‘Finch’

Light shredded the darkness as Charlie opened her eyes. The room smelled like her cats litter tray had been left out in the sun. Her head throbbed, her wrists and ankles burned under her uniform. Above Charlie, a spider dangled from a solitary thread. She tried to sit but jolted back to the carpet, which barely concealed the concrete underneath. Charlie thrashed her feet, shaving her skin. Blood tickled her ankle before her sock dampened. She hauled both arms against her restraints but the cuffs stripped her flesh like a knife thinning bark.

The spider had slipped further from a sagging ceiling tile. She wrenched her neck to the left as its legs fidgeted furiously. Charlie heard voices behind the metal door. She fought frantically with her restraints. Two men armed with guns entered. She twisted her body, the smaller one remained by the door. She ground her limbs against the restraints as the bearded one approached.

“Please, sit still.” He said.

Charlie fastened her lips as she battled.

“Please. I cannot undo these restraints if you do not sit still.”

She rested her arms and legs but she kept her neck craned. Sweat stung her wrists and stained her white vest, exposed by her unbuttoned uniform.

“Why?” She asked.

“To show you how we treat our guests.”

“I didn’t ask to be your guest.”

“And I didn’t ask for you to occupy my country.”

He placed his pistol in its holster. Charlie let her head rest.

“Boy, go and collect our guest’s food.”

The smaller one left the room, leaving the door ajar.

“What’s on the menu?” Charlie asked.

“It’s a surprise.” He smiled.

He unlocked the restraints around her ankles.

“Why don’t you just kill me?”

“If you stole a hundred dollars would you just rip it up?”

“I wouldn’t steal a hundred dollars.”

“No, you people would conquer the fucking bank.”

He unlocked the remaining cuffs and stretched his arm out. Charlie recoiled, caressing her wrists with her hands. She unwound slowly, then leapt to her feet. She sprang towards him reaching for his pistol. He ducked her assault. She charged towards him again, thrusting a fist at his face, but he snatched her wrist. He kicked the back of her leg and pushed her towards the wall, slamming the side of her face next to a post-box window slot. She noticed two finger nails lodged into tears in the wallpaper.

He held her there, breathing on her neck.

“You had to try. I understand.” He said.

He forced her twisted arm further up her back.

“You’ll stop trying in time. You’ll appreciate how good you have it.”

Charlie let a whimper escape.

“Sir.” The other returned.

“What took you so long Tariq? Set it down over there.”

He loosened his grip and Charlie slumped with her back to the wall. Tears breaking out.

“My name is Finch.” He said.

“The reason you’re here…” He broke off as a jet ripped through the sky above the building. She followed his eyes to the roof. The spider hovered above him. There was a pop, then an explosion wrestled with the room. The spider fell from the ceiling, bouncing on Finch’s face before landing on the floor. He drew his pistol and fired five shots at it, taking chunks out of the floor.

“Fucking spiders!” He said, firing once more at the wall. Charlie retreated into the opposite side of the room near the bowl and Tariq.

“That!” He said, gesturing to the sky “is the reason you’re here.”

“There are two guards outside. It’s up to you whether we do this the easy way or the hard way. Come on, boy.” He said, marching out of the room.

Tariq handed Charlie a wooden dish of cold soup, its contents were cloudy. She placed her finger in and swirled around. He pulled a piece of bread from his pocket and gave her it.

“Thank you.” She said as a tear crept down her face.

He nodded.

“Wait. Wait!” She hissed.

She pointed to her sock which was smothered in blood. He left the room.

Charlie peeled a couple of strips from the bread at first before inhaling the rest of it. She carried her bowl over to the window and emptied the contents between three rusty rods which punctuated the view. A rustic red smeared down the inside wall.

She looked at the burning brown which strangled the road out of the compound, suffocating the land until it was interrupted by huts in the distance. In the courtyard below a truck growled as it prepared to leave. There were a couple of smaller buildings to each side of her window. She noticed Finch and Tariq arguing at an iron gate which blocked the exit. Surrounding the compound was a barbed wire fence; littered with tiny shoes.

Charlie approached a mattress which was decorated by vain-like yellow stains. She flipped the mattress and discovered a ripe red stain which peeled from the carpet. She resisted her body’s retching and wiped the tears which drowned her eyes. She approached the mattress and flipped it back over and then retreated to the opposite side of the room.

