Justice at Space Museum

Looking back, it had all seemed so very simple: I understood my orders, I knew my target, his current appearance and exact whereabouts. Although decades had passed, it had been decided. Under no circumstances, I’d been informed, will a secret service operative turned double agent, slip away into a newly invented life and escape final retribution. Justice, must be served and due to my particular specialism, I had been selected as executioner.
Following my arrival in the city of Chürke on a fresh, sunny Sunday morning, I immediately set about preparations in my usual meticulous manner. Selecting a room in the Grande Belmondo Hotel facing directly opposite the Space Museum, had seen me off to an excellent start. From a balcony window, for much of the following week, I carefully studied the movements of Professor Dumbelassè with my handheld, twenty-five times magnification, naval captain’s telescope (a family heirloom). Fortunately, the professor turned out to be a creature of habit and by the Thursday, I had set my watch to emit a beep in synchronisation with each distinct, routine event.
Quicker than anticipated, there came no need to sit at the window for hours on end. Instead, I found distractions to help pass the time. Watching television featured strongly, as did brushing up on my phrasebook lingo – in case the need should arrive – and reading a novel, which back home I’d struggled to significantly break into.
Following an audio alert from my wristwatch, a quick glance through the window confirmed the professor’s arrival for work, or his ten minute coffee break combined with mid-morning stroll. And later, him scampering over to the town square sandwich stall, collecting his regular order of currywurst in a bap.
On my fold-out quarto tabletino screen, I scrutinised the digitised architectural blueprints for the museum. These had been stolen some eight years or so ago – before I’d even begun working for the service. I had to admire the astute cathedral-thinking of my employers, hacking the original architect’s archive, then sitting on the files for this long, guaranteeing concerns for the theft and security breach had long since disappeared.
Able to identify the trade entrance, I committed to memory a route through a network of corridors, leading to the main exhibition hall. An online virtual tour provided me with up-to-date information concerning the exact positioning of each exhibit. These, I carefully transposed onto the floor-plans. Actual-scale rockets, lunar modules, satellites and replica space probes were amongst the many space programme artefacts the professor had collected. At key locations within the main hall, video documentaries and sound-effects played on loop. Well-constructed dioramas recreated scenes from every-day life on the Moon and Martian colonies. I watched as figures clad in modern, light-weight spacesuits, populated common scenes. Space travelling families entertained friends, scientists were depicted in cut-away laboratories, geologists shown examining rocks. Motion sensors, when approached, activated movement and simple interactions between the characters, transporting the visitor into an immersive experience.
In the evenings, before sleep-time and in the mornings before hauling myself out from the comfort of the hotel bed, I imagined a museum walk-through, growing evermore familiar with the details necessary to help complete my task.
On day six, I received notification from command. The coded instructions were to eliminate the professor the very next day. This, I remember thinking to myself, will almost be too easy.

