Always old fashioned

They sat in Terry’s office on stiff-backed chairs. Two untouched mugs of tea and a plate of soggy Bourbons perched on reams of paperwork on his desk. Terry didn’t like tea, but he always made himself one when visitors came because it seemed to make people less self-conscious than when they drank alone. Now things such as tea and biscuits seemed old-fashioned in this newly made world. But Terry didn’t mind that. He’d felt old-fashioned since he was a small boy.

The surface of the tea had formed a skin,  wrinkling under the air conditioning like geriatric flesh. He thought of mentioning his observation to the man from the Government – Donald was it? Or Dennis? – but his thoughts often made other people feel uncomfortable. Though Janey had never minded.

The Government man’s suit was as creased as his face, as if he’d used the jacket as a pillow. His skin was greasy, grey as the ring of dirt around his shirt collar. Yes, standards had dropped since the beginning of the outbreak.

Donald / Dennis scratched his forehead with bitten down nails. ‘Doctor Goddard, if you can tell me anything about Doctor Faber’s movements over the last few days. Anything at all.’

The man looked exhausted, but then they all were. He and Janey had taken to napping on the chaise longue in the corner of the office rather than bothering to drive home. They were both single. No one missed them. He gazed at the sofa now, at the threads of gold that could only be strands of her hair.

‘Doctor Goddard. Please. This is a matter of national security.’

‘We were trying to find a cure -‘

Donald / Dennis leaned forward, his tie shifting the papers on the desk. ‘A cure funded by the government, with key research and statistics supplied by our departments.’

All Terry knew was that she had been there one evening, peering over her notes, twisting her hair on top of her head with a biro, and gone the next morning. He hadn’t noticed the slides were missing until the phone rang.

The Government man’s jaw clenched. ‘I cannot stress how important it is we regain those samples.’

He didn’t mention Janey’s safety, that she was out there alone, the world dying around her.

When Terry had picked up the phone, her voice had been faint and breathy through the receiver. He thought she might have been running. Or crying. ‘I’m sorry, Terry,’ was all she’d said. ‘I’m so very sorry.’

Donald would take the words as an admission of her guilt, but Terry knew them for what they were. A goodbye.

 


I fancied revisiting Terry and Janey, two scientists caught in the jaws of a catastrophic disease outbreak. To read their first outing, When the time comes, see here.

Three Line Tales : Away from the chasms and back to the light

three line tales week 64: light bulbs – there is a light that never goes out, maybe

photo by Nick de Partee via Unsplash


 

It stretched across the land they said, one long wire, looping between posts and trees, disused telegraph poles and house gables, a bright line of bulbs – baubles of hope in the darkness.

Travellers brought back tales of how the Light Line saved them in a storm, on the blackest, foggiest night, leading them back to the path, away from chasms, sinking sands, shifting dunes.

No one knew from where it drew its power. Some said it was from the air or from the tides, from the gentle spin and rock of the earth itself. But everyone remembered the day the lights flickered out.

 


Written for Three Line Tales, a weekly inspiration of pics and prose. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

#tuesdayuseitinasentence : When the time comes

Petri dishes, mould cultures

Image : Pixabay

‘You get your jabs yet?’ Terry Goddard looked at Janey over his half moon glasses, a sad, questioning smile on his lips.

His hair was uncombed, his shirt creased. He owned one tie and in the ten years they’d worked together he’d never had that washed. Until two weeks ago she hadn’t known he lived alone with a largely absent cat and a hyacinth macaw named Fleming. Then the news had somehow leaked through of how awful it was out there – the looting, the violence, the relentless spread of the disease – and they had spent an evening under the flourescent glare of laboratory lights, drinking a ten-year-old Glenfiddich and actually talking.

Now she wished they hadn’t, that they’d remained polite strangers. Imagining his childhood hop picking in Kent, how he nursed his mother through cancer after cancer until it finally stole her away … It would make it all so much harder when the time came.

‘No,’ she said, rubbing tired eyes. ‘I didn’t see the point.’

He lowered his voice. ‘You’ve got to make a show. For the sake of the others.’ He took her hand, gave it the briefest squeeze and was gone, bustling over petri dishes and samples.