The spider crept towards freedom, climbing towards the slot in the wall. She looked at the bullet holes in the floor and noticed the chunks of concrete that had been chipped out of the floor. Charlie collected the pieces and sharpened them against the bars in the slot. She blew the dust away from the slot as the spider reached the summit.

“I’ll be right behind you buddy.” She said.

Charlie slipped into sleep soon after hiding the shards under the mattress.

Charlie awoke to shouting outsider her door. Water snuck through the sagging tile. She got to her feet and went to the slot in the wall. She looked beyond the spider which had remained and constructed a web, patrolling between the bars. The truck had returned. The door opened and Tariq entered the room, without a weapon. He closed the door and pulled a cloth from inside the front of his trousers. He emptied some of his flask onto the cloth.

“Thank you.” She said, sitting down and easing her shoe off.

Tariq knelt and she peeled the sock down from her ankle which left strands of fabric sewn into the scab of her wound. He caressed her ankles with the cloth, allowing her to clean her wrists.

“I’ve got to get out of here before he kills me. Will you help me?”

He shook his head.

“You don’t know what he’ll do to me.”

“Don’t be afraid of him. I have a plan. Just get him to come here. Tell him I’ve got information on an operation.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“I just need to get his gun.”

He nodded and left the room.

She checked outside to make sure the truck was still there. The spider had snared its first victim and was busy weaving web around a fly. The door swung open, nearly springing back on Tariq as he followed.

“I hear you have some information for me?”

“Yes, but first I want guarantees; that you’re not going to kill me.”

“I’m the only person here who wants you alive. Tariq here would rather see you killed after what your people did to his family and to his village.” He said, gesturing at Tariq.

Tariq shook his head after Finch turned his back.

“What have you got to tell me?”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“Do not waste my t-“

Charlie tossed the mattress at Finch. He swatted it to the ground but Charlie was on him with the two stones. She crushed one against the side of his head embedded in her hand and drove the other into his eye, forcing him to the ground, driving the stone deeper. There was banging on the door as he screamed. Tariq pushed against the door. Charlie grabbed Finch’s pistol. She checked the safety. He continued to yell. She pulled the trigger. He was silent.

“Open it!” She shouted.

Tariq released the door, falling back as one guard stumbled through with the other behind him. She fired two bullets at each, one in the chest and one in the head.

Charlie hung the pistol at her waist and picked up one of their rifles. She lifted Tariq up and gave him the rifle.

“Thank you.” He said.

“Let’s go.” She said, leaving the room.

“I can’t let you do that.” He replied.

Charlie awoke facedown. She was back in her restraints. She spotted her uniform in a bundle to the side, she was in her underwear and vest. The door groaned as it opened. Footsteps crept towards her. Tariq lifted her head to his by her hair.

“It’s just us now.” He said.

The spider watched on having devoured its prey.

‘The Hermit’

You approach the enclosed beach from the main road. You notice sand shimmering on the path under the stingy lights which line each side, craning their decaying necks to observe. To the left you see the cliff which wraps itself around a constricted coast, cramping the stretch of sand. You look at the town perched upon the edge guarding against the cruise ships which often sail below.

You reach the patch of grass at the back of the beach trapped between sand and stone. You squat down and squint your eyes. Doing this extends the jetty at the tip of the beach across the horizon to Kilika Straight, the passage of water which ships sneak down to the freedom of the ocean. It felt like your only means of escape until now.

The town had become your home for the last two years, but it was only at this beach where you felt any connection to it. You’d shoot this beach in a movie but the thought of it becoming a tourist attraction triggers a frown. You first met Lisa here, at a karaoke beach party. You used to hate karaoke but that night you sang for hours. She still has that effect on you. She’s helped open your eyes to a plethora of interests. You hope this won’t be the last time you can be here together but she might not give you any choice.

You watch the sun as it slips closer to the sea seeping red, yellow and orange like a nasty wound in the sky. Clouds gather above, papering over the scars. You sit on the sand, just far enough away from the tide as it climbs its way up the shore and clutches at your ankles. The tide jostles, unable to prevent its secrets spilling over the sand.

You notice a hermit crab shuffling its way across the beach, carrying its home like a worn out brown backpack. The crab approaches a marketplace of shells. It scuttles around, pausing at each of them before settling on one with a patterned blend of gold and orange stripes. If your boss were here he would swipe it and hang it in the bar; a supposed compliment to his arty aesthetic. The hermit struggles to free itself from its suffocating shelter. The sea claims the sun and you wrap your arms around your knees feeling the warmth wander from your body.

