Migraine

I wake to the sound of hammer banging on metal and curse the builders through the thin walls of the hallway. Half asleep, only a slither of my eyelids apart, I wrench myself from beneath the moss like rug and poke my head out of the hallway window. I glare at the two men who are trying to manoeuver a metal table up a set of narrow stairs. An innate desire to ball all my rage out the window at them rises within me but I refrain. In the same way I get rudely awaken by early morning builders, I stay up late into the night watching TV and listening to music.

I return to bed, cursing the fact that despite all my efforts I seem to constantly remain in a nocturnal like routine. This wouldn’t be so bad but for some reason the larger majority of the human population have decided that a nine to five work routine is more appropriate then say night work or being a student. The sensible thing to do now would be to make myself a cup of tea and force myself to stay awake so as to switch to a more daylight efficient routine. However I soon find I am back in bed, quickly dozing once more.

When I wake three hours later, after several snoozes of the alarm I am groggy and fuzzy. The early morning disturbance has resulted in me oversleeping and now I feel lethargic and grumpy. Getting out of bed is an insurmountable task. My muscles ache with a sharp acute pain and my head weighs like a cannon ball. To add salt to the wounds, it is bitterly cold outside the warm confines of the duvet and I frantically pull on my slippers and thrown on my dressing gown to stave off the chill.

The worst part of my morning is opening the living room window for the cat. I pull up the blinds, always forgetting the harsh sunlight on the other side and receive a flash of pain to the head as my recompense. It only gets worse as I push open the window. A wall of noise assaults me through the gap, accompanied by the sub zero February gales. It’s all too much, a cacophony of whines assail me from the Sainsbury’s car park, consisting of barking dogs, tantruming toddlers and reversing cars.

I retreat to the darkness and safety of the kitchen. Even the cat thinks twice before disappearing through the window gap, her eyes puffy and her ears pricked up high. The bubbling of the kettle and the clink of the cups in my hand grates on my ears and I cut of the boiling of the water as quickly as possible, to nurse my throbbing cranium.

It is far too bright and cold in the living room but I force myself to sit in my armchair anyway. Slowly, the pain lessens, aided in full by the steaming cup of tea in my hand. However, as I grow more accustom to the world inside and out, a deep hunger grips me and I feel my neglected stomach rumble in protest.

I search the kitchen desperately for some form of sustenance but realize with a sinking sensation that there is nothing salvageable for consummation. Grumbling, I dress quickly and sloppily, beyond caring that I am not wearing any socks and the jumper I am wearing has several curry stains emblazoned upon it.

Sainsbury’s is almost too much too bear and I hastily make a beeline for my pre decided breakfast choice, pain au chocolat’s. I am confronted by my three worse things on this journey: lots of people, loud noises and far too bright displays. A loud bang explodes in my head, as a Sainsbury’s worker throws a crate on the floor absent-mindedly. The rattle of trolley wheels and clang of shopping baskets against shelves follow me around like a bad curse and I speed up, eager to grab what I need and get out as soon as possible. I jump and nearly drop my purchase when the all powerful intercom announcement trembles around the store from an undisclosed location. Sweating, I make a dash for the self-service machine, narrowly avoiding two intersecting trolleys and nearly collide with a curious toddler who is wandering away from his father straight into my path. The self-service machine is slow and when it does finally accept my money it insists I take my change in a highly aggressive and persistent manner. I rush through the automatic doors and power walk to my courtyard. I see the cat by my window and hurry towards her, sensing an ally amongst the chaos.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday Morning

My heavily bloodshot eyes, like discoloured whites accidentally left on a sixty-degree wash, slowly open and wince at the morning sunlight peeking from under the blinds. The severity of the glare is intruding, as if the sun is a police searchlight locating a runaway convict. The mattress is lumpy and bits of the frame prod at my chest and legs like gnarled twigs and branches poking up from beneath the undergrowth. My arm aches and throbs from a night spent asleep on my side awkwardly and as I go to sit up I feel like an overburdened ship, struggling to retract its submerged anchor. To my great annoyance the cat’s litter tray has been upturned and its contents strewn all over the carpet. They lie dotted about like tiny white stars on a clear night. Taking care to avoid embedding pieces of the night sky into my feet, I head down stairs, accompanied by a hungry cat, who in recent weeks has developed an appetite rather akin to that of a lion then a kitten. As I wait for the kettle to boil, I absentmindedly run a hand through my short hair, which bristles to the touch like a defensive hedgehog approached by an unknown presence.

The kitchen around me is in a dire state of affairs, plates, pots and pans all stacked precariously in the sink. Extracting a culinary item without dismantling the whole pile is a dangerous game like a tense player removing a risky block in a game of jenga. The hobs resemble my eyes, crusty, dried and filled at the corners with some source of unknown gunk. Pouring the tea, I shiver in my shirt and boxers, my skinny, bony legs trembling like a farmyard chicken hopping about in early spring. My feet aren’t much better, the toes of which are so pale and devoid of colour they resemble frozen, oven cut chips. I scoop up my mug quickly, curling my fingers around its large ear shaped handle and hasten out of the dark, reeking room.

Climbing the steps is like ascending from a dank, dungeon and I fix on the upstairs skylight as my source of salvation. Lifting the duvet I get a hot whoosh of air like a pair of great bellows has just been blown into my face. I pull the covers right over myself and indulge in its warm belly. My prominent nose protrudes through the thin layer of material, like a jagged rock rising up out of a raging sea. My hairy feet stick out of the bottom of the duvet, the cracked nails of which resemble overly decayed gravestones, yellowing at the edges. I elbow my way out from underneath the covers, my long orangutan arms flailing around wildly. I sit up and scratch my bushy beard, it is extremely itchy and wild like an overgrown birds nest yet the hairs are dark and smooth like a panthers sleek coat. I take a sip of tea and glance around my messy bedroom. There are random piles of discarded clothes lay strewn about the floor like shed snake skins wilting in the sun. I take another sip of tea and wince as the hot liquid slips in the dried cracks on my lips, in the same way wet leather contracts in the sun.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Gym

Thursday nights are gym night. That is of course, as long as I can be arsed. It is very much dependent on the day I am having whether or not I will actually venture forth through the biting cold or freezing rain to the small, brightly lit leisure centre tucked round the back of the local sixth form. For example if I have had a particularly tiresome shift at work (all of three hours) or have spent the day cleaning the house (half cleaning, half drinking tea, watching TV) a trip to the gym is immediately off the cards. On the off chance that I am actually up for a gym session, I contact my personal friend and gym buddy Harvey, to enquire whether he would also like to punish himself in a garishly lit, soulless room, in a pitiful attempt to add the mealiest layer of muscle to our chicken like arms and legs.

The trips to the gym are always the same, dressed in my faded and slightly too short trackies, which from an unfortunate accident involving a upturned bottle of bleach, are now dyed red at the bottoms. I clank my way down the residential back road leading to the sixth form, the over packed shopping bag of empty glass bottles straining in my grip. There seems to be only one bottle bank in the whole of the town and it lies en route to the leisure centre. It is located at the rear of a car park, which sits opposite the gym. As I navigate my way between the stationary cars, Harvey reminds me of the early evening car park dwellers. These super dry clad hoodlums with their pink shirts and trademark faded jeans sit side by side in their cars, comparing each other’s revs and penis size, pumping grimy dubstep on their rear sub whoopers. Concealing a grin, we dump the bottles and make out way out of the car park to the leisure centre, an extremely ugly building that is half shed, half brick.

We are greeted as ever by the super friendly kid at the desk, who tuts and rolls his eyes every time we so much as try to enquire about something or other. Once our two pounds have been exchanged for a key to the gym, we enter the male changing rooms. As usual our collective nostrils are subjected to the lingering, rank odour of sweaty B.O and we make haste stowing our jumpers and phones, so as to escape the festering hellhole. On our way past the sports hall we glimpse the blurred, frantic movement of flabby bodies, accompanied to the usual musical score of crappy chart songs. The fitness instructor bellows encouragement at the red-faced dancers, who smile weakly, in a feeble attempt to force themselves to enjoy it.

