Sideways Face, short story 869 words

“So?” I’d asked, “You have a sideways face. I couldn’t care if your face was upside down, or on the other way around, I would still like to buy you a coffee.”

“Thank you, I’ll need a straw.” she replied graciously.

“Yes, I understand.”

Returning to the table and taking my place in a chair opposite her, we chatted about the weather and a recent election result for the presidency of a fledgling democracy.  With the conversation flowing, I began asking questions from an orderly list I’d compiled inside my head.

Question: Had she been born this way or was it due to an accident, later in life?

Answer: It’d happened when she was young.

Question: How old was she when she realised she was different from everyone else?

Answer: About 6 years of age.

Question: Had she discovered any advantages of her situation?

Answer: None she could be sure of.

Question: Was getting a good fitting hat, a problem?

Answer: Yes, headscarves were favoured.

Question: What was it like to kiss on an x and y axis?

Answer: Did I want to try?

“Do I want to try?” I couldn’t believe my luck, “Really?”

“Here,” she said, motioning with her hand, “move a little away from the table.”

I did as I was told and as the chair legs scraped across the wooden boards, we both screwed up our respective faces, wincing at the uncomfortable sound.

“That’s better.” she said, after positioning herself on my lap and sliding her arm around the back of my neck. I placed my hand on her knee to add stability, while my other arm travelled around her lower back and finished, resting on her hip.

“There, this is good.” I said, satisfied with the completion of the manoeuvre. “Right; down to business then.”

“Look, I know you said you wanted to try the kiss on the x and y axis, but to be honest, it’s better if we both pucker our lips slightly.” She puckered her lips slightly, to demonstrate.

Gazing into her right eye I smiled, before moving in closer while holding my breath. As I did this, an involuntary reflex caused my head to tilt in an indecisive manner, first one way and then sharply to the opposite side. I could see her smooth, glistening lips puckering up, drawing me onwards to my goal.

Yet somehow, the intended objective was derailed as my mouth crash-landed onto the tip of her nose, slipping across her nostrils. In a vain attempt to correct the trajectory, I jerked my head sharply away to the left and plunged forward again. This time, with eyes closed, my lips landed squarely on her medial cleft. Much to my relief and exercising outstanding deftness, she grasped hold of my chin between her thumb and index finger, giving it a gentle wiggle, until both my top and bottom lip finally slid over hers and suction took over.

Taking breaths between kissing, she whispered to me asking “What do you think, are you enjoying yourself?”

“Of course I am,” I replied, “You’re out of this world.”

Shortly after this, I lost consciousness, feeling the strength dissolving away from my bones as she held my head between her hands and with one swift movement, rested me gently onto the table top.

Imagery of this incredible woman, filled the next few hours of a delirious dream.  As seated, North African musicians produced a rhythmic, looping and hypnotic drone, her body moved swirling through the flickering haze of leaping flames. In the pungently perfumed air all around her, glowing embers floating up from the campfire danced with flying insects drifting across the twilight sky. Finally, the sound and vision melded together into a blur and I found myself awake, once more.

While establishing focus, I was able to make out her form, standing proudly in front of me, her chest pushed out and displaying a broad smile across her face. Why hadn’t I noticed what a gorgeously engaging smile she had? What’s more, her eyes sparkled with a pure sense of joy and excitement. Why hadn’t I noticed this before? I kept asking myself. As my sight cleared it became blindingly obvious, she had the most perfectly balanced facial proportions I had ever come across.

Then, raising both hands to rub my eyes, I felt instead the knuckles simultaneously twisting into the jowl of cheek and sleek widow’s peak where hairline meets forehead. In response, gripped by cold fear and a terrifying sense of fright, I spread out my hands across my face, fingers frantically searching the seemingly unfamiliar bone structure and order of my features.

“W-w-what, have you done to me?” I stammered.

“Well, it is rather difficult to explain,” she replied, admiring her handiwork, “I guess you could call it a complicated kind of swap. You have what I had and I have what you had. You’ll be fine with it, I could tell when we met.” She gave me a reassuring wink and continued, “I have been waiting a long time, for the right person to come along.”

