SHIP: SS VENTURE
LOG: FLIGHT SURGEON ADAMSON-KANE MD
DATE: DAY 203 / YEAR 21907
It was the day before sunset. No one could tell what time the sun would go finally, and permanently black tomorrow and, to be honest, no one cared. It was too late to care. This was our last full day. A day where you could still have breakfast, lunch and dinner – if you were lucky enough to have food, that is.
A lot of people spent the day in a drunken or drug-filled stupor. One that would last until the blackout.
Others spent it committing any lewd act they could think of. Actions that before the die-down began they wouldn’t have dreamed of committing. Well, perhaps they would have. Dreamed about it, I mean. But they would have restrained themselves. Morals, religion, the law, whatever, would have kept them from acting their fantasies out. But now, there were no restraints. All manner of atrocities took place across the city. ‘Human’ had ceased to be a word that one could, in all conscience, use to describe what they, what we, had become. Every vestige of humanity had been abandoned.
Some families had barricaded themselves in their underground bunkers, had their last meals together, maybe prayed, ‘drank the cool-aid’, laid down in each others' arms and waited for death. Others had climbed to the roofs to watch the sun set.
The twelve of us, however, were packing the ship. All of the supplies we'd managed to collect were being packed into every available corner. We’d calculated that, with what we had, we could survive in space for nine months, to the day. The solar hyper-drive should get us to the base on Ventari before we'd need to recharge. From there, the plan was to trade our way across the galaxy, using our store of almost priceless heritage food seeds as barter. When we reached the Trajan Archipelago, we'd set up a new terra-formed colony on one of its smaller moons. We would start again. The end of one world, the birth of another.
Note to self: When planning to survive on meagre rations for a fixed period of time in a hostile environment, always, always, factor in a stowaway.
We had two. And it changed everything.
“The difference is, I lie for a reason.”
“Sir,” Brian Coxley sighed, “I’m sure your reason is excellent, but you still can’t lie on the smoked salmon. Please get up.”
I snuggled deeper down into the ice. “No.”
“Sir, am I going to have to call security, again?”
“Call whoever you like, I’m not leaving!” A small crowd had gathered. Which was hardly surprising, I was after all, an unusual occupant in the fresh fish display. There was the slam of a door in the distance.
“Simmons!” A loud and, I could already tell, obnoxious voice boomed out. I could tell because I’d heard it before. Yesterday, in fact, when I’d attempted a lie-in over the imported cheese section. That had been a mistake. My clothes smelled horribly of mould–and haddock, for some bizarre reason. Perhaps it was that which had caused me to seek out the salmon.
“Oh great, now Mr Silverton’s coming. You’re going to cost me my job, you know!”
I did sympathise. It wasn’t his fault. But really, if you’re going to have such delicious fish in such nice, cold, crunchy ice you must expect to get liers. I didn’t plan on being there long. Just ten minutes or so, until my toes got all tingly. Then I’d pop off home, put the kettle on for a nice hot cup of tea and listen to tonight’s episode of The Archers. Perhaps some Bovril toast for supper. Toast…all nice and golden and dripping in butter and tangy Bovril.
You know, he was right. The salmon wasn’t a good idea. Pumpkins now. Perhaps I should try the pumpkins. It was nearly Halloween after all. I needed to get into the spirit of the season.
“Right then,” I said, “I’m off.” I could see the relief on Coxley’s face. Poor man. “Ta-ra!” I nipped out of the display, grabbed a decidedly shocked Mrs Thompson round her ample middle and planted a big, wet kiss on her cheek. Leaping on my motorised mobility scooter, I raced at a heady eighteen kilometres an hour for the supermarket entrance, scattering tins of baked beans as I took a corner on, what I’d like to think, was two wheels. One could only dream of such displays of motorised prowess.
Today was not a good day. I’d been moved on, and, not only was it raining outside, which made the fact that I was already cold and a tad moist a possible precursor to double pneumonia, but Constable Clod was just coming through the big glass door. Well, when I say he was coming through it I mean, unfortunately, that he waited, like a good, law-abiding citizen, for the wide doors to slide gracefully open before, as he would say, proceeding onto the premises. Bounding through, shoulder to the glass, shattering it, doing a swift duck and roll would have been far more exciting. But old Cloddy did everything by the book. He’d no more dream of crashing through glass doors, ducking and rolling than he would peeing sitting down!
The glass was probably the ‘this-will-need-an-armoured-vehicle-to-crack-it’ variety anyway. Grief, life was dull in Ditchling.
Ditchling! What a name. Lying dead in Ditchling. Hardly an improvement on ‘lying dead in a ditch’ now is it? Hence the quest behind my lie-ins!
Speaking of which, tomorrow’s another day.
Brrrr. Very cold now. My fingers are quite benumbed, as they say. Or rather, as anyone who has access to OED Online would say. Most folk these days couldn’t spell ‘numb’, let alone ‘benumbed’! Yes, I know I’ve changed tenses. Who’s telling this story? I’m ninety-three, I can change tenses if I want. Can’t change my underwear without help, but I can change tenses without anyone’s permission or assistance!
