Monday, 21 December 2015
Thirty years he’d been working that post, and not once had he been thanked. He wasn’t much surprised. He was like a PE teacher in the respect that nobody appreciated him, and that he didn’t do much. He’d been standing in the same pose for longer than his legs cared to remember. He opened the door for the prisoner, handed them a yellow band from the cabinet next to them, and then pointed them to their relatives. It was also his job to escort them out when their time had come. He’d done that plenty of times, and the looks he got from both the visitor and the prisoner was enough to make him give up the job. They’d always swear and curse, reminding him he was tearing apart families. He always told them that was as he was commanded by Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
“Alright, Alan.” Said a voice from the door behind him. Alan turned and nodded at the man behind the door. Jack had been locked up for a good six or seven years, on account of robbery. Alan knew he shouldn’t sympathise with him but he couldn’t help doing so. The poor chap hadn’t been around to witness his daughter being brought up. Poor chap. “Let us through will you?”
Alan pressed the green button to the side of the door and the electromagnetic clamp at the top let go. The door swung open and Jack stepped through. He accepted the yellow band with no reluctance at all.
“Booth 8.” Alan said.
“As always.” Jack replied. He stepped forwards and weaved his way through the tables, towards the table with a sign reading 8 above it. He pulled out a metal chair, cringing at the scraping sound, and sat down behind the table. He reached across and held his wife’s hands and smiled at his daughter. “Hello there, Hazel. You’ve grown loads!”
“It’s been a week since I saw you last!” Hazel cried, as cynical at age eight as any adult that Jack knew.
Jack grinned and turned to his wife, her mother, a younger woman whose name was Helen. “How are you, love?”
“No better than the last time we spoke, maybe even worse.”
“I got a letter from-“ she stopped as she noticed Hazel listening. She leaned in and put her mouth to Jack’s ear. “I got a letter from Sky. They’re revoking our Sky Box. And the land lord’s put the rent up. Wants double as much in half the time. It’s ludicrous, Jack!”
“It sounds it, love.” Jack said. “I’ll see if I can get someone to come round, have a talk with him.”
“Don’t do that, Jack. It’ll just get you added time. I’ll deal with it myself. Ken from the market said he’d come and have a look about the Sky Box, see if he could do anything about it.”
“I don’t trust Ken from the market.”
“Neither do I, but he might be able to do something this time. Call it a Christmas miracle.”
Jack turned back to Hazel. “Talking of Christmas miracles, have you heard aught from the man up North?”
At the mention of the man, Hazel’s face lit like a Christmas tree. It slowly deflated, however, as she remembered her granddad’s words from when she was just three. “Christmas’ cancelled, lass.” He’d said. “Santa’s missing, and so there’s no presents to be delivered.”
“Nothing.” Helen said. “I sent a letter from both of us to the North Pole this year but there’s been no reply. Not even one of those courtesy cards from the Elves like there was when it began.”
“I thought it was bleak enough in here.” Jack said. He turned to Hazel and smiled at her. “Even if Santa’s not coming this year, Hazel, you’ve got to remember that Christmas is what you made it. There were no Santa two thousand odd years ago when the baby Jesus were born, but everyone was still happy in that.”
“No they weren’t.” Hazel said. “We’re doing the Nativity at school, and Josh is playing King Herod and he’s furious.”
“Furious? King Herod’s a great role!”
“No, silly! King Herod is furious! Perhaps if Santa was there, he’d be happy. Perhaps if Santa was around nowadays, everyone would be happy?”
“You can be happy without him.” Jack said, smiling. “I know your family will, because you make them happy just by being there. You’re the best present of all.”
Hazel beamed, but then shook her head sadly. “I didn’t come wrapped up, though, under a Christmas tree. I’m not what was on my Christmas list.”
“I suppose not, but you’re still happy.” Jack smiled. “I love you.”
“Me too, Daddy.” She said, smiling back.
“Times up, Jack.” Alan said, strolling over. “Back to your cell, please.”
Jack kissed both of the women in his life and then stood and walked away, back to Prison Wing 42B.
“Ho, ho, hello there, Jack!” Cried Nick, the overweight bloke on the top bunk. “What’s the matter with you?”
Jack closed the cell door behind him and took a seat at the table opposite the bunk beds. His hand reached out to the picture of his wife and daughter he had pinned to the wall besides the table. He stroked his daughter’s face and then set about warming his hands on the candle in the centre of the table. “Oh, it’s nothing, Nick. Just our Hazel.”
“She not get the role she want in the Nativity?”
“No.” Jack said. “She just, oh, don’t mind me. I’m being silly.”
“A doting father caring for his daughter with whom he can’t be? Oh course you’re not being silly! Carry on, son!”
Jack smiled and turned to look at Nick. The portly gentleman was sat up on his top bunk, stroking a hand through his scruffy beard. “Well, it’s just, you know how Christmas has been cancelled these past five years?”
“Well, I think it’s really getting to her this year.” He stood and walked over to the bars in place of a window. He stared out at the small town; all the cramped terrace houses leading up a long hill to the old Factory, which had once brought people in from miles around to work and was now withering away unused. He looked towards the houses just in front of the factory, with their glittering fairy lights. “It’s alright for the rich kids. They write their Christmas lists then give them to their parents to post. The parents don’t post them, they just go buy everything. The kids go on none the wiser. Not for our Hazel.”
“I’m sorry,” Nick interrupted, “are you suggesting that parents are buying presents and pretending to be Father Christmas?”
“Ludicrous isn’t it?” Jack shrugged. “As I was saying, it’s alright for the rich kids, but not our Hazel. My Helen, she doesn’t even have the money to afford the telly, near mind oodles of presents. Hazel, she deserves to be spoilt this time of year. Instead, she’s going to get a satsuma. If she’s lucky!”
“It’s just wrong.” Nick said.
“It is. It’s completely ridiculous. Where is Father Christmas, anyway? I mean, a man like that, he’s unstoppable, surely? What in the name of Hell would be able to contain him enough to stop him from delivering those presents?”
Nick remained silent. Just lay back in his bed and thought.
Jack walked away from the barred window; it was Christmas Eve and the breeze was designed to kill, not console. He strolled over to the table and warmed his hands over the candle for a few seconds and then said, “Still, I suppose we’ve got Christmas lunch to look forwards to! The cooks always do a good job, and I heard this year Mickey from B Wing’s going to help them. He does roasties pretty well, in my opinion.”
“I hope you enjoy it.” Nick said. “And wish a Merry Christmas to the lads for me.”
“You sound like you’re not going to be there!” Jack laughed.
Nick didn’t laugh back.
Jack turned to face him. “Hang on, why aren’t you going to be there?”
“Five years ago today it was.”
“When I was arrested. Five years ago this very day.”
Jack climbed up the ladder and sat on the top bunk with Nick. “What were you arrested for? I’ve forgotten.”
“House burgling, or so they said. House burgling! Me! On Christmas Eve!”
“Wasn’t it a pretty open and shut case?”
“Well, they found me in the living room of a local house with a present in my hand. There’s nothing open and shut about that!”
Jack arched his eyebrows. “If you say so, Nick. I don’t see why you’re not going to be here tomorrow, though.”
Nick leapt off his top bunk and went over to the door. He pulled it open a crack and stared through, looking either way, ensuring there was nobody listening. When he was sure there wasn’t, he bolted the door and grabbed a bottle of Coke from the table. “Well, let’s just say, I’m getting out of this joint.”
“I’m breaking out. Been planning it for a year now! A year! This place is surprisingly well built, but I’ve found a way to escape, and for that I’m glad.”
“The roof. See, thing is, we’re good hundred foot off the ground here. Nobody’d ever think of getting off the roof, so it’s not at all guarded. That’s why it’ll be easy to get out that way.”
