EX/WHI :: Part Nine

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It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.


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EX/WHI :: Part Eight

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From being concerned about his mental state, Ami is watching Chambers recover and consolidate with a speed that is more than encouraging. In fact, it is almost as if he registered her shift into panic, as mind began to struggle with remembrance that this was one scenario both police and Secret Service had trained her for but had never been considered until now. If she had been prepared, maybe Chris had too: the desire to ask irreversibly blanks out everything else in a breath.

‘I have a question, to you, related to this current situation.’

‘Shoot.’

‘Did you get training for a scenario where you’d not be expected to survive?’

‘Wow… okay…. um… we did stuff at Langley in both first and last years of Probie Training on the Doomsday Scenario: how to kill yourself as painlessly as possible, if it came down to it, how to reconcile with your God, whoever she might be. Mostly, the end equated to chemical attacks or nuclear warfare. I bet the CIA are gonna have a field day when it transpires that Roswell wasn’t a joke after all.’

‘How did you cope?’

‘By not assuming it was the end until I’d done everything else in my power to prevent it. If I hadn’t survived that you’d be doing this with someone else, but you saw me switch off earlier, just as I saw you panic just then. I’m not gonna lie, this is tough. However, if we’re here as lab rats, that’s a reality that’s easier to grasp than being… anally probed. Maybe that happens once we work out how to escape.’

He’s right, of course: instinct and joint trust have got them both this far. Ami’s confident, at least right now, that she’s not been abducted to be experimented on. To go to all this effort, creating the coffee bar in such meticulous detail seems odd if all someone wanted to do was cut you open and poke your insides. This has the feel and sense of observation, watching how they react to the changes in circumstance… and maybe therefore escaping is integral to that process. Perhaps they’ve been taken to test their endurance…

‘You really think we’re prisoners?’

‘If we weren’t, why else is the door closed?’

‘It’s not.’

A version of reality has returned outside the window, but there’s nobody walking past. The sounds of a busy City of London street are absent too, but the now very obviously open door creates a change in ambience between here and there which is a surprise. The overriding temptation is to run outside and look, but Ami won’t react from instinct, can’t let the adrenaline own her. Instead, she looks up to the ceiling: taking a deep breath, there’s a larger urge to talk to something she knows is there but cannot see.

‘You must be listening to all this, be aware we grasp what’s going on. Maybe that’s the reason why you picked me and Chris in the first place, because you knew we wouldn’t be frightened by such an obvious change in circumstance. I’m not really looking forward to spending what might be the rest of my life in this suit, and I’ve not eaten properly for at least 72 hours. I’m not expecting you to let us go, but a gesture of goodwill would not go amiss.’



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July Short Story :: The Last Post

This story was first published in 31 parts via Twitter during July. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


The Last Post

Lying in bed, it occurs to me that I’ve not seen Elizabeth post for a while. In fact, it must have been at least a month, maybe more, since her avatar was registered in my timeline. In darkness, with only phone’s warm light for illumination, sudden concern springs from nowhere. We are ‘friends’, but there’s no idea of where she lives exactly. I know its somewhere in the Peak District, because it is mentioned from time to time in her tweets. Wherever home is, the cottage’s views are spectacular, with a cozy wood fire that burns every night, without fail.

It’s a moment to remember her username, because that’s what I always struggle with. Pictures are fine, but handles… ah yes, @Woollen_Mittens. Calling up her page on the phone, her last tweet was indeed a month ago. Before that, she’d posted two or three times a day, without fail. I am immediately concerned: it doesn’t matter that we’ve never met or I don’t know if this is her real name. There is a connection, created from years worth of shared interests. Embroidery, gardening, poetry and music define this relationship: so much else shared since joining the platform.

Looking at her mentions, she was due for surgery at the end of last week, something mentioned only to people it seems fair to assume are close friends. Finding the one mentioned the most, I look up her profile. This isn’t a friend, but the woman’s daughter, in her early thirties. Reading back through her timeline, an awful truth emerges. There had been a problem. Her mother had suffered a massive pulmonary embolism, passing away eighteen hours before surgery was due to be undertaken. It had taken everybody by surprise, particularly members of her family.

In the darkness, alone, tears appear from nowhere. I wish my partner were here: she’s not due back from London until Wednesday at the earliest. I can’t call her at 2am, not with an 8am breakfast meeting scheduled. Suddenly, this world seems an awful, unfair place to exist within. She’d chide me anyway for becoming emotionally attached to a person that had never been met, and wouldn’t understand the relationship we’d fostered. This is not normal or healthy for a woman regardless of her age, and we both know how awful and divisive the Internet has become.