There is still a faint whiff of stale body odour in the gym itself but at least a couple of the windows are open to lessen the stench. Harvey and I joke about fighting for the machines because there are only two other people in there. An old man on the weight machines (who for some reason is wearing a waistcoat) and a young woman on one of the running machines (so thin that if she tripped and fell her ankle would probably snap in half). As I carry out my warm up exercises I curse myself for not bringing a music player. Now I have no choice but to listen to and occasionally watch with a look of horror, the nightly showing of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ on the gym TV screens. Kim is crying because she has lost one of her most expensive earrings in the ocean. First world problems. Here I am trying to figure out how I am going to live off a tenner for a week and these bozos are complaining that two mansions just simply aren’t enough. I glance around the airless room and wonder what the world would be like if this was the only way one could exercise, if there were no bikes, rowing boats or jogging paths but simply synthetic versions. I shudder at the thought and yet I do not stop. I continue to run on my virtual path, when there is a whole world outside at my feet. I’d love to say I have a valid reason for choosing a stuffy, industrial, four-walled box over a forest path or a winding river but the reality is I am a lazy exerciser. And besides it is dark and cold outside.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Rites of Spring

Melanie springs forward on the balls of her feet, her slender spine arched back as she leaps through the air towards the open arms of Adrian. He catches her gracefully in his strong arms and twirls slowly on the spot, whilst at the same time lifting her body higher into the air.

‘No, no, no.’

Adrian and Melanie share a belated sigh and disentangle themselves from each other, as a tall, willowy man with curly ringlets of hair storms over to them from the other side of the room, a look of extreme agitation etched in his face.

‘What are you doing?’

Melanie and Adrian both exchange looks of mild confusion, under the impression that their last attempt was pretty much spot on.

‘…did I leap too quickly?’ Melanie stammers, in a halfhearted attempt to diffuse the tight-lipped choreographer.

He shakes his head fervently and massages his forehead with his fingers, contemplating how best to phrase his response.

‘Melanie my dear, you’re moves are flawless.’

‘…so why…’

‘Where is the passion? I need to see the chemistry between you too. This dance is supposed to represent the mating season of spring.’

‘Okay.’ Melanie replies slowly, her cheeks blushing red ever so slightly.

The willowy choreographer moves round behind her and places his hands very lightly on her shoulders. A shiver runs through her spine, as his long fingernails scrape her skin.

‘You are a very good dancer. In fact maybe a little too good.’

Melanie gives a shaky laugh and glances at Adrian who rolls his eyes dramatically.

‘But you need to loosen up. This is not a controlled dance. I want you to lunge for Adrian and take his face in your hands.’ He moves over to Adrian and places his long hands either side of Adrian’s smooth, pale face. ‘Entice him with your eyes and then once he is drawn in push him away.’ He tosses Adrian’s head to one side and shoves him hard in the chest. ‘Okay?’

Melanie nods and casts a sideways glance at Adrian, who is trying hard to conceal a mischievous grin. The other dancers dotted around the room are watching the three of them impatiently, a couple tapping their ballet shoes loudly on the varnished floorboards.

‘From the top people.’ The willowy choreographer announces with a flourish of his hand and the dancers resumes their starting positions.

A heavily hungover musician sits behind a large piano, trying to fight back a wave of nausea. On the willowy choreographer’s signal, he ceases his nose massage and begins playing the keys in front of him, in an experienced nonchalant manner.

Melanie rises up onto the tips of her toes and takes a deep breath. She nods along ever so slightly in time with the music, waiting for her mark. Then suddenly, she takes three long strides and leaps gracefully into the air, her long legs spread out beneath her. She lands lightly in Adrian’s arms and grabs hold of his face tightly, forcing him to look into eyes.

‘STOP.’ The willowy choreographer howls in anguish and the music ceases immediately, much to the musician’s relief, who returns to cradling his leaden head.

Melanie huffs loudly and lets her arms fall to her side defeated. As Adrian lowers her carefully to the floor, she bows her head, realizing it is going to be a long session.

Melanie sits in front of the dressing room mirror, applying the charcoal black massacre to her long eyelashes. She occasionally glances in the corner of the mirror at the blur of costumed dancers hurrying to and fro about the room. A scatter of makeup artists are attending to most of the other girls. Melanie could allow someone else to do her makeup for her but in all honesty she prefers doing it herself. It is the one area of her life that is not regimented or organized by an outside force. It is also highly therapeutic for Melanie, something that is sorely needed when you are just about to perform on stage for a theatre full of people. She has to concentrate as she applies the makeup carefully and this goes some way to distracting her from the cluster of butterflies fluttering around in her gut.

‘Five minutes girls.’

The willowy choreographer stands at the far side of the room, surveying the dancers with a scrutinized air. Melanie deliberately avoids his stare. She knows he is most likely looking right at her, still assessing Melanie’s slightly shaky rehearsals from this morning. There is a loud rustling as a dancer adorned with leaves and a face painted green, shuffles behind her. Melanie gazes at her reflection in the mirror. Her face has been powdered a shade of yellowy gold and her eyes, which are normally blue, are now green flecked with brown. The corner of her eyes itch irritably from the contacts and the powder applied above her lip tickles her nostrils playfully.

‘Melanie?’

Melanie glances to her left, at a young woman who has a pair of large wings attached to her back.

‘You coming out tonight? Me and the girls are going to that new club in town.’

Melanie sucks her teeth pondering for a moment before shaking her head ever so slightly.

‘Oh come on.’ The bird woman insists.

‘Thanks ‘Chelle but I think I’m going to have a quiet one. Besides I’m going to be knackered after the performance.’

‘Fair enough, well the offer still stands if you change your mind.’ Michelle says with a warm smile and alights from her seat.

Melanie takes a deep breath and stands up. She glances around the dressing room. The other dancers are filing towards the stage in a long line. She slips in behind Adrian, who has three black stripes on either cheek. He gives her a reassuring wink. Melanie tries to focus on the monumentis task ahead but her thoughts keep returning to Michelle’s words. Maybe she should go out with the girls. She was always under the impression that the girls didn’t really like her but Michelle was friendly enough and surely they must tolerate her enough to even consider inviting her. These thoughts are momentarily battered away when she feels Adrian’s large hand slip into her own. He gives her hand a tight squeeze and leads her out on stage. A bright wall of light bursts into her line of sight, blinding her.

Melanie clatters down the fag-encrusted pavement, paying close attention so as not to trap her heel in one of the many large cracks and gaps in her path. She cuts quite a different figure in her short, tight skirt and thin leather jacket. A small leather handbag hangs loosely from her shoulder and knocks against her ribcage, as she echoes down the street. She feels completely and utterly out of her comfort zone. Melanie has been a ballet dancer since the age of six. She has no problem standing on the tips of her toes for hours on end and its highly adept at many complicated and difficult dance routines. Despite all this, Melanie has about as much grace walking in her high heels then a penguin does on rollerblades. And yet she persists. The dull throb of bassy music floods her ears and turning the corner she spots ‘Spring Time’, the newly opened nightclub, a few doors down. Two bouncers stand either side of the open door, one short and stout, the other tall and impassible. A long queue of eager yet impatient partygoers snake along the pavement. Melanie joins the back of the queue and snatches a glance at her phone. It is already half ten. Michelle said to meet her here by ten, which means she must already be inside. Melanie hops and clops from foot to foot, unsure what to do. The line is incredibly long. Is it really worth it? By the time she gets in there it will probably be too late. She sidesteps out of the queue and turns to leave but a shout makes her stop.

‘Melanie!’

Michelle is sitting on the other side of the pavement, sharing a cigarette with a lanky looking lad wearing a baseball cap at least three times too large for his head. She beckons to Melanie enigmatically. Melanie gives a weak smile and clatters over to her, her skinny legs wobbling like jelly.

‘You came.’ She says elated and jumping to her feet gives Melanie and fierce hug.

Michelle feels heavy in her arms and it takes Melanie a few seconds to understand why. The realizations dawn when Michelle opens her mouth a second time. Her breath reeks of spirits. So much so Melanie feels her eyes water a little.

‘This is Drizzle.’ Michelle slurs, touching the lanky lads arm gently with her fingers.

‘Ite.’ Drizzle says with a small jut of his head.

Melanie’s mouth curls into a grin.

‘Drizzle? As in lemon?’

Both Drizzle and Michelle frown at Melanie. Her smile fades.

‘Never mind, anyway ‘Chelle I don’t think I’m going to bother. I mean look at that queue. There is no way I’m getting in anytime soon.’

‘Don’t worry ‘bout dat. I get choo in girl.’

Melanie gaps at Drizzle. He is white with blonde hair and looks about fifteen.

‘Drizzle here is DJing tonight. He will get you in no probs. Come on.’ Michelle explains and before Melanie can protest Michelle has linked arms with her and is whisking her towards the entrance.

The club is dingy and dark and it takes a while for Melanie’s eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior. She and Michelle stand at one end of the bar, fighting hard against the thick crowd of bodies waiting to get served. Drizzle is busy setting up his discs for his set, much to Melanie’s relief. She was getting fed up with his ridiculous attempts to chat her up whilst Michelle was in the bathroom.

