Uncle Frank

Hey guys, this is only a quick piece but I liked how it turned out so I wanted to share it anyway. Let me know what you think.


I don’t remember a lot about Uncle Frank. He was old. Probably not that old. I’m nearly thirty now, nobody seems as old as they used to, but he was older than my Dad. I was still in plaid skirts and pigtails when he moved out. I don’t even remember much about him as, y’know, a guy, even though he lived here. My mum found him funny, I know that. Dad? I guess to dad he was more of a burden. Dad was younger than me when Frank moved out, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the same age as my Dad really. The man was born with a pipe and slippers in his hand, y’know what I mean?

Its just a lot of little images about Uncle Frank. Like the way he’d start the day with a glass of whiskey cut with gripe water. “Good for the digestion.” Dad would roll his eyes like Captain 50s, and puff away behind his paper. Uncle Frank would roll his eyes right back at him and drink his breakfast. That’s about it. That, and the scar. It ran from his forehead to beneath his eye and still makes me shudder.

Frank had to move out when I was seven and things get a lot fuzzier after that. I know we went to visit him at his home, because I remember Dad sitting me down and explaining in no uncertain terms that I was not to smuggle a bottle a gripe water to him. I did anyway. I did stuff like that back then. If he hadn’t warned me, I’d probably have forgotten. And that’s my last memory of Frank. Pale faced, staring out of the window while strangers goggled at him. Even his scar looked faded and ageing away with the rest of him.

When I think of Frank, I end up at an earlier memory. It couldn’t have been long before, it was the summer Uncle Frank gave me his gun. Everything else from those days is hazy, but this comes through clear. Like a big-screen TV, y’know? We’re stood in the garden. There’s a high fence that my Dad replaced with little wall years later. Uncle Frank was babysitting, but I didn’t mind. I’d spent most of the day with my friends. Then something had upset me, I’d gone home in tears and Frank had tried to comfort me. He was useless at it, so he tried distracting me instead. Silently, he lined up five glass coke bottles on my Dad’s old workbench. Then he disappeared inside and returned with a small wooden box. He pried the lid apart and retrieved the gun. I’d seen guns on TV and in books, but I’d never seen a real one before. It had been in the house of the whole time and I never knew.

Uncle Frank dropped to his knees behind me and with his giant hairy arms he reached over my shoulders and planted the gun in my hands. Adjusted my fingers, tiny next to his, until they held the gun like it was made for me. Slowly he pointed me towards one of the coke bottles, and I squeezed the trigger.

Have you ever had a sensation you can’t explain? It’s hard to put into words, until one day you find someone else who felt the same way? I’m not much of a reader, but when I was in college I learned a bit about a lot of things. Y’know that book by Proust? Where the smell of a cake takes him back to moment years before? Well, I still know exactly what happened the second I pulled that trigger, because every time I see fireworks, or pull a party popper, or ride the dodgems. Anything that leaves that acrid taste in the air, and I’m there again. I could count the hairs on Frank’s arm, smell the booze on his breath. I’m in the moment.

My shoulders shake a little. Frank is hurting my hand a little, but I don’t think he knows. I squeeze the trigger, it feels different to my expectations. I feel the gun jolt a little in my hands, and I realise this is why Frank is gripping so tight. I expect to be able to see the bullet, but I’m not even sure where to look. Before I have time to process my thoughts, the coke bottle shatters. Then the moments ends, Uncle Frank stands and ruffles my hair,

He walks back inside, but he leaves me holding the gun. Without him to take the weight, my hand drops and it feels like it ways a thousand pounds. When my parents get back, that’s how they find me. Stood in the middle of the grass holding the gun. I don’t know what happened to it after that.

Endangered – A Short Story

Epping_Forest_Centenary_Walk_2_-_Sept_2008Hey guys, a few updates before story time.

Just to let you know, the free promo for Two Cephalopods Walk Into a Bar is over now. Sorry if you missed, but there’ll be other freebie days soon if you just keep checking. (Or subscribe via the button on the left and WordPress.com’s high-tech robots will keep checking for you.)

