Tuesday 30 June 2020

The Flying Circus

by Harman Burgess

Red Bull 

Charles had been having a quiet evening before the circus crashed into his house. His parents had left him alone at their country house long enough for him to realise his natural calling as a poet. And guided by the gram of pot he had smoked earlier; he went outside to feel the connection to nature necessary for a poetic endeavour- just in time to see a blazing mass of metal and heat sail over his head into the side of his living room.

Pen and paper in hand, Charles watched as a constellation of timber and dirt exploded into the sky above him, before crashing back down to the earth. It was then that Charles got his first proper look at the circus; apart from it being on fire it looked like something you could see at any showground across the country, red cone top and everything. 

The guts of the thing had spilled out across the field surrounding the now demolished house, a collection of cages lodged into the ground at weird angles, a number of unconscious creatures in clown suits, and a hot tub. The tent flap opened, and a thin man wearing an outrageously flamboyant dinner jacket stepped out from behind an orange inferno. 

The man surveyed the wreckage before fixing on Charles’s shivering form. “Well, then we’re back on Earth! Allow me to introduce myself, I am the one the only: Marquis de Hauteur,” the thin man bowed, his lace and sequins shimmered and clinked with the movement. “I’m the owner and sole proprietor of the Intergalactic Flying Circus, the only space-based entertainment company that can boast performances at both the Ruler of the Universe’s imperial court and the Astro Dive Bars of Salvador 9. You have said nothing, boy, are you mute?”

“Sir, Mr Marquis, sir. With all due respect, you just demolished my house. My parents are going to kill me!”
The circus was almost fixed before Charles and the Marquis de Hauteur got to the really nasty stage of their argument. The clown creatures had woken up and, with surprising seriousness, gotten to fixing the circus- gathering all the spilt cargo and reattaching the yellow trimmings to the circus top.

“Why would you even want to leave Earth?” asked the Marquis.

“Why did you?” shot back Charles.

“That’s… that’s not important, young man. And that kind of disrespect won’t get you anywhere in life.”

“Fuck you. Surely there’s some position available.”

“What skills have you got? Do you even have a resume?”

“At heart I’m a poet,” said Charles dreamily.

“So unemployed, great.”

“Come on Mr Marquis, sir. I have to know what it’s like up there.”

The Marquis sighed. “All right, I’m sure we can find something for you to do. But no more of this Mr Marquis, sir crap, Marquis is a title. That’s like calling me Mr Sir, Sir. Got it? Follow me.”

The Marquis put his arm around Charles and led him into the now fully operational circus. Inside, the main area of the circus was like a regular Earth one with trapezes and a stage. The clowns, which up close looked like humans except with an extra mouth on their forehead, ran around making sure everything was secure. 

Charles followed the Marquis up a ladder near the entrance which lead to a spherical metal room. He watched as his new boss flicked some switches and typed data strings into a console. The room hummed, and the outside exterior of the circus spun around. Slowly the circus hovered above the ground. Then it launched with bone shattering energy into the night, leaving the earth far behind it. 

“What now?” asked Charles.

The Marquis picked up a broom from next to the console and handed it to him. “Well, boy. Go help the clowns clean the stage.”

“Hey,” said Charles as he took the broom. “We never talked about pay.”

“My friend. When you’ve been around as long as I have, you learn to transcend such small-minded beliefs as currency. Now get out there, don’t make me regret this!”

The years flew by like Gerbils dropped from the roof of an apartment complex. Charles had been a good boy, sweeping the floors and doing errands like he had promised, as the circus hurtled about from planet to planet. One time when the warm-up band was sick, he filled in for them with some stand-up comedy. The crowd laughed (or did what sounded like laughter) and it had been fun until the Marquis came on and the actual show began. 

One particularly dull day, while the circus was travelling between gigs, Charles pulled the Marquis aside. “Hey, Marquis. When’s the next time we’re near the Milky Way?”

“Well, we’re playing Live for Apollo at the New Pantheon for the next couple of months, so not for a while. You’re not getting homesick, are you?”

“What if I was?”

The Marquis stopped looking at his chart. “Come now, Charlie boy. You don’t want to go back to that Earth dump. This is the best job in the universe! The travel, the fame, the women. Oh my god, Charles, the women!”

“You didn’t even pay me the first year.”

“There’s more to life than money kiddo. Now run along, we have to get a move on before this next meteor shower hits if we want to make it to the New Pantheon on time.”

Charles continued to daydream about the Earth and seeing his parent’s faces again, but he did nothing about it until after Apollo flayed the warm-up band. After the Marquis had given a semi-serviceable eulogy he asked if Charles would like to reprise his role as warm-up comic for tomorrow’s performance. 

