Security

Nothing was happening.

Eric looked at the clock. Just past midnight. Another six hours before even the early morning cleaners turned up. He yawned.

Looking at the desk, his mug was empty. Time for another drink.

He picked up his radio and buzzed it.

“Marco, where are you?”

There was a brief hiss of static.

“Polo, I’m over at East Tower,” the radio crackled. “Just patrolling.”

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Author Interview: Lauren Alder

As part of the work for her latest book, “The Codex of Desire”, Lauren Alter had the idea of mutual interviewing – interview another author and have them interview her. I’ve tried to come up with some questions that are, I hope, a little bit different from the usual. You can read Laurie’s interview me on her Facebook page.

My first question is the same one everybody asks, though: tell us a little bit about yourself

Laurie Smith author photoI’m a 53-year old freelance commercial artist, happily married for 23 years to a fellow artist. We live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, in an apartment which includes a large shared studio space. ENFP, Ravenclaw, Lawful Good alignment, with an abiding love for cats, dinosaurs, and non-fiction history books. I’m deeply involved in local science fiction fandom and thoroughly enjoy attending Keycon, our city’s longest-running SF&F literary convention.

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Quiet, Please

The winter sun streamed through the library window, hitting the side of the wooden shelf. The poster on the side of the next rack had turned from its original two colours to a steady change in hue over the years, the words “never judge a book by its cover” starting out black, but ending a washed-out grey.

The table in the corner had gone through the same process, and it currently looked like the occupants had too. A middle-aged woman in a colourful dress sat opposite an old man, wearing grey, reading a grey newspaper with a resigned air.

“Do you think we should throw him out?” Henry asked, nudging Angelika in the ribs.

She shook her head. “It’s a public space,” she replied. “He’s not doing any harm.”

“He’s here every day,” Henry said. 18“Never says anything, just reads the paper. I’ve had people ask for that paper.”

“We get two,” Angelika said.

“Waste of donations, that, if you ask me.” Henry muttered.

“Don’t let the donors hear that,” she said. Henry sneered and turned away. He picked up a stack of books and went around re-shelving them.

Angelika breathed deeply. Henry was a last word freak. Ruth always used to say that if you had a black cat, Henry would claim that not only was his more black than yours, it was also world tango champion last year. Thinking about Ruth, she idly picked up her phone to text Ruth when someone walked in to return a few books.

Henry finished re-shelving, tutting all the while, and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a cup of coffee or tea.

“You know that’s not allowed outside the kitchen, don’t you?”

“His lordship’s not here, is he?” Henry shrugged. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Angelika frowned. He hadn’t even bothered to ask if she wanted anything.

The woman in the colourful dress came up to the counter with the book she was reading.

“Can I take this out?” she asked, fishing in her handbag for her purse.

“Of course,” Angelika replied. She went through the formalities, entered the loan on the system, and handed the book back. The woman left.

She looked across to the table where the old man was still reading the paper.

“He smells,” Henry said in her ear.

“No he doesn’t,” Angelika said. “I’ve worked here longer you have and we’ve never had a problem with him.”

“Well I’m going home, anyway,” he replied.

“It’s only ten to.”

“Like I said, what his Lordship doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

She shook her head. She could report him, but it would just be her word against his. What could she do?

Slowly, the morning became the afternoon. The sun covered less of the poster, and more of the table. A student wanted some books on medicine. Two old ladies were looking for the Fifty Shades books. And a young man came to look for a book of poetry by Baudelaire. The old man stayed in his chair, reading.

At half past two she went into the kitchen and made herself tea. There wasn’t any coffee left – Henry must have had the last of it. She didn’t like tea much, but drank it anyway. It was that or water.

By three she thought the old man might have fallen asleep, and wondered whether she ought to nudge him, but the phone pings, distracting her with a message from Ruth, along with a couple of pictures. Ruth was, it seems, enjoying retirement.

“Do you have a book about dieting on worms?” she heard a man ask, taking her concentration away from Ruth’s message.

