DISTANT

By: Diego Melita

 

I am sitting on my bed, looking out the window. It is raining outside and the greyness of the sky makes everything look gloomier. I watch the drops slipping fast as they collide with each other. In the background, a long line of cars advances and stops to allow pedestrians to cross the street. Nobody seems to realise that the sky is getting darker and the rain will soon be heavier.

I hear the phone ring and my mum’s voice, speaking broken English, coming from the room next door. She must be talking about work. She has been very busy recently, and she has not looked after me a lot. She just stays in the room next to mine, sitting for hours in front of her laptop. When I try to catch her attention, she pushes me away saying things like “I can’t right now my dear, go back to watching the TV,” or “my dear, go back to play, I’m busy now.” Her calm voice hides the fact that she wants me to go as soon as possible.

Her job dragged me to London. I remember the first day here. As we left the airport, we immediately went to take the tube to get to the city centre. It was packed. People who waited for the train were spending their time on their phones or listening to music and some were staring into space. I couldn’t help noticing the big tunnels at the opposites of the platform. In spite of the fact that the whole place was well lit, the holes were completely dark. I was scared. My mother was looking at them too and kept silent until the train arrived. I wanted her to hold my hand, because I was scared of being dragged away and swallowed into the emptiness. I pulled her jacket and called her. As I looked at her, I reached out for her hand, but she didn’t notice and, after glancing at me with a tired look on her face, she went back to stare at something before her.

The days following we just ran up and down the city. Mum kept on telling me that she needed to do important stuff and in that moment we couldn’t waste our time. I was tired of getting on and off trains and walking between all those people. I almost got lost once, while I was trying to keep pace behind her. Even though it was just for a few seconds, I had felt completely alone. I looked around, trying to stand on the tip of my toes, looking for her in vain. I had started calling her, catching the attention of some passers-by. Among them, an old lady with a wrinkly face had told me something which I didn’t get. Scared, I ran away. Luckily enough, my mother had stopped some metres away to ask for directions. I hugged her, then she ran her fingers through my hair hastily, without saying anything. Didn’t she notice I got lost? I was happy anyway – she could have told me off about it.

We arrived a couple of weeks ago and I don’t feel at ease here: there’s nobody who speaks my language and I don’t understand any TV programs. I have no friends, I don’t have my toys, I don’t like what I eat and the house is too small.

I get up from the bed and I approach the door to watch my mum for a while. Her eyes are chained to the screen. I need to call her, even if there’s no reason for doing that, but I just wait for her with a pitiful gaze on my face, hoping to catch her attention eventually. Meanwhile, the rain has become more violent and the sky is completely black. I try to call her but she doesn’t reply, and this arouses in me some strange sensation of embarrassment. I don’t know why. She’s my mum. It doesn’t make any sense for me to feel like this. Either my voice was overwhelmed by the sound of the storm or she totally ignored me. The air in the room seems to be detached from myself. I feel like there is no way to reach out to her, not even to say hello. There is some kind of force that prevents me to get close to her.

The embarrassment turns into discomfort and I begin to wonder if it is worthwhile retrying. I don’t know if I want her attention anymore. I should not bother her while she works, I don’t want to make her angry and distance myself from her. In the end, I work up the courage, but, as I open my mouth to speak, a bright and sudden flash shines upon the room with a deep and unnatural rumble, and it literally crushes me, echoing in my head.

I run away, slamming the door behind me and then I throw myself under the covers. I shut myself in a fetal position, I plug my ears and I bar my eyes to not see. The lightning continues to crash and the walls to vibrate. A strange bitter cold comes over me from tiptoe which I pull back immediately, then I start to shudder. I try to wrap myself as much as I can into the covers, my only protection. I wish I had my mum next to me. I think of how I got to a city where everyone speaks a language I don’t know and where my mum is so detached. She should have asked me what I thought of moving here and of her new job. Instead, she told me at the last minute, all smiles of excitement for some reason I couldn’t understand.

I’m still under the covers with eyes closed and I hear the thunder starting to move away. It’s not raining heavily anymore and that unexpected frost of terror seems to have disappeared.

I swallow and I feel a bit safer now, so I open my eyes and take off the covers. I am surprised to see my mum at the door, with her arms folded. She was there watching me all the time, wasn’t she? I run to her at once, taken by an irresistible urge to hug her. She reacts with naturalness, lifting me up and holding me. I start complaining of the new city, the house and her coldness towards me. Then she starts to rock me and she relieves me with her placid voice. She explains that she has an important opportunity and that if she works hard in the next two months, she will have much more time for me after. She says I have to be patient and she apologizes for not having warned me in time. Her hug and her speech give me strength. I stop complaining as she lets me curl on the bed, then she leaves, kissing my forehead. I watch her as she leaves the room and I realise that the wall between us never existed.

Flashbacks in the City by Jhilmil Breckenridge

It was a summer of endless dust storms and long cool drinks. I walked in and there you were. I wanted you from the beginning, but you begged me to get you a date with a girl you called Peppermint, and I did. I thought you were cool. And I wanted to be cool, too.

Days passed. You used to speak of Bob Dylan, and wrote Dylan-esque poetry – sometimes for me – which I pretended to like. The Peppermint phase passed. Over a drunken haze of dark rum and mango juice, your hands found mine. We spoke of running away, we spoke of eternity. And the words, in that dark bar, floated like gossamer: just a little out of reach, but still there.

We went to Ladakh together. High up in the Himalayas, the terrain looks like a Dali style lunar landscape. Over momos and Tibetan soup called thukpa, we read the writings of the Dalai Lama and talked of Buddhism, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and how to achieve nirvana. In your arms, I thought I had found nirvana, though there was still an ephemeral quality, like I could not hold on to something. But I would shrug away these thoughts.

In Ladakh, when you’re high on the mountains and maybe something else, anything seems possible. You meet Israelis recovering from their forced year of military service. You meet hippies who seem so stoned that you wonder whether they have real jobs wherever they come from. You meet people who have made traveling their lives. In Ladakh, everything seems possible.

This time, you wanted me. You wrote me more poetry, no punctuation and no capital letters. I would read them and tell you of my latest crush. Over the gin and tonics in those seedy bars, and the hazy smoke over Billy Holiday singing, we were growing apart. Together.


You are talking. Your lips move but I can’t hear. In my head, a song is playing. I shake my head and come back to you and your voice. You have cancer. Only a few more months to live. I think of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I think of our hands and how your body used to feel. I want to say something but there is nothing coming out of my mouth.

I cry. I cry for what could be. I cry for the sheer unfairness of life. I cry for you, and I cry for me, and I cry for us. As I cry, all the images flash in my mind, like black and white photos in a 1940s war movie. And we hold hands. And they fit perfectly. Everything seems possible. You wipe my tears away and we walk home.

Lila and me for Delhi TalksJhilmil Breckenridge was born in a sleepy town in India and travelled most of her childhood. She was always found with a book in her hands and read whatever she found! She is most interested in writing prose fiction though has started flirting with the idea of screenplays.

While I Was Sleeping by M.E. Rolle

I awoke early the other morning out of a dead sleep, to the sound of my dog quietly whining at the front door.

‘Beauregard!’ I whisper yelled in reprimand. Protesting my request, he barked a quiet ‘woof’ in return.

I lay back down and tried to return to sleep, only to be startled by a strange cry from outside. Beauregard whined and barked again less quietly in response. I shouted down a little louder for the dog to stop, but he would not; when I finally called for him, I was relieved to hear his paws thumping up the steps toward my bedroom.  When he got to the door, I told him to lie down there, where he wouldn’t be able hear the noise outside. I hoped he would stop whining, but it turned out not to matter that he did, as the horrible noise outside continued. It sounded like an ill dog—half barking, half shrieking. It was not something I had ever heard before, and it made me feel uneasy.

Nervously, I climbed out of bed and pulled the curtains aside, looking out into the night. Beneath the streetlight at our end of the road, I saw what I believed at first to be a stout, shaggy dog. It looked golden in colour, with a long and shaggy coat and tail. It shrieked again and then looked directly up at my window; as my eyes adjusted to the light, I realized it was a large red fox.

At first, I was perplexed. What was a fox doing this close to Wimbledon Station? We weren’t that far from the large urban parks of Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, but in order for a fox to have travelled that far, she would have needed to cross the railroad tracks, and climb at least two fences. Moreover, our terraced house sits at the end of a short block that backs up on either side to about a half dozen other short blocks, all of them with fenced gardens. For a fox to be here, howling under my window, you would think she had planned it.

She continued to bark her shrieking call up at my window, and I felt compelled to go down and see what was the matter. I pulled on a pair of jeans, a warm jumper, and my Wellies, then made my way down the steps, trying to avoid the spots where I knew the treads would creak, so as not to wake anyone in the house. Reaching the ground floor, I grabbed my coat off the back of a chair, put my keys and mobile in my pocket, and silently exited through the front door. Perhaps it was the way the fox had looked at me, as if imploring me to follow, but I went without yet thinking about how bizarre a choice it was to leave my home in the middle of the night to meet up with a wild animal.

The fox stopped crying as soon as she saw me, whereupon she maintained eye contact long enough for me to feel a bit disturbed. If she wanted my attention, she had it.

‘What is it?’ I finally asked.

She turned tail and began to trot up the street toward Dundonald Road. Worried that a car would strike her, I jogged after her, but when she reached the corner, she turned and continued west, away from the station. I began to wonder what the hell I was doing, out in the moonlight, following a red fox in a low speed chase through Wimbledon.

‘Where are you going?’ I called after the fox, but also asked myself. She stopped long enough to turn around and lock eyes with me again. However crazy it was, I believed that she was asking me to continue to follow her. So I did.

