Cindy oh Cindy

He had woken up with a fierce headache, breath that breached the Chemical Weapons Convention, and a nasty sense of foreboding. His brain hurt. He knew something was wrong. He knew he would have spent the better part of the previous evening trying to impress the new girl on the till at the local drugstore, and that he would have, probably, likely, definitely, have said something stupid, claimed a non-existing ability, promised something he was now committed to and would never in a month of Sundays be able to deliver. This wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

The phone rang. It was her. “A great evening. Thanks for that. Hope you got home okay. And so you’re going to do that for me? Run the marathon? Raise money for the cancer fund? That’s really sweet of you. I’ll pop the entry forms through your letter box this evening.”

Thirty eight years old and not in his prime. Not that he had ever had  a prime or foresaw himself as having one. “Show me a minicab driver who has a prime, who can flex a muscle, who can even bloody locate a muscle,” he thought to himself. Too much time behind the wheel. Too many kebabs or hamburgers or parcels of fish and chips – snatched meals taken whenever there was a lull in the job. Not exactly healthy. Not exactly regular. Run a marathon? Could never happen.

But she was sweet. Cindy. That’s her name. Newly divorced, new in town, new at the job, new at the till. And she had treated him sweetly. Happy to go out with him, happy to sit and chat in an ordinary bar. Didn’t need to be taken to a swish club so she could spend all his money on overpriced champagne substitutes. Insisted on paying for a couple of the rounds of drinks. She knows what life is really like. She’s got a few miles under the bonnet herself and it’s made her generous, unselfish. He likes her. It seems he likes her a lot. He wants her to like him. He wants her to admire him. And so, a drink or two down the road and his head spinning with what might be, he says yes, yes to supporting the charity, yes to running the marathon, yes to doing it for her. How could he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

He knew how many miles there are in a marathon. More than his normal minicab trips, more than he could run in a million years. But Cindy, oh Cindy, he wasn’t going to let her down, he wasn’t going to say no. The forms arrived, the forms went off, and he worked on his training strategy, his tactics, his battle plan. He would get the medal, get the respect and get the girl.

He pored over the route of the race, he studied the town map, he marked up all the rat runs, hidden alleyways, and illegal short cuts that he had learnt when he was doing the Knowledge and he reckoned that if he turned up at the start, he could cross the finish line in about four and a half hours with having run only five miles. He knew he could do it. The downside was the five miles, but for Cindy he could do it. And so for the next few weeks before his shift, he walked, then jogged, then cantered, then galloped until he knew that the five miles (and hopefully Cindy) were in the bag.

It all went smoothly. He crossed the line with hundreds of others with a time of just under four and a half hours.

“My best time ever,” he said to the official handing out the medals.

“Respect,” said one of the policemen helping with crowd control.

“Oh, thank you,” said Cindy, kissing him full on the mouth. “Let’s meet up later.”

By the time he had fought the crowds back to his home, washed and shaved and put on his second best casual gear (he would save the best for another time) the list of runners who hadn’t passed through all the check points and were consequently automatically disqualified, had been published and tweeted and retweeted and his name was third on the list.

No medal, no respect, and no girl.

Early morning. The phone rings. It’s her. “You owe me five miles of sponsorship and I like the way you kiss. Can we meet up again tonight?”

How can he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

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Always read the small print

Some people have a pictogram of a salivating dog on their front gate in order to deter burglars.

Mrs Harris at number 8 Acacia Drive has this, but also of of knives, guns, a blowtorch and a baseball bat.

Some burglars take no notice and the unfortunate who jimmied open Mrs Harris’s front door in the early hours of Tuesday morning was one of those unbelievers.

“Bloody hell,” said the first officer on the scene.

“Bitten, stabbed, shot, burnt and bashed,” read the postmortem report.

“He had plenty of warning,” said Mrs Harris, oiling the barrel of her Colt 45.

 

Written in response to Ragmuffin Wisoff-Fields’s weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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Back on the ward

Long after the evening meal they wake me to measure my blood pressure and to shine a light into each of my eyes. Who knows what for. I don’t object. I’m in their care; they’re only doing what the doctors have asked them to do.

Behind their backs, in the doorway, the Grim Reaper shakes his scythe, gurns at me, taps his watch meaningfully, ducks out of sight when the two nurses have finished with me and turn to leave the ward.