The flying circus was all well and good, but it wasn’t worth losing your skin over. Charles explained to the Marquis that it was time for him to head home, and the Marquis begrudgingly agreed- he even personally charted the flight plan for the trip back and entered it into the return ship, a little dodgem car shaped escape pod. Charles got into the return ship, waved goodbye to the circus, and started the flight home. It was a quick journey, the lightyears crossed in mere seconds. And when he saw his parent’s old country house (newly renovated) from his ship, he smiled. Smiled right up until he smashed into it.

About the author 

Harman is a Psychology student at the University of Newcastle, Australia. When he isn't studying or worrying about studying he enjoys spending time with his friends and writing. This is his first publication

Monday 29 June 2020

The Homeless Man and the Jinn

by Mason Bushell

black coffee

Rupert Hutton was homeless. He’d been a wealthy businessman until a couple of years ago. Now instead of a nice comfortable home, he lived in a doorway with a single duffle bag of possessions. He was no victim of recession or joblessness; his fate had been much worse. He could handle wearing his stinking, scruffy suit. Even his long unkempt hair and itchy beard weren’t completely unbearable. No for Rupert it was cold, harsh rain which left him miserable about his situation.
This evening like most, Rupert had gone to the park. It was drizzling but a few stars were beginning to peak through the clouds. Rupert liked to walk among the borders and enjoy the lights of the city twinkling around him. It was especially nice after dark as nobody else would be there. Mr fox was about rummaging in the bins for food. Rupert smiled at him and perched on the marble side of the wishing fountain. He loved the gentle light shimmering from the fittings beneath the water - creating a soft relaxing glow. He’d often sit here and reminisce over the life he once had. Rupert had a secondary purpose for his visit. Checking the coast was clear, he slipped a hand into the water and scooped a handful of coins from the bottom. Many people came and tossed a coin into the fountain to make a wish. Rupert was well aware the coins were collected by the city council and used to make the councillors ever richer. Knowing this, taking a few to buy coffee wasn’t so wrong, was it.
Leaving the park, he crossed the road to his home. He always stayed in the Top-Boy fashions doorway of a night. It was deep and had a good roof covering against the elements. Reaching the recess, he let out an anguished groan and shook his shaggy head. The space wasn’t his anymore; a young man and his girl were hunkered in a sleeping bag inside now.
“Please, leave us. We have nothing but each other,” said the drawn, sad-looking man. He reached into the sleeping bag and drew a large flick knife. “Please, just go away!”
“Okay, take it easy! I know the feeling of having nothing, friend.” Rupert raised his hands and took a calming breath, “Look, you can have my doorway. I just want my bag, that okay?”
“Y-yeah sure, okay.” The man put himself before the girl and watched suspiciously.
“Thank you.” Rupert reached into the doorway and retrieved his duffle bag from a dark corner. The old army-issue bag was filthy and had a tear where the zip was coming away. It still did the job and would continue to do so for now. “Good luck, friend.” Rupert left as quickly as he could.
Rupert could have cried over losing his doorway. He felt homeless all over again, as he walked along the dark, cold street. Taking an alleyway, he came up behind some shops and sank against the wall between large rolltop bins and a pile of black bags.
“Damn you! Why can’t you just let me have the little I have and leave me be!” he let out a sob and wiped away the tears which flowed into his scruffy beard. Digging into his suit jacket pocket he found just one large coin. Looking into the pocket, he realised a new hole had robbed him of the rest of the change he’d collected from the fountain. Placing his shaking hands over his face he sat back against the wall in silent, wretched tears. He didn’t know how long he sat there disconsolate and heartbroken. It was only as his melancholy abated, he remembered the large coin. Holding it in his dirty hand he saw it was no currency at all. It bore the image of a demon surrounded in flames. He bit on it. ‘It’s solid metal,’ he thought. ‘Maybe I can sell it for a little real money.’ Peering closer he saw and read the inscription around the demon. “Funny thing. I’ll wait until morning and try and sell it,” he decided having laid back against the wall and closed his eyes in the attempt to sleep.
Something thudded among the black bags – a rat most likely. The rubbish began to glow orange; exuding heat as something smashed within the bags. Rupert snapped upright in time to see a bag catch fire as a little red-skinned and muscular man dived from it, rolling under the bins.
“Marvellous! Thank you very-bloody-much for summoning me into a pile of rubbish!” he said in a strangely deep voice for his five inches of height. He stalked out from beneath a bin and snapped his fingers; extinguishing the burning rubbish. Disaster averted, he folded his arms and glared at Rupert.
“I… er my apologies.” Rupert blinked, rubbed his eyes and shook his head - he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The little man had torn denim shorts and a woolly, blue beany hat on his head. “Wha — err. What are you?”
“I’m a Jinn, and I’m having a bad day. First Doris throws a bucket of vegetable peelings at me this morning and now you summoned me into the bleeding trash!” The Jinn took a breath and wrinkled his nose. “Phew! You haven’t had a bath in a while. Are you a vagrant?”
“Same thing. Well, you summoned me. I guess you’ll be wishing for money, a house on the beach and a holiday in Vegas, right?”
“I actually had all that once.” Rupert’s eyes welled with misery again.
“Really?” The Jinn summoned a little armchair and some popcorn. Both appeared with a click of his fingers and a flash of red glitter. He sat down and wriggled into a comfortable position. “Okay. So, what happened?”
“I was a well-paid insurance company manager. I had who I thought was a lovely wife in Gerri and a son and daughter. I was so proud of those kids.” Rupert fell silent; tears left track marks through the dirt on his cheeks. He rummaged in his bag, took out a photo of his family and looked at them with a sigh.
“Here, have some tissues.” The Jinn made a pack appear in mind air. He watched Rupert take them and dry his eyes. “Sounds like you had it good. How’d it go so wrong?”
 “Thanks. I … Erm. I had to be away from home a lot to work - that was the trouble. I’d leave Monday morning and return Friday night most weeks. One Friday two years ago, I got home to discover a nightmare waiting for me. My home wasn’t mine anymore. Gerri had waited for me to leave on the Monday. She packed our family out of the house, sold it and all my belongings leaving me with nothing.”
“What! Wow and I thought Doris was a pain in my backside pheeew!” the Jinn whistled in shock. “I mean that just plain nasty.”
“I know, right? I stayed in my car that weekend. Monday, I went to work and I’m summoned to the general manager's office. Gerri has reported me to the police accusing me of assaulting her. Damn it, Jinn. I would never touch a hair on that woman’s head. I loved her and my kids so much...” Rupert paused to take a breath and stop himself shaking with anguish. “My company couldn’t have anyone on any form of charges working for them and so my manager fired me on the spot.”
            “Despicable!” The Jinn sat opened mouth on his armchair. His popcorn spilt and forgotten around his feet through his growing anger at Rupert’s predicament.
            “I tried to fight but Gerri had found a new man and screwed me over rotten. I fought everything but lost. While I was acquitted of the assault, I ended up homeless, jobless and worthless in days. I’ve been like this ever since.”
            “I’m so sorry, you suffered so much. You know, the only thing worse than your situation is having to travel through countless dimensions looking for your boxer shorts.” The Jinn stood and started pacing. “So, how much do you want to get out of this situation?”
            “About as much as you really wanted to find your underpants apparently,” Rupert managed a small grin.
            “Those boxers were the most comfortable pair I ever had. And … Why the hell are we discussing my boxers?” The Jinn glared at the homeless man.
“You started it.” Rupert pointed a dirty finger then sighed. “Anyway, I can’t get out of this. I can’t have a job without a home and a rubbish-strewn alley doesn’t count. I don’t want to wish for piles of money either. I don’t deserve that.”
“Good, I can’t conjure you any money anyway.” The Jinn vanished his chair and stood tall. “Are you any good with mobile phones?”
“New-fangled contraptions,” Rupert mumbled. “I hate them.”
“Oh good - that makes two of us.” The Jinn grinned. “Time to learn all about the curse of mobile devices.”

