All stories


by Russ

Carly eased herself into the table seat. She offered a cursory nod to the lad opposite, then another to the large backpack occupying the seat next to him.

The first thing Kent noticed was her hair. It was frizzy from the rain and brought a great smell into the carriage. He saw her twitch toward him, that weird way Brits seemed to, and flashed his teeth in return.

Attractive, thought Carly, just the right amount of beard growth and perfect teeth. She pushed her hair behind her ears and tried to forget that she’d just said hello to his luggage.

She noticed his book.

‘Orwell?’ Carly heard the word as if someone else had said it.

It took Kent a moment to translate her accent, but he managed to piece it together before asking what an Erwool was. He lifted the paperback in acknowledgement.

‘Bit of research,’ he said. ‘Getting a sense of the culture.’

American. Carly realised she’d never heard one in real life before. She liked it, the accent, which she never thought she would.

‘Animal Farm’s probably not the right choice,’ she said, still not sure she was in control of her words and desperately hoping she didn’t sound condescending. ‘Maybe try Keep The Aspidistra Flying.’

Kent had no idea.

‘Aspidy what?’ he winced at how dumb he sounded. She had kind eyes, he thought.

‘Aspidist….’ Carly paused mid-word. Between the accent barrier and the constant engine drone, this wasn’t going to work. She waved for him to hand her the book and he did. She flipped to the list of Other Works then laid the book flat, facing him, and pointed.

‘As-pid-is-tra,’ he read slowly before looking up.

They made eye contact, something fizzed.

‘Or there’s always The Road to Wigan Pier…’ she giggled, breaking away and looking towards the window, only to end up staring into the eyes of his reflection instead.

‘Wigan. As in the place I just went through? It has a pier?’ Kent was incredulous. “There is no way that town is on the coast.”

‘No, it…’ Carly gave up the explanation, waving the words away with her hand. They were pulling into Deansgate, she twisted to grab her bag.

‘My name’s Kent,’ he held his hand across the table.

‘Carly,’ she returned, once she realised what was going on.

They shook hands, there was a crackle of electricity and they both pulled away. Carly decided she could get off at the next station.

Kent smiled ineffectually and frantically tried to think of something else to say. Carly looked out of the window.

The train terminated at Piccadilly. Kent was nearest the door so Carly followed him off. As they stepped onto the platform he turned around, his oversized bag swinging behind him.

‘Bye, Carly,’ he said, then, for lack of anything else ‘Have a nice, er, night!’

Carly nodded and smiled as he left. Across the platforms she saw the last tram of the night rolling out, knowing she should be stood at Deansgate waiting for it.

Derek and Khalid

by Lewis

The sun beamed. Derek however was not smiling. Hot sweat stung his eyes, already strained from the sunlight. Just a few miles he had been told, by another smiling son, this one from the last town. His shirt cling to him desperately. To the climate, he had not adjusted. But Khalid was waiting. Patiently. Hopefully.

They had met in Fez, terrifying city packed full and still bursting, in one of the bars you could actually get alcohol in. And he had. They had. What the next day felt like most of it in the city. Wakening together to the drone of the call to prayer. Echoing around the empty hotel room, as he shyly got dressed and Khalid had, for some reason to Derek's surprise, prayed. Over breakfast he'd awkwardly mumbled about it and Khakid had smiled his ear to ear grin and said.

“Every Secret in your mind and heart Allah knows it all and nothing you can hide from Allah.” Derek still didn't know if it was a quote or he'd just made it up. But it had sounded good.

That day Khalid had taken him around the stunning city, through ancient narrow paths, brazenly tiled walls looming. Street food he wouldn't normally have dared to touch, or known to ask for for. Then Khalid had taken his arm, and for a moment he was just afraid. Until he realised it was common place for Muslim men to walk like this, so it didn't mean anything. And then they were going their separate ways. Khalid on to Marrakesh and Derek to the desert with the promise of meeting again.

That was 6 days ago and they were due to meet yesterday, but typically of Moroccan public transportation he had missed a connection due to the bus being late. Swiftly followed by someone stealing his rucksack. It had been a bad 24 hours.

He had eventually ended up in a dusty town a few miles outside of the city proper and had decided, somewhat foolishly to walk in. Derek wasn't gay. At least he didn't think he was. Well he thought he hadn't started off this trip gay. But, well he wasn't even sure about that. One thing he was sure of was he wanted to see Khalid. More than he wanted a beer. Or his rucksack back. Or to go home. In fact more than he'd wanted anything for a long, long time.

Eventually the road had got busier and he flagged down a taxi. He had an address scribbled, somewhat clichedly on a napkin. The taxi pulled up and he paid gratefully and generously. But now he was here. And now he wasn't sure what to do.

Khalid would have left already. He had missed his connection. So why was he even still here. But a feeling had started to grow. One that made his heart race when he thought of that night. That made his palms sweat when he thought of that smile. That made his toes curl tight when he thought of those eyes.

He took a breath and knocked the door.

The lost drone of friendship

by James

Alice left the path and pushed her way through the bushy growth of self-seeded ash trees to the bench where her brother’s name was etched into a brass plaque screwed to the back. Her parents could no longer come to see what time had made of it, but her brother would have loved it – the patina of life he’d have said, and boy was this bench dripping with patina.

