Populace

On the 23rd of September 2012, a huge number of UFO sightings were reported worldwide. Numbers steadily increased over the next three years, and witnesses were written off as cranks, unstable, or attention seekers.

When MUFON reported a spike in UFO activity in June 2015, the general populace took no notice. Whether the governments around the world knew and said nothing or were as ignorant as everyone else was at the time is now somewhat irrelevant.

There aren’t so many of us left. Survival seems to have overridden the need to argue and be right. Not that we really know what to do in order to survive.

On Sunday, 9th of August 2015, the first lights appeared in the sky over all major cities across the world.

It is thought that they were drawn to the light pollution like a moth to a flame.

We marked ourselves out as targets and essentially served ourselves up for dinner. Or whatever it is they do with us. It’s been three years now and on the 9th of every month since that first time, lights appear in the sky over the brightest of cities, and people disappear. Tens, hundreds, we’re not sure. In some areas, thousands have vanished in a single moment. Estimates put the total missing populace at three to four billion, which some say is not exactly a drop in the ocean given the seven billion there were of us before this all started, but not necessarily a bad thing either. Others just want their loved ones back.

Selection appears to be arbitrary. Race, nationality, this is the truest form of non-discrimination we have ever known. We have no idea of the selection process. Scientists have calculated all sorts of datasets from blood type to illness to age, and there is no obvious pattern to be found anywhere.

You wonder who is next. You wonder if it’s you. You wonder what awaits on the other side.

Today is a beautiful, bright August day. Wednesday the 8th. The sun is shining, the clouds are wispy, there should be a feel of summer everywhere in the northern hemisphere. But there isn’t. There is just one of apprehension and dread.

People do a number of things on the 8th of August nowadays. Drink themselves into oblivion. Have ‘one last meal’ with their families and friends. Try to stay awake as if remaining alert will form a shield against what is about to come. Some even carry on as if it were an ordinary day, with the attitude of, well, it’s going to happen anyway.

Personally, I’ve taken to climbing the stairs of my apartment building and wrapping myself in blankets on the roof. Sitting in the darkness, a glass of good red wine in my hand, watching the sky. Waiting.

Tomorrow is coming.

(Originally posted on Inkiit)

Diesel

By day she plays make believe in her grandparent’s pantry, pretending she is in the cab of a train. But by night the train takes her to all kinds of places, making frequent stops at an abandoned platform where she fears she’ll never escape. Is it merely the stuff of nightmares, or is there a more grisly story to tell?

The pantry cupboard in my grandparent’s house was next to the front door.

It occupied a floor space of barely a square metre, but there was space enough for shelf upon shelf of food. There were mismatched jars of homemade jam complete with cute gingham covers beneath the lid, tall bags of flour that would expel a huge puff of dust if touched, and every kind of tinned product you could think of, from pease pudding to Irish stew.

Also in the cupboard was the old electricity meter that fed on 50-pence coins; not the ‘small’ ones we have now, but the old clunky ones that were so big they would almost engulf my small chubby palm. My grandmother would either hoist me up on her hip or balance me on a stool so that I could reach the slot. As I grew, that became my ‘job’. I would drag the stool through from the dining room leaving a trail of disturbed carpet pile like a miniature train track. I would turn the round, rusting door knob with the few remaining flecks of cream paint, and the door would judder in protest before creaking open. I would wobble precariously on the stool like a first-time surfer, stretch my fingers out for the sides of the electricity meter as though I were clutching for its cheeks, and then haul myself up to ‘eye’ level.

The left eye of the meter face was the largest. With six dials in the panel, five black and one red, it blinked at you as though it were narrowed in contemplation. The nose, sitting high on the forehead, was a long, thin panel with one dial and a three window counter beneath forming odd nostrils. Then there was the right eye, the money dial itself. To the top left was where the money was slotted in, and then began the chase. There was a metal disc with notches in at regular intervals like perfect eyelashes, and a thick metal arm that blinked and turned, slowly, slowly, as the meter ingested the coin with a low whirling sound. Beneath the dial was a round half-smile, and behind this, I presumed, was the ‘stomach’, where the coins fell when you first fed them in.