‘Its kicking in here.’ Michelle blasts in Melanie’s ear. Melanie nods with a strained smile and glances round at the dance floor.

It is heaving with sweaty bodies. Skinny, heavily made up girls grind and slide up against extremely well groomed men with more muscles then brain cells, bathed in harsh purple and blue light, that highlights all their imperfections and wrinkles. A gap appears in the wall of clubbers and Melanie tries to dart forwards but finds her heels glued to the floor. It is sticky and crackles underfoot. She shudders and changes her mind about the drink. Without realizing she finds her attention once again drawn back to the fluctuating dance floor. It reminds her of something but it is too hard to recall. A short, heavily muscled man detaches himself from the throng and strides confidentially towards her. He is so bulked up that he looks like a human Geodude and Melanie suddenly regrets leaving her poke balls at home. It is as he is drawing nearer, his finely plucked eyebrows arched in intrigue that she realizes what she is reminded of, the spring dance where Melanie and Adrian performed they’re mating routine. It is the same here. The women in their low cut tops and belt like skirts are just the same as the enticing creatures of spring with their attracting plumage and fanciful feathers and the men with their hungry eyes and prowling strides. The comparison is startlingly accurate and it makes Melanie feel sick. The human geodude emblazoned in pink opens his mouth to speak but is met with an empty space. Melanie has gone.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Cleansing

Joshua Simmons lies on a small, uncomfortable hospital bed, his head propped up by two fluffy pillows. A plastic tube juts out of a mouthpiece over the lower half of his face. At the other end it is connected up to a tall machine on a stand. A monitor sits on top, measuring Simmons’ vitals. A UV drip and stand are also attached to him. His eyes slowly open and stare groggily up at the ceiling above. The harsh glare of the overhead light is too much for him so he closes his eyes again. He repeats this process several times. With each repetition he is able to keep his eyes open for a little longer until eventually he is able to lie there with his eyes completely open. They are puffy and red, thin slits staring up sleepily. Simmons shifts his attention to his hands and experimentally he wiggles his fingers. The digits feel stiff and heavy. The tendons and muscles ache, feeling stretched and weak. The door opens and a thin, rather severe looking nurse enters. A doctor, also female follows behind, dressed in a long white coat. Simmons, disorientated and unable to cope with the presence of other human beings, quickly shuts his eyes. The nurse moves overs to the bed and glances over him with an uninterested eye.

‘Looks like he is still dead to the world.’

The doctor picks up a tablet hanging off the foot of the bed and begins tapping away on it silently. The severe nurse wrinkles her nose at Simmons.

‘He needs another bath. And a shave.’ She adds, inspecting Simmons’ messy tangle of facial hair. ‘Not that it will improve things much, he is an incredibly ugly man.’

Simmons has to use all his might and willpower to stop himself frowning at the severe nurses’ blunt turn of phrase. To his surprise, the female doctor joins in, agreeing with the nurses’ statement.

‘Give me Mr. Collins in room 3 over him anyday. I sometimes think it would be better to just pull the plug and be done with it. Put him out of his misery.’

The nurse laughs. Simmons has no idea what is going on. Are they just nasty people or is this behaviour perfectly acceptable? He grows certain that if he opens his eyes right now, both women would hastily change their tone.

The female doctor produces a torch and is just about to pull back his eyelids, when Simmons suddenly opens his eyes. She jumps back in surprise, much to Simmons’s delight.

‘For heaven’s sake, you nearly gave me heart attack you daft bugger.’

‘What?’ Simmons croaks, his vocal chords struggling to be heard.

The nurse carefully disconnects the tube and mouthpiece. Simmons takes a deep lungful of air, feeling as if he has just swum up from the bottom of a lake and broken the surface. His throat feels like a cement mixer and his mouth is dried and cracked.

‘You better move over. I will need a lie down after that.’ She continues.

Simmons’s head hurts, as he frowns at the two nonchalant women. This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. He had presumed that when he opened his eyes he would be met with guilty faces and perhaps a meek muttering of an apology. But neither of the women look bothered by their behaviour. Instead they wear expressions of irritation, as if Simmons’s return to the world has annoyed them.

‘How are you feeling?’ The severe nurse asks, peering over the doctor’s shoulder at the tablet.

‘Okay.’ Simmons replies.

‘Well that’s doesn’t add up. You should be feeling like absolute rubbish.’ The doctor states.

‘Excuse me?’ Simmons frowns.

‘Mr Simmons, you have been in a coma for thirty years. At the very least you should be feeling groggy and a little disconnected with everything.’

Simmons gapes at the doctor and looks around the room. They must be pulling his leg.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Ah of course, the amnesia. Yes its common with most coma patients.’

‘But how?’

‘Car crash.’

She scrolls down the tablet with a finger.

‘According to your previous doctor, you were involved in a car collision with a young family.’

‘Are they alright?’

The severe nurse shakes her head and says bluntly. ‘They died upon impact as a result of your reckless driving.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Simmons manages, slightly taken aback.

‘I quite agree. It was entirely your fault. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson Mr. Simmons.’ The doctor chips in.

Simmons stares at the two women, his mouth open, unable to process this sudden and startling information.

‘You don’t have a very good bedside manner.’

‘You’re right we don’t.’ The nurse and the doctor say together.

Simmons can’t figure out what is wrong with the two women. It is almost like they constantly speak their minds with no regard for anyone’s feelings. Simmons breaks into a coughing fit and the severe nurse helps him up to a seated position and assists him in gulping down half a cup of water. This also takes Simmons by surprise. On the one hand the two women are blunt, rude and prickly but on the other hand here they are taking care of him and by the looks of it have been for the last thirty years. A beeping noise goes off and the doctor pulls out a small see through glass square. It is pulsing red. Simmons stares at it curiously, wondering what it does.

‘I have another matter I must attend to. I will check back in on my way past. Julie here will look after you in the meantime.’

The doctor exits, leaving Julie and Simmons alone.

‘Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?’ She inquires.

The question seems so blase after the previous conversation where she accused him of killing a family. Its not even forced. Julie appears perfectly content, as if the matter has gone from her mind.

‘That would be great.’

Julie leaves and Simmons is left alone once more. He waits a couple of seconds before attempting to sit up. His body is limp and weak and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to readjust into a seated position. His face turns red with the effort and his temples burn fiercely. His attempt to climb off the bed fails miserably and his legs buckle underneath him and he crashes to the floor. His elbow stings hotly where he banged it. Somehow he manages to crawl across to a chair up against the far wall and pull himself shakily up. He stands, holding onto the chair for support, his skinny legs wobbling like jelly. A set of closed blinds face him. A panel is set in the wall beside it. Simmons brushes it with his hand and the blinds separate. A ray of golden light hits him in the face. Blinded, he stumbles back, shielding his eyes.

‘What do you think you are doing?’

Simmons feels a hand on his arm and looks round to see Julie, looking particularly severe.

‘Back to bed you.’

Simmons forces his gaze back to window and his mouth fall opens. A dense forest of trees and fauna stretch out before his eyes. Dotted here and there are a series of wooden cabins, some on the ground, some built up and around the tall trees. The sky above is clear and bright. The nurse smiles at his shocked expression.

‘Quite something isn’t it?’

Simmons nods silently, at a loss for words.

‘Come on you, let’s get you back into bed before you fall down.’

Simmons complies and allows Julie to assist him back to the bed.

‘How did this happen?’ Simmons asks, once he is settled back in bed.

‘What, that?’ Julie replies, gesturing at the window.

Simmons nods and takes a sip of tea. It tastes like cardboard and he grimaces. He notices Julie looking and forces himself to let out a sigh of relief, pretending to enjoy it.

‘It’s been like that for the last twenty years.’

Simmons chokes on his tea.

‘Ten years after I went into coma? What the hell happened to instigate such a change?’

Julie shrugs.

‘A lot of dirty laundry was shared and then after a while it was cleaned.’

Simmons forces down another gulp of tea.

‘Don’t drink the tea. I know it tastes like crap.’

Simmons swallows.

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

‘Wanted to test a theory. You know you’re not like other people.’

If Simmons is the odd one then what must everybody else be like. Head starting to hurt again, he changes the subject quickly.

‘But what happened to all the buildings and skyscrapers?’

‘Gone. Well most of them anyway. There are still a few left but most of them were demolished after The Cleansing.’

‘The Cleansing?’

‘Oh of course you wouldn’t know, how silly of me. A law was passed, forcing everyone to be honest.’

Simmons breaks into a croaky fit of laughter. Julie’s face remains emotionless and Simmons’ smile fades.

‘You’re serious.’

Julie nods emphatically.