Security in the museum struck me as surprisingly lapse. I picked the lock on the back door within a matter of seconds. Although well-versed in overcoming security systems, none existed within the service areas and I easily found my way to a props, scenery and costume storage room. Inside, I located a complete spacesuit outfit. Stripping down to my underwear, I gently eased myself into the suit, clamped down the helmet and slipped on a pair of gloves and boots. Back in the corridor, I navigated to the main exhibition hall. The time on my watch read eight-forty-five, meaning fifteen minutes before the professor’s arrival and another thirty minutes before the museum opened its doors to the public.
My first problem: I wished I’d left the boots off, at least until I’d reached my goal position. I hadn’t anticipated how much they weighed and found myself taking long, slow strides, each one requiring considerable effort to complete. Luckily, I had time to play with and took my place on an exhibit at a dining table amongst a family of space colonists, several minutes ahead of Professor Dumbelassè’s arrival and daily inspection rounds.
I’d not long settled into my seat, clear lines of vision established, when the echo of a heavy fire door opening and closing, reverberated around the hall. This, signalled my quarry’s entrance. The professor appeared, dressed in a white lab coat and carrying a mug of coffee. In his other hand, he held a newspaper picked up from the subway, which he read while walking. Upon reaching a display, his gaze briefly scanned, then he continued on, taking a sip from his mug at each interval. He appeared much older closer up and in comparison to the images contained on file. Ambling around the museum, I observed a stout man with a florid complexion and a weary, resigned expression, suggesting acceptance of this as his life now. Whilst watching him ascend the steps to a section of a shuttlecraft, I wondered if he missed the high stakes adventure and excitement of his former profession.
The lighting inside the flight deck flickered on, as the professor disappeared inside. With this as my cue to move, I left the diorama and plodded in my heavy boots the short distance to the stairway. Checking the time on the large, digital clock situated above the main entrance to the museum, I proceeded to take my first two steps up the stairs. To my unpleasant surprise, lifting either of my feet for a second step proved impossible. The boots – I concluded – were magnetised. As I stood there frozen to the spot, the gentle rise-and-fall whirr of a vacuum cleaner emanating from inside the shuttlecraft, reached me at the bottom of the stairway. At least for the moment, the professor appeared occupied.
Working quickly, I resolved that whilst my legs refused to lift directly upwards, if I twisted and leant heavily with great effort over onto one side of my ankle, the soles of the boots gradually peeled free from the metal steps. My progress slowed significantly.
Half-way up, I paused for breath. Condensation had formed on the inside of the helmet and perspiration clad my body. By my assessment, if I didn’t do something soon, I might pass out from heat exhaustion. Left with no alternative, I knelt down, released several catches and stepped barefoot out of the boots. Simultaneously, the sound from the vacuum cleaner died, followed by indistinct rummaging noises, suggesting completion of the cleaning task inside the shuttlecraft. Instinctively, I tried to lift both empty boots with my hands – but they remained stuck fast. Then … I heard a voice.
What on God’s Earth … ?” Looking up, I saw Professor Dumbelassè standing at the top of the stairway, hands on hips. “You are struggling with the anti-gravitational boots. You see there,” he pointed his finger, “there is a red-coloured release button on the back of the heel section, press it twice, firmly now.” I followed his instructions and each boot came away freely. “What are you doing in one of the museum’s spacesuits? You know they are not replicas, they are the real thing. You shouldn’t even be in here, we are not yet open to the public and you need to purchase a valid visitor’s ticket. Please, explain yourself to me!”
I remained silent, peering through misted glass. The far easier barefoot ascension of the stairs came as a relief. Momentarily, the professor appeared distracted. “Your … your toenails, you have them painted green!” A truth, the outcome of becoming super-bored twelve hours earlier. “You – you – you, you’re a woman!” He shouted, stuttering at me. I had to lose the helmet, it had become a rotisserie for my head. A firm twist released the headgear and allowed cool air to rush inside. With the helmet removed, we stood stock still, staring at each other in silence.
“What … what do you want from me?” The professor finally asked, his question prompted by an involuntary twitch, which see-sawed several times back and forth across two bushy eyebrows. “Why don’t you talk?”
Honestly, I am an efficient, highly economical operative. I don’t waste time, I don’t waste words, I don’t engage in philosophical debate with a target. I am here for a singular reason. It served no purpose to elaborate on this with the professor. Although, with his knowledge gained in his previous employment, I sensed a dawning realisation taking place.
“You’re here for me, aren’t you?” His voice quavered, instilled with fear. “The fact you appear unarmed, this informs me of your physical attributes in the way of the martial arts.” Crestfallen, he drew in a deep sigh. “It also tells me, it is pointless to resist in any.” I drew level with him on the stairway. “You know,” he said turning to face me, “here, with what I have been instrumental in creating, I thought I had finally found happiness in my life. It seems such a shame for this to all end now. But I know, you were perhaps just about to tell me, there is no fairness to life.”
Removing my gloves and wiping sweat from my forehead, I broke my rule. Looking into his tired eyes I imagined the possibility of living more than one kind of life. Where, during a lifetime, we balanced the actions taken in one half, with better actions in the second. I felt an unfamiliar and dormant emotion of sympathy, for the old man stood before me.
“I am a specialist in pressure points Professor,” I told him, “you will barely feel any discomfort as you slip away.”
“But you must understand – I have not made any preparations! I have my wife, Grethe to think of.”
A brief expression of surprise crossed his face, as my fingers applied specific force to critical areas of his skull. His eyes rolled, several times he gulped for breath, staggered, then collapsed unconscious into my arms. Death followed, as he tumbled down the stairway. Uppermost vertebrae snapped apart, as one might expect. In doing so, the professor’s elimination defied suspicion and would be regarded later, as nothing more than a tragic accident.
I’d completed my mission several minutes before the museum opened to the public, enough time to get changed and leave unnoticed. I returned to my hotel room to freshen up. An element of rumination usually follows the completion of an assignment. I wondered about the professor’s wife, if she knew of his double identity and I questioned how he had imagined it possible to get away with espionage betrayal. Naivety, arrogance? Or, maybe he hadn’t really expected to?
Ultimately, it is important I let go of these kinds of thoughts and standing underneath a cool shower, usually fulfils this need. What may seem important today, becomes ever increasingly irrelevant, with the passing of time.