We made our way up Dundonald Road a few blocks, and then she turned down Merton Hall Road—a longer road that marked the end of the recreation grounds and that, like ours, ended at the railroad tracks. I knew from my shortcut to yoga class that there was a footbridge over the tracks at the end of this road. I was certain that there must have been a loose board in the fence at the end of this street, and that the fox would lead me through it and into the grassy area alongside the tracks. Much to my surprise, however, the fox proceeded to lead me up and across the footbridge, just as a National Rail train passed under us. Beams of light danced around us, moving across the side of the bridge as the train continued north easterly toward Raynes Park Station. I paused a brief moment in the middle of the footbridge and thought again about the absurdity of my present venture. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the fox wanted—perhaps even needed—me to follow her.

I felt a shiver move down my spine as the train passed—partly because standing on the rickety old bridge always made me a bit nervous, and partly because it was chilly outside and the train passing underneath had stirred a slight breeze beneath us. The fox, now at the top of the steps on the far end of the bridge, looked back again, apparently frustrated by my inability to keep up.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘I’m coming.’

She turned back and descended the steps; I had nearly caught up to her by the time she reached the footbath below. She remained only metres ahead of me as we continued onto the road, just beyond the footpath.

From there on, we made steady progress northward, trotting up one street until it ended, then following it around to another, that led toward Wimbledon Common. I had been to the Common many times before, had enjoyed long walks in the woods there, where you could feel for long periods on end as though you weren’t in the city anymore (especially when the weather was very cold or drizzly). Still, I had never been there in the middle of the night, and felt uneasy about continuing into the woods. The fox looked at me again; I swear she had an expression that suggested she couldn’t believe how ridiculous I was being. She ran up a walking path that was barely lit by the moon. Without contemplating it any further, I followed.

Fifteen minutes later, I had begun to feel really winded. I assumed that I had reached Richmond Park by then, given the speed with which the fox had caused me to travel. I seriously considered stopping right there, and going home.

As if answering my exhaustion, the fox slowed moments later, walking off the path toward the heavy trees. She nudged her muzzle into some tall grass at the edge of the woods and entered. I hesitated for only a few seconds before her head popped back out and she made that bizarre noise again, which I hadn’t heard since I began following her. I parted the taller plants with my hands and stepped in after her.

We continued on through the weedy overgrowth for about half a kilometre before it unexpectedly cleared. Stepping out of the woods and into a moonlit clearing, I was suddenly surrounded by activity. All around the field, animals were at work. Fireflies lit up the space like twinkling fairy lights. In a nearby tree, two ring-necked parakeets were building a nest, the pair of them working together to fasten a yellow hair ribbon into the basket of twigs they had already installed. In the grasses at the edges of the opening, red deer were searching for food. Nearby, a raccoon was digging in the dirt at the bottom of a tree, widening the entrance into what looked like a comfy little home. I shook my head, rubbing my eyes in wonder. Is this what the fox had wanted me to see?

I searched the branches over my head for the source of the scratching sounds that seemed to be coming from above. A squirrel was scrambling to fill any openings in its large hanging nest, built directly into the oak tree, with more twigs. Above him, a dozen or more bats were flitting about, weaving in and around the others’ nests. At the bottom of the tree was an enormous bees’ nest— worker bees flying in and out, clocking into and out of their shifts. A few bees appeared weaker than the others, but they went off to work just the same. They struck me as the busiest of all the animals in the clearing, although the others were likely oblivious to that, and to the fact that the bees’ work was for the benefit of everyone.

In the middle of the clearing, a fat crow perched atop a scrawny pine tree, the top of which bobbled from side to side with each small gust of wind. Only after I’d been watching the crow swing back and forth for a minute or two did I see the barn owl in the distance behind him, sitting solidly at the end of the short, broken branch of a birch tree. He appeared to be overseeing the others’ work, like a fat, feathered contractor. Occasionally, he would hoot a command or two into the night, imparting his knowledge to other residents. It was unclear to me whether he had his own work to do, or whether opining on the larger effort was his job, but he appeared to be enjoying himself.

Just then, my eye caught the tail of the red fox moving away from me, as she made her way across the field to what must have been her den., Two tiny foxes tumbled in and out of its opening, playing. She looked back at me as she nudged them back through the door; she had what appeared to be a smile on her face as she nodded to me for the last time. I looked at her imploringly. I tried to ask her, with me eyes, ‘why?’ and ‘why me?” She gave her head a little shake, and seemed to be smiling slightly. Her expression told me that I would figure it out.

I stood in the clearing for a little while after she left, and then began to feel quite cold. Heading back through the spot where we’d entered, I turned back one final time to look at each of the busy animals in turn. I’ll never know for certain what the fox’s point was in pulling me out of my warm bed, but as I found my way back out of the Park and through the Commons, I realized that it was a very special gift that she’d given me.

I arrived home just moments before the earliest morning light began to break over the city. I stumbled up the stairs and back into bed, pulling an extra comforter over me. I was freezing cold and dreading how tired I would feel at school the next day. Fortunately, I fell immediately back into a heavy sleep.

It took me a few minutes to remember what had happened when I finally woke, later that morning. When it came back to me, I smiled at the thought of that persistent fox. The image in my mind of the entire journey was fantastical. As I thought about it, I came to the only conclusion that made any sense; that my moonlit journey must have been a dream. A vivid and special dream, certainly, but of course just a dream. As I dragged myself out of bed and headed toward the kitchen, I smiled at the memory of the animals working in the clearing, tripping on my way over the dirt caked Wellies standing up at the end of my bed.

11081047_10205291567701520_3084136575215819956_nM.E. Rolle studied English and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She holds a J.D. in Law from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an LL.M. in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School. After a twelve year career as an attorney for U.S. federal government, M.E. decided to pursue her passion for writing in London. She is currently taking part in the University of Westminster’s program, MA Creative Writing: Writing the City.

The Quake by Heather Eagar

The skyline was beautiful. Roger couldn’t deny that. Pinks and golds swept through the clouds. Spires penetrated the vision here and there, the city lights beginning to blink to life. As the sun set deeper behind the mountains, the shadows of the city left a handprint against the stars.

He sighed. It was beautiful, yet at the same time he couldn’t shake the terror he felt every time he looked at it. It was frightening how easily it could all be taken out with one fatal blow. He had lived in the city for most of his life. He knew how it was. And it could all be summed up with one word. More.

More money. More gadgets. More buildings to make more money. Taller buildings than the ones that already existed so they could hold more world records. Everyone wanted more of what they already had. They were so busy creating the next innovation that they didn’t even realize what they were missing.

Roger hadn’t known what he was missing, either. But he felt there had to be something better than endless days in a cubicle, all so he could have more of something he didn’t really care about in the first place. So he left. It had taken some work to convince Rebecca that moving fifty miles into the middle of nowhere was a good idea.

But in the end, Rebecca followed him. He knew she would, or at least he hoped she would. Every married person he met complained to him about how awful their marriage was, and how wonderful it would be to be single again. He felt sorry for them. He couldn’t imagine a single day without Rebecca by his side. And thankfully for him, she felt the same way.

So Roger traded in his pin-striped suit for camo fatigues, and traded in their sedan for a pickup truck. It was hard to leave, and not just for Rebecca. It was hard for him too. But all the same, Rebecca followed him into the unknown with nothing but what they could tie down in the back.


Roger stood up and stretched, the sun now gone for the night. He climbed down the rickety steps he had made himself and stepped down from the roof into their one story home. He saw Rebecca reading by the fireplace and smiled. After being out on their own for a couple years, they still didn’t have much, but they had each other. And that was home enough for him.

Roger walked over to their dining room table and turned on a small solar powered radio to hear the weather update. The voice crackled, like it wasn’t sure if it was ready to be awakened, but it came through clear enough to be understood.

Seismic activity is increasing throughout the state. We strongly urge you to prepare yourselves. We don’t know when the series of earthquakes will hit. But they WILL hit. Will you be ready?

He turned the radio off and sunk into his homemade rocker opposite Rebecca. She looked up and shook her head. “I don’t know why you listen to that blasted thing,” she said, setting her book down on her lap. “They’ve been warning of earthquakes the entire time we’ve been here.”

Roger gave her a sad smile. “And they will come.” He looked into the fireplace. “I know you think I’m crazy.” Rebecca gave a small laugh. “I just feel so sorry for everyone else,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “One bad shake and all those buildings are going to topple like dominos, bringing everything down with them. What is a city of that size going to do without electricity, gas, water…?”

“It will fall into chaotic ruin,” Rebecca quoted.

Roger looked up, surprised. His surprise was quickly replaced with a laugh, deep and rolling like thunder. “It looks like I repeat myself a little too often around here,” he said. “But it’s true, all the same. And we’re prepared for when it happens.”

They were prepared, all right. For two years, ever since Roger turned on that damn solar powered radio, they had worked to protect themselves against the day those earthquakes would hit. He didn’t know much about building houses, but that was where he had started. He figured he would build a simple wood frame house; the lighter the building material, the less chance of being hurt.

After that came the real work. Planting crops to store food, building solar panels and finding ways to catch the rain for drinking water; these were just a few of the skills he realized they needed for survival on their own. Lucky for him, Rebecca seemed to have a better handle on the situation at times than he did. Such was the case when Roger was attempting to build a complicated system to catch the rain water by cutting pipes in half to serve as a gutter. It was while he was trying to figure out how he could attach them to each other when Rebecca had walked outside, placed a wooden barrel down next to him and said, “That will catch the water just fine.” Roger had looked up, sweat on his brow, and didn’t say a word. He smiled, nodded, and threw the pipes aside for a future project where he might need pipes that had been cut in half.