‘Hence this.’ She gestures once again at the window. ‘Think all of those corporations built on greed and blood money. Not a problem anymore.’

Simmons scratches his head, struggling to cope with this bemusing revelation.

‘But surely there must be a lot of problems?’

Julie shrugs.

‘Well…yeah naturally. But at least if someone does something wrong they have to admit it.’

‘But what about people’s feelings? If everyone is honest, don’t people get offended?’

Julie’s faces darkens.

‘It is true that at first it took a while for people to come round to the idea. Gosh I remember one week where we had an influx of suicides. You know…the sensitive souls.’

‘That’s awful.’ Simmons exclaims, looking deeply mortified.

‘But its not like that anymore. Everyone can take it. Their skins have thickened.’

Simmons falls silent, frowning hard. It all seems so absurd. This hospital, the world outside, the words issuing from Julie’s mouth. Julie gives Simmons a sympathetic look.

‘Why don’t you lie back down for a while? It’s been quite an intense morning for you.’

Simmons is keen to know more but his head burns with a deep migraine and fatigue keeps making his eyes droop. He nods silently and offers no resistance as Julie assist him in lying down. Once he is settled and is beginning to drift off, Julie quietly closes the blinds, turns off the light and exits the room. As Simmons slowly fades out of consciousness The Cleansing is the last thought occupying his throbbing head.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Take A Seat

Jack darts after the passing tram, his large fisherman’s coat flailing wildly behind him. The oval, wooden toggles rattle musically. As the metal cage reaches the first hill, Jack speeds up, desperate to catch it in time before it begins its downward descent. The blustery sea breeze whips against his face, making him feel alive. The apprehension in his gut to make it in time is outweighed by the rush of adrenaline pumping in his body. Jack loves the chase. The strong beats of his racing heart, the heavy crunch of his workman boots. The tram’s nose tips forward and Jack forces himself on, ignoring the screams of protest from his aching thighs. A group of dockers stand huddled on the rear balcony of the tram, beckoning him on with energetic hand gestures. The tram slides down the hill, the dockers and the rear balcony gradually dipping out of sight. Jack grits his teeth and makes one final push, diving from the hill’s top, arms outstretched. He slams up against the back panel of the balcony and holds on for dear life, his heavy boots scraping along the ground beneath him. The dockers stare at him in disbelief for a moment before rushing forwards to assist him. With tender ribs and stinging hands, Jack stumbles inside the tram, receiving several hearty slaps on his back from the dockers.

Charmaine jabs the typewriter keys vigorously, her eyebrows furrowed in a deep frown. A loud foghorn rattles the cheap window frame and she glances outside, as a monstrosity of a ship sails past. Deep inside, their lies a deep desire for the window to explode into a thousand pieces and cover the waiting room floor with shattered glass. To her dismay the window remains intact and so Charmaine returns her attention to the typewriter. Usually, she would have no trouble focusing on her duties but today for some unknown reason, she is extremely distracted and irritable. Even the sound of her fingers tapping nosily on the keys grates on Charmaine’s ears. Losing interest in the paper in front of her, Charmaine glances around and puffs out her cheeks. She is in the process of debating whether or not to sneak off and make herself a coffee, when the doors burst open and a tall, imposing man enters. He has a messy tangle of curly black hair, surrounding an extremely red face. His eyes are wild and intense, casting a scrutinous stare at the taken aback Charmaine.

‘Can I help you?’ Charmaine queries, pushing back her chair and getting to her feet.

The wild man ignores her and storms towards the frosted double doors, which lead into the copywriting room. Charmaine sidles in front of him, barring his access.

‘Move out of my way.’ The wild man roars.

‘If you need to speak to someone, I am more then happy to help you with your inquiry.’ Charmaine informs him with an even smile.

‘How dare you talk to me like that? Do you know who I am?’ The wild man growls, puffing out his chest under his fisherman’s coat.

‘I don’t give a damn who you are. Now take a seat or I will have to ask you to leave.’ Charmaine replies hotly.

The wild man shoots her the daggers. Charmaine remains on the spot, one hand adamantly placed on her hip.

‘Take a seat.’ She commands, her patience growing thin.

The wild man huffs loudly, overwhelming Charmaine with his whiskey-drenched breath. She wrinkles her nose in disgust. The two stare stubbornly at one another, both of them refusing to budge. Eventually, the wild man relents and laughs, shaking his head ever so slightly.

‘Fine, whatever.’

He moves over to one of the chairs and sits down heavily, slapping the armrests in frustration. Satisfied with putting the rude man in his place, Charmaine returns to her desk and pulls her chair up to the typewriter. The wild man taps his foot impatiently, his heavy boot echoing across the hollow, marble floor. Charmaine removes the half finished document before her and replaces it with a fresh new page.

‘First things first, what is your name?’

The wild man leans forward in his chair and raises his eyebrow in alarm.

‘You are joking?’

Charmaine regards him with a blank expression. The wild man sighs and sits back, scratching his beard irritably.

‘Jack London.’

Charmaine types the first two letters and then pauses.

‘Ah. Now I feel silly.’

‘I suppose you thought I was a crazed docker making a complaint?’ Jack remarks in a highly satirical manner.

‘One often gets that impression when a bearded, boot cladded stranger barges through the doors.’

Jack raises his eyebrows for a second time, only instead of outrage they betray curious intrigue.

‘Bit of a firecracker aren’t you?’

Charmaine’s lip curls into the slightest of smiles. Established author or not, she isn’t letting him off the hook that easily.

‘I assume you’re here in regards to your most recent novel?’ Charmaine inquires, changing the subject.

‘No, I came here to apply for a job as a junior copywriter.’ Jack answers sarcastically.

‘I will take that as a yes then.’ Charmaine continues, concealing a half grin.

Jack heaves himself out of the chair and curls his hands into tight fists.

‘Look I did not come here to be insulted and laughed at.’

‘No, you simply came here to stamp your feet like a stubborn toddler.’ Charmaine replies hotly.

Furious, Jack dashes forward and lashes out with his arm, sending the typewriter flying off the desk and crashing onto the marble floor. Charmaine delivers a harsh slap, stinging Jack’s right cheek.

‘Go ahead.’ She yells, as he grabs her roughly by the shoulders.

They stare wild-eyed at one another, both of them flushed and breathing heavily.

‘Forget it.’ Jack grumbles and loosens his hold.

Charmaine watches him storm angrily out of the doors, a stray hair dangling in front of her eye. She takes several deep breaths and shakes out her trembling hands. A little calmer, Charmaine goes to retrieve the felled typewriter. She is in the process of collecting the broken sections of the typewriter when the doors open behind her and heavy footsteps draw closer.

‘I’ll pay for the typewriter.’

Charmaine glances behind her at Jack, looking rather sheepish.

‘You’re damn straight you are.’

Jack crouches down next to her and helps replace the damaged typewriter on the desk. They stand back, glancing awkwardly at one another, a strained silence between them.

‘…so, you wanna get a cup of coffee?’ Jack eventually says in a surprisingly civil tone.

Charmaine stares at him in disbelief, unable to fathom the eccentric author before her.

‘Yeah, sure.’ She shrugs and grabs her coat.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Blink

Sarah had always wanted to be a super heroine. The obsession had begun from an early age, ever since she had first laid eyes upon the original Wonder Woman TV show. Her parents were both avid comic book fans and felt it was hugely important to educate their daughter by exposing her to as much different superhero related content as possible. Sarah wasn’t entirely keen at first. She tried classics such as Batman, Superman, The Hulk but found the lack of super women a bit disheartening. Lois Lane wasn’t a complete damsel in distress but Sarah found there wasn’t much else to her character. It was only when she got a hold of X-Men that she started to gain interest. Characters such as Storm, Mystique and Jean Grey immediately grabbed her attention and she spent a good few hours in the garden one afternoon, trying to change the weather. At one point she willed it with all her might to rain and five minutes later it started to drizzle. Sarah was so ecstatic but when she tried to make it stop, she was in no such luck and realized that it was just a fluke. Disheartened, she spent the next few days shut up in her room, sulking. Sarah’s mum had remedied the situation by showing her Wonder Woman and the determination to become a super heroine had returned once more. The strong, self independence of Wonder Woman amazed Sarah and she made an oath that day that she would never let any man tell her what to do.

