Toenails

This is my entry for the TCWG short story competition for November on the subject of “harvest”. My story is around 1760 words long.

Toenails

The inauguration ceremony and all the celebratory events were over and the new president and his wife retired to the president’s private apartment in the White House. He looked at his wife and said, “I’ve got some business that I must attend to before going to bed. You go and make yourself comfortable and I’ll join you shortly.”

The president entered the private study within the presidential apartment and shut the door. Nothing like as grand as the Oval Office, it was nonetheless well appointed and comfortable. He sat in a big leather armchair, leant forwards and carefully loosened his face. The prosthesis slowly came off to reveal his true self, an extraterrestrial arthropod. Out loud he said to himself in his native language, “That feels better!” And then he got to work.

He picked up a small device that was actually some type of small walkie talkie that could transmit over massive distances. Comfortable in the feeling that he was safe, he called his contact who was many light years away. A bit like Star Trek’s subspace radio, this device could communicate in real time over the distance. He got a response to his hail. What to human ears would sound like a series of clicks, to him was a beautiful language, the language of his home world that he’d left some twenty years earlier for this difficult mission.

He greeted his contact and then said, “I can’t believe those dumb Americans elected me! But they did and I am now the President of the United States of America. For the most part, I will govern them well because it’s the power that I need, not anything about them, at least nothing consequential.

“What is it exactly that you want me to deliver?”

The creature at the other end of the communication device replied, “Toenails! Millions of tons of human toenails. More precisely, we need a fungus that grows on human toenails and nowhere else. For decades we’ve tried to grow it on other media but it just wont take.”

“So you want me to talk down the strange goings on as we abduct millions of Americans to harvest their toenails?”

“In essence, that’s it. We’ve been abducting people at a very low rate for years but we can’t get round the fact that about one in twenty remembers something of the experience. We’ve tried all sorts of memory block methods but we’ve always ended up with some people remembering something of what we did to them. When we’re abducting over a million Americans per night, that will mean at least 50,000 will have some kind of memory. Your task is to keep the people calm, assure them that there’s nothing harmful happening but also try to note who the people are who remember. We will try to avoid abducting them too often.”

“Well, these Americans are so gullible. I’m sure that I can come up with something but I think it’s important that we do not abduct anybody in a position of power: legislators, judges, police officers and the like. We should also avoid abducting any celebrities. We need the majority of the population to think that the tales of abduction are fiction by attention seekers.”

“You have your instructions. Now, govern America well, so you win a second term and we should be able to harvest enough toenails to last us indefinitely. I congratulate you on your election and wish you goodnight!”

The president responded and signed off. He leant forwards and slowly reattached the prosthetic face. He went to bed and made love to his wife. Little did she know why they had had to adopt children. Meanwhile, the mass abductions began.

The first night went well. 3.2 million Americans were abducted while they slept and the vast majority remembered nothing, though a few were confused by the fact that their toenails appeared to have been trimmed neatly to the quick. However, around 155,000 remembered something and aliens impregnated far-fetched ideas into their minds to confuse and muddle their memories. As a result reports of aliens carrying out anal probes went right up, despite the fact that the aliens only wanted toenails.

After a month or so, when the aliens had a good-sized batch of toenails, they decided to reduce nightly abductions to about one million. However, with about one in twenty remembering something of the experience, the media, particularly daytime TV talkshows were pre-occupied with stories of alien abductions. Because of the intentional befuddlement of those who did remember something, there were some quite incredible stories, such as the man from Idaho who claimed to have been disassembled, dissected and reassembled while remaining conscious throughout!

The President was kept informed about the growing public unease and fear that aliens wanted their bodies. He decided to address the nation on the subject during one his regular Roosevelt-style fireside chats. “People are alarmed by the huge rise in the number of reports of alien abductions. I can assure you that the FBI, the CIA and the Air Force are all investigating the reports. So far there is no evidence to suggest that aliens are abducting Americans. The reports show no sign of the reports being true. There is no evidence that we have been contacted in any way by an advanced alien race and no one has been hurt during these so-called abductions. Psychologists talk of mass hysteria causing people to imagine the same trail of events. I do not know why there’s been a big increase in such reports but I can assure you that the government is doing everything to protect our nation.” He continued with the usual patriotic guff that American presidents spout when addressing the country. Altogether his little talk reassured the public and reports of abductions did die down for a bit.

