular rat ran towards us, large grey body covered in mangy wet clumps. Following him were his brothers, hundreds of them, all running straight for us.

Johnny and Lewis raced up the slope, with me following closely behind. I had to leap over several crowds of rats for fear of them dragging me down with them. One misstep, one stampeding rat stood on and it was game over. The thought of being stuck down there covered in those feral creatures was enough to get me out.

By the time I’d made it to safety Johnny had already gone. I walked behind Lewis for a while as he spoke to Johnny over his walkie talkie.

“Can I have one of those?” I asked.

He barely glanced at me. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have nothing useful to say.”

I fell back behind him. He meandered along the roads for a bit, then struck off in a more purposeful direction.

“Where are we going?” I asked

am going back to the palace. You should go somewhere else.”

Despite his somewhat uncalled-for doucheyness I too returned to the palace. There was bound to be clues there from where the schemers had planned their schemes. The guys took to the restaurant whilst I went up to the royal chambers. I didn’t bother telling them where I was going, they wouldn’t care anyway.

The Queen’s bodyguard awaited me outside the royal apartments. He had a suit, shades and an earpiece like your average stereotyped secret service man. He held his palm out to stop me, then listened to the person in his ear before saying,

“The Queen says she fancies you. You have her royal pardon to search wherever you deem necessary in your quest.”

Awesome. Wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but hey, it worked in my favour.

I was about to proceed past the guard when I heard two annoyingly familiar voices. It was Lewis and Johnny, but they were nowhere near me.

“Yeah, but you wear it in your ear like this. No-one will suspect a thing.”

I doubled back and followed the sound of the idiots all the way back to the banquet hall, where they were surrounded by diners all staring at them. They’d found an upgrade to their walkie talkies in the form of a state of the art earpiece. I couldn’t believe they’d spent our whole team budget on something so unnecessary!

Somehow, they’d inverted the audio into a microphone. This resulted in their voices booming across what I could only imagine was half of London. I walked up to their table, trying to avoid the irritable stares and titters of the crowd around us.

“You idiots, we can all hear you.”

Johnny looked at me with disgust, screwdriver in hand and wires all over him. “We know. We’re trying to fix it. You wouldn’t understand.”

I ignored him. “Where’s mine anyway?”

Lewis vacantly tossed me his old humongous walkie talkie. “Go look in the basement, would you?”

My heart pounded. I knew what await in the cellar. It involved lots of fighting, and I could barely punch. “Can’t one of you guys go?”

They tittered like I’d told a hilarious joke. “If we went down there, who’d do all the important stuff?”

“Yeah, the queen would die if we left it to you. Then you’d be up for treason with the culprit when we catch him!”

I sighed. There was no way of getting round these stubborn bastards. But I knew the secret lay in that room. If I didn’t go we’d be here forever and other teams would get ahead. “Fine… but if you’re insisting I go, give me one of the earpieces. Carrying this big thing around will hinder me down there.”

They looked at me as if I’d asked them to suck their grandmother’s toes. I realised it was futile even trying, so I left them to their tinkering and sought out the basement.

Evidently it went horrible wrong because I found myself back at the start of the level in the cellar. I could sense the impending rat stampede. You’d think after the first time I’d be well prepared, but for some reason it took me a lot longer to get out. Several times I nearly toppled over but somehow I stayed alive and on my feet.

At the top I paused out of reach of danger to catch my breath. As I did, I saw eight of the largest rats carrying a dying rat towards the cellar. He was clearly of important rank; he had a pimp cane and cane rows and looked inexplicably regal. I think it was the Rat Prince, come to the end of his reign. This was a ceremony for the people to say goodbye to their beloved leader. So moving! I believed I saw his royal ratness moaning and holding his little paw to his head.

Woe is me!”

Something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. There was no breeze tonight, but the trees still moved. Squinting against the darkness, I realised they weren’t leaves at all, but even more rats. Each of them held onto their comrades’ paws, making star shapes with their bodies like synchronised swimmers against the night sky.

After watching this religious rite of passage, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen my teammates in a deliciously long while. I searched the nearby alleys and eventually found Lewis yelling at his earpiece.

“Where’s Johnny?” I asked. Lewis threw me a quick glance, then shrugged. “Trying to find him. This stupid thing ain’t working.”

Then without warning he he ran off again, down random alleys and off into the town. I tried to keep up but lost him.

Damn I wanted a new team. One with actual intelligence and less sexism. I sighed and set off for the palace again.