The following morning Rupert did the best he could to tidy himself up. He took up a newly made sign that read ‘Make a donation and I’ll solve all your mobile device problems.’ And headed for the high-street. He sat in a good position not far from a mobile phone shop and started plying his new trade. To his delight, he was soon unlocking contracted phones, teaching tips and tricks, removing tracing software, installing apps, and fixing broken phones for many people.
“There we are, sir. Now your phone will install any app from any platform you desire.” Rupert said to one man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase.
“Thanks.” He took back his phone and turned to leave.
“Excuse me. You didn’t make a donation.” Rupert pointed to his sign and the bucket he was collecting in.
“Tough luck, beggar.” The man smirked and made to walk away. It was then his briefcase flopped open spilling paperwork everywhere.
Rupert scooped up and returned some of the papers. “Rough justice, friend. You were greedy and you paid for it in seconds,” he commented. 
“Think yer funny do yer.” The man stuffed his papers in his bag, turned to leave and his belt broke and his trousers fell to his shoes.
A lady screamed having gotten an eyeful of his boxer shorts. “You dirty man!” she belted him with her handbag and dashed away.
“Ouch! That Karma really is kicking your arse today, isn’t it?” Rupert stifled a grin and looked up at the Jinn sitting on the very top of a lamppost.
“What are you up to, beggar?” the man turned on him.
“Me? Nothing. Oh, and I’m not begging. I’m offering a service and excepting donations for it.” Rupert listened to a young man then took his phone. He tapped away on it for a few moments, making it work again. The owner paid him five pounds for it and left as a car pulled up to the curb.
“Smart arse!” The man bent to restore his trousers. He turned to leave again and wham! the car door flew open, knocking him on his backside.
“Damn! You are having a bad day!” Rupert grinned as he took and fixed a tablet for another few pounds.
“I don’t know what this is, pal, but I’m getting mad!” the man took out his wallet and threw a ten-pound note into the bucket. This time the Jinn let him leave with a big grin on his face.

