Memories

I hesitate before I open the wardrobe. Fingertips on the cheap chrome handles, I feel it would be more neurotic to stop myself at this point than to give into my curiosity. After opening the doors, I kneel down and hunt through the debris at the bottom of the wardrobe; khaki shorts, tangled shirts, stray socks, grey-smeared trainers. The disturbed dust makes my eyes water.  I pull out an old shoebox, dark green with a fox logo, and place it on the bed.

Opening the box feels indulgent. They say that people now prefer to spend their disposable income on experiences rather than goods. A good memory is like good wine, it becomes more valuable as it ages, and so creating and preserving such memories is an investment. It’s more pleasurable to examine your mementos when it has been some time since you last did so. Digging out this shoebox, I’m not only letting my current emotions ruin what should be an enjoyable session of nostalgia, I feel that I’m permanently cheapening my memories.

I don’t cut to the chase. I carefully leaf through all the photographs, reread all the important cards with loving words of encouragement. I look through old loveletters, sketches, and cinema ticket stubs with mindful devotion, giving them the time they deserve. I try to let myself pretend I’m not just doing this for one reason. When I find what it is I’m really looking for, I place it face down on the duvet until I’m done with everything else.

Finally, I examine the photograph of me, Amy Gladwin, and Charlotte Foster. It’s Amy that I focus on.

“It’s so awful,” I say out loud, to no one in particular. But I had to say it, because I can’t say it to her directly, no matter how I wish I could. Before everyone found out about what happened, I wondered whether I should get in touch. We were connected online, so it would have been easy. I enjoyed seeing her photos and updates, but when she became semi-famous, I didn’t want to be that old friend who crawls out of the woodwork when they smell success.

I still don’t want to be that old friend. I wonder how many people are doing what I am doing right now. You are not special, I tell myself. Up and down the country, right now, there will be old classmates, student flatmates, colleagues, all digging out photographs and thinking about the connection to Amy they once had. Looking at an old photo of a girl I was best friends with, it’s easy to forget that I barely know the woman on TV.

As a teenager, Amy Gladwin was an unambitious student who somehow did nothing but knew everything. Her specialty was doing the bare minimum in class whilst probing those sitting next to her for news. She was a professional shit stirrer, knowing exactly what to say and which buttons to press, and so she was an entertaining friend to have. Despite knowing their secrets would be around the school by the end of the day, people still talked to her, because she always made the process of spilling the beans feel wonderfully cathartic.

Amy Gladwin, 27 year old journalist and media personality, was one of those funny people on panel shows who aren’t well known but make the most controversial jokes. She wrote opinion pieces for newspapers about austerity, feminism, the media, education, and all sorts of other things. She ran the London Marathon and recently went on holiday to Brazil.

Last week, someone stabbed Amy in the back and left her to die in the kitchen of her apartment.

Advertisement

TBAM – Chapter Three: A

Read the rest of the novel here.

Levi had been deliberately unhurried as he dressed in the clothes that were brought to him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want an explanation as to how he got here and who these people were, but he dreaded not being able to make the correct response to whatever he was told. He didn’t feel ready for some beautiful journey of discovery about his family, and there seemed to be a good possibility that something more complicated was going on here.

He looked out of the window again. The area seemed quite hilly, almost mountainous. How far away from home was he? How many hours could he have travelled last night? And why would he have been willing to come out at such short notice? He rubbed his head. It ached, but not in the way he would expect if he’d sustained an injury. He was sure this lady, whoever she was, was lying.

Hesitantly, he opened the door which she’d hurried out of and peered at the corridor outside. He felt like he was a tourist in a stately home who’d stumbled into the “No Admittance” area. To his left was a dead end, but it looked like there was a staircase to the right. He slowly walked along the corridor, giving nervous glances to the statuettes and paintings that lined the walls.

When the corridor opened out above the staircase, Levi found himself looking down on an entrance hall that rivalled his house for size. He found himself becoming more and more suspicious as he considered what he knew so far. There was nobody around to ask for directions, and Levi found himself feeling somewhat relieved this was the case. At least he knew where the front door was if he needed to leave.