We’re getting towards the end of another cycle of short stories. This is the seventh, just one more and I’ll start getting them ready for publication and they disappear from the blog completely. If you’d like to read some of the older stories, just nip over to Amazon and check them out.

In other news, Those Aren’t Biscuits hit a grand total of TEN episodes last week and we’re all very proud. Episode 11 records tomorrow night, so stick around for that. Now I’ll just leave you with the story.

– Owen

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Endangered

Aaron ran until his chest ached, and when he could run no more he ducked down and braced himself against one of the ancient trees until he caught his breath. Fliss didn’t need to stop as often, and when Aaron stopped she didn’t wait, but slowed and kept an eye on him. They had been running together every night for nearly two weeks through the forest. There had been three at the start, and they weren’t about the lose each other again. Aaron felt the energy coming back to his legs, he couldn’t hear the creature just yet. If he heard nothing for a little longer, he would signal Fliss and they’d take a rest break. Ten, twenty minutes at most. Sometimes they would lose it for as long as an hour, but it would always pick up the scent in the end. It was best to stay ahead if you could.

He waved at her, she’d slowed to a jog now. When she looked back and saw him, she circled around, hurdling over a collapsed log. It was dark, the middle of the night. The moonlight barely broke through the treetops. Aaron guessed his eyesight had adjusted in the weeks since they entered, on the first few nights it had been as if they were entirely coated in darkness whenever the sun set. Now he could pick out more details. When they were close he could see the light glint in her eyes. She did not speak much, but he knew her desire to survive was as strong as his. After all, she ran. She never fell back like Carter had, and while he was sure she would not leave him willingly, he knew she would not hesitate to run if she had no choice. That had been their life for fifteen nights.

They had not seen the creature. Not in the light, and barely in the dark, but it was always stalking them. They knew nothing about it except that it was enormous, it ran fast and made its way through the trees like a ghost. They knew nothing about its intentions except that it killed. It had killed Carter. From that night on, they camped during the day and ran during the night.

The pain in Aaron’s lungs was started to subside. Fliss tossed him a water bottle and he drank, he thought about eating, but the rest didn’t last long. The creatures low whine started to travel through the trees and the slight shake of the earth began. Aaron didn’t know how many more nights he could run, but he knew he could not stop, and so they set off again through the trees.

As they ran, the creature came closer, Aaron didn’t dare look back but he could feel its size, he could feel the force of the air on his back as the massive thing made its way through the forest. As the sun finally broke through the treetops, he heard it scream and retreat. They had made it to another day.

The energy drained from him, he stumbled until he came to a hard stop of the forest’s mossy floor. Fliss stumbled through a couple more steps before heading back to him and they sat on the ground. They fell back, and like every morning they laughed and congratulated each other on surviving another night.

“I don’t know how long I can keep running,” she said. And he knew how she felt. Each night it became harder. They already slept most of the day, but before they made a bed from whatever they could find, they planned their route. Fliss kept the map she had been plotting in her back pocket. It was sketched out on the back page of an old textbook, in mud, pencil, and whatever else she could make stick. In the corner she had doodled a spiral, she traced over it in pencil every time, like it helped her think. He liked watching little details like that. She traced a line, the best estimate they had of the route they had taken through the forest so far. They guessed at its size, but there was only so much they could learn in the dark, and the creature could come from any side. Leading them off in any direction. It was hard, keeping the head clear on so little sleep, to plot it out, but they worked out the best direction to head. The way they would try to run the next night. Then, with a vicious sunlight burning their eyes, they tried to sleep.

It wasn’t easy. Aaron was starting to adjust to the night light, but Fliss found it harder. She would have bad dreams, shake herself awake and pull Aaron with her by her screams. He tried to comfort her, but he didn’t know how. They weren’t close before the forest, he didn’t know her that well still, and so he focused on trying to go back to sleep and leaving her in peace.

