A.J. Walker


A Different Bus

Mid Week Flash #210 - 28.07.21

A Different Bus

Mark had missed his last bus home and had to get on another that took him only roughly in the right direction. It halved the walk home had he not got it, but it left him in an unfamiliar territory. When got off the bus he spotted two silhouettes beneath a lamppost a hundred metres down the road. It was dark but he felt sure they were looking at him. Following a long day at work he’d felt he’d deserved a couple of relaxing pints. Now with the hairs on his neck acting like a poor man’s Spideesense and his adrenaline beginning to pump he wished he’d gone straight home. It was two miles home now and he couldn’t justify a taxi ride.

Mark had taken the bus to this point before over the years. He’d made it back in one piece on those occasions. Why should it be any different this time. This time though something felt different. Years changed a place. It also changed people. He wasn’t the same person who’d walked care free here before. The years had stripped his bravado and confidence back. Time heals all wounds they say. But what do they know? Time could be a fucker too.

He was pretty good with directions. He was almost sure that he just needed to walk two blocks in the direction the bus had come from then take a right, a left and a right and he’d be on the main road heading straight home.

He was glad to see it meant he was walking away from the two guys. All the same he walked with a little more haste than normally.

It took five minutes to walk the two blocks and hang the right on to Colquitt Street. It was a narrow half tarmac, half cobbled street with Victorian terraces either side. The only light came from the dim and occasional street lamps: no sign of life.

But other life introduced itself to Mark: he’d made it fifty metres when he heard the loud, clicking footsteps behind him. Whoever it was wasn’t trying to sneak up on him, which didn’t comfort him.

The clicks were getting louder and they bounced off the terraces making it difficult to place. He initially tried to just plough on, but ultimately he had to turn to see who was making the noise. Perhaps it really was a tap dancer after dance practice or a maybe a woman in heels homeward bound on the cobbles: It wasn’t. There was a man in the middle of the road thirty metres back looking like he owned it. He nodded when he saw Mark looking. Then grinned. Mark knew he was one of the silhouettes from earlier. There was no sign of the other man.

But then he came around the corner with a swagger. Mark sensed he was in deep trouble. He’d no enemies; no valuables. Were these guys just after him for fun? He crossed the street: and the new guy crossed too. The first stayed in the road. Mark had already made an assessment of the street and was short on options. All he could do was run. The only place he could see that was open to him was a single ginnel between two sets of terraces. If he could get down there he could turn left or right and run down the alley at the back of the terraces. He had twenty five metres or more on both of them. He hoped his sudden movement would steal him an advantage.

But the ginnel wasn’t as expected: there was a locked gate. He was trapped and his only options were two gates to the terraces. The right one was locked. The left gate opened but he was only faced with a series of steps down back against the house. He hoped his best bet was to find a door and either knock like hell; or if he found it unlocked he could shut himself in and wait. It was not much of a plan.

The steps led to a narrow red brick corridor ending at an open metal door. It looked as inviting as an old prison cell, but perhaps he could lock himself in. As he pulled it shut he heard the laughter and the singing; “
Another One Bites The Dust”. He fell back and tripped over something. He felt the skulls with his hands and wondered at the trap he’d fallen.

Sitting Comfortably

Mid Week Flash #209 - 21.07.21

Sitting Comfortably

Mike was preparing for a meeting with the councillors. He thought the argument would be a fifty fifty call if he performed poorly; but he’d confidence he could turn it his way. Sarah would vote with him. Her soft spot for Mike was obvious: she’d always voted with with him even on contentious issues. He was equally sure though that David would vote against him for the opposite reasons. Not once had he voted with Mike even on what should be slam dunk decisions.

God, he hated council meetings. But he’d signed up to Adrienne’s retainer and he couldn’t say his time was more valuable than what she was paying.

He’d only have to work on Darren and Emma. He’d done his homework, and although both were of an environmental bent they were thankfully also occasionally pragmatic.; unusual for those that called themselves environmentalists.

Handily he knew a fairly cute environmental consultant from the golf club and she’d helped him out with some of the arguments; for the price of a slap up dinner and some wine (and a little half baked passion he’d already forgotten). So when it came to Agenda Item: 14.1 ‘
The Removal of Waste from Highland Wood’ he took the lead. ‘I’ve been having some thoughts on this and can say I’ve changed my mind several times. Personally I thought we should find the funds and remove all the waste from the wood. An old mouldy sofa is just not natural; it’s our duty to look after our environment. It’s hard to argue against.’

Sarah and Emma nodded, whilst Darren looked impassive and David looked like he was about to argue the opposite case: so far, so predictable.

‘Then I thought about the reality - and went to the wood.’

David’s eyes narrowed. He’d only ever seen Mike interested in items like nightclub licences; never the environment.

Mike then pulled out some pages from a folder. ‘Here’s a map of the location of the areas of waste, including that damnable sofa, along with some photos.’

