The Boiler Identity: Part Two

(Read part one first if you haven’t yet!)

With no money, memory, or shoes, Steve had no choice: he went to the bank.

As soon as the cold glass doors slid shut behind him he knew it was a mistake.

He hesitated on the threshold, crumpling the cheque in his hand. One thousand pounds. It would see him through the next couple of weeks while he tried to remember who he was. Whatever crime he had committed to earn the money didn’t matter for now… right?

Before he could change his mind, Steve joined the queue. When it was his turn, he slid the cheque onto the counter with a mumbled apology.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the teller said. He was tall and thin, aggravatingly cheery behind the layers of bullet-proof glass. The font on his name badge was intentionally small. “We need proof of ID to cash your cheque.

“And shoes,” he added pointedly, peering over the counter at Steve’s feet. “Health and safety regulations, you see.”

The queue behind Steve was growing, members of the general public leaning in to eavesdrop.

“But I’ve been mugged,” Steve lied, pushing the cheque against the glass. “They took everything!”

“I can call the police if you want…?” The teller’s eyebrow lifted as if he were contemplating calling the police regardless of Steve’s answer.

Steve shook his head, backing out of the queue. He stood outside in the weak sunshine, woollen socks sticking to the pavement, and wondered what his life was coming to.

By the time he retraced his steps to the house he’d woken up in, Steve was resigned to being arrested. The flashing blue lights ricocheted down the street, luring him to the scene of the crime.

Despite his resolve, Steve’s footsteps slowed when he spotted not one but two police cars–and an ambulance. Who had he hurt? Were they still alive?

A small woman with a blanket around her shoulders was standing at the front door, talking to the police, her red hair shimmering in the daylight. When she saw Steve, all colour fled from her face, as she lifted a shaky hand to point.

“There he is,” she said shakily.

Steve didn’t even bother to run. There was nowhere to run to anyway.

The Boiler Identity: Part One

Steven Borne woke up in a puddle.   
   
He didn’t know his name was Steve, not until he sat up and whacked his head on the bathroom sink. As he slipped across the tiles, away from that dangerous curve of porcelain, his hand brushed against a piece of paper in his pocket. It was a cheque, and when he unfolded it he saw the name: Steven Borne.
   
(What if the cheque wasn’t his? The possibility didn’t bear consideration; his memory loss was frightening enough. Besides, he felt like a Steve. It was a good name. Dependable.)
   
The bathroom was cold, quiet. It had high, cobwebbed ceilings and tall sash windows that needed refitting. A spiderweb of cracks in the paintwork. Whoever lived here either rented or was too lazy for DIY. 
   
The built-in cupboard next to the sink was half-open, revealing a combo boiler yellowed with age, the pressure valve leaking steadily. He stood — gingerly, hand against his head — and patted himself down for other clues. His pockets were empty but one of his hands was streaked with dark red stains.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The cheque was for one thousand pounds. The handwriting was all in block capitals, angular and aggressive. Steve stared, wondered what he had been paid to do. Felt a cold sweat trickle down the back of his neck.

That’s when he saw it: a knife on the floor, spattered with blood.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Steve looked at his hand again, then straightened to look into the mirror. There were more red streaks along his neck.

He followed the trail of blood spatters to the bathroom door, wincing with every step, his head thrumming with pain. At the threshold he paused, leaning against the cold, cracked tiles to catch his breath.

The blood spatters led down a narrow, tall corridor with parquet flooring and an ornate Victorian ceiling rose above the light fitting. Shame it had been painted over so clumsily.

He lurched down the corridor, one hand against the wall, his woollen socks slipping across the polished floor. The radiator gurgled in warning as he passed.

The trail finished at an archway near the front door. Steve stepped over the blood and peered into the room beyond.

It was a kitchen. Pieces of broken glass littered the floor. Blood dripped down to the counter.

Steve did the only thing he could: he fled.

To be continued…

WE MEET AGAIN

He didn’t know her.

She saw it in the blankness of his eyes, the numbness of his cheeks. Or maybe that was the drugs, spiraling away every trace of his intelligence.

Eva repeated her question: “Excuse me, do you know where the train station is?”

The binoculars slipped from his fingers and cracked against the pavement like a gunshot. Feodor jumped, spun in circles looking for an assailant. The streets were cold and quiet, steam rising from the gutters. Eva suppressed a sneer as he scuttled to collect the binoculars.