Next came the defensive measures. Barbed wire was promptly put up around their compound. Once the earthquake hit, Roger knew that all of the survivors would be pounding on their door, ready to steal their food and take their provisions. He wasn’t going to let anyone threaten his and Rebecca’s survival. A few trips were taken into the city to buy more guns, knives, and ammo. A solar powered motion sensor was installed to alert Roger if anyone came within a hundred feet of the barbed wire.

He also made sure there was a gun in every room of the house, though Rebecca wouldn’t touch them. She said she’d rather be dead than hurt another human being, no matter their intentions. Roger didn’t let that sway him. He had twenty additional guns, ranging from a pea shooter to a sniper rifle, locked up in a gun safe in their bedroom, just in case. He went out into the field every day for marksmanship training. And he got good. Real good. If anyone came near his place, they didn’t stand a chance.

After two years, Roger finally felt like they were prepared. He had even reinforced his wooden home with steel beams, and felt confident it could survive the predicted earthquakes.

It was eleven-o-clock on a Sunday morning when the first one hit.

It was September, and Roger and Rebecca were out in the garden, harvesting their crops. Roger had just thrown some kale into a basket next to him when he felt the ground begin to shake. Rebecca looked up, alarm in her eyes. Roger scooted along the dirt to where she was pulling carrots. Wrapping his arm around her waist, they remained curled on the ground, holding onto one another as the earth tossed them side to side.

To Roger, it felt like the ground shook for several long minutes, rather than the forty short seconds it actually lasted. When it finally subsided, he took a deep breath and sat up. That’s when the second quake hit, this one more violent than the last.  It slammed Roger back down into the ground and his hand desperately searched for Rebecca’s. When his fingers met hers, their hands intertwined and he brought his eyes up to meet hers. Rebecca’s lips moved forming the words, “I love you.” Roger knew she wouldn’t be able to hear him but he mouthed back, “I love you, too.”

The sounds of crunching metal pierced the air, and Roger’s head snapped up. He forgot how to breathe when he saw that a chasm had opened up in what used to be a field only a hundred feet in front of them. The ground formed what looked like a sneer, the top lip curling down. And their truck was in the process of being swallowed by it.

Roger wrapped both arms around Rebecca. He felt her shallow scared breathing against his chest. Eventually, the shaking stopped. He didn’t know when. He and Rebecca remained curled together for a long time before he realized that he could let go. They sat up, panting. Roger’s muscles hurt, unable to release the tension he still felt.

“Oh, Roger,” he heard Rebecca whisper. He turned and saw her staring at their home. Or what used to be their home. “You didn’t by any chance research to see exactly where the fault lines ran, did you?” she asked.

Roger didn’t answer. Judging by the chasm that went straight through their home, splitting it in half, he didn’t need to.  Instead, he stood and shook the loose soil from his clothes. He moved to the edge of the chasm and looked down. He saw nothing but empty darkness. The truck was gone, as was much of their home. The gun safe was balancing precariously on a ledge several feet down.

Roger made his way toward what was left of the home. After testing the stability of a pile that consisted of wood, twisted metal, and a few rain barrels, Roger picked his way to the top. Looking out into the distance his fears were confirmed. There, fifty miles away, was the outline of the city. And it was still standing. Roger figured they had at least some broken glass and such, but those hundred story buildings still stood. Mocking him. They wanted more, and they got it. And Roger was left with nothing.

That wasn’t entirely true. He still had Rebecca. Roger sighed and climbed his way down the rubble. “Well, my dear,” he said, taking Rebecca by the hand. “How do you feel about taking a stroll with the man who will love you forever?”

Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “I would follow you to the ends of the earth. But I feel we’ve already been there.”

“Well then, let’s head this way,” Roger said, nodding in the direction where the city still stood. “Do we still have my old suit?”

“No, remember, you burned it when we first came out here,” Rebecca said.

“Ah, yes. My declaration of liberation from society. Well, I can always get a new one.”

Hand in hand, Roger and Rebecca looked over what remained of their two year endeavor to one-up civilization. And once they began walking, they never looked back.

Heather Eagar lives in Logan, Utah with her husband and two children. She attended a different university every year for four years before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Utah. She is currently a stay-at-home mom who writes often while her husband attends graduate school.

Rooted by Samuel Wilkinson

It’s been six years and so many months since arriving on that train, and the boundaries have shifted since then. I mean the edges or spine of what the world was. In this place it’s beautiful, like that tree in the park with the sun over it. And desperate, outside Euston. Empty and crowded; everything with nothing. The sharpest cold minds sit with the warmest rough hands, reading the same metro next to one another. I believe you don’t know a city until you’ve been sick on it; that moment in the evening where you suddenly find fresh air and the drink hits you and the most important thing is to immediately navigate blindly home, walking your memory so as to vomit on a quiet street, away from shame like a cat disappearing to die. One summer night, a few years ago, I threw a bottle at a railing; it’s hard to explain why except that it was there to be done. Conflict resolution with the city.

In our free time we come to terms with the idea of settling here (darling, should we get a cat or a child? I’ve been wondering that too, dear. Well, our combined salaries and ages are definitely supportive of the notion of the latter. The real question though is, do you love me enough to be stupid enough to think we could?), suggesting the ways in which we could live in Leyton near the cheaper terraces. It would be nice to believe that this place has taught me about love. The psycho-geographical landscape of living in a man-made labyrinth and its inevitable associations. Over time, the roots grow and graft us to the place. The tough tissue of memories and your various endeavours in exploring this local corner of reality. Now, the abstracted meal of all these ever-changing people and increasingly familiar places finally find structure.

 

Wilkinson author photoSamuel Wilkinson grew up on the outskirts of London and now lives in Camden. He has recently finished studying to become a doctor with his research on fluid dynamics and machine learning. When he grows up he would like to be a writer, like Roald Dahl in the shed with a blanket over his legs and a packet of decent biscuits.

The French Man by Sarah Gedye

‘I am so stressed.’

A few months prior to this particular morning coffee my neighbour Olivier had bought a flat. He had been looking for a flat to buy for over a year before one had seemingly fallen into his lap: the flat next door to his, of which the previous occupant had stopped paying his rent and promptly disappeared. The landlord was keen to sell this burdensome apartment and Olivier was excited to buy it. Upon buying it and gutting it of all its debris and the previous tenant’s crumbling affairs, he had discovered the decomposing remains of the previous tenant’s wife in a bin bag. Olivier had deemed this awful—and once the initial shock of the discovery had departed, typical. It had slowed down all renovation plans.

‘Everything is so expensive. Everything is costing more than I anticipated. I have to go to the police station again to fill in forms. I have no time because of work. I have not done any work on my book for ages. It’s just awful. Really, I want to kill myself.’

‘No, you don’t.’

‘I do!’

‘Stop saying you want to kill yourself.’

Other people in the café kept glancing up.

‘I am fed up,’ he announced, placing his empty coffee cup on the bar and looking around the café accusingly. ‘I don’t even want the flat any more. It’s all too much trouble for fucking 30 square metres.’

‘I thought it was 25,’ I said pettishly.

‘Exactly.’

Feeling bored with this familiar line of complaint, I changed the subject. It was morning and he wanted to moan, but the subject matter was not so important. I always made an effort to alternate between topics; and whilst there was a set menu, it was nice to pick different things. However, for someone who seemed to take life so seriously, Olivier was often drunk and laughed a lot. He enjoyed people watching, dancing, inviting strangers from the street to his parties. He often climbed out onto his roof to look at Paris and once hit a bad melon into the sky with a baseball bat. He had the fresh mischievous face of a boy who had been running through a garden chasing a cat. He looked much younger than his 32 years, which explained why he was so attached to his moustache; without it, he looked about 18. Its neatly combed line made him look faintly ridiculous and slightly stuck on, like an accountant with poor acting skills who once had a walk-on moment of glory in a bad play.

‘What’s your book about?’ I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

‘Oh, it is a terrible book, so boring. It is my thesis on the French 17th century painter Loutherbourg.’

‘Why are you writing it if it’s boring?’

‘Because no one else has written about him, I am the world expert on Loutherbourg.’

‘That’s good, a world expert!’

‘Chuh. Well, you know, if I could just get my fucking apartment sorted, I would actually have some time to work on my book. The bank is being so shitty with me that I am going to have to spend tomorrow making phone calls and writing letters, you know, when really I would like to do a little bit of work and then go out for a really good dinner, and maybe to a bar. Instead, I will probably just stay in and kill myself.’ He glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘Let’s get another coffee.’

‘Really? Don’t you have to be at work?’

‘Chuh, what’s the point! No, it doesn’t matter, let’s have another coffee.’

He nodded to the waiter and signalled at his cup. The waiter shot him a dirty look before wrenching the expresso device out of the machine and slamming the old granules into the bin.

‘Asshole,’ muttered Olivier.

‘What! I like Raymond, he’s always nice to me.’

‘Yes, men are nice to you because you’re a girl and you are stupid. But this man is an asshole.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Seriously, he is nice to all the girls. This old man with an earring—no girlfriend, but he thinks he has a sort of charm with women.’

Olivier didn’t like earrings, tattoos, colourful hair or wacky clothes; he dismissed them all with baffled fascination and mild horror. He liked old fashioned glamour and for people to be well put together. If he was ever genuinely down, I would ask him to give me some tips on how to improve my general appearance because, as he never failed to remind me, ‘You could really be something if you were less messy with less weird clothes.’ This was fine with me, we were irreconcilably different; a friendship built on mutual confusion about the other’s attire and manner. Our little judgments of each other may have seemed damning or upsetting, but it was our way of saying to each other, “You exist in my world as an important person and I give you my attention.” Negative or otherwise, attention is attention, and this is how we conveyed our day to day affection—it was only truly affectionate when things were truly sad or troublesome, upon which Olivier would exclaim, ‘My poor dear Janis! What did happen? Let us walk!’ Then we would go for a walk, arm in arm like an old couple.