“You’re either a genius or a fool.” Jack said. “I’d be more likely to go for the second. What’re you going to do when you get to the roof? And don’t tell me you’re going to make a rope out of bed sheets to climb down!”
Nick laughed, a great raucous laugh where his stomach rumbled and his body seemed to move backwards. “Oh, no, no, no! Some of my friends are coming to pick me up!”
“Pilots are they?” Jack asked.
“You could say that!” Nick replied. He laughed again.
“Well, I think you’re mad. You’ll get caught!”
“We’ll see about that. The only thing that could possibly go wrong is that my arms aren’t long enough.”
“Well, there’s one point that requires two wardens to open it. I’ve got keys that fit the holes, but I don’t know whether I’ll be able to reach both holes at once. Still, I’m sure I’ll have to!”
Jack looked at Nick. “Why don’t you just get a second man to do it for you?”
“Where would I get a second man at this time of night?”
“You want to come?”
“I want to help you.” Jack said. “If this is how I can do that, then I’d be honoured. Lord knows you’ve helped me enough.”
Nick smiled. “Okay then. That’s a deal. I’ll wake you up when it’s time. Try to get some sleep now.”
Alan was on night shift that night. He finished doing his rounds, closing every open shutter he went by, and then finally got to the staff room. He pulled the lever by the staff room which turned off all the lights in the entire prison and then shouted at the top of his voice. “Lights out!” Then he opened the staff room door and went in for a nice night of mulled wine and mince pies.
Nick heard the cry of “Lights out!” and looked over the side of his bunk. He reached down and prodded Jack. “Now.” He whispered.
Jack rolled out of bed and pulled on his slippers. Nick climbed down his ladder, straightening his night cap, and then went over to the door. He drew something from his pocket and entered it into the door, twisting it and then pulled the door open.
“Where’d you get that key?” Jack whispered.
“I’ll tell you later.” Nick said. “Now, come on!”
They hurried out of the room and padded down the balcony as quietly as they could. In the huge central room that reminded Jack of the Shawshank Redemption, sounds had a tendency to echo, meaning one misplaced stamp would end the entire mission. With that in mind, the two gentlemen stayed as quiet as possible.
They reached the end of the balcony, at the door next to the staff room. Nick put his finger to his lips as they crowded around the lock. Again, Nick pulled the thing that might have been a key from his pocket and slid it into the lock. His shaking hands slipped and the key fell. It hit the floor and clattered, the metallic boom echoing through the grand hall. They heard a commotion in the staff room as the guards jumped up and Jack looked towards Nick with terror in his eyes. Nick put a finger to his lips and stood very, very still.
The door opened and Alan poked his tired, weathered face out. He looked up and down the hall and came face to face with Jack. Their eyes met and Jack’s begged him. Alan raised an eyebrow, asking whether what they doing was a good idea. Jack mouthed, “It’s Christmas.”
Keeping eye contact, Alan shouted back into the room. “Don’t worry, lads. Only one of the shutters dropping on one of the cells. Mustn’t have closed it right.”
He gave Jack a wink and then plodded off to close the ‘shutter.’
Nick grinned and picked up the thing that looked like a key. He slid it into the lock and undid the door, pushing it open. The two men scuttled through and then up and round a stairwell. They kept going and going until eventually they reached a doorway. Nick pushed it open and led them into a small room. There was a door on the other side which had the width of three normal doors put together. On either side, there was a keyhole.
“You take that side, I’ll take this side.” Nick said. He passed Jack something and then went to his keyhole.
Jack looked at the thing as he walked towards his. It was a small metallic rob, about the length of his little finger. He looked it over and then turned back to Nick. “I don’t think this is going to work. I can’ t pick locks.”
“Don’t worry.” Nick said. “It’ll do the picking for you. Slide it into the hole at the top of the lock.”
Jack, full of scepticism, did just that. He felt the rod glow very warm and then heard the door clicking. “Twist on three,” said Nick. “One, two, three!”
Jack twisted the rod in unison with Nick. The door clicked and ground and then began to swing open. Jack drew the rod and looked at it. It had melted into a key shape, but as he stared at it, it regained it’s shape. “Magic key.” He said under his breath.
He stepped out onto the roof of the prison and felt the cold, chilling winds of Christmas Eve grab him. He wrapped his arms around him to warm up, stuffing his fingers into his armpits, and looked out onto the town he’d been locked away from for so long. He could see his house, halfway up the hill, in the light of the moon which was half hidden behind the milky clouds. He turned back, ready to ask Nick where his mates were, when he saw the old man walking towards him.
Inside the prison, Nick was wearing a stripy uniform which looked like a pair of pyjamas, a dirty beard and a white cap, the bobble of which had fallen off and had left some threadbare sticking hanging down the back of his head. He was overweight and his cheeks were red with the effort of going up the steps.
As he stepped through those doors, and into the light of the moon, he changed. He was no longer fat, but instead cuddly. The red in his cheeks was not exertion but his inner warmth. He looked friendly, not at all the type of man you’d expect to be locked in a prison. His beard stopped being dirty, and turned a light, fluffy white. His cap grew a bobble and, just like his suit, turned bright red with white fur lining. He laughed his rolling, merry laugh once more. “Ho ho ho ho!”
“Nick?” Jack shouted, unsure whether to be inspired or terrified.
“Nick is short for St Nicholas. But you can call me Father Christmas.” He grinned.
“Bloody hell.” Jack said.
“Come on, my lad.” Nick said. “It’s almost Christmas Day! We don’t have time to waste!”
He walked over towards the ledge that looked over the side of the prison. Stepping up, he put out his hand towards Jack. “Come on!”
“I don’t want to fall!”
“In America, only a fall can lead to Christmas. Come on!”
Jack sighed and walked over, towards the ledge. He stepped up and stared out towards the old Factory in the distance. “Is this safe?” Jack asked.
“Of course it is.” Replied Nick. “Now jump!”
“What?” Jack demanded, but before he got an answer he felt Nick’s hand on his back, pushing him over. Together, the two of them fell, falling and falling until they hit something very comfortable and slightly velvety.
Jack opened his eyes, which had been screwed firmly shut. He looked about and said, his voice coming out as little clouds of Dragon’s breath, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
He was sat in a sleigh, and in front of him were eight reindeer in two lines of four. In front of them was another one and coming from the front of it was a red glow.
“It’s Christmas!” Cried Santa Claus, doing a surprisingly good Noddy Holder impression, from where he was sat next to Jack. “Next stop, the North Pole! Then, quindruple the presents in half the time! Yehaa!” He whipped the reins and set the reindeers flying.
“Can you drop me at home?” Jack said. “I’d only get in your way if I was to go the full way around with you.”
“Drop you at home?” Santa asked. “I can’t do that! No, I’ve got to drop you off at another prison!”
“Why?” Jack cried, heartbroken. All he could think of was Hazel’s face if he returned. He couldn’t be imprisoned having imagined that.
“Because I’ve spent the last millennia depriving people based on their behaviour! It’d be a bit hypocritical if I was to let a criminal go!”
“You let yourself go!”
“I was delivering a present! It’s hardly breaking the law!” He sighed. “What did you even get locked up for, anyway?”
“I stole an ATM so I’d have enough money to buy a turkey for Christmas dinner.” Jack said, not at all proud.
“The man who was locked away for trying to make Christmas special, hm?” Said Father Christmas. “Well, I suppose, I mean it would be rather wrong if I were to punish you for doing such a thing again.” He grinned. “You saved Christmas, Jack. Let your reward be your freedom. But don’t think I’m taking you off the Naughty List!”
Jack grinned, like he’d never grinned before.