You shouldn’t have asked her to meet you here, but you couldn’t let her think that something was up. You should have told her earlier but you weren’t even sure until now. Are you sure now? You had to see her here, even if it was the last time.

Hands gently smother the light from your eyes.

“Guess who?” She said.

“Sounds like Obama.” You said.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” She said.

You let a laugh sneak out, despite your attempts to contain it.

“Where’ve you been hiding? I hadn’t heard from you in a couple of days and nobody at the bar had seen you.” She asked.

“Sorry. I wasn’t feeling too great. Forgot to call in.”

“Jessie! Call them when you get home, you don’t want to lose your job.”

“Yeah. I will.”

You never lied to her before this, now you can’t seem to stop yourself.

Darkness trickles across the sky. The wind creeps down the back of your t-shirt. She sits down next to you and clings to your arm. Goosebumps crawl up your skin. You are cold. You notice the hermit crab has freed itself from its dingy dungeon and has moved into its new crib, testing out the new surroundings.

“I was thinking; maybe in a couple of weeks we could go for a weekend away in the city like we talked about?” Lisa asked you.

She rests her head on your shoulder. You say nothing.

“Work’s winding down. It shouldn’t be so hard to get time off and it’d be a nice change of scenery, think of all the karaoke bars we could visit.”

That is what you want but you can’t, not after what you’ve done.

“Yeah. Great.” You can’t stop yourself.

“Great. I’ll have a look at hotels when I get home.”

You need to tell her.

“Lisa, I need to tell you something and I’m afraid of what will happen when I do.”

Her grip on your arm loosens.

“W-what is it?”

Her head abandons your shoulder.

“I got offered an internship at a film studio and I’ve decided to take it.”

“I thought you stopped pursuing that dream?”

“I did, or I thought I did. I dunno, I was angry, I’d just moved here and then I met you and I just kind of put the plans on hold.”

She discards your arm.

“You said you were ready to settle into a real job. Was that all just a lie?”

“No I-“

“Were the last two years just a stopgap? Am I just a stopgap?!”

“No! You weren’t. You’re not. I can’t imagine my life without you, Lisa.”

“Liar! Otherwise you’d never have gone for the internship, never mind taken it.”

“You could come with me.”

She rises and you follow.

“I can’t just leave and go with you.”

“Why not? What’s keeping you here?”

“My family is here, my job is here and I like living here.”

The wind whips her blonde, curly hair as you look down at her pleading eyes.

“They’ll always be here, your family and this town. What’s stopping you from moving and working the same job in a different city and building your own life?”

“I’m happy here! You want me to move for your ambitions but you don’t give mine a second thought. How is that fair?”

“I want you in my life but this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for, that I’ve always wanted. I can’t help but want you both.”

“You can’t have everything.” You hear her voice crack and she turns her back to you.

The tide bursts onto the beach, pushing at you and Lisa but you both remain. You notice the hermit crab has abandoned its new home in favour of wriggling its way back into the apartment it dared to abandon.

“You gave up on that dream when you settled down here; when we got together. You let me believe you were happy and that I was safe. You said we had a future together, now you’re going to throw it away over an internship.”

“You have to choose. The person you can’t imagine being without or the job that you’ve always wanted.”

“Can’t we work something out?” You ask.

She speaks through tears.

“What’s to work out, Jessie? I won’t stand in the way of you if you want to pursue your dreams.”

Is this really your dream? Maybe you are being selfish. She’s right, you have hurt her and lied to her. You hated the thought of that. You think about all the plans for the future she’s suggested, how happy she was, are you ready to give them up? For an internship? Not even a guarantee. What if things went wrong? Maybe you won’t like the city. You might not meet another girl like her.

You watch as the tide destroys the shell market and claims the hermit crab, dragging it back into the depths. The shells scatter across the sand and you notice the shattered remains of the now discarded shell, a faint reminder of the pattern remains. You consider collecting it for your boss.

“It’s you, Lisa. I want you. I love you.”

She faces you again.

“You need to be sure. You can’t flip flop on this.”

“I am sure. I’m happy now, here with you. The thought of losing that happiness terrifies me. I was too busy thinking what might be to stop and realise what is.”

