Out Now!

ANTHOLOGY

THE LOOP
Paperback and eBook editions of all Prizewinners' works and Highly Commended works.

First Prize: £300
MTP First Prizewinners' Trophy

Publication in the Summer 2018 MTP Anthology (print book)
Anthology title based on the winning entry
Publication on the MTP website

Heledd Williams - The Loop


Second Prize: £200
Publication in the Summer 2018 MTP Anthology (print book) 
Publication on the MTP website

Chris Phillips - The Robing Room

Third Prize: £100
Publication in the Summer 2018 MTP Anthology (print book)
Publication on the MTP website

Dr Sohom Das - The Ill-suited Pair
 

Highly Commended

Janet Laugharne - Bronze Cat
Matthew Heathcote - Dream Girl
Moya Poole - I Ain't Got Nobody
Colin Byrne - A Woman's Work
Dennis Dorgan - All About Evie
Kathryn Cowling - The Real Story of the Marie Celeste
PK Frost - Demons
Alexandra Thetis - Next Door Neighbours
Belinda Garry - Slaughtered
Diana Cambridge - Don't Think a Single Thought
Gina Burgess - One Magic Night
Katja Sass - A Date with Gabriel
PJ Stephenson - Last Sortie
Steve Wade - His Father's Son
Tim Robson - How GDPR Can Improve Your Sex Life!
Victor Pearl - Sweet Revenge
Andy Mead - Those Red Shoes
Fiona L. Clarke - The Meeting Among the Trees
James Arnold - No Ordinary Love
Kimberley Martinez - Boxed In By Love
Mary Fox - Gilgamesh Ward
Michael Thompson - The Barbecue

Michelle Christophorou - Eton Mess
Nick Lachmund - In Memoriam
Norman Coburn - Trips Around the Sun

FIRST PRIZE: Heledd Williams - The Loop

“...eeeèéeeeEeeeeeeéééééèèèéeEeeeeeeeéEEeee...”
That’s the sound those ‘Tinnitus Sirens’ make.  I like to call them that as that’s what they remind me of.  You’ve heard of Odysseus?  I like to listen to that Greek mythology podcast and I reckon I’m like him.  He’s kept away from his kingdom by these women called ‘Sirens’ singing, bewitching him, keeping him trapped on an island.  I want to get to my Kingdom of Sleep, but I can’t.  I’m trapped by these witches singing or rather ringing to me.  Sorry, I shouldn’t call them witches, you’d say that’s ‘misogynist’ of me I suppose.  So, I call them Tinnitus Sirens instead, more respectful.  
Tinnitus, bloody tinnitus.  Do you have it?  My punishment for standing too close to speakers in clubs, hunting for birds while on stopovers.  I used to laugh at my colleague for wearing bright yellow earplugs while we jigged about, eyeing up talent.  No way would he score with the ladies with those big daft foamy things protruding from his ears like bananas.  
But somehow, he did.  They liked him, even though he was a right fat ugly git.  I was better-looking, but they’d always go for anyone except me.  Maybe they sensed there was something that wasn’t right?  But I know how to treat ladies, I’m a nice guy, right?  Okay, no need to answer that.  
Anyway, the tinnitus.  As I was getting older it was getting worse.  Well it wasn’t just the Tinnitus Sirens, it was also the engine noises over the years, the rumbling.  Of course, when on a plane it didn’t make much difference, it just slotted in with the other noise.  Loud noises are the downsides of being a pilot, I suppose.  It was an issue understanding airport announcements as the tinny Tannoy noises would merge with the ringing in my ears, but I managed to keep my problem hidden most of the time.  
To sleep, I would have to drown out the sounds via a podcast or an audiobook.  Find a bland monotonous voice to listen to, Russell Brand worked as he was so nasal and vacuous.  Head on pillow, two minutes of Russell and off to Neverland.  Waking up feeling normal, whatever normal is.  
Am I boring you?  Well, you wanted all the details, to ‘unleash the beast’ so to speak.  Women… I can’t do right for doing wrong.  So, there I was one night, wide awake at 2 am hearing and listening to the tinnitus, so I decided to Google it.  I love Google, don’t you?  The things you can find, dark and fascinating stuff all over the web…  
Something caught my eye on WikiHow.  I don’t bother with those boring medical articles, but I do like WikiHow, nice pictures and not many words.  Anyway, it said, ‘…avoid the Loop’.  Get this, if you listen to the tinnitus sounds too much, then you can get locked into a vicious circle of ‘aural hallucinations’ called ‘The Loop’.  Weird eh?  It could trick my brain into hearing sounds looping around, getting clearer and louder.  WikiHow said ‘Do not listen to the Loop’ and I thought what a load of bollocks.
Well did I listen to the warning?  No, I listened to the Loop instead and here we are.  Night after night it kept me awake.  The podcasts weren’t cutting it, even Russell wasn’t doing it for me anymore.  No, I don’t mean it that way!  I couldn’t sleep, and my wanker colleague said I was looking like shit.  The insomnia was also problematic as there could be safety issues with flying obviously.  I needed to sort it out pronto or I’d be grounded.