©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown

Will He Ask Again?

Stationary on the driveway, Hattie killed the gentle purr of the electric motor housed under the bonnet of the newly converted and refurbished red Pontiac, 1969 GTO. Seconds before, she’d seen Wyatt watering the flower borders of the front yard outside his house. Despite attempts to avoid eye contact, it had happened. She watched as the old man retreated to an outside tap located underneath the kitchen window, turning off the supply with several twists of the squeaky brass handle.
As Hattie unloaded grocery bags from the trunk of the car, she saw him strutting down the paved driveway in her direction. Although still early springtime, the weekend’s weather had been fine and she felt the warmth of the sunshine on her skin. She noted how Wyatt appeared unaffected by the climate, wearing his stetson, sheep skin jacket, threaded jeans and dusty old boots, same as always. He’s coming over to talk to me, she thought, is he really going to ask again?
It wouldn’t be for the second time, nor third or fourth. Hattie had lost count of how many times Wyatt had asked her the same question, after learning of her breakup with Ed three months ago. Initially, she assumed he’d been joking … a little insensitively so, perhaps.
“Miss Hattie, what a beautiful day.” Wyatt tapped a curved finger under the rim of his hat. “I see you’ve been getting in provisions for your ma and pa, just like last week. They must give thanks for your help around the house, with you living back at home.”
“That’s most kind for you to say, Wyatt.” She said, lifting the bags up and out, placing them together on the ground against her legs. “Of course, it’s me who’s grateful to them, here in my moment of need.” She looked towards the house and thought fondly of the two people inside.
“I’m rightly sure you are Hattie, rightly sure you are.”
With the lid of the trunk slammed shut, she bent down to pick up several of the bags. She sensed an admiring gaze, scanning her body as he might do, she thought, a favoured horse. Judging the weight of the groceries, the chance of an early escape from the conversation beckoned. “Well Wyatt, I’ll let you get on with the watering of those lovely flowers of yours.”
“Hattie,” he interrupted, slipping his hat off, holding it against his chest, “I wanted to ask, have you given further consideration to my recent proposal? After this day, understand, I won’t be asking again.” Extracting a polka dot patterned handkerchief, Wyatt wiped away glistening beads of sweat from his balding head, before returning it to his jean’s pocket.
“Wyatt.”
“Yes Hattie?”
“Just how old are you?”
“I turned sixty-six in April.”
“Okay, do you know how old I am?”
“Well, I recall the celebration of your eighteenth with a lively and well-attended party. Let me see, that was … eight years ago, which makes you … twenty-five, no wait, twenty-six years old by my reckoning.”
Hattie stood looking at Wyatt, waiting to see if an expression registering comprehension might suddenly materialise. It didn’t. His features remained placid and unchanged.
“Wyatt, that’s a forty-year age gap.”
“That’s right Hattie, I can do the math. It changes nothing. I remain a widower, with no children, no known surviving relatives and no debts. With the situation as it stands, when I go, the proceeds of my estate are headed off to some sure as hell lucky pet rescue home.” Wyatt chuckled to himself, reached inside his jacket and withdrew a packet of cigarettes. “Unless, you’ve reconsidered, Hattie? After all, when your folks pass, whatever inheritance becomes available, you know that’s going to be split several ways between you, your brothers and your sisters. Ain’t that right?” Tearing off the foil from the top of the packet, Wyatt flicked at the underside with his thumb, a single cigarette appeared, which he offered to Hattie.
“Okay, let’s get this straight Wyatt.” She said, taking the cigarette. “Essentially, what you’re proposing amounts to a marriage of convenience.”
“That’s right Hattie, I make no bones about it.” He threw a shiny metal lighter upwards into the air, which Hattie caught, used and threw back. “I’ve been alone a long time, I have few additional needs outside of companionship. Those needs I have, I am confident you can fulfil. Meanwhile, it can’t go unnoticed, I’m no longer a man in the peak of physical health. I am not going to be around forever, sure as eggs is eggs.”
For a moment, Hattie stared blankly at the groceries returned to the ground next to the side of the car. She blew a plume of bluish grey smoke out through her lips, dropped the cigarette and crushed it under the toe of her sneaker on the kerbstone. “There’ll be a prenuptial then?” She said, asking her first ever question regarding the proposition.
Wyatt reached into his sheepskin jacket a second time and quick enough located an unsealed envelope, containing a folded document. “Naturally so, legal and binding, providing mutual protection. Divorce, and you will receive a settlement.” He handed her the somewhat creased envelope. “Although generous, it’ll not be enough to support financial independence beyond a handful of years. Let’s just say it will serve as a token of my appreciation for your sacrifice, prepared as you were to give the marriage a try. Alternatively, God damn,” momentarily irritated he brushed a fly off his nose, “see me through and you get everything, the property, investments, my savings and the like. No debt, no mortgage even. You’ll be set for the rest of your life Hattie.”
“During the meanwhile, I’ll be cooking for you, cleaning for you, darning your socks and satisfying your wont between the bed sheets I don’t doubt!” Hattie’s anger unleashed unexpectedly, her eyes narrowed into a piercing stare. Wyatt, nonchalant, shook his head, slowly raised his hands signalling surrender, his stetson held in one hand.
“Miss Hattie, instead of getting all flustered, why not read the contract? Everything’s there, check through the details. Lend me half your attention if you will and I’ll summarise.” As Hattie unfolded the papers, Wyatt continued. “You will have the area formerly serving as two bedrooms, today converted into one, which includes an ensuite. Think of the accommodation as a studio apartment set-up, your own private quarters. Of course, the rest of the house and gardens are available to you also, on top of which we’ll share a holiday cabin located upstate in the woods.” Wyatt’s statement matched the plain wording of the contract, drafted by a local, prominent and respected lawyer’s firm. “I have my own room and a study. We share the cooking, straight down the middle. Mrs Jackson will come to visit each Wednesday, same as she’s always done, taking care of all the cleaning and washing. The groceries, you’ll have noticed, are delivered. Which leaves sex, because there ain’t no mistaking, that is, a thing.”
“I was wondering when we’d get to that.” Hattie located the heading, midway down the second page of the paperwork, ‘The Sexual Relationship’.
“I ain’t no monster, I don’t have unusual needs nor wild fantasies, nothing that will turn you off or gross you out. No,” Wyatt appealed earnestly to Hattie, “I’m a simple man, who – due to the sale of a significantly sized and lucky plot of Texan land – finds himself in an enviable position. I live a life free from worry. However, for the last ten years, I’ve been living life alone. Besides your companionship, what you read under that heading, that’s all I’ll be wanting, with regularity as specified. But, not against your will Hattie. You understand?” Hattie’s gaze rested upon her name printed in italics at the bottom of the page, followed by a dotted line and a space underneath for a witness’ signature.