Soon after, still awake and with a freshly emptied bladder, I peer through the doorway, first to the left, then to the right. No sign of him. My dearest enemy has had second thoughts, has changed his mind, has slipped away to find himself a different trophy. This time not me.

I high five myself in the mirror, sashay into the corridor.

I catch the duty night nurse on her rounds.

“Do you ever see him?” I ask.

“Him?”

“Him, Marjory,” I say reading her name badge, “Him. He. He who be the Grim Reaper.”

She goes pale. “That’s not a question for a place like this,” she says turning to look at the rows of occupied beds all lined up like coffins in a plague village mortuary.

“No. no, no, Just asking. Do you ever see him? I mean this would be a jolly good place for him to hang out. It’s a hospital, after all. And this ward, well, lots of low-hanging fruit, I reckon. Can’t believe he doesn’t visit from time to time. Or often. C’mon, you can tell a dying man like me; won’t say anything to the others.”

Her face softens; eyes flick from side to side.

She knows something, I think.

“Okay then. Just between you and me. Well, of course. Not often. A bit spooky but reassuring. We see them going about their business. They do a good job. They’re like dung beetles for humanity – get rid of the waste. It’s a service they offer.”

“Them? They?” I ask, “They? Them? Grim Reapers? With an ‘s’? As in plural? More than one?”

She gives me a pitying look, “Well, yes, of course. What do you think? That only one could take care of all our dearly departeds? I mean this hospital alone needs the services of a small army of them, and they are kept busy, busy, busy, twenty-four-seven, weekends, bank holidays, holy days, and all.

“And, you know, they’re not all the same. Like us they have different personalities, likes, dislikes. Check them out. Some prefer scythes made in the traditional Japanese style, others opt for the Toledo sword making process. Some of the young bucks use laser wands. They all wear the same basic outfit – cloak and hood, but if you look closely, every now and then you’ll see little personal differences, a bit of unusual trimming here, some fancy stitching there, a flash of yellow silk lining maybe, or the hint of hipster to the hood. Oh, they certainly aren’t clones. And they can be quite fun loving, make jokes, throw parties. And they don’t like the soubriquet Grim Reapers. They prefer to be called Collectors.

“And some are quite friendly.” She blushed.

“Friendly? A Grim Reaper, friendly?” I say, “You must be joking.”

“Well, not all of them of course. Some. Some certainly. Well, one, anyhow. Just the one I know, really.”

“Say tell.” I urge.

“His name’s Haerold. Really nice. Has integrity. Thought of introducing him to mum and dad. But he said, best not. Might make them anxious. Or he might forget his manners, and you can imagine what would happen then.”

“So Haerold, then, sounds sweet. I’m sure he’s nice; maybe he can help me. Any chance of you setting up a meeting, him and me? Without prejudice, of course; no scythes or similar ceremonial weaponry. I’d like to talk about some sort of concession, a pass, a bye. Some extra years. A deal, possibly? I have some elderly relatives he could profit from knowing about. Got to be worth something. Get him to call on me. Daytime’s best. Night time spooks me.

Marjory looks doubtful, “Actually Haerold’s on a two-week holiday; gone to Paradise to recharge his batteries, he says, sort out a few rattles. Graeham is covering for him. Nasty piece of work, is Graeham. Greedy. Loves a trophy. Goes around with souls hanging from his belt. Sometimes snatches them a little bit early. Sees it all as a competition as opposed to public service. Not the nicest of them at all. And apart from his all-round nastiness, his personal hygiene leaves something to be desired; smells terrible, never has formaldehyde showers like the others; says that smelling of damp earth and mould and decay is more natural. Haerold thinks he’s a real pain in the ischium.

“Anyway, if he’s hanging around, make sure your blood pressure and heart rate are at normal levels – you don’t want to be getting him excited.” She sniffs the air, “Hmm, seems like the coast is clear, but best you get back to bed for now. If you’re still around when Haerold gets back, we can arrange that meet up. Until then, stay healthy.”

She waves a goodbye and moves down the corridor in the direction of nurses’ station.

I shuffle back to the ward, open my laptop, search for “Health Tips for the Not So Young”.

I read until the arrival of the breakfast trolley wakens the others in the ward.

Some of them don’t look so good. That’s fine by me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yet another Santa story

Santa shivered in his recently redesigned uniform. No longer coca cola red. Now boring black emblazoned with G4S logos. G4S! He could still hardly believe it. He wrapped his ungloved hands around his polystyrene coffee cup hoping for additional warmth.

