Our World

The nurse at the emergency room reception heard a woman grunt at her and looked up from the keyboard.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Helen Styles,” the woman said. “I believe you brought in my husband, Tom Styles?”

“Let me look,” the nurse replied, and searched on the computer.

Helen tutted, shifting her bag on one shoulder.

“Bed twelve,” the nurse pointed to one corner.

Helen pursed her lips, nodded, and strode off to the cubicle. She opened the curtain and saw Tom lying in the bed, electrodes strapped to his chest.

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Zebra

“He’s standing there again,” Tilly pointed out the window.

“Oh Tilly,” Brenda sighed. “Another reporter?”

“No,” she said. “He’s not, mother. Come and look.”

Sighing, Brenda got up from the kitchen table, carrying her coffee in one hand.

“Must be some sort of Paparazzi, I expect,” Brenda said.

Tilly turned her head. “I know paps when I see them,” she snapped. “This guy is not.”

He was standing on the other side of the street, dressed entirely in black, looking up at the top of the house with a pair of binoculars.

“Yeah,” Brenda said, sipping her coffee. “He’s watching something all right.”

“He’s been there an hour or so,” Tilly replied. “Giving me the creeps.”

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Ginger

You know how you’re walking down the street one day, and you spot something. Not something big, like a road accident, or a bank robbery, but just something small. Just one of those niggles that, while it doesn’t make things better, it doesn’t really make things that much worse. A broken piece of pavement you nearly trip over, for example, or a dog mess you step in because someone was too lazy to pick it up. It happened to me like this one night when I’m out walking the dog.

We go past this apartment block, near the school, and there’s a piece of grass as you round the corner. Ginger takes a good sniff at the garden and circles trying to find that exact, perfect spot. Eventually he squats down like he’s in training to become a contortionist and makes that “don’t look at me” face. I have to look away, of course, because otherwise, nothing’s going to happen. He’s just going to keep staring at me, realise I’m not going to stop looking, and give up. So I turn away.

The apartment block is a kind of grim grey affair, punctuated by outdoor lights here and there. There’s four in a line between the second and third floors, and the end one is flickering.

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Behind The Scenes: September

No I haven’t forgotten about this, it’s just been a busy few weeks… Not only have I been working on these but possible submissions to two other places as well, neither of which have panned out. Still, I suppose the good thing about these pieces is that if anyone ever asks me where I get my ideas from, I can just say “you haven’t read my blog, then?”

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Trust Me

The hypnotist leaned over the table and turned on the recorder.

“Bennett Mason,” he said into the microphone. “Monday, September the 24th, seven twelve P M. Eliot Hunter, past life regression session number fourteen.”

Mason’s mouth twitched into a smile as he sat back down.

“What do you see, Eliot?” he asked.

Hunter moaned.

“Trust me,” Mason reassured him. “Where are you?”

“I’m in a market,” Hunter whispered. “I’m selling meat.”

“Good, good.” Mason nodded. “Can you tell me where you are?”

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Nicola’s Neighbour

Ben parked the van outside the apartment block and looked at his watch.

“Two hours and a half,” he said. “Not too bad for packing your entire life into a van.”

Nicola adjusted her woolly hat and shook her head. “Can’t believe I’ve left that old place though.”

“Well, at least you own this one.”

“Or I will,” she grinned. “In twenty-five years.”

She pulled the handle, turned and jumped out of the van. Opening the front door with her key, she bound up the stairs, two at a time, to the first floor.

In the fading afternoon light, the flat somehow looked a little empty and forlorn. Waiting for someone to give it life, she thought. Trying to find a way to make itself live again. And now, it was home. Her home.

She spent a moment looking round, imagining where the furniture was going to go. The only room that was smaller than her old flat was the windowless kitchen. At least it was newly refitted, and so was the bathroom, although she suspected she’d paid far more than the renovations cost for the privilege.

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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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