When night fell, Rupert had amassed quite a sum of money. He counted it with a smile on his face. “I want to thank you, Jinn. This is amazing and it was so rewarding earning it myself.”
“It was equally as much fun ensuring you got paid.” The Jinn was sitting on his shoulder now. “You did good, but we’re not done yet either.”
“Oh really! What’s next?”
“That depends on how much you want to grow and be successful from here.”
“So long as I can work for it and earn it - I’m willing to do anything to get it.” Rupert beamed at his pile of money. “I still can’t believe this.”
“Well, you should. All I did was impart some knowledge and you did the rest.” The Jinn created a shower of sparks with a snap of his fingers. “I didn’t even use any magic.”
Rupert went back to work on the high-street fixing technology for the rest of the week. By the weekend he’d amassed enough to rent a little room and buy a new suit. With a haircut and shave, he looked like his old self. The Jinn taught him more every day and pointed him in the right direction. By the end of the month, he’d gotten himself a job in at Gadgi-Tech computer and phone store as a technician. He surpassed his role in a week and soon had the managers position. It was then it happened.

Rupert was reprogramming a tablet while talking to its owner. The Jinn was sitting on a shelf of laptops, tablets and phones which Rupert had gotten ready for customers to collect. He’d made himself invisible to everybody except Rupert and was enjoying watching customers browsing the aisles of technology.
“There we are, sir. Now it works as intended.” Rupert gave him a smile and sent him on his way. Rupert was a new man in his suit and tie and well-groomed hair. He looked up swore under his breath and looked to the Jinn. “On no, Jinn you have to help me. That’s Gerri, she’ll ruin everything!”
“Relax. Be nice so she can’t get you fired and it’ll be fine.” The Jinn rubbed his hands together and lay in wait.
Rupert took out a laptop and read the repair order label on the case.
Gerri dressed in a simple black skirt, a cream t-shirt and a regular coat browsed a while.
 Rupert couldn’t help following her with his eyes until she spotted him and came over. To Rupert’s shock, she had tears in her eyes as she arrived at the counter.
“Hey, Ruppy. I didn’t expect to see you again. I heard you were living on the streets. I’m really glad you’re not,” she said.
Rupert locked his eyes on the laptop; reading the blue screen that appeared. He hated the fake affection in her voice. “Gerri. Can I help you?” 
“Oh, Ruppy. I made a terrible mistake two years ago.” Gerri leaned on the counter evocatively.
“You want that USB cord?” Rupert bit his tongue while trying to diagnose the boot issue on the laptop.
“No, I want a second chance.” 
Rupert was seething. He took a deep breath forcing himself not to rise. “I’m working. Are you buying that cord or not?”
“Look, I met a man who made me and the kids feel so loved. He made me sell our home and live with him. I —”
“I don’t care, Gerri. Slither back to him if you like.” On the desk, the laptop began rebooting itself without a hitch.
“I can’t; he kicked me out for a younger model. Me and the kids live in a two-bedroom flat now. You can visit them if you like.” Gerri delved into her handbag and produced her phone. “What’s your number? I’ll text the —” Red smoke started issuing from her phone.
“What about the restraining order?” Rupert turned his back and smiled at the Jinn.
“Oh, don’t worry, Ruppy. I’ll have it lifted for you.” Gerri swore at her phone. “Can you fix this?”
“No, it’s fried.” Rupert hid a smirk.
“Shame. Please, Ruppy. Me and the kids really need you.” Gerri scratched her nose.
Rupert watched her scratching it for a long few moments. “Got an itch?” he asked as she scratched again.
“Yeah, a really bad one.” Gerri continued to rub at her reddening nose.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t lie then.” Rupert put the repaired laptop away. “You’re not ruining my life twice. However, if you agree to lift the restraining order, I’d love to spend time with the kids again. Maybe I could have them come to my place once in a while too. Beyond that, goodbye, Gerri,” Rupert decided to leave his desk and get away from her.
“But, Ruppy. I still love you and we can get back together.” Gerri put her hand on his shoulder as he came around the counter.
“No, you love money. Goodbye.” Rupert shrugged her off and walked into the first aisle.
“But I love you, Rupargh!”
Rupert spun on the spot in time to see smoke erupt from Gerri’s skirt. She leapt about a foot in the air, screamed and fled the shop at top speed. “Jinn, what did you do?” Rupert asked with a little glee about him.
 “She was a dirty rotten liar. So, I set her pants on fire.” The Jinn said it without emotion but couldn’t stop his face lighting up with a big grin. He hadn’t done that in a while.
“Thanks, Jinn. Shame she left without paying for that USB cord.” Rupert burst out laughing as he headed for the canteen.
“Well, she’s dealt with. You have a new, happy life. My work here is done.” The Jinn looked pleased with himself walking along the tops of computer screens on the shelf.
“I want to thank you for your help. You allowed me to get a decent life back. To get my confidence and smile back. I’m eternally grateful to you for that.” Rupert said.
“Don’t be, you did it. I just gave you some information and an idea. You did the hard work while I had a little fun. Remember this to everyone you meet, ‘Anyone can do anything if they just work hard enough to achieve it.’” The Jinn levitated into the air. “It’s been fun, Rupert.”
“It has, good—” Rupert smiled. The Jinn had vanished in a shower of red glitter. Shaking his head with a grin, Rupert left for a sandwich. He was going to keep working, he had his eyes on the general manager's chair now.

