All stories

Round and Round

by Claire

~ Where am I going?

~ To 1975.

~Where is that?

~ It’s on Earth.

~ Why have I got to go there?

~ Because we found some words.

~ You need to tell me more.

~The words say “the wheels on the bus go round and round “.

~ What does that mean?

~ We don’t know, that’s why you’re going to 1975. The words are from 1975 – they seem to be important. We found them on a piece of paper.

~ Paper?

~ Yes... it’s… something used for books…well that’s where we found the words and we think they must be very important, so we need to know what they mean.

~ I see. How do I find out?

~ You’ll just go back to 1975 and see what you find.

~ What if I can’t find anything?

~ We think you will – we hope you will. It’s important, the words may matter very much. We are stuck and we need to get going and the words say that the wheels are going round and round…. our wheels have stopped and without our wheels we can’t survive.

~ Right, yes, ok…you’ve made your point.

Mariska followed the commander to the pod, where he lifted the hatch and checked the dials before helping her in. Mariska was nearly too big for the chair but managed to shuffle herself in and buckle up. The commander closed her visor and smiled before giving her the thumbs up.

The commander closed the door of the pod.

~ Ready?

~ Ready.

~ 3…2…1…. GO!

With a flick of a switch Mariska tumbled and floated and bumped her way all the way back (or forward) to 1975. On coming to a stop she climbed from the pod, unlocked her visor, opened the door and stepped out onto a pavement. The sky was blue and studded with billowing white clouds, a watery sun peeked out every now and again in between bursts of fine warm rain that released a petrichor aroma. On the road, cars and lorries and all kinds of wheeled transport drove by. Mariska had never experienced anything like it. There were buildings and trees and animals and so may things, endless things. Rumblings and roarings, screechings and beepings, laughing and barking and somewhere, the sound of bells in the distance. Gigantic hoardings covered in technicoloured pictures of beautiful people and sparkly things. The people, they were everywhere, big and small, pink and black, old and young, laughing and frowning.

Mariska walked for hours. In the beginning she tried to look for the words, but the distractions were many and in the end she forgot. 1975 was fantastic. By the time Mariska stopped wandering it wasn’t even 1975 anymore and she had friends and a job. By the time she discovered where the words belonged it was 1982 when she heard her daughter’s teacher singing them in the classroom. Mariska never got back to the Pod.

500 years later the commander called Mariska’s many times great granddaughter into the control room.

~ It’s time.

~ Where am I going?


The order of things

by Dan

Lars sat with his raincoat upon his lap and books neatly piled in a leather satchel.

Unnoticed by the noisy throng.

At each stop more Wickstead kids got on and piled upstairs hooting and steaming and yelping as they bounded out of the morning rain.

Lars stayed downstairs.

He remembered Debra and how she had seemed kind at first, dark hair and pretty and neat. She’d smiled at him.

In his satchel were his sandwiches, Egg and cress. His set of protractors. The three exercise books with his name neatly written across the front.

He had given Debra his apple and for four days she’d sat beside him.

Then, one day she’d sat upstairs with Kevin Hammond and the football lads and had stood with them when they took his satchel off him and threw its contents into a puddle. She had walked away with them afterwards, laughing.

It was an incident which had greatly influenced Lars. The change in Debra was one he became adept at noticing in the quiet, neat, new girls of subsequent classes.

So he had retired into a world where he could exert control over the order of things. At least in his mind.

He was always suitably attired for any weather. He stayed in at playtime. He never wandered far from teachers. He formed the kind of exterior that people looked through without noticing.

As the bus turned into Colhurst Drive Lars checked his watch 8.42 Two minutes behind schedule.

Sitting two seats in front of him was a new girl, Sian Bassett. She had dark hair and was quiet like Debra. She got off at the stop before school to walk across the tree lined recreation ground rather than spend five minutes more on the bus.

Lars stayed on and got off at the school as he always did.