The sleigh hit the road in front of Helen and Hazel’s house with a surprising jolt. The reindeers neighed, annoyed by the disturbance. “Shut up! The lot of you!” Cried Santa. He turned to Jack. “Make sure you leave out something for them, will you? They like Jack Daniels, but I’d recommend some Coke. They do tend to get quite drunk, especially Rudolph! Why do you think he has a red nose?”
“Of course.” Jack said. “What would you like?”
“I’m quite fond of carrots.” Santa said, smiling. He reached into the back and drew a sack which he passed to Jack. “Use the contents wisely and be happy. Merry Christmas, Jack.”
“And a happy new year to you.”
Jack grinned and ran over to the door. He rang the door bell and then turned back to watch Santa flying off. The reindeers neighed and then clattered their hooves across the ground. “Ho ho ho!” Cried Father Christmas, and then the sleigh was up and away, into the cloud belt.
Jack turned just in time to see the door open and to smile at Helen’s shocked face.
“Merry Christmas.” He grinned.
“Jack! Jack! How can you be here?”He put down the bag of presents, five years worth, and hugged her. “Christmas Miracle.”
Monday, 14 December 2015
The next morning, Billy woke up later than usual. His face still stung from where she’d slapped him and, if he’d had time, he probably would have been too scared to go and look in a mirror at the damage. For all he knew, there may be a very large cut that her swinging hand had left.
He rolled out of bed and wandered into the bathroom, the light through the open window hurting his eyes. He clawed at the bobbly cable which hung from the side of the window and pulled the blind. The darkness was refreshing.
He grabbed the cup and filled it with water, dipping his toothbrush in and then covering it in tooth paste. As he brushed his teeth, causing a white froth to form around his mouth as if he was a rabid dog, he wandered over to the mirror and looked in. With his spare hand, he tried to tame his ginger hair. It looked brighter than usual, but he expected that was because of his pale skin. His nose looked rounder and redder, but he suspected that was just a product of his sleep deprivation. He’d stayed up pretty late the night before, drowning his sorrows with banana milkshakes and litre large coke cups from Burt Ger’s.
Once he’d finished brushing his teeth, he returned to his room and pulled on a shirt and a pair of trousers from George. A mock leather belt tightened around his waist, he fixed his tie and then headed over to get his shoes. He slid his feet into them, but discovered the end of the shoes far too often.He looked down, bemused, and discovered with complete horror that his heels were sticking out of the rear of the shoes. He took his feet out and then reached his hand into the shoes, scrambling around to see if there was anything that might stop his feet from fitting in. Nothing. How odd.
He undid the laces a bit, to prevent the shoes from being too tight, and slid his feet into them again. No difference. They were too small. He wiggled his feet around but discovered that no matter what he did, the shoes were far too small.
He cursed under his breath and threw the shoes to one side. With heavy stomps of his apparently bigger feet, he went over to the wardrobe. He pulled the door wide open and reached in, searching for his other shoes. He tried on a pair of hiking boots, some swimming shoes and his other pair of formal shoes. None of them fitted. Sighing, he picked up his flip flops and pulled them on. His toes overhung at the front and his heels overhung at the back, but it was better than wandering around with nothing but socks.
He ran downstairs and contemplated whether he’d have time to grab a brief bite to eat. A quick check to the watch on his wrist confirmed he didn’t, so he ran out of the door, down the drive and hopped into his car. He pressed the accelerator after twisting the key and the car roared off, towards work.
Upon reaching the entrance to the Burt Ger’s carpark, the car began to make some rather awful noises. Whereas before the engine had produced a slight drone or whir, due to it’s electrical status, it now made an unhealthy chugging, as if it was a train.
“Come on, girl.” Billy said, stroking the steering wheel. “Make it up the ramp.”
The chugging of the engine grew louder, the wheels seeming to screech. It began to move at an exceptionally slow pace, grinding it’s way up the ramp with a painful clanking coming from the axel. Billy scrunched his face, empathy for the pain the car must be going through seething through him. “Come on!”
The car reached the top of the ramp, but then gave up the ghost. The doors exploded off, smashing into the walls and the floor, flinging in all directions. The wheels fell off and rolled away. The wing mirrors broke away from where they were fixed to the body and fell to the floor. Billy heard the registration plate fall off and begin to spin. If it wasn’t for the fact that the steering wheel had fallen off, he would have smashed his head into it.
“For crying aloud.” He said. After a few moments of silent contemplation of whether life could get any worse, he grabbed his bag and climbed out, walking over to the stairwell that led to his office.
When he finally got to his office, the wet slap of his flip-flops against the laminated floor still echoing inside his head, he sat down and buried his head in the growing pile of paperwork in front of him.
“Nice shoes, Bill.” Said Robert, who was stood at the photocopier with a group of his manly friends. They all burst out laughing when they noticed Billy’s flip-flops.
Billy sat up, trying to retain an air of composure about him. As he did this, however, he noticed the vase on Patty’s desk. It had some proper flowers in it now.
He clicked on his computer and started typing but truly he wanted to start crying.
The day after was the last before the Christmas Holidays. As had become a tradition since Mr Jones had took over the business, everyone had to bring an item of food into the huge canteen. As the number of employees was so high, it inevitably meant that would be enough food to create a reasonable buffet and thus born was an end of term party. They called this a Jacob’s Join. The official reasoning behind having a Jacob’s Join was that it brought everyone together, increased popularity levels for those who brought the best food, made sure that everyone had at least one food that they liked and created a sense of unity. The true reasoning behind having a Jacob’s Join was that Mr Jones was too stingy to cash out on a full buffet, unlike the previous management.
Usually, Billy would go across to Burt Ger’s at the lunch time before the Jacob’s Join and bring over a bag full of hamburgers. It was the only thing he was popular for in the company. This time, however, he had a brain wave. How about he had a go at cooking? He’d always wanted to; he was a big fan of the Great British Bake Off, and he’d taken Food Tech for a GCSE.
He’d stayed up most of the night experimenting. In his bin were the crumpled up remains of hundreds of empty flour bags, alongside smashed egg shells and an empty bottle of milk. The result? Three trays full of incredible, culinary delight. He had managed to create the ultimate food stuff, in very little time at all. Now he knew what God had felt like on the Sixth Day.
He put lids on the trays to stop his masterpieces from being ruined, and then pilled up the trays and carried them with both hands to work. He’d managed to find some new shoes at a specialist shop. Surprisingly, very few places sold size seventeen shoes. Those he had bought, however, made a nice slapping sound as they danced across the concrete pavement. They were bright yellow, much to his distaste, but he decided he could cope with them. They’d been hidden beneath his desk for most of the day, anyway.
He got to work and took his trays towards the canteen, where a few sample had already been dropped off. He saw three boxes of Party Rings, a few microwaveable pizzas and a platter of sausage roles. He put his three trays down, removed the lids and then headed towards his office. The second he got there, he checked the clock and began the countdown of the last three hours until the Jacob’s Join and then home.
The three hours passed like a mobility scooter at the head of a traffic jam; very, very slowly. Billy liked to imagine that he got more work done in those three hours than he’d got done all year so far. He didn’t mind, however, as it had given him a good chance to catch up with everything he was behind on.
The clock struck twelve and a cheer went up. Computers were logged off, presents were handed over, and everybody clapped each other on the back and wished their mates a Merry Christmas. There was almost a primal stampede down the steps and towards the Canteen, where the food began to be feasted upon within seconds. Billy caught sight of Mr Jone’s head, bobbing amongst the other scalps like a shark’s fin in a ball pool. He tried to ignore the feeling of impending doom the cold grey eyes impaled him with, but the action was like trying to ignore decapitation. It was all very well and good, but the consequences would ultimately catch up with you.