Once downstairs, he heard voices coming from behind a set of double doors to his left. One of the doors was propped open. Levi quietly approached and peered through. The lady he’d seen earlier was furiously murmuring at a man in a suit, presumably Lekivan. She spotted Levi and stopped talking.

Lekivan turned. He stood as straight as the lines on his suit, and looked down on Levi with all the force of an irate schoolmaster. His gravity softened as soon as Levi made eye contact with him, his frown dissolving and his shoulders slackening into an unthreatening pose. The transition was as quick as it was eerie.

Levi instantly recognized him as one of the men in the photograph upstairs.

“Levi, Soriah told me about your memory loss. Is it true you can’t remember anything from last night, nothing at all?” Lekivan asked. He had a slight accent which Levi couldn’t place, but it was definitely foreign.

“No. I can’t remember anything. Can you tell me where I am?” Levi was trying to be polite, but some of his frustration came out in his voice. He walked through the doorway. They appeared to be a large dining room with windows lining both sides of the room. Levi could see an orchard to the left and an ornamental garden to the right. Soriah looked uncomfortable and moved around to the other side of the table, as if she was frightened of what Levi might do.

“What was the last thing you remember?” Lekivan replied. Levi’s nostrils flared. He didn’t like the fact his questions weren’t being answered.

“I was at home, by myself. It was about 7PM. So how did I get here?”

“Levi, please, there’s no need to be hostile,” Lekivan said, haughtily. “You have to understand that the conversation we’re about to have is going to be difficult for us both, and myself and Soriah will have to go through it now for a second time. Let’s all just relax, sit down, and talk this through.”

Levi bit back the urge to say that was all he’d been asking for, and did as Lekivan asked.

“Levi, I came to your home quite late last night. You see, we’re your mother’s family. Lekivan is your grandfather, I’m your aunt.” Soriah paused, waiting for Levi’s reaction. He remained impassive. After the photograph, this was hardly a shocker. Besides, something still didn’t feel quite right.

TBAM – Chapter 2: E

Read the rest of the novel here. Sorry about the week break, I was moving!

In the end, Levi was not given the option of opening the door. The stranger opened it for him.

She wasn’t one of the people in the photograph. She looked like she could be in her late forties, but was possibly older under the subtle make-up. Her blonde hair was streaked with grey and pulled back into a tight bun. Levi noticed that her clothes were somewhat formal and unusual. Her grey, asymmetrical dress was made of a stiff material and had long sleeves. She was carrying some clothes with her.

“Good morning, Levi! How are you feeling?” Her smile was very unthreatening, but Levi stepped back. He was almost tempted to just go along with what was happening, but he knew he wouldn’t be convincing.

“I’m sorry, do I… do I know you?” he asked, nervously. Her smile disappeared so quickly Levi wondered whether he’d insulted her. “I’m really sorry, I don’t seem to remember how I got here,” he added, hastily.

“You don’t remember?” The lady blinked. Levi could practically see thoughts running around in her mind. “That’s… that’s unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate?” There was a pause.

“You hit your head,” she said, suddenly. “You fell. When you got here. So we took you upstairs, to rest. That’s probably why you can’t remember. Oh dear.” She took a step forward. Then a step back. Then she sighed. “We’re going to have to explain everything again. I should tell Lekivan. You… You try on some of these clothes. You’ll need to change after sleeping. I’ll talk to Lekivan and then you can meet us in the dining room.”

She dropped the clothes on the desk and rushed out before Levi could ask her where the dining room was.

TBAM – Chapter Two: B

See the rest of the novel here.

Two hours later and Keats’ energy had faded. She stared at the door, willing it to open so that she could finally take Rappel Calizo down, give him to the police, then go to bed. Opposite the apartment’s entrance was a stained table, barely large enough for two people to dine at. Keats sat on it, ready to spring into action when the moment came. She was idly playing with a ball of azura in her left hand, feeling its warmth and connection to the magic in her own blood.

Azura was a kind of concentrated magic that could be summoned by most magicians. It was slightly more solid than light and had very few uses other than as a weapon. Skilled magicians could control how concentrated and physical the azura was, but nobody could make it as strong as Keats’ family did. Your common, garden-variety magician could hope to stun somebody with it. Keats had used azura to kill more times than she cared to remember.