The councillors shook their heads. It never ceased to amaze them how rubbish, which could easily be dealt with in the normal scheme of things, could be discarded so callously. It made the blood boil of all but the most hardy and heartless of bastards; even Mike thought it was wrong - so didn’t have to work too hard on his act for once.

‘Have any of you seen the infamous sofa’

They all shook their heads. Mike wasn’t sure if that was a positive or negative. He’d have to sell it sight unseen.

‘It’s horrible to see what our constituents can do to our own community. I was quite emotional when I saw it. It took me a long time to find the sofa. It’s deep in the wood - which you can see marked with “S” on the plan.’

‘Not an X, Mike?’ said Emma. ‘Then again I suppose it’s not treasure.’

‘Indeed. I had to sit down when I found it. It was so deep in the woods I was tired and sweaty. It’s a bloody mystery how it got there. And there lies the rub. It’s deep into the wood. I’ve spoken to the environmental consultant about removing it.’

‘If we have to do it, we have to do it. Morally surely?’ David said.

‘Side park the morals for now. It’s not our doing after all. The consultant said we’d cause more damage to the wood - to the environment - by removing it. She said it was not an eyesore because it’s impractical for people to find it. It took me over an hour: and I knew about it!’

‘Sounds quite reasonable. How much are we paying this consultant?’

‘Nothing. She’s a casual acquaintance. But she talks sense and seems to know what she’s talking about.’

‘Free: that’s my kinda price.’ David said. Mike knew he meant it - some of David’s backhanders and freebies were embarrassing: he never paid for toilet roll.

‘Anyway, she said we could easily argue that the environmental damage of removing it would be significantly greater than the benefit of removing it and that nature could do our work.’

‘And it would save the council thousands:’ Said David. ’QED!’

It was the first time David ever voted the same way as Mike. The decision was unanimous: the sofa was left in-situ to be enveloped by the wood. It was indeed rarely seen - which was good for Adrienne as her contractors had hidden a body underneath it.

More Eyes and Ears

Mid Week Flash #208 - 14.07.21

More Eyes and Ears

Every Sunday David would go along to sit in Freedom Square and soak up the atmosphere from all the life going on around him. It never failed to uplift him to sense the bustle and the comings and goings. There were the bars and cafes hosts to family get togethers, the quiet drinkers reading their papers or books, couples on dates and others half hiding their illicit assignations. All life went on here. He enjoyed to watch it flow in front of him on Sundays, but for the rest of the week he watched and listened from five miles away in his roof top apartment.

He’d felt incredibly lucky with his work. David loved people watching as long as he could remember, and to get a job monitoring conversations and meetings in the square was a dream come true. To be paid to do the thing you loved. Not many people could say that: indeed he had tapes and tapes, and transcripts aplenty of people saying as much.

It was not lost on him that of all the squares in the city Freedom Square was the most unfortunately named one. What is Freedom when every person you meet is recorded, every thing you order is noted, and every utterance is transcribed, reviewed, and filed perhaps to be used against you in the years, months, days or hours to come. He didn’t like thinking about that aspect of course. So in his own filing system in his head it was kept under the heading ‘Not Relevant’.

He wondered what would happen if a friend of his was there saying something that he’d picked up. Would he record, transcribe and file it away. He thought he probably would. But he was glad that he had made the decision to eschew friendship for life outside: for looking in. He was an observer; and very good at it.

His masterstroke came when he was able to combine his hobby with his work. The men at the Ministry had said there was to be some hard landscaping in the square to celebrate some long forgotten revolutionary action from decades earlier. Even with his great memory for anecdotes and facts he’d never heard of the event. Still, he came up with the suggestion of a wall of faces to be constructed along the western side of the square. Everyday faces of the everyday men and women of the city. Faces to look out across the square eastward towards their communist forbears. How much irony could he cram into such a display? A lot.

Better still they accepted his offer and design too. Soon he’d made a large wall of giant grotesque heads. Each face different and full of life: and death. In addition to being visually interesting the glazed earthenware heads each held the video and microphone technology required to further the monitoring capabilities in the square. And each head also had the ashes of his family’s mixed in with the raw materials. From then on each time he would be in Freedom Square watching the world go by he would be doing it along with his family. It could not be better if he’d designed the world itself. He was glad he hadn’t tried to make the faces look like his family too though, that would have truly freaked him out.

The Rusted Bucket

Mid Week Flash #207 - 07.07.21

The Rusted Bucket

The basement of the
Three Fishes was an intriguing place. It suggest a rather grand building above. But the Fishes - more affectionately known as The Rusted Bucket - was of bog standard design from some time when architects thought boxes were best; or at least a lot quicker to bang out for the planners. The ancient pub had burned down countless times over the centuries and other than mapped evidence you wouldn’t be able to tell from seeing the pub at ground level. It was one basic mother.