“That… that way.” He pointed down the street, then returned to spying on his own house.

By then it was too late: her men had done their job.

Inspired by the storytelling course I’m attending.

LOUD DREAMS

They woke her every night, those dreams, so loud she was sure her eardrums would shatter.

She’d open her eyes and the ringing was deafening, the tinnitus whispering memories of sounds she could no longer remember.

Every night her hand would tremble in the dark, grope desperately until it found either her glasses or the light switch. (She preferred glasses first; hunting for glasses with the light on forced her to confront her blindness.)

She was lucky tonight: her fingers closed around a cold metal frame. When she slipped her glasses on, the shadows in the room took shape. There was the light switch. There her dresser. With the tinnitus still ringing in her ears, she took comfort in the familiarity of her surroundings.

One flick of the light switch and she crawled out of bed, slipped her feet into the slippers waiting loyally by the bedside. A moment’s pause to catch her breath, then she shuffled across the room.

Nestled in a padded box on her dresser was her second most prized possession: her hearing aids. She stood in front of the mirror and gently wrestled them into place. The tinnitus vanished, replaced by a deafening silence that slowly evolved into a gentle tick tick tick.

On the bedside table was her first most prized possession: a large wristwatch that had belonged to her husband. The sound had driven her mad in her youth, and now was the only thing keeping her sane.

When she crawled back into bed, she propped herself up against the headrest and fell asleep upright, lulled by the ticking of silence.

Inspired by musical ear syndrome.

LIES

Liars!

The word pounded through her head as her sword slashed left and right in quick succession, blade gleaming in the moonlight.

They had tricked her into coming to this God-forsaken place, and here she was, battling against people that had called themselves her friends.

She sliced Mike’s stomach open. Felt the tip of a blade bite into her arm. Duck, weave, sidestep. Again her sword drank blood.

When she’d first found the ragtag group, they’d been living in the sewers, scavenging a living out of the city ruins. They’d welcomed her arrival, proclaimed her their protector. But the atmosphere had soured.

Only one left to go. She held her sword upright, ready.

He fell to his knees. “Please,” he breathed. “For our friendship….”

Could she blame him? What wasn’t a façade in this war-savaged world? Who didn’t hide behind several masks? Everyone lied now, because only the liars survived.

“Friends?” She spat. “A friend wouldn’t trade my life in for food.”

Now she was the one who was lying. It had happened before. Her own mother had abandoned her so that she would not have to feed another mouth.

The sword never wavered. She sliced open his throat.

When no one trusts, does it matter that everyone lies?

WOLF ON DEMAND

“Are you sure it’s safe?” The old woman pushed her glasses further up her nose and peered at the screen, her face so close to the monitor that Mark was afraid she’d leave smears across the glass.

“Sure,” he replied with a too-wide salesman smile. “It’s the latest technology. Everyone’s using it.” He eased the mouse out of the old woman’s hand, clicked back through the demo screens. “See? Every book you could want, ready to print on demand. It’s instant.” He clicked print. The machine started churning.

Instant Book Machine, it was called. An ugly black box no larger than a coffee maker, it perched on the edge of the old lady’s desk like a futuristic insect. One minute and forty-two seconds later, a book popped out of the side. Little Red Riding Hood. He handed it to the old woman.

“I don’t like instant coffee,” the old woman said tremulously, “and I like going to the bookshop, you know.”

He did know, but he wouldn’t get his weekly commission until the old biddy joined the twenty-second century. He was a salesman, sent forth like a wolf among lambs, determined to take them all.

“You can print birthday cards, Christmas cards. Whatever you want without leaving the house. And it’s cheaper than in the bookshops because you’re cutting out the middle men. No more pulping books, wasting trees; no more authors getting ripped off… Everything you’d need, on demand. ”

When she didn’t look convinced, he pulled out the big guns. “Your family don’t visit much, do they? You get one of these, guaranteed your grandkids will come visiting.”

She hesitated. “What’s it called again?”

“Instant Book Machine,” he said. His smile was sharp. The end was close. “And it’s print on demand.”

via Bubbels on stock.xchng

“I see, I see,” the grandmother said, voice quavering. “But can it wolf on demand?”

Mark frowned. “Excuse me?”

“Wolf on demand,” she repeated. “Like so.”

And then the old woman turned into a wolf and ate him.

UNDERGROUND

It was only after death that I realised the London underground was modelled after Hell.