“I love you too.” She said.

Freckles of light heal the sky as they melt through the disintegrating blanket of cloud. Your feet stick in the sand, submerged as the tide tickles your achilles and you shiver. You embrace her and she kisses you.

 

‘The Boy and the Camera’

The phone roused you from your slumber. You were cocooned inside your Star Wars bedcovers. You liked to imagine you were camping out inside a Tauntaun on the planet Hoth with Han and Luke. It was the last weekend before term ended, you felt like sleeping right through as the first half year of high school would soon be done.

“Tom, Pete’s on the phone!” Your Mom shouted.

You squeezed the covers and held your tongue, understanding the futility.

“TOM!”

“Just a minute!” You called back, as you got out of bed.

“Why are you not dressed yet?” She asked.

“I was asleep.”

“It’s 10am.”

You shrugged, trying to pick that days fight. You still look back at those meaningless rebellions and cringe.

You picked up the phone: “What’s up?”

“Dude, get out of your pjs, stop scratching your ass and grab your camera. It’s snowing! You know what that means?”

“The winter scenes!” You’d only finished writing the story a week prior.

“Exactly. Meet us at Mara Hill and hurry up will ya, Kimmet and Allan are already on their way and Lily is on her way too.”

“Lily is coming? I thought she wasn’t interested after last time?”

“What did I just say? Girls change their minds all the time. Don’t get all weird and don’t forget that camera.”

“My Mom’s home so I need to sneak it out.”

“You’re clever, you’ll think of something.”

Pete mastered the skill of giving you what ought to be a complement but rarely delivered it as one from an early age. You hate to think what his kids are having to endure now. You were clever, though and you couldn’t turn up without the camera, though part of you did want to see Pete implode.

You claimed your rucksack was a snack pack and you weren’t going to be home for a while so you needed to fill it. Your mom asked what you were taking and you replied: “Food and stuff.” You weren’t that clever, but you got away with it.

Mara Hill overlooked Littleton, our houses laid out like a monopoly board. We spent a lot of time up there in the summer. You always liked to visit on your own. Mom wasn’t keen on that but you had reached that age where vague was no longer a deterrent but a catalyst, though she pleaded you to trust her.

Kids at school told tales about the woods on the hill, how a boy had trapped his leg under a fallen tree and died. They said the forest masked his screams and how his ghost haunts the forest, screaming at those who walk alone in the forest at night. You weren’t afraid of ghosts, but you never did visit at night. You found getting Lily to join the movie cast was far more terrifying, well until you actually asked her. The kids told other stories including the old man who lived in a hut and fed children to his dog.  Some said the old man made soup of the child stuck in the woods. These tales inspired the movie shorts; we decided to create and investigate our own myths. You only filmed and wrote while the others acted. That annoyed you, but it was better than giving the camera to Pete, Allan or Kimmet, who would have found a way to destroy it and that would have resulted in the end of your life.

Lily waved as you approached.

“Hey. I wasn’t expecting you back.” You said.

“I wasn’t really expecting to come back either, but I decided not to let him ruin it for me.” She nodded at Pete.

“That’s usually my line.” You replied which prompted her to show that smile which you thought must have been designed someone who built boats inside of a bottle.

“I like your stories and you’re really good with the camera.” She said, you felt the warmth spread from your cheeks and you forgot about the cold.

It might have been the second time she had joined the group but you felt uncomfortably comfortable around her.

You didn’t notice your stomach growling until night crept in, according to the camera it was half past five. You developed a habit of leaving the camera on between scenes. It took up more tapes, which eventually led to Mom catching you out, but you know now it was worth it to be able to look back. Even if it opened your eyes to Pete spending a lot of time being a dick.

“Okay, our last scene is the chase scene through the forest.”

“Any reason we saved this for last?” Lily asked.

“’Cuz it’s darker and colder. It’ll look more dramatic.”

“The camera has night vision too.” You said.

“You’re a frickin’ genius, that’ll look sick!” Pete declared.

“It’s getting a bit dark for me.” Kimmet said.

“Go home then, you’re dead anyway we don’t need you for this scene.”

“What if the ghost comes?” Allan asked.

“There’s no ghosts up here Allan, you should be more scared of the cold.” You were trying to comfort him but really he just had something else to be scared of.

“You don’t have to follow in, we’ll be right back once we’ve shot the scene.” Lily said.