Sunday 28 June 2020

Episode 10 Jason

by Janet Howson 

 green tea

Jason woke up with a start.  His body was covered in a cold sweat and his breathing was short as his heart raced overtime. He knew he had had the same dream again. The fear, the shame, the same inevitable panic at being in the school playground or after school as he walked home. The same boys, shouting at him, mocking his stutter, goading him about his elderly parents or his camp style. Never being able to defend himself against the constant bullying. Never reporting it or telling his parents. No siblings or friends to confide with. It was a living hell.
     Then, he knew he was different to the other boys and he was ashamed of it. Now, he had accepted who he was and his life had improved. This was all to do with joining a local drama group where he met Jess and Patrick who had become his close friends. He worked with them in an IT business, turning down the opportunity of going to a good university to take a degree in science. He had recently got the part of Nick Bottom in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and he was loving the role. It was the dress rehearsal tonight. He must go over his lines, he reminded himself, as he got out of bed and made his way to the bathroom to have a shower.   
    He let the hot water wash away the memory of the nightmare, soaping himself down with the shower gel. He instantly felt better and rubbing himself dry with a fluffy bath towel he realised how much his life had changed. He hadn’t met a partner yet but he was hopeful that he would one day. He had approached Sean at the drama group but he had politely turned him down, informing him that he was definitely a ‘ladies’ man’ and it hadn’t harmed their friendship.
    Wrapping the towel around his waist, as he went into the kitchen to prepare his muesli and green tea for breakfast, he felt a cold draught. The traffic sounded particularly loud as well. Something didn’t feel right. A shiver went down his spine. He left his preparations and ventured into the lounge. There he faced a scene of devastation. The coffee table was on its   side, the drawers of his desk were all pulled out and papers were scattered all over the floor. His laptop, mobile phone, Kindle and tablet had all gone. He cursed himself for leaving them all together. He should have locked them away or taken them into the bedroom with him. He realised the cold draught was coming from the patio doors leading to his tiny balcony. He must have left them open last night. He cursed himself.  He slammed them shut, shivering in his towel.
    He searched around to see if there was anything else missing. He knew his car keys were in his coat pocket and that was in the bedroom. He rushed back to his bedroom, suddenly struck with the awful thought that the burglars might have crept into the bedroom, not waking him to see what they could take. However, the reassuring tinkle of the keys as he picked the coat up banished that thought from his mind. He didn’t have anything else of value. He didn’t wear a watch or jewellery of any kind. He had no expensive works of art. He concluded that the infiltrators had come for his I.T. equipment and Apple iPhone, all of which were the latest models.  This was a perk of working in I.T. You were ahead of the game when it came to all the software.
    Right, he thought, what should I do now? Having decided he had better ring the police he pulled on his jeans and T shirt. His flat felt dirty and invaded but he didn’t want to clear up as the police would want to see the damage and see if there were any fingerprints or DNA. He didn’t think it was urgent enough to ring 999 so he looked up his local police station in his BT phone book. Thank goodness he hadn’t thrown it away. Normally, he would look everything up on his mobile phone. He hardly used his land line. It was ages until he could get through to the right department but they said they would be round any time today, they couldn’t give an approximate time as they were short staffed.  
     He had better try and contact Patrick and Jess to tell them what had happened and that he wouldn’t be in for work. He had memorised Patrick’s number number years ago so he could ring him and he could tell him Jess’s number. How he was missing his phone already with all his contact numbers on it, his diary, the time etc. He realised how reliant he was on it. He thought about all the work he had stored on his laptop, the books he had saved on his kindle. What a disaster.
    Shock was soon replaced by anger. He couldn’t even suggest to Patrick that he could work from home as he had no equipment to work from. He was naturally restless and a workaholic. He wondered what he would do all day while he waited for the police.
    Patrick answered the phone immediately. “Jason where are you, mate? You are usually the first one in. I was going to give you a ring later to make sure you hadn’t emigrated, eloped, collapsed or found a firm that would pay you more than us.” Patrick joked. “Jess still isn’t coming in because of her back so I am battling on single handed here. I am a martyr to the cause.” He then started to sing ‘Keep Right On to the End of the Road’ when Jason interrupted him.
