What They Became

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

For a moment, Mr Andrews stood stock still – dismayed and shocked. Then, with the ice cold water seeping down through his clothes, he lifted the upturned plastic bucket free from his head. The muffled giggling he’d heard start only seconds ago, now became clear in tone.

“Oh Mr Andrews,” came a voice, “We’re so sorry, but we couldn’t resist a classroom prank – not on the day we have returned to visit you specially!” Wiping his eyes with a white handkerchief drawn from his pocket and replacing the spectacles which had become dislodged from the pronounced bridge of his nose, Mr Andrews stared at the two young women in astonishment.

Recognition synchronised with memory. “My God,” he said, dropping the bucket to the floor, “it’s the non-identical Faith twins – Nancy and Trixie!” As he approached the unexpected visitors, Mr Andrews lost his balance, slipping on the floor where a puddle of water now surrounded him – falling forward onto his hands and knees.

“Oops, Mr Andrews! No grip on those shoes!” said Nancy, the more talkative of the two. “Here, let us help you to your feet.” The young women hauled up their former schoolteacher and dragged him over to a chair, located behind a wooden desk at the front of the empty classroom.

“It’s such a surprise to see you both.” He said, pulling at the front of his woollen jumper, checking the level of drench he’d incurred. “It must be four years since I saw you last.”

“That’s about right.” Said Nancy.

“You must have gone through university, what are you both doing now – what have you become?” The twins exchanged a glance containing a glint of wickedness even Mr Andrews – despite his lack of worldly-wise experience, could not miss. “Go on girls, tell me, what have you become..?”

Story Of My Life

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

It was half way through the lunch break. Everyone else had gone outside to eat their sandwiches in the sunshine, leaving just these two colleagues sat together in the admin office, deep in conversation.

“Yeah, well that’s the story of my life, I guess.” Tom looked down at his new sandals, his toes poking through, nails beautifully pedicured – nails he spent much time on, trimming and shaping, occasionally painting. He sensed a hesitation in Barbara.

“It… it’s the story of most shy people, isn’t it? You live out life in your dreams; night-time escapes from the reality that is your life in real life… No?” She rested her hand onto his muscular lower thigh. Long fingers extended encircling his knee, followed by a sharp squeeze, forcing a reflexive leg kick from her quarry.

“Yes, you’re right.” The tall concrete wall guarding Tom’s feelings transformed to shrink-wrapped, stacked cardboard boxes held together by ever weakening package tape. “But don’t you understand? I meet women in my dreams who actually give me their attention – who talk to me and are attracted to me.” Tom paused, taking in a deep breath. “In my dreams, I find myself accompanied on local history museum tours, enjoying restaurant dinners, hand-in-hand walks through the streets of picturesque villages located across south-eastern France. And always finishing-up, late at night, inside an apartment…”

“But Tom!” Barbara interrupted abruptly. “It’s not, real!”

“How can you say for sure it’s not real, Babs? I’m there for between six to eight hours per twenty-four hour day, living a full and bountiful life that I love! Who’s to say it’s this life that’s not reality? Maybe you’re a figment of my non-reality?” Swiftly, Tom spun around in his office chair, which squeaked and groaned under its load. His stomach filled with a rising sense of regret, wishing he had not outburst quite so.

“Oh, I’m not real am I?” Barbara’s face went all serious. “Well Tom, I was going to say I’d be your girlfriend. I’ve fancied you from afar, not letting-on regarding my feelings of affection towards you. Up to now, you’ve featured in several of my fantasies. But, I guess you’re not interested.” She spun away in her own office chair, heading at speed towards the tea and coffee station. “You’re happy enough in a pretend world, I see that this much is clear!”

“Barbara!” Tom yelled, “It’s always you who’s the co-star of my dreams!”

“Oh Tom…” A teardrop rolled down Barbara’s cheek, falling into her mug, fractionally diluting the semi-skimmed milk more so. “You’re just saying that, now.”

No Use Sitting Here Moping

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

My parents’ bodies have been taken over by aliens. It’s come as no surprise to me, really. It’s been happening right across the country, since the beginning of the year. It was only a matter of time – I think even my parents realised this as being so.