Where was I?
Oh yes, the cold. With any luck I will get that double pneumonia. Ha! There won’t be any lying dead in Ditchling for me! When they talk about me down at the pub it’ll be, “That Joe Simmons! What a nutter. Did you hear? They found him lying dead in the Brussel sprouts!”
Now there’s a thought! I always did like sweet, little Brussel sprouts.
It was a long word. A long, quiet word. A word without horizons.
The wind rippled through the grass, lifting the edges of her skirt, teasing the tails of the violet ribbons encircling her waist until they danced. All she could hear was the beating of her heart and the echo of the word. Forever.
She’d heard it before. From so many different men. Each time it had been the truth, even if they didn’t understand what it meant, they’d said it. Sincerely. Honestly. With all their heart. And over the years she’d loved them all. Forever. Even when their love had turned to fear. At first, they’d be proud of her unusual beauty. After they’d been married for about twenty years, she’d occasionally catch a glimpse of bewilderment in their eyes. Then people would begin to comment and soon she’d see them watching her. As they aged, their fear grew.
A few had walked away. For the most part they'd been kind. As kind as they were able.They’d told her a gentle lie and then left, taking nothing with them but a lock of her hair.
Others had turned from her, their love gone or twisted into something ugly and foul and she’d been the one to leave, often late at night. She would wait until they slept and then, taking her few belongings, would slip out of the house, latching the door behind her and head for the sea.
Once or twice, their love had turned to hatred and she’d escaped with only her life.
Only one had stayed and eventually, when age and time had taken its toll, he’d died in her arms. She mourned for many years. She’d loved him in a way she’d never loved the others. With him, forever had meant something. It was real. It was blind.
He’d often marvelled that someone whom everyone called beautiful had fallen in love with a sightless man. A man who couldn’t enjoy her beauty. How could she tell him it was his blindness that gave her hope, that made her feel truly loved. But didn’t she want someone who was able to see danger coming and protect her? She’d laughed, but not unkindly. It was his very blindness that made her feel safe. She needed his continuing, untainted love, not his protection. She could take care of herself. She’d been doing it for centuries.
After she’d buried him, she’d vowed never to marry again. But there was that word. Forever. Seven letters that failed so profoundly to describe the thing it meant. Most people can’t be alone, loveless, unloved for the span of even one lifetime. For eight hundred, it was impossible.
Which is why she now stood on this hillside, her hands held in the warm clasp of a man whose light green eyes gazed into hers with such adoration. A man who promised to love her.
If there ever comes a time when I tell the truth about that night, it will be long after you’re dead. I should speak up now, but why? Why spoil the fun? I’ve had a long time to think, locked away as I was. I watched you. Did you know that? Behind that old cupboard in the attic I dug a hole in the wall. It was only plaster board so it was easy. I roamed the whole house and you never realised. You thought you had rats! I laughed. Oh, dear me yes, did I laugh. Rats!
All the bedrooms were right below the roof. It was so easy to make a little hole through the ceiling, right above your beds, in every room. I know who slept with whom and when. Sally dear, you might want to be a little more careful.
I shouldn’t complain. You did feed me. Sometimes though you forgot and that wasn’t nice, dear. Not nice at all. But then late, when you’d all gone to bed and were fast asleep, I’d come downstairs and help myself. How? Oh, the dumb waiter, dear. Yes, I know, you thought it was broken, that’s why you were using it as a cupboard. Except that it worked perfectly and I would pull it up, take off the sheets and towels you had on it and then squish inside and pull myself down. It made me feel quite like a young girl again, playing hide and seek.
Why didn’t I run away? Well, you know that’s a very good question. I’m not sure. I think I was afraid of what you’d do if you caught me. Oh, yes, there was a time when I was very afraid of you. But now, now I think I’ve turned the tables and I believe, yes, I’m almost positive that you are frightened of me, aren’t you dear?
The slave market was almost empty. Somehow he’d expected more than this dismal, dirty, flea bitten courtyard. It looked like the arse end of somewhere civilization had not so much forgotten as been glad to cast aside. Well, that was time travel for you. Set the dial to a period that sounds romantic, hit the big red button and look what you end up with! Typical really. After the week he’d had this just finished it off nicely. And if anyone spoke English here he’d eat his library card. Manly Norscot sighed heavily, "Right. Let's find this ruddy git then and get home before tea time shall we." He strode off, the goat trotting quietly beside him, his pocket watch dangling from its mouth.
Why 'Running the Bathwater Stories'?
When I first started writing short stories I set myself a challenge. I had to write a complete short story in the length of time it took for my bathwater to run. It's not the fastest bath, I hasten to add. Other rules included that I had to sit down to a blank page, with no preconceived story idea and just start writing. Afterwards, once the time was up, I was only allowed to edit grammar etc. The very first one was the story entitled "Forever." The only one that doesn't belong here is "The Difference is, I lie for a reason," but I haven't figured out how to move it without losing the comments.