The years went by and the rumours of nightly alien abductions resurged and continued. Conmen were making a mint out of fraudulent devices and potions guaranteed to prevent a person from being abducted. One ad went like this, “Scared of having an alien anal probe? Then buy Chastity Plus, the invincible nighttime underwear! Guaranteed impenetrable to alien anal probes. Sleep well tonight simply by calling 1-800-555-6565! This simple $39 dollar garment will keep you safe.” Anal probes were just a rumour and didn’t really exist but, if they did, an alien would easily get a Chastity Plus off a subject.

The President did well and was re-elected. He was quite used to living his lie. He even loved his (human) wife. He governed well because it was in the aliens’ interests for the people of the United States to be happy. But one day one of his alien contacts told him of something potentially dangerous to the mission. He phoned to say, “Jerry Springer is going to interview a couple because the husband’s left her because he says he’s been abducted many times by the same alien and he’s fallen in love with her. The wife is devastated because she loves her husband and wants him back. She thinks he’s having some type of mental breakdown.”

The President thought for a moment before replying, “Has he really fallen for an alien or is he having a breakdown? If it’s true, maybe we could use this to our advantage. Maybe it’s time to be honest with the American public and tell them the truth, though I don’t think we could ever admit to them that they elected an alien to the presidency.”

“Yes, the story is true. What do you have in mind?”

“Let’s find our female compatriot and let her appear on the Jerry Springer Show. We can then gauge public reaction. If they think it’s an elaborate hoax, we’re fine but if they think it’s real, lets simply tell them that all we want is their toenails on which to grow this immensely important fungus.”

The programme aired and Jerry Springer interviewed the couple, Joe and Jane. Joe said, “I know I’ll be abducted again. I’m certain and when it happens I will be abducted by Ick-Ick. We’re in love and I’ll ask her to take me back to her home planet, Xesxe. It’s name is hard to pronounce but I think I got it about right.”

At this point Jerry Springer interrupted and said, “Joe, I have someone backstage who’d like to meet you.” He signalled to the stage director that he was ready and Ick-Ick was ushered into the studio.

Joe didn’t need Jerry Springer to say anything more. He rushed forwards and hugged Ick-Ick. She moved her enormous nose to one side and they kissed passionately on the lips or his lips to whatever an arthropod has that’s the equivalent. Jane was heard to exclaim, “Gee, that’s gross! How could you?” The audience stared in utter disbelief. Joe’s passion was obvious but they couldn’t really tell with Ick-Ick. How does an arthropod show passion?

The programme ended and immediately pollsters got asking representative samples of viewers whether they thought is was real or staged. Overwhelmingly, the response was that people thought it was real. Then, as days went by, people who hadn’t seen the programme but had heard about the passionate alien kiss were also polled. They were more sceptical but a majority thought it was real.

The President called a meeting of the Cabinet to tell them what he would do, rather than to seek their counsel. At the meeting he said, “I have known for some time that some aspects of the alien abduction stories are true. However, the intelligence services and I thought that America and the world wasn’t yet ready to meet aliens. The aliens only want our toenails so they can grow a fungus that has important medicinal properties. They don’t do anal probes or any of the other less pleasant things that have been reported.

“The Jerry Springer Show brought a real alien into millions of TV viewers’ homes. Pollsters report that the response has been amazingly positive and people were touched by the story of love that emerged. I will tell America and the world the truth and maybe we can trade our toenails for something the aliens have that we need. There will be no need for any more abductions.”

And so it was. The President made his TV announcement and the aliens opened an embassy and consulate in Washington DC. Now when you go to the shops and you see a human-sized arthropod buying a watermelon, you won’t be too surprised!

© Charles Stuart 2016

The Road To Hell

This is an entry for the September TCWG short story competition. This month is an open subject with a length limit between 250 to 750 words. This story has around 625 words.