He meandered over to the buffet table where he saw Patty eating a vegetarian burger. Although the latter part of the equation was as good as blasphemy in his book, he still felt thoroughly enchanted by the sight. Despite the addition of it being a meat burger, he couldn’t quite imagine anything more perfect. He took a few more steps forwards, onwards to her. He prepared to open his mouth, to make some apology for the actions of the other day. The side of his face stung as he blushed. Somehow, however, he didn’t think the red of a usual blush would show under his bright white face.
“Nice shoes, Bill.” Said that same mocking voice. Billy turned to see Robert sneering at him. He was looking at the bright yellow balloons that covered Billy’s feet. “Perhaps you can give me some fashion tips some time?”
He laughed his horrid laugh, whilst continuing his pilgrimage across the canteen to where Patty was stood. He gave her a glass of wine and said, “Do you want to go back to mine after this?”
“Sure.” Patty said, putting down her glass. “You lead the way, I’ll drive after you.”
“No need.” Robert said. “I’ll drive you. I don’t want your shabby wheels parked out my house.”
Billy felt his fist tighten. He marched over towards the nearest buffet table and pushed a girl from accounts out of the way. She managed to grab a sausage roll from the platter before she nearly fell over.
He stepped over and surveyed the things he had brought. How odd. He thought. They were all still there. He reached forwards and grabbed one, raise and shouting, “Yo! Bobby!”
Robert turned around, slightly bemused. “What?”
Billy threw his hand forwards, and from his palm leapt the food he’d spent the previous evening slaving over. A cream pie sailed through the air, spiralling over and over, until it smashed him straight in the face. A white foam covered him, as if he’d been bitten by a rabid dog, whilst a untamed anger lit in his eyes.
The entire room went silent, except for one commanding voice. “Whoever threw that. My room. Now.” Said Mr Jones.
“I will tolerate a lot of things, Billy, hence why you still have a job.” Mr Jones said, one of his spindly fingers straightening a pencil before him. His office was large, imposing, with the only detail other than the minimal decorations being his oversized desk. His chair was bigger than the one in which Billy was sat, giving the impression that the boss was looming over his employee. “But I will not tolerate such acts of stupidity as the ones you are currently perpetuating. I ignore how you turn up late in the mornings and after lunch, I ignore how you drenched poor Patricia the other day, I turned a blind eye to the way in which you blocked the car park or declined to follow our strict uniform protocol. I cannot ignore this. With no regret at all, you’re fired.”
Billy didn’t argue, didn’t protest. He opened his mouth and out rolled a horrific laugh. A smile danced across his face. He didn’t want to laugh, he didn’t want to smile, but he couldn’t help it. Mr Jones looked as infuriated as a tortured demon.
Billy stood, his laugh continuing. He turned and began to walk towards the door. His large yellow shoes splattered against the white floor, his large red nose shone in the centre of his bright white face. From his head, a gigantic frenzy of red hair exploded away. Red seemed to be a consistent colour; his nose, his hair and now his lips were bright red. For some reason, he found it hilarious.
He strolled down the steps and out into the world beyond the company. He crossed the road, weaving his way across the car park. The automatic doors slid open and he found himself once more immersed in the incredible atmosphere and beautiful smell of Burt Ger’s. A waitress hurried over.
I knew I was a regular but I didn’t realise they knew me so well. He would have made a bigger smile, but he doubted such a thing was possible.
The waitress had a few tears in the corners of her eyes, her eyeliner having run a little bit. “Ah! Thank God you’re here! We just got the news and we’ve got two children’s birthday parties.”
“Did Head Office tell you?” She asked. “Our in resident clown, Fred, has passed away. They reckon it was an attack of diabetes. He’s been one of these burgers everyday for God knows how many years! Thank God we got you!”
Billy’s smile grew a little wider. One door closes, another one opens.
Thirty Years Later:
An empty burger bun. It sits still on a worktop. Sesame seed on top, dazzling in the cleansed light of the electric panels above. It's delicious, Perfect, even, like it’s straight out of an advert. Elsewhere, there's a pan on a hob, a burger on top of that. Beautiful. It sits in the centre, frying. Grease sizzles. Simmering like a puddle in the middle of the desert. Perfect. There's also a piece of cheese. Emmental. Beautiful. Perfect. It looks as if it's gone ten paces with a machine gun, the amount of holes it's got in it. It's delicious nonetheless. It’s as if we're in a Burger King advert.
There's a tray of salad and stuff, ready to be put on. The tomatoes are juicy, the lettuce is crisp. The onions are diced, the gherkins are ready to woo some women. As we all know; a gherkin is the way to a girl's heart. A fast-food server steps forwards. A minty green uniform is above their pale white flesh, protective gloves give their hands a blue sheen. There’s a heavenly glow around them. They reach forwards. Their protective gloves wrinkle as they open the bun, put the burger on the bread, add the cheese which instantly begins to sizzle, the salad, the sauce in wild zig zags of helter-skelter squirting. They close the bun again. It slides perfectly onto a plate. The plate is picked up and placed onto a tray held by a similarly uniformed waiter. The man, lanky and blonde, takes the tray and spins around, walking forwards. Out of the kitchen and onwards. Through the restaurant, around the plastic coated furniture and the ever frothing drink machine. The waiter’s face is about two feet above this. He gives us an omniscient, all knowing smile, as if he knows we’re currently imagining this story. He rounds a corner, ducking under the trail of an abandoned balloon. In front of him goes the source of the balloon. Old Billy. Poor old Billy. He was the restaurant clown, a frail old man who was so naturally pale that he needn’t wear makeup. His nose was naturally red and bulbous, just like his lips and hair. His car did actually fall apart when rounding a corner, and whenever he went within a mile of a flower it squirted a steady stream of water. The grapevine had it that Billy had been pushing his little trolley of balloons and tricks around, a grimace glummer than a depressed donkey on his face, for the last thirty years! Poor old Billy. Old Billy’s eyes, hidden behind arcs of his bulbous red nose, noticed the waiter and suckered out of his way. With a nod of thanks, the waiter continued his dangerous pilgrimage of meat and ketchup.
With a definitive thud, the tray was placed on a table. It sat on the table, pristine, perfect, almost smoking, in front of a striped jumper. Protruding from the jumper is the head of the owner. Arthur. He’s staring down at the burger, satisfied, happy. A smile bigger than anything Billy had ever hoped to smile grew across his face. Arthur loved burgers.
“I don’t get it.” The FBI agent said scratching his head. “That last bit was the same as the opening bit.”
“Exactly.” The suspiciously young bar tender said. He mopped a bit of sticky liquid off the bar. “It’s a bit of fancy literary technique, almost like prolepsis, but not quite. The type of thing English teachers like to highlight.”
“So, is Billy Fred?” The other FBI agent asked.
“What?” Asked the bar tender.
“Is Billy Fred? And if so, does that mean Arthur is Fred too?”
“Which, in turn, would mean that Billy is Arthur as well.” The first FBI agent said.
The bar tender shook his head. “God, to think that a country’s safety depends on you two. Times like this I’m glad I’m British. None of what you just said matters. What matters is that the name of the clown Billy, Fred and one day Arthur will become is Burt Ger.”
“Why does that matter?”
“Because the moral of the story is that you are what you eat!”
Monday, 7 December 2015
Two FBI agents walk into a bar. You know the sort, tall, handsome, look as if they could quite easily be played by Tom Hanks when they get to middle age. The guy on the right, he's wearing Stars and Stripes underwear. They're patriotic, they're proud. They're Americans.
One of them looks you straight in the face, and he says, "The following blog post should be entertaining, however it may in some ways be offensive to vegetarians. I would highly recommend you avoid it if you have strong feelings about not eating meat."
The other FBI agent nods, flashes the gun on his side as he moves away his black blazer so he can put his hand in his trouser pocket. "I agree with my buddy here. It may be slightly offensive indeed."