After a short pause, she turned to leave the cafe, taking one last sideways glance at me, and then she was gone.

 

 

(photo credit: Mahyar Tehrani)

“I Hope You Were an Angel”, flash-fiction 128 words

You had been there; I was sure.

You’d had your hand pressed firmly on the glass, against my own.

“Are you okay?” I’d asked.

Nodding your head and smiling, you’d told me you were just fine.

“Hold on a second – I’ll save you.” I’d said, as I pushed open the door to pull you inside.

But almost immediately, you’d lost your balance and then you lost your grip.

I’d blinked and you were gone; it was as fast as that!

It was mostly my fault you fell from the train. I hadn’t expected the door to open so easily.

Neither had you, going by the tell-tale look on your face.

Nobody else had seen though; the carriages were mostly empty.

So, I acted like nothing much had happened.

 

(photo credit: Amine Rock Hoovr)

Angelina and Ben, a short story (2,877 words)

The soles of his feet felt sore at each point of contact with the ground and with every step taken. So far, the pain was being transmitted at a sustained, tolerable level of discomfort. However, his pace had begun to slow during the course of the day, with the strong heat of the mid afternoon sun beginning to take its toll. He could feel he was tiring, becoming dehydrated and in certain need of finding a seat to rest a while.

“I need a change of life.” Ben muttered miserably under his breath.

He’d decided he would walk rather than use the underground trains, although stations were located near all the destinations he had planned to visit during his day trip. Conceding some shame for the sense of fear as motivation for his decision, it was nonetheless inescapable; the potential threat of getting caught up in a terrorist attack on an underground train platform, or worse, a moving carriage, to Ben seemed a risk not worth taking. After all, there was no ambiguity, the security level in the city was coded red and this was known and understood. Although many people went about their business and got on with their lives in a normal fashion, as a visitor to the city, Ben had felt touched by a profound sense of caution.

Earlier in the day, having left the coach station, Ben navigated himself to his first destination using a map application on his phone. It’d taken longer to reach than expected, the streets seemed to stretch out further than suggested and his progress had been slow. The gallery visit had been worthwhile; he found the mix of artwork on display appealing, modern, colourful and large in scale.  Wandering through the gallery, he pondered on the themes connecting them. Ben rarely read notes provided at exhibitions.

Afterwards, food was needed. However, a glance at the gallery restaurant’s menu determined the prices were beyond his tight budget. A search ensued to find a cafe where he could afford to eat, without it being quite so much of a strain on his wallet. After an unsatisfactory meal, Ben set off, following the guidance provided by his phone. For the next leg of the journey, he accepted a more realistic expectation of the time it would take to cover the next one and a half miles.

The next stop-off point was a museum, which Ben had found fully satisfying. It’d been busy and crowded with visitors, which he viewed as a minus, but much of what he saw was of interest to him. During the visit, he was busy with taking photos using the camera he’d brought along. Later, he would regret not spending more time here. It wasn’t that he’d missed much out, but the grand scale of the museum meant there was no time to dawdle if he was to make his next destination in good time.

The penultimate stretch of his trip, proved punishing. It was a clear blue sky and the sun was beating down. He’d folded up his light-weight coat and stored this in his shoulder bag, tying his cardigan around his waist. As he walked, a mild burning sensation began to tingle where the strap was rubbing against his shoulder.

Traffic was heavy, with more cars on the road than people walking on the pavements. When coming upon a kiosk selling waffles and hot drinks, Ben decided to take a break. Sat at a table, he felt enveloped by a familiar sense of isolation, watching people and listening to conversations spoken in languages only identifiable to him as not English. He observed, as a holidaying family approached an information noticeboard nearby, the mother and father both studying the map illustration showing the area they now found themselves in. With a son and two daughters in tow, it seemed possible one of the daughters had been the cause of some disharmony, earlier. The father looked angry with her and disinclined to receive the apology, which the daughter was desperately trying to convey.