As Sarah grew older however, the dream of becoming a super heroine began to slowly fade away and by the time she got to college, the urge to become the next Wonder Woman had nearly vanished entirely. As a child she had been able to devout pretty much all of her time to such tasks as discovering and honing her abilities, drawing and designing potential costumes and practising her fighting. After her first week at college she soon learnt that most of her time would be spent revising, working and partying. Her parents had given her the comic book collecting bug but unfortunately they didn’t come cheap and Sarah had to work part time in a book store in order to fund her addiction. Ironically due to her college workload and job hours she hardly got any time to actually read them. A rare free evening was seized upon hungrily and she took great delight in retreating inside her bedroom and gorging herself on issues of Catwoman and She-Hulk. Unfortunately this left no time for socializing and she soon began to suffer from loneliness. The only semblance of a friend she had was Nicole, who was a bit of a wild card. Nicole liked to get drunk, party and chase after boys. Sarah was the exact opposite and this was probably the reason they were friends. Sarah knew the only way to get to know Nicole better would be to force herself along to a few of the parties. As the weeks went by the parties increased and the collection of comics on Sarah’s shelf became dustier and more unused.

Her mother and father tried their best to keep her interest in comics and superheroes but by the time Sarah got to university, her parents had split and she found most of her time was spent away from home in her halls of residence. During term holidays she made as much effort to visit both her parents as possible but found travel and cost an issue. There was a brief period where she started to hang out with a girl who enjoyed comics as well and she found it refreshing to be able to return to her childhood past time. The two formed a strong friendship and even spent a considerable majority of their free time, illustrating and writing their own graphic novel. Sarah’s friend Ginny was a very talented artist and Sarah had a knack for inventing interesting stories. This carried on for a year and half until disaster struck when Ginny returned home after failing her first year for the second time. Sarah tried to keep the project going but soon realized that she couldn’t draw for shit. She tried making friends with several of the art students but came to the conclusion that they were either too pretentious for their own good or young men trying to impress her in order to get in her pants. Feeling at an all time low and sharing a flat with people she didn’t even like, Sarah began to feel disillusioned. And not just with the project. Her grades began to suffer and she became a hermit, locking herself away in her room. The few friends she had, tried to coax her out on a few occasions but Sarah refused each time, realizing that she had only become friends with them out of loneliness. Her only true friend had been Ginny, who had ditched her and run back to Birmingham. Sarah decided to skip a week and go and see her dad. She felt slightly guilty missing lectures but was so distracted in her lessons that she didn’t think it would make much difference any way.

Her plan was to spend a few days at her dad’s and the remaining days at her mum’s. She was looking forward to spending some time away from the university side of her life and being able to enjoy some family time. Unfortunately neither her dad or her mum would let her. All her dad was interested in was showing her the latest superhero film or buying her a new comic. He spent the rest of the time asking what comics and games Sarah’s mum had bought her. When Sarah got to her mum’s it wasn’t much better and after two days, was also drilled about what her father had given her. Sarah spent the coach journey back to uni in a foul mood, feeling that her holiday away had been more stressful then her shit at university. How dare her parents attempt to outdo one other and compete for her love? It made her sick. Her interest for comics and superheroes waned and soon after this, when she finally graduated from university, her interest in this area was all but gone. Although she still enjoyed the occasional comic before bedtime, it had slowly began to dawn on her that she had spent the whole of her childhood and teenage years engrossing herself in the comic book culture to please her parents. This resulted in her feeling like an empty vessel, without an identity or a purpose.

By the time she was in her early thirties Sarah had forgotten all about comic books and had spent the last six years focusing on her career. Not that she was exactly any happier. She worked as a location manager, a job which involved scouting out locations and places for production companies. It sounded glamorous but the reality was long hours, unpredictable weather and dealing with obnoxious members of the public. The money paid well but the stress was unbearable and her dedication to her job resulted in her social life suffering. She had been single now for the last three years and even the occasional date she had managed to go on had ended disastrously.

In an effort to change her lifestyle Sarah made some drastic decisions. She quit her job and returned to her passion of writing that she discovered at university. But this was not enough. The lack of life in the house had been gradually getting to her, growing in intensity over the years. Her Japanese Peace Lily was on the verge of dying and just sat in the corner, looking wilted and dead. To remedy the situation Sarah had come up with the ingenious plan of getting a cat. So for the first time in years Sarah had slept in late, not rising out of bed till gone twelve. She had wandered around the house aimlessly, unsure what to do with herself. The sensation was odd. She felt an immense sense of freedom but at the same time her brain couldn’t really comprehend the new found liberation. The compulsion to check her Blackberry for messages was too much and eventually she had to turn it off and force herself to relax. Instead of grabbing a piece of half burnt toast on her way out the door, Sarah made herself a proper English breakfast and sat on the balcony in the mid morning sun. The fresh air and the plentiful food helped her relax and soon she began to unwind in the warm heat of the sun, like a lazy cat. It was highly satisfying to have a decent cup of tea. Sarah had become all too accustomed to the mud, brown substitute for tea in the flimsy polystyrene cups issued to her on the production sets. For the first time in a long while Sarah was able to sit down on the sofa with her cup of tea and leaf through a newspaper. After five minutes of reading however she got fed up with the consistently bleak articles and threw it down on the table with a sigh. Heaving herself out of the much too comfortable settee she moved into the bedroom and dived into the back of one of the wardrobes. A series of tuts and groans followed as she flung clothes and bags into the bedroom behind her. Eventually she cleared enough space to reveal a large box sitting at the bottom of the wardrobe. She heaved it out and carried it to the living room coffee table. The box was extremely heavy and she had to lie down for a short while in order to recover her strength. When she felt recuperated enough she sat up, opened the box and peered gingerly inside. It was full of comics, ranging from thin paperback issues to large volume bound graphic novels. Sarah ran her finger over their spines, a sense of deep nostalgia rising within her. Closing her eyes, she picked one at random and was delighted to see that it was an issue of She-Hulk. Cradling her cup of tea in her hands, she curled up into a ball on the sofa and began reading.

After having spent a lovely morning relaxing and reading, Sarah decided to go down to the animal shelter in search for her cat. Her parents had never allowed her pets when she was younger as they were too paranoid that they would damage one of their precious comics or comic con costumes. But now Sarah had her own house and her own set of rules and allowing pets was one of them. She ended up spending a good couple of hours at the animal rescue centre and wanted nothing more then to take them all home with her. It was a difficult task choosing which cat, as they were all so cute but eventually she found the one for her. It was a young, lean looking thing with jet black fur and emerald eyes. The guy showing her around had warned her that the cat was a bit scatty or prone to mood swings as he put it. This was due to its previous owner being a nasty piece of work who use to mistreat her in a number of sadistic ways. The guy also explained that because the cat was in its teenage years she might be a bit of a handful. However Sarah was adamant and explained that now that she was working freelance she would be able to spend a good amount of time training the cat. There was something strange about the animal. As if they were an energy that drew Sarah over to her cage. The other cats were nice enough and she paid them a fair bit of attention as she passed by but when she reached the black cat’s cage it was as if someone had thrown a lasso around Sarah and reeled her in. All the other cats had mewed and jumped up against their cages as Sarah wandered past. All of them that is, apart from the black cat. In fact, at first glance she had thought the cage was completely empty. On closer inspection she had noticed a movement in the shadows at the back and had seen two large, green eyes staring back at her.

The journey home was a tad stressful and Sarah was keen to get back as soon as possible and let the cat out of her claustrophobic carrier. She tried to drown out the small creature’s whines and grumbles by brainstorming possible cat names. Selina was the obvious first choice. The mysterious nature and black fur complementing the character of Catwoman well but Sarah felt it was a bit too cliché. Black Widow was another possibility but she didn’t like the fact the name had more in common with arachnids. Plus it was a bit of a mouthful. Diana, Rogue and Storm were also possibilities as she definitely had the personality to fit them. As Sarah pulled into her driveway she faced the problem of having too many names as opposed to too few.

The first few weeks were a challenge but not in the way that Sarah had predicted. She was under the impression that the cat (due to its poor first owner) would run amok around her house, scratching at things and generally being a destructive nuisance. But this wasn’t the case. Instead she hardly saw the cat and would spend ages searching every nook and cranny for the aloof beast. She hadn’t got to the stage of letting her out yet for fear that the beast would disappear entirely. Every time she was convinced the cat had somehow escaped and was about to leave the house with a handful of missing posters the cat would suddenly appear out of nowhere, demanding to be fed. This is where Sarah finally got inspiration for the cat’s name: Blink. One of the less well known characters from the X-Men series who possesses the power to open portals, allowing her to teleport from one location to another. She thought it was a fitting name for the ever vanishing creature.