That night was different, his sleep started peaceful, but this time he had a dream. A dream of noise and blood, and he wanted wake up and escape it, but his mind couldn’t win the fight. His body was exhausted and even when he was semi-conscious, his legs wouldn’t move. Every muscle resisted until he fell back into a deep, enrapturing sleep.

When Aaron woke it was dark. He panicked, threw himself out of the bed with a shout. Then he remembered the creature, cursed himself for making so much noise. But there was so much to be afraid of, sleeping in was not a good sign, he was pushed as far as he could go. He could sleep no longer. If he slept in again, he would be dead. He didn’t hear the creature yet, but it could not be far off. He stood, and in the dark, he tried to find Fliss to wake her. He was sure he found the spot where she had made her bed, but he couldn’t see her. He kneeled, but his hands touched only grass. It felt wet but his bed was dry. He held his hands to the moonlight and saw blood.

Aaron ran. He ran before he could stop to think about why he was running and when he finally came to his senses he let the words travel across his mind. “Fliss is dead.” And he knew it was true. It had been the same with Carter, they had slept in the night. Not knowing that was when it hunted, and it had picked one of them off. Now it had done the same, and there was just him left. Panic took over, and he ran again, but Fliss’s voice rang in his head.

“I think we’re ok.” She had said after Carter died. “We haven’t heard it again, it might not hunt after it kills.” Carter’s death had bought them a day. The loss of Fliss might do the same. He might not have a day, but even if he didn’t, could he carry on running? All he had left was the hope that somehow it was sated. And he stopped running. He sat on the ground and really felt the pain in his muscles. He was sure the creature was nearby, even if it wasn’t hungry. He slept, and somewhere deep down, he hoped the thing would pick him off in the night too.

In the morning, Aaron felt better. He tried not to think of Fliss, hard as it was, but it had been twenty four hours since he really had to run. His body ached, but for the first time in two weeks it felt like it was mending. And he could travel during the day. They had talked about that, if they could just make good time in the daylight, maybe they could see signs of something beyond the forest. Find shelter, or even find where the thing slept and kill it. That was Fliss’s ambition, Aaron just wanted to go home, and he was sure they could. However big the forest was, they had run every night since they arrived. It couldn’t be much further.

He set off in the direction the had planned, and kept his eyes open for anything unusual. He found it around noon. A campsite. Signs of a fire, beds for three people. In his desperation he nearly cried. The hope of finally seeing someone else was too much. But there was something wrong, he recognised the site. The three had slept there the night Carter died. They had been travelling in circles. He was walking back the way they came, and it was much too far back to their starting point. He picked up Fliss’s map, rescued from the campsite. In the corner she had drawn the spiral, he’d taken it for a doodle. She had known all along. Everything, the map. The entire thing. A waste of time, a distraction just to keep them going. And she hadn’t said a thing. He sat in the camp, he was going in the shock. Time passed so fast it was becoming dark again. And he waited in the bed he had made weeks ago, and wondered if the creature was hungry yet.

Curfew – A Short Story

Hey guys, just a few updates before the story. We’re recording another Those Aren’t Biscuits tomorrow so it should be up on Thursday as usual. I’m also waiting for the first issue of the new Judge Dredd Mega Collection to arrive in the post, it’s a reprint of the 1990 story America, and I’m planning on reviewing it when it arrives, so watch this space. 

This story started out a little more sci-fi when I planned it out, but as I was rewriting, I thought it worked better if I just pared it back to the characters and kept it a little more relatable. Let me know what you think. 

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CityBlackout

Curfew

Domino waited. She watched the nearest clocktower, saw the digits count down. Her heart beat faster with every minute. It was dark now, they were right in the middle of winter. The weatherman even said something about snow, but it wasn’t until 9 so she probably wouldn’t see it. Cars were honking and engines grinding on the roads, everyone trying to get home at once. An announcement piped up over the city’s speakers and reminded her she only had ten minutes left. As if she needed reminding. As if anybody did.

It was Jackson’s fault. He was usually there first; of all the dealer’s she knew, he was usually the most reliable. He took the rail in to the city centre past the sec-checks, and could make it to most neighbourhoods pretty quickly. How he knew all the tricks, she didn’t know, but he knew them and made good use of them too. But curfew was rolling out earlier and earlier these days and if he got caught, she didn’t know what she’d do.