“I’m sorry what?” she asked, unsure if she had heard correctly. “Eating worms?”

“No,” he laughed. “Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms. A Diet is a church meeting – a bit like a Synod.”

“Right,” Angelika smiled. She had no idea what he was talking about, but the computer listed three books, all of which were in stock.

She looked across at the old man, now leaning back against the wall with the paper covering his face, looking for all the world like he had gone to sleep. She smiled, deciding to leave him there. Let him sleep. Henry would hate it.

“Do you know anything about the old man that comes in every day and reads the paper?” she texted Ruth.

“Sure,” she messaged back. “Been coming in for years but keeps himself to himself. Think his name is Thornton or something like that.”

Angelika went back to work. She busied herself creating a display of pirate-themed books in the childrens’ area, to replace the dinosaurs display that had been there for a week. She got halfway through when the front door of the library opened.

“Afternoon, anyone there?” came a familiar voice.

“Hi boss,” Angelika said, walking out to the front desk. “Just creating a new kids’ display.”

“Ah, excellent,” he replied. “Well I don’t want to keep you, just dropped in to see how things are going.”

“They’re fine, thanks.”

“Good good.”

He looked over in the direction of the table.

“Has he been here all day?” he asked.

“Henry suggested throwing him out, but…” she shrugged.

“Quite wise of you,” he nodded. “But I wonder…”

 

“Mr Thornton?” the paramedic shook his shoulder. “Mr Thornton, can you speak to me?”

“Does he have any relatives that you know of?” the other paramedic asked, clipboard in hand.

“I don’t know,” Angelika replied. “He just comes here every day.”

“He’s not breathing,” the first paramedic said.

“How long has he been like this, do you know?” the second one asked.

She shook her head. “Maybe an hour, maybe two.”

“There’s no pulse,” said the first paramedic. “I think we need to start CPR.”

 

“He’s not here morning, I see,” Henry said, triumphantly.

“No,” Angelika replied, “he isn’t.”

“Hopefully he never comes back,” he sniffed. “We shouldn’t allow homeless people in here anyway.”

“He wasn’t homeless,” she said. “I know that, at least.”

“Really?” Henry scoffed, polishing the table. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

She waited for a second or two, choosing her moment.

“He died, yesterday,” she said. “Sitting right there.”

Henry stopped for a moment, grimaced, then carried on cleaning.

“The boss is coming in soon,” she said.

“Oh yes?” Henry looked up at her, arching an eyebrow.

“We’re going to have some sort of tribute to the old man, and then a fundraising drive.”

“Fundraising! We get enough money.”

“Not any more we don’t,” Angelika said. “Our biggest regular donor died yesterday.”

“Oh that’s sad,” Henry said. “Who was it?”

Angelika pointed at the table, tilted her head and smiled.

“Guess,” she said.

“You’re kidding me,” Henry’s mouth opened wide in surprise, realisation dawning.

“From years back,” Angelika said.

“Well, you’ll be all right,” he said. “Last in, first out and all that.”

“Don’t tell the boss I told you though,” she said. “Supposed to be confidential.”

He nodded, and went back to polishing.

Angelika decided to make coffee. She’d brought her own today. Life was too short to put up with Henry’s nonsense.

 

The post “Quiet, Please” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

Behind The Scenes: Arcana

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for my latest short story, “Arcana”. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers, because this one is really very spoilery indeed. You’ve been warned…

This one came to me around Tuesday or Wednesday evening, and it made me smile – the idea that someone really didn’t believe in the tarot, and then they find that it predicts everything, just not anything actually important.

The very first Jones story that I wrote, way back when I was fourteen, is all told from Jones’s perspective, and there is a long part in the introduction where she explains that although she does palm reading, tarot and many other things that she considers to be nonsense, she does them because people will pay her to do. So she does them merely to pay the rent, without actually believing in them. Because this is told essentially from the point of view of Dave and Gwen (with the exception of the bit at the beginning), there wasn’t really space to include that here.