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown

A Brief But Furious Struggle

“My name’s Samdrew Wilmot-Dickson and today,” the camera scoots back from a facial close-up revealing an interior of palatial grandeur, “I am here, to view the centre-piece display, broadcasting live from this year’s annual, academy summer show.”
The presenter walks out of shot revealing two elderly cellists, who commence with playing an Offenbach composition to accompany the tracking shot of the gallery installation. Before a minute has passed, Wilmot-Dickson is back, the opus consigned to the background, volume pitched suitable for the inside of an elevator.
“Margaret Frideswide is the Midland’s most widely recognised, commercially successful and so far – oldest surviving artist. Not much is known of her early background, but what we do know is she was born in Birmingham at the beginning of the Second World War. Later, as a teenager, Frideswide moved to Denmark, where – during the 1960s, she studied art at the University of Jutland. And,” camera draws out to a wider shot, “I am delighted to say, Margaret has agreed to join me today, to talk about her latest works.”
A small-framed woman, cunicular, face-on she blinks into the lens, her expression blank. She twitches her nose, then her mouth opens and a tongue moistens her lips several times, suggesting speech to follow. Yet no words come forth.
“Now Margaret, the art in this exhibition is made from darkness and light,” the art critic brings his hands up, striking a dramatic pose. “and what’s jumping out to me are the edges, I see them as frontiers, where you’ve negotiated boundaries that surrender to the real world. This is where the art begins and ends, where – at once the eye enters and then leaves the image.” Samdrew pauses, takes a breath, looks across to the artist expectantly, eyebrows arched.
Margaret Frideswide sighs quietly. Without turning her head, she shoots a glance to the man, then resumes her gaze into the camera. A diminutive chin slides sideways, momentarily swelling a cheek outwards, before returning to position normale.
Unfazed, Wilmot-Dickson continues. “These works represent your latest paintings and I would be remiss were I not to mention how they are indeed, shot through with a powerful sense of morbidity, almost appallingly raw.” Wilmot-Dickson, rooted to the spot, resembles a Romeo pointing upwards, appealing to a high-placed balcony. “Take this one, positioned above these great oak doors, where you first enter in to the gallery. It seems to me charged with a neurosis, a simmering swimming pool of visual pleasure, evoking a wild sense of hostility, and indifference.”
Then what follows is a brief but furious struggle, as a triggered Frideswide banshee screams and leaps upon her quarry, slapping him about his face and pulling at his hair, forcing him onto his knees. Before he is able to shake her off, both cellists run in and despatch penalty strike kicks straight into his ribcage. It is only the film crew who come to his assistance en masse, dragging the artist off and blocking further involvement from the two aged musicians.
Wilmot-Dickson, bloodied lip, chin and white shirt, neck-tie pulled sharply to one side, sits blubbering into his hands, while shrieks and howls from Frideswide continue to echo through the gallery chambers, as she is escorted to the staff canteen to cool off. The two cellists promptly pack their instruments and leave the gallery.

