All stories

Follow the star

by Lewis

“It's ok, go ahead. Just follow the arrow.” The words seemed so simple, so assured. Ahead of me, with each footstep, the bridge seemed to tremble as cracks of light kissed my soles. It was a short walk, 50 steps forward, but it seemed like an eternal fall on either side. You couldn’t fall, the book said. You just had to keep walking.

I still don’t know where the book came from, it was just another boring morning. Strange things didn't happen to me, i have always just got by, not great, not bad just getting along. But then when I woke up, there was a parcel, addressed to me. And inside was the book. No author or publication details, just on the back ‘made by a falling star’ who I guess must have been the publishers. I thought it was just junk mail at first, but when i looked closer it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Unlike anything I’ve ever read. The words seemed to dance across the page. The amazing thing was each time you opened it it said something new, a different message. And each message was written to me. There were no electronics, no secret pages. My mind refused to comprehend the evidence in front of me. And yet each time i opened it i knew it was talking to me. How else could it know the things it knew, the worries, the dream sihad, if anything it seemed to read me. I told no-one about it. I started to change that day. To grow if you like. It was little things at first, the way I held my head, the way I walked. People seemed to take more notice, to actually listen rather than pretend.

You know how sometimes you’ll see something on social media that really hits home. Well i guess it was like that. But without any of the nonsense. And personal, it seemed to know things about me before I did. I met someone, a friend of a guy in work, and it had been going well. But the book knew he wasn't right for me. That was when it had first mentioned the journey. The next stage I guess. The more it told me about this journey the more I wanted it. My faith seemed to grow everyday. It didn't say how long it would take, it just told me what day to leave.

I didn't tell work, or my new boyfriend, the book told me not to worry. And now here I was, following the arrows across a narrow bridge, approaching a door cut into a sheer rock face. But I was happy, confident and why shouldn’t I be. Isn't this exactly what the book had said would happen.

Behind the door was, well, that’s what I was about to find out. The book said it would open and as long as i did not look down i believe. “It's ok, open it. Everything will change once you go through that door. Trust me.” As I approached the door swung open, it wasn't dark inside, it was glowing, as bright as a star. It felt like I should be hot, but I wasn't. Everything seemed exactly as it should be. So i walked through and the door shut behind me

Give a dog a bad name

by Dan

“Richard the third was the most misunderstood king in history, which only goes to prove that history is written by the victors!” concluded the history channel professor.

“You can say that again” said Rick glumly, he felt kinship with his much-maligned and hunchbacked namesake.

Rick was a good man, he visited his mum, he gave to charity, he’d even adopted a rescue dog with Tourette’s which he called Rusty.

His career as a racing driver had started well, he’d quickly become established on the cross-country race scene, with Rusty aboard as mascot in his car The Keen Machine .

Then he’d met her. The girl who stole his dreams. She had joined the circuit a few weeks before, the only female, beautiful and flirtatious. She seemed to like him, laughing at his shy, inexpert jokes and listening while he taught her about chicanes and overtaking.

Then on the night before the big race, she’d sidled in to his trailer, looking a million dollars. “Hey Sweetie” She cooed “How about you and me become a little old team?” She explained her plan, it was ingenious, fool-proof! They’ed be the stars of the circuit, the celebrity couple it needed! All they needed to do first was bend the rules a little.

Rick hesitated, cheating wasn’t in his nature. He’d worked hard and wanted to get to the top fairly but suddenly all he could think about was her. So before the race he switched the signs just as she’d instructed, later slowing down to let her win.

What a fool.

She cut him dead in the paddock and by the next day his reputation was in ruins, a fallen star who bought shame on the profession!

But it didn’t end there. For while she was soon starring in her own TV series, his reputation as some kind of incompetent supervillain grew into a tidal wave of defamation.

Even when he volunteered during wartime to take on a dangerous mission intercepting enemy carrier pigeons they belittled him, making him seem more venal amateur than vital cog. Impressionists exaggerated his voice and the name of both him and his dog were changed by the media to fit the characterisation the world had given them.