Of course, killing was not the objective today. Sonya, possibly the most formidable Queen Litia had ever had, was breathing down everyone’s necks as they tried to pin members of the Desert Freedom group. Minister Trewick was only the second politician to have been targeted. The first victim, Katheu Matri, had been decapitated using magic. Her blood had been used to paint the red sun on the Desert Freedom flag. Before this incident, a large proportion of Litia’s government had been strongly opposed to lifting restrictions on the deserts to the East. Those voices suddenly became quieter.

If Keats did not deliver this man to an interrogation room, Sonya would most definitely not be pleased. In fact, she might even get angry. Few things ever caused Sonya to openly display anger in a form other than a very unnerving glare, but her true wrath was something most people would be wise to miss. It was nothing to worry about, Keats thought. Taking this amateur down would be child’s play.

When Keats finally heard a key being placed in the door’s lock, she narrowed her eyes and charged some azura. Rappel’s face came into view and Keats leapt off the table with the intention of grabbing and restraining him. His unexpectedly fast reflexes caught her off guard, and she found herself barrelling into the door as he dodged past her, with the azura leaving a scorch mark on the flaking paint. Keats spun around and saw that Rappel now had a dagger in his hand, probably one that he kept on his person. She snorted and charged at him again, this time with more focus on aim. There was a short tussle before Keats managed to thrust a ball of azura into the side of his head. Rappel crumpled.

Keats felt a sharp pain just below her right shoulder. The bastard had managed to inflict a deep wound while she’d been focussed on bringing him down. When she looked at Rappel’s body on the floor, she knew that something was wrong. Keats kneeled and checked his pulse.

“Fuck.”

He was dead. Sonya was going to be so pissed.

The Metal Infector

57 04 April 27th 2014

Copyright- Al Forbes

Please check out the main page of Sunday Photo Fiction to check out more stories and to read instructions on how to submit your own.

The Great Metal Infection of 2052 actually began in 2050. Biologists who studied the microflora of the Amazon River had trouble identifying a certain strain of bacteria in one of their samples. These bacteria had a highly unusual cell structure, and despite genetic testing, they could not say what the strain had evolved from, or discover its closest relative.

After a short period of time, the biologists began to notice something odd about their tools. Overnight, anything made of metal that was exposed to these bacteria, even the implements they had supposedly sterilised, began to warp out of shape, and odd protrusions would appear. Closer inspections revealed that the bacteria had managed to burrow into the metal and multiply within little surface nodes.

Their hottest incinerator seemed to deal with the affected instruments, but the laboratory couldn’t contain the infection. Within two years, there was devastation. Luckily, the same biologists also discovered the organisms’ aversion to gold, silver, copper, and titanium. The resulting production of alloys which are resistant to “metal rot” allowed humanity can carry on as it once did.

Which is a shame, really.

Friday Fictioneers – The Stairway of Angels

Copyright -Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Copyright -Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Please click here to be taken to Friday Fictioneers Central, where you can learn how to submit your own 100 word piece based on the prompt and also see other people’s submissions.

The heat in Mathas’ fingers was absorbed by the metal balustrade as he climbed the marble steps. His eyes were on the clouds above, calculating the immensity of the distance to his goal.

This stairway was a match to the legendary gates. The bannister was wrought of silver and studded with milky pearls, reflecting the white skies. They called it the stairway of angels, but angels can fly to heaven with their wings. Only the fallen need stairs.

Blood dripped down Mathas’ back from the two brutal wounds below his shoulder blades, marking every painful step on the marble below.

Sunday Photo Fiction – Lady Thalassa

50 03 March 9th 2014

Copyright – Al Forbes

Another entry for Sunday Photo Fiction. Click the link to find instructions for submitting your own stories and to read other people’s submissions. Didn’t submit anything last week as I was preparing for a job interview that was south of London. (South of London? To a northerner like me, it might as well be a different country.) Going past all the flooded fields on the train was a source of inspiration for this story. 😉

As a child, I never saw winter. You may have heard that there are places in this land which are impervious to the changing seasons. I was born and raised in one such place.