Folding up the cardboard tray, cup and tissue serviette, dispensing with them in a bin which buzzed from the sound of a dozen wasps, Ben set off again, feeling better from the intake of sugars and liquid. Soon afterwards, it was necessary to navigate crossing the busy road and in what seemed a typical situation for him, the section at which he’d chosen to do this, proved difficult to judge. Cars seemed to sweep around the curve in the road with extra acceleration, as if being propelled by a giant sling-shot. Momentarily drawing on the extra energy he now felt coursing through his blood, Ben jogged across the carriageway, finding himself stood immediately opposite the next destination on his list.

Still recognisable as a small underground railway station, long fallen from the intention of its original design, the gallery stood in isolation from any other buildings. Inside, both the bright lighting and ambient temperature were pleasingly cool; his first impressions of the exhibition however, were considerably less so. While walking through the gallery, his thoughts became preoccupied with the numerous installation pieces featuring discarded items of rubbish. The rhyme and reason for their creation must lay buried deep within the artist’s own subconscious, he’d concluded. Or, perhaps the growing sensations of fatigue were affecting his appreciation. Ben felt an increasing level of impatience and annoyance, rapidly building up inside him. To add to this, he felt absolutely no inclination to find out or understand what meaning might lay in this collection of carefully arranged junk, seemingly gathered from roadside skips and charity shops.

Having completed a successful circumnavigation of the building, Ben was able to exit the gallery through the same door he’d entered. Back outside in the sun, he glimpsed a woodland and park directly ahead. He crossed the busy road again, without incident or any significant expenditure of energy. On reaching the edge of the park, he studied a dark green coloured sign post, containing information to inform visitors of attractions nearby and the route required to reach them. Unfortunately for Ben, none of the destinations noted were where he wanted to go and his limited knowledge of the city meant he didn’t have much of an idea where he was, in relation to anywhere else.

He decided upon simply walking straight ahead, underneath the shade of the trees and into the park. As he did so, a check of his phone revealed an announcement informing him of low battery power. Acknowledging this with a tap of his finger on a touch screen button, he proceeded to quickly absorb the details of his location according to the map. There weren’t many facts he could establish from the device, a few paths were shown on the map and zooming in or out shared the same disadvantage of providing less than adequate information. He exited the map and clicked off the screen to preserve what remaining battery power there was, before returning the phone to the front pocket of his brown chinos.

I’ll use my instinct, he thought to himself. His instinct told him to walk ahead, taking no turnings away from the path.

Few people could be seen in the immediate area visible to Ben. Occasionally, runners were sighted, their approach announced by the sound of gravel crunching and scraping under their feet. They passed by breathing heavily, dark shades of sweat dampening the backs of their t-shirts. There was also a sprinkling of people walking dogs. Owners and pets in different shapes and sizes strolled past, the owners usually deep in thought, while the dogs seemed unfettered and carefree.

Shortly, an iron framed, wooden seated bench located underneath the shade of several trees, came into view. Although split off onto a smaller path, Ben could see how to re-join the main route by cutting across the grass and through a thin line of shrubs and trees. He carefully calculated a return to the original path, so as to encounter minimal deviation and avoid the need to retrace his steps.

Sat on the park bench, Ben laid his shoulder bag across his lap and retrieved his camera. Switching on the back screen, he browsed through the images taken in the museum and art gallery. Some of the photos were taken outside too, but he’d not felt brave enough to get up close to people. Nearly all the images showed only the backs of people, certain evidence of the surreptitious method he couldn’t avoid when feeling small and too much in himself.

How do people succeed with street photography, he wondered, gazing skywards, could it be a carefree, confident attitude, buckets full of charm, would it be easier if I was better looking and had a pleasant, engaging smile?

Everything in life would be easier, he concluded, if I was better looking, confident and wore a pleasant, engaging smile.

The peripheral vision of his left eye was caught by a slight movement and Ben was brought out of his thoughts by the awareness of somebody sitting down, on the bench next to him. By his estimations, the approximate distance of an arm’s length lay between them. By reflex, his reaction was to steal a furtive glance, combined skilfully with the motion of returning the camera back into the bag.