Apparently, they’re only here to learn about our world and when they are done, everything will go back to normal. Except they have promised to make the world a better place before they leave, as thanks for us providing them with an unrivalled opportunity to acquire such valuable information. Knowledge they will take back to their world and spread across the universe, during the course of their travels.

The trouble is, there are a few wrinkles needing ironing out. The inhabitance of my parents’ bodies hasn’t been problem free. I mean, what’s with the red eyes? That’s just creepy. It’s not something they have control over, they said. It’s their own natural eye colour – and they need their own eyes to be able to see what’s around them.

In general, I’d say ‘Mother’, is the more curious of the two. Father has become somewhat detached, more so than usual. All he does is exchange small talk with me; it’s become extremely repetitive. He keeps saying how well my hair colour matches my school uniform tie. I mean, how am I supposed to reply to that?

Anyway, I understand these pair will be gone by the end of the month. There’s some sort of rotation thing going on. I may get new ones, or I may not – this hasn’t been explained to me. I can confirm there have been a few improvements. The recycling has certainly been sorted out. Previously, I’d often find a wrong item placed in the recycling box, such as a crisp packet, or teabag. Not anymore, partly because we now have a box for compostable items and also because they’ve simply stopped buying products that either can’t be – or are troublesome to be recycled.

Mother told me today, that when they are completely finished, they’ll take all the weapons and armoury from around the world and refashion the bits that can be used into actually useful objects. I said but people will just make them again and she said no, they won’t – they won’t remember how to. They’ll make us forget. Also, they’ll leave some secrets with us about how to improve the production methods for arable farming and maximise yields. Lastly, they’ll leave some written advice on population control. She said we can’t just keep going on with more people and at our present rate, there’ll be a 3 billion increase in humans populating Earth within the next ten years – and that that is completely unsustainable for a little planet like ours.

Rachel Had Made A Wish

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

“Rachel! What have you done to your stepfather, come out from your bedroom – this instant!” Her mother was upset and angry; Rachel could tell by the familiar tone adopted and the words used. “You’ve cast a spell upon him haven’t you?! What has he done to deserve such a curse, this time?”

Descending the staircase with an understated stomp, Rachel settled on the fourth step, sat down and peered through the banister railings.

“Wait,” she said, “Why? What’s he doing? What’s wrong with him?” She looked across the lounge-diner to where her stepfather Nathan was stood wearing only his pyjama bottoms and moccasin slippers. In answer to her question, he fell down onto one knee and opened both his arms out as wide as he could, palms shaking, his fingers splayed.

“Make ’em laugh! Make ’em laugh!
Don’t you know, everyone wants to laugh?”

Rachel suppressed a satisfied grin, as her mother gave her a look of exasperation.

“He’s been like this all morning; randomly singing several lines from one musical to another! Look!” On cue, Nathan jumped up and hopped around the coffee table in mimic of an adolescent joey marsupial.

“Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is, I ne-ver left you
All through my wil-d days
My ma-d existence
I kept my prom-ise
Don’t keep your distance”

Why Rachel, why?” Her mother asked, through gritted teeth.

“Well, he shouldn’t have been so critical about the ‘Cats’ movie. When I came home last night from seeing it, all he could do was criticise – when he’s not actually seen it.” Rachel rose, gripped hold of and swung around the bottom banister post. Acquiring a gruff voice, she continued. “Too much CGI. Famous actors making fools of themselves. An embarrassment for the Director.”

“I see.” Said her mother. “So, as punishment for your stepfather being… well, his normal-usual-self, you cast a spell on him so that he can only sing hit songs from famous musicals. Is that right, little miss madam?”

“Doe, a deer, a female deer.” Nathan piped in, having mounted the back of the velvet upholstered settee, as if it were a horse.
“Ray, a drop of golden sun
Me, a name I call myself
Far, a long, long way to run
Sew, a needle pulling thread
La, a note to follow so
Tea, a drink with jam and bread
That will bring us back to doe oh oh oh.”