If you made it downstairs though it was like stepping back in time. Half of it was obscured by the mountains of kegs and casks of beers and old boxes. There were two rooms which were unhindered by the workings of the pub or of random storage of life. One small room in particular was noted for the oddness of the metal bath beneath a stone arch. It was such an odd place to put a bath. There was no heating in the room and no lighting or mirrors. People wondered whether there were fires taken down there to heat it. Some kind of old cast heaters. That must have been the answer.

But anyone who thought about it properly would say that was a nonsense. There was nowhere in that room for the smoke to escape. You’d end up choking in the smoke in that tiny place in no time. And then there was the height of the arch. It was so low that you’d have to slink out of the bath like liquid itself to get out without banging your head.

Lastly there was the fact that the bath seemed wider than the door in all dimensions. It seemed an impossible feat to get it in. And to what end if you can’t practically bathe in there?

The bath itself was an ever rusting feature. If you approached it you’d smell first the mould then taste the iron in the air from the rust. The whole room scared people. It became infamous and people would talk about it - and there were photos of it in the pub lounge and in several books on mysterious buildings. And locals called the
Fishes ‘The Rusted Bucket’ or even just the ‘Bucket’ - which often confused visitors to the town. But people rarely visited the room these days for fear of being “creeped out.” And that is why the landlord of the pub and part time successful cat burglar hid all his ill gotten booty in the pipe work - apparently- connecting the bath. He never feared anyone finding the diamonds and gold. No one was stupid or brave enough to look too close at the room. He prided himself on his luck and ingenuity - and whenever locals referred to the pub as the Rusted Bucket he would always say, ‘God bless the Rusted Bucket.’

The Wind Blows Cold

Mid Week Flash #206 - 30.06.21

The Wind Blows Cold

Eddie’s head hurt. Not a sharp pain, but not dull either. Something akin to death warmed up to a little bit south of maximum - with added extras for some evil deeds that must have been undertaken in multiple previous (and pretty evil) lifetimes. To top it off there were some throbbing noises. It wasn’t good at all. The noise may have been a good sign. If it was just the blood pumping around his body then it would at least mean he was probably not dead.

He was trying to work things out without opening his eyes - as he was sure that would further hurt his head. He thought he was probably lying down but he was far from certain. He was finding it distinctly difficult to feel anything but pain and uncertainty; and thinking methodically was apparently out of the question.

He was 84% sure his name was Eddie, though he wouldn’t put his house on it: if he had a house.

The rhythmic noise seemed to be diminishing, unless he was getting used to it. He didn’t worry over much that it could mean he was dying: partly because he didn’t think he was, and partly because it would actually be a blessed relief.

The noise and dull pain in his head - that felt like it was an entire sick planet - was soon to be joined by a new feeling: extreme cold. A cold wind was suddenly blasting his body. Predominately - and most worryingly - right up where the sun doesnt shine. He’d never felt anything quite like it. It was like a blue cold poker right up his jacksy. Eddie was now sure his name was Eddie: probably. Though with the ice cold poker thing going on he was never going to be sure about anything (and also it was neither here nor there).

Things began to improve. He was getting more sure about feeling really bad. And thinking he really was cold. The whole headache thing was resolving itself into a headache and nothing more. He decided he had been right and that he was lying down. The breeze worried him. It was not normal. It was about time to bite the bullet and try to open his eyes.

He was right. It was - indeed - really painful. But he lived. His eyes opened and he found he was lying down - facing up - as expected/hoped. The view was pure nature. Total nature. It took a while, but eventually the view resolved itself into a tree, then another tree, and then tree upon tree upon tree. He was definitely lying on his back and looking up at such gigantic vertical beautiful beasts. It was dead pretty. Or it would have been if it hadn’t been for the headache.

His gaze shifted south towards the ground and eventually he realised what he was seeing was a bare foot in front of a vista of the woodland floor. A bare foot: that wasn’t normal, was it? As he thought about it he noticed his leg - and indeed both of them - were devoid of trousers too. His head thumped. One way or another this had clearly been alcohol induced.

The wind blew: and he felt it. He almost screamed. White cold, blue, poker. He could see see the tree tops sway in synchronised - ironic - sympathy. Cold, cold.

Things began to resolve though. There were these beautiful trees; the feeling of lying within them, of looking up, of being a part of it: then the cold. That wind up his arse. Beautiful; and confusing.

He’d been out drinking, hadn’t he? Oh god. The stag do. That idiot Terry had taken control. He’d been playing pool in the Albert - naked. He’d seen Mrs Read, his old maths teacher, while taking a piss by the railway station: without his trousers on (that’d be instant detention in the old days). Oh god, not only was it A stag do. It was HIS stag do. And the wedding was today. Eddie was lying on the floor of a wood wondering at his sublime headache and the trees. Of course his soon to be ex-mates had taken his watch off - along with ever stitch of his clothes: and he had no idea where he was. He didn’t even live near a wood.

Getting married to someone; somewhere; and who knows when… it’d go down as an epic night: assuming he still made it to his own damn wedding. It was too late to find better mates.