Alice unclipped the tough fabric shopping bag from her travel backpack and spread it across the tramp-stained surface before she sat. She had a thermos of tea. She had a book. She had a bottle of the vile blue Thundershoot alcopop her brother had always insisted they both down on his birthday. She was good for a couple of hours.

Fifty pages later she looked up to an odd sight. It was a young man, about her brother’s age, and he was pacing up and down alongside the metal railings that fenced the small block of flats opposite her hidey hole. As Alice set her book aside this young man turned decisively towards the flats and climbed the fence. She left the bench and moved to the edge of the tree cover to watch him as he set his own travel backpack on the floor, fiddled about, and then launched a drone into the air with a buzz.

She muttered, ‘Perv,’ as the drone shot skywards, then left, then right, before it made a hurried descent and then was followed by an even more hurried scramble of the young man back over the fence. Alice began to panic, because now the weirdo was making his way with purpose right to where she was lurking in the trees. She began to ease back to the bench where she had left her phone in her bag when he burst through the foliage and then hesitated when he saw her.

He took half a step, paused, squinted then said, ‘Alice…? Is that you? Jesus.’

Alice screwed up her eyes, then slowly realised. ‘Russell? Wow.’

Her brother’s best mate – ever – slowly grinned at her. ‘Alice. You look. Wow. I haven’t seen you in…well.’ His grin widened. ‘This is great! I mean, I went to your parent’s house, but they’ve moved, and that scuppered my plan, you know?’

Alice shook her head. ‘What were you doing, Russell? You know how dodgy you look?’

‘Yeah…’ Russell smiled unceasingly. ‘I had this plan: get another drone, the same kind I bought your brother when he was twenty-two. You know, the one we lost after ten seconds. So then we could come down to the same place where we flew the old one, and I know he’s a stubborn one, but that’s an olive branch, right? Bygones be bygones, we’re still mates. Only, I never counted on your parents having moved, or some wankers building a block of flats right where we flew the last one.’

Russell grinned. ‘But meeting you like this. It’s fate, and I can’t even remember why we stopped speaking to each other.’

Alice said, ‘Russell.’

‘I know how stubborn your brother is, but come on, the two of us, we should-‘

Alice had to raise her voice. ‘Russell!’ She smiled, and in a softer voice, said, ‘Come sit down. There’s a bench.’

Safe travels

by Jenny

The girls were sweaty and exhausted when their train pulled into the station at Brasov. Lucy had pulled them inside the first bar they’d passed, just for somewhere to sit down and get their bearings before they embarked on the next part of their journey. It was a grubby basement bar with strip lights and cheap vodka and Sophie hadn’t wanted to go inside at all.

Lucy had insisted, though, and now, here they were, seven bottles of Ursus beer and countless vodka shots in and giggling at the attempts the men made to flirt with them. Some were locals, but others were travellers like them.

“You’re kidding” slurred Sophie to the handsome, pale man beside her “I can’t believe it - I like drinking too! What a coincidence!” She collapsed into giggles. The pale man just smiled sharply and slid another Ursus in her direction. He was American, he’d said, but he’d been in Brasov for a while now.

“We’re interrailing” Sophie explained. Lucy gave a large yawn and looked around blurrily. “Next stop is Bucharest - we’re meeting some friends of Lucy’s there, thoughI have no idea how we’ll find our way back to the station again,” she giggled.

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you,” said the man. “What time’s your train? It should be dark outside now.”

Sophie squinted at her watch. There was something about the way the man had phrased that last sentence that jarred, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. In the background the jukebox droned out some maudlin country song that weaved its way into Sophie’s mind, tingeing her slight alcohol induced hysteria with the edges of melancholy.

“It’s in about an hour I think - Luce?” Sophie shook her friend by the shoulder to try to shift the glazed look in her eyes. “Train to Bucharest is in an hour - we better go.”

Obediently Lucy stood and cast her eyes around the bar, as if realising where she was for the first time. The girls awkwardly struggled into their travel backpacks. The pale man helped and Sophie noticed his long, dirty nails and the growth of long black hairs along the back of his hand and, when he turned his wrist to lift the rucksack, it seemed just for a moment that they grew on the other side of his hand too. Sophie blinked and the man’s hands were hidden from view again.

Sophie looked around to find some kind of mirror to straighten herself out before they let, but she couldn’t see one anywhere.

Lucy had that glazed look about her again. Sophie would have to take charge. She swallowed the last of her beer and started up the stairs to leave.

“Don’t worry, ladies, I’ll show you the way. It’s so easy to get turned around here in these old winding streets. I’d hate you to get lost and meet the wrong sort of person out here. Follow me.”

His lips turned up in a wolfish, saturnine smile.

He hurried up the stairs ahead of them and peered out, as if checking something. Satisfied he turned and beckoned them to follow.

“It’s fine - it’s dark now. Let’s go.”

“But wasn’t the station the other way?” mumbled Lucy as the girls stumbled blearily after him into the Transylvanian darkness