On one occasion she had managed to sneak up behind Blink, before she had time to disappear but unfortunately received several vicious scratches for her troubles. Wounded, Sarah had given up and left Blink to her business, nursing her stinging hand on the sofa. A few hours later Blink appeared on the armrest. Sarah had jumped at the cat’s sudden arrival and flinched when it sprung onto her lap. To her surprise Blink did not attack her but instead curled up in her lap and licked at Sarah’s scratches. She was over the moon at Blink’s sudden change in behaviour and seized the opportunity to stroke and caress the cat’s smooth fur. The two had fallen asleep and a few hours later Sarah woke with a sore neck. Blink had vanished and Sarah was astounded to see that the scars on her hand were nearly healed. Sarah thought back to when Blink had licked her and wondered if it had had anything to do with it. Surely Blink couldn’t possess some sort of magical healing abilities?

A couple of days went by and Sarah was still struggling to come up with any ideas for her graphic novel. Sitting behind her typewriter at the kitchen table, she was almost tempted to jump on Facebook and look up her old friend Ginny. But try as she might, Sarah couldn’t work up the courage to do so. As she sat there staring at the blank page in front of her, a black blur zoomed past in the corner of her eye and she looked up surprised. The room around her was empty and untouched. She lowered her eyes to the page once. There was another black blur and an open letter on the coffee table flew up into the air suddenly. Sarah got up and retrieved the fallen letter, glancing around her with a puzzled expression.

On an evening out with some of her media friends, Sarah had drunk a little too much and had let slip about her cat’s strange behaviour. Her friends had laughed at the fact that she thought her cat had some sort of mystical powers and explained that the cat was obviously just sneaky and able to hide easily. No one could explain the matter of the healing scars and Sarah suspected that none of them believed her, assuming she had made it up.

As the weeks went by Sarah struggled on with her story and even though she had begun to make progress, she felt it was slow going. Money was becoming a serious issue and Sarah had underestimated the cost of keeping a cat. Regrettably she made a few calls and managed to get a few days work location scouting for a TV advert. On the last night of the shoot she had returned home in the early hours of the morning, drained and in dire need of a generous glass of wine. As usual Blink was nowhere to be seen and so she went to the kitchen cupboard to fetch the cat’s food. To her astonishment she discovered Blink hidden inside the cupboard, gorging on the cat treats. Sarah had flipped her lid and locked Blink in the bathroom as punishment. It was only when she sat down that she begun to wonder how on earth Blink had gotten in there in the first place. Sarah had picked that Cupboard as it was very high up. Even if the cat had managed to get up onto the counter, the jump up to the cupboard was near impossible and there was nothing for her to use as purchase.

Sarah finally got to a stage where she had no idea what to believe anymore and in a desperate attempt asked the cat if she had superpowers. Blink had given her a curious look and Sarah had laughed, feeling stupid at herself for even believing it.  To her astonishment the cat sat down on her hind legs, opened her mouth and spoke the words. ‘Yes, I do indeed have superpowers.’

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Meal

Derek stamps his polished loafers on the pavement in a pitiful attempt to restore heat to his frozen toes and takes a drag from his thin rollup. He is standing outside a wide, restaurant window, busy with dining couples. Derek prods a clump of his spiky, ginger hair with a tentative finger. It’s rock solid. Derek lets out a sigh of relief. It had taken a good twenty minutes and an entire pot of gel to keep his hair up and yet he is still paranoid it is beginning to sag. He sticks a hand in one pocket and fingers his emergency pot of gel to reassure him.

‘Come on, come on’. He mutters, teeth chattering and glances at his wristwatch.

The face is cracked but he can just make out the position of the hands. Five to nine. Damn it. He shouldn’t have left so early. It couldn’t have been avoided. Derek suffers from a constant fear of being late and the repercussions that come with it. Ever since he was ten and came back late from school one afternoon to find his mother and the milkman canoodling on the living room sofa. A group of hooded kids on the other side of the road catch sight of Derek and seeing easy prey, start shouting at him antagonistically. Derek shoves his hands in his trouser’s pockets and lowers his gaze to the chewing gum littered pavement.

‘Nice suit carrot top.’ One of them calls, causing the others to snigger in acknowledgment.

Derek’s face flushes red and he gives them the finger. His face suddenly drains of all colour when a taxi pulls up in front of him and he finds himself inadvertently sticking his finger up at his date Wendy through the passenger window. Hurriedly, he whips his hand behind his back and swallows hard. A slightly put off Wendy emerges from the taxi and approaches Derek.

‘Hi.’ He says in a high pitched voice and clears his throat to readjust his vocal chords.

‘Hello.’ She says with a awkward smile.

The two fall silent, both waiting for the other one to speak first.

‘Were you swearing at me just then?’ Wendy asks, jabbing her thumb behind her whilst trying her best to sound casual.

‘I’m sorry what?’ Derek replies, raising his eyebrows and jutting his head forward.

‘A moment ago, when I was in the taxi?’

Derek shakes his head and smiles unevenly.

‘Noooo.’ He says with an clumsy shrug.

‘I’m sure I…’

‘Shall we head on in? Looks busy. Don’t want to miss a table.’

‘errrr…sure, okay.’ Wendy replies, slightly taken aback.

Wendy leads the way to the restaurant doors and Derek lets out a sigh of relief, glad to have escaped the interrogation. He catches sight of the gang of hoodies, all of which have big grins plastered to their faces. Derek gives them a sarcastic smile and follows Wendy inside.

‘Gooood evaaaning madame et monsieur. Table pour deux, qui?’

An extremely tall waiter with jet black, ringletty hair and a pencil thin mustache stands before them, his slender fingers clasped tightly together.

‘Qui.’ Wendy mutters meekly.

‘Excallllant. Follow me if yur please.’

The waiter leads them over to a small table by the window. He is so willowy and thin that his whole upper body seems to curve round to the left like a buffeted branch in the wind. The waiter gestures to the table with one of his monkey long arms, nearly knocking over the near dwarf sized Derek in the process.

‘Easy there mate.’ Derek pipes up.

The waiter looks down his nose at Derek.

‘Ma deepest apologies monsieur.’

Derek feels his blood boil but instead of calling him out he adopts the British tradition of biting the tongue and brooding and pulls out his chair.

‘Ear let me take yur coat.’ The waiter offers and begins stripping Derek of his jacket.’

‘No thank you.’ Derek protests, holding up his hands.

‘Sir, I insist’. He says, batting away Derek’s hands.

‘Really, I’m fine.’

‘But sir.’

‘Look just get off me.’ Derek shouts, shaking himself free of the giant’s grip.

The whole restaurant falls silent and Derek feels many eyes upon him. The waiter, now pale faced and looking a little hurt, lets go off the jacket and takes a step backward.

‘I am ‘orriblly surry monseiur. I didn’t mean to offend you.’ He whimpers.

Wendy sees the wounded waiter and offers him her coat as compensation. The waiter takes it gratefully with a weak smile. Derek raises his eyes to the ceiling, finding the whole situation ridiculous. Wendy catches sight of his expression and glares at him. Derek sits down, feeling scorned.

‘Can I offer yu a botel of wine to begin?’ The waiter asks, whipping out a small notepad with a flourish.

Wendy begins to nod but Derek shakes his head.

‘I’ll have a Peroni.’ He says, scanning the drinks list for the cheapest option.

Wendy looks a bit disgruntled but holds back. Maybe he will loosen up in a bit. Must be nervous.

‘Just a large glass of red if you please?’

‘That would explain the taxi then.’ Derek mutters.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Oh, nothing.’ Derek quickly adds, lowering his eyes to the menu.

‘Will that be all?’ The waiter says, addressing Wendy, sensing the tension between the two.

‘Yes thank you.’ Wendy replies, tight lipped.

The waiter saunters off his, moving like a long legged heron towards the kitchen.

Derek wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and huffs.

‘Thank god. I thought he would never leave.’

‘He wasn’t that bad.’

‘Are you joking? Senor Fancy Pants over there.’

‘Senor is Spanish. I’m pretty sure he is French.’

‘And did you see the way he looked down his nose at me?’ Derek waffles on, not listening.

‘Are you sure that’s not just because you’re a little…’

‘A little what?’ Derek says defensively.

‘Well…you are a bit on the small side.’

Derek opens his mouth to reply but is cut off by the reappearance of the waiter carrying a tray with their drinks. A gulf of silence descends around the table. The waiter pours Derek’s Peroni into a tall glass. It seems to take a lifetime for the amber liquid to reach the top. All that can be heard is the glug of the beer and heavy breathing. Eventually the painstakingly long moment passes and the waiter backs away from the table with an over the top bow.

‘Sooooo.’ Derek eventually announces, smartening out the creases on the table cover. ‘Your profile mentioned that you write articles for a living?’

‘Yes, it’s only temporary. I’m trying to find a publisher to pick up my book.’

‘Wow a book. That’s impressive. What’s it about?’