The coffee had arrived.

‘Merci.’ I watched him take a sugar lump, unwrap it, break it into two and place one half delicately on the tea spoon before lowering it slowly into the cup. The coffee seeped into the sugar like litmus paper. He stirred, before looking up around him with hope and satisfaction.

‘Mmm, coffee. You know I really felt like summer was coming this morning. I love that, Paris in the summer.’

Much as he tried to adopt the attitude of a serious pessimist, on the whole he really did enjoy himself. Smells, sounds, and moments would often catch him off guard and make him happy. He found pleasure as frequently as he found irritation and would often beam at me as he announced something as simple as, ‘I had a really good avocado for lunch. It was just perfect.’

Despite his protestations of suicide and solitude, later that night in our classic neighbourly fashion, Frankie and I were sat in Olivier’s apartment drinking wine. I went to the window to light a cigarette. I could see out onto the crumbly moonlit street and into the little stone walled apartment that Frankie and I shared.  We had left our lights on. The top floor of our building was also lit up and there was a party going on.

‘Julie is having a party,’ I announced, blowing a plume of smoke out of the window. Julie lived on the top floor of the same building as Frankie and I.

‘Why do you always leave your lights on?’ asked Olivier, joining me at the window and scrutinising the building.  ‘Before I met you, I said to Mathias you must be American.’

‘Why would that make us American?’

‘Well, you know—these American people.’ I didn’t know. But to pursue this would lead only to an argument I couldn’t be bothered to have. There was no point mounting Olivier’s wild statement horses if you weren’t prepared to dig your heals in. Indifference was the thing to shut him up; let his ridiculousness hang in the air until it lost all its charge and became meaningless.

‘Did you used to spy on us?’

‘Did you ever see us naked?’ Frankie came to the window now and looked doubtfully at Julie’s party, which comprised fifteen or so tidy French women gingerly nibbling on pretzels and taking tiny sips of wine from plastic cups.

‘I saw you, yes. Only for a second.’ Olivier beamed. ‘But not you’—he turned to me—‘You are too much of a prude.’

‘We used to see you!’ Frankie laughed. ‘Always in your pants, smoking at the window. We used to call you man in pants!’

‘Man in pants.’ He breathed it out slowly, pleased with its ring, then added in the same wistful tone ‘Julie’s party. Hey! Julie’s party looks cool. All women. We should go!’

‘Do you know Julie?’

‘Yes, she is crazy! Always having parties and dancing. Not good dancing, though— this shitty French woman dance, when they think they are being dangerous and wild and go out with a shitty man who plays guitar and has, you know, the tattoos.’ He scrutinized the party, weighing up its various female merits and potential male pitfalls.

‘HEY!’ he bellowed out of the window. ‘JULIE!’ He waved enthusiastically with both arms.

‘You look like your apartment is on fire.’

‘You shut up.’

In the end, Julie’s party decamped and came over to us. A stream of women filed into the apartment to drink and dance with us. Olivier was the only male in the room and whenever I caught his eye, he gave me that boyish excited look of his that said, ‘I can’t believe my luck,’ followed by a shrug of the shoulders that meant, ‘But obviously I can.’

Unbeknown to him, Olivier was on the brink of another stage in his life. A new be-suited job at a famous auction house awaited him at the end of the year, and although he was not yet aware of this specifically, he dealt with the looming panic of real adulthood by drinking excessively into every night. In the year following his new appointment, he would often talk thoughtfully of this time and sigh, ‘It was different back then.’  He always made mention of that night, the night where all these girls came over and danced their shitty French woman dance, where they think they are so crazy! He moved from his rental apartment into the dead body apartment next door, which stopped being the dead body apartment and just became his apartment that was ‘too fucking small.’ We no longer spent nights drinking in chaos and pouring over the strange records and photographs we had found in there, because all that was gone; it was a place for adults, who wore shirts with collars and watched films on a projector.

To look at him in his new adult life, there was not much difference, although he now wore smart clothes and no longer had the moustache. (He refused to talk about the moustache except to refer to it as ‘the terrible mistake’). The real difference came with his lack of time; he would lament over this loss in a tone that seemed to rest upon the brink of hopelessness. To suggest that his idealised lifestyle would suit a less demanding job, his eyes would light up and he would hastily retract, ‘No! I love my job!’ His complaining always felt like the final soliloquy of a defeated hero—and I continually fell into the trap of talking him down from the edge, only to find that he was actually just sitting in his favourite chair, with me sat opposite.

 

Gedye author photoSarah Gedye is a 25-year-old MA English Literature student from Winchester. She lived in Paris on and off for four years.

Spitalfields by Samantha O’Brochta

“Too bad child labour is no longer allowed,” Ben said sadly, as he hung up the merchandise on the wire wall.

“What are you talking about, you mad man?” Ken retorted as he counted out bank notes in his hand.

There were multiple children running around the market, and Ben felt it would be easy to grab any one of them and pay them a minimal amount of money to help him with the set up for the day.

“Mr and Mrs Chang of stall 45 take full advantage of doing that!” Ben exclaimed.

“But that’s their own children, you wanker,” Ken reminded him as they prepared to open shop.

It was an early Sunday morning, and the Old Spitalfields Market was opening for its biggest day of the week. Shopkeepers milled about, unpacking their bulk-purchased scarves and dresses (made in Indonesia, of course).

Identical twins, Ben and Ken, had hit it big a few months ago when they posted their sketches on Tumblr. They went viral overnight. The next morning they awoke to one thousand messages from pre-teen girls asking if they sold shirts with the designs. Seeing an opportunity to actually make their own money for once, they went through an online retailer to produce their drawings for wear.

But online was not enough. They decided to sell them in-person at Old Spitalfields Market; London’s biggest hipster market. With Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium and the Cereal Killer Café just around the corner, there was no better niche location to place their pompous artwork, taught to them exclusively at some unaccredited art college they attended two years ago.

In their lacklustre research, they found that Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane’s audience was not nearly big enough for their egos. They needed to go all out and sell like mad to all the pretentious tourists too scared to deviate too far from Liverpool Street Station. If their plain white t-shirts, with an etching of a deer with massive antlers, couldn’t sell here, then where would they sell?

A young, 20-something female approached their stall and looked highly intrigued at their walls of stonewashed tees. Her apparent hipster-ness was made clear by her ironic use of horn-rimmed glasses that were probably not even filled with a prescription.

“How much is that shirt?” she asked, pointing to a black V-neck with “Don’t talk to me before my morning coffee” written in a fancy font.

“£25,” Ken answered quickly, anxious to make a sale.

“Cool,” she muttered as she reached into her faded leather messenger bag.

The money was exchanged and she left seemingly happy with her purchase.

“I’m gonna grab a coffee, mate. Can you hold down the fort?” Ben asked as he grabbed his coat and turned to leave.

Ken nodded, but then added, “Get me one, same as you.”

“Rice milk latte with lavender flavour?”

“No, just a flat white for me.”

Ben scoffed at Ken’s choice of boring brew, left the stall and walked out from under the covered market to his favourite cafe down the street. He loved this part of London. It was the perfect little spot of gentrified heaven that he thrived in. The only place cool enough for him to get his caffeine fix.

The buildings still looked vintage and old, with their crumbling structure and washed-out signs, but everything inside them was new and overpriced; a hipster asshole hive of inspiration!

He walked into A. Gold Shop, which carried his favourite Monmoth coffee brand. “Why wait in line at the real Monmoth shops for five hours when he could get it in two minutes from somewhere else?” he thought to himself.

Ben ordered his pretentious rice milk latte with lavender flavour, picked up Ken’s pathetic flat white, flirted with the Zooey Deschanel look-a-like barista, and went back to the market where Ken had revealed he’d sold another 15 shirts.

Throughout the day, their business continued to boom, and by 5 o’clock in the afternoon, they realized they were almost out of merchandise.

A young man came up just as they were closing and asked if they had any more of the deer with antlers shirt, since he’d seen it online and wanted to buy it.

“Naw, sorry, mate. We sold out,” Ken said as he packed the remaining shirts into a box.

“How many did you sell?” the man asked.

“About 50, I think,” Ben estimated.

“So wait, there are 50 other dudes out there with the same unique shirt I wanted?”

“Yeah, we print them in bulk.”

The young man looked sick as he backed away and screamed, “You guys are just another part of the system! I can’t believe I thought you were ORIGINAL!”

He left, leaving Ben and Ken astonished. They looked at their gentrified, fake-vintage surroundings and suddenly it hit them how idiotic they’d been.

“So hipster-ism is mainstream now?” Ben asked sincerely.

“Apparently…” Ken replied, scrunching up his face into a frown.

They stood in silence for a good minute, pondering their life choices and whether or not how they decided to live their lives was a product of society or their actual wishes to live against the grain. Ben, the slightly more intelligent of the twins, suddenly burst out with laughter.

“What?” Ken was confused.

“Good riddance! I hated those damn lavender rice lattes. So disgusting!” Ben admitted as he threw his empty cup into the bin.

“And we don’t have to make these faux, handmade, screen-printed shirts anymore?” Ken asked.

“Let’s sell our designs to a major corporation that put them in Urban Outfitters. What’s more hipster than selling out?”

“By not being hipster, we in turn become hipster…” Ken revelled in this sudden realization.