The Road to Hell

The man came round slowly and found himself lying in a pool of blood on a road in a tunnel. His body felt OK and he didn’t feel that he’d been hit by a car, though he couldn’t remember what had happened exactly. He could remember leaving a nightclub and starting the two-mile walk home. However, there wasn’t a tunnel on his walk home and he really couldn’t remember anything after he’d turned into Park Street. Anyway, the amnesia didn’t seem to be massive. He could remember his name, the date, the prime minister’s name, who is the current president of the US and all the sort of questions doctors ask when one turns up at A&E with a head injury. He looked at his watch and saw that it was 4.05 and assumed it was AM Rather than PM because that would mean that only about an hour was missing from his memory. He felt the back of his head. It hurt and was wet with blood. Obviously he’d been hit by something, maybe deliberately to rob him but he still had his wallet.

He began walking down the tunnel. It was a single track road with no pavement. As he walked, the air seemed to get warmer to the point that he needed to take off clothes. The light was very dim and he couldn’t see far ahead, in part because the tunnel curved. After about half an hour he was left wondering if he’d ever reach the end of this tunnel or if he’d cook first in the heat. The heat was worse than oppressive.

There was a final sharp bend in the tunnel and then he finally saw the end, a set of black gates. He walked up to the gates and saw a card that said “Knock” in badly scrawled handwriting. He saw a knocker and went to touch it but it was scalding hot. He wrapped his hand in his shirt and then was just about able grab hold of the knocker but it was very stiff. Eventually he managed to lift it a little, so he could knock with it. He couldn’t make much sound with it because it was so stiff but when it did strike, rather than a knocking sound he heard one of those really ghastly musical chimes doorbells, made even worse than usual because it sounded as if the battery was on its last legs. The tune was not only tuneless but out of tune as well!

After a wait of what seemed like eternity, a very ugly shirtless man with loads of tattoos came to the gate. He also had jagged broken teeth and smelt like a cesspit. He said, “Name?”

The injured man said, “Joseph O’Connor.”

“Got any ID?”

“Driving Licence.” Joseph handed it through the bars of the gate and the tattooed man disappeared with it.

After what seemed like eternity again, he came back and said, “Wrong place! Turn around and go back the way you came.” He handed Joseph back his driving licence.

Joseph walked back down the tunnel and as he did so, the temperature became more and more comfortable. He passed the place where he’d awoken and continued walking for some distance. The light became brighter and it was easier for him to see where he was going and eventually he reached another set of gates. These were iridescent and very beautiful. When he knocked, the knocker had a beautiful action and made a wonderfully reassuring thud. A very beautiful woman, straight from the pages of Vogue came to answer and said, “You must be Joseph O’Connor, the Other Place phoned to let us know you were on your way.” She opened the gates and he entered paradise.

© Charles Stuart 2016

This Island Universe

This is my entry for August’s TCWG short story competition. As I struggled to think of anything, I came up with this and really only the title meets the subject criterion of “Islands”. It’s 1310 words long.

This Island Universe

Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. Well, when it comes to a university degree in making universes, that certainly is the case. In your first year you have to just have a go and, you know what, no one ever makes a viable one. They implode, they explode, they whimper and die, they grow so vigorously that they’re unstable and burn out and countless other things go wrong. First year students’ attempts fail. That’s an unwritten law.

But then one year there was a new student and with 120 others entering the course, he didn’t seem special. He was a bit shy and prone to daydream. He liked his ideas for what should be in a universe. He had lots of notebooks outlining the things he thought would make the perfect home for life. Perhaps his tutors should have noticed that none of these ideas were outrageous, though many were original. This combination was perhaps a hint that he was someone special.

The first year progressed and he did all the usual things that new undergraduates do, from joining countless societies that he’d attend only once to getting thoroughly pissed and passing out in the town square. It was almost as if this small university had a checklist of things that first years must do before they could really be considered a part of the university. But, of course, U. of L.I.F.E. was the leading institution for Universe Creation Studies and the fact that they hadn’t changed their name when granted a charter did rather make people laugh. I mean, it’s a rather cumbersome and tautologous name, The University of Lovington Institute of Further Education.

Universe Creation Studies combine elements of Fine Arts, Architecture and Theoretical Physics. A very strange subject for a select few students who had to leave school with exceptional grades. Yet the professors, so learned that they’d make the likes of Einstein and Newton, as well as the equivalent best minds from the arts look like ignoramuses, thought of their typical intake of first year students as “unremarkable”. Well, this year at least, they were wrong. There was this one student.