Standing downstairs, an hour later, I make hot milk and vanilla and am grateful I don’t work Tuesdays. However, in the wee small hours a plan has been formulated. Mittens lives less than an hour away from me. Tomorrow, I’m going to make an effort to find out who she really was.

I suddenly need to know more about my friend.


The next morning, I head to Buxton, place most mentioned in Mittens’ tweets. There’s still no real plan of what to do, except spend time walking around, matching various tweets with locations around town, then wait for inspiration. A coffee shop is found, Bakewell Pudding and latte bought to allow opportunity to sit and think. Looking across the busy street from my table, there’s a display in the shop opposite that feels oddly familiar, collection of jumpers and embroidered cushions… this is Mittens’ work.

I’m scrabbling for phone, realising these items have been posted before, made as projects when Mittens was unwell last year, stuck in bed for several months. Whoever owns the shop must know who she is… but how on earth do I go across the road and start a conversation about her? There will never be a good way to do this: instead of sitting quietly and panicking over the details, time to walk across the road into ‘Maid in Derbyshire.’ As I enter, a snatch of Ralph Vaughan Williams is recognised, ‘The Lark Ascending’ making me smile, despite sudden nerves.

At the counter, a man of about my age is sitting, reading a battered copy of an Iain Banks novel. As he looks up, there’s a stab of recognition: I’ve seen him in pictures before, with his wife and young daughter. This is Mittens’ youngest son, whose name temporarily escapes me…

‘Good Morning, lovely day isn’t it?’

‘There’s not a way of saying this without sounding like a stalker so here we go anyway. Hi Ivan, I knew your mum via social media. I am very sorry for your loss.’

Putting down paperback, man’s face breaks into a smile, before he’s laughing.

‘If I told you this isn’t the first time someone’s come in here in the last few weeks and said that, it should make you feel better. We were aware of Mum’s double life for a while, but only when she passed did the depth of support really come to light. What is your username?’

The nerves and fear have summarily evaporated: telling Ivan I am known as AustinsHemline, something amazing happens. There is recognition of me, without the need for anything else, of that I am certain: now he’s getting up and heading this way, offering hand with a broad smile.

‘When all this started, after random people started turning up with flowers and condolences, there were a couple we’d hoped would appear. You are, I must say, on top of that list. My mum had a really close bond with you, I know, and I’m so glad you felt strong enough to come.’

It seems really strange to be crying now, in front of a total stranger, but this man isn’t any more. I’d expected him to get defensive or nervous over imposition, tell me to go away or become angry: instead he’s handing me a beautiful linen handkerchief whist maintaining distance. Eventually, having composed myself, I realise he’s waiting to take me behind the counter, into the back of the shop. There’s a small kitchenette here with chairs and a table, on which is a pile of boxes, some with address labels. Ivan motions me to pick a place to sit, so I do.

‘My mum very much knew she was on borrowed time. The operation was supposed to improve her quality of life, but we’d been planning for the worst since the initial MS diagnosis a decade ago. Her embroidery had become the means by which she could escape the confines of the bedroom. The relationships that were made with you and others became a substitute for reality. She was never alone: if frightened or confused, Mum would simply turn online, and you’d support her with love and without question. You became important, vital, part of a family she cared for. We didn’t know that we’d lose her like this, but she was ready. Mum made provision for everything, so we’d not have to worry when the time came. There were also plans for people like you, because of understanding that a thank you would want to be made. This is yours, from her.’

Hands are shaking as Ivan hands me a parcel, marked with my username. Inside is an embroidered version of the Manchester skyline, plus a quote: ‘There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.’

The quote is Jane Austin’s, from ‘Northanger Abbey’ and now I won’t stop crying again. We spent hours talking about literature, and now she’s gone there will never be a way to thank her. Except, perhaps that isn’t totally true… as a writer, there is one path that remains open.


I have dinner that night with Ivan and his family, plus elder sister Katherine. Mittens is no longer simply an username, but person: Elizabeth Lowe was the daughter of a seamstress, her father responsible for founding a successful travelling theatre company. She was eighty two, and inspired three generations of the same family to become tailors and dressmakers, with her eldest granddaughter about to start working as a costume designer at the Leeds Playhouse. This woman’s influence and significance in local community and beyond is unexpectedly immense.