“I’m not staying here by myself. I’ll follow in just behind you.”

“Fine. Don’t get in the way.” Pete said, before shouting: “Action!”

Lily ghosted past the trees, her feet kissing the snow as she swooped through the forest. The branches tugged at your coat and snatched at the camera as you tried to keep up. The forest whispered as you pursued. You halted when you lost sight of her, a moment you regret.

You swivelled the camera around and realised you had lost everyone. You started walking. You called out names. Your voice ricocheted, swallowed by the forest. You stumbled and fumbled. Something trapped your foot. You’re wrenched to the ground. You elevated your wrist, saving the camera. You looked through the green tinted lens. There was a shoe in front of you, kidnapped by branches. Your mind returned to the child, though you pleaded it didn’t. Now you felt the cold. You leapt to your feet. The camera covered your face as you turn. Engulfing the screen was a mouth, it consumed you with a scream. You collapsed backwards, the scream broke down into a laugh which melted away the fear and revealed a shame which lasted. You remove your eyes from the screen you notice Lily’s long, hazel hair sneaking out from under her purple hat.

“Are you kidding me?!”

“I thought it was only the cold we were to worry about?” Lily asked as she offered you a hand up. She never stopped reminding you about this.

“Yeah, yeah. Whose is the shoe?”

“Dunno. I saw it and I couldn’t resist.”

“Maybe it is the kid’s shoe.” You joked.

“Ooh! Maybe it’s Pete’s and the old man finally gave him what’s coming to him.”

You laughed a little harder than you should have done.

“Maybe we should find out?” You gestured to a cabin which peaked through the trees.

“It can be our investigation.” She said.

‘Bright Eyes’

Anna parked outside her home. The Sun left a red trail behind as it slumped down the sky and into cover behind the trees which cocooned the cottage. She adjusted the rear view mirror, taking a wipe to remove any make-up that remained, pulling at the bags under her eyes. She ran her fingers through her hair a couple of times and revealed a necklace from underneath her jumper before nodding in the mirror.

“Can’t believe I’m wearing this thing.” She said.

The wind battered the car door as she battled to leave. The trees around the house brawled with one another unable to hold onto their faded façade of green and brown, soon there would be nothing left to hide their shame.

She stood at the head of the path which the surrounding grass smothered as it hissed at her approach.

The porch welcomed her with a reluctant creek. She paused at the doorbell before pulling a key from her pocket, the keyring missing its photo, and unlocked the door.

Barging past three suitcases she ignored the stairs as she entered the house, instead heading into the living room. The windows howled as she entered, clouds were confronting the sunset. Framed memories of smiles and hugs judged her every step.

She approached the mantelpiece and examined a vase which held captive some drooping flowers, drained of colour. She rubbed the stock between two fingers which prompted petals to drip into the embers of the fireplace below.

Anna looked at the mirror which hung from the wall. Her grip tightened around the vase as she caught sight of a picture of Mark and David which hung on the opposite side and she launched it across the room crashing into the wall. The picture remained, defiant, as pieces of glass clung to the wall. She stared at the picture as the trickles down her cheeks grew into streams.

“This isn’t my fault, it isn’t!” She said.

“Mum?” Asked a face half hidden by the doorway.

“Oh David, I’m so happy to see you!” She said.

David recoiled as Anna approached but she snatched him up, clutching him close at her shoulder.

“I’m sorry Mum.“ He said, trying to separate from her.

“It’s okay, David.” She said, pulling him in for a hug.

“Are you going to leave?”

“Leave?” She asked, yet to release him.

“Dad packed your clothes up.”

“Your Dad’s just a bit confused, David. It’ll be fine. Mum’s here now.”

As she separated from David, Anna looked past him into the mirror hanging on the wall. A sliver of smoke rose from the fire below, the last of the petals had been consumed.

“Put him down.”

“Mark, I-“

“Put him down, Anna.”

“Right, yes.” Anna replied, freeing David.

He scuttled across to Mark’s side, facing Anna and revealing a dark circle which consumed his eye before hiding behind Mark’s leg.

“David, why don’t you head up to your room while Mum and Dad talk?” He said, ruffling David’s hair.

David fled the room and Mark entered, leaving the door open.

“Mark, I’m sorry.” She said.

“David doesn’t know that. He still thinks he did something to deserve it.”

“I’ll make it up to you both, I promise.”