One of the first courses was Supernova 101. This was put in the first term because it was undeniably fun for anyone who could master the physics, while anyone who couldn’t would have dropped out or been “persuaded” to transfer to a less demanding degree course. Of course, the intake being the best of the best, though unrecognized by the professors, the dropout rate was approximately zero, while the transfer rate was an almost an infinitesimally small amount larger. The students had to demonstrate that they could create, control and direct a supernova before they could pass the course. And for this one special student, it just accelerated his level of creativity and made him come up with even better ideas that weren’t outrageous. You see, the thing is that most students on this course have fanciful and outrageous ideas that simply cannot ever work regardless of how much fine tuning they try.

In the Lent Term the students biggest practical challenge was in the course Black Hole 101. In this they had to develop and control a quantum singularity, colloquially known as a black hole. It wasn’t for anyone who got bored easily. It was that horrible combination that all science students hate, dull and difficult! But the professors were aware of this, so rather than an individual effort, the entire 121 intake of students, less any who had dropped out or transferred, were allowed to do this as a group project. It was seen as a training exercise in mass cooperation. And this is where this special first got noticed by the professors. He took control and lead from the front. The class had their black hole up and running in record time and were able to study it for far longer than any first year group in previous years.

In the Summer Term, each student had to have a go at designing and building a universe. Then all 121 universes would be put together to interact. In a successful system, a few would die, a few would burn out and most would be influenced by the best universe to create a stable interaction. By this time, everyone knew who was likely to be the creator of the best universe. And indeed this very special student wasn’t going to disappoint.

One of the things that applies to the construction of a universe is that the creator can set certain laws of physics that will apply within his universe. However, certain other laws create themselves according to the ingredients that the creator chooses to include. At the University, the professors include many options for ingredients, some of which always work, some will work if mixed with the right others and some will never work but are there to make life harder for the students. Of course, a student could make a viable universe by using only ingredients that always work. The problem is that this would make a very dull universe and the student wouldn’t pass because the course was as much about creativity as about making it work. In fact, on this exercise, creativity got 70% of the marks and so a student making a safe universe would fail, while a student with great creativity whose universe exploded instantaneously could get a first for this project.

The professor in charge of the exam stood before the assembled class and said, “We all know that you’ll fail to make a viable universe but that is not the point. At this stage in your degree course, we do not expect you to be able to make a viable universe that has the desirable level of creativity. No one has ever succeeded at this stage of the degree in making a stable universe that meets all our criteria for creativity. To pass, you have to meet all our criteria for creativity and viability is considered so unlikely that we simply don’t think it will happen. Remember, think creative over viable and good luck everyone!

“You have three hours.”

So the students looked at the available components and began to build universes. They thought creatively and all the others watched the star student. This was permitted because part of the examination was about creating something interactive, so while students couldn’t copy each other they could try to build in a degree of interactivity between the different universes. At the end of the three hours, all the universes were complete and the students awaited the next stage.

After a thirty-minute break they reassembled in the practical lab. The professor took the universes and mixed them randomly, so that no one knew whose universe would be next to whose.

The professor said, “Now for the final part where we see just how well your universes function.” He flicked a switch and the universes cam into being. He expected them to have all disintegrated within five seconds but, while some died and few exploded, the main bulk began to form a symmetrical pattern around one universe, the one created by the start student. After a minute, there was definite symmetry and the professor looked at the readout and his jaw dropped.

He turned to the class and said, “Congratulations! You’re the first first-year group to succeed in creating a stable system of universes. As you can see, a symmetric pattern of universes has formed around this one in the middle and they’re growing at a healthy rate. Looking closely at this one in the middle, there’s a galaxy currently in its middle and in that galaxy there’s a planet with sentient life, the requirement in a stable universe that shows sufficient creativity to pass the exam. It seems that they call their galaxy the Milky Way.”

Everyone knew whose universe that was. It was created by the star student, one George Oswald Davies, known to his friends as GOD.

© Charles Stuart 2016

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Anne’s and George’s Little Non-Adventure

This is my entry to July’s TCWG short story competition. It is about 1660 words long and the subject for the month was characters displaced in time.