She heard footsteps and ducked back into the recess of the wall and peeped out. An older woman. Well dressed, probably worked for the city. She peered back at her and smiled. “Curfew soon, dear.” Domino looked up at the clock and pretended to be surprised. “Do you need a ride?” She waved over to the corner where her car was parked up with the door open. The woman must have spotted her a mile off. “I have quick clearance, I can take you anywhere you need to go.”

“Oh no,” Domino was flustered, she tried not to babble. “My sister’s supposed to be picking me up.” The woman eyed the clock, she wasn’t convinced. “I mean, I’d love to go with you, but if she gets here and I’m not waiting, then she might wait for me and then she’ll miss curfew, and I don’t want to get her into trouble.” That sealed the deal, well-dressed-and-nosy gave another little smile and walked off to the car.

They were pretty high up on the overpass, she hadn’t expected anyone else to come along. The streetlights were still on, but if Jackson didn’t turn up soon she’d be stood out here in the dark. Then the questions would be even harder to answer. She watched the lights go out section by section across the city. Curfew was any minute now, but she had a good ten minutes before all the lights dropped completely and the streets were filled with cops. She slipped her hands into her pockets, tried to look non-threatening and impatient. Best to start the lies early, she thought. Look believable. She heard a car pull up behind her and she ducked back into the recess. The door opened, few people would bet out on the street now the traffic was clearing. She pressed her back against the cold bricks and did her best not to be seen. If you can’t act cool, better to hide and hope for the best.

“Dom?” A voice hissed. “You around?”

It was Jackson, she poked a hand out of the shadows and waved him in.

“You’re late.”

He stepped in alongside her and she caught a look at his face in the dark. It looked bruised.

“What happened?”

“Shh!” He crouched down, she copied him. A cop car crawled past and then moved off. There was almost no traffic now.

“I know, I’m sorry.” He pushed back his greasy hair and she could see that his usual cocky grin was gone. “I got stopped by the early patrol.” He started pulling papers out of his jacket pocket, then thrust her a pale green slip.

“A fine?” She laughed. “You got away with just a fine?”

“Barely,” he snatched back the paper. “A bloody huge fine.”

“How?”

“I got off the rail early, heard they were doing checks. I thought it couldn’t hurt to be careful, so I jumped off ahead and figured I’d walk. I had plenty of time but turns out they were doing foot checks too.”

“Unlucky.” She stood but he shook his head and pulled her back down.

“I think they followed me, don’t know how many. They know I don’t live in this sector, so I spun them a line about my Granny’s blackout being on the fritz. Said I needed to go be with her this curfew, make sure everything went ok and she knew how to call tech if it didn’t work. I don’t think they believe me, but what could they do?”

“So they let you go?” Domino couldn’t believe it, she trusted Jackson, but this was just the kind of setup her friends fell for.

“No,” Jackson pulled up his jacket and shirt, the bruises to his ribs were clearly visible even in the dark. “This was just incase I was being less than truthful.”

When no cars had passed for a couple of minutes, they stood again and swapped glances.

“Look, Dom. I have to get to a safehouse without any problems. If I’m caught with barter on me, I’ll be in serious trouble.”

Domino pushed him against the wall. “Shit, Jackson. I’m putting my neck out here too. I need it.”

“I know,” Jackson’s grin returned. He fished in his pocket and pulled out the little flashlight. “Take it tonight, pay me in the daylight sometime.” Domino couldn’t believe it, she rushed into a hug before remembering his wounded ribs.

“You really trust me?”

“Of course,” Jackson laughed. “That thing runs on batteries, who else can hook you up with those.”

Domino slipped it in her pocket, she said her thanks with a nod, and stepped out into the street.