*


I saw an advert.  Look, I still have it:  


“Can’t sleep? Usual remedies not working?
Specialist Healing Implants for Tinnitus 
As well as other Pioneering Treatments
Email: Timothy@futuraclinic.com”


There I was sitting in a swish waiting room waiting for Timothy, or “Mr Timothy” as he was called, to summon me into his office.  The posters on the wall were weird.  One showed a smug pregnant man while another showed a woman with a blinding smile, like some nuclear fusion was going on in her mouth.  Probably the pioneering treatments promised in the ad.
A nurse came out and had the same smile, I thought I’d need a welding mask to ward it off.  I wanted to ask why her teeth looked like that, but it’s best not to ask women questions about their teeth, isn’t it?  That’s why I never score with the ladies, I always seem to say the wrong thing.  You’ve got interesting teeth, by the way.  I notice teeth, especially canines.  I’d love to serenade a lucky lady like you with my Human League collection.  I’d love to have a little lady to bunk up with me in my berth…  I’m kidding, no need to look at me like that. 
I digress.  As I walked into the room I heard, “Hello there, you must be Mr Fartine, please sit down.  What can we do for you today, my dear man?”.  It was incredible, but eerie too.  His voice didn’t match his looks, he was an absolute Adonis.  What I’d give to look like him, I’d have them flocking!  I’d be batting them away with my, um… joystick…  Sorry, you didn’t want to hear that.  But yes, his voice, it was strange, he looked magnificent, but… His voice was a bit shaky, like an old man’s.  
The nurse sat in the corner and took notes as I told Mr Timothy about the tinnitus.  “So, the tinnitus is causing sleep disruption, are you hearing any particular melodies?”.  I replied that I wasn’t, it was just high-pitched ringing sounds or a rumble. “That’s good, I had a woman once who had some song called ‘I Will Survive’ on a constant loop, she thought she was going mad”.  I wasn’t surprised, like who could survive that?  I hate that song.  Feminist crap.
Mr Timothy said, “I think you’re just the right specimen, I mean, the right individual for these new implants”.  I was very pleased, I was aware of the time and wanted to get back home so I could wax my German Fokker D.VII model fighter plane.  I saw the nurse’s eyes flashing at me, but I ignored her, she was just the nurse.  Looking back, maybe she was trying to warn me...
Anyhow, Mr Timothy leaned over and murmured, “These beauties are just the thing for you.  You’re a pilot yes?  I take it you’re the adventurous type, like Biggles?”.  I said of course I was, I had flown short haul, long haul, even a private jet with Courtney Love on it.  I could take on anything.
“Well, here they are, Specialist Healing Implants for Tinnitus” brandishing a glossy brochure. 
“Yes, that’s why I’m here, I saw them in the advert.”
“They’re very special.”
“Is that why they’re called ‘Specialist’?”
“Exactly.”
“Why are they so special?”
“They’re implants.”
“Yes, I read that in the advert too.”
“Good, I’m glad you’ve done your reading”, Mr Timothy beamed.
Mr Timothy explained how the new implants would work under the skin behind my ears.  They were expensive, requiring an immediate cash payment.  Well I am a pilot, I love gadgets, have no dependents, so I can lavish some extra money on myself or any little lady I can snare!  He also said the implants were truly innovative, only the intrepid could handle them.  Of course, that was music to my tinnitus-ridden ears.  
“Where do I sign up?” I asked.  An hour later I was walking out of the clinic, ‘walking on sunshine’ you could say.  Little did I know what would happen next.  