Anne’s and George’s Little Non-Adventure

Anne and George were both taking this strange new medicine to treat malaria that they’d caught on a safari holiday. They had to take it immediately before bed because it caused drowsiness. However, in clinical trials it had been shown to be entirely effective against the parasite that causes malaria but no one in the clinical trials had also been taking statins and no one realized that there would be a strange interaction between the drugs. The drug was so new that the ink was still drying on the product licence and Anne and George were just about the first ordinary patients to take the drug on a regular doctor’s prescription. The drug was to be taken after the patient’s condition had stabilized to destroy dormant parasites and prevent any future flare-up of malaria.

They took their pills and switched off their bedside light. They slept soundly through the night, during which weirdness happened. George awoke first and grabbed his mobile from its charger. He looked at the time, 0730, which was reassuring. He’d only overslept by 45 minutes. Work knew that he hadn’t been well and that he and his wife were taking this new medication that could make them oversleep. As he washed and dressed, he did notice the dust. Where had this come from? Anne woke up and asked, “What’s with all this dust? Where did it come from?” He replied that he had no idea.

Anne was a traditional housewife now, having taken early retirement a few months earlier. She knew that later on in the day she’d have to go and collect the mail from the post office – for various reasons they had a P.O. Box arrangement that was permanent and not just for their holiday. She went downstairs and quickly dusted and hoovered the downstairs area of their split-level flat. She went into the kitchen and found that the eggs were bad and the smell was unbearable. They’d forgotten to take bread out of the freezer, so she got some and defrosted it by toasting some slices. The butter seemed somewhat past its best but jam, honey and marmalade seemed fine.

George came downstairs and ate his somewhat unsatisfactory breakfast. He then went to the block’s underground car park to get his car to drive to work. He didn’t like listening to the radio in the car so he really didn’t know what was happening in the world. Anne was too busy cleaning the flat to bother with either the radio or TV, so she too was ignorant of what was going on in the world.

George arrived at work and parked in his reserved space. On walking in the receptionist said, “Good morning, Mr Summers!” She was too polite to make any comment because he was the business owner. He greeted her, thinking that he’d last been there about a month earlier – would have been a bit less than that but for the bout of malaria.

Anne walked to the post office to collect the mail. When she talked to the counter clerk, who was new, he said, “You do realize that there’s an awful lot of mail for you? It seems that you haven’t collected it for a long time.”

“Oh, yes!” She said, “We’ve been on holiday and when we came back we had to spend a bit of time in hospital because we caught malaria.”

The clerk didn’t comment but handed over three mail sacks full of post. Anne had to get a taxi back home because it was so much. The three sacks sat the hall and intimidated her. She felt that she couldn’t go through all that stuff that was probably junk without George, so she left it and went to the supermarket to buy food and assorted household cleaners.

While he had been away, George’s company had prospered. His number two was very able and had secured quite a few new orders and had made good calls when it came to buying commodities in bulk to reduce costs. Therefore, George had very little to worry about until his deputy discussed things with him.

“And you’ve done all this in a month?” George asked.

“No. Three years.” Came the reply.

“So you’ve been winning orders and speculating on prices for some time, long before I went on holiday?”

“No, only since you were on holiday and then in hospital.”

“But we were sent home after week with some new medicine to take. We took it last night and slept really well. Felt very refreshed this morning.”

“I’d say! By reckoning you’ve slept for three years. What date do you think it is?”

“September 26th.”

“Which year?”

“2016.”

“No, it’s actually 2019, though it is September 26th.”

George sat there not knowing what to say next. Why had no one missed him or his wife? What had happened in those three years? Had they actually slept all that time or had they been abducted by aliens or something? If they had slept all that time, why weren’t they dead from dehydration?

The first question in his mind he could answer by speculation. Neither he nor his wife had any living relatives and their social lives were very limited and superficial. People probably did just assume that they were still in hospital. Also, he paid all his bills be direct debit and the dividends that his company would pay him far exceeded any debts. Therefore, no businesses would be checking up on him. And his number two had a Machiavellian streak that meant that he probably thought that the absence of his boss gave him a chance to prove just how good he was at running the company. And indeed he was; profits were up, sales were up and staff turnover was tiny. But he had no idea about the other questions.