She hoped she died first.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Use the word – today it’s JAB – in a post. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

 

Three Line Tales : The secrets of Zed Alley

three line tales week 57: unicorn this way

photo by Fleur Treurniet via Unsplash


 

The alleyway smelled of oil and clogged drains, it rattled with chip trays and balls of greasy paper that the wheelie bins trapped and kept. The place wasn’t marked on a map and it didn’t have a signpost, though years back someone whispered Zed Alley and that name passed from one person to another, becoming more solid as the years rolled by until it belonged.

When folk think of magic it doesn’t come alone, it comes with half-melted candles and old, heavy books written in secret languages and cloaks with stars and moons stitched in gold thread … not with half-eaten burgers and broken tarmac.

But then what people think isn’t always clever or sensible or right and Zed Alley held more magic than a warehouse full of candles, more than a thousand crumbling spell books. Because there you would find Miss Hollow’s stable for unicorns  …

 


Written for Sonya at Only 100 Words’ Three Line Tales. Always an inspiring photo to prompt a wayward tale. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

Here is the real Zed Alley in the centre of Bristol – much nicer than my make believe version. And for more strange Bristolian road names, see here.

Zed Alley

  © Copyright Neil Owen and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Break open the earth

Firework, explosion

Image : Pixabay

Someone gripped Ben’s shoulder, shaking him awake.

‘Fetch your kit,’ said the someone, just a shadow in black.

The shadow was breathing hard, a wheeze on the exhale he recognised in his own lungs. Shanty Chest, Dom had called it with a wink. But there was no more Dom. Ben kept forgetting.

He pulled his bag open, grabbing for his jacket, stuffing his bedroll inside, though it slipped and fought him as if it was alive.

‘Move,’ said the someone. ‘Five minutes and we’re out.’

Then there was no someone, no tent, only a whistling, gaping hole and the sky and stars and the stars were exploding over his head, big and white enough to blind, filling the night with cracks loud enough to break open the earth.

‘There coming!’ screamed another someone.

But he was staring up at the stars, watching them break and flash and fade and listening to the crackling hush to silence.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Use the word – today it’s KIT – in a post. See here to read the other tales and to join in.

FFfAW : The half-smoked cigarette of joy

Busy airport lounge

Image : Dawn Miller

Every direction

PASSENGERS go

moves the economy

FORWARD

As EconiSlogans went, it was more subtle than

EAT MORE MEAT

and

BUY MORE, SAVE JOBS

the ones Dale remembered from his childhood.

He and the kids from the block had taken up those Slogs, as people jokingly called them, acting out the screen ads that went with the campaign. They’d ape the gravel drive voice of the man in the ad, puffing their chests in a pantomime of his boxy frame, pulling their brows down so low they went cross-eyed.

The joke was, no one in the neighbourhood had money to buy meat – their parents had already lost their jobs.

Now the man from the ad was President – he was paler now, less boxy – and Dale had a job picking litter in the airport lounge. On a good day he’d find a half-smoked cigarette and savour it over his MacCheese dinner.

 


Written for Priceless Joy’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. See the pic and pic a tale. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

 

#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Nailed

Spilt red nail polish

Image : Pixabay

 

Her nails are bitten down to the quick. They snag on her clothes when she dresses in the morning – if she dresses in the morning – scratch her cheek as she sits at the kitchen table, gazing out at her soaked patchy lawn.

Once her nails were immaculate, glossy – ten scarlet blades. Men loved them, some ridiculous fantasy about a woman with claws. A barely tamed creature.

Then one night …

There had been drinks, a man she hardly knew, a scene in a bar taken outside on the street, stumbling into an alleyway of binbags and cardboard boxes.

Shouting, screaming. Then hands were pinning her arms. An animal terror making her freeze, a desperation to escape his trap, that leering, beery breath on her face. She’d fought but he was strong, grip tight – tightening – and she was falling and he on top of her, his weight knocking her breath away, pinning her to the wet tarmac, the base of her spine grinding. And she was clawing, clawing at his wrists, wriggling, sinking further, then …

She was on her feet. Her hands were slick, greasy – stained black in the darkness. He was silent.  Slumped cloth and steaming flesh. She’d ran.

Days later, though she’d washed and washed, the rust was still trapped under the nails, scarlet on the surface, browned like henna on the underside.

So now, the blades are gone, the rust too. But still she smells the metal of that night. And no matter how much she gnaws at herself, the scent clings …

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventures’ #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Today the word is NAILED. See here to read the other tales and to join in.

Also, for The Daily Post’s Daily PromptSCENT. See here to join in and to read the other posts.