He entered through the main gates and noticed Sian enter through the back door at exactly the same time. The sea of other children washed around him carrying him by invisible force to his own desk.

He carefully placed his things upon his desk and cleaned his glasses. A few seconds later Mrs Banks entered, rushing, slapdash, late as per usual.

Lars got up put the kettle on and closed the door behind them. Mr L. Jonsen, School Bursar, said the small metal name plate upon the door.

He began looking through the termly budgets, eager to spot any cyclical trends that were out of the normal order. It was not widely known that the bursar had, attended the school himself many years before.

He would leave early that day, when the kids left, as he occasionally did. Mrs Banks said these early departures were the only unpredictable thing about him.

The next day the community was shocked to hear that another girl had lost her life whilst taking the shortcut home across Wickstead Marshes. That made 13 in 38 years. The killer always seemed to wait for memory to subside. For people to hope against hope that the fiend would now be too old to strike again.

And everytime it happened, the mothers of Debra Watkins and Sue Rice and Elaine Jacobi and Alice Morton and Ruby Higgins and Eloise Phelps and Leah Frankel and the others were forced to endure their own sickening grief once more.


by Jenny

They pour out into the rainy October afternoon all at once, rupturing the silence with their shrieks and shouts; the clatter of patent leather shoes on tarmac and the palpable sense of excitement of bright young things unleashed at last into the wild.

They swarm through the gates laughing and chatting, walking home in pairs or threes, or queuing up for the school bus at the corner.

Joseph sits on a bench outside holding up a newspaper that he is not reading. Anyone paying attention would see that the newspaper is at least a week old and that it is the same newspaper Joseph has been reading here on this bench every day this week, every day since he finally got out. He peers over the top of his dog-eared paper, a flickering urgency behind his bright eyes as he scans the crowd. They move together in shoals, a bubbling mass of rucksacks and acne and energy.

Not that he knows what he is looking for. Would her hair be brown, like his? Or red like her mother’s? Would she be tall for her age? Popular, or a loner? Something deep in Joseph’s chest tells him that when he sees her he will know her instinctively. There are some things you just know, aren’t there?

He pictures the moment often. She will come out alone, maybe, and look up at him, noticing him immediately, their eyes catching. He will stand up and she will know him at once. He will take her for ice-cream and of course they’ll get on like a house on fire. It will have to be a secret at first, but once her mother sees how well it worked she’d soon change her mind and let him see her properly. Maybe she could even come to stay with him sometimes...

But none of the children looks his way. He peers into faces looking for evidence of his nose, or of Ruth’s pale freckled skin, her upturned mouth. But all these children feel like strangers to him.

He sees a crowd of parents eyeing him warily from across the road, all Joules coats and Radley bags. Well sod them. He has as much right to be here as them, let them stare.

Gradually the crowds of kids begin to drain away, as they do every day, the shouts and laughter growing fainter, the belching school bus labouring its way around the corner and out of sight again. Was she on it? He doesn’t know where Ruth lives now, isn’t allowed to know, they’d told him.

Finally when every child is gone and the light is beginning to fade, Joseph stands resignedly to make his way back to his little room in the hostel. But he makes sure to neatly fold up his paper and slip it into his back pocket so he can use it again tomorrow.

Mia Looked at Kevin

by Russ

Mia looked at Kevin and wondered if they’d said everything to each other already. Kevin forked a prawn into his mouth, oblivious. This was Mia’s least favourite part of the cycle because it meant that she’d have to make a decision. She actually much preferred it when the other person got here first and made the choice for her. It stung, sure, but it was a lot easier.

Kevin felt the gurgle in his guts which told him he was going to need to skip out again for a few minutes. He stabbed at every remaining piece of shellfish he could find to make sure he got them all down while they were still warm. He hoped this wouldn’t be the time that finally caused Mia to lose patience with him. He gulped at the wine, made an apologetic face, and left.

