Yeah I Am by Chelle Obayda
As we walk into John’s kitchen, his mother welcomes him with a huge hug and a kiss on the forehead. She pulls out a chair for John at the kitchen table and he sits down. His mother sits across from him and I jump onto the chair next to him. I give her a big smile but she continues to look straight at John. Her face carries a mixture of adoration and worry.
“How was your day today darling? Better than yesterday? Did your teacher like the story you wrote?”
John wriggles in his seat and kicks his feet against the table legs. I can feel the knock and turn my head to look at him. He stares at his hands as they rest on the table, palms down. I can tell he is trying to remain calm. “Fine mum. It was fine.”
I look at his mum and see her eyebrows furrow. Eyes fixed on John as he looks at his hands, she tries again.
“And… and the story? Did Mr Fisher like it? Did he read it aloud to the class!”
“Yeah” John mumbles. His eyes look up but he can’t manage a smile. He just looks grumpy.
After a little pause, his mother sighs, retreating back in her chair.
“What's wrong darling?”
Silence. Feeling awkwardly out of place, I say nothing and gaze down at my feet. Now my shoes are kicking against the chair.
Then his mother reaches out her hand and places it over his.
“Was Lucy with you today?” She gently asks.
My back straightens and I feel tense. Nervously I look up at her but she keeps her eyes on John. I feel so out of place. John sits up too. He clears his throat and first turns to his mother, and then to me. I smile nervously, hoping that his face would comfort me. For a moment it does, then he looks back at his mum.
“Yeah Lucy was with me today, mum. And… and she’s here now.” John’s gaze shoots towards me, then quickly back to his mother. I look her in the eyes, waiting for her to look at me. She doesn't.
Another sigh, this time a heavier one. “Sweetie, we’ve talked about this.”
My shoulders are tense but my feet are kicking erratically now. I have this uncomfortable feeling that I’ve done something wrong. What is it? What did I do?
John sinks further down into his chair, looking sheepish and embarrassed that I am there, a part of this conversation. His mother tries again, “Johnathan, listen to me, please!”
I can see Johnathan react to this, jolting up defiantly.
“Mum! Lucy was with me today” he repeats, now faster and higher-pitched, “and she is with me now!” He pauses, eyes resting on his mother's face, pleading with her to understand.
“Lucy is my best friend.” His face turns to me and I feel a rush of warmth. I reach over and grab his hand in mine. I hold it tightly in anticipation.
“She’s my best friend”
I stare at her, willing her with my eyes. Then I find my voice. “Mrs Tompson” I begin, but she cuts me off.
“Johnathan, sweetie, I know you think she is, but she isn’t, I promise you.”
What is she saying? Why?
“Lucy isn't there.”
“What?!” I blurt out indignantly. Enraged, I furiously wave my hand out in front of her. Why doesn't she react? John shakes his head looking confused.
Climax by Dan Parry
Felix couldn’t remember the last time he’d noticed it. But to be honest, he couldn’t even remember how old he was anymore. He just laid in his damp dewy bed and looked at it for a second. Looked and looked. At least he knew it was time to wake up.
“Morning, wood.” He grumbled, as he slowly scrambled upright. It was probably time to move again. Staying in one place too long made him easier to find. And being easy to find meant fighting, or killing. And he was so tired of both.
Felix got dressed in breathy silence. The last thing he picked up was his axe which he hadn’t used in a while, but sharpened almost everyday. This was mostly to clear his thoughts and dull his memories.
Stepping out of the mossy cave, he looked around. The rising blue sun lit the forest in the most peculiar way. The giant moth like creatures begin to stir. They were harmless enough, and quite tasty too. Or they were back when he ate meat. ‘Probably eight or nine world’s ago’ Felix thought to himself.
The vegetation on most Earth’s were easier to digest, and didn’t often fight back. Felix not-so-fondly remembered one world where there was nothing to eat. Nothing at all. It looked like the moon, even though he could see the moon in the sky. Had this world had fallen victim to a nuclear holocaust? Felix searched for eight weeks solidly before he finally gave up and jerked off. That time he thought of Mrs. Francis, one of his old dinner ladies from school. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for many reasons.
The world Felix was on now though was pleasant enough. Well, pleasant enough for a death-trap. It even had a local settlement nearby. He’d come across a few locals. They weren’t sophisticated, but some of them had taken kindly to him – especially, but not limited to, the women.
One dewy morning he awoke to find two gorgeous girls and a very handsome man, standing at the foot of his bed. They must have been their mid twenties, about the same age Felix looked. At first he thought it was an attack. His trusty axe was in plain view to everyone, but they only had eyes for him. Slowly, and very seductively, they began to undress. It was the sexiest thing he’d seen in decades.
The flickering fire made it seem like he was back in that Atlanta strip club without the whisky, cigar smoke and mountains of cocaine. As soon as the memory hit though, Felix immediately began to feel sick in his soul.