The Princess’ Hair (~1,450 words)

Since waking and despite a deceptively calm appearance, sat alone in the spartanly furnished kitchen, Bryan eagerly tracks the arrival of a delivery. A web page displayed on his kitchen table laptop, shows a pinpointed map and a thick red line reaching towards his address.
Midway through pouring a morning cup of tea, the sound of tyres crunching gravel on the driveway release the tension. Continuing with the ceremony, he adds milk while listening to doors slide open and thud, followed by footsteps approaching the front door.
“Dr Bryan Northwood?” The delivery driver scrutinises a handheld e-POD device. Bryan recognises the manufacturer’s dark green and black livery from the website emblazoned across the MPV.

ROMBOTS • A Family Business • Purveyors of the Finest Robophilia • By Royal Appointment

Tinted windows obscure the interior. Tantalisingly, the rear passenger door of the vehicle is open, a silhouette of an occupant discernible.
“Could you squiggle here please, Dr Northwood.”
Bryan obliges, his fingertip forming an unrecognisable representation of his written signature upon the small screen.
“By the way, my name is Chas.” A lanyard ID ties up with a neatly embroidered name badge sewn onto a shirt pocket of his uniform, confirming the information. “I’m an employee of Rombots and I am here – not only to deliver, but also to help with personalising the set-up for you, today. We have as much time as is required – and I will follow up with visits over the following weeks until you are entirely satisfied with your purchase.”
“I understand, thank you.” Bryan’s attention alternates between man and stationary vehicle.
Chas looks back over his shoulder, “I have the Princess model, waiting to meet you. May I ask sir, do you have a name ready for your new companion?”
“Indeed I do, my new companion’s name is Sandy.”
“Sandy it is, sir.”

While Chas is fetching Sandy, Bryan waits back in the kitchen, pacing around the breakfast bar. He feels torn between the event unfolding and his desire for the cooked breakfast he’d wrongly anticipated having time to prepare and eat. This would now have to wait. Different from his usual flat line mood, Bryan is feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement. Naturally, he knows what Sandy looks like; he not only computer-modelled her, he approved a one-twentieth scale model two weeks ago. Now, his imagination has sprung into life. Lucid visualisations flash through his mind, showing Bryan and Sandy both devotional, eagerly engaged with one another in several different scenarios. His daydreaming is interrupted as Sandy walks into the kitchen, Chas following close behind.
“Good morning Dr. Bryan Northwood.” Sandy says, her voice calm, her tone polite. “I am very pleased to meet you.” Auburn hair frames an oval face of fair complexion tapering towards a chin, green eyes look back into his eyes of grey. She is exactly as he imagined – except for one detail.
“Good morning Sandy.” Eyes widening, fixated, Bryan combs his fingers several times through his beard. “Welcome – please, would you like a seat?”

“According to your answers given on the questionnaire,” Chas is swiping through pages on a tablet screen, “this is your first Rombot, and… you’ve not had anything similar in the past.”
“That’s correct,” Bryan is distracted, “my first.”
“Right,” Chas detects a flicker in his client’s attention – but continues, “then I am going to start with the basics. The Princess model comes with three charging pads.” Chas unrolls a shiny white fabricated pad onto the kitchen table, circular in shape and of an adequate size to sit on. “One is designed for placing upon the seat of a chair, another I have here for placing on the bed, under the sheets and the third, another seat pad with an adapter suitable for use in a car. All you need in each instance is access to a power outlet.”
“How long does a full charge last for?” Bryan’s composure has returned, as he hands Chas a cup of tea.
“Thank you; that really depends Dr Northwood, on the usage.”
“Of course.” The answer was obvious.
“Dr Northwood, if I may interrupt?” While mapping the interior of the kitchen in fine detail, Sandy has followed the conversation between the two men. “If we were to share a day together that included several bouts of intense activity, I would most certainly require an overnight re-charge.”
“Right, I see.”
“Without such intense activity, my power source would not need replenishment for several days.”
“That’s right, and – when appropriate, Sandy will give occasional updates on her battery’s life, including before moving into low battery operating mode, which she’ll do automatically so as to conserve energy. She will give you good notice of this and sync with your phone and wristwatch, so you’ll know – wherever you happen to be.”
“I see.” Bryan fakes a reassured smile to both.
“Right, Dr Northwood, I am going to leave, make another couple of deliveries and be back in a couple of hours. I’d like it for you and Sandy to start to get to know each other, go through a few things.” Chas drank down the remainder of his tea. “When I get back, I’ll work the feedback you both provide me with into today’s initial set-up. Does that sound okay to you both?”