They drifted from odd job to cheap motel but everywhere they went they were haunted by his reputation.

“Hey Fella! Didn’t you used to be Dick Dastardly?” the motel receptionist had asked this morning.

It was the final straw! “My name is Richard, Richard Rastingly!” he’d roared.

When, in response his faithful but tourettes-affected dog, gave his usual retort which sounded like a mocking laugh. Rick lost all patience and for the first time in their long acquaintance launched into an enraged tirade before biffing the poor creature violently, which was incidentally, exactly what the receptionist expected.

Now, an hour later Rick turned off the TV set and turned to the mutt.

“Rusty, old boy” he said “I’m sorry about what I said, you’re not a snickering, floppy-eared hound at all. Can’t we be friends again?”

But Rusty continued to cast a sulky silhouette the corner of the motel room whilst mumbling to himself “sashafrasharasha Rick Rastingly”.

Rick sighed and went back to secret book he was writing entitled “Ways to murder Penelope Pitstop”. “Chapter 6” he began, “Dropping Anvils”.

Henry's book

by Jenny

As starry eyed teenagers Henry’s dreamy, far away look had been mysterious. Romantic. He had drawn her in, an oasis of calm in her chaotic world. They had been happy together, for a time.

But whimsy and daydreams don’t put bread on the table or pay the mortgage. Someone had to pull them through the real world somehow. Clara had led and Henry, blinking and dazed, had reluctantly followed.

He was always writing in his secret little books or staring distractedly into space. When he was talking to her, he seemed like he was half listening to a story only he could hear.

If he ever caught her trying to read what he wrote in his book, he’d gently close it, shoot her a sad, reproachful look and tuck it safely away.

For 40 years Clara believed that if she could only read his writing, she would finally understand the man. But he always gave her the same answer; she could read it when he wasn’t around anymore. Until then she’d have to make do with the real thing, and wasn’t that better than paper and ink?

At first he’d laugh as he spoke, drawing her in for a kiss. But she grew tired of evasiveness and soon found ways to pull away.

And so the resentment grew and by the night of the crash they had barely spoken to one another for years. Clara wondered if Henry even noticed.

They crashed on a tiny country road with no streetlights, because Henry had been distracted by a falling star. Clara hadn't really been listening. He was always rambling about something. They were both alright, but the car was totalled, their map useless.

With nothing to point the way, she picked a direction and started to walk, Henry trailing behind, pointing out constellations and interesting leaves until, finally, Clara snapped.

“I don’t care about leaves Henry. I don’t know where we are. I’m cold, I’m scared and I just want everything to be alright.”

He smiled at her then, like he used to, calm, reassuring. He moved towards her and told her that of course everything was alright. Everything was always alright.

But she threw his arms off and walked on, furiously brushing at tears.

Ten minutes later, when Clara had found herself in a small village with a tiny inn, glowing with rosy, welcoming light, she realised Henry hadn’t followed her after all.

Well it would serve him right to spend the night in the cold on his own. He was daft but not stupid. He’d find her here before the night was out.

But Clara woke up to find herself alone for the first time in forty years. She got up. She rolled her eyes in exasperation, but secretly the first pricklings of fear had begun in her gut. She dressed and retraced her steps until she found the spot they had argued. Where she had left him.

On the floor, Clara spotted Henry’s secret little book, abandoned. She bent to pick it up, slowly, nerves thrilling with fear and anticipation. For the first time she finally had her chance - she was alone with the paper and ink that would finally give her the key to unlock the man, to understand him at last.

But the man was gone.

How Do You Catch a Falling Star

by Russ

Craig stared into the mirror, laser focussed on the embarrassment of wispy hair growing in patches between the top of his lip and the bottom of his nose. He strained the muscles behind it, hoping somehow he could push more out, but succeeded only in distorting his face into the image of some cartoon animal which desperately needed the toilet. A wheezy groan escaped as the effort finally released itself, like air from a badly tied balloon.

The knock on the door shocked him back into the room.

‘Craig, you OK in there?’ The enquiry was kind, with a coating of impatience.