He closed his eyes and ushered them to put on their clothes. But they wouldn’t take the hint, so he yelled loudly, and reached for his axe.
“God, that Witch really did a number on me.” Felix muttered to himself. “Fuck Tinder” he laughed to himself quietly.
That was about about thirty years ago. He’d moved a lot since then. Mostly because people got pretty terrified by a strange stranger who never ages.
Felix continued walking through the forest as quietly as he could until he wandered up to a quietly rushing stream a few nights later. He sat by the water bed, pulled out his axe, a giant ruby he’d kept hold of, and began sharpening. The rhythmic sounds almost sounded like squeaky beds Felix used to so fond of. It took him back to the days before this all began.
Back on his earth, Felix had been, shall we say a tad promiscuous. Others would have called him far worse. That was until he met Gwen.
She was just his type. As beautiful as she was headstrong, and equally as fragile. She didn’t trust Felix one bit. So he focused all of his efforts on her. Felix wooed her for months and months. There were flowers, there were romantic dinners and grand gestures.
But once he got what he wanted, he ghosted on her. He didn’t answer any of her texts, calls, even her Snapchats were ignored.
A few days later, he met somebody else. He couldn’t remember her name. But mid thrust, as he came, he woke up in the middle of a bee’s nest. The bees were about the size of a Prius – and furious. Ironically he had landed right on the Queen.
It took him several Earths, hundreds of near deaths and a lot of jerking off to figure out the rules. And to realise he’d been cursed.
All of the Earths were terrible with some being more terrible than others. But Felix had come to like this one, and began thinking of it as home. He also hadn’t had sex in almost half a century.
Rustling from the trees across the stream broke his daydream. ‘Nothing lasts forever.’ he thought to himself. He looked up and saw a woman dressed in skinny leggings and Nike Air Maxes. She looked like she’d been running for her life.
The girl stopped short of falling into the stream, and noticed him. They locked eyes for what felt like an eternity. “Felix?!” She mouthed.
Fiction by Giselle Cory
I looked at her picture. It is all I have of her, the only relic. I talked to her, even though she wasn't looking at me, her body turned away from the painter. I’d give her sly sideways glances, hoping I’d catch her looking at me. It didn’t seem so impossible at the time. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew it was kind, and beneath it was a mind fit and full of love. We each need our heroes.
I’d studied that image for more hours than I should have. I memorised each branch of that tree, and searched for it endlessly. An accidental tree expert. It did no good. I'd asked my uncle about the painter, hoping he could lead me to them but he knew no one with those initials.
My uncle was austere and unemotional. I suspected he was turbulent within but his idea of manhood wouldn’t permit it out. I also suspected he was nothing like mum; she wouldn't have had his miserable pragmatism or his great capacity for boredom.
He had given me the painting when I was ten. I thought I’d been given it at that age because I was grown up enough to look after it. Now I realise it was because I was still young enough to create the stories I needed from it. It was years later when, on a Tuesday in May, he popped in for tea and said we needed to talk about mum. I boiled the kettle and he asked about my work. We’d sat in the living room, the dog laying uninterested at my feet, and he unleashed a catastrophe.
‘I know it’s hard to hear’ he said, with the gentle rumbling of a coming earthquake. ‘But it’s only right that you know.’, said with the air of someone who has always known. ‘It doesn’t change how much how she loved you.’ The clouds swarmed and then exploded above. I was no longer holding my tea, though I hadn’t put it down. 'The accident, it's not true.' Books jerked off the shelves, chairs upended themselves, cracks appeared in the walls and weeds sprouted up between them, crawling up to sky above the half-collapsed ceiling. I lived in a world that didn't exist anymore.
I cried, and unable to comfort me, he left. I didn’t know where to look. Everywhere were objects that reminded me of the world I used to live in, but they were indecent now. I wanted accountability, but she’d been in the ground fourteen years so I wouldn’t be getting it. I looked at her image. The mystery of her face turned from a frustration into a personal attack, another way to abandon me. I'd always wished she was looking out at me so I’d have some features for my benevolent god; now I wanted her to face me to acknowledge what she’d done.
I can’t look at her now. I can’t take her down off the wall either. So I keep my eyes turned downwards, not sure if I’m ashamed of having lived so deeply in that lie, or hurt by what she’d done to me. She’d lived in that painting just to die again when I thought no new pain could come of her. I used to wonder how she looked cradling me as a baby and if, even back then, she was hoping for me and creating stories about me. Most of all I wondered if she was ever happy, and therefore if I can be.
I had written myself into her story. It’s how I knew I had evolved from something and so could flow into something. I made sense. And now I am fiction. She has taken my history and with it my immortality.
Floodlight by Helen Cocks
She always felt judged by St Paul’s Cathedral.
