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simon collis

musings of an omnivorous biped

She And Him

Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/05/12
Posted in Year of Short Stories  | Tagged With: , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

I looked down at the chopping board. There was a cucumber half sliced, and I was holding the knife in my hand. Not that it looked like my hand. I think.

“Shaun?” someone behind me said. “Are you all right? Did you get an electric shock off that?”

I turned round. She was a middle-aged, red haired woman, who was looking at me with some concern.

“Who’s Shaun?” I asked, confused.

She frowned at me, put a hand on my shoulder, and led me to a chair.

“Sit here,” she pointed at the chair. I nodded, and sat down.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You were cutting cucumbers,” she said. “You touched the counter, there was a flash, and you squealed. Then you just stopped, and stood there, looking around.”

“Oh,” I replied. I wasn’t sure what else to say.

She walked off, and I looked around me. I was in a small cafe, with seven or eight tables, and a large counter behind the glass front of which were displayed various cakes and sandwiches.

“Where am I?” I asked, of nobody in particular, idly picking up a menu from between the salt and pepper shakers.

In the background, I could hear her dialing on the telephone, three digits.

Daisy Bell’s – Vegan sandwiches and corporate catering the menu read.

“Who’s Daisy Bell?” I asked, looking across to the kitchen area.

“My granny? Don’t you remember she gave us the money to start – oh, hello, ambulance please.”

“Ambulance?” I shouted to her. “I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine.”

She ignored me, and I carried on reading the menu. It was interesting, but clearly geared for volume purchases. Without looking through the main books and calculating the food unit cost, I couldn’t be sure about the margins, but no doubt a few minutes work talking to the suppliers would see some reductions in the overall invoices. After all, regular customers are regular income, and keeping them sweet is always good business. A small redesign on the menu wouldn’t hurt, especially if there was good data on what sold well and what didn’t – highlighting good sellers and the ones that made good profits would no doubt be a good start.

I decided it would be best to make some notes and looked around for my briefcase.

Briefcase?

“Where’s my briefcase?” I shouted.

“Sorry hold on,” she said to the phone. “Briefcase? You don’t have a briefcase.”

I turned around to see her looking askance at me.

“I just wanted some paper and a pen,” I said. “I think there’s improvements that can be made to the business model here.”

Her look clouded over.

“Yes, that’s right, number forty-two,” she replied to a question I didn’t hear. “He’s talking… well, like someone else, really, is the best way I can describe it.”

“I’m not someone else,” I replied. “This is just what I do, is all.”

I started at the menu in my hand.

“This is what I do?” I asked myself. “What do I do?”

I sat down again.

I didn’t feel right, that was all. Surely I just needed to de-stress myself. Yes, that was it – it must be. Stress. I was getting stressed. After all, the Stross project was going a bit…

“What time is it?” I asked, suddenly panicked.

I checked my wrist. My watch was gone – my good one, replaced by… nothing. There was nothing there.

“Oh my god,” I shouted. “Where’s my watch? My watch! My husband gave me that for my anniversary!”

The woman came over and looked at me.

“Shaun, stop it,” she said. “If this is a joke it isn’t funny.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know what you mean,” I replied.

“Look,” she took a deep breath and cocked her head over to one side. “Whatever’s going on, you’ve had your fun. I get it, you’ve had a bit of a shock and you need a bit of a break. Fine. But this is just being silly.”

“No,” I said, “I’m serious. He gave me that on our fifth anniversary -”

“I’m your wife!” she shouted, cutting me off. “Stop it.”

I blinked in disbelief. “I’ve got to be in a meeting at three with Stross,” I said. “I can work on the train. I need to have made some progress on the…”

I couldn’t remember.

“The what?”

“I forgot,” I said. “I forgot again.”

She let out a scream of frustration, and threw her hands in the air.

“I’m going to start calling people about lunch,” she said. “This is going to cost us a lot, Shaun, I hope you know that.”

“I can phone them,” I said. “Trust me, I can do that.”

I stood up.

“What are you prepared to lose?” I asked. “Money wise?”

“You what?” she looked at me, nonplussed.

“Trust me,” I said. “This is what I do.”

She looked at me, blinked, and then started for a moment. “Have you gone mad?” she asked.

“Possibly,” I replied. “Give me the hardest client, get the worst over first.”

She ran a hand through her curly red hair, and looked at me.

“Oh and what’s your name?” I asked.

“What?”

“Your name?” I repeated. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t remember? You honestly, really, don’t remember my name?”

I shook my head.

“Esther,” she said, resignedly. “It’s Esther.”

“And I’m Shaun, right?”

“Yes.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

I put both hands together and cracked my knuckles.

“You never do that,” she said.

I shrugged.

“Or that.”

She opened a notebook book and pointed to a name and address.

“Derek Chapel,” she said. “Good luck.”

I tapped the number into the wall phone (who has a wall mounted phone these days?) and waited.

“Derek Chapel,” someone said.