The amount of detail the brain can process from the information gleaned in a hurried look lasting little more than a second, is truly astounding. Ben’s brain had quickly assembled several facts he knew to be true. This was a woman sat near him, a young woman aged in her early thirties. She wore her blonde hair short, was of a fair complexion, while her bright blue eyes sparkled behind oval-shaped glasses in tortoiseshell coloured frames. Her clothes were casual, with Ben able to ascertain she was wearing a light grey t-shirt and dark grey, three-quarter length leggings, loose-fitting and turned-up at the hem. With her hands laid flat on the seat of the bench, she’d straightened her legs out in front of her, displaying white, lace-topped ankle socks and classic tanned leather sandal shoes complete with buckles. With the details absorbed, an involuntary blink returned Ben’s scrutiny to the inside of his shoulder bag.

“Hey, what’s up?”

Both the accent and the wording of the greeting informed Ben the young woman was an American. Many years ago, while Ben was still at secondary school, a new boy had joined one of his science classes. Angus had been brought up in America, his parents emigrating from Scotland when he was just two years old. Fourteen years later, they moved to England and Angus – dropping a school year and therefore appearing in Ben’s classes, sounded about as American as you could get.

“Hey, what’s up Ben” was his customary greeting.

Initially, Ben had found this greeting confusing; despite being an avid watcher of American import TV shows, he’d never heard it before. To Ben, it sounded like a question seeming to assume something was up, that something was wrong. Initially, it would draw a frown onto Ben’s face, as he’d look up from the doodling he was adding to the cover of an exercise book.

“What do you mean what’s up? Nothing is up.” Ben would reply.

Periodically, people would ask Ben why he often looked miserable and he was occasionally assured sarcastically by passers-by in the street that it might not actually happen. Due to these experiences, Angus’ enquiry irked Ben. That is, until Angus explained the meaning as something akin to what’s happening? Or, to rephrase in a more English manner, how are you doing? Although he couldn’t bring himself to adopt the phrase, once the understanding had been reached, Ben came to find he quite liked hearing it.

Angus wasn’t popular at school. The kids disliked him, just for being an American. He was a tall lad, middle-class, sensible and intelligent, not qualities appreciated by the rough lads in the same school year. However, Ben liked Angus.

Angus liked the music of The Clash, as did Ben, although he complained of seeing them play live in America with a poor sound system accompanying their performance. Even so, he found Angus likeable and interesting, providing him with a unique insight into a culture he was only familiar with from television, film and books.

Based on this experience, Ben was unusually prepared to receive this particular, transatlantic style of greeting.

“Hello.”

Hello?” the young woman repeated, with raised intonation balanced somewhere in the middle of her pronunciation, “Edison’s greeting?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“The advent of the telephone,” she continued, with a sense of confidence in her tone, “at the start, no one knew what to say after they picked up the receiver. They just weren’t used to talking to people, while not seeing them. It seems ‘Hello’ was adopted around then, as an initial greeting used when answering the phone. Alexander Graham Bell wanted ‘Ahoy’ while his rival Thomas Edison suggested ‘Hello’. Usage spread into everyday life and the rest, as they say, is history.”

“That is an amazing story.” Ben said, genuinely amused.

“It is. I only recently learnt this on the interweb.”

Interweb? Thought Ben, a bemused look indicating puzzlement flickered across his face.

“It’s customary to exchange names isn’t it, after a greeting?” Allowing a pause to follow the question, she continued “I’m Angelina, but not named after the actress, I think she was about 11 years old when I was born and had not yet established her film career. Do you live here?”

Here?”

“No, not here, I don’t imagine you live in a park. Or do you? What’s your name?” Angelina enquired.

“I’m Ben.”

“Ben?” Angelina stroked her index finger across her chin and raised her eyebrows.

“I don’t live here in the park, or even in this city.”

“Oh, where do you live then, Ben? Not your full address, you understand, just an approximation of where you live?”

“Hah! No, that would be strange to give out my full address to someone I’ve just met.”

“You’ve never done that before, Ben?”

“Hah! Well, no, although maybe to a policeman once or twice before, possibly.”