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Arcana

Destiny Jones watched the rain against the window and cradled her coffee mug in both hands. Like many naturally thin people, she had low blood pressure. And like many people with low blood pressure, she felt the cold. And on a cold November day, a single gas bottle heater cuts through the cold like a cheese knife through concrete.

The radio announced the composer of the week was Edgard Varese. “Varese said that in ‘Arcana’,” the announcer said, “you may finally find my thought.” The radio began what sounded like an orchestra in pain, and she sighed and retuned it. After avoiding the cricket commentary, which appeared to be talking about seagulls and a yelling DJ exclaiming about the merits of a particularly obscure dance record, the door opened just as she found a more soothing station. Sighing, she put the radio back down, called up a fake smile, and turned around.

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Behind The Scenes: Poppy And Zara

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for the story “Poppy And Zara. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers.

This story flowed. It’s nice when that happens, and it doesn’t happen all that often. I started with it, and every sentence seemed right, it seemed to be making the story flow in a way that I liked. I had a few set scenes in my head – getting turned round on the motorway, for example – and I wanted to get those in, stations along the road. I also wanted to show the main character getting more and more hardened to reality, less willing to help, more accepting that there’s really nothing that he can do.

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Poppy And Zara

The alarm went off at six, an hour or so earlier than usual. I looked, bleary-eyed, round my little hotel room before working out exactly where I was.

The conference! Ugh. Another three days of dreary “keynote” speeches, dull technical presentations and question and answer panels with all the personality of a wet cabbage. And I was tired. Shouldn’t have spent so long watching movies last night, but I started flipping through the channels and I’ve always been a sucker for “Thelma and Louise”.

I moved and the phone lit up: it would still be in “do not disturb” mode until eight, but the notifications for text messages were still showing. I scrolled through them.

3:12am: Poppy is sick. Going to call out of hours doctor. Will let you know. xxx Zar

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Behind The Scenes: Just The Ticket

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for “Just The Ticket“. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers…

This one started as a nice idea, a little twist, a gimmick. I thought it would be quite easy to write. But it wasn’t. It was actually really quite hard,and I’m not sure I like the result very much. The reason I say that is that there really isn’t enough “stuff” that he does to make his life a bit more interesting. I just didn’t have time to come up with it. My fault for leaving everything to the last minute – again.

I notice I’ve written a lot of people who are unhappy with their jobs and want to quit. While you might think that’s me and my day job, it’s really not: if I were to be writing about my own experience, I’d be writing about someone totally different – most of these I’m basing on news reports and imagination.

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Just The Ticket

I bought a lottery ticket Sunday morning. I haven’t done that in years, not since the lottery started probably. Just on a whim really, because it was a roll over – fifty-two million. Don’t win if you don’t play, do you? So I picked six numbers, off the top of my head. Seven and Nine, because of Star Trek (sad, I know). Then fourteen, because that’s my birthday. Thirty-three, my age. Then forty-four (house number where I used to live – I live at number thirty-three now so I had to use the old one), and finally number forty-seven because… well, why not? I didn’t have any numbers in that column yet – that’s as much thought as I gave it. I grabbed a pint of milk, the paper and a pack of bacon, paid for the lot and went home.

Sundays for me these days are pretty much sitting around, reading the paper. Maybe a movie later if there’s a good one on. There’s really nothing else to do in this town, these days.

I keep thinking about moving out, just quitting the job and getting gone, but it’s not possible. Too much debt, too many bills. The mortgage alone is seven hundred. One pay cheque gone and I’m in trouble. Big, big trouble.

Monday was a boring day. The same old, same old. There’s an old joke, and I think it might have originated with Monty Python, about accountancy being the most boring job in the world. Well, trust me, it isn’t. You should try being a “quality coordinator”. In essence, my job involves sitting in an office, reading automated reports and entering figures into a spreadsheet. That’s about it. Then these spreadsheets go off to middle managers who don’t read them unless I highlight in the accompanying email that things are down by five percent or more, year-on-year. And then I usually get a nastygram asking why they weren’t warned sooner. The stock answer being, of course, that they haven’t read a thing from me for six months. I almost relish that as the most exciting part of the job, if I’m honest.