“What’s the matter Dr Northwood?” The sound of an engine disappears into the distance, as Sandy looks at Bryan, her head cocked at eighty degrees.
“It’s nothing,” Bryan replies, “just a detail.”
“A detail? Something small in scale, but nonetheless important to you?”
“Well, yes – yes I suppose so. Look,” Bryan shuffles his weight uncomfortably on the kitchen stool, “please, Sandy, call me Bryan. I think you should – I mean, Dr Northwood sounds awfully formal, would you mind?”
“I would not mind at all, Bryan. There, is that better, the problem is solved?”
“Well, no, um, the detail, it’s about something else actually.”
“I see.”
“Let me show you something.” Bryan launches himself from his seat, marches to the broom cupboard, from where he lifts a metal box large enough to hold a pair of boots, away from a shelf, returning with it to the kitchen table. Without further ado, Bryan inserts a small, precisely machined key, turning it forty-five degrees clockwise, triggering a satisfying sound as the lid releases.
“Are you alright Bryan?” Sandy asks, “Your blood pressure has risen, as has your body temperature.”
“I feel a little hot, yes – but I am fine.” Reaching inside the box, Bryan clasps and lifts out the one-twentieth scale model of Princess, as Sandy – but now obvious to anyone, not quite the same as the Sandy sat in the room.
“Oh,” Sandy says, “I see, that certainly is a detail.” Sandy closes her eyes, “Give me a moment Bryan, I’m reviewing the history file containing the original proof documentation and subsequent amendments.”
“Most people don’t understand,” Bryan is apologetic, “It relates to when I was a much younger man. A young woman I met, although present only briefly in my life, she left a strong impression on me I have never quite forgotten, but also never realised again.”
“Bryan, you’re quite correct.” Sandy’s eyes are open, “My hair should be blue. On behalf of Rombots I apologise for this error.”
Bryan turns the small, blue-haired Sandy, over in his hands. “That’s alright, your hair now – is lovely, it’s just – “
“It’s totally okay Bryan, you do not owe me any explanation.” Sandy stands facing Bryan, “Here,” she says, pointing a straightened index finger at him, “pull it.”
“Pull it?”
“Pull it.”
“What…? Pull it?”
“Pull it it Bryan, you know you want to.”
Taking hold, his hand enveloping half of Sandy’s finger, Bryan gives a gentle tug.
“Harder Bryan.”
“Harder?”
“Harder.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Bryan, do it harder.”
Sandy raises an eyebrow. A second later, her hair has turned blue.
“Oh my God – I don’t believe it!” Bryan is shocked.
“How’s the shade?” Sandy asks.
“How’s the shade? Well, since you ask, perhaps a little darker – shall I pull on your finger again?”
“No Bryan, it wasn’t necessary in the first place, I just wanted to make you smile.”
Bryan smiles; his whole face lights up.
“We can have whatever colour we want.” Sandy says, as the shade of her hair proceeds to cycle through from blue to black, to pink, then green, then a strawberry blonde.
“That’s amazing,” Bryan is flabbergasted, “Sandy, please follow me into the garden, I have a piano outside and I want to play for you. I want to play for you every day.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This has been something like my own, stylised version of an ekphrastic short story, based upon a collage created by pedrov_dog (found on Instagram). The word ekphrasis, or ecphrasis, comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise.