‘I’m fine, mum!’ The response was too defensive, as Craig realised he’d been locked in the bathroom for twenty minutes and his mum had just heard him grunting.

‘Ok,’ she finished, soft and firm at the same time. ‘Your sister needs her bath.’

‘I’ll be out in a minute.’ there was still a petulance in Craig’s tone, but it was slipping into resignation.

The interrupted boy looked around himself, sighed, and tidied away his dad’s shaving kit, deciding to give it another week and see what happened. Checking there were no more incriminating signs to be found, he flushed the loo, and let himself out. His mum had gone downstairs, but his little sister stood on the landing, making an annoying ‘What have you been doing?’ face as he walked past. Craig made sure to give her a little push with his shoulder, unbalancing her enough that she fell against the wall.

‘Wanker!’ she shouted.

‘Alicia!,’ the admonishment rose up the stairs. Now it was Craig’s turn to make a face, as he pulled the handle of his bedroom door, and exited the scene.

Craig sat on his bed and picked up his laptop, still displaying on his Facebook feed the photo which had inspired the bathroom excursion in the first place. Jenny Banks all wrapped around the neck of Ollie Forshaw, gazing lovingly up at his stupid moustached face. How had he grown that? He was the year below, it wasn’t fair!

Opening another tab on his browser, Craig started searching. Maybe there was a secret book, or something, with an easy to follow How to Grow Facial Hair guide, all graphics and arrows pointing the way.

Laying back on his bed, Craig switched from big Facebook to little Facebook and scrolled down to the same image with his phone. He clicked on Jenny’s name and started flicking through her carefully curated profile pictures; always smiling, always arms around someone, or light reflecting off her sunglasses, which was some achievement, considering they lived in Carlisle. Most importantly, no Ollie, him and his fuzzy lip were a new addition.

Craig clicked back until that photo reappeared, How do you catch a falling star? Jenny had captioned it, followed by a string of heart eyed emojis.

‘Hopefully with his fucking face,’ Craig quipped to the screen, which remained nonplussed, and unconciously rubbed a finger along his lip.

in the dirt

by James

It was funny, all four of us lads didn't give a shit, so why were we so dead set on waking up at three in the morning, sneaking out of the hostel then walking twenty minutes just to step on some beans? I wanted to stay in my bed. Good it was to sleep somewhere quiet, without the sirens, or the screams of junkies fighting over a milligram to jolt me from slumber. Instead it was a guy called Neil who called me pussy when I hesitated to spring from my bed in the middle of the light.

My plan was to go with them, to kick my feet about enough to get my shoes scuffed up, but Neil said we all had to, then all of us were into it together. None of us could snitch on the others, right? Not even the light of a falling star, all our faces in shadow, but I knew he was looking at me.

We'd spent the whole day planting those little shoots. First the old guy had us clearing the weeds, then he had us loosen it up with a flat piece of metal on the end of the stick. Then he had us touch it. That was disgusting. Billions and billions of tiny creatures living in that dirt, and then he told us how in the old days people actually used to grow all their food in dirt, and if that wasn't enough, they trained animals to take a dump in, fertiliser see.

That was the first time the old guy smiled. We all had our hands in the dirt, Neil had some up close to his face to see what it smelled like, and then the old guy said how there were no handy animals in these parts, just him, so...

That's when the detention guards who were there to watch over us started to roll about laughing.

I gritted my teeth as the first shoots crunched beneath the soles of my shoes. His fault it was, and even if he hadn’t been taking a shit in the dirt it was the principle of the thing. If the gods had a big secret book of idiots our names would have been down it, couldn’t have that.

Course not. Guys like me and Neil, tearaways us, we’d have been out there in the dark no matter if the old man had given us chocolates and cake and beer. For guys like us it’s like there’s an arrow pointing – this way to be little shits.

But so long as I feel bad about it, right? So long as next morning I head back there and help the old man rake the dirt smooth and gather up the broken stakes and stop him before he digs through the dirt where Neil really did take a shit, right?