It was settled, their path was paved, and their souls restored. Ben and Ken then walked off into the London sunset together, leaving Spitalfields and all of mainstream hipster life behind to move into a loft in Soho, funded entirely by their selling-out (and their parents, who could never turn down an opportunity to give their perfect sons one or two hundred pounds to make sure they were well taken care of).

 

samanthaoSamantha O’Brochta was raised in the Pacific Northwest of America, and is currently working on her Creative Writing MA at the University of Westminster. She completed her undergrad degree in Public Relations and Theatre Arts at Western Washington University in 2013, and has since lived in Los Angeles and London, following her passion of doing publicity for arts and entertainment. She is currently in the midst of moving to New York City to continue her career path.

Mamajee Makes the Chapattis by Dorothy Collard

Squat Victorian buildings in mellow red brick rise, like vertical rock faces, from the narrow streets of old Manchester.  Windows are boarded up, doors barred. Fluorescent orange signs pasted on buildings proclaim, “Do not enter.  Urban Regeneration in Progress.”

This is why tonight I had to start my explorations so furtively, stepping over barrier tape to duck down a damp, wheelbarrow-wide alleyway strewn with litter that reeked of stagnant water and misdemeanours. New to the city, I had set myself a task. On Friday nights, after work, I explore a new area, perhaps only a few streets, to discover what’s around.

The whizz and clatter of going-home traffic funnelled down the empty chasms leading from Piccadilly Gardens, the modern city centre, not three minutes’ walk away. There, neon lights flashed multi-coloured messages; shop windows glowed; people lingered in groups or scuttled with purpose; traffic traced hues on the early evening air, pungent with the smell of burning exhausts and diesel.

Here, in the brick ravines zoned for late 1970s demolition, nothing moved. I wandered on. I imagined what it must have been like when these imposing buildings were filled with workers: the clackety-clack of textile looms hammering out their two-tone racket and the back-and-forth swing that spewed out cloth thread-by-thread; the heat from the machines, the smell of oil and rags; sacks of wool and cotton being hoisted to the third floor by these jibs sticking out overhead, from wagons which must have waited right here with their patient horses; bales of finished cloth being plopped on to counters; sounds of the snipping scissors of seamstresses and tailors; the noise; the dust;  the clatter of clogs on the cobbles as workers came and went.

By now I was out of range of city sounds and listening without fear to my own footsteps resonating on the cobbled streets.  The atmosphere seemed warmer, more enticing, and the modern city of glass and steel beyond this doomed area a forgotten unreality.

I rounded a corner. Was that a burble of voices—and music—from somewhere beyond these solid edifices? I dawdled along the narrow lane that trapped the day’s warmth, listening, trying to walk quietly. I knew I was not supposed to be in this area. The further I went, the louder the sounds grew. Above the babble I could hear drums, high-pitched flutes and what sounded like Tibetan tingsa chimes or Majira finger bells. For the first time in my Friday evening wanderings, I felt anxious. I could go back or go on: there was no other choice. If there’s music, it must be all right, I told myself.

The lane appeared to run up against a brick wall, then made an unexpected left bend and opened on to an enclosed square bustling with exotically dressed individuals. Solid buildings flanked the lantern-lit scene, confining the hubbub.  People were trading from car boots, backs of vans, open boxes, picnic tables, colourful patches of carpets on pavements.  Musicians jangled tunes from shadowy corners. Dark-eyed children in vibrant outfits darted about, playing tag and hopscotch, carrying messages and packages for their elders.

Three men in glowing white kaftans and turbans stood chatting nearby. They cast a glance at me, nodded a greeting, then turned back to their discussion as if my presence was quite normal. A woman in a turquoise and gold sari unfolded a length of shocking pink shantung, held some silver braid against it and sought approval from four teenage girls in harem pant suits gathered round. A wizened vendor called his wares, each time lifting a spatula from his range of sunset-coloured spices and pouring it in a slow stream back into a roll-neck sack, filling the air with lemon scents, chilli tang, ginger fragrance and a host of curry aromas. Everyone seemed at ease. This was their space. It was as if I had crossed continents and entered a medina.

I was still standing at the edge of the square, entranced and watching activities when, to my left, a young man in a sequinned waistcoat and fez stretched out an arm to display a scarf to attract my attention.  The jewel-coloured silk hung smooth and glowing in the sheltered, lantern-lit square. Quickly, he held up another scarf, then another. I joined the jostling throng and made my way over.

People ahead began to move apart. Something was coming towards me through the crowds. It was a group of five children.  Their leader, a boy of about nine with an enviable head of shining, raven-black hair, stopped in front of me, smiled delightfully and gestured with a wave of his hand. ‘This way to the café, lady,’ he called. He took my arm and began to lead me off to the side. Was he just a child proudly directing me to a café, or had he been briefed to lead me into a trap?

I turned to the fez-wearing young man as we passed his pitch. ‘Eat first at Mamajee’s, then buy from Kadri,’ he called to me, flicking open more silk scarves to entice me into returning later to buy from him. Smiling, he greeted each child in the group. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.

‘I’m Achmat,’ said the boy as we paused so his friends to catch up.

‘Anna,’ I replied, offering my hand. He shook my hand solemnly, then held on and lead me and his followers through the crowds towards a triangular building on the far corner. The windows were boarded up but the barriers had been removed and the door propped open.

‘But this is a place that is going to be knocked down,’ I said, fearful again that I was being lead into a trap.

‘Yes, but for now it is our café,’ said Achmat, giggling and leading me up the steps.

Hissing gas lamps illuminated the interior with clinical whiteness. A breakfast bar arrangement ran along one wall.  Bearded gentlemen sat on stools, reading newspapers in foreign script, possibly Turkish, Hindi, and more; prodding each other on the chest in loud but friendly discussions; playing board games with much laughter and clacking counter-pieces.

Another bar ran along the opposite wall. It carried trays of glowing charcoal topped with sizzling meat that wafted spicy aromas around the snug. A cauldron of bubbling curry balanced on a brazier in the corner.

In the centre of the room were a dozen-or-so neatly-spaced tables, each covered with red and white check oilcloth and set with a flask of water and glasses. The place was full. Achmat led me to a table where three men and a woman were in lively conversation. They stopped, looked at Achmat, then at me. The place fell silent.

Achmat launched into a long account in a language I did not understand. At intervals, people nodded and smiled at me, at Achmat. Then everyone clapped and the chatter resumed.

‘This is my uncle, Nassim,’ said Achmat as the older man at the table shook my hand. ‘This is his wife, my aunt Malavina and my cousins.’ I greeted each in turn. ‘My uncle will look after you,’ called Achmat, waving a goodbye. Before I could thank him he had disappeared.

‘He’s a good boy,’ said Nassim.  ‘He always notices new people and brings them to our café.  We were here for twenty-four years. Then they told us we had to move. Where to? Meanwhile, we make a living here at weekends.’

The meal was simple, grilled lamb or lentil curry, an assortment of salads, and chapattis that kept appearing from a hole in the ceiling. Every few minutes there would be a call from above and another batch of chapattis would be passed down to be shared by diners.

‘Mamajee makes the chapattis,’ said Nassim, as if that explained everything.

The meal and the company were wonderful.  Much of the talk at our table was in Urdu or Hindi, but every now and then Nassim would translate in English, not just for me, but for everyone in the room. ‘We have people from many places,’ said Nassim, ‘from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, you name it. We all lived and worked in this district, some for more than thirty years. Now it will be knocked down and a new shopping centre built. We will not be able to afford their rents. Where will we do business? How will we make a living?’

There were murmurs of agreement around the room. Everyone was concerned about finding new places to do business.  Yes, the authorities had been kind. If families could not accommodate people who had to move, the councils provided homes. But these homes are all over Manchester. People are no longer together.

The sombre mood in the room was broken by a tirade from above, followed by cackling laughter. A face appeared at the hole in the ceiling. Button-black shining eyes set in a wrinkled oval peered down, framed by long white hair tied back in a ponytail that swished through the cavity and hung like a decorative feature above the room.

Nassim waved the presence back. ‘Mamajee says,’ he began, ‘Mamajee says we must all work together to show the authorities that we can succeed despite them. She says we must work all hours in honest ways to become the wealthy ones in Manchester. One day, she says, the authorities will come to us to ask for our help. And one day, she says, everyone in this city will like curry and chapattis.’

Everyone cheered. Nassim stood on his chair. A pair of red satin slippers popped over the edge of the hole in the ceiling, followed by a swirl of sunflower-yellow silk, like a cocoon, enclosing Mamajee. Nassim lifted her down. She was as small as a child, no taller than nine-year-old Achmat. Everybody clapped at her arrival.

‘Mamajee does not exist,’ said Nassim, putting a finger to his lips. ‘She has no papers. But no one makes chapattis, lentil curry, or dhal like Mamajee. No one has more love, more fire in the belly to drive others to achieve, than Mamajee.’

She took my hand. ‘This one is good,’ she said to the room. I was too flummoxed to reply before she was spirited away into the night.

The next Friday I returned. I stepped over the barrier tape, stumbled down the malodorous alleyway and was surprised to find Achmat waiting.

‘We knew you would come again,’ he said. ‘Everything is gone now.’

We looked out to where stout Victorian buildings had stood, to where the market square and café and all life had been last Friday. Mounds of red brick rubble rose like volcanic cones across the skyline.

‘And Mamajee is no more,’ said Achmat. ‘You had her blessing. Will you come tomorrow? We have released her soul in the fire. Tomorrow we will scatter her ashes on the river. It is not the Ganges, but my father says it will be okay. Will you come?’

And so I went to Pendleton. Not a river, but a brook, took Mamajee to her chapatti kitchen in the sky, free of papers and bureaucracy, leaving her blessings and fierce will for her descendants to succeed honourably.