Mia had loved the earlier parts of a relationship since the days of flirting on the school bus. There was a thrill in the game, and the tension, and experiencing new physical connections - which surprisingly she found never went away, no matter how experienced she became - but it was being embroiled in two people saying new things to each other that she really loved.

Kevin sighed as the rainy sound of gut sludge dripped into the bowl beneath him. This was a cruel curse for someone who enjoyed eating as much as he did, and it didn’t do him any favours in the romance department either. Who wants to be with someone who can barely make it through a starter without having to open the bomb bay doors? His belly rumbled.

Mia wanted that sharing of information stage to last forever, she wanted to always be challenged and stimulated by points of view she hadn’t heard, to be warmed by fresh stories. The problem was that people’s experiences and opinions are a finite resource. Eventually, they’re going to have used up all the ones they already have and need to make more, and from here they’d have to do that together.

Kevin smiled conciliatorily at Mia as he sat back down, then looked over the noodles in his bowl as he contemplated what they were going to do to him. He could probably make it until the dish was clean if he swallowed briskly and didn’t use too much time speaking. He tried to think of a question to ask Mia which didn’t involve addressing the discontented look on her face.

Mia never got the same satisfaction from shared stories. If she’d been a participant, the other person’s view would either be hers or it would be wrong. What was the point? She tried not to look piteously toward Kevin as she made her decision to start a new rotation.

Kevin covered up his muteness by shovelling stringy lumps of food into the space where his words should have been. He could already feel himself tightening. He squirmed a little.

Mia opened her mouth to speak. Kevin spotted her tone by the way her shoulders moved.

Kevin preempted the incoming threat.

‘I’m sorry, I know it’s…’

Mia put her hand up, shook her head, and interrupted.

‘...not you. It’s me.’

Mugs game

by James

Another year, another tech conference, but this time it would be different for Arnold. This time he had his lucky pants, and these were bona fide absolutely one hundred per cent certs, or his money back, so said Marmaduke from the dating forum. Sure, it sounded a little far fetch, but each of the eight guys who had rented them swore up and down they had scored, so…

But not just the pants that were going to swing it for Arnold on this rainy day in Birmingham. Last year he had been a mere boy on a school bus - of course the demo girls were going to laugh, they were paid to hand out free USB sticks as a room of sweating geeks stuttered about what they had bruised on their fall from heaven.

This time around Arnold was going to keep it real. He was going to make eye contact, he was going to smile. He figured that if he hit every one of the two hundred and seventy demo stands he had to click with at least one woman, and then they’d get together for a drink and then he would casually mention he had a room in that very hotel, and then they would…well, Marmaduke would be proud of him.

His plan was to play it cool, to suss out the lie of the land. When the very first booth girl smiled at him he was over like a shot. He parroted the forum advice in his head: look into her eyes, make her feel as though she is the most important person in the room. Hold her gaze, and if you have to blink then do it slowly, because that way it’s almost like hypnosis. This girl’s eyes were a rich dark brown and there were flecks of jade that twinkled at him as he gazed. Her eyes were wide and oh so lovely. Each that time that she blinked and looked away he was ready with his laser like slow blinking stare for when she looked back at him.

He left the stand with a free mug and a slight spring in his step. He might not have said a word, but all that deep eye gazing was sure to have sown a seed. At the next booth he tried sliding his eyes from her face down her body in a sensuous manner that suggested nights of tango and roses under some Latin sky. He had mentally prepared himself for the slightly too small crisp white shirt with four buttons undone but was knocked from his stride by the faint edges of pink lace framing her chest. Deep inside his head the forum advice mangled and he found himself locked in a staring contest with her chest trying to use his slow blinking to hypnotise her breasts.

The free mug he came away with was a beaut though.

Eight hours later and he was back where he started – alone in his hotel room wearing only his lucky pants. No way that he could go on the forum and say he struck out, but come on, the day hadn’t been a total bust. It might have taken him six or seven trips, but eighty free mugs, that wasn’t a bad haul at all.