The forest south of Karob has a centre that’s near impossible to penetrate. The foliage is as thick as the walls which guard this kingdom. If your nurse or mother told you fairy tales, she may have described the garden of the water goddesses. Did they describe the trees that never lost their leaves? The turquoise fountain warmed by a never-retreating sun?

I was never the same as the other child-sprites. I was somewhat more opaque. I could never meld into my natural surroundings or hold conversations with the river like they could. I was glad when my father came to collect me on my sixteenth birthday.

Unfortunately, there was no place for a bastard child like me in court, even a half goddess. It wasn’t until the floods came that they began referring to me as “Lady”.

Sunday Photo Fiction – Base

42 01 January 12th 2014

Copyright – Al Forbes

Sorry that this is so long. I’ll be stricter with my editing once exam season is over. To submit your own piece based on the prompt, click here.

The shed was the safe place, always had been. They played all kinds of games in the yard around it, but the shed was base. You couldn’t be “got” in the shed.

Alice curled up in a little ball in the half furthest from the door. The dust irritated her lungs, but she was too exhausted to cough. She scratched the scabs on her legs until they were sore pools of red. The stinging accompanied her into her dreams, where it turned into nettles that whipped against her shins as she forced her aching legs to run and duck through the undergrowth, the pain nothing in comparison to the vice of fear around her heart and throat.

She could hear the men thundering through the bushes behind her, their gleeful taunts becoming frustrated insults as they tired of the chase.  Eventually Alice was out of the forest and on the abandoned streets, littered with empty cars and silent houses. There was no time to be nostalgic when she recognised the house of a childhood friend, only enough to climb over the locked gate into the neglected yard.

Alice let go of her dream at the same time as she gave up the absurd hope that her pursuers would recognise the sacred status of the shed; when the door was kicked open.

The Last Coffee

The warm aroma of coffee beans surrounds me like a hug. An eclectic mix of people are in the same queue as I am, but all are slumped and silent, craving the bitter caffeine hit that will take them through to lunchtime. Every time the door opens, cold air invades the shop and the girl in front of me shivers. She rubs her arms and looks wistfully at the pastries and muffins on display. My mouth waters when I look at the range of sticky, buttery, flaking goods behind the glass, and I know it must have the same effect on her. They’re hard to resist, and after looking at the prices, one suspects that the shop owners know exactly how tempting their wares are.

As we approach the till, the odour of cinnamon and vanilla grows stronger, and I examine the oozing bottles of syrup next to the barista. The woman who takes my order doesn’t smile, but I get the impression that she’s trying to. Half past eight in the morning and she’s already so tired the muscles in her face won’t slide a millimetre upwards. I’ll probably feel the same way in a few hours.

When I finally obtain my drink, I raise the cup and bathe my lips in the steam, flirting with the dangerously hot liquid. I get a taste of caramel syrup and milky froth for my trouble. The condensation freezes on my face as I step outside, my limbs involuntarily contracting before they adjust to the winter temperatures. Before my fingers go completely numb, I run them down the left side of my body until I reach the handle of the knife.

I savour my coffee. It might be the last one I have.

Sunday Photo Fiction – Esther

34 11 November 17th 2013

Copyright – Alastair Forbes

This week’s entry is inspired by the Biblical story of Esther, one of my favourites. If you’d like to look at the other Sunday Photo Fiction entries, click here.

I was his favourite from the beginning, but how deep are his affections? Am I merely a replacement for the last one that displeased him, an object he can parade with pride in front of his subjects? When he looks at me, I think I see more in his eyes than lust, and it is hard to imagine those same eyes condemning me to death for my impudence.

I stand in royal garb whilst my people pray in sackcloth. In a few moments, we shall know whether I am a saviour, a martyr, or a coward.

I push open the doors of the royal court, and hush falls over the room. I see the sneering face of Haman before I bow to my husband and King. I see a golden glint reflected on the polished floor. I touch the sceptre the King has extended to me, a symbol of his pardon. My impertinent entry to his court will not be met with death.

I know that I have been saved by the grace of God, now it is my turn to save my people.