Only the blue and gold sari, the scarves and the little Turkish rug I bought that first Friday evening prove it really happened—and Achmat, of course, who visits often. He owns the top Indian restaurant in Manchester now, but we still talk about that illegal café and the people of the district. We have said goodbye to so many—and to the area of old Manchester that is no more—but memories of Mamajee, her chapattis and her vision for us all, live on in the city and in many places elsewhere.

 

Collard author photoSouth African-born Dorothy Collard, daughter of an engineer, grew up in out-of-the-way places like Africa, but now lives in Hampshire. Her professional life has been shared between teaching and writing—much of the latter centred on aid, trade, and international affairs relevant to sub-Saharan Africa. Towards the end of 2012, she resolved to return to her first love: creative writing. Since then, she has won competitions run by Bloomsbury, Writers’ Magazine, Winchester Writers’ Festival and Hampshire Writers’ Society, amongst others.

London Architect by Jeremy Yang

I first met George at a flat-sharing convention, more accurately known as the ‘No Friends Club,’ in the main university building on Gower Street. I had finished my first year studying English literature and, due to a rather stubborn focus for my studies, found that I was scarce on friends when moving out of halls. Rather than live with a communal bathroom another year, I decided to take my chances at the convention.

I arrived late to the hall and found that many groups had already been formed. Fifty odd students stood about the tiled floor, the excited murmurs of their minglings reverberating in the high ceiling. My tardiness, at the very least, allowed me to observe how easily the surface, the skin deep, attracts and binds; groups here and there of large male students demonstrating how athletes congregate, while other groups consisted of only the most physically attractive. Geeks and geeks, nerds and nerds. Worst of all, each of them already seemed to have somebody. Flustered and out of breath, I decided to first grab one of the beers from the concessions table and cool my back against the stone wall. I leant there for a while, wondering whether I could be bothered or brave enough to actually make good on my attendance.

I was just about thinking that communal bathrooms weren’t actually that bad when a shadow appeared from my left.

‘Excuse me,’ drawled a low, husky voice.

I turned my head and looked straight into the great big tired eyes of one of the strangest looking students I had ever seen. He was taller than me, though not by much, and gangly too. He had long, unkempt black hair, growing wild and falling over his face. He stared with two white eyes that were so orbicular that, although they were half shut, they commanded my attention. Though it seemed that I had not stolen his, those eyes seemed to stare right through mine to the back of my head. He had two fingers of his right hand gently resting on the wall.

‘Excuse me,’ he said again.

‘I heard you the first time,’ I joked. ‘How can I help you?’

‘No,’ he murmured and looked about, scratching his head of hair with the little finger of his left hand. ‘I mean you’re in my way.’

A little baffled, I apologised and stepped away from the wall, never being one to prolong an awkward interaction.

‘Thank you,’ he said.

If I wasn’t confused enough, as I gathered my thoughts about who was in whose way and why anybody had to apologise for anything, I was about to perhaps say a timid word or two regarding a piece of my mind when the stranger began along the wall where I had stood, dragging those two slender fingers across the stone surface. I watched as he ran his hands across the wall, occasionally propping his ears to the stone, tasting the residue left on his fingertips. The scene was so intimate that I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable observing his antics.

‘What are you doing?’ I finally asked.

He paused, still staring at the wall. ‘William Wilkins,’ he said, eyes unwavering. ‘The same man who built the National Gallery.’ He then peered over his shoulder at me, those orbs conveying a deadly seriousness. ‘I prefer the National Gallery.’

I remember almost bursting into confused laughter at his quaint introduction before formally making my own. Something about the eccentric man and architect I would later come to know as George Taylor sparked a tickling curiosity and hilarity in me. Our conversation was short that day, and primarily regarded George’s love for buildings and their ‘stories,’ as he put it. I had become quite taken with him, and we decided to share a flat together after the summer.

It was a while before I realised he wasn’t actually an architecture student at all.

In fact, that was probably around the same time he told me about his time machine.


It was strange at first, although I suppose to say that it was ‘strange at first’ would suggest a regression to normalcy over our time spent together as flatmates. Truthfully, saying it was strange at first serves only as a precursor to the subsequent increase of the all-rounded strangeness that accompanied living with George.

In the month of August, prior to my second year, we hunted around Central London for a flat in close proximity to the university. My new companion, as I ought to have imagined from our first encounter, was extremely thorough in his selection process, carefully examining each estate with the empathic prowess of a house whisperer. As my only two concerns were affordability and location, I allowed George to take the lead. Most mornings of that month were spent rushing over to properties in Soho, Fitzrovia or Bloomsbury after receiving both a text message with an address and a brief phone call from George saying, ‘Come.’ I would arrive at the scene to find him standing outside the building, performing similar antics to those I first witnessed at the No Friends Club—testing the structural integrity of the site, tasting the difference in wind exposure to its walls.

I was always surprised by how unperturbed our estate agents seemed to be as they allowed George’s inspections. In fact, they seemed to defer to his overwhelming expertise. He loved Gothic Revival but detested it in residences, deeming pointed arches too aggressive for home living; Edwardian Baroque was also to be admired, but never lived in. How they nodded in agreement, almost kowtowing in apology, as George pointed out how this property would be worthy of its current rate if its plaster mouldings weren’t deceitfully masquerading as stone or, in another, that the many, west-facing windows (a desperate attempt to steal as much sunlight from the grey London sky) would pose the problem of overheating by each day’s end. I remember afterwards looking for the listings of various flats that had disappointed George, in order to perhaps change his mind. And at each turn, it seemed that someone else would have already moved in, or that no listing could be found whatsoever, much to the confusion of myself and the estate agents whom I called; they could not remember ever listing such a property. And whenever I did manage to find again one of these properties in their catalogue, I found it to be virtually unrecognisable.

Somehow, we finally found a property to both our liking just off Tottenham Court Road—an old Art Deco building constructed in the 1930’s and lately refurbished. The flat was on the sixth floor, small but comfortable, with two bedrooms, a separate living room and a kitchen. Upon inspection, George expressed his enthusiasm for the decor but muttered shame about the single-glazed windows; double-glazing would solve the noise problem from the busy road below, the sirens of the University Hospital ambulances. The estate agent nervously apologised and I, having been used to noise at my halls around the corner on University Street, wondered if we would ever find a place that met George’s extraordinary expectations. I received a call from him a day later saying that he had already paid the deposit and that we should be able to move in the next day.

I did not see George for a while after that. Our agent informed me that he had taken care of his side of the tenancy and that all that was left for me was to sign the contract and collect the keys. George’s belongings had already been moved into the flat, his boxes in a mountainous clutter in the living room. He left me instructions to pick a room and I happily obliged, choosing the larger of the two with the west-facing window (a feature for which George had made clear his misgivings). I slept like a log that night.

The next morning, I found that all George’s boxes had been moved into the other bedroom, although no sight of George himself. It was not until a week later that I glimpsed my flatmate again; during that time, I enjoyed the comforts of the flat all to myself. In fact, it was so peaceful that I finally realised the noise of Tottenham Court Road was hardly noticeable. A morning or two after George’s return, he was sitting in the living room reading the newspaper on the sofa while I inspected the balcony windows.

‘George,’ I said. ‘These windows…’

‘What about them?’ he croaked his low husk, eyes locked onto an article about graffiti at Westminster Cathedral.

‘They’re double-glazed.’

George, his eyes lazy and dazed, glanced up at the windowpanes. He smiled. ‘So they are.’ And he returned to his article.

I guess I might have been suspicious then and there had I not been so pleasantly surprised by the advantages of tranquillity in my work environment, as well as being able to find some fault with this connoisseur of London architecture. We spoke little, due to long absences on his part. Most conversations tended towards George’s thoughts regarding the face of London’s skyline. Any true suspicions I had of subterfuge only began to grow when I noticed that those two hideous office-looking buildings at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road, constructed generously from glass, much to my friend’s disdain, had been torn down in favour of Georgian housing, and we could finally properly view the London Eye from our balcony.

In the third month of our tenancy, I tentatively asked him how he was finding his studies at The Bartlett. He looked up at me from his copy of Ackroyd’s biography of London, with a lazy expression that might have seemed perplexed if not for those unmoving eyebrows.

‘I’m not an architecture student,’ he said. ‘I’m a time traveller.’


I began to avoid George after that. It was easy, what with the demands of my second year studies coupled with George’s mysterious disappearances. I admit I became somewhat frightened of George; his eccentricities had crossed a border into the realm of unwelcome insanity, a feature of our flat I preferred decidedly less to single-glazed windows.

The weeks after that, I walked around London. I began to notice the subtle changes, how everyday there seemed a new construction site around each corner, a stone and brick revolution that fought against the industrial glass and metal movements of modernity. Even the Wilkins building at the university seemed to incorporate evermore the Neo-Classical features of the National Gallery. Everyday I saw London in its architectural metamorphosis, and I feared George’s hand.

Once or twice he offered to take me with him, to show me the infinite possibilities of construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction through the boundless channels of time. I had to politely decline, fearing his crazed excitement, those great, unyielding eyes. He never told me where he chanced upon that infernal device, but I believe he fancied himself its master.

It has now been six months since we last spoke. George disappeared once more.

This time he took London with him.

A desolate, barren wasteland spans far and wide instead of a once great skyline. Here and there, scattered about, are the remnants and hints of the city that used to be—broken bricks of white towers by the river, dust and stone of futures past. The few of us that remain woke up that one morning, first in confusion but soon in ungodly terror, at this last, terrible transformation, crying out for an answer, for retribution. Where did it all go? Why did this happen? Only I know who must be responsible; I can only imagine that somewhere in time, something quite terrible must have happened to him.