*
 

The first night I switched them on is when it must have happened.  The instructions said to be in a quiet room when ready to sleep.  No Russell or any podcasts.  As soon as they were on I heard some gentle breezy sounds.  Soon I was dreaming I was Tom Cruise in Top Gun.  Bliss.
The next morning, I had a little itchy red patch of skin near my right implant.  A bloody mosquito must have done it, but I thought nothing further of it and got on with my day.  That night though, another faint noise started to cut through the airy sounds.  You could barely hear it, it was a high-pitched faraway buzz.  The more I listened, the closer it came, getting much louder than the breezes. It was disturbing after a bit, so I switched off the implants.  The relief I felt for a few seconds.  Those seconds…
Suddenly, my old tinnitus ringing and rumbling noises were back but punctuated with a horrible intense insect-like buzz every now and again.  Every time yanking me awake just as I was on the verge of nodding off.  It was impossible to sleep with its increasing louder loops.  I tried listening to a podcast and that worked a little, but it wasn’t great.  It wasn’t a sound sleep as I could still hear it in the background.  I kept waking every three hours, it was worse than having a baby I should imagine.  No?  I wouldn’t know I suppose. 
Luckily, I had a week off and was swotting for some simulator tests, so I didn’t have to worry too much about flying that week.  I went straight back to the clinic, but it had gone. All the signs for the place had disappeared and when I asked around, no-one knew anything about it.  Outrageous!  They’d taken my cash and buggered off, leaving me with hideous implants I couldn’t remove.  I went to see audiologists and doctors, but each refused to take them out, telling me to investigate further experimental and extortionate surgery in the US.  
It was a living nightmare with the noise becoming a hellish mixture of Tinnitus Sirens, plane rumbling, dive-bombing insect buzzes and a creepy bug-like rasping sound.  The Loop was doing the loop-de-loop.  With one difference, whenever I heard the rasping bug speech I could feel a cavernous hunger, commanding me to fill it.  
I was soon tearing my kitchen apart, devouring the only food I could stomach – meat, the bloodier the better.  I went through the contents of my fridge-freezer faster than a lion can rip the arm off a dozy zookeeper.  I gobbled up all the sausages, steaks and pies in one sitting, I even ate them raw once they’d been defrosted in the microwave.  It was a compulsion, honest.  
The next day I went to the supermarket to stock up.  I found myself stuffing a load of meat into my trolley, to the brim.  Steaks were great, the oozing blood, so juicy.  When I got to the check-out, the cashier chuckled, “Are you having a barbecue? It’s a bit cold today though, isn’t it?”.  Sometimes I couldn’t even get out of the car park before ripping the clingfilm off packets and gnawing through raw slabs of meat.  Those polystyrene trays with the blood slopping at the bottom?  Nectar! 
It was getting a bit out of hand when I was doing this on a three-times a day basis and most of the feeding was in the car park.  I didn’t trust anyone not to steal my full trolley if I felt like running to the loo to scoff down some black pudding.  Black pudding is such a delicacy isn’t it?  Never tried it?  Stick with me and I’ll introduce you to the dark arts.
Then I was banned from the supermarkets.  Bastards.  Every supermarket and butcher in the area was telling each other what I was doing.  I was told I was scaring babies and small kids in the car park when they saw me decanting the meat trays down my gullet and glugging all the blood.  I didn’t know what their problem was, their eating habits aren’t exactly pristine either.  
They also said that I was bad for trade and depriving other shoppers of meat as I was clearing all the shelves in every supermarket in my town faster than a rampaging grizzly bear.  The butchers were the worst.  They had it in for me and would start sharpening their knives whenever I entered their shops.  Then they’d chase me out with my fistfuls of sausages.  
I tried the next town, but posters had been circulated.  I looked awful on them as they made me look like a criminal.  I could see I was getting pretty rotund, like a big pasty maggot.
I stopped going outside in daylight as becoming nocturnal was better for me I suppose.  Of course, I was signed off work for my problem and started to sleep off-and-on during the day.  Throughout all this, the bastard Loop was always there, still compelling me to go hunting and guzzle as much meat as possible.  
I took to raiding the local abattoir at nights but got caught on CCTV once, eating chunks off a pig’s arse while it was still hanging on its hook.  I just couldn’t wait until I got to the car with it, do you see how bad the situation was?  
Well I think you know the rest, don’t you?  You saw it on the news?  I’m famous I guess, or infamous rather.  I just couldn’t help myself, he got me at a bad time.  The Loop was pandemonium in my ears, I was ravenous, well, ferocious.  He shouldn’t have come around, checking up on me.  I always thought he was a fat bastard, but I never dreamed he’d be so tasty.  
I had to cover his gargoyle face when I was chomping away, until there was nothing left except for the stuff in his pockets.  That’s how they identified him.  I kept these as souvenirs… like them?  They’re a bit bright aren’t they, like bananas, but his earplugs seem to help my tinnitus now.
Knowing my side of the story, do you understand why it wasn’t my fault?  It was that damn mosquito.  She got inside my head, telling me to eat non-stop.  Females and their devious mind control!  It was the mosquito’s fault with her insatiable rasping demands.  Do you know why I know she was female?  Well, it’s only the female mosquito that bites and eats blood.  The males typically watch the world go by, causing no harm to anyone.  
Did you know a female mosquito eats four times her bodyweight in blood?  That’s the same as a human eating 200kg of steak, half a cow...  Unbelievable, isn’t it?  I Googled it the other day when we had our computer class, it’s part of our rehabilitation.  
It’s a useful for mitigation. Write it down.  Add it to the other reasons.  That’s why you need to believe me on this one.  I need you to convince everyone there’s nothing wrong with me, I shouldn’t be here.  
After today’s session, fancy a bite to eat with me?  It’s a bit basic in here I’m afraid, it’s not exactly Michelin-starred but you do look so delectable today. 
 

 

SECOND PRIZE: Chris Phillips - The Robing Room

It’s difficult to breathe in this mist. No, not mist, something more viscous. It clogs his 

nose, smarts his eyes and makes him cough. Once he starts he can’t stop.

 

A gentle pat on his back. “There, there, Howie.” The voice is soothing, female, not one he 

recognises. But she must know him because she called him ‘Howie’, and only close friends 

do that. He cracks open an eye; nothing - just this bloody awful red dust.

 

“Let’s get you out of here.” A firm grip on his arm. His instinct is to pull away, but if she -

whoever she is - is taking him to safety, isn’t it silly to resist? 

 

They move swiftly. Beneath his feet the surface yields like waterlogged moss, and he fears to 

tread too heavily lest he should pass straight through. Rising on tiptoe he begins to scurry. 

‘Scurry’- he reflects, absently - not something he’d normally do, especially with his fallen 

arches.

 

He doesn’t hear a door open or close but supposes there must have been one, because all at 

once he’s gulping cool, sweet air. Once he’s wiped his streaming tears his rescuer comes 

into focus. Howie is sure he’s never met her before. She’s dressed in a long, purple shift 

which is quite shapeless; he guesses she’s about thirty, plump and with such a scrubbed-

clean, apple-cheeked appearance that he begins to self-consciously brush himself down 

before realising there’s not a speck of red dust anywhere on his light-grey suit; his black 
patent loafers gleam. 