“Hello Mr Chapel,” I said. “It’s Shaun here from Daisy Bell’s. I’m very sorry to say we’re having a few technical issues here and we’re not going to be able to fulfil your order today.”

“You’re what?” the voice on the other end went from calm to almost shrieking within the space of two words. “Now you listen to me -”

“My reaction as well,” I cut in. “I can totally understand and believe you me I’d be exactly the same. And if I could have fixed the problem myself, I would. I won’t bore you with it, I’ve got a few other calls to make and there’s an ambulance on the way.”

“An ambulance?” he snorted. “What happened, your wife have some kind of sudden aversion to hard work? I don’t think they can treat that in hospital you know.”

Esther narrowed her eyes and looked at me.

“Well, electric shock actually,” I said, omitting the part that (apparently) the shock was mine.

“What?”

“Yes… could be serious,” I replied. “We don’t quite know yet.”

He coughed. “Ah… well I’m sorry I said that, you know, about…”

“Quite all right,” I said, jovially. “We all say things sometimes, don’t we? Anyway, we’ll make sure we don’t charge for today and we’ll look at a discount tomorrow, we should be back tomorrow, if I can get hold of that woman from the agency again.”

“Oh don’t bloody start me on agencies,” he snarled.

I grinned. Got him. Esther, listening in, raised an eyebrow.

“I know,” I said. “I could tell you some horror stories, the people we’ve had over the years, I can tell you.”

“Bloody useless,” he continued. “The lot of them.”

“Anyway, I’ll have to go,” I said. “Lots of calls to make and, as I say, there’s an ambulance on the way.”

“Yeah,” Chapel said. “Sorry about that. Anyway… give my best to Esther, won’t you? And.. er… don’t worry, I won’t expect anything until you call me, just let me know when you’re ready, OK?”

“That’s very good of you Mr Chapel,” I said. “I’ll be sure to do that.”

He hung up.

Esther stared at me.

“How did you manage that?” she asked.

“Easy,” I said. “First off, I tried to create empathy by –”

She shook her head. “I don’t mean how, exactly, I mean, how did you know –”

There was a knock at the door.

“Ambulance?” someone said.

Esther went over and opened the door and two uniformed ambulancemen walked in. She explained briefly what was happening, and I waited. When she’d finished, they walked me over to the ambulance.

They started asking me questions. They asked me about my medical history, which I had no idea about. Esther filled them in. Apparently I was a vegan, which was news to me as by now I was craving a bacon sandwich.

I sat in the waiting room, next to Esther, waiting. We sat in silence for a long time.

“So I guess this is real, then, is it?” she finally asked.

I nodded. “Sorry.”

She sighed.

The waiting room doors opened, and I recognised myself. Of course, I wasn’t myself. But I remembered putting on that skirt this morning. And those were my shoes. And that looked like me wearing them, although it was a surprise to see myself walking through the doors.

“Esther!” she shouted. Or I shouted, I suppose.

She – well, I – turned to me – him.

“And you must be – me?” she asked.

“Christine Bouwhuis,” I said. “At your service.”

She sighed.

“Electric shock?” I asked.

She nodded.

“So she’s you?” Esther asked, looking from one to the other. “And you’re him?”

We both nodded.

She – or rather Shaun, in my body – sat down opposite us.

We were all silent again.

“So…” I asked “What do we do now?”

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

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for the story “Road To Back Home“. Please read that first if you want to avoid spoilers…

Yet again, the curse of not being able to think of an idea for a story struck again, and yet again my backlog of ideas bailed me out. This one has been in my “to write” list for a few years now, and this was a good time to dig it out.

The house itself is based on one that I lived in a few years ago, internally at least. The arrangement of the landing is exactly as I remember it, although the garden and front room are from a different house. To be fair, the layout is generic enough that it could be from anywhere, and I’m sure there’s a hundred thousand houses that could be described in exactly the same way within a mile of where I am right now.

I’m trying a new approach to the writing this time, trying to take more time while writing and imagining the events in more detail before writing each section. I then read it aloud to Rebeca, which really helps – that made me conscious of plot issues, repeated words (and I am terrible for repeating words within a sentence), and other issues (at one point, in the first draft, time ran backwards… oops). It’s a good technique, and I recommend it.

Another technique that I’m experimenting with is something I was told years ago – if you read a book, read it twice: once for fun, the second time to see how it’s done. I’m doing that now and it’s interesting to see how other authors handle things once you know what’s coming. It’s early days, but so far that’s something else that I would recommend, if you’re trying to write.

The post “Behind The Scenes: Road To Back Home” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

Road To Back Home

Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/05/05
Posted in Year of Short Stories  | Tagged With: , , , , | 1 Comment

“Has everyone got everything?” Victoria asked.

“Yes mum,” Beverly groaned.

“Kevin, have you got your iPod?” she asked the boy coming down the stairs.

Kevin, holding his passport between his teeth, just nodded.