As I stare up tonight into the blackest, clearest of London skies as I have ever seen, a cold breeze sweeping soft in the silence of this time-twisted desert, I wish upon these stars that once struggled to shine through the smog, that someone, somewhere, somewhen, will begin to build again.

 

1619312_10152238938343118_1903190518_nJeremy Yang is a young Chinese-British writer based in London. Having completed an undergraduate degree in psychology at UCL, as well as publishing his first story, shortlisted in the UCL Publisher’s Prize, Jeremy resolved to pursue a career in writing, in addition to his dreams of rock stardom and being a pirate. He is currently working on a series of short stories and two novels, both of which are taking a very long time. Piracy is beginning to look very appealing.

Stokey Blokey by Joseph Jacobs

I was nowhere, man. Yo-yoing. Highs and lows. Perturbed expression as I traversed the dirty heavens.

There was a yearning, such yearning for Yesteryear. It whipped about but now it’s contained. There’s a chalkboard in the loft—metre high, metre wide. On it I posed the question: A tempest in a tea cup or the Second Coming?

Years pass and the winds of my heart have frozen. But then, when I had given up hope and maggots had chomped down the chalkboard, things just started to happen. I stumbled into Arcadia, and I’d only been trying to get to Stokey. I wish—oh, how I wish!—I had it in me to retrace my steps, but I don’t. Better just stay here then, amongst the doe-eyed and the fresh-faced and the innocent.

The Sun beats down, impressing upon me the finite nature of life. Ah, chlorophyll and marzipan and consciousness. It was a masterful mismatch, some divine miscalibration that got me here—a chance meeting. Do you remember way back when, when we flew over Kensington on our way to Bethlehem? Oh, but of course you do, how could you forget! We were going to be happy forever after. We were going to rule the stars except we never did.

Your eyes rolled back into your skull.

Something I’ve done? A whole 360 turn, inside out! Your marbles are spinning, flitting between dream and reality. The already-happened and the never-begun. Always dancing between the two. Just pick one! Or am I going to have to leave you behind anyway?

Do you want war or peace? Oh, little one. Understand that holiest of all hypocrisies. Understand yourself. The truth lies, my friend, and morality is immoral.

She’s not a picker, not a chooser. She’s already picked, already chosen. The star child still lives on in you, in the gunge of your old gym shoes. Run like I ran. Move, move, move through the metropolis. You have made your decision and from this far out I cannot tell if you’re coming or going.

In Westminster, there’s a squabbling but no one is acknowledging our new world order. We were bubbles on the horizon! Remember! I floated on, past the Gherkin and into somewhere. I’m piecing it all together now. I am retracing my steps. Somewhere between Stokey and Utopia. Finsbury? Oh, who cares? As if I’d ever go back. Slip through the cracks.

No, I don’t think I’d ever go back.

Poor Little Orphan by Christina Alagaratnam

What do you say to someone you love but have never known? And how is it possible that you love him anyway? How? He is a faceless presence that’s haunted my life since… well, since the day I was born if we’re going that far back.

God, he made me angry.

But he also made me scared.

I wind my way through the tunnel of Tooting Broadway tube station, clutching my rucksack strap. I’ve heard about pickpockets loitering around London. Let them try and nick anything off me. Just let them try it. I’d give them a sharp right hook and show them who’s boss!

A smirk tugs at my lips. I did it once to Tyler Fisher after he called me a ‘pathetic orphan.’ The poor kid spent the night with his head shoved between his knees and a tissue clamped over his nose, all the while uttering muffled threats in my direction.

I climb out of the station, finally emerging from the hot, muggy darkness. I hate those confined spaces. They reinforce too many memories of hiding in cupboards, under beds, behind sheds. Places that weren’t mine.

I take a gulp of fresh air, clearing away the cobwebs of memories.

My confidence shrinks.

How am I going to do this? I’m a fourteen-year-old girl who’s never set foot outside Brighton. I try to summon my hidden courage, stored within the depths of myself. It’s helped me countless of times in the past, I know it will help me now.

Darkness spreads across the sky, bringing a chill in its wake. I’m no closer to finding him. And what’s going to happen once the care workers realize I’m gone? Would they send the police out for me? Or will I become just like the others? Just a nameless face on a piece of paper, stuck half-heartedly inside the gritty wall of an abandoned telephone box?

A black taxi splashes above a speed bump, careering down the road.

So this is Tooting. It bustles with an array of colour, traffic and people. I peer along the parallel streets. It doesn’t look grubby, but—well, in my mind, I imagined him living in a place slightly more refined.

I’m not a snob!

Far from it.

But when I saw the word ‘London’ in his address column, I immediately pictured him living in a huge mansion on Hyde Park or South Kensington, perhaps next to the river.

I glimpse my reflection in the window of a William Hill bookie. Men are cloistered around small television sets, yelling at their slips of paper. They don’t notice me.

I wish I’d made a bit more of an effort. I’m wearing my usual, tatty leather jacket over a grey hoodie and jeans. My reflection seems to mirror my inner thoughts.

I turn to my own slip of paper, clutched in my trembling fingers.

My mum had left me a letter for my fourteenth birthday. In it, she writes her story. Hers and my dad’s. I’ve waited fourteen years for this and now I finally have his name. Thank God for the Internet, otherwise I’d never have found this address, never have snuck away from the home; never have hopped on the first train to London.

My heart kicks with every step I take. The building is identical to the picture I printed off Google maps. A sugar brown, Victorian townhouse stretching across the street, separated in sections by black gates and multi-coloured doors.

The numbers tick off in my head. Forty, forty-two… forty-four.

That’s it. That’s where he lives.

I stand on the pavement, under the ochre glow of the streetlamp. Just staring at the black door, illuminated by a single, white light. My eyes flick to the windows. The lights are on in all of them.

My mouth runs dry. He’s home.

I count the steps leading to the door.

Five. Five steps and a door is all that separates us now.

I suck in a deep breath. I can do this. I practically brought myself up; I have nothing to be afraid of.

I climb the steps.

Now all that separates us is a door.

What if he doesn’t like the way I look?

Well, if you don’t find him, you’ll never know—the other voice prods. Voices in my head. Arguing with each other. Am I a schizophrenic as well as an orphan?

I press my finger to the bell, holding it there. Listening to the tinkling ring.

A bark of laughter echoes on the other side of the door.

I lift my finger off the bell, and a surge of fear jabs at a thought niggling my mind. What if he isn’t alone? What if he’s moved on and started another family? He’s     thirty-three, thirty-four?

It’s entirely possible.

I’ve buried these thoughts in the back of my mind but—now I’m here, standing on his doorstep, so close to him.

Footsteps pad closer to the door. My fingers curl onto the railing; it seems to be my iron of support.

The door flings open.

I can barely stop the sigh escaping from my lips.

He’s exactly as I imagined him. He towers above me, his frame almost blocking the warm light radiating from inside. His hair’s a chestnut brown, just like mine. He has a light beard that runs across his chin.

I stare at him, right in the eyes. Green eyes that are identical to mine. There’s no mistaking it. I feel relief bubbling up inside me at having finally made this connection.

It falters.

He dons a light blue shirt and black jeans. His hair’s slickly combed. Oh God. He looks neat. Normal.

I look pathetic in comparison.

He gives me a kind smile, “Hiya.” Dimples pinch into his cheeks when he smiles.

My jaw locks. I can’t reply. There’s music blaring from behind him, something by Suede. ‘Beautiful Ones,’ I think it’s called. One of the care workers used to listen to it.

I fidget with my jacket sleeve.

He shoves a hand into the pocket of his jeans, his eyes sidling up and down the street. Probably checking for my parents.

Oh, the irony.

This forces my jaw to unlock. “Er, are you Daniel Fairchild?”

He nods, surprise flickering across his face. “I am. And how can I help you?”

Here comes the moment.

“I have something I need to tell you and it might sound weird.”

I’ve been rehearsing this phrase in my head all day.

Daniel’s eyes crease with hidden mirth. His dimples deepen. “Trust me, around these parts, there’s nothing that sounds weird to me.” He leans against the doorframe, waiting.

I summon the courage from my heart. It’s the only place I can find it. I decide to start from the beginning. “Do you know… did you know a woman named Katy Adams?”

His cheeks drain of colour. Those eyes that, three seconds ago, held a cheeky glimmer, grow cold with fear.

An unpleasant knot tightens in my stomach. This was the exact reaction I’d been dreading.

“Yeah I knew her,” he replies, folding his arms across his chest.

I try not to let the relief show on my face. At least he didn’t deny her.

“She was my mother,” I say, my voice so quiet, it could be part of the wind. I dig into my pocket, drawing out her letter. “Fourteen years ago, she ran away from home, to London, and met boy. According to this, she fell in love with him.” I keep my eyes locked onto him, watching his rugged face twitch with every word that fell out of my mouth. “But apparently he had to leave. And he didn’t know she was pregnant.”

Daniel’s rapid breathing is starting to match mine now. He looks as if he’s going to pass out.

“The thing is, Katy had the baby and then died four years later,” I continue, my heart racing.

“What are you trying to say?” he challenges. His voice sounds strange, tighter. Like he’s choking back tears.

“I’m that baby. And I know you were that boy, Daniel. My name is Sophie. I’m your daughter.”

The words just roll off my tongue. It’s quick. Easy.

Daniel stares at me. He doesn’t say a word but his eyes are glistening, his jaw is starting to tick.

“Where did you come from?” His voice carries a hostility that makes me flinch.

“A care home in Brighton!” I snap, anger fuelling my courage. “First opportunity I got, I jumped on the first train to London, to find you!”

“Great, so you’re a runaway!” Daniel hisses, raking his hand through his neat hair. “Jesus, this is such a mess. I–I don’t have a daughter, I can’t!”