 

The woman grins, showing even, white teeth. “Sorry about back there. Now, we're already 

late, so - shall we?” She gestures ahead.

 

They are in a long corridor; the walls and ceiling are a dingy grey but the floor glistens, veins 

of silver and gold snaking through aqua-blue marble. It’s stunning, thinks Howie, like the sun 

breaking through after rain. But the sound of their footsteps ringing out seems to penetrate his 

skull and he winces.

 

At the end of the corridor is a large, square hall where about thirty men and women of 

varying size, age and colour are milling about with an air of purpose and concentration. The 

hall is lined on two adjacent sides with curtained cubicles; on a third side is a row of high, 

swivel chairs each filled by someone having their hair dressed or make-up applied; the fourth 

side is empty, the wall area blank, featureless. 

 

His companion indicates the nearest cubicle. “Change in there, please.”

 

“What?”

 

“This is the Robing Room, Howie.” She treats him to another grin before crossing to talk to 

an elderly woman who is anxiously plucking at the hem of her fuchsia-pink cardigan. 

Is he at an audition? Howie doesn’t recollect his agent contacting him or what the production 

might be. Inside the cubicle he studies his costume for clues: dark green joggers; brown 

polyester polo shirt; scuffed, white trainers. He grimaces: for a while now he’s been hoping 

for an historical drama series with masses of blood and sex that will secure a loyal 

audience for itself and a steady income for him. Still, work is work, and there’s not been a lot 

of it about lately.

 

He slips his feet out of the loafers and removes his jacket and tie; the tie is silk and shimmers 

with liquid hues of turquoise and indigo. At its touch the image of a man flashes into 

Howie’s mind and he feels a rush of tenderness without understanding why. He also has the 

strong sense he should be somewhere else - but where?  His head fizzes and buzzes with the 

effort to remember; if this is a hangover, he hopes it was worth it.

 

Outside the cubicle most of the others - he supposes he should call them ‘the cast’ - are 

dressed like him in dull, everyday clothes; but a few, such as the old woman in the fuchsia 

cardigan, have brighter or more interesting accessories. With not a little envy he considers the 

handle-bar moustache of a dapper-looking man who is also sporting a snowy-white shirt, 

tight, black waistcoat and red bow-tie - definitely a French waiter, concludes Howie. He 

stares hard at everyone hoping to spot an old pal, but they are all new faces. Nor can he see 

the woman who brought him here.

 

Tentatively, he joins the queue for hair and make-up. The girl in front of him turns. “You new 

here, then?” She’s sallow-faced, with piercings and that emaciated look many of them have 

these days. Howie calculates she can be no older than sixteen and he nods, a little stiffly: 

there was a time the younger ones showed him more respect.

 

“I was picked ’cos I was in school productions,” the girl says smugly. “My best was Frenchie 

in ‘Grease’, yeah? It’s not the same here like, but I’d be bored without it. Oh, that’s me!”

 

He watches her clamber onto one of the chairs. What did she mean: where exactly is ‘here’? 

It’s unlike any TV studio he’s ever known. For a start there’s no sign of a technical crew; 

more worryingly, he hasn’t had sight of a script nor had his moves blocked in. He flushes: is 

he to be an ‘extra’ in a commercial? Has his career sunk so low? Then he brightens: perhaps 

it’s an improv! After all, some directors now prefer to approach a play this way, and as 

anyone will tell you Howie’s always happy to oblige.

 

When it’s his turn the make-up artist, a striking young man in black T-shirt and jeans, scrapes 

back Howie’s long, greying hair and secures it with a stretchy band. “‘General filler’, is it?”

 

Howie offers up puppy-dog eyes and shrugs. 

 

The young man sighs. “Are you ‘general filler’ or more prominent?” 

 

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what I’m auditioning for.”

“It’s not an audition, dear, you’re straight in there. Now, judging from the costume I’d say 

‘general filler’, myself.” Deftly, the young man applies liberal amounts of beige foundation to 

Howie’s skin which, Howie must admit, is looking more lined than usual. Still, he’s not in 

bad shape, and without having had any work done either. Not many in the business his age 

could claim that. 

 

After mascara has been flicked lightly along his lashes and any sheen blotted with a loose, 

translucent powder, Howie considers the effect: under the glare of the mirror lights his 

features are bleached out, shadowless. “Can’t I have a touch of rouge?” he pleads. “I look 

like death warmed up.”

 

The young man throws him an arch look. “Off you go, there’s a good boy. The fun’s about to 

start.”

 

With some foreboding Howie makes his way to the centre of the room where the rest of the 

cast have gathered. There’s a loud hum of excitement and expectation, but as the lights dim

the others fall silent and turn to face the blank wall. Howie turns too, and watches as blurred 

shapes emerge across its surface, as if from underwater; he makes out buildings, vehicles, 

traffic lights and a zebra crossing, first in hazy outline and then in greater detail. Colour is 

added, as if a giant, invisible hand is at work, the scene brightens, and he’s astonished to 

identify the main street of the small town where he grew up.  Why, there’s the library and the 

mini-market, the shoe-shop and the bank! But surely some buildings are missing or in the 

wrong place? He shakes his head to better concentrate, but his thoughts are ruptured by a 

searing bolt of pain. 