Once a month a man would visit, wearing stained navy blue overalls and a happy but tired expression on his face, to empty this stomach. I always sat pensively on the bottom step, hands wrapped around ankles, watching him as he worked.

I was always fearful that he’d take the meter away.

Because to me, the meter face was never really a face at all. To me, this was the control panel and the pantry cupboard the cab of my train. The dials varied daily with actual function. Sometimes speedometer, sometimes mileometer, sometimes the number of cups of tea consumed in the buffet car. The ‘throttle’, ‘brake’, and various buttons floated beneath the meter in my imagination, and by a complex series of hand movements, I, a five year old who got travel sick at the slightest motion, could power and command a train. Go anywhere I want, whenever I wanted to go. And not be sick at all.

My train was called Diesel, and many of my days were spent travelling in Diesel away to far off imaginary places. Sometimes my grandfather would walk past making ‘choo choo’ noises. My grandmother would bring in plates of cheese and pickle sandwiches and thick slices of victoria sponge cake, insisting that even train drivers needed to stop for lunch.

When I wasn’t in my train, I was never far from it. In the small lobby area between the pantry cupboard and the first step of the stairs was where you often could find me. Here was where I would set up my Thomas the Tank Engine projector and flip loyalty between Diesel, Percy and Thomas, with each day bringing a new favourite. My grandfather said you could always tell what mood I was in by which train I chose that morning. Thomas, I was good, well-behaved, easily-contented. Percy, happy but seeking mischief. And Diesel, well, there was no hope. I was in a black, sulky mood and nothing, not even my grandmother’s delicious Melting Moments with an extra splodge of jam could bring me out of it.

Diesel Days were usually the result of recurring dreams.

In these dreams, it was always the middle of the night. I, clad in a Smurf nightshirt with raspberry pink edging and huge Pluto slippers, would sneak downstairs in the dark. I would turn that round, rusting door knob with the few remaining flecks of cream paint, and the door would judder in protest – louder than it ever did during the daytime – before creaking open. I would slip inside and find myself in my black-panelled, highly polished train cab, looking out through the windows into the night.

Pressing a button on the control panel, I would feel the train shudder to life beneath me. I would turn on the headlights of the train which would penetrate the thick, foggy darkness outside. I would hear the stir of the passengers as they were roused temporarily from their slumber after a pause on their journey.

Confidently, I would press more buttons, twist dials, edge the throttle forward, and off we would go.

In these dreams, I was never sure of the destination. I only had the feeling that I had to keep going, on and on into the night, and that if I fell behind schedule something terrible would happen. Out in the shadows all sorts of shapes would loom up in my view, or dull lights flash by. But inside the train, I felt safe.

These dreams, the nights where I stayed inside the cab of my train, were actually not so bad.

It was the nights that the train refused to move and I had to get out, walk along the tracks to a far off platform in an unknown station, that were more frightening.

The crunch of the gravel always told me I wasn’t alone, and several unidentifiable footsteps would follow along behind me at different paces. The whisper on the wind through the trees beside the track was not the comforting lullaby of train wheel on train track, but a threat of something bad to come.

Sometimes the night was punctuated by the sudden bright lights of the train, and, heart pounding, I rushed along the narrowing track as the train started to follow me of its own accord. I ran and ran, tripped, fell, got up again, but the train always caught up with me, and just at the moment I could feel the train begin to nudge into my back, I woke up, drenched in my own sweat, hair plastered to my face.

The worst of the dreams came when the train stopped at an abandoned station, and all the lights went out. The train would grind to a halt and I would sit in the cab, waiting, listening to the complete silence around me. I would eventually step out on to the platform, clutching a torch in shaking hand, and look up at what seemed to be a series of terraced buildings in what I now know to be Derby Gothic style. By daylight they would have been beautiful; a strawberries and cream colour scheme with matching lantern and station sign posts. Only there was no light in the lantern and the name of the station was long gone – just the posts themselves remained. A large flagstone reading 1876 was set into the side of the building.