“This isn’t like missing a school play! You can’t click your fingers and make things fall back into place!”

Pieces of glass slipped from the wall and onto the floor.

“God damn it Anna! You can’t even control yourself around a fucking vase! How are you supposed to be a parent?!”

“I’m not a good parent but I want to be.” She said, moving closer to Mark who stood arms folded.

“And you thought by turning up here and what, smashing a vase and trying to smash a picture would show that? You’re crazy.”

“Give me a chance, one more chance. Help me get past this, we can get through it.”

Anna placed her hand on his wrist.

“I don’t believe you.” He said, swiping her hand away.

“I can be better, I don’t want to lose David.”

“You lost him the moment you lay a hand on him like that.”

“I’m sorry. I know it’s my fault, what else do you want me to say? To do?”

Mark slammed the living room door and it rebounded open.

“There’s nothing you can do. It’s not safe to have you around him.”

“Mum? Dad? What’s going on?!” David asked.

“Nothing, Anna’s leaving now.” Mark said.

He grabbed hold of her wrist now and dragged her out of the living room.

“Let me go you piece of shit!”

Mark opened the door. By now it was raining heavily. He threw two of the suitcases outside before opening another and throwing the contents to the whipping winds outside which littered the garden with garments. Anna crashed into him as she raced outside, trying to collect each piece of clothing.

Lightning split the warring clouds for a moment’s truce as the sky roared. David sat at the bottom of the stairs, unmoved, wrapping his arms around his knees as he watched.

‘The Longest Moment’

He thought of she and him, breezing round the coastal roads on his old Gran Royale Bicycle. They installed a second seat at the start of summer and though he opposed the pink; she was the one with the skills. They shared an earbud each, as they listened to the soundtrack of their rural montage. He nearly crashed when he skipped that Switchfoot song in jest, he was unsure what impressed her less but the clasp of her hand on his waist never wavered.

As he lay on the ground now, breathing heavily, he could still feel that hand clenching his hip. His whole body was clenching. He moved his own hand to his side. He winced. He heard Tatsuro Yamashita playing on the earbud which remained intact, the other stricken on the cold concrete his cheek rested against. His mind wandered to her head leaning against his back, listening to Magic Ways.

She would caress him with her black hair as he peddled, nuzzling as they passed the tides which stroked the golden beaches. The gulls glided along beside them, sniping suspicious looks. He liked to think they had a mutual appreciation for the scenery, an understanding that transcended language but they were probably just eyeing up the picnic basket.

He spent all summer in that highlight reel by the sea, maybe he should have gone with her to Uni. He wouldn’t be in this situation if he had, he knew that. It only served to elevate this pain. He could feel trickles of heat sliver over his hands, but his body grew cold.

Fresh from sunbathing the sea massaged her shoulders as she raised her head out of the warm water, sliding her damp hair behind her ear. He placed his hands at her waste and ran his fingers over those stretch marks at her left side, she stood on her tip toes and kissed him. They later laughed at how rude it was for the gulls to pick that moment to pilfer the picnic.

He felt saliva seep down the side of his cheek onto the concrete, escaping his now coarse throat, as he wriggled his brittle bones against the slates. He had once snapped a picture of the cafe tiles for his Instagram, now they were ruined by a growing pool of red.

He recalled Pineapple Sand, how she cast her chair aside and bounced to her feet when they planned their future, selling bicycle decorations made of sea shells out of a camper van. The clock in that coffee shop had a heart shaped time piece. It swung slower now.

The music got quieter. He could make out a woman yelping. He mustered a couple of splutters, warmth splattered across his lips and smothered the dryness in his throat. He could hear sirens.

They lay upon a bed of green, she rested against his bare chest with her hand placed upon his side as clouds gathered on the horizon.

He heard the music no longer, nor the sirens, though they continued to ring. The heart shaped time piece had come to a halt.

‘The Journey’

Olivia noticed a few undesirables further up the bus and placed her bag on the seat next to her.

“First step to avoiding people,” she thought.

The stale cocktail of body odour and fuel stung her nostrils as she pressed back against her seat and scrolled through her Facebook feed.

“The only thing more uneventful than this bus journey,” she thought, looking out the window now at the sun’s dying light playing hide and seek in between buildings that were getting smaller the further the bus went.

The driver’s eyes snared hers through the mirror but she was freed by the ringing of her mobile phone.