What would Anne do when she discovered that three years of their lives had simply vanished? Were they a pair of modern Rip Van Winkles? This was just so strange. He looked at his computer and logged onto the BBC News website that confirmed that it was indeed Thursday, September 26th 2019.

There had now been silence between the two men for a number of minutes. It was broken by a knock on the door by the tea lady who was selling morning refreshments to the staff. George looked at her and said, “I’ll have a hot chocolate and a Kitkat, please!” This was duly served, while the other man had an Americano and one of those mini packets of biscuits.

George looked at his number two and the nearest he had to a close friend and said, “Didn’t anyone think to enquire where we were?”

The number two replied, “Come to think of it, we just waited to hear something from the hospital. As you’d signed a power of attorney, I just got on with running the business and waited for you to show up.”

“Oh!” Said George. “Um, well I suppose that what’s done is done. Perhaps you could find someone to brief me on all the important news stories of the past three years, plus some of the more interesting and amusing pieces of trivia.”

“That should be easy to arrange.” And it was.

The meeting lasted well into the usual lunchtime period and George was sort of understanding that he and his wife really had slept for three years. It crossed his mind that they might make a shedload of money by selling their story to the press.

Meanwhile, Anne was also about to find out about their long sleep. She had got to the supermarket and she didn’t really look closely at the newspapers, so didn’t see the date. The headlines were all about the kind of event that could easily occur at any time, such as a natural disaster. She filled her trolley and went to the checkout. The cashier was someone she knew, as this was her regular supermarket. She said, “Hello Jane!”

Jane replied, “It’s good to see you back, Anne! I thought you’d stopped shopping here or gone to another supermarket.”

“No, only been on holiday but had to spend a bit of time in hospital on our return. George and I both caught malaria.”

“You were in hospital for three years?”

“No, only a week.”

“So you were on holiday for three years?”

“No, only three weeks.”

“So why have you been gone for three years?”

“Have we been gone that long?”

Jane picked up her copy of Metro and pointed to the date, 26th September 2019.

Anne stood there zombified before finally saying, “The last thing I remember was taking a pill, turning off the bedside light and going to sleep. I thought that was last night. But it does explain the dust.”

The grocery bill was £194.73 and Anne put her debit card in the chip and PIN machine. It came up card expired. Jane looked at it and said, “Sorry, this expired in May 2018.” Jane looked her cards and found that one credit card was still valid, so she used that.

She got her huge trolley of groceries home and thought how sleeping for three years could explain the bad eggs and somewhat off butter. But, she wondered, why was she still alive and why was George still alive.

George and Anne went to see their doctor. He couldn’t explain what had happened. Specialists couldn’t explain it and soon word got out about this extraordinary story. Finally it was discovered that statins and this new anti-malaria drug interacted in a way that mimicked hibernation in people who had taken both drugs. However, three years was by far the record for this hibernation and Anne and George had a great time telling everyone of their great sleep on TV chat shows around the world!

© Charles Stuart 2016

 

Sixteen Pills

This is my entry for the delayed May TCWG short story competition. The story is just under 900 words long.

Sixteen Pills

I left school and went to work in the office of a local transport company. I was just the office junior and the pay was lousy but I saw that the long-distance lorry drivers got good pay cheques each month and I decided that as soon as I was old enough, I’d get an HGV licence and see if I could become a long-distance driver. So I got my car licence as soon as possible after reaching 17 and I then embarked on my journey to become a lorry driver. When I got to the right age that was then 21, I took a course and passed my test to drive HGVs.

The job paid well but it didn’t meet expectations. It seemed that all I did was eat, sleep and drive. As a result, I saved a lot because I never had any time to spend my money. I never dated, never hung out with friends but I did see lots of Europe. For years that was the redeeming feature of the job. I could be in France on Tuesday and by Thursday I could be in Slovakia or Portugal. I travelled all over Europe transporting everything from tomatoes to microwave ovens. The job could be fun in some respects but I really lacked my own life.

By 25 I had enough money to buy a house in Wolverhampton. It’s a nice house on an estate not too far from the city centre. But I never got to live there! In six months, apart from when I was on annual leave, I only spent a handful of days at my home, so I decided to live out of my cab and let the house. My income grew more but my expenditure didn’t, so I bought another house and let that too. But money doesn’t necessarily make happiness and for me there was a big hole where there should have been a relationship.