The air was stagnant with dust and the nostril-clenching tang of BO, everywhere a sea of unsmiling faces and bodies–every size, every age, every religion.

I joined the long queues of recently deceased and peered at the labyrinthine map on the wall, a spaghetti plate of coloured lines and odd names.

“The map’s useless,” a man beside me said, his hot breath sticky against my cheek. “Last updated a thousand years ago.”

The crowd carried us forward three miserly steps before coming to a standstill. “Some nitwit took the zones off the map,” he continued. “No way to tell what circle of hell each stop is in. Imagine, you’re meant to be in the first and end up in the very middle with old Luke for company.”

I turned my head just enough to see him. My neighbour was dour-faced, saggy-cheeked. His ears leaned away from his head in a bid for freedom.

“You’re new,” he said. “I can tell. Not miserable enough.”

“Yeah.” Somehow I’d expected my voice to sound different in death. Instead it was the same, disappointingly high-pitched. Another few steps forward, the crowd pressing in as the tunnel narrowed. The forced intimacy sustained our conversation. “Have you been queuing long?”

“Years.” He twitched his shoulder in a restricted shrug. “Feels like it, anyway. Hard to tell down here.” The crowd pushed us from behind. Through a gap in the bodies I saw the end of the queue, a row of burly ticket inspectors calling for tickets. “Every time I get to the barriers, I pretend I’ve lost my ticket,” my neighbour continued. “Then you’re sent to the main office–takes ages. Then to the back of the queue. Then do it all over again. This if my fourth time.”

I put my hand in my pocket. My fingers touched the familiar plastic edges of my travel card. In the dim light, it looked the same as ever.

“Break it,” he said, miming the action. “Get a paper ticket. Then you know where you’re going.” He flashed his ticket at me, obscuring the writing with his thumb. “I know where they’re sending me,” he said, “and I figure sticking around here in purgatory’s better than going there.”

Every ounce of English propriety in me rebelled. “Isn’t that illegal?”

“It’s straight to ninth if they catch you,” he said. “But that’s only if they catch you.” A sly wink. “Just the once. Get the paper ticket, find out where in Hell you’re going. Aren’t you tempted?”

We weren’t far from the barriers now. The ticket inspectors were calling people forward, asking for tickets, in all appearances normal men on the job. Then one of them looked up. His eyes were solid black, soulless pits that drained the last remnants of life out of me. For a moment my vision blurred. I saw scaled wings tear free, the skin of his face melting into a misshapen, inhuman blur, a forked tongue tasting the air. When I blinked the vision was gone.

“I’m… I think I’m in the wrong queue,” I said to my neighbour, swallowing bile. Only four people were ahead of me. “There’s been a mistake. I’m going to Heaven.”

“Heaven?” He cackled, his laughter so loud it sent ripples of unease through the waiting crowd. “Heaven?” he repeated, shaking his head. “You sure?”

“Of course. I’ve been baptised, christened… even got my last rites.” I was now third in the queue, close to hyperventilating. Did I dare to snap my travel card? I turned to my neighbour, held up the card. “Please, help – what do I do?”

“Hm.” He scratched his cheek, running his fingers over a scar at the corner of his eye. “Even if you’re not going to Heaven, it’s bound to be better than where I’m going.”

“Tickets, please!” the inspectors called. Only one person ahead of me.

“Tell you what,” my neighbour said. “Let’s do swapsies.”

He grabbed my travel card, pushed his paper ticket into my hand, and then shoved me, hard, before I could react.

“Tickets, please,” the inspector said to me, pulling the ticket from my numb fingertips. He handed it back with a sharp, fanged smile. “Straight ahead,” he said. “The ninth circle.”

LONDON COLD SNAP KILLS 42 ZOMBIES

Brrrrr!

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LONDON, United Kingdom – A bout of severe, snowy weather has left at least 42 zombies dead as the second snowfall of the year hits the capital. Officials are taking extra precautions to protect the zombies, dozens of whom froze to death on the streets of London during last week alone.

Nearly 300 zombies sought defrosting procedures from University College London Hospital, with scores of hospitals overrun by the heat-seeking undead.

Emergency officials have said many of the zombies are homeless, and desperate for heat and nourishment. 800 shelters have been opened to provide shelter and brain-substitute burgers, but authorities are struggling to communicate with the zombies, whose cognitively impairments are exacerbated by the cold.