On top of this, she’d created a successful online community for people who’d never operated a sewing machine or threaded a needle, teaching skills in simple, broad strokes: quilting, embroidery, needlepoint, simultaneously offering support to create clothing projects from scratch My direction is clear: this is a story that demands to be heard, of a woman who defied poverty and hardship, and never once put herself ahead of others. An entire life, until that last breath, was spent being generous, kind and helpful to anyone who asked for help or assistance.


It takes six months to write, making sure the book notes that the Internet does not have to be a frightening, dangerous place full of stupidity and hate. If people are willing to embrace and trust, then entire lives can be changed for the better as a result, by a single person. This becomes the story of a woman who understood that teaching others to sew wasn’t just doing so as recreation, but as a means of allowing self esteem and pride in practical projects which could then go on and be used, worn and admired not just as clothing, but as achievement.

‘Lowe and Behold’ sits complete, manuscript that is my gift to Mittens and her family: their story, means by which I hope a life that was so full and rich will be remembered and appreciated by generations to come.

My own creation, sewn from her threads: remembrance for us both.


 

Poetry Archive :: Release

I went dumb and went rhyming. Don’t @ me, people, I’m emotionally spent, plus by the time you read this I will have done two massive bike events in two weeks. You can spend the ten days or so reading the better examples of my poetry via Social media. For now, please allow this woman a chance to go sit and relax for ten days…


Release

Only seven more days remain
‘Til holiday’s starting, again:
Excitement is always the same
Kid within me bounces, no shame.

This year, I’ll be living the dream
Ambition from childhood our scene:
To Italy, move at full steam
Don’t anyone mention ice cream.

For seven days this is our home
Whole family, going to Rome:
Staring at basilica’s dome
Sightseeing, then time on our own.

We’re staying a way out of town
Hope our villa is not a let down:
Am not on vacation to frown
Don’t want to have sorrows to drown.

Adventure is what we will make
Occasional rules then to break
Relaxation, time now to take
I really hope there will be cake.


EX/WHI :: Part Six

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The bottles behind the cafe’s counter might look full of alcohol but it is immediately apparent they’re empty, and not even made of glass. What Chris finds fascinating is the illusion they create: same weight, even with obvious transparency, but constructed from something unbreakable, that bounces back every time he throws one at the floor. As he attempts to destroy an increasing number of items from hand to ground, Ami is investigating fridges and storage areas. Her conclusions are not comforting: apart from what they jointly bought on arrival, everything else is an elaborate copy.

An incredulous mind is slowly adjusting to their new reality, because that’s what it is. They’ve already established in the last hour by their watches (which still work) that they’re prisoners, there’s absolutely no way in or out of this facsimile, the toilets still function and there’s water they won’t yet drink. With nothing sharp or dangerous enough to make even a dent in what appears to be an impressive and quite bouncy outer wall, they instead investigate the bounds of confinement. Chris has done his best to brute force anything that might look like it could act as a weapon but after the incident with the table, nothing budges.

‘We could try and hurt ourselves and see what happens.’

Chris looks at Ami, who’s holding something in her hand that is obviously not part of the illusion, which is a surprise.

‘I really wish this was a gun or a bomb and not just lipstick, but it at least allows us to make notes. We need to work out what we know, so there’s a chance of answering questions that make no logical sense.’

Her lack of panic or incredulity has been amazingly impressive since regaining consciousness: without Bishop’s pragmatism, he’d have probably just sat and hugged his knees for a long time before wanting to work out answers, not allowing reality to seep into this nightmare. However, she needs to be running the problem, and is already writing a word them on the top of the long, dark wooden serving bar which, as it transpires, was his first thought about their abductors too.

‘I read an inordinate amount of science fiction as a kid. Tons of the stuff, watched all the TV shows. I know what this is, because that’s the only logical explanation for what just happened.’

‘I was big on Buck Rogers, did you get him in the UK?’

‘Yeah, and Wonder Woman, and that thing with the metal bad guys -’

‘Cylons. They at least looked like aliens. What makes you so sure that’s what this is?’


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Shut Up

Let me tell you a story, this sunny Monday, of how words can set you free.

In an attempt to try and kickstart my writing career, I took a course at the local Community College. It remains a very Victorian building on the outside, but vastly modern within, and is exactly how you’d imagine Community College from TV shows. It was, that first time (two courses were taken) new life in the mornings after kids went to School, and made me feel like, FINALLY, I’d escaped the confines of my own personally-imposed prison. For context, this was (I think) 2011. It seems like a lifetime ago, which with the changes that have now been wrought is not far from the truth.