Walking passed the windows that still had glass in, I stared at my reflection. I was no longer a chubby little girl, but a slightly older boy with too thin limbs and a look of hunger in his eyes. The first few minutes of every part of this dream, I always stood, transfixed.

A loud bang like a heavy door slamming off to the left shook me from this. The noise was followed by what sounded like a heavy footstep accompanied by a dragging sound, like a very heavy rolled-up carpet was being pulled along a slate floor. This pattern would continue; step, drag, step, drag, growing louder and louder until I ran inside, through a beautiful arched red door hanging off of its hinges like a large loose tooth about to fall from a gaping mouth.

Inside the station, there was an impossibly tall ceiling and white marble floors. Wooden seats sat in rows of four seats facing each other and back to back. The ticket office window looked forlorn without either staff or passenger, and leaflets providing information formed a carpet around the waiting room. The toilet door creaked and a faucet dripped continuously in the silence of the room.

Flashes of lightning revealed oddly-clothed passengers waiting patiently in their seats, only for them to disappear as soon as the light faded away. One woman stared up at me with a scowl on her face. With her thick brown hair curled up and tucked into her bonnet, dressed in a dark green dress and black pointed-toe boots that peeped out from beneath her skirt, she wore an expression of complete disgust at my being there. I looked down at my hand as I extended it to her, not sure of what I was asking for.

The most intimidating character was the Station Master, and knowing that he was coming for me left me trembling. After the waiting room, I found myself standing out on the platform, looking through the windows of the signal box. I saw the silhouette of a man complete with top hat and broad shoulders. I could never make out his face from that distance, but I could feel his glare. When the lightning flashed he disappeared, only to reappear again at the end of the platform. Here he stood for a moment, as though inspecting the train – my train – and then he became aware of my presence. I could only watch, momentarily frozen to the spot, as he spun on his heel and slowly paced towards me.

I always turned and ran, his footsteps echoing faster than my own throughout the empty station, and he always gained on me at the last corner of the waiting room hallway, where somehow I shrugged away from his grip at the very last moment. Here I ran back outside, on to the train and along through the carriages from the rear of the train towards the front. But it was no longer my train. When I had taken my eyes away from the platform, my train had gone, and had been replaced with a bottle green steam engine, complete with wooden carriages, billowing steam, and firemen feeding coal into the engine room furnace as though the train were an ever hungry beast.

Here is where he would catch me.

Standing next to the blazing furnace heat that cast a bright orange glow on his angry red face, I was trapped. I stood, now barefoot having lost my Pluto slippers along the way, waiting. I flexed my toes in the coal dust, hands pressed behind me against the train wall. He reached for me with fat fingers, grabbed me by the neck, opened the carriage door and dangled me out over the track, now rushing past beneath me as the train gathered speed. I clawed at him, pleading for him to let me back inside as my toes tried helplessly to cling to the edge of the door frame.

But it was no use. With one final, disgusted shove, he would release me from his grasp and I would fall.

I would wake, curled in the pantry cupboard, arms draped around a sack of potatoes as though seeking comfort. Tears ran down my face and a gasp rattled in my chest as I trembled, waiting for the panic to subside.

My grandmother always asked the next day why there were black footprints at the bottom of the stairs, and how on earth had I got such a tidemark of dirt around my neck?

My grandfather stood, with a grim, thin-lipped expression on his face, but explained it all away with my sleepwalking and the dirt coming from the sack of potatoes.

The dreams continued up until I was eight and then, overnight, they just stopped. No warning, no weaning off, just an abrupt end to my nighttime adventures. Relief was my main emotion, but sometimes I missed it. Parts of it, anyway.

They sold the house in 1998. A young couple with two small boys moved in, and when I heard, a cold feeling settled in my chest.

They found a skeleton during an excavation when they decided to extend the property. A boy of around 8 years old with the back of his skull caved in as though he had been dropped from a height. Analysis of his bones found him to be malnourished, probably a street urchin back in Victorian times.

When they ripped up the floorboards throughout the property, beneath the pantry room floor they found a small wooden chest. Inside was a battered black toy train and several pages torn out from old children’s books. The page that seemed the most well-thumbed had a picture of a big bloodhound-like dog staring up from the page. It looked a lot like Pluto.