    “I’ve been burgled, Patrick, and the sods have taken my laptop, Kindle, tablet and mobile phone. I know my work is backed up on the office computer but even so it means at the moment I can’t work at home and I have lost all my contact numbers. Added to that my flat is trashed and the police cannot give me a time as to when they will be round.” He breathed in deeply, he didn’t want Patrick to know how close to tears he was.
    “That is really bad luck, mate. Don’t worry about the work. I can manage. Have you told Jess yet?”
    “I couldn’t remember her number. Can you tell me it and I’ll ring her. On second thoughts, though. Should I burden her with my problems when she has got so many of her own with Michael, the flat and her injury?”
    “Fair point. The only thing I would say though is that she would be upset if she found out later what had happened to you and you hadn’t told her. Up to you though. What are you going to do until the police arrive?”
    “Well I can’t really go anywhere as I haven’t got my iPhone that they could ring or text to say they are on their way so I think I will just stay here and catch up on some Netflix movies.”
    “Sounds like a good idea. Hey, try and relax, I know that’s easy for me to say. If you change your mind about Jess, her number is 07334123678. Let me know how you go on.”
    With that the conversation ended. Jason quickly made a note of Jess’s number. He might call her later, once he had talked to the police. He worried about her all the time. He had done ever since she married Michael. He had never liked him and he knew he didn’t treat Jess well and never lifted a finger to help her. He had also heard rumours that he wasn’t faithful to her, preferring teenagers’ company to his wife’s.
    He went into the bedroom and threw on a pair of Jeans and a sweatshirt as he was feeling quite cold owing to the effects of the doors being open all night and partly the shock. He went back into the scene of the crime. He suddenly had an idea. What about his neighbour? He had been living in the flat for five years and his immediate neighbour had never changed. They shared a balcony divided by a metal partition. They had shared the odd comment on the weather or other expected polite asides like ‘Have a good Christmas,’ or ‘Are you going away this summer?’ but other than that he didn’t really know him. In fact, he suddenly realised, he didn’t even know his name.
    Oh well, this could be a good opportunity to get to know him. He assumed he worked from home as he didn’t go out first thing in the morning and whenever he had seen him on then stairs he was obviously going for a run or to the gym. As they passed in the corridor, Jason had been aware of how fit he looked.
    He left his flat and rang the neighbour’s doorbell. There was a long pause before the door was answered and Jason was just about to give up. Then the door swung open, revealing a tall good looking man in his forties with intelligent eyes and a five o’clock shadow – a phrase used by his favourite aunt,  Aunt Mary.  He looked surprised. He was wearing tight skinny jeans ripped at the knees and a sleeveless sports vest. The muscles in his arms were very defined, he must lift weights Jason thought.
     “Hi, I’m from the flat next door. We’ve passed each other many a time but I have never introduced myself. I’m Jason.”
    “And I am Nathaniel, Nat for short. What can I do for you?”
    “I was broken into last night and I lost a lot of expensive equipment, I wondered if you had heard anything or seen anyone suspicious hanging around? They must have been very quiet as I had no idea anyone had entered the flat. I do sleep like the dead though.”  Jason was having trouble focusing on the situation as he felt uncomfortably attracted to his neighbour.
    “Sorry can’t help you there. I was out until fairly late and I didn’t notice anything when I got back. I had quite a bit to drink though so like you I was out like a light.”
    “No problem, thanks anyway,” Jason turned to go, sorry the conversation had to end.
    “Hey, listen. Come in, have a cup of coffee. I was just about to have one. We could get to know each other a bit better.”
    Jason turned back. “I would love to but I am stuck in waiting for the police and I can’t really invite you in to me as the place is a total wreck and I’ve got to leave it like that until they have looked at it and taken fingerprints etc.” 
    “Okay, so we leave my door ajar so we can hear when they arrive. It is only a small flat, like yours I expect. You look in need of sustenance.”
    Jason could smell the coffee and was aware he had not got as far as having his breakfast. “I must admit that sounds good. I’ll just check my door is shut properly. I am feeling a bit paranoid at the moment. The fact that they managed to burgle the flat whilst I was in bed spooks me out.”
     By the time Jason had done this, Nat had disappeared into his flat so Jason followed the smell of the coffee into his kitchen. This was immaculately decorated and neat. He had placed two croissants on a plate and was organising two mugs.
    “Hey, this is really good of you, I’m not taking you away from your work am I?”
    “No problem,” Nat replied, “I could do with some distraction. Go into the lounge and I’ll bring in the coffee and croissants.”