 

That soothing voice again in his ear. “Sorry, Howie, it’s been one thing after another today. 

Listen: blend into the background and talk to no-one. Simply walk up the street, cross the 

road and walk down the other side. Easy-peasy.”

 

“Which street - the one up there? How’s that supposed to happen then?” But he is speaking to 

the air; the woman has gone, leaving him more confused than ever.

 

The others are crouching now, their attention glued to the wall, their bodies tense like they’re 

getting ready to jump. He spots the girl with the piercings, her profile illuminated in the light 

from the wall, her face suffused with an emotion Howie realises is pure joy. 

 

Suddenly, the girl’s body lifts from the floor and Howie cries out in shock; in almost the 

same instant the room fragments, he feels a crushing weight against his chest and then he is 

standing in the centre of a town he left more than thirty years earlier. 

 

He barely has time to register this before someone jabs him sharply in the back and hisses at 

him to start moving. He stumbles forward, his heart racing; beside him others saunter along, 

studiously ignoring the desperate looks he shoots their way. The girl is ahead of him, and 

seeing her enter a clothes shop he decides to follow. Away from prying eyes he can ask her 

what the hell’s going on. But try as he might the door refuses to open. Weakly, he leans 

against the shop window; the glass feels queer, insubstantial, and behind it mannequins waver 

and flicker as if through a thick, distorting lens. 

 

His other senses are equally blunted: traffic glides silently past and there is an absence of 

everyday sounds such as human conversation and laughter; he sniffs the air for the harsh, 

high-street cocktail of diesel, coffee and fried food, but it is absent.  

 

Panic rises in his throat like acid. 

 

He forces himself on, past a bakery, a post office and a small antique shop. Didn’t there used 

to be a taxi stand near here? Hope spurts inside him before the crushing realisation that he has 

no money; he must have left his wallet in his jacket pocket. Fighting disappointment he 

passes a café where two women are seated outside at a table. One of them is the old woman 

in the fuchsia cardigan; the other is younger, perhaps in her early fifties. She’s wearing a 

crimson jacket and blue jeans, her hair a vivid, artificial auburn.  

 

“Howie!”

 

He ignores the shout, merely quickens his pace. Wasn’t he told to speak to no-one? Perhaps 

this is a test!

 

“Howie, is that you?” 

 

He risks a quick glance. The redhead is standing and waving and yes, there is something 

familiar about her. He hurries over. “Can you lend me some money?”

 

The woman’s face creases in concern. “What’s the matter? You look awful!”

 

Howie looks nervously over his shoulder and lowers his voice, forcing her to lean closer. 

“I’ve got to get away!”

 

“What are you talking about? What’s happened?”

 

“I don’t know! I don’t even know how I got here! I think I’ve been drugged! You must help 

me!” 

 

“Of course I will. Look, sit down first and have a drink. My mother and I were about to 

order.” But behind her the old woman is glaring at him and making small, shooing 

movements with her hands. Then the French waiter is at Howie’s side, looking flustered, his 

eyes above the magnificent moustache flashing a warning.

 

A sudden, freezing cold grips Howie, quickly penetrating every pore and paralyzing all 

movement. Just when he thinks he can bear it no longer it releases him and he finds himself 

face down on the Robing Room floor. Lifting his head, he can only look on in hopeless terror 

as the street and the café and the woman in the crimson jacket recede and dissolve and the 

wall becomes, once more, blank and totally featureless.

 

The rest of the cast land silently beside him in twos and threes. They look around in 

confusion until the girl with the piercings points an accusing finger at Howie. “It’s your fault! 

I saw what you did!” The old woman in the fuschia cardigan nods in vigorous confirmation 

whereupon an angry muttering erupts, the noise swelling until Howie is certain a swarm of 

angry bees has entered his skull and left their barbed stings in his brain. Whimpering, he 

places his hands over his ears and curls up in a ball on the floor.

 

The sound ends abruptly, and when he dares to look he sees the woman in purple standing in 

the centre of the hall. The cast retreat, slowly and reluctantly, and only when they have all 

disappeared into the cubicles does the woman approach him.

 

“You were told to speak to no-one.” The soothing tone has gone.

 

Howie struggles to stand. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but I want to leave!”

 

“And go where, Howie? Where will you go?” 

 

He opens his mouth to answer but can recollect only the street where he’s just been, and 

even the memory of that is starting to fade. “You won’t get away with this! The police are 

probably looking for me right now!”

 

The woman’s lips part in an amused smile. “The thing is, Howie - well, let me put it this way: 

that wish you always had to be a dream-boat has finally come true.”

 

Howie moans and clutches at his head: the pain is suddenly fierce again.

 

“Something’s still wrong,” the woman says irritably. “I’ll have to get to the bottom of it.” 

Leading him away she adds, “I have high hopes, Howie, so don’t let me down.  Given 

time, and with your past experience, you could be one of our best!” 

 

***

 

It’s Sunday morning in an outer suburb of Leeds. A man enters carrying an iPad and a mug of 

tea. He places the mug on the bedside table next to a sleeping woman, before walking round 

the bed and sliding in next to her. He opens his iPad.