Trains don’t hold the appeal for me that they once did. Now, I drive a big black beast of a car, free to go wherever I want, whenever I want to go. Without ever feeling sick.

Naturally, I call it Diesel.

(Originally posted on Inkiit)

Dream Life

Contentment.

That’s a feeling that she’s always understood but never known what it meant.

Her life, everything about her day to day, is as it should be.

She has the home, the little house that overlooks a small farmland in the middle of nowhere and yet close enough to civilisation to not be completely isolated.

She has the home life, the man who looks at her as though she is the sun and it is his life’s mission to ensure she rises every day by bringing her every happiness. The big fluffy dog that bounds around their place with exuberant joy at just existing. The loyal friends who live close by and they can see whenever they feel like taking a trip in their trusty old battered truck.

She has the job, working on her writing from her faded white porch with the breeze in her hair and the sweet scent of honeysuckle all around, and in winter she retreats inside to the small office that overlooks the same peaceful fields and is kept warm by a small fire hearth.

It is a simple existence, a quiet one that is small but so full, and everything she needs.

There is nothing that she wants for.

Nothing, aside from a horrific recurring dream to leave her in peace.

This dream is far too lifesize, and leaves her with a pain in her temples and her heart pounding in her chest.

She dreams she is in a hospital bed, muffled voices all around her and a constant bleep of monitors playing in her ears. Her body aches so badly she feels as though she is broken all the way through; shards of agony interlaced with a dull pain that never quite seems to leave, and her head, oh, how her head screams in these dreams, such pain that all these vivid images are often overpowered by a bright harsh white that blocks out everything else.

She can’t remember a time when she hasn’t had these dreams, they have always been with her, always the same, following her along like a second shadow. She acknowledges they are part of her. Much like she doesn’t really remember growing up, can’t really describe what her schooling was like, but knows these things happened, these dreams are just part and parcel of who she is. Not something to be dwelt on. They are something that happens, that she has to deal with, and if she doesn’t reign them in the second they enter her thoughts, the accompanying panic is too much. She has to jam the lid on tight to contain them, otherwise the dreams become too big to manage.

Fragments of another life invade her mind, another life where her day to day knows no contentment, only hurdles to fall on, bumps in the road that loom up and pin her down, nothing but pain and struggle and fear.

Which is why she shuts any thoughts about the dreams down as quickly as she can, forcing her breathing under control and the beating of her heart to slow.

For the same reason, she shuts all thoughts about the past out. Even though she’d love to remember good things like how she met him, and where they got their dog. She can’t risk allowing any thoughts, because in the search for good memories she knows full well she’ll stumble on the bad ones too.

She looks up at the man who is walking towards her with a basket of eggs from their small chicken coop and feels calm descend once more. He is the balm to soothe these moments of fear, even if she has never mentioned them to him, in however long they have been together.

Their dog pounds up the steps, all panting excitement, and nuzzles his head into her hand, demanding attention. She feels her arm raise, without her control, and for a moment it isn’t a chocolate labrador pushing against her hand but an unknown human, raising her pale white arm attached to some kind of drip feeding into her veins, tapping here and there as if trying to rouse her.

She shakes her head, clearing it of the image and dismissing any concerns about her health by saying her head is just sore from doing a lot of reading. He takes her hand, pulls her to her feet and into his arms where she stays, as they dance a small, slow circle in the late afternoon sun. His lips fall to her ear and he whispers all the things she loves to hear. Her arms circle around his neck and she allows him to lull her into a sense of mindless comfort.

If she hears other whispers they are too faint for her to make out, and why would she even want to try?

Some words from the whispers do manage to filter through the buzzing in her head sometimes though, words like ‘wake’ and ‘live’ and ‘choose’.

Choose.

How could she ever choose another existence than this one?

She won’t give it up, not for anything.

(Originally posted on Inkiit)

Slumber

The door was left open only a crack.

Barely wide enough to notice, but just enough to let a finger width in.

On softened hinges the door creaked open, closed with a soft click, blocking out the sudden strip of light as it returned to its frame.