“I made a wish Mummy, not a spell, a wish. He made me angry with his ignorance. I love the film, it’s non-stop entertainment, it’s fun and dreamy…. and it’s about cats. Why do adults have to spoil everything?” Rachel’s mother withdrew to the kitchen, rolled her sleeves and turned on the hot tap, in preparation to wash yesterday evening’s dinner plates, cutlery and wine glasses.

“Well, can you please un-wish him singing these songs? I can feel a migraine coming.”

“In a moment. There’s one more I want to hear.” At this statement, Rachel’s stepfather rolled off the settee and onto the carpet, finishing up clinging to the kitchen door frame. With an earnest, emotional expression fixed, Nathan looked upwards towards the red and white lamp-shaded light, suspended from the kitchen ceiling.

“Me-mory, all alone in the moonlight…”

Not Any More

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

I’d once loved Alec, but not now, not anymore. After six months together, I realised I felt nothing for him, no affection, no real attraction. I didn’t actively dislike him, but a feeling of complete emptiness had taken over. The situation had become undeniable.

Over the last few weeks I’ve drifted away and become less available to him. Soon, I realised I had more fun doing things without him – things I knew he had no interest in. A weekly contemporary dance class I discovered, soon became one such activity. I loved the idea of dancing, but hadn’t attended formal lessons ever before. On impulse, I signed up.

I’m not exactly an outgoing type of person; I prefer the environment of a library as opposed to a nightclub. And yet, since going to the dance class, I’ve felt inhibitions to fall away. One had to let this happen naturally, the teacher had told me. I was not to try to force it or be anything I wasn’t. Over time, he said, I would locate an open door, give myself permission to walk through, and dance.

Class exercises were designed to facilitate bonding. I can still recall the sense of trepidation when I fell backwards for the first time – and with my eyes closed, into the arms of my partner Mira. We were instructed to repeat; the predictability of simply falling backwards eventually gave way to a random, physical collapse. Each time Mira would catch me and from there, a dance routine evolved, set to music played on piano by the choreographer. We swapped roles back and forth. Our improvisation received encouragement, gained complexity, while remaining effortless.

You see, I’m not sure if I’ve described this adequately – but placed altogether, it was an incredible experience. To put it this way… that’s when I fell in love with Mira.

Can’t Stop Loving

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

I first saw him at the Museum of Contemporary Feculence, in West Harbourlarborough. I’d been admiring the world’s largest pile of dung, shaped into a ball.

Impressed, I sought out the information label. Ultimately, it turns out to have been commissioned by the museum’s chief director, following the concept’s successful progress through several qualifying stages. Praised for failing to shy away from the subject matter, the selection panel’s final decision had been unanimous.

As I contemplated the work’s remarkable facts and figures listed alongside the display information, I became vaguely aware of a significantly sized yellow barnet, seemingly hovering in the air alongside me. When I turned to look, I saw a pair of beautiful, piercing green eyes looking out from underneath, a perfectly God-like symmetrical face and the reddest lips I’ve ever wanted to kiss.

“Hey fella,” I said, “What do you think?”

Label

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage.

Melanie had given thought to exactly what time she’d arrive at the post office. On top of the usual business post, money withdrawals and general enquiries, with the season’s festivities in full swing, one might expect a very long weight indeed. Eleven forty-five accounted for a decent margin of error ahead of the morning rush hour and before any sensible person’s lunch break. Pulling the front door towards her, she could see two people already in the queue and an elderly gentleman gathering up some paperwork about to leave.

Not a perfect walk in – walk out, she thought to herself with a barely audible sigh, but hey, it’s that time of year, I could have joined a line leading out of the shop and around the corner! Challenging initial, negative automatic thoughts had become a habit for Melanie only recently. She imagined her therapist observing, seated in a wingback armchair surrounded by clouds, hands resting on lap, a satisfied expression evident.

Looking ahead of the man in front of her, she scrutinised the retirement aged woman now at the front, approaching the counter and unhooking a large leather handbag from her shoulder. Melanie pondered to the reason for the visit and how well organised the transaction would unfold. Please keep small talk to an absolute minimum, she imagined herself saying through a young child’s toy megaphone.