 

After a few moments the woman stirs and sits up. “Do you remember Howie, that friend of 

mine from university? You know, the one who became an actor?”

 

The man grunts while continuing to scroll through the headlines.

“Well, it’s weird: after uni he moved to London and we lost touch, but then last night he 

popped up in my dream.” She notices the mug. “Oh, thanks.” She picks it up, blows, takes a 

sip. “I was with Mum, which was lovely, and she was about to tell me what happened to her 

pearls, when he walked past. At first I didn’t know it was him; he was older, obviously, and 

he looked so scruffy – and when I think how beautifully he used to dress.” She takes another 

sip. “He was distraught actually, but I woke up before I found out why. Poor Mum didn’t get 

a chance to finish, either.”

 

“Christ, that’s awful!”

 

“I know - I was promised those pearls! I still think her care worker took them.”

 

“No, not your pearls!  Listen: it says here that two men were on their way to get married 

yesterday when a metal sheet fell from a roof and decapitated one of them.”

 

“Oh thanks, love, just what I needed to hear.” She puts down the mug and swings her legs 

out of bed. “I’m going for a wee.”

 

“Hang on a sec. What was his full name?”

 

“Who?”

 

“That mate of yours from uni.”

 

“Howard Black. Why?”

 

“Well, it could be one hell of a coincidence, but the dead guy had the same name.”

 

THIRD PRIZE: Dr Sohom Das - The Ill-suited Pair

“Excuse me! I say. Can you please just go away? I don’t want you touching me.”  The car’s voice was haughty, yet assured.
“What?”
“I said get off me. Shoo!”
“Shoo?! That’s very rude. I’m not a dog. I have every right to be here.”
“What are you, a flyer or something?  Whatever you want, we’re not interested.  Please do depart. I really must insist.”
“Flyer?  The insolence! I am a parking ticket, mam.  I’m here as a representative of the law. And this is an official loading bay. It’s not for any old car.” 
“Any old car?! How very dare you! I am a Porsche 997 Panamera 4S.  Zero to sixty, in 4.4 seconds.  My starting price is ninety grand, I’ll have you know.”
“I’m sorry.  Do you drive?”
“And that is merely the starting price. Evidently, I don a plethora of additional luxury features.”
“Do you drive, mam?” the ticket asked, in a louder voice.
“Pardon me?”
“Do you drive? Do you transport humans, in a role as a vehicle?”
“Yes, obviously.”
“Then you’re a car, car.”
“Now listen here, you ruffian! I’ve tried being polite, but-”
“Must have missed that bit.”
“-But I must insist that you disperse this instance. If it is money you are trying to obtain, then I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement.  We would just prefer for our image not to be tarnished by a-”
“Who’s ‘we’?”
“Who’s what?”
The ticket sighed and crumpled (marginally).  “You keep saying ‘we’. May I enquire: who do you mean by ‘we’?”
“Whom do I mean? Myself and my owner. Clearly.”
“But your owner isn’t here.”
“But I represent Mr Smallcox. The finest of gentlemen, who-”
“If he was here, you wouldn’t have ended up with me, in all likelihood. But he’s just abandoned you here.”
“By Jove! You obnoxious little…” The car was simply too refined to create a suitable moniker. “You are not even worthy to speak his name!”
“I didn’t”
“You… wretched, despicable… scrap of paper! Look at you! Dressed in bright yellow plastic.  How distasteful!  You don’t deserve to even be in my proximity, you nefarious… piece of tree pulp.”
“Listen mam, I do not appreciate abuse. I’m just trying to do my job.”
“You know what?  I don’t even wish to converse with you.  Patently, you’re a jobs-worth and an imbecile.”
“Fine,” the ticket said, in a stoic voice.
“Jolly good, then.”

Surly winds rush through the High Street. Chased by discarded newspapers and trampled boxes. The ticket flapped a little, though remained on the car. Defiantly present. Traffic crawled by in a cacophony of beeps and hums.  Drivers craned their heads around, scouring for elusive parking spaces.  Stealing opportunities at traffic lights, passengers leapt out of cars. Rows of people flitted in and out of shops, carrying items. Marching back and forth, like ants. A regulated chaos. 

A cyclist braked hard, avoiding collision with a large van by mere centimetres.  He slapped on the side of the van, hollering protestations about indicating, and the lack thereof.  The window wound down jerkily and the head of a rotund, middle-aged woman shot out.  She had a garish neck tattoo and a limp, roll-up cigarette dangling out of one side of her mouth, along with a toothpick in the other.  Her face writhed with hostility.  She conveyed her indifference to driving etiquette in a colourful tirade of expletives, occasionally peppered with other words.  The cyclist shrunk into his light red lycra, dropped his gaze and shuffled away, muttering under his breath.