He could still hardly believe he had signed the contract; the negotiations had been tricky. First there was a deal and then there was a no deal. Canadian and Norwegian options had been mentioned, probably because they also had lots of snow around Xmas. Then one bunch of elves suggested a backstop. Another bunch said, “Whoah, ho ho no.”

In the end his head was spinning and he just signed the first piece of paper the lawyer had thrust in front of him. “Don’t worry about Ireland,” he had said, “The southerners are mainly Catholic, while in the north, they’re mainly not Catholic, so all in all it doesn’t matter.”

“Bummer,” said Santa to the miserable looking gnome seated next to him on the market place bench, “Nobody recognizes me. Where are the little children asking me for an x-box game or a gender-neutral vegan doll?” He ran his hand over his neat hipster-style beard.

The gnome spat an olive pit in the direction of a litter bin, “Look in the mirror, buddy. Remind yourself. You sold out. You signed the paper, hoped for an easier life. Now it’s all done on the internet; the kiddies send requests by email, the bots analyse the data, the Chinese stuff the shipping containers with cheap plastic throwaway toys. And it’s all delivered in driverless sleighs.

“I mean, c’mon Santa, we all know you have a freezer full of reindeer meat back home; don’t come on all dewy eyed now.”

Santa sighed, “You wouldn’t know how stressful it all was. All you had to do was carve a few million wooden toy soldiers, go home to Mrs Dwarf, put your feet up and down a pint of rose petal gin before getting an early night ahead of a long lie-in in the morning.

“Me, on the other hand, I had management work to do, serious stuff, not lightweight like yours. I mean, your toy soldiers were pretty rubbish, nobody asked for them, we had to ditch them in the Bermuda Triangle to get rid.”

The dwarf went red in the face, “How dare you speak to me like that, you piggy has-been. I’ll show you what happens to people who bad-mouth me.”

And with that he drew six toy soldiers out of his pocket, lined them up in front of Santa, and shouted, “Ready, aim, fire.”

The gunshots and smoke drew the attention of the shoppers in the crowded marketplace; a small group rushed to the supine Santa’s aid.

“Make way, stand back,” called out a cheery cheeked white-haired woman, “I can fix this.” And she wafted a mug of hot mulled wine under Santa’s nose. “Wake up Santa, wake up,” she said.

And slowly Santa stirred, opened his eyes, stared at the logo-free, coca cola red Santa suit hanging from a rustic wooden peg on the rustic wooden door, breathed in the essence of reindeer chomping to be on their way and listened to the jingling of cap bells as a mischief of elves scuttled hither and thither loading up the toys, recyclable and artisanal educational toys made from wood, wood harvested in ecologically responsibly managed forests.

“Wake up, Santa” said Mrs Claus, “You’ve been having a bad dream. All those cheese fondues.”

Santa stroked his long, tangled beard, sipped from a mug of hot mulled wine, “Just a dream, just a dream. Well, thank heavens for that. Ooh that was awful. Time to cut down on the cheese.”
He winked at his best friend, the wood carver, “Happy Xmas everyone, eh? Happy Xmas.”

 

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Lost in Space

Image copyright: Nick Allen

“Whoah! Where’s the WD40?”

“Ah, gone missing. No can find. Thought you knew.”

“Did you log it?”

“Log it? Nope. What for?”

“Procedures. NASA procedures. We’re in a space ship. In space. We have procedures.”

The engineer looked bemused. “Logging it won’t give us any more of the stuff. I mean, we’re halfway to Mars. Base ain’t gonna launch a rescue mission with a box of aerosols. Besides, this is a one-way flight. One way, Captain. No return. No comey-backy. Death by space. No disciplinary charges, hey, Cap.”

“True, no names, no pack drill. Just ghost riders in the sky.”

 

Written in response to Rusteater Wisoff-Fields weekly 100 word challenge found here!

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Not in the Loop

“There’s no way I can accept it,” she said. “First of all, she steals my dad from my mom, and now, when he dies, she gets the house, the car, everything.”

“That sounds bad,” I said, topping up her glass. “And your solicitor is saying…?”

“Well, she’s saying, what she’s saying, she’s saying that Phoebe gets it all regardless of how I feel. She says the will is watertight, that I’d lose if I went to court. She says I haven’t a hope in hell, she says.”