The FBI agents give you a moment to walk out, their eyes, hidden behind sunglasses, following you as you do. As soon as you're out, they turn back to the bar and say to the bartender. "Okay, pal. Let's experience this goddamn story."
The bar tender, a tall but no so handsome English lad, says, "I'm not actually twenty one yet. Should I really be allowed to work here?"
The FBI agents shrug. "Do we look like we care?"
The English lad shrugs back. "Okay. Let's do this. Are you sitting comfortably?"
"Then let the story begin..."
An empty burger bun. It sits still on a worktop. Sesame seed on top, dazzling in the cleansed light of the electric panels above. It's delicious, Perfect, even, like it’s straight out of an advert. Elsewhere, there's a pan on a hob, a burger on top of that. Beautiful. It sits in the centre, frying. Grease sizzles. Simmering like a puddle in the middle of the desert. Perfect. There's also a piece of cheese. Emmental. Beautiful. Perfect. It looks as if it's gone ten paces with a machine gun, the amount of holes it's got in it. It's delicious nonetheless. It’s as if we're in a Burger King advert.
There's a tray of salad and stuff, ready to be put on. The tomatoes are juicy, the lettuce is crisp. The onions are diced, the gherkins are ready to woo some women. As we all know; a gherkin is the way to a girl's heart. A fast-food server steps forwards. A minty green uniform is above their pale white flesh, protective gloves give their hands a blue sheen. There’s a heavenly glow around them. They reach forwards. Their protective gloves wrinkle as they open the bun, put the burger on the bread, add the cheese which instantly begins to sizzle, the salad, the sauce in wild zig zags of helter-skelter squirting. They close the bun again. It slides perfectly onto a plate. The plate is picked up and placed onto a tray held by a similarly uniformed waiter. The man, lanky and blonde, takes the tray and spins around, walking forwards. Out of the kitchen and onwards. Through the restaurant, around the plastic coated furniture and the ever frothing drink machine. The waiter’s face is about two feet above this. He gives us an omniscient, all knowing smile, as if he knows we’re currently imagining this story. He rounds a corner, ducking under the trail of an abandoned balloon. In front of him goes the source of the balloon. Old Fred. Poor old Fred. He was the restaurant clown, a frail old man who was so naturally pale that he needn’t wear makeup. The grapevine had it that Fred had been pushing his little trolley of balloons and tricks around, a grimace glummer than a depressed donkey on his face, for as long as anybody could remember. Poor old Fred. Old Fred’s eyes, hidden behind arcs of his bulbous red nose, noticed the waiter and suckered out of his way. With a nod of thanks, the waiter continued his dangerous pilgrimage of meat and ketchup.
With a definitive thud, the tray was placed on a table. It sat on the table, pristine, perfect, almost smoking, in front of a striped jumper. Protruding from the jumper is the head of the owner. Billy. He’s staring down at the burger, satisfied, happy. A smile bigger than anything Fred could ever hope to smile grew across his face. Billy loved burgers.
He had eaten his first burger at the age of ten. It had been for his tenth birthday party. He could still smell the smoke which came out of the sparkler on top. He remembered when he took his first bite. He had been worried he would not fit it all into his mouth. He was glad he could, however, because it was the greatest sensation he had ever experienced. So many bold explosions of varying flavours, so many atomic reactions of complete and utter joy. His mouth had drooled and so had his eyes as he wept with the ecstasy of what he had consumed. Complete and utter ecstasy.
As Billy returned to work that afternoon, reminiscing about the first burger he’d ever eaten, the taste was still ripe in his mouth. He licked his fingers, relishing the salt of the fries and the grease of the bread. His tongue unrooted a bit of cheese and sesame seed stuck between his teeth and another bolt of flavour cut through him. Lovely.
Paul, the receptionist, smiled at him. He was just about to say, “Good afternoon, Bill. Another good burger?” when his brow furrowed. “You feeling okay?” He asked, instead.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I? Just had an orgasmic burger!”
“You’re looking a bit peaky, is all.” Paul said. His words were the truth. A bit of the colour had drained out of his face, turning his flesh a few shades whiter. “Bit Michael Jackson.”
“That might be because I am one hell of smooth criminal.” Billy said, attempting to moon walk and failing. He nearly tripped over in the process. “I mean, I did just have an amazing burger!”
“I think you should go see a doctor.” Paul said.
“Right, just ignore the fact I had a wonderful lunch then.” Billy said.
“You have a burger every day of the week! Twice on Fridays! Today is no different to any other day! Why would I care?”
Billy’s face drooped. “You don’t mean that do you?”
The receptionist, who realised that he may have hurt his friend’s feelings, quickly retracted his statement. “Of course I didn’t. You can tell me all about it after work.”
Billy’s smile returned. “Yay! Thank you!”
Paul smiled. “You better get going to work now, Billy.”
Billy nodded and scampered off.
The floor he arrived on was long and narrow, with several clusters of desks arranged in shapes that weren’t allowed to be described as swastikas, for PR reasons. He took his seat and turned on his computer, looking over it as it began to run it’s boot sequence. The sight he saw was called Patricia, Patty for short. She wore a summery dress despite it being winter and had a large afro veering away from her head like she was lying next to a Van der Graaf generator. Billy loved her almost as much as he loved burgers. There was only one problem. Just like burgers, she had no idea but not because she was an inanimate object. No, the reason she didn’t know he loved her was because she was so far out of his league that he would have been surprised she knew he existed.
Patty was athletic and intelligent, muscular and fast. Billy was tall, scrawny, thin despite his highly unhealthy eating habits and about as simple as they come. The only thing giving him hope that they might one day get together was the words of his old science teacher. “Opposites attract.”
“One day.” He whispered to himself, running a hand through his gingery hair. “One day.”
The next day, Billy drove into work. He hadn’t done so since before the summer holidays, but now the weather had got to a point where he couldn’t stand walking through the cold. He drove down the ramp into the car park, pulling to a stop in the underground car storage area. Strip lighting illuminated the shining floor, black tyre marks painting the white paint lines that separated each parking spot. He cursed under his breath. All the spots were full.
He reversed back up the ramp, turning the car around with an awkward twist of the steering wheel. He pondered whether there was a street within walking distance that he could park in, but before he even had to consider it he had his solution. Across the road was the squat form of his favourite fast-food restaurant. “Beautiful.” He said to himself, and drove over towards it. There was a sign post next to the entrance, holding a large illustration of the company logo. It was a grinning clown called Burt Ger. He had a wide grin across his brightly white face, a bulbous red nose in the centre. An afro of bright red spilt away from his head and a burger was being held in his hand. The sight of the burger made Billy’s stomach growl. He pulled into a vacant parking spot and then checked his watch. “I have time.” He said to himself, then climbed out of his car and hurried across to the doors of the restaurant.
The heater above the inside doorway blasted him with warm air, and a few seconds later the smell got to him and made him grin immensely. He ran across to the counter, passing old Fred who looked up to him miserably. The woman behind the counter smiled and said, “Hello there, Billy. What can I get you this time of morning?”
“My usual, please.” He said, grinning. “I’m quite hungry.”
“Go get your seat, someone’ll bring it over.” She smiled.
Billy did so and went to sit down, getting ready for the incredibility of the food he was about to experience. Old Fred looked on, omniscient, disappointed. Poor, poor lad, the old clown thought.
Twenty minutes later, Billy walked into the reception with a gigantic grin across his face. Paul looked up and the grin said everything. “I was wondering why you were late. Been across the road, have you?”
“I couldn’t help myself.” Billy said. “It was just so delicious.”
“Well, you better get up to the office unless you want to be in even more trouble.” Billy turned to do so, but Paul hailed him back. “Have you been to see the doctor yet?”