The parking ticket and the car try to ignore each other. Challenging, given their forced proximity.  After some time, the ticket finally broke the silence. “I’m not trying to ‘obtain money’, like some fraudster.  Your owner broke the law.”
“My owner is a lawyer,” said the car, as if this offered an explanation.
“Well then, he should know better.”
The car scoffed. “And what of your owner?  I bet he’s quite the upstanding citizen.”
“Owner?  I’m not an object that is owned. I’m a legal document that is served.”
“You, my dear, are precursor to rubbish that is distributed! And your owner is patently a ghastly man.”
“How dare you!’
“Me?” the car scoffed. “I think you’ll find that society in its entirety would concur. Your owner, like all parking attendants is nothing but a pariah. A leech. A ruddy parasite!”
“Oh yeah?  And your owner is a lawyer. I bet he’s revered by society.” The ticket was not adept at relaying sarcasm, but the car comprehended him nonetheless.
“At least he’s educated,” she said.  “He has a degree from a university in Oxford, I’ll have you know.”
“Didn’t help him read the parking regulations sign.”
“Can yours even speak English?
The parking ticket shuddered, even though the wind had subsided.  He was bursting with fury, even though he didn’t change colour. He was consumed with an urge to scream, even though he remained outwardly professional. “You mam, are a racist,” he said, in a forced calm voice.
The car knew she had overstepped the mark, but she would be dammed if she was going to apologise to a lowly ticket. “Poppycock!  How can I be racist?  I know lots of… ethnics.”
“Yeah? Whom?”
“You mean who. The fellow that washes me is Polish.”

A long pause ensued.  Some teenagers walked past, kicking a football and eating fried chicken from greasy cardboard boxes, with white wires dangling from their collars. They spoke in slang. A couple of them stopped to marvel at the car, briefly.  One pointed at the ticket and laughed. They moved on. The pause continued, unperturbed.

“I’m surprised you remember what race he was,” the ticket mumbled, after a while.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m just making an observation.  You don’t appear to have been washed in quite some time, mam.”
“Mr Smallcox is a busy man.”
The ticket noticed the slight hesitation in her response. The despondency hidden in her words. He revelled, striking while the proverbial iron was hot. “I just thought a hypocritical racist like yourself would look after her appearance, mam.”
“How preposterous! I’m not a hypocrite.”
“Judging others by the colour of their skin, whilst you’re luminous yellow.”
“I’m luminous yellow?  By George! That’s the pot calling the kettle black.”
“But my yellowness is a requirement,” said the ticket, his voice smug. “It serves a purpose.  I need to garner people’s attention.  Not for vanity, but to uphold the law.” 
“Uphold the law?  Steady on, dear boy! You’re not John Wayne.  You’re at best a minor inconvenience for people who accidentally make an honest mistake.”
“And what’s your purpose, mam?  To feed your owner’s ego?”
“I simply can’t help it if I turn heads.”
“With your hue? You turn stomachs!  How insecure is your owner?”
“What are you implying?”
“He must be compensating for something.”
“Behave yourself! How dare you insinuate that Mr Smallcox’s genitalia is inadequate? I’ll have you for libel, you scoundrel.”
“Don’t you mean slander?”
“What?”
“Don’t you mean ‘pardon’?”
“What? …Pardon?”
“Libel is printed. Slander is verbal.  For a lawyer’s slave, you really are uninformed.”
“Now, listen here, you cretin! I will not be insulted by a godforsaken piece of paper, in a godforsaken piece of plastic. I shan’t stand for it! I am a valuable asset to an amazing gentleman.  A great, noble man, with probably at least average… particulars.  I have a purpose! You’re nothing.  Do you hear me?  Nothing!”

A warm tingle of satisfaction spread over the ticket. He gloated silently, even though he remained outwardly professional. 
“You shall end up in a spiffing scrap heap, rotting. Or recycled at best,” the car said, her voice as haughty, though less assured than before. “If you’re fortuitous, you might be recycled into toilet paper and my owner might grace you with his use.  That’s all you’re worthy of. You silly rapscallion.”
“Are you an only car, mam?” said the ticket, his voice icy.
The car did not respond.
He repeated the question.
“It’s no concern of yours,” she eventually mumbled.
“You assert yourself to be a precious, unique object.  I was just curious if your owner had another car.”
The car grunted, somehow still managing to convey snootiness. “I shan’t dignify that with an answer.”
“Ok then.  I’ll assume that, since you’re such a majestic specimen, worth ninety grand, that you are able to satisfy all his needs.” The ticket’s aptitude for sarcasm had somewhat developed, in a short space of time.
“Well, obviously he needs an alternative for more boot space for trips away.  The kids have buggies and all kinds of equipment.  It’s not easy, you know.”

The ticket said nothing.  He didn’t have to.

Traffic (human and vehicular), subsided as the evening sauntered by.  Shops closed and the cars lined up along the street were driven away, one by one. But not her. The ill-suited pair ignored each other.  Paradoxically, this had become easier, the more they had gotten accustomed to each other’s company.  They lay together, but separate. Lost in their own thoughts.  Despite himself, the ticket wondered what was going through her mind.

The skies distorted from an optimistic blue, to a sulking grey, to a devious black. Darkness camouflaged itself within all silhouettes, then  encompassed them.  Flashing lights from planes careered across the sky, mingling temporarily with the stars.  The ticket fantasised bizarre scenarios, of being served on a plane. In another life, if things were different. He dismissed them. He knew they were silly.

A drunk man waddled past them both, singing his pain.  He stumbled down the road, placing a grubby hand on the car, momentarily. She shrunk back. Hours later, a dog urinated a few feet away and a stream eagerly marched down the road, avoiding contact with the car’s tyres by mere centimetres.  Aside from that, it was an uneventful night. Some things happened. Some did not.