She wasn’t in as much danger as Jackson. She was only three blocks from her flat. The curfew was rolled out in the next few blocks, but she could probably reach her door before things really got dark in her building. Hopefully she’d have it unlocked before then and she wouldn’t have to fumble around in the dark. She crossed the road without thinking, there was no traffic at this time, despite the jams only a few minutes earlier. When things got really bad, people just parked up on the streets and ran.

She picked up speed herself, her building was in sight now, but she just heard the voice behind her.

“Stop!” And she did, like a conditioned response. Even if she’d had time to the think, the fear of a bullet in her back wouldn’t soon be forgotten. She turned and saw the police officer who had shouted her. His uniform was black and yellow, with two strips on the shoulder. A captain then. But she couldn’t make out a face under the helmet. He walked towards her and then the exposed lips smiled and he lifted the helmet off. She didn’t know his name, but the face was familiar. He lived in her building. He was nice. Outside the uniform, they always seemed nice.

“Working late?”

It was a trick question, the first thing they taught you in the underground. Employers had to get to curfew too, nobody worked late.

“I’m sorry officer,” that was the right answer. This was going smoothly, if she could just get past without a search she’d be fine. “I got caught behind a protest on 5th, and I didn’t want to seem associated so I had to take a longer walk home.”

His smile dropped, but it had the right effect. There was always a protest somewhere during the curfew, if it wasn’t on fifth it would be on 6th or 7th. He did just what she expected. He nodded and then returned to his vehicle, driving off in the direction of a protest she sincerely hoped he would find when he got there.

And now she was at the front door of her building, Curfew was any second. She made it through the door, reminded herself not to take the lift so close to the power switch off and sprinted up the steps. The power went just as she pushed her key in the lock. Not bad, Domino, she thought. She pushed her way into the flat and locked the door behind her. It was pitch black inside, she had to make her way to the bathroom feeling her way with her hands. The blackouts had dropped before the power cut and now all light was sealed off in the tiny flat. She felt her way to the bathroom cupboard, finding towels and blankets. There she stuffed up the cracks at the bottom of the bathroom door, then made a soft bed in the corner. She kicked off her shoes and pulled a blanket over her head.

Domino took the tiny flashlight from her pocket and twisted the top. A ring of LEDs sprung to life, illuminating the entire room. She quickly pulled the blanket over her head. It would only take the tiniest crack for light to seep through to her neighbours and she would be caught. Then she felt around for the prize she had concealed in there earlier, the book. She opened the pages gingerly, old books like this were antiques. No scrolling, no screen. She pointed the flashlight at the page and didn’t stop reading until she heard the blackouts lifting the next day.

Short Story: Compassion

Coloured ChairsHere’s a quick piece I wrote last night. I’ve been a bit lax lately when it comes to writing every day so I’m making myself get through at least a thousand per day. With that in mind, this story is a little shorter than my usual Flash Fiction stories, but I thought it was worth sharing. Let me know what you think. 

Owen.

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Compassion

Fell knew a tear had left her eye and was now heading down her cheek. She wanted to lift a hand and brush it away, but then someone might notice she was crying and the last thing she wanted was to be noticed. At times like this it was best to be unremarkable, and then maybe you wouldn’t be called at all. It was a lie, but it was all she had to stop herself from breaking into uncontrollable sobs. Then she would be processed sooner so she didn’t unsettle the others, and anything that would keep her out of the office for a little longer was worth the self delusion.

It wasn’t fair. That was not surprising, life was not fair, but it stung all the same. She had always done her best to avoid finding herself here, she hit all her quotas and she worked without every really stopping to consider if she liked her job. She just did it. Nobody really knew how the selection process worked, and they knew that the administrators would never say why one person was picked over another, but still the traditional wisdom saw out. Work hard, do what your Mother tells you, or you’ll be sent for processing too and it’ll be too late to say your prayers and meet your quotas then.

She could feel a quiver in her through, she tried to distract herself. She watched others in the room. It was quiet, quieter than it should be, if the selections were so important why was she the only one there. If she stood, walked out of here and never came back would anyone really notice. She would never know, nobody ever left. There was too much at stake. Back at the village, their work quotas would be lowered for everyone, she couldn’t take that away from them. If they even knew she’d thought about it, they’d never let her through the gate. She sat back in her chair and lolled her head, the tears came freely now.