Tuesday wasn’t more exciting. Cathy from whatever department she’s in (I’ve no idea which, I only ever meet her in the kitchen) broke the Disney mug her kids gave her when trying to make coffee. I’m still not sure that wasn’t on purpose.

Tuesday evening it picked up. Quite a bit. I made a point of watching the lottery show, you see.

I’ll lay it on you. You already know what’s coming here, so I’m not going to draw out the agony for you. I’m not going to say that I waited with baited breath as each number came out. I basically thought “that’s a tenner… that’s fifty… that’s – how much is that… oh, six.” I didn’t jump up and down. I didn’t get excited. I just said to myself “that’s nice”.

It didn’t really hit me until the Wednesday morning. I had six numbers. Six numbers. On the lottery. Fifty-two million, if nobody else won it. I put the radio on in the kitchen while eating, but there was nothing on the news. How many years has it been running? So many they don’t bother making it a headline when someone wins it any more, if truth be told. It’s only when they win over a hundred million or the person has won it twice or something that it makes the news.

I walked to work feeling good. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I’d already decided I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I’d also decided that this was going to be my last day at this job, one way or another. But how? I’d read about someone whose resignation letter was essentially having a poop on the boss’s desk, but that’s not me. Besides, it would get the police involved, and I don’t want that. That also ruled out stealing, punching someone, tipping water over the boss or my computer, or any sort of damage. No, I was going to have to get creative somehow.

I walked up the road, past the big factory with the elephant mural on the wall, and up to our office. Got myself buzzed in and went up to the third floor.

I basically sat there all morning, doing as little work as possible and trying to think of what to do to get myself fired. About half past eleven, my boss walked past me, on the way to his cozy corner office and his old school tie flapped out of his jacket. And a thought hit me. It took a moment’s preparation.

“Excuse me,” I said, standing up.

He turned round and walked a little bit back to me. As usual, I had to get up and walk to him.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I was just admiring your tie,” I said, and grabbed it in my hand. The other hand came up and I quickly stapled a piece of paper to it.

I quit, it said.

I smiled, turned and walked back to my desk and sat down to shut down the computer.

“What the hell is this?” he screamed. “What have you done to my tie? My school tie! I had it when I went to Eton! I’ll have your job for this -”

He looked over at me, but by that time I was putting on my coat. I grinned, broadly, and left the building.

There wasn’t silence behind me. A couple of people were clapping, but that stopped fairly quickly. I expect that icy death stare he specialised in had something to do with it.

Fifty-two million, I remember thinking. It made me feel warm inside, happy, contented even. For the first time in years, things were going well.

I stopped off at the corner shop. I bought an outrageously expensive bottle of champagne, some nice wine, smoked salmon – luxury things.

“Having a party?” Dan asked.

“Just splashing out a bit.”

“Birthday treat?”

“No, just felt like it.”

“Nice,” he said. “Be nice to win that sixty four million at the weekend, could live like this every day.”

“Sixty four million?” I asked. “On Saturday?”

“Yeah,” the junior Mr Singh replied, turning round from stacking shelves. “Nobody won it yesterday, innit?”

“Nobody won?”

“Nah.”

“But…” I opened my wallet and passed over the ticket.

Dan looked at it for a few moments before passing it back.

“That must be so gutting,” he said.

“Not really,” I said. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?”

“Seriously?” he raised an eyebrow.

I was starting to sweat now. Dan pointed at the bottom of the ticket.

One draw. Saturday the 16th…

Apparently, although I don’t remember it, I fainted.

 

The post “Just The Ticket” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

Behind The Scenes: Last Drawer On The Right

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for Last Drawer On The Right. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers…

This one I wrote in a different manner to the others. Normally I have no idea what I’m going to write, and then lock myself away in the office Saturday afternoon and sweat until something magically appears in the word processor. This time I started on the Friday night and wrote it in a very vivid state – I could see the characters in front of me, see the piano and the piano stool, envisage the house.

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