The sleeping figure in the bed remained unaware, prone. Unable to feel the intense gaze on its face.

Pad. Pad. Pad. Bare footfalls on piled carpet creeped up to the side of the bed.

A clammy hand reached out to tug on a sleeping forearm.

A swaying motion slipped her from her slumber as the movement lulls her awake.

The child, bright, blond hair, cornflower blue eyes, blinks up at her with expectation, thumb sucked repeatedly into slickened mouth.

Mummy,” she hears, and her skin recoils in horror, heart pounding as though trapped hummingbird in search of an escape.

She hadn’t been dreaming it at all.

Victorious

You watch as he intertwines his fingers with hers, ignoring the way it feels like his fingers are talons clawing through your gut.

She smiles at the contact and squeezes back with practiced familiarity. Her head turns, and she freezes you with a smile. She may as well be sliding an ice knife right through you when her gaze falls to yours.

You smile extra wide, as though all is as it should be. Big, bright and bold, the picture of happiness at their happiness.

But she knows. She’s always known. It seems the entire world has always known. All of it, every last one of them, from long term friends to complete strangers. Everyone, that is, but him. Nathan has always been oblivious to so many things about you. Especially that you’ve been in love with him for longer than you haven’t.

Isn’t this the way that unrequited love always goes?

You wait for the day that she’ll finally get rid of you from his life.

You know it’s coming; it’s in every snide comment that he doesn’t seem to hear, and in every loaded look of ‘why are you still here’ that he fails to see.

He’s in love.

There’s light in his eyes when she speaks and sheer happiness that radiates from his face the moment she steps into the room.

You see it, and it punches you, over and over, adding to a layer of bruising built up by keeping this dirty little no-so-secret to yourself for so long.

You should have hardened against it by now. You wonder if you truly ever will.

But now is not the time for introspection.

Now is the time to do the duties, be the person you’re supposed to be.

To push your true feelings aside.

“Are you ready?”

The kindly spoken man in front of you brings you back from your musings and you smile and nod.

You glance up at the man beside you, looking down at you with a knowing look, and you feel a wave of pain all over again. A pain that bathes you in a sea of guilt.

You wink, nudge him with your elbow and he grins, but the smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. You feel like you’re drowning.

You’ll make it do that. You’ll make him smile, and smile wide. One day. Because none of this is his fault, and you know you’re using him. And that he deserves better. Because he’s perfect, he really is. In every way. All but the important one. He isn’t Nathan.

Clearing your throat and smoothing down your long white skirt that swishes around you and swirls as you stand, you clutch the bouquet tightly. With more certainty than you feel, and more confidence in your voice than you’ve ever heard, you reply.

“Ready.”

“Then, we’ll begin.”

A hush falls over the chapel and the man before you clears his throat. He looks fatherly. Caring. Would he look any differently if he knew?

You turn once more to look at Nathan, the one who should be stood next to you, not the one who is giving you away. But he’s not. And he never will be, not now, and not ever.

Today is your day, supposedly. So why does She look so victorious?

“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to witness…”

(Originally posted in Inkiit)

Stars

They say that the stars twinkling in the inky canopy overhead are dead to us. So hot that they shimmer. So out of reach that we can hold out our hands to them, finding nothing but air ticking our palms when we pull them back. They say, stars are much like aspirations. Bright, shiny dreams that will forever be unattainable, and long gone before we can capture them. Well what do they know? We are stars. We are our dreams. We are our own aspirations. We are inspiration, and we will light the way for one another. We are stars.

Smile

There’s something about him that’s not as it should be.

At first glance, he seems fine; untameable sticky-out hair, big, pale green eyes that look open and honest.

It’s the smile that doesn’t seem right. Not quite reaching the eyes, it appears as though it were a misplaced sticker over something you were never meant to see. The edges, ominous, protruding from underneath.

The steamed mirror reflects predator; eyes enticing in, smile seductive, poised to strike whenever he chooses.

You sigh. Wipe a lazy palm across the surface before you, and smirk.

You’ve fooled them this long. You will again.