“And your mother? What’s she saying?”

“Oh mum, mum, well, she’s a bit ambivalent, thinks it’s probably unfair, but says she did well enough out of the divorce. And anyhow, she’s rather grateful to Phoebe for taking dad, she says; says they were getting bored with each other, so all in all, she’s not fussed. Especially since she’s moved in with her new guy. Just accept it, she says, not worth the bother.”

“Good advice?” I suggest.

“Probably, but I’m not one to take advice. I tend to find my own solutions, to do it my way.”

She rummaged in her handbag, pulled out a photo, shoved it front of me. “That’s her,” she said.

“Gosh, she’s pretty. And looks nice, sweet, not a bunny boiler. I’m surprised your dad left her.”

“No, no. That’s Phoebe! Not my mum, for Christ’s sake! Phoebe! I mean look at her, not a charitable bone in her body, all venom and spite, doesn’t deserve to live.”

“Hmmm, that’s a bit strong don’t you think? I’m sure your dad would think otherwise.”

“No, no,” she said,” “Doesn’t deserve to live.”

She sat quietly for a moment, refreshed her lipstick. “You must know people. You’re in the loop, I reckon.”

“How do you mean?” I asked, “Know people? What loop?”

“You know what I mean. Don’t act the innocent. Someone who could take care of Phoebe, put the frighteners on her. Give her a few scares, mark that pretty face.”

“Not so sure you should be talking like that,” I said, “Especially in a public place. Places have ears, you know. Plus, that sort of thing won’t really help. Plus, I don’t know anyone in this so-called loop of yours. Plus plus plus. Look for other solutions.”

“Such as?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “How about befriending Phoebe, making up to your Dad, get him to change the will. It’ll take a bit of time, but with patience you’ll get there. I mean, he’s not an old man, is he? A good few more years left in him. Worth a try. Better than your plan. Which would probably end in a jail sentence.”

She went quiet and I refilled her glass once again.

“Hold on a moment,” I said, the giving the counter a good wipe with a bar mat, “I need to serve that customer over there.”

I moved across to where a middle-aged man was waiting patiently.

“A pint?”

“Of the best, and one for yourself.

“And when you get a moment, I’d like to talk to you about my daughter; it’s all tattoos and drugs and boyfriends and I don’t know which way to turn. Bloody teenagers.”

“All part of the service,” I said.

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All part of the job

“There’s no way I can accept it,” she said. “First of all, she steals my dad from my mom, and now, when he dies, she gets the house, the car, everything.”

“That sounds bad,” I said, topping up her glass. “And your solicitor is saying…?”

“Well, she’s saying, she’s saying that Phoebe gets it all regardless of how I feel. She says the will is watertight, that I’d lose if I went to court. She says I haven’t a hope in hell.”

“And your mother? What’s she saying?”

“Oh mum, mum, well, she’s a bit angry, thinks it’s unfair, but says she got her fair share with the divorce. And anyhow, she’s rather grateful to Phoebe for taking dad; says they were getting bored with each other, so all in all, she’s not fussed. Especially since she’s moved in with her new guy. Just accept it, she says, not worth the bother.”

“Good advice?” I suggest.

“Probably, but I’m not one to take advice. I tend to find my own solutions, to do it my way.

She rummaged in her handbag, pulled out a photo, shoved it front of me. That’s her,” she said.

“Gosh, she’s pretty. And looks nice, sweet, not a bunny boiler. I’m surprised your dad left her.”

“No, no. That’s Phoebe! Not my mum, for Christ’s sake! Phoebe! I mean look at her, not a charitable bone in her body, all venom and spite, doesn’t deserve to live.”

“Hmmm, that’s a bit strong don’t you think? I’m sure your dad would think otherwise.”

“No,” she said,” “Doesn’t deserve to live.”

She sat quietly for a moment. “You must know people, you’re in the loop, I reckon.”

“How do you mean?” I asked, “Know people? What loop?”

“You know what I mean. Don’t act the innocent. Someone who could take care of Phoebe, put the frighteners on her. Give her a few scares, mark that pretty face.”

“Not so sure you should be talking like that,” I said, “Especially in a public place. Places have ears, you know. Plus, that sort of thing won’t really help. Plus, I don’t know anyone in this so-called loop of yours. Look for other solutions.”

“Such as?” she asked.