    Jason found himself looking out of the window at the exact same view as from his own lounge window, but the other side of the metal partition. Jason yet again reflected on the fact they were so near to each other but had never got to know each other. He had been aware of someone on the balcony, the odd cough the smell of coffee, a clink of wine glasses. He didn’t use his though. He didn’t feel it was private enough, often wondering why a proper full height partition had not been constructed when the flats were built.
    The sound of a cough made Jason turn round. Nat was placing a tray on the coffee table. “Are you admiring our panoramic view of the car park? I always think it is better at night when you can see the lights of the city in the distance. I spend a lot of time out there. It gives me some fresh air and I can think more clearly.” Jason couldn’t help but think of the lost opportunities, the conversations he could have had with this good looking neighbour. Still he could try and make up for lost time.
    “What line of work are you in?” Jason asked as he sat down on the settee, aware it was the only seat in the room. He can’t entertain a lot, he thought.  “Do you work from home?”
    “I am a writer, hence my solitary existence. It isn’t very lucrative but I keep on hoping for that blockbuster to emerge. I also do some editing for a publishing company.  It keeps me busy. How about you?” He picked a croissant from the plate and sat next to Jason on the settee.
    Jason was aware of his reactions to the close proximity of his neighbour. A churning in his stomach and a slight breathlessness. “I work in an I.T. company with two friends I met at my drama group. Not as romantic as your profession, but it pays the rent, the petrol and the household bills.” He took a gulp of the strong coffee to calm his nerves down. He was suddenly aware he needed the toilet. “Sorry, Nat, could I use your bathroom?”
    “Help yourself. You know where it is, the same as yours,” Nat smiled picking up his coffee cup, relaxing back into the settee.
    Jason made his way to the corridor where the bathroom, main bedroom, box room and the cupboard housing the boiler were. He opened the door he assumed was the toilet but found himself confronted with an ironing board, brushes and…” he felt sick. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There, piled up neatly and pushed against the wall for support, were his laptop, iPad, tablet, Kindle and mobile phone. He recognised them immediately. There was no room for doubt that they could have been Nat’s. The garish Union Jack cover Jess had bought him for his phone was the first thing he noticed. He checked the rest of the hoard. Yes they were all his. What shall I do Jason panicked, this is a nightmare.
    Pulling himself together as best as he could he shut the door quietly and found the right door to the bathroom. He thought about his options. Confront Nat or carry on as if nothing had happened and wait for the police. The second option, although the coward’s way out, sounded the safest. He had never liked confrontation and as he didn’t know Nat he had no idea what he was capable of. How had he managed to get into the flat?  Of course, the open door on to his balcony. He must have climbed over the partition. Jason shivered as he thought of being fast asleep while his neighbour was turning his flat over. He put his head in his hands. He felt close to tears again.
    Jason flushed the toilet and returned to the sitting room. Nat had turned some music on and was humming to himself. Again Jason was aware of his neighbours good looks and charm. It was such a shame. A relationship could never develop between them now. He felt his smile frozen on his lips, unsure what to say and do. He had to get out of the flat.
    “Nat, I think I will go back and wait for the police. I don’t feel too good, probably the shock of it all.  Thanks for the coffee though.”
    Jason edged towards the front door, aware of Nat’s quizzical looks. “No worries.  I hope the police sort it out for you. I assume it was all insured? You’ll get your money back, won’t you?
    Was that concern or guilt in his neighbour’s voice? Jason wondered. He must have been fairly shocked to see the victim of his night time foraging standing outside his door asking for his help."Oh, yes, it’s just the inconvenience of it and the wait to get everything sorted out.”   Jason was aware his voice sounded anxious and hoped Nat wouldn’t notice. “Well thanks again.” He managed to reach Nat’s door and then his own as calmly as he was able. Once inside he breathed a sigh of relief. Shocked at the discovery, disappointed that a man he had felt immediate strong feelings for would not be an option. He sat down. He realised he was trembling slightly. He would phone Jess and tell her all about it and wait for the police.
    He saw his ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Script on the table. He had meant to go through his lines this morning in preparation for the all-important dress rehearsal tonight. He knew he wouldn’t make it. Even if the police came early he wasn’t up to playing Nick Bottom tonight. Too much had happened. He would ask Jess to give his apologies.
     He rang her number and waited to hear her reassuring voice. He always felt better after he had talked to her. Then, he thought, I will go through my lines, ready for the opening night.