‘Well I don’t wont to give too much away.’ Wendy begins mysteriously. ‘But it follows the story of a young woman struggling with her identity in 1950s London.’

‘Right. Sounds…intriguing.’ Derek struggles, feigning interest.

‘I hope so.’ Wendy says, her smile fades and she grabs for the wine a little too eagerly.

After a deep swig she shoots him a sympathetic smile.

‘But what about you? Wildlife photographer was it?’

‘Thats right. I mainly focus on…’

Derek is cut off by the return of the waiter who slivers up to the table and clears his throat.

‘Are madame and monsieur ruddy to ordur yet?’

‘Just give us a minute mate.’ Derek says impatiently.

‘Of curse.’

He repeats his overdramatic bow and backs away.

‘As I was saying I tend to stick to….’

‘By the way. My name is Fabio und if there is anything else you ruquire just let me know.’

Derek nods, clenching his jaw.

‘Actually I’m kinda hungry so if it’s alright with you can we order?’

Derek grips the menu tightly in his hands and hisses through gritted teeth.

‘Of course. Go ahead. It’s not like we were having a conversation or anything.’

Wendy and Fabio exchange glances. Derek ignores them and searches the menu for the most food for the best price. It’s all pretty expensive so he gives in and orders a steak. Wendy orders a Salad Nicoise much to Derek’s annoyance. Why would anyone order a bloody salad for dinner? Lunch maybe but not dinner.

 

A little while later Derek and Wendy are tucking into their meals. A young man walks past the window with a Somerfield’s work shirt and accompanying name tag. It reads Darren. He spots Derek through the window and raps on the window.

‘Oi Oi.’ He calls, his voice muffled by the sheet of glass.

Derek does a double take and quickly puts a hands to his temple, blocking Darren from his vision.

‘Do you know that guy?’ Wendy asks.

‘No, must have me mistaken for someone else.’

Derek stabs a chunk of steak with his fork repeatedly.

‘Derek it’s me.’ Darren shouts and hammers the window.

‘How come he knows your name then?’

Shit.

Eventually Darren gives up and wanders off, confused.

‘You’re not a wildlife photographer are you Derek?’

Derek shakes his head, looking downcast. They return to their meals. Wendy is a dainty eater, nibbling at her salad like a rabbit. Derek on the other hand eats like a machine, wolfing down chucks off meat like a ravenous beast. Wendy’s nose wrinkles in disgust as she hears him slobber and slurp the rare sirloin.

‘Excuse me a moment. Just need to use the bathroom.’ Wendy says, feeling sick.

She grabs her handbag and gets up from the table.

‘Okay.’ Derek splutters, spraying a mouthful of food over the table.

Wendy grimaces as she notices a stray bit of food late on the corner of her plate.

 

Ten minutes later Wendy still hasn’t returned. In that time Derek has managed to polish off his steak and chips and even steal a bit of Wendy’s stagnating salad.

‘Ow was the meal monsieur?’

Derek jumps at Fabio’s sudden arrival.

‘Delicious.’ He replies.

‘Can I interest yu in a coffee or tea purhaps?’

 

‘I’ll have a coffee. Have you seen the woman I came with by any chance?’

‘Qui monsieur. She left a merment ago.’

Derek throws down his napkin with a huff, his shoulders sagging.

‘What I am doing wrong Fabio?’

‘Ah wumen monsieur. They are mysterious creatures.’

Derek nods and sighs.

‘Tell yu what. Coffee is on the house my friend.’

‘Thanks Fabio.’ Derek smiles gratefully.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caged

‘When walking around the zoo I must remind each and everyone of you not to rattle the cages as it upsets the animals and makes them angry. Feel free to refer to the black and blue manual book if you want to learn more about the animals. If you happen to get lost, keep calm and look for a large dragon statue. These dragons are information points so keep an eye out. Now for all you youngsters I know it’s tempting to run around imitating animals and that’s fine, in fact I find it very funny. However I would ask that you keep off the grass. It’s a lovely shade of green and we would like to keep it that way. Our first stop will be at the otter enclosure where we will hopefully find one of the passionate creatures frolicking in the water. It is a purple area of the zoo, which means we have to be especially quiet so as not to frighten any of them off. If you want to learn more about the otters refer to the manual. I would recommend the section on the rare red otter as it makes for good reading. If we are lucky we might see socks the otter who enjoys lying in the sun. Look out for games and puzzles like the typewriter challenge at the batcaves which asks you to enter the place where the bat in question originated. I’ll give you a clue, it’s the country that invented the ukulele. Finally if you have any rubbish please dispose of it in one of the wolf bins. You can’t miss them. They are bright yellow. Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy your zoo experience.’

Amanda Plant clasped her hands together and put on her professional, albeit fake smile to the small crowd of visitors huddled in front of her. A deep silence followed. It was apparent that both the adults and children had become bored with her unnecessarily long speech. Some of the adults were so uninterested that they appeared to have fallen asleep whilst standing up. The children were equally fed up and tugged on their parent’s trousers, anxious to be set loose around the zoo. Amanda was also bored. She didn’t want to stand there in the freezing cold, regurgitating the bloody office protocol but she had no choice. Last time she deliberately neglected including information on the bins and grass an irate and red-faced Mr. Bakewell cornered her in the monkey enclosure. Apparently all the nicely preserved lawns had been ruined, scuffed up by sugar infested children. Not only this but all the paths were littered with rubbish. Mr. Bakewell had raised himself to his full height of 5 foot 3 and jabbed a purple finger in Amanda’s face.

‘Do the speech properly next time or your out. This is your final warning.’

Amanda had been half tempted to grab the short man by his stubborn finger and twist it around until it broke. But instead she had done what she always did when Mr. Bakewell told her off. Bite her lip and accept her punishment. She hated herself for letting him talk to her like that and she hated her stupid job but she would never leave. She maintained her smile as she stared at the dumb creatures in front of her, looking forward for it all to end so she could return to the enclosures to be around more intelligent primates.

Amanda stood in the tightly packed carriage, slowly suffocating from the dwindling levels of oxygen. The train slowed to a halt and Amanda groaned as she caught a glimpse of more commuters on the platform, fighting each other to get to the train doors first. As they elbowed and shoved their way on board Amanda felt herself pushed up against the other set of doors. In the heaving mass of bodies someone’s hand brushed her breast and she searched the crowded faces for the groper. Passengers either stood with earphones glued in to their ears or awkwardly reading newspapers and books. No one returned her gaze so she gave up trying to find the perpetrator. The stomach churning smell of B.O hung heavy in the air. The backs of her legs were wet with sweat. It was just reaching the point where Amanda couldn’t stand it anymore when the train shot out of the tunnel and arrived at her stop. She half fell on to the platform as the doors slid open behind her. Other passengers eager to get out of the steel cage as quickly as possible, scuttled out the doors like rats being chased from a tunnel. Amanda dived and weaved her way to the escalators and leapt up them, two at a time. The cool air of the outside world above swirled down to her and she pushed on, glimpsing the night sky at the top the stairs. She burst out of the railway station and felt an immense pressure lift from her head. Ever since she had been a child Amanda had always hated travelling underground. It wasn’t claustrophobia. Spending each and every day climbing in and out of animal cages and enclosures wouldn’t have been possible if that was the case. It was the close proximity to another human beings that disturbed her so much. Amanda had decided a long time ago that she preferred animals to human beings and hence why she had been single for the last four years.

Amanda plodded up the granite concrete stairs attached to the grey, drab council estate that she regrettably called home. Two heavy shopping bags weighed her down, making progress excruciatingly slow. To make matters worse the stairwell smelled strongly of urine. Probably one of the neighbour’s dogs or worse one of the neighbor themselves. It was a hell of a classy joint. She reached her door just in time. The plastic handles of the bags had begun to dig into her fingers, leaving the skin red and sore. A car engine backfired, making her jump. She hurried inside, desperate to get away from the outside world. Closing the door behind her she let out a sigh of relief, relaxing for the first time that evening.

Amanda dumped the shopping bags on the table and straightened herself up, wincing from the back pain. The soles of her feet ached, the blisters on her heels rubbed against the shoes. Halfway through the laborious process of packing away she got fed up and started stuffing the shopping anywhere and everywhere. All she wanted to do was to collapse on the settee and sleep for a hundred years but first a shower and dinner.

The hot water rained down on Amanda, massaging her stiff joints and muscles. The cold, sticky sweat that clung to her skin was washed away, baptizing her anew. Amanda spent a long time in the shower, lathering every inch of her body with soap and washing her hair twice. She wanted to get rid of every trace and memory of her traumatic train journey home. Closing her eyes she took a deep breath. Her mind was still in panic mode from the hectic day she had had. Anxious thoughts flicked through her mind, causing unnecessary grief. After a few minutes of deep breathing, her heart rate began to slow to a steadier beat and her anxiety began to lessen. It was at this time that the shower decided to turn freezing cold.