At School The Following Day…

The sounding of the morning bell drew the schoolchildren inside, leaving Pembrooke School’s religious education teacher, Greta Astonberry, caught in the middle of the playground, deep in thought. “Hey,” Harry asked as he passed by, “are you okay?”
“Harry – Mr Buckley, good morning.” Greta replied, brought back with apparent suddenness to her surroundings by the enquiry. Harry Buckley came to a stop, his left leg bent at the knee lifted up in slow-motion, then supplied the momentum to spin his body around to be facing his colleague.
“Greta..? You look troubled, please don’t tell me you’re regretting what happened last night?” A lone child in an ill-fitting school uniform walked between the two teachers, dragging a sports bag along the path leading to the main entrance. “Jefferies, pick up your bag off the ground and carry it!” Harry shouted after him.
“Yes sir.” Came back a sombre reply.
No, no – of course not Harry.” Greta tried to order her thoughts entirely towards the man staring at her, seeking her reassurance. Or was he? She couldn’t be sure.
“Look Greta, we had some fun – didn’t we?”
“Oh, fun. I see.”
“I like you a lot and we both enjoyed ourselves last night and we can do it again.” Playfully, he nudged her elbow with his own. “But, with Miss Harris returning soon, I am only here for this week. Okay?”
“Just this week?” The sun moved clear of a cloud and poured out sunshine; Greta reflected upon how it had taken her six weeks to conjure up the courage to ask Harry out. By the end of the week, as a supply teacher he’d be gone, with no particular need on his part to stay in touch. Or so it seemed.
“If it’s not about last night, what is troubling you Greta?” He stopped before her, scanning her face carefully for clues. “I can tell something’s up.”
“Well…” Greta hesitated.
“Look – let’s talk at lunch break,” Harry interrupted, glancing at his wristwatch, “whatever it is you can get it off your chest with me then, okay?”
“Okay,” said Greta, “thanks Harry.” She forced a grateful smile as he turned away, then sighed quietly to herself and watched as he hurried through the double-doors and disappeared into the corridors of the school’s main building. “I’m not sure you’ll have the answer Harry Buckley, but it’ll be good to talk to someone about this.”

A dinner plate loaded with a salad; Greta pushed her tray along the canteen service counter and fetched a clean glass. As she filled it with water from a jug, she cast her gaze across the busy dining hall, beyond the tables filled with schoolchildren engaged in excited conversation. She spotted Harry sat alone at a table located in a corner, engrossed in a newspaper.
“Hiya.” She said, as she approached, wondering if he would remember their chat scheduled for this moment. “Am I disturbing you?” Harry looked up from the sport’s page; his eyes sparkled.
“Greta!” Jumping up enthusiastically from his seat, he pulled out a chair for her to sit on, alongside his own. “Do you know how beautiful you look today?”
“Oh – Harry…” Her difficulty in accepting a compliment temporarily took control of her response. “No, really? You’re very sweet to – um, suggest, well, what you said, thank you Harry, you’re very sweet – and handsome too Harry. Yes, you are very… handsome. You’re a handsome Harry!” Greta told herself to shut up, felt awkward, her cheeks flushed, but she didn’t listen to herself. “It’s very warm in here, isn’t it? I really don’t think there’s any need for the heating to be on. I mean, it’s nearly spring and there’s enough heat generated by the kitchens anyway. They should save money – the school Harry, the school should save… some… blasted money – they keep on complaining about how they haven’t got any.” Harry didn’t reply. Instead, he watched as she laid out a paper serviette onto her lap, flattening out the creases with the palms of both her hands. The exercise brought with it calmness, followed by a forkful of lettuce and cucumber.
“Okay Greta, what is it that’s troubling you?” Harry said, folding his newspaper and sliding it across to the far side of the dining table. It was as if, Greta thought, that by this action he had committed his full attention to her. A ‘Harry’ like this doesn’t come along very often – not as handsome and as wonderful as this one.
“Oh Harry…” she fought against the sensation of tears welling up, “There’s something really important I want to talk to you about.” Greta forked a cherry tomato into her mouth, munched on it, an unbroken stare fixed on Harry as she did so…

“You want to talk to me about religion?” Harry had not expected the revelation.
“Well, yes. You see, something’s happened. I have experienced a change of heart – or more to the point, a change of mind. Oh Harry… I have lost my faith.”
“Oo-wee…” Harry rocked back in his chair, “Wow Greta, why – I mean how? You’ve had an epiphany or something?”
“Well, no, no epiphany, so-to-speak. It’s been a gradual process, research spread out over time – research that made me realise a fault line in my faith.” A chorus of chair legs scraping the floor forced a pause in the conversation, as groups of children rose from their tables, gathering up plates and cutlery to stack on a nearby trolley.
Greta ate more salad; Harry switched into supervisory mode, calling across to the group. “Emily, stop pushing Marta! Leave, the dining hall, in an orderly manner, please!” Satisfied, he turned back to Greta. “What sort of fault line do you mean?”
“I had a religious upbringing, Harry, I grew up unquestioning, committed. My father was the local minister, my mother a doctor. Expectations were for me to follow a vocational career path, to become a nurse, work overseas for an NGO, or something in a similar vein.”
“Like teaching?.” Harry concluded.
“Well, my first love was for history, I excelled in the subject and read History at Cambridge. After university, and with a good degree under my belt, I really didn’t have a clue what to do. My parents encouraged me to begin teacher training and, long-story-short, I drifted into R.E. as a specialised subject.”
“I studied History at university too!” said Harry, smiling broadly. “Cardiff.”
“So you understand how an ‘enquiring mind’ goes with the discipline.”
“Yes I do.” Harry leaned forward in his chair, rested elbows on knees, chin in both hands. “Subjectivity, objectivity, scrutiny, appraisal, it is – as you say, a discipline.”
“Indeed.” Greta ate more greenery, dabbed at her lips with the serviette, inhaled deeply.