“Good morning to you, Mr Chaudrey – it is still morning isn’t it?”

The postmaster examined his wristwatch. “Good morning Mrs Dumbrelle, yes – just about so.”

“I have some cards to send off, some normal ones to England, one to brother George in America and one to my son and daughter-in-law in New Zealand. So I need to sort through these and make sure I put the right stamp on the right envelope.” Clasp unclipped, a hand delved inside.

“That’s alright, take your time, I can help you.”

“Thank you, that’s very kind. My eyesight’s not what it used to be,” Mrs Dumbrelle’s foraging continued with a mild air of frustration.

Resigned, turning away, Melanie scrutinised the display shelves on the wall. Considerable stock presented in neat rows of different coloured post-it notepads, disposable ball-point pens and envelopes available in a variety of sizes, failed to raise her spirits. A minuscule flicker on the fluorescent strip light directly above, drew her gaze upwards. Why, she wondered, would you cover the ceiling and walls in a lurid green paint?

She watched as Mrs Dumbrelle thumbed through her retrieved cards, holding each one up to squint closely at the hand-written addresses, before sliding them through the gap under the glass screen towards the postmaster. Melanie’s gaze blurred. After several seconds had passed, a small white rectangular shape appealed for her attention. Uncertainty snapped her back into fully engaged consciousness and she identified a clothing label, sticking out from the collar of the man in front.

The upside down script font presented no obstacle for reading the label, despite its frayed edges. Even so, she did not recognise the brand, while the “L” printed within a black circle seemed a right enough sizing, going by the man’s stature.

The label.

Now seen, she couldn’t place it outside of her mind. The magazines she had no interest in, lining racks to her right, had little chance of providing any solace. Then she remembered her phone, slid it out of a pocket, unlocked the screen and began opening a series of icons. Okay… she thought, no new notifications on Facebook. Let’s check Instagram… no… no new posts there since this morning, I need to follow more people. Snapchat, no nothing, emails nothing. Christ, just that tiresome label sticking out, that’s all there is that’s new in my world right now.

Melanie began reasoning with herself. If someone tapped on my shoulder to tell me my label was sticking out, I’d be grateful. It’s never happened to me, but if it did, I would turn around and immediately thank that person – even if they were a complete stranger. But then – that’s me. What would someone else think? Who can I text and ask? Her best friend Taylor came to mind. So, how would she phrase her text?

Hey Taylor, you ok? I’m stuck in the post office, this guy in front of me, his jacket label is sticking out, do you think it’s ok for me to just tuck it back in?

No, delete-delete-delete.

So, I’m in a queue with a guy in front of me and his jacket label is sticking out. Should I ask him if it’s ok for me to tuck it back in for him? That’d be ok, wouldn’t it?

A photo, Melanie decides, would seal the message, demonstrate the pressing need for appropriate action to be taken. Holding her phone up, close to the back of the man, she tapped the screen to focus the image, then pressed the red button to take the photo.

Next moment, there was a ka-shick sound that cut through the post office customer area. Melanie had forgotten to engage the silent mode function on her phone. “Oh cripes!” she said – bringing her hand holding the phone down quickly and her free hand, as the man turned around, up to cover her mouth.

“Did you just take a photo of the back of my head?” He asked, staring at Melanie quizzically.

Nick and Giles

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage

Finally… after months of managerial negotiations and organising, the band found themselves amongst the palatial surroundings of Priory Studios, attempting to cut their ‘difficult’ second album. Most of Nick’s material up to now, had gone onto the first, the success of which – and resulting storming of the charts, had taken everyone by surprise. Not least of all, Nick himself. What material had been left over, he felt dissatisfied with, certain something more sophisticated and progressive was required. The problem? No one else in the band seemed to care or understand what was needed. All the other members had demonstrated a clear intent to indulge their new-found lifestyles to excess, without any thought for the future, as far as Nick could tell.

Everyone that is, except Giles.