He might as well have slapped me across the face. It would’ve hurt a lot less.

His eyes widen, no doubt realizing how the words must’ve twisted themselves in my ears.

Spinning on my heel, I run. My legs propel me down the street.

Skirting the corner, I lean against the wall to catch my breath, resting my clammy palms on my knees.

What do I do now? Where do I go from here?

I stuff my hands into my pockets and find the loose coins. My eyes rove over a tiny café nestled at the corner of the street. It doesn’t look like it belongs on this street.

I lower my eyes.

I don’t belong on this street either. Maybe we’ll fit. I zip my jacket up a little higher and trudge toward the café.

Inside, it’s exactly as I’d expected it to be.  What is it they call them? A greasy spoon? That’s a funny name, but it’s true.

A gust of warm of air hits me, once I step over the threshold. The stench of bacon is wafting around.

I order a cheese sandwich and a can of coke, using up the last of my change. I slink into a corner by the window, where I know I won’t be disturbed.

I bite into the sandwich with relish. The bread is dry and the cheese tastes off, but I’m not complaining. I’ve had worse.

The door bursts open. He skids into the café. Catching sight of me, his entire body deflates with relief.

I turn back to my food, pretending I don’t care.

Daniel saunters to my table, still panting slightly. He drops into the seat opposite me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, taking a slug of coke.  “Don’t you have a family to get back to?”

Daniel shakes his head. “Nope. I’m not married, never came close. And as for kids…” He just waves his hand at me.

I can’t contain the pinprick of hope dancing in the pit of my stomach. He came after me. He followed me here. And acknowledged me as his kid—albeit with a wave of his hand, but it’s a start.

“What about those people in your house?” I ask cautiously.

“They’re my friends, they’re supposed to be throwing me a surprise party. It’s my birthday today.” Daniel gives a sardonic chuckle. “And I must say, this definitely counts as a surprise.”

“Oh. Happy birthday,” I say quietly. I didn’t know it was his birthday today.  He has a nice house full of friends, who must care enough about him to throw a party for his birthday.  Which means he must be loved.

And yet he’s left them all, to sit here in this greasy café with me.

Daniel leans forward, clasping his hands together in a silent prayer, no doubt.  “Look, I’m sorry if I upset you earlier. But come on, Sophie, you have to understand that it’s a bit of a shock! A fourteen-year-old kid I never knew about suddenly turns up unannounced on my doorstep!”

“So sorry, I should’ve called first,” I counter, my temper starting to prick. “Hi, Daniel, you don’t know me but I’m your long lost daughter. Mind if I swing by for a chat!” I take another swig of coke. “Give me a break.”

Daniel’s cheek twitches into a smirk. “God, you’re just like her,” he sighs. “You both sure do know how to make an entrance.”

I purse my lips. My mum. My heart feels warmer with this reference to her. He knew her. He can tell me about her. This feels too surreal. She was my mum and he is my dad. The missing pieces of my puzzle are finally starting to slot into place.

“Can you tell me your side of the story?” I ask, daring to hope. “About you and my Mum?”

He flicks his eyes to me; they gleam with a newfound rawness. “I’ll tell you my story if you tell me yours.”

I nod, in a daze. “I can talk all night. But don’t you have a surprise birthday party to get back to?”

Daniel plucks the laminated menu from the metal clip, shaking his head. “They can party without me,” he says, his voice laced with so much tenderness that my lip starts to tremble. “I’m going to spend the rest of my birthday with my real surprise. My long lost daughter.”

A tear slips down my cheek. “You sure you won’t be missed?” I ask, keeping my voice even.

Daniel rips a napkin out of the cheap dispenser and hands it to me, whispering, “I think I already have been.”

I just stare at him. I could stare at him forever. Then, very slowly, I nod, dabbing my eyes with the rough tissue.

He grabs my hand, squeezing it in reassurance. Telling me he isn’t going anywhere. I squeeze back—ditto.

I won’t be alone anymore. I’m not an orphan.

I never was.

10930067_10155051826535125_8784709612139943167_nChristina Alagaratnam was born and grew up in South London. In 2014, she graduated from the University of Westminster with a BA in English Literature with Creative Writing. She’s been writing all her life. Currently she writes stories and poetry centring on family dynamics and mental health issues. In the future, she hopes to write some ground-breaking television—but for now she’s studying an MA in Creative Writing and working on a novel.

On the Rooftop by Lada Redley

The sky was starless and lonely over the sleepy rooftops of central London. The full moon, like a delicious pancake, stood brightly against the dark-blue canvas.

Fuck, Id kill for a pancake, James thought as he was walking down the hallway of the student accommodation. The hallway had a special stink to it — pot sprinkled all over with cheap perfume. Through the window, you could see the dark sky outside, but that was about the last thing on James’s mind.

His hood, pulled way down over his nose, gave him just enough air to smell his way to the stairs. Up, up, up he went, past drunk strangers and easy girls and their silent amused stares. His hands were buried deep in his pockets, clenched into fists, sharp nails cutting into the soft tissue of his palms.

James suppressed an impatient sigh. He wondered what it was going to be like in a new country, in a new city. It was always different everywhere — cold and cut-through in snowy Moscow, sweaty and burning in sunny Rio. Would it be feverish, unpredictable, in this strange city of broken weather?

On the top floor James brushed his shoulder lightly against that of another student. The guy shook all over like a dying leaf on the wind.

“Excuse me,” the guy mumbled in confusion, his pace suddenly increasing.

“You’re all right, mate,” James growled back, hating the sound of his own voice, the animalistic roll of it.

Right on top of the stairs there was a staff-only door leading to the rooftop. James gave the door a knowing push; it opened with a squeak. All those doors were the same — breakable, made of cardboard-like wood.

James stepped bravely onto the dusty floor of the roof and instantly felt the soft stinging of the moonlight against his tanned skin. It felt almost ticklish, if a little too harsh. A tiny bit too violent. Slowly, he took the hood off and embraced it — the sting, the burn. Like acid, it dug into his skin, and through it — to his bones.

James unzipped his hoody and shook it off his strong arms. His T-shirt fell on the floor right next to it, and then went the trousers. He hadn’t any shoes to begin with. An unnecessary luxury for a night like this. No wonder people had been staring.

It felt almost intoxicating standing like that — just in his boxers with the whole city spread at his feet. The lights went on and off in the houses every second. London was blinking like a vulnerable human being. James, he was not. He stared at the life down there without moving a muscle on his gloomy face.

The wait was the worst part of it. For some annoying reason he never knew how long it would take, and it always took him by surprise. Ever since the first time, he hated bloody surprises.

James closed his eyes, ignoring the winks of the flirtatious city. He gave in to the sting then, to the odd feeling of the moonlight wrapping around him like a burning blanket. Even though every beat of his heart was bound to every shift of the moon, taking it all in felt absurdly liberating.

This time, the wait was over sooner than he would’ve preferred. The pain came crushing down his bones, grinding them to dust and then shaping them into something utterly unhuman. James roared angrily through his teeth, sounding distant and deadly like thunder during the storm. The moonlight tore through his skin like how heavy raindrops tear though the thickness of London fog on a lazy Sunday morning.

The wind was foreign and chilly, coming all the way from the Thames. It went right through his skin and stuck in his veins, cooling his blood to a disturbing zero. James gave in to a single shudder. A lapse in self-control that he hated himself for. He slowly went down on all fours, bracing himself for more pain that was yet to come. His back was rising and falling steadily as he breathed. Inside he was freezing, outside he was burning, and it was a new kind of sensation; the dark magic of London working, damning him with those contradicting, excruciating feelings.

Finally, he felt an explosion start in his heart and pulsate quickly through his whole body. All of his ice-cold organs shattered like glass inside of him, and new ones — bigger and stronger — were replacing them, showing up in flames and smoke. His skin, soft and human, was peeling off, cell by cell, leaving him raw. Then, as it all came off, a new layer appeared — thick and tight. He was being reborn, and it bloody hurt. Now he knew why newborns cry.

James kept his eyes shut as he felt his body stretch and grow, his limbs shorten, his hands with thin pianist fingers turn into claws. He could no longer feel the sting of the moonlight on his skin, for it was now hidden underneath the smooth spotted fur. As the agonising pain subsided, he opened his eyes, and a roar of satisfaction came through his set of big sharp teeth. It was all over. For now, anyway.

Suddenly, a scream electrified the silence of the evening. James turned his head to the sound, his movements swift and cautious. With his eyes of a predator, he saw her instantly. A young girl of about nineteen, she was standing on a small balcony, staring up at him. He could see her clearly: the pores on her cheeks and nose, the tiny beads of sweat on her forehead, the horror in her eyes. She wore a knee-length shirt that could’ve been orange, or yellow, or purple. He wasn’t sure. He was now color-blind.

James wondered how much she’d seen. Was she merely frightened to see a wild animal on the rooftop of a neighbouring building or did she actually see him turn?

I bet she wouldnt be screaming if I was a freaking koala bear, he thought, annoyed.

She shouldn’t have screamed. She should’ve hidden somewhere and persuaded herself that she’d imagined the whole thing. But now that he’d seen her, he couldn’t let her ruin his life. He couldn’t let her tell his secret to the world.

The girl started backing away slowly, as if sensing the danger. The human part of James considered letting her leave, but now the leopard was in charge. It was craving for the girl’s flesh. With a snarl, James jumped.

Redley author photoLada Redley is an aspiring writer, living in London. Her main focus in writing is fantasy, although she’s not a stranger to a bit of realism. Lada has recently finished a full-length novel, and one of her short stories was shortlisted for Solstice Shorts competition.