“You realise,” Greta continued, “There is little to no hard evidence that Jesus ever lived?”
“Well, I am aware it’s arguable, for sure.” Harry checked the clock in the dining hall, noticing the catering staff closing down the service counter and most tables now cleared of schoolchildren.
“We both understand how unreliable accounts of historical events can be – usually from the hands of historians themselves and very much dependent upon which side you’re on. The differing accounts surrounding Jesus’ life weren’t written during his lifetime – and were probably not written by the men referred to as the authors.”
“Eat some more of your lunch.” Harry told Greta, pointing at her plate. “Look, I understand where you’re coming from; the same can be said for the Buddha. There’s little-to-no evidence he existed, the traditions depicting his life implausible and yet, if you attend a Buddhist meditation session, you’ll hear quotes – where it’s the Buddha said this and the Buddha said that.”
“And,” said Greta, stacking the remaining vegetables onto her fork, “it’s much the same with many other faiths. All we have are stories.”
“Fables and folklore” Harry watched on, as a spring onion spun around on Greta’s plate, evading all efforts to be pronged. “Come on Greta eat, lunch is nearly over.”
“Religion is merely an instrument of power, exerted by a privileged, powerful few over the gullible instincts of the many.” Greta said, picking up the wayward vegetable and popping it into her mouth. “The stories don’t change in substance and are used to form a belief system offering salvation to its followers, in exchange for their blind devotion. Suffer now for a better afterlife later.”
“It’s why people generally are skeptical about science. Because our understanding of scientific ‘facts’ change over time – therefore what is there to grip hold of?” Harry reached across the table and retrieved his newspaper. “You really do need faith to hold steadfast and maintain a belief in something that keeps changing.”
The bell sounding the end of lunch rang out in three separate five second blasts. Greta stood up from her seat. Harry stood up, pushed both chairs under the table.
“Perhaps I should have been a science teacher.” Greta said as she gathered her plate, cutlery and glass tumbler together onto a tray. “Look, thanks for listening, I want you to know that I really appreciate it.”
“My pleasure.” Harry winked.
“By-the-way Harry, are you free tonight?”

Let’s Dance!

An ekphrastic short form fiction, inspired by a collage:

It was late and the dance floor was sweaty; lithesome bodies competed for space. Two new arrivals gravitated through the dimmed light towards the bar, drawn by the sound of a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice and fine liqueurs. The man pulled out a wooden stool from the service counter and registered the attention of a member of the bar staff.
“Come on Danny,” said his female companion, pulling at his hand, “let’s dance, I just love this music!”
“But you’ve barely danced a step in your life Olivia, this is a quite ridiculous suggestion!” Danny’s body mass remained as motionless as a sunken ocean liner’s anchor, lost to the sea bed.
“Fuck-you Danny!” Olivia gripped both her hands around his wrist, managing to tilt the stool forward. “You taught me a few tango steps last year and I said we’d try them out at the next opportunity.” She tugged harder still, gritting her teeth in determination as accordion, violin and snare drum sounded, filling into all corners of the bar.
“I just came in here for a nightcap, we’ve not long eaten – you’ve already drank too much. This is a bad idea Olivia!” Sturdy heels put a brake on further progress.
“Come on Danny, less of the excuses, it’s Argentinian tango – my favourite!”
“Argentine.” He sighed. “Olivia! You will make fools out of both of us, the people here – they know well what they are doing.”
“So? So do you – for fuck’s sake. You taught a tango class for years!” The sight of an assertive young woman engaged in a fierce tug-of-war, caused a rippled of amusement amongst people within the immediate vicinity. “Take control – like how you’re good at, and guide me Danny. I’ll be your marionette for the rest of the evening.”
He relented, his eyes glancing heavenwards seeking divine intervention. “It really, truly doesn’t work like that, but, okay.” For a moment, he observed his partner, her serious expression melting into one declaring a satisfying victory. As her grip on his hand loosened, his fingers interlaced between her own and together they navigated between the busy tables, out toward a space onto the dance floor.

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…”