“Oh, you’ve been in trouble with the police?” Angelina cut in quickly, with a mock look of shock across her face.

“Hah! No, well not really, I think it was for speeding. It was a long time ago, years and years back.”

Adopting a whisper, Angelina stared into Ben’s eyes. “Could you please stop repeating ‘Hah at the beginning of a sentence?” She paused, allowing adequate time for the request to be processed and then continued, “So Ben, where do you live?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not aware I’m even doing that!” Ben made a mental note of the first question and then turned his attention to the second. “Well, I live in the next city along from here,” he jutted his thumb in the air indicating a wildly inaccurate direction, “it’s a university town.”

“Oh, I love university towns! Full of students wobbling around on bicycles they haven’t ridden on since they were twelve years old!”

“Hah! Yes, that’s about right,” said Ben, forgetting himself, “sorry, I really don’t know why that keeps popping out.”

“Why what keeps popping out Ben? What are you trying to tell me?”

Ignoring her questions, Ben pitched his own. “Whereabouts in North America do you come from, Angelina?”

That’s a very diplomatic way of phrasing your question Ben, I’m impressed!” Angelina displayed an admiring look upon her face. “You’re not a gambling man are you Ben? I might be from Texas, California or Alabama maybe, or someplace up there in Canada? You can’t be sure, can you Ben?”

“This is true,” Ben smiled, “I have trouble accurately placing people based upon their accent, even if they are English.”

“That’s alright, I admire a kind of blindness towards categorisation,” Angelina smiled back at Ben, “and we probably now know enough about each other sufficient for a life-time.” Her gaze slowly shifted away and she gave a short sigh as she looked at the ground in front of her.

“Ben,” she turned her face back towards him to be sure of his attention before continuing, “let’s spend the rest of the afternoon together, let’s spend the night together, stay up all night and in the morning look forward to the rest of our lives together.

“What do you think, without any doubt in your heart, could you commit to us forevermore?” Angelina touched the top of his hand, her two fingers shaped like ice-skater’s legs spinning small circles upon his skin. “You know there is no room for doubt, no questions and no answers, only true acceptance of what is. Whatever has come before has no place here now, Ben. What this is only happens once in a lifetime and rarely happens for most other people. Our experience of love is of you and me becoming one and also remaining two at the same time. You understand me, don’t you?”

In his mind, he was anticipating a verbal stumble over the words contained within his reply. He could see his face reflected in Angelina’s glasses and behind the image, those sky-blue coloured irises of her eyes.

“Yes, I do.”

Abduction – flash fiction

  No signal, Justin thought to himself as dejection sank in, won-derful. Staring intensely at the screen was having zero effect. With the handset held in front of him above head height, he slowly tracked his hand from left to right, keeping his eyes on the signal strength indicator.

Nothing.

Why was this the first thing he was checking out, after having experienced a sudden and unexpected loss of consciousness? Perhaps it had seemed natural to him? After all, what was it he did every morning immediately after waking? He’d locate his phone, unlock the screen and while harbouring a faint sense of hope, look to see if there might be a small alert number displayed in a corner of an icon, indicating a notification.

Along with the many apps installed, taking up much of the available memory on his device, several email addresses were linked to his phone. Developed over time, his careful use of all things internet related meant the incidence of unwanted mail received, was rare. Nowadays for Justin, most mail or app notifications were relevant and usually welcome. Although, at this particular moment his self-conditioned action and sense of expectation, was let down.

As he gave up all attempts and returned the phone to his pocket, he heard hurried footsteps fast approaching him from some way down the corridor. There soon appeared a group of croaching cloaked figures, small-framed and moving at speed. Within seconds they’d reached and stopped a short distance in front of Justin. One of the figures impatiently re-postioned the hood of his cloak to midway across the top of his head, exposing an oval-shaped face. Three large, shining blue eyes blinking in synchronisation with each other stared up at him, while a snub shaped nose forcibly blew air through the nostrils, indicating the recent exertion had expended a considerable amount of energy.

“We’d thought we’d lost you,” came a relieved and remarkably deep sounding voice, “it’s time to put you back, you have already been here longer than regulations permit.”