“You look like you’ve got a cold. Your nose is all red.”
Billy peered in the reflective metal of the counter. Paul was right. His face was pale and his nose was strangely red. “I hate winter.”
Upstairs, the meeting had finished. Everyone had returned to their desks. Billy sheepishly slid into his seat, flicked on his computer and began to fill out forms. He straightened the toy Tardis to the left of his keyboard and smiled to himself. There’d been a police box outside the first branch of fast-food restaurants he’d gone to.
“Where were you this morning?” Said the provocative, attractive Jamaican tones of a woman sat directly in front of him. Billy looked up. Some colour lit through his pale cheeks, as he blushed a deep red.
“Uh…” He began to say, slightly awe-struck. “I, uh…”
“You were at that burger joint of your’s?” She said. “I saw you through the window. I don’t know how you aren’t so fat you can’t fit through the doors.”
Billy didn’t know how to answer, but a bit of him was honoured that she didn’t think he was fat.
“I inherited a sense of work, this work, from my parents. I suggest you adopt it too.”
“A fast metabolism.” Billy managed to say.
“A fast metabolism. I, uh, I inherited it from my parents. Hence why I’m not so fat I can’t fit through doors.”
She laughed a little. “No punctuality but plenty of wit. I see why Mr Jones,” which happened to be the terrifying name of the boss, “hasn’t fired you yet.”
“I won’t be late again.” He said. “I’m sorry.”
She laughed. “Don’t worry about it. Just stick to your problem. And, for God’s sake, do something about your nose. You’re out doing Rudolph!”
Billy grinned to himself and continued typing. He opened the Microsoft Office folder and clicked the link entitled ‘OneNote.’
“Where are your flowers?” Robert asked. Robert, or Bob to his friends, was tall and striking, with the type of jawline that looked as if had just jumped out of a movie. Even trivial things like breathing were cool, bordering on thrilling, when Robert was doing it. When Billy breathed, it was unnoticeable.
“Oh, they wilted.” Patty said.
“I’ll have to get you some new ones. Put a bit of a shine back in your eye.”
Billy contemplated leaping up and punching him, cursing him for daring to be so rude to such a perfect woman. He considered sliding his knuckles straight into his perfect jawbones and trying to turn them to dust. After a few seconds of silent seething, he decided not to do anything. Actions may speak louder than words, but silence is better than punching a bloke in the face.
The next day, Billy pulled his car to a stop and cried, at the top of his voice, “Double whammy!”
His mission had been to find a petrol station where he may be able to buy some flowers for Patty. What he hadn’t reckoned would happen was that the petrol station would have an attached branch of Burt Ger’s. The eponymous clown stared down from his place on the sign, grinning his omniscient grin down on Billy as he ran in. He ordered his usual, but in the first time in quite a few years had to explain his order to the girl behind the counter.
“We’ll bring it straight over.” She said.
“I just need to get some flowers but I’ll be back just after.”
“No problem, darl.” She said.
He rushed towards the door, stopping to let an old clown push a trolley in front. His hair spiralled away from his head in a red afro, his nose was plump and red, his skin was a ghastly white. He had a sad look in his eyes, as if he was brimming with regret.
He moved out of the way to allow the clown to pass and then went out of the door. He walked around towards the petrol station, went in and had a look at the flowers by the counter. There were some purple ones that were similar to those she had previously, so he paid for them and then returned to Burt Ger’s. In the air was a beautiful scent, a heavenly smell that made his mouth water and a smile dance across his face.
Once more, Billy remembered that he loved burgers.
He reached work just after work began, and rushed up the stairs without even trading the mildest word with Paul. He got to his office, flicked on his computer and threw himself into his seat. Underneath the desk, he fiddled with the bag he’d put the flowers in and tried to pull them out.
Patty looked over at him. “What was that about never being late for work again?” She asked. “And wiped the ketchup off your lips, please.”
He whipped the flowers from under the table and presented them to you. Her face lit with an incredible smile. “Billy! That’s so-“
Before she could finish her sentence, the petals of the flower opened up and released a power explosion of water. It shot forwards, like it was sliding out of a hose, and coated her face with a sheen of liquid. The water ran down her face and dampened her blouse. The fringe of her afro stopped being so fluffy.
She looked very, very angry.
Billy’s eyes fell back down towards the flowers. They were normal flowers, as if they’d been plucked straight from a garden. There was no hose connected to them. Where had the water come from?
To say he felt scared of the anger coursing through her was a slight understatement.
To be concluded...
Monday, 30 November 2015
Inka crept up the steps and onto the deck of the ship. Her first thought was, Where did all the smoke come from? Her second thought was, Where did everybody go?
For some of them, the answer was to the Gods. She saw the member of the band with mechanical ears lying dead near the steps, saw another gentlemen, who she thought she recognised, in two separate pieces. There were also a host of ‘Protection Droids’ who were covered in blood. Some were dead and others were dismantled to disability. She nearly tripped over the abandoned arm of one of the droids, but in her defence it was almost thicker than her leg.
She swept her sword through the fog in front of her, slightly worried that she might walk directly into some enemy trap. The carpet of corpses seemed to prove the suspicion she had begun; those who weren’t Protection Droids or pirates wore the regal blue of the Federation. As horrible and gangly as the pirates may be, she felt a sudden flushing hatred for the Privateers. How dare they come and kill the people who had rescued her from her dull and boring life?
She suddenly realised, as she stared at the corpse of the boy who’d brought Robert his gun, that everybody dead on the ship at that second was dead in her name.
She found the edge of the ship. The fog seemed to shy away from the fluxing green and blue of the atmospheric envelope, except in one place near the front of the ship. She continued walking towards it, wondering what was going on, and then saw the answer. It was a maelstrom of sorts, sucking the fog from the atmospheric envelope and to somewhere else, presumably the Federation ship. She’d heard about inter-vessel bridges but never like this. She cursed under her breath and took a very stupid risk.
Inka László stepped into the portal.
It felt funny under her feet, almost like she was walking on the plastic tarp that covered a swimming pool. It seemed to squelch away forever under one foot and then spring back up under the other. She found the walls of the tunnel no further solace either, as they seemed to bend and squelch away from her hands all the same. The fog cleared slightly as she walked through, so she was able to discover that the tunnel was made of a psychedelic fluctuation. She didn’t know whether to feel sick or to start dancing. Probably both.
If she’d thought walking through it was weird, reaching the other end was even weirder. Whereas there’d been a certain force pulling her along the tunnel so far, when she tried to exit it reversed and tried to pull her back in. She struggled, almost pulling a muscle in her back, but managed to heave herself into the airlock. The solid ground felt exceptionally strange under her feet, which had become momentarily accustomed to the softness of the tunnel. The result was a weird sort of space sickness, which made her feel very queasy indeed.
Something else that make her feel sick was the sheer volume of corpses in the Privateer ship, once the airlock had managed to open. They hadn’t started decaying just yet, but their spilt blood was turning black and crusty against the pristine white floors. She saw one corpse, a pirate, whose face had been half torn open, the edges scorched by the laser blast which had separated them.
She kept walking, a hand across her mouth, trying to hold back the wail of sickness building up inside her. She noticed that her arms were shaking, and that sweat was pouring down her forehead like rain in the winter. She tried to get herself under control but it didn’t quite work. Fear was too strong an emotion to be banished at the snap of the fingers. She cursed with words that she’d heard the pirates say, and knew for certain were terribly rude.
The immediate pair of automatic doors hissed open and revealed a scene so revolting that she was immediately sick. Her vomit joined the pools of blood in front of her.
Knowing that it was the only way to continue, Inka clenched her eyes as tight as she could and used her hands to feel her way across the room. Her fingers grew sticky, but she didn’t want to know with what. Her feet squelched against the white floor, her heels nudging strangely soft objects.