“Frank?” she shouted in the general direction of the kitchen.

“I’m coming,” came a yell from upstairs. “I’m just changing the ink in the printer.”

She sighed. “Print the boarding passes in black and white,” she shouted.

“It’s the black that’s run out,” came the reply. Read more

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for the most recent story, “The Quick Brown Fox“.

I have to say, I quite enjoyed writing this one, despite spending three or four hours staring into space trying desperately to work out how to end it. In the end, I went with the idea of them smuggling the ghost into the flat, after removing the bearer bonds.

The initial idea for this one came to me, in the way that quite a few of them do, because of the next letter of the alphabet, and I pictured a vintage typewriter with half of one of the famous sentences sticking out – “the quick brown fox”. Although I have made a point, over the years, of typing “jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz” instead, because it’s shorter and I like being contrary. Read more

The paper jutted halfway out of the typewriter, four words black in the moon light:

THE QUICK BROWN FOX

At least this time, Daniel thought, he had managed four of his own words.

He sat there, in the gloom, looking at it. The sleek grey metal body looked darker in the moonlight, and the white letters on the black keys shone out. The “Olivetti” on the back plate was readable, but the “Lettera 22” was a little harder to see. Read more

This is the “Behind the Scenes” post for this week’s story, “Penny Drops”, which you can read here if you haven’t already

This one didn’t really come together in the same way as the others. Penny’s a character that I’ve had in my mind for quite a while, although I’ve never had a surname for her but always the initials “PC” (that tied in with another story that I was writing that I never finished, and then when the name came into my head, somehow the idea brought in to drop her down a well.

I kind of based this on a castle I visited on the Isle of Wight, which had a similar well in the courtyard, but theirs had a grid put further up. My assumption with this was that when it dried up, the original owners of the castle started to use the well as a place to dump people from the dungeons if they didn’t cooperate. The grid was installed in the well simply because there was the opening and that was the most obvious place to install it – plus it would provide a great little “added extra” for tours, I suppose – at least, in the days before people started to pay proper attention to health and safety concerns, anyway.

I wanted to concentrate on the experience of being in a well, and to try and make the exit plausible. I didn’t want to explain too much, so how Craig opened the well, and what exactly Penny’s revenge will be (assuming she isn’t just dialling the police, of course), is up to your imagination…

It was near closing time in the castle. If they weren’t the last visitors, they at least weren’t far off. Penny was standing at the wall, looking out of one of the small cross-shaped windows. She’d had enough of imagining herself as a twelfth-century archer, and was now simply savouring the warm afterglow of Earl Grey, scones and jam and enjoying the view down the hill when Craig called over to her.

“Hey Penny, come look at this,” he said.

She turned reluctantly away from the view, adjusted her bag on her shoulder and turned around. He was pointing up towards the window on an upper deck of the castle and she didn’t see the open cover of the well. One foot went down into it, and as she turned to try and stabilise herself, Craig’s foot swept around and kicked her other ankle. She dropped into the well, almost silently, a sound resembling a mouse squeak escaping her and no more. Read more

I’ve wanted to bring back Munro ever since the story “Elkwood”. (I also want to take the story Elkwood and rewrite it a bit, but that’s another story.) I had the name first and then wondered what would be special about this ring, and what it would do.

Of course, it was evil, naturally. I wrote the thing in one hit, printed it for editing and my other half pointed out that there was a couple of problems. I fixed those, but she was still left wondering why he was OK in one scene and paralysed in the next. I thought that was obvious: he wished for money, the ring decided the only way to arrange that was compensation, and the only way to organise that was to cripple him. Hmm. So much for subtlety. Read more

The Onyx Ring

Posted by Simon Collis on 2018/04/14
Posted in Year of Short Stories  | Tagged With: , , , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

“Don’t move, and you won’t get hurt.”

The sawn-off barrel of the shotgun waves an inch from the bald man’s face.

“I’m sure we can come to some arrangement,” he says, smiling.

“Just give me the money,” the man shouts. “I just want the money.”

“How much money do you want?” the bald man asks. “And why?”

The man with the gun narrows his eyes a little. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because, as I say, I think we can come to some kind of arrangement. A quid pro quo, if you like.” Read more

The idea of a were-man – a wolf that turns into a human at the full moon – came to me some time on Monday, but I couldn’t work out exactly how to make it work. Rebeca suggested the answer one day while we were out walking the dogs, that I tell it from the point of view of the were-man. I couldn’t really work out what exactly this would entail, so eventually in desperation I started writing on Saturday night, going carefully to try and get it right.

I basically followed the narrative through in my head, at each stage trying to work out what was happening. OK, so first he escapes from the zoo before the other wolves see him as an intruder and kill him. Fine, but then where does he go? The keeper who raised him as an abandoned cub and now has retired. She’s got clothes out for him and is baking cookies because he’s almost a son to her (I’m assuming she’s a widow, separated or divorced, of course). Read more