“But what – no, who” Justin quickly re-phrased, “are you?”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt you knowing, we are what you call aliens, space aliens – to be more precise. You are experiencing an alien abduction. Well, I say experiencing, it really is a matter of seconds now before it is all over for you.”

“All over for me! What’s going to happen now?” Justin asked, aware of an involuntary, fear-driven quaver creeping into his voice.

” We’re putting you back, like I said.”

“And what exactly have you been doing with me?”

“Well,” the alien hesitated, “a few experiments.”

A look of horror crossed Justin’s face, attempts to arrange words into sentences failed. So instead, he frantically pulled up the front of his hoodie and t-shirt to examine his stomach and glance over the sides of his body and chest, looking for evidence of lasered surgical incision lines. Sensitive to the heightened levels of anxiety emitting from Justin, the alien quickly reacted.

“Look, calm down, calm down, don’t worry yourself. We simply carry out periodic checks on your kind, it is all completely routine and normal practice.” Adopting a more relaxed tone, he continued “We run a few simple tests – mostly neurological, to see how you’re progressing and to understand where you are as a species in evolutionary terms; then we file a report. Think of us as the vets invited down onto a farm, to make sure the stock are healthy and alerting the farmer to any problems that may lay up ahead. Normally, you wouldn’t know we’d been here doing anything with you.”

“I’m not sure I like your analogy; have you checked on me before?” Justin enquired with a heightening sense of wonder.

“Um, no. No, the chances of us picking up the same individual from a previous visit is neglible, practically nil. We don’t do this very often, sometimes we even miss a date.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway Justin – ”

“You know my name?” Justin interrupted, quizzically.

“It’s on your library card, please excuse the invasion of privacy, but we find it’s the easiest way to fill out your form quickly; check the wallet.” The alien looked momentarily sheepish, then got back on subject. “Anyway Justin, it is time to pop you back. We lost you earlier as you were being brought down this corridor – don’t ask how, it’s a long story.” He shot an accusatory glance at one of the other aliens, who swayed his lowered head slightly and shuffled his feet, in response.

“I am not meant to have woken, is that right? How will you simply put me back on earth when I have all this knowledge of the experience?”

“Oh no problem there, we’ll wipe your memory of this, you’ll just think you have walked into a lamp post, you’ll maybe see a flash of light, fall on your backside, pick yourself up and go on your way.”

“Really?” Exactly like in the films, Justin thought. “But it’s in the news, we read of people who claim alien abduction. The existence of these newspaper reports proves they’ve retained the memory of what they’ve been through.”

“Well, yes. It does happen – but less frequently than you might think. There’s the occasional glitch with the memory cleaner tool, but this is rare and the individuals you refer to are universally written off as cranks. We find it’s not such a problem.”

Hmm, that’s a shame, Justin thought, it would have been nice to have been able to recall what’s happened to me.

We’re sorry, Justin heard the alien’s thoughts in his head, it’s a no-can-do situation I’m afraid.

“Did you transfer your thoughts into my head right then?” Justin asked the alien, his sense of awe expanding further.

“Yes, sorry, I shouldn’t have done that really,” the alien replied, “I can tell you this though, our tests demonstrate humankind is right on track in terms of evolving towards mind-reading.”

“You mean, telepathy?”

“Well yes, if you want to use the technical term, telepathy.” The alien adjusted his footing awkwardly, then continued. “Already, several thousand people on this planet are but a hair’s breadth away from developing the ability. These people are often viewed by others as highly perceptive and empathic individuals. Where as in truth, they are not. They’re simply picking up on the brain signals of others and beginning to transfer some of their own thoughts – another few hundred years and you’ll all be at it. I can tell you this Justin, because later you won’t remember.”

Smiling, he turned around to the group of cloaked aliens gathered behind him and winked his middle eye. On cue, this action was met by a ripple of movement, more shuffling of feet and quiet sniggering.

“So, Justin.”

“Yes?”

“Listen out for this sound.”

“What kind of sound?”

This, kind of sound.”

 

 

(photo credit: Warren Wong)