All stories

The bird and the bear

by Jenny

When he closed his eyes they were back there again, her little hand slipping into his and leading him along the moonlit beach. The air was hot and close and the thrill of being out after curfew felt exotic and exciting in a way he’d never known before.

When she pulled him to her in the tide he still remembered how the sand felt between his toes, the way the water soaked into his trousers instantly, and how he didn’t care at all because she was kissing him. He could taste the salt on her lips and feel the heat of her body against his and he wrapped her tightly in his arms thinking he’d give anything not to let her go ever again.

The clattering of a steel trolly on a rubberised floor. The rhythmic, ever-present beeping.

And he never had. They had sat opposite each other at their breakfast of coffee and Greek yoghurt and fruit, thinking the others in the orienteering group couldn’t see their irrepressible conspiratorial smiles, their covert hands touching beneath the white folds of the table cloth. Thinking no-one could know what they had done together just the night before on the beach they could see right now from the hotel breakfast room.

They had sat together on the way home too, switching seats with the Bradshaws’ two boys for a shilling slipped into a back pocket and not hearing the disapproving tuts or seeing the sour, pursed mouths of their companions.

He had married her, of course. A quiet, simple affair, like they both wanted. She wore a neat white dress and carried flowers from the neighbour’s garden down the aisle.

The slow mechanical pulsing of machinery. The exhausted, clinical voices of the staff. He pushes them away and listens instead for that familiar crashing of sea on sand, the light cadence of her voice.

They had been happy. One child, a boy, all grown up now with a family of his own. They pottered on, day to day. He called her his little bird and he was her bear. They had bought a house, grown a garden, learned how to be content.

A cold hand on his wrist. Fast words whirling overhead. Something was wrong. He didn’t like it here.

He remembered their garden and the smell of honeysuckle in the summer. He walked there with her now, rubbing rosemary leaves between his fingers and inhaling the scent, stooping to pick a tomato from the vine.

There is rushing now, the sound of tired voices urging themselves to action. He doesn’t think he’ll stay. He’d far rather be back in his garden.

So he leaves the tomato where it is. He realises, with a start, that it is evening. It will be dark soon, so he straightens up, walks away from the noise and the panic and the bustle above him and follows her down the garden path and back into the house.

Trapped in a Loop

by Russ

‘Would you rather be able to travel back to any point in history but not change anything, or only travel back within the last hour and do anything you like?’

‘So, I could go to 1930s Germany and just watch it all happen again, or go back to the gym and ask that girl out a different way?’

‘Why does everyone automatically go to Hitler when time travel crops up? That man did a lot of things but he really cornered the market in time tourism.’

I said nothing.

‘And you can keep asking that girl out as many different ways as you like, she’s always going to say no.’

‘Fuck off.’

‘It’s just facts mate. You can’t get mad at me for facts,’ Em lifted her hands up to further protest her innocence. She was a dick. I loved her.

I’d loved Em since we’d bunked off orienteering at our high school activity week and rifled through the empty dorm cabins swapping all the boys’ undies into the girls’ dorm and vice versa. That was a fun day.

‘I suppose I could find out the actual truth about stuff that happened. If I took the first option,’ I mused.

‘Does the truth really have any value though?’ she asked as she lifted a spoonful of Greek-style yoghurt to her mouth.

‘Shut up.’

There was a pause while a little bird hopped along the pavement beside the cafe, trailing little birdy footprints of the dog shit it had landed in as it went.

‘How’s Steve?’ I asked. Em had been with Steve for about three years now. No marriage or kids yet, but I was constantly bracing for one of those catastrophes to be announced, despite Em’s protests that neither was on the cards.

‘He’s fine,’ she answered without emotion. ‘How’s Vick?’

Vick was my latest internet date. I’d seen her twice. She wasn’t Em.

‘Y’know...,’ I answered. Em looked at me over the top of her bowl as she licked the last of the cherry sauce from its rim. My heart deflated like a balloon.

‘We’re never going to get you settled, are we?’ she said, taking a sip of her coffee.

‘Like you and Steve?’ I shaded the bile a little, but it wasn’t hidden. Emma put her cup back on the table. Her mouth smiled, her eyes told me to fuck off.

‘I think I’d just get trapped in a loop,’ she said, changing the tone.


‘Time travel. I’d just end up travelling back twenty minutes and eating that dessert over and over again. Or, do you remember that sticky toffee pudding we had in London?! My god. Do you think you lose the calories when you travel back? Or would I just inflate until I’m spherical?’

I laughed, but I was too distracted to do it with the gusto she deserved.

‘I’d go back to that activity week at high school,’ I said without looking at her. ‘You remember when we skipped orienteering?’

‘That was a good day,’ she beamed, grabbing my hands across the table.