My teacher was a revelation. He ran (and possibly still does) a comic book appreciation website… yup, it’s still there. I’ll probably follow him once I’ve written this and see if he returns the gesture, but I digress. He was the person who made me realise that my reality, the one that had been self-imposed and created in the panic of Post Natal Depression wasn’t anywhere near the truth of my potential. He was the person, when I read a piece of work with a swear word in it to the group, remarked at how much I clearly relished saying something that wouldn’t normally be uttered in public.

On reflection, this man’s actions began a significant moment in my renaissance.

The restrictions others attempt to place upon you, in their attempts to mould existence in their own image, have been an issue since that bloke on the mountain with his tablets of lore. Ironically, that guidance is still being used as truth in a modern would which bears no resemblance to the one that book was created for as rules. It doesn’t stop those who want to make their points with fire and brimstone, so I wonder why people like this get so bothered that women won’t be happy, submissive partners. Fuck that for a game of soldiers, why not just let people do as they wish?

We all know why that doesn’t happen.

cakehole

If you want something enough, you work for it. My creative writing teacher, whether it was intentional or not, provided me with some vital fuel for a fire that would not previously burn, but thanks to him, now does. When I look back at those weeks where there was purpose in my actions, that it felt good to be surrounded by individuals who  had at least one thing in common. That’s what’s missed the most in this journey, that there’s still a desire to hang out with those who enjoy words as much as I do. Perhaps it is time I sorted that out.

Maybe this can be that beginning.


[PS: He did follow me back. Cheers Carl, this blog’s for you <3]

EX/WHI :: Part Five

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Everything hurts, everywhere, and this is not good.

Moving from lying to sitting is an effort, but Chris is awake, desperately trying to piece together what happened to induce unconsciousness. He’s lying on the floor of the coffee shop, last piece of Apple Danish where it was dropped, before the entire World literally shifted around them –

Where’s Ami?

He’d felt heartbeat racing, body shuddering and watched as she passed out in his arms, shortly before he had done the same… except it hadn’t been via concussion or physical intervention. They’d been starved of oxygen, that he’s convinced of, but what happened before…? Staring at her prone, lifeless body, everything comes back in a rush, followed by an immediate need to check his partner’s alive. Her body should be in the recovery position at least: as hand reaches down an incredibly muscular leg comes up, forced into chest as body is launched into the air and back onto a table, which summarily disintegrates under both weight and impact.

I woke up and panicked, she’s awake thinking I was the enemy. One of us is not phased by what just happened: I need to get my shit together, because she really is very good.

‘Oh fuck I’m so, sorry, I assumed -’

‘I was a bad guy. It’s okay, at least there’s no worry you’re still incapacitated.’

‘I dunno about that, why does everything suddenly hurt so much?’

‘Well, that was my next question. You’re not alone.’

Picking himself up from the shattered wooden remains, Chris comes to help Ami to her feet. Physically she looks no different, but believable reality is not as concrete as it was when he woke up for the first time today. Turning to survey the damage they’ve just caused, air around them both moves, breeze that is anything but normal, somehow prompting the table to instantly and unnervingly reconstruct itself back to pre-impact state. Chris’ SIG is no longer in the holster either, giving nothing to point at this sorcery as reassurance, so staring will have to suffice as logic stops operating, giving brain the finger before leaving his body with disgust.

‘I have no weapon, and am officially out of my depth.’

‘Neither do I: on reflection, nothing from this point forward is likely to conform to our idea of normal. I’m happy to think for us both for a while, it’s okay.’

‘You go right ahead. I didn’t imagine the room upside down either, did I?’

‘Not if furniture’s putting itself back together, you didn’t, Mr Chambers. At least they stopped running the movie outside what I’m now thinking is probably a prison.’

There’s obvious daylight coming into the cafe, but Chambers isn’t looking out at London any more: instead an odd, white space radiates the illusion of… well, space. He needs to sit down where he stands right now, because all of this has just staggered beyond too much to cope with. Ami doesn’t stop him: instead she goes to the large, glass double doors and stares for a moment, before pulling keys to the car out of her pocket. Taking a step back, the bunch is thrown towards what used to be an exit but at the moment of impact they are flung back, over her head before landing near the toilets.

Suddenly, he’s very grateful somebody else has voluntarily offered to be a grown-up until he’s back in the game. Watching the walk back, picking up keys, standing and assessing: mentally thinking through their joint predicament is absolutely what Ami is doing, with a calmness which is immediately reassuring. Meeting his gaze without fear, there’s a decision made that is both logical and fair.

‘Yup, this is definitely a prison, and we need to know why.’



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