In some ways this job was great for meeting people but one never gets to know them. Perhaps one knows one’s work colleagues and the support staff but there’s no chance to build strong relations with anyone. So in my early thirties I decided to look for other work. But I found that I lacked education and I lacked skills for any job that even came close to this one in pay. Even with the rent from my now 4 houses, I would have to take a massive pay cut. It seemed that all I could do other than drive is minimum wage work. I could say that I had GCSE English and maths at grade C or above but they were two of three that I had achieved and nearly all employers want at least five to even more to get on a shortlist for interview. Twenty years working for the same company doesn’t seem to count. So it’s off to Milan to collect a consignment of ladies’ shoes tomorrow. No doubt they’ve got something for me to take down to Italy as well, probably another consignment of toilet brushes. The company in Corby that makes them seems to have cornered the market for them in Italy.

Well, here I am in my cab, my home. Up front there’s the driver’s seat and a passenger seat. Behind there’s a bed and a complete entertainment system, plus an induction ring for cooking and a microwave. I live in a small metal box. I do sometimes cook – I’ve got one-pot recipe books and microwave recipe books – but tonight it’s a ready meal from Tesco, followed by some canned fruit with Ambrosia Devon Custard. And that custard is the highlight of my week. I talk to the can because I haven’t got a companion. I am lonely.

Today I had to go to the doctor and he prescribed some medicine. In front of me I have sixteen yellow and blue capsules. I look at them. I lay them out end to end on my little table. I make several different shapes out of them before finally taking one with a drink of Fanta and putting the rest back in the bottle. I look at them and wonder out loud, “What would happen if I took them all together?” Maybe they’d kill me, maybe I’d have some incredible trip but most likely nothing much would happen and I’d lose the benefit of taking them as per the instructions.

I lie back, ready to sleep and think about what might have been. I could have done better at school. I could have become an apprentice in a factory or for one of the building trades. Instead I chose to become a long-distance lorry driver, a job that really doesn’t suit my personality but a job that I’m now stuck with until I retire and can then live in one of my houses in Wolverhampton. Will life be better then? I don’t know and I can only hope. For me, living on the road is surviving but not much more. I think I’ve been everywhere in Europe now and there few places that feel new and interesting. It’s not only that I’m not enjoying my life it’s also that I don’t know how to enjoy it.

I go to sleep and dream of building a new house.

© Charles Stuart 2016

Not Plain on Salisbury Plain

This is my entry to the Creative Writing Group short story competition. This month the requirement was to write something that relied completely upon description and was between 250 and 750 words long. This story is about 380 words.

Not Plain on Salisbury Plain!

 

He clambered out of the wreckage and looked around. The environment seemed very different to anything he knew, quite barren scrubland, but the warm summer air was pleasing on his nostrils. He looked at the mangled wreckage and felt quite amazed that he was out of it uninjured. He didn’t know where he was, so he reached back into the heap of metal and plastic to retrieve a pair of binoculars. The land seemed fairly flat with one or two slight rises and one or two slight dips. He looked around. To the north there was a red flag flying but nothing else. To the south there was a road running east to west. He looked along the road to the west and there really wasn’t anything within a reasonable distance but along the road and slightly to the east there was a small village. He gathered what he could salvage from the wreckage and began walking towards the village.

 

Being summer, the walk was quite pleasant. Fortunately for him, he didn’t know that the red flag meant that the army were practising with live ammunition. He just walked taking in this environment as he went. He looked at the heather and the gorse as if he’d never seen any plants like them before. Perhaps he hadn’t. It was his first time in England.

 

I was driving along the B390 in Wiltshire, just to the south of Warminster. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I had the windows open and my favourite CD playing. All of a sudden I saw this streak of light race across the sky and vanish into Salisbury Plain. I thought it was a meteorite and I guess that it quite excited me. I decided to stop at The King’s Head in Chitterne for a drink and a light meal. I hadn’t been to this pub in years and wondered what it was like now. I settled down with a pint of cider and some food and really didn’t expect too much to happen. I told the barman about the meteorite and he didn’t seem too interested and just muttered something about Warminster and UFOs.

 

Maybe the barman wasn’t interested in my story but everyone was interested when the alien walked in!

 

© Charles Stuart 2016