“Hey Mum, how are you?”

“Hi love, I’m good thanks. Are you on your way?”

“Yeah I’m on the bus just now, we’ve just stopped at Upperton to let a few people off.”

“Sorry I’m so late. I’ll be home soon, it’s my stop next,” Olivia said.

Her eyes were lured back to the driver’s mirror, his own gaze now distracted.

“Oh good! You know how I worry.”

“It’s okay, the rough one’s just got off the bus,” she said, looking around behind her.

Olivia noticed she was alone now.

“How was your day mum? Tell me about your day. Did you do much? How was work?”

“It wasn’t bad. I did have a minor disagreement with that bastard at work. I’ll save that for when you get home.”

“How was-“

“There’s the dinner ready love, I need to go, see you soon.”

“Mum!”

Olivia continued to hold the phone to her ear. Her eyes coaxed back to the mirror and the leer of the driver.

He smiled.

The bus bounced with the grace of a rhino at a jenga convention. The road crackled below as though they were driving over an ocean bubble wrap. She switched her attentions to the window, greeted by a foreign darkness that smothered seas of what she could only guess were crops.

“D-driver?”

“Driver, is… this the right way?”

“I think so.” He replied.

“I-I don’t recognise it.” She said.

“Well, I’m the one in charge. You’ll have to trust me.”

Olivia abandoned her bag and ran for the back of the bus, crunching her wrists down upon the step, her progress halted by the bus’ breaks, screaming as she pressed to lever herself to her feet. The driver caught hold of her foot and dragged her to the floor once more, she kicked for his chest, she kicked for his balls, she kicked for his face, she kicked for her life.

He roared as his nose spurted blood, Olivia clambered to her feet again and kicked open the emergency door, dropping out of the bus and fleeing into the fields, running at awkward angles until she dropped to her knees.

The crops hissed as the wind harassed them. She bit down on her trembling lip, her forearms numb, fluid dripped from her fingers. Blood or sweat? She couldn’t tell. She heard the driver curse then cover it with laughter but he was far away now and the bus engine had started again. She dare not leave the crops. She was alone.

Olivia slumped over and let her eyes close, joining the darkness around her.

‘The Voice’

It’s been so long since I did anything like queue to post a letter. I’m starting to miss it. There’s no talking in this queue, there’s never been any save for-

“Room number four, please.” Right on cue. She even sounds like the automated post office voice.

Room number four. So far as I’ve ever been able to tell there’s little reason for numbering other than for us to distinguish which job is which. I never understood it, the end result is the same. It’s not a glamourous job, but it’s an easy job in terms of effort. One clean shot does the trick, the money gets transferred in and we return to the queue.

I walk through the double doors which open politely for me after I scan my card and select four on the elevator. There’s never any noise. I’ve never figured out what direction this elevator goes in, it doesn’t seem to move at all. I think it’s the quietest job I’ve ever had.

Some days I wish I could hear another human voice but I think that luxury has been stripped from me due to my line of work. Sure I could call up some seedy hotline but it’s not real, there’s no face to the name. Sally’s probably some overweight monster with a surprisingly sexy voice. I could leave the apartment in my downtime, but I don’t trust myself out there anymore. Not like in here. The bell rings and that annoying automated woman reminds me: “room number four.”

I step into the small hallway and flash my card again, the door zips up into the ceiling. I enter into the bleach bright white of room number four. I collect the pistol from the table and wait.

The panel in the floor opens and up shoots a chair with my next job roped to it, squirming as it always is. I put the clip into the pistol and load the chamber.

“H..ELLL..P.”

The gun falls from my hand and I slam my hands down on the table, looking at the sheets. It struggles harder, faster, thrashing back and forward that if the chair were wooden it would already have cracked under the strain.

“Room number four, please finish your job.” That automated bitch.

“HEEELLLLP.”

“Room number four. We will incinerate the room. Finish your job.”

“HEEELLLLLLLLPPPPPPPP.”

What the hell is this? Damn it shut up.

“HEEELLLLP”

“Room number four-“

“HEEELLLLPPP”

I pull the trigger and silence is restored.

I used to tell myself they must have done something wrong, then it was I needed the money. I even told myself it’s the only thing I’m good at. Once that stopped working I decided they didn’t matter, billions of stars and planets out there, we’re just another light on the grid. Nobody notices if it gets a little darker. I’m still searching for an excuse.