By evening it was floodlit. A jewel in the view from Waterloo Bridge, its dome floating benignly among the skyscrapers like an icon. Then at 1am its lights went off as if it turned its back on the dark city in disapproval of its nighttime pursuits. Mute abandonment leaving her vulnerable to temptation, lead us not.
It was at those times that she knew she was alone.
That particular alone was about half-past-three, mild for November, the salmon-coloured sky a blanket over the quietly roaring city. Stepping out onto the bridge, from sheltered Covent Garden, she felt the brisk wind rush by up the river, carrying its distant tang of sea.
The Southbank glowed enticingly on the opposite bank. The handsome curve of the Festival Hall was crowned by the blue-lit Eye. ‘Love’s Labours Lost Nov 2-28’ scrolled the tickertape on the wall of the National Theatre, ‘Look Back in Anger Oct 29-Dec 4’.
The bridge was quiet but gently humming. Nightbuses passed ponderously, and a steady trickle of gliding Priuses and their homeward-bound passengers. Feeling her head clearing of cocktail fumes, she paused, watching the blinking light on the summit of Canary Wharf, and leaned out over the concrete parapet towards the East.
It was such a remarkable view, one of the great urban views of the world. Whenever she felt, as she frequently did, that all London had ever done was chew her up and spit her out, she knew she could still feel some vestige of love for it when she stood here gazing along the river. After many battered years it was the last echo of the joy the city had beaten out of her, a ghost of that feeling of possibility that had seemed inherent in somewhere with so much energy.
She wished sometimes that she could go right back to the beginning and do it all again, trade her hard-won cynicism for a pair of fresh eyes.
“Built by women, you know, Waterloo Bridge” said a voice, suddenly next to her. She glanced round. It was just an old man, a ‘gentleman of the road’ her father would have termed him.
“During the war. No men left, see, all on the battlefield or under it, and a new bridge needed. So what to do?”
The man was bent and grizzled with age and hard living, but retained a whisper of glamour in his threadbare tweed suit and gently proprietary air. He set down his tattered plastic bag of belongings on the handrail, extracted a cigarette packet from his waistcoat pocket with grimy fingers and proffered it
She glanced at the open packet, hesitated, then took one with a rueful smile
“I’d given up..”
“Don’t want to do that, now” said the man, drawing heavily on his fag and passing a shaded match
“Been smoking for sixty years, never done me any harm.”
She lit her cigarette from his roughened hands and looked downriver.
She had left at the right moment, tonight, she reflected. There was a moment that came in every night when you could feel things turn, feel the darkness begin to get in among the gay abandon, the things in the shadows begin to stir and stretch themselves ready to prowl. The trick was - and she’d learned this the hard way - the trick was to recognise that moment before it was too late and the darkness submerged you. Get out while there was still light enough to see the exit.
The man seemed to follow her gaze towards the darkened dome.
“Wreathed in smoke it was…” he said, almost to himself
“Bloody miracle it survived. Gave us hope...”
She turned to look at him. His untidy silver hair was catching the light thrown from Somerset House, but his eyes and the scored valleys in his cheeks were deep in shadow. There was something insubstantial about his presence, as though he stood slightly apart. She supposed he was homeless, a lost old man reduced to such indignity when he should be enjoying his retirement. She wondered how old he was.
“During the blitz? “ she asked gently
The man took a drag on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, the smoke curling up until the breeze caught it and whisked it away
“They’d stopped for Christmas see, two nights of calm in all the bloody horror, ‘scuse my French.
Then they were back. More than ever. As if they’d just been regrouping, raining fire from the sky like Hell on Earth”
She tried to imagine it, wailing sirens and the smell of burning, the night sky lit up by the flames, the perils and dangers of this night. The faceless glass and concrete of this modern city, so little stone or wood.
“It seemed like there’d be nothing left”
There was a long silence. The clean wind blew fresh on their faces and the river glowed. Nothing left. Forsaken below and alone in the darkness that covered the Earth, the seeming triumph of evil...
When he spoke again, his voice crackled like dry leaves
“The fires began to die down just before dawn.
“Total devastation, it was. There was no hope.”
A chilly grey dawn bringing no light so something so dark.
“But then, early in the morning the smoke cleared.
And there it was, the dome of St Paul’s. Like a miracle”
“Still there. Among the wreckage. Untouched.”
He turned to face her and she saw his eyes for the first time, deep green and almost burning in the lights from the bridge.
“It was what kept us going” he said fervently, as though he really wanted, really needed her to understand
“We knew then we could do it. If St Paul’s could stand, so could we”
He smiled, seeming almost to glow with the vividness of his words. She felt hishopefulness, like a warm glow, light reflecting from his ancient face.
She looked past him onto the river, letting the strengthening wind blow back her hair and taking in the triumph in that darkened dome, of the living, vital city; if St Paul’s could stand, so could we. She leaned far out and drank it in, like music.
When at last she turned back, the man was gone. There was nothing but the cigarette butt, cold in her hand, and the humming bridge.