The morning reincarnated the bustle of the High Street. Birds’ ballads were replaced by a new cacophony of beeps and hums.  Adults acquainted. Babies bawled. Children chattered. Dogs dawdled. Everybody emerged. 

New vehicles began their crawl. New drivers arrived. They craned their heads around, scouring for parking spaces, which remained elusive. Despite the flagrant absence of her owner, the car concealed her distress.
 
Then disaster struck.

“Wayhey! What’s going on ‘ere?” The second ticket’s voice was impish and, to the car’s dismay, even more churlish than its predecessor. 
“Allo mate,” he nodded a corner (imperceptibly) to the original ticket.  “We’ve stuck ourselves on to a gorgeous bit of kit here, ‘aven’t we?  I bet she’s a right ol’ goer on the motorway.”
“We’re in the presence of royalty, don’t you know,” said the original ticket, his voice derisive. “A Porsche 997, street value starting at ninety thousand pounds.” 
“That was ‘er value,” said the second ticket. “She looks like she’s been around a bit.  That’s the fing with cars. They peak when they’re brand new and it’s all downhill from there.  They depreciate in value every day.”
“I say, can you stop talking about me like I’m not here? It’s awfully uncouth,” the car’s voice was haughty, but it waivered. Subtly, but it was enough.
“Oooh, ladde-dah! ‘Ark at the princess,” scoffed the second ticket.
The original ticket sniggered, with a hint of discomfort.
“It doesn’t matter ‘ow much you were worth once, darlin’,” said the second ticket, his voice sneering. “Anybody who can afford a Porsche wants a new one.  You’re gonna be used until you’re worn out and then dumped into the scrap heap.  Then your pretty little yellow carcass is gonna become brown rust. Just like every other car. Just another piece of scrap! Ha!”
“Ok mate. She gets the message.  Go easy on her,” said the original ticket.
“Don’t defend ‘er!  If she don’t want to be taunted, then ‘er moronic owner should have read the sign.”
The original ticket was puzzled by an urge that he could not quite fathom. He said nothing. He remained outwardly professional.
“What does he do then, Sweetheart? Your owner?  Is ‘e a doctor or summin’?”
She said nothing. 
“Does it really matter?” asked the original ticket.
“Well, I bet e’s busy cos there’s two of us now. He don’t love you.  You’re just ‘is bright yellow hussy trophy.  If e’s got a total of five unpaid fines, they could tow you away?   Maybe they’re coming tomorrow.  They’d love to crush up, a delicate posh little…”
“THAT’S ENOUGH! LEAVE HER ALONE!” bellowed the original ticket, consumed with an urge that he could not quite fathom. He stretched out (infinitesimally), trying to knock the cocky young ticket off the car’s windshield, impaired by his own sticky back and the grip of the windscreen wiper.

A trickle of fluid flopped on to the bottom of the windscreen. A couple of drops caressed the edge of the original ticket.
“I do apologise,” whimpered the car. “It’s a faulty wiper fluid valve.  It does tend to do that once in…”
“Oh my God! She’s crying!  ‘er royal Highness is crying!”
“Shut up! Shut your mouth!” yelled the original ticket.  “I don’t want to hear one more peep from you. Leave her alone!”
“Sorry for existing,” muttered the second ticket, needing to have the last word.  

*

In the morning, the car was stoically silent.  The second ticket was petulantly silent.  The original ticket was pensively silent.  When the removal truck crawled to a stop nearby, the car let out a long, flat sigh. A sigh that held resignation. It was the first noise that any of them had made that day.

The removal trucked hissed and screeched, a little excessively.  It lined up with the car. Then a shrill beeping noise ceremoniously announced the inevitable. 

“I wanted to thank you for sticking up for me yesterday, ticket. You’re awfully valiant.” The car’s voice was haughty, but delicate.
“That’s ok, mam.  I’m sorry this is happening to you.  You deserve better. He shouldn’t have just abandoned you like this. If I had known this was gong to happen, I wouldn’t have-“
“Oh Please! You’re ‘aving a laugh!” grumbled the second ticket.
They both ignored him.
“It was Oxford Brookes, you know.”
“What?”
“I purported that my owner got a degree at a university in Oxford. Well, it was Oxford Brookes. Not the Oxford University.
“Well, I hear Oxford Brookes is a fine institute, too,” the original ticket said, even though he had never heard of it.
“Its not.  It’s a sham. Just like me.”
“Hey, c’mon.  Don’t say that.  I was fibbing yesterday.  I actually think your colour is beautiful.  You’re so… vivacious.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I do,” said the ticket, fibbing.

The beeps got louder, as if to emphasise the drama.  A couple of workmen in dirty overalls leaned over the car. They wore luminous yellow gloves and hats, and sombre faces. They spoke in serious tones.  One placed a large metal bar underneath the front chassis of the car.  Some passing school-children giggled.  One stopped and pulled out her phone to take some pictures.

“You know, we probably don’t have long left together,” the original ticket flapped (visibly).  “I just wanted to say… I know it sounds silly, but in another life, if things were different…”
“Yes?”
“Well, you and I, I think-”

RIP! A meaty, luminous yellow glove separated the car and the tickets.

 

Copyright © 2019 Michael Terence Publishing