“Well, I said, how about befriending Phoebe, making up to your Dad, get him to change the will. It’ll take a bit of time, but with patience you’ll get there. I mean he’s not an old man. A good few more years left in him. Worth a try. Better than your plan which would probably end in a jail sentence.”

She went quiet and I refilled her glass once again.

“Hold on a moment,” I said, the giving the counter a good wipe with a bar mat, “I need to serve that customer over there.”

I moved across to where a middle-aged man was waiting patiently.

“A pint?”

“Of the best, and one for yourself.”

“And when you get a moment, I’d like to talk to you about my daughter; it’s all tattoos and drugs and boyfriends and I don’t know which way to turn. Bloody teenagers.”

“All part of the service,” I said.

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The Outing

“Last one closes the gate,” called Pa as we and all the aunts made our way down the lane into the High Street.

Gosh, I was excited; this was my very first visit to the village.

Image copyright: Yvette Prior

Pa loved coming here, said it was a shame that it wasn’t more often. “Go visit Twinkles Café; it’s nice there,” he suggested.

The aunts headed to the greengrocer, Pa to the china shop.

The villagers waved excitedly when they saw us, and the cars hooted in welcome.

Later the aunts said it was milking time and we all headed home, exhausted but happy.

 

Written in response to Reckless Wisoff-Fields weekly 100 word challenge found here:

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Death of the Cool

The room went quiet. You could’ve heard a pin drop let alone the tick-tock tick-tock filling the auditorium. The youthful workers sat stunned, mouths hanging open in disbelief. The assembled tech bloggers and journalists sat with blasé fingers frozen millimetres above keyboards. Television camera operators fiddled with their headphones, hoping for direction.

Image Copyright: J Hardy Carroll

From the stage, from the large screens strategically placed around the room, Tim Cook stared at the thousands of faces staring back at him, incredulity being the common expression.

“C’mon, y’all,” he pleaded. “It’s the new Apple clock. Retro style, give it a big hand.”

But they didn’t.

 

Written for Roquefort Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge, found here.

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Plenty of fish

“What about crimes of passion?” asked Susie Watkins, “What if a woman kills her husband in a fit of rage because he has once again slagged her off for burning the toast?”

“God will forgive; it wouldn’t be a mortal sin,” said Bishop Greaves desperately trying to keep his eyes out of Susie’s generously displayed cleavage.

“Can’t say the law would be hard on her,” muttered Sheriff Dunberry, unsure whether that was his gun in his pocket, or what.

“Worth a try,” muttered lawyer Brendon Thompson, sotto voce, trying to shut out the persistent image of Susie emerging from the country club’s swimming pool last Thursday.

At the back of the Bible class, Mrs Jenkins and Mrs Harrison both raised their hands hoping to object, but Bishop Greaves said it was time to move on to the parable of the rich men slipping through the eye of the needle.

Susie took a surreptitious sip from the flask secreted in her handbag, twisted a ring around her little finger, her lips forming the words to a brief but heartfelt prayer, “Thank you, Lord, for the support of these men and for the attention they give me, and apols Oh Father for the kitchen knife incident this morning, but hey, that’s another soul for your angels to play with, and for both of us, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.

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It Alex; me, who?

I was chosen, not self-selected. The team at MIT had been following me on social media, watching my house, had stalked my family and had infiltrated my writing group. I was tailor-made for the programme, they decided.

“Pretty crap at most things,” said the military man (US Marines).

“He’s so computer illiterate,” said the social scientist (Google).

“His degree ain’t worth zit,” opined the psychologist (Jesus College, Cambridge).

“If only he’s writing wasn’t so desperately boring,” said the professor of creative writing (Chester).

“Creatively,” said the thinker (Royal Institute of Philosophy, London), “He’s a dead end.”

It seemed I was the ideal fit for their model, and indeed they used my personal, physical, and intellectual profile to help them select others for the experiment; there’s a few of us around, all suddenly writing amazing prose and inaccessible poetry. As you would expect, a programme funded by defence forces and powerful governments wasn’t going to take no for an answer; money was paid into my partner’s bank account, and I was whisked into a little-known military hospital deep in a no-access part of Greenwich Observatory, skull opened up, hardware and chemicals inserted.  They stitched me up, did some serious software programming, and then cast out back into the big wide world.

So here we are, Alex and myself.

Although I’m less and less able to know who “myself” is.

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