Over the recent months of touring and appearances, a symbiosis of minds had taken place between Nick and Giles. It was something they had achieved unconsciously and had only come to openly acknowledge, since arriving in their current location of north-west London. Here, from the off, their creativity thrived. As a multi-instrumentalist, Giles stood in on percussion, keyboards or bass guitar, whenever the other band members were absent – which turned out to be often. Nick concentrated on the song-writing and song structure, with the two of them staying on late into the night, into the early morning, just to get an elusive detail right. And, when they had it, they felt that moment at the exact same time.

Several weeks into recording, the other band members began to recognise a change in the dynamic they’d previously been familiar with. Granted, they had wafted around town for much of the time, frequented bars and attended parties. But they had expected to be called in, to put time into the sessions. When this didn’t happen – and when the band were all together, the atmosphere was noticeably different. Initially, complaints arose – they felt marginalised, they said. Accusations and protests followed, resulting in extended sulks and absences. The situation could not be sustained.

Finally, with the two of them stood smoking outside the studio, early morning sunshine gently laying warmth on both of their faces… the inevitable happened.
“Giles,” Nick said, taking his time to form his sentence, “I think, this is the last recording the band will put together. It’s time we split, and formed our own band, just the two of us.”
“Yeah,” said Giles, “totally agree.”

How We Met and Why It Works

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage

Bertrand’s story…
“We first met at a weekly meditation class. On this particular evening, the teacher had facilitated a discussion about the practice of mettā in meditation. How the creation of benevolent thoughts, wishing peace, openness of the heart, healing and love were beneficial. During the talk, several people had contributed with questions, while others shared their own interpretations. Me? I knew little about the subject. Yet, as I sat there listening, an internal visualisation played through my mind showing a virtuoso musician in full flow with their instrument. I did my best to convey to the assembled, how this felt to me like an expression of mettā. The teacher received my comment well, which left me feeling encouraged. After the session had finished, Mary approached me and said how she’d enjoyed and related to my comment. We left the class together and walked around town. After an hour and a half of conversation, the clarity of her uncomplicated intellectualism had made a big impression on me. So much so, that the idea to ask for her hand in marriage came to me on that very first evening. I resisted, and when we parted, I felt genuinely satisfied with the idea of seeing her again, the following week.”

Mary’s story…
“The usual comment I get is about the age difference between us. There’s a thirty year gap. The next question usually alludes to the possibility that I am only with him for his money. Go on, kill me. I admit that financial security has been a factor – but you know what? Bertrand understands this too. Broadly speaking, I believe that successful relationships are based on considered trade-offs, or perhaps more accurately ‘trades-between’. This, and naked honesty – a trait I see as seriously lacking in most relationships I know. For sure, this comes with challenges. I find these challenges help nurture a mutual sense of engagement and responsibility within the relationship.
Married to an older man, I find I am appreciated for far more than just my body and good looks. I don’t feel a pressure to try to look beautiful. Bertrand has no hidden agenda. With past boyfriends, “sex” has usually topped the list – and as often as possible. Yes, he has a healthy libido; he’s also open-minded. But he is not obsessed with sex – I don’t wake in the morning to find him dry-humping my leg! Bertrand is interested in every aspect of my ‘self’ and I find this deeply gratifying. I count myself lucky to have met such a wonderful and caring husband.”

We Were Happy, Until…

From a series of short form fictions taking inspiration from collage

It all started yesterday, when I took Buckley out for his regular early evening walk. Despite the squally wind churning the mist around, we were enjoying ourselves – as we always do. Buckley is a lovely little fella, a real good boy.

Everything seemed just fine and we were happy, until…

Who were those characters up ahead of us? They were pointing in our direction and clues provided by their general body language, indicated a considerable degree of consternation – or at least some sort of collective uneasiness.

For several moments, I felt taken over by a disorientation similar to what I’ve experienced in my dreams sometimes, when I find myself simply unable to make any sense out of the situation no matter how hard I try. Were they calling to me – or talking amongst themselves? Were they actually scared of Buckley and I?

“Come on Buckley,” I said to my furry companion, “we’ve not done anything wrong, nothing to warrant an intervention of any kind – not from a group of utter strangers.” Buckley sneezed and shook his head. Then, looking up at me, he beamed a cheery expression. Immediately, I felt encouraged and broke into a confident stride.