She reached the door and flapped her hands across the areas around it. She found something that felt, ever so slightly, like a hand. She screamed, slicing her hand away from it. In the process, her feet slid in the blood and she cartwheeled backwards, smashing her back into the floor. She screamed and screamed, writhing in the blood on the floor.
“Calm down! Calm down!” Cried the voice that belonged to the hand. It sounded strangely familiar.
She opened her eyes and saw a face staring down at her. The hand was stretching down towards her. Of course she recognised the voice; it was constantly being streamed through all the news channels. “Here, let me help you up.” Said Gaius Irving.
She took his hand and let him pull her up from the floor. Her back seemed to tear away from the sticky horror of the floor. He brushed something from her shoulder that landed with a wet squelch. “Are you okay?” He asked. “I hope those ruffians haven’t harmed you.”
Before she could speak, she heard a voice demand, “Take your hands off her, Federation scum!”
Both herself and Gaius spun to see Captain Robert Easton pointing his pistol towards the Emperor’s son. “We meet again, Captain Easton.”
“Too soon.” Robert said, stepping forwards. “Release her from your grubby mits or I’ll blow your brains out.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Captain. As if you’d risk harming your Nightingale. Lay on the floor I’ll kill you.”
Easton had no choice. He’d have to put the gun down; Gaius was right, he couldn’t risk harming Inka.
Inka, however, didn’t quite know what was happening. She felt her hand trace through the air, towards her belt where her knife waited. She felt her hand tighten around the handle, felt herself drawing it up and away from her belt. Felt herself swinging it through the air, then heard Gaius grunt as he fell back. She heard him land on the floor with an agonised scream, a heavy thud and a bit of a squelch.
Easton rushed towards her and looked down at Gaius on the floor. The Emperor’s son spat a bitter insult, his face turning whiter and whiter as the blood oozed out of the hole the knife had created. His eyes closed and then, quite simply, he was dead.
A week later, a ship landed in a private dock on Ayzire. The pilot was taken out of the ship and thoroughly investigated for an hour, made sure to be carrying no weapons and then inoculated against every pathogen in the Cosmos. Once the guards were sure he could bring no harm upon the resident of the planet, they opened the polycarbine doors and had an armed butler take him up the steps.
They reached the auditorium, where the Emperor was sat upon his throne. He looked quite angry to be woken so early in the morning. Only one of the three suns had risen and normally he slept into half an hour after the last sun had climbed from behind the horizon. “What do you want?” He asked the pilot, his voice not as calm and soothing as it was in the informational videos.
The pilot stuttered for a second, and then said, “I come from the Wandering Petal.”
The Emperor leant forwards in his chair. He was a thin, wiry man with eyes and wits as sharp as laser sharpened knives. He had a strange air around him that seemed to induce to start sweating. He turned to his ward, Lucinda, who was sewing by his chair. “Go and play somewhere else, my dear. Daddy has some business to attend to.”
Lucinda stood, doing exactly as told despite almost being an adult, and walked out. The Emperor stood and walked down the steps in front of his throne. He reached the pilot and said, “What news does my son send you with?”
“Er, N-n-no n-n-news, y-y-your lordship.” The pilot stumbled. “He, er, well, he, er.”
“Spit it out, for Tark’s sake!” The Emperor howled. “What are you hear to tell me?”
“The Petal was attacked, sir.” The pilot said, far too quickly. He calmed down slightly and added, “By the King of Rats, sir. They left no survivors, er, including your son, sir.”
“Then how are you here?” The Emperor asked.
“I-I hid, sir.”
“You hid? Like a coward?”
“Er, sir, er-“
“Like a coward!?”
“Yes, sir. Like a coward, sir.”
“Do you know what the Federation does to cowards?”
“Er, yes, sir.”
“Would you like that to happen to you?”
“Er, no, sir.”
“Then you shouldn’t have been a coward!” The Emperor snapped. He turned to his butler. “Have this man given to the Spoto Company, and have Lord Ryder brought in. I need to speak with him.”
“Straight away, your lordship.” The Butler said, and grabbed the pilot by the collar, pulling him out. “The Spoto Company’ll be having you now, laddie. I’m sure they’ll find a decent buyer.”
The Emperor didn’t allow himself to cry. He hadn’t cried in fifty years, he certainly wasn’t going to start now. He cursed the King of Rats and it’s cursed Captain, Robert Easton. By the time he was finished cursing names, the doors had opened and Lord Ryder was being wheeled in. The man was ridiculously fat, to an extent that it also made the Emperor sick. If it wasn’t a case of them having been friends for a very long time, he would have had the fat man sliced up and fed to the poor. Would have been very good publicity too.
“Laurentius, my old friend, what is the matter to have me woken at this time?” Ryder asked, one of only a few people who dared address the Emperor by his first name.
“Robert Easton had killed my son.” The Emperor said.
“You have my condolences, of course, although, I don’t see how I can possibly be of any help. I am, after all, only a manager of humanoid resources.” He giggled like he did whenever he made that joke, a piggish snivelling that only made him sound fatter than he already was.
“Do you have any spies who you would think of being capable for the job of killing the pirate?”
“There are two. The boy Khan and Reeve.”
“Reeve as in-“
“As in the Reeve who assassinated the Rebel Leader, yes. That Reeve.”
“Send him. Tell him to kill everyone else but to bring me, alive, the person who killed my son.”
“It will be done.” Ryder said. He raised one of the slabs of diabetes he called arms. His fingers were like the succulent sausages he feasted upon. They completely eclipsed Laurentius’ as he held the old man’s hand and said, “Once more, you have my condolences.”
“I don’t want your condolences.” The Emperor said. “I want that murderer’s head!”
Two months passed as they always do after a dramatic event: quietly and quickly. Robert took Inka to the Pirate Coven, to be accepted into the Pirate community so that she could be protected by pirates if Federation soldiers came for her.
Inka moved onto the King of Rats. At first, there was some confusion about where to put her. It was seen as unhealthy for her to be in the same room as so many blokes, so the Captain volunteered to give up his bed for her. About a month after she boarded the ship, he climbed back into the bed with her in it. They were married a few weeks later.
A lot of the crew had died during the battle with the Wandering Petal, which had been taken back to the Pirate Coven as a peace offering. They began a new recruiting drive, with various actors and actresses being taken from their boring lives of pretending to be adventurers into exciting lives of actually being adventurers. Inka helped convince her husband to help break down the sexism in the piratical society by inviting more and more women on the ship.
“Aren’t you worried that I’ll fall in love with them?” He asked her one afternoon.
“No.” She replied. “How could you ever want another woman over me?”
They cruised through the Cosmos, targeting ships to steal. Under Inka’s direction, they began to only attack Federation and Spoto Company ships. They helped to free slaves and gave half of the jewels they stole to various charities. The other half were shared out amongst the crew, with the best being given to Robert Easton to give to the Pirate Coven. He’d just received a very large necklace with sparkling sapphires hanging from it, but he decided not to give it back to his bosses. Instead, he’d hang it around Inka’s neck and make her very happy.
One of the new pirates came up to him and said, “Do you mind if we do some shooting practise, Cap’in?”
“That’s no problem. Aim true. What was your name again?”
“Air true, Philip. Good luck.” The Captain continued across the deck, answering some queries, referring others. He reached the door of his cabin and walked in, locking it behind him and leaning back against it, relieved to be off the deck. That was the problem with having so many new pirates; they all needed advice constantly. The only new pirate he was interested in was the one in front of him; Inka Easton.
“Hello, love.” He said, strolling over to her. “I’ve got a present for you.”
She looked up and he saw the tears in her eyes. He rushed over, dropping the necklace onto the table and felt to his knees so he was the same height as her, sitting down. “What is it?”