Unable to locate the shelters, many zombies are seeking protection in phone booths and tube stations. Oxford Circus and Bond Street stations were indefinitely closed after twelve commuters were injured in a zombie incident. All twelve have been inoculated and will be under quarantine for 72 hours.

The extreme weather comes at a bad time for undead rights group ZombieAid, who are currently lobbying Parliament to classify zombies as ‘non-human persons’ in order to accord them with basic human rights.

Police are appealing the public to keep zombie relatives indoors and to take care when travelling through the city.

RED HERRINGS

His beard is a disguise.

People see the dark skin, the thick hair, the traditional clothing, and come to all the wrong conclusions. But it is his beard they notice first, the thickness of it, its length. It is the first of many red herrings in his appearance.

Hiding behind its thick, curled tangle are gentle cheeks, a sad smile, soft lips that mouth poetry on the underground.

He’s clutching two open notebooks, one on top of the other. His nails are rough-ridged and cracked but he holds the pen delicately, copying words from one notebook into the other.

The words themselves are another red herring: words of pain and suffering, of loneliness and anger, carefully misspelled to feign ignorance.

He needs these — the beard, the words, the disguise — because without them, he is nothing, no one. Just another man on the tube, another forgettable face.

THE GIANT BUTTERFLY

Once upon a time there was a butterfly named Bonnie.

Now Bonnie was no ordinary butterfly, she was a GIANT butterfly. She was bigger than all the other butterflies. She was bigger than the dragonflies. She was even bigger than your two hands put together!

Bonnie was so big that when she landed on a flower, the flower would break. When she drank from a puddle, water would splash everywhere. And when she flew through the fields, the wind from her wings would knock all the other butterflies off-course.

None of the other butterflies wanted to play with Bonnie.

Bonnie was lonely.

One day a zebra arrived in the forest.

Now this was no ordinary zebra, this was a KILLER zebra. His tail was thin and whip-like. His hooves were sharp and strong. And his teeth were very large, and very white.

The zebra trotted into Bonnie’s field. He hit all the butterflies with his tail. He squashed all the flowers with his hooves. And he ripped up the grass in great chunks with his teeth.

“Help, help!” cried the other butterflies, watching their home get destroyed.

And Bonnie, because she was big and because she was brave, went to the rescue.

She flew right up to the zebra and landed right between his ears, where he couldn’t see her. Then she leaned over and shouted into his ear: “LEAVE THIS FIELD, ZEBRA!”

The zebra jumped. “Who’s that? Who’s there?” He turned round and round on the spot, but couldn’t see anyone. The field was empty. He shook his head nervously, and Bonnie had to hold on tight so as not to fall off.

“I AM THE MIGHTY LION!” roared Bonnie into his ear.

Oh, how the zebra jumped now! “L-l-l-lion?” he stuttered, his hooves knocking together in fright, because zebras and lions were mortal enemies. He galloped to the edge of the field and hid behind a tree.

The zebra shook his head again, and again Bonnie had to hold on tight.

“THAT’S NOT FAR ENOUGH!” she shouted, growling angrily.

“Eep!” yelped the zebra. He ran even further from the butterfly field, and hid behind a large rock.

Bonnie took a deep breath and said: “NO, THAT’S NOT FAR ENOU–”

But as Bonnie was speaking, the zebra shook his head again, and she fell splat onto the rock!

“You’re not a lion!” the zebra said angrily. “You liar!”

He lifted up a hoof to squash her, but Bonnie cried out, “I had to lie! You were destroying our home! You squashed all the flowers and ripped up all the grass and hit my friends with your tail!”

The zebra was shocked. “I did? I… I didn’t realise. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bonnie said. “Just don’t do it again.”

And she gave the zebra directions to Africa, so that he could travel there and hang out with all the other zebras, where he belonged.

As soon as the zebra left, all the butterflies gathered around the rock, fluttering their beautiful wings. “Oh, Bonnie! You saved our home! Thank you, thank you!”

“It was nothing,” Bonnie said modestly, embarrassed by the attention.

She tried to flap her wings, to join them in the air, but nothing happened. Her wing was broken!

“Come on Bonnie,” said the butterflies. “Let’s go home!”

“I can’t!” she cried, trying to flap her wings again, wincing at the pain. “I can’t fly! I must have broken my wing when I fell on to the rock,” she said sadly.

And then all the other butterflies went away, because they knew Bonnie couldn’t be a butterfly anymore.

Inspired by and written for Bonnie Sparks.