An older woman came a sat beside her, she did not say anything for a few moments, but when Fell made eye-contact, she smiled.

“Good morning, Fell” said the woman. She extended a hand, adorned with a discrete signet ring. Fell sat up straight. “Forgive me, Administrator.”

“There is nothing to forgive.” She nodded at Fell and the two of them watched the small queue filter down. “You’ve had a long day.”

“How do you know?” She asked.

“I’m working on your case,” she had a file tucked under her arm. “All the important details are here. I’m sorry you haven’t been called yet.”

“Is it time for me to be seen?”

“No,” the administrator pointed to a small camera in the corner of the room. “They told me you looked upset, it’s perfectly understandable. I’m here to make sure you’re feeling alright.”

Fell bit her tongue.

“It’s ok, you can speak. We’re not monsters, you know.”

“I’ve never been to the processing centre before.” She glanced at the file. “Does it say that in there?”

“It does.” The administrator opened up the file and Fell caught a glimpse of every detail about her life, laid out in a double spread. “It also tells me a little about your family. Are you here on your own today?”

She nodded. “I didn’t want them to come.”

“A wise choice,” the administrator folded the file back up and dropped it on the chair. She leaned a across a looked right at Fell as she spoke. “You’re strong, I can see that. Strong enough to keep them away, and strong enough to sit her quietly while every urge is telling you to run out the door.”

Fell went wide eyed. “That would be a crime.”

“And yet people do it here every day.”

Fell looked at her hands, she felt ashamed. All she had thought of since she sat was getting up again and leaving, now she was being praised for being too frightened to go through with it. The administrator seemed to know what she was thinking and held her hand gently.

“I like you Fell,” she said. “I just want you to know, you go in there with the same dignity you’ve shown out here, and I’ll make sure your family isn’t billed for the processing.”

Fell’s eyes welled again. “You’d do that?”

“You have my word.” A red light flashed near one of the staff doors and the administrator shook her head. “Now I’m going to have to be going, I’m afraid.”

“Fell 3-6-9?” Someone called.

“Me too.” They nodded their goodbyes, and Fell got to her feet.

They weren’t too bad, Fell thought. They had a bad rep, the Administrators. People said they were sneaky, but Fell had never met one before today and she had seemed pretty nice. Someone had to make the rules, and you couldn’t please anyone.

As Fell walked to the reception desk, she saw one of the guards walking a Runner into the back. He struggled, but they’d already sedated him. His family weren’t likely to be let off the bill. There was a young man behind the glass who greeted her with a smile, and Fell was surprised she smiled back. She glared at the guards as she passed them on the way to the processing offices. She pushed the double doors open and walked down the famous white corridor, the door’s were alphabetical. She strode confidently until she found Room F. There was a moment’s fear as her hand touched the door, but in a second she was inside. She was inside the Room F that had haunted her dreams since the day she learned about the processing centre, but now it wasn’t so scary.

In the centre of the room was a small, comfortable looking chair. In front was a table with a glass of water and two small green tablets. On the wall a time counted down from the moment she entered the room. She knew what she had to do, and she had ten minutes to do it in. She sat in the chair, she briefly considered waiting the timer out and making the most of it, but the guards were on the other side, and she’d like to be done before she had to see them again.

With six minutes on the clock, Fell took the green tablets and died before the time ran out.

Horror – A Short Story

article-new-thumbnail_ehow_images_a07_hj_lv_paint-slatted-closet-door-800x800Good afternoon everybody. It’s new story time again, and this time I have a little piece called “Horror.” This makes the eighth and final story in my second cycle of Flash Fiction stories. The first cycle began last year with my Fiction Friday project before being bundle together for kindle as The Octopus of Suspense. These stories will probably go the same way too, so keep your eye out for that. More updates soon, until then enjoy the story!

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EDIT: Unfortunately, as this story has been published elsewhere, I’ve had to remove it temporarily. Sorry – Owen.