“I-I-I’m, I’m pregnant.” She said. She searched for sympathy, for love and hope, in her partner’s eyes. The horror and anger of old was long gone, but she couldn’t quite make out the current emotion.
He stared at her for a few moment, his poker face unwavering, and then he cried, “That’s fantastic news!”
“You think so?”
“Of course!” He cried, grinning. He wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, my darling, I’m so happy! That is truly brilliant!”
She hugged him back, delighted that he wasn’t angry. “Can we raise him on the ship or-“
“Or will we need to go and live on a planet?” Easton finished her sentence for her. “I’m not sure but I don’t think I know anything about children. I look forwards to finding out.”
In the back ground, the gunshots were evident from the shooting practise.
“Do you think we could take a break from pirating?” She asked. “Y’know, whilst we raise him?”
“Him?” He asked. “Do you think he’s a ‘He’?”
“Good point.” She said. She stood up to let him sit down and then sat on his lap, her arm around his neck. “What shall we call it?”
Easton rubbed his beard as he pondered and said, “If it’s a girl, we should call it Rennie.”
Inka grinned. “Yes! I would love that. How about for a boy?”
“Philip?” The Captain cried, but not in answer to her question. He was exclaiming what he could see at the door. “This isn’t a good time, Philip.”
“I am sorry to disturb you, Captain.” Philip said and stepped to the left. His action revealed the deck.
“The shooting practise.” Robert whispered, as he saw the dead bodies littering the deck. “You killed them!”
“Yes.” Philip said. “One more person left to kill. Oh, and by the way, my name isn’t Philip.”
“What is it then?” Easton demanded.
“That would be telling.” The man said. “And telling isn’t something a spy for the Federation does. Step away from the woman, Easton, then I won’t hit you too.”
“Why are you here?” Inka demanded, standing up. Robert stood to her side.
“Your husband killed Gaius Irving, the Emperor’s son. I am here for revenge.” Said Reeve.
“No!” Inka cried.
“Inka! Stop!” Easton said through the side of his mouth.
“No!” Inka said. “I killed the Emperor’s son. Not Robert.”
Reeve turned to Robert. “This true, Easton?”
Reluctantly, Robert nodded. “Yes. It’s true.”
“Well, that is one hell of a plot twist.” Reeve said, then raised his gun and shot Robert through the head. Inka felt his hair splatter the left of her face as his head exploded.
“No!” She screamed, falling to the floor as his body hit it. “No!! You can’t be dead!”
“I’m afraid he is.” Reeve said. “But you’ll have to wait a while before you can join him.
Even to today, Arkapopolis looked like yet another star in the sky from afar. It only just glowed with the dampening phosphoresce of it’s cities. It was both literally and metaphorically a dying ideal to the rest of the Cosmos.
It was no surprise that thousands flocked there. It was a luminary capital of prostitution, crime, gambling and alcohol. Just the sort of place that Edeners flocked to constantly. Many tourist brochures didn't have a section devoted to Oywei, for two reasons. Reason One: It made everywhere else look fantastic and would thus kill any chance of it getting any visitors. Reason Two: Most of people just kind of drifted there. To visit the Delta Quadrant and not visit Arkapopolis was a blessed relief, as if the Gods were smiling down on you. The sad truth about the Cosmos was that the Gods hadn’t smiled in a very long time.
Of Arkapopolis’ thousands of dwindling settlements, the most famous was the eponymous Arkapopolis. It was renowned as the Capital of Ryder’s Continent. From the atmosphere by which you approached it, it was enough to make your stomach turn. The tide of dirt flecked architecture dipped and spiked like a longitudinal wave. Every tower was like a knife sticking out of a corpse’s back, steeped in incriminating evidence like the excrement of birds. Further down, if you were to trail between the feet of these structures, you would be sickened even more so. Your eyes would trace the buildings up, losing sight of them beyond the smokey clouds, your mind would become heavy with purgatory soaked images of your surroundings. During the day, the drug addicts kept to their houses, but their scent was ever present. The pavements were covered in excrement and vomit, both humanoid and animalistic, the ships and space vessels zipping past exerted lung burning smoke, the people swore and beat each other up, their personalities repulsive at best. Every moment of contact with Arkapopolis was seared upon the memory for the rest of your life. Every tantalising whiff of an exotic drug, every snap of a foreign expletive would stay with you forever. Every sense was assaulted. But there was only one way to be assaulted by true terror. And that, was to visit the Spoto Company and it’s buildings.
The Abattoir was Arkapopolis’ premier slaughter house. A stocky building, it didn't begin to compare architecturally to the structures around it, a truly depressing statement. But it didn't need to. It held a content far more valuable than any of the interplanetary banks or vaults surrounding it did. It held the last moments of many criminal lives.
That night, the Abattoir was holding one of the most talked about executions in the Cosmos. The Cosmic Nightingale, the tabloids were calling her, was arguably the biggest scandal in the history of the Federation. Reporters flocked to every press conference like Moss Eagles to corpses. From across the Cosmos, Native and Settlers alike united to witness the final moments of the murderer. Gridded landing platforms extended from the Abattoir's roof, held aloft by well worn concertinas. Ships touched down, sometimes so heavily that the chauffeur was shouted at for spilling the owner's drink. Suited men with umbrellas escorted the customers across the roof, through the thin sheets of falling rain, towards the safety of the plush lounges above the central auditorium, to wait for the seats to be fully cleaned.
Far below, wavering spotlights illuminated the thin rain. Men and women ran towards the revolving glass doors, their collars pulled up to keep their ties dry. Inside, they were greeted by fancily dressed slaves, as well as a fresh pump of heat and plush velvet carpet. The reception room was circular, illuminating by a hovering chandelier. The heat from the hover engines warned the room and evaporated any rain brought in. The room began to pack tightly, until eventually the auditorium had been cleaned and it was time to let the lower class in. They oozed through the wooden doors, down a brief corridor, into the main auditorium. A collective "Wow" arose.
The Auditotium was a gigantic dome, curved and stretched in every imaginable respect. The stage was in the centre, currently hosting wooden gallows. The curving wall was carved with staggered tiers, each holding hundreds of plush seats overlooking the rest. A spotlight cast it's unwavering glow on the stage. A man was reading out “the Criminal Acts of the Cosmic Nightingale.”
Finally everyone had taken their seats.
There was a beautiful silence for a moment, as the lights flickered off and then a spotlight shot down towards the gallows. “You have been found guilty of piracy and murder. Now is the time for you to say your final words.”
The reporters leant forwards, their notebooks opened.
The Culprit walked up the steps to the top of the gallows. Her voice quivered and wavered. A thin beam of white light cut down from the top of the stage, casting the source of the sound in an ethereal whiteness.
Inka László had already made a name for herself as the child star of much loved cult series 'Ginger Nut Girl.' Many had been worried that once she'd left the comfort blanket of kid's television and plunged into the dangerous universe of proper acting, she'd be left without a hope. They had been correct. She was a murderer and a pirate and, as everyone seemed to agree, a monster. “I’m sorry.” She said, and nothing more.
A noose was put around her neck, tightened and then she was asked to step forwards. The entire room seemed to go a little quieter as a deep breath was pulled. Her footsteps echoed as she stepped forwards onto the trapdoor. The Hangman stepped over towards the handle extending from the platform. Everyone leant forwards, holding their breath.
Inka felt the noose tight around her neck, felt it grow tighter and tighter. She breathed in and out, thought about the child growing in her stomach. “I am sorry, Rennie.” She whispered. “I am sorry, Robert.”
She felt a tear trail down her face, felt the rope tighter around her neck, and then she felt the ground break away. She was falling, falling, and then her soul wrestled free of the noose of life and the Cosmic Nightingale flew.