Amanda lay sprawled across the settee in a long purple dressing gown, pajama bottoms and rabbit slippers. A large tabby cat lay curled at her feet, dozing quietly. On the low coffee table in front of her sat a half eaten ready meal and a generous glass of red wine. In her hand she held a long, thin TV remote that she repeatedly pressed, unable to settle on any channel of interest. Eventually giving up she heaved herself out of the settee with a groan and dug out her DVD copy of ‘Any which way but loose’. It was her favourite film and one she could rely on if there was nothing else on the telly, which was usually the case.

Feeling a bit chilly she boiled the kettle and filled up her teddy bear hot water bottle. As she stood in the kitchen carefully pouring the hot water into the bottle spout she thought back to the previous weekend. Her best and only proper friend Sue had set her up with this office worker called Dave. The date had gone alright. They were both as socially inept and awkward as each other but between them they had managed some small talk. Amanda found him a tad dull but it had been her first date in a long time so she had given him the benefit of the doubt. Afterwards they had gone back to his place and both having had a bit too much wine ended up in bed. The sex was clumsy and awkward and the next morning Amanda left feeling unsatisfied and dirty. Her grip slackened and boiling hot water scorched her hand.

‘FUCK!’ She exclaimed.

Amanda wearily dragged herself to bed. Her whole body ached, each muscle protesting as she staggered from the bathroom to the bedroom. She didn’t bother brushing her teeth and instead climbed fully clothed under the duvet. Her blisters throbbed dully and her hand tingled and itched where it had been burnt. Pulling the covers right up over her head she let out a deep sigh and fell asleep. After what felt like a five-minute doze she was woken by the six am alarm. Her hand shot out and swiped the alarm from the bedside table. She listened to it still ringing for twenty seconds before she sat up with a reserved sigh and prepared herself for another day of her miserable existence.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Mermaid

The young, handsome man darts down the street, eager to escape the heavy downpour that has soaked his jacket and jeans. He grimaces as his foot sinks into a puddle and cold rainwater floods his shoe. Rounding a corner he spots ‘The Famous Cock’, the local drinking hole and breathes a sigh of relief. He pauses in the doorway and ruffles his curly, brown hair. Loud music and laughter reverberates through the heavy oak doors. Bright coloured lights pulse behind the window curtains. The man takes a deep breath and lets his muscular shoulders untense before pulling one of the heavy doors open and slipping inside. He is hit by a wall of noise and flinches at the sudden change of environment. It takes his eyes a while to adjust to the harsh pink light that bathes the ceilings and walls. A loud cheer greets his arrival and narrowing his eyes he notices a gaggle of middle-aged women huddled round one of the corner tables at the rear of the pub. Some of them are wearing frilly pink tutus and scarves. Others, sparkly hats and large sunglasses. As the young man makes his way to the bar, a high pitched wolf whistle is directed at him, followed by raucous laughter. The young man ignores it, feeling slightly intimidated and orders a drink. The rest of the pub is fairly empty, a few old regulars occupying the stools around the bar. One old geezer makes a cheeky remark at the group and they lap it up, firing back with a stream of filthy obscenities that soon silence him. The young man removes his waterlogged jacket and drapes it over a stool. More cheers and wolf whistles, even a few claps as the group eye the man’s tight shirt and strong arms.

‘Take it off, take it off.’ One of the women shouts enthusiastically.

The others join in and begin drumming on the table with their hands. The young man’s face turns a bright shade of scarlet and he buries himself in his pint, feeling exposed. He turns his back to them, trying to avoid their attention. They let out a collective sigh of disappointment. It seems to do the trick through as soon their attention is shifted to a tray of shots on the table in front of them. One of them produces a large inflatable penis from under the table and they begin batting it around like a beach ball. The barman, an elderly chap with a permanently tied expression raises his eyebrows at the young man. The young man chuckles and moves over to one of the fruit machines. He strikes lucky and a few coins fill the tray. As he bends over to scoop out the winnings a hand curls around his left buttock. He jumps in surprise and spins around. Two of the hens stand before him, big cheeky grins plastered on their faces.

‘Ooooh nice and tight.’ The taller of the two says, a pink cowboy hat perched lopsided on her head.

The young man’s eyes dart around madly, looking for any signs of a possible exit. The shorter woman with an enormous pair of breasts moves forward and places a club-sized arm on the fruit machine next to the young man’s head. With his back pressed up against the fruit machine the young man feels penned in, the close intimacy of the short woman making him itch beneath the collar. Her wide face looms in close and for a minute the young man fears that she is about to kiss him. What happens is far worst. Grabbing him firmly around the neck she shoves his face between her breasts. The young man claws at the short woman’s arms, suffocating in the thick mounds of flesh. He can hear muffled and distorted voices far above him. Eventually her arms slacken and she relents. The young man emerges back into the room, gasping for breath. It takes a few seconds for him to regain his surroundings. The room is a hazy blur.

‘Alright, alright that’s enough.’

The elderly man swims back into focus. He is leaning on the bar pumps, his craggy features pulled tight in a deep frown. Before the young man has had time to recover the taller woman grabs his face in both hands and sticks her tongue down his throat. The young man chokes and gags as cigarette smoke and vodka fumes flood his nostrils. He flails helplessly as she clings to his face, sucking the air from his already straining lungs. Eventually she releases her grip and the young man stumbles back into the fruit machine, nearly knocking it over. The rest of the hens still sat at the table whoop and applaud as the short and tall woman perform a victory dance.

‘Right that’s enough. Out you go.’ The elderly man announces.

The hens cry out in protest and lob the inflatable penis at the bar.

Come on. Move along ladies. I’m locking up now.’ He repeats firmly and starts clearing away the drinks from their table.

The hens squawk and screech, throwing up their arms in protests.

‘Just one more round.’ One of them pleads but the elderly barman shakes his head and remains stony faced.

Their protests finally die out as they realize that the stubborn barman isn’t going to back down.

‘Come on girls, this place is shit anyway.’ The tall woman decides, pulling on her leather jacket.

The hens down the remainder of their drinks and stagger haphazardly to their feet. As they file past the young man they wink and blow kisses.

‘Call me.’ One of them mouths and places her thumb and little finger to the side of her face.

Another one reaches out for the young man’s crotch and he bats her hand away, his patience growing thin. They cackle as he stands there awkwardly, his hands covering his lower regions. The last hen stumbles past and the young man relaxes slightly, letting his hands fall to his side. On their way out of the heavy oak doors the tall woman calls over he shoulder.

‘See you later loooover boy.’

The young man shivers as she runs her tongue over her nicotine stained teeth. They all burst into roars of laughter and disappear out the pub doors. The young man remains rooted to the spot, listening to the hen’s laughter slowly fade away. When he can no longer hear them he allows himself to properly relax. Calm in he knowledge that they won’t stage a comeback. The elderly barman places a double whiskey on the bar.

‘Here mate, get this down you.’

‘I don’t have any money left.’

‘Don’t worry about it. It’s on me.’ He says sympathetically.

The young man returns to his stool and takes a large gulp from the whiskey. It’s the smoothest whiskey the young man has ever tasted and he feels the warm after burn spread through his chest.

‘Nice isn’t it?’ The barman says with a proud smile.

‘Thank you.’

‘Don’t mention it.’

‘No I mean thank you for chucking them out.’

The elderly man shrugs.

‘I don’t know how much longer I could have endured.’ The young man says, taking another swig.

The grim taste of fags still lines the inside of his mouth but the whiskey is doing a good job of washing some of it away.

‘Count yourself lucky that I managed to kick them out. I hate to think of the next poor sod that they are going to get their claws into.’

‘Well thanks anyway.’ The young man reiterates, feeling relieved that it is all over.

He finishes the remainder of his whiskey and pulls his jacket on.

‘You can stay if you want.’ The barman says upon noticing the young man getting to his feet. ‘I only said I was locking up to get rid of them.’

Thanks but I’m done for the night. I feel dirty and unclean. Need a shower to feel like myself again.’

The barman nods understandably and moves down the bar to attend to another customer. The young man zips up his jacket and heads for the exit.

‘Night.’ He shouts behind him as he shoulders open one of the doors.

‘Night Nick.’ The barman calls after him.

Nick stands in the pub doorway and peers up and down the street. It is still and silent. When he is sure that the coast is clear, he thrusts his hands deep inside his jacket pockets and starts off down the street, moving quickly with long strides, eager to get home to the safety of familiar surroundings.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.