About the Author

Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity  a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last and available on Amazon Books.

 Links to previous episodes:

Saturday 27 June 2020


by Roger Noons

a mug of hot chocolate

I had to go back. Sixteen minutes thirty two seconds before my mother drew her last breath, I made a promise.
    It was six weeks after her funeral, before I was able to board a train to Truro and then catch a bus to Falmouth. It had always been my mother’s favourite holiday destination. Many years we visited twice, staying in a boarding house, ten minutes walk from the sea. On this occasion I’d booked into an hotel overlooking Swanpool Beach.
    She’d asked for her remains to be scattered on Gyllyngvase Beach. I rose early on the Sunday morning and launched Maisie Cox into the water. With no wind, the ebb tide took her away, forty two years after she’d borne me.
    I was sitting in the garden reading when the owner of the hotel passed by. ‘Good book?’ He asked. I nodded. ‘There’s an excellent second hand book shop in town,’ he told me.
    I found Quay Books on the Tuesday morning, when I was seeking shelter from an unexpected shower. It proved to be my kind of place. Lots of volumes, a coffee machine and armchairs. I’d just opened a book of Ted Hughes poems when the proprietor wished me good morning.
    ‘Not many people come in here for poetry,’ he added. 
    The usual conversation followed, from where and how long are you staying. When I said ‘the Black Country,’ he asked where, which told me he knew the area. As I looked at him, he flicked his head back to remove the greying flop from over his left eye. He then scratched his eyebrow and I had a suspicion he would remember Cradley Heath and a girl called Maisie.     

Friday 26 June 2020

Dear Margaret, Love Fred

by Hannah Retallick

Perhaps you might have noticed that I’ve put out your recycling bins this morning. I wasn’t sure if you had intended to and forgotten, or whether, due to their being only half full, you had judged it best to save them until next week. If the latter, my apologies.
Kind regards,

You might be interested to know that I intend to hire a skip soon, too big to be filled by myself alone. You are welcome to make use of it. Anything from fallen trees to broken fridges, or even old planks from the patio.
Kind regards,

A belated happy birthday. It is a shame that you could not have a proper celebration. The balloon display is most impressive, though.
Best wishes,
P.S. I find it hard to believe that you have reached the age of 70. I am happy to report that, health allowing, it is a wonderful decade. (I say this with some trepidation; I have three years more before I can give a comprehensive account.)

Thank you for your note. It was much appreciated.
I’m glad you liked it. A happy coincidence: I also love hedgehogs. I’m sorry that it wasn’t a birthday card; I thought it best not to venture to the Post Office in this ‘present climate’, seeing as I am in the ‘vulnerable’ category. (As are you, now, I might add!)
I suppose I have always been this way. I cannot think of the right things to say in person. My mother once said that I could be a great orator, if my mind were to work a mere five seconds quicker; it is no longer a problem with close family and friends, but I still find it difficult with relative strangers.

Thank you for your note. It is rather fun, isn’t it? It puts me in mind of a young lady I once knew; we used to enjoy exchanging secret letters. She also lived next door. It is not often that the concept of ‘history repeating itself’ feels so optimistic.  
Best wishes,
P.S. For the sake of full disclosure, I must add that my association with the young lady ended when she ‘took a shine’ to the paper boy. I trust that will not happen in this case!

Thank you for your note. I can’t quite read your second paragraph, but perhaps you could tell me what it contains in person.
That would be delightful. Should we pretend to bump into each other, coincidentally? Should we walk on opposite sides of the road? I am, of course, joking. I shall meet you outside at ‘precisely 10am or thereabouts’, as my dad used to say.
Best wishes,

Thank you, again, for a lovely day. It was most enjoyable, although your knowledge of sea birds puts me to shame. Perhaps we might take a different route next time, somewhere with hedgerows, for instance. I would fare much better.
P.S. When we next meet, would you mind if I walk in front? My hearing is not what it was, and two metres is quite a stretch.

About the author
Hannah Retallick is a twenty-six-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019, and the Bedford International Writing Competition 2019. https://ihaveanideablog.wordpress.com/